Brittany’s debut novel That Self Same Metal is a historical fantasy (a first for History Nerds!) and it hits the shelves April 25!
1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?
This is leaning into my Shakespeare nerd-dom but I’d go to New York in 1821. There was an acting company made up of free Black artists—including Ira Aldridge, the most famous Black Shakespearean actor of all time—that really took the city by storm. It was called The Grove Theatre and I would’ve loved to see them perform. This was also a time when Black people would put on their finest clothes and promenade up and down Broadway every Sunday and that sounds like a fabulous time.
2. What do you love about blending history with fantasy?
I love all the strange, unbelievable things you find as you’re researching history and all the fantastical things that suddenly seem absolutely normal once you start writing. I also love contextualizing the past for contemporary readers in ways that make it engaging and exciting. Yes, I could tell you about the transition of power between the death Queen Elizabeth I and King James I taking the English throne, but it’s way more fun to add in the supernatural to the political and social chaos.
3. Your book has actual historical figures in it. What are the challenges of including famous figures from the time?
People are going to bring their expectations of what historical figures were actually like and you have the choice to either lean into that or find some new shades and colors with which to paint them. I’m all for playing fast and loose with history as we know it, especially since that knowledge is usually from a specific, narrow perspective. The only issue with that is that some folks won’t like having their expectations challenged. But to that I say, YOLO.
4. Your book is set in 1605. What kind of insights do you think kids/young people from this time have?
I think young people of that time had a very different, more intimate understanding of death than we do today. With the shorter life expectancy, far more limited understanding of medicine and hygiene, and the bubonic plague decimating Europe death lurked so much closer. I think even with the ways Covid-19 has changed our world, we’re still not as intimately connected.
5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?
King James I was a bit of a wild boi. When he made his way from Scotland to London to be crowned king of England, he left chaos in his wake. He knighted hundreds of random people, tore up farms in the countryside with his massive hunting parties, and spent way more money than he actually had just for the vibes.
6. What’s your favorite historical fantasy (any age!)
Admitting a bit of bias because my husband wrote the books, I love the Dactyl Hill Squad middle grade series because it’s about Black kids riding dinosaurs during the American Civil War. It has so much history that I never learned and manages to contextualize it in a way that’s accessible without being condescending. Plus, there’s a teenage Shakespearean actress who may have been loosely inspired by me.
7. What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working on the sequel to That Self-Same Metal. This one’s set in 1606 and that’s all I’ll say about that for now. No spoilers!