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!

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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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The British Are Coming!

the-british-are-comingSome writers might find it counterintuitive to plug other writers’ work, but for me it is only fitting. Rick Atkinson is a best-selling author and has won the Pulitzer Prize for both Journalism and History. I have had the pleasure of interacting with Mr. Atkinson on two occasions, and both were rewarding.

The first was around 2005. He was speaking to my class at the Army Staff College, and I had the honor of introducing him. We chatted only briefly, but I found him to be knowledgeable, articulate, and personable.

More significantly, perhaps, about ten years later when I was struggling through publication of my first novel, This Glorious Cause, it occurred to me to reach out to Rick Atkinson for advice. I thought it a long shot, but to my surprise and delight, he responded to my email very quickly, and was immensely supportive. His support had such an impact on me that I vowed to pay it forward. I have, in fact, been able to offer at least a little bit of advice to several aspiring authors, ranging in age from teenager to sixty-something.
When I contacted Mr. Atkinson, he had begun work on a trilogy about the American Revolution. That trilogy has finally come to fruition! The British are Coming is available for pre-order!

The Revolution Trilogy

With his Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson shone a new light on the Second World War. I cannot wait to see what he has done with the American War of Independence. If you enjoy the Gideon Hawke Series and want to learn more about the Revolution, I can think of no better place to start.

Happy Reading!

Moving On: Changes

A few months ago, I was talking to my daughter, discussing her plans for the future, and I made some brilliant, Dad-like statement along the lines of: “Whatever you do, it’s important to do what you love.” I was pleased with myself for offering such sage advice. Then my daughter asked me, “Do you love your job?” What ensued was a discussion of the pros and cons of enduring the job you have versus seeking one which has risks, but might be where your heart is. Upon reflection, it was much easier to follow my sage advice when I was 22 than it is at middle age with two college-bound kids and a mortgage.

Or is that just an excuse?

After much consultation and soul-searching, I decided to follow my own advice. Next week I begin a new chapter. I am hopeful that doing something I love will make me healthier and happier…and a better example for my kids. There will be risks and challenges, but I hope it is worth it.

At least I can say I followed my own advice.

And I should have more time to write!

 

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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

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Moving Along!

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

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

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

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

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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/

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Endurance: How Did They Do It?

Novelists do weird stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

washington prayer at VF

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

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

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Progress!

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

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

GH5 Progress 20171226

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

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

A Life of its Own

Quill Pen Retro Ink Vintage Antique History Pen

I have a deliberate process for writing a Gideon Hawke novel. I build a historical timeline and then generate a story concept that fits into the timeline. I create a rough outline, break the outline into chapters, and develop scenes that fit into each chapter to tell the story. But sometimes the story takes on a life of its own.

I was recently working on the first chapter of Gideon Hawke #5: in the first scene Gideon receives news that causes a significant life change. Then he shared it with his mates, and he and Ruth prepared for this significant change (pardon my beating around the bush: I’m trying desperately to keep spoilers out of this). As I wrote it, the chapter ended with two new and significant characters knocking on Gideon’s door to take him on a short journey. Nice ending…great segue for the second chapter. All is well. Except…

In my outline, the next scene was to be in a new location, after the short journey. But then I realized I was missing a golden opportunity! You see, that short journey is chock full of potential! Here we can learn more not only about these two new characters and their backgrounds, but also the environment into which Gideon is headed. The dialogue almost wrote itself! Suddenly I realized my story had picked up a new scene on which I had not planned: a new scene which could be pivotal for introducing the reader to Gideon’s new reality.

Sometimes an author just has to let the characters be themselves, and the story will create itself. When that happens the real challenge is just trying to keep up!

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