We have some housekeeping to do here at the blog, namely that we had a contest with Sean MCartney’s book in the Treasure Hunters series. We had a number of submissions, and the winner is…
da dah-dah-dah DAH dah-dah DAH…
Judy Cox, commenter numero tres! The winner was selected using the Random.Org number generator. There were six commenters expressing interest in the book, and the generator returned the number three. So there you have my transparent, incredibly technical process for determining contest winners. I will email the winner and author later.
Those of you who didn’t win a copy of the book, I highly suggest you buy a copy anyway.
In other news, I wrote lots of words last week. Somewhere over three thousand, I think, which has left me feeling pretty good. I have this method where as I’m writing a chapter, I just force it out. Then I leave it for a day or so only to re-read that chapter with historical facts and figures, as well as all of my senses on high alert.
You see, when I write a first draft, I do a lot of telling. A lot. The second time through ensures that I’m delving into the minds and emotions of the characters. I start to describe smells, scents, sounds. I become my own editor, asking why and what does this mean?
In doing so, I will expand a 750 word chapter into a 3000 word chapter, which means I will most likely split it into two chapters.
So there you go. That is my secret. Turns out I’m not a magician after all.
Historical fact of the week!
I often find it interesting (and a bit disturbing) how many southerners hold close to their heart this hope that the “South will rise again!” Though the events of the Civil War occurred 150 years ago, the memory and impact are very much alive today, but moreso in the south, or so it seems to me.
My theory behind this phenomenon is because 1. the Confederacy lost to the Union and 2. the Union did its best to destroy the spirit of the Confederacy. You see, everyone loves the underdog. And there wasn’t a bigger underdog than the Confederacy.
People seem to forget, however, that the Confederacy had some major wins of their own when it comes to scaring the pants off Union civilians.
Brigadier General Morgan, a Confederate, did enter the Union during the war in 1863. He cut a swatch with his raiders starting in Tennessee, up through his home state of Kentucky, further still into southern Indiana, and into Ohio along the Ohio River. He got as far north as Salineville, which is around 90mi south of Cleveland. That is really far north! Morgan terrified the Union civilians, who until that point hadn’t really suffered from the war.
So there you have it. Your historical fact of the week. Will it end up in The Rebel’s Hero? I have no idea. It might. The heroine is from Kentucky and has suffered from slight starvation due to the Union blockade, and one of the two family slaves has already run across the Ohio River by the time the book starts. Maybe the heroine knows Morgan’s family. Maybe she’s rooting for Morgan. Maybe she thinks he’s a brigand. We won’t know until I write it.
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This post is part of the ROW80 bloghop.
Quick update today. I went to rural Minnesota for my grandparents’ 50th anniversary over the weekend, which was a nice break from my usual hectic pace. I mean, the travel was hectic, but once we all got to the farm and I got to play with all the babies and puppies, life was pretty good.
In terms of writing, I have been guzzling articles and books about the Civil War, which is proving very helpful for The Rebel’s Hero. Luckily, I think I can keep most of the premise the same… I only have to change the location and some of the character motivations in order to be true to the time.
I just decided I will be doing A Round of 80 Words – Round Three. As in, just. I feel guilty for not keeping up as a sponsor during Round Two, but oh well. I think my goals will be the same… write at least 750 words per week. Doesn’t matter the project, I just need to keep writing.
And here’s something interesting I read over the weekend while doing research…
From the Notebook
Kentucky was a perfect reflection of the emotional and socio-political climate of the nation before and during the war. Free Kentuckians were split three ways: those who supported the Confederacy, those who supported the Union, and those who were for neutrality. Technically, you could say people were split four ways, because Unionists weren’t always abolitionists. Saying you were for the Union only meant you were against secession, not for freeing slaves.
Now here’s where it gets REALLY interesting. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves from those states that had already seceded from the union. Because Kentucky was in the hands of the Union by this time, it didn’t have to free its slaves. Neither did Maryland, or other northern slave-holding states. Kentucky didn’t free its slaves until it was forced to via the 13th Amendment almost eight months later.
The kicker? Wait for it.
Kentucky didn’t offer its support of the 13th Amendment, officially, until 1976.
Anyone who says history is dead is walking around with blinders on, so says I.
