While I was part of a children's writer's group, trying to figure out what I could write (not much back then), I settled on attempting an historical fiction piece based loosely on the Gilgamesh Epic, which fascinated me. I wanted to create a heroine epic about an immature girl who left her homeland, had to go through many trials to eventually become an outspoken young woman. Too, looking back, Unexpected Journey, in some ways, began as an attempt to explain and understand why I left England when I was eighteen.
I picked the 1730s because I came across an interesting tidbit about rich young women being pressed into marriage and I also love colonial American history. It seemed so much easier to learn than the many British Kings and Queens I was required to memorize as an English schoolgirl.
A handkerchief that once belonged to Rachel's mother was pivotal in the initial story, originally titled Momma's Handkerchief, as a symbol of persistence and hope. Rachel used it to stuff her bodice to fool people into thinking her older. Without it, Rachel might never have ended up in Colonial Philadelphia, might never have met the Native American, Gishuk, might never have overcome the narrow-minded views of her culture about other races. Amazing, really, where one tiny fact led.
When I was writing the first draft, a new character, Anna, a streetwise girl who befriended Rachel, leaped into the story, and I eventually wrote a whole section about her. She became my favorite because she had to go through so much and was often kinder than anyone ever was to her. She was also incredibly stubborn. My mother told me I am incredibly stubborn too, which must be true, or I'd have given up on finding a publisher for this novel years earlier.
Another character who became an integral part of the novel was Gishuk, a Lenni Lenape shaman. He was so much fun to write about. Gishuk used to talk to me by using a green pen to answer my questions written in black ink! Partly, he emerged because I came across a library copy of the Walum Olum, a pictoral record of the Lenni Lenape people. I wanted to learn more about this interesting culture. I loved to roam the woods where I lived in Pennsylvania so I set Gishuk's village near a pond where I often walked.
I did a lot of research which I thoroughly enjoyed, including visiting a replica of a squarerigger ship, not to mention spending time in reconstructed colonial villages. I had fun trying to find details about clothing and foods. It was like a treasure hunt. The book took years to complete--every so often, I would dust it off, revise and send it out to publishers again. I was astonished when it was accepted by a publisher.