word craft


Story Behind the Story #16:
The Fighting Ground

At the time I was liv­ing in Lam­bertville, New Jer­sey, so it was easy for me to catch a bus and get into NYC for a meet­ing with my edi­tor. We were going to dis­cuss the new nov­el man­u­script I had sent her.

I did indeed meet with her and learn that she was reject­ing my book. Long ago I had learned that you did­n’t argue about such a thing, you just accept­ed it, and moved on. Indeed, while tak­ing the bus back home my pri­ma­ry thought was, “What am I going to write now?”

I stared out the window.

I was just about a mile from home when I noticed a road mark­er, one of those signs that tell the pass­er-by about some­thing that hap­pened at that spot years ago. I had nev­er real­ly paid atten­tion to it before.

The Fighting GroundThe bus was going full speed, but I caught enough of the sign to want to come back and read it more close­ly. I did so the next day.

The tale the sign told was about a small Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War skir­mish fought between a few New Jer­sey mili­tia and a small troop of Hes­s­ian sol­diers. The num­bers involved were small. “Only a few deaths,” read the sign. The last line of the sign read: “The import of this skir­mish was small.”

But I thought, “It was­n’t small for those who died, or the fam­i­lies from which they came.”

That was the begin­ning of my think­ing for The Fight­ing Ground about a boy who is caught up in just such a small skir­mish The most inter­est­ing part of the book—in my view—is that the boy, when cap­tured, hears only the Ger­man (and does­n’t under­stand) his cap­tives speak. A friend trans­lat­ed my Eng­lish into German.

Hessian soldiersMy pro­tag­o­nist guess­es what these Ger­mans are say­ing and acts accord­ing­ly, with fatal consequences.

At the back of the book I trans­lat­ed the Ger­man pas­sages into Eng­lish. For the read­er, it com­plete­ly changes the story.

It’s a curi­ous case of what is not actu­al­ly part of the sto­ry being an essen­tial part of the story.

The Fight­ing Ground won the Scott O’Dell award for best his­tor­i­cal fic­tion that year.

Star­ing out of win­dows can be productive.

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