In August 1945, the world was lifting its head in hope, like this sunflower. We’ve been waiting all summer for the tightly closed blossom to open and shed its brightness on a corner of our property.
Over the past few days, the plant has shown signs of being the bright spot we expected. But in ’45, our nation had been at war four long years. Over 400,000 American GIs had sacrificed their lives, and at least 75,000,000 people had perished worldwide. Seventy-five MILLION!
It’s difficult to imagine the scope of the devastation, impossible to comprehend the gargantuan changes this war caused. But in August of 1945, the U.S. Navy was preparing to receive the formal Japanese surrender on board the USS Missouri. September second in Tokyo Bay–V-J Day.
The war truly had come to an end. What a riotous celebration occurred that day all around the world, profound loss mixed with tears of relief.
In a few days, our blossom will be fuller, more complete. But sometimes it’s good to think about preludes to a culmination. Last night I completed my latest novel, about a British citizen who emigrated to Texas Hill Country before World War II. Seeing the war through his eyes as his homeland suffered so much gave me fresh insights.
Always more to learn about this rich, intriguing era!
Welcome, Marie Sontag. I’m already an historical fiction lover, but really appreciate your take on this topic. The idea of a “sliding glass door” that helps us understand others different from us…whoa! Do we ever need this today!
Readers, please see below for Marie’s offer of THREE free copies of her novel.
What happens when Daniel Whitcomb, a fictional thirteen-year-old, meets twelve-year-old Virginia Reed, an historical member of the Donner Party, on a wagon trail to California?—a friendship Daniel doesn’t think he needs, mentorship from the man who leads whites into Yosemite Valley, and an historical fiction story that shows how what we want is usually not what we need.
1. Historical Fiction Creates a Web of Meaning
I love historical fiction. It brings the past to life as it touches readers’ emotions within an historical context. This wedding of narrative and history creates a web of meaning that helps readers relate to and remember what they’ve read.
California Trail Discovered, my latest middle grade novel coming out this fall, places my fictional protagonist alongside historical figures, providing a context to help readers relate to the trials of the trail in 1846—when pioneers left family and friends to move into the unknown.
2. Historical Fiction Can Create Empathy
I also enjoy historical fiction because it provides a window into people’s lives and cultures. Good historical fiction provides readers with a safe way to move in and out of their own experiences and into those of others. This kind of “sliding glass door” can promote empathy for those different from us.
Jim Savage, a historical figure and member of Daniel and Virginia’s wagon train, warns a member of the Donner Party to return a buffalo fur the man stole from a Lakota Indian’s burial site. Jim had once lived with Indians. At first, Keseberg refuses. “The Indian is dead. He won’t need it.” Jim fires his pistol into the air. He tells Keseberg,“It’s not open to discussion. This is how Lakota honor their dead, and there will be consequences for stealing it. Put it back.”
3. Historical Fiction Provides Insight into Our Own Lives
Like all good stories, historical fiction teaches us something about ourselves. We all have wants, but it’s often difficult to discover what fuels those wants.
In California Trail Discovered, Daniel doesn’t want to move with his guardian to California. He wants to get back to Illinois and find out who murdered his parents. One afternoon, Daniel walks beside Virginia as she picks flowers. She comments, “Friends are like flowers. They add sunshine and color to your life. Don’t you agree?”
Daniel shrugs. “Sometimes, I think friends are like mosquitos. They buzz around in your ear, waiting to take a bite out of you, then leave behind an itch you really shouldn’t scratch.”
Through the friendships Daniel makes on the trail, he discovers that wanting to find out who killed his parents has masked his real need to connect with others and to become part of a new family.
Take It Home
What historical novel has helped you better remember factual events? How did it do that? Did it help you relate more with those from a different culture? In what ways? How did the plot help the characters better understand their wants, and reveal the needs behind those wants? Did it give you any insight about your own wants and needs? In what ways?
Feel free to share any of your answers in the comments below, or send me a note on my Facebook author page. One week after the posting of this blog, I will hold a drawing for those leaving a comment. Make sure to provide your email, or PM my on Messenger or my email. Three lucky winners will win a copy of California Trail Discovered.
Marie Sontag enjoys bringing the past to life, one adventure at a time. Her fifteen years of teaching middle school and high school have given her insight into what students find entertaining, and her B.A. in social science and M.A. and Ph.D. in education provide her with a solid background for writing middle grade and young adult historical fiction.
Born in Wisconsin, she spent most of her life in California, but now lives with her husband in Texas. When not writing, she enjoys romping with her grandkids, playing clarinet and saxophone in a community band, and nibbling red licorice or Tootsie Pops while devouring a good book.
