by Elaine Marie Cooper
Researching for a historical novel set in Colonial America is both daunting and fun. Daunting because you don’t want a knowledgeable reader saying, “Aha! That isn’t accurate!” Fun because seeing how the people lived so long ago is both amazing and, at times, frightening (think: Colonial medicine).
And then there are the moments that bring a pause with a sigh, when a researcher longs for the simpler times. When you envision dinner by candlelight—every night—a warm fireplace to warm your toes, and the faith cradled in prayer that seemed so much stronger then. God was looked upon as the Great Defender. Along with a musket and gunpowder. :)
There is something even more inspiring to me, personally, when I tread on the ground where my great grandfathers trod—literally. Such was the case last May when my husband and I visited Saratoga National Historic Park. It was the location of the turning point in the American Revolution that led to the colonists winning freedom from England.
It was also the turning point in my lineage. One of the British soldiers escaped after the surrender. He met and married my fourth great grandmother in western Massachusetts where they settled and raised a family.
While visiting this National Monument, small seeds of a novel began growing in my mind. It slowly took root in the next days and weeks until the blooms of characters and dialogue were ready to burst from the fields in my head. I knew the novel was ready for harvest, and the writing has now begun.
My focus on this current historical fiction is not my grandfather nor solely about the men who fought in the battle. It is mostly about the many people who were caught in its web of weariness, destruction and pain. There were not just soldiers who fought; there were women who nursed the wounded, washed the clothes, raised their children and tried to survive the war just like the men did. There were surgeons, surgeon’s mates, cooks—an entire entourage of individuals functioning as a transient city run by a military general responsible for the success or failure of the mission.
There are several nonfiction titles that cover the details about this campaign. My favorite is simply entitled “Saratoga” by Richard Ketchum. The battle took place in September and October of 1777, and the British hoped to divide the New England colonies from the rest of Colonial America. The endeavor was a miserable failure, partly due to English pride. It was assumed that a band of farmers couldn’t possibly win a war against the best-trained army in the world.
There were some who did not underestimate the abilities of the Continental Army however. The much loved Baroness Riedesel , wife of the German general fighting with the British, was far more astute in her observations of the Americans:
“The thought of fighting for their country and for freedom made them braver than ever.”
So this author reads books, double-checks facts and sits at her laptop creating characters that I love or hate (or sometimes both). I hope and pray that my readers love them as well. Mostly I hope and pray that my writing is pleasing to the One who created the craft of writing and planted the passion for it in my heart.
Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of the Selah Award Winning Fields of the Fatherless. Her upcoming release, Bethany's Calendar, will be available in December.