My friend caught me with my nose in James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” after I’d told him I’d finished reading it. When I explained that I was now reading the footnotes, he gave me a look that said he couldn’t imagine anything duller and suggested that blogging might help with my “problem”—or at least connect me with other people who share my addiction.
I find some of the most compelling details in footnotes. They are full of hidden gems of information and references to sources I’ve never heard of. It’s also a great way to gain insight into how historians and novelists do what they do, especially how novelists incorporate historical events into their stories and how historians use some tricks of the novelist’s trade to make their books more narrative and engaging.
In fact, I believe you can’t write historical fiction if you don’t get excited about footnotes (and a thorough index created by a person, not a machine—but that’s a rant for another time).
So why “The Smell of Gunsmoke”?
In the quest to write a compelling historical novel, I spend a lot of time trying to capture the sensory experience of living in that time period, and I’ve been told I am especially good at evoking the smells of the old West in my writing.
Guns and smoke also get to the heart of the time period: the Civil War and the gunplay that was part and parcel of Western frontier towns—”the violence that moved West with young America,” as the “Gunsmoke” intro puts it. I’m a big fan of the old radio show. I listen to it on Sunday evenings during WAMU’s “The Big Broadcast.”
“Gunsmoke” is a fascinating example of the melding of history and fiction. I’m delighted when Doc Holliday comes to Dodge or when Marshal Dillon tells a visitor to say hello to his friend and colleague Virgil Earp. The show is also an example of how fictional representations can shape and often skew our understanding of history.
I hope this blog intrigues other writers, history buffs and readers, and that you’ll share your comments and thoughts with me.