Being a part of Bibliophile’s Workshop’s many different blog tours,“ will give you the opportunity to read various novels, spanning many genres and writing styles, along with helping share new, promising titles with readers all across the internet.
James’ Journey Blog Tour Monday, April 20,2015- Ends Saturday April 25, 2015
Information About the Book:
Blog Tour Day 5: Interview with Author of James’ Journey, Helen Lundstrom Erwin:
Key for Initials- BR-Bibliophile’s Reverie HE-Helen Erwin
(1). BR:Was there a tangible ‘aha’ moment you can point to when the idea for James’ Journey surfaced in your head?
HE:Yes, there was.
My husband found an old book with genealogy history that a distant relative of his had published in the 1970´s.
The book focused mostly on the first relative, a man who lived in Mississippi, who died in 1853.
It described his community and family life and then it listed all his descendants. At the end of the section about him there was an estate manifest. It included a detailed inventory of his belongings, how much they were worth and who bought them.
The list included human beings listed next to tools and broken crockery.
One mother was sold with her infant child, a man most likely her husband was sold to someone else, and a six year old boy who I assume was their oldest son, was sold to a third party.
This had a profound effect on me. It stayed with me, I kept thinking of this family that had been owned by this distant relative of my husband. I felt the heartbreak of the family as they were separated from each other, the horror of humans listed as property on an inventory list.
(2). BR:After that idea first surfaced, what did you do with it then? Did you start writing, or slow your mental excitement down for just a moment, to think over the story? As it’s written, it feels written like it was written as a flash of inspiration.
HE:It was, as you describe, almost like a flash of inspiration. Once I sat down and began to write, the story enfolded by itself.
Finding out about the slaves that were sold apart opened something up in me.
The name of the woman who was sold with her infant was Matilda. I kept thinking of her and I became very emotional. It would come over me very unexpectedly and I found myself in tears thinking of her. It was as if she was nudging me. I felt her sadness and I kept thinking of how she must have been desperate longing for her six year old son and her husband wondering how they were doing but not having the ability to look for them.
(3) BR:Speaking of inspiration, where did characters, like the emotionally-sensitive, sometimes reticent, main character of James come from?
HE: James just came to me. He got his own life from the moment he sat there on the porch nodding off in the warm sun. He came to life for me and he did what he wanted. I just had to follow along.
Sometimes I had to adjust what he wanted to do to get it to fit with what was historically accurate, but other than that I just followed him.
I imagine that many young people in his situation would be similar to him in certain ways; innocent of the world around them other than plantation life and spoiled by the fact that their families were wealthy. They never had to work themselves since they had slaves that did everything.
I think in James´ case the fact that his parents were a little more compassionate and kind within the context of their situation and environment. Don´t get me wrong, they were still slave owners, and that is not very kind and compassionate, but at least they thought that they should be kind and not harsh, I think this helped James to be able to open his mind.
I´m not sure what Erik Dawson´s son Peter would do. It might have been harder for him having been raised with the notion that their slaves might have turned on him as soon as they got the chance, because of his father’s harsh treatment.
(4). BR: How about the other characters, were any of them inspired by real-life historical figures?
HE: Not directly, but I was very inspired by Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Tubman. I had admired Harriet Tubman before I decided to write about the Underground Railroad, and she was most likely in the back of my mind when my inspiration for James´ Journey came.
Then as I began to do research I learned about Henry Ward Beecher, I did not previously know that Harriet Beecher Stowe had a brother who was so involved in the abolitionist movement.
Another inspiring person that came about by chance was Moncure Conway. It was by chance that I came upon him when my husband and I decided to stay near Falmouth instead of at our original destination.
We had been driving for hours and were exhausted so we were very happy to find a motel closer than our original destination.
As soon as we settled in our room we looked on Google maps for the Underground Railroad to see if there might be a place for us to see near there. Not only did we find Moncure Conway but I learned that just like James he had grown up with slaves, was pro slavery but changed his mind and became abolitionist and then he helped his father’s slaves flee north. It felt very serendipitous.
(5). BR: What was the process of researching things for this story like?
HE: I write what comes to me first and then as I mentioned before I often have to adjust things as I check to see if it is historically accurate. As I adjust things I find interesting historical details that inspire me and then help build the story.
I also try to visit the places where history happened. It helps me picture what happened there and get a feel for how to write the details of the places that James and Katherine spent time in.
I visited Plymouth Church in Brooklyn and got a personalized tour with a very nice woman who told me about the church history and about Henry Ward Beecher. I even got a chance to sit in the same seat were President Lincoln sat when he visited the church.
I also visited several plantations, including Thomas Jefferson´s in Virginia. It was a powerful experience to walk on the grounds of the plantations, to see the wealth and luxury of these stately homes contrasted by the tiny, often drafty little cottages where the slaves were forced to live. It really put into perspective of how harsh slavery was.
(6). BR:Were there any scenes in the story that pulled at your heart-strings?
HE:Yes several. When Timmy and Tobias told James how they had been recaptured by Dawson after five years of living in freedom.
When Auntie Ellen told James and Katherine that she had been hiding runaways for years.
When Pap drove James home from the town meeting and understood the implications of what it meant when Dawson understood the truth, and Pap fell to his knees on the ground and apologized to James. (I´m purposely a little vague here to not spoil the plot)
(7). BR:Have you read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by the way, before writing this novel? Also, what is your favorite historical fiction novel about this very fascinating, though sobering time in American History?
HE: Yes, I have.
I loved Someone Knows my name, by Lawrence Hill although it is set about 100 years before the time period for James ‘Journey.
I liked Cane River by Lalita Tademy, and The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
(8). BR:Did you find the story of the bravery of the abolitionists and the slaves that escaped, or the freed slaves that later helped, as being insanely riveting, and even ethically-emboldening, as much as the reader sees it through your story?
HE: Yes, definitely. The enormous courage of slaves who dared to flee and help others is incredible to me. It is easier to be brave if you have support, and if you feel confident in yourself, if the neighbors and the community around you respect you. But how do you have the courage and strength to be brave if your neighbors and society in general thinks that you are worth less than everyone else? I don´t know if I could have handled that. What would my self-esteem have been like? How would I have had the strength to believe in myself? I´m not sure I would have been brave at all.
I´m very inspired by the abolitionists who dared to speak out against slavery. People like Henry Ward Beecher who loudly proclaimed publicly that slavery was wrong. Slavery was illegal in New York, but it was still one of the most pro slavery states in the North. It took courage to be outspoken.
Also, people who dared to question and reevaluate what they had been taught and had to face their friends and neighbors. It is one thing to quietly disagree, but to actually do something about it is different, especially if your community does not agree with you.
(9). BR: What other novels are on your mind?
HE: I´m working on a novel set in the 19th Century in Sweden based on my Great Grandmother and the movement for women´s suffrage, as well as the controversy over birth control during this time.
(10). BR: Any message for the readers of A Bibliophile’s Reverie, or self-published writers that follow “A Bibliophile’s Workshop?”
HE: I think it is fantastic to have the opportunity to write and publish my books. I feel encouraged and inspired to have the ability to share my art. Self-Publishing makes it easier and the fact that I have control over the process is amazing. We live in an incredible time where we have this great opportunity to do this thanks to technology. I would tell everyone to go for it. Your writing is your art, and it deserves to be out there.
BR:Thank you so much to Helen Lundstrom Erwin for answering these questions in a thoughtful, interesting way! Stay tuned tomorrow for the last post of this week-long blog tour, focused around the historical fiction novel James’ Journey.