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/

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

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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/

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

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

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

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

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/

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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/

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

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/

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/

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