Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reviews that Confuse

I understand that negative reviews are to be expected in the business I’m in. All artists understand that. Not that we especially like it, of course. After all, who likes being told by others that you did a poor job at something you poured your heart and soul into? But I accept that not everyone is going to love my books. Some are going to hate them. That’s par for the course, and it’s a huge comfort to know that many readers love the books I write.

But have you ever gotten a review or a criticism that just plain puzzled you? I’ve gotten a couple recently that have me scratching my head. Following is the first, which is actually a wonderful 5-star review titled: Amazing book by a great author.

“This is an amazing book about the Revolutionary War. It has spies, romance, exciting battles, and interesting historical facts. Be forewarned that this is a continuing seven book series. I have read the first 4 books and now have to wait over a year until the 5th book is published. The reader is left dangling with the heroine in a very perilous situation in the fourth book. This is very disappointing and had I known I might not have started this series.”

I greatly appreciate the very kind, positive comments about the series in the first couple of sentences! It’s wonderful feedback like this that keeps me writing on days when I feel like it’s all worthless. What has me puzzled is the rest. It makes me wonder whether readers have any concept of how expensive it is to publish a book and especially a series. The worst part is that the reviewer is essentially telling readers not to read the series until all the books are published. If all readers did that, publishers wouldn’t publish any series at all, and the American Patriot Series wouldn’t exist.

I hope most readers understand that it’s sales that keep series going. If book 1 doesn’t sell enough copies to be profitable, no further volumes will see the light of day. That’s the reason Zondervan and I parted company years ago. Daughter of Liberty and Native Son didn’t get high enough sales figures for them to invest any more money in the series. If I hadn’t believed in it so strongly and felt the Lord’s direct leading to found a small press to publish it and the books of a few other authors in the same boat (and been blessed with the means to fund that endeavor), the American Patriot Series would have ended with book 2. How many series that readers would have loved have completely disappeared because their authors couldn’t afford to do the same?

In addition, ending each volume on a cliffhanger is actually necessary if subsequent books in the series are going to sell. If everything is tied up in a neat package at the end of each volume, what would cause readers to eagerly anticipate the next installment of the story? (The exception is series that feature a different hero/heroine in each book.) Authors have to build suspense at the end of each book or readers are going to forget about the series by the time the next volume comes out. I certainly would—in fact, I have stopped reading series I initially liked for that very reason. I just forgot about it or wasn’t motivated to continue. It’s like Christmas Day. The anticipation that builds up over the year is what makes finally opening all those beautifully wrapped presents under the tree so exciting.

Another issue the reviewer alludes to is the length of time between books. I apologize for that, but I’m by nature a careful and methodical writer. And as anyone who writes fiction, particularly historicals, knows, it takes considerable time to write a story that’s not only entertaining and inspiring, but also historically accurate. With all the research necessary to dig out the historical facts and develop a plot that puts my characters believably into the midst of the real action where they interact with the actual people of the day, not to mention creating deeply conceived, realistic characters in the first place . . . well, there’s simply no shortcut to accomplishing that. And for me it’s not worth writing anything less.

The second review puzzles me even more. It’s generally negative, and it really has me pondering. I need feedback on whether it’s correct about how I handle spiritual issues—what the reviewer calls the “overly drippy religious aspect”—and what the “real” story of my series is. If this reviewer is right on those points, then I clearly need to change things. Or quit. I’ll share that one in my next post.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts about series and cliffhangers? Have you ever been criticized in a way that genuinely stumped you? Did you change anything as a result, or did you believe in what you were doing and how you were doing it and continue?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

And the winner is . . .

Drum roll . . . Sharon Timmer! Congratulations, Sharon! Please email your shipping address to me at jmhochstetler at msn dot com, and I'll get that copy of Yankee in Atlanta out to you right away. I know you're going to enjoy the story!

Don't forget that all 3 of the books in the Heroines Behind the Lines Series are still on sale through tomorrow in ebook format for only $2.99! For those who didn't win, you can score the entire series at a terrific bargain!

Thank you so much for stopping by and entering the drawing, everyone!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Introducing Jocelyn Green!

Today I'm honored to feature author Jocelyn Green and her newest historical release, Yankee in Atlanta, Book 3 of the Heroines Behind the Lines Series! You’ll find Jocelyn’s fascinating guest post on Confederate schoolbooks below, followed by details of our drawing, plus information and links for all three titles.

Confederate Schoolbooks During the Civil War

Caitlin tucked her feet beneath Rascal’s warm body, the rag rug that had formerly been under the workroom’s table now in a tangle of sewn-together strips on the table in front of her. Twisting them tightly, she dipped them into a bowl of liquid beeswax, rosin, and turpentine. The days were only getting shorter, and there were no candles to be had unless one made them at home.

