Are you a Wakian yet?

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood … cooler, bright blue sky, birds singing. Not the wren family, however. The little ones flew off on the one day I was gone, so I missed seeing the parents coax them from their nest. I sorta miss the constant chirping, but on the other hand, the quiet is nice, too. Except for that mockingbird who simply won’t shut up.

Thursday I drove to Durham to meet one of my favorite authors, Robert Macomber, who was a frequent guest presenter at our writers’ club’s annual writing conference.  Bob writes naval histories whose fictional protagonist is Peter Wake. We see the rise of the United States Navy from the Civil War to the  Spanish-American War through his eyes. His travels and adventures take him from Cuba to Central and South America, the West Indies, French Indochina and Samoa.

Bob has meticulously researched every fact presented in his books. If you haven’t read them and are interested in the “behind the scenes” story of the United States’ involvement in maritime history peppered with little-known events and well-known people such as Theodore Roosevelt, you will enjoy this series.  I just got the latest book (autographed!), “Honoring the Enemy.”

Robert Macomber, third from left, hoists a toast to friends and fans

Bob not only pens a great story, he lectures, sails, and hosts dinners for his friends using  the exotic recipes he has discovered on his research trips, accompanied by the appropriate wines, music, and scents. He is also a delightful conversationalist.

So I was more than excited to have the chance to meet Bob and Nancy, his wife, along with a few other “Wakians” as his fans are called, while he was between stops on his book-signing tour. We met for lunch, commandeered a large table and proceeded to eat, talk, drink, and laugh and cry, for five and a half hours.

It was a great afternoon in the neighborhood.

Distractions and how to use them

I “wasted” too much time on ancestry.com this morning. I meant to finish up one line and ended up tracking another … it’s so easy to get ensnared in following the elusive clues, combing through records and family histories. The further back you go, the more things get disoriented — dates don’t match, wives seem interchangeable with mothers, children have the same names, especially if one died young and a subsequent child was given the deceased sibling’s name.

I haven’t found out anything terribly interesting. There are a lot of Ladies and Sir Knights and Barons, but I don’t put too much stock in it. I believe other ancestor-hunters love titles and appropriate them whenever expedient. I have one ancestor who is

said to have been godfather to William Shakespeare. I’m going to visit Stratford-upon-Avon in a few weeks and  maybe I will have the opportunity to check that out. And I had a boatload (pun intended) of dissenters who came to America in the Great Migration. A few even came over on the Mayflower. (My Mom would have loved that!) One pastor who left the Church of England was told to immigrate or face prison. He made the wise choice.

So I guess it’s no wonder that my characters in my latest story are searching for their own families. Orphaned at a young  age, Bethann runs off to seek her mother’s family when the one she was adopted into morphs through death and marriage. Sounds easy, but this is in the early 1800’s and there is no ancestry.com to help her. The best she can do is hop on a stagecoach and visit the town mentioned in her mother’s Bible, and begin asking questions.

Henry thinks he has found his family, after discovering that he, too, was adopted. But he is tragically misled and the consequences will be deadly if others learn who he really is before he does.

The theme running through the story is what family is and why it matters. I know people who were adopted and don’t give a fig about finding their birth parents, content with the family they were given. Others sought desperately for answers, trying to fill a need that ate at them until it was satisfied.

I’m not desperate, just curious. I started looking because we don’t know a lot bout my father’s family. The paternal line ends in a few generations, but I researched my grandmother’s side and found a rich history that I might have been unaware of if I’d stayed with the paternal side and gave up after finding the dead end … or “EOL”.

I think I know now why my father tended to preach at us kids. He had it in his DNA on his mother’s side.

 

 

How I get sucked into things

So I was at my monthly book club meeting and some of the members began talking about how there had been no local celebrations of Black History month.  One member had decided to plan an event and asked if me and another member if we wanted to be on the planning committee because she wanted it be be all-inclusive. We said yes because, hey, she’d said the magic word.

So she told us that one of the features of the program would be a “wax museum” where people will dress up as historical figures and pose. When someone touches their hand they will explain who they were and their role in history. Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln came quickly to mind.

