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Truth in Fiction

Someone asked me recently, “How much is fiction and how much is truth?” Great question which I’ll attempt to answer by revealing some of my research.

It is also important to define the genre, Historical Fiction:  Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past

That definition is a very broad stroke and leaves considerable room for sub-genres like romance, mystery, etc.  Personally, I am drawn to Historical Fiction because I’m old.  Just kidding. I like the genre because it creates mood, feeling, and color.

When writing IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE, I had a very specific geographic region and time period in mind that related to historical characters. The places referenced are very real and for the most part still exist. Most of the dates are accurate although there are some that are speculative and based on my best guestimate. For example: Charlie’s 1918 WWI draft registration is spot on because I found the original registration document. He registered at the Shenandoah County Courthouse in Woodstock, VA.

WWI Draft Registration p.1
WWI Draft Registration p.1
charlie draft p2
WWI Draft Registration p.2

Many of the Wissler family events are linked to accurate dates based on stories uncovered in Woodstock, Virginia’s Shenandoah Herald.  From November 11, 1891, I found the following article concerning the purchase of Strathmore.

Frank Wissler Purchases Strathmore
Frank Wissler Purchases Strathmore

Check out all the valuable info revealed in an account of John Wissler, Jr’s wedding from June 24, 1910.

John Wissler, Jr. Wedding
John Wissler, Jr. Wedding

In one scene in the story, when Charlie’s father, Bill, is belittling him, he references his deceased child, John. That idea was based on a Herald article from June 23, 1905.

Death of Bill Polk's son
Death of Bill Polk’s son

Although I had done considerable ancestry research on my family, I was unaware of my Great, Great, Grandmother Teeny Shown.  Well, actually I had uncovered her name, but did not know that she was called Teeny or that she was somewhat famous.  Until discovering the following article, from February 13, 1909, I only knew that her name was Christina.

Teeny Shown
Teeny Shown

Golden historical nuggets are found by asking lots of questions.  That “who, what, where, when, why, and how” that was drummed into me by a high school English teacher, keeps me busy. Example: What about travel in the Shenandoah Valley of 1910? How would it differ from travel just 10 years later? Surely automobiles began to enter the picture but when and how many and what kind? Horses, horse drawn wagons, horse drawn buggies, mule and buggy, oh yeah, and miles and miles of walking.  Back then, walking was not for exercise, it was a necessary form of transportation.  But wait. The IN mode of transportation was by train.  Check out the following train schedule from 1910 and notice how it linked the towns of the Valley.

Valley Train Schedule
Valley Train Schedule

For me, Historical Fiction is a work in progress. There’s the initial research and then continual research until I hit those coveted words, “The End.”

So, in answer to the original interrogative, “How much is truth and how much is fiction?” Truth is the anchor and used as accurately as possible and fiction is where creative imagination breathes life, emotion, and interest into the story. 50/50? Uh, maybe. Whatever a good story requires.

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