The American Revolution from the “Other” Side

Killer Debt book coverAs a prelude to the crowdfunding campaign for my upcoming mystery Killer Debt, which starts on Thursday, author Anne Louise Bannon interviews me on her blog, where I discuss why I chose to make the hero of my series a redcoat.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

My Time Machine

From the Vault Note: This essay first appeared in a slightly different form on Southern Writers Magazine’s blog, April 2013.

Readers often comment that my stories immerse them fully in the fictional world I’ve created. Achieving that “You Are Here” feeling is a challenge for most authors. Those who write historical fiction wish they had a time machine, a way to experience what the past was like.

33rd Light Redcoats at BrattonsvilleI write crime fiction set during the eighteenth century, in the American War of Independence. I’ve found that time machine.


Redcoat and Suzanne AdairWhen I started researching this period almost twenty years ago, I quickly realized that if I intended to create believable fiction about people who’d lived more than two hundred years earlier, reading books on the topic and interviewing subject matter experts wouldn’t cut it at helping me capture the period flavor. A desire to experience the everyday challenges my characters would have faced and how their world smelled, tasted, and sounded fueled my interest in becoming a Revolutionary War reenactor.


Cooking at CamdenMy sons and I spent many weekends camped at historical battlegrounds during reenactment events. We slept in white canvas army tents with no mosquito screens, and we dressed in clothing made of wool and linen. Our menu was limited by what meals we could prepare over a wood fire. Food occasionally got scorched. Most of the time, running water, flush toilets, and heat or air-conditioning were unavailable.

I learned to start a fire from flint and steel. Not until I’d done so did I comprehend the impact of natural variables, such as wind and humidity, on establishing a fire when you don’t even have the convenience of matches. Try starting a fire with flint and steel on a windy, wintry night.

Continentals and Redcoats at Guilford CourthouseI also learned to load and fire a musket with powder only, like reenactors on the battlefield. Nothing I’d read prepared me for the noise, weight, heat, or reload time of the musket. The one time I fired a ball, I saw the way it could have ricocheted off trees and killed someone. How often did that happen in woodland skirmishes hundreds of years ago?

And I learned to move in a petticoat. However no reference book prepared me for how quickly the wind whipped my petticoat into the campfire at one event. Did you know that being burned was one of the top causes of death for women in the eighteenth century?

I’m a woman of the twenty-first century. I take technology for granted. Convenience and accessibility underpin my culture and shape my values and reactions. But during the Revolutionary War, very little was convenient or accessible. Danger and scarcity shaped decisions, especially for the middle and lower classes.

Indian at CamdenWe’re out of touch with the hardships our ancestors endured to stay alive. My challenge is to bridge that gap in my fiction. The lessons I’ve learned from reenacting inform the crafting of my fictional world. Without the experience of having lived history via the time machine of reenacting, I wouldn’t be able to provide such a believable and captivating escape for readers.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

“The Martian” and the Hero’s Journey

On Saturday 7 November, I’ll teach my most popular workshop combo—“Plotting with the Hero’s Journey” and “Creating Archetypal Characters Instead of Stereotypes”—at the headquarters library in Fayetteville, NC. These two workshops are my condensation of material from several sources, including Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.

The MartianIn the plotting workshop, I map out the twelve stages of the Hero’s Journey in “Star Wars,” “Romancing the Stone,” and “Blazing Saddles” and give a lot of information about each stage. After we’ve covered that material and the seven main archetypes, I think I’ll get the class to map out the Hero’s Journey for protagonist Mark Watney in “The Martian.” The stages of the Hero’s Journey in this gem of a movie are distinct and super easy to pick out. It’s as if the writers wrote the screenplay with Joseph Campbell watching over their shoulders and nodding with approval.

Here are the stages. And if you’re one of my students this Saturday, you’re now ahead of the class. There’s a spoiler alert if you haven’t yet seen the movie.

