Arnold writer of historical fiction turns her attention to Maryland in latest book

September 14, 1995|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun Staff Writer

Lucia St. Clair Robson, a writer of historical fiction, hates it when people assume she's a romance novelist.

"When you're a woman and you write something like this, they say it's a romance," said Ms. Robson, 52, of Arnold. "They tend to be dismissive about it."

Ms. Robson's writing skill and popularity cannot be ignored quite so easily. Hardcover copies of her fifth book, "Mary's Land," will hit the bookstores Tuesday. The novel describes the lives of two women -- one real, one fictional -- in Colonial Maryland.

Ms. Robson's first book, "Ride the Wind" was a New York Times and Washington Post best seller in 1982. The work has been optioned for a motion picture, and Ms. Robson has had three books named an alternate selections of the Literary Guild and the Doubleday Book Club.

Born in Baltimore and raised in West Palm Beach, Fla., Ms. Robson graduated from the University of Florida in 1964 with a bachelor's degree in sociology. She spent 10 years in the Peace Corps and teaching fourth grade in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In 1975, she moved to Arnold to become a librarian for the Anne Arundel County library system. In 1979, she came upon the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, a young girl kidnapped and raised by Comanches during the 1830s.

When Ms. Robson sent the first 80 pages of "Ride the Wind" to Pamela Strickler, a senior editor at Ballantine Publishing, she quickly received a $25,000 contract to finish the work.

"It was the only time in my life when I was literally looking for a chair to sit in," Ms. Robson recalled. "I was floored."

Her next two novels -- "Walk In My Soul" and "Light a Distant Fire" -- also documented the frequently violent relations between Native Americans and European settlers. Her fourth book, "Tokaido Road," re-created the mass suicide of 47 ronins -- lordless samurai -- after they avenged their lord's betrayal and death.

After writing "Tokaido Road," Ms. Robson said, it occurred to her to write about the community she has lived in for 20 years.

"It was time to discover the local history," she said. "I was busy for the past 20 years writing about other places that I don't know the history of this area."

Ms. Robson's newest work follows Anicah Smythe, a teen-age pickpocket sent to Lord Baltimore's colony as an indentured servant.

Anicah is fictional, but much of the setting and environment is not. Margaret Brent, who appears in the novel, was a daughter of English nobility. She came to the colonies to establish a home and openly practice her Roman Catholic faith.

Ms. Robson scoured about 350 sources on Maryland history to write her latest book. In contrast, about 90 sources were used for "Ride the Wind."

Ms. Robson said she writes "to rub people's noses in history."

"I want to show them how shabbily our ancestors have treated others," she said. "A lot of times, history has shortchanged people -- like women. You can find out what the president, general, prime minister, and emperor have done. But not with women."

Her next project is a fictional profile of a woman nicknamed "The Great Western." The character is a cook and laundress for the Texas militia. Ms. Robson already has gathered four bookshelves of research material for the novel.

She said she hopes to keep bringing history to life in her novels.

"The good thing about history is that it contains surprises," she said. "There's a never-ending supply."

Ms. Robson will be appearing from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Annapolis Crown Books on Main Street. She also will sign books from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 29 at Waldenbooks in the Annapolis Mall and at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Barnes & Noble in the Harbor Center.

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