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Writing about Reading and Writing

The Long Road to Publication - Part I - Impetus for the Idea

Frontispiece for The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano

I recently received an offer of publication from Wipf and Stock Publishers in Oregon. This is the beginning of the end of the long road to publication. It's been quite a journey. Walk along with me as I retrace my steps from the original idea to a published book. Whether you are a writer, like to read, or are just interested in how a book gets written and published, these blog posts are for you.


In 2005 I was finishing up my Master of Arts in English at Queens College CUNY. Choosing a topic for my masters' thesis proved to be challenging. I wanted to write on Africans in Victorian literature, but there were not enough African characters to make that a viable option. I finally decided to write my thesis on how African and British writers depict Africans in their writing, choosing six texts over three centuries: Aphra Behn's Oroonoko and Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative in the 18th century; Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point," and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs in the 19th century; and Nada the Lily by H. Rider Haggard and Chaka by Thomas Mofolo in the 20th century.


After working on my thesis for about a year, the end product was just shy of 100 pages and 100 sources. Whew! I was finished, and with my degree in hand I applied to teach at two community colleges and both hired me as an adjunct professor--Middlesex County College and Hudson County Community College. Just this year I earned my final promotion at HCCC, full Professor.


Equiano's narrative fascinated me. After reading it a few times and studying his life, I learned he had married a white English woman, Susannah Cullen, and they had two daughters. His wife died, he died, and his oldest daughter died all within the span of a few years. That left his youngest daughter Joanna a biracial orphan in England in 1797. What happened to Joanna, I wondered. That question sparked my historical novel, Remnant. I tried to find out anything and everything I could about Joanna Vassa. After fruitless, dead-end online searches, I discovered an Afro-British historian and scholar had written a book about Joanna Vassa. Dr. Angelina Osborne had done the research, so I just had to find her and also buy her book. Buying the book was the easy part, and eventually I was able to make contact with Angie.


This first part of the journey took a few years! Research, especially into people who died a few centuries ago and are not well known, is very challenging. Not to mention I had a full-time job, and three sons, in addition to all my responsibilities in my church and community. I forged on. Armed with basic information about Joanna, and a desire to bring her back to life, I began to write. 


It didn't take long for me to realize that Joanna's story might not be enough to sustain a longish novel. I faced a dilemma. I remembered the other big question in my mind after reading Equiano's narrative. What happened to Equiano's sister? They were kidnapped together, and separated before they reached the coast of Africa. What happened to her? Well, the short answer is, no one knows. But the longer, fictional answer, can be found in my novel Remnant! I created a second storyline about Equiano's sister, whom I named "Oluchukwu," or "Olu" for short. 


Writers receive inspiration from many sources. Jeffrey Archer often finds inspiration for his short stories from news items. Family history can be a rich source of inspiration. For me, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano inspired me to find out more, and to invent some, about the two girls in Equiano's early and adult life, his daughter Joanna and his sister, Olu. 


In my next blog, I'll go into depth about the research process and mentors who helped me on the journey of discovery.

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