In which I relive Valley Forge – briefly!

I am just about finished with FORGE (well, this draft, at least). A small part of my lifestyle already mimics the late 18th century: heating my cottage (and our house) with wood instead of electricity or fossil fuel. I grow a lot of food in the garden. I have been known to scratch out pages of notes with a quill and ink. (However I am not crazy enough to give up my computer for writing.)

Last fall I cooked a squash over an open fire for a scene in my book that is based on one of the experiences of Private Joseph Plumb Martin. Performing the task as he did was really important for getting the scene right. I’ve tried to do that with a number of scenes in the book.

(Remind me, please, to write a book about an upper glass girl who lives in Paris in 1910. No risk of frostbite researching that one!)

Most of FORGE takes place in Valley Forge; my story does not shy away from the physical challenges of that encampment. That winter (1777-1778) was not the coldest winter of the war, not at all. But the department of the Commissary was in total disarray, the supply lines were nonexistent, and the Congress – which had been formed to fight a war which everyone thought would take a few months at best – was unprepared to coordinate the purchase and delivery of food, clothing, blankets, soap, and medical supplies for 11,000 soldiers.

Which is why Valley Forge was hell. The soldiers went through several periods of having little or nothing to eat. Many of them were wearing rags. Some lacked shirts. Others lacked jackets. Some had to wear blankets because their pants had fallen apart. Many had no shoes or boots.

Which brings me to this morning’s experiment. It was 13 degrees outside. We had a fresh couple of inches of snow two days ago. It was time for me to step back into time.

 I am wearing garb that is as close to Rev War-era as my closet would allow: a linen shirt that I wear to Renaissance Faires, my husband’s Renn Faire britches, hand-knit wool stockings, a scarf, knit cap, knit gloves and a thin wool blanket. No boots. The fact that my clothing was not torn, muddied, or crawling with various insect life, makes this barely authentic, but I didn’t want anyone calling the authorities because a half-dressed crazy woman was walking in the snow.

It sure felt authentic to my feet. I walked up to the cottage to get my hatchet. I planned on then walking to the mailbox (a little more than a tenth of a mile), get the mail, head back to the house and split some wood (with an axe, not the hatchet) because I needed the wood anyway.

Ha. I am a weenie. I have cowardly feet.

After fetching the hatchet, I managed a couple hundred paces and then my feet quit in protest. At first they went numb, which wasn’t so bad, but then they were in wicked pain. I knew if I kept going they would go numb again, which made the prospect tempting, but I figured my health insurance company would deny my claim for frostbite treatment on account of stupidity. We bagged the mailbox walk and the wood chopping and settled for a few paces in the snow for the benefit of the camera.

I am typing this an hour and a half after I came back inside. My feet still hurt.

I continue to be in awe of the soldiers and the women (and children) who survived that winter at Valley Forge.

Off to heap more wood on the fire now!

19 Replies to “In which I relive Valley Forge – briefly!”

  1. Wow! You are awe-inspiring! This experiment/experience will give you the knowledge to fill your book with those specific little details – the sensory data – that takes a book from good to great!

  2. I am in awe.

    Also, I have the sudden urge to line every piece of clothing my winter protagonist owns with fur, and all of mine as well.

  3. In Admiration

    So happy to have found your blog. I am in awe of the fact that you attempted this. I am such a wimp. I don’t think I could have attempted doing that. What great details you should be able to add to your book now.
    ~Lindsey

  4. Now that’s what I call dedication to getting the details right. Wow! I look forward to seeing how that experience appears in your book. I hope for your feet’s sake that someday you’ll write a book set on a tropical island, and have to, you know, do research on walking barefoot through the sand. 😉

  5. Cant wait to read it!! I just ordered Chains from Scholastic and can’t wait to get it in the mail!! You are truly inspiring to a new writer!!

  6. You are a brave, brave woman.

    I’m excited to read what influence this experience has on your work. It’s really fun for us (i.e. “the fans”) to watch your progress. While reading a particularly poignant sensory description of the soldiers’ freezing feet, I can say, “yep, I know where that came from.”

    I just started Fever 1793 today, and I am really loving it! In college, I double majored in English and American Studies, so this is right up my alley. I truly enjoy seeing American history from your perspective. Thank you for taking it on 🙂

  7. Wow. That is impressive dedication!

    (The few times I’ve run outside barefoot in the snow was possibly to fetch the mail or, at one point, rescue a kitten who had snuck outside. But that was, like, just a minute and it was cold. I’m in awe you did this intentionally for research. 😀 *salutes you*)

  8. I don’t know many people who would be that dedicated. Wow. Just reading about it and seeing the pictures made me want to shiver. Brrr.
    I can’t WAIT to read your book! I am a huge history buff and the Revolutionary War is my favorite period to study. (I’ve read Joseph Martin’s memoir, by the way! It’s great! I loved the flying squirrel incident. *guffaw*)

  9. Dedication! I love the authenticity in your historical novels, especially after hearing a story like this.

    (I’ll be eagerly awaiting the 1910 upper-class Parisian girl novel)

  10. So many of them went without shoes, or with ill-fitting shoes. And some of them didn’t have the benefit of a wool blanket. What a mess. And how clever of you to reenact things – although I’m glad you stopped when you did.

  11. Speak

    Okay, so I know this post is not exactly going along with your Valley Forge endeavors, but I just read Speak and it is absolutely amazing. I believe everyone should read this novel. It is a reminder of what many teenagers go through on a daily bases and how they are over looked. I can’t wait to read the rest of your work.

  12. It always amazes me how far authors will go to authenticate their writing!
    I just finished reading your book Speak and I have to say it was wonderful. It really spoke to me and reminded me of some troubled times in my own past. But it also taught me something about myself: I’m stronger than I think!
    Your post here makes me wonder what kinds of experiments and experiences you tried while writing Speak. I can only imagine.
    Thank you for your wonderful works! I can’t wait to read more of them!

  13. The reason that your novels will remain successful is the very real, almost tangible qualities of the characters. After reading Speak for an adolescent literature class, and reading this post about Forge, I marvel at your willingness to become one with your writing, and not to gloss over the painful parts of life, whether they be physical or emotional pain. I am happy to happened onto your blog, as a student, as well as one who dabbles in writing and drowns in reading.

  14. Oh yikes, you are brave! We have freezing weather here and I’ve been staying inside or only venturing out to indoor places.
    Forge sounds like it will be great, I love Colonial-set historical fiction. Years ago I loved the Dear America book about Valley Forge.

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