Author Archives: Copperfield

About Copperfield

Since 2000, The Copperfield Review has been a leading market for short historical fiction. Copperfield was named one of the top sites for new writers by Writer's Digest and it is the winner of the Books and Authors Award for Literary Excellence. We publish short historical fiction as well as history-based nonfiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews.

Rosalind Adam

Chaim Goldberg, born 1917, in Kazimierz-Dolny, a Polish shtetl, died 2004 in Florida, USA. The Nazis may have destroyed his artwork, but the artist and his memories survived.
 
Dancing across canvas
 
Shtetl life seeps from each canvas.
Taste the fog of smoky nights.
Breathe in the aromas of the Challah bread
baked to welcome in Shabbat
and the festival foods:
Chanukah donuts, Purim cheesecake,
apple and honey for a sweet New Year,
and herrings –  
there were always herrings.
 
Shtetl life stumbled
from Cossack threats and pogroms
to Heil Hitler salutes and conscription.
The Polish army was no place
for a young Jewish artist.
He ran from Warsaw’s barbed wire
but his parents remained,
their words echoing into the ether,
‘The Germans would never hurt us Jews.’
 
When, in time, the artist recreated his portfolio
the Holocaust permeated each canvas
with dark days, yellow stars and dread.
Above the darks he painted spirits
rising from the smoke.
The shtetl was gone but not so its memory
of love and family, of prayer and music.
Each brushstroke echoed the breath
of a thousand souls singing out,
‘Forget, oy oy, forget.
It’s over so why would you not dance?’

Rosalind Adam is a writer living in Leicester, UK. She has had three children’s books published and her poetry has appeared in a number of anthologies. In 2018 she won the G. S. Fraser poetry prize for Fresh Canvas and, in the same year, she was awarded a distinction for her MA in Creative Writing at The University of Leicester.

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Barbara Sabol

     Johnstown, PA. September 9, 1889
 
Half my life has been spent in motion,
and so it is fitting I conduct my field work
from this abandoned box car. What do I need
beyond a wooden crate for a desk, milking stool
for a chair? My spine a sufficient backrest.
 
Four months now since the great flood,
and already we've built housing for scores
of homeless. Running water, both cold and hot.
No person in need of clothing or food is left
empty-handed. Money in pockets.
 
Thanks to my nurses, the typhus is contained.
If only we could heal broken spirits. I trust
time will do its best work there. Never have I
been prouder to see Red Cross banners flying
above our white tents.
 
General Hastings has proved a worthy partner
I recall our first meeting in June when, ankle-deep in muck,
hatless, doubtless disheveled, I stood surveying
the devastation when he swung down from his horse,
and offered his hand: Dear woman, may I assist you?
I had to hide my smile.
 
At the end of a long day, I prize the night's silence.
Let the visions of wreckage, the bewildered faces
fall away. I stretch out on a cot narrow as myself,
and feel the fatigue in these old limbs.
Glad for clean bedding and a woolen blanket
this rainy night.
  
I shall not leave until my work here is finished.
Daily the town rebuilds, home by home,
shop by shop. Smoke from the Gautier steel works
will rise again, like Lazarus, having nothing whatever
to do with miracles.

Barbara Sabol’s fourth poetry collection, Imagine a Town, was published in 2020 by Sheila-Na-Gig Editions. Her work has appeared most recently in Evening Street Review, One Art, Mezzo Cammin, Literary Accents and Modern Haiku, and in numerous anthologies. Barbara’s awards include an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She lives in Akron, OH.

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What is The History Quill?

If you write historical fiction, you’ll want to know about The History Quill, which provides editing and other necessary services specifically for historical fiction authors. Here’s Rachel Smith, the executive editor of The History Quill, to share her thoughts about our favorite genre.

Meredith Allard: Why are you fascinated by historical fiction?

Rachel Smith: I’ve been fascinated by history and stories since I was very young, helped along by my dad, who is the most brilliant storyteller. It was almost inevitable that I’d fall in love with historical fiction.

When I was ten, I got a set of My Story books (which I’ve recently learned are the UK equivalent of the Dear America books). These were fictional diaries of young characters living through key moments of British history, such as the Great Exhibition, the Titanic, and the Blitz. I devoured these books. I’d always loved learning about history in school, but reading it brought to life in this way, through the eyes of such believable, relatable characters, was a revelation to me.

I think that’s the key reason why I love historical fiction: it’s one thing reading about history in a non-fiction book, but for me, nothing brings the past to life better than being drawn inside a historical character’s mind, sharing in their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, experiencing the sights, sounds, even the smells of the era with them. I love gaining a deeper understanding of the past through observing how characters behave and interact with one another, but more than anything, I love experiencing characters’ inner lives – the bits that would otherwise be kept hidden.

What I also love about historical fiction is the voice it can give to those who were marginalised at the time – the people whose stories didn’t make it into the history books. Not only that, but it can expose patterns and parallels between then and now, illuminating the ways in which the past has shaped the present and reminding us of the price of not learning from our mistakes.

M.A.: Who are your favorite historical novelists and your favorite historical novels and why?

R.S.: As a child I loved Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart mysteries, which I think cemented the Victorian era as my favourite. Those books sparked in me a love of mysteries that has endured to this day. I read in a variety of subgenres and historical periods, but some of my favourite authors include Carlos Ruiz Zafon (his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series is breathtakingly good), Laura Purcell (I’m drawn to gothic fiction; I’ve loved everything she’s written), and Sarah Perry (I thought The Essex Serpent was excellent (and not just because I’m from Essex), but Perry’s partially historical novel Melmoth will stay with me forever).

I’m a huge fan of historical chillers, like Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger, or Neil Spring’s The Ghost Hunters (about Borley Rectory, ‘the most haunted house in England’), or Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. I’m very drawn to the idea of the past coming back to haunt us.

On that theme, I also love dual-timeline novels, such as those by Barbara Erskine, Kate Morton, and Lucinda Riley. Those are great for demonstrating how past deeds can echo through time. Recently I’ve been enjoying Elly Griffiths’ Stephens and Mephisto series, featuring a detective and a stage magician in 1950s and 1960s Brighton, and I also enjoyed Sara Collins’ The Confessions of Frannie Langton. Finally, I must also mention Andrew Taylor, whose books The American Boy and The Anatomy of Ghosts I loved, and Ken Follett’s epic Century trilogy.

I appreciate historical fiction that focuses first and foremost on telling a good story. It should never just be about showing off the author’s extensive research. The authors I mentioned above know how to weave in their research in a way that serves, rather than stifles, their plot. They create rich, immersive historical settings, peopled by authentic characters, with themes that resonate in the modern day.

M.A.: What do you find to be the particular joys and challenges of writing historical fiction?

I think the biggest challenges are striking the right balance between history and story (choosing which bits of research to incorporate; deciding how far you can bend the truth), using historically authentic language (creating the impression of authenticity without being so accurate as to be incomprehensible to a modern reader), getting the finer details right, and knowing how much research is enough.

I know from first-hand experience that writing historical fiction can feel hugely daunting when you’re just getting started. The fear of making a whole host of anachronistic blunders is very real. But immersing yourself in another time can be incredibly rewarding. If you’re drawn to historical fiction, chances are it’s the challenges that initially seem intimidating that will give you the greatest satisfaction once you get stuck in. The key things to remember are that everyone has to start somewhere, and nobody can get it right all of the time. You just have to give it a go. It’s important to remind yourself that you’re a fiction writer, not a historian. By all means strive for authenticity, but never forget that your aim is to tell a good story.

By writing historical fiction, you’re giving the gift of time travel to yourself and your reader. It’s incredible, really, when you think of it like that.

(We also have a blog post here that explains in detail the top challenges of writing historical fiction and how to overcome them.)

M.A.: What is The History Quill and how can it benefit writers of historical fiction?

R.S.: We provide dedicated support to historical fiction writers at every stage of the writing journey. This includes specialist historical fiction editing services, coaching programmes, beta reader and ARC services, and a wealth of free resources specifically tailored to the genre, such as our comprehensive guide to accuracy and authenticity in historical fiction. Our blog features regular posts on aspects of writing craft and historical research, and we also have a book club aimed at helping historical fiction readers discover books they’ll love and, in doing so, promoting the works of historical fiction authors to an engaged readership.

M.A.: How can historical fiction authors get in touch with you?

R.S.: By visiting our website, joining our mailing list, or liking our Facebook page. You can also follow me on Twitter. I love it when writers get in touch to tell me what they’re working on!

