New Orleans

resources and research: Queen of Swords

I had an email from a historian today:

I just finished reading your latest installment of the Wilderness series, and as always, enjoyed it quite a bit. I was curious as to what sources you consulted for your discussion of Indians in New Orleans. I am a history professor at Tulane and while my field is general social history, my specialty is in immigrant and ethnic history. I have recently begun researching 18th century S/E Louisiana Native Americans and I was struck by your description/discussion of Indians in your novel, hence, my e-mail. As you are undoubtedly aware, sources about native Americans, especially small tribes, are sparse. If, and when you have a moment, I would love to hear about your research.

When I sent the answer it occurred to me that other people might be interested. So here you go:

I had to piece information together from a dozen or so different sources. Below is a list of the ones I used most. Latour’s Memoir was most useful in a general way, and included names in some places which was very helpful. The Perdue book was also really useful for my purposes. […] I had to make do with mostly secondary resources, and my writer’s imagination.

Laussat, Pierre-CLément. Memoirs of My Life to My Son during the Years 1803 and after, Which I Spent in Public Service in Louisiana as Commissioner of the French Government for the Retrocession to France of That Colony and for Its Transfer to the United States. Baton Rouge: Published for the Historic New Orleans Collection by the Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

Smith, Gene, ed. [Arsene Lacarriere Latour’s] Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15. Gainesville: Historic New Orleans Collection and University Press of Florida, 1999.

Griffiths, N. The Contexts of Acadian History, 1686-1784. Montréal: Published for the Centre for Canadian Studies, Mount Allison University by McGill-Queen’s University, 1992.

Walker, Daniel. No More, No More. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Owsley, Frank. Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: the Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812-1815 University: University of Alabama Press, 2000.

Perdue, Theda. “Mixed Blood” Indians: Racial Construction in the Early South. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003.

Halbert, H.S. and T.H. Ball. The Creek War of 1813 and 1814. Chicago, Illinois: Donohue & Henneberry, 1895 (

Phillip, Chief and Tom Mould. Choctaw Tales. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

I found the name Juzan in relationship to the Choctaws who fought in the Battle of New Orleans, and pursued that through genealogical sources. The discussion boards at gave me a lot of information to start search primary records:

Juzan family genealogy

Similar information from a different angle from

more genealogy

Websites dedicated to documenting the men who fought in the Battle of New Orleans also produced some leads:

military history

a project to make my crafty little heart beat faster

Pam had a suggestion:

Publish Hannah’s medical journals. Or fragments of the same. A partial even. Sort of a Sabine and Griffin-ish publication in appearance. You’d have to collaborate with your favourite artists and font designers, but isn’t that interesting regardless? Include side notes where Hannah, in her old age, goes back over the journal and adds reflections in a Curiosity-like manner. And Hannah hopefully will not age cynically.

I’d include recipes, character portraits of her notable patients, and a list of symptoms and diagnoses. Bonus – sketches Lily had done and given to Hannah could be clipped in or inserted (imagine on tracing paper weight paper, they fall out of the book when you unseal it from its vacuum packed plastic wrapping – hey, other things might fall out too. Hm, what budget am I imagining here? Craziness.). And, Neat-o. Likely a bugger to publish. And expensive. Us fans would simply drool and wonder what was in the plastic wrap until our birthdays or Christmas, eh?

I think I once mentioned that a not-so-secret desire of mine was to include letters in the novels. Not transcriptions of the letters, but folded letters, in handwriting. Yellowed paper, the whole thing. So you’d have the sense of holding the actual letter Nathaniel wrote to Elizabeth while he was in New Orleans. Also, newspaper clippings. All these bits could be in an old fashioned (miniature) letter portfolio in the back of the novel. And if we’re going there, the story itself could be illustrated. Not in the traditional sense — a glossy page with a formal painting showing a cabin in the woods — but small illustrations on various pages. The pine tree with the crooked top. Elizabeth’s writing table.

So I love Pam’s idea. Given the realities of the way publishing works, it’s unlikely to ever happen — unless suddenly all five books in the series jumped to the top ten NYT bestseller list. Ha!

Library Journal review

Jeanne alerted me to the Library Journal review for Queen of Swords, which had somehow slipped by unnoted. Here it is:

Library Journal

The latest volume in Donati’s popular Bonner family series opens where Fire Along the Sky (2004) left off, with Luke Bonner’s wife, Jennet, a captive of a renegade priest in the Caribbean. Luke and his half-sister, Hannah, rescue Jennet, but soon realize that she had to give up her newborn son, named Nathan after his grandfather, to keep him safe. The Bonners track Nathan to New Orleans, where he has been adopted by the matriarch of a prominent Creole family and her profligate grandson. Finding Nathan isn’t difficult, but keeping him and avoiding the ire of the Poiterin family is, and the Bonners soon find themselves caught up in the wartime politics of 1814 New Orleans. As with the previous books in the series, Donati treats her characters with sensitivity and does not shy away from tackling thorny themes, such as racial relations between Native Americans and whites during the early 18th century. This fast-paced, engaging book is sure to draw in readers. Highly recommended. Nanette Donohue, Champaign P.L., IL

I’ll take a ‘highly recommended’ any day — and with a smile. However, I have to point out that there are a few factual innacuracies here. Anybody pick them out? If so, please post a comment.

Which means: WARNING. Possible spoilers in the comments.

bow down before the beta reader

A beta reader is somebody who volunteers to read work at an early stage, when the ride is going to be rocky. Like those daredevil types who test new airplanes, a beta reader survives on curiosity and faith.

Some people have the interest and generosity of heart to be beta readers, but are otherwise not experienced enough to be of much help. And a beta reader has to have some knowledge of your genre to be really helpful.

If you’re writing a book about a place and/or time that is not within the sphere of your personal experience, a beta reader who is familiar with those things is really necessary. You may manage with a huge amount of research, but you will miss things that a good beta reader will pick up. Even if you’ve already sold the novel you’re working on and have a great editor at your publishing house, it’s unlikely that your editor will know enough about (say) New Orleans in 1814 or the things Baptist church ladies in the Deep South are most likely to argue about.

Writing a second book set in the Deep South, I am a little more comfortable than I was last time — in some ways. But then again, Tied to the Tracks was centered around a small liberal arts college, and that is an environment I know very well. In some ways Pajama Jones is much more of a stretch. So beta readers? Absolutely necessary.

My Pajama Jones beta readers are friends, a married couple who live in the south. Between the two of them they can identify pretty much every misstep, but better still: they send me links to local newspaper stories and classified ads that provide excellent and genuine detail. And they don’t laugh at my Yankee mistakes. They are firm, but kind. No, I may not have these men playing touch football. Absolutely not, not in that town at that time. No, that is not how you address a preacher from that church. And so on.

Thus I am very aware of the debt I owe to my beta readers. I don’t know what I’d do without them.