Shunned

These children I love because they are children I love them.  This girl, this boy, a safe haven in a cottage in New Amsterdam in the year of our Lord, 1650, thirteen of us together under a thatched roof. We came by sloop along the coast and then down the South River, a five day journey, setting out in the dead of a cold October night, frost settled on our shoulders, huddled in the bow for warmth, our small bundles stashed under the malodorous pelts. A few undergarments, knitted socks, shawls, dried fruit, some wampum. At anchor every night we did not venture ashore. We had no bibles. I attempted a prayer as we embarked but had forgotten the words. As promised, the pilot had not demanded payment other than a kiss from each of the children, in the Dutch manner. I knew of the New Netherlanders’ warmth and I was grateful. There was no force as we faltered onto the boat or a child cried with cold, only comfort and kindness. I was stooped with wounds and could not sit upright on the wooden bench. A knotted whipping rope had cut my flesh and put me to suffering. My servant had prepared a poultice which I wore strapped to my chest and back. Much had I learned from her those years in Plymouth colony.

That night of my escape, the owls cooed, then sunrise. I looked up and there it was: the blue canopy of Heaven.

                                                         ***

In the end is the beginning and in the beginning is the end, Elizabeth had told me. It was the name I had given her the day she was baptized. We had traded tongues and she spoke English with ease. I studied her alphabet but could not construct her language adeptly. Still, I understood most of what she said to me. She loved the children as much as I, but could not travel with us to the land beyond the Fresh River, she said. Her own band would welcome her return after our departure. She led the way and then we parted.

One night, in the plotting time, she had led me into the dismal swamp beyond the palisades to meet the sachem. Thankfully, he remembered me well. He understood my plight and blessed me with a deep- throated song. We smoked a pipe. He knew a pilot, he said, a former privateer. Dutch in origin, he traded goods and guns for fur with all the tribes and then sold them to the whites—French, English, Dutch. His allegiance was to himself alone and to peace among our peoples.

                                               ***

 We were on the ship crossing the vast and furious ocean—saints, sinners, strangers, adventurers, pilgrims. Subdued by hunger and illness, storms, the shift in seasons, spring to summer. Even our holy men became demented.

I said to my parents, Where is my gift?  They had missed my tenth birthday. My beloved mother’s wound had not healed. There was a physician on board, but no leeches. Rotting flesh stenched the cabin. Our hammocks groaned.

We had boarded a smaller ship in Leiden where I was born. There were no good-byes or celebrations. Our community traveled as one whenever possible. Only the old and frail remained.

I had never seen the land of my ancestors until we approached the white cliffs where a larger ship was waiting for us. At anchor, broadside, we shifted from one to the other, never laying feet on our English mother’s soil. We set sail in the morning at high tide.

But let us talk no more of old things, my parents had  always said. Let us dis-remember the harsh crossing, they might have said, the expectations, soon disappointed, of wondrous landfall in the new world, the sailors’ landfall cry, like a gull’s, watery graves, the joyous spouting whales as fermented bodies slipped gently out of their linen wraps onto the slanted plank and into the deep beyond.

The land was wooded to the brink of the sea. Strange creatures with painted faces and feathers in their hair, their upper bodies slick with grease, rode toward us in a fleet of narrow boats. In the stern of each vessel were men in floppy hats. Their once-pale skins were weather-worn and brown. Their clothes were dusty. Sticks held their vests in place instead of buttons.

Do not be alarmed, someone shouted from below.

They came aboard. They smelled like bear or deer.

                                                  ***

So, child, Constance said, my first night in the colony. I was not the only orphan—there were five of us arrived that day—but she addressed us all as child, individually, standing us in a line in the middle of the log cabin.

You will stay here in this long house. This is your bed. This is your hook. Here is a bible to keepsake under your pillow. Say your prayers morning and night. The water buckets are there. Lucy will show you the outhouse and how to use it. The earth floor is damp, keep your boots on at all times. If you awake itching, let us know, and we will sweat the lice. I am your orphan mistress.

In Leiden my room had wooden floors, large windows, curtains. The voyage had obliterated all such comforts. Now there were twenty beds side by side with only a stretch of arm between them, no windows, a hole in the rounded roof to vent the fire’s smoke. It was to become my task to stoke it as I was one of the larger orphans.

Did I feel sad? Was I reflective? Did I comprehend where I was? What had befallen me? Was God, as I understood Him, protecting me, guiding me, as the holy men always promised? I had no answer to these questions. And, in that moment, I missed my parents and siblings, all dead. Without a likeness of them in my satchel, I could not conjure their image. I was not alone, there were many others, but I felt alone.  Children, once so sweet, once so loved and loving, we had arrived lost and miserable, and only had each other.

***

I was not accustomed to constant prayer. My parents were observant but not devout. This they had hidden from the elders and from me else they would not have been selected for the journey; they would have been cast out. So it was a surprise to me that so many in the colony were absorbed in prayer and injunctions. They had odd ideas about child rearing as a consequence. We were schooled in the mornings by Constance and Lucy, orphans themselves, and then set to work tidying our cabin, the outhouse and the grounds. Before supper, we went to the chapel to pray. Hunger gnawed at us as we were force-fed the scriptures. I resisted the commentaries; they made no sense to me. As for play, it was forbidden unless the game strengthened our bodies or our minds, and those only for a limited time every day. I had carried my collection of marbles with me and offered them to the other children, but they were soon confiscated. I was chastised for being frivolous. Indeed, chastisement was common currency in the colony.

                                                            ***

That man I loved because he was a good man of sweet and pleasant countenance I loved him. His skin was the color of brass and he was comely to behold, very graceful and well formed with long black hair and well mannered. Others in the colony described him as tall, straight, muscular and well-proportioned, all this was true. He was not obese, neither was he deformed in any way. His cheekbones were high and prominent, the amber eyes widely separated, his white teeth gleaming and none were missing. His skin was shiny with fish oil or eagle fat, the odor at times disturbing. The bright red markings on his high forehead, temples and cheeks were meticulously rendered. I could not take my eyes away and plotted an encounter whenever possible. And then, one day, I met him in the strawberry field at dusk. We filled baskets and spoke in our hybrid tongue, English and Wampanoag words commingled. We had much else in common. He was always alone and so was I, the basket beside him his only companion. We lay down together in the furrow between the plants. Night fell over us.

Constance said, “What have you done, child?”

And I replied: “Ours is a most strict and sacred bond.”

And she said:  “That is the way we speak of God. Gabrielle, I beseech you, look up to Heaven to quiet your spirit.”

That night I prayed. I had heard a profound sermon and prayed the sermon, prayed that it would sanctify me and guide me: We are all in all places strangers and pilgrims, travelers and sojourners, most properly, having no dwelling but in this earthen tabernacle; our dwelling is but a wandering and our abiding but as a fleeting, and in a word our home is nowhere, but in the heavens.

                                                ***.

Make no mistake, dear reader, no transgression in Plymouth colony was ever really set right. Far away now, I see the colony in my mind’s eye. Most of the original houses are wrecked and overgrown with grass and weeds. There is hardly any light except the shadowy, softly moving glow of departing sloops across the Inland Sound. How did this land appear to English sailors’ eyes, to the first pale-faced settlers? Its stolen trees, the trees that had made way for our houses and crops, had once answered only to others. And these others had become our friends and then, predictably, our enemies. I contemplated this fate and rejected it. In the vast obscurity of the receding woodland, a different future rolled out before me.

***

Reason rarely prevails in love, war, or religious revelation. There was an enterprise laid plain by the imperial nations, the rape of virgin continents. The priests were as brutal and greedy as the investors; once they arrived, the land became their greatest temptation. There was no respite from the violent ambience of those times, not even for a young orphan who spent her days in the garden or the nursery tending and nurturing. To my knowledge, only Catholic nuns led a secure, peaceful, contemplative life sequestered in their nunneries. But the history of that church also sickened me.        

Vines everywhere, cherry trees, plum trees, and many others which we knew not on the other side of the world; many kinds of herbs, we found in winter, strawberries innumerable, sorrel, yarrow, carvel, brook-lime liver-wort, water-cresses, mint, great store of leeks, and onions, the best water that ever we drunk ( beer abandoned as daily liquid) and the brooks full of fish. Such bounty softens the soul. My lover encouraged me to bathe in all seasons, running water or frozen stream. In many ways, he cleansed me. Return to the putrid settlement was a shock, more so in the confines of the chapel where garments were stiffened with mud, urine and excrement. The dirt floor was dusted with cow’s blood and sawdust to absorb the release of human waste underfoot. I devised an antidote: small bouquets of herbs and flowers the Great Queen, twenty years gone, referred to as a nosegay. I considered my contribution useful.  I sowed and planted, made bouquets beyond my own use and distributed them to others. I became so expert in their creation that others in the colony dubbed me “Queen Tusse,” and the bouquets “ tussie mussies.” Unfortunately, I was not indifferent to this recognition; I flaunted it.

                                                       ***

He was of the snipe clan and resembled that marsh bird in its entirety—long limbed, fleet, alert, industrious and helpful to his own people and to mine. And it is strange to possess those in the colony in that way, to voice “mine.” Apart from the children in my care I had no sense of  belonging. My lover. That is correct. My lover. After a harsh winter and many deaths, he was sent to us as an emissary of good fortune and good will. At first, we called to him by his nickname, Bird, a translation of his native name, too difficult to pronounce. His attention to our well-being never faltered. If a house was felled in a storm, he righted it, or built a stronger shelter nearby. He dug the fields and harvested crops. He fed the swine and kept the coops clean. He never expected recompense and when wampum was left on the transom of his house, he returned it. Was he a saint? Was he an angel? That was the extent of our biblical mythology to explain his seemingly selfless actions.

And so he was intertwined in our daily lives from the time he was twelve moons or so. This was how he described his age, in lunar years, as signified by the markings on a turtle’s back. 

***

We had set sail in a prosperous wind. The sloop moved hastily and we were not pursued. A good store of turkeys on shore and dried fruit and fish on board provided sustenance. We had casks of fresh water. The captain remained constant in his kindness yet I was shy of him, distracted by my sorrow. As the children were sleeping,  mine eyes were weeping.

***

My lover’s English name was William. It was I who named him after the great bard as his speech was equally poetical. And he called me Of the Sea in his language because of my green eyes and the manner in which I had surfaced into his world.

For as the sun is daily new and old

He is my love still telling what is told.                

Sonnet 76, dear reader.

                                                ***

“This is a love crush,”  Constance said. “End it before you are discovered.”

                                                ***

Once I took him to our chapel to pray his own prayers between the whitewashed walls. Devoid of any ornament, their very austerity was threatening, and he left before the sermon was over. He had nothing to say about the Englishman’s chapel when next we met, or ever after, but I saw it most clearly through his eyes for the first time: the hard battle-ready pews, the naked dirt floors, the stern pulpit and our preacher in his somber black robe. “These heathens among us,” he began. There were perhaps ten natives in the congregation that day seated in the back pews. In truth, they had never been among us and never would be in Plymouth Colony.

***

“We are the chosen people divinely anointed,” Constance told me that day.

“Why then are we deprived of all pleasure?” I asked.

Outside the lush landscape beckoned to me. This land I loved because of its fecundity, I loved it.

***

“Where do you keep?” I asked William one day. But he did not understand the word “keep.” I was curious to witness his dwelling. Where did he reside when he left our fields to return to the forest?

For many moons he refused to take me there. His reluctance referred to my safety alone and the integrity of the treaty between our tribes. My defiance worried him greatly as his foresight and wisdom were larger than my own. But after much badgering, he led me to his weetu beyond the first swamp. It was one of several of varying sizes, a small village. Each house had a vegetable patch in front or back or to the side, capturing the sun’s angle. His own was not very large as he shared it only with his widowed mother. It was extremely clean and tidy. We sat cross legged on the matted floor and ate and spoke.  My stomach swelled, I knew I was with child.

Perhaps my life would have been different if I had remained in William’s weetu that day. I wanted to stay, most assuredly, but William insisted otherwise.

                                                   ***

Soon enough, I was called to account in front of the elders. They demanded full disclosure of my sinning, where it had transpired and with whom. Their accusations against me were predictable. Had I been raped by one of the recently arrived lustful young strangers? Or been tempted by him? If I had been raped against my will, I need only point to the perpetrator and I would be saved.

“There is no perpetrator,” I said.

It was Constance who betrayed me. The ferocity of the elders’ interrogations was too great for her fragility. “No doubt William is a spy,” she said, “and Gabrielle complicit in his deception.”

The next morning, my lover’s head was on a pike outside the palisade.

                                                 ***

My punishment was shunning. No one was permitted to speak to me or of me.  Only Elizabeth remained steadfast and courageous on my behalf.

                                                ***

And so I left Plymouth Colony behind. I knew that the Dutch colony—its houses, taverns, and shops—would  in some respects resemble Leiden. I knew the language ; it had always doubled with the English tongue. We would be welcome in a safe haven as our families had been so many years ago when they fled from England to The Netherlands. We would not be shunned or punished.

We were taken at once to the  Beverwijck Orphanage, the orphanmaster, Johan, in attendance. The house was far from the landing, north into the growing fields overlooking the river. We traveled by horse and cart over Beaver’s Path, a rough road carved out of forest and fields. Children ran freely everywhere and the streets and hillocks echoed with their laughter and play. I was reminded of my own happy childhood in Leiden and collapsed into a contentment I had not known in many months. Even the elders of the Dutch Church were amiable in a gruff, wry way.  I was with child out of wedlock and therefore required guidance and protection, they said.  And what did they mean by this?  That though I was no longer young, I was still in many ways innocent. I had little education beyond the scriptures and there was more, so much more, for a woman to learn. Had I read Spinoza? Had I read Descartes, committed the verse of Shakespeare to memory? No, I had not.