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Death Ship 2, Black Bird of Prey

The battle had been harsh, crude, and longer than expected, but at the inevitable end the ship Gerben Huraq had sailed on for three years, initially at the end of a sword honed to an invisible point in the hand of a maniacal privateer, was sinking fast. Huraq, still on the good side of thirty years of age and possibly primed for long distance of days, had once crawled up a rescue rope to that ship from another sinking ship.

Now, twice saved and twice accepted aboard a rescuing vessel, he was in the water again, and once more in the Black Sea, the sea of seas, death scene of floaters, those abandoned, thrown overboard or fallen from their stations at battle, each one in a downward slide into their own history. He had no idea how long he would last on this wide sea, until one precise moment when he espied through a break in sea clouds the growing dot of a mast at full sail advancing from a distant point, ever moving closer, hope most possibly at least a transient passenger.

A final surge of excitement propelled his nearly inert body towards an expectant welcome.

“Have I not lived most miraculously these long years,” he said aloud, “the salt so new and fresh upon me, so far the sea barren for me except for the prospects of the oncoming ship, also a privateer no doubt, which has spotted me alone here on these waters.”

Sooner than expected from his knowledge of the sea, the pure sound of a whistle, came to him across flat waters like a dog’s master at summons.

Also caught in self-reflections came new admissions: “If I had advantages of a mirror, I would see on what manner my presentation makes to the master of this oncoming ship I now see sporting the Black Flag of our destinies, one more privateer abound at mission, commissioned by one’s majesty, king or queen. We are the living dead as far as they are concerned.”

“Ho, there, seadog,” a voice called out, “if you swear allegiance to this boat and its captain, Slank by name, Jerdah Slank, once of Gorey in the Channel Islands, we will haul you aboard, feed you, and then put you to work for now until the holy Kingdom itself comes.

“We are a motley crew,” continued the captain later, “and I am a master of its indifference. What say you and by what name are you called, either by friend or foe?”

With a dramatic move, illustrated by his uniform flaunting gay red and purple colors tinged with black edges on each piece, and sporting a wide-brimmed hat, Jerdah Slank fit the idea of a king of this small estate of a ship overrun and stolen twice in its career, and now sporting a name burned into its name plank, Black Bird of Prey, Death’s Ship.

“My word is my agreement,” said the swimmer, “for this water is not friendly at all. Please hurry me aboard. I fear only great tentacles from the deeps. I am called Gerben Huraq by those who know me and save me from certain death on this sea of deaths.”

“… and my hand at the throats of those too hungry to abide my rules and destiny,” being all he heard of the response from the deck of the rescue ship, a dazzling, bright, shiny brigantine, impeccable to its very corners and Huraq judging it to be as large as 150 tons, about 80 feet long with a crew of pirates as hungry as the captain. She appeared to carry a dozen cannons and would likely sport cargo space twice as big as the sloop he’d just come off.

This rescuing brigantine had two masts with square sails excellent for handling in a quartering wind and promising safe haven for an added good hand. The awed stories would soon come to him in secrets of the hold or in the rigging, away from other ears. A sense of clarity fed him its promises, though he felt a serious reserve manifest itself in the pit of his stomach; he forced himself to absorb that feeling in his guts.

Gerben Huraq, near exhaustion, too familiar with the destiny of lone swimmers on seas of the world, announced his obedience when he said, loudly, “I do.”

As the ship came closer he realized it was a choice ship for battle rather than quicker and smaller ships, like sloops and schooners. He admired its way in the water, a sylph of a large ship loaded, no doubt, with more terror than The Deep itself. It loomed warm and welcome and he knew it could survive strong seas and storms.

He’d bet five toes it was built in a Dutch harbor.

In his mind he saw it commandeered, boarded, stripped of original crew and adapted as a new vessel under a new captain. To be sure, it was renamed on the spot, the old name erased, the new name scored into a mounted title board, a name to be known forever in annals of the sea. The ship was rugged enough to cross the Atlantic, and fair better than smaller crafts in harsh seas, now to be spoken in awe as Black Bird of Prey, Death’s Ship.

When hauled aboard, he smelled the fumes of that scored naming, a new ship indelibly named, and of a recent encounter, blood evident on many edges, on innumerable surfaces.

He was roughly dried off, thus warmed and blood thickened, then ate and slept in deep leisure. When he came to he was in another battle, the guns firing away in two directions, fore and aft, sails rent, blood spilled, riches achingly at hand. They spent hours aboard the newly captured vessel, securing sworn transfers by the sword, caring for their own wounded, blessing those dropped to the deep, hanging the captain of that recovered vessel, scouring each and every space for stashed valuables, coveted trinkets, astounding gems whose quantity and unbelievable quantity tightened the crew in a hurry , and even a pet monkey promising larks and laughs on the coming voyages onto salty seas and Hells. The search was complete from stem to stern, prisoners freed and sworn to their savior, Captain Jerdah Slank, one-armed swordsman, gun carrier, fierce of beard, visage, voice, and a man who was not once alone aboard his own ship, sworn to be protected by two enormous black sailors, dubbed Shade and Shadow by the captain himself at their capture and life-long enlistment.

Huraq became friends with Shade and Shadow, at first from their lively laughter, twins at contagion and humor, and their looking for new friends, a new smile, a freshness come along with wind and water. Huraq fit the bill for them, a smile ready for one and all, even for the captain and his gentle black giant protectors who carried instant laughter at the back of their throats, timbered, husky, and waiting for employment. He found an internal gentleness in both giants who, at divergence of ways when scouring the ship for reason, stooped at every bulkhead, hands groping ahead of them around dark corners for unseen threats. Once, to their pleasant reactions when he tickled one such hand with an osprey’s feather, their laughter filled the bowels of the boat, highly favoring this new man aboard.

And it was a time that shipmates began to disappear or get deposited at sea; some fell from the rigging, some pushed overboard, some poisoned and treated to a solemn sea burial, again over the side with a casual push.

It was also the time Huraq first heard from one of the twins about “the unfilled glove,” which indeed filled him with curiosity, enough for him to ask directly of the giants. “If you note with care, you will find the answer you seek,” one of them advised him. He pushed no more in that direction but began to observe all manner of actions and particulars on the topside.

One of those notifications he discovered was the stiff attitude of some fingers on the captain’s left hand; the middle finger, the ring finger and the baby finger never moved, never touched any surface, grasped any object, signaled any intention. Huraq’s curiosity was finally satisfied when Jerdah Slank sent him below to collect some charts from his cabin and he observed the collection of radiant gloves hanging on a line, the subject fingers of each left hand obviously stuffed with stiff contents, filling the shape of that digital home.

Once that day when the captain was in close discussion with the first mate, and the giant twins were at ease, Huraq said, “Shade and Shadow, I know about the missing digits on the captain’s left hand. Can you enlighten me as to the cause of that condition? I am more curious than a mouse.” He fully shrugged his shoulders as though he was lost at sea again.

Shadow, the most talkative of the two, and most daring, said in a soft undertone, “The words come from our mother who was at Gorey in the Channel Islands, both midwife and assistant to the lone doctor, one named Emil Parsentico, and his lover when his wife was killed by a runaway horse. For centuries we have had Voudun, or what you may call Voodoo, in our tribe in Ghana in west Africa, believing in one god and pleasing that god the best way possible enables good health and wealth to those fortunate enough to have Voudun expressed in their names, called upon them. We have met others like our mother across the seas in many countries or possessions of such countries. The bite in the snake of the belly or a bull with sharpened horn protects one from foes through all the days of belief in the spirits that surely possess them from the moment of birth.”

Suddenly caught up in his brother’s spirited views, Shade interceded and said, “Mother hurried off one day to assist at a birth when the doctor was treating a sailor who had been hauled from the sea. She knew the lady of means was in a bad way while the doctor was later delayed by delivering a baby with three fingers missing on his left hand. The doctor knew intuitively the fate that would fall upon the boy in his family, the father being a belligerent and bothersome man, so he took the deformed child with him in the night and swapped him in place of the lady of substance at the palace, calling upon our mother to sail the spirits with boy babies for their lives. The ill-formed child enjoyed the comforts of the castle and the other boy had the love of an unknowing sensitive mother and a father enjoying perfection of his child.”

He paused and said, “Life, with one stroke, took divergent turns, and you know half the story, at this end.”

“So,” said Huraq, “the crippled child, with a spoiled life, became a pirate, our pirate, and the other …?”

