Debra E. Marvin here. Hello! I am a big fan of audiobooks on CD and I'd chosen one from the library based only on the fact it was by an author I'd enjoyed decades ago. The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton turned out to be a very detailed historical based on the life of a real woman at the time of the Puritans' move to Massachusetts. While I consider myself a fan of American and British History, this story proved to me just how much I don't know about that period.
Throughout the story I would take the time to look up historical figures or a setting or particular incident. The Winthrop Woman is based on the journals of many people and historical research by the author. It always fascinates me when authors use 'real' people, as there is an obvious amount of the story that is created by the author. But where is the line between real and imagined? (To me, guessing is half the fun!)
|Gov. John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony (Wikipedia)|
I asked two other members of Colonial Quills how they've used real historical characters and settings.
Denise Weimer adds:
In my Georgia Gold Series, romance with a touch of mystery set between the Cherokee Removal and Reconstruction in Northeast Georgia and Savannah, I included cameo appearances of a couple of real historical characters. Because I don't want to misrepresent people in any way, I try to limit those to an environment and conversation where I can be as accurate as possible. For example, if I don't know about a figure's personal life, I avoid mention of it and focus on public life. My research included published and unpublished letters and diaries of the period, as well as reputable books ... not just internet info. Two characters come to mind that I integrated, Jarvis Van Buren and Francis Bartow.
Jarvis Van Buren, cousin to 8th president Martin Van Buren, ran two saw mills instrumental in building the picturesque foothills town of Clarkesville. He also established a famous nursery that included samples of rare apple trees he'd collected from the Cherokee Indians. He was published in SOUTHERN CULTIVATOR and known as a great proponent of Georgia agriculture. Because the Van Burens were friends with the Kollocks, the ancestors of my historical mentor and cover artist, he is mentioned frequently in the Kollock diaries I borrowed for research. So I mention in the story when his son dies in an accident, when he establishes a wine industry, etc. These brief mentions give touches of realism to the historical backdrop. In one scene, my half-Cherokee heroine Mahala Franklin bumps into Van Buren in town. She is distracted by the disappearance of her friend but has to be polite because Mr. Van Buren is well above her in social distinction!
Francis Bartow was captain of Savannah's Oglethorpe Light Infantry, which attached to the famous 8th Georgia Infantry, CSA. He rose to the rank of brigadier general before being shot through the heart leading a charge against Federal batteries at First Manassas. In THE GRAY DIVIDE, two of my characters, brothers Devereaux and Dylan Rousseau, attend a rousing speech he makes as Georgia secedes from the Union. That way I was able to use his real speech. In another scene, Carolyn, Devereaux's wife, goes to plead with Bartow to take her husband to the action in Virginia even though Bartow has declared he will not take married men. And the rest is recorded in the sweeping romantic saga of The Georgia Gold Series!
While researching, Love's Compass, I struck gold! I learned about the 1875 survey of Colorado Territory along the New Mexico border by U.S. Surveyor Chandler Robbins. I decided to have my characters tag along as a trail guide and photographer! There was plenty of historical documentation: journals, photographs, maps. I discovered more treasure when I found an autobiography written by missionary Rev. George Darley. Darley pioneered the San Juan Mountains of western Colorado, preaching in mines and saloons, as there was not yet a single church. My hero turned his life to Christ because of his influence. I am personally inspired Rev. Darley’s story and am grateful for how the details he wrote about enriched my novel.
My novel Pattern for Romance is set in pre-revolutionary, British-occupied Boston. I had a timeline, historical maps, and a business directory, which were important as I considered proximity, transportation, and so forth. Famous citizens had the potential to join my cast of characters — providing they had an impact with my storyline. In fact, I may have been called to account if I did not incorporate actual personalities of the time. I appointed the famous Rev. Samuel Cooper of the Brattle Street Church as the hero's minister and friend. He played a pivotal role and knew the goings on about town. Boston newspapers were few and fiercely competitive (I used some of their text verbatim/no copyright!). Loyalist Editor John Mein comes into play and mean he is aptly portrayed. History does not always leave a sterling record of men. But fiction can become a voice of truth under the discretion of a careful writer and sometimes can give an extra salute to those most worthy.
Thank you, ladies!
So, folks...what do you enjoy? Do you like stories where authors bring in actual historical figures?
And have you ever traveled somewhere and been more interested in the local history because of a book you'd read?
With this colonial novella coming next year from Barbour (in a collection from the Colonial Quills authors) I also have a mystery out in July of 2017 (Journey Fiction) and a colonial releasing later this year from Forget me Not Romances. I'd love to have you sign up for my newsletter if you aren't already doing so. Thank you! Here's the link!