And so the schoolhouse became my cathedral.

                                          ***

My son and my daughter were born in November under clear, cool skies. The stars were propitious, Venus ascendant.  My waters broke at dawn as I was sweeping the flagstone porch. I was calm. I woke Johan and he sent for the midwife. Soon all the orphans were up and about, drawing water, preparing the birthing chair and the bed with fresh linens for lying-in, holding my hand, walking me in the garden as distraction from the labor. And what an apt word that is for woman’s work. It took twelve hours to release my children into the world.

***

Non anse, a sucking child.  Muckquachuckquemese, a little boy. Squasese, a little girl.  Tackqiuwock, twins. Dear William, please forgive me. I will, for convenience, give our children English names: John after Johan, the gentle orphanmaster here, and Ariel for our spritely little girl.

                                                ***

The children required a new teacher. I was unschooled and had argued this often. I reiterated what the church elders had said to me. I did not know enough to educate others. But my master did not heed my argument. I became a teacher.

                                      ***

In New Netherland, the weather was hotter in August and September than in Plymouth colony and fevers more prevalent. Its influence upon all of us, animal and vegetable, are worthy of notice as I write. Moschetoes abounded, as always in sickly seasons; grasshoppers covered the ground, worse when the weather cooled and then heated again in late autumn. Death turned every corner, day and night, and took the youngest children away most quickly. The appearance of a white frost as the leaves began to turn was most welcome. Its effects upon the fever were obvious and general. It declined, in every part of the colony. 

***

And so the next ten years passed  peacefully without molestation for my transgressions or that of others. Only scoundrels and thieves were punished in New Amsterdam. Those that survived the epidemics grew old together. I was not coerced in my religion. The children were schooled properly. The wars with the tribes subsided; soldiers and Lenape entered the colony again with their families, their skills, their herbs and corn, their hand-crafted baskets and clothes, their wisdom. The markets expanded to include more traders and the slavers multiplied. And though the colony became rougher because of them, and the taverns bawdier, this did not affect the contentedness of our daily lives. Representatives from New England met with representatives from New Amsterdam and there was peace between our colonies. Ships arrived from Brazil with refugees from the Inquisition. There were now Jews in the colony, Germans, Swedes, and many other nationalities, all living together, working together and marrying one another. It was not a life I could have foreseen in my youth in Plymouth colony with its cold, constricted opinions of right and wrong, its  unbendingness.

When the English took over the colony they assured everyone we would not be molested, that we could work and live together as one. Their prognostication was well-meaning, but also conditional. Everything was dependent on our will which, long ago, I had learned was both wavering and corrupt. A man’s greed is like a mirror that swallows its own tongue.

______________________________________________________________________________

Carol Bergman’s articles, essays, and interviews have appeared in The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, and Salon.com. Her essay, “Objects of Desire,” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize; her short stories have appeared in many literary magazines. She is the author of  biographies of Mae West and Sidney Poitier, a memoir, Searching for Fritzi,  and two books of novellas, Sitting for Klimt and Water Bab, two novels, Say Nothing and What Returns to Us and The Nomads Trilogy, a collection of flash fiction. She compiled and edited Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories, nominated for Columbia University’s J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize. She lives in New Paltz, NY and teaches writing at New York University.

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Iceni Queen

This is a black land. The caked earth is black from the blood spilled for suppression and spite. The trees are black for no birds sing, deafened as they are by the cries of pain. The sky is black as winter approaches and all hope seems lost. The smell of death pervades our lives.

Before I was born the Romans invaded our land and my father, as king of our tribe, the Iceni, surrendered with other tribal kings to the Emperor Claudius. Father was always a peacemaker, my mother says. To secure our independence, he swore loyalty to the oppressors. In return for the taxes we pay to Rome, they allow us to live on our own land.

My mother tells me she remembers my father whispering to her, “I have thought of a way to protect you from Roman rule, if anything should happen to me.”

“How,” she asks him.

“I will make a will and leave half my estates to the new Emperor, Nero, and the other half to you and our girls. Nero will allow you to continue to reign and manage the land so the three of you will be safeguarded.”

My sister, Latis, myself and my mother Boudicea, make sure my father remains healthy because we are not as sure as he is that any Roman is honourable. The local tax collectors are dishonest. My father, King Prasutagas, knows because even though the money leaves here paid in full, it is he who must make good the frequents shortfalls. He just pays again. He chooses not to see the violence carried out by legionnaires who run amok in our land. Beatings, killings, and rapes. The governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, cannot control his own troops. The Romans blood lust, dishonesty and ineffectual governing strengthen my resolve to resist these conquerors. They, however, continue to try and impose their will by military strength.

I am Minerva, daughter of King Prasutagas and Queen Boudicea, and at this time I am maddened with rage. My mother says all thirteen-year olds are angry. However, she acknowledges I have a right to be furious today for she is too. The Romans have killed my father, you see.

* * * * *

Despite our father’s allegiance to Rome and his will leaving half our estates to Nero, the Romans seize all our land now he is gone. They plunder the house and take all they can carry. Gone are our coins, our silverware, our pottery. Gone is our winter store, our land and our people who work on it. They do more. They do worse. My mother confronts the Roman overlords for stealing our property and they seize the opportunity to humiliate and dishonour us. For her protestations they strip and publicly flog her. I watch and my heart cries for her. I feel her pain and her shame. I do not let her see my pity. She is a proud woman. How dare they flog the Queen of the Iceni, I shout in my head. My only response is to remain stoic. So, I stand superior and strong and face the enemy. I will not give them the pleasure of seeing my distress.

Latis and I are beaten and raped over and over, by Roman slaves. As if we are less than slaves. I am in agony but I do not make a sound. I hear Latis as she whimpers. I would have thought that Roman slaves would have some pity for our plight, mistreated as they are by their masters. They do not. They know nothing but cruelty so they deal the same to us. It is rare they are allowed to mete out any punishment and they revel in this opportunity to debase princesses of the Royal House. Our attendants carry us home for we cannot walk.

Our mother’s skin is torn and raw and her women attend to her wounds with tears of compassion and regret rolling down their cheeks. Her back hurts and, unable to find rest, she winces with every sting and stab. The passion to settle scores keeps me going. Some day it will boil over.

“You are just children and are ruined,” she murmurs. Yes, it’s true and our ongoing worry is they have ruined our wombs or maybe left Roman babies there. I won’t consider douching as I am still healing, but I ask for a potion. Latis says she will cope, come what may.

“We will heal,” Latis says and reaches for mother’s hand.

Because we are vulnerable Latis thinks we should flee, but she does not say this. Because we are violated, I think, we should fight but I do not say that either. Not in so many words.

“The physical injury will heal,” I tell her. “But, if you can, give us some hope to relieve the heartache.” My mother looks at me and smiles. I think she recognises the strength she passed on to me.

