Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Meet Alison Treat, Author of One Traveler

Alison Treat was raised in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. After graduating from King's College with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, she wrote for newspapers and worked in the behavioral health field. She lives with her husband and two children in Northeastern Pennsylvania, with an occasional lengthy excursion into 19th Century America. One Traveler is her first novel. 

I asked Alison some questions about here experience writing One Traveler:

1.Why did you decide to write Traveler?
    I was a teenager and had just read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I wanted to tell a story about the Civil War from a “northern” angle. Over the years, I worked on other projects, but I always returned to One Traveler. The work wouldn’t let me go. Of course it has morphed into something very different from what it was when I began at the age of fifteen! The book deals much more with the Underground Railroad than the Civil War.
2.What kind of research did you do for the book?
    I read everything I could get my hands on about the Civil War and the Underground Railroad. I traveled to Sidney’s hometown of Roswell, Georgia, where I toured old homes and absorbed the ambience. I also spent a lot of time at the Luzerne County Historical Society, looking at maps of Wilkes-Barre and reading microfilm issues of newspapers from 1860. And of course, as I revised the book, the internet was invaluable—supplying information on period dress, allowing me to search the pages of a cookbook from 1865, and even showing me how to load an Enfield Rifle Musket.
3.Who was your favorite character and why?
    It would have to be Rachel White, the Yankee girl who captures Sid’s heart. She is spirited and strong . . . and I think she became that way as I revised the book. I originally pictured her this way, but somehow readers saw her as a weaker character. I changed some events and those changes brought out her inner beauty and feisty attitude.
4.How long did it take you to write the book? How much revision did you do? Any tips for other authors when taking on an historical novel?
    I’ve already hinted at how long it took. Twenty years! But this was not twenty years of constant work on the novel. I went to college, got married, had children, and worked on other writing projects during this time. I’m sure I revised it ten times or more. My writing and the work itself changed so much over those years that it’s hardly the same book.
My advice to authors taking on an historical novel would be to keep careful records. And don’t assume that you’ve already checked out historical facts. I found myself so caught up in the process of creating that I made things up and later on I couldn’t remember if I’d researched them or not. I would have saved some time if I’d highlighted those questionable sections and made a note to research them.
5.How did you find a publisher?
    God and my husband worked together on this one! I had decided to go to a publishing workshop on the day of my daughter’s 5th birthday party. Well, that day came and of course I thought I had too much to do. I told my husband there was no way I could go. He proceeded to push me out the door and tell me everything would be fine! So I went, and the workshop was led by Lee Sebastiani of Avventura Press. On a whim, I told her about my book and she loved it!
6.What's your writing schedule? Do you have any tips for beginning writers?
    As a busy mother, this is difficult. I don’t believe in robbing myself of sleep or my husband and children of my presence in order to write. It’s all about balance, though, because I know I cannot be a good mother or wife if I don’t make time to write. At this point, I dedicate one day and one evening a week to writing. Sometimes life interferes with this, but for the most part I am able to use this time well. The most important tip I have is to use the time you have to write. Don’t wait for inspiration. It will come if you are faithful about doing your creative work.

Blurb for One Traveler:

In the spring of 1860, seventeen-year-old Sidney Judson loses his parents in a carriage accident. Although he thought of  himself as a grown man before their deaths, now he cannot bear to stay at the home he shared with them. He  leaves Roswell, Georgia to journey north to his father’s hometown in Pennsylvania. He stays with his aunt and uncle, soon discovering that they are members of the Underground Railroad. While Sidney is facing the past his father tried to forget and coming to terms with his own role in his  parents’ deaths, his entire belief system is challenged by the community around him. His attraction to the winsome Rachel further complicates his situation as her inner person far outshines that of his sweetheart in Georgia. The closer he grows to his northern family, the more he wishes he'd never promised to return to the south. 

Sidney elbowed his way towards the courthouse where the marshals led the fugitives. As they reached the courthouse steps, one of the Negroes broke away from the deputy that held him. He took off running straight towards the crowd, as though he expected the people to part and make a pathway for his escape.
Shouts came from the group of people behind Sid.
Some cheered. “He’s escaping! Run! Run for your life!”
Others clamored, “Stop him! Don’t let him get away!”

