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It was outrageous — Erienne Fleming’s father had no regard for his daughter and married her off to the highest bidder. She had flirted with the Yank who’d come to her father’s village, but it was the mysterious and disfigured Lord Saxton who won the prize. He wasn’t the monster Erienne feared he’d be, and soon, her heart was torn between the husband she married and the dashing young man who pursued her. The climax to this tale is fraught with danger, unmaskings, and end — of course — with true love conquering all. Why? Because this is the story of a romance novel.
Kathleen Woodiwiss wrote A Rose in Winter the year I entered high school. By then, her career as a novelist neared a decade. Agents and publishers rejected her first novel, The Flame and the Flower, because it was too long. But it was detailed, building a historical world with accuracy and creating strong-willed characters. When her book published in 1972, it paved the way for what we recognize as the modern romance novel, and her book was the first to follow the protagonist and love interest into the bedroom.
My sister-in-law loaned me a copy of A Rose in Winter, promising me it would be the best love story I had ever read. It was. And it remains the number one romance novel in my heart. “Serious” writing cured me of my crush on romance novels. By the time I graduated with an undergrad degree, I was burned out on reading heavy literature — medieval books, Chaucer, literature with social justice themes, and thick historical novels. I slipped back into reading a romance novel, but the genre had changed. The bodice-rippers had grown up, and contemporary romances had taken their place. Two of my favorite authors had quit romance and were penning modern crime thrillers. I found old copies of Janet Dailey and re-read the Calder series about the Montana family of cowboys over five generations.
Then I quit romance for good.
It’s not so much that the genre changed, but that I had. My heart wanted a good read, and so did my brain. I wanted to feel connected to characters, their relationships, and their world. Oddly enough, fantasy filled the void. After I plowed through my kids’ Harry Potter books, I discovered the works of Robert Jordan and read the entire Wheel of Time series. This led me to read the hefty tomes of Brandon Sanderson, and I eagerly await his next 1,000-page Stormlight series installment. But you see, Kathleen Woodiwiss started my interest in long novels.
Tony Hillerman is my brain candy. His Navajo police stories go as fast as a bag of red licorice. I love his books for the authentic Navajo world-building and for a series that returns familiar characters. But they go fast. To slow down, I’ll read a contemporary work of fiction. Anne Goodwin over at Annectdotal has been my book pusher for recent scores of literary fiction. If you don’t follow her reviews, I suggest you do so as a writer. I’m shifting my own reading practices to read more books as a writer. That means reading books I might not connect with or find entertaining.
Why do we read?
What a massive and complex question. If we had an inkling, book marketers would hustle us off to better understand the reading habits of modern readers. Some like to stimulate their intellect, others their emotions. I like a good book that draws me into a sense of place — it’s why I read Brandon Sanderson, Tony Hillerman, and Janet Daley. Book marketers struggle to make sense of that because I read across such divergent genres. And to mess up the matter more, I write women’s and historical fiction with a commercial style. What is going on?
Librarians better understand that most of their patrons are like me — a hot mess when it comes to “what I like to read.” Book marketers are so hung up on genre that they think I’d only read one genre. Tony Hillerman is the only crime books I read. Outside the Navajo reservation, I’m not interested in mysteries. I don’t like thrillers. Oh, but wait, I read all of Ian Fleming, and I like some of Ken Follette and Clive Cussler. I read everything Kathleen Woodiwiss ever wrote, but I can’t stand anything Nora Roberts writes. I dislike fantasy, but I love Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. YA is not my thing except for Harry Potter. I read lots of western writers like Louis L’Amour, Edward Abbey, Jim Harrison, Ivan Doig, Wallace Stegner, and non-fiction by Terry Tempest Williams and important cultural literature by Sherman Alexie and Tony Morrison.
The Reader’s Advisory group that helps librarians understand readers like me look at genre to recognize the factors that influence readers and have published a powerfully informative book, The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction. If you are serious about publishing (independently, small press, or traditionally), this is the book that will help you understand readers better. And why do you want to do that as a writer? Because readers buy books. Libraries and book stores buy books for readers. The better you can understand who is your target reader, the better you will be at marketability. Publishers want a well-crafted book, yes, but they also want one they think they can sell.
