What I'm Writing: Gods Willing
What I'm Reading: Doing research on Civil War era Boston
What I'm Knitting: Moooooo
The start of National Novel Writing Month is only about nine days away, so I've been frantically researching and planning my novel.
I usually don't have a lot of research to do when I write. I tend to either make up my own world where my only limitation is my own creativity, or base a story in the modern US - something I know.
I had planned on writing a romance for Nanowrimo this year, but this one little strand of thought kept nudging at my brain, telling me there was a different idea, a different storyline, I should persue. I let that nudge turn into a full-fledged kick and took a couple of weeks to flesh out an idea. I liked it and decided to run with it.
This idea: a Middle Grade novel that starts in a to-be-determined era in US history and then veers into the realm of fantasy, seemed pretty straight forward at first. It would be a I'm-kidnapped-and-need-to-save-myself type story. All well and good, right? Well, not so much.
First off, I needed a city - an industrial port town is essential to the plot. Boston! my mind shouted. 'k, I can do Boston - never been there, but I can do enough research to portray it well enough - and since this will be set.... hmmmm.... when would be a good time period?... how about just after the Civil War... yes, that's good - I won't have to know modern Boston, just a Boston during its growth.
No problem! Yeah, right.
I began planning out the plot, naming and then learning my characters, refreshing my knowledge of the mythic part of the novel, ordering books about historical Boston from ebay and my local library. It was going well - I was filling a journal with scraps of information, character studies, plot points - 30, 40... almost 50 pages. And then I received my first book on historical Boston and spent an evening and a bit of the next morning skimming through it. Wow.
I had already decided my MC would be an Irish boy, but little did I realize how reviled the Irish were in pre-Civl War Boston. The protestants hated the new Irish immigrants (Potato famine refugees by the thousands) - seeing them as violent, barbaric, even. The Irish took over much of the housing and many of the jobs the free blacks in Boston had held before, so that caused even more strife. The Irish, in turn, didn't much like the blacks - worrying that if slavery was abolished, they'd lose their jobs to the freed slaves who would flood north.
The Irish proved themselves during the Civil War, fighting for their new homeland and President, and so, after the war, they were more highly regarded (black Bostonians, on the other hand, didn't see as much benefit from the outcome of the war as the Irish did - Go figure. (and I'm not talking about blacks that won their freedom through the war - I'm speaking about already free blacks - big difference)).
So all this information seived through my brain and began changing the tone and complexity of this novel. I pushed back the time frame, deciding to set the novel during the Civil War. I had already created a character of African descent who would now have a bigger role in the book, thus bringing out some of the racism and fright/hatred of the period.
All of a sudden, this seemed like a hell of a lot to take on, but I believe I'm up to the task.
My biggest worry now is how to portray racism in a book meant for middle grade readers. I'm certainly not going to sugar-coat it, but I also don't want to push the envelope too far. I won't be using some of the language - the titles, if you will - that were hung on the people of different nationalities, as that would be too coarse. The story has to lead to understanding and redemption at least on an individual level, as history shows that we're still struggling, as a nation, with those ideas.
All-in-all, the novel is going to be grittier than I had first imagined, but more truthful as well.
I'd love to hear your thoughts - what place does historic racism have in the books children read?
I've pretty much decided that I'm not going to worry so much about what's considered polite and just write the hell out of this thing and see where it takes me.