Novels Based on Historical Facts

I’ve been attracted to studying history lately. It started as I began reading about the Civil War as I prepared presentations about my great grandfather’s Civil War experiences captured in his journal. (Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier) But it’s gone further on either side of those watershed years in United States history. 51TYhlVodCL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_

As a result, My husband and I have been enjoying Ken Burn’s series: The Civil War and PBS’s The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Both of these in-depth looks at previous eras shed light on where we are today economically, politically, socially, and culturally. I realized something as I delved into the past. I’ve forgotten much of what I’d learned in school. Here’s the difference: I studied it then to pass a test to earn a degree to land a job. I study it now because it interests me. World of difference.

Of course, the Broadway production of Hamilton opened up more folks to learning about the early days of our fledgling country, but I’d resisted delving into the founding father’s until I came across a book offered for free with my Prime membership.

The Midwife's RevoltThe Midwife’s Revolt by Jodi Daynard is the type of historical novel I’ve been reading for a few years now.  Fictional accounts with the historical facts and people–most of them featuring women often ignored as the men they loved received all the infamy leave me impressed with the courage and strength needed to survive harsh circumstances.

Lizzie Boylston possesses a gift in the art of midwifery, but she’s living in perilous times as the Revolutionary War looms. The novel begins in 1775 during the Battle of Bunker Hill and continues through the struggles of war. Her best friend and neighbor, Abigail Adams suffers greatly when both husband and son are swept away to Europe where they are kept safe from the factions who seek to do them harm. Lizzie herself becomes a spy for the cause and it puts a strain on her relationship with Abigail who must  not be told about the midwife’s efforts. At times deemed a witch for her special tinctures and medicines, Lizzie fights the restrictions on her sex and on her craft. Dynard created the character of Lizzie, but keeps to the historical happenings and the whereabouts of the Adams’s family during this time. I was very much captivated by the conditions under which the women lived, worked, and loved.

The reading of The Midwife’s Revolt led me directly to learning more about Alexander Hamilton, not that he plays a role in the book, but all the hoopla about him and the time period piqued my interest. I could have gone for the biography Hamilton, and I probably will read it at some point, along with book, The Founding Fathers, which has sat on my bookshelf for too many years–pages on the paperback have yellowed.

The Hamilton AffairInstead, I opted for another book of historical fiction about the real people, namely Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth Schuyler. The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs uses the point of view of both Hamiltons to tell the story of this couple brought together 1777 by Eliza’s father. We all know it ends tragically for Alexander but Eliza manages to live long after her husband’s fatal duel  According to Cobbs, most of the characters are real and the events are not fabricated, but the conversations and intimacies exist in her imagination based on her extensive research.

Once again, I found myself lost in another time and place with admiration for the women who kept the families together while the men received the notoriety. It’s an absorbing read.

Varina

 

The last one I’ll address in this post, leaves the Revolutionary period behind and heads into the Civil War era. It was a coincidence that this one also featured a female heroine from history. I bought the book because of the author, Charles Frazier and my enjoyment of his Cold Mountain and its setting near where I now spend my summers.

Varina is the story of Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis. I’d never heard of her before I read this book, but it only made her story that much more interesting. Plus, I’ve spent so much time on the Union side of this history, I found it jarring and intriguing to go to the other side. The story is told through the point of view of James, who as a child was taken in by Varina while living in Richmond as the first lady of the Confederacy. He’s of mixed race, and no one knows whether he’s free or not. He lives with her children and is treated as one of their one. But when the Confederacy falls and Varina is on the run with her children, she turns James over to a home for orphans. From there, they lose contact until James–left with only a blue book of his history–tracks down Varina in 1906 in Saratoga, New York. James is the glue for the story, but Varina is the storyteller.

I enjoyed reading about Varina, a strong woman who stood up to Jeff Davis’s authoritative brother and often questioned her husband’s decisions. However, it took some adjustment to Frazier’s literary technique of not using quotation marks around dialogue. A line of dialogue begins with an “em” dash: –We’ll see, V said. As with any technique where the author creates their own style, it’s a matter of reader adjustment to the accustomed style. Once I adapted, it didn’t interrupt my reading even though it did at first.

I very much enjoyed all of these books as well as others in a similar vein about a woman pilot, the mistresses of Marshall Field and Frank Lloyd Wright, wives of Robert Louis Stevenson and Ernest Hemingway and more. Most of the books rely heavily on letters and biographies, but the fictional scenes created allow the imagination to wonder about how one person’s life can impact the course of history. In many cases, it’s obvious that without the guidance of strong and brilliant women in the shadows, the men might never have been recognized.

Does this mean I’ll be rushing off to write my own historical “faction?” I don’t think so. I love history. I admire those who write historical fiction. I adore historical biographies. But write them? It’s not on my horizon, but I stopped saying “never” a long time ago when it comes to my life as an author.

