10 Year Anniverary & New Releases Winners: Carrie Fancett Pagels' Butterfly Cottage - Melanie B, Dogwood Plantation - Patty H R, Janet Grunst's winner is Connie S., Denise Weimer's Winner is Kay M., Naomi Musch's winner is Chappy Debbie, Angela Couch - Kathleen Maher, Pegg Thomas Beverly D. M. & Gracie Y., Christy Distler - Kailey B., Shannon McNear - Marilyn R.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Spinning Room: Why Do You Write Colonial Fiction?

You have a passion for history. You long to live in bygone eras. Some of your favorite heroes include Abigail, Molly, Daniel, and the Georges (last names not required). You dream of garrison houses, Indian raids, privateers, patriots, meeting houses, powered wigs, cotillions, Caraco jackets, embroidered stomachers, herb gardens, baking by the hearth, and spinning wool. As you sit with your roller-gel pen or at your keyboard you imagine yourself writing with a goose feather quill pen.

But what is it exactly about 18th century America that stirs your soul?
Why do you write Colonial American fiction?

(Names: Abigail Adams, Molly Pitcher, Daniel Boone, George Washington and George Whitefield)


  1. For me, it was more of a stumbling into it. I'd read a Colonial series many years ago and came up with an idea with a similar setting, but it went nowhere. Until, that is, my agent began chanting "American-set historicals" at me. I went through all my old ideas to see which, if any, could be revamped to fit the bill, and got to thinking about that one. I did some basic research, played with some ideas with my critique partners, and sent my agent a short synopsis. At that point, no editors were interested. So once again it was shelved.

    Until Summerside Press asked me if I had any ideas for a historical in Maryland. I thought for a few hours, then realized I did. So I sent along the one-paragraph query for it, thinking it a long shot.

    That long shot will be published in December as Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland.

    As I did the research and dove headlong into America of the Revolutionary period, I definitely began falling in love. Not just with the trappings of the day (which it actually took me a while to come to love), but with the ideals of the day, with the struggles that eventually formed a nation. I loved discovering our roots and realizing the founders, like us, were just a collection of people with dreams and fears . . . but that theirs led to something we still quote today.

    In my mind, that inspires me to chase after my dreams, no matter how unattainable they seem. If our forefathers can build a nation on them, then who knows what we might build?

  2. Well, I'm more of a 17th century gal, myself. :)

    I became interested in that time because of the people's passionate search for religious freedom. I'm fascinated by the growth in knowledge of Scripture that occurred during that era, in part due to the Geneva Bible, which most of the Puritans used, but also because of the King James Bible. (Did you know that this is year the four hundredth anniversary of that Bible?)

    Part of my drive for studying that era comes from learning how much the development of faith during those formative years shaped the American Constitution and the culture of this country through the centuries.

    Men like John Winthorp had a vision for the country we have today. They were forward thinking people who sought to establish a place based on Bible teachings for generations to come.

    I'm fascinated by those like Dr. John Clarke and Obadiah Holmes who were willing to fight and suffer for religious freedom and for separation of church from state.

    Oh dear. I see that my passion has run away with my fingers...

  3. Carla, Love how you introduced the question:) And find the above answers so interesting. I hope you'll chime in, too!

    The 18th-century in particular is my favorite period as it was such an earthy, passionate time, full of change and unrest and novel fodder:) Great ideas for heroes and heroines spring from that time. Ever since I was a child and read those little historical bios of colonial people, I've been smitten. I guess I try to keep the ingenuity of that time alive in even the smallest way through my own books. Plus I have such respect and admiration for those who came and settled the wilder parts of our nation, like my Kentucky ancestors, when it was quite dangerous and so new.

  4. I'd love to claim an abiding interest in early American history as the catalyst for choosing this time period to write about. But the truth of it is, when I had a story idea back in 2004 that took place on a Piedmont plantation, had to do with slavery issues, and happened well before the Civil War, I chose the 1790s over an early 1800s time period for the sole reason that I wanted my male characters to wear knee breeches, not trousers. I'd seen the movie, The Patriot, and found that particular clothing item of the 18th century most fetching. :)

    Now, all these years of writing and research later, I believe a more profound guidance was at work as well. I've fallen madly, obsessively in love with the 18th century (particularly the Revolutionary and early Federal eras) and the ideals, conflicts, failures, and triumphs of that generation of frontiersmen, warriors, farmers, slaves, and natives. I can't get through the research for one story without stumbling across an account of some happening so intriguing and adventuresome and daring that a new story idea explodes across my mind like popcorn over a fire. I don't think we've more than scratched the surface yet.