Yes, it’s July, not Memorial Day when we see poppies worn by the American Legion. But our neighbor’s beautiful poppy patch is abloom, and enjoying it led me to explore the significance we attach to this flower.
Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the World War I poem In Flanders Fields about red poppies blooming in the WWI battlefields of Flanders, France. Inspired by McCrae’s poem, Ms. Moina Michael published We Shall Keep the Faith and vowed to always wear a red poppy in remembrance.
This one patriotic woman’s persistent efforts led the American Legion to adopt the red poppy as the national symbol of sacrifice honoring war casualties. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand also adopted the poppy.
Lynn Dean joins us today with an encouraging story for authors about her work in progress. She’ll draw from names of readers who “Like” and follow her Facebook page and leave a comment for an ebook copy of More Precious Than Gold, the first novel in her Sangre de Cristo series set during gold rush days in New Mexico Territory.
This mountain range has intrigued me for years, so I really appreciated all the specific history and imagery in these novels. Now, here’s Lynn:
Life rarely turns out the way we think it will.
Since good stories model real life, writers probably shouldn’t be surprised when a work in progress takes on a life of its own. Sometimes a character we thought would play a minor role suddenly steals center stage and demands to be heard. Other times our manuscript changes in medias res because we discover new information or contrive a plot twist. But occasionally our story changes because of outside influences beyond our control.
When I began writing Lilacs many years ago, a friend surprised me with a research trip to Mackinac Island where the story is set. It was a magnanimous gesture. I’d always wanted to go, and she’d already bought the tickets, so what could I say but “thank you”?
It was 40 degrees and raining sideways the weekend we visited, but the island was perfect. We stayed at the Grand Hotel and enjoyed a carriage tour. Along the way I shared my story idea and some interesting history about the hotel, including a long-ago scandal. I wasn’t sure I would mention that event, explaining that it would be difficult to handle delicately so nothing would reflect poorly on the hotel or its current owners. For some reason, when we returned, my friend decided to “help” me by marching up to the concierge desk, telling the hotel representative that I was writing a book, and asking for details about the scandal. The stunned man made a terse reply and left…and I couldn’t blame him!
Mortified, I shelved the whole project—all 45,000 words of it.
But readers know that dark moments are never the end of the story.
Fast forward. I’m at a writers’ conference in an interview with a literary agent who says she loves “Downton Abbey” stories with romantic settings and characters from different backgrounds and socio-economic classes. “Do you have any stories like that?” she asks.
It so happens I do!
I pitched the story I thought was ruined. She loved the concept, so I began to rewrite Lilacs with a different focus. I’m pleased to say the new story is better in every way than the original would have been.
Moral? Never give up, even when you think your plans are ruined. The dark moment is simply the crisis that forces us to get creative, opening new possibilities we would never have imagined otherwise.
Yesterday Lance gave me these flowers for my birthday.
Notice the message on the mug: CHOOSE JOY. What a perfect instruction for one of those big DECADE birthdays that makes you consider how quickly time passes.
Tonight we watched the Queen’s Royal Marine’s at the Guards’ parade ground just behind Whitehall and next to #10 Downing Street. How fun to watch them perform again, as we did in person two years ago when we celebrated our fortieth anniversary in England.
We’d been walking in St. James Park and happened to notice someone selling tickets to some event. When we realized it was the Royal Marines, we were hooked, and so enjoyed the performance that evening in the stands with Londoners who’d come out for the show. Watching them again tonight is a way to cherish the memory…to choose JOY.
Someday, we might return to England, and I have quite a few other items on my bucket list. I’d like to viisit another American air field we couldn’t get to on our first trip and many other places.
It would be so meaningful to be in Portsmouth again, right on a D-Day anniversary…or across the Channel the Allied troopsD-Day crossed on June 6, 1944. We’ll see.
But whatever memories I make as the years come and go, I hope to make the MOST of them!
Welcome to Shannon McNear, who has spun a tale about a murderous duo that really lived and wreaked terror along the Wilderness Trail in the early days of the United States. Never heard of the “terrible Harpes?”
Neither had I, but Shannon’s historical research has brought them to life, including the demise of their reign of terror. She’s also offering a free signed copy of THE BLUE CLOAK to a fortunate commenter.
The Story Behind The Blue Cloak
If you believe “the good old days” were kinder and gentler than our modern era, think again. Human nature has always been fascinated with the dark or mysterious, and film and social media are but recent methods for feeding that curiosity. History is full of ghost stories and accounts of horrific crimes.
