Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday's Musings: The Backstory of The Freedom Thief, Part Two

After I finished the first novel course with ICL, I knew that I still wanted to pursue my historical novel. I thought the best way to do this was to take still another novel course with ICL, but this time, ask for someone who wrote historical fiction.

Because I was a long time student (by this time) with ICL, they sent me a list of instructors who wrote and liked to teach historical fiction. So I had a choice of instructors...but not knowing any of them,  I definitely chose the wrong one.

At first, she was very interested in what I had already written, but then her comments grew longer and longer and more critical. After a few assignments, it was obvious that the story was not going in the direction I wanted. I tried to explain things to her, what I wanted from her, where I wanted the story to point of view. All to no avail. My husband told me I should ask for a new instructor, and I probably should have, but I just didn't want to go through this whole "introductory" period again, get a new perspective that may or may not go along with mine. So I stayed with her, and that was a big mistake on my part.

I finished the course in 10 months instead of a little more than a year, which the previous course had taken me.  I was profoundly disgusted with the instructor, and everything else. I put my story away, started writing non-fiction articles for pay for an on-line educational site, wrote a couple of short stories that I got published, and tried to forget the whole experience. No such luck. Ben kept haunting me, telling me that I had to write his story...but MY way.

So I dug "Escape..." out of the files, and reread the entire manuscript. The first five chapters were what bugged me the most. My instructor had insisted that there had to be a "backstory" for Ben...FIVE CHAPTERS worth! That was ridiculous. Any agent or editor reading the first three chapters they normally ask for would still not have any idea of what the story was really about. I had gone over this with my instructor until I was blue in the face, but she was adamant.

Those five chapters contained nothing but setting the stage for the reasons Ben hated slavery, and his parents and two older brothers believed in it. They told in detail why the relationship between Ben and his father was a sore point for everyone. They went into detail about his arguments with his brothers. In other words, it was an information dump of the worst kind. I hated writing it then, I hated it now.

Those five chapters had to go. I deleted every word, and started over. After a few days, I stopped. Another big flaw: Ben had too much knowledge for a boy of his age about the Underground Railroad. Worse, he had learned this information by overhearing conversations in did he get to town, and why would he be overhearing that kind of a conversation in a town that supported the institution of slavery?... and between his grandmother and her friends, all secret Abolitionists. It was all wrong. This was not the story I wanted to tell. It was what my INSTRUCTOR had wanted me to write. Once again I was going in the wrong direction.  Back to the drawing board, and more research.

Several months later, I hit upon a piece of research that was like a dash of cold water in my face. Of course! This is where you're supposed to be headed, dummy! From that moment on, everything changed, and the story began to flow. I'm not a person who uses outlines for my work, I simply sit down and let my imagination take over. This time, I was in high gear! Over the next couple of months, my thoughts came together: I edited, revised, rewrote, edited some more. A few more revisions, and The Freedom Thief was born and baptized.

In my next post, I'll talk about some of the things in real life that I incorporated into this story, as well as how the name The Freedom Thief came about...for once, the title did not come from my imagination, but from real life research on the Civil War.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. I am sorry your instructor caused you to put your manuscript on hold, but am very happy you resurrected it. I love historical fiction--and your book.

    1. Thanks, Sherry. It really was not a good experience with my instructor, and I was shocked. The other two from ICL were wonderful, and I learned so much from them about what I didn't know that I didn't know about writing! Wait...I guess I did learn something from NOT to write an information dump LOL Glad you liked the book!

  2. That's the pits about your instructor but things do happen for a reason! Maybe you just weren't ready to get the story out at that particular time. Maybe all things led to that day you finally found the research that splashed water on your face! If it hadn't happened in the way it did, perhaps your story wouldn't have turned into what it did and you wouldn't have found a publisher!! Makes sense, huh? However, it sure is hard to see things clearly when you have a sucky instructor or you get a bad review on your work! But unfortunately, it's all a part of a writers growth...amongst 5000 other blocks in the road!

    1. Allyn, you're right about that. After the way Thief evolved into what it is today, I know the "other story" was not right and most likely wouldn't have been published. It was good as far as it went, but it didn't go far enough, nor, really, in the right direction. However, it is difficult to recognize that at the time things's the same with rejections from agents or editors, sometimes the ONLY thing wrong is the story is wrong for that particular person, not that it is a bad story or bad writing. We writers sure learn a lot about PATIENCE during our journey, don't we? LOL