Write That Novel

Part 1: Inspiration and Introduction

This is part 1 of 6 in a series called "Write that Novel," where I share my experiences with the process of writing my debut novel from conception to finished manuscript.  It's certainly not a definitive guide since it is currently unpublished but it is an honest approach.  Under ordinary circumstances, I don't think I would have included an introduction but since it is historical fiction and dealing with a popular legend in New Hampshire folklore, I wanted to give the reader some context and share my inspiration for the project.  Here it is:

A memory can be so vivid it becomes a place you can travel at will. Some days the details blur and others the images are so crisp it invokes the emotion that made it worth remembering in the first place. Mount Chocorua has such a memory for me. Arctic air flowed from the northwest over the evergreens on this particular winter day. Grandpa Tinker and I were standing in the middle of Chocorua Lake with our ice fishing tip-ups set. He was wearing his woolen red and black hunting jacket with an orange hoody underneath. Beneath that layer, a cotton navy pullover with a button at the top. 

After eating his second breakfast, Grandpa Tinker reached down for an old orange five-gallon pail to sit and jig a rainbow trout out of the hole. He was no more than ten feet in front of me. I can see his weathered face, his rectangular glasses rounded at the corners and his wool hat with the same matching red and black pattern as his jacket. He had his own rhythmic bobbing motion that consistently caught fish.

After a moment of silence, his head turned toward Mount Chocorua that loomed over the mouth of the lake. The round granite crag with all its exposed fissures seemed so barren and formidable in winter. When he noticed I was watching, he used to say, “Handsome country, isn’t it? That right there is God’s country.” There was always a long pause of silence as if he were inhaling the view; it almost seemed to recharge his battery to look at it. From that point on the storytelling began.

Grandpa Tinker spun vivid tales from his eighty years traversing the mountains of the Sandwich and Ossipee Ranges. From the time he was a young boy in the logging camps with his father to exploring the caves and bogs around Mount Paugus, he spoke of charging bears, mythical bucks and unknown creatures lurking in deep mountain shadows. It is with that sense of wonder and spirit of storytelling that I sought to imagine the life the Campbells and Chocorua faced on the frontier in 1722. Millions of tourists have traveled by the roadside sign on New Hampshire’s Route 16 that gives a brief description of his legend:  

Chocorua, a Pequawket Chief, left his son in the care of a nearby settler, Cornelius Campbell. Upon his return, he finds his son dead and avenges him with the murder of Cornelius’s family. Chocorua is then hunted up the mountainside where varying versions say that he is shot or leaps to his death but not before placing a curse on the surrounding countryside.

Whether Chocorua existed or not is debatable though the tragedy is celebrated in poems and oral accounts with the majestic lake and mountain named in his honor. The period Chocorua was thought to live in the early eighteenth century.  In my research of town histories, poems and stories relating to Chocorua’s legend, it became clear that there would be little if any factual evidence due to the fact that most Native American history was orally passed from generation to generation during this period.  Instead, I focused on Cornelius Campbell, a Scottish pioneer at the center of the legend.  The only mention of a Cornelius Campbell in the Massachusetts Bay Colony or New Hampshire Province I could find was a marriage record in Boston dated September 17, 1718, to Ms. Eliza Short.  It was a single line from a book entitled Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America published by Charles Knowles Bolton in 1910. Although it’s a stretch to say this is the same man, it is not difficult to imagine the reasons they came to the unforgiving New England Frontier were not similar.

  My approach to building the narrative of the Campbell family and their interactions with Chocorua began on a simple premise. To find the cultural and historical climate that they faced and piece together a fictional story that ties in with Chocorua’s legend.   This led me to an alternate account of the legend as we know it. 

Many of the locations, underlying tensions, and events referenced in the story are inspired by real events that took place in the New Hampshire Province during that time period, while others, such as, the Battle of Deer Run Ravine are pure fantasy based off a century-old feud with the Mohawks of the Iroquois Confederacy. It is fair to say that I took liberty with the chronology of events to convey the social, political and religious context of the period within the condensed timeframe of the story.

The word “Abenaki” used throughout the story, is derived from Wôbanaki which means “land or country from the east or people from where the daylight comes,” and refers to the Algonquin speaking peoples of the Northeastern United States which include the various regional and local communities.  For the sake of consistency, Abenakis language used in the novel comes from the New Familiar Abenakis and English Dialogues published by Joseph Laurent, Abenakis sôgmô of the Indian Village of St. Francis, published in 1884.  A list of resources that shaped the historical and cultural context for the period are included in my acknowledgments.