“I promise you,” she says through clenched teeth, “I will avenge the betrayal and infamy brought on our family. The reason we are spared is to fight another day.”

“We stand by you, mother, and together we will face what must be done.” I tell her, yearning to fight.

“My girls, you give me spirit,” she declares. “We are on our own now your father is dead, but we have support. The Iceni tribe have the courage of ten Roman legions.”

“Yes, as soon as we are healed we will strike back,” I say and mother seethes, “For my daughters honour I must have redress. For my daughters future, I will rise up. For the death of my husband and their brutality to us, I will repay the Romans. I will not rest until the Romans are crushed.” She reaches for a large hard apple on the table and with dark eyes that burn into our souls, she squeezes it until it squashes through her fingers.

We three need the winter months to recover before we attempt revenge. In the meantime, our mother, Queen Boudicea, starts to plan.

* * * * *

My mother’s most faithful attendant whispers, “They have taken much, my Queen, but I buried your jewellery. They have not taken that. I have it for you.”

“Branigian, you are a dear friend,” she says and softens her usually strident voice. “The only one who would have thought of it. Bring it and let me see.”

The attendant offers the box. Her hair adornments lie on top. She passes over the bone and wood combs and selects one with white stones that glisten in the shaft of spring sunlight shining through the window. She hands it to Branigian who curls her hair off her face and holds it in place with the comb.

Beneath the combs is our mother’s torque, made by Sumerian artisans, and given to her by King Prasutagas as a betrothal gift. “This I hold very close to my heart,” she sighs and hugs it to her chest before placing it around her neck. “And this,” she declares holding aloft the large fibula our father bought for us to give to her, “was always my favourite.” We know well the big clasp, our gift to her at the celebration of her birth month in her thirtieth summer. It is large and shiny yellow, the metal they call gold, with intricate lacing around the edges and a green central stone. It is very striking and she wears it often to fasten her cloak. She finds the rings she commissioned from Egypt and places some on her fingers, and shows us.

“Now I feel like the Queen of the Iceni,” she says, happier than I have seen her since the death of my father.

“You are a striking woman, my Queen,” says Branigian and we smile. Branigan has found the words drifting around our minds.

Mother reaches into the box and selects a silver wristlet with small blue shimmering stones. “This is the one you favour, Branigian,” she says, “but it is too small for my large wrist. I’d like you to have it.”

Branigian does like this piece. When the Queen asks her to select jewellery, Branigian is sure to include it. However, stunned by value of the gift and unsure whether to accept it, she searches for the correct words. My mother laughs. “If you say no, I shall be displeased. If you take it and wear it, I shall be pleased.”

The attendants leave and she turns to us. My beautiful sister, Latis, is fourteen years of age, one year older than me. Her jet-black piercing eyes, like mother’s, make her look defiant but it is a mask. She has father’s calm qualities. Her pride is her lustrous hair that falls to her waist. Our mother hands her two pearl clustered combs that will look stunning in her dark locks.

“These pieces were fashioned in Wessex,” mother tells her. “Wear them with pride because you were conceived when the king and I visited Cerdic of Wessex to discuss alliances.” Latis bows her head in gratitude.

I am named for a Roman Goddess, Minerva. I dislike the name because of its association with the Romans. My father, however, saw my name as another way to demonstrate assimilation into Roman culture. Unlike Latis, I am a warrior. I am tall like mother and my hair is the same colour as hers: the shade of the big copper beech in autumn. She hands me a silver necklace with greenish-blueish beads.

“This will compliment your colouring and your hair,” she says. “It comes from Persia where they mine it in the Alimersai Mountains.”

“Thank you, mother,” I say, “but why give away your jewellery now?”

She is direct with us. “We head into battle and do not know if we will defeat the enemy or die on the field. I would ask that you wear the jewellery because if we perish I want the victors to know we are the rulers of this land. I want a proper burial. They may afford us that small tribute.”

* * * * *

We rise early. No one can sleep. A mix of edginess, excitement, and elation fills the air. The horses are restless as our people make ready to leave. The women who fight alongside the menfolk, paint blue stripes across their cheeks and blacken their eyes. Mother is quiet. Latis is sick.

We dress with care. Our mother adorns herself with her betrothal torque, a gold armband and her copper crown. She ties a red belt around the waist of her dark blue woollen tunic. Her cloak of pale blue, with red and yellow flashes, is swept high to one side and fastened with the large gold fibula we gifted to her. Her reddish hair falls, thick and wavy, down her back below her hips. Latis and I take similar care. She dresses in shades of grey and I am in green. We wear our jewellery as instructed.

Boudicea stands tall in her war-chariot, fitted with scythe blades on both wheels to disable enemy chariots as we pass. The chariot is pulled by two palomino horses and as impatient as Boudicea to be off, they shake their blonds manes, snort, stomp and try to rear up. We take our places slightly behind the Queen, I on her right holding a dagger and on her left is Latis, looking fearful. She has a right to be fearful. She rides into battle with a baby in her belly.

Mist hovers over the camp when, just as dawn breaks, Boudicea takes her javelin in her right hand and steers her chariot between our fighting men and women.

“She is a fierce, wild woman,” I hear someone say.

“No, I am a wild woman,” answers a woman. “She is a warrior queen.”

They listen to Boudicea’s shrill voice as she tells them they have been enslaved long enough; that they do this for their daughters, their sons; that this is a fight for deliverance from our enemies.

“These Romans do not know to fear us,” she shrieks. “Today we will show them their error. Today they will see our strength and solidarity. Today we will trample on their pride and arrogance.”

When a rooster announces daybreak, they roar. Everyone recognises the sign of good luck. 

“Have fortitude, good women and men, for we shall win our freedom.” 

They cheer more and their excitement is infectious. The Trinovantes, Iceni allies to the south, have joined the revolt and when hear the jubilation they call out their praise. All are pleased to pick up their weapons and follow Boudicea on the road to Colchester.

Now an established Roman outpost the former Trinovantian capital, Colchester, is detested because of its Temple to Claudius built with our money while our families scraped a living. Colchester defenses are poor and it is easy to kill and slaughter as many Romans as dwell here. They are mostly old; old enough to have injured and slaughtered our people and vandalised what we own. We have no pity. We mutilate the dead bodies, destroy the temple, behead a statue of Nero, and burn the city. The victory increases our optimism. After two days we are spent but still able to drink the Roman’s ale and good wine in celebration.

That evening, we three women go round the troops and rally them for the morrow. The ninth division, we hear, is heading this direction and we must prepare. Our fighters, boosted by success and the liquor, are ready to take on all of the Roman empire.

We meet the enemy on the road. The appearance of charging, shrieking tribal women terrifies the soldiers. They fall back and we defeat them without many losses. As we advance towards London, some on foot, some riding the horses we liberate, we welcome other oppressed tribes who join us along the way. All eager to have their day.