Ana sat across from Caitlin at the work table, elbows resting on the First Reader for Southern Schools open in front of her. When the wax had cooled enough, Caitlin carefully pressed the warm waxed strips around a glass bottle, from the base to the neck.

 “Why don’t you read aloud, Ana.”

The girl sat up a little straighter. “All right. Lesson Twenty-nine. ‘The man’s arm has been cut off. It was shot by a gun. Oh! What a sad thing war is!’ ”

“That’s enough.” Ragged crimson memories from the Battles of First Bull Run and Seven Pines exploded in Caitlin’s mind. Horrific scenes that had been engraved on the parchment of her soul. Certainly it wasn’t good for Ana to dwell on such things with her own father in the army. “Let’s read something else for your lesson. Do you know where Robinson Crusoe is?”

The above scene is an excerpt from Yankee in Atlanta, where we find Caitlin McKae, formerly a Union soldier, a governess in Atlanta for the daughter of a Rebel soldier. (If you’re scratching your head about that one, I promise the Prologue and Chapter 1 of the novel will clear it right up.)

One of my most fascinating discoveries while researching this novel was that of Southern textbooks. Since Caitlin is teaching her seven-year-old charge at home, I had the opportunity to include some fascinating excerpts, such as the one above, which is verbatim from its original source.

During the Civil War, scores of primers, readers, and arithmetics emerged from Southern presses, borne out of a widely held perception of northern textbooks’ anti-southern biases. In The Children’s War, historian James Marten says:

In fact only a few antebellum publications specifically attacked slavery, and they were all published prior to 1830. A few school histories provided factual information, limited mainly to laws and compromises related to the institution. Although slavery was virtually never mentioned as a sectional issue, schoolbooks increasingly provided examples and excerpts that highlighted the intrinsic value of the Union. Spellers used sentences such as “Stand by the Union!” and “In union there is strength,” while readers offered stories that showed the benefits of union and emphasized the institutions and customs common to all of the United States.

The most popular readers, McGuffy’s, studiously avoided controversial issues. Even versions printed in 1862 and 1863 did not promote one side or the other, but did include stories and poems showing the hardships of war.

Still, Southern presses in cities from Richmond to Mobile to Galveston produced nearly 100 schoolbooks for both patriotic and economic reasons (think blockade). Some left the war entirely out of the content. Others didn’t.

In a Confederate arithmetic by L. Johnson, long lists of story problems feature war situations. In one a merchant sells salt to a soldier’s wife, in another students are asked to imagine rolling cannonballs out of their bedrooms, and in another they are to divide Confederate soldiers into squads and companies. Johnson also included these famous problems: “A Confederate soldier captured 8 Yankees each day for 9 successive days; how many did he capture in all?”; “If one Confederate soldier kills 90 Yankees, how many Yankees can 10 Confederate soldiers kill?”; and “If one Confederate soldier can whip 7 Yankees, how many soldiers can whip 49 Yankees?”

Mrs. M. B. Moore’s Dixie Speller had a horrifying lesson, which I just had to use in the novel.

This sad war is a bad thing. My pa-pa went, and died in the army. My big brother went too, and got shot. A bomb shell took off his head. My aunt had three sons, and all have died in the army. [I hope] we will have peace by the time I am old enough to go to war. . . When little boys fight, old folks whip them for it; but when men fight, they say ‘how brave!’ If I were a grown-up, I would not have any war if I could help it. [But if forced to go] I would not run away like some do. . . I would sooner die at my post than desert. If my father had run away, and been shot for it, how sad I must have felt all my life! . . .This is a sad world at best. But if we pray to God to help us, and try to do the best we can, it is not so bad at last. I will pray God to help me to do well, that I may grow up to be a good and wise man.

Of course, the Civil War touched children in ways far more scathing than textbook lessons. For a more complete picture, I encourage you to check out Marten’s The Children’s War (University of North Carolina Press, 1998). Or, if you’re like me and prefer to learn while being entertained with a novel, Yankee in Atlanta shows the variety of hardships Ana faced while her father fought to defend their home.

Jocelyn Green is an award-winning author who inspires faith and courage in her readers through both fiction and nonfiction. A former military wife, she offers encouragement and hope to military wives worldwide through her Faith Deployed ministry. Her novels, inspired by real heroines on America’s home front, are marked by their historical integrity and gritty inspiration.

Jocelyn graduated from Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, with a B.A. in English, concentration in writing. She is an active member of the Christian Authors Network, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Military Writers Society of America. 

To enter the drawing for a free copy of Yankee in Atlanta, please leave a comment on this post. I’ll announce the lucky winner here on Wednesday.

And in case you don’t win, all three of Jocelyn’s novels are on sale for only $2.99 in ebook format at online retailers from now through August 28, so you’ll be able to get the entire series for a fabulous price!


