(January 26, 2009)
I decided it really didn't make much sense to start talking about an interview with my characters unless people know a little something about my project first.
Dancing in the Checkered Shade is a work of historical fiction and a love story that follows in the tradition of books I cherished when I was a teen reader, works like Hannah Fowler by Janice Holt Giles, The Edge of Time by Loula Grace Erdman, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, and Judith of France by Margaret Leighton. I won't flatter myself by pretending my book is on an equal basis with those classics, but they were my role models. I hope Dancing in the Checkered Shade will appeal to readers of any age who enjoyed those books, as well as to young adults who are reading some of the fine historical fiction available now, like No Shame, No Fear by Ann Turnbull or Pirates! by Celia Rees.
The story is told in first-person by a young woman (Maggie Boon) who has impulsively married a stranger (John David McKellar) to escape from her abusive father. She gets more than she bargained for when John David decides to take her to Mexican Texas to try for one of the free land grants Stephen F. Austin has arranged. During their trip toward Texas, Maggie and John David face physical and emotional challenges that threaten to drive them apart. However, they find the faith and love to hold on to their dreams, even in the face of failure.
I first had the idea for these characters and the story 20+ years ago (I suspect a young man I was "chasing" at the time had a strong influence on my creative process, lol!). I never wrote anything more than character sketches, though, until five years ago. One night as I was bringing my kids home from a school function and listening to my favorite Irish music CD, I was struck with an urge to pick the project up again. For once, I didn't procrastinate! I worked on the manuscript in the spare time leftover from being a full-time teacher and mother and wife. At the end of three years, I had a manuscript with 269,000 words.
Fortunately, I was pragmatic enough to realize no one can get away with a book THAT long except Victor Hugo. I began the process of editing, a process that I finally wrapped up about two months ago. During those two years, I trimmed out more than half of what I'd written originally, ending up with a manuscript of 110,000 words. I don't regret anything that was left in the computer's recycle bin - the story now is much stronger.
One thing that happened as I was writing is that I realized there was too much story for one book (those 269,000 words didn't even cover part of what I'd originally plotted). So, as much as I fear falling into the cliche' of producing a sequel, I'm working on a second book about Maggie and John David, focusing on their experiences once they settled in Arkansas Territory. Actually, this portion of the story has more dramatic historical content, because it will deal with how the Cherokee were pushed out of Arkansas and into what later became Oklahoma. Because of the plot events needed to tell the second story, I will have to shift from having Maggie tell the story to having John David be the narrator. As a woman, and a married woman at that, Maggie wouldn't move in the same circles as those male officials. After all, it wasn't until the late 1820s that Frances Wright pioneered public speaking for women. I do have a plausible way, though, that John David can interact with the officials (I got the idea while reading through the historical documents).
Whether it was because I'm intimidated by the idea of writing from a man's perspective, or if I'm intimidated by writing about actually historical events, or simply because I'm procrastinating again, I'm having trouble writing John David's voice. Nan Hawthorne has suggested an interview with him. We'll see.