Guest Post: Sarah Chorn on Character Inspiration

Guest Post

Please welcome Sarah Chorn, author Seraphina’s Lament to Off The TBR. Her second novel Of Honey And Wildfires releases Tuesday, April 28, 2020.

Of Honey and Wildfires

“From the moment the first settler dug a well and struck a lode of shine, the world changed. Now, everything revolves around that magical oil.

What began as a simple scouting expedition becomes a life-changing ordeal for Arlen Esco. The son of a powerful mogul, Arlen is kidnapped and forced to confront uncomfortable truths his father has kept hidden. In his hands lies a decision that will determine the fate of everyone he loves—and impact the lives of every person in Shine Territory.

The daughter of an infamous saboteur and outlaw, Cassandra has her own dangerous secrets to protect. When the lives of those she loves are threatened, she realizes that she is uniquely placed to change the balance of power in Shine Territory once and for all.

Secrets breed more secrets. Somehow, Arlen and Cassandra must find their own truths in the middle of a garden of lies.” – Goodreads blurb

Today Sarah joins us to discuss the inspiration for Cassandra, one of the protagonists in Of Honey And Wildfires, and how real history and setting can influence character choice; How the real life struggles and human limitations of historical persons can prompt characterization and character development; And how the desire to fill in the gaps of historical narrative can spark the creative imagination.

Possibly the earliest image of Kit Carson.

If you say the name “Kit Carson” out here in the west, there aren’t many people who won’t at least register the name. Kit Carson is a historical figure who, at least in my neck of the woods, is larger than life. 

Whether you think of him as a murderer, criminal, or Wild West hero, chances are, you’ve heard of him.

He worked for the army, he was a mountain man, fur trader, trapper, hunter, and worked as a liaison with many Native Americans. He hit the open road as a teenager and never looked back. He was instrumental in a lot of the things that happened in the great drive west in the United States

Kit Carson moved west as a boy along with his family. Eventually settling in Missouri, Carson’s father died when he was clearing a field and a tree branch fell on him. This left Kit, the eldest son of a large family, someone at odd ends. He ended up becoming an apprenticed to a saddler in Franklin, Missouri. The work did not suit him, and he hit the Santa Fe trail. 

It was during this time of his life that he was introduced to the great wide west and his ability to wander through it must have been intoxicating. Meeting up with a bunch of mountain men, he learned how to hunt and trap with them, and eventually made his way to a rendezvous, wherein he met his first wife, an Arapaho woman named Waa-nibe (Different sources spell this name different ways, so I kind of just picked one spelling and ran with it), which roughly translates to “Singing Grass.” 

(Note: Carson did have a wife after Singing Grass died, and before Josefa, but the marriage didn’t last long and was not happy so I don’t mention it here.)

Now, this is where sources differ, depending on who you’re reading. I am going to tell you what was said in the book Blood and Thunder, which I cannot recommend highly enough. 

Carson and Singing Grass got married (all signs point to the fact that he loved Singing Grass deeply), and they had two daughters. The eldest daughter, Adeline (nicknamed “Prairie Flower”) survived. However, his wife died shortly after the birth of his second daughter. He took his two children to Taos, New Mexico and sometime after he got down there, he realized that Adeline needed education and stability and the life of a mountain man wasn’t suited to that. He left his youngest daughter in Taos, in the care of others, and took Adeline back to Missouri to be raised with his younger sister. The way it is told in Blood and Thunder, shortly after he left Taos, his youngest daughter fell in a vat of soap while it was being made, and died. Thus, many sources you read online will say he only had one child with Singing Grass, not two. 

Anyway, Carson takes Adeline up to Missouri and eventually settles on leaving her with his sister to be raised. He bought her dresses, and cleaned her up so she would make a good first impression. After he left, heading back down to Taos, his sister said that Adeline was so wild, she would pull up plants and attempt to eat their roots and basically had no idea how to act in society.

Adeline did not live a long life. She died at 21, and if you look online, there really isn’t anyone that knows how or why, though it is assumed she died in childbirth. She is buried in California. However, even at the time, there are some people that claim that she lived longer than the plaque on her grave claims, as there was an Adeline Carson living alone in the 1860 census of Tulare County, CA, which is some years after she is claimed to have died. 

I haven’t been able to find much information about her other than speculation, so I’ll leave her story there for now. 

(I think it is important to note that even this part of her story is disputed. While I relay what information I read in the book pictured in this post, I have found numerous websites online which do not mention a second daughter born to Carson’s first wife, and this article, for example, states that Adeline was brought to MO to be raised in a Catholic boarding school, not by Carson’s sister. And in fact, the very name Adeline/Adelaide has been switched out in numerous articles as well. I’ve changed it to Adeline here, as that’s what is listed on her gravestone, but I have seen it as Adelaide several places.) 

Kit Carson, however, is very much larger than life and was even more so back then. His stories, often embellished, were featured in dime novels. His exploits were known from sea to shining sea. In Blood and Thunder, I found the small details of the man to be intoxicating. He was illiterate. He was quiet and rarely spoke in any way that gave away his personal thoughts and emotions. He was fiercely, doggedly loyal to his wife Josefa, and his children. 

Okay, so let me leave things there for now. Kit Carson is so big, so well-known, that I really don’t need to say much more than that to get to where I’m going. Which is… how does all this impact Of Honey and Wildfires

Of Honey and Wildfires is very much a family drama. The story starts out with Christopher Hobson, a single father, outlaw, and mountain man, leaving his five-year-old daughter, Cassandra, with his sister to be raised. 

Already you can see some similarities, right? They aren’t on accident. I named Christopher Hobson “Christopher” as homage to the Kit Carson who very much inspired him. There’s a bit very early on in the book where Cassandra is being discussed, and it’s said that she dug up some bushes and started to lick the roots of the plant to see if they were edible (a story that was in a letter written by Carson’s sister, quoted in Blood and Thunder.).

More difficult, though, was how hard it was for me to decide which parts of the actual Kit Carson man, and his daughter Adeline, to take and put in my development of the characters in my book. 

I like to use history as a springboard, but not as the entire basis for what I’m writing. Kit Carson was just too big, and so when I was developing Christopher Hobson, I decided to take those parts of Carson that were positively human, just small details many people overlook, and use them to make Christopher Hobson. Much like Kit Carson, Christopher Hobson cannot read. Also, much like Kit Carson, Christopher Hobson’s wife, whom he loved dearly, died in childbirth, and so now he has a five-year-old daughter and doesn’t know what to do with her, as well as all his grief, and that’s how Cassandra ends up being raised by his sister Annie, in Shine Territory. 

Christopher Hobson is also more comfortable in nature, never staying in one place too long. He’s a man of few words, and rarely goes into how he feels about a thing. He’s got his own moral compass very few people actually understand. 

All of this was inspired by Kit Carson. For me, it wasn’t as much bringing Kit Carson to life, as using the human aspects I discovered about the man to make my own character, Christopher Hobson.

Adeline Carson was a bit harder for me to work with, and she required a lot more imagination on my part. I don’t have Native Americans in my book, but the people who live in Shine Territory are different than the people who live outside of it, and Cassandra has the blood of both in her veins. She spent her childhood with a mountain man, and then ended up on the frontier, forced to learn how to live a life of dresses and school and social norms and all that. 

I imagine that Adeline very much felt like a girl with one foot in two different worlds, and I imagine that caused a lot of inner conflict and turmoil, especially at first and that’s not even considering how society must have treated her. I imagine that life on the frontier was easier for children like Adeline, though still not easy. She must have felt very torn between two different and I think that would have been very confusing and painful. That “torn” feeling, that inner conflict, the feeling of being split down the middle between two lives is something I tried to catch with Cassandra. 

I tried to bring some of that to life, though Cassandra’s situation is a bit different due to the world I’ve created and the problems surrounding this specific area. Mostly, I tried to bring some of the humanity of Kit Carson to life in both Christopher and Cassandra. I tried to take the things I envisioned any father of that time wanting for his daughter, and wanting them enough to travel to Missouri and leave her with relatives he hadn’t seen in sixteen years. I tried to show how that experience would impact a little girl, like Adeline. Like Cassandra. 

Because so little is known about Adeline, a lot of my development of Cassandra was based on what I dreamed up, based on what I knew of Kit Carson. Here was a man who’d lost his wife, a woman he’d loved. He had spent most of his life trapping, and living in the mountains, alone sometimes, with Native Americans sometimes, sometimes with other mountain men, sometimes with the US Army. He knew how to hunt and trap, he knew how to survive. He did not know much about how to raise a girl. He must have been overwhelmed with suddenly finding himself alone in the world with two daughters. Overwhelmed enough to travel to Taos, New Mexico, and then, upon realizing his eldest daughter was old enough to go to school and become a lady and him being utterly unequipped to deal with that, travel again with her to Missouri, a place he’d been gone from for sixteen years, with family he hadn’t seen in just as long. 

All of that makes me think that Kit Carson was a bit out of his depth, and desperate. Plus, in the way of all fathers, he wanted so much more for his child than he knew he could give her. Though I tell most of this story from Cassandra’s point of view, I tried very hard to put the tangled emotions from both Christopher and his daughter into her narrative.

What kind of man leaves his only child in the arms of strangers? What kind of pathetic daughter was I for being so easy to leave?  
 Of Honey and Wildfires

That’s what I tried to use when I built Cassandra. A father’s desperation, his grief, his worry, and his desire for his daughter to be something more than what he could make her, and give her opportunities he couldn’t. So, in the first chapter of the book, Christopher ends up leaving his daughter, Cassandra, with his sister, Annie, whom Cassandra had never heard of before. She lives in a cabin on the frontier, goes to school, makes friends, but life is not easy. 

There are small things I added in homage to what I know of Adeline. 

Her father cannot read, and he really wants her to learn how to, so she spends a lot of her childhood trying, very hard, to fulfill her father’s wish for her. Kit’s nickname for his daughter was “Prairie Flower” and Christopher Hobson’s nickname for Cassandra is “Little Flower.” But mostly with Cassandra, I had to imagine how hard life must have been for Adeline, the desperation of the situation, the pain of being left, the inability to fit in, no matter how hard she tried. Constantly an outsider, I think she probably had happy moments, but I also think there was a lot of pain in her life, as well.

Writing from history can be a lot of fun, but the story of Kit Carson was probably one of my biggest challenges, just due to how absolutely huge the man is in American history. For me, it’s not as much figuring out how to fit history into my writing, but figuring out which bits of history to use, and which to toss away. Writing in a secondary world gives me a lot of freedom, but it also means that carefully choosing which real-world history bits to use to infuse my world and characters, and which to leave aside, can be a real challenge, and can change the entire course of the book, for better or worse.

I tend to really enjoy the small details of history, and I usually focus on the more human aspects of the people that populate it than the bigger, more dramatic picture. Kit Carson is a good example. He was almost so big a figure he became superhuman, and I instantly knew, when I decided to use him as a basis for Christopher Hobson in Of Honey and Wildfires, that I had to do away with all the well-known aspects and focus on the man, or the book wouldn’t work. That’s why I decided to settle on the fact he couldn’t read, his dogged loyalty to his family and wife, his love for Singing Grass, the decision to leave his daughter in Missouri after his wife had died. The grief he must have felt. The desperation that must have fueled that decision. 

Adeline’s rather mysterious life was unfortunate, because I’m really interested in what it must have been like for her, the daughter of this infamous man, left with relative strangers on the frontier at such a young age. I cannot imagine any of her childhood being easy. I ended up having to imagine a whole lot about her, and then sort of building up Cassandra from the things I knew of Kit Carson, life on the frontier, and my own imaginings about the situation as a whole. 

Did I do a good job of it? I don’t know. You’ll have to decide when you read Of Honey and Wildfires.

WpWGTIM4

Sarah has been a compulsive reader her whole life. At a young age, she found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a freelance editor, author, a semi-pro nature photographer, world traveler, three-time cancer survivor, and mom to two kids. In her ideal world, she’d do nothing but drink lots of tea and read from a never-ending pile of speculative fiction books.

You can find Sarah on the following online platforms:

Web page: bookwormblues.net
Twitter: @BookwormBlues
Facebook: Facebook.com/sarah.chorn

Her books Seraphina’s Lament and the upcoming Of Honey And Wildfires can be purchased on Amazon.

SeraphinasLamentOfHoneyAndWildfires

One thought on “Guest Post: Sarah Chorn on Character Inspiration

  1. Pingback: Book Haul: July 2020 | Off The TBR

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