The Joys of Secret Histories
I don’t often write historical fiction because I’m a perfectionist. I want to get all the details right. That means doing a lot of research, looking for things that aren’t necessarily worthy of being included in the history texts. So many little details of life, the kind of details which make a story feel real to the reader, fall through the cracks between the major events that are considered historic a hundred years later. What did they wear? How crowded would the streets be? Cars? Horses? Both? Did they have electricity? We know when it was discovered, but how quickly did a particular city adopt it? Did that street have the same name in 1898 as it has on today’s map?
There are a million little details to trip you up. And you know every time you guess at one that 99% of your readers may not be fascinated enough by that period to know if you were wrong, or care. But that 1% who picked up your story because they love that period – eat, sleep, and breathe it – will throw your book across the room in disgust and wish they’d never started it.
But, if you’re inclined to enjoy taking some liberties with your history, those cracks can be a fertile area to slip in things that might have been. After all, there’s no documentation to prove otherwise. Even documented events can be interpreted quite differently from the standard view if you have a lens you want to apply. And we, as writers, can cheerfully set aside the rigorous standards of the historian and pull out those odd tidbits that could be just personal aberrations on the part of historical figures, and instead weave a pattern that explains them to suite our vision.
I have a story, set in England during World War II, not long after America entered the war, forthcoming as part of Torquere Books annual Charity Sip Blitz. This year’s theme is Men in Uniform, and it turns out several of us have chosen WW II as a setting, quite independently. Evidently something is in the air. Sales will benefit Outserve SDLN (http://www.sldn.org/), a non-profit group dedicated to assisting GLBT members of all branches of the US military. I hope you’ll be moved to check out all the stories in the series, not just mine.
I chose to play with some of the esoteric elements. It’s well documented that Hitler and others among his inner circle had great interest in the occult, practicing rituals and going to considerable effort to collect artifacts with occult connections. (Yes, just like Indiana Jones. They didn’t invent that part of the movie.)
One can say he was simply insane and his inner circle went along because they had strong motives to do whatever was needed to remain there, humoring the madman as necessary. Or one can explain it away by saying it was useful for propaganda purposes, encouraging the notion of the master race, the destiny of the Germanic people, etc. The combination of symbols does stir people with astonishing effectiveness.
But, what if there was more to it than just practical social engineering? What if they supported it, and it made such good propaganda, because there was some truth behind it? What if the occult forces he invoked were real? If the Nazis had those forces at their command, the Allies would need some of their own to counter them.
And, just as the Nazi interest in the occult can be documented, pointers to occult activities on the British side can be found. There are published papers which indicate that certain civilian occultists in Britain took the notion of countering Hitler on esoteric levels very seriously. Notable among these are the letters reprinted in The Magical Battle for Britain by Dion Fortune.
From there it’s not a very large leap to imagine there might have been similar efforts within the military. The best place to hide something like that would be in one of the intelligence organizations, which are by their very nature secretive and ill-documented. And, as hard pressed as Britain was during the period when Hitler seemed poised to cross the English Channel at any time, it’s a very small stretch to imagine such an occult defense force drafting likely Americans from among the troops coming to support Britain to do more specialized tasks than carrying rifles. And thus a story is born.
Release Date: 9/18/2013
(This is a link to my author page – there won’t be a direct buy-link for the Charity Sips until the 18th. If you’re impatient, please drop by now and check out my other work in the meantime.)
Blurb: Drafted into a secret British unit dedicated to defeating Hitler’s occult forces, American GI’s Sam Rutherford and Charlie Watson have found comfort in each other’s arms. But will their love endure past the end of the war that brought them together? Charlie wants it to, but Sam isn’t so sure. It may not even matter, because Charlie is a marked man. He learned dangerous Nazi secrets on a scouting mission, and now they’re just waiting to get a shot at him.
And, an excerpt:
Charlie came into the bedroom as Sam started pulling out sheets and blankets. Together they made up the bed. After they finished, Charlie looked over the room wistfully. “Sometimes I wish we could just stay here. Not go back, not be responsible for anything.”
“We’d be bored after a week, but even so, I wish we had more time right now.” Sam came around the bed to Charlie’s side and put an arm around him. “We’ll make the most of what we’ve got, and then go back to our duty, like everyone else.”
Charlie shifted to face him, and wrapped both arms around him. “You’re right. We’ve got tonight and tomorrow. We can pack a lot into that.”
“So we can, but we’re going to sleep for part of it. You look like death warmed over. You need to get some rest too.”
“I hope I can.” Charlie shivered. “Maybe you can distract me enough to keep from falling back into that dream. I’m dreading trying to sleep.”
That worried Sam. “Why don’t you try to take a nap now, then? Maybe you’ll feel safer in daylight.”
“That might help. We’ll have all night for other things after we put up the blackout curtains.” Charlie sat down on the bed and started pulling off his boots.
About the Author:
Kathryn Scannell makes her living doing database management, programming, and general IT support for an environmental consulting firm. She has a BA in German, a BS in Computer Science, and a head full of facts about odd things. She lives in NH with her wife Beth and their five cats. When not writing or reading, she participates in the Society for Creative Anachronism and a variety of role playing games.