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Last updated 5:56AM ET
July 19, 2018
Arts & Culture
Arts & Culture
The Rising Shore - Roanoke -- Deborah Homsher
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INTRO - A new piece of historical fiction examines the legend of the Lost Colony, working off of historical record to create a narrative of what brought them to the North Carolina shore and what happened once they got there. George Olsen has more.

Some historical fiction can be easier than others. The more recent the time, the more records there are to build your story around.

06:13 Now people who go back farther, people who go back centuries farther and write this type of historical fiction because this novel is set in 1587, that kind of exercise tends to be a little different because then its almost archaeological, you're trying to imagine and bring back for yourself and ideally for your readers, a sense of a whole landscape that was completely different from the landscape that we know now. I think storytelling is always reaching back to history, through history, for history.

Author Deborah Homsher whose novel The Rising Shore - Roanoke dramatizes the first British attempt to colonize the New World an outpost on Roanoke Island that later became popularly known as the Lost Colony. She does it primarily through the eyes of two women among the travelers Elenor Dare, the daughter of the expedition's leader John White and the mother of the first English child born in North America, and Margaret Lawrence, who in the book is portrayed as Elenor's servant but in reality little is known about other than she was part of the company. She focuses on the women rather than a more obvious choice like John White as a response to the great American adventure stories of the past.

12:22 You look at Huck Finn, you look at Thoreau, you look at Moby Dick, you read all the Cooper novels it's always about a young man or boy who has broken free from constraint and headed into the wilderness and begun to discover themselves and face adventures that purify him in some way.

But Homsher has to balance her desire to place a woman in the center of an adventure with a woman's probable role in this particular quest trying to keep the historical in historical fiction and not turning her book into a 16th century Thelma & Louise. In this scene from The Rising Shore, Elenor debates herself about seeking a role once they arrive in the New World in this case, learning the language of the Algonquian Indians so she can act as a liaison between the colonists and the native people.

20:18-21:10 Reads from page 88 What have I been doing

16:21 I think many people who read the book might still complain that Elenor Dare, one of the two main characters, is too independent, too feisty, too unhappy about her lack of power and she's kind of touched by a 60s or 70s feminism. I had to fight to try to imagine how an Elizabethan woman would've felt about her situation in these cases. I do believe there have always been women who were especially strong, especially determined, especially adventurous who broke loose. We have stories of women of that kind from all centuries and all countries and nations and territories. They're fascinating and we love to write stories about them, but if your historical female heroine feels like she's spouting 1960's rhetoric, it ruins the story.

She also had to avoid making the language of her characters both male and female sound too modern. She used the writings of a fairly well-known writer of the time Shakespeare and the journals of John White and earlier expedition leaders as a guide, but she couldn't afford to copy their language too closely and thereby potentially confuse a modern reader. Here she reads a passage where expedition leader John White admonishes his company.

08:49-09:22 Reads from page 118

09:56 When I wrote the first chapter of this novel and sent it to my agent she wrote back and said I have tried to read this page and another friend of mine has tried to read this page and we can't make hide nor hair of it because we don't understand what you're saying. The Elizabethan was so thick. There were a lot of prithees and mayhaps. They got cut out, the novel was revised many times and anything I thought was pretentious was cut out, but maybe the rhythm stayed and some of the language.

It's the one of the difficulties of writing historical fiction on a 16th century event there are no actual transcripts of actual conversations to guide you, and, again, what precisely happened on the expedition even with John White's records to examine is a matter of best guess. But while The Rising Shore may necessarily lack a historical certainty around the events portrayed in the novel, the one thing Homsher felt certain of and wanted to shine through is the tenacity of her voyagers.

26:09 I'm just endlessly amazed by immigrant stories, by the courage of anyone that crossed that ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, in a wooden ship without the kinds of advantages that we take for granted. Most clearly, ways to communicate if you were in danger, or, really, reliable ways to navigate. People were very good then. This little fleet of ships had a Portugese navigator Simon Fernandes who would've been able to calculate latitude, but longitude at the time you were guessing it. So just this sense of the courage, the standard American story of people who dared to cross.

The Rising Shore - Roanoke by Deborah Homsher is published by Blue Hull Press. I'm George Olsen.

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