In the terrible Harpes, you get a bit of both—or at least, a level of demonic intimidation that feels a bit ghostly. And who are these Harpes? Micajah, also known as “Big” for his sheer size and “ugly,” threatening appearance, and Wiley, called “Little,” though his height was not insignificant, referred to themselves as brothers, but were most likely cousins. Their boyhood dominated by the American Revolution and sons of staunch Tories, they melted into the frontier for several years after the war, reportedly living with the Cherokee for a while before surfacing as part of “white” society sometime around 1797. They tried their hand at a semblance of ordinary life as settlers near Knoxville, Tennessee, but after accusations of livestock theft, they took their three women and went on the run for several months.
Yes, that’s three women, between two men. Their presence on the Wilderness Road in Kentucky in December 1798 is well documented, as is a string of murders laid at their feet. They spent time in jail but escaped before they could be tried, temporarily leaving their hapless women and newborn babies behind. The spring and summer of 1799 brought a veritable reign of terror across portions of Kentucky and Tennessee, where the men struck lone travelers and whole families alike, having no respect for either age or gender.
The craziest thing, however, was their effect even on mounted patrols whose sole purpose was to hunt them down. Several accounts were given of search parties coming unexpectedly face-to-face with the Harpes but suddenly losing their nerve and turning tail to run. I could understand it in the case of travelers who barely had a rifle or two between them, but—fully armed men, who were supposed to be mentally prepared for the job?
It didn’t help that in particularly rugged and remote terrain, the Harpes—men, women, and their babies—were skilled at vanishing into the wilderness like wraiths. With folk not knowing where they’d strike next, and only the most savvy trackers able to tell where they’d traveled, it’s probably no wonder that people were in mortal fear.
When researching this sliver of history for my most recent novel, The Blue Cloak(#5 of the True Colors crime series), I became convinced that the story of their pursuit and end was above all one of spiritual warfare, and that prayer must have played a crucial role in putting an end to their murder spree.
From 1797 to 1799, a pair of outlaws known as the terrible Harpes spread terror across the Kentucky and Tennessee frontier.
Rachel Taylor watched her best friend’s marriage turn to horror before the entire family disappears into the wilderness of Tennessee and Kentucky. Virginia native Benjamin Langford seeks the whereabouts of his missing cousin and uncovers a reign of terror all up and down the Wilderness Road. In their shared grief, the pair join the effort to bring the Harpes’ murder spree to an end and rescue Rachel’s friend from a criminal’s life.
About the author:
Transplanted to North Dakota after more than two decades in the Deep South, Shannon McNear loves losing herself in local history. As the author of four novellas and three full-length novels, with her first title, Defending Truthin A Pioneer Christmas Collection,honored as a 2014 RITA® finalist, her greatest joy is in being a military wife, mom of eight, mother-in-law of three, and grammie of three. She’s also a contributor to Colonial Quills and a member of ACFW and RWA, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. When not cooking, researching, or leaking story from her fingertips, she enjoys being outdoors, basking in the beauty of the northern prairies.
You can connect with Shannon on these social media links:
Wow…if ever a cover provoked interest, this is it! And how fun to be able to bring to life story from your own family history. Readers, June is offering an e-book to one fortunate commenter, so please leave your response for a chance to embrace June’s unique plot!
The Story Behind the Story
Dreams Deferred is inspired by the true-to-life story of my great grandfather and great grandmother. I chose to set it in contemporary times, nevertheless, I borrowed many of the story elements from the true story.
Frances Mathew Halbedl grew up in the European Austrian Empire and followed tradition in which the oldest son became a priest in his family’s Catholic faith. After being ordained in Moravia, he immigrated to the United States in 1866 to serve in a parish in the state of Louisiana.
My aunt and mother always told the story of how one Sunday while saying mass, he spotted a young teen, much younger than my Mary Louise. He waited several years for her to grow up, then stepped down from the priesthood to marry her. I wish I knew some of those rich details of their courtship, but since I don’t, I fictionalized their romance.
They later moved to San Antonio, Texas, and had five children, three girls and two boys—Ida, Mamie, Alice, Roy, and Clifton, who was my grandfather. Just for fun in one scene, I imagined that Matt had a dream he was riding in a car with Mary Louise and the three youngest kids. In my story, the dream helped him realize how much he loved Mary Louise.
