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Here's what Caroline Cooney has to say ...


April 24, 2001

Teenreads: THE RANSOM OF MERCY CARTER is your first historical novel. Did you find it more or less difficult to write about real people? Which do you prefer?

CC: Actually my first eight books were historical novels, but they were never published. I wrote another 69 books before I went back to historicals! I loved writing Mercy Carter. It was exciting to write about real people and very challenging, because in this case, I knew the name, age, family, religion, fate, and choice of nearly every character. There was little room for maneuvering and no option about the ending.

Teenreads: What inspired you to write about this particular topic?

CC:When I was in Elementary School, I loved three books about Indian captives: SWORD OF THE WILDERNESS by Elizabeth Coatsworth, INDIAN CAPTIVE by Lois Lenski, and BLACK RIVER CAPTIVE by West Lathrop. I loved reading about the frontier, the settlers, and the Indians. My children have a far-back grandmother from Massachusetts, an Indian named Welcome Mason. My nephew Ransom is descended from John Gillett, who is mentioned briefly in this book. He is named according to a family tradition in honor of the ransom paid to get John Gillett home. Once, when I was driving through Deerfield, I decided to research John Gillett. I got swept up in the story of 1704 instead.

I chose Mercy Carter to write about because I wanted to make Mercy up, and we don't know much except the names and birth dates of her family. I wanted to write about somebody who refused to be ransomed home.

Teenreads: Many of Mercy's observations and thoughts show her sympathy towards the Indians. During the march away from Deerfield she thinks, "The smallpox that had ravaged Boston last year had probably done worse to the Indians; it always did. So…were the Indians in need of children?" She seems to be trying to justify their capture. In addition, she makes an effort to learn the Indian language right from the beginning. In another instance, she thinks with sympathy about how the settlers had taken the Indian's land. Do you feel that Mercy's viewpoint is a true representation of the sympathy shown to the Indians by some of the settlers?

CC: Are you curious about "sympathy" on my part or on the part of English settlers toward the native population? English settlers had little if any sympathy. Since they believed that the New World was a gift from God, that diseases were sent by God, and that therefore the death of natives by smallpox was God's choice --- and that the natives were in any case hell-bound because they were pagan --- how could they have sympathy? The character Ruth displays the typical English attitude --- the Indians were savages and murderers. Mercy however ceases to be an English settler within days of her capture. This is fiction. We have no idea what she really thought ---- only what she really decided.

Teenreads: As you were writing/researching the book, did you find yourself sympathizing with or getting angry over the plight of the American Indian and the misconceptions about the Native Americans in the Colonial Era? Do you think this affected your writing?

CC: With whom am I sympathetic? I generally love all my characters. I feel intensely about every person in this book: wilderness Indians, toddler captives, Jesuit priests, praying Indians, angry ministers, and especially, Mercy Carter.

Teenreads: There is a very fine line between truth and fiction, or so "they" say. Did you find this true while you were writing THE RANSOM OF MERCY CARTER? Did the line ever become blurred?

CC:Although this is a story of 1704 and three cultures now vanished, it is the same story around the globe today. Consider the conflicts, wars, and religious hatreds raging in 2001. People do not understand each other, whatever the century. People nearly always believe, and are willing to back it up with weapons and cruelty, that their religion and way of life is better than the other person's.

Teenreads: You are an amazingly prolific author. Out of all the books you have written, do you have a favorite character or a favorite book?

CC: My favorite book is always the one I'm working on at the moment.

Teenreads: Are you working on another novel at this time?

CC: Yes, another historical, set in the Bronze Age just before the Trojan War begins. This too, by the way, is an age that believes disease is sent intentionally by God. The Homeric kings and heroes are endlessly trying to placate gods who deliver suffering and sickness --- not a lot different from the ministers in Massachusetts in 1704.

Caroline Cooney Rocks