Tag Archives: Nonfiction

Researching Historical Fiction: The Victorian Era

Victorian England

By Meredith Allard

I have an odd habit of choosing to write historical fiction set in eras I know little to nothing about. I came up with story ideas about the Salem Witch Trials, the Trail of Tears, Biblical Jerusalem, New York City and Washington, D.C. during the woman’s suffrage movement, and the American Civil War, and for those stories I had to learn about the history to write the novel. I don’t mind when it happens that way, though. I’ve always been fascinated with history, and I enjoy learning about the past. I often get ideas for the plot from my research, so the research helps to make my novel even richer than it might have been without the historical background.

Writing When It Rained at Hembry Castle was different. I was already familiar with the era because of my love for Dickens. This time, it was more about reminding myself what I already knew (it had been 20 years since grad school by then) and figuring out how to use that knowledge in this story I had been kicking around for two decades. I realized early in the process that now I wanted to include aspects of my favorite TV show—Downton Abbey. The aspiring young writer Edward Ellis was still the focal point of the story, but now I wanted to include upstairs/downstairs elements as well.

To begin my research, I started with the author I know best—Dickens. Of course I’ve read all his novels, many more than once, so I started with the one I knew had the most in common with the story I had in mind for Hembry—Our Mutual Friend. From there, I went back to a few favorite books about the Victorian Era—What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool and The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ Londonand Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian Englandby Judith Flanders. I had read both of those books previously but reread them for a refresher course. While reading about the Victorian Era, I discovered a new favorite historian, Ruth Goodman, who impressed me with the fact that she doesn’t just talk about Victorian clothing, she makes it and wears it. She’s tried out many elements of living in the Victorian era, which gives her work that much more authority. Her book, How To Be a Victorian: A Dusk-to-Dawn Guide to Victorian Life, is a must read for anyone interested in life during the Victorian period. I also read The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England From 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes. Edward Ellis is loosely based on a young Charles Dickens, but I didn’t need to read anything specifically for that since I’ve read pretty much every biography about Dickens. It was nice to be able to use information I had in my head for a change.

Victorian England 2

After my refresher course on Victorian England, I realized that I needed to learn more about what the upstairs/downstairs world looked like in the 1870s. To my surprise, it wasn’t so different from the way it’s portrayed in Downton Abbey, which begins in 1912 during the Edwardian era. While I picked up a lot about manor house living from watching Downton, as many fans of the show have, I felt I needed more specifics so I read Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant by Jeremy Musson. I gleaned some great information from that book, and it provided good background for me so I could see how the country house servant evolved over the years. The upstairs/downstairs world isn’t part of our culture in America the way it is in England, and I wonder if that accounts for Americans’ fascination with Downton Abbey—it’s a glimpse into a lifestyle we weren’t familiar with.

The way I research historical fiction has changed a lot over the years. I used to do months of research before I ever started writing. Now I do a few weeks worth of preliminary research to get a feel for the era, and then I start writing. As I write, I get a sense of what information I need so I know exactly what to look for. As I was writing, I realized that if Edward was a political journalist then he would know politics. I needed to figure out the political climate of the time, but it wasn’t too hard since I knew what I was looking for—events in British politics in 1870. I remember learning about Gladstone and Disraeli in a class I took years ago, and it was nice being able to put that knowledge to use as well.

Through the writing process I realized that I needed information about Victorian etiquette. There were such specific rules for every aspect of life, and since part of Daphne’s struggle is to learn to live in this upstairs/downstairs world, she had to learn those rules. I found The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette by Thomas E. Hill, which was written for Americans during the Victorian era, but after a little digging I discovered that the rules were the same in Britain so I used that book as my primary reference. The etiquette seems so antiquated now. I had a lot of fun writing those scenes because Daphne is rather amused by her grandmother’s nitpicking about how her manners aren’t refined enough for English society.

I was lucky enough to be able to visit England twice prior to writing When It Rained at Hembry Castle. Most of the London locations in the story were chosen because they were places I’ve visited myself so I had seen what I was describing. I stood on the Victoria Embankment near the Houses of Parliament watching the Thames roll as Edward is wont to do. I’ve taken a couple of Edward’s walks through the city. Many of the buildings are different (I’m pretty sure the The Gherkin wasn’t around in 1870), yet some of the buildings are the same, which is amazing to me. Here in Las Vegas buildings are imploded if they’re more than 20 years old.

In many ways, researching When It Rained at Hembry Castle was the easiest work I’ve done so far for a historical novel since I was already familiar with the time. It’s always magical to me when I start to see how I can take this knowledge of history and weave it into the story I have in mind. What is even more amazing is when the history leads the story in directions I had never considered before. That, for me, is the joy of writing historical fiction.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review. Her newest historical novel is When It Rained at Hembry Castle, a Downton Abbey inspired story set in Victorian England.

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What I Learned About Writing From Coloring Books

By Meredith Allard

As I’ve said before (in this post), I’ve joined the coloring book craze. I loved coloring when I was a kid, and as it happens I still love to color. I consider myself a wannabe crafter, and I used to dabble in painting with acrylics, and while coloring isn’t actually crafting or creating an original work of art, it still allows me to play with colors.

I’ve found that, at least for me, there is a meditation-like quality to coloring because the coloring itself is all I’m thinking about while I’m engaged in the activity. I’m not worried about schoolwork I have to do, crazy professors, and all the writing I have to get through. All I’m thinking about is the page I’m coloring, what colored pencils, crayons, or markers I want to use, and which colors I think will look best. The more I have to do, the more I appreciate the simplicity of sitting down with some crayons and filling in the pictures.

As coloring became more popular, suddenly there were countless posts and articles about how to color. It’s similar to what happened with writing and indie publishing—suddenly there were all these experts shouting about the right way to do things. Something that should be relaxing and fun becomes stressful as we try to keep up. There’s nothing like an expert to take the fun out of something.

I had the realization (while coloring, of course) that my attitude toward coloring was the same as my attitude toward writing. I had to decide for myself how I wanted to color, just like I had to decide for myself how I wanted to write. Here are a few things I learned from coloring books and how they relate to writing:

  1. Use the colors you want to use.

The experts in coloring will tell you to choose your palette first—use a color wheel to help you determine which colors to use. They’ll tell you which colors go with each other, and if you use that other color combination, look out! The Crayola Police will hunt you down. Hey, they say, that’s how painters do it, so that’s how coloring people should do it too!

And then I realized that I could use any color combination I want, just as I can write my stories however I want. I don’t like choosing my colors ahead of time. I like to choose my colors one by one as I’m coloring in the picture. Sometimes I have an overall idea of the color scheme I want to use, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m happy with how the pictures turn out, sometimes I’m not. When I’m writing, I have an overall idea of how I want the story to turn out, but I’ve also learned to get out of my own way and allow the story to find its own path. If I prefer choosing my colors as I go as opposed to choosing them first then I can do that. If I prefer letting my stories find their own way, I can do that too.

  1. Stop comparing yourself to others.

There are some amazing coloring websites out there where the coloring people post their finished pages. Some of those colored pages are indeed museum ready. They’re absolutely beautiful with shading and light and the way the colors blend together. My pictures don’t look like that (as you’ll see from the examples in this post). I love playing with colors, and some color combinations I try I like, some I don’t like as much, but so what? I wouldn’t know what I liked unless I allowed myself the freedom to experiment.

I have no desire to become a professional artist. Making myself crazy trying to make my pictures look like some of these artists’ pictures doesn’t work for me. I don’t have a lot of time to color because I’m so busy with other tasks, so when I do have time to color I don’t want to spend my time being stressed because my picture doesn’t look good enough compared to what other people can do. Where’s the fun in that?

Writers often have severe cases of compare-itis. We’re always looking to see which writers are selling more books, getting better reviews, or winning more awards than we are. We have to remind ourselves that we’re not in competition with other writers. This isn’t a race. Our careers as writers are just as unique as we are as people. No two writing careers are alike. We need to remember to focus on ourselves and helping our own careers move forward. Like runners, if we keep looking back to see who might overtake us we’ll lose steam and slow down.

  1. Outline if you want to (and it’s okay to color outside the lines).

When I was reading posts of coloring tips, a number of the experts said not to outline your drawing. Apparently, with outlining you’re not going to have a realistic looking product and that’s not how the professionals do it. Oh well. I’ve always liked to outline my coloring pictures. Even when I was a kid I’d outline the shapes with whatever crayon I was using. A lot of times, I’ll outline with a darker color and fill in the shape with a lighter color (as evidenced in the picture to the left here), and I like the way that looks. Is it wrong? Not to me. It’s my coloring page and I’m going to do it the way I want to. It’s the same with coloring outside the lines. I like it when my coloring pencils or crayons end up outside the line because then when I’m filling in the next color they blend a bit. How maddening, to feel like your coloring page is all wrong if your hand slipped and some color ended up on the other side of the black line.

There are many posts out there for writers about the right way to do things. Write in these genres if you want to make money. Publish this many books a year. Set your books at these prices. Grow your social media presence and build your author platform. But what if you don’t want to limit your writing to certain genres, or what if you have another life outside of your writing like I do and you can only publish one book a year? Does that mean that you won’t have any career as a writer? Not at all. It means that you get to decide what kind of career you’re going to have.

Here are my own tips for coloring (and they apply to writing as well):

  1. Choose what you want to color. You don’t have to start at the beginning of the book. You decide where to start. If you don’t love the picture, colorng it will be a chore. The same goes for writing. Write something you’re excited to get back to. If you’re not excited about it, it’s going to be hard to convince readers your writing is worth their time.
  1. Choose your own colors. You can use a color wheel to examine which colors go together, or you can choose whatever you want to choose because you want to choose it. You can choose them ahead of time, or you can choose them in the moment, whichever feels right to you. For writing, you get to decide how you use language. You have the final say in how you’ll string phrases together. You may not like the way some of it turns out. That’s okay. You tried it, you didn’t like it, so try again until you find something you do like.
  1. Don’t compare your pictures (or your writing) to anyone else. Find your own style.
  1. Coloring (and writing) should be fun. Listen to your favorite music. Turn off your electronic devices and other distractions. Make your coloring (and your writing) time special so you’re looking forward to getting back to it.

You can let the experts tell you what to do and how to do it, or you can find your own way. Whether I’m coloring or writing, I find it a lot more fulfilling to find my own way.

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Vulcan’s Torch

By James Miller Robinson

Vulcan’s monumental iron statue was unveiled at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.  At fifty-five feet tall and weighing 120,000 pounds, it was the largest individual piece in the huge exhibit hall.  It had been built, formed and cast in iron by an ambitious Italian sculptor named Guiseppe Moretti who was hungry for international recognition.  The statue was commissioned by the city of Birmingham to symbolize the city’s homage to the steel industry which formed the basis of its economy for so many years, and to the thousands of Italian workers who had immigrated there around the turn of the century.  Birmingham became the only city in the South watched over by the stern bearded face of  a Roman God.

When you zoom over downtown Birmingham today on the elevated portions of Interstates 65, 20, or 59, you see a different skyline from the one I saw when I rode through there as a child in the 1950’s.  The pointed apex of the original brick building of University Hospital still juts up in the center of downtown’s south side, but now a huddle of annexes with cross-bridge corridors gather around it on all sides for several blocks.  The giant iron statue of Vulcan still reaches up into the sky with his torch from atop a modernized tower at the peak of Red Mountain overlooking the city.

I felt the panic of vertigo when I stepped out onto the wobbly narrow balcony around the 120 ft. tower just below Vulcan’s feet when I visited there with my parents and my brother when I was five or six years old.  There was no elevator then.  We had to climb the iron staircase up a dozen flights amid the echoes of our own footsteps against the stone blocks of the original tower.

In those early days of high powered V-8 engines there was a public campaign to reduce the number of fatal car accidents on the streets and highways in and around Birmingham.  When dark fell over the city, Vulcan’s torch was lit—green, if no one had been killed that day; red, if someone had.  It was my older brother Chippy who informed me of these things.  We checked whenever we passed close enough to see Vulcan and his torch at night.

On the east side of the city the rusty girders, pits, tanks and loading docks of the Sloss Iron Works and its open-hearth furnaces stand quiet and mostly idle like the still heart of what once pounded blood into the city’s economy twenty-four hours a day.  When we passed the open hearths at night on Highway 78 returning to our suburban home in Crestwood, Chippy would tell me they were grilling hundreds of hamburgers there when I asked what they did on those glowing orange and red coals.  Four years older, he liked to pull tricks on me, but in the end he would always tell me the truth.  I was more grateful than disappointed when he told me about Santa Clause the year I turned six.

Crestwood was one of many suburbs that mushroomed up outside the old limits of the city in the fifties.  We went to school and church in Woodlawn four or five miles from our suburb and about halfway to downtown.  There were several boys in our neighborhood.  Just about all our fathers had served in World War II.  We spent hours playing army in the woods that surrounded the neighborhood.  The only girl my age who lived on the street was Carol Tillery.  She and I sometimes played “house” in her back yard, playing the roles of mother and father to a family of dolls.  For this I received a little chiding from the members of my usual platoon, and from Chippy, but it seemed logical to imagine that one day Carol and I would follow the footsteps of our own parents, have sons and daughters of our own, and move into another house a little farther down the street on Crest Hill Road in the only neighborhood we had ever known.

Several of us on Crest Hill Road turned six the same year, so our mothers made arrangements to form a carpool in which they or our fathers would take turns driving us to and from Minnie Holman School in Woodlawn.  These arrangements were discussed as our mothers talked over coffee at our kitchen tables up and down the street while we kids played in the yards or at the edges of the woods.

Once, Steve and Dave Uritz came over to our house.  Their mother visited mine in the kitchen over coffee.  It was probably my idea to build a campfire on the wooded hillside just beyond the old railroad bed that ran along the edge of the woods not quite beyond sight from the kitchen window of our house.  It was late in the fall of the year and the ground was covered with a thick carpet of dry fallen leaves.  Our campfire spread wild into a hungry circle of yellow flames and gray-white smoke.  There had been some good-sized woods fires near our neighborhood and I knew the damage and the terror they could cause.  I noticed that same panicked feeling in my chest that I had felt the time I stepped out onto the rickety balcony a hundred feet above the ground at the Vulcan Tower.  Our mothers came running up the hillside carrying brooms and rakes.  They put out our little forest fire in a few frantic minutes.  Steve and Dave were identical twins.  I couldn’t tell them apart before the wreck even though I saw them every day as we rode to Minnie Holman School in Woodlawn and back in our carpool.  Now they chanted in one indistinguishable voice and pointed at me.  “It was his idea!  It was his idea!”

I must have been the first one to the car that day in the middle of May in 1959.  Carol’s mother was waiting for us in her dark gray 1954 Plymouth parked along a curb  below the school with dozens of other cars waiting for other kids.  I took off my dark-green army-surplus pack and shoved it in the front seat beside Mrs. Tillery, then crawled in and sat beside her.  The twins came next.  They raced each other the last fifty feet to the car, scrambled in the same side door of the back seat and slammed it shut behind them.  I don’t know which one it was who got there first.  Carol was the last one to get to the car that day.  I guess that’s why she ended up on the right side of the front seat.  I heaved my army pack with my books and papers from the seat and set it on my lap to make more room for Carol to my right.  If Carol had gotten to the car before me, she would have sat directly beside her mother in the place where I was sitting, and things might have turned out quite differently.

I don’t remember if it was raining when we first got in the car that day.  Maybe that’s why we all ran to scramble into the car as fast as we could, heaving our book satchels in all directions.  In any case, by the time we got out of the hilly residential streets of Woodlawn with its houses from the 1920’s snuggled side by side and got on Highway 78, thick ominous clouds had darkened the day.  Rain pounded down in droves.  There was a swirling blur of taillights in front of us and on-coming headlights behind us.

It must have been about 2:20 in the afternoon.  I couldn’t see out over my army pack and the high hard dashboard of the Plymouth.  The evening shift at the Sloss Iron Works started at 2:30.

Highway 78, or “The Old Atlanta Highway” as it is now called, had four lanes divided by a narrow grassy median.  I really don’t remember anything of the collision itself except that there was a crash, a jarring, a jerking, spinning, sliding, and trembling; then a second jolt and smash, both impacts accompanied by a thud of hard-struck metal, a shatter of glass and a shower of fragments across the shifting pavement along with the grind and pop of roadside gravel from underneath the floorboards.

Then there was stillness.  All I could hear were the sounds of other cars coming to a stop on both sides of the four-lane highway, car doors slamming shut, trotting footsteps approaching , anonymous shoe soles slapping the wet pavement, and the constant drone of drizzling rain.  One of the twins was the first to speak.  “All out.  We had a wreck.”  His voice was chipper and matter-of-fact.  There was no reply.  I crawled across the seat to my right and out the door.  When I put my feet on the roadside gravel I saw that my right shoe was missing.  When I tried to stand up my right foot collapsed beneath the weight of the rest of my body.  I hopped a few steps on my left foot.  My right foot dangled loose and limp below the knee.  I bent down and lifted it in the palm of my left hand.  It was a dead log wearing a dirty white sock.