I’m gathering resources for The Rebel’s Hero for research. I talked with my resident Civil War expert, a friend from undergrad who majored in Civil War history, and he gave me the best worst news ever: my plot is implausible in the location I chose. He threw a ton of websites, books, and notable names I need to research. He upped my work level, but also inspired me with his knowledge, so even though this project is temporarily on hold, it’s for the best.
So far, I know that the story will be moving from Western Virginia (before it became a state) to Kentucky, with more emphasis on the Ohio side of things because Ohio was such a big player in the Underground Railroad. Go Ohio! O-H!
Abolitionism was huge in Ohio by the time the Civil War began, by the way. With so many Quakers around who felt slavery was against God’s will, it makes sense. This was something I touched upon briefly in Catching the Rose, something I always wanted to really delve into. This rewrite with The Rebel’s Hero is giving me just that chance. Beyond excited about it, though intimidated at the idea of trying to encapsulate so many poignant topics in one book. I know I’m going to fail, on a certain level. I won’t ever be completely accurate, since it is a work of fiction.
But hey, I’m pretty sure I won’t have readers accusing me of being racist with this book! Or maybe they will. If they do, I hope it causes notoriety so more people pick up the book! Haha. Oh the life of a self-made author…
I’m working on a non-fiction book under a different name. Non-fiction, I’m finding, is difficult to write, especially when attempting to write a how-to. It’s a fun challenge. I’m trying to get it out by the time schools start up again.
I had a breakthrough brainstorm at lunch last week for the new Victorian book, My Unwitting Heiress. The ideas exploded in my brain so that I hardly had time to grab pen and paper to write them down. This plot just became much funnier, more plausible, and its beginning will overlap with the ending of Haunting Miss Trentwood.
I’m still unsure as to whether the characters in the books will know each other. I’m guessing not. I’m waiting for them to tell me. I had this image of the heroine, Edith, from My Unwitting Heiress, sharing the train with Mary, from Haunting Miss Trentwood. They don’t know one another, but they’re both going to London for the queen’s golden jubilee. It’s one of those subtle nods that always make me chuckle when I read other authors doing it.
In other news, Suzy Turner, author of the young adult fantasy Raven, interviewed me over the weekend. She asked awesome questions, such as which actors would play the characters in Haunting Miss Trentwood. I had never thought of it before, but as soon as she asked, I knew right away. Check out the interview at Suzy’s blog for my answers!
Unrelated to writing, I’ve been dancing more than ever. Once a week I attend the local swing dance and becoming more deeply involved in the dance community. It’s great exercise and an excuse to socialize. I bought some dresses just because the skirts swirl around my legs like crazy, and I’m pretty sure my leads were trying crazier stunts with me just to see that skirt move. So much fun.
If you have never swing danced before, I encourage you to give it a try. Every city I’ve ever swing danced in has been super welcoming and supportive. We don’t care how well you dance, only that you’re interested in dancing, and you’re coming to the event with a smile. If you’re ever in Columbus, OH, make a point to attend the swing dance. In fact, ask me to dance. I promise I will. And if you don’t know how to dance, I’ll teach you the mashed potato and we’ll have a blast.
I think that’s it on the home front. I’m keeping to my ROW80 goals of writing 750 words a week. It’s a low goal, but since the point is to make sure I’m writing, I’m ok with it. I finished the second round of ROW80, even though I was an awful sponsor this time! I wonder how everyone else is doing?
Today we have Sean McCartney, who I highlighted before in an interview and when I met him in person at the Ohioana Book Festival. He agreed to share his experience at the book festival, and is giving away a copy of one of his Treasure Hunters books! Read on, dear reader, read on.
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I want to thank Belinda for having me here today. I’d like to introduce myself again. My name is Sean McCartney and I am the author of The Treasure Hunters Club book series. The second book, Breaking the Beale Code, was released on May 7th of this year. Belinda and I met face-to-face at the Ohioana Book Festival and she asked me to talk about my experience there.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement. When someone asked me who my protagonists were, not only did I not remember what a protagonist was, I forgot I was even an author. I’d never been to one of these before as an author or a patron.
I almost talked myself out of going with a deluge of excuses but as I look back on the festival I am glad I was there.
When I walked into building 110, where all of the authors were selling their books, I found my name tag and set up my treasure chest of books. I was sharing a table with another great young adult author. The area was not very large. In fact I felt like I was at the “kids” table for Thanksgiving Dinner.
After I was set-up I stood and waited for people to come in. I watched the other authors and wondered if they felt like I did. They seemed much more confident.