The Governor Suetonius hears of the rebellion and reaches London before us. Seeing it is impossible to defend with his limited troops he departs with his army. When we hear this news, we are joyful and energised. The Roman army is falling to the right and to the left without combat. We are unchallenged when we enter London and burn it to the ground. Boudicea is as bitter as any man and shows no mercy for the young, old, women or children.

“I am ashamed,” says Latis when she sees the bodies of children left on the ground for scavengers and those of high-born women impaled on stakes.

“All this desecration carried out in the name of revenge.”

“Shameful deeds necessitate revenge,” I counter.

“Shameful deeds try to justify revenge when forgiveness might be as effective.”

I will have the last word. “Well, we can forgive them now they are dead.”

* * * * *

Next morning, we meet with Boudicea to discuss the news that Suetonius has increased the number of his troops and is now heading this way. As we plan, a small bird flies into the tent and flutters around, looking for a way out. Silence descends.

“This is a bad omen,” Boudicea says.

I too know this superstition. “It’s only a bird that’s lost.” I tell my mother and sister but both look troubled.

“That’s just what the omen portends,” my sister answers. “It is telling us we are lost and must prepare for change, or death.”

As I sweep the bird out, I catch their fear. Boudicea tells us, “We have been lucky at Colchester, London and St Albans but I need to know what each of you will do if we are not so lucky in the next fight. Latis what will you do?”

“I will try to escape, Mother. I want to wed and make a good life for the child, I carry,” she answers and places a hand on her stomach.”

“I like that,” mother answers. “It’s good to know our blood line will continue. If you can, take Branigian and some others with you.” Latis nods. “And, what will you do Minerva? Are you of the same mind?”

“No. Either victorious or defeated, I will stay to the end. I will remain on the battlefield and fight to the death. It is what I must do to vindicate the death of father, punish them for what they did to you, and have atonement for the rubbish they forced into my body. Whether we live or die this battle will dignify our house and honour the Iceni tribe once more.”

“Your dedication does you justice, Minerva. Your father would be proud of you. I am proud of you.” I smile when I hear her say that for her praise is rare.

“What will you do, Mother?” Latis asks after a pause.

“I will fight with every ounce of my being, but if we are overpowered I must get away from the field. I cannot be taken alive because the Romans will use my downfall and subsequent torture to supress our tribes. I will try to return here to camp and get help. Should I not be successful in escaping I will take poison. My attendants have instructions to bury or burn my body.”

The sense of uncertainty hangs in the air. We planned for success and planned for defeat. We are ready. The three of us hold hands, then hug. We say our goodbyes, leave the tent and rally the tribal warriors. They are eager for further wins. Many have grown prosperous exploiting the spoils of war. Such stories as will be told in years to come.

Boudicea climbs into our war-chariot. Latis and I climb in behind and call to all around us, conveying camaraderie and expectation we do not feel. They wave back, believing in their certain success and cheer us as we ride out at great speed.

Boudicea’s hair lifts in the wind and flies behind her.

____________________________________________________________________________

Vivien Hollis was born in N. Ireland and now lives in Canada. She visits England and Ireland each year for immersion in history and craic. Having retired as a professor at the University of Alberta she returned to her first passion, fiction writing. Vivien is a member of the Strathcona Writers Foundation. A number of her short stories are published. Speak up was published online in The Galway Review and selected for the printed edition, Galway Review 7.  Hard Life was awarded an Honourable Mention and published in 2016 by Canadian Tales, Red Tuque, (IBSN 978-1-927049-05-1). See her website. Vivien Hollistorical short stories she is working on her first historical novel.

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Road to Montgomery

The winter breeze encouraged Michael’s body forward as he strolled down the pathway, his face determined. The dull thuds of his leather shoes echoed throughout the silent street, the dusty windows of the apartments watching every step. The tall brick giants towered over on either side of him, each separated by the dark lines of the alleys. The sky was like the shallow water of the coast, bright, with the afternoon sun gazing out in the horizon. The thirteen year old hugged his oversized jacket, the warmth of the sun, a mere candle. Michael smiled. His body tingled with thrill and excitement as his mind pictured the great scene. The huge mass of people, the shaking of hands, the empowering speech, the shouts of agreement and deafening applause. Mr King for President? Absolutely, amen, Michael thought dreamily. He glanced back to an empty street, only a crow perched on a nearby post-box. Everyone must be there already, Michael thought. He realised the approaching grey clouds behind him, urging him on. 

“The speech will be at half past three at the capitol.” 

When he had heard the news at the gathering, his passion for change burned fiercely. Yet his mother’s thoughts clashed with his.

“It’s too dangerous! Don’t you remember what happened to Emmett Till? Let the adults protest. They don’t need kids around.” his mother had explained back at the apartment.

Michael had dismissed his mother’s worries and snuck out unnoticed. Mr King was coming here, to Montgomery, with thousands of people from Selma marching with him! Mr King! The man he admired most. Michael also had a dream. He wanted equality in all areas, including education. He was sick of hearing white teenagers bullying him and his friends about how terrible his education was and making crude comments of his skin. Michael wanted to be a part of the thousands that supported Mr King and he wasn’t going to miss the speech. He quickened his pace down the path, readjusting his flat cap in the process. Suddenly, the faint sound of voices reached his ears and Micheal stopped in his tracks. He recognised the voices to be male and came from the apartments to his left. Maybe some latecomers, he thought. It would be great to have some company. As the voices became clearer, a flicker of doubt crossed his mind. What if it’s – His thoughts were interrupted as two white adults appeared out of an alley, fifty metres away. They instantly saw him and their mouths shut to form wicked grins on their pale faces. 

Michael ran. 

His heart pounded against his chest as he heard the fast footsteps behind him, getting closer every second. Fear was running beside him when he took a right turn into one of the alleys desperate to find someone on the other side of the apartments. The narrow alley was unwelcoming as the filthy smell of decaying rubbish reached his nostrils and the nest of crows squawked, taking flight as he ran past. Michael heard the men behind him laughing as they chased after him effortlessly. Tear swelled in Michael’s eyes as he imagined the end result. But maybe he had a chance. Maybe there was a group of his own in the next street. Maybe there was hope. 

He was wrong.

To his horror the end of the alley was blocked by a brick wall. He spun around facing his two pursuers just metres away. Michael desperately banged on the closest door near him screaming for help. There was no reply. Michael’s heart sank as his pursuers approached. Both looked to be their mid-twenties, casually dressed, slim and their ghostly skin haunted him. He didn’t want to be the next Emmett Till. He screamed for help. No one replied.

“Tried to run away did ya,” the first one said with a devilish grin.  

“He’s probably going to that ridiculous speech,” the other scolded to Michael. “Well, not anymore.”

Suddenly, a man appeared at the entrance of the alley, noticing them. He was older than Michael and shared the same skin colour. A glimmer of hope shone into Michael’s soul. 

“Help me, sir!” Michael screamed waving. 

