“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” – James A. Michener
Michener, my favorite model for historical fiction, was born on this date in 1907. An orphan who said he never knew exactly who his biological parents were, he didn’t start writing until age 40 and then produced a book a year until his death in 1997. Usually his fictional tales, set in particular geographic locales, covered lengthy family sagas featuring the lives of many generations.
I’ve often said that it was my high school English teacher’s placing a copy of Michener’s Hawaii into my hands and saying, “Write like this,” that helped inspire me to become a writer. I love how he weaves the lives of many real people among those he creates. And, his meticulous research brings the stories to life amid highly edible history.
Often his research took him into unusual or difficult environments, but he always embraced the challenges and the locations to which he was drawn. “I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains,” he said. A writer – and traveler for that matter – should try to enjoy the environment into which he or she is drawn. “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”
If you want a clearer understanding of the complexities and nuances of that nation and the wars that have plagued it – and in which we now find ourselves entangled – read his amazing and gripping book Caravans.
For those contemplating a writing career, Michener’s advice was simple: Focus on what you want to write. “I think the crucial thing in the writing career is to find what you want to do and how you fit in. What somebody else does is of no concern whatever except as an interesting variation.”
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