Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Trials and Tribulations of Writing Historical Fiction



I'm not complaining mind you. I enjoy writing and telling stories. The problem with something like, Leatherjacket Soldier, the story of Don Fernando, is keeping as close to history as possible.

The fictional situations and interactions are fun to create. But they still must remain within the framework of reality.

So, what do you do when the actual history is sketchy.

Let me give you some examples.

There are brief references to Fernando being born in 1725 in Compostela, Nayarit, Mexico. We learn a bit about his father, mother, brothers, sisters and his betrothed. But little else.

What was the color of his hair? His eyes? How tall was he? The only picture or description of him is what you see above? I have lots of descriptions of the Jesuits but nothing about him.

And, until one has done a lot of nosing around, you would never know what an important part his hometown plays in California history – both Upper and Lower. Seems Compostela is where all the sailors lived who plied the waters of western Mexico to include carrying supplies to the Jesuit missions. They also sailed the ships that later carried part of the expedition to the site of San Diego.

We next learn he is in California in 1742 on the rolls as a common soldier who is sent to the squadron of the south. How did he get there? He is quickly promoted as by 1745 he is a sergeant. How did that happen? And then, out of nowhere comes the references of Don Fernando being elevated from sergeant to captain, commandant, and governor. We learn that the Father Inspector of California writes to the viceroy of his promoting Rivera and why. Doesn't even discuss that Rivera was in the south at the time of the decision. And he isn't confirmed until July 1752. He then serves faithfully for 15 years and we learn he is replaced as governor by Gaspar Portolá.

So, filling in the holes is fun. Fleshing out limited information and making it an interesting story.

But, here comes the rub. The story MUST be accurate and that means hours and hours of research, trying to find everything possible to fill in the holes.

At a little over 121,000 words (My guess is that's going to be about one-third of the novel ☺☺☺☺☺☺☺), I reached the point where he receives confirmation of his appointment from the King. There was a brief mention of an expedition he took with Father Consag to explore California north of the last mission in 1751 with another in 1753.

So, guess what? A well-meaning friend directs me to “an interesting read,” The Life and Works of the Reverend Ferdinand Konscak, S.J. 1703 — 1759 an early missionary in California. He also casually mentions it contains information on the various expeditions conducted by Consag (the most common version of his name) of California.

The first one in 1746 doesn't concern me as Rivera was a common soldier in the south. But the second one...it includes a very detailed, day-by-day account of the expedition of 1751! In which the commander is casually listed as Captain Rivera. Great. Just what I need – AFTER writing to a later time!!! And, there are only 10 vague references to Rivera during the period from 22 May to July 5th. That's it. 10 vague references to the man who basically lead the expedition and was responsible for the Jesuit's safety.

The Jesuits said very little about their military escorts, as though they were beneath their station in life.

Uh, back to my whining.

So now I have to go back and entirely rewrite the chapters about 1751 to include the details of that expedition.

Gee. Thanks friend.

But, care to know something? In spite of that, it's fun. Because now I can add some real details to the story about Captain Rivera that isn't generally available to the public. It will make it more realistic and can give the readers something only available in the novel.

Another great story to tell.

So, back to writing.