Michael caught a slight flicker of fear in the eyes of the two white men as they stopped advancing to Michael and quickly turned their heads to see the newcomer. But was already gone.

He left me.

The two white men burst out laughing, mocking the cowardly man as they regained their confidence. The last sparks of hope died inside of Michael. Fear had killed courage, despair replaced excitement and his will to live controlled him. 

“I wasn’t going to the speech, I swear!” Michael cried as the white men refocused their attention to him.

“Is that so?” sarcasm poisoned his throat. “May I ask, have you ever heard of Emmett Till?”

The conversation ended.

Michael laid on the cold hard ground. He silently gasped for air, each time more painful than the last. He tried closing his red rimmed eyes hoping it would lessen the pain, but it was agonizing. The white men left, leaving Michael with bruises all over his body, a gash across his face and several broken ribs. He wanted to shout for help. He wanted to scream. He wanted to live. He didn’t want to die. I’m not ready. Please, Lord help me. Please. Crying, his tears watered his final resting place. He was cold, but the sun was covered by the dark clouds and the chilling breeze was unmerciful. The doors that stood closed continued to stay silent. He heard the wings of death flutter down and it’s claws landing lightly near him. I don’t want to die. Michael forgot about the speech, the protest and his dream. He breathed his last. He just wanted to live.

______________________________________________________________________________

Timothy Xu is a high school student studying in Epping Boys High School in Sydney, Australia. Coming first in English out of his whole grade in 2019, this local Vegemite eater likes to read and write various genres of fiction in hope to hook and engage his readers with his short stories.

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Occupied: Vienna is a Broken Man and Daughter of Hunger

In my collection of poetry Occupied: Vienna is a Broken Man and Daughter of Hunger, I explore the time period in which my mother grew up in post-WW2 Austria. The book became an idea after I wrote “Hunger,” a poem based on her stories of that time period. My mother was declining with Alzheimer’s, and because she was losing her memory, I conceived a book based on the few stories I remembered and research. I focused on the children. The main sources I used were After the Reich by Gile MacDonagh, Wir Besatuzungskinder: Toechter und Soehne Allierten Soldaten ERzaehlen by Ute Baur Timmerbrink, interviews, and online sources. 

From MacDonagh I learned about how the Allies responded to the victory of the war not as liberators but as conquerors. They put soldiers in prison camps and treated them similarly to the Jews.  Rheinwiesenlager was one of them, where the prisoners were set in barracks, fed little, and forced to endure the cold out in the hail. They ate little out of their tin cans of food and slept on wooden bunks with no mattresses. Mock executions tortured them. America exercised its revenge and felt justified. The women during the war fended for themselves because most men were away on the battlefield, and food was scarce. The Russian soldiers often raped the women and some children were left homeless. The first section of my book explores the experience of people, mostly children, during these hungry postwar years.

The Austrians suffered more hunger than the Germans because Germany had more infrastructure and industry and was able to recover more quickly than Austria, which had an economy based more on agriculture. An entire bartering system started, where people traded their watches, shoes, cuckoo clocks, etc.  for food. I perused antedotes and characters that MacDonagh wrote about to understand, for example, how many apricots were worth how many bottles of schnaps.

I also interviewed Helmut and Ingvild Birkhan and my uncle in Austria. Helmut grew up with a socialist father who never fought in the war. They stayed outside of Vienna in a village. He had to wear an old pair of his mother’s high heels to walk a mile to the school. They gathered nettle, berries, and mushrooms in the forest. When the Russian soldiers came during the occupation, they hid and built shelters out of brambles because the other women hiding in a shelter in order not to be raped wouldn’t let his family join them, since his family had a young baby who cried and made noise that would alert the Russian soldiers. Ingvild Birkhan told me stories of how she and her mother and siblings moved several times. When they left their first shelter, they buried half their belongings. They, too, gathered food from the forest and desperately tried to hide from the Russians.

Some women became pregnant and gave birth to Besatzungkinder, “Occupation children.” Some came from loving relationships, women who fell in love with Allied soldiers who took them out to see music, dance, and drink schnaps. Many of the Americans were African American, and the children born through these relationships grew up in a still racist country where they were frowned upon for being “Negerkinder.” Some were from Russian soldiers who were kind. Some were fathered by rapists. These children usually grew up fatherless, and the mothers were frowned upon.

My mother began declining from Alzheimer’s when she turned sixty. When she resided in a nursing home and lost all her memory, then her language, it was then that I wished I had asked for more stories. What I did know was that they lived in Russian-occupied Leoben, Austria, and my grandmother died of Lupus at thirty-five, leaving my nine-year-old mother and her three siblings to an abusive stepmother and years of hunger.

In the Midwest, where my mother immigrated with my mentally ill father, I grew up as an American. My mother labored all summer in the garden, and our fridge was always packed. The second half of my book explores my life growing up in a family with an immigrant mother and a mentally ill father, who in 2010 committed suicide by throwing himself out of a window in Vienna. The metaphorical broken man of Vienna became the literal broken body of my father.

We need to look at the period after the war as a warning.  Immigrants are separated from their families on the border of the U.S. and right-wing countries are gaining traction throughout the world.  If we do not address history and learn from it, everyone will suffer. If we project our shadows onto the very bodies we share as the human race, the cost could be tremendous, and we will all pay the consequences.

______________________________________________________________________________

Kika Dorsey is a poet and fiction writer in Boulder, Colorado and lives with her two children, husband, and pets. Her books include a chapbook Beside Herself (Flutter Press, 2010) and two previous full-length collections, Rust and Coming Up for Air (Word Tech Editions, 2016, 2018). She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize four times. Currently, she is an instructor of English at Front Range Community College and works as a writing coach and ghostwriter. In her free time, she swims miles in pools and runs and hikes in the open space of Colorado’s mountains and plains.

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J. T. Evans

I.
 
May.  The Moon When Ponies Shed Their Shaggy Hair. 
Horsemen against a red western sky ride through White River Valley. 
Warriors, women and children trail in the twilight dust, ghostlike,
pushing forward, reaching back to the bleeding horizon. 
Buffalo gone.  Freedom gone.  The sacred circle broken.  Huddled
by the fort at the foot of ancient cliffs, places of dreaming,
they chant the peace song.  Dog soldiers and Indian scouts
surround the horsemen:  Little Hawk, Big Road, He Dog, and their chief,
the man they call Strange One. 
 
In silence he roams among them, noticing none but the children. 
Solitary creature, like a hawk on the wing.  Small and slim, a single feather
at the back of his head.  Braids of brown fur-wrapped hair hanging long
over plain buckskin, a Winchester dangling at his knee.  His power,
a boyhood vision of the world behind this one.  Spirit home of all things living, 
where he and his horse dance queer like shadows floating,
giving him the name Tashunka-Uitco, Crazy Horse. 
 
Facing the Blue Coats, he stares down the darkness.  Ferocious eyes,
face of blazing rage.  The soldiers fear him above all others, fear his strong medicine,
his war club, his scalping knife.  They have heard the stories.  Or lived to tell their own. 
How he chewed dried eagle heart and wild aster flowers for power and protection
from the guns and bayonets, the bullets like hail around him.  How on the plains
and in the hills, charging into battle on a yellow pinto, eager and tireless
for the killing, he whipped them on the Powder, along the Yellowstone,
beside the Rosebud, at the Little Big Horn.
 
And after all that, this. The final insult.  Bringing the Lakotas to the Soldier Town,
trading skin tepees for canvas tents, bounty for hunger.  Surrendering weapons
and horses and vigor to the whites who swell like flood waters over the land,
following the smell of gold. Wishing for the evening wind waving
through tall grass, for the blazing fires of village centers where the people
dance and sing Hoka hey!  Hoka hey!  until night gives birth to morning sun
rising over the breaks of distant bluffs.  Longing for the old days, the Indian ways.
 
 
II.
 
Spotted eagle circling above me. 
Plunging at my feet.
Under its wing, iron knife stuck deep. 
Blood filling my moccasins. 
Drum beating in my head like horse hooves
on hollow ground.  Great Spirit, take me
to distant dark country where my anger can roam free,
far from white man’s chains and crooked tongues. 
Our ways and theirs, different
as sun from moon.  Hey-a-a-hey!  Have courage my people.
Only the earth endures. 
Behold!  In the clouds, a thunder being smoking healing herbs
in the holy pipe.  A rider with lightning limbs
on a white-faced bay facing east.  Behold!
All tribes, one nation.  Walking the black road home. 
Hou!  This day my heart is good.
It is a beautiful time to die.
 
 
III.
 
Messenger comes
with slow feet of bad news:
Betrayal and lies.
Promises broken.
Red steel, long knife
flashing in late sun.
Brave warrior
drops to the dust
by the soldiers’ iron house,
dark pools of blood
mirror sacred sky.
 
Ahh-h!  Curly, my son.
Strong, good and wise man!
A father’s heart heavy with loss.
A mother’s tears like rain
spilling over smooth stones.
The people’s vision blinded,
their voice silenced,
stars turning toward midnight.
No killing, no taking of scalps
can bring you back
or make the darkness fade.
But your spirit will rise,
and your bones will sleep
under grass facing blue sky
along a creek beneath cottonwoods
crowded by plum and chokeberry thickets;
where as a boy
you liked to run
and hunt and dream,
the earth, rain and four winds
your only companions.
This holy place
your father and mother alone
will know, and we will die
holding the secret in our breasts
with eternal love for you,
our son, our Strange One.

______________________________________________________________________________

J. T. Evans is a writer living in Richmond, Va.

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Joanie DiMartino

“Still, when we take into consideration the Glory 
attached to a whaleman’s life, one perhaps ought to be happy.”
from Whale Hunt, by Nelson Cole Haley
Harpooner on the Charles W. Morgan, 1849-1853

Sometimes on the cuttin stage
to leviate the back break
of work I let my mind wander 
to New Bedford, but it’s always autumn,
when those leaves were sun-baked
to the color of pumpkin pie,
and I remember that Eve
of All Hallows when I found
my daughter by the fireside
telling fortunes with her friends.
See, they was paring apples,
turnin the fruit over and over
in their hands, tryin to keep
the peel in one piece 
to learn in the future if their husbands
will be rich or not.
Well, I hollered at them, 
said they were no better’n them girls
from Salem, those villagers
callin folks witches,
while I threw the apple peels
in the fire. Now I stand 
here in the hot sun
over beggar sharks as we strip
blubber from this whale, 
rotate the beast until peeled 
clean in one long piece,
longin to smell those burning
apple peels instead,
and I don’t need no crystal ball
or a clear sea to foretell
that those girls’ll marry whalers,
every last one of ‘em, 
and there’s no use 
in none of us wishin on 
wealth from a paltry 
lay of whale oil.

______________________________________________________________________________

Joanie DiMartino has work published in many literary journals and anthologies, including Modern Haiku, Alimentum, Calyx, and Circe’s Lament: An Anthology of Wild Women.  She is a past winner of the Betty Gabehart Award for Poetry. DiMartino is the author of two collections of poetry, Licking the Spoon and Strange Girls, and is completing her third manuscript, “Wood to Skin,” about the 19th-century whaling industry, for which she was a 38th Voyager on the Charles W. Morgan.  Joanie also is a historian and museum professional; she currently serves as the curator and site superintendent of the Prudence Crandall Museum, a National Historic Landmark. Her poetry often addresses historical topics. Visit her website at www.joaniedimartino.com.

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Dear Readers

When it comes to the question “Pumpkin spice lattes, yes or no?” I am very much on the “Yes!” side. Actually, I like the cold brew pumpkin foam better.

Autumn is always a crazy time of year for me even under normal circumstances (remember those?). Things are even more crazy this year. With having to learn the ins and outs of online teaching, I’ve been so busy lately I’ve hardly had time to breathe.

Things are calming down at least some now that I’m starting to understand a bit more about how online teaching works although I realize I still have so much to learn.

I’m also finishing my first nonfiction book and a new historical novel that will be ready in time for Christmas. In between teaching, and writing, and more writing, we’ve been going through some fabulous submissions at Copperfield. We’ve had so many great submissions that we’ve booked all our slots through January 2021. That’s amazing! Keep the great submissions coming.

We also have a brand spanking new newsletter with the latest news and information from Copperfield, including our latest publications. Everyone who signs up will receive a free digital copy of our first anthology, History Will Be Kind.

Despite the craziness, I hope you and your loved ones are well. And I wish a very healthy and happy new year to all of my friends who are celebrating the year 5781 beginning September 18. Shana Tova!

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We’re Booked Through 2020!

We’ve been receiving some amazing submissions at Copperfield, so much so that all of our slots through 2020 are now filled. Wow! Thank you to all our great contributors.

Please keep in mind that our response policy has changed. To keep up with the latest from Copperfield, be sure to check our Submission Guidelines on a periodic basis because things do change.

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Marceline White

Sewing machines line up in tidy rows like schoolgirls at dismissal.
Girlish laughter, a babble of Yiddish, Italian, and English floats
Through the air, cutting the loud thrum of the machines as the girls \
and machine becoming one instrument, an alchemy
Of sorts. No fairytale this. Rather than spin hay to gold, 
the y sew pieces of cloth to shirts, for which
Receive green not gold. Nothing gold can stay. 

Fabric eddies around their feet, white whorls, bits of white cotton
Fly through the air like snow. It is cold and the factory feels chilly
Despte the press of bodies. Outside in Washington Square Park,
Gentlemen and ladies stroll through the park in shirtwaists & skirts,
Fine suits, hats and parasols to protect their skin from the sun. 

The wealthy, their lives made out of whole cloth, the finest materials, walk through
Washington Square Park, oblivious that young women, their lives pieced together 
From fragments, watch them from large picture windows, ten stories closer to the clouds.

