A Toast to Timing!
Author Erika Marks explains why the Broadway juggernaut Hamilton couldn’t have come at a better time in her writing career.
As a writer of love stories, I am a firm believer that timing is everything. But never before have I experienced the power of good timing so profoundly in my writing than I did when I was researching The Last Treasure.
Having been obsessed with undersea adventures from the time I was old enough to watch Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset dive for artifacts off Bermuda in The Deep, I knew I wanted my heroine Liv to be a treasure hunter—specifically a salvage diver. I also knew that I wanted an existing shipwreck to feature prominently in the novel’s plot. The only question was whether to use a real shipwreck or a made-up one.
Setting my story on the Outer Banks, I knew I could create a fictitious wreck. After all, much of the water along the Carolina coast is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic for its enormous collection of sunken ships—those both found and undiscovered.
So I set about researching documented shipwrecks and came upon the story of the Patriot, a schooner that left Georgetown, SC, on the last day of 1812 and was never seen again. Even more compelling: the ship carried Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of vice president Aaron Burr whose duel with Alexander Hamilton resulted in Hamilton’s death and Burr’s disgrace.
But it was only when I learned that Theodosia grew up under the thumb of her over-bearing father—just like my heroine Liv!—and that I could use this shared constraint to tie the two women together through the centuries, that the decision was made to feature the disappearance of the Patriot in my novel.
I was elated at my discovery. Okay, yes, I worried that Aaron Burr as a historical figure might not be well-known to a lot of readers—goodness knows I had to revisit my history to be reacquainted with him!—but no matter: the story of his daughter was too compelling not to use in my novel.
Fast forward a few months. Enter my dear friend Timing. And a musical named Hamilton.
Unless you’re like me and are living under a rock most days (I call my rock the Writing Cave) you know that the musical Hamilton, about founding father Alexander Hamilton, has taken the world by storm. In the process, it has made its legions of fans familiar with Hamilton’s eventual adversary Aaron Burr—as well as Burr’s daughter Theodosia (the song “Dear Theodosia” is, not surprisingly, my very favorite of the whole miraculous score!)
And while my depiction of Theodosia’s fate after she boarded the Patriot is conjecture—what happened to the Patriot and her passengers remains a mystery to this day—my descriptions of her character as a fiercely-independent and strong heroine are not. And I very much hope that readers will be compelled to do their own research to learn more about this fascinating and accomplished woman.
In the meantime, I’ve started a new project, and like The Last Treasure, this story also involves a few historical figures—and don’t think I haven’t wondered if Timing might not just shine on them too!
Erika Marks has worked as an illustrator, an art director, a cake decorator, and a carpenter. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and their two daughters. The Last Treasure is her fifth novel, following It Comes in Waves, The Guest House, The Mermaid Collector, and Little Gale Gumbo. Find out more by following her on Facebook or on Twitter.
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