  5. Growing up in the upper peninsula of Michigan, one of my earliest memories is of the 300th anniversary of Sault Ste. Marie. It was quite a celebration. The “Soo” as locals call it, is the oldest city in Michigan and the third oldest in the country. However, this is due to the French and I grew up with stories of the voyageurs who inhabited that area.

    The British took over the forts on Mackinac Island and in Mackinac City later, and we have wonderful recreated forts in both of those locations, featuring colonial history, both French and English and of course, American!

    I often wondered if any of my ancestors were in the country at that time. My mother could only describe her family as Scot-Irish but her explanations were rather vague. My paternal great-grandparents emigrated from Great Britain on one side and were from Kentucky on the other. Maternal grandparents were all from Kentucky. A cousin took the genealogy info that we had from an old family bible and connected that all back, way back, to the founding of Virginia in the 1600’s. One step further and the parents of those immigrants connected to some names I recognized from the history books! But still nothing from my mother’s side until I found something posted by one of her cousins on the internet. Still, it ended before the Revolutionary War began.

    I was working on a three book series about a family during the Civil War, after, and then during WWII and was doing some genealogy work on my mother’s family. I had stopped at the two German cousins who had married, thinking oh my, but took a deep breath one day and plunged forward in my search. It led me to Johan Rousch, a Palatinate (duchy of Germany) immigrant who had nine of his ten sons fight during the American Revolution. The Sons of the American Revolution had put up a memorial for him in Virginia. Now I was hooked and wanted to know more. And I researched his sons and another family member, named William Christy, so I could share this information with my mother. I found the testimony of a scout with that name, here during colonial times but before my own ancestor. But the transcript of the trial leapt off the computer screen at me. I wanted to tell his story. What kind of young man would have stood up and confronted his superior officer to defend the family’s life? Sadly, when the officer ignored William’s recommendation, they were killed in an attack. So my characters are inspired by real people, although as I write them they are in fictional roles. I am inspired by people who like Johan, overcame the devastation of the wars in Europe, came to a new country, and then supported the American Revolution. I often wonder what made them do that. As someone who was a psychologist for a long time, I am more interested in the characters, in the real persons, and what made them tick.

  6. What wonderful stories you all have shared about why you enjoy writing in the colonial period.

    My hometown being 300 years old when I was a kid and the many historic field trips to Plymouth and Olde Sturbridge Village made me very interested in learning more about our country's heritage. When I homeschooled my kids we studied a book called America's Providential History by Mark Beliles which really helped me appreciate our country's origins in the divine scheme of things. (I learned a lot in homeschoo, too!) I love reading the biography's of these individuals.

    For many years I've been doing genealogy research and am proud of the many ancestors I have who were first settlers of the Mass Bay Colony. The more I research them, the more fascinating stories I learn about them and the places they lived and the times in which they lived. I feel very connected to them.

    This interest has spontaneously inspired my desire to write about such times (both 17th and 18th century America). I hope someday to share my favorite 9th great grandmother's story centering the tale in the year 1717. I have a deep respect for our forefathers who helped build and fight for our country, and the many women who also played a significant role even in their everyday lives.

    The more I learn about life in colonial times, the deeper my love for the period grows and the more I also want to write stories for others to hopefully enjoy.

  7. Well, I dont write colonial fiction, but I do paint colonial inspired paintings! I think it all started with my Felicity doll (American Girls) and reading those books about that time and all the drama and upheaval. In junior high I wrote a 'journal' of a colonial girl for a history project (lots of drama!) and I remember my teacher read it to all her classes, so I was really proud.
    What I love about that era is the combination of both homespun earthiness and continental flair. America was just starting to create its identity as a country, and there was so much bravery, on so many levels, and also just plain recklessness and optimism. I also love illustrations from that era, as well as the fashions. They lend themselves very well to art inspiration~

  8. Heather, thank you for dropping by! I'm sure we'd all love a gander at your colonial inspired paintings. Do you have a link? Thank you for sharing about the "journal" you wrote as a school girl for your American Girl. There is so much to inspire about the era indeed!