As the fugitive bolted by the front of the crowd, Sidney burst towards him and knocked him to the ground. The man was strong. He fought hard. But someone was helping Sid and together the two of them wrestled the darky until he lay face down on the ground. His taut muscles relaxed. Sid kneeled on his legs while the marshal tied his hands behind his back. Panting, Sid looked up to see who had come to his aid. Joshua Smith was holding the runaway’s shoulders to the ground. He winked at Sid.
We stopped this nigger in his tracks, eh partner?”
Sid’s stomach turned. He stood up and the marshal helped the fugitive to his feet.
Wilson!” he said to one of the deputies. “You hold this one.”
The deputy complied and the marshal turned to Sid. “I’m Marshal Jacob Yost.”
Sid shook his hand. “Sidney Judson.”
On behalf of the United States Government, I’d like to thank you for your assistance.”
Sid nodded. “My pleasure, sir.”
Marshal Yost went to Joshua then. Sid turned his back on the runaways and stole a cautious glance towards the crowd. He’d seen them around town, but most he hadn’t met. Then he saw Bill Gildersleeve, towards the rear. Their eyes met and Mr. Gildersleeve shook his head with a frown. Sid looked away, searching the other faces. Some turned to leave. Mr. White was nowhere in sight. Rachel stood in the center of the square, her hat hanging behind her windblown head.
A hand clapped him on the shoulder. It was Joshua.
I knew having a southerner in town would come in handy,” he said.
Sid swallowed. “Uh... thanks. Thanks for your help.”
The marshals led the bound fugitives into the courthouse. Joshua left with the remnants of the crowd. But Sid stood by the courthouse, his hat in his hand, wondering what he had just done.
He wandered next door and sat on a wooden bench by the public office. He stared down at his hat. Dark spots appeared in the dust on the street below as sweat dripped from his forehead. What had possessed him? Loyalty to the law? He ran his fingers through the thickness of his hair. 

In time, the officials came out of the courthouse with the fugitives and led them towards the marshal’s rig, waiting by the office. Just before the darkies were put into the carriage, the one Sid had wrestled broke free again and began running desperately toward Main Street, his hands still tethered behind his back.
Stop!” One of the deputies yelled, drawing his handgun. “Stop! Or I’ll shoot!”
He kept running. He did not see Sid as he ran by him. The deputy fired. The black man fell, writhing in pain, holding his leg with both hands. Sid rose from the bench. The deputy ran over to the black man. Sidney began to follow. The Negro groaned. Blood covered his hands as he held his leg.
I’ll teach you to run away from a U.S. Marshal!” the deputy pointed his gun at the pitiful figure.
Sidney felt as though he were watching something from a dream. He saw the deputy’s hand as his index finger squeezed the trigger. A shot rang out, echoing on the buildings around the Square. The Negro’s body jerked as the bullet hit his chest. He fell back, his eyes meeting Sid’s for a split-second before they glazed over. A cold fist seemed to hit Sid in the stomach. He gasped.
There was no call for that,” he said.

Sidney turned and looked at Marshal Yost, standing by the rig.
Damn you, Wilson!” he called. “You’re going to catch some flack for that.”
He put the remaining Negro in the rig with the other deputy. Then he strode over to Wilson, who stood silent by the body.

I ought to take away your badge—at least for a while.” He shook his head. “Go into the courthouse and get the Sheriff.”
Wilson nodded and started toward the courthouse.
Sidney turned his back on them. He walked fast towards Market Street, taking big gulps of fresh air. But as soon as he thought his stomach was settling, guilt washed over him again. He was responsible for another death.

Review - Five Stars:

Romance, a Moral Dilemma, a Family Secret

Heartbroken after the death of his parents, Sid leaves his home in Georgia and travels north to Pennsylvania to be with his aunt and uncle. On the eve of the Civil War, he's leaving behind his sweetheart, Catherine, and his whole way of life. In Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, he's exposed to his aunt and uncle's involvement in the Underground Railroad. Helping people is good, but this is in direct conflict with the law. He misses Catherine, but there are other girls in the north who challenge his allegiance to his almost fiancée. He is also faced with the mystery of why his father ran away from Wilkes Barre. Was it is Southern identification, or something else?

I enjoyed this novel. Sid is a sympathetic character. His life is in upheaval. His ideals and the underlying story of his life are being shaken to the foundations. His struggle is something anyone can relate to. The other characters are equally well drawn. We can understand his aunt and uncle's worries about how he will act when he learns about their involvement with the Underground Railroad and their delight at having family back in the north.

The historical perspective is accurate, except in one instance where the author indicates she took license with the facts to improve the drama. I recommend reading the historical notes at the end of the book for additional information on the period.

This is an excellent book for both young adults and for adults interested in the Civil War era.