According to the Reader’s Advisory, genres can be arranged according to four factors:
- Adrenaline Genres (Adventure, Romance Suspense, Suspense, Thrillers)
- Emotion Genres (Gentle Reads, Horror, Romance, Women’s Lives & Relationships)
- Intellect Genres (Literary Fiction, Mysteries, Psychological Suspense, Science Fiction)
- Landscape Genres (Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Westerns)
This blew my mind for a couple of reasons. First, who would have thought that horror and romance had anything in common? Second, what I like to read (fantasy) is compatible with what I want to write (historical fiction). I’ve been saying, I love a book that draws me into a sense of place. Well, that would be landscape! This rearranging of genre by factors helped me better understand my target audience, too. Miracle of Ducks has perplexed me as to where it fits. It’s contemporary, but what is it from there? I had dismissed women’s literature and thought it fit more into literary fiction. But I was wrong! My story is about relationships and women’s voices that go unheard from within the veteran community. It’s emotional, not intellectual. My target audience reads books to feel.
The book breaks down each of these genre groups and delves into deeper factors. It’s intended audience is librarians, but one of my professors introduced me to the guide (buy used because this is a pricey reference book). My other professor has me writing romance this week. They are both teaching me that as a writer, I have something to learn from all the genres.
So, what can we learn from the romance genre? Romance places priority on the relationship between two people — romance, bromance, girl meets girl; the story is all about them. I learned that the genre has niche’s I never knew about (yes, werewolves and women are a thing!). It’s a rich genre, often focusing on details of place like the historical romances Woodiwiss wrote. Just because it has a recognizable framework of they meet they, they come into conflict, more conflict, and near disaster, they reunite and live HEA. HEA meaning, happily ever after. Although modern romance allows for more ambiguity — happy for now. It must end on an upswing.
Romances vary as much as our weekly stories. We are all writing to the same prompt within the same constraint, and yet our stories each week remain creative, original, and unexpected. Romance novels can be just as varied. For me, the take-away is to study relationships and the emotional tension that builds conflict. Whereas romance solves the tension with sex, I’m aiming for an elixir of growth. I’m more interested in personal development and social justice.
Yes, we are going to get our love groove going this week. First, a little mood music. Robert Mirabal is one of my favorite Native American musicians. He introduces why he wrote the song, Medicine Man. It doesn’t have an HEA ending, but it is a story of a man who overcame his unrequited love by marrying his people. What a deep concept — he could not have the romantic love he yearned for, so instead, he loved everyone, serving them as a holy man. That is a relationship story with, personal growth.
November 21, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a romance. Focus on the relationship between two people. Build tension and end on a happy(ish) note. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by November 26, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests during the 2019 Rodeo will be announced on November 28, 2019.
Challenge submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
Cupid’s Call on the Range by Charli Mills
A cow caused it all. Maria Sanchez lived on the backside of Hope Valley, watching her father’s herd of Angus, selling steaks to silver miners. Garett Meadows owned the mine. He spotted Maria one day, lifting her skirts to chase a cow, exposing curvy brown calves. A range cow charged the encroaching horse, and Garret struck his head in the fall. Worried that her father would be blamed, Maria hid the injured man in a trapper’s cabin to tend to him alone. Garett was only playing injured. A month later, at their wedding, he blamed love on the cow.
I feel like I’m breathless, dancing.
My partner is Writing and we’ve been together a long time, me and W. I fell in love as a young girl, giddy to practice story-steps on that old paper dance-floor called the Journal. W showed me new tricks with a pencil beyond spelling words and long division. With my imagination and W’s endless possibilities, the world was our ballroom.
The fancies of youth gave way to the trials of learning complicated steps. Yes, dancing with W was still fun, but our relationship was challenged by English teachers and professors, literary criticism and the needs of media editors and bosses. For a time, W and I danced secretly in other Journals we found, not showing our moves to the world. We danced formally, earning some jobs and greenbacks.
The one day, we left the formal dances, cracked open the moves we started in Journals and took a chance that we might be able to create dances of our own. W has taken me to new heights and my head is spinning.
