Category Archives: historic fiction

Check and check

Have I converted PeeDee to Pee Dee and PonPon Road to Pon Pon with a space? Did I switch all references to the Berber people to “Tuaregs” instead of Twuareg or Tuarog?

Have I made sure every “genteel” references refined society and not “gentiles” (oops)? Did I consistently spell lightning without an “e” in the middle and do I maybe have one too many thunderstorms?

Did I flesh out the “tag along slave” Phoebe enough for the reader to be able to see her?

Does the traumatized, silent Maggie speak early enough in the story for her late chapters to land?

Have I eliminated the second explanation of “free by courtesy”?

(if you’re curious, it’s a state of emancipation brought on by custom, not by papers like manumission papers or a will — often occurred in situations when an enslaved person was repeatedly promised that they’d be freed by will and then their owner failed to write or update their will. If that slave then acted as if they were free for long enough, they’d be considered “free by courtesy”). I probably don’t need to add that ANY version of freedom for a Black person in the 1740’s was tenuous and subject to the violent whims of white people.

Did I eliminate enough text in the middle for the pacing to work better?

Is there too much Eliza?

If my mustee character (half Pee Dee, half African), Indian Pete, is based on Prince, a man described in Archibald Rutledge’s memoir, will it be enough to add a citation in notes at the end?

From Home By The River: Prince had a “kinship with nature as unfeigned as it was intimate.” He was “untouched by any human school of philosophy … but deeply read in the oracles of God.” Prince once plowed a field with a half wild bull that other field workers would walk a quarter mile out of their way to avoid, earning Prince no end of admiration.

Have I fixed all the erroneous capital H’s that I managed to insert while fixing the naming of a ship, the Hound? (Hounds show up with surprising frequency).

My dear cousin Ginny printed out the manuscript for me! With almost all the inputs, too. It will be very different to give it a read through on paper.

Thank you Ginny!

Today I woke with this thought: if we hold onto the House and flip the Senate (and trump wins), we would be able to impeach AND convict him. Given all the totalitarian strategies being employed by trump and Barr to steal the election, maybe this is the thing to focus on?

Hazel ship plus historic ship plus — sigh — Chadwick Bozeman. May he sail free.

Pin by Liz, my father’s Army picture, and from Twelve Years a Slave, Chiwetel Eijofor.

Maroons or the untamed

I “attended” a three hour seminar with Anne Lamott this weekend. I’ll probably be talking about it for a while. She went over many of the tools explicated in her famous book on writing, Bird by Bird, but first let me say how happy I was to hear that she includes research in writing time!

Here’s a little taste of the rabbit hole I went down this week for my novel.

“Wherever Africans were enslaved in the world, there were runaways who escaped permanently and lived in free independent settlements. These people and their descendants are known as “maroons.” The term probably comes from the Spanish cimarrón, meaning feral livestock, fugitive slave or something wild and defiant.”

Smithsonian article about The Great Dismal Swamp and its long history of maroon communities. Written September 2016 by Richard Grant featuring the archeology of the intrepid Dan Sayers.

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“By downplaying American marronage, and valorizing white involvement in the Underground Railroad, historians have shown a racial bias, in Sayers’ opinion, a reluctance to acknowledge the strength of black resistance and initiative.”

It is well known that researching the history of enslaved people is difficult. For one thing, primary sources are few and far between. Then there’s white ignorance and racial animus in creating secondary sources.

Even in the instance of the Federal Writers’ Project, which collected first person accounts from Blacks who had lived under slavery, the narratives are inherently unreliable because they were recorded by white people.

Think: white person with a clipboard.

Think: Black person talking to a white person with a clipboard.

Even with the best of intentions, we can assume that white minds listening to Black thoughts and speech applied some kind of filter. And we can also assume that Black speakers shaped what they said in some way because of their white audience.

Enslaved people had little by way of possessions. A community in a remote swamp likely owned or collected even less than those dwelling “on the street” (a common naming for a collection of slave quarters).

Slave communities are nevertheless of great interest to archeologists, as evidenced by Dan Sayers in this article and by recent excavations at Monticello and Mount Vernon.

