I recently published, via Amazon.com’s print-on-demand program Create Space, my historical novel Down The River. The story grew out of my family history research when I came across the murders of two of my ancestors in 1813 in an argument over slaves. I was taking writing classes through the University of California Extension in San Francisco and started playing with scene and setting and all the other techniques one needs to grasp. I landed upon the idea of telling the story from the only eyewitness, the slave Phyllis whose title, and that of her two small children, was in question. Records of the time show their total value as $150.
The novel was pushed aside by others, a mystery that never sold, and some history projects that did. But the approach remained the same, to tell the story of David Morgan, most powerful man in the county, through the eyes of one of his African slaves. I was fortunate in that there was little recorded about the incident so that I had a largely blank canvas with which to work. Authors of historical fiction are entitled to move things around to simplify the narrative as long as they keep to the essence of the story and load up on detail. And in my case I had to convincingly sound like a freed female slave writing some fifty years after the event. It was a huge stretch for a white guy from Seattle in 2011 to sound like a black woman from Kentucky in 1867. About all we had in common was the English language and (spoiler alert) decendency from the central characters.
I benefitted from the critiques from my writers group, a real paid editor, and the detailed work of a book development class at Portland State University which picked up a draft after their publishing arm passed on it. The best part of that process was to sit in a room and listen to educated readers talk about my characters and my story as if it had real import. I arrived at the final, final draft and when I started using a Kindle opted for the ebook and publish on demand avenue.
So far I have sent out more complimentary review copies than in sales, but I am very encouraged by the feedback. Of particular value is this comment from an old colleague also pursuing the writing life in this chapter of life who is an African American living in Philadelphia: “you have the language, cadence, and reactions down well — which could be difficult to do for someone of a different race.”