Writing Historic Heroines

STEP BACK IN TIME: Cre­at­ing Real­is­tic His­tor­i­cal Heroines

Elizabeth_I_when_a_PrincessThis work­shop at the Cal­i­for­nia Dreamin’ con­fer­ence will address the role of women in the time peri­ods in West­ern Civ­i­liza­tion in which many romance nov­els are set.

Address­ing these ques­tions will help you cre­ate your authen­tic his­tor­i­cal hero­ine.

  1. How much “free­dom” did she have?
  2. Who were some of the impor­tant women in her day?
  3. Which female arche­types might work best in a par­tic­u­lar time period?

His­tory gives a broad can­vas in which to place your story.  There are many who made their mark in his­tory, and one of my favorites is Eliz­a­beth I.

Elizabeth’s great­ness lies in two parts. The first is that she sur­vived to become Queen, and sec­ond that she guided Eng­land from the dis­as­trous state she inher­ited to a wealthy and sta­ble country.

As the daugh­ter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Eliz­a­beth was born a princess. But as Henry pro­gressed through his six wives, she was declared ille­git­i­mate, shifted from pil­lar to post and even­tu­ally rein­stated third in the suc­ces­sion after her younger half-brother Edward and her older half sis­ter Mary (who also went through the legitimate/illegitimate back and forth).

Nine-year-old Edward VI suc­ceed at Henry’s death, and he pushed the Eng­lish church fur­ther into Protes­tantism. To main­tain the change in reli­gion started under Henry, Edward and his advi­sors changed the order of suc­ces­sion, leav­ing out both Mary and Eliz­a­beth. Instead, he left the throne to Lady Jane Grey, a great-granddaughter of Henry VII, and Edward’s cousin. How­ever, on Edward’s death, the coun­try sup­ported Mary Tudor.

Unfor­tu­nately, Mary tried to bring Eng­land back into the Catholic fold.

While Mary was queen, there were sev­eral rebel­lions as protest against the rein­state­ment of Catholi­cism and against her mar­riage to Philip. As the Protes­tant heir to the throne, Eliz­a­beth was the focus of any attempt to end Mary’s reign. Mary had Eliz­a­beth in and out of the tower or under house arrest with these rebellions.

Her early child­hood and her con­fine­ments taught Eliz­a­beth to keep her inner­most thoughts and feel­ings to her­self, and she con­tin­ued to do so through­out her queen ship. She man­aged to sur­vive and with Mary’s death, Eliz­a­beth came to the throne.

The sec­ond part of Elizabeth’s great­ness was her forty-four year reign that brought sta­bil­ity to England.

91IaITspgBL._SL1500_At the time of her ascen­sion, Scot­tish preacher John Knox pub­lished “The First Blast of the Trum­pet against the Mon­strous Reign of Women,” pre­dict­ing dis­as­ter with the regency of Cather­ine de ’Medici in France, Scotland’s Mary, Queen of Scots and Eliz­a­beth I in England.

France was racked by reli­gious wars under Cather­ine and her sons, and Mary was forced from Scot­land and lived as a pris­oner in Eng­land. Only Eliz­a­beth and Eng­land pros­pered. She became the Supreme Gov­er­nor of the Eng­lish Protes­tant church, which evolved into today’s Church of England.

Early in her reign she refused to marry, for to do so would tie Eng­land to another coun­try. And later her var­i­ous engage­ments formed alliances that helped the coun­try. She often spoke of Eng­land as her child.

Other major events under her reign included the defeat of the Span­ish Armada in 1588, which let Eng­land rule the seas and develop her colonies in the Amer­i­cas. This was the time of the Eliz­a­bethan Renais­sance as under her reign, pros­per­ity and sta­bil­ity bought forth a burst of lit­er­ary fig­ures such as William Shake­speare, Christo­pher Mar­low and Edmund Spenser.

Not too bad for a woman born, who grew up and came to reign in a man’s world.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps — create your setting

When I wrote COLORADO SILVER, COLORADO GOLD it was set in Durango Col­orado in 1889.  I used a Pic­to­r­ial His­tory of Durango and from the Den­ver pub­lic library had San­born Fire Insur­ance maps for Durango a few years earlier.