“The other became a favored son of somewhat gentle parents, the good product of the covering doctor who treated him all his early life, and our mother who was able to watch over him with the good spirits always at hand.”

“Yet, our captain has his fifth boat, as I count from stories, and looks to become a most notorious privateer on the oceans of the world. Could it not have been otherwise?’

“Aha,” proffered Shadow, and you or me or my brother might not be here now, and our mother might be in another’s servitude, a prison’s worth of undue penalties for a gracious lady who looks under green or yellow stones, behind wind-pushed sails, and on the far side of the horizon, all for the best becoming our personal gains.”

The smile that broke upon his face said he believed each word of his delivery, to such an extent that he made a sign of the cross over his heart, bowed his head and grasped a hand from each listener, passing on his current passion, faith and future.

Captain Jerdah Slank, attentive to all activity, had espied the three in tight converse, and commenced a diatribe none of the three had heard before, nor any of the pirates from deck through rigging, so loud did he exclaim; “I’ll have no undue or malevolent partnerships, other than brothers of the blood, here on my ship,” by which he had excluded the giant blacks for his own protection rather than theirs. “That is the law of the bridge, this bridge and this captain, and the law of the sea, and the law of my interdiction. Since that ungrateful slug pulled from the sea, the one named Gerben Huraq, I have personally counted 29 shipmates who have been dispatched from the ranks, all unto the gods of the seas, for one indiscretion or another from blatant treason to petty thievery of shipmates’ goods and spoils, and none directly by my hand but by commission on him called Huraq, who looms next on the list, lest any man speak otherwise in defense of his maligned office, hereafter called “the night master of fate, the dark progenitor of the canvas-wrapped, silence-ensured poor souls cast to the deeps.”

He let the pearls of his words fall to the deck on which he, as complete master of the vessel, let them shine in their abruptness and clarity as law of a captain of the main. And there followed not the silence of abeyance, the trust of the masses, the ghosts of lost comrades and shipmates, not the indecisive silence of the uprooted, the peculiar silence of the compromised and abject, but the voices of opposition.

Shade, first to speak, his hand on the shoulder of Huraq, a distinctively protective mode seen and understood by all the command, interpreted from the first word, said so softly that those in the rigging might have fallen to the deck in their leaning to hear defiance rise slowly but surely in the air, like a keen dagger held upwards in a formidable fist.

“We are done with secret deaths of many of our comrades committed in a patch of darkness, as on starless nights, or often when the moon refuses to accompany us though we are secretly outward bound, but bound for riches. That singular man who cannot grasp a sword in his left hand falls far short of being a complete master of such a vessel and must take his place in the mode of all slavery,” and with such quick utterance, the captain of a boarded ship, Jerdah Slank, was cast into ignominy aboard his ‘own’ craft, the devil himself be damned, too.

It was not too long before Gerben Huraq was master of his own ship, and he let the ship’s name stand in its place.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tom Sheehan, 93, has published 52 books; “Fables, Fairy Stories, Folk Lore and Fantasies,” and Poems off the Kitchen Table and Ruby’s File,” being two of the latest, from Taj Mahal Press. He has work in RosebudLinnet’s Wings, Literally Stories, Rope and Wire Western Magazine (over 800 pieces), among others. He served in Korea 1950-52 in the 31st Infantry Division before entering Boston College, class of 1956.

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We Are Now Using Submittable

The changes we promised for Copperfield are on their way. While I understand that there may be mixed reactions to this first change, it is one that is necessary in order for us to keep Copperfield going for another 20 years.

As of February 21, 2021, The Copperfield Review is using Submittable as a way to accept and keep track of our submissions. For more than 20 years we accepted submissions via email, but the email system is no longer working.

The number of submissions we have been receiving has been growing, for which we are grateful. However, a number of those submissions are not meeting our guidelines. We have been receiving a lot of submissions that are not even historical in nature, which is a waste of everyone’s time. We’ve also been getting some submissions that are questionable, at best. I’m not referring to quality since quality is subjective. I mean as in poorly executed with typos everywhere, misused words, poor grammar, and the like. Then there are the submissions that say something along the lines of, “I heard you guys publish historical fiction so here’s this 200-word piece I just wrote about the American Revolution.” Yes, that particular piece was every bit as bad as you might expect. With a hope to weed out the contemporary mystery submissions so we can focus on the amazing pieces of historical fiction and poetry we receive, we made the decision to begin using Submittable along with charging a nominal reading fee of $3.00 USD.

Three dollars is in line with what other literary journals charge for reading fees. We hope that the small charge is enough to stop someone from sending a space opera to a journal of historical fiction, or at least it will stop someone from sending us a photograph of something they scribbled on a yellow legal pad. That’s not a joke, I’m afraid. All well-intentioned historical fiction and poetry submissions are always welcome at The Copperfield Review. Scribbling, not so much.

Having the opportunity to read and publish amazing works of historical fiction and poetry has been a dream come true. The Copperfield Review has been the first published credit for many up-and-coming writers, and many of our contributors have gone on to great things. I feel like a proud mamma bear when that happens. I’m also proud of the reputation The Copperfield Review has earned as being a place that publishes high-quality literature.

The world needs stories, good stories, stories that tell the truth about our past and stories that give us an inkling of where we’re going. That’s why I love historical fiction. That’s why I write historical fiction. That’s even why I wrote a book about writing historical fiction.

Thank you as always for thinking of The Copperfield Review. I look forward to sharing many more works of historical fiction with you.

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Transcript Podcast Episode 1

For Readers and Writers of Historical Fiction: A Copperfield Review Podcast

Episode 1

Well, hello, everyone.

This is Meredith Allard, the founder and executive editor of the Copperfield Review. I know for all of this time you guys have thought that I am not an actual person, but that I am just kind of this strange person behind the curtain. And to be honest, for most of the past 20 years, that’s kind of how I felt about my role at the Copperfield Review. Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain!

But I do actually exist, I have been here behind the scenes at the Copperfield Review for more than 20 years now. It is my thrill to finally have a chance to speak to you guys. I’m going to keep this first podcast on the short side, because I’m thinking that, you know, boring people at my very first podcast would probably not be the greatest thing in the whole world, although it wouldn’t be surprising. So here we go.

And with this first episode, we’re just going to kind of give you guys a heads up about what is coming up with Copperfield, some of the exciting things to think about, you know, a lot of these changes coming to Copperfield have been a long time in the making.

You know, a lot of this was supposed to happen last year in 2020. But last year was last year. And you all know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that. So we had all these great big ideas for Copperfield that were supposed to happen in 2020. Because 2020 was, in fact, our 20th anniversary. That’s right, we started way back in the dim dear past of 2000. So now we’re heading into our 21st year. But I am very happy that these changes are finally in the works.

Now for those of you who are curious, the podcast is going to cover things like reading and writing, obviously historical fiction because that’s what we’re known for here at the Copperfield Review. But we’ll also be talking about things like publishing, creativity, really all of my favorite topics. But then again, this is my podcast. And so if I want to talk about anything else I can. I may also sometimes talk about my cat. So you know, you’re just going to have to, you know, if you love cats, obviously, you’re going to love that. I won’t dwell too much on my cat, but she may pop up on occasion. But then again, this is my podcast. It’s a Copperfield Review podcast, but it’s also my podcast since I’m the one sitting here talking, so you may have to deal with some talk about my cat.

Now, having said that, I would like to point out the fact that I am always up for a cute cat pictures. I am up for cute dog pictures. Cute hamster pictures. I’m not sure I would call a snake cute. But I know there are people who absolutely love their reptiles. So if you think your ham… I was going to say your hamster, but no, hamsters are cute. If you think your snake is cute, by all means. I shall accept that as well. Send your cute animal pictures my way at copperfieldreview@gmail.com. We are going to start a little page there for our favorite animals at the Copperfield Review. So you know, it has nothing to do with historical fiction. But hey, who doesn’t like a cute pet picture. So there we are. Just kind of a little aside there.

All right. So for those of you who are thinking about the Copperfield Review, thinking about submitting to the Copperfield Review, changes are happening. If you’re a longtime reader and or a submitter to the Copperfield Review, you’ve probably already started to see some of the changes starting to pop up. And so you know that we are no longer accepting submissions via email. We accepted submissions via email for 20 years, but I think what was happening was the email submission was getting a little bit too easy. Because some of the other journals were starting to accept submissions only through Submittable and we were still accepting submissions through email. But the problem was some of the emails being sent our way were not really submissions, they were more like photographs. We started to receive things like photographs of things that people had written on a, you know, a yellow legal pad or something that they had just typed up and took a picture of and sent it in. So obviously, we don’t want that. We want real submissions of real historical fiction of real historical poetry.

