Shifting Genres: My Protagonist is All Grown Up!

Gideon Hawke turned eighteen!

I mentioned this fact in my fourth novel, A Constant Thunder, but only as a waypoint in his developing relationship with Ruth Munroe (who also turned eighteen). For Gideon, turning eighteen had little tangible effect on his life: he was still an officer in the Continental Army, locked in a protracted war against the most powerful empire on the planet. Turning eighteen was just a barely noticed mile marker on the rugged road of life.

BirthdayFor Gideon’s author, however, his turning eighteen creates an emotional dilemma: changing genres! While I willfully ignored this milestone in the publishing process for A Constant Thunder (he was seventeen at the start of the novel), Gideon Hawke #5 is forcing me to look fact squarely in the eye: I am no longer a young adult author. You see, I always considered myself a YOUNG ADULT historical fiction author. Gideon was fifteen when we met him, after all. This worked out nicely because my kids were in the same age band: they were in the target audience. They, however, have grown older, as has Gideon. As my son fights his way through college scholarship applications, eighteen year-old Gideon shivers with his men at Valley Forge, and I struggle with the idea of being a “New Adult” historical fiction author.

I could take the easy way out: some people define young adult as involving protagonists twelve to TWENTY years of age. I could kick this can down the road, but unlike Gideon I know when the war will end, and how old he will be. I would only be delaying the inevitable. So, when I publish Gideon Hawke #5, I will select “NEW ADULT” (18-25) as the target audience.

Of course, it’s all rubbish! I’ve seen estimates that about 55% of the readers of young adult novels are adults (I would argue there a far more middle-aged Harry Potter fans than teenaged harry Potter fans); I’m sure the same can be said of new adult novels. Let’s be honest, very few of us have put a book down because “Whoops! This protagonist is not in my age group!” This brings us to the heart of the matter: people read books because they can relate, and because they are good reads. In a sense, I don’t think it really matters what I select from some drop-down menu. I think people enjoy reading about Gideon and Ruth because they are relatable: they are like your two good friends whom you are hoping will get together; and when they do get together you really hope it will work out. Gideon is a bit naïve, and he is constantly learning and growing. Ruth is growing too; it’s a good thing Gideon has her to keep him on the straight and narrow. No matter how old they get, as long as I do my job, there will be something compelling about their story. They will be two ordinary American kids growing up in the most extraordinary of times. Parts of their story will be intimately familiar to most of us, while some of their experiences will be both authentic and almost incomprehensible.

So, yes, maybe now Gideon and Ruth are “new adults.” But they are still very, very human: we can all relate to that.

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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

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

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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/

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Appropriate Appropriation?

Recently my wife and I had the opportunity, on a cold and windy day, to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City to view the exhibit: Through the Eyes of Picasso. This collection featured originals and reproductions of Picasso’s work, as well as cultural artifacts from around the globe, many from Picasso’s own collection, which influenced his work.

I was struck by the ways in which Picasso often misunderstood these items. Taken out of context, for example, he interpreted fertility symbols as erotica. It would seem that Picasso understood these works through his own lens, adapting them to his needs. They inspired work that would be totally foreign to the original cultures; yet Picasso’s works have come to be regarded as masterpieces of Western art.

Shemagh2That was all very interesting, but the moment that stayed with me occurred just as we were stepping out of the exhibit. A young lady, an employee of the museum, probably in her twenties, stopped me as I was leaving to comment on my scarf. You see, as it was cold and windy outside, I was carrying not only my coat, but also a shemagh (also known as a keffiyeh): a red and white Arab headscarf. The young lady commented on the beauty of my scarf; at a glance she observed that it looked as though it had been handmade in Iraq. I was a bit taken aback: my interpreter had bought it at the local market for me during my deployment to Kirkuk. For me it was a token of our friendship and a reminder of one of the noblest things I have done in my life, as well as a toasty warm scarf! The young lady continued to explain not only how she was able to identify its origins, but also how it differed from the ones produced in her homeland of Palestine.

It was fascinating to learn more about my shemagh, but even more rewarding to see how deeply this object affected the young lady: for her it was more than a warm scarf–it reminded her of home.

This got me thinking—was I, like Picasso, appropriating a cultural artifact about which I had little or no understanding? After much thought, I would have to say, “No.” It is true that I was wearing an object with significance to another culture. The difference, I believe, is that this was NOT an artifact I scooped up from a dealer who had exploited a foreign culture for profit. This was a personal item I acquired at the source: I spent over two years of my life in Iraq, and developed an appreciation for Iraqi culture. I worked closely with my Iraqi counterparts, and trusted many of them with my life. At the end of that period I understood what T.E. Lawrence meant when he wrote about standing somewhere between two cultures: fully belonging to neither.

My shemagh has deep meaning to me; it may not remind of home, but it reminds of people and places that impacted my life and made me who I am. So, I will continue to proudly wear my shemagh. Yes, it belongs to another culture, but it is also a part of me.

Nelson-Atkins; Through the Eyes of Picasso: https://www.nelson-atkins.org/events/through-eyes-picasso/

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.

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

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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.

Helping the Fight Against PTS

IWThank you everyone who purchased Gideon Hawke books this month! This was a strong month for sales, and as a result today I am donating $25.00 to Invisible Wound in honor of Veteran’s Day and the Centennial of the first Americans entering combat in World War I.

It has been said that Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) is not so much a disease as an open wound in the soul. That is an apt description, and far too many of my friends and colleagues bear such wounds. As we enter this holiday season, please remember that some of the best among us, who went to war on our behalf, are now in the toughest fights of their lives.

Thanks to you, this money will assist Invisible Wound with the mission of helping warriors of all sorts overcome Post-Traumatic Stress.

 

Invisible Wound Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/InvisibleWound/

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

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Damaged

A haunting (and graphic) video relating the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress. It is interesting: we have to include a warning that the video contains graphic images, but war does not come with such a warning label–the graphic experiences happen without warning.

Spreading the Word

PresentationYesterday I had the opportunity to discuss the Gideon Hawke Series with the 8th Grade and Mill Creek Middle School in Lenexa, Kansas.

I always enjoy the opportunity to share some insights on the American Revolution and the writing process. Our discussion of why the Americans fought so long and so hard against such incredible odds always comes back to motivation: the belief in the ideals that “all men are created equal” and have the God-given rights of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

We also discuss what the American Revolution means today. I always share this quote by Benjamin Rush:

“The American war is over, but this is far from being the case with the American Revolution.”

If I understand what Benjamin Rush was trying to say, it’s that while we won independence, there is still work to be done. We have not yet truly realized the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Impendence. The wonderful thing about talking to 8th Graders is that they are the future: they will have a say in how the American Revolution turns out.

I sincerely hope the Gideon Hawke Series reminds a few of them why we began this great experiment called “America,” and inspires them to do their part of the hard work of building a society in which all people are truly treated as equal.

 

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