Thank you to Christine Blevins, author of “The Tory Widow” (link goes to my review) for sharing her experiences in writing historical fiction with us today. Don’t forget to read all the way to the bottom for giveaway information!
“Boy – you must do a lot of research…”
I hear this often – usually accompanied by a puckered brow and a worrisome shake of the head. I am always a bit bemused by this concern. For historical novelists, research is an exciting component of the writing process. Research is where story ideas are born, and where I really get to know my time period and learn all the nitty-gritty details that help to make my story come alive.
I actually have to temper my proclivity to become hijacked by the research. I will often pause when wandering between websites or library stacks ask my self questions like “Okay Chris, do you really need to know the differences between a barkentine and a brigantine?” or “Does it really matter whether women in 1776 tied their garters above or below the knee?” The problem is, most of the time, the answer is “yes”.
My most favorite research is the kind that results in an “ahhh!”– when my newfound enlightenment raises the curtain and I can fully envision a scene. These moments are sometimes sparked by something other than information found in a book or on the internet.
When I was writing The Tory Widow, I became stymied trying to make sense of all the parts and pieces I had gathered pertaining to a particular mob scene I was working into the story. On July 9th, 1776, General George Washington gathered his troops on the Commons in New York City (today’s City Hall Park) for one of the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence. After the reading, the happy rebels – soldiers and citizens – marched down to the Bowling Green, where the exulting mob toppled the immense gilded statue of King George III. The statue’s head was severed with an ax, mounted to a pike and paraded around the city. The engravings and paintings of this famous event were all executed many years after the fact, and the varied artists’ viewpoints do not mesh with many of the facts in the historical record. I was having difficulty imagining the scene, and figuring out how to weave my characters into it.
There are few vestiges of colonial New York existing in modern-day New York, but one is the wrought iron fence that surrounds the Bowling Green. As chance would have it, I had a day-trip to NYC scheduled for a meeting with Jackie Cantor, my editor at Berkley, and I decided I would also take some time and pay a visit the Bowling Green.
There weren’t many people out braving the cold that winter day, but with a large chai latte in hand, and all my research roiling around in my head, I walked the circumference of the Green to get a feeling for the space. I stepped up on the curb running along the base of the fence and peered through the iron pickets, trying to imagine what it might have been like on that rainy, hot July day in 1776. As I ran my fingertips over the tops of the fence posts, I could feel the rough marks left where decorative cast iron crowns had been sawed off by the rebels to rid themselves of all monarchal symbols.
So, I started to think about what happened to the toppled statue, and what might have happened to the little crowns, and I thought, “How cool would it be, to have one of those discarded crowns…”
The scene then came to me in a rush. I began writing in the cab on the way to LaGuardia. By the time I landed at O’Hare, I had ten very scribbled up pages in my spiral notebook – a first draft!
So, you might wonder, what did happen with the toppled statue and the little crowns?
Most of ol’ King George was recycled, revolutionary-style. A good portion of the much-needed lead was melted and cast into musket balls – ammunition the Continental soldiers used to “make an impression” upon the Redcoats. According Massachusetts’ ex-governor Thomas Hutchinson’s diary, the severed head was stolen by Loyalists and smuggled to England. The head was seen briefly in the home of Lord and Lady Townsend in 1777, and has not been seen since. Loyalists managed to salvage a few bits, as some pieces resurfaced years later, buried in different locations. A few of these fragments, including the horse’s tail can be seen at New York’s Historical Society Museum.
As for the little fencepost crowns – read the The Tory Widow, and find out what might have happened with one of them 😉
Up the Rebels!!
To Chicagoland lovers of historical fiction:
I will be reading the mob scene at the Bowling Green and signing copies of The Tory Widow this Saturday, April 11th, 2pm at the Barnes and Noble at Oak Brook Mall.
Christine has graciously agreed to giveaway one copy two copies of “The Tory Widow” to a lucky readers anywhere in the world! She says, “Christine Blevins does not discriminate against readers by location, and will ship anywhere in the whole wide world.” In addition to a copy of “The Tory Widow,” the winners will also receive an 18th century survival packet (aka, lavender water and a hankerchief). To enter, leave a message sharing your favorite period in history in your country of birth or residence. You can gain an extra entry by blogging or twittering about this contest, but you must leave a SEPARATE comment with the link to your blog entry/tweet. Winners will be chosen by random.org after the contest closes on Friday, April 24th.