In August, I sent my first story for Promise to my wonderful beta readers. It’s about Thomas Prater, an indentured servant who went to the Jamestown settlement in 1622. I had been messing with the story all spring and summer, adding auxiliary characters and researching like mad. I wasn’t very comfortable with the result, though and needed an outside perspective.
My beta readers, bless their hearts, separately came back with the same message: this is the start of a book, a good book. It’s not a story… these characters need to play out their drama or no-one’s going to be happy.
I had sort of thought that, too, but I tend to fall in love with my characters and didn’t want to overestimate them. I am so grateful to the fine, patient, hard-thinking folks who offer me this good feedback.
So, here I was writing one book – Promise – a set of stories similar to Rule! but set in America. Suddenly, I veered off into another direction. Now, my story will be its own book, which will be called – at least, for now – A Good Place. For inspiration, I found an image that matches the story: this 1663 painting called River Landscape in the Late Afternoon by Adriaen Van de Velde.
A Good Place will explore how and why a younger son from a well-established (but Catholic, in an uneasy time) family ends up as an indentured servant in the notoriously dangerous Virginia colony. Thomas Prater arrived from England only a few months after devastating Powhatan raids had killed about 25% of the existing settlers. It’s a real story, with lots of content: getting by in a remote colony; religious strain caused by real or perceived threat to the new (about 50 years old) Church of England; religious intermarriage (yep!); slavery and enforced labor; privileged class vs working class; and tribal conflicts between the Powhatans and Monacans; the displacement of native tribes by European settlers. All this is set against a wild, natural background of the James River and the deeply forested wilderness that covered Virginia and, frankly, terrified many of the English.
I have among the characters a teenaged girl, her father – a seasoned veteran of the English wars against Spain, a displaced Puritan who was indentured against his will, a Monacan Indian slave who wants to go home but doesn’t even know where that is any longer, an eight-year-old Welsh orphan who had been sold into indenture and on and on. Oh, and it has dogs – wonderful mastiffs. I’m up to my ears in research and having a great time writing this book.
Then, when A Good Place is done, I’ll go back to Promise – I promise.