Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday's Musings: The Backstory of The Freedom Thief

I've been thinking about the kinds of posts I want to write, as what kinds readers might want to read. Like many bloggers, I get bogged down and wonder what in the world I can write about that everyone hasn't already heard or read about. Today I'm going to tell you a little about The Freedom Thief, and how that story came to be written.

As a kid studying about the Civil War in around the 5th or 6th grade, I was fascinated by the fact that this war came about because of a difference of opinion or philosophy. And that that difference was so great, and so important to so many people, that it set family members against one another, as well as friends against friends. Of course, as I grew to adulthood, I came to realize that wars most often start because of that difference of opinion and philosophy, but never since the Civil War have we seen a division in philosophy of such magnitutde that it set brother against brother.

As a result of this interest, I became an avid reader of the Civil War, and of the organization known as the Underground Railroad, those men and women of Abolitionist and Quaker beliefs who organzied to help slaves escape their bonds and find freedom.

At the end of my first course of study at the Institute of Children's Literature, my last assignment was to write at least the beginings of a novel. Nothing pleased me more than to be able to turn my fascination with the Civil War and the Underground Railroad into a novel of adventure for kids.

When I first began this story, I titled it "Escape on The Train Without Tracks."  My critique group thought the main character should be a boy, but about 15 or 16 years old. However, that age would bring it into the YA category, and I wanted this to be a middle grade novel. So I settled on a boy, 13 years old, but close to his 14th birthday. In the 1800s, especially on farms and plantations, both boys and girls of 13 took on a lot of responsibility in their families, working in the fields, helping train, groom, and drive the field horses, doing housework, cooking, learning to sew clothes, and so on. By the time boys turned 14, they were considered grown. I knew that this boy was going to organize an escape for his slave friends, and the younger he was, although still old enough to be plausible, the more impact it would have on young readers.

Ben McKenna became my 13 year old Main Character. I think probably I ascribed to him some of the characteristics of my older brother, who as a young boy, very often had a "difference of opinion" from my parents. And who often paid the price! Ben has two older brothers, Andrew and James, who are both very opinionated but seldom apart from their parents. All of the boys, as well as their parents, were born and raised in Kentucky, although the boys were raised in the city rather than on a plantation. Ben's mother grew up on her father's hemp plantation, where the final edition of this story begins. His father was not, yet both parents held very solid beliefs in the institution of slavery, and passed those beliefs along to Andrew and James. At the age of 5, Ben's father accepted a job in New York, and for the next 5 years, Ben grew up in the schools of the North, which taught him that slavery is a sin. He accepted those beliefs, but never discussed them or asked questions about slavery of his parents, as he already knew where they stood on the subject.

I did some heavy research into the background of the Underground Railroad, and was overwhelmed by the degree to which the Abolitionists and Quakers would go to help the runaway slaves. Thus, the first version of this story was heavily into that part of the Civil War. My instructor loved it, but even as I wrote, something was dinging me at the back of my mind.  For a while, it never occurred to me that even a responsible, almust-adult 13 year old boy would probably not be privy to some of the information I was including in the story. I finished the first version of this story with glowing comments from my instructor, and a Certificate of Completion of Writing For Children and Teenagers from the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL).

The more I read and re-read my manuscript, the more I realized that something was off. I decided a needed more concentrated help, and enrolled in the Advanced Novel Writing Course at ICL.  But there, my hopes faded away, as my instructor informed me that there were too many novels on the market about the Underground Railroad, and he didn't want me to pursue this venue. He wanted me to write a contemporary novel, instead. From his course, "The Year of The Scream, or Why I Hate Cheerleading, Chocolate, and Celine Carroll" was born. This novel's title has since been changed to "Cheers, Chocolate, and Other Disasters," which will be published by MuseItUp Publishing in spring, 2014.

I was thrilled with this instructor, and had a ball writing Cheers, but at the same time, I never lost hope for my Civil War novel. In my next post, I'll continue my personal adventure that led to the finished and published product of THE FREEDOM THIEF. I hope you'll stay tuned!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

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