Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

BACKSTORY: JEREMY ALTON QUACKENBUSH

I’m sorry for my absence and could explain it as due to my computer crashing, launching BY GRACE with all the detail work involved, doing readings, planning a trip that will take me to the Huachucas next month.

Still and all, I promised you a peek at how Jeremy grew into the noxious man he is when we meet him in BY GRACE. So, here comes Grace’s nemesis.

* * *

Jeremy, at thirty, is the prissy, self-centered, spoiled nephew of Lavinia Quackenbush, Grace’s benefactress. He is about 5’5’’, slim of build with dark brown hair; his mustache and beard are in the Van Dyke tradition and he spends inordinate time coaxing them to perfection. He dresses expensively, picks over his food, drinks and smokes his cheroots to excess. He does nothing to benefit others unless it serves his self-interest.


Cruel to his playmates, Jeremy managed to turn any would-be friend against him and then go crying to Maman for comfort and a litany of how he had been belittled, forsaken and maligned; Maman and Papa indulged his every whim and knew the other children to be short-sighted in their slighting of their darling boy. Often after such an episode, Jeremy’s current pet would die a mysterious and unusually brutal death. It was left to the below-stairs staff to dispose of the remains and quaff any rumors. Still and all, the staff were on to him from an early age and protected one another from most of his schemes. Even so, by age fourteen he had impregnated a young housemaid, implicated the sixteen year old stablehand and succeeded in having Papa run them both off.
Soon after, Maman and Papa lost what little fortune they had from Manan’s family, causing them to accept charity from Papa’s brother, and his wife, Lavinia. Jeremy liked the big house and attendant luxuries but despised his uncle and his wife. No matter, Jeremy successfully hoodwinked his parents and his uncle at every turn; Lavinia was a different matter. He never could read her accurately.
Jeremy stumbled through his education, often sent back from one boarding school or another. Whenever he was away, the whole household breathed that sigh of relief, even Maman, Papa, and Uncle but no one more so than Lavinia. He started gambling very young and had a nice nest egg by his second year at SUNY(he didn’t qualify for the Ivy Leagues and no amount of Uncle’s influence opened doors for him.) He majored in good times and loose women, meeting Priscilla at one school function or another. Mislead in believing she came from money, they were soon wed and he was soon disappointed.


A train accident out west when Uncle was touring his properties, left Lavinia primary inheritor of an immense estate. On stipends, Maman and Papa continued on in the mansion in Albany as did Jeremy and Priscilla; Lavinia spent more and more time in NYC. A late night fire six years before we meet Jeremy, killed his parents, almost got his wife and left him unharmed; Priscilla’s limp dates from the beam that caught her and would have killed her except for a brave butler, Liam O’Reilly, coming to her rescue.
Moving in with Aunt Lavinia at her NYC penthouse, suited Jeremy. His gambling habits exploded. He headed an ominous group of riff-raff and dabbled in all sorts of questionable activities; he had spies everywhere if it concerned Aunt Lavinia’s investments. With numerous mistresses to exploit, he tended to ignore Priscilla; let a mistress leave him, and Priscilla suffered his abuse.
Jeremy is obsessed with gaining his aunt’s estate, hoping for her death. Grace bcomes a threat to his plan and he threatens her. Lavinia knows he is not above killing either of them and sends Grace farther on her journey.

* * *

Writers, do you ponder the backstory of your characters to discover what motivates them or shapes them?

Readers, do you fill in the blanks as you read along, imagining a past or future for the characters?

I tend to do both!

Please look for HUACHUCA WOMAN, free on Kindle Oct.2 & 3

BY GRACE is waiting for you on Amazon, too!

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Filed under BY GRACE, Historic New York, Historical Fiction, Writing

1792, COLUMBUS SAILED…oh, no he didn’t.

Do you like giving presents? Is it a chore to figure out what to give? Do you wander around the mall trying to decide and then go home and order a gift off the internet? Last week, HUACHUCA WOMAN was a gift to 1792 folks who ordered it from Amazon’s Kindle Store.

I have never ever given anything to so many people. Not in my charitable donations, not among family and friends or even of myself to others in loyalty, caring or loving, or in refuge or laughter. I mean, who knows 1792 people up close and personal? I don’t, plain and simple…at least I don’t think I do. I’ve probably known this many and more in the course of my life but not so well as to give presents, right?

I don’t have names, addresses or occupations of my giftees. I just picture them, with the book in hand, on a couch, under a tree or in bed (reading the Sex-on-the-beach scene to their partner.) Some may struggle with the accents or the political positions of my characters. (They tend to be a bit iconoclastic.) Some fact checkers may find something to set me “right” about and I’ll welcome them. Some will ride the land with Josephine of an early morning and watch the sun rise in glory. Others may seek answers from John Reed, Geronimo or Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. I hope all will laugh, cry and sympathize in the course of using their gift.

