When Fiction Bites Back
Fiction is fickle. As a writer, the idea may start in your head, but soon the story takes over. The characters you develop come into their own and begin to lead the way. And sometimes, sometimes, reality seeps in. When it does, all bets are off.
I set out to write a lighthearted romantic mystery. I think I succeeded. Until reality snuck in. Research is essential to telling a good tale. Of course, when researching one might come across unexpected finds. History is full of those. And now my novel is as well.
Execution Rocks sits alone in the Long Island Sound. The lighthouse built there to be a beacon for ships passing in the night. You might ask, why is it called Execution Rocks? Good question. Growing up, I wondered that myself. I had heard stories. Colonial prisoners chained to the rocks and left to die by the British. Ships in the night, pre-lighthouse, crashing into the rocks, sinking. Pirates hanging mutinous crews. Prohibitionists and the mob running booze and taking out their enemies.
So I dug. I googled. I read up on it. And found the most intriguing, disturbing, and quite horrifying theory. That local slave owners were chaining slaves to the rocks to punish them. Stunned, because this was the North, land of the free. The idea that the shores of Long Island were littered with slave-owners?
And suddenly my tale had spun itself out of control and morphed into something entirely new. I had to tell the story. Regardless of how it turned out this was adding a new dimension to my own story as well as history itself. I’ve realized of course my knowledge of history is, by the very nature of our society, very one-sided. White privilege doesn’t even begin to cover the tragic results of white education. Discovering the other side of history? I grew up proud to be a Yankee not a Reb… the civil war was North/South, wasn’t it? The electoral college was about fairness, wasn’t it? Clearly, we know now, it isn’t. Not by a long shot.
The more I learned, the more I wrote, the more my perspective changed, along with my book. It’s still a romantic mystery, it’s still fairly light and easy to read, but the tale it tells hopefully will leave readers with their own quest for truth, about themselves, their history, and the way forward.