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It’s not historical but there are some interesting characters. Click here to see my latest release, a new compilation of all my Smoky Mountain romances under one cover.

 

 

 

Author Wednesday – Elaine Cougler

cropped-cropped-typewriter.jpgHello and welcome to Author Wednesday. Today I welcome back Elaine Cougler for an interview about her latest historical novel, The Loyalist’s Luck, Book 2 in her Loyalist Trilogy.Loyalists Luck She visited one year ago to talk about her first novel The Loyalist’s Wife. Loyalists Wife

Welcome Elaine. It’s been one year since you visited me to talk about writing. So let’s start with you as the writer. When were you first able to call yourself a “writer” or “author”?

What a great question! It’s one everyone seems to face and I am no exception. When I first started working on The Loyalist’s Wife, my first historical novel, I didn’t call myself anything. I didn’t even tell anyone what I was working on. Only my husband knew. The more I researched and wrote and got involved online, the more I realized that in some way I had to meet my writer self head-on and talk about what I was doing. Then the question for me was just what you’ve asked, P.C. I had in my mind that an author was a writer who had climbed the steep slope to publication. If I wasn’t published I was a writer, not an author. Funny thing is, though, once I was published, this question which had consumed so much of my time on my six-year journey to publication just went away. Now I call myself either writer or author. I guess the proof is in the doing and not the naming.

So true. I called myself a writer first thinking “author” sounded too presumptuous of me. Now I don’t hesitate to call myself either. In your two novels, which are a part of a series, have you tried to convey a common message?

The things that intrigue me about the Loyalists and others who find themselves trapped by circumstances over which they have no control are varied. Kings and presidents make decisions and we, the little people, have to find ways to survive because of those decisions. John and Lucy are on the side of the British in both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. All they and their children want is to build their lives in safety on their property. This is impossible not once but many times over. The theme that is most interesting to me, then, is how ordinary people rise up against extraordinary circumstances and survive.

Why did you choose to write about the Loyalists?

I guess I have a great respect for the abilities of people once they decide to conquer their problems and just try. Here in Ontario, many of us are descended from Loyalists who wanted to stick with the King and fought to do just that. When their lands were confiscated with no recompense, they started again in different parts of Canada. I’ve focused on the Niagara Peninsula where my own people started out. The links between my own background and the fictional story of the Garner family in The Loyalist Trilogy have made this an eye-opening and delightful journey for me. I got so intrigued, I even did a photo book for my wee grandchildren showing them ten generations back. So, in a sense, writing about John and Lucy was writing about me and my family. Don’t get me wrong–these people are fictional. But what happens to them could have happened to my ancestors.

That is so interesting, and I love how you’re now providing something for the younger generation. Fiction is a wonderful way to educate while still entertaining, and you’ve managed to do that very well by bringing history alive. Talk about setting in your novels. It must play an extremely large role.

In historicals, setting is extremely important as wars can figure prominently, and they are most often about land. The first book in the trilogy sees John join Butler’s Rangers to fight for the British and leave Lucy behind on their farm in the wilds of New York State. Her job is to hold onto the land. His is to try to help the British keep their foothold in the thirteen colonies. Again, in the second book, land figures in the settling of the Niagara Peninsula and in the War of 1812. In many ways there would be no story in either book if not for the time period, the place and, indeed, the warring atmosphere.

What’s the best thing said about one of your books by a reviewer?

I’m not sure this is the best thing, but it’s one of the things for which I’m most grateful. I had occasion to meet Terry Fallis (www.terryfallis.com) several times through my writing journey, and he kindly agreed to read my manuscript and write a back cover comment for me. (Terry is the winner of the prestigious Stephen Leacock medal here in Canada.) Here is what he said about the first book in the trilogy: “Elaine Cougler has written a page-turning novel of the American Revolution through the eyes of a conflicted loyalist soldier and his indomitable wife. You’ll feel the hardship of homesteading, the fear of the enemy, the blows of battle, and the pain of separation. You’ll be transported through history. This is not just a novel written about another time, it seems written in another time.”

That is a wonderful comment, Elaine. I thank you for stopping by today and sharing a bit of your writing life with us. I hope you’ll come back when the third book is published.

ElaineAbout Elaine Cougler: A native of southern Ontario, Elaine taught high school and with her husband raised two children until she finally had time to pursue her writing career. A prize-winning author, she loves to research both family history and history in general for the tales of real people that emanate from the dusty pages. Telling the ongoing stories of Loyalists from the American Revolution and the War of 1812 is very natural as her personal roots are thoroughly enmeshed in those early struggles out of which arose both Canada and United States.