Writing has opened new doors. Or perhaps, I opened new doors with writing. See, that’s the thing with dancing — it’s a partnership. Much has happened in a short period of time. When I was asked to host a BinderCon event, it lead to partnering with the library. When I was ready to launch an anthology project, I was offered a chance to host a contest. When I was searching for another supplementary client project, I found two that are perfect matches to what I love to do — profiles on people and place. When I went into revision I planned to come out with a draft, but I will have a draft and a serial project to plot.
When I worked 9-5, I would take any opportunity that led to my dream even if I had to write late nights or weekends. Now I am working that dream. I should feel overwhelmed at the heaping portion on my plate, or how full my dance card is, yet this is…exactly…what…I…dreamed…to do. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. This is my life’s work. I’ve found a happy balance between writing that pays and writing that fulfills. There is nothing that I’m doing that is a step toward something; this is the destination.
Life doesn’t always celebrate with us. In fact, life often rains on our Happy Parades. It blew in like a hurricane. What happened? Well, that’s what happened — it RAINED. Yesterday morning we awoke to four inches of snow, the first snowfall in the valley. Sad to see winter arrive, but snow (not a date on a calendar) is the signal. Then the snow began to melt, the clouds sputtered rain and a fierce wind blew in replacing the rain with RAIN. Our house felt battered, wind howling in cracks we didn’t know we had and water pouring off the roof and down windows like garden waterfalls. The winds blew across Schweitzer Mountain (behind our house), clocked at 101 mph! If we had been a ship, we’d have wrecked, for sure. Instead, we lost electricity. We were lucky.
Yet Life has a wicked sense of humor. It didn’t understand that W and I had to dance! These were the dances we had been waiting for and we needed electricity! Come on! Life had its way and I actually found it rather pleasant to curl up by the fire in the dark, listening to the howling wind and lashing rain. My phone was charged and I reached out to Sarah Brentyn who so kindly rode over to the ranch to announce the delay. I prematurely got excited when the lights came on for 30 minutes, followed by darkness. By then the outage included eastern Washington, northern Idaho, western Montana and southern British Columbia.
Life added a further insult when I began reading from my Kindle aloud to the Hub. Just as we were cooing over our rediscovery of reading together, it smelled smokey. The Hub flicked on his flashlight and smoke was billowing from the wood-stove like a steam engine. Evidently, the wind gusts were so massive that they were forcing the smoke down the chimney! The Hub knew enough about the physics of wood-stoves and he opened the damper full throttle to counter the wind force with fire. That was a scary sight! We had to hold open doors against gusting winds to try to air out the house, listening the the crack of tree branches.
Today, our yard is littered with broken branches and our house smells like an ashtray. But still I rise to the dance. I will dance across the litter Life tosses at me and I’ll counter stale air with fresh. And I’ll be late on the compilation. It’s a set-back, not the end of the dance.
In trying to regroup, I decided to get the next prompt out first and do some quick summaries. Notice that this next prompt has a longer deadline. Carrot Ranch is welcoming home the Little Buckaroos next week and I’ll be a giddy mum. We haven’t all been together in one place at one time in over three years. They’ll be expecting ranch-cooking so W will have some time off. That means W has much to do in just few days, but we’ll get it wrangled!
I hadn’t intended to be missing in action on social media, but the way W was dancing, I didn’t get the chance. In particular, #MondayBlogs, #wwwblogs and #LinkYourLife are all Twitter events I try to keep up with, but they will be there when I return. Elmira Pond is rather neglected these days and I miss connecting with Ruchira Khanna on Wordless Wednesdays, but I will return there, too. The pond is rather silent, anyhow with all the migrating fowl having migrated elsewhere.
I’m excited to share my other writing as it publishes. A new magazine is launching in Idaho and I get to cover fun assignments in the Panhandle like a castle up on Schweitzer, my favorite local restaurants and Ruby’s Lube (it’s not what you think, but then again, maybe it is). When the publishers release the name, I’ll share it. A newsletter I’ve edited for years has a new look and most of the content is my writing (pages 2, 4-5, 6-7, -8-9) though I only have one byline. The fun challenge here is to vary the voice between articles, such as representing the board, operations and highlighting their food educator. You can access the digital publication at Living Naturally if you want to see our new look. Another project is ghost-writing but I can sneak you a peak as they publish.