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cast of Characters, Part 2

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a post on Jonathan Carleton’s very complex geneology going back to the Vikings, but for today I’m going wrap up how I named my characters in this series. In comparison, it was a piece of cake for Bob and me to name our cast for Northkill since all except a couple were real people. The only essential characters we didn’t have names for were the mother of the family and the baby daughter, both of whom were killed in the attack. How we settled on the most plausible names for them is described on the Characters page on the Northkill website. Regretfully I did have to overrule Bob’s vote for naming the mother Tiffany, though for a moment I was sorely tempted.

But I digress. Back to our topic. I’m including several portraits so you can get an idea of what these people look like to me. Someday I’ll have a page up on the series website with portraits for all of the major fictional characters and some minor ones too.

Abby Howard
During the colonial period, many people, especially in New England, bore biblical names. It made things easy to distribute the names of some of my favorite Bible characters among my cast. Joseph was already taken by one of the real characters, Dr. Joseph Warren, so I settled on Samuel for Elizabeth’s father. Although it’s not exactly biblical (though Anna is), I’ve always liked the name Anne, which feels elegant and graceful, but also warm and loving, and that became her mother’s name. I wanted to name Elizabeth’s little sister Abigail for Abigail Adams, thus her nickname, Abby.

Naming Samuel’s sister, who has an important role in the series, was harder and I agonized over it for a good while. Another non-biblical name, Theresa, kept coming back to me, and the nickname Tess felt just right, so Aunt Tess she became. That left the maternal side of Elizabeth’s family. For some reason the surname Stern popped up very quickly. I liked its . . . well . . . stern tone. Joshua is another of my favorite biblical characters, and accordingly Elizabeth’s maternal uncle became Joshua Stern or Uncle Josh. We needed a William, a common English name of the time, and that nicely fit Joshua’s oldest son, nicknamed Will. And then the younger son arrived fully formed as Levi.

Jemma Moghrab
An indispensable sidekick and guardian for Elizabeth, who appeared with the second chapter of Daughter of Liberty, turned out to be a free black man who works for the Howards. I knew right away his name was Isaiah, my favorite Old Testament prophet. For a long time he didn’t have a surname—what in the world do you name a former slave who escaped as a child and lived with the Delaware Indians for years before showing up in Boston? But by book 2 he had to have a last name, so I went through a stack of National Geographics I’d horded over the years, looking up every African surname I could find. His mother had told him his African name before he was sold away from her and managed to escape, and he’d never forgotten it. So Isaiah became Isaiah Moghrab. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, lent her name to Isaiah’s. They named their oldest son Samuel, nicknamed Sammy, for Dr. Howard, who bought her out of slavery. Their younger son adamantly declared himself to be Pete. No idea why, but he refused to change it. The youngest child of the family, a daughter, was Jemma from the beginning, which is fitting because she is a true gem.

Charles Andrews
Then I needed a name for Jonathan’s sidekick. As I recall, I’d recently run across the name Andrews somewhere—a surname I’d always thought sounded cool—and in mentally filing through first names common to the time, Charles seemed to fit the best with it. Then his and Jonathan’s servants popped up out of the blue, thankfully both with names attached: Stowe and Briggs. As third-level characters they didn’t actually acquire first names until fairly recently—James Stowe and Henry Briggs. Stowe’s physical description came along with his first appearance, and although I have no idea what contrary muse is responsible, I totally love it! To my surprise, he’s also developed unexpected talents and made himself so indispensable over the course of the series that I’ve come to value him as highly as Jonathan does.

Dr. Pieter Vander Groot
I know I’ve left out several important characters, such as Dr. Pieter Vander Groot. But before I write an unwieldy tome on this subject, I’m going to stop here, though I’m including this portrait, which comes the closest to how I visualize him. At another time I may go into how I found names for the Native American cast in the series, which at times was an ordeal because I didn’t want to duplicate names of real people of the time. It’s an interesting and lengthy subject in itself.

Do you have a favorite fictional character—or two—whose name you especially love? Perhaps it fits the character perfectly in some way or you just particularly like how it sounds. One of my very favorites is Jane Eyre. Jane is a plain, common name that gives the impression that this character will be plain and common as well. But the surname Eyre is highly unusual and catches your attention. It has a light, open feeling because it sounds like “air.” Paired, the two names hint that, although this character is plain on the surface, subtle and unexpected nuances lie below that will keep your—and Mr. Rochester’s—emotions deeply engaged.

What character names do you love, and why?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cast of Characters

Did you ever wonder where the names of the characters in your favorite novels came from? If you’re a writer yourself, you undoubtedly have a number of inventive ways to generate names. But even for writers, coming up with names that uniquely fit the people who inhabit their stories can be a mysterious, and even torturous, process.There are numerous baby name sites on the internet, which can be a great help in coming up with first names. If you write historicals, as I do, however, you need names appropriate to the period you're writing about. I often resort to my wide range of research resources, using the index to glean names from the period.