By 1792, Columbus’ discovery of the new world was 300 years past. New countries were born, Native Americans died of infectious diseases, slaves were bought and sold, new crops and industries started, and fights for independence were getting underway. Columbus’ impact was carried into our present and little could he guess the outcome.

So, my 1792 versions of HUACHUCA WOMAN may be flying in cyberspace and cause a tiny hic-cup in the universe.  Hopefully, she will entertain, amuse or even annoy or anger some folks. She’ll thrive on that kind of reaction and cause others to talk about her, pass her on and even get them to post comments on Amazon, hitting the Author Page “like” as their return gift.

Meantime, I’m busy getting ready to launch BY GRACE, the second book in the HUACHUCA TRILOGY, come September. We only spend two action packed, even amazing years with Grace as she searches for her place in the world.  More to come….

Have you had a similar experience?

What’s a reasonable number of gifts to give this way?

Have you received such a gift?

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Filed under Arizona Territory, Historical Fiction, Publishing and Promotion

HUACHUCA WOMAN…1952

HUACHUCA WOMAN started life as THE GRANNY JO STORIES and was work-shopped, critiqued, revised, edited, and advised about more times than I kept track of. Now, the book, much modified from those early efforts, is about to hit the market which is you, my followers and, I hope, many others. I am sharing an excerpt today from the first of the 1952 segments that are interspersed throughout the book as Josephine tells the old tales to two of her grandchildren.
Enjoy!

APRIL 1952

Early morning found Josephine Parthenia Lowell Judson Nichols moving stiffly across the kitchen, tea-cup in hand. Odors of oak and mesquite hung in the room. A thin braided rug covered a portion of the worn pine flooring, but couldn’t hide the years of wear and scarring. At the far end of the well-used room, pine-framed glass walls gave a panoramic view of the high desert, close in Huachuca Mountains and far-reaching sky. Rocking chairs sat in a half circle within the windowed alcove and it was to the easternmost rocker that the old woman headed.
She slipped into the rocker with its creaky protest and watched the sky lighten from pre-dawn lavender to a dusky rose. Rays of amber spread in slow motion into the desert moonscape. The promise of another dawn settled on her as muscles sculpted themselves to the contours of the oak rocker. A sigh fled her lips when Patches, the calico cat, leapt into her lap. Josephine set the tea-cup aside.
Wisps of whitened hair shadowed her face. A single braid, caught in a turquoise and silver clasp, reached to the waist of her faded dungarees. Rolled at the leg end and stiff from line drying, her pants gaped at the feminine waist they were never designed to fit. Curling leather boots stuck out below. A crisp new shirt of ruddy cabbage roses topped her outfit.
Josephine’s gentle strokes along Patches’ back soon took on intensity and such discomfort that the cat reached back, swatted her hand and flew from what had been a comfortable lap. He barely missed the much-mended wrist band from the Geronimo visit.
“Shoo, then, you ol’ varmint. Who needs you anyway?”
Frown lines ran across her forehead. She fingered the old band, then started her right hand thrumming on the arm of the rocker, beating out a wild drum roll. Josephine’s shoulders stiffened in a cramp as she fought against the conflicted feelings once again set in motion in the morning just past.

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Filed under Arizona Territory, Fort Huachuca, Historical Fiction

THANKSGIVING, ARIZONA TERRITORY 1888

EXCERPT FROM ROSE OF SHARON

At noon on an unusually balmy Thanksgiving Day, the ranch yard was jumping with activity. Guests were arriving, but not Miss Jacks. Blake had delayed so long in inviting the teacher, she had accepted another invitation by the time he got up his courage to ask. Rose had something to say on the matter when she approached him as people gathered.

“I surely do wish you’d invited Miss Jacks. I think she’s sweet on you, too.”

Blake blushed in shades of pink below his tan. “Why do you say that?”

“You mean about wishing she’d come or that she’s sweet on you?”

“I don’t know, both, I guess.” He didn’t look at her, struggling to find something to distract them both.

“She watches out the window when you come to school and she asks about you.”  Rose answered with a big smile. “I just plain like her, and you do, too.”

“Better look to our guests,” he mumbled, even redder in the face.

The Tomlins, with their father and husband home from the sawmill up Carr Peak, accounted for six visitors and brought peach pies and “smashed” potatoes, as their three year old called them. The elderly Browns added home-canned green beans and cornbread to the table. Blake’s fresh caught wild turkey roasted in the yard pit with the children taking turns at rotating the bird on its spit. Venison steaks and ears of corn were added to the feast as they came off the grill.