“What’s the matter with my leg?”  I asked the anonymous crowd of on-lookers who had huddled around me, all with that speechless look of tragic sickness on their faces.  Even though it had never before approached me, I knew that this was the face of death looking down at me.  One gray-haired man stepped forward, bent down before me and broke the awkward silence.  “It’s broken, Honey.”  He called me “Honey.”

A feeling of panic came over me.  I asked in a fretting voice, “Broken?  Can you die with a broken leg?”

“No Honey,” he answered in a kind voice.  “You can’t die with a broken leg.”  He picked me up in his arms and set me in the back seat of the car where the twins had been riding.  They were both on their feet outside the car, another huddle of curious people surrounding them, offering handkerchiefs to hold to their bleeding faces, reaching with umbrellas above their heads.  The gray-haired man knelt beside me between the open back door of the car and the seat itself, and explained that we would wait there out of the rain until help came.  More cars were stopping all along the sides of the highway.  A continuous line of faces approached, ducked down to glance inside the car, then quickly looked away and walked off shaking heads.

There was a distinct sour smell inside the car.  It was the smell of shattered glass, motor oil, gasoline, and blood.  The windshield was crumpled and shattered like a wad of wax paper.  Shards and slivers of glass covered the seats, the floorboards and the dashboard.  Drops and splatters of blood covered the seat beside me.  The back of Mrs. Tillery’s head was leaning awkwardly to the rear on the back of the driver’s seat.  It rolled from side to side as she moaned, groaned and cried, repeating over and over, “No.  No.  No.  No.”

Sirens approached from the direction of downtown.  There was a lot of moving and maneuvering of huddles of people and parked cars to make way for the arriving ambulances and police cars.  Two young men were driving the ambulance I was to ride in.  “Just let him ride up here with us,” one of the drivers said, as though I were an afterthought to the more-serious cases.  So, I rode on the front seat of the station wagon ambulance between the driver and his assistant.  They wore no uniforms or white jackets, just ordinary sport shirts and slacks.

I could hear the scream and whir of the siren shouting out in urgency all the way to University Hospital on the south side of downtown.  For years afterward I was fascinated with the sound of the sirens of police cars, fire trucks, and especially ambulances.  When I sped down the street on my bicycle for the next several years, it was usually to the siren wail of my own voice.

We had already entered the labyrinth of busy downtown streets when the attendant to my right looked over his left shoulder into the rear of the vehicle and said to the driver, “One of ‘em’s fallin’ off the stretcher back there.”

“It don’t matter,” the driver answered, “They’re both dead.”  He sped on through the afternoon traffic and the rain with a fixed expression on his face.

At the emergency room a platoon of nurses and orderlies hurriedly wheeled a high narrow cot to the ambulance where I was laid on my back and secured with canvas straps.  Inside, as soon as a young doctor looked down at me, I informed him, “I’ve just got a broken leg.”  One of the attendants took a pair of scissors and cut a slit up the right leg of my blue jeans all the way from the ankle to the inseam at the crotch.  I wondered what Mother would say about the jeans.  I was always getting into trouble for grass stains, rips and tears.

They placed a two-foot board on each side of my leg and wrapped it from the ankle to the thigh with gauze.  I heard someone say they would have to operate to set the leg.  They left me lying there behind some curtained partitions and rushed off to someone else.  This was when I noticed the tiny shavings and slivers of glass all over me, in my eyebrows, on my shirt, and in my navel.  My face and hands were covered with scratches and small cuts as though I had run through the blackberry patch at the edge of the woods behind our house.

When something terrible happens, rumor usually travels faster than truth.   When it got to be about 3:00 and we still had not gotten home from school, my mother decided to drive toward the school following our usual route over Highway 78 to see if anything had happened.  Just as she was about to turn onto the highway from Crest Hill Road, she was stopped by Mr. Cornet, our neighbor from two houses up the street, who was driving home in the opposite direction.  When he recognized Mother, he flashed his lights for her to stop and rolled down his window to speak.  His intention must have been to save her the time and trouble of getting stuck in the traffic on the highway.  He called in a commanding voice from the opposite lane, “Don’t go up on the highway, Jane.  There’s been a terrible wreck with four children killed.”

Mother was eight months pregnant with my younger brother Murray and was, of course, frantic when she came running up beside my high bed on wheels in the corridor outside the operating room at University Hospital.  Desperate tears rolled down her cheeks even though she was laughing when she bent down, kissed me, and squeezed my hands.  “Don’t worry, Mother.  You can’t die with a broken leg.”

The next thing I remember, I was lying in a room on the fourth floor children’s ward of the hospital.  A hard white cast covered my right leg from the ankle to the hip.  It was dark outside.  I was sharing the room with Steve Uritz whose face was covered with zippers and bandages.  He had been sewn up with more than fifty stitches.  A glass partition separated our beds.  His brother Dave had gotten only a few scratches to his face and was sent home with their dad.

They must have allowed only one parent in the room at a time.  Daddy came in and talked to me for a while with great kindness and affection.  Then Mother came in.  She asked me which of them I would like to spend the night in the room with me because one parent could stay all night in the hospital room with a child, but only one.  I told her I preferred to have my father stay.  There was a good deal of talking and discussion both within my hearing and outside the room between Mother and Daddy, and with Mrs. Uritz.  As it turned out, neither Mother nor Daddy stayed.  Mrs. Uritz stayed.  Mother’s late stage of pregnancy must have been a factor in the decision.

Before she lay down on the lounge chair beyond the foot of our beds, Mrs. Uritz told me to just wave my hand and she would see it through the glass partition between the beds if I “needed anything during the night.”  I wasn’t to get out of bed for any reason.  She held up a glass bottle about the size and shape of a pint milk bottle to make sure I understood.

I dozed for no more than a few sporadic moments that night.  Sometime during the wee quiet hours I was overcome with need.  I tried to ignore it, but after holding it for an hour or two I couldn’t stand it any longer.  The I-V they had given me during the operation to set my leg must have filled me with liquid.  I reluctantly gave in and waved my hand where I thought Mrs. Uritz would see it through the glass partition from where she lay on a reclining armchair beside her own son.  I would have preferred a nurse.  A nurse would have been a total stranger and a professional at this kind of service.  Mrs. Uritz was a neighbor from the other end of my own street, the mother of my playmates and the driver of our carpool once or twice a week.  It was humiliating to have to ask her for such personal assistance.  I timidly waved a second time.  Nothing.  Then again, and a couple of minutes later.  Nothing, only the dark sterile room with faint lines of light radiating from the linoleum floor under the door to the hallway, and the distant murmur of talk among the late-shift employees far down the halls.  I lay there examining the bland walls and the ceiling.  There was a window with open Venetian blinds, its glass dotted with raindrops, facing Red Mountain to the south.  Vulcan stood there on his tower, his cast iron beard jutting from his chin, his blacksmith’s hammer in his left hand, his torch lit with blood-red light raised high above his head with his outstretched right arm as though signaling from the earth to heaven.  Finally, I knocked on the glass partition with my knuckles.  Mrs. Uritz came to my side and offered me the bottle.  Embarrassed, I acquiesced.  She poked me into the short neck of the bottle with the ice cold fingers of a complete stranger.

The next morning the sun was out when Mother, Daddy, and Chippy came into the room.  I had heard that they give kids a lot of Jell-O, ice cream, and juice in hospitals, so that’s what I requested for breakfast.  I got only a small cup of juice.  I could sense a strange expression on the faces of the members of my family.  It was something similar to the expressions on the faces of the anonymous bystanders who had huddled around me at the wreck.

Mother and Daddy left the room to sign some papers for my release at the nurses’ station down the hall.  Chippy stayed in the room.  He had picked up a morning newspaper in the main lobby.  He held up the front page for me to see.  There was a black and white picture of the Tillery’s Plymouth with portions of two other mangled cars showing on either side.  Above the picture were sprawled the large block letters of the headline:  “Three killed on highway 78.”  Chippy told me the basic facts of the accident as they were presented in the article.  Four steel workers were speeding on their way to work for the evening shift when the driver lost control in the rain and skipped across the median into the oncoming cars in the opposite lanes.  Two of the men had been killed.  Chippy went on, now reading aloud directly from the paper.  “Among the deceased are Frank Quarles, 42, and Ben Lowery, 37, both of Leeds; and Carol Tillery, age seven, of 1416 Crest Hill Road.”  I didn’t believe him at first.  I thought he might be kidding me.  But I also knew that he always told me the truth in the end, terrible as it might be.

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James Miller Robinson has had poems and short prose in Texas ReviewRio Grande ReviewSouthern Humanities ReviewGeorge Washington Review, and Kansas Quarterly.  He has two chapbooks of poetry—The Caterpillars at Saint Bernard (Mule on a Ferris Wheel Press, 2014) and Boca del Rio in the Afternoon (Finishing Line Press, 2015).  He works as an interpreter/translator registered with the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts.

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Unanswered: An Essay on Research

By Jane Harrington

 

Who was buying their hair?

In my ongoing quest to fully imagine the lives of my West Cork ancestors, I keep a running list of questions such as these—accumulated curiousnesses from the reading I do about Ireland’s Great Hunger, that cataclysm that sent my forebears across a sea. Scant genealogies have gotten me only so far in knowing who exactly I come from, so I mine for more general ores of origin, descriptions of a world, in the works of those who have done, well, the work. Today it is John Kelly I am reading, his The Graves are Walking the latest adit I lower myself into, and it is from these pages that I have scratched out this question, the one about the hair. And that right after—in fact, just sentences after—I found the answer to who was buying the clothing of these 1840s Irelanders.

The poorest of the poor, these people “occupied the same place in the western mind that Haiti, the Congo, and Somalia occupy today,” in Kelly’s words, and on the threshold of a winter that would find whole families staggering naked and humiliated on the hills of their homeland, they were selling their clothes for money to buy food. This I had learned from many sources, but none had mentioned who or what had need or desire for these tattered vestiges of dignity. Today, though, I know: English paper mills bought most of the pawned clothing. The mills were turning the cloth to pulp, perhaps pressing that very slurry into pages for the Times or Punch, popular rags (oh, that metaphor is suddenly making too much sense) that, in the same season the Irish peasants were on their knees scraping the ground for grubs or clawing the air for God’s mercy, were printing stories and cartoons about how their fellow citizens across the channel were overstating the extent of the potato blight and exaggerating their distress. What a horror of irony if threads from these same people’s backs were in the very fiber of the pages that called them “illiterate savages” and depicted their children as monkeys. (The reason for this recurring trope was a question on my list for some time; one popular posit is that hair grows on the faces of severely malnourished children.)

I do try to view Ireland’s Great Hunger in a balanced way, not blame the decimation of a people on neglect by government, not refer to it as a “gentlemen’s genocide.” I can’t, though, pass it off as many in positions of power did in the day: as divine providence sending Phytophthora infestans to destroy a food, thus destroy a people. And history tells me I should not make excuses for a British Empire that was repeatedly staining its soul around the globe in the name of dominion and free trade, no more than I should make excuses for the United States at that time, whose lawmakers were still arguing over the economies of buying and selling human beings. The fact is that my own Irish ancestors had, for generations, been oppressed by the Penal Laws, a body of legislation from which a direct line can be drawn to the abject poverty that would, on the eve of Europe’s potato blight, find millions of Irish “barely existing”—words from an 1841 British Parliamentary report. There could have been more charity from the sovereign that claimed Ireland as its own, and more willingness to stop Irish exports, as had been done successfully during 18thcentury blights to feed families and keep food prices low. But instead, the destitute were made to perform hard labor for pennies that could barely buy a loaf of bread at market, and the redcoats were dispatched to guard carts filled with meats and grains so they could be safely rolled past the grass-stained faces of the dead and dying. (There are ghosts of professors past admonishing me right now for watering down that sentence with passive voice.) One million perished on the streets and in fields and cabins in that awful season. It was technically more than a decimation—one out of every eight died, not every ten. Another million would flee as ballast in the coffin ships, and the writers of the Times and Punch would bid them adieu with bitter words and images now woven, perhaps literally, into the fabric of that sad exodus.

Be specific, I say to the college students I teach. When you write in generalizations, when you blame human suffering on a concept—laissez faire, states’ rights, God’s will—you can’t put a face on your body of knowledge. You can’t see the twitch of a child’s nose when he wakes to a strange stench of demise, or hear the low moans gathering over the potato fields like thunder. Irish author John McGahern said, “People do not live in decades or histories. They live in moments, hours, days, and it is easy to fall into the trap of looking back in judgment in the light of our own day rather than the more difficult realization of the natural process of living, which was the same then as it is now.” And so, in an attempt to understand the moments, hours, days that made up the Ireland my ancestors lost, I collect questions. What kind of education did my ancestors have prior to the passage of the Penal Laws? What did the Irish diet consist of before that oppression? Where was the Vatican when the potato crop failed and their Irish flock was suffering so? Why didn’t my ancestors (and those of so many Irish Americans I know) pass down the stories of the Great Hunger? Who was buying their hair?

In his research, John Kelly apparently uncovered a ship manifest that listed twenty-six bales of Irish hair in the hold of the Liverpool-bound Forget-Me-Not. That’s the extent of his reference. Maybe there was a market for wigs made from the hair of the forsaken, or a trade in plaster that may still contain this DNA in walls of houses. I don’t know. I’ll have to keep chipping away, sifting, looking for the answer.

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Jane Harrington has written books for young adults (Scholastic, Lerner) and is now crafting literary fiction and creative nonfiction. She holds an MFA from Carlow University, her mentors in the program both Irish and US writers. A principle interest of Jane’s is understanding the lives of the poor during Ireland’s Great Hunger. Her research has included study in Ireland’s Folklore Collection (UCD), extensive reading of academic scholarship and writings from the period (including the poetry of Speranza, who would become Oscar Wilde’s mother), and multiple trips to Ireland’s west, where the landscape itself tells stories. Jane is a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), where she has worked on a novel that explores migratory connections between Ireland and Appalachia. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been short-listed for literary awards, notably the Sean O’Faolain International Short Story Prize. Journals and magazines that have published her work include Chautauqua, Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Mom Egg Review, Irish America, and Portland Review.

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The Unhappiest Man I Ever Knew

By William Locke Hauser

 

“The mass of men,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “lead lives of quiet desperation.”

That would hardly have applied to my great-grandfather, a New York City businessman of the mid-19th century. Born in 1816 to a farm family in southeastern Bavaria, he’d been the only one of seven siblings to leave their native village, at first to study horticulture in the ancient city of Regensburg (Roman Ratisbon) and then to train as a landscape architect in far-away Paris. In 1840 (the same year Thoreau took up residence at Walden Pond), he crossed the ocean to America. Upon becoming a citizen in 1859, he changed his German-Catholic given names of Johann Nepomuk to John Nathaniel; and upon marrying the daughter of English immigrants, converted to Anglicanism, eventually becoming a vestryman of Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street.

Prospering as a florist, he built a chain of shops in Manhattan, with a flower farm out on Long Island. When his businessmen’s club supported the southern separatism that appeared to be leading to the Civil War, he led a patriotic minority in founding the Union League Club. His five children, whose graves now encircle his monument in Trinity Churchyard, revered him as a Teutonic patriarch. He died in 1897, shortly after making a nostalgic visit to his home village, where a plaque in the wall of the local Catholic church commemorates the visit and his gift of an endowment to the parish.

His son, my grandfather Louis Augustus, inherited one of the shops but not his sire’s business skills. Thoreau’s maxim applied all too well in his case, for in 1907, when my father, John Nathaniel (namesake of the patriarch), was a freshman at Cornell, Louis went bankrupt. For lack of funds, my father had to drop out after one semester and go to work as a laborer on a paternal uncle’s flower farm. He rebounded from this Dickensian setback by obtaining an appointment to West Point in 1908, where he did well, becoming a cadet officer and winning his letter as an equestrian gymnast.

I myself would regard such experience as a success story, in the American tradition of overcoming adversity. My father never spoke of those early years, however, which leads me to guess that his own parent’s business failure — after so favored a start in life — was a source of unutterable shame. In fact, though my father kept a portrait of the patriarch (full-bearded and gimlet-eyed, like some Old Testament prophet) on his desk, he displayed none of his father. I had to learn from my mother, who was his second wife (and from a sister of his deceased first), the story I am about to unfold.

After graduation, he served with distinction under General Pershing on the Mexican border; and though he did not get to France during World War I, earned such plaudits in training troops for the conflict that he was promoted to major at the boyish age of twenty-nine. He married Dorothy Ohmer, scion of a prominent German-American family in Dayton, Ohio (her father, a neighbor of the Wright brothers, had invented the eponymous taxi-meter), and seemed to be “on his way” professionally and socially.

In 1919, a year after the birth of a son, John Nathaniel Jr., he was ordered overseas, to postwar occupation duty in the Rhineland. Dorothy, who remained in Dayton, fell ill with appendicitis and died before he was able to make his way back by ship. Leaving John Jr. with the Ohmer grandparents while he returned to complete his duty tour in Europe, my father was then able to secure an ROTC assignment at nearby Ohio State University.