The Congress of the Rough Writer’s Anthology Vol. 1 has officially kicked off on a ride to publication. It’s an exciting ride and one of my favorite new dances with W and the ranchers here. Sarah Brentyn is Trail Boss as the anthology Editor. What an incredible and skilled writer for the project! Many Rough Writers have stepped up to teams on the project. If you are a Rough Writer and received the anthology notice, you have until December 9 to decide if you want to participate. Even if you don’t, your writing may be selected or we may have questions and we’ll follow up with you. If you are a Rough Writer and didn’t receive the email (some filters will flag group emails as spam), shoot me a note at email@example.com. We have new Rough Writers to announce and they’ve been patiently waiting for their pages — soon! I’m so privileged to be in the company of so many diverse and talented writers. Thank you!
A quick NaNoReViSo update — revision is to writing what Pilates is to dancing; both will make you stronger but it’s going to hurt! Writing is free expression (for those of us who identify as pantsers) and it feels like revision is a bunch of laws we freedom writers want to rebel against. However, revision gives what we write structure, clarity, correctness and artistry. We think we are more artsy free writing, but the real artistry shows up when we can master the craft and apply the right creativity. Creativity without craft mastery will not be clear or correct, thus our art might be missed. I thought I’d be working more on structure, but instead I immersed in research for clarity. The result is that my improved understanding led to better plot structuring. I’m cutting much and will need to fill in new places. I can better see what work needs to be done. It’s a lot of big picture focusing, problem solving and handling details I skimmed over in writing. It’s painful, but it improves the dance. And, Sherri Matthews, thank you for dancing with me this month to tune of revision! Tough steps to learn and I’m grateful for your company.
The Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Contest is open until January 31, 2016. It’s my pleasure to introduce to you our Rough Writer judges: Sarah Brentyn, Norah Colvin, Pat Cummings and Geoff Le Pard. This is a great crew who will give submissions the review they deserve for entering and supporting Noah in his quest for a service dog. All other Rough Writers are eligible to enter, but remember this is blind judging so do not include any identifying information inside your submitting documents. We have a process in place and will announce the Winner and the over all Top Ten February 20, 2016. Entry fee is only $15 and you can enter as many times as you like. Read the details on the Contest page so you know by what criteria we are judging. Have fun and support a worthy cause!
Where am I at with Cobb? I’m resting easy these days, and focusing on Nebraska now that I understand circumstances in North Carolina better. A big round of applause for Geoff Le Pard whose real estate law background helped me understand a tough nut to crack. He also looked at it with a writer’s eye and gave me interesting plot twists to consider. I now feel that my story has the historical legs to stand on and while I can’t prove my theories, I can explore them in fiction and give a more plausible story than the ones historians have recounted over the years. If my Uncle Cobb were to sit by the campfire with me he might say I got it, or he might say I was off the mark, but I do believe he’d feel proud that a descendant was willing to search for the truth and see a whole man, not just the good or the bad.
And thank you to all who responded last week! My apologies for the weather delay and getting to this post first. In that 30 minutes of returned electricity yesterday, before it went down for good, I read a fun exchange about dance in the comments. Thanks for this prompt’s inspiration! I look forward to tangos, rumbas and more.
November 18, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write dance into your story. Twirl your characters round and round or stomp your plot onto the page. Use dance in any way that comes to mind. Be specific or free, tango or disco.
EXTENDED DEADLINE! Respond by December 1, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Secrets Kept by Charli Mills
Cold seeped into the corner of the Greene barn where Sarah watched him unseen. Snug breeches clung to massive legs, but he danced as fluid and light as any gay girl. More like a prancing stallion. Why did he keep dancing with Mary Greene? If only she’d the courage to step out of the dark, she’d ask him to pull molasses with her, then maybe he’d reciprocate with a dance. So cold, though. She couldn’t move.
“Mama, Miss Sarah’s waking.”
“She’s too far gone. Poor dear, I hope she’s ready to dance in heaven. We’ll never know her secrets.”
It’s Monday morning, 1 a.m. so technically, I think it’s Tuesday. But I have had a huge breakthrough, the one I needed. A mighty big THANK YOU to Geoff Le Pard who took time from his Nantholgy to review my research dilemma and explain it in clear terms that made sense. Not only did it make sense, but it led to a revelation.