Stage 1: The ordinary world
In the not-too-distant future, botanist Mark Watney is at work on the surface of Mars with his fellow scientists. The small group’s mission is to live on the planet for about sixty days in a structure called “the Hab,” studying Mars and collecting samples. The team members work together well and have an easy rapport with each other. It’s clear that each person is well suited for the multi-year mission.

Stage 2: The call to adventure
A sudden and violent dust storm heralding the hostile nature of Mars separates Mark from his fellow scientists, destroying equipment. The team thinks that Mark has been killed. Remaining on the surface in the storm to look for his body would imperil their lives. Grieving Mark, they abort their mission and blast off. However Mark is alive, although injured. He staggers back to the Hab and performs surgery on himself. Then he realizes he’s been stranded on Mars.

Stage 3: Refusal of the call
Hoping that he can survive until the next manned mission arrives, Mark tallies up how much food and water he has available. Unfortunately he has a fraction of what he needs. Mars doesn’t give second chances. Mark concludes that he’s out of options and will die on Mars.

Stage 4: Meeting the mentor
But Mark is a scientist. Using his knowledge (inner mentor), he figures out how to generate water from hydrazine rocket fuel—after one failed attempt that almost kills him. Specifically though, Mark’s a botanist, and one of his fellow scientists left some potatoes behind. Can Mark create a greenhouse on Mars and cultivate a potato crop to help him stretch his food supply until the next mission arrives?

Stage 5: Crossing the first threshold
Mark takes a leap of faith. He creates the greenhouse and plants potatoes. The potatoes grow, he harvests his first crop, then he plants another crop. Success makes him optimistic. Not only does he accept the challenge of surviving on Mars until the next mission arrives, but he’s idealistic that he can tame Mars until then.

Stage 6: Tests, allies, enemies
So far, Mark is staying one step ahead of the physical demands of surviving on Mars. However humans aren’t meant to live alone. The stash of disco music and “Happy Days” episodes left behind by one of Mark’s teammates doesn’t substitute for companionship. He needs human contact. From a map, he figures out where the old Pathfinder probe is buried. Can he use it to contact Earth? Since his rover won’t travel that far, he modifies the fuel source to take him there. He brings Pathfinder back to the Hab. Through much MacGyvering, he establishes contact with Earth and NASA.

Stage 7: Approach to the innermost cave
An explosion wipes out Mark’s potato crop, reinforcing the fact that he’s only been buying time on the hostile world. NASA has one rocket built. Rather than using it to launch the next manned mission to Mars, the agency decides to use the rocket to send Mark supplies directly. NASA’s scientists then set Mark up on a food-rationing plan that will get him through until the rocket arrives.

Stage 8: Supreme ordeal
The rocket that was to bring Mark supplies blows up right after it blasts off. Mark comes face-to-face with the death of his idealism. Despite his best efforts and those of the geniuses in NASA, he cannot tame Mars. Mars doesn’t compromise. The planet is going to claim him. He’ll starve to death before he can get help from Earth.

Stage 9: Reward/seizing the sword
The Chinese, who have been monitoring the situation, are willing to let NASA use their rocket to send supplies to Mark. NASA officials say no and order Mark’s original team, now approaching Earth, to land. But Mark’s teammates, who are overjoyed to learn that he’s alive, decide to disobey NASA’s direct orders. Working on the sly with the Chinese, they slingshot their craft around Earth, pick up the supplies from the Chinese rocket, and head back to Mars. This heartens Mark.

Stage 10: The road back
The team doesn’t have the fuel to land on Mars and blast off again. Mark will have to meet them in space as they fly by. Then they’ll slingshot around Mars to head back to Earth. In the rover, Mark undertakes an arduous journey across Mars to a crater where there’s a spaceship parked for a future mission. He has to lighten the ship considerably to be able to blast off with what fuel is in it. That means removing the nosecone and the piloting and life support systems. But at that point, Mark is way over Mars. Dying in space is preferable to dying on Mars.

