Shining a Light on Dark Times
One of the questions I often hear from readers is, “Do you find it difficult to write novels that are set in such a brutal period of American history?”
As an author, I am inspired by the strength and courage of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances; how friends, family, and inner conviction can change the course of our lives. Endless stories of inspiration, danger, upheaval, and bold beginnings are waiting to be unearthed from the ashes. In keeping the door closed on this period, we miss the chance to celebrate and marvel at the incredible acts of courage and daring deeds that were the genesis of social change in our country. The secret network known as the Underground Railroad is the perfect example of the best of America in the worst of America, and it serves as a vehicle of transformation for the main character in my latest novel.
In Shadow of a Quarter Moon, an unimaginable secret changes the course of Jacy Lane’s life; not once, but twice. First, when it is hidden from her, and then when it is revealed. As the daughter of a plantation owner, Jacy has been raised in privilege until she discovers that she is the offspring of a dalliance between her father and a slave. Amid the shock and complexities of her mixed heritage, Jacy is simply a woman longing for love, happiness, and a sense of wholeness; however the 1800s are not a simple time, and Jacy begins a treacherous journey of denial and self-discovery that is fraught with danger and life-altering choices. She soon discovers that what she chases is as elusive as the secret network she hopes can save them.
Writing a novel against this turbulent backdrop required a great deal of research. Often it was heart-wrenching, and at other times, awe-inspiring. For me, research is a process of discovery – not just of historical facts, but of tendencies, beliefs, and nuances of the time. Through this process I become better acquainted with my characters and the world around them. I wanted to touch and see as much as I could, beginning at the library, as well as visiting places like the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and other historic sites found within our National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. So often the surprises discovered in research shift plotlines or shape characters in unexpected ways. For example, while doing some research in North Carolina, I came across Dismal Swamp. As a writer, I could not overlook a name so vivid and descriptive, and I knew it would be mentioned in my story. At the time, I had no idea that the bleak sounding region was so rich and storied in Underground Railroad history, or that it would play such a significant role in my novel.
Visit Eileen Clymer Schwab at her website, blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Shadow of a Quarter Moon is published today, July 5th, by NAL at $15.00 (trade paperback, 400pp). (Photo credit: Portrait Innovations)