I’m working on my first historical fiction novel, tentatively entitled The Jigonsaseh. It takes place in 1687 in New France and New York and involves interaction between the Iroquois and the French and their allied Indians.
What’s happened, which I love, and which I think is one of those almost inexplicable attributes of the creative process, is that a secondary character has turned into a player.
In real life, a young man named Baron de Lahontan was present at almost all the major events I’ll be covering: a failed campaign against the Iroquois by Governor LaBarre, followed by almost epic warfare between Governor Denonville and the Iroquois (the Iroquois eventually won that round, led by an Iroquois woman, the Jigonsaseh). Lahontan spoke Algonquin fluently, having spent all his winters hunting moose from his post at Boucherville instead of working; some years later, after a fallout with Governor of Placentia, he deserted and was charged.
He was 17 when he arrived in Canada; he was idealistic, impressionable, and outspoken. He also was critical of the church, which makes him something of a renegade for the time.
He was one of the subsidiary characters when I started writing but there was something about this young man’s energy and insouciance that appealed to me. I decided to put him on trial in an inquisition that takes place after the events I’m writing about, and let him tell the story. At various times as it unfolds, he is questioned by the arbitration panel appointed by the King of France, which lets me have him explain some of the cultural differences between the Iroquois and the French.
As soon as I gave him a voice, the story “clicked,” and now it’s practically writing itself. This is one I’m really excited about; can’t wait to see how it all turns out.