“You need someone to represent the Underground Railroad,” I ventured.

“Oh, yes, can you find us a character?”

One of the two book clubs I belong to. This was our Christmas meeting: good food, good discussion, good friends! That is me in the back row (standing) second from left.

I allowed that I could and set about researching. I discovered Elizabeth Buffum Chace who, with her husband, operated a station in Fall River, Massachusetts. What caught my fancy was that she gave each slave heading for Canada an envelope addressed to her. When she received it back, post marked Toronto, she knew the person had made it safely to freedom.

I brought this information to the meeting and discovered that I was supposed to impersonate Mrs. Chace!

“No, no,” I protested. “I was just to do the research.”

Silence. Then a disappointed scratch of the pen over my name on the roster.

“So who can we find to play her?”

More silence.

“I’ll do it,” I heard myself say in a meek voice. I am no actress, although I love theater. I”m more likely to be painting scenery or helping with makeup, or doing publicity. But I figured I could write my few lines on the back of an envelope (which would do as a prop) if I got stage fright.

So for the past week I have been trying to put together a costume. Not the easiest thing to do in a small town. I’m hoping the local theater group can help us out. Some years ago I sewed many a costume for an outdoor drama our writer’s club produced, but where they are now, I haven’t a clue.

So, from agreeing to be on a planning committee to actively participating is a slippery slope paved with good intentions.

Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you reading?

What are you reading? This question was posed in a  comment on an earlier blog, and I promised to respond. As I told her, I’m an eclectic reader — which only means I will read anything, even the back of a cereal box if nothing else is handy.

It’s a tough question, so I went to my bag o’ books that I toted home from my last library visit. Here’s what I found:

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (almost finished)

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison (recommended!)

To Die But Once by Jacqeuline Winspear (yes, I’m a fan of Maisie Dobbs)

That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Cooper

Circe by Madeline Miller

I haven’t read the last two yet, so no comments.

Then there are the two books on my schedule for my book clubs. One club is reading The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe. I have it on order. The other club is reading See Me by Nicholas Sparks. I may take this one to the beach with me next week.

Speaking of the beach, my favorite beach read authors are Nancy Thayer, Mary Kay Andrews, Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Alice Monroe, Elin Hilderbrand, Barbara Delinsky, Susan Mallery, and Debbie Macomber. I have probably left out a few.

I also love big, sweeping historical novels by Ken Follett, Edward Rutherford, Philippa Gregory, Colleen McCullough, and Diana Gabaldon. Gabaldon is my all-time favorite. History, romance and paranormal all in one. My kind of book. The TV series is the only one I ever felt compelled to buy. I could watch them over and over, and no, it’s not all Jamie.

As for mysteries, give me Anne Perry or Elizabeth George any time. If I see their name on the spine of a book on the library shelf, it’s in my hands immediately.

Of course there are many others. And, I like to try new authors by browsing Book Bub and Ereader News Today. (I like the solid feel of print books, but also the convenience and portability of my Kindle.)

I also read biographies and other non-fiction. My son let me borrow SPQR by Mary Beard. It isn’t a book you read all in once sitting. But I am slowly getting through it.

And where do I put Anne Rice, Anne Lamott, and Pat Conroy? Also favorites.

After The Prince of Tides, I wrote Conroy a gushing letter telling him how much I loved it. I had never written a fan letter before and didn’t expect an answer. But he sent me a postcard from Rome where he and his family were staying while he worked on his second book. It was a picture of the hotel where they were staying and he even marked the window of the room they were staying in. I still have it somewhere.

So that’s what I read. Anything, even the history of ancient Rome, which is interesting enough to keep me reading, but not so interesting that I won’t put it down in favor of something a little (ahem!) sexier.

And, in parting, if you are looking for something to read this summer, hop on over to my place and browse the shelves. You may find something you like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sneak peek

I thought you might enjoy a little preview of my  novel, Riverbend. It is scheduled for release May 1 from Amazon.  I hope you enjoy it, and–hopefully–are intrigued.

