You only live once. Right?
Chances are, unless you believe in reincarnation and are also peculiarly in touch with your past lives on this harsh and often beautiful planet, then your experience will be confined to one existence (never discounting the kindly tips you’ll pick up from friends and strangers).
Perhaps you are a 32-year old male Caucasian pickle magnate who is taste-testing the most perfect fermented vegetables ever to be jarred, and is on the cusp of driving all competitors out of the market? I’d like to hear your story. Equally possibly, you are a 57-year old female African American deep-sea submarine pilot, and are on the verge of retiring to your dream cottage in the West Indies? I’d adore that story too.
No matter who you are or how specific your experience, we all share in the deeply human desire to hear stories both foreign to ourselves in situation, and familiar in emotion.
You really felt that way, as a glamorous jewelry broker in the 1920s, doubting that your lover would stay?the modern real estate magnate thinks. Or, You really felt ostracized and hated when you arrived in America in the 1840s as a Catholic? the recent immigrant thinks. In any case, or every case, sharing anecdotes and feelings is valuable. But what of the people who weren’t glamorous, who weren’t posh or predictable—what of the people who never recorded their musings for posterity?
History is written by the victors, we are famously told. But so much of the joy in historical fiction lies in imagining what it would have been like to be that other person. The losing general, the girl who sat in the corner, the lad whose disability defined him, the criminal whose defense was never heard, the mother whose skin tone prevented her leaving a diary.
The erased, to put it simply.