My research has also turned up references to maroon communities in the swamps north and west of Charles Town. It seems that these groups may have initially been comprised of Natives, who then welcomed fugitive slaves. The Smithsonian article posits the idea that whites fleeing indentured servitude also found their way to some of these remote areas.

Update on Second Edit of my novel: the sagging middle is getting slashed (good example of another thing Lamott talked about, the famous advice to “kill your darlings”) and the ending is being expanded.

I’m back to the pin board for the final year of chronology. (Lamott also uses this visual trick, by the way, though she described taping pieces of paper around her entire living room).

It’s important to have a map of your story SOMEWHERE. I’m not adept enough to keep it all in my head. For some stretches, this pin board had every chapter pinned to it, color-coded by POV. After a while the directory in Word on my laptop served as an outline, because I put each chapter in a separate word doc and used a consistent naming protocol that arranged them chronologically.

Right now I’m working on two large documents so until I resurrected the pin board it was a little like flying blind.

A second edit is so, so important, Lamott said, so much so that she won’t show her work to anyone until she’s done one. (oops!)

Before the second edit comes what she calls “the shitty first draft.” That’s a liberating shorthand for all kinds of things, but perhaps mostly as encouragement to forgo perfectionism or debilitating ideas about inspiration.

Another way to say it, she shared, is from Nike: Just Do It.

The heat has been brutal. Today a little less so. Do you know what it’s like walking a dog on paved sidewalks in 97 degree heat?

And lastly, I call yesterday a good day. How unfamiliar the sensation of relief twinned with hope! Biden and Harris both gave great speeches. You can view on YouTube (August 12).

PS WordPress screwed with typefont again. Ugh.

A lot of wind

Muggy air continues. Gusty wind all day and in the last hour, rain.

Finished this. A little press will tidy the edges a bit. The fabric for the moons was dyed with indigo in South Carolina. The woven sections came after a class with Jude. I just couldn’t stop making woven rectangles for a while. The crab was stitched down a lot of years ago. It’s good to finish things, isn’t it?

But mostly, I’ve been editing. Received written comments from my editor on the last section of novel yesterday and spoke with her today.

I’ve known all along that the last bit drags. How to fix? Invent a crisis? Shorten the timeline?

I’m going with the recommendation (long-considered) of skipping a batch of years. It’s gonna help so much!

In the meantime, I need to start submitting chapters here and there with the hopes of getting part of the novel in print. It helps you get published.

The following two photos come from a tiny book called, The Art of Seeing. They were the prompts in the writing session this morning.

I’m upstairs. The book is downstairs. I’ll provide photographer’s names after dinner.

They were effective prompts.

Up before dawn

Downstairs by four. Reading. An old Mary Stewart romance: The Moonspinners.

I have a new mental touchstone. Not quite a mantra, but close. At odd times during the day I remind myself that I am having a day that my mother did not get. She did not live to be 63 1/2. A day she did not get.

The next week, at least, will be very busy. The editor and I spoke for close to an hour yesterday. At last! We got into the weeds: chapter heading formatting, the improper use of single quotes, when to italicize.

Also addressed some content: Why Saffron has no African name when the other characters who made the Middle Passage do. Where to cut in chapters of secondary characters (Eliza’s father, Melody’s first owner). And voice. That’s a biggie. An author’s note at front was recommended to address the fact that none of the enslaved characters would have had the English vocabulary I’ve given them.

Historic fiction selection

1) One novel does not belong, for at least three fairly obvious reasons

2) Two feature Frederick Douglass as a character

3) One makes Harriet Tubman a prominent character

4) Two books follow John Brown

5) Two take place during the Civil War

6) One makes Walt Whitman a primary character

7) One features larger-than-life slave catchers and takes place around the Chesapeake Bay

8) One novel goes to the Arctic and features balloon travel

9) One has a character who gives birth to her enslaver’s baby

10) Another has a main character who is his enslaver’s child

11) Two former enslaved characters travel to England

12) One freed slave sleeps with her female “employer” and becomes addicted to opium and is accused of murder

13) One story includes the beheading of Thomas Moore and stays close to the thoughts of Thomas Cromwell

14) One tracks a fugitive slave from South Carolina who escapes north and serves as scribe for the British during the Revolutionary War, earning her freedom