Saturday, September 18, 2010

You Say You Want A Revolution...

I love that Lennon-McCartney song: 
You say you want a revolution / Well, you know, we all want to change the world.

Revolution… the word conjures up a ton of varied images of people who did attempt to change their world. On September fifteenth and sixteenth, Mexico celebrated its Bicentennial of Independence from European rule, first from Spain and then France. This year also marks the centennial of the start of the Revolution of 1910, when peasants rose up against the feudalistic society of landowners on vast haciendas controlling the wealth and economy of the entire nation. Men of peasant stock such as Francisco “Pancho” Villa and Emiliano Zapata united mestizos and indios to battle the federales. It was an insurrection imbued with idealistic notions, and the revolutionary army included whole families of women and children following closely behind. Mariachi music truly developed during this time and preserved the nationalist fervor with songs of heroes in battle and brave but tragic lovers that are proudly performed today.

We won’t get into the debate about whether Zapata and Villa were heroes or bandits, but the point is that real history is a wonderful setting and source of storytelling. Revolution... the word implies conflicts spinning within the grander conflict as the world turns as well. That's some fertile fodder for a novel. The trick is capturing real history—the sights, smells, reactions and results—as accurately as possible to authenticate the fiction.

Southern Arizona was greatly divided throughout the 1910 Revolution; after all, it had only been incorporated into the United States a mere fifty-seven years earlier through the Gadsden Purchase. Then, as now, families straddled the border. Their diaries and letters, as well as Pershing’s reports, newspaper accounts, and newsreels, are accessible through the Arizona Historical Society’s research library.  

A rancher such as my protagonist, Evan Jones, might have livestock stolen by Pancho Villa.  He might have encounters with “Black Jack" Pershing, possibly to sell horses to the cavalry—or not, depending where his Mexican wife’s sympathies lie. Or his children may feel strongly enough about the conflict—or follow a lover—to join the fight. I won't know until I've done enough research to feel comfortable putting my characters into the situation, knowing what really would have happened, what did happen.

There’s nothing more disappointing than to start reading a novel and realize the author didn’t bother to check on the accuracy of their plot, setting, or time. In my novel Dragon & Hawk, I wanted to use the details of a cave-in I’d researched at the very real Queen Mine in Bisbee—but the novel is set in 1882, five years before the Queen had vertical shafts. You can rest assured that someone around here would know that, and for them, my story would lose all credibility. At the least, they'd quit reading and at the worst, they'd tell all their friends my book was nonsensical dreck. So, upon the sage advice of other historical writers, I created a fictional mine but still incorporated the newspaper and mine office accounts of the real incident. It became “The Copper Mule Mine” disaster.

Even though I write fiction, I’ve learned that readers want to know which parts are indeed based on reality. I’ve included a resource page at the end of each  novel so far, and will add it to my website revamp as well. 

The stories of human experience during any revolution bring depth and detail to mere fact recitation. This is how I like to learn history, and I hope I can help others learn something, too.

~Jude Johnson

The first novel in my historical adventure/romance series Dragon & Hawk, about Welsh immigrants in nineteenth century Arizona, is set for ebook release by Champagne Books in April 2011.


Ashley Barnard said...

I love hearing the "true stories" behind plot devices, so I think that's great that you include a resource page in the book and on your website. I need to make it over to Bisbee sometime -- I want to take the ghost tour!