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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Joan Hochstetler, A Historical Author after My Own Heart!


Joan's vision for putting real history into novels

I suspect most of us know the old adage that goes something like: “Those who refuse to learn from history will be condemned to repeat it.” There’s a lot of truth in that. We’ve all experienced it in our personal lives, and we see it in the public life of our nation too.

A few years ago I read an article about the historical amnesia among Americans today, particularly among our schoolchildren. The results of history tests taken as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that most children in this country are shockingly ignorant about even basic information about our nation’s history. That concerns me tremendously. If our citizens lose touch with the great ideals and principles that form the foundation of who we are as a nation, that’s going to have serious consequences for our future. Many of us are already seeing some of those consequences impacting our country today.

History matters. God calls us to remember all the ways He has blessed us in the past. When we look back, we can see His hand of guidance through trials and gather hope, confidence, trust, and faith that God will continue to guide and bless us. History teaches us that we are part of the stream of life, part of the legacy of faith that runs through our own families and our nation from the beginning, part of something bigger than ourselves. It enriches our lives, gives them meaning and purpose, and equips us to be responsible citizens, parents, teachers, and disciples.

I believe there’s a serious need for non-traditional methods of teaching to bring history alive for students. So few students come out of the educational system with any understanding of or interest in history because too often it isn’t taught in a way that engages them and they end up thinking it’s boring. One bright spot is that many history teachers have begun to recommend historical fiction to their students. There are excellent reasons to do that. Well-written, accurate historical fiction allows readers to identify with the story’s characters and experience a world that is outwardly very different from their own—in other words, to really “get” history on an intimate level.

That’s why I write historical fiction. I believe it to be perhaps the most effective tool in teaching history. In this series I’m dropping my fictional characters right in the middle of the crucial events of our nation’s founding. They participate in those events and interact with the real historical people who were involved in them. That gives me the opportunity to include many of the recorded words and actions of the real people as well as details from history such as storms and other natural events that affected the outcomes of some of the battles. What results is a narrative that is as dynamic and thrilling as the real events because it carefully follows the historical record.

My goal is to enable my readers to live in the period I’m writing about so the sacrifices that were made to provide our legacy of freedom become real to them. My fear is that if we don’t learn our history and value the lessons it teaches us, we’ll lose everything our Founders gave their last full measure of devotion to gain. I hope and pray that the blood spilled to bequeath this precious heritage to us will not have been sacrificed in vain.

Inspiration for the series
The series really started as a stand-alone book—Daughter of Liberty. Back in the early 1980s, I watched a TV movie that was set during the French Revolution, The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour. It totally enthralled me. I was so engaged by the storyline and the characters that I knew I had to write a similar story. Obviously I needed a different revolution, so what more natural than to set my story during the American Revolution? I quickly decided my heroine would be a woman instead of a man, and then, of course, she would have to have a love interest who would be at odds with her dangerous role. I dove headlong into the history of the era, and everything just grew from there.

In writing Daughter of Liberty—with no intention of writing a series—surprising details kept creeping into the story. I had no idea what purpose they served, and some of them seemed irrelevant. But for some reason I couldn’t force myself to take them out. Carleton’s acquaintance with the Shawnee was one of them. Then when the proposal kept getting rejections, I started to think that maybe it would be easier to sell as a series, and so it turned out. And suddenly all the connections for Native Son came together out of those details that had puzzled me. Isn’t that just like God to always go ahead of us?

By then, all the research I was doing had hooked me, and the series grew to include 2 more books. But I quickly realized that was unrealistic if I was going to do justice to this story. So now the series includes a total of 7 books! The upcoming volumes are Crucible of War, Valley of the Shadow, Refiner’s Fire, and Forge of Freedom. I’m going to be an old woman by the time I finish them all, but I’m very much looking forward to writing each volume! This project is not only educating me, but it’s also quite a blast to write!

In addition to the series, I have also published one contemporary novel, One Holy Night (2008), which is a retelling of the Christmas story set in modern times. And I have several other projects in various stages of development, most of them historicals. I’m determined to get them all completed and published someday!

I am a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Christian Authors Network, Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, and Historical Novels Society. My husband and I live near Nashville, Tennessee, and whenever I have any spare time—which is rare these days—I enjoy traveling, gardening, redecorating the house, doing crafts, spending time with my children and grandchildren, and reading.

Louise here: If you would like to win a copy of Joan's exciting new novel, Wind of the Spirit, leave a comment AND your email address so I can contact you if you win.

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