When Awesome Happens: To My Old Master

Dear Reader,

I have stumbled upon an amazing discovery where a letter from a former slave to their former master’s request to “return home” has surfaced in blog format.  This is such a great find for me as I continue to do research for The Rebel’s Touch, and I wanted to share the experience with you. Below is the first paragraph. So fantastic.

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance…

Tons of thanks to Shaun Usher of Letters of Note for finding this gem and reproducing the letter in full! Read the entire thing at his website.

Best,

Belinda

Housekeeping

Dear Reader,

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!

John_Hunt_MorganI 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.

Best,

Belinda

– – –

This post is part of the ROW80 bloghop.

Writing up a Storm

Dear Reader,

Last week I started The Rebel’s Hero over again. Yes, again. This is the third try, and I already feel much better about it. I’m keeping to my goal of writing at least 750 words a week in these crazy creative bursts that leave my head aching afterward.

Case in point: I’ve written about four thousand words so far, using much of what was already written, but rearranged and with more sensory detail. I got some critique from Haunting Miss Trentwood where readers wanted more description to really feel immersed.

Writing is becoming fun again, because this is a fun concept. The Rebel’s Hero is about a young woman who stumbles onto a runaway attempt and gets kidnapped by the Underground Railroad agent determined to keep his operation secret. Things start to heat up when physical contact triggers memories from his lost childhood.

This is still in keeping with the original plot I’ve been talking about for The Rebel’s Hero, with some tweaks. This should be a fun read, because I’m having fun writing it. I’ll probably be asking newsletter subscribers whether they would like to

Facts of the day

Slaves had been escaping captivity since the peculiar institution was established in America back in the 1640s. The Revolutionary War was a huge boon for slaves bent on escaping… according to my sources around 100,000 Africans and African-Americans took the war as an opportunity to run away.

Around 1500 slaves escaped successfully each year between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, i.e. not including the slaves who were recaptured.That’s a much larger number than I expected!

As the nation expanded westward, the Ohio River became pivotal for escaping slaves. In fact, the river gained such nicknames as the “River Jordan,” and the “Dark Line” between slavery and nominal freedom.

Fascinating stuff, right?

Best,

Belinda

– – –

This post is part of the ROW80 bloghop.

Joining the Ranks

Dear Reader,

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.

Best,

Belinda

Getting Schooled about the Civil War

trh_smallDear Reader,

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:

  1. Any battles in Ohio were in the Cincinnati area when Confederates tried to take over supplies etc and break into Union territory, and
  2. 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?

Best, Belinda

– – –

This is part of the ROW80 bloghop

Why I’m Writing a Ghost Story

Dear Reader,

Haunting Miss Trentwood began as an exercise to understand how my parent felt about losing both of their parents.

I researched adult (or midlife) orphans, which is such an important, and under-recognized topic. I’m certain the public library thought I was going through some deep trouble because I read every book on the topic.

I became fascinated and terrified by the idea that one day, my parents will die, and with them goes the only people in the world who have seen it all happen to me. They exist as a living record and archive of the traumatic moments in my life. They are my anchor.

I asked the questions: What happens to someone who loses both their parents? How do we continue, knowing there will never be anyone who knows us entirely? How do we keep the spirit of our parents alive?

Soon thereafter, I began dreaming about ghosts. Specifically, one ghost: the ghost of Mary’s father. I didn’t know why he was there. Mary certainly didn’t know why he was there. But we both knew his presence would forever change the plot and purpose of Haunting Miss Trentwood née Trentwood’s Orphan.

Looking back, I can see influences of Hamlet involved in the inspiration of Haunting Miss Trentwood. We so often underestimate the importance of the role our parents have in our lives, or the lack thereof if our parents are not a part of our lives. We underestimate the influence our parents have on our judgments and decisions.

This book is my attempt to understand and cope with the idea that one day, my parents will be gone, but I hope to keep their spirits alive within me. Is that crazy? Am I alone in worrying about this? Are you wondering how in the hell can I make an entertaining read about such a morbid topic?

Don’t worry, I wonder the same thing all the time. It’s a challenge, but it’s one I’m excited to face. Which, in retrospect, seems kind of weird, doesn’t it?

