Just one short month until Martha and the Slave Catchers is published. Remember, though, if you are curious about the historical facts behind the novel, just go to the top of this webpage and click on “Martha and the Slave Catchers.”
Let’s start with the final installment of Chapter 1. For those of you new to the blog, the first installment appears in the July blog post. We left off where an injured and confused Martha cannot remember exactly who she is, where she is, or anything much about her past. She does remember her name and when she sees an envelope with it on the small table next to her, she picks it up and begins reading. In the August blog post, the letter results in questions crowding Martha’s brain. She could picture her mama and her friend, Becky. And when we left her in September, she was beginning to remember someone called Caleb. We continue . . .
Yes, of course. Becky, her best friend. She knew in her heart that she could rely upon her. Remembering Becky also brought back Caleb. Martha’s mind drifted to the sense of him holding her and kissing her softly, but she forced her eyes to focus once again on her papa’s words, words that were helping her mind to wake up. It was as if he was right there in the room with her, holding her hands, and urging her to come back to life.
The day you left, C_____ had a most terrible confrontation with his father. He discovered that it was he who revealed our secret, all for a monetary reward. C_____ says he will never be able to forgive him. He packed his possessions, left home, and now stays in our attic room. It is a great comfort to have him at my side in the woodshop. Besides, there is so much work to do that I would flounder without him. He is very regretful, dear daughter, of his treatment of you. But I think whatever passed between you will have to be settled once you return home. I sense from him that all will work itself out once you see each other and speak deeply.
Martha ran her finger across the coded C_____ as if by doing so she could transport Caleb to her side. She smiled as she felt in her pocket for the handkerchief with the embroidered red rose he had given her. Rubbing it against her cheek brought him closer, but she had no idea what they had quarreled about.
Martha drew in a deep breath. The oppressive heat in the room added to her light headedness. Sweat trickling down her neck dampened the shirt she was wearing. She ran her hand under the collar to loosen it. Why did she have on a boy’s shirt? She gazed down at her legs. And boys’ pants? She instinctively reached for one of her long plaits that she liked to twirl around her finger. Nothing. Frantically, she dropped the letter and grabbed both sides of her head feeling for her cherished hair. Who would be so cruel as to cut it off? Could her papa tell her? She picked up the letter once again and anxiously looked for an answer.
You have been a brave and honest girl, my lovely one, and I pledge that I will do everything possible to bring you both home very soon. In the meantime, you must do all in your power to protect yourself and not to fret about us. I will anxiously await news from you, and I will send news back. Our friends will see to that.
As always, I remain your loving father.
Her papa said nothing more and apparently knew little of what had happened to her since she had left home. For now, she was on her own and desperate to pull her memories together, regain her equilibrium, and find out where she was and what had become of her brother. She folded the letter, kissed it, replaced it in its envelope, and put it into her pocket. Then exhaustion overtook her. Involuntarily, she leaned her head against the back of the sofa and closed her eyes. As she relaxed, scenes of her life in the small town of Liberty Falls, Connecticut, flooded her mind. And with them came memories of Jake.
This is a picture of me, the author. In the background, as a screen saver, is a photo of my grandson when he was a young child. Just so you know who’s who.
Actually, what I want to talk about today is how the author of a book has to let go of that work. When I began Martha and the Slave Catchers, it was just a tiny kernel in my mind that I kept chewing on and spitting out. From the time I started playing with the idea of writing a novel for children until the day I read the page proofs, a good five years had passed. For much of that time, Martha and Jake and the entire cast of characters belonged to me. Yes, I shared parts of it with my husband, my friend Catherine, my writing group, and the faculty and students in my classes at the Gotham Writers Workshop, but the story belonged to me, and me alone.
But once I signed on with my agent, Marie Brown, and with the folks at Seven Stories Press, and with Liz Zunon, the illustrator, the story-turned-book started to slip out of my hands and become a collaborative project. And once that happened, I had to begin letting go of my ownership of it.
I learned about letting go soon after my second book, Peace as a Women’s Issue, was published in 1993. I was then teaching at Fitchburg State College (now University) in Massachusetts and decided to have a book party celebrating that book and my previous book, The Women’s Peace Union and the Outlawry of War, 1921-1942 which had appeared in 1989 but without a celebration. During the party, one of my students came up to me with a copy of the book and said, “Will you sign my book?” My first reaction (unspoken of course) was, “That’s my book, not yours.” It was then that I realized that I was actually participating in the rite of letting go of the book and sending it on its way. Since that time, I usually have some sort of celebration where I let the book go, either a party or a public talk or something like that. I picture it in my mind as my actually handing the book over to readers.
With Martha, that moment came when I saw Liz Zunon’s name on the book cover design and then the announcement of her participation on her twitter feed and then on her website. The book was no longer just mine. Next month when it is released, the book will be “out there” for any interested person to grab a hold of. I hope that person is YOU. Martha and the Slave Catchers is already available for pre-ordering on many on-line book store sites. Or you can ask your local book store to carry it. Come and join our community ownership of Martha and Jake’s story.
Until November 7, when Seven Stories/Triangle Square Books for Young Readers releases Martha and the Slave Catchers. . . .