Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Guest post from Eileen Clymer Schwab: Shining a Light on Dark Times

I'd like to welcome Eileen Clymer Schwab to the blog today.  In the following post, she discusses what inspires her to write about a tumultuous time in history - slavery in pre-Civil War America - and what she learned while researching the Underground Railroad.  Thanks, Eileen, for a thought-provoking post, which pinpoints the reasons I enjoy novels set during this period, too (and why I wish there were more of them).  If this isn't enough to get readers interested, Shadow of a Quarter Moon has an awesome cover. I'll be writing a review of it here in the coming weeks.

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?”

Let me confide to you that I am a “happily ever after” kind of gal. So the fact that I’ve written two novels against the backdrop of slavery in the 1800s may seem like a highly unusual choice. After all, what good can be gained by stirring old ghosts? For this reason, there is not a lot of adult fiction written about this period. I suspect this is because it is not a time our nation is proud of or wishes to reminisce over. Instead we hide it from sight like an ugly scar. Readers and writers alike often avoid revisiting these pre-Civil War years because of the horror and shame it stirs in our moral conscience.

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.

Shadow of a Quarter Moon and my first novel, Promise Bridge, shine light on both the villainous and heroic activity of that dark time. It was an honor to look back and give voice to a generation deserving of acknowledgment, tribute, and literary life, as with any other period in our history. Remembering and discussing their trials and triumphs can be one way of paying respect to their role in our social evolution. My hope is that the spirit of the Underground Railroad will never be forgotten.


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)


  1. Thanks for the great guest post! I had requested an ARC of this novel a few weeks back, and it ties into the historical re-enacting microbusiness that my mom and I run (we specialize in colonial-Civil War books about NC), so I'm glad to find some more information on it.

  2. Anonymous10:11 AM

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Susanna. Let me know via my web site if the ARC doesn't arrive. I'll be sure they get one to you. Thanks for your interest and enjoy the book!

    EC Schwab

  3. Thank you for writing about this time period! I am so frustrated with the endless string of Tudor books! I have a copy of your first book and I'm about to dive into it. Keep writing. Good luck with everything!

  4. Already on my wishlist, but thanks for this interview. :)

  5. Anonymous3:33 PM

    Thank you for the good wishes! Enjoy the book!

    EC Schwab

  6. I have always loved reading about American history - not necessarily the Civil War period - but if the story is good I will read anything. I think that even though it is a dark time in our history it is ripe with avenues to explore in fiction and there are those brave stories to tell. Thanks for this book.

  7. Eileen, I'm putting this post on my bookmarks list, because I so much appreciate you saying what I sometimes find hard to articulate. One of my books takes place during Russia's Stalinist period; and that book, as well as another, both deal specifically with the NKVD/KGB. Stuff of which nightmares are made. There are times when the research just gets heavy to carry; and others when someone's courage leaves me stunned.

    I think that researching those dark periods, more than any other, can be a life-changing thing for a writer--there gets to be a moral imperative to tell the truth.

    Thanks for coming to the blog (Sarah, I love meeting your "guests.") and good luck with your books!

  8. Historical fiction is my all time favourite. But sadly, I never got too many books on this genre.

    It was a lovely post...