Chapter One

In spite of her shaking legs, Damaris Tilghman stood her ground as the High Sheriff approached. She longed to wipe her sweaty palms on her skirt, but dared not make any movement that he could interpret as fear—or guilt.

The sly smirk on his lips belied the coldness of his gaze as he tipped his hat. “Sale’s nearly over, Miss Tighlman. Sorry the auctioneer couldn’t manage to get a better price for Twin Oaks. It was a grand plantation in its time.” He didn’t sound at all sorry.

“Enough to cover my father’s debts, I hope.”

“Well, Miss, as to that I have to say it didn’t. He owed a great deal of money to a great many people.” The man shook his head in mock sympathy. “Gambling’s a terrible vice—”

“And suicide is a sin. Yet neither of my father’s faults seems to have kept people from coming here and gawking, poking through our possessions….” Her voice began to tremble and she stopped, her heart beating so loudly she was afraid he would hear it in the sudden silence.

“Possessions.” The amiable leer disappeared. “Seems some of your family’s possessions didn’t turn up as part of the sale. Would you know anything about that, Miss Tilghman?”

“I have no idea what you mean.” She jutted out her chin.

“I think you do.” He looked down at the small wooden trunk sitting at her feet. “Maybe I ought to take a look at what you packed to take with you.”

“How dare you suggest such a thing! I won’t have you pawing through my shifts and stockings!”

“I can get a woman to look. If you claim all you have are shifts and stockings, you won’t mind me making certain.” He turned as a boy ran up, calling in urgency. “Sheriff! They’s a fight behind the barn. You need to come quick—one of ’ems got a knife!”

Cursing under his breath, the sheriff lumbered after the boy.

Damaris’s shoulders sagged in relief. She had been given time to think of something—but what? She willed back tears of frustration. If anything, the past few years had taught her the futility of weeping.

She watched the buyers as they lugged their purchases to the line of wagons parked along the winding drive, horses and mules stomping in impatience to begin the journey home. Home! She no longer had a home. Because of her father’s weakness, her dream of marriage and children had shattered like a fine crystal goblet dropped on a tile floor. Her past was irrevocably gone and her future a mystery.

She jerked her thoughts back to her present dilemma. The fight would soon be over. She needed to get away before the sheriff returned.

One of the buyers, better dressed than most in a black suit and embroidered waistcoat, saw her and nodded politely. “Miss Tilghman.”

She recognized him as the man who had successfully bid on the last of her father’s wine cellar. A friend of her father’s—when he still had friends. What was his name? Price? Polk? No, Pope. “Mr. Pope.” She smiled and held out a hand. “Well met, sir. I wonder if you could do me a favor?”

“Of course. If I can be of any assistance…”

“The sheriff promised he will take me to the inn in Wadesborough where I can purchase a seat on the coach in the morning. I fear he will not leave here until the last nail is sold, and I really cannot abide watching this auction any longer.” It wasn’t hard to add a quaver to her voice. “To see my life dismantled, piece by piece….”

“I understand. I would be happy to take you, if you are not embarrassed at traveling without a chaperone.”

Chaperone! I need to get away from here now. She brushed away an imaginary tear and offered a tremulous smile. “I don’t think there would be any gossip. After all, you are a dear friend of Papa’s.”

An eyebrow raised at this, but he lifted her trunk without commenting on her claim. “My wagon is this way.”

He stowed the trunk in the back of his light wagon, assisted her to the seat, and then climbed aboard and sat beside her. He had just picked up the reins when a meaty hand grasped the edge of the wooden plank that served as a seat. “Miss Tilghman. I believe we have some unfinished business.”

Pope stared down, his hands tense on the reins. “Miss Tilghman is my care. What do you want with her?”

“I need to look at her trunk.” The sheriff winked as if they were conspirators. “Just in case.”

“In case of what?” Pope’s tone was as cold as his dark eyes.

The sheriff dropped his hand and stepped back. His voice was curt as he said, “I believe she may be holding on to some jewelry that should go in the sale.”