According to Dorothy Ohmer’s sister (who, decades later living in New York City, was kind to me while I was a cadet at West Point), my father was desperate to find a mother for his orphaned son. After being gently refused by that sister-in-law, he proposed to my mother, daughter of the judge advocate of the Army’s regional headquarters in Indianapolis. They were married in 1925, when my half-brother John was six years old. My brother Chuck was born in 1929, and I followed in 1932. John — whom I never knew well because of the thirteen-year difference in our ages — entered West Point as a cadet in 1937.

I cannot recall my father’s ever playing with Chuck or me as a child. I was conscious of being sent with other boys’ fathers or with my father’s military subordinates to go camping, to ride horseback, to fish and hunt, to play sports and attend athletic events. I used to think it was because of his being middle-aged when Chuck and I were small; but now I’ve concluded that he just didn’t know how to go about being a father to kids.

Though never actually unkind, he was given to stern monologues on industry and thrift. I was later told by my mother that the bankrupt Louis, who had spent his last years as an indigent living with our family, was a “miserable old man,” consumed with self-pity and intolerant of us little children. It may have been the contrast between Louis’s weakness and the patriarch’s strength that established my father’s pattern of disapproving rather than encouraging, as a technique of motivation.

I witnessed this once memorably, when brother Chuck, then about twelve, came home with a gashed knee. “I was sitting in the locker room at school,” he said, “when this kid walked by swinging his ice skates.” Our father, instead of sympathizing, scolded him. “You shouldn’t have been sitting,” he said. “If you’d been standing, the way a man ought to when putting on his clothes, that wouldn’t have happened.” Perhaps Chuck caught him in an exceptionally bad mood, but I suspect the contrary, from a general memory that our father, whenever either of us might express discouragement, would urge: “Be a man.”

In the spring of 1940, during John’s junior year at West Point, he had an equestrian accident. Emulating our father’s gymnastic success by attempting an acrobatic dismount-remount from a gallop, he fell under his horse and was kicked, fracturing his skull. He spent months in the hospital, and when he came home on summer leave, his jaw was still wired shut, requiring him to take nourishment through a straw. When we attended his graduation in June ‘41, he seemed to have fully recovered; but my mother, shortly before her death almost fifty years later, let slip to me that John was “never again able to think really straight.”

Had it not been a time of impending war, I believe he would have been discharged as psychologically unfit for military duty. Whatever the case, he was commissioned with his West Point class. On his first troop assignment, with an airborne division in North Carolina, he tried his best but (according to a contemporary with whom I later served) “just couldn’t hack it.” He was transferred to basic-training duty in Mississippi. I saw him only once more, when he visited home in 1943, while our father was overseas in the war.

John committed suicide on May 4, 1944, by putting a bullet in his head from an M-2 carbine. It was our father’s fifty-fifth birthday.

I was eleven at the time, and believed what Mother and Chuck told me, that John had died in a training accident. It was not until my own cadet years, visiting Dorothy Ohmer’s sister in New York City, that I learned the truth. According to her, my father had “lovingly bullied” her nephew into accepting commission as an officer. Suddenly, the awful significance of that date dawned on me. I never spoke to my father of this during his lifetime, nor to my mother or Chuck during theirs. Nor did I reveal to Chuck that I had come upon John’s suicide note when sorting through our mother’s effects after her death in 1989. I destroyed the note after a single reading, but its muddled cry of anguish is burned in my memory.

I cannot condemn my father for the role he may have played in this tragedy. It is enough that he seems to have condemned himself. At the time he got the dreadful news, he was head of a support command for the U. S. Fifth Army, halfway up the Italian peninsula. It was later confided to me, by the colleague (and old friend) who succeeded him in command, that he broke down into a state of abject depression. He was flown back to the States for John’s funeral, served briefly in Washington, and was then ordered to service in India for the balance of the war.

My father had a quick wit (indeed, “was too fond of irony for his own good,” that same old friend told me), with a ready supply of apt quotations, humorous quips, and comic rhymes. He was proud of Chuck’s heroism in the Korean War and success thereafter as a journalist, of my graduation from West Point and early-career progress, and of the grandchildren we each presented him before his death in 1967. He loved our mother and was grateful for the zone of comfort she created in their marriage, her hard work as a librarian (she was much younger than he and in better health) to supplement his military pension, and her outgoingness that made up for his brusque inability to suffer fools gladly. He proclaimed himself a happy man, but always, even on the merriest of occasions, I could always detect a profound sadness behind the joy.

If there is indeed a heaven where individuals meet as the individuals they were in life, I believe that John has forgiven our father and that our father has forgiven himself.

______________________________________________________________

After military and business careers, William Locke Hauser is engaged in a third career of writing fiction. Twenty-nine of his stories have been published, most recently in Rosebud Magazine (“Das Schloss,” Spring 2015) and Conceit Magazine (“Heaven,” June 2015), and forthcoming in Stand (“Nice,” Spring 2016).  Originally from North Carolina, Hauser and his wife reside in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with a summer home in Reston, Virginia. They have two married sons.

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Defending Your ‘Based’: The Role of Invention in Fact-Based Historical Fiction

By Michael Kula

 

On June 22, 1917, the headline in the Waukesha, Wisconsin Freeman newspaper read: “Mary Roberts Found Murdered.” Mary Roberts was the beautiful socialite wife of Dr. David Roberts, a wealthy and internationally renowned veterinarian during the early part of the 20th century, and the article that followed the headline detailed how she’d been found dead from a gunshot wound in her home’s living room. Now fast-forward eleven months to May 30, 1918, and the headline in the same newspaper read: “Teacher Convicted in Mary Roberts’ Slaying, Love Triangle to Blame.” This time the article that followed contained the rather salacious details of the court case that had convicted Grace Lusk (the “teacher”) of the murder. As the trial revealed, Dr. Roberts and Grace had been involved in a multi-year love affair that began while she was helping him write a book about the history of cattle. In the weeks leading up to the murder, Grace—as so often seems the plot in such stories—had been pleading with the esteemed doctor to divorce his wife and run off with her. The story had all the intrigue of an article in the National Enquirer: reports of heated public confrontations between Mary Roberts and Grace; excerpts from love letters exchanged between Dr. Roberts and the girl; and descriptions of Grace’s desperate threats of suicide made in the days before the murder. Of course, there were also graphic details of the murder itself—the tragic central facts of the case undisputed even by Grace’s defense attorney—about how Grace had accosted Mary in her home, eventually shooting her in cold blood with a revolver.

These are the historical facts of Mary Roberts’s murder, and, captured as they were in detail in the court transcripts, they are as iron-clad of facts as a writer or an historian could hope to find. They are also the kind of facts that most people hear and immediately respond to by saying, “That should be a movie,” or “That would make a great novel.” Well, now they have been—been made into a novel, at least—because they are the facts upon which my forthcoming novel The Good Doctor is based. And note here that I say my novel is based on these facts, even though I take great liberties with the historical record in my novel (very great liberties, as you’ll later see). Now as I admit this, it logically raises the question about what responsibilities historical fiction writers have in negotiating the line between historical fact and creative invention? Just how far can a writer go creatively and still claim that his or her work is based on a true story?

It is an obvious understanding that an historical fiction writer’s responsibility, unlike that of a more pure historian, is less to the facts than it is to something else: to the meaning of the story, perhaps; or to the pure entertainment value of the narrative action, perhaps, if the story is more genre-oriented. For example, any number of writers could have been inspired by the same facts about Mary Roberts’s murder and then written completely different novels than mine. I can easily imagine the story being molded into a true-crime novel, for example. Or a suspense novel. Or a murder-mystery. Even a romance, I suppose. And in writing these hypothetical novels, each of the authors would manipulate the facts of the story in the ways needed to best serve the expectations of their genre and/or their own aesthetic values or conceptual interests. To consider this issue within the tradition of the historical novel, we could look at an author like Sir Walter Scott, godfather of the genre, whose central responsibility in his Waverly novels, for example, could be characterized as being to his interest in issues of religio-political upheaval and their related social consequences. In service to this authorial interest, the facts for Scott could be seen as secondary, mutable, or even dismissible, as I’ll argue later; because historical fiction, after all, is not merely about the history.

In a similar way for me, a writer with a literary orientation, my primary interest in my work is to use fiction to explore potential modes of being, the what-makes-someone-tick sort of depth and meaning we have come to expect in literary fiction, and so my primary responsibility in writing The Good Doctor was to exploring depth of character. So while the facts of Mary Roberts’s murder are important, they are secondary, because if anyone wanted to know just the facts of her death, then the details are just a quick Google search away. And about those fact, at the risk of sounding callous, so what? On their own, the facts of the murder make an interesting historical footnote, but in terms of their impact or their contemporary relevance to the broad audience beyond perhaps Dr. Roberts’s extended family living today, there is little inherent meaning. No, that is where fiction comes in, where my novel comes in. I, like other literary writers, am interested in finding and creating meaning, and in order to discover that meaning in a narrative (or the potential meaning in a narrative) we must explore character.

In my case, as history recorded it, there was the character of Dr. Roberts, a tragic hero in the most literal Aristotelian interpretation of that concept. There was the character of Grace Lusk, the quintessential trope of “the other woman” as she was represented in the trial. And there was the character of Mary Roberts, the ultimate victim: wronged by her husband, killed by his mistress. That is how history has framed the lives of those characters, and certainly the events of that love affair and the subsequent murder deservedly earned Dr. Roberts, Grace, and Mary those labels. Was Dr. Roberts the womanizing cad Grace’s defense attorney painted him to be? Yes, at least in part. Was Grace the lovesick, volatile woman the prosecution portrayed her to be? Yes, again. And was Mary the fragile and innocent victim? Definitely. But as we know, life is never as simple as history sometimes wants to make it. In addition to being a womanizer, Dr. Roberts was, by all accounts, also an incredibly generous man, eager to help farmers in need. Grace was also a caring and dedicated teacher, a farmers-daughter type, somewhat innocently swept up in the allure of the wealth and opulence of Dr. Roberts’s social circle. Therefore in my novel, as I sought to uncover meaning from those historical events, I was obligated to explore the totality of my characters, to examine the gray areas of human nature that exist between the somewhat simplified black-and-white distinctions the legal system and history often favor.

I should pause here to confess that early on I was not entirely aware of all this. Initially I was awed by the nearly perfect plot that history had handed me, and in my early drafts I had more of the sensibility of a genre writer, playing up the elements of suspense and sensationalism in the love scandal and murder, all the while being as faithful as I could to the facts. In my early drafts I was obsessively careful not to veer far from the historical record, only tweaking it enough to give the story a better narrative arc, because I was afraid that if I strayed too far from the facts then some idealized reader would object to my novel as being—gasp—“untrue.” In honesty, I had yet to consider where the line between strict adherence to the facts and wide creative liberty for invention was for a writer. I just knew that if I stuck to the facts, I was safe.

This of course is not where things ended up. With each draft and narrative refinement I came to realize that even in the most simple translation of fact into fiction, all writers, all story tellers for that matter, take liberties with the facts; for if not, then I argue that what is being written is not fiction, but rather an attempt at some more “pure” sense of history. The changes we see at this level in fiction are first order changes, changes that everyone makes in crafting a good narrative and, conversely, everyone is willing to accept as an audience member without calling into question the veracity of the story. Let us call them craft driven changes. They are changes, as I would describe them, to the spine of a story; changes that we make, for example, with the time sequence and/or the magnitude of certain events and actions, and we, as story-telling people, make them everyday, often without even knowing it. Everyday, we omit unnecessary information when recounting an occurrence from our day when talking at the dinner table. We vary the sequence in which certain actions took place to build suspense when telling a story at a cocktail party. And we amplify the emotions and dramatic tension when, to use a cliché example, we talk about the fish that got away. These changes are common, they are innately accepted by the audience, and they are indeed a necessary part of good narrative craft, whether employed in a fact-based historical novel or in banter over a glass of wine. Manipulation of the facts in service to effective storytelling in this way generally has no bearing on an audience member’s concerns about historical accuracy or even that more lofty sense of truth.
But this is not the end of the matter, and when I look back at the many liberties I took with the historical record in my novel, I recognize that there are other changes I made—bigger changes beyond those to the spine of the story—that might begin to push readers’ comfort level with accepting that my novel is based on a true story. These are second order changes or, as I call them, opportunity driven changes, where writers manipulate or even veer completely from the facts in order to serve their greater motivations as artists. These are not changes to the spine of the story, to the basics of the narrative arc, but rather to the flesh of a story. They are essential for deepening the story, providing material to enrich it, essentially fleshing the narrative out in ways that the facts alone might not necessarily allow. For example, for a politically-oriented writer like Scott, these might be changes to or even whole-cloth invention of material of socio-political importance, like his creation of personal hardships his characters faced living during a specific era, even if there might be no historical documentation to ground the creative inventions in fact (or perhaps there might even be evidence to the contrary).

For me, in my novel, examples of these second order changes would be the liberties I took with Grace’s teaching. According to ample historical evidence, Grace was an elementary school teacher at a rural and relatively poor public school near Waukesha. In my novel, however, she teaches at a high school, an exclusive prep school for the city’s elite—the Fox River Academy—where, in my invention, she teaches Latin and ancient history. On the surface this might not seem that significant of a change; however, what if I were to admit that there neither is now nor was there ever such a school in the city? No Fox River Academy, no private prep school for the elite at all? All of it is made up. Invented. Here, as some of my early readers voiced with concern, we are beginning to butt up to the threshold an audience might have for tolerating fabrication, for pushing that fine line of “truthfulness.” But as I argued earlier in a different context, so what? Grace in real life was a teacher—that is a fact—and I remained faithful to the fact of the character upon which she is based. No matter if she is teaching high school or elementary school, Latin or simple spelling and penmanship, her profession is the same, the power relationship with the students is the same, and the social status of the profession is still roughly equivalent.
So if all of that is true, then why bother even making that change, you might ask? Why lie as someone might call it? Why not just stick to the facts? Well, for one reason, by making Grace an instructor of Latin and ancient history, I was able to add a layer of literary complexity to the story by having the ability to draw material from prominent literature from history (the poems of Catullus play a large role in my novel). For an even more important reason, since two of the themes I am interested in exploring in my novel are wealth and elitism, by having Grace teach at a prestigious academy while having come from humble beginnings herself, I had a richer context for examining issues of classism that could have contributed to her draw to Dr. Roberts. These opportunity driven changes remained faithful at their core to the general historical record, but the creative inventions provided more flesh to the fiction from which I could draw in my efforts to create meaning.

Now here I have to admit, I’ve been sitting on a secret. A big secret. So far these changes I’ve used to illustrate my argument are but a trifle in the scheme of the some of the liberties I’ve taken with the historical facts in my novel, and the most egregious, as some might call it, concerns the ending of the story when Grace kills Mary. On this fact, the real life murder, the historical record is clear and unambiguous. Grace accosted Mary in her home, shooting and killing her in living room. It is, in all ways of considering it, a fact, as solid as any that can be; so surely such a detail is untouchable, unchangeable. Right? Or else it would be impossible for me to claim that my novel is indeed based on a true story at all, right? Maybe not.

Clearly, since I do admit to making some significant changes to the ending and yet still claim the novel is based on these events, I obviously don’t agree. I indeed argue that facts even as iron clad as those about Mary Roberts’s murder are mutable, while still earning the right for a piece of fact-based historical fiction to claim it is based on a true story. To explain this though, I’ll need to give a bit of a spoiler. In my novel, Mary Roberts does indeed die toward the end; however when she does, there is no gun and no body left in a pool of blood on the living room floor, the way the court transcripts describe. Instead, her death occurs out in the countryside, in a barn on Dr. Roberts’s property where he keeps his livestock, and rather than depicting Mary’s death as a murder, the novel ends more ambiguously, with her death occurring as the result of a loud argument between herself and Grace that startles one David’s horses, causes him to break through the stable door, and trample Mary. Quite a change. Yes. Quite deceptive, as some might argue. And so “untrue”, right?

No. Even with such a significant revision of history, I still argue the novel is based on a true story, and here is why: above all, artistically, I believe that literary fiction writers—historical novelists or otherwise—are ultimately the servants of our characters. As we seek to create meaning from the potential modes of being that our characters present to us, we must fully submit ourselves to the truths they reveal through the fictional lives they live on our pages. That is our primary responsibility, and what this means is that amid all that grayness of character I set out to explore in my novel, the character of Grace revealed herself to be someone who was not capable of the cold-blooded killing reported in those newspapers. Thus, even as I sought to remain faithful to the historical record, I also had to allow her—the fictional character of Grace—to be as she would be, surrendering even those most central facts about Mary Roberts’s murder to possible revision. This is a third order change, a change to the heart of the story, or a character driven change as I call it, where the truths of the fictional characters we are creating trump even the provable facts upon which our stories are based. But here, I recognize, even for me, such a significant creative invention could be difficult to accept, and so I will end with a brief excerpt from my novel’s epilogue, where I gently attempt to nudge my fiction back toward the facts, at least metaphorically. In the following passage, set thirty years after the death of his wife, David, now an old man incapacitated by a stroke, is lying in his bed, reflecting on the tragic events of his life:

“And what of that woman? That teacher, David thought? Grace. What about her? Did he blame her? Did he hate her, as some of his friends asked in the years since that tragedy? No. As difficult as it was for his friends to believe it, David felt neither of those things—not anymore at least—because blaming her, as David had come to understand it, would be like blaming a soldier for killing during a war; and if there was anyone to blame for that, anyone to hate, it was he, himself, for it had been David’s own transgressions that started the war in which Grace found herself. And what about that horse, one of those same friends had once asked him? Gloucester. Did David blame him? Did he hate that animal for what he’d done, accidental or not? No. For if Grace was a soldier thrust into war, then he, that horse, David thought, was nothing but a gun discharging in her unstable hand.”