So if you’re not aware of the fact that we use only Submittable now, please go ahead and visit our submission guidelines page at www.copperfieldreview.com. It says Guidelines right up there at the top, and you’ll be able to see exactly what we’re looking for when you send in your submissions. So for those of you who may not be regular readers of Copperfield, you might not realize that in fact, in July, the Copperfield Review is becoming the Copperfield Review Quarterly. We’re really excited about this. This is something we’ve been working toward for some time now. So the Quarterly will feature additions in digital and paperback formats. So you know, for 20 years, we’ve been an online only journal. And we’re very proud of that fact. As a matter of fact, we were free to read, we were there for everyone. But at this point, being 20 years old, and having the readership that we do, it’s time for us to go ahead and make that change and become a Quarterly journal that is a digital and paperback journal as opposed to strictly being online, are we’re going to be moving to a subscription model. You can buy the editions either if you want to buy them quarterly, as in, you know, you buy a year and you get all four editions, you can buy print editions, you can buy digital editions, you can buy both editions, if you’d also like to you can purchase the edition separately. So for example, you know, if somebody you love is in the summer edition, then by all means you’re just able to purchase that summer edition. We’re looking at starting a Patreon page, we’re starting a subscription model, we’re starting, you know, all of these different thing ways of creating our journal so that it’s the best it can be. For 20 years, we really haven’t been that concerned with making money at the Copperfield Review. We’ve just been looking to publish the best in historical fiction and historical poetry. But we’re at the point now, where after 20 years, we have enough of a reputation. We have enough readers who love what we do. We have enough writers who love what we do. But what we’re really looking to do is pay our contributors, professional rates instead of the small honorariums that we’re currently paying. So when you support the Copperfield Review, you’re supporting our writers and allowing us to pay them professional rates for the amazing works of historical fiction and historical poetry that they create.

We have other fun activities going on as well. We’re currently hosting a contest for the best in historical fiction and historical poetry. We’re also accepting submissions for our second anthology. So that’s coming up as well. So just give me one moment, and let me give you the dates for those. Okay, so the dates for the contest for historical fiction, submissions are being accepted now through October 10 2021 with winners to be announced on Friday, December 10. There is a $25 entry fee per short story and a $20 entry fee per poem. And then the dates for the anthology. We’re accepting submissions for the anthology now through August 31, 2021. And the anthology submission should be sent through submittable. There is a $3 reading fee through Submittable and the word Anthology should appear in the submission title. If you’re curious about our contest, if you’re curious about submitting to our Anthology, you can absolutely check out our guidelines, again, at www.copperfieldreview.com. We’re also creating a shop where we’ll be selling our subscriptions, we’re also going to be selling things like Copperfield Review pens, tote bags, notebooks, because hey, who can write without a Copperfield Review pen? Or a Copperfield Review notebook? Right? I know what you’re thinking. You can actually write without them but it’s more fun with a Copperfield Review pen. So we will be holding a shop book that’ll be coming up in May well, so we’ll have all our cool gear there. The website as you know, it is also going to be undergoing some changes. So if you go to the website and things start to look a little bit strange, that’s why

We’re going to be turning the website into a blog with guest posts with access to the subscriptions for each issue. Our submission guidelines are still going to be there, everything that is already been published will still be there. Now keep in mind that on the Copperfield Review’s current website, we only have what we’ve published since 2012. For the first 10, no 12 years, that’s why I am not a math person, the first 12 years that Copperfield existed, we had a different website. And when we made the transition from that first website that hosted us for 12 years, and then made the switch to our current website, we lost, unfortunately, 12 years worth of stories because the transfer just didn’t happen. That is something that still makes me sad to this day.

But for everything that has been published since 2012, that will still be available on our website. However, anything that is published post July 2021, which is when we go to the quarterly model, that will only be available through subscription through our website. And so just keep that in mind, that is a change that is going to be happening. So if you published prior to July 2021 and after April 2012, your work will still be available on our website, all of that is not changing. What will change is that we are now a subscription model starting in 2021.

Okay, so if you are interested in submitting to the new Copperfield Review Quarterly, again, be sure to check our submission guidelines. Once again, it’s www.copperfieldreview.com. And things have changed a bit as far as what we’re looking for in submissions. And just generally speaking, when you are submitting to literary journals, you always want to go to the submission guidelines on their website because Writer’s Market is outstanding. Duotrope does a wonderful job trying to keep up with all the changes. But even so, editors’ needs change suddenly, and so that new need will be reflected in the website submission guidelines, whereas they might not be reflected in Writer’s Market or Duotrope. So you always want to go to the website submission guidelines. Don’t send something off based on what you see in a year old listing, because chances are things have changed. So for all of the up to date information on Copperfield, about our new website, about our new submission guidelines, go ahead and go to our website, and make sure that you’re following those guidelines.

Now just as an aside, I actually have a new course coming out in May, which is an introduction to writing historical fiction. It will be available through Teachable. I’m actually in the process now of recording the lectures. And I have to be honest, I’m having a lot of fun recording that. It’s great for me, because I’ve actually been teaching for more than 20 years now. And creating this course is a great way for me to do what I love, which is teaching. And then when I’m teaching writing, I’m even more in heaven. So now I get to do that through Teachable and I get to share it with all of you. I’ll be sure to let everyone know when the course is available. The regular price will be $99 USD. But listeners of the podcast and subscribers to Copperfield’s mailing list can purchase the course at a discount of 50% off so it’ll be $49 USD instead of the $99. I’ll let everyone know the discount code as soon as the course is released, which will not be too far away now as I’m recording this on April 12. I just have to finish recording it and finish having the transcriptions made. And I’m really excited to share all of that with you.

We’re also going to have a brand spanking new Patreon page to fund the Quarterly, the contest, the anthology, all of the fun stuff that we’ve been talking about today. Again, the main goal is to pay our contributors. But when our Patreon page is up, I’ll also share that with all of you. And you guys will be able to see more in depth what it is that we’re looking to do to grow the Copperfield Review. We’ve been around for about 20 years, and as I said eariler we have never really been that concerned about making money. Our concern was just keeping it going so that we could feature the best short historical fiction and best historical poetry out there. Now we’re looking to expand our reach. So that’s why we’re trying out all these cool new doodads so that we can make sure that we can pay our writers what they deserve to be paid.

All right. All right. So that is it for me for today. I don’t want to ramble on too long. As I said at the beginning, I don’t think boring people during my first podcast is such a great idea. But before I go, it’s important for me to say a huge thank you to all the readers and contributors who have kept the Copperfield Review going for the past 20 plus years. The Copperfield Review would not have the reputation it has for being a place that publishes quality literature if it weren’t for the amazing pieces of historical fiction and poetry that have come our way over the last two decades.

Here’s a very quick story before we go today. I remember when I started the Copperfield Review in September 2000, and at the time, I was thinking, wouldn’t it be a great way to get this journal started if I could get an interview with a well known historical novelist? Well, I did a little bit of digging and found John Jake’s email. Yes, that John Jake, the very famous John Jake who wrote some of the most beloved historical novels of all time. So I took a chance. Remember, this was 20 years ago, I wasn’t known at all, you know, I was just starting. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know anything. But I said, hey, what the heck, you know, just try. So I emailed John Jake’s. John was actually on a cruise at the time. And this kind man emailed me from the cruise and said, absolutely, I’ll answer your questions.

So while he was on the cruise, John Jake answered my emailed interview questions. And to this day, I remember that and I remember the kindness and I remember the generosity. He didn’t know me from anybody, the Copperfield Review had no reputation at that time because it barely existed. And yet, he still took the time to answer my interview questions. And to this day, I remember that and to this day, I think the Copperfield Review exists because of people like John Jake who took time out of their out of their busy schedules. Jean M. Auel allowed me to interview her. I also interviewed Jeff Shara. I mean really big name historical novelists took the time to answer my questions. And because of them, and because of the great submissions we’ve received over the years, the Copperfield Review still exists. And we’re very happy to be here.

Even as we transition to the Copperfield Review Quarterly, I still know that whenever we get a submission from any writer, it’s a privilege to be able to read that submission, and we appreciate it. We appreciated it 20 years ago, and we appreciate it today.

