Backstory: Five Questions with George L. Hickman

Distillery workers

Backstory: Five Questions with George L. Hickman
Author of Invisible

What inspired you to write ‘Invisible’?

One of my main interests as a writer is re-writing queer and underrepresented characters back into history. Trans people, in particular, have existed since ancient times and yet we are rarely seen in any historical representations. In fact, many people today hold the view that transgender people are a relatively new challenge to the gender binary, or worse, that transgender people are a ‘trend’. As a transperson myself, I find a lot of strength in imagining the people who came before me, and correcting the heteronormative history we’ve been taught.

Who are your favourite historical fiction writers (flash or otherwise) and why?

My favorite historical novel is The Book of Salt by Monique Truong. The book tells the story of a Binh, a Vietnamese chef who travels to Paris in the 1920s and works for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. It deals with queerness, national identity, and history—my three favorite subjects. And the prose is so lyrical, it completely blew me away. I also recently read an amazing short story in The Common called “The History of Sound” by Ben Shattuck. Again, queerness, history, and identity are main themes, all wrapped up in some beautiful language.

How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?

Though I could not possibly do this for every historical fiction piece I write, I actually did have the opportunity to travel to Scotland and tour a distillery there. Something about the tour brought the place to life for me—and I had never previously thought of distilleries as historical. The most surprising fact I learned there? Distilleries really do cause a black fungus to grow on the trees that makes them look other-worldly!

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

In flash fiction, you have minimal space to convey the story’s historical atmosphere, which is such a huge part of why many people enjoy historical fiction. Writing historical flash is a great exercise in narrowing down your historical exposition. It really forces you to decide which descriptions are necessary for establishing the time period, and also forces you to trust the reader to do some imaginative work as well.

How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?

I do value historical accuracy, but only because of my goal to write queer characters back into history. It’s very important for me to write these characters into actual historical events rather than imagined ones, because I am trying to establish a valid, plausible existence for my characters. I try not to get too caught up in research though, because then I would never spend any time writing!

George L. Hickman is a queer/trans writer living in Baltimore, Maryland. He serves as an assistant fiction editor for Barrelhouse Magazine and his words have recently appeared in Palimpsest, The Nottingham Review, and The Louisville Review.  You can follow him at @georgelhickman.

Image of distillery workers from a vintage postcard.