Story Behind the Story #16:
The Fighting Ground

 

At the time I was living in Lambertville, New Jersey, so it was easy for me to catch a bus and get into NYC for a meeting with my editor. We were going to discuss the new novel manuscript I had sent her.

I did indeed meet with her and learn that she was rejecting my book. Long ago I had learned that you didn’t argue about such a thing, you just accepted it, and moved on. Indeed, while taking the bus back home my primary thought was, “What am I going to write now?”

I stared out the window.

I was just about a mile from home when I noticed a road marker, one of those signs that tell the passer-by about something that happened at that spot years ago. I had never really paid attention to it before.

The Fighting GroundThe bus was going full speed, but I caught enough of the sign to want to come back and read it more closely. I did so the next day.

The tale the sign told was about a small Revolutionary War skirmish fought between a few New Jersey militia and a small troop of Hessian soldiers. The numbers involved were small. “Only a few deaths,” read the sign. The last line of the sign read: “The import of this skirmish was small.”

But I thought, “It wasn’t small for those who died, or the families from which they came.”

That was the beginning of my thinking for The Fighting Ground about a boy who is caught up in just such a small skirmish The most interesting part of the book—in my view—is that the boy, when captured, hears only the German (and doesn’t understand) his captives speak. A friend translated my English into German.

Hessian soldiersMy protagonist guesses what these Germans are saying and acts accordingly, with fatal consequences.

At the back of the book I translated the German passages into English. For the reader, it completely changes the story.

It’s a curious case of what is not actually part of the story being an essential part of the story.

The Fighting Ground won the Scott O’Dell award for best historical fiction that year.

Staring out of windows can be productive.