So if you’d like to get in touch with me, you can contact me at, if you want to get to me through Copperfield, its copperfieldreview@gmail.com. If you’d like to submit your historical short fiction or poetry to the Copperfield Review, soon to be the Copperfield Review Quarterly, you can find our submission guidelines once again at www.copperfieldreview.com. If you’d like to visit my personal website, it’s Meredith, it’s just my first and last name.com, meredithallard.com.  Or you can contact me at meredithallardauthor@gmail.com.

All right, everybody. So that is me for today. Thank you for joining me for the first Copperfield Review podcast. I’m very excited about this. In the future, we will branch out to interviews, we will branch out to industry insiders, but for for the first few episodes we are really going to focus on Copperfield itself and our changes and a little bit more insight into submitting to literary journals, writing, and all that kind of fun stuff.

All right, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I will see you next week. Bye bye.

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Stacy Nathaniel Jackson

DEAR OPPORTUNITY, 1945
  
 Unfortunately
 it appears
 there has been
 a bit of bait & switch
  
Kitchen duty (no sir)
 Latrine-mopping (no sir)
 Butter-cutting (no sir)
 Trash-collecting (no sir)
 Uncle Sam advertised
 new skills – FREE education
 snappy uniform with a stipend
 Black & White WACs alike
  
 but (no sir)
 black strike
 arrest - court-martial
 temporary insanity (no sir)
 useless defense
  
 O opportunity
 separate but equal
 is a chokehold
 bound to get checked
  
her foot  her note  her voice  her disobedience  her foot  her note  her voice  her defiance   
           WAC Privates Mary Green  Johnny Murphy  Anna Morrison  Alice Young 
  

* * * * *

Stacy’s poems, plays, and visual art have been published in Black Arts Quarterly, New American Writing, Foglifter, The Georgia Review, and elsewhere. He is a Cave Canem poetry fellow, and recipient of an individual artist grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission. He has been a contributing editor of Foglifter literary journal and was formerly on the board of directors of ZYZZYVA literary journal.

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Ann Power

St. Petersburg, Russia: January 1740
 
One:
 
In a creamy damask gown, trimmed with gold lace
and ornaments, with accents of sulphurous yellow,
a heavy gold cross breathing on her full bosom,
the Tsarina held court. 
 
Graceful, imperial, and fat, thought Golitsyn of
Anna Ivanovna.
Only last week, in the royal hall, settled in a basket,
he had flapped his arms,
resigned to clucking—
a chicken for the royal amusement
 
And yesterday, mounted on a dwarf, he had
jousted with another unfortunate, balanced
on the back of a court clown, until all four
were flailing, grabbing, gouging each other’s
eyes, bloody.
 
Prince Golitsyn drew in a long breath,
listened politely as the Spanish ambassador
addressed the Empress in Russian with
an accent that inhaled the final letters of each word.

Orange trees, myrtles, and palms lined
walks on either side of the Grand Hall while,
behind potted screens of trees and flowers, courtiers
and ladies fanned themselves and whispered.
 
Gobelin tapesties depicted scenes from
a primitive world, lush, filled with
tigers, monkeys, Indian geese, and cranes.
Along the walk, caged nightingales sang
as the scent of perfumes circled and re-circled
the expansive room.
Servants in yellow-and-black livery served
fruity wines and vodka in abundance, though
drunkenness was never allowed. 
 
 
In one corner, dancers in brightly colored domino—
orange, green, blue—
ruffs at the neck, with tiny hats sporting
gold and silver cockades, danced a quadrille played by
an Italian orchestra.
 
Near the Tsarina a pair of enormous leopards, in
embossed silver and flat-chased work, their collars
encrusted with emeralds, their faceted eyes brilliant
in the reflected light, watched fiercely.
 
Enchanting as any mid-summer’s dream,
Golitsyn sighed. 
Only the porcelain stoves and the windows staring
glassy-eyed at the frozen Neva below betrayed
the atmosphere of summer solstice—the black earth
invisible beneath the snowy landscape,
the sun pale, winter’s blue-white chill transformed
by magic and rubles.

Two:
 
Prince Golitsyn shivered, respectfully welcomed
the address of the Tsaritsa.
She was seemingly gracious, double-chinned,
her skin swarthy, her features coarse.
 
Dark hair fell across her shoulders, her eyes sparkled
with pleasure, wine, and conversation. 
The prince listened as she spoke.
 
He knew Anna, her history:
 
niece to the imperious Peter the Great, and a
childhood that could scarcely avoid beheadings,
hangings, cruelty that left heads on pikes, bodies
dangling from beams or gallows;                                                                                                               
 
marriage at seventeen to the Duke of Courland, a
miserable wretch, who died a week after the wedding;
nineteen years, alone, unhappy, seemingly banished
from Russia to Mitau in a remote German duchy;
 
 
then, ascendance to the throne of all the Russias after
the deaths of Peter, his wife, Catherine, and
the boy Tsar, Peter, the Second;
 
the scale of excess, the magnificence:
the 10,000 dresses, the palaces, the silver, the glittering jewels;
the exotic animals that roamed the gardens,
fair target for the Tsarina who took aim from palace
windows at the unsuspecting beasts;
 
the dwarfs, the hunchbacks, the giants, the fools who
pleased Anna’s less obvious deformity of spirit.
 
the 2000 dissenters each year exiled to Siberia; the
secret police who exposed and executed traitors;
 
and, of course, the Tsarina’s unpopular alliance to
Ernst Biron, a brusque German with no fondness for
Russians, a man Anna shared with his wife.
 
Golitsyn focused on the eyes of the Tsaritsa,
noticed again her left eye slightly flecked in lighter violet.
Then the announcement.
    
Anna had arranged a marriage and festivities;
he was to be the groom to an unknown wife.
The music temporarily ceased; outside Golitsyn
heard the honking of a goose.
 
Three:
 
Skybend….all in grays.  Birds froze, fell out
of the sky.
Cathedral bells splintered the icy air.
Golitsyn was to marry Avdotya,
a Kalmuck serving woman.
Nicknamed “Buzhenina” for the Tsarina’s favorite
dish, roast pork with spiced vinegar and onions,
she was pink, plump, thoroughly peasant.
Golitsyn’s first marriage, disapproved of,
had made him an object of vengeance, court buffoon.
 
 
Now he was riding in an iron cage, swaying atop an
elephant as it lumbered along to the wedding reception.
No more precarious than any day at court, he mused.
Bride and groom were barely visible under fur coats,
muffs, and hats.
 
Behind them followed costumed natives, Tartars and
Lapps, Finns and Cossacks, Bashkirs and Kalmucks on
horses, camels; members of the court rode next in sleighs
drawn by a menagerie of  reindeer, rams, bears, wolves,
and pigs.
 
At midnight another procession.
The ice palace was lighted with torches.
Hundreds of candles shown from within, radiating
their soft brilliance through transparent walls.
 
A tribute to Palladio, the edifice stood eighty feet
long, thirty-three high, and twenty-three deep;
surrounding the house, a balustrade topped with balls
of ice, and cornices, columns. 
 
Six niches in the façade held statues, while over the entrance,
four-winged putti flew; ice dolphins, an elephant,
cannons, and marvelous fountains adorned the exterior. 
Trees and plants, sculpted from winter’s resources, bloomed
amid their surroundings.
 
Inside….all crystal ice….bottles, boxes, candlesticks, an
elaborately carved ice mirror, benches, shelves,
dishes, goblets, tea sets, a clock whose inner works of
moving, interlocking wheels were clearly visible, a deck of
playing cards, their suits realistically painted, and an ice
bed for the newly wedded couple.
 
The Tsarina dressed in brown, with only pearls for
decoration, standing beside Biron, laughed a dark laugh.
Golitsyn suddenly remembered words he had heard
from Timothy Arkhipovich, long ago a tutor and houseguest at
Izmailov, Anna’s childhood home:
 
“We Russians need no bread; we devour each other and are satisfied.”
 

Ann Power is a retired faculty member from The University of Alabama where she worked as a coordinator for the Bibliographic Instruction Program, University Libraries.  She enjoys writing historical sketches as well as poems based in the kingdoms of magical realism. Her work has appeared in The Pacific Review (CSU San Bernardino), The Puckerbrush ReviewLimestone, Spillway, Gargoyle Magazine, The Birmingham Poetry Review, The American Poetry Journal, Dappled Things, and Caveat Lector.   

