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An African Affair

An African Affair

I just finished reading An African Affair, a novel by Nina Darnton, wo is a former staff writer for Newsweek and a former frequent contributor for the New York Times. The book draws on her experience of five years living in Africa in the 1970s, including imprisonment in Nigeria with her two small children. The New York Times called the book, “A vivid portrait of a troubled country.”

In the novel, New York journalist Lindsay Cameron finds corruption, drug smuggling, and rampant human rights abuses as she covers the regime of Nigeria’s President Michael Olumide. In the aftermath of two Continue reading “An African Affair”

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Resources for Writers

Occasionally I list and describe resources that give writers details that might normally be difficult to find.

For writers on American history, here’s a new book about farm life.  Just published is A Boy’s Paradise: Life on a Turn-of-the Century Farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Susan M. Branting edited and published this memoir by her grandfather, Wilfred Nevue, of growing up on a farm in the early 20th century. “He believed that his younger self had lived a life that was quickly fading from the American experience, and he wished to capture it for his children.” If you’re writing about this era, about early farm life, or about the French-Canadian customs brought into Michigan’s Upper Pensinsula, this delightful, well-edited book is filled with interesting and, for a writer, useful details.

For writers on Morocco:  Back when I was researching my historical novel, Shadow of the Rock, I had a difficult time finding any information about the history and culture of Morocco, 1780-1795. I finally paid $250 to a rare book dealer for a copy of a journal published in 1793 entitled, A Tour from Gibraltar by William Lempriere. This hard-to-find book had been mentioned in a number of bibliographies about the real-life characters in my book and the $250 was well-spent for eyewitness account of Morocco in that exact time period.

Another important resource was Travail in an Arab Land by Samuel Romanelli, originally published in 1792. I found a modern translation for a couple of dollars in a used book shop.

For mystery and crime writers: Two books that can help you structure a villain’s as well as a victim’s character and actions are Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear  and Mary Ellen O”Toole’s Dangerous Instincts. Both provide useful information on how a predator might approach his prey. I used De Becker’s book in setting up an assault scene in Shadow of the Rock.

Researching Shadow of the Rock, Part 2

Shadow of the Rock springs from a story often cited in Florida history books about a young woman captured by Barbary pirates and forced into marriage with the vizier of Morocco. Her grandson, David Levy Yulee, became the first senator from Florida.

I began at the library since I started this project before the Internet became a household word.  I easily found references to David Yulee, but was surprised to find the name Moses Elias Levy in a book of notable American Jews. Could this be David Yulee’s father? Was he an important figure too? Turns out he was an abolitionist, fiery speaker, and a large plantation owner in northern Florida. And this was David Levy Yulee’s father. He was the child born of the woman captured by pirates and sold to the vizier.

I checked the bibliographies of the various sources and then searched for the references listed.
I also wrote the History Department at the University of Florida asking for comments on the story and Chris Romano kindly replied.  He asserted that the story was a myth and that actually, she most likely was the daughter of a merchant in Tangier who married the vizier in a normal arrangement. But Romano cited two books for further information:  Travails in an Arab Land, by Samuel Romanelli, an Italian Jew, and A Tour from Gibraltar to Tangier, etc., by William Lempriere . Both books were published circa 1792, the period of my story. Both furnished excellent, eyewitness accounts of Morocco in that time, including a description of the king’s harem. Romanelli even mentions meeting the shy third wife of the vizier, who was the woman of my story.

Of course I had to visit Morocco, especially Mogadore, the setting for my story. Our tour included a two-hour camel trek across dunes into the Sahara to spend a night in a Berber camp. On another trip, we visited Gibraltar, and I took a cab ride to the ancient Jewish cemetery halfway up the Rock. I took copious notes so my description of this cemetery would be  accurate.

And on a Caribbean cruise, I made arrangements with the chair of the Cemetery Committee to visit the two ancient Jewish cemeteries in St. Thomas, just as Sara does. The chair gave me census and cemetery records to help in my research. Of course, my descriptions of the people are totally fictional, but we did meet a student in the cemetery who called up Moses Elias Levy on his laptop to give me information he’s collected.

Writing this book was an exciting journey.

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