Story Behind the Story #7:
Encounter at Easton

At the end of my book, Night Journeys, the two runaway indentured servants, Elizabeth Mawes and Robert Linnly, manage to escape, and flee north. True, Elizabeth was wounded, but she was free, and the protagonist of the book, young Peter York, comes to an understanding with his master, the pious Quaker Mr. Shinn.

But then something happened in my head once the book had been completed: I began to worry about the fate of those two young people. Were they truly free? Did Elizabeth survive her wound? Where did they go?

Easton, PAIn short, I had created fictional characters who had become so real to me that I wanted to know what happened to them. I even did some research about the area to which they presumptively would have fled, Easton, Pennsylvania. In so doing I learned about an outcast woman who, in Colonial times, lived in a cave in the woods near Euston.

I am not one who dreams much, or at least, I don’t remember my dreams very well. Nonetheless, one night at that time I had a dream which, as it were, informed me what had happened to my young characters in Night Journeys. That is to say, I dreamed the whole plot of Encounter at Easton.

Encounter at EastonWith that gift in hand (and mind) I wrote the book. It is the only time I have ever dreamed a book.

One curious aspect of the book’s publication was that from the time I first started to write it, until I had the published book in my hand, it took only eleven months. Never before or since have I published a book so quickly. The normal publication time is at least twice that length.

Another odd thing about the book: When it was done, I realized that the boy in the story, Robert Linnly, could have easily become the main character in an earlier book, Captain Grey. All that was required was to make a few changes in Captain Grey when that book was reprinted. Thus I created a series of four books, but, alas, I never wrote what should be book number three.

That’s the trouble with dreams: you wake up.

Encounter at Easton went on to win the Christopher Award for that year.

Story Behind the Story #6:
Night Journeys

Night JourneyI spent the summer of my 16th year at a work camp run by the Society of Friends (Quakers) on a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina. There, with other teenagers, I labored with the local people, doing farm work, helping to clear wooded areas to bring in electricity, rebuilding homes, plus a great variety of useful community tasks. I also had many talks with the camp head, who provided me with an introduction to the Quaker faith, which made a strong impression on me, and about which I would subsequently read a great deal.

Years later, I was living in Lambertville, New Jersey, on the banks of the Delaware River, right across the way from Pennsylvania. My boys came to attend the Buckingham Friends elementary school, a Pennsylvania Quaker school, which had a number of quite beautiful 18th Century structures. By way of coincidence, the headmaster of the school was the same individual who ran that work camp to which I had gone.

It was a combination of my interest in Pennsylvania Quakers, colonial American history, and the place where I was living, that led me to write the historical novel, Night Journeys.

The Quaker religion, like all religions, is complex and, again, like all religions, theory and practice is full of contradictions. I recall reading about the wealthy Pennsylvania Quaker farmer who, being opposed to war, refused to pay a tax levied for what we call The French and Indian War. But, not wishing to go against the law, he left the right amount of tax money on a log where the tax collector could “find” it.

It is just this kind of moral predicament which lies at the heart of Night Journeys, when Peter York, an orphan boy, is taken into the home of Everett Shinn, a deeply religious Quaker. What law (sacred or secular) should be followed when two local indentured servants run away to seek their freedom? In the book I wrote one of my favorite sentences, the one from which the title of the book derives: “Roads at night are always new.”