Are there pitfalls to adding historical vignettes to a novel set in the present day?

Guest Post by Richard Brawer

I live in Monmouth County, New Jersey.  The history of Monmouth County is as representative of the birth of the United States as is any area of the country. I am a history buff.  I enjoy and historical fiction novels as well as mysteries.  Thus when I wrote my first three mysteries set at the north Jersey shore I included historical vignettes―a paragraph to a page―throughout the books. 

What are the pitfalls of such an inclusion in a story set in the present day? The most obvious answer is that they interrupt the flow of the story.  But do they really? 

Of seven reviews of the trilogy, four commented on the historical vignettes.  Three were positive, one positive and negative at the same time, and one only a statement. 

“Especially liked the little history added to the local venues.” 

“An added plus for me are the historic vignettes about the Jersey Shore. I never realized that part of Jersey was so colorful with its visits from presidents, celebrities, con men and gangsters.” 

“If I have a quibble, and it’s a very small one, there was too much emphasis on historical trivia. There is a very fine line between “oh, that’s cool to know!” and “yet again?” However, had I not read all 3 books at once, I suspect I wouldn’t have even noticed, and enjoyed it. I am fond of history, after all. My recommendation is that if you buy the book, and it is well worth the price, read the first, then something else, and come back to the second, and so on. I think I might have enjoyed them more, had I done that …but enjoy them, I did.” 

“There is a lot of history about the Jersey Shore included in each of the stories.” 

In conclusion, for me I don’t think it was a mistake including the historical vignettes.  However, if you are considering also including vignettes, historical or otherwise, I suggest you keep them short.  If the reader is interested in learning more about a particular historical event they will certainly be able to research it on the internet. 

Here are the historical questions you will be able to answer by reading my Murder at the Jersey Shore trilogy. 

Where was George Washington’s most important spy network and how did it operate? (Secrets Can Be Deadly)

Who were the Whaleboat Militia during the Revolutionary War and whom did they attack? (Diamonds Are For Stealing)

Where was President Grant’s summer Whitehouse? (Murder On The Links)

Where was President Garfield taken after he was shot? What is the “Garfield Hut”? What was used to construct the “Garfield Hut”? (Murder On The Links)

Where did Annie Oakley defeat Phil Daly, Jr., professed to be America’s greatest marksman at the time of their shooting contest? (Murder On The Links)

What do President Theodore Roosevelt and the former president of Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner, have in common? (Murder On The Links)

Where did Marconi conduct his first wireless test in the United States? (Diamonds Are For Stealing)

You’ve heard the saying, “Is this the Real McCoy?” What was the first product this question referred to? (Diamonds Are For Stealing)

Where was the collie who starred in the first “Lassie” movies bred? (Secrets Can Be Deadly)

James Avanti is dubbed “The King of the Book Covers” because he painted pictures that were used on the covers of novels by which famous American authors? Where was his first studio? What is considered his most famous cover? (Murder On The Links)

Why is the Saint James Chapel in Elberon, NJ called “The Church of the Presidents”? (Murder On The Links)

Who is considered the founding matriarch of Monmouth County, NJ? (Secrets Can Be Deadly)

Who is the real Molly Pitcher? (Diamonds Are For Stealing)

What was the name of the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby, where was she stabled and what year did she win? (Secrets Can Be Deadly)

Where is the oldest continually operating distillery in the United States and when was it founded? (Secrets Can Be Deadly)

In what state were the most revolutionary battles fought? (Secrets Can Be Deadly)

What was the longest battle of the revolution? (Secrets Can Be Deadly) 

Richard Brawer writes mystery, suspense and historical fiction novels. He is the author of Murder at the Jersey Shore. When not writing, he spends his time sailing and growing roses.  He has two married daughters and lives in New Jersey with his wife.


Posted on October 31, 2012, in Publicity & Writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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