Back when I was age 14, my then guy school friends were reading the likes of The Lord of the Rings. I was not into “sci-fi” and “fantasy.” In my free time, I found myself reading – I don’t recall now how I stumbled across it; I think it was mentioned in a history or English class in school – my first “adult” novel: American novelist James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826-published, The Last of the Mohicans:
My favorite woman character in any book (not written by me – LOL!) remains “Cora Munro.” From the start of the novel, she – written as white she is revealed also to be partly Black (“descended remotely”) through her mother’s West Indian heritage – is established as a lady not to be messed around with. Example, this early line Cooper wrote below:
Given that was written about “1757” looking back from the real 1826, if you think about it that is rather a revolutionary statement on race to have placed into her mouth.
I will never forget my mother first seeing me reading the book. I remember she asked if I was enjoying it. As if being a concerned mom, she then warned me that the ending might surprise me.
And later when I got to it, that ending sure did. As a teen it actually rather upset me… although I did not want anyone (and certainly not my mother) to know that. If a writer manages to invoke that reaction in a reader, he or she has accomplished something profound. (The 1992 film adaptation starring Daniel Day-Lewis was excellent… as a film. But be warned: NEVER cite that film as “the book” because the ending in particular is vastly different than the novel’s conclusion.)
Wikipedia also cites this many years’ after publication recollection of Cooper’s:
Re-reading the book in his later years, Cooper noted some inconsistencies of plot and characterization, particularly the character of [Colonel] Munro. But, he wrote that in general, “the book must needs have some interest for the reader since it could amuse even the writer, who had in a great measure forgotten the details of his work.”
Any writer can understand the latter feeling. When I re-read what I wrote years ago, often I realize I had FORGOTTEN quite a lot of it. It is sometimes like reading a “new” book… and I may even find myself thinking both good and bad about it. (“Did I actually write THAT? Wow, that’s great! Uh, no, did I write that, too? Geez, that could have been written differently.”) LOL!
That Cooper novel – and it is a controversial one in some ways, of course (note the word “savages,” for instance, used by a character) – made a huge impact on me as a teen. That has I suppose stayed with me since. Currently, I own three copies of it: One hardcover over in America, that paperback above here in England, and a Kindle version.
As I think about this also now, I am sure it influenced me in some ways as to my fiction set in that same general 1770-1820. For one, “my women” of “then” are not “superheroine” nonsense utterly out of place in that era. Like “Cora” they are similarly and realistically of that time AND often decidedly “not to be messed around with”…
…and so I suppose “they” have in a way “Cora” to thank for being who “they” are.
Don’t think an author does not get attached to their own characters either. Those three novels took me over 6 years to write in total: I started writing Conventions: The Garden At Paris in 2016 – a few months after my mother’s death (and you can see how her death ended up influencing some of the story and that was my intent as well). Six years is a relatively long time – longer, honestly, if we think on it, than most real relationships and even some marriages.
Indeed, a marriage in Conventions led to the existence of that by now young adult lady above who becomes increasingly important in that third and final volume. I like to think that latest one, which features several major characters from the previous two novels, as well as several prominent new characters, is a fitting “capstone” to the tale.
What next? Yes, I have a new book idea vaguely in mind – also set in the 1800s. At some point that writing – new characters, new locations, and lots of new generally – will start.
I’ll let you know.
For now, it is a “sabbatical” from the keyboard. Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