Why I am allergic to the term “historical fiction”

I’m writing a novel set in the 1930s, but I never (never!) think of it as “historical fiction.” 

I have an instant recoil reaction from the term “historical fiction” because I know how it would make my kiddos’ (high-school seniors) eyes glaze over before they even tasted the prose. In novel #3, I am trying hard to rivet my readers so thoroughly that they will forget they ever thought such a boring thought (“historical fiction”) at all. And it will then be “the amazing YA novel” that just happens to be set in 1930s. Kind of like how The Book Thief is just an amazing novel, not an amazing historical novel. (Delusions of grandeur, Ash?)

I’ve read a post from Laurie Halse Anderson who tries for the term “historical thriller” to describe Forge. Another option mentioned by Elizabeth Wein, whose fabulous Code Name Verity (I’m reading it now…) is set in WWII, was “historic suspense.”

One of the commenters on Anderson’s site pointed out the basic problem with these labels, which I think is true for “historic suspense” as much as for “historical thriller”: the word of death in “historical fiction” isn’t “fiction” but “history.” That is because too many people have had crap history teachers; they think that “history” is where good stories go to die.

(For similar anti-social studies reasons, I don’t want a glossary ANYWHERE NEAR any of my fiction, as I said here.)

Okay, so I’d rather not label the novel at all, but it’s going to get labeled. What’s a writer to do? This is a problem I hope my agent, editor, publicist, and others who generally know better will help me solve. But I’m open to suggestions from all sides.


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