Two secretes held by Sarah Shull — who shot Cobb McCanles and why was Cobb accused of absconding with taxpayer’s money in North Carolina. They both were intelligent. In fact, that’s the basis of their attraction. Mary was beautiful, a fine cook and loving mother and Cobb adored her, but he couldn’t resist his wicked urges or ambitions of the mind and body around Sarah.
The revelation is that the duo repeated their deed scheme in Nebraska. It’s been there all along in the documents and histories. No one has seen it for what it is. I even felt sorry for Cobb, thinking he kept selling land or bridges or wagons and having to collect them and sell them again to someone who would pay in full. But what if he never intended for anyone to pay in full? Geoff set off my realization when he said Cobb, as sheriff in North Carolina, would have kept the deeds in his dealings. So many historians have written about his selling terms which included…him keeping the deed. He’d get some money out of each buyer, but retain the deed and sell again to someone else. And all the while, Sarah kept his books.
I revised a scene tonight and feel like I have the right tone between the two. While this is a big breakthrough, revision continues to be daunting. Irene Waters said something last week about a page and a half a day; 179 to go! And I thought, that’s why this feels so intimidating — the mind only sees a mountain to climb when all we can do is muster a step or two, but have to reach the peak in an impossible stretch. To all fellow writers in edits and revisions and new drafts, stay the course!
And here’s a bonus scene from today’s revisions:
KATE SHELL by Charli Mills
“You need to go by another name.” Sarah McCanles, Leroy’s pinch-faced wife cleared the evening meal.
Sarah slowly rose to help and calmly replied, “My name is Sarah, too.”
“Leroy, honestly, it’s confusing, two Sarah’s living here and working in the store.” When Sarah McCandles’s voice pitched to the volume of a whine, Leroy grabbed a jug and indicated with a toss of his head to Cobb that they should go out on the front porch.
Sarah envied the men their retirement to the cool evening air. “Do you ever go by another name? Like Sally?”
The other woman frowned, creating creases in her forehead. “Sally. That’s for old ladies. My mother had an Aunt Sally. Oh, do please change your name!”
After the dinner dishes were washed and dried, Leroy’s wife shuffled the two little ones off to bed and Sarah slipped outside. Cobb made room for her on the rough hewed bench. Leroy leaned against the post, staring out into the darkness. “Mountains, that direction,” he said.
“Pining for mountains again, Brother?” Cobb pulled back on the jug and took a long swig.
Leroy turned around and noticed Sarah. “Ah, it’s Sare-Bear.”
“Sare-Bear?” Sarah smiled at the silly name.
Cobb looked at her, his eyes slightly glazed. Liquor or lust. “How about Bare Sarah?”
She poked him in the ribs. “Behave, Mr. McCanles.”
“I’m behaving,” said Leroy.
Sarah shook her head. If ever two brothers had matching mirthful grins, it was this pair when in each other’s company. Too much whiskey though and they were trouble.
“Kate!” Leroy’s wife stepped outside and all three turned perplexed looks her direction.
“Who’s Kate, Wife?”
“She is,” pointing at Sarah.
Cobb chuckled low in his chest. “You were a bonnie Scot in disguise all this time.”
“I don’t think so. No one seems to be confused. Traders respectfully call you Mrs. Leroy McCanles, and they call me Sarah.”
“I hate that! My name ain’t Leroy! You can be Kate and they can call me Sarah. Kate Shell. That’s your name and I’m going to tell everyone it is, that’s all there is to it.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, woman!”
Everyone turned to look at Leroy who seemed more surprised than any at what he just said. His wife, eyes wide and filling with tears, screeched and ran back into the cabin. Coyotes across the flat responded with yips.
“Leroy, there’s a reason our father always said never swear in front of the women folk. You might be sleeping in the barn tonight.”
Sarah covered her face with palms to hide her want to laugh.
“Damn it. I—” Leroy looked sideways at Sarah. “Sorry.”
Sarah couldn’t hold back and laughed loud.
Leroy reached for the jug, but Cobb held it back. “Think you had enough, already.” He joined Sarah in laughing. Leroy headed to the barn, muttering and a few words Sarah could distinctly detect as swearing.
