Some recent links to interviews and essays about A CRACK IN THE SEA

Hello! Here’s a link to some recent interviews and essays online:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background: The Back to Africa Movement in the U.S.

One of the ideas this book engages with, tangentially, is the “Back to Africa” movement (sometimes called the “Liberian Movement”) in 19th-century America and earlier. As a scholar of early American literature, I’ve long been intrigued by mentions of this movement in late 18th-century and 19th-century literature—books like Olaudah Equiano’s memoir of his enslavement and freedom and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

There is a long and complicated history in the U.S. and in Britain and its colonies of “back to Africa” movements. In Britain in the late 1700’s, the formerly enslaved abolitionist Olaudah Equiano was involved with one such movement (though he never moved permanently to Africa), as was the white abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. Most of the people who moved back to Africa at this time came from Canada and the West Indies and ended up going to the British colony of Sierra Leone and settling in or near Freetown—a town expressly created by and for formerly enslaved people.

In the early 1800’s there were growing arguments in the U.S. for resettlement of formerly enslaved people in Africa. Some of these arguments, at least on white people’s parts, grew out of real concern for formerly enslaved people; and some grew out of deep-seated racism and fear of having “too many” freed blacks in the U.S. Among free people of color the subject was also difficult: some felt that America was their home and resented being asked to leave; others wished simply to go back to their birthland or the birthland of their parents or grandparents; still others wished to have a home country that would be free of the racism they faced in the U.S.

The first U.S. group to resettle in Africa was led by free black sea captain Paul Cuffee, who financed a trip to resettle 38 people in Sierra Leone in 1815. In 1820 an abolitionist group called the American Colonization Society (with funding from the Society and from the U.S. Congress) sent approximately 300 people to join the colony at Freetown, Sierra Leone. In 1821 the U.S. established its own colony of Liberia, expressly for African American resettlement. Between 1820 and the Civil War, Liberia accepted upwards of 15,000 people from the U.S. for resettlement. (Liberia became an independent country in 1847.)

Although A CRACK IN THE SEA doesn’t explicitly address the Back to Africa movement, it was something I was thinking about as I was writing, and the Raft King’s desire to go to Africa is a not-very-subtle allusion to this movement. But in my novel, the people of Raftworld aren’t living in a country where they are constantly facing racism, so as a people they don’t feel the same compelling reasons to leave. And more crucially, they CAN’T go back; it isn’t possible to get back to the first world—until suddenly, there is a one-time possibility by which they can go back forever.

One of the things I wanted to consider in this book was how permanent any kind of resettlement can feel to the people who are contemplating it. The people in this book who resettle do so permanently (or in the case of the Kraken: for many, many years), with no promise they can ever return to their first home. I wanted to think about what that might mean, what it might feel like. In our world today, even with airplanes and other fast transportation, and with the ultra-fast connectivity of the internet, there are still many people, refugees in particular, for whom resettlement feels like a door slamming shut forever: their old home is no longer open to them, and they can not return.

**

What I’ve written above about the Back to Africa movement is a very brief and general overview; for more details you might take a look at the following web pages as a starting point:

An overview of the Back to Africa movement (which inexplicably skips over Paul Cuffee’s contribution): http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/freed-u-s-slaves-depart-on-journey-to-africa

A brief discussion of Paul Cuffee, by renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/who-led-the-1st-back-to-africa-effort/

A discussion of why the phrase “back to Africa” is so complicated in the 21st century:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/26/is-go-back-to-africa-always-an-insult-heres-a-brief-history-of-american-back-to-africa-movements/?utm_term=.bcd2f41f0309

A short entry on a famous 20th-century proponent of this movement: Marcus Garvey:

http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/marcus-garvey-mainstay-back-africa-movement

Inspiration: Underwater People!

At some point while I was revising A CRACK IN THE SEA, my agent sent me a link to an artist who makes underwater statues—which eventually turn into coral reefs for sea life. Pretty cool, yes?

The underwater statues of Jason teCaires Taylor are amazing. Take a look: http://www.underwatersculpture.com/

And looking at those photos of underwater people let me to look for more underwater statues. Believe it or not, there are some out there! Here’s a short article about various statuary under water: http://mentalfloss.com/article/86537/9-amazing-statues-you-can-only-see-underwater

I haven’t seen any of these statues in real life. And their photos didn’t find me until I’d already drafted the underwater scenes in the book—so, if you’re wondering where the original inspiration came from, it wasn’t from those images.