I’ve found that some characters actually come with names attached. When that happens, I mentally do a little caper of glee because that’s one I won’t have to agonize over. Unfortunately, I’m not always that lucky. The names of the main characters naturally require the most intensive thought because they’re the most important actors in the story. I want my hero/heroine to have names that signify their social position and character, then names I especially like and names that are sympathetic and will appeal to readers. They might also be symbolic of some deeper meaning or aspect of the character; Charles Dickens was particularly good at this. Creating a history for the characters and their families helps immensely in this process because family relationships and histories are often taken into consideration when it comes to naming babies.

It took a lot of effort to come up with Jonathan Carleton’s name, for instance. Jonathan wasn’t too hard—John was a very popular and common name in the 1700s, and since I wanted his to be distinctive, I decided to expand it to Jonathan, with the nickname of Jon, which I really like. But I struggled over his last name. It had to sound high-class British, but none of the various names I found quite fit. Most, of course, belonged to well-known people of the time, which raised the spectre of family relationships that would have to be accounted for. However, I kept being drawn back to Carleton, the last name of the governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, which had a distinctive sound. I also liked the history of this name, which fits my extended history of Carleton’s family, combining Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman branches. In England, the name is most highly concentrated in southern Scotland. Below is an excerpt from an article found on The Internet Surname Database.

“This interesting surname, of combined Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon origin, is a locational name from any of the numerous places called Carlton or Carleton found all over England, but particularly in the north and east parts of the country, where there were many Scandinavian settlements. The placename means “the settlement or village of the free peasants”, derived from the Olde English pre 7th century word ceorlatun, which became Scandinavianised to karlatun. The component elements of the name are the Olde English ceorl (Old Norse karl), free peasant, villein; and the Olde English tun, village or settlement.

“Locational surnames were developed when former inhabitants of a place moved to another area, usually to seek work, and were best identified by the name of their birthplace. Early examples of the surname include: Geoffrey de Karlton (Bedfordshire, 1273) and Anabella de Carleton (Yorkshire, 1379). Mary Carlton, aged 23 yrs., who embarked from London on the ship Bonaventure bound for Virginia in January 1634, was one of the earliest recorded namebearers to settle in the New World. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Reginald de Karleton, which was dated 1272, in the Lincolnshire Hundred Rolls, during the reign of King Edward 1, known as “The Hammer of the Scots”, 1272–1307.”

I finally decided that the name fit Jonathan too well, and, hey, it’s a big family, and Jonathan can be Guy’s (very) distant relative. So I went with that, and if you’ve read the series, you’ll remember that this relationship is mentioned a couple of times in passing.

Elizabeth Howard’s name was a less torturous to create. My youngest daughter’s middle name is Elizabeth. I loved the character Beth in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and really liked the idea of that being her nickname. And I’d watched a TV series on the six wives of Henry VIII and did a bit of research into the subject. The surname Howard and their history stood out to me, so decided to use it for Elizabeth’s family and have her be descended from that family line.

I find second- and third-level characters much harder to name. In upcoming posts, I’ll delve into what it took to come up with names and histories for Elizabeth’s and Jonathan’s extended families—some of which, thankfully, did come with names attached—as well as Charles Andrews, the cast of Indian and French characters, and others. Currently I’m slogging through the process of generating names for the personnel aboard 3 of Carleton’s privateers: Destiny, Liberty, and Invictus. For them I need French and Spanish names and possibly a few Dutch too, since those countries were generally hostile to Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries.

If you write fiction, how do you come up with names for your characters? If you’re not a writer, I’ll bet you’ve had occasions to name someone, whether a new baby or a new pet. How did you settle on the names for each one? Share your naming experience!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Considering the Series

Series in which the author features a different hero and heroine in each volume are common in Christian fiction today. I hate to admit it, but, with the exception of a very few authors whose work I especially love, I generally don’t read the rest of the books in these series. If I’m really drawn into the first story, love the hero and heroine, and am satisfied by the conclusion of their story, I feel very little motivation to read a sequel that focuses on one of the secondary characters. Although a setting that readers are particularly drawn to can provide the motivation to continue with a series, I personally believe that switching heroes is a major reason why sequels often don’t sell as well as the first book even if the subsequent stories are well written and engaging.

From the time I was a teenager, I devoured novels, primarily classic literature. And very early on, what stood out to me in these stories was that my interest was the most highly engaged when the hero or heroine was “on stage”. I was conscious of a definite drop-off of energy and engagement when secondary characters commanded the stage and became impatient for the hero to return. The exception was when secondary characters’ actions or dialog directly related to the hero, but even then my interest never quite reached the intensity the main character engaged. For that very reason, when I began to think about turning Daughter of Liberty into a series, I made a conscious decision to feature Elizabeth Howard and Jonathan Carleton throughout rather than having secondary characters become primary in the sequels.

