Research Challenges

decl and hawkResearch is a critical part of writing historical fiction. I consider it critical to “get it right” when it comes to things big and small: weather, terrain, the sequence of events, language, uniform and clothing, and so on. For the first five books in the Gideon Hawke Series, research was mostly a matter of finding information.

Occasionally sources would conflict, and I would have to use my judgment to decide what really happened. Sometimes this meant going to the scene of the action. My favorite example was my one-man reenactment of the assault on the Breymann Redoubt at the Saratoga Battlefield, which answered for me how Morgan’s Rifle Corps approached and assaulted this defensive position. Other times, however, I would just have to compare notes and go with what made sense.

Research for Gideon Hawke #6, A Bitter Harvest, has proven far more complicated. While there is a tremendous amount of information on the Sullivan Campaign of 1779, including a wealth of first-hand accounts, for this novel I am endeavoring to dive deep into the society and culture of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) People. That is easier said than done.

It turns out the Haudenosaunee did not leave a written record. What written accounts they left were by isolated individuals, through intermediaries, several decades after the fact. What remains are second-hand accounts and tradition.

The second-hand accounts are plagued by racial and cultural bias. Few European observers (to include pro- and anti-Crown Americans) understood native culture or approached their observations without an agenda.

Modern Haudenosaunee society and culture has evolved considerably since the 1770s. While there is a cadre of people striving to keep the ancient ways and languages alive, I would be in error if I relied too heavily on modern interpretations of culture.

This leaves me with a great deal of interpretation to do. I must take what sources I have and make an outline of Haudenosaunee life and color in the details as best I can. Mercifully, I am writing this story through the eyes of Gideon Hawke, and outsider. I have the humility to know I could never do justice to a Haudenosaunee point of view. Perhaps, just perhaps, I can use Gideon’s tongue to tell the tale of a great people for whom American victory in the War of Independence meant the end of a way of life.

Happy Reading!

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

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Research and Revision

Every now and then I get thrown a curveball.

As I have been working on Gideon Hawke #5, I have known something was missing. Having outlined the story, I knew I had failed to grasp some compelling aspect of the Revolutionary War in first half of 1778.

Baron_Steuben_drilling_troops_at_Valley_Forge_by_E_A_AbbeyNot that the material is not there! There is the almost mythical winter at Valley Forge, the “rebirth” of the Continental Army, the shockwaves caused by the French entry into the war (and the subsequent British strategic realignment), the British evacuation of Philadelphia, and the ensuing clash at Monmouth Courthouse (also steeped in myth and legend).

A consultation with a historian at the Valley Forge National Historical Park pointed me toward some sources I had not considered, and that tip proved crucial.

As I read Wayne Bodle’s The Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers in War I realized that I had gone somewhat astray…I had bought into too much of the myth, and was trying to reconstruct the mythical Valley Forge, rather than the actual Valley Forge. The research I had done thus far had seemed less than useful not because it was not accurate, but because it did not fit my preconceptions.

In the Gideon Hawke novels I have always portrayed the Continental Army as a resilient IMG_7587organization. It lacked the polish and uniformity of its foes, but it made the most of what it had. So it was at Valley Forge: the Continental Army endured an unpleasant winter, and it suffered at various times from shortages of food and supplies, but it was still a veteran force that made the most of what was at hand. Yes, Baron von Steuben lent a hand in training it, but would have trained without him. Had von Steuben, in his red coat, been clapped in irons upon arrival in America (as he almost was), I don’t think it would have changed the outcome at Monmouth…the Continental Army would have stood and fought stubbornly. Perhaps von Steuben gave the Continentals a bit more confidence, but I think his real contribution came later in the form of the standardized policies and procedures that made amateurs into professionals.

With all of that said…the story of Gideon Hawke #5 is not about the suffering and rebirth of the Continental Army. The story of Gideon Hawke #5 is about a young officer’s efforts to learn his trade, earn the respect of his people, and lead them through morally ambiguous situations. That is the formula that worked in Gideon Hawke Numbers 1-4, and I think it will work in Number 5.

Now…I have an outline to fix!

The Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers in War on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/606475.The_Valley_Forge_Winter

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Moving Along!

