From Mary Anna–American history walking around on two legs

It is merely by luck of the draw that I am the Independence Day blogger.  This is fitting because, thanks to my choice of the archaeological world as the setting for my mysteries, I have unwittingly ensured that I will be an amateur student of American history for the rest of my writing career.

Oh, who am I kidding?  I write about this stuff because it interests me.  I will be an amateur student of American history for the rest of my life.

My protagonist, Faye Longchamp, is an American whose ancestry stems in equal parts from Africa and Europe, with a tiny smidgeon of Native American blood thrown in just to keep things interesting.  I think of her as a bit of shrapnel from the great explosion that happened here in the New World in 1492.  To use another metaphor, I see Faye as American history walking around on two legs.

Faye sees our past through a different lens than most Americans.  Her great-great-grandfather owned her great-great-grandmother.  Some of her ancestors sent some of her other ancestors on the Trail of Tears.  Does a person with a heritage like that have to reject great chunks of her past?  Does she have to hate part of her very self?

Faye doesn’t think so.  Her passion for archaeology stems from the science’s personal approach to history.  When she digs up a set of tortoiseshell combs, she imagines the lady who wore them in her hair and the craftsmen who made them and the lady’s maid who sculpted that elegant hairstyle.  For Faye, humble everyday artifacts bring history–and the people who lived there–to life.

In order to write Effigies, I learned about the American moundbuilders whose creations dwarfed even the Great Pyramids, and I learned the folk tales that helped those engineers explain their world to themselves.  In researching Findings, I learned about those Southerners who freed their slaves due to the pangs of conscience, yet fought for the Confederacy because it was home.  In preparing for Floodgates, I read about the slaves and Choctaws and Kaintucks who fought beside the United States Army in the concluding battle of the War of 1812, a war that was fought to save a brand-new nation founded on the principle that all were created equal.  It’s an ideal that we are still chasing.  And to ensure that the voice of Artifacts’ 18th-century narrator, William Whitehall, was authentic, I read the American Constitution, front to back.

I learned that this world-changing document was written in language that still sounds fresh and modern and radical.  I learned that when We the People speak in one voice, things happen.  I learned that we as a country have much cause for pride, and I learned that we have a long way to go.

E pluribus unum.

7 Responses to From Mary Anna–American history walking around on two legs

    • I am! And as soon as I began to read I remembered I read another of your books, Effigies, a few years ago, and loved it (my memory plagues me ; ) Your writing is so vivid and you keep the plot moving quickly — two of my favorite qualities in a good book. Best of all, your voice says “howdy” to me, and it’s so fun to have rediscovered you, right here at PPP — and surreal that I’m here now, too.

  1. Oh, I don’t know about luck, Mary Anna. I think our theme of fate has struck again. Your post is so inspiring and makes me itch to dig into my own American heritage (as well as read your books!) I’m English, Irish, Portuguese, Cherokee, Osage, and probably more. So cool you read the entire Constitution. I’m proud to be a fellow American this 4th of July!

    • We overlap quite a bit, Bernadette. I’m English, Scottish, Irish, Norwegian, German, French, and I probably have roots with at least one tribe of Native American that I think is probably Choctaw or Cherokee. There’s also an intriguing possibility that I uncovered while researching RELICS that some of my ancestors were Melungeons, part of a mysterious ethnic group with physical characteristics of Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans that has lived in the Appalachians since colonial times. I found the Melungeons’ story so interesting that the whole plot of that book flowed from the mystery of just who their ancestors might be.

    • It’s funny you should say that, Liz. THE SOURCE was one of the book I had in mind when I first started writing the series. I read it way back in high school and it is still affecting my work. That’s a powerful book.

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