Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Lucia St. Clair Robson (page 2)
 Talking with
Lucia St. Clair Robson
page 1
page 2
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For those who haven’t read you novels, could you tell us what your books are about?
Sure. Let’s see! Ride the Wind is about Cynthia Ann Parker who was captured by Comanches in Texas and grew up with them. By the way, it has been in print 23 years and has 90 five-star reader reviews on Walk in My Soul is about Sam Houston’s life among the Cherokee; Light a Distant Fire is the story of Osceola and the Second Seminole War in Florida; Tokaido Road is based on the famous event in Japanese history that took place in 1702; Mary’s Land is on the settlement of Maryland in the 1630s; Fearless is set during the Mexican War of 1846–1848; Ghost Warrior is the story of the Chiricahua Apaches and Lozen, the only single woman that I know of to ride with the men as a warrior.
     My latest book, Shadow Patriots: A Novel of the Revolution is about the Culper Ring, a group of spies who gathered intelligence for George Washington through most of the War. Central to the story is 355, the Culpers’ code for “lady,” but whose real identity is still unknown.
Clearly you have done a tremendous amount of research for the variety of fiction that you have written. In terms of % how much time is done on the research? How much time on the writing?
Hard to say. Maybe 25% research, 75% writing. But we’re talking about a book that can take years, because I’m a slow writer. So that means a lot of reading over time. Usually I go through 150–300 sources with the requisite note-taking and filing of cards with info.
Do you do all the research before you start to write?
   No. I find enough information on the subject to write a proposal that consists of a summary of the story. Once I have a contract I research as I write, trying to keep a chapter ahead of the class as it were. And I can’t stop even after I mail in the manuscript. I keep reading through the galley process. Years after the book comes out I collect books and other material on the subject.
Do you have any “tricks of the trade” with regard to doing research?

jest book = a collection of jokes, and amusing anecdotes

I have a Master’s in Library Science, so my first trick of the trade is to utilize my local public library’s interlibrary loan system which gets more amazing as technology advances. For Shadow Patriots the library found me a microfilm copy of a jest book published in 1739. Fantastic period humor to add to my story. The Internet can answer simple questions, but for details you didn’t even know to look for, books are the place to go.
     The other trick is never to assume you have enough information. There’re always more fascinating facts and insights out there, and even when I think I have enough, I’ll come across some odd incident or phrase that will kick-start the writing process.
How do you decide who you will write about? What do you need to make it an interesting story for you, or a reader?
Surprise. I like to be surprised. I like to find historical characters who are little known, and who have done the unexpected. That’s why so many of my main characters are women. One expects Andrew Jackson to take New Orleans or William Tecumseh Sherman to march through Georgia. That was their job. What intrigues me are people who did the unexpected (Ulysses S. Grant tried out for the role of Desdemona in the officers’ production of Othello before invading Mexico in 1846. That makes Grant even more interesting to me).
     When women went to war, or spied for George Washington, they were doing the unexpected. They were facing not only physical opposition from an armed enemy, but something more insidious, societal opposition.
Your fiction has been called historical fiction as well as historical romance. What do you call it?
My first book, Ride the Wind, opened with a massacre. I would not call it or any of the seven that followed “historical romance.” All of my books have a love interest somewhere in them because life does too. But I don’t do happily-ever-after endings. So, what I write is historical fiction.
Since you do so much research, why turn it into fiction?

Writing fiction is more fun. It’s more fun because I can speculate on why people do things as well as what they do. I prefer fiction because I like to add historical, cultural, and social tidbits that have no place in a non-fiction book. Because dialogue gives an opportunity to put in jokes and stories from the period, as well as attitudes.
     The result of all that, oddly enough, is often a look at history that’s more “accurate” in a way than just laying out the facts. I wouldn’t presume to make that claim except that readers have told me it’s so. As in the case of the Cherokee descendants of the family I wrote about in my second book, Walk in My Soul. One of them called to tell me that the incidents I wrote about in that book were stories only the family knew.
     And in my first book, Ride the Wind, the park ranger at Parker Fort verified that my description of the site was closer to the original than the re-creation built in the 1930s.
What other historical fiction writers would you compare yourself to?
Gads — I never compare. Others have compared me to James Michener and Jean Aul, but I would say our bank accounts show a great disparity.
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