Welcome to Day 2 of my #RRBC “SPOTLIGHT” Author Blog Tour. I’d like to thank my host and the RRBC for this great honor. Today I’d like to talk more specifically about writing historical fiction. History is my passion right now and I’d like to share some of the sources I use when I research.
Now, judging by the images and the books that are popular today, can you imagine how someone 400 years from now will view our society? How will they reconstruct our day in age based on the records we leave behind? That is, if they can even access our information.
What impressions will they have of our culture?
I take this into consideration as I research and write my 17th century historical novels. I have a good idea of what the time period looked like from paintings like those from the Dutch Golden Age. Objects and artifacts that survived the passing of time help illustrate how people lived their daily lives. But what people thought, what they felt, can only be taken from the work of those who wrote down their experiences. Even then, we only get the point of view of individuals with a certain standing in the community. We are subject to see history based on their beliefs and more importantly, what they wanted the reader to believe.
So, as I reconstruct the Thirty Years War and the impact the war had on the Aisch Valley in Franconia, Germany, I choose sources that give me a more realistic version of the world I am recreating. These include local historical almanacs, autobiographical accounts that survived over the years and current research of the Early Modern Period. I’d like to tell you about my most important ones.
The Thirty Years War was considered The Great War by the Germans up until WWI. The devastation it left behind was up until that time unmatched. The population was reduced by a third, some believe by half. Great tracks of land were left untouched by the war but other areas were set back 100 years in their development. Some of the villages in my area died out completely for more than two generations. And a surprising number of events that transpired there were written down and collected.
Germans call them Heimatbücher; village historical almanacs, written by local residents, village officials and clergy. Many small communities have them. Full of church records, local weather chronicles, tax records, marriage, birth and death registers, maps and photographs, you’ll find one on almost every bookshelf in Germany. They recorded everything from the Hussiten Wars to the Little Ice Age, the natural catastrophe believed to help fuel the Thirty Years War. Many of the troop movements that stain Germany’s war-torn history and the damage left behind can be found in these books. They tend to be overlooked by ‘real’ historians but they are a wealth of knowledge and now our little secret.
Around the time of the Thirty Years War, the early 1700’s, literacy in Germany was supposedly 2% to 4% of the population, without taking into consideration the difference between those who read regularly and those who could read at all. The reported literates were either of a high standing or involved in the church. More Protestants were known to be able to read than Catholics. Yes, there were those women who were learned but the majority of these were men. And some of these people felt the need to write their memoirs.
A local hero from the town of Uehlfeld in Franconia, Veit von Berg was a young Protestant pastor who was in the city of Neustadt an der Aisch when it was sacked in July 1632. After the war, in 1648, he was commissioned to serve the Evangelical parish in Uehlfeld. Thirty-five people survived the horrors that left this village in ash and rubble, a village that once had population of over 600. Veit von Berg spent his free time rebuilding Uehlfeld, teaching the savaged farmers how to sow seed and live life. And writing his autobiography. This is a touching, explicit, insightful story of his fight to live through an unjust war.
A more famous story is Simplicius Simplicissimus by Grimmelshausen, considered to be the first German novel. It is the story of a peasant boy torn away from his family by marauding mercenaries. We follow him from the abduction, to the life with a hermit, to military service, to wealth and excess back to the life of a hermit. The adventures he experienced are considered to be the autobiographical account of Grimmelshausen’s life.
In 1988, Jan Peters, a German historian, found a hand-written document in the Berliner Staatsbibliotek, the Berlin Library. Peters set out to decipher the writings and search for the author, whose name is nowhere in the writings to be found. After much detective work, the writer is believed to the mercenary soldier, Peter Hagendorf. Hagendorf recorded his 25-year career as a mercenary and the 22,500 km travels that took him from Italy to Germany, to the Spanish Netherlands and France. He also took part in the famous Sack of Magdeburg in 1631.
Now, most of my reference books are in German and most of them are written by men. But I want to recreate this time period for an English-speaking audience and keep the language contemporary. I want to get close to the characters, inside their heads, and I also want to do this from the viewpoint of a woman. And I want to stay true to the events documented in my sources.
American historian, Joel Harrington, http://as.vanderbilt.edu/history/bio/joel-harrington professor at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, specializes in the Early Modern Period in Germany and has written numerous books concerning this time period in the English language. In 2009, he published The Unwanted Child: The Fate of Foundlings, Orphans, and Juvenile Criminals in Early Modern Germany (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Harrington studies the situation of abandoned children in Nuremberg, Germany, their mothers and the role society played in all of this in the early modern world.
Over the years, the more information I searched for, the more I found. This is only a small outtake from all the sources I have collected. For me, the love of research equals the love of writing historical fiction. And as I reconstruct the Thirty Years War, these books and documents are as instrumental to my writing as my computer and a pad and paper. The stage is set and I can bring in the actors and raise the curtain.
What sort of research do you do for your novels? As a reader, how much accuracy do you want in a novel?
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THE MASTER AND THE MAID
She’s lost her work, her home and her freedom. Now, harboring a mysterious newborn, she could lose her life.
In 17th Century Germany on the brink of the Thirty Years War, 24-year-old Katarina is traded to the patrician Sebald Tucher by her fiancé Willi Prutt in order to pay his debts. En route to her forced relocation to the Tucher country estate, Katarina is met by a crazed archer, Hans-Wolfgang, carrying a baby under his cloak. He tells her an incredible story of how his beloved was executed by a Jesuit priest for witchcraft right after the birth and makes Katarina—at sword point—swear on her life to protect the child. But protecting the child puts Katarina at risk. She could fall in disfavor with her master. She could be hunted by the zealots who killed his beloved. She could be executed for witchcraft herself. Can Katarina’s love for the baby and Sebald Tucher’s desire for her keep the wrath of the zealots at bay?
Set in Franconia, The Master and the Maid is an accurate, authentic account of a young woman’s life in Germany in the 1600’s, her struggle for freedom and her fight for those she loves.
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Laura Libricz was born and raised in Bethlehem, PA, and moved to Upstate New York when she was 22. After working a few years building Steinberger guitars, she received a scholarship to go to college. She tried to ‘do the right thing’ and study something useful, but spent all her time reading German literature. She earned a BA in German at The College of New Paltz, NY in 1991 and moved to Germany, where she resides today. When she isn’t writing, she can be found sifting through city archives, picking through castle ruins or aiding the steady flood of musical instruments into the world market. Her first novel, The Master and the Maid, is the first book of the Heaven’s Pond Trilogy. The Soldier’s Return and Ash and Rubble are the second and third books in the series.