Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Writing Sarah's Journey

I write western historicals because I love that time period. The old west was raw, hard, and character building. To survive, the people had to have exemplary strength and determination. But, my fascination doesn’t end with the pioneers; I’ve always had an unexplained interest in the history of American Indians, so much so that I wonder if I lived a previous life as one. By writing about them, I can help alter the perception that TV westerns have fostered—that the red man was always the bad guy. In two previous novels, I focused on the customs and traditions of the Lakota Sioux. I tried to portray them as the proud people they were.

I often wonder if readers realize that writing an historical is much more time consuming than say writing a contemporary or suspense. Although the story is fictional, the facts to support history have to be accurate and true. The language has to fit the period as does the dress, and the gadgets available at the time. Back in the 1800s, which is the era of my choice, kids were goats, mothers were Ma, not Mom, and fathers were Pa, not Dad. The idea is not to overwhelm the reader with a history lesson, but pepper the story with facts that relate to the scenes and characters.

In writing my first novel, I had my hero delivering his bride to in a shack in the middle of the prairie. I described her reaction to a rundown house, grass growing through the wooden shutters, a few pieces of splintered furniture. When I described the rooms, I also described a heavy iron stove. My editor was quick to point out that a deserted shack was more likely to have a fireplace and hearth where cooking was performed, and that the abode wasn’t likely to be more than one big room. Thank God, for editors who help us learn our craft. Now, when I write about a room, I put myself back in the time period and see through the hero or heroines eyes what should be there. If there is a question in my mind, I research the object and see exactly when it was invented.

There’s no faster way to lose your credibility as an historical author than to yank your reader out of the story by having written about something that doesn’t fit the time. Imagine my Sarah, dressed in gingham, with her bonnet securely tied under her chin, coming in from the barn, carrying a pail of fresh milk. She sets the heavy container on the floor, and deciding to have some more coffee, pops a cup in the microwave to heat it. WAIT a minute. Something is wrong with this picture, and although I’ve used a very obvious discrepancy in time, you’d be surprised how quickly some historical readers are to pick up on even the slightest faux pas.

Still, despite the extra time and effort required, historical writing is my preference. My heroine in Sarah’s Journey is the kind of person I strive to be. I want her survival strength, determination, and her ability to stand up to people when others are mistreated. I want to right the wrongs of humanity, and if only through becoming Sarah for a brief time, I can show my readers how badly people of half blood were treated and how hard life was in the old west. I can hold up my head, trudge along the Oregon Trail and wonder what looms over the next horizon. Sarah’s Journey is a historical fiction but more so a story about a woman’s struggle to find a new life, deal with disappointment, and handle the realization that she loves a man that no one in the world but she is ready to accept. I hope people enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it. It doesn’t have a “traditional ending” but that’s all I’m going to say. *Big Grin*


Anonymous said...

I always heard that Indians didn't know what kissing was. Any truth to that?

Estella said...

I have this book on my To Buy list.

Molly Daniels said...

Great post, Ginger! We have 3 'living museums' (that I know of, anyway!) in Indiana. Conner Prairie, which deals with several different time periods in the 1800's, from an Indian Camp to 'Blab School' (I think that's what it was called) to a working Pioneer Farm...and visitors can pay to spend a weekend immersing themselves back in time in terms of dress, culture, and living w/o modern appliances. I personally wouldn't find it fun, but my hubby would love to someday be able to do it!

And then there is Prophet's Town, but I've not been there; and Billie Creek, which is a Connor Prairie on a smaller scale, and only dealing with one time period. Very educational!

Risikolebensversicherung said...

I can show my readers how badly people of half blood were treated and how hard life was in the old west.

Ginger Simpson said...

Me thinks someone is trying to tell me something by quoting my own words, but I'm not sure what it is.

As for Anon's comment about kissing...There isn't much in the reference books I've used that discusses the customs of the American Indian with regard to kissing. What they did under the 'courting' blanket sort of remains a mystery, but as the culture became more "Americanized" by the White man, the practice became more common.

Due to lack of knowledge about the subject, I've followed the lead of my more famous predecessors who write Historical Romance (Fiction). The word, 'fiction' gives your creative license to cheat a bit here and there. In my opinion, romance without kissing, is like... like...well, I can't imagine it. :)


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