I have to say that, aside from selling a bunch of books, I was able to meet and talk with two terrific authors and people. Kristina McBride, author of The Tension of Opposites and Erin McCahan, author of I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, provided great laughs throughout the day and was a source of tremendous knowledge and information.
The festival held interviews and book readings by many authors. I was not chosen to do any of that which turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. I was able to stand by my treasure chest and meet readers who bought my books. When I went to the representative from Barnes and Noble and told her my sales, I think she was surprised and stunned.
Overall I can’t wait to go back. I have been looking into other festivals because for an author like myself working with a small publisher, I need to be out there meeting people.
Though the day was long (two hour drive to Columbus and back) and I was on my feet for the entire event, I wouldn’t have missed it. I am looking forward to next year and the continued success of the Treasure Hunters Club series.
Thanks again for having me and please visit my web site at treasurehuntersclubbook.com and drop me a line.
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Belinda here! So some takeaways from Sean’s experience, compared to other authors I’ve learned from, is that having a display catered to your book genre grabs the attention of passers-by.
Having the author standing and smiling, ready to engage? Also a huge plus. Not leaving your post is a great way to make sure you don’t miss readers, and the fact that Sean avoided looking tired I’m sure kept people coming to his spot until the end of the day.
I saw other authors there who sat behind their table reading a book. I did not visit them. I might have grabbed a postcard if they had one and it looked pretty. When you see someone talking to an author, you want to talk to that author as well.
I don’t remember if Sean had a pitch about his books, but his display was so fun-looking that I had to stop by. It was then that I realized I knew this guy! So having a gimmick, as it were, helps. It shows you put thought into your time at the festival, which tells readers that you really care.
If you’d like to win a copy of one of the Treasure Hunters books, leave a comment. We will use a random number generator to determine the winner.
Last week I came to the point in The Rebel’s Hero where I realized I need to do more research because I was operating on assumptions. I kind of freaked out and ran to the library to check out fifteen Civil War books. It was rather a sad event, actually. When I wrote Catching the Rose, there were two more shelves of books. For whatever reason, they have thinned the herd a bit. And this being the 150th anniversary year of the Civil War!
Anyway, one of the main events in Catching the Rose was the First Manassas battle (Bull Run to Yankees), so I got out a bunch of books about the first two years of the war. I got home, started looking through the books in detail, and realized if I wanted to give my characters any hope of a happily ever after, I needed to shift the timeline and location.
I’ve shifted the timeline back a year or so, and moved the location from a house in Richmond, Virginia and a plantation in South Carolina to farms in western Virginia and Ohio. Sadly, I know just about nothing about what the Civil War was like in these areas… except:
- Any battles in Ohio were in the Cincinnati area when Confederates tried to take over supplies etc and break into Union territory, and
- In 1861 western Virginia had seceded from Virginia to be its own state and in 1863 the Union welcomed West Virginia to the fold.
It kind of ticks me off, having to pause writing until I know more about the war and how it affected the areas I’m writing about. This is time I’m losing! But on the other hand, it has to be done. I’m excited to travel to some of the locations I’m writing about because they are within driving distance. At the very least, I need to make friends with the historical societies in Ohio and West Virginia, and chat up my friend who got his undergrad degree in History focusing on the war. I have a plan. It’s a plan that is pushing my deadline out, but it is a plan.
Have you ever had a project, writing or otherwise, where you were excited, going gangbusters, and then had to stop and backtrack to get more information?
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I have been struggling with my genre for almost a year now. I write historical fiction, that much I know because I write stories about fictional people set in a historically-based setting. I use real-world facts to provide the skeleton of my story, fill in details, and let my imagination run wild from there.
My stories also have a romantic element. I write about emotions, fears, hopes, dreams, struggles between personalities. I care about the vulnerability of opening one’s heart to someone else, knowing they may destroy, cherish, or be apathetic to it.
As such, I’ve been saying I write historical romances. Quirky historical romances, if I were to be precise. The quirky is because I bring in elements from the other genres I read for inspiration: fantasy, science fiction, women’s fiction, etc. My last book was pegged as gothic because of the setting, ghostly elements, and suspenseful mini-mystery.
