Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Almost Finished
I am maybe a month and a half away from publication.
I began serious research for this project in early 2013 and began the writing of chapters maybe two years later. I am two chapters away from finishing my eighth editing read through of the novel’s 40 chapters. I will do a ninth read through and declare the long process concluded.
My wife, a voracious reader of fiction, recommends it. I like it, too.
I believe that the writing is tight, the characters are real, the conflict is realistic, and the themes are valid. I believe that I have conveyed the
area Algonquian culture accurately. North Carolina
“Alsoomse and Wanchese” is a story of what could have been more than it is what did happen. In previous posts I have explained why historians know so little about Algonquians of the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds areas during the late Sixteenth Century. (If only Native Americans then had been advanced enough culturally to have devised an alphabet and the spelling of words to record their tribal histories and beliefs) Historians have had to rely on what a handful of Englishmen wrote, not objectively, about their encounters with these “
New World savages” to attempt to depict them responsibly.
I did not want to write a novel that plowed the same material that other authors have utilized to tell a Roanoke-related story. I did not want to feature an English character stranded – whatever the reason – and forced to cope and, perhaps, triumph in a strange land. I did not want to write a novel the bounded me to the events that English explorers/colonizers reported to Walter Raleigh for publication. Why repeat with subjective narration and dialogue what historians relate effectively in their works of non-fiction? I wanted to write about the Algonquian people. I wanted to portray their universal human frailties and strengths of character in context with what historians do know about their culture. Imagine the millions of stories that for centuries Native Americans could have told about their loved ones, their enemies, and themselves had they had the facility to write.
Anchored by four perceived historical facts, my novel makes you the observer of ten months of the lives of a
sister and brother, seventeen and
twenty, driven by force of character to stretch the boundaries limiting individual
inquiry, experiment, and accomplishment that the Algonquian belief system and
political/religious governance inflexibly defended. Additionally, the reader is kept aware
throughout most of the novel of the intention of Englishmen to intrude on the
lives of these very human, subsistence-level functioning people. Alsoomse, Wanchese, and their friends and
enemies have no awareness of the imminent arrival of these outer-world strangers. Their appearance would be comparable today, I
suspect, to the sudden appearance in Roanoke America
– let’s say in ,
for no special reason -- of outer space aliens of an advanced culture. The last several chapters of my novel relate
how the English explorers and the Algonquian inhabitants interact, each seeking
accommodation with the other to advance their own interests. Connecticut
When my novel is published, I will post several scenes on this blog site to stimulate, hopefully, your and other readers’ interest. Below is an excerpt of my version of the first encounter between the English principals and Algonquian natives.
They stood before him, six of them. Wanchese’s eyes could not take in at once their individual differences. Altogether, they were strange-appearing. Not of his world. Not anything that he could have imagined. They gave no indication that they intended to harm him.
They were armed. They had swords, inside something covering them, hung from something about their waists. They were long swords, not the length or shape of the wooden swords he and his village’s warriors sometimes used in battle. They had something [petronels] about the length of their forearms, something narrow that pointed. These they had slung across their chests. One of them had a long spear, longer than what he and his friends used to fish. It [the bill] was not made of wood but of something he had also never seen. At the end of it was a point but also two curved cutting pieces and something else that chopped. To defeat a man with this killing spear, a warrior would have to get himself past the cutting and piercing places, grab the center of the spear, and twist it away.
These Tassantassuk carried these weapons, he believed, not for self-protection – he one against six – but to demonstrate their superior montaoc.
As instructed, Wanchese began his formal speech of welcome. Because he knew they would not understand his language, he used slow, large hand and arm gestures. He pointed toward
He pantomimed paddling from that direction. He pointed at his canoe. He pointed
at the Great Waters, made waving motions with his opened hands, then pointed at
their huge canoes. Using his right hand’s index and middle fingers, he
represented himself walking from his canoe to where he stood. With the fingers
of his left hand he pantomimed the six Tassantassuk
coming to meet him. He touched his heart, figuratively removed it, with his
opened hand offered it. With a broad sweep of his opposite hand he indicated the
land and water about them. Roanoke
It was now their turn. The one in the center of the group, the shortest one – too young to be their leader, Wanchese thought – spoke. His eyes flashed. He was not content. Wanchese saw emotion close to anger. Anger because I do not understood his words. The Tassantassuk had a strange protection [a corselet] over his arms, chest, and stomach. It was gray in color. Its surface looked hard. Wanchese imagined the point of an arrow bouncing off it. On his head he wore a strange object [a morion], tall and ugly and hard-looking like what protected his chest.
The others were not so protected. They covered their bodies not with animal skins but other things, things very strange. Even their arms, legs, and feet were covered. One of them, the oldest of them, wore something [a jack] over his chest that did not have the hard surface that the shorter man wore. The surface looked soft. He could see that sewing had been done. Not like the shorter man, all the others wore something tight and soft [Monmouth cap] over their hair. Coarse hair extended from cheek bones and chins. They and what they wore stank!
The Tassantassuk next to the irritated one, the oldest one, spoke. His facial expressions suggested patience. His gestures communicated. He pointed; his right index finger made a circle about his group. He used his fingers to pantomime all of them, including Wanchese, crossing over the water to one of their canoes.
