Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Hello, Mikki,                                                                      

Welcome aboard the Flowers and

This may not be as exciting as your barge trip down Ole Miss, but I'm so happy you're here to tell us about it and your brand new book.

Tell us first about your trip, I'm dying to read it.

My husband and I took a barge trip down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the late 1990s. It was an awesome trip, going through some of the biggest locks I’ve ever seen, and traveling slowly down the Ohio River first, before turning into the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi. We visited some of the oldest and most historic towns in the US, most of which were also very small, and related in some way to the Civil War. Many had museums with everything from spent shells from cannons and muskets to still-bloodied and torn uniforms of both Union and Confederate soldiers to diaries printed by hand from slaves. Some of the diaries and journals had been written while the person was still a slave, others had been written after they had gained their freedom.

 We visited the remnants of slave dwellings, the remains of forts, and saw the kind of farm wagons with false bottoms that runaway slaves had been secreted in when Quakers or Abolitionists were helping them. I sat in one of the ‘death coaches’ that had carried many slaves hidden in coffins inside the glass interior. We saw tiny hiding places in ramshackle barns, and walked up shaky staircases to hidden attic rooms. We saw the kinds of instruments, such as an iron collar and a Cat O’Nine Tails whip, used to punish disobedient slaves.

 Marietta, Ohio, is a small town that played an important part in the Civil War as it was a major station in the Underground Railroad. Many people offered their homes with hidden attic or basement rooms as “safe houses” for escaping slaves. We visited a couple of those houses, and in one, the basement had been left pretty much as it was in 1862…it was still full of boxes and barrels which contained the stench of the rotting fruits and vegetables the owners had left there. They hid slaves in the back part of the basement room, and the horrible smell of rotten food kept the slave hunters from going any deeper into the basement and finding the slaves. When we were in Marietta, it was a charming, very friendly town filled with little shops with names like Mad Hen, Needful Things, Two Peas in a Pod, Turquoise Spirit, and Twisted Sister.

 When we finally came home, I told my husband that some day I was going to write about the things we had seen. It was seven years later that I began my story, at that time titled “Escape on the Train Without Tracks,” and another seven years before the story reached the publishable stage. At this point, it has changed in many ways, and although The Freedom Thief doesn’t resemble “Escape…” much at all, the thoughts I had during that trip, and the things I saw are still incorporated in the present novel.

Mikki, that sounds wonderful. And I understand your book is to be released in a few days. Nov. 8th. right? Let's read more about it.
Thirteen year-old Ben McKenna lives on his grandmother’s plantation with his parents and two older brothers in pre-Civil War Kentucky. His best friend is a crippled slave boy named Josiah. When Ben learns his father is going to sell Josiah, Ben knows the only way to prevent this is to help Josiah and his parents, Bess and Jesse, escape. Without any kind of plan, without even a map of Kentucky, Ben and the slaves embark upon a journey to freedom into a world of hostility, danger, and deception.

 Through a collapsing underground tunnel, into a dangerous swamp, and through almost impenetrable forests, Ben and his friends make their way towards the Ohio River. A near disaster for Josiah in the swamp, deceptive “rescuers” who imprison them for weeks, a daring rooftop escape in broad daylight, and a near capture by Union soldiers add to the dangers they face.

For months, they endure the hardships of hiding in barns, tiny attic rooms, cellars full of rotting fruit and vegetables, and even secret travel in wagons with false bottoms and coffins in a death coach.
Free Blacks, Quakers, and a strange young man offer their help to the runaways, sometimes with questionable results. Will they ever reach the Ohio River, and the freedom that is promised on the other side? Will Ben go with them, or will he choose to return home to face the consequences of his actions?


(Ben and the slaves are on their final leg of their journey before reaching the safety of the Ohio River, and the man who will get them across. They are hiding in another thick forest, with the Union Fort just ahead of them. The problem before them now is to get beyond the fort, stay out of the moonlight, and onto the beach without the soldiers seeing them.)

 The forest came alive as a fox yipped in the distance, and somewhere overhead, a night owl hooted and swooped away from its nest. Small animals rustled in the underbrush, a coyote sang, and occasionally, a tiny scream signaled the death of a small animal in the jaws of a predator. A breeze rippled through the trees, bringing a fresh coolness to dispense the daytime humidity. Still, Ben refused to move out.

 He crept to the edge of the forest and watched the fort. When most of the lamps within were extinguished and only those on the parapets were lit, he moved back to his friends.

