I am very pleased to have Mr. Stuart Harris on my blog today. He is the author of The Northeast Quarter, a wonderful piece of historical fiction. He will be discussing how he researches for his stories. Please enjoy!
Did you research for the backdrop of your story or any other part of it?
I researched for some of the technical or historical details, but most of it came from first person accounts of people who were alive at the time the story takes place. A major part of The Northeast Quarter came from a promise to my mother. My parents grew up between 1918 and 1929, the time in which the story takes place. This period, between the end of WW1 and The Great Depression were years of tremendous economic upheaval in the rural areas. In fact, one might say The Depression crept into these rural areas with foreclosures, poor harvest and high interest rates while city people were enjoying The Roaring Twenties and dancing the Charleston. My mother saw these events up close and developed a fear of what would happen to her family if America ever went through a second depression. How would they survive it?
We also had Huey Long’s rise to power in Louisiana and Hitler beginning to emerge in Germany. In both cases, governmental power was getting easily out of control. Mother began to consider various ways to protect her family in the future. Right or wrong, she envisioned a second Depression and the possibility of an executive order, which declared that no person could own land unless he lived on it. She focused on one piece of property, which I’ll call Section Ten. Throughout my life she would say,
“Never sell Ten. Promise me you’ll never sell it. Promise me you’ll keep Ten for you and your family.”
Her strategy was that if there were ever another economic collapse, I could always go to Iowa, rent a camper and live on the property until the crisis had passed. This request for re-affirmation of my promise continued repeatedly. The last one was on her deathbed.
Mother passed away in 2006 and I own Section Ten. The crisis she envisioned never occurred, but the story of keeping her promise provided the springboard for the plot of The Northeast Quarter.
About the Author
Stuart M. Harris began writing for the theater professionally in 1991 when he was invited by the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York to attend a summer conference. The experience led the native Californian to move to New York to become a playwright. Several of his plays have been produced Off Broadway and around the country, among them. Oona Field produced by Diverse City Theater Company and Colleen Ireland, about a 90-year-old retirement home resident and her great granddaughter, that played in New York, Spokane and other cities, including Hamilton, OH, where it won ‘Best Play’ at The Fitton Center One-Act Playwriting Contest. A follow-up to Colleen was Spindrift Way, the first of ten more plays in the series. The Northeast Quarter began as a full-length play developed by the Works in Progress Theatre Lab at Manhattan Theatre Club Studios. Harris put playwriting on hold in order to weave the story of generations of Iowan farmers into his new historical novel. He lives in Brooklyn.
Do you want revenge or do you want your land back?”
Winfield, Iowa. 1918. Colonel Wallace Carson, the ruler of a vast agricultural empire, asks Ann Hardy, his ten year old granddaughter and eventual heir, to promise she will safeguard The Northeast Quarter, the choice piece of land from which the empire was founded. Ann readily accepts – little knowing what awaits her. When The Colonel is killed unexpectedly the same afternoon, the world around Ann and her family begins to fall apart.
Against the background of America sliding from a post-war boom into The Great Depression, The Northeast Quarter tells the story of Ann’s struggle to keep a promise no matter what. She witnesses the remarriage of her grandmother to Royce Chamberlin, the seemingly humble banker who institutes a reign of terror over the household and proceeds to corrupt the entire town.
Over the next ten years she matches wits with Chamberlin, enduring betrayal, banishment and even physical violence. She grows from a precocious child into a tough-minded young woman – watching, observing her enemy and waiting for the moment to make her move.
And when the moment comes in July 1929, life in Winfield will never be the same.