All the best,

Belinda

I lost my research

Dear Reader,

You are not going to believe this, but I seem to have lost my research. Not all of it, just the detailed, every day sort of stuff about the town that I’m writing about.

Shoot me. Shoot me shoot me shoot me.

Let me break it down for you: two years ago, I befriended Graham Carter thanks to the amazing randomness of the interwebz. He found me because I was bewailing the lack of information about the little town in England I had chosen as the location of Haunting Miss Trentwood, which at the time was called Trentwood’s Orphan. The town is Compton Beauchamp, which Graham described as “the back of beyond.”

Only an Englishman could make a middle-of-nowhere village sound charming. But then, as I understand it, middle-of-nowhere villages in England are charming, ergo my choosing said middle-of-nowhere village. He called it “obscure” and “anonymous.” He lives within 12 miles of the place and had to look it up on a map to remember where it was, exactly.

I still have the emails he sent me, and he sent me many, because he likes to study genealogy. In fact, he assumed I was an American looking for my Brit roots. Unfortunately, I have none. He went to the local library and made copies of newspapers from every month in 1887 that mentioned Compton Beauchamp.

I was giddy. Ecstatic. I printed them out in chronological order, highlighting and marking where and when I could use local events in Trentwood’s Orphan. I kept the information with me while I moved to Bloomington for grad school. I remember packing the folder when moving back to Columbus for a job.

I cannot find the folder. I know I put it somewhere, and I hope when I move from my parents’ to my brand-spanking-new apartment it will magically appear beneath my pillow, a la the tooth fairy.

In the meantime, I’m working from memory. Thank goodness I spent so many hours studying those papers. But bless me if I didn’t almost lose my mind searching for that folder in all of my within-reach boxes.

I do have generic research about the era, such as clothing, vehicles, etiquette, that sort of thing. Going through that research reminded me that originally the climax of Haunting Miss Trentwood née Trentwood’s Orphan was to be a court scene in which someone was sued for breach of promise. A breach of promise lawsuit could also be known as “how &*%#!@ dare you &*%#!@ break up with me you mother-&*%#!@!”

But I’ve lost the good stuff that I had tucked away in a green, battered, two-pocket, three-hole-punched folder. Maybe if I channel the self I was at the beginning of the summer, I will remember where I put it.

Or, I can wait one more week until I get into my new place and hug the folder upon its retrieval.

All the best,

Belinda

Love is a Powerful Brain System

“Men are so adulterous!”
“What makes you think men are more adulterous?”
“Men are definitely more adulterous.”
“Well… who do you think these men are having sex with?”

I have become a new fan of TED online, which is this amazing website that gives all of us the option to watch amazing performances and speakers for free, so that good ideas can proliferate. Helen Fisher on Romantic Love really got me thinking, both as a person, and as a writer. It’s about ten minutes. Fisher discusses what she says are the three brain systems of love:

  1. Sexual love
  2. Romantic Love
  3. Attachment

I found this video so interesting. Fisher talks about the differences between men and women in terms of how they think, gather information, and how we are moving toward a collaborative society. She talks about the recurrence of the “companion marriage,” and “romantic love,” which is a throwback to one of my favorite 19th century authors, Margaret Fuller.

She mentions how the three brain systems aren’t always connected to one another, which explains how one can feel attached, and yet not have a romantic love, for someone. Or to be sexually attracted, but not feel attached. And these feelings can change from minute to minute. She asks why it is that we fall in love with one person, rather than another.

Isn’t that the real question all romance authors are asking? I feel like that’s my question, anyway.

As a romantic author, I felt like this video really helped me first to understand, perhaps, the underpinnings of love from a biological standpoint, with an emotional filter layered on top. This, I feel, is important to understanding what, really, is important in terms of writing about love, in any of its forms. I’d love to hear what you think about this video.

Do you agree with what Fisher has to say? And how are your projects coming along?

Researching Your Setting Using Google Earth

google_earthIf anything deserves more attention in my research, it’s the setting. Not for lack of trying, though; it’s something I tend to obsess about, if you’ll remember, but the resources about my little village are sparse at best. This concerns me because character histories often depend on the character’s environment, so it’s risky not to know the nooks and crannies hidden in your location.

