Editor Donna Meredith Interviews Patricia Hudson, Author of Traces

DM: Congratulations, Patricia, on your outstanding novel Traces, which tells the story of frontier life through the eyes of Rebecca Boone, Daniel Boone’s wife. How did you get interested in Rebecca?

PH: In 1996, I read a biography of Daniel Boone, and though I found Boone interesting, it was the Boone women — Daniel’s wife, Rebecca, and their two oldest daughters, Susannah and Jemima — who intrigued me the most. I wanted to learn everything I could about them, which led to years of research. Traces is the result. It’s a novel, but it’s based on all the information I was able to glean about the women within the historical record.

DM: Rebecca had a number of children. What focused your interest on Susannah and Jemima?

PH: Rebecca birthed ten children, but even as newlyweds, Daniel and Rebecca took in two of Daniel’s orphaned nephews; they were parents from day one of their marriage. Later in life, the couple welcomed an additional six children who’d been left motherless. Traces ends prior to that, so many of the children Rebecca helped raise don’t get mentioned at all. As a novelist, I had to focus on just a few of the children to keep the story from sprawling in too many directions. Rebecca, Susannah and Jemima are the three point-of-view characters. I chose them because these three women had very different frontier experiences and I felt that focusing on them gave readers a broader, more complete view of what women’s lives were like in eighteenth century America.

Donna Meredith

DM: I understand your research spanned twenty-five years. Share a little about that process. What sort of sources were you able to uncover?

PH: My first career was as a university reference librarian, and I still have that mindset when it comes to research. I wanted Traces to depict the world of the Boone women as accurately as possible. In the beginning there was only one modern biography for me to rely on, Yale historian John Mack Faragher’s Daniel Boone, but as the years passed Robert Morgan’s Boone, was published and it became an indispensable resource. It’s the biography I always recommend as the best starting point for anyone interested in the Boone family.

Equally indispensable was a collection of primary sources known as the Draper Manuscripts. Beginning in the 1840’s, a man named Lyman Draper traveled through America’s backcountry collecting oral histories from the pioneer generation, their children, and grandchildren. Much of what we know about America’s early frontier in general, and about the Boones specifically, is thanks to this one man’s obsessive collecting. The original manuscripts are housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, but I was able to access them on microfilm at the East Tennessee History Center.

DM: Did you uncover any surprises as you researched their lives?

Patricia L. Hudson

PH: During my research I became acutely aware of how much harder it is for a historical novelist to tell a woman’s story as opposed to a man’s, because the historical record is so heavily male-centric. In the past, the details of a woman’s life were rarely considered important enough to preserve, and that imbalance actually has ongoing impacts today when it come to the way history is taught in our schools.  After years of research, educator Myra Sadker noted: “Each time a girl reads a womanless history, she believes she’s worth less.”

Only recently have I recognized that the path that led me to Traces began when I was eight-years-old and my parents took me and my brother to Colonial Williamsburg. The movie in the visitor’s center relegated women to inconsequential roles, primarily waving goodbye to the men and boys as they went off to do great things, and even at that young age, that bothered me. I suppose, in many ways, I’ve been noticing the absence of women’s stories ever since.

DM: What difficulties, if any, did you encounter in writing about another era, one so different from the times we are living in now?

PH: One of the most difficult things was keeping the women true to their time period, yet making them relatable to today’s readers. At various times during my research and writing I was cautioned, always by men, that women in the eighteenth century would have just accepted the fact that they had very few rights. While I feel sure equality was something most women of that time couldn’t envision — we’re still not there today — I’m confident that in every age women have held a range of views. Some women accept social mores, some fume quietly at societal limitations, and a certain percentage speak out and work to create change. That’s true today, and I feel sure that’s been the case throughout history.

In my portrayal of Rebecca, I was able to draw on an actual incident that, by some miracle, had been preserved in the historical record. During an Indian uprising, Rebecca and her girls publicly humiliated a group of militia men whose inattention to their duties was putting the community in danger. It was an audacious, even a dangerous thing to do, and definitely not the actions of a woman who was afraid to assert herself.

Wilma Dykeman

DM: I was awe-struck to see the who’s who list of writers who you were fortunate enough to know and learn from. For example, Wilma Dykeman, who wrote a total of eighteen books, including both nonfiction and fiction, including The French BroadThe Tall WomanThe Far Family, and Return the Innocent Earth). And Harriette Arnow, best known for The Dollmaker and Hunter’s Horn. Tell us a bit about them and their influence on you and your writing.

Harriette Simpson Arnow

PH: I was fortunate to have several writing mentors over the years. I was sixteen when I first met Wilma Dykeman at a book signing. I didn’t know it at the time, but Wilma would wind up encouraging me at various points in my writing career. She was both kind and a straight-shooter. Shortly after grad school, I attended a workshop taught by Harriette Arnow who was definitely a woman who didn’t mince words. Her feedback convinced me I actually had a future in the writing world. Over the years, I’ve met many of my other writerly friends — folks like George Ella Lyon, Silas House, Robert Morgan, and Lee Smith — at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop that’s held each summer at the Hindman Settlement School in eastern Kentucky. I still go back there as often as I can.

DM: What question do you wish interviewers would ask you?

PH: I guess one question that I’d like the chance to address would be, “What’s it like to move from one type of writing (journalism) to another (fiction) at a point in one’s life where many folks are beginning to think about retirement?” If asked, I’d say let’s hear it for the late bloomers — for the folks who dare to reinvent their careers later in life. Whenever someone says, “I always wanted to write a book, but…”  My response is, “It’s only too late if you believe it is.”

The wonderful thing about the writing life is that one can continue doing it for most of one’s life. I was in my fifties when I applied to the MFA program at the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing. It’s a low residency program, so I was able to continue doing magazine work, while also learning how to think like a novelist. Over the years, the shrinking word counts in my magazine assignments had compacted my writing, and the MFA helped breathe air back into my sentences. I’m quite sure Traces wouldn’t have happened without the encouragement of the Naslund-Mann faculty and my fellow MFA students.

DM: Are you working on anything new?

PH: During the thirty-plus years I worked as a journalist, writing for magazines like Americana and Southern Living, I was always on the lookout for stories about women that hadn’t been told. Now that I’m primarily focused on writing fiction, I’m still searching for women’s stories, looking for the ones that are hiding between the lines of our history books. My next project, which is still in the early stages, will be about another forgotten woman.

DM: You recently attended the Kentucky Book Festival. Could you share a little about your experience there?

PH: The Kentucky Book Festival felt like old-home week. I got to see so many old friends and made several new ones. I was especially thrilled to be chosen to speak at the Kentucky Book Festival’s Literary Luncheon which was moderated by Silas House, and featured poet, LeTonia Jones, and songwriter, Senora May. I’d never met LeTonia or Senora, and even though our creative work is in different genres, our conversation felt organic, as if we were visiting on a front porch instead of in front of an audience. Being part of an ever-expanding writing community continues to enrich my life in countless ways.

DM: Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Patricia. All of us at Southern Literary Review wish you the best as you make the switch from nonfiction to fiction. Keep telling those women’s stories!



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