As a writer of historical fiction, somedays I feel like an archaeologist, cobbling together an understanding of a past person or place from an amalgam of letters and artifacts and abandoned spaces. Using my own mixture of logic and fiction, I fill in the blanks between the signposts left by history. But, of course, sometimes I must guess at the critical conversations that took place among historical figures or the pivotal decisions that were made, even at smaller details such as the food eaten at a feast or the clothes worn for a wedding. I dream about the chance to meet the people I’ve written about — or am considering fictionalizing — to see if I got it right. Or whether I got it spectacularly wrong.
The list of historical figures I’d like to meet most is long. Impossibly so. Almost as impossible as a request to narrow that list down to six people, although — in the list below — I have tried to identify those about whom my curiosity is particularly insatiable or around whom an important historical mystery swirls. The list is as eclectic and far-reaching as my historical interests, although it consists entirely of women as those are the histories most in need of excavation.
Mileva Maric: Having written THE OTHER EINSTEIN about this intriguing woman, who was Albert Einstein’s first wife and a physicist herself, I have spent a considerable amount of time in Mileva Maric’s imaginary company. And I have I have envisioned a particular life for her, one which included personal tragedy, a derailment of her scientific career, and significant contribution to Einstein’s most critical theories. I would love the opportunity to speak with her about her life, whether she found contentment amidst her losses and whether the scope of her contribution is as large as I’ve surmised. Or even larger.
Amelia Earhart: The famous female pilot does not make this list for the obvious reason, namely to uncover her whereabouts when she disappeared in 1937 during her attempted flight around the world. I am more curious about the nature of her relationships with her husband, George Putnam, and fellow Ninety-Nine female pilot Ruth Nichols and the impact of those relationships on Amelia Earhart’s ambitions and my theories about that fateful flight.
Gertrude Bell: This writer, archaeologist, cartographer, and diplomat who spoke eight languages played a significant role in the establishment of Iran as a nation and as a proponent for antiquities’ preservation in their home nations. A brilliant woman in a man’s world in the late 1800s, Gertrude Bell was allegedly a spy as well, a topic about which I would like to know more.
Agent 355: During the Revolutionary War, the Culper Spy Ring was formed to send message to George Washington about the British Army’s activities, and it played a large role in the outcome of the war. Agent 355 was the only woman in the spy ring, and I would like to see if my theories about her identity are accurate and to understand the scope of her role, which I suspect was far-reaching.
Mary, mother of Jesus: Under another name, that of Heather Terrell, I wrote a novel entitled Brigid of Kildare, which explored the stories about Mary found in the apocryphal Gospels but which were not included in the accepted version of the Bible. Those Gospels tell of a strong, educated, powerful Mary, quite different from the current understanding of her nature. I believe this version of Mary’s character is quite likely accurate, and I would adore knowing the truth.
Hatshepsut: One of only two female pharaohs, she ascended to the Egyptian throne in 1478 B.C., and maintained one of the most successful reigns in ancient Egyptian history in every respect. She even took on the symbolism of a king rather than a queen, and I wonder about her possible role as “mother” to Moses. I would also like to learn why every attempt was made to remove Hatshepsut from the historical record by subsequent pharaohs.