A Fierce Radiance

Lauren Belfer's new novel

You may wonder why I’ve randomly selected this author to talk about. Well, it’s not so random really. First of all, we were in high school together, at the Buffalo Seminary (not a Catholic School!), for a couple of years. Second of all, her first book, City of Light, was a real bestseller. Thirdly, she’s just come out with her second book after eight years, A Fierce Radiance. And fourthly, I went to hear her read and present at Greenlight Books last night.

She gave a marvelous reading from her fascinating new book. Now here’s where I confess that I’ve only read the beginning, because I had other books I had to read and finish first. But the reason I want to talk about this even though I haven’t finished reading it is because she raised some very good points about writing historical fiction.

Lauren researched her book for four years. Four years! I generally get a year to do the research and writing. But that’s my choice. I’m way too impatient to spend four years just doing research. As I read and discover, my fingers itch to start the story. Which means I have to go in and fix things later, but that’s all right.

Since Lauren’s novel takes place during World War II, she had a lot of documentary sources to consult: the New York Times, Life Magazine, countless first-hand accounts of life during the war, and of course, all the scientific and medical research that went into the primary subject of her book, which is the development of antibiotics.

The one thing she said that made the biggest impression on me was that she had to familiarize herself so well with topics she had previously been completely unfamiliar with so that she could write her professional characters in a way that made them sound natural. That meant accurate and correct, but not stilted or pedantic. It’s a huge undertaking, and I admire her immensely for it.

So, I’ll talk about the book again after I’ve read it, but just wanted to capture my thoughts from Lauren’s excellent presentation.