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  • Writer's pictureJane Rubin

The "Oh Wow" factor in historical fiction

Updated: Jan 5

There are few things I enjoy more than when my audience spontaneously cries, "Oh, Wow!" It jazzes me to no end because those are my exact words when I stumble on a scarcely known fact. Immediately, I look for ways to weave it into my story.

Any historical fiction writer would tell you that the genre is arduous, filled with hours upon hours of research well after the story's seed is planted. Although historical fiction, reading audiences expect (and deserve) a tale grown properly in its historical setting. 

I'm currently working on Over There (working title), book three of my Gilded City series, where I travel with the extended Isaacson family to 1917 in the months immediately after the United States entered WW1. I knew very little about that period of history when I began and have spent months researching the US involvement in the war, the state of medicine at that time, battlefield care, the ship Comfort, and how the US Jewish immigrants fit in. I know they served because the photo above shows my Grandpa Leo in 1917, a late teen in uniform, in Pons, France. For those who don't know, the US entered the war in June 1917, 18 months before the Armistice. Most historians agree that France would have fallen without the last push by the US. French soldiers were terribly battle-weary, having experienced numerous and lengthy stalemates often leading to military desertions.

But I found the definitive reasons the US entered the war incredibly fascinating. From my research, I saw two causes: one I recognized and one knocked me off my chair. The first involved ocean passage. The seas were treacherous, especially after the sinking of Lusitania and Germany's decision to disregard a prior agreement, requiring the Germans to issue a warning to the target passenger and cargo ship captains of their intention to sink the crafts (presumably to allow passengers safe exit). What I didn't know was the following:

In January 1917, the US intercepted a treacherous telegram from Germany's Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmerman intended for the German embassy in Washington DC. It was to be directed to the German counterpart in Mexico. In essence, the telegram contained a plan to provide generous financial support to Mexico in exchange for Mexico's support as an ally in the war, attacking the US at its southern border. The gain for Mexico would be the recovery of lost territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. California would be reserved for Japan! The intercepted telegram was a clever and sinister ploy to divert the US military to its southern border, away from Europe, allowing Germany to continue an unfettered assault in the east. Within five weeks of the telegram becoming public, the US declared war on Germany.

None of my friends remember being taught this important pearl of history. If any of you knew about it, pat yourself on the back for extra credit. I was floored. Certainly an "Oh Wow!"

More cool history pearls to come...

In 2024 News:

  • I am heading back to Florida next week and will be speaking to a large audience at the Mandel JCC in West Palm Beach Gardens!

  • A book signing at a fantastic book store at the cruise dock in Saint Thomas.

  • Check out my Events page for the Lower East Side walking/In the Hands of Women book tours. There are still open spots. It could be a fun field trip for your book club or friends.

  • I have room in the calendar for more book clubs! Don't be shy.

  • My BIG news is that Threadbare, the prequel, is on schedule for a late May release! If you enjoyed In the Hands of Women, you'll undoubtedly love Tillie's story, too!

Be well, be happy, be inspired!


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