I want to thank Petticoats and Pistols for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to share with all of you. This is a favorite site of mine and blogging with you here is beyond exciting!
This week, my second novel, Choices, was released. Set at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory in 1876, it tells the story of a rebellious officer’s daughter, an honorable enlisted man, and a forbidden relationship.
Twenty odd years ago, when my late husband, Tim, and I were first married, we shared an avid interest in living history. He was an archaeologist, I was a history teacher, and we were both passionate about the American West. He created the persona of a soldier-a private-and I was a governess. Both of us spent scores of hours researching the period: the army, etiquette and social rules, nineteenth century dress; and how our characters fit within it. At the same time, Tim was also the project manager of the Fort Randall Archaeological Project. We lived and breathed Fort Randall for over two years.
Choices flowed out of that. The facts were swimming around in my head, mingling constantly into different storylines (that happens a lot with facts in my head). They begged for characters to play them out and for the words to be written down.
The nineteenth century army had rigid sets of rules for being a soldier and complex social codes for how officers, enlisted men, and their women were permitted (or not permitted) to interact. I was amazed at how stratified society was at these western outposts and at how thoroughly officer’s wives observed those social norms. Memoirs, scholarly studies, and the notations left by army personnel all speak to the separation of classes—as defined by rank.
But even more amazing were the exceptions. Though officers’ wives were socially superior to enlisted men’s wives, they were not officially recognized by the army. In fact, they were considered camp followers, in the same category as prostitutes who might do business just off the military reservation (their places of business were nicknamed “hog ranches”) and were allowed only at the sufferance of the commanding officer. Laundresses, who were often wives of enlisted men, were official civilian contractors with corresponding army regulations detailing their rights to be there.
On most posts, lifestyles of the enlisted and officer classes were narrowly defined and very separate. A few diaries and memoirs offer glimpses into occasional relaxation of those barriers, most often for an all-post holiday celebration or when there was an unusual crisis.
I wanted to share all this but also to present a story about choices, about how we all choose who we are going to be in terms of relationships with others. Miriam, my heroine, confronts rules and regulations head-on and resists them every step of the way while she seeks ways to cross the lines. I introduced her rigid and domineering mother, Harriet, to bring pressure on her to toe the line and to personify the exclusionary nature of society. Lt. Wood is representative of expectations. Mixed in is the culture of the army, Harriet’s addiction to laudanum, Jake’s honor, the laundress’s common-sense outlook on life, and Major Longstreet’s predicament of his own making.
I hope you will find the story and fun to read as I found it to write and that my characters reveal the subtleties involved in the choices that face us all.
I’ve enjoyed our time together. Please visit me on my website at www.pamelanowak.com.
To celebrate the release of Choices, Pam will be giving a copy to one of today’s blog participants.