BackStory: Five Questions with Kate Finegan

The Fire She Feels

BackStory: Five Questions with Kate Finegan
Author of The Fire She Feels

What inspired you to write ‘The Fire She Feels’?

The line from Hamilton (which is basically my brain’s soundtrack) where Angelica says, “It’s Ben Franklin with the key and the kite. You see it, right?” In that line, she’s describing her initial attraction to Alexander Hamilton, likening her own physical, emotional experience to Franklin’s discovery of electricity. I was in Charleston when I wrote the piece, rewriting and doing research for my novel, which deals with midwifery and women’s knowledge of their own bodies versus the medicalization of women’s health (and health in general). All that reading and writing crashed into that line from Hamilton and produced this story. I’ve also always loved that character in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button who recounts all the times he’s been struck by lightning, so he was in my mind a little bit, too.

How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece?

I didn’t do a lot specifically for this piece, but my research for my novel (which is set about 50 years later) definitely informed the piece, in terms of the male/female and North/South divides and the narrator’s voice.

If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?

Because I am boring, I would go to the 1790s in Charleston because that’s where my book is set and it would allow me to come back to the present day and really capture the time period (and all its myriad injustices) so much better than I can now, at two-centuries removed!

What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?

We both think our moms are better than Ben Franklin.

What do you think is the most challenging and/or rewarding aspect of writing historical flash?

I really enjoy exploring the voices of different time periods, thinking about how people talked. Of course, we often don’t have accurate records of how anyone other than the literate upper classes wrote, which is a shame. But I love finding hints as to how everyday people spoke and wrote. Martha Ballard’s midwifery diary is such a treasure in that regard (though I haven’t yet carried her voice into any historical flash). We have to be critical of some historical accounts of marginalized people’s voices, though – for instance, the WPA, in their narratives of enslaved people, added misspellings even though they were transcribing spoken accounts, i.e. no misspellings! Just. Ugh. Another thing I like about historical flash, as opposed to longform historical fiction, is that it allows me to dive into bits of the historical record that don’t fit into my current project, or that couldn’t sustain my interest for the length of a short story or novel. Probably never going to write a novel about Ben Franklin. But a flash? Why, of course!

Kate Finegan has a short story chapbook forthcoming with Penrose Press in November 2018. Her work has won contests with Thresholds, Phoebe Journal, Midwestern Gothic, and The Fiddlehead; been runner-up for The Puritan‘s Thomas Morton Memorial Prize; and been shortlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize. She is currently revising her novel manuscript, set in late eighteenth-century Charleston.

Image detail from a print that appears in American Art and American Art Collections; Essays on Artistic Subjects by Walter Montgomery (1889), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and the Smithsonian Museum.