Western History Redux

Photographers shooting pictures from the Civil War memorial statue in front of the Capitol Building. Courtesy Denver Public Library Western History Collection:

The last time I wrote here it was just before the election and I was preparing for a book talk scheduled to take place just afterward. I imagined focussing on the incendiary nature of the campaign, its similarities to 1850s America, and that I would try and introduce a note of reconciliation.

I couldn’t do it.

That night in Lyons there were protests on the tv screens in the restaurant where the talk was held. It was a sizable audience, and I could feel a mix of anger, shock, and exhaustion among them. At the last moment I changed my mind and decided to simply talk about the history such as we understand it, and let people draw their own conclusions. Tones of reconciliation just didn’t feel right that night. They still don’t to me, to be honest.

Since then, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write a guest blog post at the Denver Public Library’s Western History site. Here, I decided to write about that division in American society, the importance of civil discourse, but also the importance of civil disobedience in the face of injustice.

Really, this is what my novels are all about: when do we speak out? When do we reconcile? Is violence ever the answer?

My emphathy for those living in Territorial Kansas only grows as this decade marches on. I hope we find a way to understand our history so we can learn from it, but it certainly feels like we are repeating much of it just now.

Election Day and Book Talks

lyonsIt’s sort of odd talking about historical novels set in the 1850s so close to the 2016 election. Unfortunately, the similarities in the tone of political discourse are all too obvious. Which is concerning, to put it midlly. Americans in the 1850s accused one another of having hatred in the hearts, being un-American, and being deplorable sub-human rapists and monsters. And I think the people of the 1860s would say this to us: “Don’t go down that road.”

I don’t mean to say the persistence of slavery would have been preferable to the war. It would not have been. I only mean to say that I believe there is always a non-violent solution to conflict. Perhaps if Americans engaged one another in a more constructive way in the 1850s–indeed, before that as well–John Brown would have been wrong in saying the only way our sins could be purged was with blood. Perhaps he was yet, in fact.

Whatever happens today, it’s imperative we begin to change the way we speak about and to one another. We must re-learn how to engage as human beings first, Americans second, and members of political parties third, if at all.

I spoke about this on Saturday at the Denver Public Library, and will do so again tomorrow night in Lyons.

I hope you’ll join me. 

Some Thoughts on Recent Events in Historical Context

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Black Lives Movement and its relationship to history. It’s somewhat unavoidable to see correlatives between 2016 and 1856.

It’s easy to blame on a “bad” few police officers or district attorneys. But as the Songs attempt to convey, the truth is we live in a deeply divided and inequitable society. Our divisions reach back centuries, and though we continue to progress, these divisions are exposed when we are under stress as a nation. 400 years of brutal enslavement has consequences. (And so does an obsession with firearms and another generation of negligent lawmakers.)

Now is a time for us to be humble and courageous. To face our faults. As we have before. And as we will again. And again. A long road lays before us.  I think it’s worth noting that few societies in history have faced such huge challenges in part because so few have been, at the same time, so open. And even fewer have faced them as bravely as we have. As we must. This is the the unique irony of America.

There is good research on this where I work at the University of Colorado. Officers must make split second decisions under incredible stress.  Training informs them. But also fear and the fact they have been socialized by a divided society. As we all have. They must be prosecuted swiftly and harshly. But demonizing them excuses the rest of us.  There’s more we can do.

I, for example, want my son, as a white man, to understand this, and to be mindful of our values of universal love, forgiveness, and non-violence when he makes decisions. To recognize the racism and sexism he is indoctrinated into, so they do not make decisions for him. We are proud of our ancestry–Irish, German, Scots, Greeks–fleeing poverty, war, starvation, and oppression. Working hard and building a better life for me and him. But at the cost of others. Indirectly perhaps. Unintentionally perhaps. But we must recognize it, and be humble enough to see: he and I, we are privileged.

And that he, and I, are also blessed with a unique opportunity to change this, one white guy, one moment, at a time. We don’t want to see our black brothers and sisters, or our civil servants, die this way. It shames us. We grieve for them.

I try and convey this in my book talks, and I think it’s really what the jayhawk and its later manifestations in these novels–indeed, the novels themselves–suggest: to be aware of the beasts in the darkness, so we don’t blindly follow them.

We have another moment to do that right now in this country. To peer into the deep fault lines running across our society, and in seeing them, continue bridging them. As long as we keep doing that, we’re fine. But I shudder to think of what happens when we don’t.

Book Talks

Heart of Denver Romance Writers

I had a great time last week speaking to the CU Friends of the Libraries! Looking forward to Saturday with the Heart of Denver Romance Writers.

I’ve really started to enjoy these talks, both book talks and speaking to writers in a more workshop-like format. I’ve gotten to do a few book clubs too.

If you’re interested in having me speak, whether at a library or bookstore about my books, with your book club, or with your writers group about my research and writing process, please contact me.

 

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

I had a great time earlier this month doing a workshop for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers on historical fiction. I bared all, admitting I’m not afraid to be sued! Though I kinda am…Capture

There was at least one Broncos shirt in the audience. Being the day before the SuperBowl, that made me really happy. The day of the game, of course, I was elated.

In any event, there were so many wonderful questions we didn’t get to the group exercise I had planned. Which is fine, of course. It’s been a while since I was able to engage with so many writers. I learned more from them than they did from me, I’m quite certain.

Looking forward to doing more of this in the future!