word craft


Story Behind the Story #6:
Night Journeys

Night JourneyI spent the sum­mer of my 16th year at a work camp run by the Soci­ety of Friends (Quak­ers) on a Chero­kee reser­va­tion in North Car­oli­na. There, with oth­er teenagers, I labored with the local peo­ple, doing farm work, help­ing to clear wood­ed areas to bring in elec­tric­i­ty, rebuild­ing homes, plus a great vari­ety of use­ful com­mu­ni­ty tasks. I also had many talks with the camp head, who pro­vid­ed me with an intro­duc­tion to the Quak­er faith, which made a strong impres­sion on me, and about which I would sub­se­quent­ly read a great deal.

Years lat­er, I was liv­ing in Lam­bertville, New Jer­sey, on the banks of the Delaware Riv­er, right across the way from Penn­syl­va­nia. My boys came to attend the Buck­ing­ham Friends ele­men­tary school, a Penn­syl­va­nia Quak­er school, which had a num­ber of quite beau­ti­ful 18th Cen­tu­ry struc­tures. By way of coin­ci­dence, the head­mas­ter of the school was the same indi­vid­ual who ran that work camp to which I had gone.

It was a com­bi­na­tion of my inter­est in Penn­syl­va­nia Quak­ers, colo­nial Amer­i­can his­to­ry, and the place where I was liv­ing, that led me to write the his­tor­i­cal nov­el, Night Jour­neys.

The Quak­er reli­gion, like all reli­gions, is com­plex and, again, like all reli­gions, the­o­ry and prac­tice is full of con­tra­dic­tions. I recall read­ing about the wealthy Penn­syl­va­nia Quak­er farmer who, being opposed to war, refused to pay a tax levied for what we call The French and Indi­an War. But, not wish­ing to go against the law, he left the right amount of tax mon­ey on a log where the tax col­lec­tor could “find” it.

It is just this kind of moral predica­ment which lies at the heart of Night Jour­neys, when Peter York, an orphan boy, is tak­en into the home of Everett Shinn, a deeply reli­gious Quak­er. What law (sacred or sec­u­lar) should be fol­lowed when two local inden­tured ser­vants run away to seek their free­dom? In the book I wrote one of my favorite sen­tences, the one from which the title of the book derives: “Roads at night are always new.”

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