How to Write a Hidden History Story That Makes Readers Feel Like They Were There
Award-winning author Steven Beschloss tells us how he researched and wrote the riveting nonfiction book about Lee Harvey Oswald, “The Gunman and His Mother.”
Whenever we assign a Hidden History story at Narratively, I always tell the writer: “We want to see as much in the way of colorful details, cinematic action and dramatic scenes as we do in a modern-day reported story — the reader should feel like they’re right there as the story unfolds.” That can be especially hard to do with a historical story because, well, we weren’t there! And it happened a long time ago, I wasn’t taking notes! But, in fact, the best historical stories do exactly that. They don’t feel anything like a dusty academic textbook. They make you feel like you were right there.
I recently devoured the audiobook of The Gunman and His Mother, an engrossing biography of J.F.K. assassin Lee Harvey Oswald that zeros in on the backstory of Oswald’s troubled relationship with his mother, and how that presages his time living in the Soviet Union shortly before the assassination. The book was written by, an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New York Times and many other publications, including his own popular Substack newsletter, America, America. The book was just reissued for the 60th anniversary of the assassination, with new material based on never-before-seen files of Marguerite Oswald’s personal writings. I sat down with Steven to learn about how he unearthed and crafted this fascinating story.
Brendan: With something like the J.F.K. assassination, perhaps the single most exhaustively reported story in history, how did you zero in on an angle that was largely untold?
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