Damaris stiffened at the accusation. “All Mama’s jewels went to pay Papa’s gambling debts years ago.”

“So you say. I still—”

“Are you doubting the lady’s word?” There was something dangerous in Pope’s voice. He raised the whip. “How dare you, sir!”

“Now, Mr. Pope, no need to get all riled up. I believe her, yes, I do. Good day, Miss Tilghman and good fortune to you.” He tipped his hat fawningly.

Pope jerked the reins and the horse started down the dirt path that led to the road.

“Thank you,” Damaris managed to mumble through a dry throat.

“My pleasure.” Pope glanced sideways at her. “If you did get away with something out of the forced sale, I congratulate you.”

She answered quickly. “He made certain I didn’t. He even sold my personal slave, Pearlie, who’s been with me since I was a child. Everything I held dear is lost.”

If she expected sympathy, Pope failed to offer it. “What will you do now?” he asked briskly.

“I have been offered a position as a companion to a distant relative of my mother’s. She lives in New Bern.” The letter she had received from the lady had been neither courteous nor welcoming, but hinted strongly of duty and God’s will.

“Being at some old lady’s beck and call doesn’t sound like much of a life for a young girl.”

“I am not young, and I have no other choice. I wasn’t raised to earn my living. My parents fully expected me to marry well.” She took a deep breath.  “The problem is, no one has proposed marriage since I celebrated my seventeenth birthday. I should have accepted the offer then. Instead, I have spent the past six years nursing Mama until her death, and then trying to keep house for Papa while he.…”

“Gambled it from under your feet and then shot himself.”

“You put it quite succinctly.”

He shrugged and chirped to the horse, which pricked its ears and began to trot.

As they jolted along the rutted path, Damaris struggled to remember what she knew of Matthew Pope. He owned Riverbend, one of the biggest cotton plantations in North Carolina. He was reputed to be wealthy. No wonder the sheriff toadied to him. He wouldn’t want to offend one of the most powerful men in Anson County. But none of that answered the question of why he had played along with her pretense of acquaintance or took her part against the sheriff.

As she studied him under her lashes, she decided he was not bad looking if you liked dark hair and eyes. She noted a ridged scar over one eyebrow and a bump on the bridge of his nose where it had been broken, spoiling an otherwise perfect profile. His teeth were good for a man of middle years, very white and straight. Not a common asset among her acquaintances.

The horse stopped at a crossroad and she looked at him in question.

“Everyone has choices, Miss Tilghman,” he said as if minutes and miles hadn’t passed since her declaration. He pointed with his whip. “This road leads to Wadesborough and this one to Cheraw.”

“I am aware of that.”

“I am offering you a choice.” He shifted in his seat until he could meet her eyes. “I have a proposition.”

She blinked under the intensity of his gaze. “What is it?”

“Two propositions, actually. One, I need a housekeeper. From what you told me, I gather you have some experience.” He waited for her response.

“Yes,” she said guardedly. “And the other?”

“What? Oh. The other is, I need a wife.”

A touch of amusement lightened her countenance. “And am I to choose which of these delightful occupations I might wish to pursue?”

“I had thought them to be one and the same.”

Damaris intended to reply with the disdain he deserved, but then she thought again of spending the rest of her days caring for elderly invalids.

“I need an answer, Miss Tilghman.”

“Is it to be a marriage in name only? I mean, you mentioned housekeeper first, but I could not accept that, a spinster residing in an unmarried man’s home. But if we were married, gossip would be put at rest.”

“I suppose I should have mentioned the third thing. I am also in need of an heir.”

Her pale cheeks blazed scarlet. She blinked once, slowly.

He waited.

She shut her eyes and drew a breath. “I accept, Mr. Pope.”

He nodded and guided the horse on the road that led to South Carolina, where a marriage license could be obtained in one day. “I see you are very like your father, Miss Tilghman.”

“Why do you say that, Mr. Pope?”

“You are a gambler, too.”

 

Juggling the genres

Last week I was at the beach, enjoying sunny warm afternoons, splashing through the waves in my bare feet.