Two weeks ago I wrote about the helping hand I received from the staff at the Valley Forge National Historical Park. One of the things about writing historical fiction that never ceases to amaze me is this: there are so many good people out there willing to help! For every naysayer I have met there are at least ten people willing to offer an insight or twenty. Some will even read passages to make sure I got the details right!

So it was with Valley Forge. I was hung up on what conditions were like a particular place and time. With a little guidance, I got back on track. I am pleased to report that since that last post a few more draft chapters are complete. Gideon Hawke has welcomed a new officer to his company, been berated by General Friedrich von Steuben, learned his lesson, and is beginning a new narrative arc. I am more excited about Gideon Hawke #5 than I have been for a while. In fact, the other night I was sitting in bed late at night typing a scene on my phone: I had to get that discussion between Gideon and Colonel Richard Butler out of my head and into electrons!

Perhaps that writing drought was my personal “Winter of 1778.” In my writing, as in my story, winter is almost over; it’s time to get busy!

Valley Forge National Historical Park: https://www.nps.gov/vafo/index.htm

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A Helping Hand

I got stuck recently.

As I worked on Gideon Hawke #5, I have tried to convey conditions at Valley Forge during the winter of 1778. My problem: the more I dig, the less I seem to know.

March into Valley ForgeThat bears some explanation. The popular mythology of Valley Forge is well-established: a ragged, beaten Continental Army staggers into Valley Forge after losing another campaign, and huddles together, waiting for deliverance. A few months later it rises from the ashes of its campfires, retrained and revitalized, ready to take on the British. But is that correct? Probably not.

The truth, as usual, is more complicated. Was the Continental Army poorly equipped and fed at Valley Forge? Certainly! But it was also a very capable, resilient force, which took matters into its own hands to make the best of things. The challenge for someone like me: where is the balance? How do I portray this force that is struggling, but making the most of it?

I decided to reach out to the experts: the good folks at the Valley Forge National Historical Park. I submitted a couple of queries via the Park website, and was almost immediately connected to two very knowledgeable park employees. One was even good enough to spend nearly an hour on the phone with me, sharing his insights. I came away with a better understanding, and a list of recommended references. As I tear into this new information, I find I still have additional questions…some of which will probably never be answered.

The next challenge I will face: finding the balance between “myth” and “reality.” I could easily write a version of Valley Forge that would be unrecognizable to most readers. How much story do I sacrifice for historical accuracy? Can I even be sure about historical accuracy when the sources are often contradictory?

These questions are mine to sort out, and mine alone. As I do so, it is good to know there is a helping hand or two waiting to help me sort things out.

Valley Forge National Historical Park: https://www.nps.gov/vafo/index.htm

Robert Krenzel Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor/

Gideon Hawke Novels Facebook Page: https://m.facebook.com/GideonHawkeNovels/

Endurance: How Did They Do It?

Novelists do weird stuff.

It is hard to accurately write about things with which you are unfamiliar, so authors do all kinds of weird things. It is a running joke among authors that our internet search histories would at least raise some eyebrows, if not cause concern among law enforcement. (flogging…scalping…gunshot wounds…anatomy…poison…decomposition…you get the idea) But sometimes we just HAVE TO experience it! So…authors will occasionally do or try things that “normal” people would not.

The other evening after returning from work, I took my dog out into our frozen, snowy backyard to do his favorite thing: throw Frisbees for him to fetch. As I was standing there in the snow, it occurred to me that the weather conditions were not unlike those at Valley Forge in the chapter on which I had been working. As I reflected on the suffering of the soldiers, especially those without shoes, I wondered, “What is it really like to stand in the snow barefoot?” (You see where this is going, right?) In no time at all, my shoes and socks had come off, and there I was, with the thermometer at a balmy 22 degrees Fahrenheit, standing barefoot in the snow.

It wasn’t so bad at first…but then it was. Within a few minutes I was hopping back and forth, and I had the feeling of dozens of needles jabbing into my feet. I found myself walking around the yard just to get one foot at a time off the ground; and it turns out that having snow between one’s toes is rather unpleasant! I did not stay out there very long (being laid up with frostbitten feet would have awkward), but I did it long enough to know I never wanted to try it again.

Having come inside and warmed up, I had to wonder: “How did they do it?” Multiple sources corroborate the fact that many of Washington’s troops at Valley Forge (and other times and places) endured bitter winter conditions without shoes. So…how did they do it?