“I think that turkey is about done, don’t you, Miz Brown?” Jim was quick to seek the experienced woman’s counsel.

She demurred, just briefly, and then spoke in a thick, lady-like southern accent. “I do believe you are right, my boy.” She prodded the leg of the bird and juices ran into a pan sitting in the fire for that purpose. “We will have us some fine gravy to go with the Tomlin’s taters. Please take that pan in the house and I’ll work it up.”

“Yes, Ma’am, I’ll do just that.”  Jim grinned and caught up the pan with a coarse cloth serving to protect his hands.

“Come along, Rose,” said Mrs. Brown. “Y’all can be of help and learn at the same time.” She put her arm around the child’s shoulder and Rose snuggled into her embrace.

“My mama made good gravy.”

“I’m sure she did, child. Ours will be different from your mama’s, but I think we will do alright.” They busied themselves with the drippings, flour and milk, whipping it to a frothy blend in a separate pot. “Did your mama ever use our desert sage in her gravy?”

“I don’t think so, Ma’am. .” She watched Mrs. Brown open a tiny cheesecloth bag to reveal a dusty gray matter and stir a small quantity into the gravy. “Maybe my grandma back in Texas used it.” She couldn’t remember for sure.

“I suspect you are right, my dear.” She tapped Rose’s hand gently. Jacob, Rose of Sharon’s twin, ran in and grabbed the pan back from the pair, yelling as he went, “It’s done. We can eat.” Rose carried the thickened and flavorful gravy out to the table while Mrs. Brown brought out her beans and the potatoes. Others scurried about pouring milk and coffee, placing utensils around the table, heading back into the cabin for last minute needs.

“Mr. Brown, sir, would you do us the honor of carving the turkey?” Blake asked. He handed the tools over to the older gent.

“Don’t mind if’n I do.” Though from somewhere in the south, his speech wasn’t as genteel as his wife’s and that caused some folks to wonder how they’d come together. But, in the custom of the west, it wasn’t something polite folks would ask. As far as their neighbors knew, they’d been in the area for more than thirty years and had no children or other family. They’d put in orchards of apples and walnuts early on and prospered in feeding the workmen and families of the San Pedro River Valley and its mining communities.

When the group settled at the table, Blake asked if one of the twins would recite the old Bobbie Burns grace after explaining its family history to those gathered. Jacob and Rose, seated on opposite sides of the table, nodded and spoke the grace in chorus as they’d practiced for a week.

“Some hae meat, and canna eat,

And some hae none that want it.

But we hae meat and we kin eat,

So, let the Lord be thankit.”

“Why, thank you, children. That was very nice,” said Mrs. Tomlin. “I’d like to learn it for our family to say.”

“It’s in old Scottish, my mama said, but I bet you could learn it.” Rose was proud to pass on her mother’s custom to one and all. She stated it line by line, with first Mrs. Tomlin repeating and then others joining in. Jacob’s grin spread ear to ear as the old refrain was echoed about the long table.

“It’s surely fitting for us this Thanksgiving for ‘we hae meat and we kin eat,’ just as it says.” Mr. Brown leaned over and kissed his wife which got all the young ones giggling.

“Mr. Brown, you surely do taste sweet as ever,” she said. Giggles gave way to pure laughter.

With bowls and dishes flying up and down the table, the meal was the richest feast many had seen in months. For the Welty twins, it was a little reminder of meals taken at their grandmother’s table back in Texas. Those memories were growing faint, especially as their new life filled in voids and emptiness with laughter, good stories and new friends. Later, around a campfire, the grownups talked while the children ran about in a game of hide and seek. The talk was quietly shared over coffee and a bit of brandy in some cups. The Tomlins and Browns expressed regrets for not getting to know the Welty parents before the raiders came and killed the parents while the children watched from nearby.

“I surely wish those young’uns had known where to come to us for help. That walk across the desert had to have been awful,” said Mrs. Tomlin. She was gently bouncing her newest child in her arms.

Jim spoke up. “Yes, ma’am, it was hard on them, but I don’t know if we’d have caught up to the murderers without Blake here recognizing them from the twins’ description.”

“The marauders were blabbing about what they did at that place in Bisbee, so somebody would have gone to check, I’m sure,” Blake answered.

Mr. Tomlin added, “Maybe so, but by the time the sheriff could do that, they’d have been long gone.”

“You got that right,” said Jim.

“The important thing is for them to grow up believing the Good Lord will keep watch over them from now on.” Mrs. Brown said this with an emphasis in her voice.