Stage 11: Ultimate test/resurrection
Mark’s teammates are able to remotely take over blasting off his ship from the surface. Mark loses consciousness from the G forces. When he comes to, he finds out that his ship’s orbit is too low for him to meet with his teammates’ ship. But he can see them. So he climbs out the hole where the nosecone would have been and punctures his glove, using the jet of escaping air to propel him toward his teammates. They catch him, bring him inside their ship, and head home.

Stage 12: Return with the elixir
Back on Earth, Mark is now singularly qualified to teach survival training to astronauts. He tells a class of students that yes, he thought he was going to die. And without any idealism, he reminds them: “This is space. It does not compromise.”


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

I’m Featured in Southern Writers Magazine

Suzanne Adair feature in Southern Writers Magazine Nov-Dec 2015Many thanks to Southern Writers Magazine, where I’m featured for the November-December 2015 issue. The article provides information on the historical background of the Michael Stoddard series, details development of characters like Nick Spry, and goes into the importance of my reenacting experience. Interested? Purchase a copy. Follow Southern Writers Magazine on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about your favorite Southern authors.

Tweet: Check out #mystery author @Suzanne_Adair featured in Nov-Dec 2015 Southern Writers Magazine. @SouthrnWritrMag


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

A Couple of Guest Posts in April

Before we charge into the lusty month of May, enjoy my guest posts during the last part of April:

On Le Couer de Artiste, I talk about “Losing Myself in the Past” and the importance of Revolutionary War reenacting for my writing.

A Day in the Life of Michael Stoddard” on Dru’s Book Musings recounts April Fools Day 1781 (A Hostage to Heritage) from Michael’s point of view, in his voice.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

IndieReCon Conference, Day 1

IndieReCon, a free online conference for writers, started at 10:00 a.m. EST this morning and runs through Thursday 27 February, twelve hours each day. JA Konrath and Bob Mayer are among the speakers lined up to address topics of interest to authors publishing independently. There are book giveaways, including the grand prize of a Kobo Aura loaded with ebooks. Check out the schedule.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

The Making of a Fictional Villain, Part 3

This post concludes a three-part essay about the origins of Dunstan Fairfax, the sociopathic villain in my series set during the American Revolution. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The finest fictional villains are three-dimensional. Their creators didn’t assemble them from a single source of inspiration. These villains earn our respect, even our love, because they run the show and make things happen. Worthy villains bring out the best in heroes. Without them, heroes would be boring.

Years ago, I recognized that I was drawn to the David vs. Goliath theme in my fiction. Goliath didn’t have to be a sociopath, like Fairfax. In fact, in some of my writings, Goliath was clinically depressed, schizophrenic, paranoid, narcissistic, or just down on his luck. But those stories didn’t have the punch of stories I’d written with sociopathic bad guys.

And as it turned out, America embraced the sociopath villain as an icon.

The rise of the sexy sociopath
In theater, cinema, and fiction, a shift occurred to reflect the way the public regarded sociopathic killers. Fictional sociopaths became charismatic, clever, and charming. Dark and sexy anti-heroes. Goliaths to the traditional good-guy protagonist. Perhaps Anthony Hopkins’s creepy, sublime rendition of Hannibal Lector in 1991 capitalized on this growing trend. I didn’t read The Silence of the Lambs or see the movie until nearly two decades later.

Phantom of the Opera maskHowever I did see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s treatment of this trend in the early 1990s when it played at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. If you’d read Gaston Leroux’s original novel The Phantom of the Opera before seeing the theater performance, as I had done, you’d be surprised at how Sir Andrew cleaned up the character of the Phantom, made him resonate with audiences who’d indicated that they couldn’t get enough of sexy sociopathic killers. And if you saw the 2004 movie, released just before the craze for Jeff Lindsey’s sexy, sociopathic protagonist Dexter began, the trend would be even more apparent.

