Back in April, I was laying in bed when an idea struck. I had been watching the series Outlander for a week and I felt incredibly inspired. Despite its adult themes, the series made me feel like a child again, in the sense that it stimulated my imagination beyond control. Ideas ran rampant in my head. Then, as I was yawning, ready to close my eyes and sleep, all of those ideas collided in a beautiful, big-bang kind of moment.
I needed to start writing a book.
Perhaps as a reflection of my own life abroad, I wanted to write about a young girl’s experiences in a different world. Maybe that’s why Outlander fascinates me. I relate to Claire. So, I started to consider the use of time travel in different geographical and historical context.
Around this time, I was feeling pretty homesick for the U.S. The longer I was abroad, the more I thought about and reflected on where I came from.
Often, Americans visiting Europe are enchanted by its old-world architecture and mystical stories. They are immersed in an archaic world of kings and queens. They are thrilled by the depth of history. Having seen the ruins of Pompeii, the Vatican, Charles Bridge, Stonehenge, and the Tower of London, I can attest to their magnificence. Yet, the U.S. contains magnificence of its own and, often, it is underappreciated. This became a major goal of my book: to celebrate American culture and history.
The idea really began when a student asked me to summarize U.S. history. It wasn’t hard to brainstorm the major events: European exploration and colonization, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Industrial and Gilded Age, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the turn of the century.
I felt like I left so much out. Thus, I realized that the U.S. has a rich culture and deep history that can’t be described in an hour-long English lesson.
New York State, for example, was the setting for well-known events involving the Native Americans, the first European settlers, and the Founding Fathers. Yet, there were lesser-known events that transformed America, involving suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony, magnates like John D. Rockefeller, painters like Frederic Edwin Church, and writers like Walt Whitman.
So, I decided to write a historical fiction novel with New York State as the setting. Next, I had to pick an era.
When I spoke about U.S. history with my student, I kept referencing wars but I knew there was a lot that occurred off the battlefield during those periods. In particular, substantial advancements in many parts of society had been made during the Civil War. Having visited several historic sites in my region, I saw evidence of these historical events firsthand.
Over the following months, I researched and wrote furiously. I spent hours at a local cafe, scribbling down every thought that entered my mind. I made family tree diagrams. I mapped out a historical timeline. I read articles about the history of New York State. By the summer, I had a solid blueprint for the book and, in September, I began to write the first draft.
I’m nowhere near completion. I empathize with other writers who, like me, are asked questions such as:
- How many pages have you written? (Writers tend to measure in word count.)
- When will you finish it?
- What will you do with it?
Frankly, I don’t know if I’ll finish it, let alone when. At present, I’m satisfied simply by writing, letting my imagination run wild, and celebrating my American heritage.
This week, I challenge you to think about how you celebrate your heritage. I’d love to hear! Comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the way, I have a favor to ask. Could you please share this article with your friends and family? It would mean a lot to me! Thanks in advance!
The featured photo shows the formal dining room at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park, NY, June 5, 2018.