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  • Susan Stoderl

A Writer's Life | Historical Fiction

Bustling City
Five Points in New York City

"I love historical fiction because there’s a literal truth,and there’s an emotional truth, and what thefiction writer tries to create is that emotional truth."

~Jewell Parker Rhodes

I couldn’t say it better than Ms. Rhodes. It is exactly what I am trying to do in Vol. 2 of my Sophia of the Bright Red Sneakers series, entitled Mission 2: Unexpected Visitors.

I became fascinated with the Underground Railroad while living in Baltimore, Maryland.

With research, I found Baltimore was far more involved in slavery than I realized.

I had an apartment, originally the servants’ quarters, in a pre-Civil War mansion on Monument Place. Rumors suggested the mansion was a stop on the Underground Railroad. It seemed believable, for in the arched brick basement, there was a heavy metal sliding door, perhaps leading to a tunnel.

While visiting Williamsburg, Virginia, my interest was further piqued. I bought a book on display entitled, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (Gender and American Culture) by Elisabeth Fox-Genovese. It details how slavery corrupted the souls and decency of normal white women when becoming slave owners. It is a legacy that still affects our society.

Since I now live in North Carolina, I began investigating the Maritime Underground Railroad and enslavement. In Mission 2, while trying to evade patty rollers in the Dismal Swamp in 1834, the enslaved twins unintentionally time-traveled to the middle of Central Park in 2022.

When I originally wrote this section, the year was 1832. It was completely historically accurate, down to the steamboat names. Then my Maritime Underground Railroad hit a huge shoal. In the Eastern Shore area between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, there was a massive malaria epidemic beginning just after my steamboat sailed in 1832.

Then a rock wall struck in New York City. A massive cholera epidemic in New York City killed 3,000 out of a population of 250,000! I couldn’t have them escape slavery to die of cholera!

So... I went back to the drawing board. I moved everything to 1834 and did all the research over again.

Writing historical fiction poses many challenges, and that’s one of them.


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