 "Okay, we should go now, but we have to be fast and quiet. The moon’s up, which means the soldiers could see us if they’re looking. But there’s only one soldier on the parapet now, so I think it’s the best time. I’ll go first, Bess next. Jesse, you best carry Josiah since he can’t run fast. Be sure to follow exactly where I go.”

 They waited at the edge of the forest. The lone soldier was pacing slowly black and forth from one end of the parapet to the other. When he reached the far end, Ben whispered quickly, “I’m going now. Wait until he’s at the same place, then come one at a time.”

 He bent over, trying to make his shadow as small as possible, and raced to the wall of the fort. In a couple of minutes, Bess joined him, followed by Jesse and Josiah. They huddled tightly together and Ben knew they were all barely breathing. Even though the fort wall was at least thirty feet high, if the soldier looked down he could see them. He continued his pacing without interruption.

 Pressed against the wall, they moved single file toward the end of the fort. Here and there, small patches of snow crunched under their feet and they stopped for fear of being heard. The soldier marched on, thankfully oblivious to their presence.

 The wall angled out to the left, toward the river. Closest to them was a huge wooden gate that opened for wagons and soldiers returning on horseback. Now there were two soldiers walking their duty line on the parapet above the gate.

 Ben looked out beyond the fort. The bright moon cast light that shimmered on water far down the road. Boats, beached for the winter, were illuminated as they lay against the white sand. A few were still in the water, tied to slips near the riverbank.

 Between the end of the fort’s walls and the beach, the area was wide open. Off to the right, at the edge of the forest, only a few trees here and there leaned across the sand far enough to cast even small shadows. This was the dangerous part, running in the open to the limited safety of the beached boats. It was more than a half mile of open ground, easily seen by the soldiers if they chose to look in that direction.

 He turned to the others and whispered, “Look, see where those boats are? That’s where the man is going to be.”

 He looked around at the beach before them and the edge of the forest a short distance away.

 “No matter how we do this, we can be seen if the soldiers start looking down this way. I reckon the best way is to get to the edge of the forest over there.” He pointed to where the sand trickled back into the woods. “Those big trees that lean out over the sand are the only shadows we have, and we’re still going to be in the open between them. But that’s the best chance we have. Let’s go.”

 Single file, they ran silently from the protection of the fort wall out into the open and toward the edge of the forest. They had just reached the shadowy edge of the first few trees when Jesse, who was carrying Josiah, slipped on a thin patch of icy ground and fell. Josiah cried out as he rolled away before Jesse could grab him. He hit a rock and lay still.

 Immediately, a shot rang out, and a voiced yelled, “Stop! Who goes there?”
Wow, that excerpt reads so tense and exciting. I can't wait to get my hands on this one, Mikki.
Remember, folks.
Release date from MuseItUp is Nov. 8 and will be available in their bookstore plus Amazon and other sites.
Happy Fall Season
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  1. Hi Mikki and Lorrie, I enjoyed the post. Congrats, Mikki, on your upcoming release. It's an exciting day when it happens. Your book sounds like a good one.

    Best wishes.

    1. Hi Leona, and thanks for the good wishes. I hope the book entices kids away from their video games for a little while!


  2. This is a perfect release time for your book. The movie, "12 Years a Slave" is putting a spotlight on books about this horrid period of American history. Try to use the movie to your advantage in marketing.

    Congrats on the new book.

    1. Hi Marva,
      thanks for the good wishes, and also for the tip about the new movie, "12 Years a Slave." I am looking forward to seeing that one. And yes, I'll try to work it in somehow in my promotions.


  3. Mikki, it sounds like your own adventure on the barge trip sparked a great adventure story for kids (and kids at heart.) Very exciting! And the kids won't even know they're getting a history lesson as they read! Best wishes on your new release.

    1. Thanks, JQ! Sorry to be so late in responding, my only excuse is that my launch event was the 9th, and I was really busy doing all the last minute things I should have done the week before. LOL The kids who were at the launch enjoyed the reading I did, and were happy to receive their 'giveaways', which included two chapters of the book. They also seemed intrigued by the post cards with my cover art on them, so I'm hoping for the best!

  4. Hi Mikki,
    You trip and research sound like a great way to anchor yourself in the writing. The book sounds fascinating.

    1. Thanks, Margaret! Again, I apologize for being late in responding, my excuse is explained above! I love research, and can always find an excuse to do it, even for a contemporary novel. This research was all the more exciting for me by this barge trip my husband and I took. I hope the kids feel the same way!