Yet, historical romance doesn’t feel like such a great fit, either. Why? Because I read a lot of historical romances. The Julia Quinns, Candace Camps, Mary Jo Putneys, and Amanda Quicks of the world might raise a brow if they actually read one of my books. Why? I don’t write sex. I’m not interested in writing about it, I never hint at my hero/heroine having sex or even thinking about it. There is sexual tension, of course, or else they wouldn’t be attracted to each other.
Thinking about this made me wonder, you know, maybe I’m writing historical romances for young adults. After some soul searching, I realized there are three ways to tell that I’m writing historical romances for young adults.
1. I include enough historical detail to keep the attention of a fifteen year old, and not much more.
I make no claim to being a historian. I am, at best, a hobby historian. I’ve always loved learning, I am a very disciplined sort of researcher and can access a lot of information in a short amount of time. I had two journals full of handwritten notes from multiple primary and secondary sources for Haunting Miss Trentwood.
Yet the one complaint I hear more often than anything else about that book is I could have gone into a little more detail. Just another paragraph or two in a few spots. My point is that I had more than enough information with which to choke the story. Should I have included a little more? Yes, if it would have helped the story. It is not my goal to provide a history lesson, it is my goal to entertain, without stretching the facts of history as we know it today.
For The Rebel’s Hero, I do plan on writing an author’s note at the end of the book because there will need to be more historical background. I’m covering a part of the Civil War that you just don’t hear about as often, and I won’t be able to cover it in as much detail as I’d like within the actual story.
2. My protagonists are coming of age.
Now, Mary from Haunting Miss Trentwood was in her mid-twenties when the story occurred, which is a bit older than the traditional coming-of-age story. The fact remains that in the story, Mary goes through a change and comes into her own, as it were. She has a romance, deals with family struggles, and makes decisions about who she wants to be and what she can do to become that person. Pick up any young adult book, no matter the genre, and it will be addressing the same issues. Think of Libba Bray, Ann Rinaldi, Laurie Halse Anderson.
3. My stories are fairly straight forward.
If the protagonist is in a love triangle, you will probably be able to guess who they will pick before the end of the story. I don’t like tricking my readers into thinking they’ve figured someone out, and then writing a sort of “Gotcha!” where the character suddenly runs off with someone else. I believe I do this because in every love triangle I’ve seen in real life, only the third wheel sees the love triangle. The couple who is actually falling in love has no idea that third wheel is there.
When there is conflict in my stories, it is something where the hero and heroine need to work together… after or while they work through their interpersonal struggles. I find this is a common thread in young adult stories as well: the hero/heroine don’t quite understand one another, but they are attracted and WANT to understand each other. They go through the growing pains of attempting to become a couple, and their bond is strengthened by a common goal. Again, it is the relationship that is important to me, the coming of age within a relationship that occurs.
This isn’t to say that a young adult historical fiction doesn’t have plot twists and turns, of course.
There are other ways, I’m sure, that are pointing me in the direction of young adult. But these are the three that came to mind immediately. What are some other ways to tell if you’re writing (or reading) a young adult book?
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This is part of the ROW80 bloghop.
This past Saturday was all kinds of awesome. Not only was it Free Comic Day, but it was the Ohioana Book Festival here in Columbus. If there is one thing you get out of this post, it is this: Belinda got to spend an entire day being a nerd about local books and book shops.
I won’t go into much detail about Free Comic Day because I can’t tie it to historical fiction or romance very well. Suffice it to say I got six free comic books from The Laughing Ogre in the Clintonville area of Columbus, and bought a compilation Sinfest book because, damn, I got six free comic books.
Anyone who tells you free doesn’t work is a liar. Get enough free things quickly enough, and you might feel guilty enough to spring for something more expensive than you would have otherwise bought.
It was my first time at the Ohioana Book Festival, and I was appalled until I realized that the festival was only in its third year. I was in grad school in another state the last two years, so no wonder I hadn’t heard of the festival. It was located on the lovely campus of Fort Hayes, and the history of that campus would be worth a blog post by itself.
In brief, Fort Hayes was the first federal arsenal in Columbus, commissioned during the first year of the Civil War in order to provide arms for the men called to duty. The first building was completed in 1864 and was called the “shot” building because that’s where they made shot for the guns. This is totally fitting, right, because I’m working on a Civil War book, and it’s the 150th anniversary of the war. Believe me, I was geeking out.
Today, the buildings that are not boarded up or falling apart on the campus are used for an alternative high school which emphasizes the arts and preparing for professional life. And events like the Ohioana Book Festival (OBF).
