You know how I wrote about perspective on Monday? All that stuff about not being a bigoted jerk when you’re writing a story, and understanding where other people are coming from?
Well, it’s probably only fair to admit that I’m struggling to take my own advice in the first draft of my latest novel. Essentially, I’m being a bit of a bigoted jerk myself.
How so? That’s a bit of a story in and of itself considering that Proving America is historical fiction about the War of 1812. And, like most wars, there’s a lot more to this conflict than the history books tell.
Proving America, the third and final book in the Founding America series, centers around Ashley Slasen, a lieutenant in the disastrously disorganized U.S. Army in 1814. Knowing full-well how incompetent so many of his superiors are, Ashley is nonetheless propelled into the Battle of Bladensburg, Maryland, against an invading British force that ends up marching victoriously on to D.C., where it burns down the White House, Congress and other government buildings.
Oh yeah, and Ashley gets taken prisoner too. All in a day’s work for an officer caught up in his first battle.
Shuttled off to a makeshift prison ship in the Chesapeake Bay, Ashley ends up watching the attack on Baltimore’s Fort McHenry – right next to Francis Scott Key as he’s inspired to write the Star-Spangled Banner.
Now, I did 3+ months of research on this story, so I have a pretty good grasp of how the War of 1812 started. Essentially, Britain was terrified that France’s Napoleon would try to conquer the world, and with good reason considering how France's Napoleon wanted to do exactly that. In order to combat the self-proclaimed emperor, the British crown began enlisting any one-ups it could get, including kidnapping its own nautically-minded citizens to force them into the British navy.
The way it looked at the situation, since Americans and Brits all looked alike anyway, why not kidnap American sailors too?
There were also a bunch of economic sanctions and rather ridiculous rules the country forced down America’s throat even though America wasn’t part of the war yet. And this went on for years and years and years.
The whole kafuffle was one of those classic wrong actions for the right reasons – which doesn’t make it right. But it does make it a bit more understandable.
As for America, yeah, we were the wronged party. But that didn’t make us completely right either. In fact, we were being downright stupid on our end of the chaos.
While we first tried to negotiate like civilized people, we then switch to applying our own economic sanctions that hurt us a heck of a lot more than Britain. Yet we kept applying those sanctions anyway.
Why? Because Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were pro-France Democrat-Republicans who didn’t like the pro-British Federalists (and vice versa), and therefore did everything they could to not take the opposition’s advice – just as their opposition hadn’t taken their advice when positions were reversed.
Finally, an indecent decade after hostilities began, Madison declared war way before America was strategically ready.
So clearly, there’s a lot to criticize all around. I’m not so patriotic that I can’t see that.
Apparently I am so patriotic, however, that I’m having a really hard time trying to depict the situation as it was instead of how I feel it was. In other words, I want to portray almost all my British characters in a bad light even though that’s ridiculously inaccurate.
I could try to blame my apparent bigotry on the real-life British characters Rear Admiral George Cockburn – one of the most obnoxious individuals to ever breathe – and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, one of the most bitter people to ever breathe.
Certainly, both of them had no problem displaying their bigotries.
But that doesn’t mean they should be inspiring me to follow in their footsteps, no matter how much they grate on my nerves. That’s something I’m very well aware of. So I do intend on taking out as much of my bias as possible in the final manuscript before it gets published.
Which means I’m going to have to do a whole lot of revising on my first draft.
Maybe that extra work will teach me not to be a bigoted jerk in the first place.