 

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The Loyalist’s Wife on Amazon  http://amzn.to/1wNWN94

The Loyalist’s Luck on Amazon  http://amzn.to/1tm6x6D

 

 

 

 

Author Wednesday – Elaine Cougler

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Welcome to Author Wednesday. Today, I welcome Elaine Cougler the author of The Loyalist’s Wife, an historical novel set during the Revolutionary War years. The Loyalist's Wife_cover_Mar18.inddHere’s a blurb about the book taken from the back cover: “With vivid scenes of desperation, heroism, and personal angst, Elaine Cougler takes us back to the beginnings of one great country and the planting of Loyalist seeds for another. The Loyalist’s Wife transcends the fighting between nations to show us the individual cost of such battles.” 

Welcome to Author Wednesday, Elaine. I’m intrigued with your book already. Before we delve into the specifics about The Loyalist’s Wife, I’d like to know more about you as a writer. When were you first able to call yourself a “writer” or “author?”

The term writer was easy to use as soon as I started writing for real. That means as soon as I set myself the goal to write a novel. Of course, my whole life I’ve been writing, but I was a student, a teacher, a mother, a singer, a friend, a wife, a lot of things that I easily called myself while never thinking of myself as a writer. The term author, however, was a harder label to give myself. In the spirit of fake it till you make it, I set up a Facebook Author page labeled ElaineCouglerAuthor a couple of years before publishing my first novel. Now author slips out really easily as in my own mind I’ve earned that label.

I am a firm believer in faking it until you make it. Good way to start visualizing your path. What’s going on with your current projects?

The Loyalist’s Wife was released in June; The Loyalist’s Luck is slated for next June (2014), and The Loyalist’s Legacy for the year following. Along with my research for my novels, I am creating a book of my own family’s history to leave for my grandchildren. This will be a photo book with pictures of tombstones and my ancestors themselves, where I have them, as well as anecdotal comments and explanations. This is taking way more time than I thought, but it is exciting as the research meshes very well with the research for my Loyalist series.

It’s so important to leave a record. Right now I’m in the process of formatting my great grandfather’s Civil War journal. It’s the only record I have of his life, and I’m very grateful to have it. You’ll have three historical novels when you’re finished. Why have you chosen to write about the beginnings of the United States and Canada?

I love reading historical fiction and have known of my own Loyalist background all my life so that writing a book about that just seemed natural. It has been a surprising journey of learning about the times of the American Revolution in general and then more specifically of my own family’s background in Canada.

That is very exciting and gives you even more motivation to share your family’s history with your grandchildren. Are you planning to continue writing in the same genre for your fiction?

Another book that is running around in my head is a memoir. This will be the story of a young girl growing up in a large family made up of way more boys than girls in rural Ontario with exceptional people for parents in a time of great growth and change in our world. And beyond that, I cannot think. Someday I may retire, I suppose. 🙂

We have a lot in common, except I grew up in Michigan. I’m curious about how you chose the title for the first book in the series. Has it been the title from the very beginning?

My working title, which I took to a writing conference, was Loyal to the Crown. I was dissatisfied with it, and my group of about twenty came up with another title, which just jumped out at me. The Loyalist’s Wife encompasses the Loyalist idea, the fact that there is a wife, and she’s pretty important, and the fact that there is a husband who is a Loyalist.

I like the current title. I also like that you asked for help in giving your “baby” its name. I’m sure you had to research quite a bit for The Loyalist’s Wife since it’s a historical novel. What type of research did you do?

My computer was a useful and convenient place to start researching with the library a close second. Then I visited local museums and bought books of the period. The best research, however, has been in visiting the actual places where many of the scenes in my novel take place. With my husband, I have taken day or two-three day trips to many forts in New York and the Niagara area, both on the American and the Canadian side of the border.

That makes the research much more interesting I’m sure. I did something similar this summer when we drove through many of the battle areas from my great grandfather’s journal. It made it all seem so much more real. You mention you took the trips with your husband. How does your immediate family feel about your writing life?

Support is what a writer needs, and that is what I get. My wonderful husband has been with me through all the ups and downs. My two adult children are clever and intuitive people to access when I want to ruminate about details or plot or history as they are both avid readers. The short answer is that they are appreciative and supportive, a pretty wonderful combination.

I agree. My grown daughter is one of my beta readers. I trust her because we read many of the same books and since she was very young we’ve discussed and shared our books with one another. My scientist husband thinks I’m the best writer he’s ever read. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t read novels very much – it’s the support that counts. You are a very fortunate woman indeed. I’m very pleased you stopped by for a visit today, and I wish you the best in your endeavors. I hope you’ll come back when the next Loyalist book is published.

6203edit (2)About Elaine Cougler:  A native of Southern Ontario, Elaine taught high school and with her husband raised two children until she finally had time to pursue her writing career. She loves to research both family history and history in general for the stories of real people that emanate from the dusty pages. These days writing is Elaine’s pleasure and her obsession. Telling the stories of Loyalists caught in the American Revolutionary War is very natural as her personal roots are thoroughly enmeshed in that struggle, out of which arose both Canada and the United States.

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