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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Friday, January 06, 2012

Why I Write About the French & Indian War

A view of Lake Champlain from the walls of Fort Ticonderoga

First for the really exciting news: Connor’s book is written! Yes, Defiant is written. Right now I’m revising it and polishing it — my favorite part of writing. Writing is not getting any easier for me, but rather seems to get harder. Perhaps my expectations for myself are getting higher, or maybe I just keep biting off more in my mind than I can manage in words.


Indian writer Anita Desai said, “Usually a feeling of disappointment follows the book, because what I hoped to write is not what I actually accomplished. However, it becomes motivation to write the next book.”

I have that same experience.

The beautiful Eileen Hannay and I standing on Rogers Island across from the site of Fort Edward

What’s in my mind is a shadow of some greater, more profound reality that I want to share. What ends up on the page is a shadow of what was in my mind. It can be very frustrating.


However, I’m almost 100 pages in and pleased with the those 100 pages.


I wanted to muse a bit about why I write about Colonial America and particularly the French & Indian War. A reader on Goodreads asked why I would set a book during a period of history that was so horrendously violent and brutal. I’m taking the question seriously and want to answer, because there is a reason. Or rather there are many reasons.

Romantic fiction has a long tradition that goes back long before Jane Austen. Although many credit her with inventing the romance genre, in truth there were romances in the 16th and 17th centuries that were very popular and available to those who could afford them. Still, the fact remains that much of historical romance focuses on the Regency period, a reader favorite.

A powder horn, rifled muskets and leg irons from the French & Indian war
 Many readers enjoy escaping into the beauty of the idealized Regency world. For them, romantic fiction is synonymous with beautiful people, opulence, beautiful clothing, romantic adventures, witty banter, comedy of manners, and so on.

So why would I write historical romance that lacks most of those elements?  And why would I choose to set a historical romance at what was arguably THE most violent period in North American history?

The easy answer is this: These are the stories that are in my heart to tell.

The waterfall where Amalie and Morgan make love for the first time (son Benjamin is guarding it)

The more complicated answer starts with my own interests and life experience.

As an investigative reporter, I saw and experienced a lot of things people do not see. I met people who were downright evil. I also met saints. I saw violence. I saw dead bodies. I saw a kid with his head shot off. Yes, off. I know what happens to human brains when they dry. I know the hollow look in a rape victim’s eyes and the hate-filled look in the rapist’s. I’ve had two stalkers, gotten death threats, and survived sexual assault as a child.

Sorry, but I can’t even fantasize about an idealized world of beautiful people. For me to believe a story, it has to begin in the world I know — the imperfect world of strife, poverty, and violence. That’s true for my I-Team stories, too. (Side note: I think this is true for a lot of paranormal writers and urban fantasy authors, too. The darkness of the paranormal/fantasy world is a kind of metaphor for the evil in our own.)

The fantasy for me is taking that world — and healing it. In real life, I have very little control over the terrible things that happen. The bad guy often gets away. The innocent are often the ones who suffer. The poor get poorer. The rich get richer. Women and children take the brunt of the world’s brutality. But in fiction, I can have control of that outcome and make the right thing happen.


That’s part of it.

But I also love this period of history. So many cultures are coming together. An English family on the frontier would have neighbors from Ulster, Germany, Holland, not to mention American Indian nations. The cultural clash and mixing fascinates me as a student of history — my degree and graduate work was in archaeology — and as a lover of languages.

As an archaeology student, I found the golden troves of treasure from the graves of kings and pharaohs to be only of passing interest. What fascinated me most were everyday objects used by everyday people. I fell in love with archaeology as a kid when someone handed me a potsherd from ancient Athens. And there on the ancient clay I could just make out the potter’s thumb print.

I felt connected across centuries to a human being who’d devoted a small portion of his/her life to crafting that very pot. The thought stole my breath. I was completely carried away, connected to a sense of humanity that sprawls millennia. It’s really hard to explain what that feels like, but it ignited a love in me for the ordinary human being through history.

So many novels, not just in romance, focus on the doings of the wealthy and famous. What about the ordinary people? What about the farm wife and the shopkeeper and the blacksmith? I love the details or everyday people’s lives, and I enjoy putting them into stories.

Also, I love nature, and the forests of New York, Pennsylvania, the Ohio Country, and the New England states were vast on a scale that we can’t really imagine. Nature, therefore, becomes its own character in the stories.


The eastern shore of Lake George, well known to the Rangers

All of this rolls together with a specific interest in — no, a passion for — this time period. Life was raw. It hung by a thread. The French & Indian War has been called the First World War by many scholars. And although people didn’t realize it at the time, it was also the war that led to the American Revolution. The latter is unthinkable without the divisions and strife of the former. I could go on forever. I’ll stop there.

This all fascinates me, and, yes, I find aspects of it romantic, just as other aspects are tragic and terrifying.

I find that great adversity makes for the creation of strong heroes. Think about World War II movies and the way that era is romanticized. And yet the violence of that war and the events that went with it, such as the Holocaust, is some of the most appalling ever to take place on this planet.

Great heroes arose from that time, men and women who were equal to the challenge of that war, who rose above their own imperfection to make great sacrifices for the sake of others.


The darker the night, the more horrendous the evil, the brighter the dawn, the more heroic the hero. That’s how it feels for me, at any rate.

