03 August 2007

Dutch Treat

Growing up in New York state, only miles from Sleepy Hollow (yes, that Sleepy Hollow) I had early exposure to Dutch history and folklore. Maybe numerous retellings of Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (though I can't bring myself to see the Johnny Depp version; I know he's brilliant, but I can't bear anyone tampering with Ichabod Crane.)planted the seed and later the Valerie Sherwood novels I gobbled in college watered it. However it started, I'm noticing Dutch references in my own stories more often than not.

An urban legend about the ghost of a Dutch settler spooks the heroine of my first historical, My Outcast Heart. The hero of "Never Too Late" has a Dutch name, the heroine of my time travel WIP is proud of her Dutch heritage and one of the core families in the saga I'm co-writing with a partner is Dutch. In a novel I'm shopping around now, Jonnet and Simon fall in love while in the Dutch exile of the English Civil War. So, what's the appeal? Beyond the wooden shoes, cheese and tulips?

The Netherlands, or The Low Countries, depending on the period, enjoys a golden age during my favorite periods to set my romances. Duking it out with England and Spain for mastery of the seas, and the booming trade of the Renaissance, Dutch merchants and explorers traveled across the oceans to the Caribbean, and the New World. Tons of story potential both on the respectable side, and during the golden age of piracy that followed.

When a college friend tracked me down across campus to physically put a Valerie Sherwood novel in my hand and tell me I had to read it, the history and legends I'd absorbed in childhood took on a new dimension as I read her tales of love and adventure, in the bustling city of Amsterdam and the wilds of New Amsterdam colony with the wealth of the patroons contrasted with the new land. I knew I had to know more and more. In fact, I gleaned so much that I was able to ace a colonial history exam with an essay question about Dutch contributions to colonial society. Trust me, we can thank Dutch ingenuity in ice travel for keeping colonial trade going during the colonial winters.

Dutch women, historically, often had more rights and freedoms than their English sisters. They had an easier time if they wanted or needed to fend for themselves economically, even instigate divorce. Now wouldn't that be an interesting twist?

Ingenuity flourishes throughout Dutch history, with farmers, artists, artisans, scholars and nobles abounding. With the current market expanding to include a wider variety of settings, and the Fox network about to debut their New Amsterdam drama series, maybe readers will be interested in discovering a few Dutch treats of their own.