Mathew taught music both in the public school and privately. Later he became the first principal of a high school in San Antonio. In December of 2005, my husband and I visited San Antonio and looked up Matthew and Mary Louise’s house. The large, two-story home is still there on Roseborough Drive. We weren’t able to go in because it’s a private residence. But I had so much fun envisioning Matt and ML’s lives as they lived there with their children.
We also visited Clifton Halbedl’s home, which I remember from childhood. I also had the address for Mamie’s home, and we were able to go inside. A gracious lady who spoke no English invited us in. I have tons of pictures and hope to share them on my blog.
In the story, Matt gets a job at Jefferson High School. This is patterned after Thomas Jefferson High School where my mother went to school. Her name was Mary Louise, as well, named for her grandmother.
If I’ve learned anything from writing this book, I wish I’d probed for more information when my mother and aunt were still alive, but I’m grateful for what I do know.
Welcome Patrick Craig! One glimpse of this heroine’s face piqued my curiosity – here, Patrick tells us a little more about how she came to be. And he’s offering a signed paperback copy to a commenter. Now, readers, delve into history!
When Gail asked me to write an article about my latest book,The Mennonite Queen, she mentioned that the historical setting, Poland in the 1500s, greatly interested her. And for history buffs, Poland does have a unique place in the European scene. From conquerors to survivors—the nation has always been in a state of flux and somehow at the center of European history—and a perfect setting for this book.
The Mennonite Queen is the final book in The Paradise Chroniclesseries, but is actually the culmination of all six of my Amish books—the Apple Creek Dreamsseries and The Paradise Chronicles. In these books I deal with the Hershberger family and in particular, one character, Jenny Hershberger.
In the first book, A Quilt For Jenna, Jenny is a lost little girl found by Jerusha Hershberger Springer in a terrible snowstorm—but the setup for the book details the Amish roots of the Hershberger family in Apple Creek, Ohio and how they came there from Europe in the 1700s. Then in the second book, The Road Home, a grown-up Jenny meets and eventually marries a very distant cousin, Jonathan Hershberger, who comes back to his Amish roots with Jenny’s help.
Creating a historical background for Jonathan’s family and their departure from the Amish faith at the time of the Revolutionary war set the stage for my historical Amish novel, The Amish Princess. And then, since I had been dealing with the women of the Hershberger family (Jenny’s Choice, The Amish Heiress) I decided that I needed to tell the story of the grand matriarch of the Hershberger family going back to the 1500s in Europe and use that story to establish the Hershberger ties to the Mennonites and the Amish.
So I cast about for a historical figure that would fit into my timeline and found the perfect heroine—Isabella Jagiellon, the daughter of King Sigismund I of Poland and the writer of the first edict of toleration in European history. I created a fictional three year-period in Isabella’s life where she meets and marries Johan Hirschberg, a stable boy in her father’s service and Jenny Hershberger’s great-great-great- (way-back)-grandfather. So now I had the themes of forbidden love and growing faith and I needed an exciting place to set the story.
In the Münster Rebellion, a group of Anabaptists, the predecessors of the Mennonite church, refused to let the Catholics and Lutherans persecute them any longer and overthrew the city of Münster, Germany in 1534. This led to a yearlong siege and the slaughter of the Anabaptists who did not starve to death in the seige. I thought this would be a great place to send Johan and Isabella, so I have them flee Krakow to avoid Isabella’s marriage to the King of Hungary and journey to Münster to join the revolution. But as many of these things turn out, the leaders of the so-called “Kingdom of Heaven on earth” were madmen who led their followers into a horrible situation. The star-crossed lovers flee Münster and end up in the home of Menno Simons who, with their help, becomes the founder of the Mennonite Church, which later evolves into the Amish.
I love setting real people into fictional settings so all the characters in The Mennonite Queenexcept Johan, Magda, Frederich and two of the minor characters are real people.The court of Sigismund, the city of Münster, the events and timing of the story, the life of Menno Simons, all those I gleaned from historical research. Johan’s name comes from an actual mountain in Switzerland where the Hershberger family originated. And I also don’t believe every book has to have a “happily ever after” ending, so The Mennonite Queen does not, bu tit is emotionally satisfying. I knew this was a good book when my wife, my line and copy editor, handed me the last proof with tears running down her face.
And that is the story of The Mennonite Queen.
Patrick E. Craigis a traditionally published/independent author. In 2013, Harvest House Publishers published his Apple Creek Dreamsseries. His current series is The Paradise Chronicles, published by P&J Publishing,andthe first book, The Amish Heiresswas published in 2015. It remained on the Amazon Top 100 best sellers list for seven months. The Amish Princesswas released in 2016 and The Mennonite Queen in April 2019. In 2017 Harlequin purchased the print rights for The Amish Heiress for their Walmart Amish series. That book will be in Walmart stores on April 2, 2019. Patrick signed with Elk Lake Publishers in March 2019, to publish his kids’ mystery series, The Adventures of Punkin and Boo. Patrick and his wife, Judy, make their home in Idaho. Patrick is represented by the Steve Laube Agency.
