OK, I confess, I’ve been writing the fantasy novel because I don’t want to do the research for the next phase of the WWI novel. Which I have no excuse for. But I have a few reasons why I’ve been covering my eyes whenever I walk past the stack of research books and singing “la-la-la I can’t see you.”WWI and the interwar period was not a happy time in Europe, and it’s not a happy thing to be researching. War is not a fun, happy time for the vast majority of people, and it shattered Eastern and Central Europe as well as Russia. A world vanished in 1918-1919, and though historians argue just how much of that old order and rank system would have faded away, or changed in nature without the war, the revolutions that followed ended (at least on the surface) a system that had roots going back to the Roman empire. I’m not a fan of hereditary aristocracy, but I can understand the shock of having someone show up on your doorstep and announcing, “Over half your property now belongs to the State because you are a foreign occupier even though your ancestors settled here 1000 years ago.”
Nationalism and Communism were sharpening their scythes, their followers starting the process that would lead to the deaths of millions of people and finish destroying the optimism and for many people the hope of a better life beyond this one. Chivalry? Faith? Why bother?
It’s also a hard period to find someone to root for, at least among the major historical players and movements. There are a few, but there’s also an enormous amount of revenge on the individual, local, regional, and international scale. For example, were you aware that the Hungarians and Austrians suffered the same hyperinflation that Germany did? Even though they had not fought against France, because of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s alliance with Germany, they fell under the same penalties as did Germany. As well as having large chunks of territory carved off and declared new countries.
In fiction, at least the kind I enjoy reading and writing, the bad guys are punished and the good guys get a reward. Reality, alas, isn’t that neat. I know how the story of WWI and the inter-war period ends, and no one lives happily ever after. I find myself flinching as I read, knowing the disasters looming around the next corner. But if I’m going to make the story of István Eszterházy, crazy Archduke Rudolph, and the others believable (or at least, believable enough that people are not hitting the delete key before they get to the second page), I need to do more research. Which means reading uncomfortable things.