“Yes’m,” said Blake. He silently renewed his vow to protect them with his life, if need be. “And they need a mother,” Mrs. Brown added

                                                  Blake squirmed in discomfort and thought of Elise Jacks for the umpteenth time that day.

A quietness settled on the adults as the sun moved to the west and the shadows of the Huachucas descended into the canyon. Birds were twittering the last songs of the day just as the children drifted closer to the fire. One by one they sought its warmth. Three year old Benjy Tomlin climbed into his father’s lap while his two older sisters found comfort nearer to their mother and Mrs. Brown. Rose and Jacob squatted on the ground between Blake and Jim with Rose resting her head against Blake. He settled his arm on her shoulder.

One of the ladies started to hum the old hymn “Now the Day is Over.” Soon, everyone joined in, singing the words.

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Filed under Excerpts, Historical Fiction, Nostalgia

THE WRITING PROCESS

INSPIRATION…

      NOVELS: often begin with a dream, a fantasy exploration and the “what if”

 1. Begin with character- who is she, what marks her as different, what are her attributes and what is her story? Rancher,      businesswoman, artist,healer, psychic? What is her challenge: survival, search for meaning, helping others?
 2.Who threatens, challenges or supports her? Protagonist? Can I see him, it?
 3.Setting/s? Where and how does it impact the character/s? Do I know the setting, draw on own experience..yes.

      POETRY:  often springs from an experience with great emotional impact (nature, family member’s illness, death) but also comes from stories told to me (The Apple Factory), out of my experience(White Girl, Black Heart,) or tidbits of historical research (Pancho’s Sister.)
 

PROCESS:
 1. From idea, get words on paper, rough or smooth, with energy/emotion behind them.   “Mother said the Arizona Territory was good for only two things: tame Indians and wild children. Me and William Ebert were her wild children and Geronimo was our Indian.”
 2. Research for Content: could journalist John Reed have been in El Paso and meet Jo in the spring of 1914? Yes, he’d just come back from Mexico and following Villa and Carranza.
 3. Setting: Have I been there, what’s in my journal, what other place do I have personal knowledge of that will fit the story?  Without first- hand knowledge, go to museums, internet and library research for displays, books, news articles, photos.  Be open to serendipity: as when Jo’s stopping the Ford story showed up in Bisbee Museum and what did the Tiffany Studio look like in 1898 since it no longer exists?
 4. Because it is historical, what is the timeline?  I plot out  the story arc with sensitivity to what was happening in the world, area to incorporate later.
 5. Write, rewrite, research, read aloud, write some more, stay open to critique, rewrite/rebuff and write again.
 6. Get frustrated, let it rest, go at it again.
 7. Get Writer’s Block, kick the imaginary cat, turn to another format (Short Story,Poem, Essay) , write in longhand, journal over it, write again.
 8. Along the way, rest on my laurels…perfect dialogue, gorgeously conveyed setting, strong plot twist, praise from others.(ahem…)

Throughout all this, I attend writers organizational meetings, gather with writer friends, take on writerly tasks (ie, coordinating contests, participating on panels,)  keep up on Face Book, Blog, follow others’ blogs, find my personal Max Perkins and attend conferences. I do all for the purpose of honing my skills and making connections to aid the writing process and move me toward publication.

WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?  HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM MINE?

I HOPE YOU WILL SHARE YOUR PROCESS SO WE CAN ALL LEARN FROM YOU.

 

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Filed under Writing

Why I Write

I have made up stories since early childhood, just as most of us did and left behind as we aged. I worked on short stories and poetry by the time I was in my forties. Marrying a New Mexican took me into the southwest frequently over the years of our life together. Place has always been a character in my work and never more so than when I started writing historical fiction. I draw on my journals frequently to retrace an experience or impression of a site or emotional experience.

In the ’70’s, I started on two historical novels only to leave them on the shelf. Ten years later, my brother-in-law told one liners around a New Year’s Eve fire in northern New Mexico, about his grandmother Josephine. At 3:00 am, I sat in the family bathroom with pencil and a tiny tablet writing down his one liners like: “She met Geronimo; rode in a cattle drive disguised as a man; had a child out-of-wedlock and lost him; met Pancho Villa; had a romance with a Buffalo Soldier, etc.”  From this came my first book in the Huachuca Trilogy: Huachuca Woman, a fictive autobiography.

Writing stimulates my imagination, opens new doors and shows me aspects of my own history and character that I hadn’t recognized previously. Writing has brought me new and strong friendships that I value.

Look for the first two books, Huachuca Woman and By Grace, to be published in the near future.

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Filed under Writing