  9. Heather, I just love what you had to say. Methinks thou protesteth too much and that we have a potential colonial writer there! I want to see your paintings, too!

  10. You guys are too sweet :) here is a little bit of my more colonial/frontier-esque style art:

  11. Oh, so happy Heather is here! She's inspired me in so many ways with her artwork and also by referring me to historical links, etc. We need a million more Heathers:)

  12. This is a great blog and a thought-provoking post. My WIP is based on my ancestors' experiences during the Revolutionary War and is set in the Pennsylvania and New York frontier. Although this project has a genealogical root, my interest in the period goes beyond family history. It dates back at least to childhood visits to Williamsburg and Monticello, but its staying power for me stems from the fascinating nature of origin stories of any kind. This is the period when our ancestors not only formed our government but also brought diverse cultural influences together to form the unique American way of life.

    And what I think historical fiction uniquely brings is the chance to see these origins through the eyes of characters living the events and unable to share our knowledge of how things will turn out, the good and the bad. Many people seem to have a linear perception of history from their high school or college classes: x caused y which caused z. That may be accurate, but it obscures the sense of drama and uncertainty for people who lived through those events. At the time, nothing was inevitable. That's what I'm trying to capture in my novel.

    Looking forward to reading more!

  13. Matt, so nice of you to join us here at Colonial Quills! I agree with you about visits to such historical places leaving such a great impression, even in childhood. And the desire to share about some of the experiences of your ancestors. Many of us here have similar feelings and experiences. What an excellent goal for your novel, to capture the essence of what the characters experienced during those most difficult times. To put ourselves in their place, removing what we already know about them, their history. I wonder if they realized how brave they were and how much their ancestors would someday esteem them. Please visit again, soon!

  14. I'm really enjoying everyone's comments! My reasons for writing colonial fiction are similar to most of yours, and there's something of the rebel in me, which is undoubtedly why I was drawn particularly to the Revolutionary era. lol!

    I was blessed to grow up in a Mennonite family. The Hochstetlers are well known among the Amish and Mennonites for the massacre of 3 of our ancestors by the Indians during the French and Indian War in one of the last attacks on the settlers along the frontier in Pennsylvania. The 3 survivors were carried away into captivity and returned separately years later. Hearing these stories really piqued my interest in this period and in the lives of the colonists. As I studied the wider history of the time and researched the colonists' lifestyles and their political, social, and religious beliefs I really got sucked in.

    What started me writing about the Revolution, though, was something much more mundane. Back in 1983 I saw The Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour on TV, and absolutely fell in love with the plot and the characters--so much so that I HAD to write my own version of the story. Since I wasn't the least bit interested in the French Revolution, I needed a substitute, and what better revolution than our own? My main character became a woman and her nemesis a British officer, and the romp began! Three books later, I'm working on book 4, with 3 more to go after that. I guess you could say I'm addicted!

  15. Interestingly, the first stories I played with writing as a child were set in the colonial era, and, when other kids wanted to go to Disney World, I wanted to go to Philadelphia, Boston, Williamsburg. I gobbled up any book set in the colonial era or the early republic through the War of 1812. Homage to Kenneth Roberts anyone?

    So having books set in this time period just seemed natural to me. So far, I have three books set in the early republic, two out pre War of 1812, and one coming out next Feb. during the war. And then I sold two novellas set during the actual colonial period. To write a hero who is poised to use his skill as a printer to foment revolution and change and independence just felt wonderful to right. So perfect. So me, so much what I have longed to write.

    These are the men and women who gave us the foundation of what we have today. Without their courage, this great nation would not exist. People seem to have forgotten the strength of body, mind, and spirit that carved a leading world leader of generosity, grace, and solidarity out of the wilderness. For those people, I want to write stories that dramatize how we all began.


Thanks for commenting, please check back for our replies!