The OBF caters to Ohio authors and authors who write about Ohio. An author is considered an Ohioan if they have lived in the state for five years at some point in their life, which I find a little sketchy. One author hadn’t lived in Ohio for thirty-seven years! But who am I to judge. The festival didn’t accept self-published authors, so even if I had known about the festival in time, they wouldn’t have accepted me. Oh well. One can hope. I own my publishing company, have an editor, etc. One of these days, I will be at that festival. So say I.
Anyway, I got to meet Sean McCartney in person, who you might remember I spotlighted this past winter. He was doing a great job! There were ninety-nine other authors he competed against, and he had sold eleven books by the time I got there in the early afternoon. He writes adventure fiction along the lines of Indiana Jones, so if you have a kid in your life who thinks they don’t like to read, try giving them one of his books.
I got to meet three historical fiction authors, two of which were on a guest panel about writing the genre. I was happy to meet Carrie Bebris, who writes the Mr and Mrs Darcy mysteries. Yes, you are guessing correctly: she writes Regency mysteries using the hero and heroine from Pride and Prejudice as her protagonists. Sounds like an absolute blast, right?? The author herself was soft-spoken and had a kind face, and was appreciative when I said I’d like to highlight her in my blog. You should check her out.
Lisa Klein and Karen Harper were the guests on the historical fiction panel, and it was fascinating to watch them interact with each other.
Klein writes young adult historical fiction, something along the lines of Ann Rinaldi, I imagine. Which means I will most likely be picking up one of her books to review because I devoured every Rinaldi book I could when I was younger. In fact, Rinaldi’s method of providing author notes and bibliographies at the back of her books is what inspired me to believe I could write historical fiction in the first place. Klein just released a Civil War book about two young women living in the Gettysburg area during the Civil War.
Harper writes historical fiction for adults; she likened it to women’s fiction but set in the past. Unlike Klein, who stays true to the historical record but whose protagonists are creations of her imagination, Harper only writes about people who actually existed. Think Susan Holloway Scott.
Both authors seem fascinated by the Tudor era, but also branch into other eras. Harper is currently writing an Amish series and released a book last year called Mistress Shakespeare, a tale about the woman Shakespeare was engaged to before he was forced to wed pregnant Anne Hathaway.
The really interesting thing about these authors is that they are both teachers. Harper taught Elizabethan history and Klein was a literature professor. In fact, Klein said she didn’t like history in school! It wasn’t until a history teacher in college had the class read a novel that represented each era they studied that she saw how fascinating the past is. Harper mentioned that because she writes about real people, she often gets letters from readers who point out her mistakes… something Klein hadn’t experienced. I suspect this might be because Klein writes for young adults, and they probably just don’t know enough to question her.
This post is getting super long, so I’ll stop here, but I urge you to check out the authors and books I highlighted from the festival. It was a great event that left me supercharged to write a thousand words that night. Definitely see if you have a local or state book festival. You’ll get to meet authors, check out their latest books, and basically nerd out for free.
And if you’re lucky, you might get to meet Amelia Bedelia, like me. Cross your fingers.
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This is part of the ROW80 bloghop. I’m keeping up with my goals. Are you?
I kept with my ROW80 goals again this week, yay! I hit 750 words, and in so doing, changed an aunt to an uncle, rewrote sections of three chapters, and wrote the first draft to the back cover copy, as shown below. I’d love your feedback! I styled the back cover content on the back covers I’ve seen from other historical romance authors who went back to rewrite a beloved story.
The common way for authors to address the fact that the book in hand is a rewrite includes making it a personal letter from the author, explaining the history of the book, and giving a synopsis for new readers who don’t know of the original version. Have I covered my bases?
I began The Rebel’s Hero as a rewrite of my high school senior thesis, a Civil War romance called Catching the Rose. The original was written with all the innocence and energy of a seventeen-year-old. I was flattered and gratified that so many readers picked up Catching the Rose, not expecting a book by a teenager, but a first serious attempt at being an author.
After publishing my second book, Haunting Miss Trentwood, my thoughts drifted to Catching the Rose. I itched to begin it again, this time with a tighter plot structure and deeper character motivations. Out of that reworking came The Rebel’s Hero.
When Tempest Granville’s step-father announced he was marrying her off in between slurps of soup at dinner, she knew right then that her home was no longer a safe haven from the impending war between the states.
