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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A tireless stickler for the details

“I write novels, mostly historical ones, and I try hard to keep them accurate as to historical facts, milieu and flavor.” – Gary Jennings

Born on this date in 1928, Jennings wrote both children's and adult novels until 1980 when he wrote the bestselling historical book Aztec and switched entirely to the historical fiction genre for the rest of his life (he died in 1999).   A native of Virginia and a self-taught writer, he started as a war correspondent   documenting the Korean War and being awarded a Bronze Star for heroism in the process.   After the war he combined writing for newspapers with his creative work before deciding in 1968 to devote himself to fiction.

His thoroughly researched – and sometimes massive – novels were known for their historical detail and occasional graphic content, and he immersed himself in what he was trying to write.  Most notably, he spent 12 years in Mexico to research Aztec and its sequel Aztec Autumn, and joined 9 different circus troupes to write his bestseller Spangle. 
    In the course of his writing he learned that many words modern writers take for granted simply didn’t exist in the time periods he wanted to represent – something he said all writers, especially of historical fiction, should be prepared to deal with.
“I could list hundreds of words I've come up against in the course of my work that did not exist in the era of which I was writing and for which I never could find a suitably old-time, archaic or obsolete substitute, “Jennings said.  “I contend, most seriously, that there is a real need for a good, thick, complete-as-possible dictionary of 'What People Used to Call Things’.“

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