Thanksgiving Revisited

It did not happen the way you learned in school.

The only reason the Pilgrims found land on which to settle was because the Patuxet people were wiped out by a plague. The only reason the Pilgrim colony survived to bring in that first harvest was due to the patronage and protection of the Wampanoag people. Truly those first Pilgrims had much for which to be thankful; the indigenous people, not so much. Reportedly the reason the Wampanoag showed up at the Pilgrims’ harvest celebration was because they heard gunfire. The Pilgrims were having a celebratory shooting contest, and a war party a hundred-strong showed up to honor their mutual defense agreement.

the-first-thanksgiving-1621-jlg-ferris-1-640

Fast forward a hundred and sixty-eight years and that colony of four dozen people or so had growth into an independent nation of millions, with George Washington as its president. The European, later American, expansion and accompanying wars and plagues had proven catastrophic for the indigenous peoples and their ways of life. Even worse was to follow.

I am not suggesting we should not celebrate Thanksgiving. Far from it! Today I will join my loved ones, recount our many gifts and blessings, and enthusiastically dive into a feast unique to this one day. What I will NOT do talk about pilgrims and Indians. I will be quite aware that for some Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for lost lives, lost land, and a lost way of life.

Happy Reading!

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

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Once More unto the Breach

It has been quite a while since I shared anything here. That lack of posting mirrors my lack of progress with my literary work in progress: A Bitter Harvest (Gideon Hawke #6). Fortunately, the drought has come to an end.

Part of the reason for my difficulty in writing A Bitter Harvest could be found in the Yojoyaneysubject matter: conveying the nuances of a noble but long-gone culture seemed an insurmountable obstacle. The change recently seems to lie in my own understanding of this novel: it is less about the Haudenosaunee than it is about the inward journey of my protagonist, Gideon Hawke. In the course of this story Gideon learns a great deal about himself, and realizes he longs to be part of something greater than himself. He also struggles with the competing priorities in his life. The cultural backdrop is important, and I want to do it justice, but it is not worth hand-wringing.

It took me a while to put this novel in focus. In recent days progress has been significant. I look forward to seeing where this road goes!

Happy Reading!

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

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

Making Good on the Promise

After a busy Fourth of July, I have finally had an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of this day.

The Declaration of Independence was a bold and unprecedented statement: it not only severed ties with England, but also outlined America’s grievances for the benefit of the nations of the world among whom the young upstart wished to take a place. That Declaration, however, was not worth the paper upon which it was printed without someone to enforce it. That someone was the Continental Army.

A few days after the Declaration arrived in New York, General Washington had it read to his troops, because he knew that they were the ones who would have to make it stick. At that moment the British were assembling in New York Harbor the largest invasion force to that point in history. Its mission was to subdue the rebellious colonies and restore British rule. The soldiers of the Continental Army did not know it yet, but it would take them five long years to guarantee the United States would remain independent.

Very few of the soldiers who assembled in New York In July 1776 would be with the Colors through the war. Some gave up and went home. Some were crippled by wounds. Many were killed in combat. Many more succumbed to illness. Thousands were captured and died miserably of disease, exposure, and neglect in British custody. But some endured. These patriots formed the core around which Washington rebuilt the Continental Army again and again. They lost often, but they won enough to convince the French to join the fight, and they took their place alongside their allies in the siege lines at Yorktown.

Independence was not given: it had to be won at terrific cost. Those “winter soldiers” paid for it with their blood, sweat, tears, and lives. We are in their debt.

Happy Reading!

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

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The Great Law of Peace

As I have discussed before, there are significant challenges to studying the history of a people who committed their stories to the spoken, not the written, word. The biggest challenge for someone from my background is to let go of my preconceptions listen to that spoken word. I believe that when we do so, we can learn more than the story: we can learn about the culture and values that drove the story.

I recently happened upon a re-telling of the founding of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Great Law of Peace. Not only does it explain how the Haudenosaunee formed their Confederacy, but it also goes a long way to explain the role of gender in the culture. I did not expect a simply animated YouTube video to be so informative! I’m glad I put my preconceptions aside!

I how you enjoy!

Hiawatha – The Great Law of Peace – Extra History – #1

Hiawatha – Government for the People – Extra History – #2

Happy Reading!

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

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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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War’s End

Libert Mem Armistice CentennialAt 11:00 AM on Sunday, November 11th, 2018, I stood with my family before the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. Bells tolled to mark the Centennial of the Armistice, recalling the moment when the guns of the War to End All Wats fell silent. While the seeds of future wars were planted in the wake of that conflict, at least for a short while there was the hope of peace.

