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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The fourth installment in the Gideon Hawke Series sees Gideon and Ruth travel up the Hudson Valley to confront General John Burgoyne’s “Canadian Army,” to include a contingent of Native American warriors. In some of the most savage fighting of the American War for Independence the Continental Army will try to prevent Burgoyne from cutting the fledgling United States in two.

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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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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.

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Historical Figures Great and Small

A great challenge and joy of writing historical fiction is learning about historical figures, both great and small, and working them into my novels. Sometimes I only know them as names on a centuries-old roster, but those names represent real people who once participated in monumental events.

Gideon Hawke is a fictional character. His name, description, and character traits are all products of my imagination. Ruth Munroe is a fictional character, but her surname has roots in Lexington, Massachusetts. By contrast, Andrew Johnston was a real person. I know absolutely nothing about the real Andrew Johnston…aside from the fact that he was one of the original members of Thompson’s Rifle Battalion/the 1st Continental Regiment, he was promoted to sergeant , and [SPOILER ALERT…READERS MAY WANT TO AVERT THEIR EYES] eventually he became an officer, reaching the rank of First Lieutenant on May 12th, 1779. Everything else about him, from the image in my mind to the description on my “character chart,” is fiction, roughly based on my limited knowledge of Johnston’s life and times. Fictional Andrew Johnston is one of my favorite characters; real Andrew Johnston was one of the “winter soldiers” who stayed with Washington during the bad times; through his stubbornness and determination he helped keep the dream alive.

I have recently enjoyed getting to know a few other real characters, all of whom appear in Gideon Hawke #4: A Constant Thunder.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Richard Butler. Butler grew up in his father’s Pennsylvania gunsmith business, and prior to the war was very active in trading with Native American tribes. He was held in high esteem by, and spoke the languages of, several nations, so in the early years of the war he played a key role in keeping some tribes from going over to the British side. He was later commissioned in the Continental Army. A physically strong, hot-tempered man, and pre-war friend of Colonel Daniel Morgan, he served as Morgan’s second-in-command in the Rifle Corps during the Saratoga Campaign. He will play an increasingly large role in Gideon’s life.
  • Captain James Parr. Parr was another original member of Thompson’s Rifle Battalion. When Morgan formed his rifle corps, Parr joined it, commanding the company drawn from the 1st Continental/1st Pennsylvania Regiment. I know very little about Parr aside from his service record. One thing I do know is the tantalizing fact that in the summer of 1777, in small-scale skirmishing, he was personally credited with killing four enemy soldiers in close combat, running at least one through with his sword. Clearly he led from the front! Parr and Gideon will get to know each other very well.
  • Lieutenant Ebenezer Foster. Ebenezer Foster hailed from southeast Massachusetts. He joined the militia in 1777 and served in the Siege of Boston, being involved in the fortification of the Dorchester Heights in March 1776. Commissioned as an officer in the summer of 1777, his service ultimately took him to the Hudson Valley, where he joined Dearborn’s Light Infantry Battalion. Dearborn’s unit worked under Morgan’s command in support of the Rifle Corps. Together, these two units made an incredibly effective team, whose impact at Saratoga was far out of proportion to its numbers. But the price these units paid, especially the Light Infantry, was very dear indeed. In A Constant Thunder, Ebenezer Foster and Gideon Hawke are boyhood friends who meet again in the shadow of great events.

It gives me pause when I realize that I am appropriating the names of people who fought in the great struggle for Independence. I pray that I do them justice. I cannot pretend to be delivering true-to-life portrayals, but I can say I do my best with the information I can find. Perhaps by shedding new light on their names I am at least helping to keep alive their memory I am certainly expressing my gratitude for their toils and sacrifices.

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A Constant Thunder: Time

Time. That’s the killer!

If I could plug a USB cable into my head, I could probably download A Constant Thunder in its entirety. Unfortunately that is not how it works! (Actually, I’m pretty glad it doesn’t work that way. Who knows what weirdness might spill out of my head!)

In my mind’s eye I can see pretty much all of Gideon Hawke #4. The march north from New Jersey, the water journey up the Hudson, Gideon’s first encounter with his native American enemies (OK, I wrote that part already), the skirmishing in the primeval forests, the savage fighting at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights, etc. But it is so hard to scrape together the time to commit it all to digits! And all the while, my self-imposed deadline races closer and closer.