These maps are a great resource as they include out­lines of each build­ing and out­build­ing; street names; street and side­walk, prop­erty bound­aries; fire walls; nat­ural fea­tures (riverscanals, etc.); rail­road cor­ri­dors; build­ing use (some­times even par­tic­u­lar room uses); house and block num­ber; as well as the com­po­si­tion of build­ing mate­ri­als includ­ing the fram­ing, floor­ing, and roof­ing mate­ri­als; the strength of the local fire depart­ment; indi­ca­tions of sprin­kler sys­tems; loca­tions of fire hydrants; loca­tion of water and gas mains; and even the names of most pub­lic build­ings, churches and busi­nesses.  These allowed me to let the reader see Durango from the hero’s eyes.

All infor­ma­tion in this text are from these resources:

TEXT:  Wes started north, strolling past var­i­ous retail estab­lish­ments offer­ing items from dry goods and gent’s fur­nish­ings to sta­tionery. He passed the Hotel Stratler, her four sto­ries crowned by a clock tower. Directly across the street was a large empty lot. Sev­eral wag­ons and bug­gies parked hap­haz­ardly and there were even a few Indian ponies wait­ing patiently as two Indi­ans had set up a blan­ket offer­ing trade goods.

Half way down the next block, he fell in behind three ladies as they exited a mer­can­tile. When they reached the cor­ner Wes noticed the ladies abruptly turned right and minced their way to the east side of Main Street, where they turned and headed north again. Idly pon­der­ing their behav­ior, Wes dodged a lum­ber wagon as he crossed the street. Once past the 1st National Bank on the cor­ner, he stopped and grinned.

The team­ster hadn’t been jok­ing. The whole block north of the bank was a solid row of saloons. While a num­ber of men went about their busi­ness, no ladies ven­tured on this side of the street.

 

Other things I found from the maps was Durango even had a drug story called Tiffany’s (which I only used as it was the actual name of the store) that had a soda foun­tain, which gave me a place for the hero to take the hero­ine for a sarsaparilla.

book-cs-cg-logo

Mentioned in the Romance Writers Report

In the Jan­u­ary issuer of the RWR, my novel Col­orado Sil­ver, Col­orado Gold is men­tioned in the arti­cle by Theresa Romainn’s The Romance of Research.

Col­orado Sil­ver, Col­orado Gold was it was set in Durango Col­orado in 1889. I con­tacted the local book­store in Durango, and they sug­gested some books for research. I used a Pic­to­r­ial His­tory of Durango and from the Den­ver pub­lic library had San­born Fire Insur­ance maps for Durango a few years ear­lier. Durango even had a drug store called Tiffany’s (which I only used as it was the actual name of the store) that had a soda foun­tain, which gave me a place for the hero, Wes, to take the hero­ine, Julie, for a sarsaparilla.

These maps are a great resource as they include out­lines of each build­ing and out­build­ing; street names; street and side­walk, prop­erty bound­aries; fire walls; nat­ural fea­tures (rivers, canals, etc.); rail­road cor­ri­dors; build­ing use (some­times even par­tic­u­lar room uses); house and block num­ber; as well as the com­po­si­tion of build­ing mate­ri­als includ­ing the fram­ing, floor­ing, and roof­ing mate­ri­als; the strength of the local fire depart­ment; indi­ca­tions of sprin­kler sys­tems; loca­tions of fire hydrants; loca­tion of water and gas mains; and even the names of most pub­lic build­ings, churches and busi­nesses. These allowed me to let the reader see Durango from the hero’s eyes.

Here’s part of the text of the book, using the infor­ma­tion from my research:

Wes (the hero) started north, strolling past var­i­ous retail estab­lish­ments offer­ing items from dry goods and gent’s fur­nish­ings to sta­tionery. He passed the Hotel Stratler, her four sto­ries crowned by a clock tower. Directly across the street was a large empty lot. Sev­eral wag­ons and bug­gies parked hap­haz­ardly and there were even a few Indian ponies wait­ing patiently as two Indi­ans had set up a blan­ket offer­ing trade goods.e

Half way down the next block, he fell in behind three ladies as they exited a mer­can­tile. When they reached the cor­ner Wes noticed the ladies abruptly turned right and minced their way to the east side of Main Street, where they turned and headed north again. Idly pon­der­ing their behav­ior, Wes dodged a lum­ber wagon as he crossed the street. Once past the 1st National Bank on the cor­ner, he stopped and grinned.