A villain from the future
Sexy sociopathic killers showed up everywhere and everywhen in the entertainment industry. In 1993, the Star Trek franchise launched “Deep Space Nine,” darkest of all Trek incarnations. Action in “Deep Space Nine” occurred on a frontier, where greed and control over others were common themes. In other words, happy hunting ground for sociopaths. Without consistent contact with Central Command, the personal integrity of the man or woman in command at outposts like Deep Space Nine was constantly tested. Often the hallowed values embraced by the Federation didn’t prevail.

Disturbing. I loved it.

Deep Space Nine“Deep Space Nine” produced several of the most complex anti-heroes/villains in the Star Trek universe. Gul Dukat, portrayed by Marc Alaimo; Elim Garek, portrayed by Andrew Robinson, and Kai Wynn, portrayed by Louise Fletcher. These characters crossed back and forth over the line of sociopathy numerous times. And they contributed an important quality to the list of qualities shared by worthy villains. They were vulnerable in ways that fascinated me while making me a little nauseated.

Gul DukatIn addition, the character of Gul Dukat went through multiple character arcs during the seven years that the show was aired. Thus he became even more of an evolving series villain. A villain who wasn’t static or periodic. Hmm. While Dukat’s character evolved, so did the character of Deep Space Nine’s primary hero, Benjamin Sisko. Watching the episodes that involved interaction between Dukat and Sisko was like watching a chess match, played out between hero and villain. Or David and Goliath.

A villain for the past and present

“Deep Space Nine” granted my imagination the green light to draw off decades of groundwork and evolve a series villain for my own frontier. May 1999, I toured the ruins of Fort Frederica, established on pre-Revolutionary War St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. There I found the frontier for a new David v. Goliath story.

Like the vast majority of fictional heroes, the David for this series, Michael Stoddard, initially dodges his Call to Adventure. But Goliath has claimed his turf. Sooner or later, David must step up to the plate.

Let’s face it. Villains win in real life. That’s why the bad guy so often gets his comeuppance in fiction. Interestingly, when an author develops a three-dimensional villain, readers don’t want to see him (or her) destroyed immediately. “Why can’t the bad guy win?” they ask.

The bad guy in a series can win for most of the series. A series villain probably should win for most of the series. A worthy villain does readers a huge favor. He or she forces the hero to grow, to inspire.

Dunstan Fairfax’s character has evolved in my imagination over a lifetime. He’s evolving even as my series progresses. Fairfax, sliding so well into the scarlet skin of primordial America’s bogey monster, is busy hammering a hero out of his counterpart, Michael Stoddard. So I’m letting the bad guy win awhile longer. But rest assured that he’ll eventually get his comeuppance.

Which villain would you like to see get some comeuppance?


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

“The Doomsday Machine,” Suspense, and Dodging the Sagging Middle

Have you ever been watching a movie or reading a novel, and somewhere in the middle (aka Act 2), it bogs down? If Act 2 is sluggish enough, you’ve even lost interest in the outcome, Act 3.

Here’s what probably happened. The writer was up against a deadline and threw all manner of challenges at the characters in that midsection to perk up the action and avoid what’s known as “the sagging middle.” But ironically, the wrong kind of action can drag at the momentum.

The challenges faced by characters in the middle of a movie or novel must be more than a random series of obstacles for those characters to overcome. They must mean something to the characters’ goals. And the challenges must also relate intimately to the pending crisis.

Setup for successful Act 2 suspense
“The Doomsday Machine,” my favorite episode of classic “Star Trek,” is full of driving suspense. Some of the most memorable tension in the episode is found in the very middle, making this middle anything but saggy. Let’s see how the writer did it.


In Act 1 of “The Doomsday Machine,” the starship “Enterprise” encounters a sister ship, the “Constellation,” that’s adrift and all-but-demolished after battling a giant robot—a Doomsday Machine—that eats planets. Out of a crew of more than 400, only the commander of the “Constellation,” Matt Decker, has survived. The robot, impervious to phaser weapons from the “Constellation,” has continued on a course that will allow it to eat its way through the heart of the Milky Way galaxy. So “Enterprise” Captain Jim Kirk, temporarily aboard the “Constellation,” decides that his ship will take the broken vessel in tow and proceed to the nearest star base so they can warn Command about the threat. He sends Decker back to the “Enterprise” for medical treatment, and he and a repair team remain aboard the “Constellation” to restore minimal mobility to the starship and prepare it for tow.