That question took me back to my own experiences of hearing “How did you do it?” You see, during a 24-year Army career I had to do some pretty unpleasant things. I always had shoes on my feet, but the Army has a way of testing you. It might be manning a tank in blistering desert heat (no, they don’t have air conditioning), walking the streets of an Iraqi city wearing 80-100 pounds of kit, being away from my family for 15 months, working 18 hour days for months on end, knocking on a door to tell a mom and dad their son was never coming home, or countless other unpleasant tasks. Often times when people hear things like that, their first reaction is to ask, “How did you do it?” This struck me hardest once when talking to a World War II combat veteran: I told him he accomplished amazing things, and he replied by talking about my multiple tours in Iraq. “How did you do it?”

It’s a good question to which there is no good answer. I usually just say something like, “It was my job.” That’s not a very informative answer, but maybe it says it all. You see, there are times when we must simply endure. Soldiering is great for offering up such opportunities. If I were a Continental soldier at Valley Forge, I would probably have endured that bitter winter simply because there was no other reasonable alternative. They believed in their cause, and they had a job to do, so they simply did their job.

 

washington prayer at VF

I do not mean to take away anything from what those men and women accomplished; far from it! In simply doing their jobs—in simply surviving—they kept the dream alive. They did their jobs when things were at their worst. They did their jobs when things improved. They did their jobs when the weather warmed up and training started in earnest. They did their jobs when the British abandoned Philadelphia and Washington gave chase under the blistering summer sun (another thing to endure). And they did their jobs at Monmouth Courthouse, when they went toe-to-toe with the flower of the British Army and proved that the Continental Army was a force to be reckoned with.

The soldiers of Valley Forge endured because they had to. In so doing, they kept the dream of Independence alive.

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Progress!

A common question readers ask is, “How’s the next book coming?”

It’s an excellent question! Sometimes in the haste of everyday life I forget that I have under way this wonderful project called writing a book! Sometimes I am shocked to find that I actually make progress! So…I have added a progress tracker to the Gideon Hawke #5 page.

GH5 Progress 20171226

It is very simple, but I think it is effective. It may not look like I have gotten much done yet, but this takes into account writing the first draft; the first, second, and editor’s revisions; the beta read; proof review; final edits; and publication prep. Yes there is a lot to do, but I have already gotten quite a bit done!

I will update this tracker fairly regularly, so please come back to see how I am doing, and feel free to cheer me on! You can find the progress tracker here: Gideon Hawke #5.

A Constant Thunder: One Giant Leap!

Writing is fun. Editing is not.

A critical part of my writing process is reading through the manuscript several times and making edits. I go through it once on the computer making corrections. Then I print it and read it through, marking it up as I go—then I plug in those corrections. It is amazing how much more I catch in print!

The next, and probably biggest step, is sending it off to my editor. I am pleased to report that A Constant Thunder is on its way! Ashlee will be repeating the phenomenal work she did on Times That Try Men’s Souls and A Nest of Hornets.

Ashlee has accepted a position with a publisher, so she will no longer be doing independent editing work. I am delighted for her, but I quail at the thought of finding another editor, especially since I have already written a few snippets of Gideon Hawke #5!

IMG_5430

The Breymann Redoubt at the Saratoga Battlefield; scene of the climax in A Constant Thunder.

That, however, is in the future. For now, A Constant Thunder just took a giant leap forward toward publication, and my excitement is growing!

 

A Constant Thunder page: https://robertkrenzel.com/gideon-hawke-4/

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Preparing to Walk the Ground

As I strive to complete the first draft of Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder, I am also preparing to visit a few sites to do research for Gideon Hawke #5.

The fifth novel in the Gideon Hawke Series will be set in the first half of 1778. While 1777 was a year of decision, with the fate of the Revolution hanging in the balance, 1778 was a year of rebirth: the Continental Army endured a terrible trial at Valley Forge, but used the time to turn itself into a competent fighting force, finally capable of meeting the British on equal terms. At Monmouth this training would be put to the test as the Continentals went toe-to-toe with the British and exchanged volleys with some of the best troops the Crown could put in the field. While tactically indecisive, at the end of the day the British quit the field. More importantly, after Monmouth both sides well understood that the Continental Army had finally come into its own.