Enter Google Earth. I finally caved in and installed the free application on my computer. This, despite my misgivings that I would waste hours studying the landscape rather than studying how the structure of a material changes depending on the number of vacancies at the atomic level. (I’m so glad I graduated.) Heaven help me, I was at the computer for two hours squealing about all the little physical details that, without technology, I would have had to journey to the UK to see it myself.

Thanks to the internet, I did manage to find 1885 maps of the area. But seeing actual color photos of the landscape around the manor house, and the relative locations of local ruins Mary walks to when she needs to let off some steam… and then to see photos taken by other Google Earth users living in the area! Oh, when I found Wayland’s Smithy, I knew, I just knew, that Mary spent hours there as a child, and returned there when bereft as an adult.

And if this isn’t enough, I also installed Google Sketch Up, a 3D modeling application. People use it to make 3D renderings of buildings on Google Earth… you know what I’ll be doing in my free time pretty soon. Yes, that’s right, making mock-ups of my characters’ not-so-humble abodes.

For those of you struggling with details about your setting, take a peek at Google Earth. It’s free and works on all major platforms, it seems. If you’re writing historical fiction, you might have to imagine what the city looked like during your era, but many places (especially in Europe) still have the old streets and some of the old buildings to give you a better understanding of what is within walking distance, etc. If you’re writing a contemporary piece, you can watch traffic patterns, the weather, and more.

A great resource for anyone curious about the world, Google Earth is an awesome research resource for writers.

Thursday Thirteen: Tools to Research Setting

I often find interesting bits of information floating around that don’t necessarily correspond to an entire blogpost. To compensate, sometimes I’ll have a Thursday Thirteen to collect and spread the knowledge-love, bringing me back to the original point of Worderella Writes. But I reserve the right to have a Thursday Seven, Thursday Two, Thursday Whatever-Number-I-Manage-to-Get-To… even though they don’t sound as good. Today’s theme is tools to help you research and/or write your setting. #1 – 7: Everyone can enjoy. #8-13: Probably for historical fiction writers only.

  1. Google Maps, MapQuest, etc. Use these websites for distances to known locations, driving routes, etc.
  2. Google Earth. This is great free application for those of us who are writing about places we may never see. This application allows us to see landscapes, weather patterns, traffic, and more, with the added benefit of seeing the pictures other Google Earth users took of the area and posted online.

    * Disclaimer: Don’t blame me if you find yourself spending hours staring at the local landmarks of your chosen location. I can’t help it if Google Earth is that cool.

  3. Google SketchUp. If your WIP is at an existing location, together with Google Earth you can actually render a 3D model of the building. Not only that, but it has the capability to render floorplans and you can put little people in there, too. You’ll never accidently put your character in the drawing room when you meant the library ever again.
  4. Architectural Details. Can’t remember what that one arch is called on your building? This is the layperson’s guide to architectural elements to help you describe the places your characters visit/live.
  5. Wikipedia. A good place to start when you’re beginning your research on a particular location, but not something that should be the end-all-be-all for what you know about the place.
  6. Writing the setting. A nice essay on things to keep in mind while working on setting.
  7. Setting > Worderella collection. Sadly, I don’t have a lot about setting, and I should have more, but this will give you all the posts that pertain to setting in some way.
  8. A Dictionary of Victorian London. A collection of articles, journals, and diaries posted online and in book format, I’ve been meaning to buy the book because I reference this site almost as often as I check e-mail. Which is to say, religiously.
  9. Dickens’s London. Predictably, London as Dickens knew it in the 1880s.
  10. History Link. A subscription website supposedly full of links that guide you through your research for your novel. I’m not sure whether this is better than trolling the web and library for information, so if anyone has experience with this place, please comment.
  11. Victorian Web. An indispensible website full to the brim of information about Victorian England.
  12. County Maps of England. This is where I found my 1885 maps of Berkshire, and how I know that Compton Beauchamp belonged to Berkshire at the time, and not Oxfordshire as it does now.
  13. Edwardian Promenade. A blog focused on a series of essays about Victorian and Edwardian life.

I know I missed some resources. Let me know in the comments what you use to get a handle on your setting!