Doomsday machine

That brings us to the middle of the episode. Act 2. At this point, the Doomsday Machine robot circles back into the vicinity and attacks the “Enterprise.” Decker, grieving the loss of his crew and making decisions while in the grip of post-traumatic stress disorder, assumes command of the “Enterprise.” Kirk, stranded aboard the “Constellation,” watches his ship get beat up by the robot.

The look and feel of a successful Act 2
The core of this episode’s Act 2 action plays out in the following five-minute YouTube clip. (Caveat: 1960s-style special effects ahead.) Watch how the suspense leaps back and forth between Decker on the “Enterprise” and Kirk on the “Constellation.”

And this isn’t even the climax of the episode.

Key points of Act 2
Matt DeckerDecker’s decisions at 0:07, 0:30, 1:47, and 1:56 are wrong. His credibility as a starship commander is gone. On some level, he realizes that phaser weapons from the “Enterprise,” like those from the “Constellation,” won’t stop the robot, but he’s unable to think logically. He uses the ineffective strategy of phaser barrage as a surrogate for beating on the robot with his fists. The result? The robot damages the “Enterprise” and threatens the lives of Kirk’s crew. Even though we can see this coming, it’s still suspenseful.

Jim Kirk

Aboard the crippled “Constellation,” the usually-cool and often-correct Captain Kirk engages in a short-sighted act of desperation (at 1:00, 4:06, and 4:23) to draw the robot off the “Enterprise.” His act pays off for the “Enterprise.” But Kirk has made a whopper of a mistake. Fixated on saving the “Enterprise,” he imperils himself and his crew members aboard the “Constellation.” Kirk’s “Oh-sh*t!” expression at 4:40 says it all.

What else do you see that gives this sequence tension?

What this writer did well
Many have commented that the unique musical score written for “The Doomsday Machine” contributes to the atmosphere. Yes, it does, but even without music, this sequence would be suspenseful. Writer Norman Spinrad exploited the fears of Decker and Kirk, developing tension organically from personality weaknesses in both characters. Then he milked the resulting suspense in a crisis that gives viewers a taste of death.

Act 2, written well, is supposed to guide you into Act 3. Everything that happens in Act 2 of “The Doomsday Machine” sets the stage for even greater challenges in Act 3, the climax of the episode, and makes you eager to find out how the dilemma gets resolved.

Sagging midsections in movies and novels may contain random, meaningless obstacles like a car chase, explosions, a seduction, or a gunfight. Hidden behind those are opportunities the writer missed to craft suspenseful challenges that arose due to character weaknesses.

Can you name a movie or novel with a midsection that didn’t hold your attention?


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

Nine Five-Star Reviews for A Hostage to Heritage

A Hostage to Heritage book cover

There are now nine five-star reviews on Amazon for A Hostage to Heritage. The latest reviewer wrote, “My next trip through the Carolinas may include some detours to places referenced in the story.” Huzzah! This reviewer is rocking the actual history! How cool is that?

This week, Historical Fiction eBooks is running a repeat of my essay “Creating Tension Without Using Gratuitous Violence.” In this essay, I discuss how I used the historical event called the “Rouse House Massacre” in A Hostage to Heritage to generate tension, as well as my ideas about how far crime fiction authors need to take violence in their stories to get the point across. If you missed it the first time, stop by and see if you agree with me.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address:

Readers, Plotting and Pantsing, Creativity: A HOSTAGE TO HERITAGE, Book Tour Stop 14

My plans for a series trailer. How I involve my readers. The importance of professional editor and cover designer. Inspirations for the Michael Stoddard series. Stop by the That Thing I Said blog today to learn about my creative process. It’s the final stop on the blog tour. Thanks to everyone!


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Enter your email address: