Q&A: Elizabeth Camden
As a research librarian with dual Masters degrees in History and Library Science, Elizabeth Camden is uniquely gifted to write historical fiction. Her novel Against The Tide (Bethany House) drops readers square in the middle of guilded-age Boston where love is threatened and lives hang in the balance.
Although I did my best to weave some pretty weighty themes of forgiveness and redemption into the book, what I really hope is that people simply enjoy reading a thrilling love story. The characters in this book have huge dreams and are willing to risk everything in order to make them happen. When they fail, they do so in a spectacular fashion. When they love, it is with both hands stretched out and no-holds barred. Whenever the drama gets a little heavy, I try to inject some glimpses of wit and joy into the mix. I wanted Against the Tide to be a delight to read, despite the sometimes weighty themes.
THE SETTING FOR THIS BOOK IS BOSTON OF THE 1890'S. WHAT ABOUT THIS HISTORICAL PERIOD AND SETTING PIQUED YOUR INTEREST?
I have been itching to set a novel in Boston. What a fabulous city for a novel, full of historic settings and a wonderful cross section of blue-blood, immigrant groups, and rabble-rousers.
I wanted this book to be heavily imbued with the atmosphere of Boston….everything from the food, the architecture, even the smell of the ocean. The 1890’s was an era when women were first making a foray into the professional world. The heroine of Against the Tide is fluent in seven languages, which lands her a job at the Navy Shipyard in Boston working for an admiral. I loved being able to plunge Lydia directly into such an exciting and dynamic setting.
DID YOU DO ANY SPECIAL RESEARCH FOR THIS NOVEL? HOW FAMILIAR WERE YOU WITH THIS PERIOD BEFORE YOU WROTE THE BOOK?
All of my books have been set in gilded age America, so I am very comfortable with the era, but I needed to get thoroughly acquainted with Boston. The great thing about Boston is that it is a city that likes to write about itself! Even in the 19th century there were scads of books describing their city. I was able to set most of the scenes in buildings that actually existed in 19th century Boston, serve meals that were authentic to the pubs and taverns of the day, and provide the heroine with an amazing job at the Navy Shipyard.
WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE BETWEEN HISTORICAL ACCURACY AND TAKING DRAMATIC LICENSE?
We all know that people of earlier eras probably suffered from bad teeth, pock-marked skin, and open sewage lines through the cities, but I don’t dwell on these things. Quite frankly, when you read the diaries and letters from people written during these eras, they didn’t either! I figure that gives me permission to ignore it.
The only area where I make a conscious decision to overlook certain historical attitudes is in regard to rampant racism or sexism. I know it existed, and that it was the rare individual who did not share those attitudes. My characters don’t. I have no stomach for it. I don’t shy away from subjecting my characters to the challenges of having racism or sexism thrown in their path, but I always equip them with the intellect and resilience to overcome the obstacles.
WHAT ARE THE LESSONS OF THAT ERA THAT ARE STILL RELEVANT TO READERS TODAY?
A huge theme in the book is the power of resilience. Both the hero and heroine have survived devastating childhoods, but are still naturally optimistic people who simply refuse to let obstacles stand in their way. Have you ever met people who wither at the first hint of trouble, while others who are repeatedly clobbered by the tragedies of life can still maintain an optimistic outlook? This is a choice. Trusting in the Lord’s plan for us is one element of adopting a resilient sprit and I wove that theme throughout the book. It is a sense of resilience that allows ordinary people to power through obstacles and accomplish amazing things.