Cobb walked her across the dark yard to the back of the stone structure that would be the post office soon. She stepped through the door and turned to face him, leaning against the frame. “Come in?”
He breathed deep like a man smelling dogwood blossoms. “Best get home to Mary.”
“Hey.” Cobb reached for her hand.
It felt small, gripped in his larger one. “Yes?” Her voice was breathy and inwardly she said a few of Leroy’s choice words.
“I’m thinking of selling the toll-bridge.” He kissed the palm of her hand.
“I wondered when we might get around to such.” She smiled like a real mistress.If she couldn’t have Cobb in her bed, she could have his clever ambitions to plan and hide.
“Think of some terms. Goodnight, Rosebud.”
Terms. Yes, there would be terms. Down payment. Deed, of course, she’d keep that filed. Difficult terms to meet. The new owners would never really own it. He who has the deed…it was her comforting thought as she readied for bed. Kate Shell. Maybe she could take an alias. No matter. Folk would be slow to catch on in this Territory. Rumors seeped out of North Carolina, but no one really understood how Cobb made off with the cold hard cash and left the bondsmen bickering over land deeds. It would take Weith years to sort it all out. Before turning down the covers she lightly tapped her fingers on the leather ledger.
No one knew Cobb like she did.
One thing you can’t fake as a writer is voice. To some it’s a mystery to develop. It sounds a lot like the adage adults might have offered you as a teen — be yourself. Yet, to others, the pursuit of self and understanding who you are in the context of the greater world, is why we write. Awareness leads to voice. Knowing what captivates us, angers us, motivates us are all topics for our voice.
As a reader, I enjoy books by authors who have a strong voice — something meaningful to say in a way unique to that person.
From the first time I read Geoff LePard’s blog, Tangental, I knew this was a writer with voice. Intelligent, quirky, compassionate, edgy and witty, I felt I struck gold getting to read posts about his father’s military service in Palestine, his growing up in the UK, his love for London and travel, Dog, poetry and fiction. Better yet, Geoff began to write regular flash fiction at Carrot Ranch despite his belief that I said something about his poop (I clearly wrote popped).
The English language can be strange cousins between the US and UK.
Yet, Geoff has tackled bringing the cousins together in his latest novel, My Father and Other Liars. It is a story that extends from England to San Francisco to Oklahoma to Nicaragua and connects global characters through personal and political twists.
Before reading this second novel by Geoff, I began to understand through his short stories and debut novel, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, that he is consistent in developing dialog and characters. In fact, his fiction comes to life through dialog. And his characters are complex, yet approachable in their humanness.
However, I found myself uncertain about the protagonist of My Father and Other Liars. Mo can bristle. He can be sarcastic and unkind. Yet we get insights that he has goodness and valor among his flaws. It’s something I’ve begun to notice, reading two other works that Geoff is writing (Mary’s Saga and Buster and Moo). No one is the good guy or the bad guy. Clearly there are those roles in My Father and Other Liars, but even the most sinister character is given the light of humanity. It’s that perspective that makes Geoff’s characters interesting and worth reading. The ending will stun you and reveal that Mo is better than he makes himself out to be.
Another ability Geoff has as a writer is to twist plots like a rope-maker. Once I got into the story, I kept wanting to read another chapter and another. The science and the creation of a theology and government organization behind My Father and Other Liars, each creates its own strand along with the tension between the characters of Mo and Lori-Ann Beaumont. Yet Geoff unravels the knots in an unexpected but satisfying ending.
Ultimately, My Father and Other Liars made me think about how modern science and religion intersects and how connected the world is through politics, media, business and shared heartaches regarding fathers and what it is like to identify as an adult orphan.
As a writer riding the rodeo circuit to get published, my recalculations are not always because of missed turns or errors. Sometimes, I see a new opportunity or connection. I tend to grab the bull by the horns, but often find I have a corral full of bulls and have to figure out what next.
My corral is full at the moment, and for a pantser, that feels good. I like the energy of having multiple projects in the works. My overarching goal to publish books is always my priority. My motivation remains high when I feel inspired and connected.
However, my friend Kate, who despite having terminal cancer, remains a wise council for me. She pointed out that while I write down my goals, I should also write out my full plan. Another friend also once advised me to create an individual business plan for each of my books. I certainly know how, but as a pantser I tend to balance it all in my head. To that, Kate reminded me that when you write it down, you have a better chance of succeeding.
