Must be something in the air: two accomplished authors, each exploring the same historical incident in two novels from entirely different perspectives, in entirely different voices, and through entirely different stories. The writers: Christina Baker Kline, whose novel Orphan Train recently hit #1 on The New York Times Bestseller list, and Kate Manning, author of My Notorious Life, a rollicking tale of female derring-do set in 19th century New York that’s been garnering fabulous reviews.
When Christina and Kate shared the stories of their two books and their writing styles, it was fascinating to hear about their varying approaches to dealing with the orphan trains that carried children from the East coast to the Midwest from the 1850s through 1929.
Christina’s story takes place in the 20th century, while Kate’s is set in the 19th century at the beginning of the orphan train era. Christina’s story unfolds in the Midwest and Maine, while Kate’s novel is set mainly in New York City.
Christina’s main character has spent most of her life hiding her family’s poverty and dissolution; she’s repressed the events in her history. Kate’s heroine Axie is feisty and irrepressible — and tells her family’s saga with gusto and color. She flaunts her history instead of hiding it.
Christina wrote many drafts of Orphan Train — she wanted it to be spare and sharply honed. Kate also went through many drafts of My Notorious Life, but with a different goal: she wanted to capture the flavor and color of the language of 19th century New York.
Christina’s story shifts back and forth between two different time periods and explores the lives of two contrasting characters, one young and one old. It shifts between first person and third person. Kate’s story is told entirely in first person from the point of view of her main character.
What a mystery writing is! Give five people the same three words as a prompt and you’ll get five totally different tales. Let two different writers discover the same shred of history and they’ll each weave it into a story uniquely their own. Write on!