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Friday, May 22, 2020

History I Shouldn't Write - Vol. I

Chippewa men Bad River.jpg
I love to do research. In fact, sometimes I get so wrapped up in the research for a book that I have to set a timer so that I'll stop and get back to writing!

One of my favorite finds while researching is first-hand accounts, generally in the form of journals. In researching for my current projects set in Colonial America during the mid-1700s, I've read four of these journals - so far.

But I can't write about some of what I learned.

Some of what I've learned while researching is that the history "everyone knows" is often not the truth. For instance, the idea that the Native Americans never lied, never cheated, never mistreated anyone, that it was the European invaders who brought all that to these shores ... is not true.

In my research into Pontiac's Rebellion, reading from first-hand accounts, it is glaringly obvious that Pontiac lied to the British, lied to the French, lied to the other native tribes, and even lied to his own tribesmen. He was a driven and ambitious man. He bullied, threatened, stole, and killed whenever it suited his purposes. His goal was to annihilate the British any way he could. By hook or by crook, as my grandmother used to say.

We've been conditioned to think of the Native Americans of yesteryear as somehow above the fault and foibles of the rest of the human race. They weren't. They were as severely flawed as the rest of us. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone since we all fell from grace with the same bite of that piece of fruit, right?

Yet from grade school on I was taught - and I'm assuming many of you were too - that it was the European invaders who were always at fault for everything bad that happened in Colonial America. They were evil, greedy, dishonest ... oh, wait. That sounds like Pontiac! 

People are people no matter the color of their skin. They come short & tall, skinny & fat, sweet & mean, happy & bitter, honest & cheats ... the whole spectrum of humanity in every color there is. To think that any people could be otherwise is to think them not fully human. Let that sink in a moment. By lionizing one race of people above the rest, you run the risk of dehumanizing them.

How does this relate to my writing the truth of history in my books? Because of what we've been taught to accept as "truth" ... I can't write about the Pontiac who lied and cheated and stole without poking the literary bear of political correctness. Without risking being raked over the coals of Amazon's reviewers. So the choice for me is:

Do I honor the history - warts and all - and face the consequences? Or do I play it safe?

I guess we'll all have to stay tuned!



14 comments:

  1. Good points—thank you for the insight! I too am researching 1709’s in America and am looking for those first-person accounts. They’re valuable! If you run across any for NJ or Philadelphia, please mention them? I hope to see more posts from you!

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    1. I haven't seen any for those locations, but I'll keep my eyes open. There will be a total of 6 posts - one per month - on this topic. So stay tuned!

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  2. I say honor the history. I have the same problem when writing Civil War fiction. (History books were most definitely written by the victor). When you read first-hand accounts, you find the truth.

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    1. History is written by the victor - and then rewritten by the politically correct anymore. *sigh*

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  3. Edit: that should be 1700’s America!

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  4. They were still teaching objective truth when I studied this. Unfortunately, it changed rapidly to what would later be known as political correctness.

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  5. Like Jessica, I would say honor the history, especially since I have written 4 Civil War novels and often run across similar issues. Sometimes people will say something politically correct, and they can't verify where they learned it, just that they heard it that way. When you can show your writing is based on journals, diaries, and period documents, the case for authenticity becomes stronger, in my opinion. History isn't always pretty, (neither is life!) and if allowed, we can learn from it. Keep up the good work -- I'm looking forward to reading your book about Pontiac's Rebellion : )

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    1. I'm hoping it lands with a publisher soon. I have written one novella set during Pontiac's Rebellion in the anthology written by author of this very blog! It's titled "The Backcountry Brides" and was published by Barbour Publishing. That novella was a finalist for the 2019 ACFW Carol Awards. :)

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  6. Very well stated.
    Honestly in history is so important. I do not believe that anyone should rewrite the past just to please someone in the present.

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    1. You and I are on the same page! But the question is ... will readers of historical fiction agree?

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  7. Or, History You SHOULD Write. ;-) You'd be surprised, though, how many readers of historical fiction do appreciate truth! I'd braced for kickback on The Rebel Bride because of the different slant I took, but several reviewers commented that they appreciated having a different perspective. And the internal politics between the native tribes is something I've been thinking about blogging on as well--for instance, the way the Iroquois pushed others around. (I might have mentioned that in my post about the Shawnee but at the moment can't remember how in-depth I went.) Looking forward to the rest of the series!

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    1. The Iroquois were the bullies on the block for sure. At Point Iroquois in Michigan's U.P., it's a remembered spot because the Ojibwe kicked their butts and sent them packing. That didn't happen all that often to the Iroquois.

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