But I did get something wonderful out of encountering the photos: a mood. I wanted a particular feel to my book’s underwater scenes—dreamlike and peaceful, but also a little eerie. When I was revising the underwater scenes, I often looked at these images of underwater statues as inspiration—and for me, these statue photos have that otherworldly feel to them. You can even see them evolve in some of the photos: as the coral latches onto the statue, its features grown more and more indistinct; but the statues themselves endure.

 

 

 

 

 

Link: Interactive Map of the Middle Passage

Some background to the Zong story in A CRACK IN THE SEA: To get some sense of how active the Middle Passage was—and how massive the slave trade—take a look at this interactive video. In about two minutes, it will show you the ship routes for over 200 years of slave trade; you can click on any dot to see more information about that vessel and the people on board.

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_history_of_american_slavery/2015/06/animated_interactive_of_the_history_of_the_atlantic_slave_trade.html

Deleted Scene

Want to see the deleted opening to A CRACK IN THE SEA? Here it is! And there’s a little bit of commentary below.

PART ONE:

How the Kraken Lost Each Other.

The Second World. So many years ago.

Once upon a time, in the beginning—not literally in the beginning, but near enough, and as close as we will get in this book—there lived two Kraken, as enormous as small nations. The entire ocean was their home, and they regarded the little islands that dotted up out of the water as merely the pillars that supported their heavens.

Did I mention how big the Kraken were? As big as cities, as big as islands covered with cities and farms. And as deep, and as complicated.

They were happy, mostly. They were in love.

One day a big storm brewed itself up—way above them in the sky and on the surface of the ocean. Far below, they were safe. Or they thought they were.

The Kraken were having an argument, which they liked to call a “discussion.” The husband (they did not have names, as there were only two of them; they were just “he” and “she”—or, if they were talking to each other, “you”)—he wanted to return home. He was tired of travel. All eight of his arms swayed in the water. “We’ve been gone a long time. Too long.” As he shook his ponderous mantle, he sounded sulky, even to himself. The water bubbled around him.

The wife shrugged, all eight of her shoulders swishing upward. She blinked her eyes, big-windowed lanterns closing, then flicking open. “We can go home later. There’s more exploring to do.” She gestured with several tendrils to the world beyond, over which the storm was at its darkest.

“Home,” he repeated, scooting a few yards away, towards the far-off island bay they called theirs. He too blinked, slowly, as if to say Come, be tired like me. Home and rest.

The wife slid a few yards in the other direction, as if to say Come, wake up. Adventure. Home later.

The storm suddenly intensified, as they sometimes do on the ocean—snapping into high gear with little notice.

But then something new, something strange happened. The storm’s great arms reached deep into the ocean and roiled the water all the way down to the dark sandy bottom. The storm stirred up a line between the two Kraken. As the sand whirled around them, both disappeared from each other’s sight.

When the debris finally settled, the husband gasped—and the wife gasped at the same time. They had shuffled apart even farther, to retreat from the sandstorm, and now between them stood: was it a doorway?

It seemed to be, or something like it. A narrow portal that stretched up and up.

There was more.

The doorway (can we really call it that? It was just a lighted strip of water) reached down from the sky all the way to the ocean floor, as if a crack had opened up between two worlds. He sat in one place and She sat in the other. They could see each other, but they were no longer together. He was in their home world, and she was suddenly—someplace else.

The husband—the one we will concern ourselves with, for the wife is now lost—registered everything in a fraction of a second, as Kraken do. He tasted something foreign in the water, a saltiness mixed with traces of iron. A coolness brushed over his mantle. He smelled alien fishes. And through the long, thin doorway, through the crack that stretched to the heavens, he saw his wife, her eyes wide and unblinking.

He knew where he was. But where was she?

For just a half a moment, both Kraken sat motionless on the ocean floor, staring at each other through the doorway. Then they both leapt, inking and jetting their way toward the door, toward each other.

But too late. The crack snapped shut, the doorway disappeared, the storm moved on. And the Kraken? He shot forward, all three of his hearts in his mouth, to . . . nothing. To empty sand. To the spot where his wife would have been if she had not disappeared through a doorway into another world.

Then.

He sat down to wait.

The doorway did not reopen.

He waited. He waited a very long time. He did not know what else to do, and Kraken live long and contain deep oceans of patience.

Many years passed.

And, finally:

Finally one day, something did happen—though not what he had hoped for.

High above, balancing precariously on the surface of the water, three wooden fish sailed over him, headed toward his island bay. Boats, carrying people. He’d seen boats before, and people—there were some on the islands near his home—but not boats so large or people so sickly pale. These were something new.

He considered. It made sense to him that they might be from that other place, and if so, maybe they’d know how to open the doorway. He followed and watched as they settled on the island near his bay.

But it soon became clear that they did not know anything about his wife or how to get to that other world. They could not even converse with him; they could not even walk on the bottom of the water.

He went back to the no-longer-a-doorway, where he waited.

Then one day, several years later, he spotted something new. People who did have that gift for sinking and walking. A hundred of them at least: tortured, beaten, whipped, starved; yet alive. And the deep color of joy. Walking on the bottom of the ocean, holding hands, strings of people like tattered ribbons. That was certainly strange—and maybe a sign that they too came from the other world. Maybe they’d know something. He trailed them at a distance, so as not to scare them with his monstrous bulk, hoping to find news of his wife.

##

Yes, the novel used to start with the Kraken. I love them. I really wanted to start the novel with them.

About this opening, my editor said only this: “They are middle-aged sea monsters having a domestic dispute. Kids won’t be that interested. Why not start with the actual main characters of the novel?” (She did not say these words EXACTLY; I’m paraphrasing what I remember from the conversation. I hope I’m doing her justice. Because she is brilliant.)

I thought about her comments for a few days.

Then I cut the scene.

Why? Because my editor was right.

(But I’m including it here because I love the Kraken so much that I can’t dump the scene altogether. I hope you enjoy!)

Original Title

How does an author arrive at a title?

Well, in my case, I arrived at it because my editor really, really didn’t like my first title for A CRACK IN THE SEA. Part of the reason was because it was, including the subtitle, 40 words long. I KID YOU NOT. Here it is, with some thoughts on it below:

THE TRADED GIRL

By H.M. Bouwman

Or: Sea Monsters in Love. Also Known As: The Astonishing Voyages of Kinchen and Thanh, Based on Thanh’s Story. Sometimes Titled, What You Will, When You Must Leave Home. A Story in Several Parts. By The Author.

First, I want to say for the record that I will love subtitles until the day I die.

I also love the fact that the subtitle evokes the 18th century. And since part of my novel is set in the 18th century, I like that the subtitle has the sound of an old English novel or historical tome, many of which included long explanatory subtitles like this one.

However. Maybe the long subtitle isn’t quite right for a fantasy novel that is mostly set in 1978.

And the original main title? I loved THE TRADED GIRL because it seemed to me to pose a puzzle for the reader: Who is the traded girl? I thought the reader would probably first assume the title was a reference to Caesar, and only later would the reader realize that the “traded girl” is a reference to someone else altogether. (I’m being a little vague here because I’m trying to talk without spoilers, in case you, dear reader, haven’t finished the novel yet.) I also wanted the title to get readers to think about what it means to be traded (to be sent somewhere against your will) versus what it means to choose to trade yourself—to choose your home, essentially.

But my editor wasn’t convinced THE TRADED GIRL was the best title. And the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that she was right. (She is very smart.) It’s not a very active title, after all, and there’s no image to latch onto—you can’t see or touch “the traded girl.” It’s kind of cold and distanced, too (the girl isn’t named), and it’s ambiguous (what does “traded girl” mean, anyway?) Lastly, this title sounds . . . depressing. And though there are tough subjects in my story, the novel is not overall a depressing book.

So my editor asked for a title that would do a better job of suggesting fantasy and that would more strongly evoke the Second World. We emailed back and forth about a lot of titles before I finally hit on A CRACK IN THE SEA.

And I LOVE IT! A CRACK IN THE SEA is a far better title than my original idea. It’s visual; it evokes the second world; it suggests action and fantasy. And best of all: there’s a pun in it, which for me makes it wonderful.

Which, I guess, is all a long way of saying: revision is a good thing.