I’ve written about perspective before and probably will again, because this quality can make all the difference. Sometimes when you feel you’ve hit the bottom, you possess quite a unique vantage point. Observe:
My husband took this photo in Arizona this winter…don’t ask me how!
But what a perspective, eh? You’ve seen many of his birdie photos, but I simply have to share one more today–can’t ignore this perfect example of FOCUS.
What a great example of the phrase, “Keep your eyes peeled.” Observant…undistracted…watching, waiting. LOOKING INTENTLY, INTENTIONALLY–that’s what FOCUS means.
Now for this one: The tree’s closeness only heightens our interest in a distant object–the moon is what matters, but the tree frames it in a new way. (For a guy who never has taken a photography class, Lance is GOOD!) (:
His next one reveals the intriguing quality of the color grey.
You see the deer, of course. But at the same time, interesting tree bark, rocks, and surrounding earth blend shadow and substance in a pleasing way. At least I think so.
Ahh…what does this have to do with my writing? Well, perspective and focusplay a huge role in All for the Cause, my next release. And the color grey?
In the chaos of battle in the Philippines, Private Stan Ford can only hope for a neutral shade in the midst of rich jungle foliage. So much green, it hurts his eyes…so much suffering, too. After he escapes capture by the Japanese during the American surrender in 1942, Stan and his buddies come across GIs being taken to a POW camp in the mountains.
What they see infuriates them. Sickens them. Strikes terror into their souls–brutality, cruelty, complete disregard for international law.
As a result, one desire enters Stan and will drive him to any length. He must do his part to rescue those men–they have become his family. But accomplishing this objective will take time…much more time than Stan wishes. Forces beyond his control seem bent on preventing the fulfillment of his desire.
But that longing never leaves…in fact, time only strengthens it. Will Stan be able to give his ALL FOR THE CAUSE? Soon, we’ll see. I know…I keep saying soon. But this book truly will soon release.
Jennifer Uhlarik, our featured author, discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list numerous times.
In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.
Jennifer is giving away one free paperback copy of her new novel to someone who leaves a comment. Welcome, Jennifer–please tell us about your research for Sand Creek Serenade–lovely title and cover, by the way!
When I first came up with the concept for Sand Creek Serenade, it was supposed to be a novella to be included in a collection about women working in a male-dominated field. I chose to write about a woman working as a doctor during the Civil War era. However, I didn’t want to dig into the Civil War itself. While I love that time period, I felt too overwhelmed with the volume of details I would have to research. You see, I’ve always shied away from those well-known, well-documented historical events because I’ve had a fear that I would get too many details wrong and hear from knowledgeable readers about my faulty research.
So rather than write about some Civil War campaign, I decided to research other events that might allow my doctor heroine show off her skills. I stumbled across the Sand Creek Massacre, thought it would be a good alternative more in keeping with my western brand, and wrote it into the synopsis. Only later, after the synopsis was written and submitted did I realize what a well-documented historical event the Sand Creek Massacre was. My fear kicked into high gear at that point. As I dug into the history, I found eye-witness accounts, historical records from the Congressional investigation that was done, and a plethora of non-fiction books chronicling the events before, during, and after the massacre. I’d stepped out of the proverbial frying pan and straight into the fire! I’ll admit that there were times I considered ways I could bail on the project.
The thing is, this story would not leave me alone. The characters and the story were so compelling that, despite the well-documented nature of the historical event, the story needed to be told. So I prayed a lotand dove into writing it. I poured over research books and historical records trying to be sure I got every detail correct.
I’m sure I didn’t.
Thankfully, the “perfectionist” mentality eased, and I found ways to stick closely to the historical timeline while telling a compelling fictional story. So Sand Creek Serenade was a learning curve for me. I had to learn to overcome the unnatural fear that I’d get history snobs emailing me to correct any research gaffes, but more importantly, it was a lesson in learning to trust God. I believe He called me to write this story and orchestrated every step from the conception of the idea on to its publication and beyond, but so many times through the process, I found myself having to hand this story back to Him and ask for His guidance and blessing, rather than relying on my own power to get it done.
I’m so very thankful for His faithfulness, and I’m praying the story He had me craft will bless readers!