My students used to joke that I was happiest in times of plague, heresy, rebellion, fire, flood, and famine. It’s true, at least in the context of Tudor-Stuart England (the subject of that seminar). I love narrative history; without struggle there’s no narrative. The drama delights me—if it took place four hundred years ago.
What I want to read or write about isn’t what I want to live. Give me a quiet day where excitement is the throaty call of a sandhill crane. Give me adventures where the stakes are low. Give me fiction where I can identify with the protagonist in danger, then close the book and go safely to bed.
Writing recent history put these impulses on a collision course. Dozens of polio vaccination workers in Pakistan were killed in targeted attacks since July 2012. This was dramatic to write about, but too horrific to bring delight. Recent events haven’t yet lost their reality and faded into a story. And unlike most novels, there is no assurance of a satisfying ending.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.