Monday, May 5, 2014

Conducted by Helena Schrader

On her Writing Process Blog Tour author Helena Schrader has asked me four questions about my writing.  Here are my answers.
1) What am I working on?
I am 49 pages into writing a historical novel about the interaction of Algonquian natives at and near Roanoke Island (North Carolina) with English explorers sent by Walter Raleigh in 1584 to locate a suitable place for settlement and mostly English soldiers in 1585 to establish a settlement/base to attack Spanish treasure ships returning to Spain from Mexico and Latin America.  The working title is "Alsoomse and Wanchese."  I hope to narrate how the native population and culture were disrupted and decimated by a willful superior power determined to achieve its selfish aims.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I haven't read other authors' novels about the Roanoke story because I don't want my ideas about what to write and how to write it colored.  I have, however, read glimpses of what several authors apparently have attempted by looking at excerpts that provides of their works with its "look inside" feature.  Each novel has a love relationship between an English subject and an Algonquian.  The English subject is a stowaway or somebody that has been hired by a person of authority.  He/She is a member of the 1587 "Lost Colony" settlement of John White.
My novel will be different in several respects.  I will focus on the interaction of the two cultures.  I will write about trust, understandings and misunderstandings, apprehensions, fear, greed, paranoia, kindness, and cruelty.  I will attempt to demonstrate the universal truth that a dominant culture does great damage invariably to a far less developed culture when the people of that culture have something valuable that the people of the dominant culture desire.
Love elements in my novel will be restricted to native inhabitants.  I hope to portray the Algonquian people truthfully; they will display universal character traits; they will be greatly influences by cultural habits and religious belief.  I will use third-person point of view narration that focuses on, perhaps, seven characters.
My novel will end in 1586, not begin in 1587.  I will decide after I have completed it if I want to attempt to write a sequel.
I will be as accurate at portraying historical figures and events as I am able, having conducted extensive research.  (This is not to say, of course, that other authors of the Roanoke story have not)  I hope to entertain and instruct.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I've always had a great interest in history, a curiosity about why and how important events of the past happened.  I graduated from UCLA many years ago with a bachelor's degree in history.  I also like to write.  My general secondary teaching credential minor was English.  I taught English mostly to eighth grade students for 32 years and American history for 6 of those years.  As a teacher of both subjects, I exposed my students to stories and factual accounts of individuals dealing with basic human conflicts: Jem and Scout Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird," Richard Wright in "Black Boy," Kino in "The Pearl," Dr. Martin Luther King during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Charlie Gordon in "Flowers for Algernon," to cite several examples.
After I retired from teaching, I felt the need to write fiction to express my own observations about people and life situations.  Because of my particular interest in history, I wanted to inform my readers of the intricacies of important events as well as tell human, hopefully compelling, individual stories.  These objectives led to my writing of "Crossing the River," a novel about the attempted seizure and destruction April 19, 1775, of stockpiled military stores at Concord, Massachusetts Colony, by a British army sent out of Boston by its military governor, Thomas Gage, a task that precipitated the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  The novel is a large tapestry of the experiences of the day's numerous participants.
I maintain a blog site ( that provides readers information about historical figures that appear in my Revolutionary War novel, excerpts from the novel, information relating to the Roanoke settlement attempts, my reviews of well-regarded American historical novels, several past interviews of me, and several interview that I have conducted of other authors.
4) How does my writing process work?
Before I begin to write, I spend at least a year researching the historical subject matter that I wish to utilize.  I take extensive notes in outline form and store them as computer files.  I also copy on my computer articles containing specific information too lengthy to condense as notes (example: Algonquian names, common expressions, etc.).
Next, I determine the direction I want to take in utilizing much of this information.  What should be my focus?  What should I include?  Exclude?  How much emphasis should I place on the telling of the historical events and how much on the experiences of the participants?
I determine my characters, both real people and imaginary.  I attribute to them specific character traits.  In portraying an actual historical person, I limit myself to what I discern in the person's writing or what is written about the person by contemporaries and by respected historians.  (Paul Revere wrote quite a bit about his April 18-19, 1775, experiences)  Imaginary characters must contribute to the overall accuracy of my portrayal of historical events.
Most of the characters in "Crossing the River" were actual people.  Some of them, about whom I knew very little, I developed extensively to add detail and interest to the story.  This compelled me to change their surnames.  Regarding the Roanoke settlement attempts, what little information historians know about individual Algonquians derives from what a handful of English leaders wrote about them.  Therefore, to portray the native  people and their culture I have had to create a number of imaginary characters: family members, friends, and enemies of the few Algonquians about whom historians have written.  Before I wrote my first chapter, I invented several families, listed the names, gender, and ages of the members, created several back stories, and determined the flaws, strengths, concerns, and aspirations of the main characters.  Only then did I begin to sketch a sequence of scenes to move the story forward toward accomplishment of my primary goals: to illustrate the historical accuracy of known events and portray two or three universal themes about people and life. 
As I complete each chapter I am discovering that my characters are demanding to take directions in the story that require that I lengthen the novel.  As I proceed, I get into scene situations that force me to do more research.  For instance, a major character, Wanchese, takes on the responsibility of instructing the village chief's twelve-year-old unruly son how to hunt.  First, the boy must learn how to build a bow.  This requires obtaining the wood.  I had to find out how this was done.  I could have avoided this problem by not having the boy a character.  The boy's existence is important, however, because of what it reveals about Wanchese.
I usually do minor editing of every two chapters that I complete before proceeding to write new chapters.  I try to sharpen the phrasing, add sensory detail, and eliminate awkward sentences, knowing well that much editing will remain after I have written the novel's first draft.  I believe that a well-written novel is the result of layers upon layers of revised writing.  I don't expect to have this novel ready for publication for at least three years.  I wish this were otherwise, but it isn't.