So today I am going to discuss just one aspect of one book, Emma's River, which is historical fiction for 8 - 10 year old. YAWN. A young reader. Lightweight compared to Sophie's Choice. True, yet the amount of work I did seemed as difficult and creative as a Styron tome, beginning with where did the idea come from and how did it turn into a book?
When I was researching for my early chapter book, Anna’s Blizzard , which is all about the Blizzard of 1888, I read many books. One of my favorite was Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford (Bison Books). Mollie
traveled from Indianapolis
to by train and steamboat. She was one
of the first families to settle in the Nebraska City ,
and I was eager to read about her life on the plains to help shape my
characters and setting for Anna. However,
as I read, I was totally fascinated by her description of her steamboat journey.
Mollie and her family traveled on the luxurious cabin deck, which “boasted of
staterooms, saloons, and a nursery.” She wrote of meeting “fussy old ladies
with their poodle dogs” and a new friend Dora who turned “sweet sixteen.” But
she also wrote that a “destitute creature was found today with a dying child” on
the main deck, where the immigrants traveled. This piqued my interest! Territory of Nebraska
Mark Twin also wrote about his steamboat trip up the
Missouri River. He described
the passengers boarding the New Lucy
“like a mass of sheep tumbling over each other in the dark.” He wrote about geese on the sandbars,
thunderstorms, and climbing to the top of Chimney Rock. By now, I had decided
that a steamboat trip would be the perfect setting for an adventure. Further
research cemented the idea.
My first version became a picture book titled Up the Big Muddy. I envisioned illustrations of lovely ladies waltzing under chandeliers on the cabin deck as well as immigrants and sweaty deckhands squashed together on the main deck accompanying my rollicking text. Alas, the picture book was nixed for several reasons; the main reason was a similar picture book had just been published by a different publisher. Fortunately, my editor liked the idea and suggested turning it into an early chapter book, which meant a more complex plot.
Journals and diaries offer observations, details and language that history books can not, which is why I love them for research. However, Steamboats of the Western River, a detailed history of steamboats, gave me my plot. I read true tales of steamboats exploding, sinking, catching fire, and running aground. Who knew? Further research helped flesh out my characters and focus the plot. Soon Emma, Patrick, Twist, Mama, and Doctor Burton boarded The Sally May and months later Emma's River grew into a suspense-filled adventure on the
“Look Emma!” Mama waved at her to hurry. “There she is.” The Sally May rose from the river as tall as a three-story building. The steamboat was white, with gold and black trim. Pendants and flags snapped in the breeze. Its name was written in red scroll on the paddlewheel housing.
Hand on her hat, Emma tipped back her head so she could see the top of the two chimneys. They belched thick smoke. Above the pilothouse, gulls dove and soared. Emma’s heart soared with them.
Oh how I love how an idea turns into a story! I'd love to hear your ideas--how did they turn into a story?