My name is Gretchen Jeannette, and I love to write about 18th Century America. Growing up in an area rich in Revolutionary War history, I developed a particular fascination with the legends, heroes and lifestyles of that era. I read every novel on the subject I could lay my hands on. I was fortunate in that my mother encouraged me to read as much as possible, with an eye toward someday writing my own stories. Early on I discovered that most of what I learned in school about the American Revolution was not only riddled with inaccuracies but also biased. Ironically I found more truth and realism in historical fiction, like the well‑researched novels of Dale Van Every and Allan Eckert, whose timeless tales of adventure, action and romance fired my imagination. The legendary heroes and heroines portrayed in those works were remarkable human beings, though they had faults and failings just like the rest of us. And that, I believe, is how they deserve to be remembered—as ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Creating a fictional hero is an altogether different undertaking, a serious one in my book. I find the most compelling heroes to be likeable yet controversial, tarnished yet ethical, charismatic yet down-to-earth. My favorite protagonists have no qualms about venturing into the gray area between right and wrong. Bringing to life a multi-dimensional individual is always a challenge, but once a personality begins to take form the reward can be palpable. Most rewarding of all is the freedom to weave my characters’ lives into the fabric of history, to have their actions and deeds influence true events in thrilling but credible ways. Imagine saving George Washington from a would-be assassin, or serving alongside General “Mad Anthony” Wayne in the heat of battle, or rubbing shoulders with the likes of Benjamin Franklin at the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall). When a reviewer wrote that my book The Devil Take Tomorrow “serves as something of a time machine, transporting the reader back 18th century Philadelphia,” I knew I had hit that elusive sweet spot of realism.
For me, after character development the most important aspect of writing historical fiction is believability. And the best way I know to authenticate my stories is with research, research, and more research. I’ve been told by family and friends that my attention to detail borders on obsessive. To that I say, “Thanks for the compliment.” Nothing matters more to me than accuracy. And nothing will disappoint a discriminating reader more than plunging into a novel with a terrific premise and interesting characters, only to have the experience ruined by historical errors that could easily have been fact-checked. Most readers have a hard enough time suspending their disbelief. I figure the least an author can do for his or her readership is to eliminate mistakes that can disrupt a story’s flow and undermine plausibility.
Which brings up another critical area—editing and proofreading. I don’t know about you, but I get frustrated when I see an author use “there” instead of “their,” “it’s” instead of the possessive “its,” “affect” instead of “effect.” You might write a wonderful story only to have it panned for containing too many grammatical errors. Unless you’re a trained editor, consider investing in professional assistance to polish your book. If you can’t afford to do that, perhaps you and a fellow author could edit each other’s books. While I like to perform at least one edit of my own work, ultimately I rely on my brother-in-law, a retired English teacher, to help fine-tune the finished product. As for proofreading for spelling errors, missing words, etc., never rely on yourself. Because the story came from you, in many cases your mind’s eye sees what should be there instead of what really is there.
How many times have you written a sentence you deemed absolutely perfect? So perfect, in fact, that you construct an entire paragraph around that one sentence, and then try to make it fit into your storyline. I don’t go by many rules, but here’s one I like: don’t fall in love with your words. If you find yourself struggling to manipulate a sentence or a paragraph into your chapter, then it doesn’t belong there. Delete it and move on. If you can’t bear to let it go, create a file for orphaned phrases and the like. I keep a “Notes” file for whatever project I’m working on, full of colorful expressions, historic tidbits, discarded paragraphs, even whole chapters that might prove useful down the road.
And finally…the allure of romance. I don’t mean the gratuitous kind but an infusion of romance to enhance a story. Nothing is more moving or exciting than a man rescuing the woman he loves, or a woman risking her life for her lover. I believe the hope of every soul is to encounter romance and adventure, and so you will always find these elements entwined in my stories.
My goal as an author is to bring to others the same captivating reading experiences I enjoyed in my youth. To that end, I’ve published two historical novels on Amazon—The Devil Take Tomorrow and A Devil of a Time—and I’m currently working on a third novel, This Day is Ours. The work is challenging and often tedious, the hours long, but will adversity discourage me? Never. Come what may I’ll continue to write because I can’t stop, because writing is in my blood, because the blank page keeps calling to me.
And when you write what you love, someone else just might love what you write!