Friday, July 13, 2018

When My Work Pesters Me, I Listen

One of the things I love about historic research is that there is always something more to learn. No matter how much I’ve learned about a topic, there is always something deeper, richer, and more complex to know about it.  

I’ve had that experience this week as I’m working to get the final edits done on my book that is coming out this fall titled Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, published by Holiday House.  This book is full of all sorts of fascinating information and images.  And though I’ve never done it before like this, I’ve written an introduction and <gasp> even placed images in the introduction.  These amazing, powerful images will pack a punch even before the first word of chapter one.  

It was the caption to one of those images that wouldn’t let me rest this week. 

The caption as I wrote it a while back has been through various readers including my editor countless times, copyeditors, and even managing editors as they read the manuscript. The caption was absolutely fine and fabulous.  

The image on the page is a diagram of a slave ship.  The caption mentioned the transatlantic slave trade and identified the name of the ship and when it was built.  It was a good caption.  It was enough information, especially for the introduction! 

But still that caption pestered me.  My work does that to me-and when it does I pay attention.  

I started wondering…a great thing for a nonfiction author.  Are there any specifics I could add to the caption?  Maybe just a few words if I could find some detail about the ship or the human cargo it carried.

Then it got really interesting.  I found that specific ship on the Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database provided by Emory University.   I found out lots of details about this slave ship.  I know who the captain was, who owned the ship, where they picked up the enslaved, where they took them, how many Africans were packed belowdeck, how many were men, women, boys, and girls.  I know the voyage across the Atlantic took 51 wretched days.  I even know how many of them died on the voyage.  

And as if all that wasn’t enough, I discovered that abolitionists in Great Britain used this diagram to show the horrors of the slave trade.  And William Wilberforce, a British politician, used a model of that specific ship when he spoke to Parliament against the slave trade.  

Click here to see the model.

What a fascinating piece of history!

Although there was nothing wrong with the original caption, I knew more about the topic than what it said. And, well I just had to share it. So I emailed my editor suggesting an eleventh hour addition (actually the hour is more like 11:55) for the caption on page 2.   

And my wonderful editor Kelly, agreed with me and found a way to make it work.  

I’m really glad that caption pestered me.  

Carla Killough McClafferty 


Michele Helsel said...

Ok, please share the before and after captions.

Pam said...

I love the information you got through research. An amazing find. You have to be over the moon elated. Can't wait to get my hands on this story. So the caption is Buried Alive?

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Thanks Michele for your post. The original caption was "Enslaved human beings were packed into ships as cargo during the transatlantic slave trade. This is a 1788 diagram of a British ship named the Brookes."

The revision will have the above paragraph---and about three more that deepens the story a lot. I'd better wait til the book comes out before I reveal anymore. ;-)

BTW, the book isn't about the slave trade-it is about six specific enslaved people at Mount Vernon. But this information is vital. That is why this image and caption is in the introduction, not the text of the book.

Carla Killough McClafferty said...

Dear Pam, thank you for your comment. I am elated to find such rich details about history that fits perfectly into the true story I'm telling. What a great idea you have for the caption: Buried Alive!! I wish I'd thought of that. It is brilliant.

I hope you will love the book as much as I do. It will be released this fall.