Puritan badass sparks a Lincoln author’s imagination
Just last week, Lincoln author Louella Bryant published her fourth historical fiction novel “Beside the Long River” with Black Rose Writing — an independent publishing house based in Texas.
“My books try to give the alternate story — which is the real story,” explained Bryant, who earned her undergrad degree from George Washington University and her MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. “This is not necessarily attractive to people who want to hide the ugliness of history.”
“Beside the Long River” is set in the early 17th century, and is based on historical people and events, including the brutal and bloody Pequot War of 1636. The story follows “Puritan teenager Sarah Lyman as she realizes the leaders of English settlements will destroy anything in the way of their expansion in the New World, including wolves — and Indians,” reads the book’s teaser. “Louella Bryant brings spirited Sarah to life when she discovers the rules in Massachusetts Bay Colony are even stricter than in England and joins her family in following Thomas Hooker to establish the city of Hartford.”
“Sarah Lyman is a fiesta badass,” Bryant said. “She has to do what she believes is right; she tries to stop the massacre of the Pequot Indian tribe.”
Dressed as a boy, Sarah enlists with the English infantry marching to Missituck (Mystic) in hopes of stopping the massacre of the Pequot tribe and the man she loves.
Bryant shared more about her newest novel in her own words.
Q: What’s the novel about?
A: In 1632, teenager Sarah Lyman sails with her family from England to Massachusetts Bay Colony. A feisty young woman, Sarah fears the Puritan state of grace eludes her. When colony laws prove unbearably harsh, Sarah’s family joins Thomas Hooker’s group in settling Hartford, Conn. There Sarah befriends Pequot Indians whose camp is near the English settlement. When two English women are found murdered, the governor declares war against the Pequot, and Sarah disguises herself as a boy and joins the soldiers — to try to stop them. In the end, finally Sarah finds grace.
Q: Where did this story originate?
A: My father-in-law Steve Parson asked me to help him write a book about his mother’s family history. In research into the early Lymans, I became enthralled with young Sarah Lyman and Steve gave his permission for me to write her story into a novel.
Q: How authentic (real) are the characters?
A: The Lyman elders, Richard and his wife, are as I wrote them, as are the four children. Thomas Hooker, Massachusetts Governor Winthrop, and Captain William Pierce of the ship Lion actually existed, as did several others, including Captain John Mason, who led the raid on the Pequot encampment.
Q: How much of the story is based on actual events?
A: The Lion sailed from England in June 1632 with the Lymans aboard.
A young boy fell overboard on that voyage, which I’ve included in the book.
Earlier, English passengers brought small pox to the New World, an outbreak that made its way to Native tribes.
The Lyman family is listed among the original settlers of Hartford.
Q: Why did you have Sarah Lyman dress as a boy and join the English infantry?
A: The massacre of Pequot women and children was so horrendous, I wanted Sarah to see the action firsthand rather than being told about it. Female characters dressing as men in Shakespeare’s plays was common during the period.
Q: What about this story drew you to it?
A: From the time I first read about her, I saw Sarah as a modern badass. She bucked convention and wanted more for herself than a husband and a brood of children. She didn’t marry until she was in her 20s, whereas most girls married in their teens, and she lived nearly to 70, an old age for people of that time.
Q: Who is your audience for the story?
A: Anyone interested in Colonial America, Puritanism, Native American history, or a just a good story of adventure, bloodshed and romance.
Q: What gives you the authority to write about Native Americans when you’re white?
A: As Ken Burns said, “I’m in a business of history and that includes everyone. And I have, throughout my professional life, tried to tell the story of this country in an inclusive way and that means talking about race and trying to tell stories from multiple perspectives… But I do not accept that only people of a particular background can tell certain stories about our past.”
I’ve portrayed the character Ayaks as the son of a Dutch trader and a Pequot woman. In my first novel, “The Black Bonnet,” a slave girl discovers her father is the white slave owner. If we test our DNA, we’ll find we’re all a mixture of races. Why should writers limit ourselves to stories only about white people?
President Barak Obama says we’ve got to talk about race, to bring it into the daylight. Discussions of race are a disinfectant, he says. We can’t pretend native history doesn’t exist side by side with white history. We need to look at it in order to heal the deep wounds, the indignation, the anger, the pain. I hope in some way “Beside the Long River” helps to do that.
Q: What is the takeaway — what is it you hope your readers will gain from the book?
A: The 1636 Pequot War in what today in southeast Connecticut was a massacre of 600 natives justified by the belief that English colonists were destined by God to expand their dominion across North America. The Pequot nation stood in the way of fulfilling that destiny. Few settlers objected and even fewer tried to stop the attack. That persecution and bloodshed continued well into the 19th century, and prejudices against Native Americans continues to this day.
Q: What’s next?
A: Right now I’m finishing a new novel that’s been in the works for five or six years. I’m in the final editing stages of that.
I spend hours and hours in the chair writing. Usually I take my laptop into the kitchen in the morning — close to the coffee machine. Then I’ll go into my office upstairs, or my other office over our garage. I change my scenery so I don’t get board. I can usually work about five straight hours before I need to take a walk or talk to somebody who’s alive.
I keep thinking I’ll be done writing soon, but then I keep brainstorming ideas for the next project and the one after that, and the one after that…
Editor’s Note: “Beside the Long River” is available from Black Rose Writing (blackrosewriting.com) or wherever books are sold online; check your local bookseller for possible availability. More info at louellabryant.com.
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