Late afternoon. Fabric and shirtwaists stacked in neat piles. Marbled monuments
To youth, energy, work. An ember catches, smoke rises from below. Flames dance
Along the walls, leap from one wall to another. A terrible beauty.
It becomes clear that there is nowhere to go, no way to leave alive. 

A young woman steps up to the window frame,
flings her hat into the air, opens her purse, 
Rains money down to the crowd below, who watch in horror.
She jumps. A young man holds out his hand, helps a young woman onto the windowsill
In another life, he would be helping her into a carriage. 
He holds her away from the building, lets her drop. In another life, 
he would be waltzing her in a ballroom. He does the same for a second and third woman. 
A fourth woman steps up, his love. They embrace, kiss. He holds her out into space 
Drops her. He follows, jumps with his hat on, wearing brown socks and black shoes.
Pas de deux. 
 
Laws were passed. Everyone agreed “Never again”. 
101 years later, 112 young women in bright shalwar kameez
Enter the Tazreen factory, never to emerge.
_________________________________________________________________________

Marceline White is a Baltimore-based writer. She writes policy, prose, poems, essays, and plays. An artist and activist, Marceline’s poetry has appeared in The Free State Review, The Loch Raven Review, The Shattered Wig Review, anthologies including Ancient Party: Collaborations in Baltimore, 2000-2010; and Life in Me Like Grass on Fire.  Her essays and opinion pieces have appeared in Woman’s Day, Baltimore Fishbowl, Baltimore Sun, and Mother Jones

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Kari Bovee

Kari Bovee is the author of the historical novels Girl with a Gun, Peccadillo at the Palace, Folly at the Fair, and Shoot Like a Girl from Bosque Publishing.

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Kari Bovee: I’ve journaled and written stories for as long as I can remember. When I first started writing novels, no, I didn’t write historical fiction, but I’ve always written mysteries. My first few novels (that shall remain nameless) were contemporary mysteries. I’ve always had a love for anything historical, so I decided to take my two interests and merge them.

M.A.: I’ve always had a fascination with Annie Oakley. How did you come to write about the girl with a gun? What makes her a good topic for historical fiction?

K.B.: I love learning about amazing and empowered women in history and those are the types of women I want to feature in my novels. We’ve seen depictions of Annie Oakley in plays and movies, but I always thought they portrayed her as rather one dimensional. Several years ago I saw a PBS American Experience special on her and I realized what an incredible person she was. Her life as a child was not an easy one, but she discovered early on she had a talent for something. Shooting. She shot game to help put food on the table and to sell to local merchants. After she won a shooting contest against Frank Butler, who became her husband, she started utilizing her talent and eventually became one of the most famous women in the world excelling at a sport that was dominated by men. And she did this without compromising herself in any way. She didn’t try to bend to anyone else’s ideal of what it was to be a celebrity, or a performer, or a person. She made her way in the world without being anyone other than herself, and that was tough for women in the 1800’s.

M.A.: What makes your book(s) different?

K. B.: I’ve taken an iconic woman in history and used her self-empowerment, celebrity, and integrity to make her a really good amateur detective. I think I’ve also put some fun into writing about historical people and events. I’ve tweaked some of the history for the sake of the story, but I think I’ve stayed true to who Annie Oakley was as a person, even though I’ve put her in some interesting situations.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

K.B.: Long! I’ve had a couple of agents throughout the years, but couldn’t break into the world of traditional publishing. I opted to go with a hybrid publisher to get my feet wet, but now have my own imprint and publish my own books. That said, I didn’t go into independent publishing without thoroughly investigating it and learning as much as I could about it. And, I would never put a book out into the world without having a team of professionals helping me with editing, cover design, etc. It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy having ultimate control over my books and career.

M.A.: What are the joys/challenges of writing historical fiction for you?

K.B.: I love doing research, and I do quite a lot of research before I work on a particular project, but it makes the writing a little slower. Things come up when I’m writing and then I will have to stop and look into it to make sure I’m not completely off base. Right now I am working on the second book in my Grace Michelle mystery series and I find that I have to stop writing and look something up for historical accuracy. If I’m not careful, it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole and get completely distracted. I think the enjoyment I get from writing historical fiction comes down to learning about people, places and events I might not have explored before. It’s a constant education and I love being a student!

M.A.: What is the research process like for you?

K.B.: When I decide what it is I’d like to write about, I start looking into things like historical setting, the clothing of the era, word usage and slang words or phrases. I usually have real-life historical figures in my books, whether they are the protagonist (like Annie Oakley) or secondary characters. Even if they make a cameo appearance, I need to do a little research on them to make sure I get their “essence” correct. If the book centers around an event in history, like the second and third books in the Annie Oakley series, I need to look into those events. Folly at the Fair takes place at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Most of the buildings that were built for the fair are no longer there, so I had my work cut out for me. I was able to find a great book that explained the history of the fair, the layout of the grounds and the buildings, and what each attraction was like. It was great fun to go back in time and imagine myself participating!

M.A.: Do you travel for research? If so, what role does travel play in your writing process?

K.B.: I have not traveled specifically for research, but I’ve been to many of the places where my stories are set. So, I guess it works in reverse for me. But with the internet it’s pretty easy to get whatever you need for research. For the book I am working on right now, I had planned to go to Los Angeles/Hollywood for research but then COVID-19 happened. I’ve been to LA many times, but I was looking for specific buildings, streets, neighborhoods, etc. so, I decided the next best thing was to find a map of Los Angeles in 1924. I was thrilled to find one in mint condition on Etsy. Saved me a lot of time, money, and my health!

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

K.B.: I’ve been inspired by so many. In my writing life, of course the Grande Dame of mystery, Agatha Christie, is a great source of inspiration. I also like Elizabeth George, Phillipa Gregory, C.W. Gortner, Anne Perry, Deanna Raybourn, Rhys Bowen, and the works of Larry McMurtry.

When I’m in the mood to completely escape reality I like to read some of the 19th century classic authors like the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and Elizabeth Gaskill. I never get tired of them!

 I’ve found Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic a wonderful source for inspiration and creativity, and I’ve been working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way this summer.   

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

K.B.: Like with any genre, I think you need to be emotionally invested in it to do it well. If you don’t love history, or love reading historical novels, it might not be the way to go because the research is so integral to the process. And if you are one of those writers who love to do research more than anything else, keep in mind that you are going to have to sit down and actually write at some point!

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

K.B.: I’d love to hear from them! If they want they can go to my website at www.Karibovee.com and subscribe to my newsletter to become a part of my community (and get the prequel novella to the Annie Oakley series, Shoot like a Girl, for FREE.) There is also a contact form where they can send me an email.

I also have a Facebook Group called the Kari Bovee Fan Club https://bit.ly/3533tqR  and I’m building a community there, too. In both places they can find out about all of my news and upcoming releases, get to know my horses and dogs, and I also have a lot of fun giveaways, so some come on over and join me!

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