I spent ten days in January in Vermont, as the Writer in Residence for the Vermont Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program. It was COLD but the students and faculty were incredibly warm. I was fortunate to meet J. Albert Mann and very quickly our conversation turned to historical fiction and Jennifer’s new novel, Scar, (Highlights Press), which is the topic of today’s post.
My childhood friend, Joe, was into rockets. Not the kind that NASA plays around with, but the kind that he built in his backyard and sent up into the sky on a Saturday afternoon. I remember once telling Joe about a particularly awful fight with my boyfriend and he immediately related my suffering to rockets. A terrible orthodontist appointment was also related to rockets. My sick cat? Rocket-related. There wasn’t any topic that Joe couldn’t bring back to rockets. I didn’t want to hear about rockets back then, and I still don’t today, but I finally understand my friend Joe.
Obsession. It can happen to anyone and it happened to me.
On an impromptu weekend hike I stumbled across an overgrown Revolutionary War battlefield where an old wooden plaque screwed into a giant boulder read: On July 22, 1779, in the shadow of this rock, eighteen men lost their lives.
And so began an obsession which grew into my novel SCAR.
SCAR is the story of two young boys—one Colonial, one Mohawk—who meet as enemies when left wounded and alone on the battlefield following The Battle of Minisink.
Everything about this battle interested me. Its spooky location in the middle of nowhere. The frustrated afternoon raid which created its possibility. The perfect storm of emotion and timing which should have stopped it from happening but instead hastened it to its botched beginning. The heartbreaking knowledge that its principal historic players—Mohawk Leader Joseph Brant and small-town Colonial Physician Dr. Benjamin Tusten—although on opposing sides, each believed they could steer the battle away from its disastrous end. They couldn’t. And didn’t. Even the fact that the men who died in the shadow of that rock had to wait forty-seven years for someone to find and bury them because pretty much everyone who knew where they were was dead.
I don’t think we choose our obsessions. They choose us. For whatever reason, I needed to know every single detail about what happened to those eighteen men on that hot summer day in July. And I couldn’t stop thinking about them until I knew everyone had a chance to know what happened. But you will be happy to know that writing SCAR has finally released me from my obsession with this one moment in history.
(If you meet me in person, you will quickly find that I am officially as annoying as Joe.)
J. Albert Mann is the author of the humorous and quirky middle grade series, Sunny Sweet, published by Bloomsbury. Her short stories have been published by Highlights for Children, where she won the Highlights for Children 2007 Fiction Contest. Scar is her historical fiction debut. She lives in Boston with her children, cat, and husband listed in order of affection.