______________________________________________________________

Michael Kula is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Emerson College. His work has appeared in literary magazines across the country including: Porcupine, Reconstruction, Mars Hill Review, MidAmerica, Vehicle, and The Drum. He is the past recipient of grants and awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, the National Park Service, and the Northwest Writers Association. He is currently assistant professor of Writing Studies at the University of Washington, Tacoma. He has recently completed his first novel, The Good Doctor, which is based on the life of Dr. David Roberts, one of the wealthiest and most respected veterinarians in the country during the early half of the 20th century.

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Visiting Kindred Spirits

By Charlie Britten

museumMy eyes brimmed with tears, one of those moments so intense I wanted to make it end, to run out into the safety of the hire car, the road and the twenty-first century.  Yes, I know it was all fiction and none of it really happened, but L M Montgomery’s Anne Shirley figured as large in my childhood as the flesh-and-blood friends I met in school every day.  And here I was, in this beautiful house, fitted out with its simple and functional furniture, but with lace everywhere – over the mantelpiece, over the tables, in the bedspreads, exactly as it would’ve been in her time.  Anne was here, and Gilbert, and Marilla, and Rachel Lynde, and all the others.  I’d travelled over three thousand miles for this and probably would never return.  I took a deep breath and carried on.

museum 2The Anne of Green Gables Museum is at Park Corner, on the north coast of Prince Edward Island, at a Gothic Revival farmhouse called Silver Bush, the former home of author Montgomery’s Uncle John and Auntie Annie Campbell.  The first Campbells settled in this house in 1776 and the family lives here still, managing the Museum, which appears on Canada’s Historic Places Register and Prince Edward Island’s Register also.  Although the real Lake of Shining Waters is just down the hill from the main museum building, this is not Green Gables, but Silver Bush, as featured in two of Montgomery’s other books, Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat.  It was in this house, which she called the wonder castle of my childhood, that Montgomery felt comfortable, not in the official ‘home of Lucy Maud Montgomery’ in the village of Cavendish a few miles away, which is advertised in tourist literature.

museum 3The Museum has two storeys.  You enter (like Mrs Rachel Lynde in the first pages of Anne) through the kitchen, passing the leaded range to pay at the desk (in summer 2015, $5.50 for adults and $2 for children).  You move through into the lacy Edwardian parlour, where a clock ticks loudly and lugubriously and you see the small organ which was played at Montgomery’s wedding in 1911 to Presbyterian minister, Ewan Macdonald.  You think about small children, sitting still on hard chairs, in their best clothes – hopefully with puffed sleeves – longing for Sunday to end.  A letter in the parlour, written a year before the author’s death in 1942, thanks her nephew for sending $10, because, she tells him, she doesn’t have enough money for the nursing care she needs, even though by this time, Anne of Green Gables was enjoying huge popularity and Montgomery would have been earning from her many other books.

Upstairs are a family bedroom, a child or single person’s room and a hallway, where first editions of Montgomery’s books are on display – not just the Anne books, but a selection of her twenty-two novels, and the short stories she used to submit to magazines in the days before Anne.  You may touch these faded volumes, even read a little.  Hanging on the wall is the crazy quilt Montgomery stitched as a teenager, using any scraps of fabric she could find, and which she finished only after the fashion for crazy quilts had passed, but, as she wrote in her diary, she had had the ‘joy of making’ [1] –  a typically upbeat and stoical comment.  Born in Clifton (now New London) in PEI in 1874, Montgomery’s mother, Clara, died of tuberculosis when the author was twenty-two months old.  Mounted on the same wall is a journal entry, in which the author relates how, as an adult, she encountered a friend of her mother’s, who tells her how Clara entreated her to come and see her baby because ‘little Lucy Maud is so sweet today’. This is what brought me to tears in the warm yellow afternoon sunshine.

There is a danger that the whole of Prince Edward Island will be subsumed by the commercial opportunities offered up through Anne of Green Gables and her creator.  Everywhere you can buy red-haired Anne dolls, stay at several different Green Gables motels, eat at Green Gables cafes, bathe on the Green Gables Shore (the Island’s north facing beach), and, in the Homburg Theatre in the Island’s capital, Charlottetown, see Anne of Green Gables: The Musical, which has been running continuously since 1965.

I’m glad I went to the Museum first, when I had been on the Island only a few hours, because it captured the spirit of Montgomery’s stories, which were about people living a simple life in farming communities at the beginning of the twentieth century, their underpinning stoicism and joy in small things.  Montgomery loved to visit Silver Bush because here she was loved and that loving feeling lingers on.  The last words in Anne of Green Gables, were a quote from Pippa Passes, Browning’s long narrative poem (1841) – significantly – about an orphan.  “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world!” whispered Anne softly.”

For more information about the Anne of Green Gables Museum, visit http://www.annemuseum.com.

[1] http://www.gov.pe.ca/firsthand/index.php3?number=43770&lang (From The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery, Volume II, 5)

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Charlie Britten has contributed to  Every Day FictionMslexiaLinnet’s WingsCafeLit, and Radgepacket. She has also written a couple of book reviews for Copperfield Review. She writes because she loves doing it.

All Charlie’s work is based in reality, with a strong human interest element.  Although much of her work is humorous, she has also written serious fiction, about the 7/7 Bombings in London and attitudes to education before the Second World War. Charlie lives in southern England with her husband and cat. In real life, she is an IT lecturer at a college of further education. Charlie’s blog, ‘Write On’, is at  http://charliebritten.wordpress.com/.

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The Intrepid Stagecoach Mary

By Walter Giersbach

Life in the 19th century was vivid and terrifying, colorful and amazing in its variety.  But you wouldn’t know it looking at yellowed news clippings and daguerreotypes.  It was explosively colorful, literally and metaphorically, where the times concerned Mary Fields.

Fields has several admirable and notorious claims to fame.  She’s best remembered, when remembered at all, as the second woman to officially carry the U.S. mail and the first African-American to do so.  Of more notoriety, she shot a co-worker and created enough problems to get her kicked out of the nunnery where she had been staying.

Fields stood six feet tall and reputedly weighed about 200 pounds, liked to smoke cigars, and was described as “black as burnt over prairie.”  She often had a pistol strapped under her apron, carried a 10-gauge shotgun, and had a jug of whiskey by her side.

This was not your 21st century woman.  Born a slave in Hickman County, Tennessee, about 1832, she was freed with the Emancipation Proclamation.  Unlike many slaves, Fields had learned to read and write.  She then worked at the home of Judge Edmund Dunne.  When Dunne’s wife, Josephine, died in 1883, Fields took the family’s five children to their Aunt Dolly, Mother Mary Amadeus, who was the mother superior of the Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio.

The following year, Mother Mary Amadeus was sent to Montana to establish St. Peter’s Mission.  This was a school for Native Americans in the town of Cascade, midway between Helena and Great Falls.  When Fields learned that Mother Mary was ill with pneumonia, she hurried west to care for her.  After Mother Mary recovered, Fields stayed on in Cascade to haul freight to keep the school functioning.  She also chopped wood, did stone work and rough carpentry, ending up as forewoman of the crew.  When needed, she made supply runs to the Montana Central (later Great Northern) train stop and even 25 miles north to Great Falls and 60 miles south to Helena.

While making one such run, Fields’ wagon was attacked by wolves.  The horses bolted and overturned the wagon.  Anecdotal evidence says Fields kept the wolves away with her revolver and rifle.  At dawn’s light, she got the freight to the school.  The nuns were relieved in no small part because they’d invested $30 for the food.  When a keg of molasses was found to have broken, Fields was docked a portion of her pay for the loss.

Native Americans in the area called her White Crow because “She acts like a white woman but has black skin.”  The local whites were a bit more mystified, and one schoolgirl wrote, “She drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low foul creature.”

This was Mary Fields’ life for a decade until there were complaints and an incident with a disgruntled hired hand at the mission.  Everyone knew that Fields had a temper.  The Great Falls Examiner, Cascade’s newspaper, reported Fields broke more noses than any other person in central Montana.

The worker complained loudly that Fields was earning $2 a month more than he, and why was she worth that being only an uppity colored woman?  He voiced his gripe at the local saloon where Fields was a regular customer, then he took his grievance directly to Bishop Filbus N.E. Berwanger himself.

This made Fields’ blood boil.  Next chance, Fields and the hired hand confronted each other by the sheep shed behind the nunnery.  She’d gone after the man simply to shoot him as he cleaned the latrine, figuring perhaps to dump his body there.  She missed, he shot back and the fight was on!  Bullets flew until both their guns were empty.  The only blood spilled, however, came when one of Fields’ bullets ricocheted and hit the man in the left buttock, ruining his new $1.85 trousers.  Then the bullet passed through the bishop’s laundry, ventilating his drawers and two white shirts that had been shipped from Boston the week before.

The bishop, incensed, ordered Fields to leave the convent.

Ever resourceful, and with the help of Mother Mary Amadeus, Fields opened a restaurant in Cascade.  The restaurant went broke ten months later, quite possibly because Fields served food to anyone regardless of their ability to pay.

In spite of Fields being in her 60s in 1895, she was then hired as a mail carrier because she was the fastest applicant to hitch a team of horses.  She drove the horses and wagon, along with  her mule, Moses.  This earned her the nickname of “Stagecoach Mary.”  When  the Montana snows grew too deep for the coach to continue on a run, Mary would put on her snowshoes, shoulder the mail bags, and begin walking with Moses, never missing a day of work.

At the age of 72, Fields decided to slow down.  The mission nuns helped her open a laundry service in Cascade.  In addition, she tended her garden.

One customer, however, failed to pay up because she hadn’t put the extra starch into his shirt cuffs and collar.  Hearing him in the street, Fields left the saloon and knocked him flat with one blow.  She told her drinking companions that the satisfaction from this act was worth more than what she was owed.  The hapless customer also allowed that the tooth Fields knocked out was the one that had been giving him trouble.  Both were satisfied.

Stagecoach Mary grew to become a respected figure in Cascade, and for many years the town closed its schools to celebrate her birthday.  When Montana passed a law forbidding women to drink in saloons, Cascade’s mayor granted her an exception.

When Mary wasn’t cleaning, she babysat children, but spent most of the money she earned buying treats for the children.  During this time, a small boy visiting from nearby Dearborn, noticed her.  The young boy was a Montana native named Gary Cooper.  Fields got free food and liquor wherever she went, and attended every home game the Cascade baseball team played.  According to local sources, she gave flowers from her garden to any player who hit a home run, and would rain a fury of fire and profanity on any umpire who made a bad call against the home team. Despite her gruff exterior, Mary was also kind hearted, and so beloved by the townspeople in Cascade that when her home burned down in 1912, the townspeople helped build her a new one.

Fields died of liver problems in 1914 at the age of about 82.  Actor and early Montana friend Gary Cooper wrote of her in Ebony magazine, “Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath, or a .38.”

In these times of sanitized living, it’s hard to conceive of the drama of daily life more than a century ago.  And who’s to say what we’ve gained or lost since then?

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Walter Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in a score of print and online publications and he writes frequently on military history and social issues.  Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online booksellers. He has directed communications for Fortune 500 companies, publicized the Connecticut Film Festival, managed publicity and programs for Western Connecticut State University’s Haas Library, and now moderates a writing group in New Jersey.

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Dare To Do Nothing: Replenishing the Creative Well

The view from the park at The Lakes in Las Vegas.
The view from the park at The Lakes in Las Vegas.

To say I had been having a busy time of it would be an understatement. Suddenly, I was a university student for the first time in 20 years, I was still a full time teacher, and I was working on the first draft of my new historical novel. I was looking forward to summer vacation from both work and school as a time to focus on my novel full time. I think this is why I’ve never been worried about having a day job—even with my day job I still get summers off to write full time. Then a funny thing happened—nothing.

The novel was stalled. Where my last three novels were written fairly quickly in less than a year (that’s quickly for me, mind you), my current novel was stubborn and not coming as easily as I would have liked. I didn’t understand the characters as well as I thought I did. I felt the plot was lacking, though I couldn’t tell you why. I wondered and worried myself crazy, and while I tried to work on the book I realized I was getting nowhere fast. That’s when I came up with the radical idea of putting my writing aside for a while and leaving it alone. Normally, I allow the story some baking time after the first draft, which I had done, but then when I went to write the second draft there wasn’t much more than there had been for the first draft. The second draft is a little better than the first, but it’s nothing to write home about, and it’s definitely not publishable. For my last three novels, once I made it past the “shitty first draft” stage and had a complete second draft I was, except for revising and editing, home free. This one not so much. I was getting so frustrated I was ready to throw in the towel and forget the novel altogether.

I hadn’t suffered from writer’s block in this form since I first began writing Her Dear & Loving Husband in 2009. What if I never have another good idea? What if being a doc student has sucked away all my brain power and I simply can’t write fiction until I’m finished with my degree? What if this is it and my creativity is gone, finished, kaput? You know how writers panic when the ideas aren’t flowing. Then I started thinking about how I’ve been writing novels constantly for the last six years without a break. Since 2009, I’ve published seven novels. And the scholarly writing I do for school is creative in its own way since it takes creativity to figure out how to take information from various sources and construct a well-organized, persuasive narrative. Maybe, I thought, just maybe my creativity isn’t kaput as much as just tired.

I’ve suffered, like many of you, from what they call the Do Something Syndrome at Farnam Street blog. Even on my days off I feel like I have to constantly be working at something—whether it’s writing, editing, schoolwork, marketing, social media, whatever. I started reading a lot about stillness and how doing nothing can help to fill your creative well. Here’s a great post from one of my favorite websites, Zen Habits, called The Number 1 Habit of Highly Creative People where the artists talk about stillness and doing nothing as a way to stay creative. There are a number of other articles out there on the same topic. Doing nothing? I wasn’t sure I could do that, but I was willing to try since my creative well definitely needed replenishing. This hiatus was going to be different from the baking time since baking time is where, though I’m not actively writing, I’m still working on the novel because I’m reading, researching, and finding other ways to immerse myself in the story. This time I was going to leave the story completely alone and give myself a rest from even thinking about the novel.

A page from my coloring book. I like this book, called Creative Coloring Inspirations, because of the inspirational quotes.

How have I been spending my days? Well, I haven’t been working on the novel, which is how I thought I would be spending this summer. I haven’t even felt guilty about not working on it—most of the time. Writers are great at laying the guilt trip on themselves, aren’t they? Whenever I see a book I’ve read for research laying around my desk, I remind myself that I’m filling my creative well and look the other way. Instead, I’ve been sitting on my little patio with my cat Ellie as we watch the Las Vegas desert sky turn from pale blue to slate gray as the thunder-filled clouds move in. I’ve gone to the park down the street with its fake lake (the water is real even if the lake is man made) and looked at the ducks, the boats, the pretty houses, and the mountains in the distance. I’ve been exercising and doing yoga after a bout of laziness. I’ve discovered the charms of adult colorng books (they’re just regular coloring books with more intricate details, folks. I know what you were thinking…). I used to love to color when I was a kid, and it turns out I still do. I’ve always considered myself a wannabe artsty-craftsy kind of person. I love watching the how-to-paint-flowers shows they have on PBS, and I even dabbled in painting with acrylics a few years ago. While coloring isn’t exactly an original piece of art, I enjoy the chance to play with colors and I’ve rediscovered the fun of crayons, colored pencils, and watercolors. I’ve been reading a lot, finishing two or three books a week. I’ve been watching some good TV shows, movies, and documentaries (yes, I watch documentaries for fun). Saying that I’ve been doing nothing isn’t quite accurate, but I haven’t been writing fiction, thinking about writing fiction, or, most importantly, worrying about writing ficiton. I’ve just been enjoying my days and filling them however I want to rather than stressing myself out about what I thought I should be doing.

Then, a couple of months into my self-imposed exile from writing fiction, I read a couple of novels that gave me some ideas for my own story. I still have things to figure out, but at least I have a few ideas now where before I had nothing. I refuse to start worrying again about when or how the book will be written. If it takes me two years instead of one to write, then so be it. I’d rather spend two years writing the story I meant to write than publish whatever just to get something out. Everything happens in its own time. I’ve always known that, but I find I need a reminder every now and again.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review. She is the author of the bestselling novels The Loving Husband Trilogy and That You Are Here. You can reach Meredith online at www.meredithallard.com.

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Writing the Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name in Historical Fiction

By Laurel Deedrick-Mayne

cover imageHow do we write the love that ‘dare not speak its name’ within the genre of historical fiction? I confess that even writing the love that can be ‘shouted from the rooftops’ has thrown me into flushed-faced fits of laughter… and since this is historical and not hysterical fiction, I have to take a deep breath; maybe recline amidst the mass of rumpled sheets…not those kinds of sheets… (picture me tearing page after page of bad sex writing out of an old underwood) and try, try again. It’s not all ripping corsets and popping buttons.

