Monday, July 26, 2010

Thanks, But It's Not Historical Fiction

One of the problems with gargantuan, impersonal booksellers is that the person who classified a novel hasn't usually read it.

Amazon.com, for example, put my novel BAMBOO PEOPLE in this category: "Books > Teens > History & Historical Fiction > Historical Fiction." Meanwhile, the product description says, "This coming-of-age novel takes place against the political and military backdrop of modern-day Burma."

It's a small but strange mistake.

And the behemoth isn't alone. I've noticed this mis-classification popping up on other sites and in some blog tags. You hate to quibble when you're grateful for the mention, but why are people describing the novel as historical fiction when it's set in contemporary times? Am I missing something?

I posed this question on Twitter yesterday, and here are some of the answers that came in response:
@Suzigurl: Maybe b/c there are so few books like Bamboo People that folks don't know what to call it.

@yoyology:  My guess: exotic location + first-world blinders = "historical."

@erin_braincandy: My guess is a lot of people don't realize that child soldiers aren't just a thing of the past...

@SarahRettger: I know w/non-fiction, a lot of current events stuff gets classified (I assume by BISAC code) as history. #petpeeve
So what do you think? Honest mistake? One of the above? Or another reason?

Maybe I'll settle down if I hear about other mis-classifications. Authors, has your book been categorized oddly? If so, how?

5 comments:

Beth S. said...

I have to admit, I was tempted to classify this book as historical fiction too. Most likely because it has to do with war. Whenever you think war and conflict, you think history.

I think we're so quick to label it historical fiction because someday it will be. Right now it's contemporary, but it eventually will be historical fiction.

Mordena said...

Here's a generous interpretation (no idea if this is what they're thinking, though): it's a book that might appeal more to fans of historical fiction, being about world events and how they impact the lives of young people caught up in them. Whereas "contemporary YA fiction" to most people means it's set in high school.

I always think it's a good thing when a book is hard to classify. :)

J. L. Bell said...

Amazon also has Bamboo People under "Explore the World / Fiction," which seems more appropriate. But it's not using its "Military" category, which seems even more appropriate.

Susan said...

Actually, technically, I believe contemporary fiction that becomes historical over time doesn't meet the full requirements of historical fiction...true historical fiction is always looking back on the past. Matter of fact, there is a rule of thumb that says if you are writing about something that happened during your life, it is contemporary, no matter how long in the past. Contemporary fiction that becomes past because of time doesn't have that same looking backward/hindsight...which is why there is a school of history that believes you can learn a lot about the past by reading books, newspapers, essays, speeches, that were contemporary to that time. An example of a title that comes to mind is Snow Treasure by McSwigan, published in 1942 about WWII while the war was still going on...

Margaret said...

I'm with Susan on the issue of whether contemporary fiction can ever become historical fiction. At www.HistoricalNovels.info, I don't classify a novel as "historical" unless at least part of the novel is set in a time period before the author was born. For many readers, the distinction is academic and not of great importance, but I do notice distinct differences in the nature of genuine historical fiction and fiction that was written in the past about a time contemporary to the author. For example, novels about WWII have only recently begun to explore the feelings and attitudes of Germans in a balanced, realistic and often sympathetic way (without, of course, excusing the crimes of the Nazi regime). This doesn't seem to have been possible for the vast majority of novelists who lived through WWII, even though there were some truly great novels written then; novelists for whom the period is historical may be able to take a wider (and to me, more interesting) view because their feelings about it are less personal and subjective.