Unlike most series today, both series I’m writing—The American Patriot Series, set during the American Revolution; and the Northkill Amish Series, set during the French and Indian War—focus on the primary characters of book 1 from beginning to end. The scope of these particular series demands that treatment. However, I believe that following one hero and/or heroine throughout is the most powerful way to construct a series. It allows the author to develop a strong, overarching theme that builds through every volume, affecting readers on the deepest level and keeping them reading.

What’s your opinion about series? Do you agree with me or not? Why or why not? Please share some examples of series you’ve read that especially engaged you and how the author handled this issue.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


When creating a piece of fabric on a loom, the weaver interlaces threads to create a pattern, whether simple or complex. The threads that run longitudinally are called the warp, while those running laterally are called the weft. I’ve often thought that a story is very much like weaving. The warp is the structure, or plot, of the story. On it hangs the weft, which includes things like theme, characterization, and details of the time period and the characters’ lives that flesh out the plot and cause readers to care about what’s happening. Just as a weaver works back and forth across the loom, the storyteller works back and forth across the breadth and length of the story, weaving in the details that create a coherent and beautiful pattern.

Right now as I’m working back and forth at my story loom while writing Valley of the Shadow, I’m struggling with structural elements that are more complex than any I’ve written before, and I’m wondering how well they’re going to integrate. This installment of the series starts off with a perilous rescue, progresses through a wrenching aftermath, and transitions to the winter at Valley Forge, which includes a brief return to the Shawnee community. A desultory summer campaign follows, and the story concludes with the beginning of a new journey.

How to weave these disparate elements together without ending up with jarring transitions? I worry about that, but then I also wonder whether that’s necessarily a major problem. After all, aren’t unsettling changes a natural part of life? I’ve had them in mine, and I suspect you’ve had them in yours too. Life can turn on a dime, and the occasional jarring transition might add a dose of reality to the story world, just as Elizabeth’s capture in Crucible of War did. In that case there were numerous warnings of increasing danger, but she ignored them and suffered the consequences. How altogether human! Robert Fulghum illustrated that humorously in his book It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It.

Overall, of course, a story needs to hang together and transitions need to make sense in the context of what’s gone before. Too many abrupt changes are likely to give readers a sense that the story—and maybe the author—is out of control. We all want control, don’t we—if not in our own lives, then in the lives of fictional characters in a story? So I continue to wrestle with how to weave all the elements together in such a way that will keep readers flipping those pages and reading long into the night.

What unsettling transition have you had in your life that seemed jarring and out of control at the time? How well did you handle it? Are you still dealing with it, or are you able to look back on it now and see how God was weaving your life on His great loom?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Revisiting Turn

Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge
AMC’s Turn continues to be entertaining, though now that they’ve established the characters and their situations, I wish the script writers would focus more on the actual history of the time and less on the personal drama. They’re reaching if you ask me—unless they have materials available that I haven’t come across. That’s possible, of course. The storyline on Benjamin Tallmadge, however, seems particularly dubious, though the one on Major Andre, from what I know, is probably pretty accurate in general terms. The ending of Sunday’s episode did hint that the focus may be turning, so to speak, more to the spy ring, which I definitely welcome.

There are definitely liberties being taken with history. For example, the last episode totally screwed up the two battles of Trenton and the battle of Princeton by conflating them, changing raging a nor’easter and an ice-choked river into fog and calm water, and then not showing any part of any of the three battles. What a disappointment! The attack was the point of the whole exercise, and leaving it out certainly didn’t give viewers any feel for the magnitude of what Washington and his soldiers accomplished. Instead the story focused on more fictitious personal drama—Tallmadge’s illness due to an accidental dunk into the river. Seriously?

Here’s a link to the History Channel’s minimalist account of the two battles. Indeed, first-hand reports from American soldiers in the first battle decisively debunk the myth that the Hessians were surprised by the attack because they were drunk from celebrating Christmas. In fact, they were on high alert after numerous militia probes over the preceding days. It was the monster nor’easter that concealed the movement of Washington’s corps and allowed them to overrun the Hessians’ defenses before they could mount an effective defense, not dereliction of duty by soldiers who happened to be seasoned professionals!

While you’re on the History Channel site, be sure to check out the page on the Culper Spy Ring and the videos they offer. They’re simplistic, but the one on the winter at Valley Forge is actually pretty good. Ignore the fact that the description about Washington escaping Brooklyn states: General Washington fleas across the East River under cover of darkness. Um…..