Writing historical fiction is tricky to begin with— dodging the deadly slings and arrows of ridiculously overly researched, smarty-pants narrative history dumps, often at the expense of our beloved characters. Trickier still: How does a middle-aged-heterosexual woman in 2015 write about sexual awakening of a male soldier in WWII? One can’t even fall back on cliché because…back to my opening sentence: it was love unspoken and unwritten. Homosexuality was a criminal offence under civil law and convicted service personnel risked court martial and dishonorable discharge. See what I mean? There was an accidental history dump.

In my book, A Wake For The Dreamland, the world is on the brink of war and friends William, Robert and Annie are on the cusp of adulthood. Haunted by memories of a boyhood dalliance with a lad and more than platonic feelings for Robert, William feels shame and longing to be ‘normal’. But these are not normal times. Every arena of their young lives is infiltrated by the war, from the home front to the underground of queer London to the battlefields of Italy.

The moment I knew I was writing a love triangle, I also knew that William would be gay. It seems strange to say this but I knew he was gay before he did. That is to say, I understood that the emotional stakes were very high and that it was up to me, to write his experience in the most authentic and honourable way possible. When I began writing in 2003 there was scant information available on homosexuality in WWII. But there were a couple new documentary films and a few excellent books. I had the benefit of a thoughtful archivist who remembered cataloguing a collection of love letters between two men from the 1940’s. And then, there was mustering the courage to come right out and ask the veterans who were helping me with the military aspect of my research. It wasn’t always easy and I experienced some kick-back along the way. There was the retired Major who, upon listening to my ‘Reader’s Digest Condensed’ version of the novel, declared, “Not in this Regiment!” That nearly sent me scurrying into re-write mode but another veteran friend, 90 years old at the time, reassured me that of course there were gay men in the unit. It didn’t bother anyone so long as they were a good soldier and did their job. I guess if you’re a good killer it doesn’t matter what kind of lover you are. There was the indignant participant at a workshop where I read an excerpt. She demanded to know, “Does your veteran friend know you’ve turned him into a homosexual?” I admit I had some fun with that one.

Where the truth lies, is the no man’s land where historical fiction writers tread. Writing the love that dare not speak its name during WWII and the aftermath was like crossing a minefield that could end in disaster. Confinement to a particular time and place in history: truth; gave me a scaffold upon which my imaginary friends could play out their infinite and intimate struggles and triumphs: lies. It was the ‘story’ in history that mattered to me. Nothing else. I kept reminding myself not to be afraid to be afraid, that this was not a story about war as much as it was a story about love. Those rushes of adrenalin were there to remind me I was on the right track.

Those of us writing historical fiction are excused from that old prescriptive chestnut: write what you know. But if we know something about friendship and love, fear and longing, grief and loss— that understanding will allow our characters to rise from the page and into the very hearts of our readers. The rest, as they say, is history. And my closing advice to anyone is simply this: Soldier on.

* * * * *

Excerpt from A Wake For The Dreamland

It was London where he felt most alive. Where he could walk the line between civilian and serviceman, where he could connect with other Allied soldiers for whom the city held the same degree of safety and danger, possibility and peril, sociability and sex. At the Buckingham Gate Urinal or alongside the Albert Tavern, behind two telephone booths, he could steal a kiss or more…gratify his longing. There, or Charing Cross Station, or the gardens in Trafalgar Square.

But it was at Cyril and Lou’s apartment, in an enclave of others like himself, that he first slept in the arms of a man, a lover. There, for three days and nights, the sport he endured and enjoyed came as close to killing him as the war ever would— and it was heaven. Spending each waking moment in the pursuit, the act, or recovery from every conceivable means of lovemaking. To sleep: however briefly, only to be awakened by hunger in the belly, mouth, or groin. And listening: to music, to poetry – reading and writing it, too— and eating and drinking and tumbling, tumbling willy-nilly into bed again.

In the city her learned the language of his type: invisible to passersby, visibly to each other. He learned to go from being hunted to being the hunter. He learned to find his way in the dark, to seek an encounter, to be less afraid, less alone, seduced by the allure of safety and privacy where he could be himself without fear of discovery. And yet. While the other fellows were sleeping it off and the mantle clock in the parlour squeezed out the minutes until dawn, a sickening sadness would sneak through his limbs and curl up in a ball at the foot of his heart.

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IMG_9171_Web1_CLaurel Deedrick-Mayne was born and raised in Lacombe, Alberta but has spent her adult life as a city dweller and now makes Edmonton her home. Once an arts administrator (dance publicist, concert promoter and ad copywriter) Laurel has become a juggler: raising a family, managing her private massage therapy practice, serving on multiple arts boards … and writing. This book is a tribute to the generation of her parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who took the time to hang on to family letters, clippings, stories, and poetry — all those treasures that inspired this story. A Wake For The Dreamland is Laurel’s first novel.

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Where is the Thicket? Where is the Eagle?

By K. R. Riordan

Prior to 1906, both the White and Green Rivers joined together with the Black River around Tukwila to form the Duwamish River; hence its Lushootseed name Dkhw’Duw’, which loosely translated means: many-colored river.

Supposedly, on March 11, 1854, Chief Si’ahl (Seattle) gave his famous, albeit disputed, speech at a large gathering in the pristine wilderness near the growing city of Seattle, Washington. The meeting was set up by Governor Isaac Stevens in order to discuss the sale of native land to the white settlers. When it came time for Si’ahl to speak, he orated with great dignity for an extended period of time.

No one alive today knows exactly what he said, seeing that he spoke in his native Lushootseed dialect. However, despite the fact a controversy exists regarding the various translations of this famous speech from arguably the greatest chief of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish or “The People of the Inside”) tribe, the message contained within his words remains as clear as an alpine stream flowing down from the Cascades:

“This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know: Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.

That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.”

Chief Si’ahl undertook the great journey on June 7, 1866 on the Suquamish reservation at Port Madison, Washington. A monument is erected at his gravesite.

The first mention of the Duwamish River (the lower twelve miles of the Green River that empties out into Elliott Bay) in the Seattle Room’s media archives was from the Sunday edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on May 7th, 1905 in section II, page.14.  The article was titled: The Duwamish Valley as Future Factory Land: Interest in Dredging of River Directs Attention of Investors to Its Possibilities.

The next time the Duwamish River is mentioned was, once again, in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, four months later, on September 5th, 1905, on page 8.  This one was titled: Wants Duwamish to Be Made Straight: Chairman Bridges of King County Drainage Commission Speaks of Work in White River Valley.  In 1906, construction completed on two flood control dams on both the Black and White Rivers, essentially cutting both tributaries off from the Green and Duwamish Rivers, forever.

Actual dredging of the Duwamish River to accommodate what would later become Seattle’s Industrial District began on October 14th, 1913 at the old Country Poor Farm. Twenty million cubic yards of earth were removed to use on the marshlands and tide flats, and two million five hundred cubic yards of sand was brought by the city from numerous sanitary fills.  Dirt from Beacon, Yesler, and Denny Hills was used to fill in the path of the old Duwamish River; some was even shipped all the up from Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.

And as I sit at the desk of my twenty story apartment complex rising up from the side of First Hill like a tombstone, gazing out my window at the sprawling metropolis before me, and think about the fact that none of this concrete graveyard has existed for more than one single century, I can’t help but hear Chief Si’ahl’s final questions echoing in my ears: Where is the thicket? Gone.  Where is the eagle? Gone.

And I can’t help but feel responsible…

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K. R. Riordan is currently a student at Seattle University working towards a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature & Creative Writing. Riordan’s works have appeared in the Percival Review, a literary journal out of Olympia, Washington.

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How to Get Published

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at Writers Block, a group of young writers who are studying the craft of writing. When I asked what the group wanted to learn about, the answer came back overwhelmingly that they wanted to learn more about the publishing side of writing. It took some thinking to figure out how to condense what I’ve learned about publishing into an hour workshop, but I managed to come up with a few thoughts. Here are some of the ideas I shared about writing for publication. There’s nothing earth shattering here, but I think the young writers found it useful because it opened their eyes, perhaps for the first time, to the fact that writing for publication is hard work.

How to Get Published

To Begin:

  • Write something wonderful that someone will want to publish. This sounds obvious, but oddly it’s the step that some writers skip over in their rush to be published. Yes, wonderful is subjective, but if you have a strong grasp of the art and craft of writing, then you’re more likely to win fans with your work. It also helps to learn to be the best judge of your own writing.
  • Find your own voice and your own perspective. What do you have to offer that no one else does? How are you different or unique? That’s your strength. Use it.
  • Read a lot. If you don’t like to read, then writing is not for you. Read stories similar to the ones you want to write. Read about writing. Read about writers. Read the classics. Read your favorite genre. Read the cereal box. Read everything.
  • Be sure to proofread your work—check for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Don’t rely on spell check. I can’t stress this enough—sloppy writing will get your work rejected as fast as editors can hit the delete button. Yes, I speak from experience (as both the editor, and, I’m sure, as the writer whose work evaporated into cyberspace).
  • Have someone else (or many someone elses) read your writing and listen to what they have to say. Often, as writers we get stuck in our own heads and we forget that the point is to communicate with others. Remember, just because someone offers a criticism doesn’t mean you have to listen to it; however, if more than one person has the same suggestion for improvement, it might be worth seeing if there’s something to it.
  • Read your writing out loud to listen for the music of your language. We write for the ear, not for the eye. You could have the most perfect looking story or poem—sharp margins, professional looking layout, lovely font—but if the words don’t sound right then they’re not right.
  • It takes time, sometimes a lot of time, to create something publishable. Give yourself time to grow into the writer you want to be.
  • First drafts are never publishable (or usually even second drafts or third drafts or fourth drafts…).
  • If you’re not willing to take the time to make sure your writing is the very best it can be before you send it off for publication, then writing is not for you.

Then:

When you’re convinced that your writing is the absolute best it can be, you’re ready to start submitting to journals, magazines, and newspapers.

  • Figure out what genre your piece belongs in (Is it action adventure? Science fiction? Historical?) and research journals, magazines, and newspapers that publish the type of story you’ve written. God bless the Internet. When I first started writing, we had to do things the old-timey way—we had to actually look through books! Now a list of literary journals is just an Internet search away.
  • When you have your list of journals, read their submission guidelines carefully and follow those guidelines exactly as written. Again, I can’t stress this enough. You want to give your writing the best chance of being published. Editors receive many, many submissions, and often they’re looking for easy reasons to reject a piece. To make your work stand out from the crowd, show the editors that you’re a professional writer and you take your submission seriously.
  • Be prepared for rejections. Sorry, but it’s part of the process. If you don’t have the stomach to deal with the rejections, then writing is not for you. If it makes you feel better, you can find many examples of famous authors who received hundreds, sometimes thousands of rejection letters until they were finally published. Jack London was rejected many times, as was J.K. Rowling, as were countless others.
  • No matter what, keep submitting. It took me four years to get my first piece published. If I had given up three and a half years into it I never would have become a published writer.

However:

If you’ve written a novel, then the process is a little different. If you want to pursue traditional publishing one route is to find an agent who will represent your novel to the publishing houses.

  • You can find agents the same way you find literary journals and magazines—by looking them up online.
  • You need to finish your novel before you start contacting agents because if agents are interested then they’ll often ask to see the whole manuscript.
  • Like with submitting to journals or magazines, you need to be prepared for rejections. If the rejections will deter you, then, once again, writing is not for you.
  • To catch the attention of an agent, you’ll need to write a great query letter. Here’s an article from Writer’s Digest about how to write the perfect query letter.

If you have more of a go-getter’s heart, you may want to look into indie publishing.

  • Indie-publishing is a great option for writers these days. Many best selling novels are indie-published.
  • You can create your own e-books on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. You can also publish your books to BN, iTunes, and Kobo. The entire process takes about five minutes per retailer. The directions are easy to understand. You can also create your own paperbacks on Amazon’s CreateSpace or on Lulu. Again, the directions are pretty easy. Best of all, it’s free!
  • If you’re self-publishing, then everything that would normally fall on the publisher (cover design, interior layout, editing, marketing, etc.) falls onto the author. You have to make doubly sure you’re putting out a quality product if you’re indie-publishing so readers will take you seriously.
  • The Creative Penn (www.thecreativepenn.com) is a great resource for writers who want to publish their work independently.

Once you’re published you have to learn the ins and outs of book marketing and publicity and you have to deal with the naysayers. You need a strong constitution to be a writer. It takes courage to put your work out there. I think the young people I spoke to were surprised at how hard it is to be a writer. I think they thought, as I did when I first started, that being a writer meant sitting at your desk scribbling out your crazy ideas and somehow all the other things (getting published, getting publicity, hitting the best seller list) just magically happened.

I wanted the young people to understand that becoming a writer, as in making a career for yourself, takes time. Even the indie authors who are hitting the best seller lists these days are often people who have been writing for years, and I include myself in that list. I’ve been at this since 1994 (21 years now), and it took me four years to get my first publication—a short story in a small literary journal. Then I wrote three novels before my fourth (Her Dear & Loving Husband) hit the best seller list in 2011. Now over 200,000 copies of the Loving Husband Trilogy have been bought or downloaded worldwide.

Was it worth it? All those rejection letters, all those worries that no one would ever read my stories, all those times I very nearly gave up writing for good? Of course it was worth it. If someone had said to me that it was going to take 20 years to get everything I wanted as a writer, I probably would have said, “No thanks. It’s going to take too long.” But the 20 years passed anyway, as time will, and because I didn’t give in I ended up where I wanted to be. That’s really the lesson I wanted the young writers to take away. Don’t quit. Not ever. If you have a vision, a calling, whatever it is, keep going. It will be worth it in the end, no matter how long it takes to get there.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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The Covered Bridge

By Kelsey Lahr

There is a covered bridge across the South Fork of the Merced River, in the south end of Yosemite National Park, where I live. Covered bridges are a rare sight in California; ours is one of only a small handful in the state. For hundreds of years, maybe thousands, the residents of this area crossed the South Fork on the bridges afforded them by logs and exposed rocks. It wasn’t until 1857 that the area’s first (and only) white inhabitant, Galen Clark, constructed a rough, uncovered bridge to serve the steadily increasing number of travelers passing through on their way to the famed Yosemite Valley, newly discovered by the outside world.

Clark built himself a cabin, where he intended to live out whatever was left of his short life. He had moved to the area to die. He came out to California in search of gold, and instead of striking it rich, contracted consumption in the dismal mining camp he briefly called home. He was told he had six months to live. So he moved to a meadow on the South Fork, raised up a rough cabin, and wandered loose through the hills, bareheaded and barefooted, praying for health and waiting to die. He learned the plants and the animals, the course of the river and the lay of the land. He drifted into the grove of giant sequoias that towered upmountain from his homestead, the first white man known for sure to have done so, and he bestowed upon it the name it still bears: the Mariposa Grove, after the mining town of Mariposa where Clark contracted his illness. Through all of this he took no chances; he dug his own grave down the road in Yosemite Valley. He carved his own headstone and planted some sequoia seeds around it and waited to die.

And while he was waiting to die, he began to write letters, suggesting that this grove of sequoias merited protection against the same human greed and stupidity that had driven him, along with some 300,000 other easterners and foreigners, out to the mountains of California in a haze of gold fever. He sent those letters to lawmakers in Washington, DC, to influential thinkers, to business magnates, to anyone he could find an address for. Back in Washington the newborn concept of preservation began to catch on.

In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln decided Galen Clark might have a point. He took a break from fighting the Civil War to sign the Yosemite Grant into law, setting aside the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Yosemite Valley as a land grant to the state of California, to be preserved until the end of the earth—the first pieces of wild territory ever to be granted protection solely for their natural grandeur. Galen Clark breathed a little easier. He could go ahead and die, and the landscape would survive. It was all he could ask for, really.

When his cabin was finished he built the bridge, stopping to catch his ragged breath with each board he nailed into place. When that was done  he began to add to his cabin, room by room, until it was an inn, shabby and low-slung, light streaming in through the cracks in the walls, but still a convenient and congenial stopover for Valley-bound tourists. He got to know the local Indians—the Nuchu, he called them. He began to develop a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable and hospitable men in the Sierras. And when protection was bestowed upon his beloved Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley, he celebrated.

Today, millions come to see Clark’s beloved sequoias every year, my family among them. “The Forever Trees,” my father calls them, on account of their longevity—giant sequoias can live almost 3,000 years. He loves these trees. He has been working here among them for most of my life. For nine months of the year he is just a regular school teacher, but then, like some kind of superhero stripping off his alter ego, he dons his ranger uniform, packs up his pickup, and heads to the mountains for his summer gig as a park ranger. When I was growing up my mother faithfully brought my sister and me to visit once or twice a summer.

I lived for our summer visits to my father in Yosemite, but those trips had to be earned by enduring another slog through the Mariposa Grove with Ranger Dad and his group of easily-impressed tourists. Long before I was big enough to keep up, he had perfected his guided hike through the Mariposa Grove, weaving together the most colorful moments of natural and human history and presenting them with the flair and timing of a masterful storyteller. I hated it. Those hikes were brutally hot, the fire-shaped landscape desolate to my sensibilities, and the giant sequoias just a bigger version of most other trees.

