The feeling a writer has when deciding what to write about is extremely exhilarating, but also very nerve-bending. At least it was for me. I knew I wanted to write something that would be especially appealing to women in midlife – my own age group. But what story?
I love to brainstorm, sometimes throwing the craziest ideas onto the page to see where they take me. I wanted my protagonist to experience situations totally out of her comfort zone, and I love the notions of time travel and reincarnation. So…
I decided to explore the idea of reincarnation. And to take it a step further, what if there were select people with the unique ability to visit the prior lives their souls had lived? How exciting, but at the same time, scary! The paranormal twist really appealed to me.
What prior life would I write about? Again the brainstorming, trying to come up with a truly alluring and way-out-there idea. Of course, if we’re writing about reincarnation, it’s a given the story will be historical, since we’re writing about a prior life. But what part of history?
The practice of child labor in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries really intrigued me; that was the focus of my initial research. However, my fact-finding didn’t immediately yield a prior life for Elaine, my protagonist, so I kept exploring.
I also thought it would be fun to write about my own city (Dallas, Texas) in that era, and began reading about its origins and life in the 1800’s. I came across a real Dallas institution that was formed in the late nineteenth century – The Virginia K. Johnson Home and Training School.
Quite outspoken in her beliefs (once even being jailed for assisting Confederate soldiers), Virginia Johnson realized prostitutes had no option but to continue selling themselves if they wanted to eat, and she decided to do something about it.
She built an organization that housed women trying to leave the sex trade. At The Home, they were trained for “respectable” occupations, with the goal of contributing to society and making honest wages on which to live.
Bingo! I found the bones of my story!
Elaine’s prior life would belong to Eliza, a fictionalized reformed prostitute who lived at The Virginia K. Johnson Home, and struggled to save more young women who were virtually imprisoned by the prostitution trade.
Not only did I want to address the restricted rights of females in the nineteenth/early twentieth centuries, but I also wanted to bring into focus their susceptibility to child labor and prostitution, and the stigma society placed on them.
My research consisted of reading many books and historical accounts of life in Dallas between 1875 and 1910, the practice of child labor during that period and the movement to protect children, and the prostitution industry in that era.
I found books on these subjects and information from online sources and local historical chat-sites that discussed The Virginia K. Johnson Home. I searched the online archives sponsored by the Dallas Public Library, and then visited their historical archives in-person. My visit only disclosed several prostitution arrest records, but the documents did contain the names of streets where bordellos were located – some of the Dallas street names having long since changed.
Life Before is not only a story about a modern-day woman finding new purpose in life through an extraordinary gift; it’s also a social commentary on the historical truths about sexual slavery and child labor in our country. I also felt it important to address racial inequality and social bigotry, with a bi-racial romance to boot.
I never would have guessed my novel would be about reincarnation, child labor, and the struggle to end prostitution and sexual slavery. I surprised myself! Sometimes the winding road of research makes us detour from our map, and discover new ideas and places that we find ourselves compelled to explore.
Happy research, and happy writing!
K.L. Romo is a novelist and freelance writer who loves creating sparks and flames. She’s currently working on a bonfire. Let’s make some s’mores!
K.L. lives with her family in Duncanville, Texas, and keeps busy with her five kids and 15 grandkids. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association, and The Writers’ League of Texas.
Currently working on the second book of the LIFE BEFORE series.
You can visit K.L. at https://klromo.com/, and she’d love it if you signed up for her email newsletter by clicking here. You may contact K. L. Romo: by email at email@example.com, or by Twitter at @klromo.
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- Deciding What To Write | WordHarbour | September 17, 2016