It was humbling to honor this momentous event, but I left slightly troubled. As I reflected on the relief and awe felt by the veterans of the trenches as their war ended, it occurred to me that my wars are not over.

One can argue that that Iraq War fizzled out; in my mind as long as ISIS, the spawn of the Iraq War, exists, that war continues. Whatever you think about Iraq, there can be no argument that the war in Afghanistan continues, SEVENTEEN years later. These wars just go on and on. They continue on the battlefields, and in the minds and souls of those who fought there. To make matters worse, the military will soon be sending soldiers to fight in Afghanistan who were not alive on 9/11. That will be a bitter milestone.

I have to admit it: I am a little jealous of the veterans of WWI and WWII. They won, their wars ended, and they came home. I sincerely wish I could say that we won my wars, and that they ended. Sadly, I may never know that sense of finality. I suppose I will have to settle for the knowledge that I did my duty, and that I had the absolute privilege of serving with some incredible human beings.

The Sun and the Moon Part 2

Last week I talked about how the sun and moon shape the environment and how some of the reasons they can be important to a soldier. This week I’d like to explore another concept in which the sun and moon play critical parts: TIME.

In my cultural studies before deploying to the Balkans in the ‘90s, one difference that stood out was how different cultures perceive time. As an American who grew up in suburbia, for me time was strictly linear: one thing happens after another. Minutes tick by into infinity; what happened before is old news. I was surprised to learn that not all cultures understand time that way.

For many people, time is cyclic. The sun rises and sets, rises and sets. The moon moves through its phases over and over. Winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall. Crops are planted and harvested, planted and harvested. Generation after generation of people are born, grow up, have children, grow old, and die.

It took me a while to understand this concept. After all, time is linear, right? Things have a beginning and an end! As I have grown a little older, I have begun to notice the cycles more. To be honest, the lunar cycle is probably my favorite, and not just because of the moonlit military shenanigans I described in my last post. To me, the moon is an honest broker of time. A glance up at a moonlit sky grounds me, and reminds me of where and when I am. This was never truer than when I was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. I wrote my family often, and in particular when I wrote to my son I would make note of when the moon was full: this served as a sort of a countdown. “Hey buddy, it’s a full moon! Only eleven more to go before I come home!” For me the full moon was a shared point of reference for my family and me.

sundial-philadelphia

Now my son is in the last quarter of his senior year in high school. We have shared a lot of full moons. When I step back and look at his progress, I can clearly see the cycle in action: He was born, he has grown, and he is about ready to step out into the world on his own, to jump straight into this adventure called life. All is as it should be.

So, is time really linear? Yes and no. Yes, time marches on into infinity, but it also repeats itself in cycles. That is its nature, and it will continue to do so as long as the sun rises and sets, and the moon moves through its phases.

U.S. Naval Observatory Sun and Moon Data for One Day: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneDay.php

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The Sun and the Moon

If you have read any of the Gideon Hawke novels, you may have noticed that I pay attention to the physical environment. Like many authors I make sure I take into the account the time of year and the weather, but I probably invest more than most in the position of the sun and the phases of the moon. Why? Because to me it matters.

As a soldier I found it critical to take into account the sun and the moon. Try attacking into the sun, or stumbling around the desert at night…until a rising full moon clears the mountains and switches the lights back on! Details that are of little note in our daily lives can be of critical import for a soldier on operations, and knowing how to use the environment to advantage can give that soldier a winning edge.

In Kosovo in 2000, the locals had an elaborate lookout system: when they saw Humvee headlights coming down the road (Humvees have very distinctive headlights) they would spread the word by short wave radio, or by signaling with their porch lights. This made it hard for conventional U.S. forces to do anything covertly. Hard, but not impossible. I found that with a decent amount of moonlight, we could operate our Humvees quite safely on the roads of my sector with our lights OFF. It was a personal moment of triumph when we drove right up to the house of a local Serb family, and the man of the house came out and said, “We didn’t know you were coming!” I smiled and replied, “I know!” We didn’t catch a lot of people in the midst of shenanigans that way, but we certainly kept some people on their toes!