I never had a conversion moment; like most transformations, mine unfolded imperceptibly over the course of years. When I landed a summer ranger job of my own, affection for giant sequoias was pretty much required. By the time I had put together and polished my own version of the Mariposa Grove guided hike, I had become as awed by the trees as the most easily-impressed visitors. This I consider an unmerited blessing. That adulthood erased the familiarity-bred contempt I had harbored was a piece of pure grace, and one for which I am grateful every time I stop to admire the light on a sequoia I have seen thousands of times. And of course I am likewise grateful that an accident of birth made me the daughter of damn good ranger, and that an accident of death brought about the preservation of the Forever Trees that my father loves so much.

For death accidentally passed Galen Clark by, year after year, decades beyond his grim prognosis. He enjoyed nearly a half century of life near the giant sequoias he loved, all the way until1910, when he died just shy of his ninety-sixth birthday. He is buried in the grave he dug for himself in Yosemite Valley all those years before, and the seedling sequoias he had planted around it back then tower over 100 feet high today, a monument to all kinds of survival.

By the end of Clark’s life, things were changing fast around here. Homesteaders had arrived and laid claim to the land, followed by businessmen, stagecoaches, teams of horses, and stage drivers. The Indians fled at gunpoint. The streams that ran through the meadow were diverted and the land planted over with crops. Galen Clark sold out to some East Coast businessmen who promised to turn his sagging little inn into a full-fledged, first-rate hotel. Manifest Destiny had arrived on the South Fork.

The mortars and pounding rocks of the Indians lay abandoned and silent in the meadows and along the river, ghosts of the bustling gathering places they had been when the women assembled there early each morning to pound acorn and tell stories and compare notes on their husbands and families. But the area continued to be what they had always called it: Pallahchun—“a good place to stop.” The spot was now a frenzied transit site for the growing crowds of tourists stopping off on their way to visit the brand new Yosemite Grant.

As the nineteenth century barreled to a close, people came by the scores and then the hundreds and thousands, arriving by packed stagecoaches and staying the night at the new and sprawling Wawona Hotel before loading up the next morning for another full day’s jolting journey by stage to the Valley. And the men behind this rambling white beauty of a hotel, the easterners who had bought out Galen Clark, were a trio of brothers by the name of Washburn who had come to California from Vermont. And while these brothers were at it, they covered Galen Clark’s simple old footbridge, adding the walls and pitched roof that make it unique even today.

By all accounts, the Washburns were tenacious, successful, and charming. But they were still a long way from home. And this, they say, is the reason those brothers covered the bridge. Covered bridges are a common sight in Vermont, and like anyone a long way from home the Washburn brothers wanted a picture of where they had come from, a piece of the place they had left behind. The bridge, like the Yosemite Grant, endures miraculously to this day.

But to Galen Clark and the Washburns, today’s Yosemite might well be unrecognizable even if they found the bridge familiar. When the Yosemite Grant Act became law in 1864, a great number of the area’s original residents, now gone, still called the place home. Grizzly bears roamed all over, as did, of course, the Indians. The grizzlies, often weighing up to a ton and seen by the settlers as a calamitous threat to life and property, went first. Yosemite’s last grizzly was shot in 1895, and California’s last in the 1920s, in the foothills just south of the park. Today only the grizzly’s much smaller and more docile cousin, the American Black Bear, is found in Yosemite, and California’s only grizzly is found on the state flag.

The Indians of Yosemite must have been powerful—and restrained—hunters to have coexisted for all those millennia alongside the grizzly. It must surely have felt like a potent harbinger to watch as the bears were hunted to the point of extirpation. The Indians fared better, a little. They adapted in a way the grizzlies could not to the destruction of their homes, giving up hunting and gathering for jobs as hotel maids and cooks and cultural demonstrators, as the new economy of the settlers demanded. Today their descendents live outside of the park, and the only village that exists in Yosemite is a small replica that functions as a museum and is used only a few times a year for traditional gatherings.

All of this change, spurred on at gunpoint, is easily denigrated today, in an era when we understand that extinction is forever and that all people are born with basic rights, but in many ways Yosemite is the place it is because of all that bloody change of the nineteenth century. Imagine our four million visitors a year trying to squeeze into Yosemite Valley alongside a thriving grizzly bear population. Imagine them all cramming into the tribal home of an established people. Laughable. Tragic.

Which is why, perhaps, the covered bridge over the South Fork is so captivating. It was built and then covered in an age of dizzying changes, but remains unchanged. To cross it today feels, I’m certain, almost exactly the way it felt a century ago.

When you step onto that bridge, the world becomes muted. The sound of the South Fork below is muffled by the bridge’s walls, and defused light slants in through the cracks and knotholes in the timber, catching and turning to gold the dust of 150 years’ worth of travel that thickens the air still. Some summers you can make out a raven’s nest in the sturdy beams that support the antique New England pitch of the roof.

I sometimes imagine installing myself in this bridge, the only roof I would ever need over my head. It would be livable enough at first, to be lulled to sleep by the shush shushing of the South Fork just below, to write by the light that seeps in between the cracks in the walls, to cook dinner on a camp stove by lantern, whose flame would shine out through the knotholes and be reflected golden into the night by the water below. And then I imagine myself going slowly mad, driven over the edge by a lifetime spent suspended, between times and solidities, on a structure that was made to be crossed.

And yet, there is a feeling of home to that bridge that I cannot deny. I have walked across it nearly every year of my life. Even now I am still caught off guard sometimes by the feeling of familiarity that washes over me when I step onto it, evidence of the habits that have grown from an entire lifetime of involvement in this place. And herein lies the one thing I have in common with those boys from Vermont: for each of us, the covered bridge’s old dust and even older beams smell like home.

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Kelsey Lahr has worked summers as a park ranger in Yosemite National Park since 2008. She holds a BA in Communication Studies from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA, where she published several poems in the college’s annual literary magazine, The Phoenix. This fall she will begin a Master’s program in Communication at the University of Utah, where she plans to focus her research on environmental communication and the efficacy of environmental organizations.

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Synchronous Fireflies

By Rita Welty Bourke

The shuttle from Gatlinburg drops us at the Elkmont Campgrounds and heads back to Sugarlands Visitor Center to pick up the next group. We walk up an old logging road, Rory and I, carrying our camp chairs and cooler. In my pocket is a flashlight covered with red cellophane.  When I called the National Park Service for reservations a week ago, the agent told me I needed that.  I found a red tab from a hanging folder, and I was able to cut it into a circle that exactly fit the flashlight.   

We’ve come to this place to see a light show that is as mysterious as it is rare.  Synchronous Fireflies occur here in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and in Southeast Asia, and in no other place on earth. I’d read a newspaper article about it a year ago. My husband was less than enthusiastic, but that’s often his first reaction to new adventures. Now that we’re here, I can tell he’s glad we came, and maybe even a bit excited.  

Choose a spot where you can see into the woods, a Ranger advises us, handing us a brochure.  As soon as it starts to get dark, they’ll start flashing.  Look for the blue ones.  They’re called Blue Ghosts.  

We thank her for her advice and start up the gently-rising gravel road, looking for a vantage point where we’ll be able to see the fireflies.  

Dozens of people have already picked spots along the road.  Some have chairs, but many sit on logs, rocks, and blankets spread on the ground.  Others simply wander up and down the road, waiting for darkness.  

Away from the city, conversation is easy.  An enormously large man dressed in coveralls tells us he’s been coming here for the last ten years.  The Park Service says the show has peaked, but he doesn’t believe them.  He has a friend in Cherokee who was here last night and said it was wonderful.  

He gives us hope.  The government website said the fireflies had shown up earlier than in previous years, they thought because of the mild winter.  We can’t guarantee anything, they said.  And we can’t refund your money if they don’t show up.      

A few brave souls have gone into the woods, and the big man does the same.  Rory and I continue along the road in search of the perfect spot.    

Logging companies set up shop here a hundred years ago.  They harvested the lumber, and when the trees were gone, they sold lots.  Wealthy people from Knoxville and other parts of East Tennessee bought them and built cottages in the valley between Little River and Jakes Creek.  This section of Elkmont became known as Millionaire’s Row.  

The National Park Service acquired the land in the 1930s, and the owners were given lifetime leases.  By 1982 the Park Service had purchased the last of the cottages, though they allowed the original owners and their families to continue using them for another twenty years.     

The buildings that still survive are in a state of dilapidation.  Paths jutting off the gravel road lead to what’s left of these once lovely cabins and summer homes.  Roofs have caved in.  Trees grow out of foundations and up through floors.  Windows are broken, gutters sag under the weight of rotted leaves and vegetation, vines cover whole buildings.  Some structures have completely collapsed.      

I go off the trail to have a closer look.  Some of the houses are so unstable I keep a safe distance.  But then I go closer, wanting to see what remains of lives from so many years ago.   I peek through windows and see scraps of wallpaper still clinging to walls.  An old bedstead, a cracked sink, discarded pans and crockery, old newspapers and magazines, bits of rubber hose, broken screen doors on rusted hinges, three-legged chairs.    

I’ve always wanted to be in the forest at the moment when some man-made thing, a cabin, an out-building, a shed, collapses.  I want to know why, at that moment, did it happen?  Did an animal jump onto the roof, and that tiny half-pound was all that was needed to cause the building to crumble?  Had gnawing termites so weakened the foundation that a gust of wind brought it down?  Did a tree fall, and open the building to the elements?  Wind, rain, sunshine, insects…. or is it all these things that will bring about the ultimate destruction of these homes that once comprised Knoxville’s very own Millionaire’s Row.  

I go back to where Rory is waiting.  He can’t come with me into the woods.  Poison ivy is his enemy, but not mine.  I can pick the stuff up in my hands and rub it on my arms and nothing will happen.  

I love being able to walk along this old logging road and take detours down paths so I can see more closely how nature is reclaiming what was once hers.  Her goal is to erase the footprint of man and for that I applaud her, but at the same time it makes me sad.  The trees that were logged are being replaced by new trees.  The vacation homes built along Little River are collapsing.  

But not Spence Cabin.  It’s one of 19 properties the Park Service recently marked for preservation.  As of June 2012, the cabin has been completely restored and made available for rentals.  I can’t resist.  I leave Rory again on the gravel road and go off to see what they’ve done.     

There’s a new flagstone path leading up to the house, landscaping, fresh paint, a cement walkway around the house, a stone patio beside Little River which is bubbling down from Mount LeConte.  I walk to the cabin next door, one slated for demolition.  A tree has fallen on the back corner, so one whole wall sags.  If I come back next year, it will surely be gone.  

Darkness is still hours away.  We sit on our camp chairs and eat the dinner I’ve prepared: Capellini Pomodoro, served on clear plastic plates.  Rory calls it Glorified Spaghetti.  I take offense.  

It’s not spaghetti, I tell him.  I used olive oil instead of marinara sauce.  Cherry tomatoes and black olives.  Organic chicken strips instead of hamburger.  I brought bran muffins made with ripe bananas and fresh blueberries.  Unsweetened iced tea.  

When he finishes his plate, he asks for more.  I take it as a sign that he likes it.  I think it’s delicious, though I wish I had a nice chardonnay to go with it.  But this is a federal park.  No alcohol allowed. Rangers walk up and down the road.  

The sun sinks behind the folds of the mountains and the temperature drops.  I have a sweater, Rory a jacket, but many are not prepared.  They cover themselves with blankets.  They walk up and down the road, trying to keep warm.  The temperature plummets. 

We begin to see fireflies in the forest, and the cold doesn’t matter anymore.  Conversations, once so lively, begin to lull.  A woman sitting on a blanket thirty feet away from us is the exception.  She’s telling a story about taking one of her children to the emergency room, and how awful the nurses treated her.  She’s loud and irritating, and no one cares about her story.  We’ve come to see the fireflies.  I ask Rory to go stuff a sock in her mouth.  He won’t do it, of course.  He’s too kind.  Considerate of others.  A pacifist.  I glare at her, but she doesn’t notice.  Finally, she shuts up.  

The fireflies become more numerous, though still random.  Darkness fills the woods, and it becomes very quiet.  Even the kids are quiet.  When the last hint of light has gone out of the sky, and all around us is black, it begins.      

They come in groups, lighting up first one part of the woods, then another.  They flash in perfect unity, and there is not a single outlier in the bunch.  For five or six seconds the forest is lit, then it goes dark.  Light again.  And dark.  They come in waves and it’s like Christmas here on the banks of the Little River, the forest twinkling with a thousand tiny lights.  The show is in progress.  

The man who’s been coming for ten years is in the midst of it, in the woods, between us and the Spence cabin.  He’s sitting on a flat rock above the forest floor, leaning back, looking up at the fireflies all around him.  

Next year, I whisper to Rory.  That’s where we’re gonna be.  Down there where that man is sitting.  If you cover up, wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and you don’t touch anything, you’ll be fine.  I’ll bring calamine lotion, just in case.  

Simultaneous bioluminescence, he whispers back.  That’s what it’s called.  If you catch them and take them someplace else, they’ll stop the synchronous flashing.  They have to be at 2200 feet, which is what the elevation is here.      

I’m not surprised he’s done some research.  He might have been reluctant at first, but the thrill of coming to this place and seeing this wondrous thing pulled him in.  

It’s a mating ritual, he continues.  No one knows exactly how it works.  It may be that the males are in competition for the females… 

….and they light up so the girls can see how pretty they are?  

Well, the girls don’t have wings, so they’re down on the ground.  They do respond…. 

Not fair, I tell him.  Why no wings for the girls?  

I don’t know, but it all works out.  When the males display like this, they’re near the end of their life cycle.  They mate, and then they die.  

It’s a sobering thought, here in the darkness, in our comfy camp chairs.  Yet it makes it all more beautiful, to know this is their swan song, the thing they’ve been living for.  Most of them will procreate.  Then, like the cabins on Millionaire’s Row, they will disappear from the face of the earth.  

The Blue Ghosts, when they appear, are not like the others.  They don’t flash.  Instead, they glow with an eerie blue light, and the glow lasts long after the flashes have ended.   We begin to see more and more of them,  until there is a ghost in nearly every wave of fireflies.  They are the outliers, glowing long after their friends have quit.  

One flies out of the woods, directly toward us, and we duck our heads.  The ghost zooms past, we think, but we aren’t sure.  When he was just a few yards away, he extinguished his light.  

An hour later we pack up our camp chairs and cooler and begin the trek down the 
logging trail toward the waiting shuttle, the red beams from our flashlight aimed at our feet.   Like the man who has come here every year for the last ten years, we’re hooked.  Next year I’ll plan a different menu for our dinner on the old logging trail on Millionaire’s Row.  I’ll bring plastic goblets, but we’ll wait till after dark to open our bottle of cabernet.  Down in the woods on that flat rock, the Rangers will never see us.                                                                     

            Capellini Pomodoro 
3-4 large tomatoes, diced (cherry tomatoes cut in half are prettier) 
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced 
1 handful basil, chopped 
4 oz. angel hair pasta  (If you use Barilla Plus pasta, you up the protein content and 
your blood sugar won’t spike.)  
Olive oil 
Salt 
Optional:  sliced black olives 
          Baked chicken strips (available at Costco or Trader Joes, a great timesaver) 
                  Vegetarian version:  use Boca Chick’n Patties instead of baked chicken strips 

Toss diced tomatoes, garlic, and basil with olive oil and salt in large bowl.  Cook pasta.  Drain.  Toss in bowl with tomatoes and garlic.  Add rinsed black olives, chicken or boca, and butter, if 
desired.  Serve hot, room temperature, or cold. 

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Rita Welty Bourke has published numerous works of fiction and nonfiction in literary magazines including The Chattahoochee Review, The North American Review, Cimarron Review, Black Warrior Review, Shenandoah, and Witness. Five of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart prize. For more information visit www.ritaweltybourke.com

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Jesusita’s Ride

By Rhema Sayers

 “How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”

~Maya Angelou

August 26, 1875

When the messenger burst into her home in Tucson, Jesusita Suarez de Carrillo and
her children were eating lunch on the huge mahogany table that she had brought from her
parents’ home in Mexico. With the man on the verge of collapse, Jesusita helped him to a chair and placed a glass of cool water to his lips. The man drank greedily and leaned back in the chair, hot, sweaty and covered in dust.

“Don Leopoldo” he gasped. “The Mexicans are going to hang him!”

Several of the children gasped and the youngest began to cry, but their mother was a
strong woman, a daughter of pioneers. She simply said “Tell me.” The messenger choked out the terrible report that he had ridden 203 miles in less than a day to deliver.

Jesusita’s husband, Leopoldo Carrillo had left for the little town of Caborca in Sonora,
Mexico two weeks earlier to buy cattle for his ranch near Sabino Canyon. A wealthy
successful man, an innovator, he was a man with extraordinary ideas. He had arrived in Tucson in 1859 at the age of thirty-three, the owner of a freighting company that ran goods from St. Louis through Tucson to El Paso to the east and Guaymas to the south. He and Jesusita had done very well. They now owned several homes, and two ranches as well as the freight company.

