Different Historical Period: Jennifer

If 1830s Rural New England didn’t exist…

When Emilie suggested we write about a time period different than the one we’re currently obsessed with, my problem wasn’t thinking of another time period, but narrowing it down to just one!  The reason I decided to write a time travel series was so I could explore all the time periods that fascinated me.  As you all know, my first novel in the Abigail Wenworth Series covers 1830s rural New England, which I must admit is my favorite.  However, in the other novels I plan to explore 1900s California, Medieval France, 1600s Virginia, 1875 New York City, World War II France (the resistance) and 1920s Chicago (given in no particular order).  I have a wide variety of interests when it comes to history.  One of these is more near and dear to me than all the others though—1870s New York City.

I first became interested in the history of New York City when I learned that ancestors from both sides of my family immigrated there.  My first trip to the city left me a little starry-eyed and full of questions.  The biggest question being: How did New York come to be?  That started me on a three month research spree, which in turn left me fascinated with one particular time period: the 1860s through the 1880s.  My mom’s side of the family had emigrated here from Ireland around the time of the potato famine, and my father’s side would arrive from Germany in the early 1900s.  Yet neither of those eras drew me in.  My fascination lay in that twenty year span where life was changing drastically in New York City–mainly because of immigration, but also due to the advance of technology.  The first subway (albeit not large and soon abandoned) was built.  The Brooklyn Bridge was under construction, sweatshops ran with few to no restrictions on how workers were treated and tenement houses filled lower Manhattan.  The Statue of Liberty wouldn’t be built for years, and Central Park was still “under construction.”  It was the everyday life that once again drew me in.

Most historical novels are about “everyday life,” but they use major historical events as a backdrop: the Revolutionary War (Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson), the Holocaust (The Devil’s Advocate, by Jane Yolen), and War World II (Ten Cents a Dance, by Christine Fletcher) to name a few popular choices.  Maybe because so much has been written on those topics my attention is drawn elsewhere.  Like 1830s in New England, New York City in 1875 isn’t a widely popular time period for historical books.  So to me, those are the time periods I want to know more about.  They’re the ones I feel compelled to write stories for.  They’re the ones that get me so excited I can’t stop talking about them (even after people start tuning me out, my dear friends and parents :)).  Give me the ordinary over extraordinary any day when it comes to a historical event.  I guarantee that’s the event I’ll be drawn to.

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