“Goals in writing are dreams with a deadline.” ~Brian Tracy
While I balk at self-imposed deadlines, I do know that I want my goals to come to fruition. I have several written down beneath my overarching goal of publishing, but perhaps it is time to plot more deeply. After all, that is a recalculation I do in my writing process: I draft freely like a pantser, but buckle down and revise like a plotter.
“Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor.” ~Brian Tracy
And change is blowing across the prairie, nudging me to change direction. My goal stands, but my tactics need recalculating because of recent opportunities. This is why I like having a corral full of bulls — more bulls, more rides and a better chance to make the ride I need.
I intended to publish Miracle of Ducks first. It makes sense; it’s complete, professionally edited and my first manuscript. I took it to LA, met with a publisher who advised me to find an agent, and met with an agent who declined. I messed up my first submission, uploading an earlier draft and was told that I didn’t have enough social media. I’ve not heard back from any agents since.
So weird thing happened on the way to the rodeo…a publisher answered an email I sent seven months ago. She asked if I was still working on the project, Rock Creek, which is my current WIP still in draft form, awaiting research for gaps I discovered in the writing. She expressed interest and advised me on how to submit the manuscript.
You might be wondering why I was contacting publishers about an unfinished manuscript. It began as a call to an editor of a western history magazine to ask if she’d be interested in research that I had from a distant cousin. I thought I could pitch the copious amounts of research I have on the topic of the shoot-out at Rock Creek, Nebraska. She was clear in what her magazine publishers wanted and I filed it away for the day I could pitch it as an author because magazine articles in big publications can help promote one’s book.
But first one must publish (write!) the book.
The editor also gave me two great leads in regards to my writing: one was for an association called Women Write the West and the other was for a publisher who is looking for new women’s voices in the genre of western historical. I wasn’t sure about signing up for the association until I was further along on my western book, but I took the opportunity to write the publisher.
In my mind, I hear Garmin stating, “Recalculating…”
No hard fast rule says my first novel has to be my first manuscript. Over the past two weeks, I’ve played out several what-if scenarios in my mind. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to get Rock Creek finished and reviewed by an interested publisher. I could join the association, pitch my research articles and opt the manuscript movie rights to an interested feature writer and director. Um, yeah, about that…
While posting the flash fiction that got me started down the road to write Rock Creek as a novel, I was contacted by a feature writer and director who was working on an undisclosed television project that included the life of Wild Bill Hickock. The producers wanted to include the Rock Creek incident as a turning point in Hickok’s life. The feature writer found Carrot Ranch because I had tagged both the place and the gunfighter’s name.
As of last week, I now know the name of the series with which I shared my research. I’m not a conservative so it stunned me to realize that I shared with Fox News! The show is Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: Into the West. The episode about Hickok is called, “Plains Justice.” I already know that the producer’s goal was to show Hickok in a white hat and McCandles in a black one, so the outcome will not surprise me. The good news is that there remains much interest in Hickok in general and in what happened at Rock Creek.
My contact on the project told me:
“This is all very interesting. During my research, the Rock Creek incident is the most cloudy and confusing. After every email and phone call with you, it seems to gain clarity. You are at the forefront of knowledge of the subjects involved and what really happened that day. Keep tackling and uncovering, Charli!”
It seems the stars are aligning over Rock Creek.
So what is holding me back? I wanted to publish a novel before Rock Creek because I feel the need to build my credibility, after all I’ve not published a book before. Without a book, I feel like everyone is excited over my idea, but they might think my novel-writing skills are less than expected; they are unproven, and that creates the doubt I’m battling.
Also, I feel an odd sense of disloyalty to Miracle of Ducks. I know I’m not abandoning it, but I would shelve it. Instead of finding an agent for generalized women’s fiction, I would have a publisher in a genre I love. I could always self-publish Miracle of Ducks after I build up a better author name, or if I fail at Rock Creek, I could return to my original plan.
As I recalculate, is there any sage advise for me to consider?
It is done…
…not really. 51,000 words and many more to go.
What NaNoWriMo did for me this year is get me started and kept me to writing the tedious scenes. Tedious because they were “not the story” but needed to explain the story, to develop the characters and establish the time period.
