Sometimes inspiration in writing comes completely by surprise. Such was the case for me while working on my newest release (which launches today!), In the Heart of Darkness. Because the main characters in the story are both vampires, each of whom has lived around 240+ years, parts of the story take place at various points in the past, as well as in the present. For example, Mason and Julien first meet in the late 1700s, and reunite in 1818 in Boston, Massachusetts. Mason is attending Harvard Medical School, which was relatively new at that time. I wanted him to have something to talk about in terms of his life on campus, his classes, and started researching Harvard in the year 1818.
To my surprise, I discovered something quite relevant that I wound up including in the plot. In 1818, the entire sophomore class at Harvard was summarily expelled following several incidents on campus that marked the first organized student protest activities in the United States. The first such incident was a food fight. Really. While the food fight itself was probably more in fun than anything, when instigators were admonished for it, the student body rebelled, considering the punishment unfair. Teachers were heckled, administrators publicly ridiculed and mocked. Protests were organized. Mayhem ensued. And the rest, as they say, was history.
You can read more about the “Harvard Student Rebellion of 1818” here. But you can also read about it in the pages of In the Heart of Darkness:
“Have you tendered your letter of resignation yet, Morin?”
Mason glanced at his friend and fellow classmate at Harvard, David Gorham, as they tromped side by side along the snow-slickened cobbled sidewalk. They walked with their shoulders hunched, their gloved hands stuffed deeply into their coat pockets, and their breath frosted the air around their heads in dim, hazy clouds.
“I’ve yet to figure out a way to explain to my father why I’d do such a thing,” Mason said.
David laughed, his cheeks bright red, chafed with the cold. “Because the college’s treatment of their student body is nothing short of bloody tyranny,” he proclaimed. “The very same sort against which our fathers fought so valiantly to be freed from. A college should promote free and independent thought and self-expression—not seek to stifle it, or persecute those who would express it.”
Mason rolled his eyes. It all seemed rather ridiculous to him—circumstances that had, without question, been blown out of proportion. What had started as an innocent-enough, if not somewhat destructive, food fight in University Hall involving a majority of sophomore class had swelled to melodramatic proportions. Two of the school’s more venerable and influential instructors had been publicly ridiculed by the student body during a protest in defense of those suspended as a result. David—who had played a fairly instrumental role in the food fight that had instigated all of the trouble—seemed to be enjoying the entire debacle immensely, but to Mason—who hadn’t taken part—it all seemed a bit childish.
“Besides, what’s the point of resigning?” Mason asked. “They’ve already deemed we’re all to be expelled anyway—the entire class.”
And how the hell he was going to explain that to Michel was a more pressing concern than any pretentious and meaningless resignation. He’d pleaded for nearly a year before his father had agreed to let him travel on his own to Boston in order to attend Harvard Medical School. Three years had passed since the horrific fires that had destroyed their clan’s great house and left them living in exile, secreted from their fellow Brethren. Three years had passed since he’d last seen Julien and he had been forbidden to send as much as a postcard, not even a note, to let him know of his survival. In the aftermath, his heart had seemingly crumbled beneath the overwhelming weight of his loss.
“Yes, but they’ll let you reapply next term,” David said. “And you’ll be back in for sure, Morin. You’re not one for causing trouble. And your grades have been splendid for sure. Just rent a flat and bide your time until enrollment comes around again. Trust me—your father will never know.” He clapped his hand against Mason’s shoulder. “Come on, don’t look so glum. I’ll hire us a hackney and we’ll ride out to Beacon Hill. That should cheer you up.”
“What’s at Beacon Hill?” Mason asked. He knew of the area, of course. On one hand, it was home of the Massachusetts State House. But on the other, it was an area where many of the city’s poorer populace resided, one notorious for its taverns, inns, and other establishments of ill or illegal repute. He wasn’t about to admit this aloud, however, and especially to David, whom he knew only casually, and thus feigned innocent obliviousness as he spoke.
“Any manner of debauchery and impropriety you can imagine,” David promised with a grin. “Some even call it Satan’s seat. The ale flows like water, and the whores are always welcoming. It’s the perfect place to celebrate a successful rebellion!”
(And for the record, Mason’s friend, David Wood Gorham was an actual historical figure, who was indeed involved in the food fight rebellion and who went on to become a prominent New England physician. I like to throw these sorts of Easter eggs into my books.)