If you haven’t watched or need to catch up with the series, be aware that there was a close call between Abe and Anna in this episode as they gave into temptation, only to be interrupted by a British soldier who, in a delicious bit of irony, reminded them of their better natures. Adultery happens, even among Christians, and I can accept its being in a series as long as it’s not explicit and the consequences for both parties are honestly shown, as here. All of us have been tempted in one form or another, and we’ve all given in to it at some point. Let’s not glory in sin, however, and let’s be honest about the damage it does. In this case, neither Abe nor Anna looked too happy when they were confronted by an enemy soldier who humbly called them to account.

We don’t see too many TV shows or movies on the Revolution. What’s your take on this series? Are you enjoying it? Do you feel they’re doing a good job? Are you learning anything about this period and the founding of our country? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Medical Care in the 18th Century

Have you ever wondered what medical care looked like in the 18th century? Since my main female character, Elizabeth Howard, was trained as a physician by her father, and since she’s involved in a war, I’ve had plenty of occasion to delve into how sick and injured people were treated and who did the treating. One helpful resource is “Colonial Medicine,” a paper published by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. Below is the section on women as health care givers, which makes it quite plausible that a woman might have acted as a physician during that period.
Women as Health Care Givers

Much of the health care for the 18th-century colonists was provided within the home. Women became responsible for health care in addition to their responsibilities for housekeeping and child care. They served as doctor, nurse, and pharmacist for their family despite the fact that 18th-century women rarely received any type of formal education. Their education in medicine consisted mainly of training from their mothers. They were exposed to raising medicinal herbs in kitchen gardens, concocting remedies from available resources, and nursing the ill by the traditional methods passed down through families and neighbors.

Popular guidebooks were also available to these women to assist in maintaining their family’s health. These guidebooks provided many useful recipes, but rarely introduced women to current medical theory. The literate housewife would record successful recipes for medical treatment in handwritten journals.

Some women practiced medicine outside of their own households. Women, as child bearers, were the logical candidates to assist other women as midwives. Some women competed in the male-dominated medical field by prescribing, preparing, and even advertising cures for troublesome diseases. It was quite common for successful women health care givers to serve the needs of the neighborhood. During the Revolutionary War, women served as nurses to the wounded and sick of the army and received pay and rations for their service.
It’s not implausible, of course, that the daughter of a physician might be taught by her father. And clearly a woman trained in the healing arts would be as highly valued by an army as she would be in her home and neighborhood.

In addition to herbs and other compounds that were known and used for their healing properties, many medicinal recipes of the period called for spirits. I’ve read that stills were common in rural areas primarily to supply spirits for medicinal uses.

In writing historical fiction, authors need to be careful not to portray female characters who are “liberated,” who hold opinions and act in ways that weren’t acceptable for women of that period. It’s equally true that we sometimes assume that women’s roles were more restricted than they really were.

Have you encountered real women from earlier times who acted in unexpected ways or successfully lived unconventional lives? If so, please briefly share their stories with us!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Our Winner Is . . .


Congratulations, Patty! Ill be in touch by email shortly to get your shipping address so I can drop a copy of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn in the mail to you.

Thank you, ladies, for stopping by and entering the drawing! I wish all of you could win, but I know there are many more drawings going on too. And this story is well worth the price, so if you don’t win one, I encourage you to buy a copy. You wont regret it!

Happy reading, everyone!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn

Today I’m celebrating the newest novel of my good friend Lori Benton with a day-before-the-release-date party, and one lucky winner is going to receive a copy of The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn! Below Lori shares how she developed the story. Please leave a comment on this post before midnight Friday, April 18, to be entered in the drawing!

Where do you get your story ideas? That’s a question fiction writers are often asked. It’s often difficult to answer.

Ideas are everywhere. In the movies we watch, the books we read, the conversations we have, the news we’re exposed to. Life abounds with story ideas. Like scattered seeds, they are constantly being planted in a writer’s mind. They can lie dormant for the longest time, forgotten by the writer herself, until suddenly they sprout, and a story idea springs from seemingly nowhere, its roots untraceable except by more digging than most writers have time to do. Rather, we delight in the unexpected tender shoot and do what we can to nourish it, hoping it will sink those mysterious roots deep, and grow.

And then sometimes we do remember exactly where a story idea came from. That’s the case for my new release, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn (WaterBrook Press, April 15, 2014). The first spark of inspiration for that story came straight out of the pages of history.

While researching an earlier novel set in 18th century North Carolina, I came across the mention of the State of Franklin—an attempt of the citizens living west of the Blue Ridge Mountains to form a separate state, just after the Revolutionary War’s ending. Had they succeeded (and they nearly did), Franklin would have been the fourteenth state admitted into the Union, instead of Vermont.

Why did they get the notion to do such a thing in the first place?

