To this point, I’ve considered historical fiction as beginning with Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear and ending with All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I read all of Auel’s books, but confess I never read the World War I classic.

However, I notice a change creeping up on me like gray hair and arthritic knees. The big thing now is World War II novels, such as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Kristin Hanna’s The Nightingale. If you haven’t read these two novels, stop right now and get them from your library, download them on your Kindle, or do whatever you have to do. I’ll wait.

These are both marvelous books that take you right into the war and its effects on those who lived through it … or didn’t. But as I read them, I wondered, “How is it that these are labeled historical fiction?”

Isn’t history events that happened before you were born?

I haven’t been coy about my age, but evidently I am older than I thought. You see, I remember World War II. Not as a historian would view it, but through a child’s eyes. I knew there was a war going on, I just didn’t exactly know what a war was.

Thank God for that.

To me, war meant Victory gardens, and a scarcity of certain commodities like sugar. I knew sugar was scarce because my mother complained bitterly when she was ready to make jam from the berries she grew along the side of our vegetable garden and couldn’t buy any, even with her ration book.

War meant saving bacon grease in a tin can, and rolling string into balls. It meant carefully peeling the tin foil from its paper backing after unwrapping a stick of chewing gum and saving it.

War meant seeing beautiful wrought iron fences disappear from the lawns of stately homes and drawing the shades down at night so not one glimmer of light could escape.

These were minor and forgettable things compared to what others went through. But we didn’t know about the others. Not then. We didn’t know how blessedly safe we were.

But war  touched many other children: children shot, starved, gassed. The novels I mentioned brought this home to me. We know war is evil, but until a skilled writer brings our emotions to the fore, we can’t really understand what it is like. Hanna and Doerr put us in the picture, and after reading their novels, we can’t say we don’t understand any longer.

And still it goes on. And on. Korea, Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria…

I would love some day to know that all wars belong in the historical category. I know I won’t live to see it, but I hope my great-grandchildren will.

And they will read the stories and thank God such madness has ended.

 

 

 

 

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Author Interview: Ashantay Peters

ashantayI met Ashantay about five years ago in Charlotte. Her enthusiasm is one of the first things you notice, next is her sincerity and finally her sense of humor. Her books reflect her twisted sense of life’s random calamity and often make me laugh out loud. When I met Ashantay, she was yet unpublished, so it’s been a joy to watch her success grow with each year with each new book!

First, introduce yourself:  Hi! Im Ashantay Peters and I live in Western North Carolina, just south of Asheville. I’m retired and spend as much time as possible outside. That is, until the mosquitoes send me slapping and cursing back into the house. Born in the Midwest,  I’ve lived in multiple areas of the country, including a year traveling in an RV.

Here’s a mimosa – now let’s sit and chat!  More

Too darn hot

What my manuscript looks like

Cole Porter wrote a song years ago called “Too Darn Hot.” Maybe some of you remember the lyrics from “Kiss Me Kate.”

It’s about being too hot to coo and pitch the woo with my baby tonight, but I can’t help thinking it’s too darn hot to do anything. At least outdoor work, and that’s what I’m not doing right now. The painting is half done, the hedge needs trimming, and I’m staying inside where it’s cool

Because it’s too darn hot.

Which means, I’ve had time to sit at the computer and work on my novel. Yep, no excuses.

I’ve been putting off working and thankful for the excuses I’ve managed to come up with until now, because I need to end the darn thing and I’m trying to come up with a believable ending.  Someone once said you shouldn’t start a book without knowing how it will end and of course I know it ends with the two main characters working out their differences and getting together for that Happy Ever After.

What I want it to look like

It’s the part in between that takes work. I’ve set up some situations that the characters have to solve and that means their coming face to face with their deepest fears and conquering them. But how do I get them together again when walking away seems the most logical answer? To them, I might add, not to me.

Obviously, they have to realize walking away isn’t what they need.

I want to make the ending believable in light of what has happened in the first 200 pages. And to do that, I have to go back and make sure all the clues are there so that the reader (hopefully) will say, “Of course!”

And not depend on a deus ex machina to swoop down to make everything right. That might have worked for the Greeks  (the phrase is a Latin translation) but modern readers demand a more realistic solution.

I told a friend that people who have never written a book think it must be easy. It isn’t. Frankly I’d rather mow the yard or trim a hedge than sit down and try to make my characters behave. Writing isn’t a smooth journey from Once Upon a Time to The End. It’s constantly going back and forth, changing a word here, a paragraph there, so it all flows seamlessly to the conclusion.

If these characters do realize they can’t live without each other, it has to come from something more than, “Gosh, I’ve changed my mind.”

So…pondering and re-writing, and x-ing out and starting over. I come tantalizingly close to an answer and then realize it won’t work because…

And start over again.

That’s the trouble with being a pantser rather than a plotter. We pantsers like to say it’s more fun this way, but we also set ourselves up for just this kind of situation.

I’ve no doubt I’ll figure it out. After all, it’s too darn hot to do anything else.

(My apologies to those who live in cooler climes and wonder what I’m complaining about. It’s been in the 90s with no rain and I’ve had to trudge outside every night to water my flowers, and my ankles are mosquito bitten and itchy and I’m not in a good frame of mind.)

Maybe I’ll just kill off the two ninnies a la Romeo and Juliet.

Ah, no, that wouldn’t be believable either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Un petit moment…

Every once in a while, you come across a spoonful of wisdom that is so perfectly seasoned it needs nothing more. This from Brené Brown:

”I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.

Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.

Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”

~ Brené Brown

 

Doctor Strangelove returns

Back in the day, schoolchildren routinely practiced a drill that was said to protect us from tornadoes. We all knew it was to protect us from the Bomb.

And even at that age, I knew huddling under a desk with my arms covering my head was no protection at all from fallout, supposing we survived the initial blast.

The Cold War  went on until we all got used to it and the drills gradually stopped except for fire drills, which meant going outside for a few minutes, a welcome break in the day.

There were wars–Korea, Vietnam–but we had little to fear on our own home ground. The wars took place across the world, and all we knew of them were headlines in the newspapers. Television coverage was new and brought the carnage into our living rooms, but it still didn’t touch us.

Oh, there were the promised hurricanes and tornadoes, but the death toll was relatively light. Even if in the hundreds there were still fewer deaths than an average day of fatalities caused by shootings or distracted drivers.

So we felt safe. Just last Sunday I remarked to a friend that we were blessed to be able to worship without fear of someone joining us with a suicide vest strapped to his chest.

Then the bomb. The first one killed our own allies. The second, called the Mother of All Bombs, sounds like something from Doctor Strangelove.

And it was not “they” who unleashed the dogs of war, it was us.

Now we fear the fallout from a people who believe in the Old Testament warning of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Some of these enemies have nuclear power and are prepared to use it.

Churches across the country this Easter morning, as we ponder the miracle of the Resurrection, have heightened security in anticipation and fear of reprisal.

Will the schools also heighten security against suicide bombers? Will they hold drills in case of nuclear retaliation?

I don’t think the latter will happen. We are wiser now, and know that huddling under a desk won’t save our children.

This Easter Sunday, pray for our leaders and for an end to this insanity.

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

Split the Baby

Cut that Baby in Half with a Sharp Penstroke

A few years ago, I created a truly evil villain; she was supremely pathological and committed to the Motherland. I had meticulously mapped out her role as a double, double dastardly evil agent. But, this month my writing slowed, I couldn’t work the plot. I was frustrated and dismayed.

Writers often talk of killing their babies, otherwise known as, removing a character who doesn’t fit or serve a purpose, someone you truly love but need to live without. More

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