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking / Racing around to come up behind you again.*

I know that somehow it will get done. It always does.

I am incredibly excited about this novel, even more so than the first three. Maybe it is because of how the Saratoga Battlefield spoke to me—unlike Boston, the Raritan Crossing, Trenton, or Princeton it has not been developed. Certainly it has changed dramatically in nearly 240 years, but at Saratoga you can peer out from behind a tree and almost see the red coats and gleaming muskets emerging from the Great Ravine. I so want to get this novel written!

Besides that, I have another problem: A Constant Thunder is jostling for room in my head with Gideon Hawke #5 and #6! Yes, in large part I already have them roughly outlined in my head, and I have some brilliant ideas for individual scenes. I have more research to do for each, but before long they will be ready for USB download as well! So much writing to do! So little time! Will I get it all done?

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time / Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines*

No. I will not fail. I will bring these novels to life! If nothing else I owe to the characters who live in my head, and to my small but wonderful group of loyal readers!

So…enough blogging. Pink Floyd and I need to get back to writing historical fiction. Until next week!

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* Props to Roger Waters for the lyrics from Time: Poetry at its finest.

Character Interview: Kate Scott

January 1777; Chatham, NJ. After my interview with Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Scott of the New Jersey Militia, I had the opportunity to speak with his wife, Kate, who also appears in the novel A Nest of Hornets. Here are my questions and her responses:

Robert Krenzel: Mrs. Scott, please tell us a little about your background.

Kate Scott: Please, Dear, call me Kate. What should I say? I am from New York City. I was born there in 1753, as Katherine Vogels. I was quite happy there until my family moved to that little backwater in New Jersey called New Brunswick. I made the best of it, I suppose, but there was so little for an ambitious young girl to do! Fortunately we were not so far as to preclude occasional visits to New York for culture and shopping.

RK: You are not happy here in New Jersey?

KS: I am happiest where there is society and culture. Frankly, I would prefer London or Paris, but if we must be on this Continent, I would prefer New York; or perhaps Boston or Philadelphia. And while New Brunswick was bad, this place we are in now is just beastly! We might as well all be wearing animal skins and dancing around a fire.

RK: As you implied you currently reside in Chatham, but used to be in New Brunswick. As I understand it from your husband enemy troops are now quartered in your New Brunswick estate, and you all fled for your lives. Can you tell me more about that?

KS: Fortunes of war, I suppose. I would certainly not say I fled for my life, though. I think Daniel would have preferred to fight to the death in our front door; I don’t know how well it would have gone for me under those circumstances, so I persuaded him to remove us somewhere away from the fighting. In retrospect, perhaps I should have let him fight it out.

RK: Your husband indicated you have a happy marriage. You must feel very fortunate.

KS: [with raised eyebrows] Oh, of course. What lady would not consider herself blessed to be married to such a man?

RK: He is something of a hero, is he not?

KS: I suppose so. He is certainly committed to his cause.

RK: He has a reputation for ferocity; is there a hidden side of him at home that his troops would be surprised to see?

KS: [smiling enigmatically] At home he is like a puppy in my lap.

RK: How did you meet?

KS: My father arranged it. Daniel came from a well-to-do family with reasonable connections. It was a good match.

RK: You recently had a chance to meet a young Continental officer named Lieutenant Gideon Hawke, who is of interest to my readers. What can you tell us about him?

KS: He is such a delightful young man! He is very eager to please, which I like in men, and very handsome. He seems a bit naïve in social settings, but I have no doubt he is a fearsome on the battlefield as his reputation would suggest.

RK: Have you noted any tension between him and your husband?

KS: There is tension between everyone and my husband. I think dear Gideon is very idealistic. My husband is more pragmatic. I can see how that would lead to the occasional difference of opinion, don’t you?

RK: Quite; especially in a time like this when politics and war have torn families apart. Having been through so much, what words of wisdom would you offer to young ladies in these trying times?

KS: The same advice I offer all young ladies: “Marry a handsome man and you marry trouble.” Those are words to live by.

RK: Yes…well…I was referring to the war. Are you saying that in spite of the war everything revolves around marriage?

KS: What I am saying…and please don’t take me for a hopeless romantic…is that I am a practical woman. I would say that whom she marries is very important for determining how comfortable a young lady will be, and how many options she will have available, especially in times such as these.

RK: I see. The current war has been hard on New Jersey and its population; are you hopeful for the future?

KS: I am absolutely certain I will find a way to manage.

RK: What do you think it will take to heal the wounds left by this war?

KS: I suppose each person will have to find her own way. I will certainly find mine.

RK: Do you think America will win its independence?

KS: I have no idea. The war is not a particular concern of mine, aside from how it affects me directly. I can’t say I care one way or another about the cause.

RK: Kate, thank you very much for your time. This has been truly…informative.

KS: [Placing a hand on my arm] It has been delightful!

You can learn more about Kate Scott in Gideon Hawke #3, A Nest of Hornets!

A Nest of Hornets on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NBI511Q/

Character Interview: Lieutenant Colonel “Black Dan” Scott

January 1777; Chatham, NJ. I recently had the opportunity to interview Lieutenant Colonel Daniel “Black Dan” Scott of the New Jersey Militia, who appears in the novel A Nest of Hornets. Below you will find my questions and his answers. (NOTE: his answers were editing to remove profanity)

Robert Krenzel: Lieutenant Colonel Scott, please tell us a little about your background.

Dan Scott: Not much to tell, really. I was born in my family home in 1749. My father was a merchant; some of the ships that called at the Landing near our home came from across the globe, so I learned a fair bit about the world that way. I didn’t care much for school; I suppose you could say I was a bit of a trouble maker. I joined the militia when I was sixteen, and naturally for someone of my upbringing and talents I soon became an officer. When the war started I played quite a role in getting the Middlesex County Militia organized, so in 1775 I was raised to lieutenant colonel.

RK: You join us having already established a fierce reputation. How did you acquire the nickname “Black Dan?”

DS: [with a grin] It’s for my black hair.

RK: I’ve been told it has more to do with your actions than your appearance.

DS: You can’t believe everything you’re told. But…I suppose it’s a black day for him when a tory finds himself my prisoner.

RK: As I understand it, your troops don’t capture many Loyalists.

DS: Capture or bring into prison? There’s a difference. We’ve captured plenty. They just tend to die of their wounds or are killed trying to escape or some such thing. Whatever the cause, they just always seem to die. [Grinning] It’s a pity, that is.

RK: I see. So…you are married, are you not?

DS: Yes, of course! To my beloved Kate! We married in 1774, and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me!

RK: How did you meet?

DS: At a gala in New Brunswick. Our fathers arranged it, but for me it was love at first sight. We were married not long afterward. She is a fine, cultured woman with impeccable taste and good connections. We lived quite a happy life. Until the [multiple expletives] British came, that is.

RK: You used to reside in New Brunswick, but now you are in Chatham. Why is that?

DS: [turning red in the face] Because a [expletive] regiment of Hessian [expletives] is quartered in my [expletive] house right now! If I’d stayed there, the [expletives] would have hung me from the nearest tree and left me for the ravens. We had no choice but to leave. Fortunately our current residence was conveniently vacated.

RK: Your current home actually belongs to a Loyalist family, does it not?

DS: Yes. And I’m caring for it a lot better than my house is being looked after, I promise you that. Besides, I doubt they’ll be coming back for it.

RK: Have you heard from the current owners?

DS: No, and I don’t care to. May they rot in hell.

RK: The current war has been hard on New Jersey and its population; are you hopeful for the future?

DS: Oh, yes! Very much so! Some doubted our prospects, but I have never waivered in my belief in the Cause. Now, after Trenton and Princeton, it is fashionable to be optimistic, but I have always believed that we would come through this war stronger and more unified.

RK: What do you think it will take to heal the wounds left by this war?

DS: Two things: First, we beat the British and their craven, beef-witted, Hessian lackeys. Then, we hunt down every [expletive] Loyalist [expletive] who darkens this land with his filthy shadow: we hang each and every one from a tree and stretch his neck but good. Once that is done, everything else should sort itself out.

RK: Lieutenant Colonel Scott, thank you very much for your time. This has been truly…informative.

DS: Any time.

You can learn more about “Black Dan” Scott in Gideon Hawke #3, A Nest of Hornets!

A Nest of Hornets on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NBI511Q/