Duty to the Crown: A Conversation with Aimie K. Runyan

10/25/2016 09:04 am ET

Duty to the Crown is the second novel in Aimie K. Runyan’s Daughers of New France series, which captures the fates of recent immigrants to Canada. These newly transplanted women agreed to support the founding of this new nation by finding marriages and starting families. As their relationships, commitments, and families expand, Duty to the Crown explores the variety of challenges faced by Deschamps, Giroux, and Lefebrve women in matters of the heart and survival.

I was most shocked by the fate facing Gabrielle from the law requiring her to marry by sixteen. How did you discover this law? How long did it stay on the record? How was it enforced?

There are really detailed accounts of the laws passed down by Louis XIV to his colonies and this was obviously something that is hard to ignore. It was a tidbit I found during research for Promised that I couldn’t use because all of those women were French born. I KNEW I had to put this detail into a book, and in fact, it was one of the things that lit the spark for writing a next-generation book for Promised to the Crown. I think it was phased out in the late 1600s and was enforced by making the parents of unwed girls over the age of 16 and unwed boys over 20 pay fairly steep fines. It’s important to bear in mind that the colonists were very cash poor (even if their farms were thriving) and any fine would have been an extreme hardship.

You continue to explore the complex nature of women’s relationships in Duty to the Crown. What informs your experience of writing about women? What do you hope these portrayals say about sisterhood and friendship?

I grew up in a family where women outnumbered men four to one. Even the dog was a girl. My sisters and I were horrid to each other as girls at times, but we were always the first to champion one another from “outsiders”. My mother also had a very complex relationship with her mother that was fascinating to dissect. The relationship between my grandmother and her daughters-in-law? Riveting. Despite the sometimes (or frequently) contentious relationships, there was always an underpinning of love. If not always love, at least loyalty. That’s what Duty is about. The forging of family when not all of the members have the same goals and outlook on life.

The women in Promised work together fairly seamlessly to overcome the initial challenges, the women in Duty aren’t making the same voyage that immediately bonds them. They have to learn how much they need one another in their own ways. This conclusion comes at different moments for each of the main characters, but the end realization is the same: no one will ever be there for me like my sisters.

I also appreciated the Huron points of views that you brought into Duty to the Crown. How did you learn about this tribe? Did you face any concerns about portraying First Nations peoples without stereotyping?

I was fortunate in that one of my sisters is actually an expert on Native Americans in California (and elsewhere, but California is her specialty) and she was able to point me to some great resources (of course, any gaffes are my own). The tricky part is that this tribe I wrote about was living very near the French, somewhat protected by them. They were dwindling in numbers due to the invasions of the Iroquois, disease, and other hardships. By the time the book takes place, there were not vast numbers of the Loretteville Huron around, nor a vast amount of information about their lives.

I have to believe the peace between the French and the Huron was uneasy, and that the Huron were desperate to retain the last shards of their community without being too influenced by their French neighbors. I would have loved to include more of this in the book, but there was a lot of story to get into 400 pages with a triple narrative. Manon herself was easy to write. She was torn between two cultures and didn’t know where to make a home for herself. That isn’t a strictly First Nation problem—it’s an element of the human experience. Having lived overseas, I could call upon my own experiences feeling “dépaysée” or out of my element when in a new culture.

What is next for you as an author?

I am thrilled to announce that I have sold my third novel, currently titled Night Witches to Lake Union. It’s a story of the brave women who flew for the Soviet Union in World War Two, and who played an integral part in the allied victory over the Third Reich. It’s scheduled to release in November, 2017! I’ll also be making appearances at the Writer’s Digest Conference later this month and will be speaking at Indiana University in early November. Lots on the docket!!!

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