Saturday, July 20, 2013

My Love Affair With Historical Fiction

I fell in love with historical fiction when I was fifteen years old.  It happened at a most improvident time—during final exams for ninth grade. To take a break from full-time studying, I bought a copy of the 25-cent paperback version of Samuel Shellabarger’s The Captain From Castile at the Safeway store where I worked. After only a few pages, I became enraptured. Set in the early Sixteenth Century, the novel tells the tale of a young Spanish nobleman who escapes the clutches of the Inquisition to flee to Cuba. There he joins the expedition of Hernando Cortes to explore and conquer the Aztec Empire in Mexico. The book is rich in cultural and historical detail, and the plot closely follows the actual details of the improbable conquest. It had everything a teenage boy could ask for—high adventure, passionate romance, and battle against impossible odds. A novelist who invented this story from scratch would be accused of writing fantasy.

My final grades suffered, but Shellabarger’s writing enriched my life. I sought out other works of historical fiction, soon discovering the wonderful books of F. Van Wick Mason. This author wrote during the 1950s-1960s of events over several centuries, from Sir Francis Drake to Henry Morgan to the Napoleonic Wars. I still consider his volumes on the American Revolution to be the finest novels ever written on that conflict.

I was sixteen when I discovered my alter ego fictional character—C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower. I immediately identified with the protagonist of Mr. Midshipman Hornblower. We were both children of parents of modest means, and Hornblower suffered from the same self-doubts that plagued me as a teenager. Hornblower overcame these obstacles with a dogged work ethic and a flexible mind. Over the course of the many Hornblower novels, he rose through the ranks to eventually become the Royal Navy’s First Lord of the Admiralty. He was clearly a character to emulate.

During my high school years, I also learned to love writing. My interest here was prompted by a mother-daughter duo of English teachers named Rogers. I had the mother in tenth grade and the daughter, Sally, in twelfth. Both were extremely knowledgeable and superb teachers. Sally taught me to love historical narrative poetry as well as historical fiction. She introduced me to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses, which I adopted as my philosophy of life.

It should come as no surprise that, faced with the inevitability of the Draft during the 1950s, I chose to do my service in the U.S. Navy. But why, you may ask, did someone who loved historical fiction and writing so much become an engineer? That will have to wait for a separate blog post.

Note: Warren Bell's debut novel, Fall Eagle One can be purchased for Kindle or in paperback from You can read sample chapters of his newest novel Hold Back the Sun by downloading the .pdf file from his website.  We look forward to a launch very soon!

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