This week, I dug out my sweatshirts and warm coat, going outside only when necessary.

Yes, this is North Carolina weather. Rather than complaining, however, I used the time to hunker down at my computer. The stories were written, but  it was time for the next step.

The novel I polished at the beach during the writers retreat needed one last-minute check. Then I had to write the synopsis, which I just finished.

I wrote a synopsis before I started, as I may have noted before. This was my guide, my lifeline that made certain I didn’t stray too far afield. But it isn’t the same synopsis that one submits to a publisher. This time, I had to be more careful of my grammar and punctuation while still, hopefully, retaining my original enthusiasm for the project. This I will send off, fingers crossed.

My other novel? I decided to self-publish, so I spent some hours working on the cover design, then formatting the Word document. Luckily, by this time around I know the pitfalls and most of it went smoothly, with only a few corrections to be made. I’m fine-tuning it now, having looked at the first proof copy and deciding the margins were too wide and the indents too deep. Saved about 50 pages there, which allows me to lower the price.

They are wildly different books. One is a contemporary romance and the other is historical fiction with a bit of mystery and of course, a love interest because what is any story without some romance?

It’s kind of an experiment. Which will fare better? Should I stick with light stories, meant for a few hours’ entertainment, or should I continue to tackle the research a historical requires?

If you’ve been following my path, I’ve done women’s fiction, romance, paranormal, and now historical. That may not be the best way to build a firm platform, but I’m not trying to make a name or career for myself. I write what I love to write, and if the genre’s differ from one book to the next, it’s because it expresses my interests at the time.

If I were younger, it’d be different. I’d choose a genre and stay with it, book after (yawn) book. Most authors do well this way. We know what to expect from them and aren’t disappointed.

But I’m not young and so I give myself permission to write what I please. If the book sells, I’m delighted. If not, I write another. So far, the reviews have been positive, so I must be doing something right.

My contention is, if someone picks up one of my books they have only to turn it over and read the blurb to decide if they want to buy it (or borrow it from the library). Who knows, they may decide to try a new story, even if it wasn’t what they expected, and like it.

I love to read and at any one time I may have a stack of books consisting of a biography, a historical romance, an action drama, and a mystery.

So if I like reading different genres, it follows that I like writing them.

I’m not sure what comes next. I have a few ideas …

We’ll see where they lead me.

 

 

 

 

How deep is enough?

For the second day in a row I woke before 5 a.m.

I try to fall back asleep, but it’s useless and I know it. This phenomenon happens every time I am halfway though a story. After dutifully plodding through the opening chapters, setting up the plot and characters, the book suddenly comes alive.  My mind goes into overdrive. Ideas flow like lava, igniting my imagination.

My main character, Greg, is an actor on a popular nighttime drama. As such, he has to dig deep into himself in order to bring the character he portrays to life, to make him believable. When his lover on the series “dies” he draws on  his grief he felt after his father’s suicide, and the subsman-cryingequent scene catapults him from mediocrity to fame. And that fame makes him a target…but no more about the plot. That’s not the point.

What I’m saying is that we, as writers, also have to dig deep within ourselves to find the emotions we want to portray. I’ve been in love and I think, old as I am, I can still remember what first love felt like.

I’ve been betrayed, and I can draw on that anger and denial.

I’ve felt deep and devastating loss. And I can draw on that.

It’s hard to bring these emotions to the surface and relive the grief, anger, loss. It’s hard to remember that first love, because now I know how  it ends. But in order to write about these emotions honestly, I have to remember and relive those experiences. It isn’t easy. And sometimes it doesn’t work because I am afraid to go too deeply.

So it isn’t just the overflow of ideas that keeps me awake. It’s the surge of empathy I feel toward these cardboard people, an empathy that will breath life into them. Is Greg afraid his career,  now that he’s achieved success, will end? How does that feel? How does he feel? How did I feel?

I lost a job I loved because I had to make the choice to walk away or be sucked into a pit I didn’t think I could climb out of. So I know a little about his fear and anger.

My job now is to translate that into his actions and words.

And that is what writers do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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