People often ask where I get my ideas. The answer seems simple—ideas come fromthe people we meet, the things we read, the places we go, the songs we know. But the first kernel of an idea is not enough to create a novel.
So, how does a kernel develop into a book? For me, it starts when an idea won’t let go. Characters start chattering in my head. Scenes start playing out in my day dreams. I sometimes spend years thinking about an idea before I actually start writing. Then I do a lot of research to learn more about the period. I want my historical fiction to immerse the reader in a world as real and accurate as possible. I want the reader to know what it was like to live ‘back then.’
My historical novel, A Mistake of Consequence, developed in just that way. The first idea came from a college class in American Women’s Studies. We read many primary documents, including one about a young woman who had been indentured in Virginia. She wrote her father, complaining of the horrible conditions there and begging him to send ‘his poor undutiful daughter’ adequate clothing. Her heartfelt letter made me want to learn more.
My curiosity led to major research about indenture, a practice was quite common in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Indenture was a legal contract binding a person to work for a certain number of years in return for some compensation such as passage to America. The indentured person was not free to leave the contract and had limited rights as a servant.
Then I discovered that in addition to the people who indentured themselves or family members, many men, women, and children were snatched from England, Scotland, and Ireland and sold in the colonies. In spite of important differences (indenture theoretically had a termination date) the parallels to African slavery were intriguing,
As I learned more, the characters emerged. The first I envisioned was Callie Beaton, an impetuous, young Scottish woman. Callie’s temper would lead her to the wrong place, straight into the hands of a ‘spiriter’ who kidnapped her, transported her across the ocean, and sold her. Penniless and bound in a strange place, her goal was to return home.
Callie’s story portrays one path indenture could take, but I wanted to show a broader picture. Two other characters gradually took shape, one indentured by choice, and one by circumstances beyond her control. Though both are secondary characters, their lives become entwined with Callie’s.
With these three women in mind, I still needed a plot. I always want to know how the story will end before I can start writing. For this novel, I needed a love interest, a murder victim, and at least one villain to drive the action and influence the outcome. That meant more characters taking up space in my day dreams.
My goal in writing historical fiction is to portray ordinary people living in circumstances very different from our own, but sharing the same joys, fears, and concerns about their families. I want to show that strong, resilient women had important roles in all eras. History, especially women’s history, can help people today learn from the challenges of the past.
Gradually all these ideas coalesced in A Mistake of Consequence, a rollicking adventure in Colonial America, told from a unique perspective, that of a woman bound by custom and law, but with the courage to choose her own path.
Mistake of Consequence
It is 1754 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Callie Beaton is nearly twenty,
single, and determined not to marry anyone her grandfather deems worthy.
But after her impulsive flight from yet another unwanted suitor leads
her to the pier one rainy evening, Callie is mistaken for someone else
and dragged aboard a ship. Trapped in a dark hold and at the mercy of
strangers, Callie has no idea the ship is headed for a bustling port
city across the ocean in America.
Wracked with seasickness, unable to convince the ship’s captain she is
not who he thinks she is, and with only one scraggly dress to her name,
Callie somehow survives the horrid journey. She arrives in colonial
Philadelphia penniless, nameless, and alone in a strange place. Two men
offer her help: Ethan Asher, a handsome gentleman with a hidden past,
and Davy McRae, a charming ship captain with a dangerous secret. Neither
seems trustworthy, but when tragedy strikes, Callie is caught in the
middle and must choose one of the men to help her if she is to save
herself and her newfound friends from disaster.
In this historical romantic adventure, a Scottish lass who finds herself
in the wrong place at the wrong time unwittingly embarks on a journey
across the ocean to a new beginning where she searches for love,
belonging, and ultimately her true destiny.
An avid fan of all things historical, Terri Karsten lives in a hundred
year old house near the upper Mississippi River. After retiring from
teaching high school English, she divides her free time between writing
books, playing with grandkids, and chasing the outdoor life. Karsten
writes both fiction and non-fiction, and has publication credits in a
variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias, including Highlights
for Children, The Winona Daily News and An Encyclopedia of Women’s
History. Her novels focus on historical fiction with strong women as
protagonists (A Mistake of Consequence, When Luck Runs Out). For more
information, visit her website: www.terrikarsten.com
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