As Mary Alford said in this past Tuesday’s post, readers find book series very appealing because they want to know what happens next to the characters they’ve come to love. With that in mind, we authors often plan ahead and include in our first book characters and situations that might occur in the next book of books in the series.
When I wrote Ahab’s Bride, I knew my heroine, Hannah Ahab, would need to move on in life after Ahab’s death. (By the way, Ahab’s Bride is the only book I’ve written without a happily-ever-after. But Ahab’s death was inevitable, and so was his loving widow’s grief.) Hannah lived a shadow of a marriage to Ahab. She spent more time wishing for him than being with him. In waiting for him to return from his whaling voyages, she was waiting for happiness. Her marriage to Ahab had only been a dream, except for the son he left her. At right is the original paperback cover.
Hannah now has this impressionable son, Timothy, to protect from his father’s ruined reputation. Once known as the best whaling captain to sail out of Nantucket, Ahab is now reviled for having destroyed his crew in his insane quest to kill Moby Dick. His widow and son are now shunned or taunted by the hardworking whaling families of their home island, a closed community that grudgingly welcomed Hannah when she was a bride. Regarded as an “Off-Islander,” she had struggled to earn her place, only to lose it because of Ahab’s actions.
If you were a mother with a six-year-old child, what would you do in these circumstances? Hannah flees the Nantucket Island and goes west to Indiana, where her father’s family welcomes her while she sorts out her choices. But she grows restless and decides to take a long overdue trip to Europe, the one Ahab promised and then failed to deliver.
During a stopover in Boston, where she spends time with old friends—friends who knew Ahab and did not judge Hannah for his actions—she finds her travel plans postponed time after time.
The first task I had in developing my plot was to study the historical era. What was happening in Boston in 1847? Many actual events of the times made it easy to frame her new life. I had great fun researching ways my heroine would be drawn back into life after her devastating loss. Where will she live? Whom will she meet? What will she read? How will these things affect the decisions she makes for herself and her son?
It all comes down to choices my heroine must make. When she was an adventure-seeking girl of eighteen, she chose to marry the exciting, dangerous, and much older Captain Ahab rather than the godly young minister who loved her. Now she is determined not to marry again because that first marriage was so troubled and not what she’d expected at all.
But, as with many widows who make such vows, suitors seem just as determined to change her mind. When a handsome naval captain from the South and a former whaling captain she’s known for years vie for her attention, what choices will she make this time? And will her choices bring Hannah happiness for herself and security for her beloved son?
In 1847, Boston was a hotbed of abolitionist activities. In Ahab’s Bride, I didn’t include this important movement, despite its origins on Nantucket Island, because I was focused on other issues. In writing Hannah Rose, I would have been remiss if I didn’t make slavery and abolition the focal point of the main conflict: Hannah’s choices.
Where will she live? Having inherited Ahab’s great wealth, she has many options. She chooses a townhouse in the relatively new Louisburg Square (the picture at left shows a similar townhouse), only a few blocks from Louis Hayden’s house (below), where many slaves found sanctuary. She reads Frederick Douglass’s autobiography and boldly discusses it with one suitor, a slave owner.
As more old friends enter her life, she begins to sort it all out. I enjoyed helping Hannah figure out all of her choices. Wouldn’t you like to know what she did in Boston?
Historical fiction takes us away from our daily lives to another time and place, “the good old days,” when life was simpler, morality and manners were the mainstays of social order, and everyone knew his or her place. But were those times truly better than today?
Here are a few more issues I included in Hannah Rose:
In the pre-Civil War Nineteenth Century, people faced devastating difficulties. Life expectancy was short due to disease and lack of medical knowledge, and many children never reached maturity. All over the Eastern seaboard, thousands of immigrants poured into America from Europe seeking better lives, competing with and threatening the livelihoods of lifelong residents of English descent. And our nation was faced with an impending conflict as people of conscience formed the abolitionist movement to eliminate slavery, which formed the backbone of the wealthy Southern economy.
Against this turbulent backdrop, my heroine must make decisions that will affect her son’s future and her own. No longer the naïve young woman who had married dashing, dangerous Captain Ahab, Hannah has developed a strength that often surprises her, although her friends know she has what it takes to go beyond herself and live for others.
The power of a story such as this comes from the reader’s ability to live the experiences of the characters. It is my hope that readers will enjoy walking with Hannah and Timothy through their uncertain journey.
You may enjoy reading about their adventures in the award-winning Hannah Rose. At the right is the Kindle cover.