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The Sage Grouse and the Bandit Queen

“I’ll ask you again, Belle. What brings you all the way out here?”

“You can ask me a hundred times, Jack Hardin, and the answer isn’t going to change.”

Belle Starr stared defiantly at the fancily-dressed man standing across from her. The white satin puff tie flowing out of his vest and his shiny leather boots reminded her of something, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.  

 “I saw you on Cheyenne Road last Monday,” Hardin continued, “and a week ago Wednesday, you went south on old Bruton. Were you fixing to meet up with someone, Belle, or were you looking for something?”

Belle knew Hardin had been following her. She’d seen him both days. She also knew he’d been watching her movements for the last two weeks, but today was the first time he’d had the courage to actually approach her face to face. She’d stopped to let her horse have a drink in the clear water of Prairie Creek, and was considering jumping in herself to cool off, when Hardin pranced out from behind a rock. Now, there would be no refreshing dip in the creek with this tinhorn harassing her. 

“Why are you out riding so often in this heat, Belle?” Hardin repeated. “I figure you must be looking for something.” 

Belle did not respond immediately. Instead, she took a minute to study this strange man who had appeared, like a collared lizard, from behind a rock. Hardin’s fancy clothes were far too dressy for any serious riding across the dusty Texas terrain. He also strutted when he walked, like he was getting ready to two-step at a hoedown. Belle didn’t like him. She didn’t like being pounced upon, and she didn’t like being followed. To her mind, Hardin also acted far too friendly. She hardly recognized him as a past acquaintance from years ago in Missouri, but they were not friends there, and in Texas, he only looked like trouble. 

“What business is it of yours where I ride or who I meet, Jack?” 

Hardin smiled, shook his head, and adjusted his wide-brimmed Stetson to keep the sunlight out of his eyes.  

“Belle, you might as well confide in me. You know I’ll find out sooner or later, and the sooner you do, the sooner we can get out of this heat.”

August was always hot in Texas, but the afternoon sun this day seemed particularly penetrating. Belle removed her own hat and wiped the perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand. After carefully replacing this worn headpiece, she adjusted the two pearl-handled pistols hanging on her hips. She was sweating beneath her jacket and riding skirt, and once again, she wished Hardin would move on so she could take a dip in the creek. 

“Why have you been following me?”

“I’m following you, Belle, because I think you’re going to lead me straight to that $40,000 dollars you and Sam Bass took in that stagecoach robbery. I know you netted gold coins and paper money in that haul … and I know the whole lot of it is buried somewhere between Scyene, Mesquite, and Dallas.”

“You’re crazy or drunk. I never rode with Sam Bass, and I don’t know anything about buried money. Hell, Sam’s been dead two years. If there ever was any money, someone’s gotten it before now.”  

“Don’t go acting like you’re some innocent angel, Belle. You’re the best horse thief in these parts, and you’ve robbed more stagecoaches than anybody I know.”

Belle glared at Hardin. She wasn’t afraid of him, but she hoped, if she was as unfriendly as he was friendly, maybe he’d get the message and move on. Picking up on nuances and verbal cues, however, was not one of Hardin’s strengths. 

 “Besides,” Hardin continued as he strutted in circles, “I know for a fact you and that husband of yours, Jim Reed, robbed a stagecoach around here a few years back. It was in the papers. Where is ol’ Jim now anyway?”

“You need to read more newspapers, Jack. You’re behind the times.”

“What do you mean?”

Again, Belle did not answer right away. Her thoughts ran to her former husband, Jim Reed. 

Jim was a proper outlaw, she mused. He was nothing like this dandy pestering me now.

Jim Reed had been one of Quantrill’s raiders, and he’d rode with the Younger gang. He had robbed a stagecoach near Scyene, but he’d been killed resisting arrest.

“Jim’s dead, Jack. Been dead almost six years now. Like I said, you’re really behind the times.”

“My, oh my! So, the law finally caught up with Reed, eh?” Hardin chuckled. “Guess that makes you a widow, don’t it, Belle?”

“You really are behind, Hardin. I married Sam Starr three months ago.”

“If that’s true, Belle, why haven’t I seen Starr around?”

Belle’s new husband was on the run after robbing a post office, but she had no intention of telling Hardin anything about Sam Starr or his whereabouts. 

“You haven’t seen my husband because he has business elsewhere.”

“Business, huh? What kind of business?”

“It’s the kind of business that’s none of your business!”

“Sure, Belle, sure,” chuckled Hardin. “But from all I’ve heard you say, it just means you ain’t got no man around. Bass and Reed are dead, and Starr is off elsewhere. There’s no one around to take care of you.”

Putting her hand on the butt of her right pistol, Belle glared again at Hardin. 

“I don’t need a man to take care of me. Never have, never will. I can take care of myself.”

Taking a step back, Hardin flashed a thin smile. Belle was a crack shot, and he knew it.

“Calm down, Belle. It was just an observation. Remember, I knew you back in Missouri when you were simply little Myra Maybelle Shirley. I don’t care what your name is now or who you’re married to … I was just inquiring … for the sake of old times and conversation. I mean … I was just wondering what keeps you in these parts … if Starr is nowhere around?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, Hardin, but I have a brother in Scyene, and Sam’s family is nearby.”

The shrill scream of a red-tailed hawk drew Belle’s attention, and she turned to watch the predator fly over the sage-covered valley. Suddenly, she remembered. Hardin reminded her of that strange valley bird, the sage grouse. The one that puffs out its white-feathered chest and splays its tail while strutting around dancing and looking for a mate. Belle again noted Hardin’s white-collared neck and the way he strutted when he walked. 

He can dance around all he likes, she thought, but I’m not interested, and if he thinks I should be impressed by his clothes and highfalutin ways, he’s got another think coming.

“I think we should help each other out, Belle. Sounds like we’re all alone out here … and we are friends, remember? Why, we go all the way back to Missouri, way before the war, and you know, friends help each other.”

Sweat trickled down Belle’s back, as she moved toward her horse. She began adjusting the straps on her saddlebags, but she kept one eye on Hardin. 

He’s certainly a prickly lickspittle, she thought, if ever there was one. He’s not a proper outlaw, and he’s certainly not my friend. He’s just pretending on both counts. He forgets I know real outlaws. Frank and Jesse James hid out in my family’s barn back in Missouri, and I know the Younger brothers as well as I know my own brothers. Sure, those fellows rob, fight, and kill, but they always have a need or a reason. They’re respected men. I’ve seen all of them share their spoils with families in need. Doing a good deed, they call it. They may not be perfect, but they’d never try to be something they aren’t. Never have I seen any of them act like a puffed-up sage grouse. Hardin forgets, too, that I was a Confederate spy during the war. I know a fraud when I see one, and you, Mr. Hardin, are one. You want something, but you want it to come easy. You want it without any risk to yourself and without you getting any dirt on your fine clothes. You’re a fake and a fool, and I’m finished here. This conversation is over.

“No dice, Hardin. We’re not in Missouri any longer. This is Texas, and I’ve got things to do and places to be.”

With those words, Belle mounted her horse and galloped off toward Scyene. She didn’t, however, take the most direct route. She made a few detours and backtracked a little, checking constantly to be certain she wasn’t being followed.With vipers like Hardin watching her every move, she decided it really was time to move on. 

Two miles from Scyene, Belle rode around a large boulder that hid a narrow ravine. At the end of the ravine, there stood eight cedar trees, and beneath their branches she stopped. Sitting quietly on her horse, Belle waited and listened for any noise that might indicate someone was following her. 

When the sun started dropping down below the horizon, the stand of cedars became shrouded in shadows. Only then did Belle dismount and walk over to the tallest tree. Taking a knife from her belt, she knelt down beside the cedar and began raking the soil with the knife. She scooped out a couple of handfuls of dirt and then pulled on the top of a white bag. With a little effort, she dislodged the bag and carefully pulled it out of the ground. Untying the twine knot at the top, Belle looked inside the bag. In the dim light, she could just make out coins and paper currency inside. Standing up, she hoisted the bag up and down with both hands, and estimated, by its weight, that the money was all there. Smiling, she carried the bag back to her horse. 

It was too late now to head out, so Belle decided it would be best to wait till morning. Besides, she wanted to stop at the Shady Villa Saloon in Scyene. She needed a drink to wash away the dust in her throat, and she wanted to play the piano loud enough to drown out any lingering thoughts of Jack Hardin. 