I think it’s accurate to say that the State of Franklin movement came about in large part due to geography. Several of the river valleys west of the Blue Ridge, known as the Tennessee country, had been settled well before the Revolutionary War. But those frontier settlements were a long way removed from the political centers of eastern North Carolina. With hundreds of miles between them, many of them sometimes impassable mountain miles, the settlers on the frontier became frustrated with the government’s lack of response to their needs.

In 1784, one group of these frontier citizens declared their region independent of North Carolina. They formed the State of Franklin and elected a governor—war hero John Sevier—but they never drew enough support from outside the region for their efforts to succeed. In fact, the region itself was divided, with the folk who clung to their identity as North Carolinians at odds with their neighbors who called themselves Franklinites.

This first post-Revolutionary War attempt at independent statehood spanned a brief but tumultuous period (1784—1789), and was marked by courthouse raids, fisticuffs, siege, and battle. For a little over four years the people of the Tennessee Valley region lived under the jurisdiction of two opposing governments, each vying for the same territory, taxes, and allegiance of the people.

How, I wondered, could such a situation result in anything but chaos for those folk simply trying to wrest a living from their farms or places of trade? Hadn’t they just lived through a devastating war between two rival governments? What was an Overmountain man and his family to do to get a little peace? And then there were the Chickamauga Indians seeking to sweep the whole lot of them back east across the mountains—and honestly, who could blame them?

It was a setting that begged for a story to be woven through it.

I began a file to keep track of those tantalizing hints of conflict surrounding the failed statehood attempt. Over time, as I read more about North Carolina, the sparse contents of this file would nudge me, suggesting story possibilities. Gradually a cast of characters clustered around it, they began to speak to me, and The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn took shape.

The story opens late in the summer of 1787, well into this unsettled situation in the Overmountain region. I thought it a fitting setting for a story about a privileged but subjugated young woman, Tamsen Littlejohn, and a rootless, enigmatic Overmountain man called Jesse Bird, who find themselves thrown together in a moment of crisis with a bewildering set of paths to choose toward security and safety—much as confronted the people of the frontier valleys. Tamsen and Jesse are faced with a choice of what sort of person each wants to become, what sort of life they want to live, and must decide what they are willing to risk to pursue that choice. And might the real question be—are they meant risk their hearts and make these choices together?

I’m excited to share with readers this stirring romance set against an epic period of history often neglected in the classroom: the formation of the State of Franklin on the heels of the Revolutionary War, the turmoil it caused on the North Carolina frontier, and how near it came to being our fourteenth state.
Thank you for sharing these fascinating insights into your creative process, Lori!

Readers, if you haven’t yet read Lori’s debut novel, Burning Sky, you need to purchase a copy asap! Her writing is lovely, evocative, and gripping, and Burning Sky will stay in your heart long after you turn the last page.

And I’m confident that The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn is going to be every bit as captivating. Leave a comment on this post to enter the drawing, which will close at midnight on Friday, April 18. Please include your name and email addy in your response so I can contact you if you win. I'll announce the winner here on Saturday.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New TV Series

Since my last post about the Culper Spy Ring and agent 355, I discovered the new AMC series Turn based on—guess what!—the Culper Spy Ring. Talk about a coincidence! Just when I was studying that particular subject, a TV series about it shows up. Needless to say, I was very anxious to watch the first episode.

As I’m sure everyone is aware, I thoroughly enjoy action-adventure stories, particularly those with a historical setting—which is why I write them. And I wasn’t disappointed by Turn’s storyline, acting, and general look and feel. The filmmakers did a surprisingly creditable job of creating a historically accurate script, settings, and costuming. The acting was solid and the plot engrossing and suspenseful. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series and hope it’ll stay on track.

As in every story, written or filmed, the focus of this first installment was to introduce the characters, portray their individual situations and the factors that send them on their journey, and set up future episodes. If we’re going to care about the men and women who inhabit the story, we have to understand and sympathize with their motivations and goals. In accomplishing that, the writers and actors did their jobs very well.

Of course, considering the fact that the Americans were at war with Britain at the time, Turn did depict realistic violence and bloodshed. I would have preferred to have less of an up-close view of it, although compared to the majority of TV dramas and movies we see nowadays, it wasn’t as bad as many. But the truth is that war is not romantic. Far from it. I’ve heard it said that the purpose of war is to tear up things and kill people, and indeed it is. War is gritty and dirty and violent and ugly. If everyone truly understood that, perhaps we wouldn’t have so many of them.

In Turn, the producers could have pulled shots back and avoided focusing so closely on the gore without sacrificing realism. I’m hoping that now that the motivations of the characters have been established future episodes will focus more on intrigue and less on violence. I personally don’t enjoy seeing the evil humans perpetrate against each other portrayed graphically any more than anyone else, and I’d caution anyone who might be disturbed to take that into account before watching Turn. I wouldn’t recommend it for younger children. But as a historian I have to be a realist. I study the ugly things that happen in life as well as the glorious things so I can write accurate historical fiction that convicts readers about the fallen state of humankind and illuminates God’s redemptive purposes for our lives.

