Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ooh, shiny....

One thing about writing fiction is that there are always so many things to write about.  Granted, not all story ideas make good books, at least not without addition of plot curvature and some character twists, but there really isn't any shortage of ideas out there.  My problem, in fact, is that I have too many right now for the time I have to write them. 

I had a new one present itself over the past few days.  It's not enough that I have yet more of the Matt and Crystal story to author, and that I have the Professor Kinder story to complete.  Now I also have a historical fiction I want to do.  This one was prompted by a strange enough set of circumstances that it's probably worth recording.

A couple of weekends ago we were presented with an excellent daytime activity.  Specifically, the Henricus Historical Park advertised their quadricentennial (yep, that's 400 years) anniversary.  That's a long time.  The celebration also brought free admission, and the gravy was the appearance of the Godspeed, a replica of the ship that was one of the three that brought English settlers to Virginia some thirteen years prior to the more famous voyage of the Mayflower.  We've--at least the American we--all heard of Jamestown, right?  The ill-fated settlement that didn't do so well?  All I remember being taught in American history class was that Jamestown was--ooh, look at the shiny colony up in Plymouth, Massachusetts!  You know, the one that housed Pilgrims wearing funny hats and Native Americans bringing turkeys and stuffing and green bean casserole to eat. 

Turns out there's a heckuva lot of interesting story there in Henricus and the surrounding area.  I started talking to the blacksmith, his craft a particular interest of mine, and asked him the question I already could answer for myself: did he use coal or charcoal back then?  I'm glad I asked, though, because a part of this Commonwealth's history I'd never glimpsed was spun into his response. 

Oh, he used charcoal, of course. A brief primer: charcoal is what you get from wood when you condense all the water out of it, usually through application of low heat over a matter of many hours.  It has the same burning properties as wood, but it's much, much lighter and more compact also.  Coal is largely the same thing, except that the organic material in it has been cooked in the ground for millions of years (or several thousands, if you believe the earth is only 6K years old.  Whichever).  Charcoal is easier to work with, but to produce it on a grand scale requires the decimation of acres upon acres of timberland.  At the time Henricus was founded, though, the coal reserves in what would become the United States hadn't been located, and who's going to ship coal across the ocean when you have a bazillion trees right outside the fort? 

I knew that. 

What I didn't know was that it didn't take the new colonists long, really, to open a metal foundry and really start building out the civilization here.  They jumped right to it, in fact, as you might expect them to.  And then they stopped--why? I wonder if they teach this in today's classrooms.  They sure didn't in mine.  In 1622 the Native Americans who were here decided they'd had about enough (justified or not, this was where the real story of Pocahontas was played out, and the relationship was--well, rocky, at best).  They rose up one day and massacred everybody.  Nearly everybody, anyway.  Well, not even that; the historians puff up as they proclaim "about one third to one fourth of the entire white population of Virginia was killed that day," while what they don't say is "about two thirds to three fourths of the entire white population of Virginia lived to tell the tale." 

And that's GOT to be an interesting tale, doesn't it?

That's what's bugging me.  I've been reading several books, one a so-so fantasy story about an actor named Will who gets himself and his party into scrapes in some mystical land (the main character is so unerringly stupid that it gets as old as a day of back to back Three Stooges shows) and a compilation of shorts about warriors.  Now, though, I've purchased and begun a book titled Martin's Hundred, and it's interesting how the author of that book makes non-fiction read as enjoyably as fiction.  If only the writers of textbooks would stoop to learning that craft--but that's a gripe for another day. 

Anyway, I've now got yet another project on my hands.  Yay me! 

1 comment:

  1. "If only the writers of textbooks would stoop to learning that craft--but that's a gripe for another day."

    If textbook writers learned how to do that I bet the average grade in the US would noticeably increase as a result.