Why I Write Young Adult Historical Fiction

The Musician's DaughterI’ll be honest: my young adult historical fiction has mostly had lackluster sales. In fact, after my editor left my YA publisher, no one seemed very interested in continuing to work with me. So at that point I returned to writing adult historical fiction—which I still do.

Funny that even in my adult books my heroines are usually only just adults. Something about being poised at the beginning of life is irresistible to my creative brain.

Perhaps that’s why I keep coming back. Because young adult historical fiction isn’t just about sales.

I suppose that’s the most freeing part of being my own writing boss now. I’m able to go back to the reasons I started writing historical fiction in the first place: namely that I want to bring history to life for readers who might not enjoy the dry history they were—or are—taught at school.

I make no apology for this didactic intent. I went to graduate school for the purpose of being able to teach music history at the college level. My timing was bad; colleges and universities had started shifting their focus away from the humanities toward the STEM disciplines. Music departments suffered for it, and even with a Yale PhD I couldn’t get a job I could afford to take.

Undefeated, I turned to writing instead.

For me, it’s not just young adult historical fiction. It’s about women and girls and the arts.

My dissertation took as its subject three treatments of the Armida story (Tasso) in operas composed in the 18th century. The slant was decidedly feminist. And my one published, peer-reviewed paper gave the same sort of slant to treatments of the story of Susanna and the Elders, from the Apocrypha.

My historical fiction continued this trend to point a critical lens on the opportunities available and prejudices against women and girls.

Which brings me to my point:

I created Theresa Schurman—a young violinist in Haydn’s Vienna—to be a heroine young readers could relate to and rally around.

I envisioned my first YA novel, The Musician’s Daughter, as the beginning of a series of YA historical mysteries. My editor had other ideas, however, and chose not to publish the sequel I had written. But Theresa stayed in my mind, and the manuscript of The Mozart Conspiracy kept niggling at me until I decided to re-edit it and self-publish it ten years later, on October 15, 2019.

I had so much fun getting back into that world and back into Theresa’s character. That’s why I’ve written the third Theresa Schurman mystery, which will come out on September 30, 2020. It’s called The Paris Affair. I’ll be talking about it more as the time approaches.

But this novel is on the continuum of themes I am drawn to and spend time and energy and angst writing about. It’s the story of a young woman drawing strength and inspiration from her own heart, and navigating the obstacles society puts in her way. She struggles with her art, her purpose, and falling in love. She gets it wrong sometimes, and misjudges people. Ultimately, though, Theresa finds ways to be true to herself and her friends.

I’m so happy to be breathing life into Theresa again. I hope readers young and not-so young will come along for the journey with us.

Stay tuned for more news and updates!


  1. Skylar Senn says:

    Mrs. Dunlap,

    I just wanted to say that when I found out you had written a sequel to The Musician’s Daughter, I was so excited. I first read The Musician’s Daughter in sixth grade and I fell in love with the characters. It is because of The Musician’s Daughter that I read historical fiction books. So for my twenty-first birthday, I bought myself a copy of The Mozart Conspiracy. I loved that book just as much as the first and I am already anticipating the next one!
    Thank you for following your heart and writing this series.

    • Susanne says:

      Dear Skylar,

      Thank you so much for your heartening comment! I’m truly happy that you love Theresa and her adventures. I’ve wanted for years to go back to her as a character, and am so happy I did. I hope you’ll enjoy book #3, The Paris Affair, as well!

  2. Nicole says:

    Ms. Dunlap,

    Thank you for continuing with Theresa’s story. I first read The Musicians Daughter in the eighth grade and since then have become enamored with historical fiction novels, writing, and the violin and viola, which I now play. I cannot wait to begin reading the second book and highly anticipate the third!

    Thank you for loving what you do.

    Ms. S.

    • Susanne says:

      Thank you so much, Nicole! I can’t tell you how pleased I am that you have become a lover of historical fiction after reading The Musician’s Daughter! And to play the violin as well! I’m a pianist myself, but I’ve always loved the violin. Let me know how you like THE MOZART CONSPIRACY, and please join my email list!

  3. Ruth Ann Roberson says:

    Ms. Dunlap, I purchased “Emilie’s Voice’s” at a library clearance sale a few years ago and just recently found my copy and decided to read it again. I love it! I am a classically trained singer myself and have an undergraduate degree in voice. I had originally planned on getting a masters degree in musicology and/or music librarianship, but life has taken a few unexpected turns. I just decided to look your name up and am fascinated that you used to work in opera and are a musicologist yourself. Thank you for such a beautiful story! Though my career plans are not focused on professional music, my own performances, attending concerts, recitals, operas, ensembles, and reading stories such as yours continue to lift my spirits. I am now on a mission to collect ALL of your publications! Brava!

    • Susanne says:

      Ruth, this was such a lovely comment to receive. I so understand how life takes strange turns and that we have to find our joy in art wherever we can. I hope you like my other books too!

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