In addition to being wealthy he was a man of influence in both Arizona and in Mexico.
He was reputed to be sympathetic with the egalitarian rebels in Sonora who were trying to overthrow the military government of General Ignacio Pesquiera. When General Pesqueira learned of Leopoldo’s presence in Mexico, he ordered Carrillo’s immediate arrest and execution, assuming unjustly that the American had been supplying guns and ammunition to the rebels. Through the intervention of friends in Caborca, Leopoldo was able to obtain a delay in the execution. If he could arrange for a ransom of $15,000 to be brought to Caborca within four days, he would be freed. Carrillo immediately wrote a letter to his wife, imploring her to gather the money and deliver it to him as quickly as possible. Otherwise he would hang. This was the message Carrillo’s manservant had ridden so hard to deliver.

The stay of execution had started Wednesday morning. Now it was nearly 2 PM on
Thursday August 26, 1875 and Leopoldo was to hang on Sunday the 29th. More than twenty- eight of the ninety-six hours granted were already gone. Jesusita sat down amidst the ruins of their lunch and wrote out a list of the people in town that she could contact to ask for help in this emergency. Sending her older sons out to some prospects, she got in a buggy and set out to visit friends and assemble the ransom.

She went to the men Leopoldo had suggested in his letter – businessmen who promised
to raise as much money as they could on short notice. Next she went to friends. And there were a lot of friends, people that Leopoldo and Jesusita had helped over the years. In an era when Chinese immigrants were considered unwanted aliens competing for jobs, Leopoldo had rented land to Chinese people and helped them establish themselves in a new country. The Chinese population contributed to the ransom with as much as they could. The Carrillo servants and employees also gave what they could as well.

When she had called on everyone she could think of, Jesusita began organizing for the
trip, preparing food and packing essentials. Meanwhile a blanket was laid on the front step of the house. Two of her sons sat there while neighbors, friends and relatives brought coins or gold ornaments and laid them on the blanket. And every coin, every trinket was listed on a large sheet of paper with the contributor’s name to be paid back later. The pile grew larger throughout the afternoon and evening.

All through the long, anxious night Leopoldo’s children took turns guarding the
mounting pile of gold. Friends and neighbors sat up with the boys and encouraged Jesusita to go to bed. Protesting she went. She realized that she needed to rest before setting out the next day. But she tossed and turned, unable to banish the image of Leopoldo on the gallows from her mind. He was her first and only love and a cold stone of fear had lodged in her heart. She got up and paced in her room, quietly so that her children wouldn’t know and spent the night planning so that she could make the trip as quickly as possible.

But in the morning the golden pile wasn’t quite big enough. Jesusita had scavenged
every coin and gold article from her homes. Now she sold heirlooms to make up the difference. Finally in the early afternoon the total was enough. Forty-four hours to go.

The buckboard was packed. The ransom was placed in a wicker basket and covered
with clothes to hide the gold. Jesusita climbed into the back seat of the wagon and placed the wicker basket between her feet. Her maid, Lupita, joined her and Raul, the driver, flicked the reins. They were off with only forty-three hours left to get to Caborca.

From the Carrillo home they veered west to follow the Santa Cruz River, their guide
down to the Mexican border. The messenger had arranged for changes of horses at many points along the way. As Jesusita stared at the sunlight reflecting off the water, exhaustion claimed her. She slept until the driver stopped in Tubac to change horses. The two women got down to   stretch their legs, but climbed back in as soon as new horses were hitched up. Now Jesusita was somewhat rested and she looked about her curiously as the wagon hurried south. The sun was nearing the horizon and the trees in the river valley cast long shadows. As they passed the ruins of Ft. Mason, a U.S. Army outpost that had been abandoned in 1866 because of persistent malaria, she reflected on how beautiful and verdant the valley was after the monsoon rains. She had not been this far south since she had married Leopoldo and moved to Tucson from Mexico.

Remembering, she smiled. Her wealthy Mexican parents had not found Leopoldo
to be a satisfactory suitor for their daughter. His background was not sufficiently upper class and having spent most of his time outdoors, he was quite dark. So they had forbade the marriage. But that hadn’t stopped Leopoldo. Oh, no. Her father had thought he could get rid of the unwanted suitor by demanding that the young man bring him her weight in gold. And Leopoldo had done exactly that. And now her smile persisted as she considered the early years, when they had moved to Tucson and established their business.She had helped him in those early days with the freighting company, but as the years passed and the children arrived, she had her hands full with running the household and raising seven children. But she missed the partnership she had valued when she worked side by side with her husband.

The scenery slowly changed as they passed through Nogales into Mexico. The land
became dryer and browner and greenery disappeared. Mountain ranges rose on either side as they traversed the wide valley of the Rio Magdalena. Meandering back and forth across the brown, sluggish river, the dusty road seemed to stretch out forever. The sun set, but they kept going. For a few hours Lupita walked with a lantern in front of the wagon just to gain a few more miles. Finally they stopped and pulled off the road and curled up under blankets. All three slept while coyotes yipped and other night predators prowled.. The moon when it finally  rose before dawn was just a sliver and by that time they were moving again through the barren landscape.

Jesusita, Lupita and Raul talked to pass the time. They shared stories of their childhood
experiences in Mexico, very different experiences. And Jesusita made the other two laugh with her tales of Leopoldo’s exploits and her stories of their children.

They talked about courtship and Lupita told of the young man she was seeing. “He is
so handsome, Senora. So kind and gentle and handsome.”

Jesusita raised an eyebrow. “What kind of work does he do?” she asked.

“He is a vaquero for Don Juan Tellez at Box Ranch.” Jesusita smiled, relieved that at
least the suitor had a good position The Tellez Ranch was well built and maintained, although the Apaches still raided occasionally.

Raul talked of his family. His wife was the most beautiful woman in Tucson and his
three sons were all strong and handsome and clever. The horses kept silent except for snorts of discontent on the uphill stretches.

There were times when the road climbed steeply and all three had to get out of the
wagon and lead the horses. Several times as the horses hauled the cart over rocky ground,
Jesusita held on tightly, fearful of breaking an axle. Hot, sunbaked and exhausted, they arrived in Magdalena late Saturday afternoon. The Carrillos had friends there and as they drove into town, they were surrounded by well wishers with food, water and a new, lighter wagon. Lupita and Raul stayed behind for well deserved rest, while Jesusita and the ransom transferred into the new wagon with a fresh driver, Carlos. And they were off again. She had seventy-seven more miles to go and only seventeen more hours.

Worn down with exhaustion, Jesusita slumped back in the seat under a parasol and
tried to sleep. She didn’t think she could, but she woke when they changed horses in Santa Ana. As they continued their wild flight across the desert, Carlos pointed to the southwest where black thunderheads loomed on the horizon. Nervously they watched the storm approaching and soon the rain poured down, first pelting them with high winds and sand, then drenching them with rain. Fortunately it passed quickly, leaving them feeling almost refreshed. Sunset had come and gone and still they traveled. They did not stop throughout that night and changed horses in Altar Municipality as the sun of the day of the deadline rose behind them.

Their last change was in Pitiquito. Only seven more miles! Carlos pushed those fresh
horses for all they were worth. Jesusita held on tightly to the seat, barely daring to breathe as the buggy bounced and careened over the dirt road. Then up ahead through the dust, they could see Caborca. Jesusita’s pounding heart rose in her throat. Would they be in time? It was so close to the end of the ninety-six hour reprieve. She quashed that thought and prayed. And continued praying until they came to the jail and she looked up and saw Leopoldo, standing at the foot of the gallows. The Mexican police were taking him out to be hanged. The ransom had arrived in the nick of time.

Jesusita half fell from the buggy and stumbled into her husband’s arms. Holding his
face in her hands, she kissed him over and over. Tears streamed down both their faces,
Leopoldo in shock after waiting for so long, then having to face his death. Jesusita’s appearance was miraculous. Once the ransom was paid, Leopoldo was given three days to get out of Mexico. So after spending a day resting with their helpful friends in Caborca, the Carrillos started back home.

When they reached the border, Leopoldo fell on his knees and kissed the ground,
thanking God and his brave and wonderful wife that he was back in the United States.

Her incredible journey had been hard on Jesusita, but she seemed to recover.
Everything seemed back to normal for the family. Jesusita had another child in 1876 and then became pregnant again in 1879. This would be her ninth child. The baby was born healthy, but  Jesusita died suddenly after the birth. Leopoldo was devastated. He had lost the love of his life. But even as he grieved, he realized that his children needed a mother. In 1880 he married Jesusita’s sister, Elvira, but he always carried his beloved Jesusita in his heart.

He died in 1890, after creating a public park for the people of Tucson in honor of
Jesusita. Called Carrillo Gardens, it had fruit trees, ponds, where the Carrillo children rowed people around. There were bath houses and a restaurant, a saloon and a dance hall, an ice cream parlor and even a circus and a zoo. There was a racetrack where monkeys raced ponies and on the weekends there were dances and music and occasionally hot air balloons. Eventually the springs that fed the ponds dried up and an elementary school was built on the ground. Carrillo Elementary School is named after him.

The Carrillo family has endured and flourished in Tucson. I want to thank Leopoldo
Carrillo and Walter Jacobs, great-grandsons of Leopoldo and Jesusita for their assistance in my  research for this story. The facts are true and I have tried to portray Jesusita as she was – courageous, strong, inventive and above all, determined.

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Rhema Sayers is a retired physician, trying out a new career. She lives in the desert with three dogs and a husband. She has had one short story published – “A Certain Lack of Interest” – in The Literary Hatchet. A nonfiction piece – “The Train Robbery at Pantano Station” – will be published in November in The Desert Leaf, a local Tucson magazine.

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When a Book Changes Your Life

By Meredith Allard

How often does a book change  your life? I’m not talking about books you love so much you read them again and again. I’m not even talking about books that prompt you to think differently. I’m talking about books that cause you to do something, to take action. Just because I’ve loved a book doesn’t mean I make any changes in my day-to-day life after reading it. When I’m reading the book I’m engrossed in it, but then I close the covers and go back to my life, doing the same thing at the same time most days of the week, most weeks of the year.

About a year ago I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho when it was one of the books available for a literature class I was teaching. The books in the textbook room were brand new, as in no one else had used them. The pages were crisp, the covers unmarked, but that didn’t deter me. When I read the book I fell in love with the simple yet profound message of finding the power of dreams and staying true to your destiny. The Alchemist is a parable about how what you’re looking for is already within you (think Glinda the Good Witch telling Dorothy she’s always had the power within her—only without the sparkly red slippers). It’s the story of Santiago, the young Andalusian shepherd who has always wanted to travel and ends up on a journey of self-discovery:

“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy (Santiago) told the Alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.”

Of all the characters in The Alchemist, the one I most related to (as I would guess most people do) is the crystal merchant. Santiago is stranded after his money is stolen, and he goes to work for the crystal merchant, who treats Santiago with kindness. Though the merchant is afraid of change, he takes Santiago’s advice and makes changes to his crystal shop. Because of Santiago’s ideas, the crystal shop thrives. The crystal merchant has dreams of travel like Santiago, but he’s full of excuses. He reminds me of that complaining relative everyone has—I can’t do this because… I can’t do that since… You think you’re not feeling well? Let me tell you about not feeling well… Like many of us, the merchant hides his heart’s desire behind worries. He can’t go to Mecca because… It’s not a good idea since… The crystal merchant fears that if he does finally go to Mecca he’ll have nothing else to look forward to.

I wasn’t dreaming of Mecca, but I had been wanting to visit London for more than a decade. As a student of English literature, a trip to England seemed somehow necessary. But, like the crystal merchant, I made excuses. England, especially London, is too expensive. It’s too far. I don’t like flying. England is an entirely different country! How would I know what to do or where to go in another country? I didn’t have a passport. Don’t they use different money there? Oh, did I mention how expensive England, especially London, is? But after reading about Santiago’s journey of self-discovery—how he achieved his dreams despite the obstacles—I realized how flimsy a lot of the crystal merchant’s excuses sounded. And if the crystal merchant’s excuses were flimsy, and I made the same excuses, then I’m not any better than the crystal merchant.

I began examining my excuses about not visiting England one by one to see what, if any, validity they had. Here’s what I found:

1. England, especially London, is definitely expensive, but the truth is I had the money. I’ve been fortunate enough to have sold a fair number of books and I had money set aside. When I looked into airfare, hotel, and the cost of meals and attractions, I had to cross too expensive off my list because it wasn’t true—I could afford it.

2. London is far from Las Vegas, Nevada, 5235 miles to be exact, which is ten hours airplane time. True, I don’t like to fly, but I had already discovered that just because I don’t like to fly doesn’t mean I can’t. Whenever I do travel by plane I get an aisle seat and pretend I’m on a bus or a train. And it’s not like I have to know how to work the controls in the cockpit. I just have to sit there. I didn’t want to be one of those people who are so afraid of flying they never go anywhere. I had been that way for a while, but there are places I want to go so I had to get over my fears. Not wanting to fly ten hours was no longer an excuse.

3. It’s true that England is a different country thanks to that little squabble called the American Revolution circa 1776. I often think of that quote from George Bernard Shaw: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” But they do speak English in England, English an American can understand, even, and from reading so much British literature and watching so much British television I like to think I speak conversational British English. So yes, England is a different country, but since I wouldn’t have trouble communicating with anyone that wasn’t an excuse—at least not a good one.

4. No passport? Seriously? Two filled-out forms, two hours in the post office, one bad photograph, and $150 later the lack of a passport was no longer an issue. They do use different money in England, but a trip to the ATM gave me a few hundred dollars, which the nice man at my bank exchanged for ten British pounds (that’s an exaggeration, but not by much).

Regent Street in London

I realized I didn’t want to look back and know I missed my chance to go to London. I booked my flight and hotel room, I bought a few tourist guides, signed up on Rick Steves’ travel website, and a few months later I was there, in London, seeing places I had dreamed of for years. I wasn’t disappointed when I got there the way the crystal merchant expected he would be disappointed. I loved being in London. It’s a truly international city and an easy place to visit for tourists who haven’t been there before. I even went to Paris. Despite my French surname, I don’t speak a word of French (American English and conversational British English are as far as I go), but I managed to get around and back to the airport on time and in one piece. In other words, my trip wasn’t a colossal failure as the crystal merchant thought his journey would be. It was a joy, and I’m already making plans to visit again next summer.

I wouldn’t have visited London if I hadn’t read The Alchemist. Goes to show how inspiration to follow your dreams can come from anywhere—even an unused stack of books in the textbook room.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review. Visit her online at www.meredithallard.com.

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Seven Tips to Create Memorable Historical Fiction Characters

By Michael Murphy

In historical fiction, creating realistic and memorable characters can present challenges not faced in other genres. Characters, like real people, are shaped by many factors, culture, heritage, religion, physical characteristics, birth order and life events. Memorable characters rebel at some of these influences. A classic example is Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Her rebellion from southern culture, Irish heritage and what is expected from a proper southern belle makes her one of the most memorable historical fiction characters ever.

I often turn to other writers for help and guidance. Therefore, with two historical mysteries that will be released by Random House Alibi later this year, I’ve come up with seven tips to create realistic and memorable characters.

  1. Character study. Get to know your characters before you begin your manuscript. Drafting a detailed character study is a valuable tool in any genre. Write one for each primary and key secondary character, addressing the character’s culture, family, physical characteristics and what has led to that character rebelling against them. Another important area to address is the change your character will go through during the story.
  2. Conflict. Enhance your character through physical, personal and professional obstacles to overcome. Let the era you’re writing about provide the conflict.
  3. Nobody’s perfect. Authors often hesitate to give their favorite characters flaws, or despicable characters redeeming traits. No one is one hundred percent good or bad. If your protagonist is ninety percent heroic, it’s the ten percent that will give him or her depth and leave lasting impressions with your readers.
  4. Historical figures. Historical fiction provides opportunities lacking in other genres. Consider ways for your characters to interact with readily identifiable historical figures. Their interaction with those larger than life characters will enhance your story and their characterization. In my historical mystery set in 1933 New York, my characters encounter Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman, Cole Porter, Babe Ruth, Joseph Kennedy and more.
  5. Attention to detail. Historical fiction writers are excellent at creating vivid settings with attention to detail. Make sure your characters benefit from the same detailed research that make your scenes so clear to the reader. And avoid clichés. How do your characters feel and react to the choking smoke of a locomotive, or the salty spray of an ocean voyage? What do your characters wear and more importantly, why do they wear them?
  6. Behavioral traits. As you would in writing any genre, give your characters memorable, if not quirky behavior and traits.  Show them displaying mannerisms that make them unique. One might chew tobacco, or comb their hair at inopportune times. Give your characters identifiable quirks and mannerisms, just like real people.
  7. Humor. Historical fiction devoid of humor can result in a novel appearing dull and listless. Life is full of humor, embrace it and utilize your sense of humor in your characters. If you’re not experienced at writing humor remember, like drama, humor is driven by conflict. Drama or humor often comes from a character’s reaction to a scene’s conflict. A suspected haunted house, for example can be chilling or hysterical depending on your character’s reaction.

