"It's a ridiculous issue. You hear it from people who don't have the capacity to write outside their own experience. There is no Dennis Bock in this novel. For me, it's interesting because it has nothing to do with me; it's purely an imaginative act."
I love these false dichotomies – if you are a novelist, and you're not spending a year at the Reference Library or poring over your grandfather's war letters, you clearly lack the capacity to write outside your own experience.
Your choices are not between writing a novel set half-a-century before your birth and writing one about the erotic adventures of your authorial stand-in (though many reasonably talented novelists managed to go pretty far doing just that).
Bock is doing no better here than the people who say Canadian novelists should set their books in medium-to-large cities because, according to StatsCan figures, most of us live in one.
What is objected to when most people complain about CanLit's rampant archeologism is not the historical settings per se (few complain about, say, Cormac McCarthy for his ol' timey settings), but that these settings and times are too often used to gussy up an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative, or as background upon which can be slathered all kinds of lazy cultural prejudices, prejudices that would be immediately obvious and absurd-looking if placed in a contemporary setting.
Historical fiction, when it is not the straight entertainment of a genre writer, but the kind that possesses literary pretensions, is a very often a retreat from the shifting realities and complexities that make writing fiction so difficult. It is so much easier to let research and written history determine the path your fiction will take, than to attempt grappling with the world as it is now, still in the process of becoming.
Serious novelists must strive to write "outside their own experience," or else convert their experiences into something beyond mere autobiography-with-metaphors.
But that does not mean they should therefore write fat, costume-drama novels that bring us the shocking news that war is wrong, men oppress women, rich people oppress poor people, rich countries oppress poor ones, and that (Oooo...) there's more to history than what was in your high school textbook.
In reality, the historical novel is just an enormously successful subset of the middlebrow novel - entertainment dressed up in the language of art that seeks to flatter its upper-middle-class readership's educated prejudices (and, ironically, ends up being not very entertaining). No serious literature was built or sustained on the literary equivalent of Merchant-Ivory films.
And honestly, I have no trouble with people writing or reading the stuff – I really don't, though I do think there is more life to be found in work that is unapologetic about its genre status, that embraces its own limitations – but don't ever confuse it with real art. And please don't make bullshit claims for yourself that only you are doing the work of a true writer.