Liz and Nellie, the historical retelling of the dramatic race around the world in the late 1800s started out as a research rabbit trail. I was working on a YA novel set in the 1890s, and while I was studying this time period, I read about a young woman named Nellie Bly who went around the world to try to beat Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days record.
I had never heard of this woman and was immediately drawn to her story. I stopped working on the one novel and dove into Nellie Bly’s world. Why had I never heard of her? Wouldn’t teens love this story? So I thought I would write a novel based on Nellie’s trip. After more research, I learned there was a second young woman who set out going in the opposite direction to race Nellie back to New York. This story kept getting better and better! I had to share it with today’s teens.
The Source Material
Both these women were writers and wrote newspaper and magazine articles telling their story; these were each compiled into books. Nellie’s account, Around the World in Seventy-two Days, while dated to the times, was pretty easy to follow, and was a pleasurable read. Elizabeth Bisland’s account, Elizabeth Bisland in Seven Stages. was much more literary in style, with multiple references to poetry and paintings and was less accessible to a teen reader today.
Because these accounts were written in the 1800s, these books are now in the public domain. I got the idea to combine them, alternating chapters to tell both stories at one time, then transforming the articles into a novel, and modernizing the language a little bit.
The First Draft
I alternated the text, trying to spread the story out evenly. Nellie wrote a lot more than Elizabeth did, so it was a challenge to find the breaks in the text to give Elizabeth’s accounts enough for a full chapter, yet keep the two on pace with one another.
Then I created scenes, added characters, turned the text into dialogue or made up my own. I fictionalized their accounts, trying to keep as close to the original as possible, as I do love history and journals, and these were very much their journals of their trip. I could have left well enough alone and directed readers to the original texts, but since I had missed out on the originals, I was convinced there were others out there who would enjoy the story as a novel, especially the YA audience I love to write for.
While I was working through this first draft I learned that Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman was coming out. Oh no! He had the same idea I did, but years before me! I had that panic that authors do when they think they might have to ditch a project and move on to something else. But, taking the advice that authors always give–you might have the same idea, but your approach will be different, I decided to keep on to the end. My goal was now to finish the first draft before Eighty Days published. I didn’t make that goal, so I had to wait a few weeks after the book came out, but finally, I got to see how Goodman approached the Nellie Bly story….and it was different. Whew.
Eighty Days is a narrative nonfiction approach this amazing story. I’ll write a review of it soon, but as a summary here, note that Eighty Days covers a much broader sweep of history than my novel. It is a richly detailed account of the times, as well as Bly and Bisland’s backgrounds, their respective trips, and their lives after their tour around the world. In short, the book is a fantastic study of these two women and the times they lived in. I highly recommend it. Goodman was able to dig up so much more historical material than I was and he includes a huge source list at the back, which I took advantage of to help me fill in some blanks and solve some of the puzzles I needed to track down.
This was my side project on and off through the months when I wasn’t working on my historical fairy tales. I’d get a break in my schedule and give it another round of edits.
The Liz and Nellie story is not a romance, so it wasn’t a good fit for my publisher. I don’t have an agent, so I sent out a few queries to see if any were interested in picking up this historical retelling. None were. I finally found an agent who was an editor on a similar project, so I figured if anyone thought this would make a good fit for a publisher, it would be her. She was to be the final agent I queried before I set out on my own, bravely (!) like Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland.
My friend Kitty Bucholtz has been indie publishing for years and she keeps telling me how straightforward it is to do. Nothing to be afraid of!
So, I took the plunge. I started to learn what I needed to do to put this book out into the world myself. The initial steps are the same as what I do for EntangledTEEN–the writing, the editing etc. What I had to learn were all the parts my publisher normally does for me–ant it’s a lot! I have a much greater regard for the team behind my traditionally published books after this venture. From purchasing ISBNs to buying ad space, whew. There is a lot to stay on top of.
I am so pleased with this little book. Without any inflated sense of pride I can tell you how great the story is because it’s not my story, it’s Liz and Nellie’s. They actually lived it, and I hope this novelized version shines more light on these (almost) three months of history.
Would I self publish again? Yes. Even though I was tearing my hair out at times, it was kind of fun. It was so much fun it deserves a post all on its own. Stay tuned.
In April 2016 I participated in the Blogging from A to Z challenge and wrote the A to Zs of the 1800s. The list will give you some background of the Liz and Nellie story and has several interesting photos. You can also check out my Pinterest board here. And my video: