Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

October IWSG: Have I Slipped?

I typically spend about three years in writing my historical fiction stories, all set mid-19th Century in times of great upheaval. My characters struggle, and I love to write about them as they fight their way out of despair to a new life they’ve crafted.

In Standing Stones, Mac McDonnell protests evictions by the new landowner of a tiny island in northern Scotland. As Book 1 ends, Mac is jailed, sent to a prison ship in London, and then shipped to a penal colony in Australia. 

Years of Stone, Book 2, follows Mac as he struggles to survive a seven-year sentence in Van Diemen’s Land. Mac doesn’t know that Deidre, his sweetheart, has followed him. Do they get that ‘happy-ever-after’ ending?

That leads me to Rivers of Stone, Book 3 of the McDonnell clan. 

I loved researching and planning the story of what second brother Dougal McDonnell did as he left his island home. But Rivers of Stone is really about Catriona’s journey. She disguises herself as a boy and, with Dougal, is hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company (based on a true story). Once they land at York Factory in Upper Manitoba, Cat and Dougal are separated. 

Catriona’s inventiveness, and chance meeting with Canadian artist Paul Kane, take her all the way to Fort Vancouver in the Oregon Territory, a wonderful story that essentially asks: Will Cat and Dougal get that ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.

In the earliest drafts of Rivers of Stone, I struggled for months over how to stage that ‘happily-ever-after’ ending, for essentially Dougal abandoned Catriona at the first opportunity. How could she forgive him? After the first draft was complete, I realized (with the help of beta readers) that I had profiled an abused wife. This was not the story I wanted to tell.

I do write intuitively and then work as logically as I can. With Rivers of Stone, for some reason, my characters played out the drama of my childhood. I didn’t realize how toxic and how long lasting these underlying issues were. Despite many years of a solid marriage, I still painted the picture of a woman who was mistreated, undervalued, and abandoned. 

Deep revision followed, and I am happy to report that Catriona displays the strength and personal growth of a true heroine.

This month’s IWSG question is: Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose? 

My answer is yes, but, thank goodness for editing and perseverance! Working on the emotional bedrock of a story, its subliminal message, is not easy. But maybe that’s just what readers take away after they finish reading that last page.

Thank you to IWSG October co-hosts Olga Godim, Chemist Ken, Jennifer Hawes, and Tamara Narayan! Read what others have posted for the Insecure Writers' Study Group HERE.

Have a great month reading and writing. Remember that NaNoWriMo is just a few weeks away.