The team­ster hadn’t been jok­ing. The whole block north of the bank was a solid row of saloons. While a num­ber of men went about their busi­ness, no ladies ven­tured on this side of the street.

USA Today Article

KG coverjpgHey, guess what?  Author Becky Lower asked for sug­ges­tions as to why his­tor­i­cal romances are on the up swing for an arti­cle in USA Today. And she even men­tioned me and my novel KENTUCKY GREEN in the article.

Being a his­tory major, pro­fes­sor and writer of his­tor­i­cal romance, I sent her some sug­ges­tions.  Here’s what I sent her:

Becky,

For those who say Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cal romance is mak­ing a come­back (have they ever really been gone?), here are some of my thoughts about why this might be happening.

 

  1. The nat­ural up and down swing of dif­fer­ent sub­genre of his­tor­i­cal romance.  Once the mar­ket becomes sat­u­rated with a sub­genre, read­ers begin to look for some­thing ‘different’.

 

  1. In Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cals the hero and hero­ine are more apt to be ‘com­mon folk’.  Like the vast major­ity of read­ers who are nei­ther lords nor ladies in both Medieval and Georgian/Victorian/Edwardian, Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters are more like us, the reader.

 

  1. United States pop­u­la­tion has a large num­ber of not only recent immi­grants but fam­i­lies who have been here only two or three gen­er­a­tions.  What’s eas­ier or more inter­est­ing than to find out and explore US His­tory?  From the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, west­ward move­ment, Amer­i­can Civil War, the Pro­gres­sive era, etc. (Okay, I con­fess, I taught US His­tory at the col­lege level where some of my stu­dents were recent immi­grants and anx­ious to learn about their new adopted country’s history).

 

  1. While noth­ing like the 50s and 60s tele­vi­sion that had many west­ern series, Amer­i­can his­tory is start­ing to show up on tele­vi­sion with shows like Dead­wood, Cop­per, Turn, and Hell on Wheels.  Even shows like Long­mire, while not his­tor­i­cal are very Amer­i­can West.

 

  1. And finally, not every­one was a lucky as I was to grow up in a large expended Mid­west fam­ily.  As a child I hear sto­ries of my ancestor’s adven­tures with Indi­ans, wild life, weather and fron­tier life in gen­eral, so I nat­u­rally grav­i­tated to the study of his­tory.  If, like me, your fam­ily has been in Amer­ica for many gen­er­a­tions, then the Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cal is the story of your fam­ily.  When I write Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cals, I imag­ine that my how-every-many-great grand­par­ents lived just down the road from my char­ac­ters.  So maybe your ances­tors lived down the road, too.

 

My first Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cal romance, Ken­tucky Green, is part of this.  I know my four time great grand­mother was born in Ken­tucky and came with her hus­band to Illi­nois car­ry­ing her new born baby in her arms.

Sunday, the beginning or the end?

I never know if Sun­day is the end of the  week or the start of a new week.  On Sun­days I look back at the pre­vi­ous week.  On Tues­day we went to agility lessons and had good suc­cess.  Here’s my hus­band and Smokey (Scot­tie) and Ban­dit (corgi) in the crate, He likes the crate as he gets in it before I can get it totally set up.

at agility lesson

The good thing in the mid­dle of the week is we finally gave in and had air con­di­tion­ing installed — cool at last in the afternoons.

my new best friend

 

Have you checked out the His­tor­i­cal Romance Network’s new web­site?  I’m pleased that they have fea­tured my arti­cle My Heroes Have Always Been Cow­boys.  http://historicalromancenetwork.com/

The week­end we went to the Grand Woof­s­tock with the corgi meetup where we took 1st place for biggest (breed) group.  In addi­ton to ven­dors and exhibits there was a bless­ing of the ani­mals.  The caper for the dogs this week is they got their teeth cleaned this morn­ing so they are good with just us brush­ing until next year.  You haven’t lived until you’ve brushed your dogs teeth.

 

Grand Woofstock 2014blessing of the animals

Now look­ing for­ward to next week, the goal is get back in my office now that we have AC and get some actual writ­ing done now that my brain is not fried on the hot, hot, hot afternoons.

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys — or What I learned from western movies

Yes, I admit, my heroes have always been cow­boys. My love of cow­boys came from old west­ern movies. Here were men who were larger than life, who stood up for what they believed in, who’s word was their bond, who were will­ing to do what had to be done. And when they fell in love, it was deep and for­ever — even if they fought it at first.
Noth­ing sur­prised me more when I started to write, than that I chose set my sto­ries in the Amer­i­can fron­tier. Now, it wasn’t a sur­prise that I chose to write his­tor­i­cals –after all, I have a BA and MA and a sec­ond BA in His­tory and taught US His­tory and West­ern Civ­i­liza­tion at the col­lege level. How­ever, I liked teach­ing West­ern Civ more than US His­tory and my MA had spe­cial­iza­tion in Tudor and Stu­art Eng­land, and the sec­ond BA in Euro­pean Stud­ies. But when it came time to write it was the fron­tier and the cow­boy who caught my imag­i­na­tion. Big surprise.

Guess Fredrick Jack­son Turner was right. Turner, a his­to­rian, pre­sented his “fron­tier the­sis” in 1893 at the Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion, stat­ing that it was the west­ward expan­sion that formed the Amer­i­can char­ac­ter, mak­ing us, as Ben Franklin said, a new race that was rougher, sim­pler, more enter­pris­ing, less refined.

I think now it was the fron­tier aspect that drew me, as on the edge of civ­i­liza­tion, it took a man and a woman work­ing together to make a home. This was the basis for my first novel, KENTUCKY GREEN, when the fron­tier was “the land beyond the moun­tains,” the Ken­tucky and Ohio ter­ri­tory in 1794. My hero, although he’s not a cow­boy, has all those cow­boy char­ac­ter­is­tics. But for most peo­ple Turner’s west­ward expan­sion brings to mind the cow­boy. Which leads me right back to my old west­ern movies.

When I was teach­ing, I used to have the stu­dent watch “Stage­coach”  (1939) and dis­cuss how the char­ac­ter por­trayed the val­ues of the time. If you haven’t seen the movie (shame on you!) a group of dis­parate indi­vid­ual under­take a dan­ger­ous stage­coach trip through Indian Ter­ri­tory. Our hero, the Ringo Kid (John Wayne, where direc­tor John Ford gave Wayne’s char­ac­ter the great­est screen intro­duc­tion ever) is out to get the man who killed his father and brother. There is the “good woman,” a mil­i­tary wife on the way to join her hus­band, and the “bad woman,” the dance­hall girl run out of town. The Con­fed­er­ate and the Union vet­eran. And of course, our hero helps save the day when the Indi­ans attack. Here are our cow­boy val­ues of putting the good of the group before per­sonal advan­tage, care and pro­tec­tion for those who need it. Courage in the face of dan­ger (the Indian attack).

John Wayne as Ringo Kid in “Stagecoach”

 

Ringo also shows deter­mi­na­tion to get revenge on the man who killed his fam­ily. This is often part of the “man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” phi­los­o­phy of the fron­tier. The aver­age man, our hero, is forced to act as the law as either the law is absent (part of the def­i­n­i­tion of fron­tier) or unable or unwill­ing to do the job that needs to be done to pro­tect soci­ety. And, of course, after the final shoot out, our hero and his girl ride off to start a new life together. The “new start” part of the fron­tier stand­ing for redemp­tion
“Stage­coach” is #9 on the Amer­i­can Film Institute’s Top Ten Westerns.

I also used to show part of “Red River” (1948) to my classes. This movie is #5 on the Amer­i­can Film Institute’s Top Ten West­erns. In the first part (a pro­logue actu­ally), our hero, Tom Dun­stan (John Wayne) leaves the wagon train head­ing to Cal­i­for­nia and the girl he’s fallen in love with to go to Texas to start his ranch, say­ing he’ll send for her. She fails to con­vince him to let her go with him, and says she’ll come.

I liked to use this to point out to my classes, who were used to instant com­mu­ni­ca­tion, how you have to under­stand the times the peo­ple lived in to under­stand the his­tory of what they said and did. I used to ask the men in my class, how are you going to send for her? A let­ter? Who would carry the let­ter? How would you address it? Would you go your­self? How would you find her? Then I’d ask the women in my class – how long do you wait for this guy to send for you? A year? Two years? Forever?

Per­haps part of the pull of the west­ern is the lack of tech­nol­ogy that some­times seems to over­whelm and swamp the per­sonal and indi­vid­ual in today’s soci­ety. Peo­ple seemed more impor­tant than things in the west. Rela­tion­ships were per­sonal. Today we can spend more time with our com­puter that with our family.

John Wayne, Mont­gomery Clift, Wal­ter Bren­nan
in “Red River” 1948

The main part of “Red River” deals with the dan­ger­ous cat­tle drive north many years later. Here again we see the cow­boy hero in sev­eral guises. Dun­ston (Wayne), who will­ing to do what no man has done, the cat­tle drive to try and save not only his ranch but all the sur­round­ing ranches. Dun­ston will­ing to step up and take respon­si­bil­ity. He’s helped by his sur­ro­gate son, Matthew Garth (Mont­gomery Clift) and a cast of great sec­ondary char­ac­ters. As the cat­tle drive is beset with dis­as­ters, Dun­ston becomes more auto­cratic and dri­ven to the point that Matthew rebels and takes over the herd. Matthew stand­ing up to and against the man he loves like a father, nec­es­sary to do what right in his mind. Matt says, “know he (Dun­stan) was wrong. Sure hope I’m right.” The story is not only one of man against nature (tam­ing the fron­tier), but of Matthew (Clift) and his con­flict with Dun­stan (Wayne), each man doing what he thinks is right as the cen­tral theme of the film.

And, of course, there is a romance between Matt and the girl he meets, falls in love with, but must leave to com­plete the cat­tle drive. This romance between Matt and Tess (Joanne Dru) is what help lead to the final rec­on­cil­i­a­tion between the men. This is a great movie with a young and beau­ti­ful Mont­gomery Clift and John Wayne allowed to act before all the direc­tors wanted him to do was be John Wayne.

Jimmy Stew­art

The For­ties and Fifties were a great time for west­ern movies, really too many to men­tion. But you might recall a few with Jimmy Stew­art such as “Win­ches­ter ’73,” or “The Far Coun­try.”
Ran­dolph Scott work­ing with direc­tory Bud Boet­ticher made sev­eral good west­ern such as “The Tall T,” and don’t miss “Seven Men From Now” if only for the final gun fight between Scott and Lee Marin as the ‘good’ bad guy.

For lots of good cow­boy heroes, there is always what’s known as direc­tor John Ford’s Cav­alry tril­ogy, “Fort Apache,” “She Wore a Yel­low Rib­bon,” and “Rio Grande.” These three, along with “Stage­coach” were shot in Mon­u­ment Val­ley and the scenery is as much a char­ac­ter as the actors. Espe­cially the storm in “She Wore a Yel­low Rib­bon” which blew up as they were film­ing, and Ford kept right on film­ing. No spe­cial effect, just the real thing.

Mon­u­ment Val­ley, Idaho
Photo by Wolf­gang Staudt

I think part of the allure of the cow­boy is the wide open spaces and scenery that sur­rounds him. It was the remem­bered clean, clear and bright moun­tain scenery around Durango, Col­orado that made me set COLORADO SILVER, COLORADO GOLD there. My cow­boy hero is an under­cover offi­cer for Wells Fargo who, of course, is deter­mined, brave and does the best he can. And, of course, as all west­ern hero­ines, the woman he falls in love with is strong, capa­ble and makes him real­ize he’s a bet­ter man than he thinks he is.

Mod­ern west­erns in the old tra­di­tion are start­ing to turn up on tele­vi­sion, such as “Bro­ken Trail” (2007) with Robert Duvall as the older men­tor and Thomas Haden Church as his nephew.

And the tra­di­tional cow­boy val­ues are show­cased in “Open Range” (2003) with Kevin Cost­ner team­ing with Robert Duvall, as two itin­er­ate cow­boy who end up tak­ing on a cor­rupt sher­iff and town boss – doing what needs to be done to make the com­mu­nity safer and revenge their friend. Also a nice lit­tle romance between Char­lie (Kevin Cost­ner) and Sue (Annette Bening).

