Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Writing about Tragedy: Voyage of the Titanic by Janice Hanna Thompson

My agent asked me to put together a story idea focused on the Titanic. I’m usually a comedic writer, (and he happened to catch me on my way home from the theater, where I direct musicals), so I quipped: “Only if I can throw in a song and dance number involving an iceberg!” He laughed and responded with, “No, we have to play this one straight.” At first I wasn’t sure if I could come up with a serious plotline, but 24-hours later I had the story idea and the first chapter. My editors at Summerside (Rachel Meisel and Susan Downs) read the idea and loved it. When they saw me at the ACFW conference I got the news: “We’re going to publish your novel!” I was especially thrilled to hear that my book would be among the first to release in the new line. What a privilege!

Writing historically accurate novels take a lot of research. I spend months researching Titanic’s story (reading every available book and watching every conceivable documentary), I also drove from Houston to Branson Missouri to the Titanic museum. Talk about an eye-opener! The exhibit covers everything you could imagine, and includes all sorts of artifacts from the ship. When you write about an event such as this, particularly one that has been so well documented in movies and books, you need to get your facts right. Even the “little” things (like, how long did it take to load everyone onto the ship) can bog the writer down. Dozens and dozens of times I would stop writing just to look something up. And don’t even get me started on the clothing and hats! I created a board on Pinterest to study 1910 fashion!

Why are people still interested in the Titanic? I think it’s the “unknown variable” that makes it all so interesting. It’s the fact that we can only speculate: Who were those people? What were they feeling? What were their hopes and dreams? What were they feeling before the ship set sail? After? How strongly did they feel it? Who did they feel it with? These are the questions that motivate us. As I sat to write this story, I envisioned people from every walk of life, all converged in one small world for a brief moment in history. Together, in that place, emotions surely ran the gamut (from exhilaration to distress and grief). Placing a love story in the middle of all of that emotion just made sense.

Several of my characters (primarily Tessa) face their own destiny. They come to grips with the brevity (and value) of life. They see first-hand what’s truly important and what isn’t. In my story, Tessa learns that her picture of God has been skewed (since childhood). She discovers a relationship with Him while onboard the ship, but that relationship is tested the night the ship goes down.

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Titanic. It’s such a tragic story, and one that affected thousands of people. Meeting Cathy Peeling really put this in perspective for me. Her uncle passed away that night. This completely changed the make-up of her family. And she’s just one person out of thousands. Generations of people were affected by this tragedy. And so many feel a connection. Ship builders. Dress designers. Modern-day cruisers. The rich. The poor. The dreamers. Those who long to travel. We can all envision ourselves aboard Titanic on that fateful journey. Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from Titanic is this: We cannot put our trust/confidence in man-made things; only in the Lord.

Janice is passionate about her faith and does all she can to share the joy of the Lord with others, which is why she particularly enjoys writing. Her tagline, “Love, Laughter, and Happily Ever Afters!” sums up her take on life.

She lives in Spring, Texas, where she leads a rich life with her family, a host of writing friends, and two mischievous dachshunds. She does her best to keep the Lord at the center of it all. You can find out more about Janice at www.janiceathompson.com or www.freelancewritingcourses.com.

Book trailer for Janice's book about the Titanic, Queen of the Waves: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlLeB8tiZbQ&feature=share


  1. Great post, Janice...(big gulp, as we leave for leave for our cruise today). Talk about timing. lol

    We visited the Grand Canyon a few years back and watched in horror as a guy and gal argued, drastically close to the edge. You do wonder what people are thinking and where they're coming from emotionally as well as physically, don't you? I'll be thinking about this post as I board the ship. Thanks for the insight, Janice.

  2. Hahaha! Dora, if it makes you feel any better, I'm leaving on a cruise on Nov. 3rd. My sister, who's going with me, said, "I hope you don't mind if I wait to read your book until AFTER." :)

  3. I love this post, Janice! I really get into the research of my books too. I totally relate to getting stuck on a little thing. I'll take hours to figure out something that will only take up one sentence. But it's fun! Glad you could be here.

  4. Great having you here, Janice! I've long been fascinated by Titanic's story. I've been catching your one-line posts on FB via Twitter--quotes from the book. Very intriguing. Hope I get to read the story at some point. Thanks for stopping by today!


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