Saturday, June 22, 2013

Walking in Wallace

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing a writer of historical fiction is creating a sense of time and place. How do you write about a time that occurred decades before your own and a place you've seen mostly from a freeway? The answer is simple. You research the time and, if you have the opportunity, you visit the place.

This week, I had the opportunity to visit the place. I paid not one, but two visits to Wallace, Idaho, the setting of The Fire, my next novel. I found the community every bit as fascinating in person as I had found it in literature.

The town is different, of course, than it was in August 1910, when it stared down the largest wildfire in U.S. history and captured the nation's imagination. It is smaller, less commercial, and far more touristy. It serves primarily as a stopping point for motorists, skiers, and bicyclists riding the famed Route of the Hiawatha and the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes.

You don't have to walk far, however, to see that Wallace is more than a pit stop on Interstate 90. It's a living museum, with numerous attractions that celebrate everything from its rich mining heritage to the actions of heroes like Ed Pulaski, a forest ranger who saved forty firefighters by leading them into a mine and holding them there at gunpoint.

Of most interest to me as a writer were the buildings in town. Many of the oldest structures still stand, thanks in part to preservation efforts and the city's designation as a National Historic District. When you walk through Wallace, you see the town not only as it is today but also as it was in the past.

You see the brick facades on Bank Street, the row houses on Cedar, the courthouse that withstood the inferno, and the original Northern Pacific Railroad depot, where hundreds once gathered to catch rescue trains. You see Wallace in 1910, when it became part of history, lore, and literature.

I hope to use what I've learned to convey the same sense of time and place when I publish The Fire. The fourth book in the Northwest Passage series is still scheduled for a September release.

1 comment:

  1. The blog is looking really good, and it is a fine introduction to your next book, John.