The night of a successful slave smuggling mission leaves Daniel Ritter exhausted, but jubilant. When a bedraggled Tempest appears on his doorstep, her presence does more than spark alarm. Suddenly Daniel is having visions of his past, the very past he has struggled to reclaim memories of for nine years.
Join Tempest and Daniel as romance flares, the war begins, and urgency builds as they realize Daniel’s missing memory is the key to a wicked and heartbreaking family secret.
Intrigued? Subscribe to the newsletter to receive a free, pre-release ebook copy of The Rebel’s Hero once it is ready for publication.
I read five books last week. Rather than splitting up my reviews so each book gets a dedicated post, I instead posted my reviews on Goodreads and am linking to them from here. They’re all some form of historical romance; three are Regencies and two are Victorian. I’m always surprised there aren’t more Victorian romances… it makes sense, I suppose, because society totally freaked at how loosey-goosey the regency was in terms of morals… but the fun thing about the Victorians is that they actually continued those loose morals… they just stopped talking about it as frequently.
As a quick ROW80 update… I wrote another chapter to The Rebel’s Hero, but I don’t like how it ended. So that needs a rewrite. I’m also keeping to my goal of writing 750 words a week… pretty much blasting that out of the water. So that’s cheering.
Enough of that. Onto the reviews!
His Sinful Secret by Emma Wildes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Julianne and Michael are brought together by an arranged marriage, and they start their familial duty of producing an heir for the duchy as soon as possible. Through their entanglements in bed and the pillow talk after, they realize that it just might be possible to have that long-sought-but-rarely-found sort of marriage within the aristocracy: a happy one.
Impulse by Candace Camp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As always, I love Candace Camp’s stories because she allows the hero/heroine to get to know one another, to feel confident that they have found a healthy match/complement in each other, before hopping into bed.
It’s just refreshing.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think it’s Putney’s heroes that make me love her writing. Here we have David, who is very good at what he does, killing people efficiently to save his own skin. But the hardships of war didn’t dull his sensitivities toward a Jocelyn, beautiful woman who shies away from marriage the way a horse shies from a snake. He might have been a major, but David is a wonderful beta hero who kept me smiling and wishing he were real so I could take him home to meet my mother.
The Education of Mrs. Brimley by Donna MacMeans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think what I loved most about this book was that even though Nicholas could have completely taken advantage of Emma, he always gave her a choice. Now, he could have been a true gentleman and not required Emma to pose for him, but then the story wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting. Talk about foreplay… the slow undressing of the heroine for months built up the tension between them like crazy.
The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I wanted to like this book more than I did. The story began slowly, and the description sometimes got in the way of the plot, I felt. At its heart, this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. We have the beast, Jason Cameron, a elemental wizard who got too big for his britches and tried a spell he didn’t know how to uncast. We have the beauty, an heiress who was working on her PhD when her father died and left her penniless.
A decent retelling of a familiar and well-loved fairy tale, I wish there had been a little less world-building and a little more relationship-building.
Remember, my goal for ROW80 was pretty simple: write 750 words a week. I like achievable goals. They make me happy. Here we have the second chapter of The Rebel’s Hero, something that I wrote three times because each time I wasn’t hitting the right tone. Read the first draft of chapter one.
What do you think about this chapter? Is the characterization over the top? Is Tempest unbelievable, given that she’s a tomboy during the Civil War?
After they finished their silent dinner, Tempest followed Howard and Sophronia to the parlor. Still stinging from Howard’s remark of her “wildness,” Tempest made sure to float across the room and sink into her chair with no more noise than a soft sigh. She kept her posture rigid, her eyes narrowed, and her hands clenched in her lap.
Howard paid no attention, which meant she was giving herself a headache for nothing. Sophronia lounged on a chaise in a dark corner, a handkerchief laid across her eyes. There would be no help from that corner, of that Tempest was certain.
Tempest’s mind raced. Howard had been serious at dinner, she knew he had been serious. And her mother had sat there, sipping her soup because Howard had instructed her to. Tempest worked her jaw in an effort to fight the telltale growing pressure of impending tears.
Of all people, why Walter?
Fifteen minutes passed as the three of them listened to the grandfather clock ticking from the hallway. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Tempest cursed her heart for the way it continued to beat, keeping time with the clock, as if the world had not just ended. Tick. Tock. Everything slowed and Tempest just knew if she did not leave at that instant, she would scream. At the chime of the quarter hour, Tempest jumped to her feet.
