Though “12 Years a Slave” recently won an Oscar as Best Motion Picture of the Year, many complained it was just one more tale of slavery that glorified the white man who freed one.
Sonny Bates, however, offers an alternative tale of Black history in his new historical romance, The Creole Affair, in which Madison Washington, an ex-slave, is the hero who encourages 18 others to mutiny on the Brig Creole. The events of Nov. 7, 1841, nearly set off a war between the United States and Great Britain.
The Indianapolis-based author will sign copies of The Creole Affair from 3:30 to 5 p.m. March 30 at the Indianapolis Arts Center, 820 E. 67th St. Paperback editions will be offered at a special sales price of $11. The book also is available for Kindle at $9.99 through Amazon.com.
Bates recently offered the following glimpse of the research and creative process that resulted in The Creole Affair.
Recorder: How did you come up with the concept for The Creole Affair?
Bates: In 1989, I was researching Congo Square in New Orleans when I stumbled across four lines about the Creole Affair. Those lines just stated that there was this insurrection. Throughout the ‘90s, I kept researching, and little by little, I had a lot of information about the historical event. In 2002, I attempted to film the story as a documentary. Funding issues compromised our success.
Why did you choose to write a historical romance novel?
I explained to all the cast members that I had to sit down and write the novel version in hopes of raising capital to pay for the debt from the film and to, hopefully, find a producer willing to film the movie.
How did you go about researching the background for your book?
First, I went to the Indianapolis Public Library and spent months there reading everything I could (about) the year of 1841. Then I began to back date to 1836, 1812 and the 1700s. I read periodicals, census information, newspapers, political biographies, industry and insurance records, slave trade and cargo transportation books. I looked at maps and road construction … I read nautical books. I read and read so much that I had lost touch with most of the people I most enjoyed.
What was the most surprising thing you learned as you did your research and why?
The author Paula Marshall came to my English class at Shortridge High School when I was a freshman. She mentioned the detail and determination required for her to complete novels. I learned that I was a writer. Granted, I have been writing for years, but I had to keep returning to this project. Over the 14 years it took to complete this book, I had written and produced five stage productions, recorded a jazz and poetry CD project and helped raise a daughter. I began writing while in high school and the last 38 years of life has been involved in writing. There is no denying that writing has been my life’s work.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
Our history is being re-written, revisited and authenticated each day. This particular story and turn of events bring to light/life a part of American, Bahamian and British history, which changed laws leading to the Gideon/Ashburton Treaty. This treaty would not exist were it not for the determination of Madison Washington, the main character.
The telling of this story is written in such a way that it exhibits great love through adversity. And when you see the moment to stand up for your life, do it. You may be correcting the law for all of us.