In May of 2011, Abingdon editor Ramona Richards said “Yes” when we were at the Blue Ridge conference together and I asked, “Do you want a Titanic book?” Thus began the fastest writing job I’ve ever done. There was no time to think… just write, read, research, at every possible moment. The characters cooperated, came to life and this was the fastest, most exciting writing time of my life.
I had done some research several years ago and made notes. After this project was accepted I read every book I could find about the Titanic, watched every movie more than once and searched the internet. Many people are in the background this project. A friend led me see the importance of Nova Scotia. My contact with other writers led to Janet Burrill who lives there and has written a book about NS. We became email friends and exchanged messages almost daily. She supplied me with invaluable information.
Poetry, which I know very little about, is an important element in the story. I asked, and Dr. Donn Taylor who has a PhD in Renaissance literature and has 20 years’ experience teaching poetry, wrote a poem for me. Another character claims not to be a poet but wrote a poem. My son-in-law, who doesn’t claim to be a poet, agreed to let me use a poem he wrote. My acknowledgements in the book go into more detail on how so many people were eager to help with this project.
I could not conceive of the grandeur of such a ship before watching the Titanic movie or doing my research. The ship was a world unto itself, a palace on the sea. It truly was the grandest ship ever built. Progress seemed to have reached perfection in that “unsinkable” ship. I was impressed with the courage and nobility of some passengers. I was not surprised that some were deemed as cowards or fearful. I expect I would have identified with them the most. Some were fearful, some brave. They have their personal, inner problems and desires, failings and strengths, faith or lack of it. I put the experiences of people I know into these characters because there are things that are basic to all of us, and yet we each have our differences.
We may dress differently, engage in what is called progress, but the hopes, desires, needs, fears, courage, cowardice, sins, loves, and hope are the same. People want basically the same things: a fulfilled, meaningful life. We just don’t always know how to go about getting it.
In writing a saga or epic that spans fifty years, the present needed to connect with the past. All succeeding generation characters in the story are influenced in some way to victims and survivors of the Titanic tragedy. John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; …any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind.”
We’re a part of each other. What our ancestors were and did has an effect on us. In turn, we affect and influence our descendants. Like a stone dropped into a pond, there is a ripple effect. When we are mature enough to know right from wrong we are responsible for our choices. However, we are greatly influenced by heredity and environment. I wanted to show that the effect of an event goes on for generations and that even a child who can’t remember the incident feels the effects.I wanted to show that what might seem like wrong choices are just that, and yet we don’t really know what that person is dealing with or how we might react if in a similar situation.
But there were 2,207 passengers on that ship. Each has a story. Many, many other stories could be written about each person who perished and who survived that fatal night. Several Titanic stories have been written. But…my story had not been…until now.
I thought I’d share with you an interview with one of my characters that appeared on another blog because some readers have found it to be a unique idea.
1. My name is Lydia Beaumont. Others behave and speak as if the most interesting thing about me is that I’m heiress to the Beaumont Railroad Company and my father is fabulously rich. However, I think the most interesting is that I’m sailing on the Titanic, the greatest ship ever built and am on my way to America where I expect my life to really begin. And yet, if anyone else knew the secret known only to me, I suspect that would be of incredible interest.
2. What do you do for fun?
Before John, I was escorted by Craven to the finest establishments in cities like London and Paris. After John, fun was escaping from those who watched my every move, and sneaking out to run around town with friends as if I were a commoner. Now that I’ve matured considerably in the past few weeks, nothing is more fun than exploring this ship with John or just talking and laughing with him.
3. What do you put off doing because you dread it?
I dread revealing my secret because if it were something that would not cause distress, decisions, and uncertainty to many, then it would not be a secret.
4. What are you afraid of most in life?
Never being free to live and love the way I want, but having my life dictated by others.
5. What do you want out of life?
What I want most is to marry John and live happily ever after.
6. What is the most important thing to you?
7. Do you read? If so, what is your favorite type of book to read?
Oh yes, my favorite book is a best-selling one titled Once Upon an English Garden. The author is aboard this ship, in second-class unfortunately but that doesn’t bother John. The two of them have become friends.
8. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
If I could change one thing about me it would be my former naïveté about my own susceptibility to temptation which led to indiscretion.
9. Do you have a pet? If so, what is it and why that pet?
Why have a pet when you, yourself, are a pet to your own father, eligible and ineligible bachelors, friends of the family, servants, governesses, tutors, and guards. In a sense, I feel like a pet who is pampered and trained and has every moment scheduled. If I want something fetched I simply speak to a servant and I never fear any disobedience. Were I to have a pet however, I think it would be a little songbird in a cage, so I could set him free.
10. If you could travel back in time, where would you go and why?
Oh, when one is in a palace on the sea, aboard the grandest ship ever built, one simply could not desire to travel elsewhere. We sail on a glassy smooth sea, with only hope and beauty ahead of us and my dear love is walking toward me. The grandeur of this ship is a world of its own. I cannot imagine traveling back from this or being more fortunate than to be aboard this magnificent “unsinkable” ship of dreams.
Of all the unbelievable things that occurred, the strangest thing took place. The floating half of the ship began to melt like a dollop of butter on a hot roll. It just melted smoothly into the ocean and the hoard of people were in the water. Their hair didn’t get wet. No water splashed on their faces. For an instant they didn’t scream. They couldn’t. A communal gasp went out over the sea, produced by hundreds and hundreds of terrified people who unexpectedly stepped into icy water up to their necks.
The ship of dreams vanished, disappeared as it sank into the sea.
In its place emerged a nightmare.
The sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic was not the end of the story for the 2,207 passengers, plus the crew. It was the beginning of an unforgettable event that changed history, changed culture. There were only a few hundred saved in the 20 lifeboats. Not only were hundreds and hundreds of souls lost that night, but the event touched people throughout the world. Each person had family, friends, acquaintances and their lives too were touched and changed. Being saved was not the end, but the beginning for those who struggled not just to survive, but to live again.
YVONNE LEHMAN is an award-winning, best-selling author. Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the Titanic is her 50th novel. She founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years and now directs the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat held in October at Ridgecrest/LifeWay Conference Center in Ridgecrest NC. She earned a Master’s Degree in English from Western Carolina University, is a mentor for Jerry Jenkins’ Christian Writers Guild, and teaches at writers conferences. Her second novel in a series set in Washington DC, A Knight to Remember is scheduled for release in April and the third, Let it Snow in December 2012. Eight E-books are scheduled for the debut line, Truly Yours, to be released by Barbour Publishing.