We write and read historical fiction for the opportunity to join vivid characters in past cultures and historical events. I hope these seven tips help make your journey easier and your characters more memorable.

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Michael Murphy is a full time writer in Arizona. He’s been writing novels for the past fifteen years. His most recent novel, Goodbye Emily, journeyed back to Woodstock. In August, Random House Alibi will release the historical mystery, The Yankee Club, Murphy’s ninth published novel. Coming next January is the second in the series, All That Glitters.

Murphy’s website www.mjmurphy.com

Goodbye Emily www.goodbyeemily.com

Murphy’s Mystery and History blog: http://blog.mjmurphy.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mmurfy68

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mmurfy86

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Books Are Dead? Not While Powell’s Lives.

By Meredith Allard

Today I saw an empty store where a Borders used to be, and I sniffled when I realized the building is now a Ross Dress-For-Less. I have nothing against Ross Dress-For-Less—I found some cute luggage there once—but as I drove past I found myself thinking that, while the world is a sadder place with fewer bookstores, we would survive all right without another half-off department store. I know there are hobbiest bargain shoppers out there who want, no, need more discount stores, but I’d still rather see a bookstore.

During my recent trip to Portland, Oregon, I went, as all book lovers must, to pay homage at Powell’s City of Books, an independent bookstore in Downtown Portland. I’ve known about Powell’s for years. Friends who visited Portland told me about Powell’s. I had read about the store on the Internet. I started following @Powells on Twitter. I hadn’t even been there when I started following them, but for someone who loves history as much as I do, I couldn’t resist following such a relic—an independent bookstore. When I knew I was going to Portland, Powell’s was the first stop on my to-do list.

I don’t know what I expected to see when I walked into Powell’s. Having read all about the death of books, I thought maybe I would find a dilapidated cellar with a few books hanging by their threadbare bindings from a cobweb-covered shelf, the scent of mold and mortality heavy in the air. Or maybe I would find a zombie apocalypse, where hundreds of undead, grunting and groaning as they dragged their corpses across the rotting wooden floor, would wave disintegrating hardcovers and paperbacks in the air and yell, “See! Look what you have done!”

Instead, inside Powell’s I saw people—living, breathing people, and a lot of them. They were ordinary-looking folks. They didn’t have two heads or ten eyes. They were boys and girls, men and women, tall and short, doing regular bookstore stuff, pulling books from the shelves, flipping through them, reading the back covers and the insides, putting back the ones that didn’t strike them and holding onto the ones they liked. Some people asked questions of the knowledgeable staff. Even children were reading in the well-stocked, fun-looking young person’s section. I saw a line of people waiting to spend their money, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw they were buying books with that money. And as for the people behind the register…they had the audacity to smile at me while I made my purchase. In other words, the place was thriving. So, I wondered, how has Powell’s held on while other bookstores have faded away?

First, to call it a city of books is an understatement. The place is huge. I read it takes up an entire city block, and having been there I believe it. It has several floors, and each floor is divided into color-coded nooks with every possible category you might want. I was thrilled when I found the ceiling-high shelves of vegetarian cookbooks. I’m so tired of cookbooks with titles like 101 Ways to Cook Rutabagas. I have all the respect in the world for rutabagas, and I’m certain without ever having eaten one that rutabagas are tasty and nutritious. I only mean that even we vegetarians like variety in our diets, and at Powell’s I can find a cookbook to help me. In less-stocked bookstores all I’ll find, if I’m lucky, is something like Vegetables 365 Days a Year and that rutabaga book.

At Powell’s,  you feel comfortable enough to browse around and get lost in the stacks. The staff is there if you need them, but otherwise you can look around for hours, which is really all any book lover wants—to find something you didn’t know you were looking for. I found my treasure in the Classics section in the Ds—an entire ceiling-high shelf of Dickens. Every kind of Dickens. Big Dickens and small Dickens. Long Dickens and short Dickens. Popular editions of Dickens and lesser-known versions. Plain text Dickens and illustrated Dickens. Biographies of Dickens. Critical studies of Dickens. The only thing missing, I thought, was Dickens. Not that he’d look all that propped onto a shelf at 201. But still.

Another thing Powell’s does right is buy and sell used books, which gives their customers more variety, more choices. They sell new books at Powell’s too, and I’m all for recently published books, but often there’s something wonderful to be discovered when browsing used books. I didn’t even realize the copy of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel I bought at Powell’s was used until I got home and noticed the label. And Powell’s has a thriving website. While the store itself is a fun place to spend time, the Powell’s people haven’t ignored the online world and they understand that sometimes you just want to browse and buy books over the computer while relaxing at home in your jammies. Or maybe that’s me.

I’m glad I took the time to visit Powell’s. I’m glad I got to see actual people reading actual books. I had been believing what I was reading—about how people don’t read any more, how people only skim nowadays, how reading seems boring compared to everything else we could be doing, how there are more people writing books than there are people who read them, which is a worrying thought for someone like me who lives to read and write. But never fear. They’re still out there, readers. I saw them myself, pouring over books, scanning the shelves, and looking for their next great read. I feel better already.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Eugene

By Francine Marie Tolf

I found out what happened to Eugene Vukelich one bright December day in 1969 when my sister Gwen told Mom and me about it over lunch. Gwen was in eighth grade and I in sixth. It was the week before Christmas vacation started. Nothing of substance ever got done at St. Patrick’s Grammar School during this pre-vacation week. Classes held parties and rehearsed for the Christmas play (in which I was an angel and got to wear a white gown and halo). Instead of grammar lessons, we had spelling bees.

I wish I could remember that lunch hour more clearly. Its heft sank into my consciousness and never left, but particulars are vague. I am sure only of what I learned: Gwen’s class had presented Eugene, a slight boy with a shy smile, with a festively wrapped present. Inside were giant containers of mouthwash and deodorant. Accompanying these gifts was a card signed by nearly every one of his classmates as well as the lay teacher, Mr. Gleason.

Eugene burst into tears after opening the present. He fled the classroom. This joke was only the most recent act of cruelty towards him – more elaborate, but entirely in keeping with the way kids tortured Eugene Vukelich daily. Basketball stars blocked him in the hall and dared him to pass. Girls in the popular clique performed a song about him on the playground. They sang about his “BO,” how he picked his nose and was scared of being beat up by their boyfriends.

Gwen decided during that lunch hour that when she returned to school, she would address her class about what happened. Our mother had nothing to do with this. As I knelt under the Christmas tree trying to guess what was inside various presents, my sister must have discussed her milestone decision with Mom, adult to adult. The braveness of it still stuns me. Gwen was herself the target of teasing. My sister was the tallest, smartest girl in her class – and she stammered.

I loved Gwen but I was grateful I wasn’t tall like her, didn’t wear horn-rimmed glasses. I wasn’t popular but I was pretty and knew how to fit in. Now I look at a photograph of my sister when she was in eighth grade and think, Wow. She is all legs, the face behind those glasses is lovely and fresh, and her thick blond hair hangs half-way down her back. Strangers would linger over that snapshot in a way they would never linger over a picture of me at thirteen.

Those long legs of hers must have trembled when she walked to the front of her classroom later that day and met a sea of indifferent or defiant faces. Gwen’s class was brutal. It had chewed up and spit out three teachers in the past two years. It had cowed its current one into behaving deplorably in the hopes of gaining acceptance.

My sister was one of the few students who had not signed Eugene’s Christmas card. Yet when she spoke to her classmates, she did something rhetorically brilliant: she included herself in the blame. We should all be ashamed of ourselves, she began, looking straight into the eyes of cheerleaders and athletes. (How do I know what my sister said when I wasn’t there? How do I know that her class actually listened? Gossip, the grapevine, perhaps asking Gwen myself. I don’t remember how I know, but I know.)

I can imagine Mr. Gleason’s crimson-splotched face as he watched a girl half his age school him in courage. Decades after the incident, I cannot bring myself to feel sorry for this man – dismissed by our principal, Sister Leo Margaret, that afternoon – yet I understand why in a moment of weakness he did what he did. He must have entered his classroom every day sick over what awaited him: boys with shoulders broader than his purposefully ignoring his pleas for quiet, girls applying eye shadow as they imitated his warnings.

And then one morning unexpected camaraderie as the ringleaders of his class approached him. “Hey, Mr. Gleason, you’re a cool guy. We’re planning a little joke on Eugene Vukelich, just a Christmas thing, and we want you in on it.”

Mr. Gleason might first have objected after hearing the details. “I don’t know, guys,” (guys, he heard himself saying, just like a popular teacher would). “I’m not sure this is such a good idea.”

“Mr. Gleason, everyone’s signed the card except you. C’mon, it’s just a joke.”

“Pleeeaaase, Mr. Gleason.” This from the prettiest of the girls who tormented Eugene on the playground with her clique’s song. “Pleeeaase?”

So he signed the card and broke a boy’s heart. It’s entirely possible that Ronald Gleason taught grammar school to avoid being drafted, for in 1969 America wasn’t yet sending teachers of children to Viet Nam. His immunity ended that day.

If Gwen and I were closer, I would ask her what she remembered about those moments she stood in front of her class. Was she terrified, did students talk to her about it afterwards, did kids in the popular clique treat her differently? But I think my older sister – now happily married, by the way, with three spectacular kids and a lifestyle several tax brackets above mine – would dismiss the incident and appear puzzled at my immense admiration for what she did. Gwen once claimed she had no interest in recalling her years at St. Patrick’s. They were dead to her, she had moved on.

How many victims of bullying can do this? How difficult it must be to lift yourself from a childhood of hurt and humiliation and walk into the future with an open heart. The irony is that bullies might be even less likely to experience such a future. Children capable of inflicting cruelty on a daily basis can’t imagine how it feels to be the other. And without this leap of faith, how can compassion, or wonder, or joy, take root in their hearts? When I consider this, I almost feel sorry for the students who tortured Eugene. If you have no imagination by the age of thirteen or fourteen, it’s difficult to develop one. You’re trapped under the dome of your own limited perspective with no window, not even a chink, revealing blue air beyond.

I hope Eugene breathed that blue air. His parents removed him from St. Patrick’s that day, but more than forty years later, my memory of this boy I barely knew survives. He was small, with freckles and a shy smile. His red hair was always neatly combed. His brown eyes were meant to be merry.

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Francine Marie Tolf has published two poetry collections, Rain, Lilies, Luck (North Star Press of St. Cloud) and Prodigal (Pinyon Publishing), as well as a memoir and a number of poetry chapbooks including Eighteen Poems to God and a Poem to Satan by Redbird Chapbooks of Minnesota. She has received grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board; Barbara Deming/Money for Women; and the Elizabeth George Foundation. Francine recently won First Place in the 2013 Outrider Press/TallGrass Poetry Contest. She lives and works in Minneapolis.

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Ribbons: Commitment Ceremony (a.k.a Gay Wedding)

By Dennis Milam Bensie

Breaking the Code was a play about British mathematician Alan Turing, who was a key player in the breaking of the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park during World War II. The play thematically links Turing’s cryptographic activities with his attempts to grapple with his homosexuality.

I was doing hair and wigs for a production of the play at Alice B. Theater in Seattle when my friends Matt and Scot first met. Matt was the Assistant Stage Manager and Scot was playing a young street hustler. It was delightful to watch their relationship blossom over the next several months.

Gay activism got even more personal for me when the two of them announced that they were going to make their relationship official and have a commitment ceremony. This would be my first gay wedding, and I was thrilled.

Both sets of parents supported the union and planned to come to town for the event. I was jealous. I doubted that my parents would ever come to a commitment ceremony of mine. They had never even come to Seattle for a visit.

I realized as I watched the guys plan their wedding in detail that there were no established traditions for gay weddings. They could pick and choose what they wanted to do and make the event special for them. Their friends and guests were sure to be open minded enough to love anything they did.

The ceremony was to take place at Aha! Theater, a Seattle fringe theater the couple was involved with. Their invitations paid some homage to tradition, but with their own twist. A friend and aspiring baker agreed to make their wedding cake—a three tier pink triangle cake with two grooms on top. Care was given to make sure the grooms looked like Matt and Scot. They planned a festive reception in the same space with a rented karaoke machine and gay door prizes for the guests.

I was honored to be asked to help the boys select new outfits for ceremony. We had serious discussions about what would work best. Since the wedding wasn’t being held in a church and they wanted to be comfortable, they decided to go with dressy, casual looks. We spent a Saturday shopping downtown and came up with ensembles that looked sharp, but didn’t match or say “wedding.”

I still felt that the boys needed some element of a bride (or at least a bride doll) at the event: a wink at tradition. In 1977, Mattel created a Super Size Barbie that was eighteen inches tall rather than the tradition eleven and one half. In 1992, they introduced My Size Barbie, which stood three feet tall and was sold with a stretchy outfit that, ideally, the doll’s owner would be able to wear and share. Mattel hadn’t planned on a twenty-eight-year-old gay man buying the doll.

I bought a My Size Barbie for myself when she came out on the market. I decided Matt and Scot?s wedding was the perfect opportunity to indulge my never-ending interest in wedding dresses. I made the My Size Barbie a beautiful wedding dress fit for a queen. The guys loved the doll and the dress and decided the enormous bride doll would look perfect presiding over their gift table at the reception. She was much bigger than my cousin Libby?s bride doll, who had presiding over the gift table of her wedding years before. I was touched beyond belief. I was, after all, making a white wedding dress for a gay wedding. Ladyman Dennis would have been proud.

As the big day grew closer, the grooms had plenty of jitters. Jitters turned to deep sadness when a fellow thespian friend named Vinny died of AIDS only a few days before the ceremony. It was a shock that such a sweet and vibrant man, only twenty-five years old, would vanish on the eve of such an uplifting celebration of life and love.

Emotions ran high as Matt and Scot’s wedding day finally dawned. The black box theater space was decorated with gay pride paraphernalia. They had decided to do a variation of the traditional European ritual called Handfasting, symbolizing “tying the knot.” Guests were all given a mysterious piece of ribbon about two feet long (in one of the six colors of a gay pride flag) as they entered and signed the guest book. They were all warned not to lose their piece of ribbon. A round platform about two feet tall had been erected in the middle of the space. People walked around the platform without realizing its purpose. All would be revealed later during the event.

There was a lot of hugging and tears: an odd mix of happiness and sadness. The day had become both a gay wedding and a memorial for our friend Vinny. The timing seemed unreal and unfair. However, as people filed into the theater, I saw that the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Vinny was with us; he was a reminder of how important gay people are. We would never forget Vinny.

I couldn’t help thinking about the play where Matt and Scot met. In Breaking the Code, Alan Turing’s homosexuality resulted in a criminal prosecution. He accepted chemical castration as an alternative to prison. Turing allegedly committed suicide before his 42nd birthday. It seemed appropriate that Matt and Scot met working on a play inspired by his story. In many ways, their ceremony was breaking the code, too.

The handfasting ceremony began. Matt and Scot and their parents all got up on the platform in the middle of the room. Close to seventy-five of their friends and loved ones surrounded the platform in a complete circle. Each guest was told to tie his or her ribbon to another guest’s ribbons. The mothers of the grooms tied one end of their ribbons to the guests’ chain. Matt?s mom then tied her ribbon to Scot?s ribbon, while Scot?s mom tied hers to Matt?s. The men each held one end of the trail of ribbon not yet joined.

There was no one officiating the ceremony. My friend Ruth was in charge of sound. On cue, she put a cassette tape in a portable cassette player. A beautiful song, “Stay for the Ride,” underscored the ceremony. The song was by a local lesbian singer, Lisa Koch, from her album Colorblind Blues. Lisa’s song was the perfect accent to the occasion: hauntingly romantic and sincere. Matt spoke first of the difficult week that had begun with the death of Vinny. He began sobbing.

“Today is dedicated to Vinny,” Matt said as the two men tearfully exchanged vows they had written themselves. When the vows were completed, the two grooms tied their end of the ribbon to each other, uniting the room in gay pride colors. The gesture was special and I knew I would never forget the special day as long as I lived.

Finally I understood weddings. I had witnessed what I wanted to see my whole life—two men in love coming together in pride. The dress wasn’t important. Walking down the aisle wasn’t important. Matt and Scot indulged a tradition and no one could convince me they were wrong.

I wished there was a bouquet to toss, one that I could have caught. I loved Matt and Scot so much, but it was hard to contain my jealousy. Two distinct images of gay life: the happy couple and the boy dead of AIDS. I was very scared.

Was I going to die of AIDS that I had caught at a bathhouse while looking for true love?

Matt and Scot kept the yards and yards of tied ribbon from their ceremony in Seattle.

I gave them the My Size Barbie wedding dress to keep as a memento.

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Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. Bensie’s first book, Shorn: Toys to Men, was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the international gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011.” The author’s short stories have been published by Bay LaurelEveryday Fiction, and This Zine Will Change Your Life, and he has also been a feature contributor for The Good Men Project. One Gay American is his second book with Coffeetown Press and it was chosen as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. He was a presenter at the 2013 Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs. You can find out more about Dennis Milam Bensie, his memoirs and World of Ink Author/Book Tour at http://tinyurl.com/lhtvxyt. To learn more about the World of Ink Tours visit http://worldofinknetwork.com.

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