The exciting scenes come next. So does strategy for revision(s). Plural because there’s always more than one revision. What I have is bare bones. What I need is more research, feedback and fleshing out. Then onto flow and next to accuracy and correctness. Whew!
A book is never done in one draft. A book isn’t necessarily done in 30 days or 50,000 words. Whether you hit the target or not, pause to take good measure. Goals are not necessarily meant to be achieved, but to mark our progress. Celebrate. Commiserate. And tomorrow morning you get up and write.
Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
~Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956
One last peek at Rock Creek:
“She needed a lesson, and you too.”
Cob came back and sat next to her. Sarah looked at him. “Me?”
“Nancy Jane’s been putting fool thoughts in that gentle head of yours.”
“Nancy Jane is my friend! No one befriends me, Cob. No, one. I had hoped it would be different out here, but this place is so empty. Nancy Jane is my friend.”
“If she’s your friend then why is she trying to come between you and me?”
Sarah didn’t know how to answer him. It was true. Nancy Jane thought Sarah had ability to set up her own businesses in a bigger city. Maybe even Denver. “She’s only encouraging me to use my skills. Maybe I have dreams of my own.”
“Oh? And what are your plans for these dreams?”
Sarah took a deep breath. “You owe me money, too.”
Cob chuckled. “Oh, my what a stake you have in those two notes. I might be owed more than I have but by God I have that fine amount to pay you. How far you think it’ll get you on your path to dreams?”
“Denver! Whoa now, that’s a big place. What will you do in Denver?”
“Don’t be hurtful, Cob. I can account elsewhere.”
“Elsewhere. You need a dose of reality, Rosebud. You head out to Denver with your money in your purse, and I’ll even buy your coach fare, you’ll have maybe two years of squalid living if you don’t go buying up all the calicoes and doodads you see. And you can go about the place for two years knocking on doors for a job and there won’t be none hiring you.”
“You don’t know that. Accounting is a valuable skill.”
“It sure is, Rosebud. And it’s a man’s skill. No credible business will hire some woman they don’t even know. You father taught you because he had need. I keep you because I have need of you, too.” He hugged her shoulders.
“I could work for a company that knows me,” she said softly.
“Like Russel, Majors and Waddel.”
Sarah stiffened. Was he teasing her or willing to set her free? “Perhaps.”
Cob roared with laughter, slapping his knee with the arm that had been hugging her. This time Sarah stood up, but he grabbed her hand to keep her close. “First off, do you know why they are not making good on their note to me?”
Sarah shook her head.
“Mr. Russel was arrested Christmas Eve for embezzling bonds meant for the Indian tribes.”
“He’s in jail?”
“The government let him out of prison when the states began seceding in April. You might say that Mr. Russel is the one man the war of the states saved.”
“What of the other partners?”
“Mr. Waddel is struggling. I imagine Mr. Majors is praying. I need to get paid my gold. Paper is going to mean nothing soon.”
“Not even the employees are getting their pay, Cob.”
“Sonofa! For how long?”
“I heard that was why the rider Fry quit end of May and joined up with Union forces. Nancy Jane says they haven’t received June funds. Horace wasn’t even able to get supplies they need.”
“That’s it. Tomorrow I’m cleaning up Rock Creek station. They are gone!”
“Please Cob, where will Nancy Jane go? Horace might not take her if he loses his job. He might have to return to Ohio.”
“He’s not going to lose his job. I’m just going to evict them. They can ride back to Brownsville. I’ll install Gordon as agent for the station. They can run their stages, but I’ll confiscate their livestock until I get my gold.”
Sarah couldn’t hold back the tears. “It’s just hopeless!”
“What? What are these damned tears about?”
“You took everything from her, punishing her Pa like that. Nancy Jane is not like other women.”
“She’s like every other women and the punishment was hers so she’d know it!”
“She was free.”
“Free? What does that even mean, Rosebud?”
“Nancy Jane can ride horses as fearless as a man and she’s not had to settle for marrying and she has a sense of not being hindered by what others think.”
Cob snorted. “Sure, she can sit a saddle as steady as a man, even hunt and take care of her gun. But what use is that to a woman? How is she free? