Jean Roberts | Telling the Stories of Ancestors

Today I’m delighted to welcome Jean Roberts to Author Chats. Jean’s books are also inspired by her ancestors, and I really enjoyed reading about her emotions when visiting the lands where they once lived. I know how emotional that can be. Jean, good to have you here. Let’s chat!
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I have formed some great relationships with authors via the internet. Twitter has been an amazing conduit into a worldwide writing community. Most authors are generous and giving to other authors, willing to swap manuscripts for Beta reading, happy to read and write reviews, offer advice on grammar, writing query letters, publishing, just about anything to do with writing, including propping up authors with writer’s block or feelings of inadequacy. It has been a real blessing for me to see that we are, most of us, struggling with similar issues. 

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections or themes between each book? I know a lot of authors write trilogies and some even longer series. I have not done that. My books are all stand alone and each is very different from each other. The first two books are both pure historical fiction but each is the result of genealogy research. My next book, publishing in April 2021, is a mixed genre of historical fiction and paranormal time travel, but once again some of my ancestors make an appearance. I am currently scouring my ancestry tree for my next story. I love bringing their world to life, and it makes me feel closer to them.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
My first book was written on a whim. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my husband, I was writing until the book was finished. I was terrified to let anyone read it and was shocked when I got glowing feedback. It was only then that I started researching how one actually goes about writing and publishing a book. With my second book, I harnessed the power of the Beta Reader. Who knew there were nice folks out there willing to read your manuscript and offer suggestions for improvement. This made a huge difference in my writing. With book three I am trying to be more methodical in the process, I am a pantser working on becoming a plotter, or at least somewhere in between. One of my goals for this year was to join a writer’s group, of course COVID, has put those plans on hold, but I’d like to try working with a group and get critique feedback along the way. With each book, I’ve learned some valuable lessons and look forward to learning what else I don’t know about the writing/publishing business.

Tell us more about your newest release Blood in the Valley.
What kind of research did you do, and how long did it take you?
Blood in the Valley took over a year of research. It is set in the Mohawk Valley of New York during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, think 1750-1781 time period. I spent hours reading books on the wars, historical figures, both political and military, on all sides, American, English, and Native American. I also did a lot of research on the daily life of colonists both in town and on the frontier. I studied up on everything from the clothes they wore, recipes, how to thresh wheat (videos are available if interested), making cheese and smoking bacon. I’m sure I know way more than I needed but it helps me picture the minutiae of their life, something I think is often missing in historical fiction.
Since the characters in Blood in the Valley are my ancestors, there was a lot of genealogy research to ensure that I got their names and dates correct. I was lucky enough to find biographical information about some of them including my main characters, which helped me fill in a few of the blanks.
I was also lucky enough to spend a week touring the Mohawk Valley and visiting towns, villages, battlefields and much more. The most moving moment of the trip was standing on a knoll where my ancestors once lived, knowing that they trod on the same ground. I think I might have cried a little.
Did you have to make any ethical decisions when writing about historical figures within your book?
During my research for Blood in the Valley, I found that a great many colonists in New York owned slaves. I don’t know why I was ignorant of this fact, and it shocked me that even the local minister was the owner of three or four slaves. In some of the stories about my ancestor, I found reference to a boy who in the earlier writings was described as a slave. In later writings he was said to be a bonded servant or apprentice. I decided to write the character as a slave, not to diminish my ancestors but to highlight the fact that slavery was alive and well in the mid-Atlantic colonies.
What was your hardest scene to write?
In the moments before my character, Lt. Colonel Samuel Clyde, leaves home for what will be one of the most horrific battles of the war, the Battle of Oriskany, he takes his wife, Catherine, aside and gives her his will and tries to tell her what to do if he is killed in action. As the wife of a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel/fighter pilot, I felt a strong connection to Catherine as I wrote the scene. She refuses to allow that Samuel might die, as if by force of will, she will keep him alive. She tells him, ‘you will come back to me’. I find it very moving and every time I read it, I cry. It is probably the most emotional scene I’ve written and I love it. And yes, he does come back to her.
Quick Q & A
Tea or Coffee -Tetley tea
Dark or Milk Chocolate – the darker the better
When were you the happiest? when I’m with my family
Favourite Children’s Book – James and the Giant Peach
Favourite Adult Novel–  I am a Jane-ite, Pride and Prejudice
About Jean:Jean M. Roberts lives with her family outside of Houston, Texas. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston with a BSN in nursing. She then joined the United States Air Force and proudly served for 8 years. She works full time as a nurse administrator for a non-profit.
A life long lover of history Jeanie began writing articles on her family history/genealogy. This in turn has led to two works of historical fiction. She is currently working on a third book.