“Slaves of Destiny” ~ From idea to novel

Someone challenged me to start my blog by telling about the research that I am currently doing to complete my next novel, Slaves of Destiny, which I plan to launch by Christmas 2015. At first reluctant to put my thoughts out there, I soon became quite excited about the prospect of sharing this process of research. This novel, in particular, captivated my imagination. I did not want to write only the average book, giving only a superficial account of the intricate details of slave days. I wanted authenticity, historic accuracy, and intimate accounts. I needed to discover a way to tap into a world from over 150 years ago. What I found blew even my imaginative mind.
I stumbled upon a website that housed priceless information. Library of Congress’ Born in Slavery site, which was part of the Federal Writer’s Project from 1936- 1938, contains more than 2300 first-hand accounts of slavery and over 500 photographs of former slaves. This was exactly the type of information I was looking for to portray an accurate description of the everyday life in the south during the 1860s time, which is the setting for Slaves of Destiny. I sat mesmerized at my computer for hours and hours, pouring over the narratives and taking notes along the way. My mind felt transported, as if by a time machine, to another dimension. This rich history of our United States of America unfolded before my eyes. Each individual answered questions presented by the interviewer, from what they ate each day to their marriage traditions.
While there was definitely a familiar thread that ran from one person’s account to the next, there was also striking differences. Some slaves were treated with a friendly and trusting affection by their owners while others were abused and treated no better than farm animals. Many of the former slaves looked back upon their slave days with a fondness of their owners and the other slaves they remembered. Yet others were clearly moved by the emotion of talking about a dark period in their lives. Regardless of their personal feelings regarding their former slave lives, each person freely shared information, feelings, and customs. Their gracious retelling of their lives enriches our knowledge of that era of our country’s history.
One account stated that many slaves wanted to learn to read and write; however, slave owners were fined up to fifty dollars and a possible jail sentence if they taught slaves to read or write. I plan on the protagonist in Slaves of Destiny teaching her husband’s slaves to read and write so this important morsel of information will help to portray her dilemma about doing so. Other voices spoke of the slaves having private ceremonies to marry amongst themselves because some owners would not allow marriage. Those who wanted to be ceremoniously joined would have private traditions of “jumping the broom” where the bride and groom would say a few words and jump over a broom on the floor to signify their union in the presence of the other slaves. I actually wrote about this tradition in a previous book, The Weaving of A Warrior. Those characters wanted to recreate their ancestor’s marriage tradition and I learned of it from a simple search. The detail of such ceremonies I learned from the Writer’s Project website will help me to create a more effective scene in Slaves of Destiny.
Others allowed their slaves to marry but would sometimes keep them under strict orders to see one another only on Saturday evenings. Still other owners would allow their slaves to be married and to enjoy a family life just as freed men including their private home where they could raise their children. The differences in each slaves’ conditions is directly proportionate to his or her owner. Many owners were harsh yet almost as many treated their slaves as paid workers, actually giving them allowances each weekend, or privileges to enjoy for good work.
All these fascinating details help me to construct a setting of the farm or plantation that will be the basis for my novel. Slaves of Destiny is a love story between the plantation owner’s wife, my protagonist, and his head slave. The protagonist’s husband is a harsh and cruel man and slave owner. He deals unfairly in all situations, including his marriage. His wife is forced to marry him, a much older man than she, and her wicked circumstance is made worse by the fact that she loses the love of her life in the preface, hence setting the stage for the book. She is in love with a young man her age but when he decides to join the confederate army at the beginning of the Civil War, this vulnerable girl is forced into a marriage with the plantation owner. Her mother sees this marriage as her daughter’s future security, understanding that her true love will never return from war. Indeed, everyone’s future appears bleak. The young man leaves to fight a hopeless war. The plantation owner faces losing all his farm helpers, thus his wealth, if the war is lost. A young girl is thrown into an abusive, loveless marriage. The slaves in question have no idea how they will survive if they are freed without any resources. Each of the character’s destinies appears hopeless as they each navigate their lives as best as they know how.
As the details unfold before my mind’s eye, I am getting to know my characters. As I see people interact in my own day-to-day errands, I incorporate the tangled web of human interaction into each character. In Part 2 of Research for Slaves of Destiny, I’ll go into more of the details that will render this story an authentic book, rather than just another pretty face of literature. The following is a picture from the archives of the Writer’s Project and a link to more on my Pinterest Board reserved for my research for this novel. Feel free to explore.
Until then… Happy Reading!
K.C. Mitchell

Pinterest Board: Research for Slaves of Destiny
slave pic

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