Pam wrote her first 400 page manuscript in six weeks and thought it was the greatest piece of fiction ever. She discovered she was so wrong. When she joined Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, she learned the writing craft and joined a critique group. Every time she mastered one technique, there was another waiting to be learned (as she suspects there always will be). She wrote slowly, in between her full time job and her commitments as a wife and mother. Thirteen years later, she sold her second manuscript, CHANCES, and became an author.
Reflecting History with Great Storytelling
By Pam Nowak
Thanks so much to Pat for inviting me to blog with you today!
It’s an exciting week for me…my third novel, CHANGES, was released yesterday and I get to share the event with all of you! Cyber confetti toss!!
CHANGES was a tough book to write, so it’s an even bigger celebration to be at this point. In my previous two books, I inserted historical details and referenced real events but for CHANGES, I overlaid my plot on real-life events.
My story follows the 1879 trial of Standing Bear, a Ponca Indian chief who wanted to bury his son on traditional tribal lands. He and a band of tribal members left Indian Territory to do so and found themselves arrested, then involved in a trial that would change history.
I’d always intended for my third book to relate to Indian rights in some way. It features Lise Dupree, a part-Sioux heroine whom I had mentioned in both previous books. As I researched for events and places that would fit in the time period, I discovered the story of Standing Bear, and knew I had to frame the story around the trial. I just didn’t realize how complicated it would be to do so.
I had set Lise up as an intelligent woman with a passion for improving the lives of native peoples. When I discovered that Omaha had female librarians in the 1870s and that the law library was housed in the public library, it was a natural jump to make her a librarian. At first, I thought I would have her plunge into helping Standing Bear but critique partners (thank the lord for good critique partners) pointed out there would be more at stake if she were reluctant. Lise then developed as a character who was hiding her native heritage with a lot at stake if it were revealed. Then, to add in some motivation for getting involved, I added an ailing aunt into the story.
Creating Zach Spencer, my hero, was easy. Natural conflict was there. He would be the attorney on the opposite side of the case…the person trying to return Standing Bear (and Lise’s aunt) to the miserable life conditions they faced in Indian Territory. Since it wouldn’t do for his to be the type of person who would want to do such a thing, I set the story up so that he would be required to take the case as part of his job and that he would have a strong sense of loyalty to the law, whether he agreed with it or not. I added in a secondary villain and a political campaign to motivate Zach’s actions.
The hard part about writing the story was that I wanted to stay true to the facts of the trial and using a trial for plot device can be dull. I had to find creative ways to build other action and weave in legal events. I also discovered some wonderful real life people that I wanted to include in the story but whom I wanted to portray correctly. Lise’s friends and allies sprang forth from these real individuals—General George Crook, newspaper editor Tom Tibbles, and Omaha teacher and Indian rights speaker Susette La Flesche. In their mannerisms and characters, I tried to stay as close as possible to historical accounts while weaving my fictional story around them.
For my major villain, I decided to borrow a role from real life, the Indian agent who kept returning the Poncas to Indian Territory. However, because I was casting him in the role of the villain, I created him from scratch, using only his real role and fiction as his character.
I hope my final product reflects the attention to history I intended without sacrifice of good story-telling. I’m crossing my fingers you’ll like the tale and I am so glad Pat invited me to share a bit about it today.
In 1879, Omaha librarian Lise Dupree struggles to keep her part-Sioux heritage hidden as she reluctantly agrees to help research legal questions for a band of Ponca Indians led by Standing Bear. What begins as a quest for justice becomes a search for identity as she encounters ambitious district attorney Zach Spencer in a battle that will force them both to change the roles they have created for themselves.
In the process, they confront Lise’s haunting past, Zach’s political aspirations, the dangerous prejudice of an unstable Indian agent, and the subtle differences between justice and the law. They discover smoldering love and a shared passion for justice—theirs if they can embrace the changes that have allowed them to open their hearts to one another.
Thanks, Pam, for being my guest here today. Writing historical fiction is quite a challenge as I learned when I gave it a try. For me, the research is often so interesting that it’s hard to get back to the business of turning that research into a great story. I wish you the best of luck with CHANGES and hope you’ll come back to visit us again with your next book.
Pam writes as Pamela Nowak. Her earlier novels are now available as e-books, including CHOICES.