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FICT 38 W — The Past Is Never Past: Writing History-Based Fiction

Quarter: Summer
Course Format: Flex Online (About Formats)
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Jun 26—Sep 1
Refund Deadline: Jun 29
Units: 3
Tuition: $955
Instructor(s): Deborah Johnson
Limit: 17
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Flex Online(About Formats)
Jun 26—Sep 1
10 weeks
Refund Date
Jun 29
3 Units
Deborah Johnson
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
To paraphrase L.P. Hartley, the past may be a foreign country, but it is a country we all love to visit. Recent bestselling novels have found their stories in World War II, pre–civil rights Mississippi, and the court of Henry VIII. The historical novel is reaching new heights—and audiences. In this hands-on course, you will plot and begin writing a historical novel of your own. Our approach will be systematic. For the first few weeks, we will look at what constitutes great work, examining books as varied as Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress to see how these authors successfully handle plot, theme, place, and characterization and to discuss what makes these novels work and why they remain so pressingly relevant to our time. During this same period, we will employ research and plotting techniques to begin writing the first chapter of our novel. Finally, we will share our chapters in workshop to get feedback on what works and what doesn’t. By the end of the course, you will have completed a chapter of 10 to 25 pages and have a foundation for the longer work.


Deborah Johnson’s novel The Secret of Magic received the 2015 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. Her previous novel, The Air Between Us, received the Mississippi Library Association Award for fiction. She worked in Rome for many years as an editor and translator and as a broadcaster at Vatican Radio. She is completing a new novel, a ghost story about the beginnings of rock and roll set in 1950s Mississippi.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient (ISBN 978-0679745204)
(Required) Walter Mosley , Devil in a Blue Dress (30th Anniversary Edition) (ISBN 978-1982150341)
(Required) Elizabeth George , Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life (ISBN 978-0060560447)