Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Write What You Know by Catherine Richmond

Write what you know.


Advice like that has historical romance writers making payments on time machines, trying on corsets in museums, and camping at the setting of our novels to add to our knowledge base.

In 2010, I signed a contract for two historical romances. Spring for Susannah was complete - except for the editing, revisions, book cover, reading group guide, author acknowledgements, promotion, and book release party, of course.

The second was not written. It wasn’t started. Not even a glimmer of an idea. But I did have, for the first time in my writing life, a deadline. A deadline that was twice as fast as I usually write. A deadline that said no futzing around, no squinting at miles of microfilmed newspapers, no interlibrary-loaning every book remotely connected with the story, and no camping.

Spring for Susannah had given me a good handle on the 1870s, but this time, instead of North Dakota, I decided to set the story in my home state of Nebraska. The biggest event here was Standing Bear v. Crook, the court case which declared an Indian was a person. What had led up to this trial?

My research stalled almost immediately. Standing Bear’s testimony was the only Ponca account. In the struggle for survival, most of the tribe’s stories and traditions were lost. Who else had been on the Ponca reservation? Ministers, government agents, and soldiers came, then left with alarming speed. One report mentioned a Russian teacher. A woman with the same name taught French at Vassar around this time. Why would someone leave what must have been one of the best jobs in the US to become a missionary on a primitive Indian agency on the Dakota-Nebraska border? She would have been surrounded by people with a different skin color, different language, different culture. Their enormous needs must have overwhelmed her and their enormous faith humbled her. Just as I had experienced on my mission trips to Jamaica. I knew I'd found my heroine for Through Rushing Water.

Write what you know? Be confident of this, "that He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:5-7.


As an occupational therapist, Catherine has corrected students' pencil grasps, taught patients how to dress after hip surgery, and adapted toothbrushes for people with weak hands. On mission trips to Jamaica, she found students without pencils, patients whose broken hips hadn't been repaired, and adults without teeth. But she also found people who truly dwell in the shelter of the Most High, rest in the shadow of the Almighty, and sing praise to God, their refuge and fortress.

About Through Rushing Water
Sophia has her life all planned out—but her plan didn’t include being jilted or ending up in Dakota Territory.

Sophia Makinoff is certain 1876 is the year that she’ll become the wife of a certain US Congressman, and happily plans her debut into the Capitol city. But when he proposes to her roommate instead, Sophia is stunned. Hoping to flee her heartache and humiliation, she signs up with the Board of Foreign Missions.

With dreams of a romantic posting to the Far East, Sophia is dismayed to find she’s being sent to the Ponca Indian Agency in the bleak Dakota Territory. She can’t even run away effectively and begins to wonder how on earth she’ll be able to guide others as a missionary. But teaching the Ponca children provides her with a joy she has never known—and never expected—and ignites in her a passion for the people she’s sent to serve.

It’s a passion shared by the Agency carpenter, Willoughby Dunn, a man whose integrity and selflessness are unmatched. The Poncas are barely surviving. When US policy decrees that they be uprooted from their land and marched hundreds of miles away in the middle of winter, Sophia and Will wade into rushing waters to fight for their friends, their love, and their destiny.

3 comments:

  1. GOOD ADVICE,CATHERINE....
    ALTHOUGH ONE LEARNS A LOT DOING RESEARCH, IT WOULD BE HARD WITHOUT SOME KNOWLEDGE TO JUMP IN WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD...IT WOULD LIMIT MUCH DESCRIPTION, NOT HAVING BEEN THERE. YET YOUR BOOK LOOKS GREAT!YOU GOT YOUR GROOVE BACK.... :)

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  2. Thank you for this. All three of my books were about historical settings I knew nothing about! At times I felt like I was lost and floundering, but like you, God gently guided me to each next step of research. It's fun to see Him come through in that way. Thanks for the reminder to trust in Him and not "what we know." God bless.

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  3. Diane, I hope I didn't imply Through Rushing Water involved no research. I did plenty of research, but it was much more focused. The setting of the story is only a few hours from home, so I did visit. And Thomas Nelson used the photos I took for the background of the cover.
    Ocieanna, Learning about new old places is so much fun - sometimes it's hard to stop researching and get back to writing! I hope when we get to Heaven, we'll find out how close we were to the actual history. In the meantime, so glad to be telling His story!

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