J.J. Strang Writer's Society
Issue No. 8
From Carolyn Lewis sunwritepentel.net “Greetings all. Just a note that I am rewriting my original "fictionalized"story of Strang's wives. The original story placed in two literary award competitions, but did not sell. So I am attempting to do the impossible, I think, which is rewrite it from one of Strang's children's viewpoint, a daughter's, and make the child's viewpoint compassionate toward polygamy. I haven't seen this done yet in literary journals, and wouldn't it be nice if it actually did sell, and was picked up by one of the literary journals. I'll also be sending it in to novella literary competitions, as it's 59 pages long, at the moment. And if nothing else it will complete a short story collection this year. I've called it The 4th Polygamous Wife, which ought to attract at least some attention from editors, even if they don't buy it. We'll see where it goes. At least I'm having fun, and still sticking close to the actual facts, while changing the names, his in particular to Daniel Ben Long, which somehow rings close enough to James Jesse Strang to allow it. It's interesting walking the line between fiction and known fact, and I let the characters in the story dictate to me their direction.
“I greatly enjoyed the articles Bill Olson sent, and look for more. Looking forward to hearing what others are doing.”
From Bill Cashman wcashmanbeaverisland.net “Two years ago the Historical Society convened four ‘experts’ on the life of Strang and put on a kind of seminar/open discussion of him, moderated very well by John Leben–who opened the evening by asking, ‘Was he a prophet, or a charlatan?’ It occurs to me that a second such evening might be convened this summer, but with writers offering their opinions on what it's like to write about the man: how important is historical accuracy; does Strang offer us an apt study in dynamics that are important to the modern age; the insidious nature of sensationalism: tests to help prevent the writer from succumbing to this tendency–that sort of thing.
“Is there any interest in gathering on Beaver Island on July 16th to take part in such a round-table discussion? John Leben might want to collect footage of this, as would the Historical Society's videographer, Robert Cole. To make it viable we'd have to obtain commitments from at least four, presumably recipients of the Newsletter.”
From Bill Olson wolsonitol.com “A problem which has troubled me as I work on my novel about Strang and Beaver Island revolves around how much I can speculate without loosing credibility. My two previous historical novels have not had historical persons as protagonists. Some of the minor characters have been actual personages and some events were included which were historical but outside of those exceptions I have freely invented both characters and events.
“I found a novel about Beaver Island and Strang on e-bay. It is The Courage of Captain Plum by James Oliver Curwood. It was first published in 1908 and reprinted in 1912 (Grosset & Dunlap).
“In my opinion it is about the worst collection of half truths and poor writing about JJ Strang that I have come across. He has one chapter named "The Seven Wives." He describes Strang as, "...a massive man with the slow slumbering strength of a beast." He gives a somewhat distorted half-true picture of the women’s attire when he says, "It is the King’s pleasure that all women wear skirts that come just below the knees." (He does not mention pantalets which VanNoord describes as, "long loose trousers gathered loosely about the ankles") He describes a major battle fought by "mainlanders" who invaded and were routed by the Mormons after a pitched battle. Well, there are many other "facts" which are either wrong or distorted.
“I wonder if any of you have read The Courage of Captain Plum and if so how you reacted to it?
“Another novel which I just finished is Queen of the Island by Jo Ann Mazoué published in 1993 by Wilderness Adventure Books of Davisburg, Michigan. The protagonist is Mary Strang. Mazoué does a much better job than Curwood. Most of her facts are pretty accurate although time of events is rather compressed.
I think that the two following quotes may help guide one who writes ‘historical’ fiction.
Thomas Wolfe’s definition of fiction was, “Fiction is not fact, but fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged and charged with purpose.”
And then there’s Irving Stone’s comment that, “My books are based 98 percent on documentary evidence. I spend several years trying to get inside the brain and heart, listening to the interior monologues in their letters, and when I have to bridge the chasms between the factual evidence, I try to make an intuitive leap through the eyes and motivation of the person I’m writing about.
“In Kingdom Come I am trying to insure that when I ‘make an intuitive leap’ my fictional tale is ‘charged with purpose’."
How do all of you feel about this? Please let me hear from you and I’ll include your comments in the next issue.
How many times was Strang baptized? My research shows three:
1. March 21, 1813 Scipio, NY (on p. 2 of Riegel)
2. at age 12 (on p. 17 of Van Noord)
3. February 25, 1844 (on p. 6 of Van Noord and p.27 of Fitzpatrick)
Another book I have just recently acquired is Guardian of the Great Lakes by Bradley A. Rodgers. It is the 248-page story of the USS Michigan. Chapter IV is "The Beaver Mackinac War and the Assassination of King Strang." The balance of the book is also interesting and has many stories of other "wars" including the Civil War and the war with the timber poachers. It was published by the University of Michigan Press in 1995 and if your library or local bookstore doesn’t have it, it is available on the Internet from Barns & Noble or Amazon.com.
About half of our members have asked me for the two King Strang article reprints. If there are any of you who haven’t received yours, send me your snail mail address and I’ll be happy to send one to you gratis.