“Pardon me, I have a headache,” she said in stiff tones. She held her chin high and refused to look at either Howard or Sophronia as she sailed from the room, her wide skirts swaying with the speed of her escape.
She walked to the front porch of the house and stared out at their farmland. No doubt this was why Walter was agreeing to marry her. It was always about land with these stupid men. Tempest shook her head. She would never understand it. How could a man marry a woman he knew didn’t love him, didn’t even like him, would prefer to spit on the ground than speak to him, just for some dirt?
Howard is hiding something.
Tempest sat on the swing that hung from the rafters of the porch and with smooth, practiced motions, lifted her skirts high, and dropped the hoop skirt then and there for all the world to see. Not that anyone could or would see, it was just her and the slaves and the farm and the black sky. Not even the stars dared shine tonight, not under the threat of Tempest’s furious frown.
Freed of her hoops, Tempest crouched easily to remove her shoes and stockings, discarding them where Howard would be able to see them when he came out for his evening smoke. Might as well. He already thought she was wild, and one evening of perfect behavior wouldn’t change his mind. Tempest tucked the hem of her skirt into her waistband so she could do what she had been wanting to do since hearing Howard’s awful news. Run.
Why now? she thought, knowing she would get a stitch in her side if she ran as hard as she wanted to, thanks to the stupid corset she was forced to wear. I’ve been of age for two years, why now? And why Walter?
Leaping from the front porch, Tempest ran. She ran from the house in her bare feet with sure strides that belied the way her stomach sloshed with every step. The tears she refused to show to Howard now flowed freely, hanging in the air like rain drops as she sped to her tree by the creek.
Walter. The name sent shivers down her back even though the air was thick with hot humidity. Her hair curled at her temples at at the back of her neck. Her arms became slick with sweat. Walter the Breaker, she had once heard him called on a bright morning before Sunday church. Breaker of spirits, horse and human. Another shiver.
It’s because I’ve been asking questions.
Tempest’s toughened feet paid no mind to the grass, twigs, and bugs they crushed. Tempest was the very embodiment of her name, dust flying, birds squawking, as she reached her tree. She caught a low-hanging branch without bothering to slow down. She swung around and kicked off the side of the tree trunk to jettison upwards. She caught another branch, and another, scrambling up the tree with the speed of a squirrel. She stopped when she was high enough to see the farmhouse.
Plopping onto a branch that was thick enough to hold her weight, Tempest leaned back against the tree trunk and crossed her arms over her panting chest as she wheezed.
Things had not been right since her father’s death. Everyone said Reginald Granville died via an unfortunate accident with the drink, but Tempest knew better. Reginald had never had problems with drinking. Even Tempest, at eight years old, had known that her father wasn’t a drinker, that he couldn’t have smashed his head into the cellar floor because he had tripped over his own feet. But that was what Howard had insisted, with tears in his eyes.
Tempest scraped the back of her hand against her traitorous tears. She should have known better than to ask Sophronia about Reginald’s death the other day. She should have known her questions would send Sophronia into ten years of latent hysterics, and Howard would come running. Tempest hadn’t expected to trigger Sophronia’s bad habit of sleepwalking to the cellar, though. No doubt that was why Howard was trying to get rid of her. To silence her questions and stop causing her mother’s hysterics and sleepwalking. Things could be peaceful at the farmhouse, if only Tempest wasn’t around.
Her chin jutted out. If Howard wanted to get rid of her, he didn’t have to marry her off.
A plan began to form. Hadn’t Sophronia received a letter not too long ago? They so rarely received letters these days. Tempest had been surprised at how dismissive her mother had been about it. If only she could find that letter. Someone knew they existed, even though as a principle, the family refused to leave the farm for anything but church.
Maybe, just maybe, Tempest could find that letter, and find the writer of it, and get some of the answers her family refused to reveal. No doubt this person had a history with Sophronia, one that went longer than the last ten years, and lived far enough away to not know how she had changed.
Everyone in the village knew Sophronia was not of this world any longer. She floated through it, suffered it, paid no mind. Someone knew her before Reginald’s death, and cared enough to write. Whoever this person was, whoever it was that cared about her mother, this was Tempest’s best option.
“One of these days, Howard,” Tempest muttered as she climbed down the tree, “you’re going to regret pushing Reginald Granville’s family around.”
All the best,
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