From a strategic perspective 1778 marked a transition in the American War for Independence. No longer would the British attempt to draw Washington into a pitched battle in the Northern States: no longer was a British victory in such a battle assured. Once French troops began arriving in the Americas, the British were at a decided disadvantage. So, they would hunker down in New York, and the focus of the fighting would shift to the south. The British would find some success in the Carolinas, but these were local victories that would not change the strategic balance. Moreover, they were offset by a few incredible American victories. After Monmouth, British prospects would become increasingly bleak.

Before all that could happen though, there would be blood, sweat, and tears; Gideon Hawke will be right in the middle of the action.

495So, soon I will be packing up the map case that served me so well in the Army. This time in addition to a compass, binoculars, notebook, pens, and markers, and my map board, it will include maps of Monmouth and Valley Forge. Once again I will walk upon hallowed ground, and try to capture the spirit of the ill-equipped, poorly clothed, determined men and women who made a Nation.

Check for the latest updates on Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder.

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Progress

Quill Pen Retro Ink Vintage Antique History PenGideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder is creeping closer to being a reality!

The other novels in the Gideon Hawke Series have come in at 65,000 to 71,000 words. A Constant Thunder is now at 55,000; more importantly, I only have a few chapters left to write!

The story is coming together nicely. The summer of 1777 is a time of great challenge and change for Gideon Hawke and Ruth Munroe. At the same time the fledgling United States is facing the greatest threat yet to its existence, Gideon and Ruth’s relationship is going through a profound change. They will each face dangers and trials, and will each learn a great deal about themselves and each other.

Each of the Gideon Hawke novels has a unique feel. A Constant Thunder most certainly feels like a journey: a journey of adventure, change, growth, and exploration. At the end, Gideon and Ruth will be older and wiser, and they have learned a bit more about what it means to be themselves, and what it means to be Americans.

Now…back to writing!

Check for the latest updates on Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder.

Robert Krenzel Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RobertKrenzelAuthor

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Learning as I Go: Pulling the Thread

It is simply amazing how a simple inquiry can open doors to new learning: how pulling a single thread can reveal a wonderful tapestry.

In working on Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder I found myself wanting to learn just a little more about a very specific place and time. While trying to discern British General Howe’s intentions in early August, 1777, General George Washington ordered Daniel Morgan’s Provisional Rifle Corps to Maidenhead, New Jersey. There the Corps had a few days’ respite from marching, before the pivotal order that sent it north to Saratoga and into history.

In weaving the narrative of the Gideon Hawke story it seemed this interlude would be a great opportunity for Gideon and the lads to take care of a few pressing matters, and perhaps to get in touch with their Creator. “Where’” I wondered, “would they go to church?” A little Google magic took me to the website of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville (formerly Maidenhead). The website itself was incredibly informative, but then I had the courage to contact the pastor! A few emails later and I was introduced to a small brick church building that in 1777 stood on the highest point around, along the Princeton-Trenton Road. Even better, I was introduced to Reverend Elihu Spencer: writer, missionary to Native Americans (fluent at least in the Oneida language), veteran of the French and Indian War (Chaplain to the New York Troops), rebuilder of congregations in the Carolinas, and pastor of the flocks in Trenton and Maidenhead during the Revolution. I also learned quite a bit about the toll the 1776, Princeton, and winter forage campaigns had taken on Maidenhead. Wow! Suddenly a fleeting thought had become a haunting reality, thanks to the efforts of a few good-hearted history buffs.

In researching and writing A Constant Thunder I have met some wonderful people: Douglas Bicket, Park Ranger at the Saratoga Battlefield; David Manthey, expert on Mohawk and Hudson River bateaux; and Reverend Jeff Vamos and Bill Schroeder of The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Not only are these folks truly passionate about their historical interests, but they have been incredibly generous in sharing their knowledge and expertise. Gideon Hawke #4 will be a much better reflection of history thanks to them.

Tomb

Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier: Philadelphia, PA

Now, I must admit a bit of trepidation: a truly great writer could weave a beautiful tapestry of words with the kind of input I have received; I’m not sure I can do justice to the material at hand. I am, however, determined to try. My work may fall short of greatness, but if one person reads A Constant Thunder and takes away a better appreciation of the cost of war, and the magnitude of the American victory at Saratoga, it will at least have been a worthwhile effort.

 

Now…back to writing!

History of The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville: https://pclawrenceville.org/our-history/

Check for the latest updates on Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder.

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