My Time Machine, by Suzanne Adair

Posted by on May 6, 2013 in 18th Century U.S., Featured Book, Historical Research | 6 comments

Readers often comment that my stories immerse them fully in the fictional world I’ve created. Achieving that “You Are Here” feeling is a challenge for most authors. Those who write historical fiction wish they had a time machine, a way to experience what the past was like.

33rdLightBrattonsvilleRedcoatsLowResI write crime fiction set during the eighteenth century, in the American War of Independence. I’ve found that time machine.

When I started researching this period almost twenty years ago, I quickly realized that if I intended to create believable fiction about people who’d lived more than two hundred years earlier, reading books on the topic and interviewing subject matter experts wouldn’t cut it at helping me capture the period flavor. A desire to experience the everyday challenges my characters would have faced and how their world smelled, tasted, and sounded fueled my interest in becoming a Revolutionary War reenactor.

CookingCamdenLowResMy sons and I have spent many weekends camped at historical battlegrounds during reenactment events. We sleep in white canvas army tents with no mosquito screens, and we dress in clothing made of wool and linen. Our menu is limited by what meals we can prepare over a wood fire. Food occasionally gets scorched. Most of the time, running water, flush toilets, and heat or air-conditioning are unavailable.

I’ve learned to start a fire from flint and steel. Not until I’d done so did I comprehend the impact of natural variables, such as wind and humidity, on establishing a fire when you don’t even have the convenience of matches. Try starting a fire with flint and steel on a windy, wintry night.

GuilfordContinentalsRedcoatsLowResI’ve also learned to load and fire a musket with powder only, like the reenactors on the battlefield. Nothing I’d read prepared me for the noise, weight, heat, or reload time of the musket. The one time I fired a ball, I saw the way it could have ricocheted off trees and killed someone. How often did that happen in woodland skirmishes hundreds of years ago?

And I’ve learned to move in a petticoat. However no reference book prepared me for how quickly the wind whipped my petticoat into the campfire at one event. Did you know that being burned was one of the top causes of death for women in the eighteenth century?

I’m a woman of the twenty-first century. I take technology for granted. Convenience and accessibility underpin my culture and shape my values and reactions. But during the Revolutionary War, very little was convenient or accessible. Danger and scarcity shaped decisions, especially for the middle and lower classes.

IndianCamdenLowResWe’re out of touch with the hardships our ancestors endured to stay alive. My challenge is to bridge that gap in my fiction. The lessons I’ve learned from reenacting inform the crafting of my fictional world. Without the experience of having lived history via the time machine of reenacting, I wouldn’t be able to provide such a believable and captivating escape for readers.

Suzanne Adair, May 6, 2013

Bio:

Award-winning novelist Suzanne Adair is a Florida native who lives in a two hundred-year-old city at the edge of the North Carolina Piedmont, named for an English explorer who was beheaded. Her suspense and thrillers transport readers to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, hiking, and spending time with her family. A Hostage to Heritage, her second Michael Stoddard American Revolution thriller, was released April 2013.

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Following your tour has been fun because of your interesting posts and because of all the new-to-me blogs.

    Best wishes.

    • Thanks, Liz. Nice to see you here. I’m glad you found some new blogs (and maybe some new reading) to check out.

  2. I’m so impressed with what you’ve done. Sometimes we need to walk in some old shoes to find out what it was really like. No wonder your books are so believeable.

    • Marja, thanks for the kudos. Yeah, I really don’t think I could have pulled off the 18th century in writing without the hands-on experience.

  3. Never really thought much about the wind and campfire and skirt/petticoat thing, and I sure hadn’t seriously thought a lot about the weight of a musket :-0

    Glad you weren’t injured and I have an even greater respect for the Colonial women, especially those in the back country. I have indeed been spoiled to modern life.

    Another excellent post on Revolutionary life–thanks Suzanne.

  4. Linda, thanks for stopping by. This is why I’ve encouraged you to get involved in Civil War reenacting while you’re writing your book. Nothing beats the hands-on experience.

    My respect for women who lived in Colonial America’s backcountry is huge.