I dropped in on a panel discussion about Old and New Epics in Fiction. This was an excellent panel of writers, headed by the author of White Oleander, Janet Fitch. She is the author of "The Revolution of Marina M.," an epic novel set during the Russian Revolution. She discussed how she spent years researching The Russian Revolution because she feels an obligation to her characters to get the period right and to bring an audience to a particular time and place through her writing.
Laila Lalami is the author of "The Moor's Account," which won the American Book Award, the Arab American Book Award, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. It was both a nominee for the Man Booker Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She is a critic-at-large for the Los Angeles Times. This book is about a slave who was brought to Florida by a Spanish conquistador looking for gold in the 16the Century. She was fascinated by the story of this man who has been erased from history - there are extensive records of this adventure but the slave is mentioned only once. She told how she spent many years researching this period. One of the biggest problems in doing this kind of research is that it often leads you to a fascinating side story or character and she said that you have to beware where these diversions take you - you can waste months before you realize that while fascinating, it does not belong in the book you are writing.
Madeline Miller was born in Boston and attended Brown University where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. She lives in Narberth, PA with her husband and two children. "The Song of Achilles" was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction and has been translated into twenty-five languages. Her most recent book is "Circe." Miller writes about the ancient world because she finds that these stories are still part of us. She said she got the idea for writing Circe when she was a young girl and had to read Homer's The Odyssey. Circe is a witch who tempts Odysseus (Ulysses) and his men to a fest and then turns them into pigs. Miller said that the tale ends when Odysseus, who did not go to the feast, comes to Circe and tells her to transform his men back and she does and then has sex with Odysseus. She was always troubled by that surrender for apparently no reason and wrote the book, in part, to see why that happened.
While I have not read these books, I am putting them on my list. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and my all-time favorite authors of this genre are (with one book as an example):
Mary Renault - THE KING MUST DIE
Gore Vidal - BURR
Robert Graves - I, CLAUDIUS
Michael Crichton - THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY