LRWA and Researching Historical Fiction

Saturday 17 February in Summerville, SC, I taught a workshop
on researching historical fiction for the Lowcountry chapter of the Romance
Writers of America.  I regret not having the time to tour historic Summerville,
once a woodsy summer escape for plantation owners who wished to avoid malaria.
Nearby are Middleton Place, restored gardens from the eighteenth-century
plantation of one of SC’s signers of the Declaration; and Moncks Corner, where
the forces of General Isaac Huger and Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton clashed in
April 1780. Charleston, which I’ve yet to visit, is less than half an hour
away.  All that history: I need an excuse to return for several days.

Heads up, fans of historical fiction.  Be on the lookout for
ten ladies from the LRWA chapter who have fascinating ideas and a load of
enthusiasm for their historical projects.  Researching historical fiction isn’t
for the faint of heart.  You have to be a detective, think outside the box,
synthesize information from dozens of sources –- and knit it all into a seamless
presentation.  Small wonder that many authors take two years or more to produce
a work of historical fiction.  But each of these ladies, some of them already
published, stepped up to the plate, undaunted.  The
hands-on portion of the workshop was lively with sagacious discussion and
inspiration.  I expect a crop of published historical novels out of this group
within a couple years.

Many thanks, LWRA, for the opportunity to present the
workshop, as well as the opportunity to learn from each of you.

Next up: the Friends of the Library in Lumberton, NC, 8
March.

Historical Novels Review of Paper Woman, February 2007

Paper Woman received three good reviews this week. Mary
Axford and Rhonda Lane published reviews on the Dorothy-L discussion list. And
last night I received a preview of Janette King’s review of Paper Woman in the
Historical Novels Review, a quarterly for the Historical Novel Society. Since
none of these reviews is accessible via an online link, due to space
limitations, I’ll only print Janette King’s review:

Set during the American Revolution, Paper Woman follows
Sophie Barton’s attempts to learn the truth behind the murders of her rebel
father and two other men. But if
running the printing press at her father’s newspaper in Alton, Georgia, isn’t
already an inappropriate occupation for a lady, joining a group of concerned
locals (including a notorious Frenchman, her womanizing brother, her former
lover, and two Indians) on a cross-country journey should earn Sophie quite a
reputation! A clever and resourceful woman,
she quickly proves herself a capable associate. But even with the combined
abilities of her team of friends, there is still much to fear from the redcoats
behind them on the trail.

Suzanne Adair has provided a compelling array of characters,
in particular the roguish adventurer Jacques le Coeuvre. Sophie herself isn’t exactly a
run-of-the-mill heroine, having chocked up quite a past before we meet
her. And she’s soon to be a
grandmother. Before Sophie embarks on
her adventure, a difficult decision concerning her future is put before her.

Adair’s interests in historical re-enactment serve her well
in creating details necessary to bring the period to life. Paper Woman is an entertaining and
well-paced novel, and Sophie Barton proves to be far more substantial than the
title might suggest. I look forward to
the upcoming sequel.

Thank you, Janette, Mary, and Rhonda, for the reviews.

Was my protagonist Sophie’s occupation as a printer
inappropriate for women during the Revolutionary War? Have a look at my blog
entry 14 November 2006, "Busting Myths: Women and Freedom During the Revolutionary War." I’m looking forward to my panel 9 June 2007 at the
Historical Novel Society’s conference in Albany, NY. The panel is entitled,
"Rewriting the Role of Women."

Next up: a workshop on researching historical fiction
for the Lowcountry chapter of the Romance Writers of America in Summerville,
SC, Saturday 17 February 2007.

Quail Ridge Books and Cowpens, January 2007

Although both these signings occurred last month, I want to
cover them because they were excellent events.

Qrb2007exteriorQuail Ridge Books has been in business since 1984 and is
Raleigh’s most well-known independent bookstore. Owner Nancy Olson and the
staff are some of the friendliest, most helpful booksellers I’ve met. Even
before they knew I was an author :-), I received a warm greeting whenever I
came in the store and a "May I help you find anything today?" I was
honored and delighted to read and present there Tuesday evening 9 January.

My family and I dressed in our eighteenth-century clothing
and answered a number of questions from the audience about reenacting and life
during Revolutionary America. Carl demonstrated fixing the bayonet to his
musket, to the "oohs" and "aahs" of the audience. One woman
commented, "Look at how long it is!" This helped attendees understand
why the bayonet, not the musket ball, was a principal weapon of the war. (Early
on, before George Washington’s army developed discipline and professionalism,
Continentals often ran in terror as soon as the British fixed bayonets. Imagine
a line of a hundred redcoats advancing toward you, sixteen or so inches of
pointed steel fixed to the end of their muskets and leveled at your midsection.
Not an auspicious sign.) Thanks to Quail Ridge Books for providing me with the
signing opportunity, and special thanks to Carol Moyer for the lovely
introduction.

The third book of my series, Camp Follower, culminates in
the Battle of Cowpens. On 17 January 1781, an army of Continentals and rebel
militia commanded by Brigadier General Daniel Morgan defeated British Legion
provincials and their loyalist allies beneath Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton.
Morgan’s army didn’t just defeat Tarleton’s army; Morgan decimated it. Although
most of Tarleton’s cavalry escaped, almost all infantrymen from the British
Legion and allied units were killed, injured, or captured in battle. Those
soldiers were irreplaceable, and the battle deprived Charles Lord Cornwallis of
much might from his crack unit in the South.

Carl and I daytripped the event Saturday 13 January while my
sons were off winter camping with their Boy Scout troop. However, there wasn’t
much winter to be found in the southeast that weekend. Cowpens weather usually
means snow on the ground or bitter cold, but everyone sweated for the event. We
arrived in time to catch up with a battlefield tour guided by ranger John Robertson, who creates the maps for my novels. Then I dressed
in my eighteenth-century clothing and set up my signing table inside the
visitors’ center, in the august company of authors Dr. Bobby Moss, Dr.
Christine Swager, and Sheila Ingle.

No battle reenactment occurs on site at Cowpens National Battlefield, but visitors
always enjoy plenty of living history, military drills, demonstrations, and
presentations. On Saturday, chapters of the D.A.R. and S.A.R. conducted their
annual wreath-laying ceremony. Visitors were also treated to Dave Sherrill’s
portrayal of Benjamin Franklin and got to watch mounted members of the Third
Continental Light Dragoons saber a head of cabbage — at human height — off a
post during a cavalry charge. (Coleslaw, anyone?)

Cowpens2007robertsonadairswageringleMid-afternoon, Sheila Ingle,
Chris Swager, and I presented a panel on the American Revolution in the South
as seen through the eyes of its female participants. From left to right in the
picture, moderator John Robertson and panelists Suzanne Adair, Chris Swager,
and Sheila Ingle.

A huge Huzzah! and thank-you to Virginia Fowler, chief ranger at
Cowpens, and all her staff for hosting another successful event and allowing me
the opportunity to be part of it.

Next up: a workshop on researching historical fiction for
the Lowcountry chapter of the Romance Writers of America in Summerville, SC,
Saturday 17 February 2007.

Career Day and a Teahouse: Two Appearances in Two Days

On Friday, my sons’ middle school held its annual Career
Fair. Monica Smiley, editor-in-chief of Enterprising Women magazine, and I
presented three joint sessions on what it’s like to be a publisher and an
author. We squished a great deal of information into those 35-minute sessions
and still allowed time for Q&A. All our attendees were seventh-graders, and
Monica and I were pleased to see them so full of intelligent questions.

VsteastreasuresSaturday afternoon, I made a presentation at a new teahouse
in downtown Raleigh, V’s Teas & Treasures. While guests enjoyed a full tea,
I spoke on "The 232nd Anniversary of the Wilmington Ladies Tea
Party."

Wilmington Ladies Tea Party? During a visit to Wilmington,
North Carolina, in 1775, Scotswoman Janet Schaw kept a journal. Discovered in
the early twentieth century and made available in book form as Journal of a
Lady of Quality
, this journal has given historians a tantalizing, rare view of
the American Revolution seen through the eyes of a Loyalist woman. The famous
Boston Tea Party was the first of many "tea parties" celebrated
throughout the colonies. The patriot ladies of Wilmington held their own tea
party sometime in the first quarter of 1775. But had Janet Schaw not commented
on it in her journal, we’d never have known about it. Unlike the Edenton Ladies
Tea Party several months earlier, highly publicized and even lampooned in
London, the sister event in Wilmington drew no press coverage.

V’s Teas & Treasures, located at the corner of Glenwood Drive and Peace Street, is a must-see,
must-do. The vintage Victorian-era house has been restored and decorated with
love and a tremendous sense of comfort and coziness by owner Vivian Nicolsen
Holt. There are two tearooms, both seating about fifteen guests, and nooks and
crannies throughout the house filled with arts and crafts, jewelry, antiques,
teas, coffees, edible goodies, soaps, fragrances, and home accents. But don’t
take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. Oh, and did I mention that the
full tea is scrumptious?

Mary Buckham’s Online Course on the Hero’s Journey

Aside from completing the first draft of Camp Follower last month, I was engrossed in an online course offered through Guppies, an Internet chapter of Sisters in Crime. Technically, Guppies are “The Great Unpublished,” but quite a few of us are now published.

“Plotting with the Mythic Structure: Creating Surefire Plots that Sell” is taught by Mary Buckham. Mary teaches a variety of courses online and on-site. Guppies sing her praises for a synopsis course she taught in 2006. I can certainly attest to her attention to detail and almost psychic ability to identify individual problems in manuscripts, as well as her warm-hearted willingness to help everyone who puts forth effort. At times during January, she juggled about two-dozen plot lines and avoided confusing one plot with another. When there are days that I get even my two sons mixed up, how does she do it — software? I suspect her predominant archetype is “goddess.” :-)

Joseph Campbell gave us the Hero’s Journey decades ago in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Christopher Vogler followed up in 1992 with his book The Hero’s Journey, one of the “homework” pieces recommended by my editor back in 2004 when he told me, to my surprise, that I write the Hero’s Journey. The what?

The Hero’s Journey is an ancient storytelling structure common to myths and legends, but we find it embedded even today in the plots of novels and movies. Vogler describes twelve steps of the journey in his book and discusses archetypes, but Mary Buckham brings it home in her course with templates that apply it to bestselling movies and novels of all genres. The most helpful aspect of the course is applying those templates to your own work in progress and then sharing with the rest of the class. Several writers came into the course with just a few sentences of story idea and finished with an entire novel plotted out. I told you Mary was a goddess.

She offers the course online again in May through Writer University. Whether you are a first-time writer or a published veteran, I highly recommend the course. But I shall act as threshold guardian here and warn you that the course isn’t for dabblers. There’s serious work involved. And that, folks, along with finishing Camp Follower, was why I skipped blogging in January.

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The First Draft of Camp Follower is Complete!

Whoa! It’s been almost two months since I last posted. Have
I ever been busy! Over the next week, look for updates on all
I’ve been doing. To kick off the updates, I’ve finished the first draft to book
3 in the series, Camp Follower. What characters from Paper Woman and The
Blacksmith’s Daughter
(book 2) make an appearance in this third book? David St.
James, the three peddlers, Lt. Adam Neville, Lt. Michael Stoddard, and Lt.
Dunstan Fairfax.

Snowredcoat_1We get a couple of snow days per year in Raleigh, and
today was one of them. Might as well make the best of all that snow.

Another Good Review

Diana Bane has posted a favorable review for Paper Woman in Spinetingler Magazine. Here’s one of her comments: "Sophie is an appealing heroine. It is no easy thing for a new author to create a character to whom the reader is immediately drawn, and who can carry off a storyline of this size and scope. Suzanne Adair has done that here."

Thank you, Diana.

A Fabulous First Newspaper Review, Holiday Booksignings 2006, the Wrong War, and Quail Ridge Books

On Sunday 3 December, staff writer Ben Steelman with the Wilmington Star-News reviewed Paper Woman. The headline reads “N.C. Author Spins a Swashbuckling Good Mystery Yarn,” and here’s the online link.

“…almost enough swashbuckling to wind Capt. Jack Sparrow,” he said and later compared Paper Woman to Jimmy Carter’s The Hornet’s Nest: “…as an adventure writer, [Adair] beats our former president plumb hollow.” Several authors have commented to me that Mr. Steelman is a tough critic, one who doesn’t give many good reviews. Grasshopper is very grateful. And still a bit dazed.

Books-a-Million banner

At Books-a-Million in Wilmington, Paper Woman was already selling well. After Steelman’s review was published, the novel sold even better and is on their top seller list. Exciting for the first fiction offering from a small press! If you’re in Wilmington, stop in and see us at Books-a-Million on Oleander Drive. My publisher will be there every day except Sunday through Christmas, and my family and I will be there the next two Saturdays in 18th-century clothing. (Look for the redcoat and his lady.) The Books-a-Million greeters in their festive Who-ville/Grinch hats make every visitor feel welcome — and as a bonus, they offer coupons for holiday discounts.

House in the Horseshoe holiday decorations

Last Saturday, I daytripped to the holiday open house at Alston House in Sanford, NC. Also called “The House in the Horseshoe” because it’s situated on land within a horseshoe-shaped bend of the Deep River, the house and grounds, originally owned by Philip Alston, were the scene of an intense, morning battle 29 July 1781 between Alston and his patriot friends and loyalist David Fanning and his men. The house was shot through with musket balls, and you can still see the holes on the exterior planks. Alston’s wife, Temperance, became so fearful for her children’s safety that she hid the kids in the fireplace. Then she initiated a ceasefire by exiting the house and signaling for parley. The first weekend of August each year, this battle is reenacted with great flair.

In contrast to the activity of battle, the holiday open house focuses on how a colonial-era home might have appeared for Yule: evergreen, holly, ivy, and soft candlelight the primary visual delights, with the scents of cinnamon, oranges, and molasses cakes in the air. Decades later, Prince Albert would elevate Christmas into the mighty celebration we’re familiar with today, but our colonial ancestors mostly acknowledged Yule with serenity and quiet, commemorating the shortest day and longest night with a festival of lights and seasonal foods and foliage, in much the same fashion as people had done for centuries before them.

House in the Horseshoe holiday booksigning

Reenactors provided demos of musket fire and cannon fire and answered questions from visitors about their encampment. I tip my tricorn to those reenactors who spent the night; the temperature plummeted into the teens. Elizabeth Faison, the site coordinator, kindly allowed me to set up my signing table in the main room of the house, where the ambiance was cozy. She’d also seen to it that I received coverage in local papers, including The Pilot out of Southern Pines, and visitors who purchased Paper Woman informed me they’d read about me in the paper. That publicity, combined with the laminated copy of Ben Steelman’s review that I brought along, contributed to robust sales for me.

Just about every Revolutionary War event we attend, a spectator asks us, “What side are y’all on, the North or the South?” so we tell them, “Wrong war!” On Saturday, just down the street from my house, Mordecai Historical Park was hosting a Civil War reenactment. On our drive out to Alston House that morning, we’d navigated through a street congested with parked cars and spotted all the Confederate soldiers on the lawn lined up in gray wool uniforms, and the tents and campfires that look so much like our own campsites. When we came home late Saturday afternoon, the Civil War reenactors were still encamped at the park, and a dozen or so had clustered around a fire, trying to stay warm. We slowed the car to a crawl, leaned out the windows in obvious Revolutionary War clothing, and hollered, “God Save the King! God Save His Majesty!” They stared in shock at us several seconds until one of the guys finally hollered back, “Wrong war!” Exactly. We laughed the rest of the way home.