Before Belle mounted her horse, however, she separated the money in the bag into four parts. She placed two portions in her saddlebags, one in her bedroll, and over two thousand dollars in a leather pouch tied to her waist. It was an old trick Jim Reed had taught her. By separating the money, if she did get waylaid, there was a good chance the would-be robber wouldn’t get all the haul—just part of it. This task completed, she mounted her horse and rode toward Scyene.

Arriving at Shady Villa, Belle looked for the owner, Molly Jennings. Molly was one of the few women whose company Belle could tolerate. Molly recognized that Belle was a talented piano player, and there were limited establishments available where Belle could exercise her talent. The two women had found common ground over the piano in Shady Villa’s bar. Belle liked to play the piano, and Molly liked for her to play. 

From behind the bar, Molly saw Belle first and called out to her friend. 

“Howdy, Bandit Queen. You going to provide some entertainment for my guests? You know they buy more drinks when you raise their spirits with music and keep their minds off their troubles.”

Belle liked it when Molly referred to her as the “Bandit Queen.” It was the newspapers’ newest moniker for her, and she felt the title described her well. Smiling at Molly, Belle nodded affirmatively. 

“That’s why I’m here, Molly. I need to raise my spirits, too.”

Belle didn’t mention Jack Hardin. She got a drink at the bar, and sat down at the piano. For over an hour she played, and gradually the music made her forget her dusty encounter with the sage grouse.  

Belle was just thinking about getting some sleep, when she saw Molly sitting at a table at the back of the saloon. Molly was talking with a man, and she looked distressed. Taking a closer look, Belle realized the person Molly was talking to was Jack Hardin. Had he managed to follow her after all? Or did he have some separate business with Molly? 

When Hardin headed upstairs for a night with one of Molly’s soiled doves, Belle left the piano and went to talk with Molly. She found the proprietor in tears.

“What is it, Molly? What’s wrong?” 

“That man,” Molly said, nodding her head toward the stairs. “He comes around every three months wanting his money. He says if he doesn’t get it, he’ll burn the place down.” 

“Why do you owe him money?

Dabbing at her tears with a handkerchief, Molly sighed.

“Three years ago, when I set out to buy Shady Villa, I was short on cash. That man … his name is Jack Hardin … offered to loan me money. I took it, but I’ll never get out from under his thumb. He wants a hundred dollars interest every month. I don’t clear that much from the bar, and the girls barely bring in enough to cover their food and clothes. Hardin knows this, but he’s a leech … a bloodsucking parasite. Once he gets his teeth in you, he won’t let go till he bleeds you dry.”

Molly put her head down on the table and started to cry again. Belle sat down beside her. She sat quietly till Molly’s sobs lessened, then she spoke. 

“How much do you owe, Molly, to get out from under Hardin’s thumb forever?”

Without raising her head, Molly whispered. 

“All total, he wants two thousand dollars.”

Belle reached into the bag at her waist and removed two thousand dollars.

 “Look at me, Molly,” she insisted, and Molly slowly raised her head. “We’re going to take care of this leech, or sage grouse, or whatever he is, once and for all.”

Belle laid the money on the table. 

“There’s two thousand dollars, and I want you to do exactly as I say. In the morning, when Hardin comes down, you pay him off. Make sure he signs a bill of sale, and get two witnesses to verify he got his money. Do you understand?”

Molly nodded. 

“Belle, how can I ever thank you?” 

“Never mind about that. I’m going to count it as my good deed, like some friends of mine do.”

“But Hardin is going to ask where I got the money. He’ll insist I tell him.”

“Tell him. Tell him I gave you the money. Tell him I joked that I found a treasure chest on my last ride. Tell him … I said I had to pay a few debts, and then I was going home to Missouri.”

With those words, Belle left the Shady Villa. She led her horse to the stables, and once there, she asked the stable boy to pick out a fresh horse and ride to a farm a few miles away. She told him what to say to the two men living there. The boy was hesitant until Belle dropped two gold coins in his hand. After he left, Belle fed her horse and settled him in for the night. Laying down on a pile of hay, she fell asleep in a neighboring stall.  

Belle woke when she heard the boy returning. The sun was just coming up. She saddled her horse and rode to the Scyene Wagon Factory. Behind the large building, she found Cole and Bob Younger waiting. 

“We got your message, Belle. Glad to help, but we’re not sure if you want us to catch this bird, chase him off, or just shoot him.”

Belle laughed, and then she shook hands with Bob and Cole.

“Thanks for coming, fellas. I’m trying to leave town to meet up with Sam, and I’ve had this little sage grouse following me. I just want you to rough him up a bit and send him packing. He’s got two thousand dollars of mine on him, and if you send him on his merry way, you can keep it for all your trouble.”

“How do we find this little bird?” asked Cole.

“It won’t be a problem. I’m fixing to head west, and as soon as he sees me leave town, he’ll follow me. All you have to do is waylay him, take the money, and scare him away from these parts. Then you can get back to your business.”  

“Sounds good, Belle. We’ll take care of the fella, and you give Sam our regards.”

“I will, boys, and I appreciate your help.”

Belle turned her horse and headed west. She was not surprised to see a fancily-dressed man on a horse following her before she was an hour out of town. When she gained a little elevation, she looked back over the land she’d just covered and smiled when she saw two men on horseback shadowing her sage grouse. 

Hardin doesn’t even know they are there, she thought.

When her horse mounted a rocky plateau, Belle stopped and turned to look back again. In the distance, she could just make out Cole and Bob Younger mounting their horses. Hardin was galloping off north toward Arkansas. 

Good riddance, Belle thought. Maybe he’ll go all the way back to Missouri.

As she looked on, Bob Younger waved his hand in her direction. In his fist, Belle could make out dollar bills. Tipping her hat in appreciation, she turned her horse and headed towards Sam Starr’s secret hideout. It was time they were together again.

* * * * *

Billie Holladay Skelley received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now retired from working as a cardiovascular and thoracic surgery clinical nurse specialist and nursing educator, she enjoys focusing on her writing. Billie has written several health-related articles for both professional and lay journals, but her writing crosses several different genres and has appeared in various journals, magazines, and anthologies in print and online—ranging from the American Journal of Nursing to Chicken Soup for the Soul. An award-winning author, she also has written eight books for children and teens: Eagle the Legal Beagle, Ollie the Autism-Support CollieWeaver the Diabetic-Alert RetrieverSpice Secret: A Cautionary Diary, Luella Agnes Owen: Going Where No Lady Had Gone BeforeRuth Law: The Queen of the Air, Hugh Armstrong Robinson: The Story of Flying Lucky 13, and Two Terrible Days in May: The Rader Farm Massacre.

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An Interview with Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield is the author of Gates of Fire, a historical novel which has sold more than a million copies. In this interview we discuss his writing process and his newest novel, A Man at Arms. You can learn more about Steven and his books at www.StevenPressfield.com.

Brendan Carr: Telamon of Arcadia is a mercenary in your newest book, A Man at Arms. What are you saying about warriors by making your archetypal warrior into a mercenary?

Steven Pressfield: What I was hoping to do as far as characterizing Telamon was to present him as a guy who exhausted the warrior archetype. He fought under flags that he believed in, fought for commanders he believed in, and had that come to naught. He committed crimes and he committed honorable acts. But he was still a warrior, he was not going to leave that aspect of it and that brought him to become a soldier for hire, a man at arms. He was in it for the fight alone, like a samurai when they no longer fought for a particular noble house but were just freelance guys who were cast out on the road. In other words, it’s a dark place for him to be. I’m not holding that up as an ideal. In my mind, it’s the stage that a warrior or a hero is in when he’s trying to find his way and hasn’t found it yet, a kind of a lost place. That was why I made him a mercenary.

B.C.: You’ve been wanting to write a book about Telamon for a while. What is it that draws you to him?

S.P.: That’s a great question! I feel like he’s a bit of an alter ego for me as a writer. The way he views himself as a soldier, he’s in it for the fight alone. He’s not in it for the money although he’s a mercenary. We don’t know what he does with his money, but he doesn’t have anything except the clothes on his back. It’s not like he’s getting rich; the money is really just an excuse for him. It’s a way to keep a distance between himself and his commander’s ambition. He says, “I’m just doing it for the money,” but he’s in it for the fight alone. I’m kind of in writing for the work alone. So, I think that’s one of the reasons why he appeals to me. He also has a kind of a dark view of life and I do too.

B.C.: And lost characters are often depicted alongside a redemptive character. How did you develop the character of the young girl, Ruth, in your story?

