actual historic figures I’ve used as characters

May 22, 2015

Just for fun, I was recently thinking about historical figures I’ve written about.  (Not just mentioned or talked about — had to have lines of dialog.)

  • Babylonian Emperor Darius (“The Book of Daniel”)
  • Henry VIII, Arthur Tudor, Catherine of Aragon (“A Princess of Spain”)
  • Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Jane Grey  (“The Haunting of Princess Elizabeth”)
  • Shakespeare  (“Draw Thy Breath in Pain”)
  • Edward Alleyn  (Kitty Steals the Show)
  • Emily Dickinson  (“In Time”)
  • Queen Victoria, Princess Alexandra, George V, Princess Victoria, Maud of Wales, Carl of Denmark (the whole damn family!)  (All the Harry and Marlowe stories)
  • H.G. Wells  (Harry and Marlowe again)
  • Rose O’Neill  (“Goodness and Kindness”)
  • Nanny of the Maroons (Steel), the freedom fighter and national hero of Jamaica
  • Joseph Kittinger (who is still alive!)  (“This is the Highest Step in the World”)
  • Janis Joplin  (“Just Another Word”)

I think there may be a few I’m missing.  Like, all the pirates in Steel and probably a couple of walk-on characters in Discord’s Apple.

Some of these characters I’ve done a ton of research on.  I’ve read multiple books about the Tudors.  I did a ton of research on Janis Joplin for one single short story.  Rose O’Neill, creator of the Kewpie doll, has an autobiography that I read.  I took a whole seminar in grad school on Emily Dickinson and felt very confident writing about her — or rather my interpretation of her.

On the other hand, I did zero research on H.G. Wells and Darius, just using general knowledge and context to portray them, and mostly making them do what I needed for the story.

I probably worried the most about Janis Joplin — hence all the research — because she’s so iconic, it was important to at least try to portray her accurately.  I definitely worried about using Kittinger as a character, because he’s still alive, and the story was so fantastical and symbolic I didn’t really make an effort to portray him as he really is.  I wasn’t writing about him, really, but about the situation.  Where I did do the research was in reading multiple accounts of his Excelsior jumps, so I could at least get the details right.

I have to admit though, having used Kittinger to inspire a character, I had a really good time a couple years ago watching him (via livestream) as capcom for Felix Baumgartner’s high-altitude jump that finally broke the record after 50 years.  He had exactly the wry, calm, old-school test pilot demeanor I expected him to have.


One Response to “actual historic figures I’ve used as characters”

  1. Thomas Stacey Says:

    This is a way cool list. Probably my favorite is Joseph Kittinger, because I very vividly remember reading and really enjoying that story from your Straying From the Path collection.

    The other cool part is that you watched him when he capcomed for Felix Baumgartner’s jump which took off from Roswell, NM, which is where I was born and raised. I’ve been back since that event and they have a lot of different posters, displays and information about it at the Roswell Airport.

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