- Books, Literature, and Writing
Interview with Author Jessica McCann
Too many times the most interesting stories in history are the ones forgotten. There are thousands of people and events that were major players in history but we know little about them. That is the case in the story All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica McCann. The author looks into the story of a woman who helped push America to the Civil War. It is the story of a woman that the world can only find a single line about her yet a major Supreme Court decision was all about her.
Ms. McCann graciously agreed to an interview to discuss Margaret Morgan's story.
What prompted you to look into the Margaret Morgan of Prigg v. Pensylvania?
I first read about the U.S. Supreme Court case Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 1842, when I was doing freelance copyediting on a book for MIT. The case appealed the conviction of a bounty hunter charged with kidnapping Margaret Morgan, a free woman of color who was alleged to be an escaped slave. My curiosity was piqued because the section only mentioned Margaret once. That struck me as so odd, since the whole ordeal began with her kidnapping, and I was curious to know how her story turned out. So I dug around a bit. But the more I looked, the less I found -- some obscure footnotes in law journals, conflicting news accounts from the time. It really bothered me that her part of the story was little more than a footnote in history, especially since there were thousands of other women just like her -- wives, mothers -- who suffered a similar fate during that dark period in our nation's history.
Have you studied much in the past about slavery in early American history?
Not to a great extent. Research for this novel was my first significant foray into studying the era.
During your research, what surprised you the most?
What surprised me most was how little documented information there was to be found about Margaret and her family. I had actually begun the project as a biography, but there just wasn't enough accurate information available to write a nonfiction book about her.
I really struggled whether I felt sympathy or anger toward Mrs. Ashmore. Is that what you were looking for from the readers?
It makes me so happy to hear that was your reaction to Mrs. Ashmore. That mixture of emotions is exactly what I was trying to create - for all my characters, really. I love fiction that reflects real life. And in real life, no person is all bad or all good. We all have our moments of strength and weakness, of valor and cowardice. The best we can hope for is that, in the end, we've led a life that is more good than bad.
Which character surprised you the most in the development of the book?
Emma, Margaret's daughter, surprised me the most. Her character developed somewhat spontaneously, and I was pleased to see in the end how many good qualities she seemed to inherit from Margaret.
Of all the characters you wrote about, which one endeared themselves to you?
Again, I think it would be Emma.
I have to ask. Which character do you wish you could take a little revenge on?
Interesting question! I wish more for justice than revenge, and for so many of the characters in the book, frankly. One of the most distasteful of all the characters for me was the plantation owner's wife. Her selfishness and false acts of charity made me so angry as I wrote.
How long have you been writing?
I've loved putting words together since I was a little girl. Here's a piece I recently wrote "on becoming a writer." http://brandi-annuyemura.com/writingtopics/guest-blog/on-becoming-a-writer/
What was the hardest part about writing on Margaret Morgan?
Because the book is based on a real woman, the hardest part was imagining and writing about all the horrible things that happened to her. A part of me wanted to write her a perfectly wonderful life in the novel, to somehow make up for what the real Margaret had endured.
What is your next project?
My current novel in progress is another historical. I'm deep in research on the 1930s American Dust Bowl.
What author has inspired you the most over the years?
My tastes in reading are pretty eclectic, so it's hard to narrow down my inspiration to even a handful of authors. If I had to pick one, however, it is Sandra Dallas. I love her historical novels. When I received advance reading copies of my novel, I emailed her to ask if she'd be willing to read it and offer a note for the cover if she enjoyed it. I was stunned that she not only agreed to read the book, but she also offered wonderful advice and support I hadn't dared request. She's smart, gracious and kind. And she enriched my experience as a debut novelist.
How do find the time and the quiet to write?
When I figure that out, you'll be the first to know! I write full-time for a living, so it takes up most of my time. It's work. I enjoy some aspects of it more than others. I also work from home, which can get loud. So, I carve out time for my fiction writing whenever possible, and I tune out the noise as best as I can. The trick, at least for me, is to just keep at it.
What would you tell all wanting to write but haven’t taken that chance yet?
Take the chance. That's the first big hurdle. Writing and sharing what you write with the world is such a long, hard road. For me that journey has been rewarding, and I'm glad I took it. But if you don't begin by taking a chance on yourself, no one else can. Do it for yourself first.
Jessica McCann, a professional freelance writer and novelist, lives with her family in Phoenix, Arizona. Her nonfiction work has been published in Business Week, The Writer and Phoenix magazines, among others. All Different Kinds of Free (http://www.AllDifferentKindsOfFree.com) is her award-winning debut historical novel. She welcomes interaction with readers and writers at her website (http://www.jessicamccann.com).
Thank you so much, Ms. McCann for your time and your answers. This was a story that gripped me and had me crying to the end. If you like history and want to read about strong women, I strongly suggest you read this book. Margaret Morgan has become a hero of mine.
If you are interested in reading my review of All Different Kinds of Free, it can be found here.
Again, thank you, Ms. McCann. I look forward to your next book.