What’s needed is balance in how graphically we as writers portray real life. When we sanitize history, we don’t present an honest picture of our need and God’s grace. When we overdo depictions of violence, we run the risk of turning readers off to our message, desensitizing them to sinful actions, or glorifying sin and raising passions that may lead them to engage in it. I don’t want to do that in my work. I want to honor the sacrifices of those who endured the fiery trial to ensure our freedom by portraying history honestly and in a way that fully glorifies God. And I depend on the Lord to guide me in that calling.

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Real Female Spy of the Revolution

For the past few days I’ve been reading George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. The authors cover in detail the activities of the Culper Spy Ring, which operated in New York City beginning in 1778.

Area of Culper Ring's Operations

Although I’ve run across this important spy ring before while researching the series, this is the most detailed account of their activities I’ve read. Crucible of War ends about a year before the Culper Ring began operating, and I’m especially intrigued to discover many similarities between agent 355 and my fictional character Elizabeth Howard. Elizabeth’s family ties, activities, capture, and imprisonment aboard one of the prison ships in New York Harbor at the end of Crucible of War and the beginning of Valley of the Shadow mirror agent 355’s history, although her eventual fate was much more dire than Elizabeth’s will be. I wasn’t at all familiar with this agent, which makes the similarities in their stories all the more striking.

Agent 355 was clearly a courageous and resourceful woman who did our new republic a great service. It’s truly a tragedy that she didn’t survive to enjoy the rewards of her contributions. The following account is taken from the National Women’s History Museum website.
It is believed that “355” was a member of a prominent Tory family, a position that would have allowed her virtually unrestricted access to British political and military leaders operating in the New York area. For her part, “355” helped expose Benedict Arnold’s treasonous role in the surrender of West Point and neighboring military outposts, an act that earned him a £20,000 gratuity from the British government.

She also facilitated the arrest of Major John André, the head of England’s intelligence operations in New York, who was eventually hanged as a spy on orders from General Washington. While in New York, the debonair André kept company with any number of beguiling and available women. Taking advantage of this, “355” worked the parties he gave and attended, paying careful attention to what he offered during conversations that were often plied with considerable quantities of ale. Any substantive information “355” gleaned from these indiscretions, such as the deal to hand over West Point for payment, was surreptitiously passed by way of the Culper Ring to an appreciative George Washington.

It is believed that “355” was actually Robert Townsend’s common-law wife, with whom he had a son. When the junior “Culper” learned that his prized operative and lover was to bear his child, he pleaded with her to forgo her dangerous espionage work. She refused, believing, and rightly so, that the information she was providing was of the highest value. “Three-fifty-five’s” days were, indeed, numbered, thanks, so the historical reflection goes, to the traitor Arnold, who gave her up once he had defected to Great Britain following the arrest of André.

In October 1780, “355” was captured and ordered held in fetid conditions aboard the prison ship Jersey, which was moored in the East River. While incarcerated, she gave birth to a son, whom she named Robert Townsend, Jr., after the Culper Ring operative. She died shortly thereafter.

To new intelligence service hires, “355” is often cited as an inspirational example of a trusted field agent, who has retained her anonymity even 222 years following her death. The young woman’s contributions to America’s War for Independence did not go unnoticed by the head of the fabled Culper Ring, Abraham Woodhull, who wrote that she “hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence” and could “outwit them all.”

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Back to Valley of the Shadow!

Chart of New York Harbor
It’s been way too long since I last posted on this blog. So much for good intentions! But now that the final edit of Northkill is off my desk and to the printer, I’m focusing again on book 5 of this series. Elizabeth and Carleton have been in limbo way too long, and they’re letting me know about it. If you’re not a fiction writer, I’m sure it’s hard to understand how fictional characters can take over your life and stir up trouble, but they do!

While I’ve been occupied finishing Northkill, I’ve also been accumulating lots of notes for exciting scenes in Valley, and my first task is to transcribe all of those into the working copy. The entire first part of the book will cover Elizabeth’s rescue, including a dangerous gamble by Dr. Pieter Vander Groot, and I mean to make it as breathtakingly thrilling and wrenching as possible.

There’s much more involved in this installment of the story, however. My plan is to cover the Continental Army’s trials at Valley Forge, critical trips back to Grey Cloud’s Town for both Andrews and Carleton, and the summer campaign of 1778, which includes the major battle at Monmouth Court House.

This volume will end with a bittersweet redirection of Elizabeth and Carleton’s immediate future that will inaugurate the battles on the high seas. Plenty more action, adventure, intrigue, and romance is in store for the cast of the American Patriot Series. Be sure to stay tuned for regular updates!