Wanchese’s face involuntarily tightened.
He thought, If they want to kill him, they would have done it. Do they want me their prisoner, to take me far across the Great Waters to their village? He had been sent to learn about them! He would have to go with them. He nodded. The Tassantassuk pointed to the smaller of the two canoes. Wanchese nodded a second time.
They were standing on the quarter deck. Harriot studied the savage. His earlier observations were confirmed.
The savage’s eyes searched, inquired. His face revealed astonishment. This man was a warrior – his scars and broken nose attested that – but he was demonstrably intelligent. How far behind us are these people! Harriot tried to imagine himself trapped in their cultural stagnation.
The man had stared at the oars of the long boat that had transported them to Barlowe’s ship. He had placed an inquisitive hand against the side of the ship before ascending the rope ladder. He had felt the gunwale, looked long at the bitts and cordage. Standing beside it, head tilted backward, he had allowed his eyes to ascend the main mast.
“Doesn’t know much, does he?” Little Amadas sneered.
“None of them do. Depend on it,” Fernandez answered.
“He wants to learn,” Harriot said.
Their looks scorned him, effectively silenced him.
“Bloody hell fire! Not quite exactly, I’d say,” Fernandez said, pretending to be English.
“We are here to make friends.” Barlowe’s eyes stayed on the pilot. “Your expressions say otherwise.”
“I’ll have the bugger know something first!” Amadas approached the savage, who, cat-like, turned to face him. Amadas pointed at the hilt of his sword. “I saw you looking at it. You may see it.” Amadas’s eyebrows lifted.
The savage stared at the hilt, looked briefly at Amadas, nodded.
“He needs to know how the land lies!” Amadas declared. He drew his blade.
Head lowered, the savage stared. The fingers of his right hand touched the steel. He felt its edges with his thumb and forefinger. He then straightened, looked at Amadas, nodded.
“He takes your meaning,” Barlowe said.
The savage pointed at Amadas’s petronel, slung from the belt that crossed the little man’s chest.
“Rot me!” Amadas exclaimed. “Inquisitive bugger!”
“Give him a demonstration!” Fernandez grinned.
“I wonder at this,” Barlowe said.
“God’s breath, old man! I don’t give a fart in hell! I command here! White! Get a hand to bring up spare fardage! I’ll put a hole in it!”
Amadas produced a petronel ball. He held it two feet in front of the savage’s face. He pantomimed inserting the ball in the petronel’s barrel. He took aim at a distant sailor, made an explosive sound, walked the ball the length of the quarterdeck, and thumped the ball against the sailor’s chest.
White reappeared holding the slat of wood.
“Have that man prop it against the capstan! Tell him to stand afar!”
The petronel already primed, the match lit, Amadas aimed, its butt against his chest close to his right shoulder. “Not very accurate but meant to kill charging cavalry,” he said. Harriot was amused that Amadas felt the need to explain, using words the recipient could not understand.
The savage leaned toward the petronel. The explosion and profuse smoke sent him staggering backward. Nearly squatting, he arrested his fall. Instantly, he sprung upright, muscles strained, eyes enlarged, face taut.
“Come with me!” Amadas ordered. He motioned toward the section of fardage. They walked to it, examined the hole made by the ball.
“No farting about, that Amadas!”
Your soul to the devil, Fernandez, Harriot thought. If we are to win these savages’ trust, we must be their friends, not conquerors! God’s breath he was happy he had not been assigned to Amadas’s ship!
After they had gone below to inspect the cannon and had returned to the quarter deck, Barlowe’s servant brought forth the savage’s gifts: a seaman’s cap and shirt. The savage handled warily the woolen Monmouth cap. Harriot could see he had no understanding of woven fabric.
“Put in on, flat!” Fernandez grinned. He reached for the cap.
The savage jerked it away.
“That was not necessary.” Barlowe frowned. “Mind our instructions, Fernandez. Here.” He handed the savage a folded white shirt. He pointed at the garment worn by his servant. It was collarless and billowy in the sleeves.
The savage received it, did not unfold it.
“Do you have with you the wine and salted beef?” Barlowe asked the servant.
The servant returned from the capstan with a wine bottle and two wine glasses. He held the glasses while Barlowe poured.
“I know you do not understand my words, but I will say this. Friends share this liquid. It is called wine.”
The savage took the glass, held it with two hands, stared at the red color.
Two more items he has to wonder about, Harriot thought.
Barlowe cleared his throat. The savage looked at him. Barlowe raised his glass. The savage followed his example.
“To friendship” Barlowe took in a mouthful, swallowed, licked his lips, issued a contented sigh. He smiled. He made an arching, open-handed, encouraging gesture.
The savage tilted the glass, allowed the wine to enter his mouth. He swallowed. Standing entirely still, he experienced the liquid’s taste and feel. He smiled, broadly.
Several observing seamen laughed.
The savage swallowed the remainder. Barlowe emptied his glass.
“We carry with us meat. Salted meat. I cannot say it is savory, but it helps sustain us.” The servant handed Barlowe a strip of beef wrapped in a cloth napkin. Barlowe tore off a piece, placed it in his mouth, chewed.
Receiving his piece, the savage bit into the meat and chewed. His face expressed tentativeness. A strange taste, surely. He continued to chew. His face gradually indicated approval.