I’ve been working on my first book for the last two years now. I am trying to write it for a 6th to 8th grade level and in such a manner as to fit within a curriculum on runaway slaves in particular and slavery in general. The story is inspired by real people- two slaves named Betsey and Welcome– although I have taken liberty with the facts (let us call it artistic license) to fill in large gaps in their story. In many ways I’ve tried to include modern scholarship to show what the experience of an average slave was like. However, such is near impossible for the average experience of a slave was quite different depending on where they lived (Mississippi vs. North Carolina), their job (field vs. house), their individual master (a whole gamut running from benevolent to malicious), and a host of other reasons. Consequently, I decided on writing a story that would accurately reflect the conditions, choices, and struggles that many slaves faced during the antebellum period in the American South.
I’ve tried to include as many aspects of slavery as possible- the well known and the not so well known. Also the contradictions and the competing loyalties take center stage quite often as characters negotiate difficult relationships: friendships that exist within the boundaries of the slave system’s social order, a master who considers himself benevolent but learns otherwise when his authority is challenged, familial bonds that kept some slaves from running away while others who chose to runaway fought with and lived with the memories of family members left behind, and the pain of loss at the extreme cruelties of the slave system that led many to choose deprivation, hunger, and even death over a life of enslaved misery. The story is difficult to read at times, but it is important to know and understand how the slave system impacted the lives of everyday men, women, and children. Why? Because it is easy to get lost in statistics. As Joseph Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Through some odd quirk the death and suffering of many is easier to understand, process, and push aside than the death of one person. Perhaps it isn’t an odd quirk though, since we usually come to know and understand the one person better. We can hear about their life, their accomplishments, their dreams. The million dead merge into one tangled mess that we often don’t have the time or energy to explain or understand. Their dreams, hopes, accomplishments, and loves are lost with them. Part of my goal in writing this story is to resurrect some small part of those great hopes and deep anguishes in a way that allows modern readers to connect with a slave girl who isn’t just a statistic.
Let me know what you think in the comments section. I haven’t done a lot of editing yet as I am still writing my way through the first draft. So don’t be too surprised if you catch a typo or even a dozen. I’ll post the first chapter on Monday. Here is the Introduction which will hopefully catch your interest. And be honest. Most books gain or loss their reader’s interest in the first paragrpah or page, so let me know if you were left wanting more or not. Thanks!
On Toward Freedom