Even the con­tem­po­rary cow­boy has those val­ues. “My Heroes Have Always Been Cow­boys” (1991) where an estranged son and father re-connect as he finds love with an old flame. How much bet­ter would things be today, if those cow­boy val­ues – hon­est, true to their word, will­ing to sac­ri­fice to help those who can’t help them­selves, putting the good of the com­mu­nity before their per­sonal needs when necessary.

Yep, my heroes have always been cow­boys. I watch the old movies any chance I get, and keep a look­out to see if they are out in DVD to replace the VHS tapes I have. My cur­rent favorite is “Tall In The Sad­dle.” Did I miss men­tion­ing one of your favorite west­erns? I know I missed some of mine. Do you watch the old movies, or do you have a favorite “mod­ern” western?

Brisco Western Art Museum

While in San Anto­nio for the RWA National Con­fer­ence my friend Jackie (http://jackieleighallen.com/) and I vis­ited the Brisco West­ern Art Museum.  To bad I live in San Diego, oth­er­wise I’d visit this museum again and again.  It really cap­tured the spirit of the West.  The huge sculp­ture in the entrance show a herd of buf­falo flow­ing down from an Indian on one side, and the other a cow­boy with a herd of long­horn cat­tle tum­bling down from his perch.

Art-Artifact-John-ColemanArt-Artifact-Wells-Fargo-StagecoachArt-Artifact-Greg-Kelsey-Walkara

I also like the repro­duc­tion of a Wells Fargo stage­coach.  The stage­coach, along with many other item in the museum had a audio/visual com­po­nent.  Put on the head phone, and watch the lit­tle video screen for more infor­ma­tion.  I espe­cially like that the audio/visual for the stage­coach con­tained clips of the movie Stage­coach — one of my favorite west­ern films.

The audio/visual aspect really added to the sculp­tures, as you got to see/hear the artist talk about their work.   And since the museum was in San Anto­nio it had a huge model of the Alamo.  And if you need to sit, there is an area with easy chairs and head phones where you can lis­ten to west­ern music through the years.

Brisco West­ern Art Museum http://www.briscoemuseum.org/

 

 

Back from the Romance Writers of America’s National Conference

Spent last week in San Anto­nio, Texas at the RWA National Con­fer­ence.  My friend and room mate, Jackie (http://jackieleighallen.com/) flew in Mon­day.  That evening we took the tour on the San Anto­nio River­walk boat ride.

riverwalk1 riverwalk2 riverwalk3 riverwalk4riverwalk3riverwalk2We used Tues­day to do the tourist thing — vis­it­ing the Alamo, some of the San Anto­nio Mis­sions.  There is a lot of sim­i­la­raites between San Diego and San Anto­nio besides being named after saints.  One of the stops on the tour was the Mer­cado (a Mex­i­can mar­ket place), so we checked out the Texas ver­sion of Mex­i­can food, which was pretty good.  And a great Margarita.

Alamo  site interior alamo

Wednes­day we went to the Brisco West­ern Art Museum, which I highly rec­om­mend.  Paint­ing, sculp­ture, model of the Alamo.  I espe­cially liked the Wells Fargo stage coach and the audio/visual info ref­er­enced the movie Stage­coach — one of my favorite films.   Sev­eral of the sculp­ture had audio/visual telling about the artist and about the art work.  There was even an area with chairs and head­phones to lis­ten to var­i­ous exam­ple of west­ern music.

Wednes­day evening was the Lit­er­arcy Sign­ing, over 500 authors signed and earned over $50,000 for serveral lit­er­ary orga­ni­za­tion in San Antonio.

 

Thurs­day through Sat­ur­day was filled with work­shops on all aspects of pub­lish­ing.  I con­cen­trated on social media work­shops as with the decline of stone and mor­tor book­stores, on line is how you need to get your work out to the pub­lic.  My main prob­lem is I’m not par­tic­u­lary tech­ni­cal, and of course, all the time you spend on social media takes time, when I’d rather be writing.

One of the social media sug­ges­tions was to give stuff away, so be sure to check out my face­book page https://www.facebook.com/TerryBlainAuthor?ref=hl  to see what I’m up to.