In the 1770s, before photographic mapping, GPS, and night vision, knowing the environment was even more critical. Soldiers like Gideon Hawke, who had learned to move silently at night, take advantage of precious starlight and moonlight, and maximize the advantages of day and night, were at a tremendous advantage. Native American warriors, being raised to live with the land, tended to excel in these areas. This allowed them to move quickly and quietly, to seemingly appear out of nowhere, and to seemingly vanish just as quickly. There were “European” troops on both sides of the War for Independence who had learned these skills: whether they were called riflemen, rangers, jaegers, or something else, they used their skills to snoop and surveil, and sometimes to strike swiftly and without warning. Occasionally generals of the time would dust off this playbook: perhaps most famously, George Washington used the cover of night to conceal his approach marches, enabling the stunning victories at Trenton and Princeton.

I have never used the cover of night to give me the advantage in a pitched battle, but I have assembled troops in the night and launched operations at dawn. I have welcomed the descent of night, and breathed a sigh of relief at the coming of dawn. I have looked up into the celestial spectacle of a moonless Iraqi night, and said a prayer of thanks for the two “stars” flying a holding pattern overheard at 30,000 feet (They were Marine Corps F-18s flying in my support. Semper Fi!)

1 sun

So, I suppose it is only natural that I make sure I take into account what the heavenly bodies are doing. Fortunately for me the U.S. Naval Observatory has a website that will tell you the solar and lunar data for a particular place and time, even back to the 1700s! So, if I happen to mention that Gideon assembles his men at Valley Forge in the pre-dawn hours of April 23rd, 1778, just as a crescent moon rises, or that there was a total solar eclipse a few days before the Battle of Monmouth, you can be fairly certain that I didn’t make that up. I use my imagination to fill in a lot of details in the Gideon Hawke novels, but I will never trifle with the sun and the moon.

 

U.S. Naval Observatory Sun and Moon Data for One Day: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneDay.php

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

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An Army of Young People

The events that unfolded after the tragedy at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been truly fascinating: the survivors of this shooting responded to tragedy by making their voices heard. It was amazing to watch these teenage students use their unwanted fame to jump start a political movement. They have had an impact across the country, if not the world. They have challenged norms and brought a new focus to the debate about gun control.

Sadly, we have also seen these young people harassed, threatened, and demeaned. A few such incidents stand out. Internet trolls accused some of them of being “crisis actors.” Some have dismissed them as the “Tide Pod” generation: somehow the weird internet fad of biting into laundry pods diminishes the legitimacy of the survivors’ voices. Just recently, Senator Marco Rubio lamented the “arrogance” we handed down to this next generation (apparently daring to question the senator’s allegiance to the NRA makes one arrogant).

It is not my intent to wade into the gun control debate, but rather to reflect on the importance of these young people who are making us all sit up and take notice.

I write historical fiction. My protagonist, his significant other, and much of the supporting cast of the Gideon Hawke Series, are teenagers. When, in A Glorious Cause, I introduced sixteen year old Gideon Hawke, and followed his adventures as he took up arms in rebellion, none of my readers protested that he was two young to fight for his freedom. I think that was partly because the story was believable, but more importantly because IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

When one reads accounts of the American Revolution, one is struck by the youth of many of the actors. Many of the foot soldiers were in their teens. While the Continental Army preferred the “men” toting muskets to be at least fifteen or sixteen, it accepted drummers as young as twelve or thirteen; some probably lied about their age to get in early. Many of the junior leaders were in their teens or early twenties. For example, Alexander Hamilton was only twenty in 1775 when he led New York volunteers in the capture of British guns at the Battery on Manhattan. Henry Knox was only twenty-six when he assumed command of Washington’s artillery.  The bottom line: the American Revolution was a young person’s war. It was young people who were the enforcers of the Declaration of Independence: they are the ones who fought for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

It has been the same in all of our wars since. Fortunately by the Twentieth Century we got away from enlisting below the age of eighteen; in World War II the average age was twenty-six. In Vietnam it dropped again (there is debate as to whether the average age was nineteen or twenty-two). Nevertheless, fighting for freedom remained a young person’s activity.

Now, in the Twenty-First Century, we shield our children from the horrors of war. For nearly seventeen years we have been sending nineteen and twenty-year-olds to Afghanistan and Iraq—I had the incredible privilege of leading a few of them—but we keep our children out of the combat zone.

Until the combat zone comes to their school. When that happened in Florida, our children took action.

It was young people who gave legitimacy to the Declaration of Independence: when the British tried to crush the fledgling United States of America, the young people made their voices heard through the barrels of their muskets. Today the fight is different. These young people are, like their forebears, fighting for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The tools are different, but the spirit is the same. Do not discount them.

In the Eighteenth Century they ground down the most powerful military in the world for eight years until they secured Independence. In the Twenty-First Century they have their sights set on a safer, more peaceful future. And they have only just begun to fight. Gideon Hawke would be proud of them.

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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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