Talking with Elaine Cougler on Writing, the American Revolution, and Ancestors

Today, I have an interview with the Canadian author Elaine Cougler, author of The Loyalist’s Wife and the just released, The Loyalist’s Luck. You can see my review of this great book that takes places during the American Revolution and the years following, HERE, then continue reading to learn about Elaine and her work.

02_The Loyalist's Luck

Hi, Elaine, my friend! Welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! You’ve just released the second book in your Loyalist trilogy, The Loyalist’s Luck, and are spreading the news. I know you had a whirlwind summer and fall heading into releasing it.

Elaine: Hi, Erin! So glad to be back getting hooked on your book blog. Such a delightful title!

Erin: Thank you! I cam up with the title after reading one too many Dr. Seuss books! Step in here on this side of Lake Erie to my home in Ohio. It’s getting a bit chilly, so we best not sit out on the back patio today. Join me in my library, we’ll sit in my comfy chairs, surrounded by books, and have a few mugs of coffee or tea, or whatever your pleasure, while we chat! Which will it be for you? Today, I’m having coffee with two sugars and cream.

Elaine: My pleasure in neither coffee nor tea but something much guiltier—Diet Coke! Oh, I know how bad it is for me and I do limit myself but it is my go-to comfort drink.

Erin: Diet Coke is just fine, though I don’t keep pop in the house. For you, I’ll run out and keep a stash in my fridge. Also, we have been apple picking and so I’ve baked up some warm apple pie. Let me pour our drinks, platter our pie, and let’s dive in!

Elaine: I love apple pie. Makes me think of my grandma’s Dutch apple pie. (The recipe died with her.)

Erin: That’s so sad! I have made sure to have many of my family recipes and enjoy baking to keep their traditions alive. However, this recipe is my own. Now that we are enjoying ourselves, let’s get down to the questions.

Q: I know that you were a longtime teacher of various subjects such as French and English, did you always have a desire to write once your children were grown? Has history always interested you, or why did you decide to write historical fiction?

A: Not really although My Grade 12 English teacher suggested I enter my work in the school essay contest and I got second. That opened up my thoughts about my own work and after I left teaching I gravitated to writing and the huge challenge of a novel. Life is a process, isn’t it?

Q: You mention your Canadian roots and ancestors helped to formulate your idea for the series. Do you hope that your book, selling in America and in talking to Americans, will help to break down barriers in history so that we learn and appreciate all the sacrifices so many made? That people will begin to see all the different types of families that were caught up in the war and about how “taking sides” really wasn’t always a choice?

A: Yes. I am very much a person who sees both sides and feel we should concentrate on the things we have in common rather than our differences. Maybe that’s wishful but I do always hope.

Erin Comments: I am very much the same way.

Q: For the sake of the readers, can you explain about Loyalists? Why they fought for the King, why they stayed loyal to the crown, and how many were Americans displaced and caught up in land boundaries (which is why many are Canadians today)?

A: As I understand it, land was a big part of the whole revolutionary war. Much of it was taken leaving nothing for new arrivals and families who had been in America for generations. Blocked in by geography and native lands people had a new source when communities turned against those loyal to the King. As to why some were loyal and some were not, people will always take sides and disagree. It’s who we are as humans. Even after the Revolutionary War many on the Canadian side of the new border had family in the U.S. It wasn’t until the War of 1812 when personal jealousies found their release in burning out many areas on both sides of the border that people here really started to feel Canadian/British. Thank goodness we’ve got past all that and now have the longest undefended border in the world between our two countries.

Q: I know you did quite an extensive amount of research for your book. Can you tell us what you use for research, how you found it, and if you visited any of the places you feature in your book?

A: For research I’ve used loads of books, my local library, online sites about the history in the places I write about and lots of road trips to walk where my characters might have walked. I’ve also used family history as my own Loyalist ancestors came into the Niagara in the times I write about. I have found some treasures both in people and research about my own family that has found its way into my books a few times. I even found a descendant of Colonel Butler living right here where I live.

Q: How did you construct the characters in your novel, especially Lucy? What tactics as a writer did you use to visualize them and then connect them to the story?

A: I do a character sheet where I list physical traits, the sound of their voices and odd movements they might make. Most of it comes from my imagination but for Lucy I borrowed a couple of things about myself and went from there. Imagining her was a chance for me to give someone characteristics I wish I had. For instance I made her indomitable. In the first book she even worked out how to shoot her cow and hang it to bleed out so she could use the meat—all alone!

Q: There were many sad parts to your story, as life was rough and these people (and your characters) were fighting for mere survival! How did you channel this in order to pull off reader sentiment? As well, how did you handle these hard scenes yourself?

