Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Making of Jewelweed Station

(This was originally published in Kim's Weird & Wonderful Gazette. I write about each of the books that were published over the last six months. I do have a FAQ page for Jewelweed Station, but here I write in a little more depth about what was going on as I began to write this book. Enjoy!)

Jewelweed Station was inspired by the Scarlet Pimpernel which was a favorite book of mine when I was young. For one thing, I was impressed that this man could let himself be seen as a fool when he was really a hero. I never liked appearing foolish. I still don’t. Yet for a greater cause, he was able to pretend to be someone he wasn’t—someone who was pretty loathsome.  I wanted to write an American version of the Scarlet Pimpernel only I wanted the main character to be younger, maybe even a teen. When I asked myself what was the American equivalency of the Reign of Terror, I immediately thought of slavery.

I had studied the Underground Railroad in depth on other occasions. I knew there was no historical evidence that white Southerners participated in the Underground Railroad. In fact, most of the participants on the Underground Railroad were freed and escaped slaves, as far as historians know.  

History is an avocation of mine. It was one of my minors in college. And this is what I know for certain: We know only a fraction of the truth about history. Even our own history. Think about your own life. If someone were to write a history of your life, just what you did over the last month, what would they write? They’d have to trust what you told them, first off, and you’d  probably only tell them about the big events—if there were any—and you’d probably only tell them about the big events you thought were socially acceptable.

In other words, most of our history is left out of history books. As a writer, I do research, but then I let my imagination take over. And there’s no one alive who can contradict me in the case of Jewelweed Station. If things were done in secret, how would we ever know? If a person in the South wanted to help slaves escape, she would have to be extremely secretive because to do otherwise would put herself and her family and descendants in jeopardy.

So Calantha “Callie” Carter was born. She wasn’t as young as I originally thought she would be, mostly because she’d have to have some maturity to be part of the Underground Railroad. Plus I wanted her to be old enough for a romance with a young man, not a boy. 

Originally I wanted this book to be a fun adventure. Callie would pretend she was stupid while she was really doing great things behind the scenes. I soon realized that realistically Callie would be under some very tight restrictions because her parents were dead and because she was a young Southern woman with very little autonomy. So this wasn’t going to be easy for Callie.

She was young and inexperienced and used to getting her own way. I wanted her to try many things and fail. That seemed realistic to me. Naiveté can be a dangerous thing.

There were other reasons it couldn’t be a fun adventure. Slavery is not an adventure. The more research I did, the more the realities of slavery turned my stomach. For a time, I didn’t think I could write the book. I didn’t want to make slavery “entertaining.” I didn’t want to be exploitive.

Eventually, I realized I could write the book if it wasn’t a simple adventure story. It became a complex story about a young woman finding her true self and coming to terms with her family history and the terrible history of her own community. She has to decide—just like I think we all have to decide—how to deal with injustice: Does she stand up or does she fall down?

She tries to stand up for a long time and she keeps falling down. But she won’t let people be abused in her name. She has to learn to be strong and humble at the same time.

This story had twists and turns in it that I didn’t expect. This always happens when I’m writing, and I think it’s one of the reasons I love to write so much. I won’t tell you about those twists here, of course, since I don’t want to spoil to the story for you.

Although Jewelweed Station is a complete story, I am planning two other books with these characters. We’ll see how it goes!

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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.