William Falkner once said there were only three kinds of stories worth telling: man vs. man, man vs. nature or man vs. himself. Setting aside his sexist language, I guess I agree.

I find that mixing those three up in a single story — nature, war, internal conflict — makes it challenging to write and worth my time. If I can add a love story to that — and some hot sex — then I feel like it’s a book I would want to read.


The site of Fort Edward looking across the Hudson River to Rogers Island (Ranger Island)

I’ve always said that one thing that makes romantic fiction great is variety. People who enjoy light, breezy reads have plenty to choose from, as do people who enjoy cowboys, vampires, shape shifters, firemen, Amish tales, futuristic romance, other worlds and so on. And every romance writer makes her contribution to that variety, adding her own bit of color to the rainbow, so to speak.

My contribution thus far has been Colonial American romance, focusing largely on the French & Indian War and the American frontier, and the I-Team, stories based on my own work as a reporter. I also have some medieval stories in my head that need to come out at some point, as well as some set during the Dickensian period.

I write these books because the stories are in my heart. I write these books because I want to write them. I can’t fathom trying to write 120,000 words that weren’t really in me. Talk about difficult!

My hope for every romance reader is that you find lots of books this year that satisfy your heart.

Happy Reading!

Coming soon:
An interview with Eileen Hannay, an expert on Rogers Island
More contests
The MacKinnon’s Rangers Reading Challenge

9 comments:

Lori S said...

Love what you said here Pamela, I am going to start reading your historicals this weekend. Cant wait! I think if you dont't write what you love you won't be able to write a very good story. I can't say, I am in no way a writer. Thank God for you and all that can write.

Thank you, Lori! That's very kind of you to say. I hope you enjoy them! Keep me posted!

Laura Varley said...

Thanks so much for bringing the love of reading back in my life! I somehow stumbled upon the I-Team series after buying a Kindle and loved it and read them all. Those led me to Cristy Reece's LCR series, which I loved also. I then found something I never knew I loved even more, the historical romance! I thank you so much!!I finished the Kenleigh/Blakewell series and now am reading the MacKinnon Ranger series..love them!!

Pamela, the thing I enjoy most about your books is your obvious love of history and this time period in particular. Like you, I have little interest in the lives of the rich and famous - and I find men who use their strength to defend and provide for their loved ones very sexy. Keep writing - whatever the time period - and I'll keep reading.

KayH. said...

Oh Pamela, what a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I loved to see the pictures of Rangers' Island again because I just finished Surrender 2 ( which I loved) & started right in on Untamed 2. It has been a couple of years since I read them so to read the new editions is an Extra Special treat. I've said it before & I'll say it again, I can't wait for Connor in July. Thank you for all of your hard work.

Kay said...

Fabulous explanation, Pamela. What I really love about your works is that they have reality in them. The fact that you do your research makes a difference in the quality of your stories. Don't ever stop doing that. I love reading where I actually learn something along the way! Because this time period in our pre-country is rarely highlighted, I also love the uniqueness (is that a word?) of your stories.

Ridley said...

"I felt connected across centuries to a human being who’d devoted a small portion of his/her life to crafting that very pot."

Oh! I was recently trying to explain this very feeling to my husband recently. It's why I can sit and stare at a stone wall in a NH forest pretty much indefinitely. I get lost wondering who the farmer was, what he grew, where his house was, how long ago he built the wall, whether he dropped a stone on his toe in the process, who helped him...

How fun to see someone else feels the same way!

Hi, Laura — I'm so glad you've rediscovered the joy of reading. There is really nothing like curling up with a good book and disappearing. If my books have been able to provide that for you, then I'm thrilled.

Historical romance is my first love, so I'm glad you've discovered it.

I'm still in the midst of editing DEFIANT. I'm eager to send it to NY and see what my editor has to say.

Thanks for posting!

Hi, Jennie — I guess we're soul mates. I don't care about fashion or any of that now, so I have very little interest in it historical speaking either. I have to REMEMBER to describe my characters' clothing. Otherwise readers would think they were naked the entire time. :-)

And thank you! I DO love the history. So very much.

Hi, KayH — You're welcome! When I know someone is enjoying the stories, then it's so worth it. How exciting to know you're reading the 2.0 versions. I hope you're enjoying them even more than the originals. You'll have to tell me what you think of the real villain's death scene toward the end of UNTAMED.

Hi, Kay — Thanks so very much. We don't hear much about this time period. Even the states where it all unfolded, like New York, are slowly dropping the French & Indian War from their curriculum. That's like dropping the Alamo from Texas school curriculum. It's too bad, really. And I love the details, so I'm glad you enjoy them, too.

Yes, I have to start from some place that feels like reality, or I just can't buy the story and suspend my disbelief.

Thanks!

Hi, Ridley — Nice to see you here! Isn't that an amazing feeling? It's like a historical head rush or something. When it happens, when I really connect, it's the closest thing to time travel, I suppose. I remember once visiting Mesa Verde and getting caught in a thunderstorm in Cliff Palace. While we waited out the storm, water started pouring in a veil over the lip of the cave. And I realized that's what the inhabitants of Cliff Palace would have seen. It was an amazing moment.

It's nice to connect with someone who knows what I'm talking about!

Eli Yanti said...

what a great post Pamela and beatufil picture ;)

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