A: When I have to write a sad scene where I put my characters through something terrible, I actually enjoy it. If I’m crying as I write then I know I’ve got the scene working just right. In this book Lucy is put to the ultimate mother’s test and I cried as I wrote about her bravery through this particular night. (spoiler, if I told you more.)

Q: What were your thoughts on adding the Native Americans to the plot of your novel? Did they have a place in the lives of your characters during this time period?

A: Absolutely they did and my research showed me just how badly they were treated both in the revolutionary war and the war of 1812. Black Bear Claw personifies some of my feelings about the sadder things done in the history of our two countries, the U.S. and Canada.

Q: How did you research or have the idea for the mill in this second book? I love old grist mills! Are there many in the Niagara area were the story takes place?

A: Some of my research told me that after the burning of the Niagara area in the war of 1812 only a mill survived. Of course that fired my imagination for John and Lucy’s return. Add to that my personal family discovery that Lot 1, Concession 1 of Bertie Township, where the bridge from Fort Erie to Buffalo stands today, and you can see how my own beginnings got mixed in to the story I was writing. Such a high it was. Sure wish I had the revenues from it today!

Erin Comments: That’s so amazing!

Q: What will take place in the third book of your series? When can we expect it to publish?

A: When I wrote the teaser for The Loyalist Legacy (book 3) at the end of this book I suggested that the story moves inland toward Nissouri Township north of present-day London, Ontario. This book will not focus so much on wars but on taming yet another new land and the plot will reflect this. I can’t say much more until I do a lot more reading and research to find the nuggets that will fire my characters. This book is set to launch in October, 2016.

Q: What else do you have your eyes set on writing? What other types of history interest you?

A: I love the kings and queens of England, Egyptian pharaohs, the Romans, early Australia—any history which teaches me and gives me a great plot with memorable characters.

Q: Who are some of your favorite historical authors? Who do you like to read for fun, and who do you like to read to improve your own writing?

A: Margaret George, Sharon Kay Penman, Colleen McCullough, Pauline Gedge, Alison Weir are a few of those whose long books have kept me enthralled right to the end and for weeks afterward. And books like The Help and Water for Elephants—oh, there are just so many!

Q: You’ve had some travels this year. What was the best part of any of your trips for you?

A: My husband and I took the Alaska cruise this fall and the best day was the day we rode with a knowledgeable driver/photographer/painter/tour guide from Skagway to fifty miles into the Yukon Territory in Canada. The sun was radiant and the day will live on in our minds forever.

Q: If you had to eat any food from the 1800s, what do you think you’d like the most?

A: Thai food. Just kidding. Most of that stuff sounded pretty heavy and boring. I got so tired having Lucy make yet another stew to serve up to John and the children.

Erin Comments: Ha! Anything but stew sounds about right.

Q: Where can readers connect with you?

A: is my main website and has a link to my blog, On Becoming a Wordsmith.

I also am on Twitter, Goodreads, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Thank you, Elaine, for sitting with me for coffee and a chat!! I appreciate you coming by and wish you much success on The Loyalist’s Luck. I look forward to staying in touch!

Elaine: As do I, Erin. I so enjoy our times together. But next time remember, no coffee for this girl!

Erin: I’m all over it. Always Diet Coke here for you, Elaine!

02_The Loyalist's LuckThe Loyalist’s Luck, Synopsis~

Publication Date: October 2014
Peache House Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback

Series: The Loyalist Trilogy
Genre: Historical Fiction

When the Revolutionary War turns in favor of the Americans, John and Lucy flee across the Niagara River with almost nothing. They begin again in Butlersburg, a badly supplied British outpost surrounded by endless trees and rivers, and the mighty roar of the giant falls nearby. He is off on a secret mission for Colonel Butler and she is left behind with her young son and pregnant once again. In the camp full of distrust, hunger, and poverty, word has seeped out that John has gone over to the American side and only two people will associate with Lucy—her friend, Nellie, who delights in telling her all the current gossip, and Sergeant Crawford, who refuses to set the record straight and clear John’s name. To make matters worse, the sergeant has made improper advances toward Lucy.

With vivid scenes of heartbreak and betrayal, heroism and shattered hopes, Elaine Cougler takes us into the hearts and homes of Loyalists still fighting for their beliefs, and draws poignant scenes of families split by political borders. The Loyalist’s Luck shows us the courage of ordinary people who, in perilous times, become extraordinary.

Author Elaine Cougler, Biography~

03_Elaine CouglerA lifelong reader and high school teacher, Elaine found her passion for writing once her family was grown. She loves to read history for the stories of real people reacting to their world.

Bringing to life the tales of Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 is very natural as Elaine’s personal roots are in those struggles, out of which arose both Canada and the United States.

For more information please visit Elaine Cougler’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads.

Read all the reviews, guest articles, and interviews:

Hashtags: #LoyalistsLuckBlogTour #HistoricalFiction

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @ElaineCougler

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