Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

Helena is represented by Laurie Blum Guest at the Re-Naissance Agency.

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Why I Write 3 - To Question

This is the third installment in my series on why I write. 
Today I look an my desire to question.

Readers familiar with my portfolio of publications will probably have noticed that I am attracted to moderately controversial topics. What I mean is that I like writing about subjects that have a negative popular image. This is because, as a historian, I have often discovered a serious gap between scholarly evidence and popular perception.

When I see disharmony of this nature, I'm inspired to challenge the conventional views by presenting readers with alternative explanations and interpretations of events. My goal is to provoke my reader into questioning common cliches and conventional wisdom along with me.

It all started with the German Resistance to Hitler. Raised by my Danish mother on tales of the heroic Danish Resistance to Hitler it came as a shock to learn, while in graduate school, that there had been a German Resistance too. After all, the Danes (and French and Poles and Russians) had all been fighting an evil invader, a brutal and monstrous outsider. The German Resistance to Hitler, on the other hand, was fighting their own government, their own institutions and ultimately their fellow-citizens. Unlike the other resistance movements, the German resistance was not nationalist but moral in character. 

That got me thinking -- and questioning -- the common assumptions about Nazi Germany and the Germans of this period. This led me to nearly twenty years of research, a move to Germany and ultimately a PhD from the University of Hamburg. My dissertation was based on previously untapped primary sources and enabled me to reconstruct the role of one of the leading members of the conspiracy against Hitler. It was a ground-breaking biography which received first-rate reviews in every major German newspaper and sold out within three months. 

And all because I had started questioning what was being said not only by students but what was in the history books as well.

But after so many years focused on one of the most inhumane, corrupt, brutal and cynical periods of human history -- not to mention the dreadful fates of those few who futilely  attempted to oppose the forces of evil, I literally never wanted to see another book, film or article about the Nazi period. I needed a completely new focus for my research and writing.
I found my new "cause" in Ancient Sparta. Again, I discovered (more by chance than choice) that Spartan women enjoyed education and economic power at a time when Athenian (and most other Greek) women were treated like the women of the Taliban. What? How? Why was that? I asked. 

My questioning led me to discover a Sparta radically at odds with the common image fed us daily by Hollywood and even pseudo-history sources like The History Channel and Wikipedia. I was off again - questioning, learning and exploring. My travels took me to Sparta, and that encounter with a fertile, rich and beautiful place made my questions all the more incessant and pointed. I've shared the results of my questions in my website: http://spartareconsidered.com and my blog: http://spartareconsidered.blogspot.com and, of course, in my novels set in Ancient Sparta. 
More recently, as a result of my encounters with Islam, I started to question the politically correct version of the crusades. Nigeria in the age of Boko Haram, the systematic assaults on moderate Imams in Ethiopia, developments in Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and, yes, Afghanistan make the politically correct and popular portrayal of the Medieval Muslim world as a place of tolerance, benevolence and non-violence hard to fathom. I started questioning what I had learned at home and in school, and I came to my own conclusions -- based very much on the recorded facts and the writings of contemporaries, both Christian and Muslim. 
History is never black and white, it is always full of shades of grey. Humans are by nature complex and fallible. Good people sometimes make bad decisions or do unpleasant things; even predominantly bad people usually have redeeming features. Indisputable facts are rare because the historical record is almost always subjective, biased or just plain incomplete.  Narratives can be interpreted in conflicting, even contradictory ways. People, all people, have friends and enemies, and how we see them hundreds of years later will depend on whether the former or the later wrote the documents we discover. Precisely because history is so complex and nuanced, questioning is never wrong. 
That desire to question the conventional and familiar view of things is one of my driving reasons for writing historical fiction. I hope my books will make you question your views too -- and don't forget that books make great Christmas presents!
Many reviewers commented that my books on Leonidas have indeed made them "revolutionized" or "completely changed" their view and understanding of Sparta. 


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My biographical novel about Balian d'Ibelin in three parts won numerous literary awards, including "Best Biography 2017. 

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1 comment:

  1. Wow! When I finally have that lunch with you and your husband . . . it's going to be one long conversation! LOL

    Most excellent!