Without a bit of shame, I admit it. I'm a Beth Anderson groupie. Ever since I read Tad Lincoln's Restless Wriggle and Franz's Phantasmagorical Machine and discovered Beth's relentless research to discover the heart of each biography--I want to read and study each book she writes.
Deborah Sampson's Spirit was always a little too large.Maybe it was the stories of her Pilgrim ancestors seeking freedom. Maybe it was the Revolutionary times in Massachusetts when colonists protested British rule.Maybe it was just Deborah.
She chose independence over marriage and got a job as a weaver. She listened to stories about battles with the British and women who were arrested for posing as soldiers.
When I returned to the manuscript, the driving question for me as I wrote was “What makes us who we are?” While this is something I wonder with every main character, Deborah’s history seemed to offer clear building blocks of her life. That driving question was still too general to be the heart, so I kept digging in as I wrote. I went wider and deeper with research on the setting.
The heart popped out when I explored her being “put out” or “bound out” when her mother couldn't support all her children after her father deserted the family. That fact was a challenge as an inciting incident. It needed to launch the story, not be maudlin. It was the time of “The World Turned Upside Down,” so I tried to flip it. Could I find a positive in this situation? I looked through a mother’s eyes. It had to be an awful realization. But by putting Deborah out, her mother gave her daughter a chance in life. A chance!
When I used that lens for other scenes, I saw that was the only chance she was GIVEN. (Don’t we all say - “give me a chance”?) With that, “a chance” was drilled down into something more specific. Throughout her life, Deborah RECOGNIZED and GRABBED chances where no one else might have seen them. THAT was the heart. Chances aren’t always given, you have to recognize them. Instead of bemoaning her sad life, she took charge of it, found strength in challenges, and blazed a trail. That heart grew from my initial driving question but it drilled down to something very specific. And with that heart, the ending fell into place.
For other great interviews with Beth, click on these links.
Click here for a comprehensive discussion guide.
MINI-INTERVIEW with Illustrator, Anne Lambelet
CAROL: Can you speak about the research you did to create the illustrations? I am also curious about your palette and style choice.
ANNE: When I started working on the art for CLOAKED IN COURAGE, although I obviously wanted my own personal style to come through, I also wanted the illustrations to feel authentic to the period and the subject matter. I looked at a lot of 18th-century paintings depicting scenes from the revolutionary war, and I ended up borrowing a lot of my color palette and many of my stylistic choices from those. For example, in The Battle of Bunker Hill by Winthrop Chandler or The Battle of Germantown by Xavier della Gatta (at the Museum of the American Revolution here in Philly!), you can see how the soldiers, buildings, etc. are drawn as if viewed at eye level while the rest of the scene is tilted upward as if viewed from above. You can also see in these paintings the pea soup greens and grey blues that I used in the grass, trees, and sky.
As for specifics regarding the “costumes” and the “props” in every scene, I had a lot of help from Beth and the historical expert that was brought onto the project. There were so many little details that I never would have even thought to double-check. For example, in the spread where Deborah is serving the general’s dinner, I originally had a plate of fish on the table. The expert caught that and informed me that beef and potatoes would be more accurate fare. I never would have been able to catch mistakes like that on my own so I’m really grateful for how collaborative the vetting process became. I can be totally confident in the end that we’re giving readers an accurate look at Deborah’s life down to every last button and bayonet.
No giveaway this week--I'm keeping Cloaked as a mentor text for the biographies I'm writing. If you are a writer, I encourage you to follow Beth's blog in which other Kidlit authors share how they found the heart of their stories.