Quail Ridge Books promo

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be appearing at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh for a presentation and booksigning on Tuesday 9 January 2007. This will be my first author appearance in Raleigh. Quail Ridge Books is a wonderful independent bookstore.

Thanks to Ben Steelman, the gang at Books A Million, and Elizabeth Faison. Happy Holidays to everyone!

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Another Visit to Morehead City

I daytripped a signing with author p.m. terrell on 18 November at Dee Gee’s Gifts & Books in Morehead City, NC. Just off Bogue Sound and surrounded by seafood restaurants, this independent bookstore is a “must-see.” Upstairs and downstairs, it boasts an assortment of unique gifts and engrossing books for visitors and residents of the cozy, historic beach community. The store has been in business for decades, survived hurricanes, and relocated at least once to a less vulnerable spot. Currently, owner Doug Wolfe has it decorated for the holidays, including a dazzling upside-down Christmas tree loaded with one-of-a-kind ornaments. Thanks to Doug and the folks at Dee Gee’s for the opportunity to sign books in a shop with such charm and character.

Before arriving for my 1 p.m. signing, I stopped at the Webb Memorial Library for lunch. Originally, I’d planned to pop in and say hello to all the librarians who had been so helpful at the Crystal Coast Book Festival last month. But those wonderful librarians weren’t about to let me breeze in and breeze out. They’d organized a lunch for all of us in one of the comfy reading rooms of the library. We ate a delicious meal, chatted, and enjoyed each other’s company. In Grasshopper’s humble opinion, the opportunity to develop long-term friendships with librarians all over the map is one of the greatest perks of the job of “author.” Many thanks to Sandy, Sherrill, Betsy and Betsy, Pam (who was about to become a grandmother), Sherry, Norwood, Corinne, and everyone else for making me feel so welcome!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Busting Myths: Women and Freedom During the Revolutionary War

The protagonist in Paper Woman, Sophie Barton, operates a printing press. Many people ask me some variation on the same question: Would women have been allowed to conduct such a “non-traditional” business during the Revolutionary War? They’re astonished when I say, “Yes.”

We view the past through a Victorian-tinted lens. Queen Victoria ruled for so many decades and left her stamp everywhere, buried deeply. We automatically ascribe the morals of her society to societies throughout history without a second thought. We believe that because Victorian women were looked upon as fragile, domestic creatures, women throughout history must have been the same way. Poppycock.

With just a little research, you uncover stories about women ruling countries, women as athletes and soldiers, and nuns who weren’t tied to celibacy. Georgian society, following the lead of its monarchs, was much earthier than Victorian society. Women during the American War of Independence had many more freedoms than those of the surrounding centuries.

In her book Awesome Women Lost in History, due out March 2007, author Leslie Sackrison chronicles women shipbuilders, blacksmiths, printers, soldiers, sailors, spies — the list goes on and on. For centuries, women have been employed in just about all fields that have employed men. Most of the time, they came to their professions out of necessity, took over a business after the death of a male relative.

Plucky women in the Revolution weren’t proto-feminists. (The modern feminist movement didn’t take root until the early 1800s.) Women took up “non-traditional” trades because they were already familiar with a business and it paid the bills, because they were capable of managing the business, or because no one else could do it. It speaks to the innate, “get it done” ability of women, something that cannot be driven out of the gender.

History provides us with so many examples of women engaged in various businesses that it’s time to honestly evaluate what a “traditional” occupation is for a woman. Keep your eye on the growing movement among non-fiction and fiction authors who are redefining the role of women in history. That’s the topic of my panel discussion next June at the conference for the Historical Novel Society in Albany, NY. I hope to see you there.

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