As soon as I knew what I was going to write about, I began with setting, for I instinctively knew that everything has to happen somewhere. The locale I would write about was, of course, the valley that is home to me.
I love our mountains. I love the canyons, cut between hills that seem to roll over upon themselves like bread dough being kneaded. I love the smell of sage, manzanita, yucca, and wild lilac. I love the way morning mist plays over those warm springs that still exist in large numbers beneath the surface of the earth. I love it when winter rains swell the creeks where I waded as a child. I love the sycamores with their spotted, twisted trunks and big leaves that rustle in the wind. And I love the north wind — the Santana –that arrives with a lusty howl and makes the air so clear that I can reach out and trace the mountain shadows with my fingertips.
So did Emmy, my thirteen-year-old heroine. She loved it all as much as I did. I let her live on an island in Lytle Creek, much as my own great-grandmother had lived. I let threatening flood waters pour down the canyon. I sat with her as she picked flowers in the sunshine. I felt her sorrows and her gladness.
Other characters, however, had different feelings about the place they lived. Tawny Crawford, the villainous character from Straight Along a Crooked Road, who was removed from the wagon train, only to appear again on the lawless streets of early San Bernardino, saw the valley as a chance to become powerful. Moss Murphy, a mountain man I had become fond of, saw it as a haven for himself and his Indian wife. Luanna, Emmy’s sister and the heroine of book one, found that the valley was the happy end of her journey.
After I decided who was going to be in the book, I did what all good authors do. I sat back and listened. I wrote pages of description, narrative, and dialogue, and I listened some more. At last I heard my characters speak in their own voices. This is what finding your historical voice is all about — feeling the way into your characters and discovering how different they all sound.
There is no one single historical voice in a book — even though I felt closest to Emmy, my heroine, and heard her voice most often. There are many voices. A unique one for each character.
My characters respond strongly to the place — the setting in which they find themselves. It influences their actions, their decisions, their dreams. Sometimes I sit with my eyes closed, my fingers on the keyboard, and let them guide me.
If I write a third part to this series, it will be about character development in historical fiction. But for now, let the voices ring out!
Submitted by Marilyn Donahue