S.P.: I very much did that on purpose with the idea of juxtaposing archetypal characters on my mind. I knew for years that I wanted to do a book that was only about Telamon because I was curious about where he would go after appearing in two other books of mine. He was in The Virtues of War and Tides of War and I was fascinated by his odyssey, but I couldn’t find a story for years. I would take a shot at an outline asking, “What if I set him in Britain in the year 22 or something?” When I finally thought of this character of the young girl, it made a great dynamic of different archetypes. An innocent girl, that’s sort of the virgin archetype, and then this warrior archetype together created a lot of interesting tension and chances for growth on both sides as they interact with each other.

B.C.: What draws you to Carl Jung’s archetypes? And how can writers use them?

S.P.: Let’s talk about the archetypes for a second. The archetypes of the collective unconscious are these super personalities that we’re born with and that are Types, capital T, like the Wise Man, the Warrior, the Virgin, the Divine Child, like Jesus or Krishna. There are many archetypes and I believe that we don’t realize it but we’re being powered by them. Speaking of the Warrior archetype, when a young man and I think a young woman, too, hits the age of 12, 13, 14 they can feel that sort of thing. They’re not aware of it, but a young guy wants to try out for the football team, wants to drive fast, wants to hang out with his homies. We think we’re choosing that but we’re not, we’re being driven by archetypes.

Back to writing, a really interesting way to power a scene is to have a clash of archetypes. I’ve been watching Game of Thrones and last night one of the scenes showed the young girl Arya Stark serving as a cupbearer to her worst enemy, Lord Tywin Lannister. The scene between the two of them is great scene because of the two archetypes. A better thing might be Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. A young Warrior archetype and the Sage archetype, and there’s a lot of great energy when you do that in a scene. If you look at practically any great movie or book, the characters are almost always archetypes. Think about the major characters of The Godfather and their enemies, the five families, they’re all archetypes. That gives the story its power.

I’m also a big believer in just reading great stuff and watching great movies if you look at them through the lens of the archetypes to educate yourself. For example, with To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is sort of the archetype of the Knight, the upright and honorable man. The other characters are archetypes too. Try to educate yourself that way. Of course, you want to create nuanced real characters, but I do think that what gives characters power is that sort of archetypal energy.

B.C.: After writing several non-fiction books, you’re returning to the craft of writing historical fiction. How do you make history feel so real in your books?

S.P.: It’s the imagination. It’s trying to imagine yourself back in that world, whatever world it may be. Arthur Golden, a Jewish male writer, wrote this wonderful book Memoirs of a Geisha. It was a bestseller. Basically, he beamed himself in imagination back into the mind of a Japanese geisha female courtesan in the 1930s and when you read it you completely believe everything. So, I think he did a lot of research, he found out all the details of what the true world was like, but then he just used his imagination. In a way, that’s a quality of any storyteller. When we were kids, if we got caught by our mom stealing something or caught by the principal, we would stand in front of the principal and just lie like a son of a bitch, right? So, it’s that quality of imagination, which is a lot of the fun of it. I wish I could get in a time machine and go back to ancient Athens and see what it was like to walk out in the morning and talk to people, but I can’t. So, I do it in my imagination and try to write with that.

B.C.: How do you choose what projects to pursue?

S.P.: I’m a believer in the Muse. I believe that it inspires from some other dimension of reality and I never really know what the next project is going to be. I tune into the cosmic radio station and receive my assignment. I’m always looking for something that’s going to make me stretch a little bit, something I haven’t done before. I certainly don’t want to repeat myself, but usually when an idea comes, it’s a surprise. That’s why I’ve been bouncing back and forth between things that are about the creative process like The War of Art and novels like A Man at Arms. I never know what’s coming next, but I know when I look back over the progression it all makes sense in some crazy way. Look at the whole through line in Bruce Springsteen’s albums and there’s definitely an evolution. It’s the same theme he’s obviously obsessed with. He’s evolving and treating them in deeper and more nuanced ways.

B.C.: When you are writing, what does that process look like?

S.P.: I have two ways of approaching it. One is a very blue-collar way, I have a saying, “Put your ass where your heart wants to be,” which means you sit at the keyboard and just show up every day. The other half is that I’m definitely a believer in the Muse and that you get inspiration and that when you’re working well you don’t even know what you’re doing. You go into another state of mind and you’re channeling stuff. What I’m trying to do as a writer when I’m actually sitting down at the keys is to get out of my own way, get my ego out of it completely, and even get my identity out of it. I’m in a state of imagination and in a very real sense I think you start to see the story that you’re telling and you’re guided by your own instincts. From my experience in the Marine Corps, I have a sense of what men are like in the field, what the humor is like and how everything goes wrong. It’s kind of a mysterious thing, getting into a state where you partly surrender your own control over to what’s going to come out on the page, but at the same time you’re bouncing between your right brain and left brain. You’re trying to control it a little and if the scene starts going in the wrong direction you try to rein it back a little bit and remember where you want it to go. I know it’s kind of a vague answer.

B.C.: Interpreting the Muse is obviously a big part of your process. How do you discern what’s coming to you?

S.P.: I always keep a file I call “new ideas.” Let’s say I’m working on A Man at Arms, I’m constantly looking out in my head for what’s next. I’ll have a bunch of candidates in my “new ideas” file, maybe a movie that I want to do, or a small book I want to try, or a video series, or a collaboration. I’ll put all those things down and check in with them from time to time and ask myself, “Does this make sense? Could I do two years of my life on this particular project?” At times I’ve found that at first an idea leaves me cold, but sometimes it takes quite a while for things to sink in. Actually, the next project that I’m going to do is an autobiographical project. But here’s the interesting thing, my girlfriend Diana urged me to do this and I’ve been resisting it for months. But little by little I recognized that as my own Resistance with a capital R, meaning that it’s a good idea and I’m afraid of it. I’m putting up this self-sabotage in my mind. It took me six months, but I finally bought into the idea and I am going to do it. This might be a bomb. I might spend two or three years and it might just totally lay there, but I’m at the stage where I’m willing to take that chance. It’s a challenge and I want to give it a shot. I ask myself, “Do I really want to work on this thing for another day?” I recognize my own Resistance there because I’ve seen it enough in my 50 years in this racket. So, I say to myself, “Okay, let me push through it.”

Another big thing for me is dreams. I’m a big believer in paying attention to your dreams because it’s coming from your unconscious. It’s coming from that deep source that knows you better than you know yourself. Paying attention to your dreams is an amazing practice that people don’t necessarily pick up very often. I’m a child of the 60s, and certainly a number of different friends have sat me down and given me the talk about paying attention to your dreams. I’ve tried it enough in my own life and it’s worked a bunch of times. Dreams have steadied me on a course, but when I was doubtful a dream would tell me to keep going too. It’s worked for me.

B.C.: What advice do you have for writers contemplating big projects, such as a work of historical fiction?

S.P.: In my book The War of Art I talk about this concept of Resistance with a capital R. Resistance in my definition is that negative voice we hear in our heads that tells us we shouldn’t do this project. As I plan my next book, I’m getting this voice in my head saying, “This is a dumb idea. Nobody’s gonna care about this. It’s been done a million times. You’re going to look like an idiot.” That’s the voice of Resistance and one of the laws of Resistance that I have found over the years is that the more Resistance we feel to a project the more important that project is to the evolution of our soul. So, big Resistance equals big idea. In other words, if you’re feeling a lot of Resistance to something, that’s a good sign. The analogy I make is to think of a dream that we have for a project as a tree in the middle of a meadow on a sunny day. As soon as that tree goes up the tree is going to cast a shadow. That shadow is Resistance, but there would be no shadow if there wasn’t a tree first. So, Resistance always comes second. When we’re feeling big Resistance it’s because there’s a big dream. In the project I’m working on I’m using that to encourage myself, because I say, “Oh, if I’m feeling that much Resistance this project must be important to me.” There’s really no substitute in this case for willpower and whatever it takes for each of us to find his or her way to work through something like that. Some of us hit it head on, some use kind of a jiu-jitsu method, but somehow, we’ve got to find a way to get through that Resistance and keep working.

So, if you’re feeling big resistance, that’s a good sign. If you’re very much afraid of something, that’s a good sign.

* * * * *

Brendan Carr is a podcast host, writer, and military veteran. He holds a Master’s degree from Columbia University. To see more interviews, check out his Youtube channel: http://youtube.com/BrendanCarrOfficial

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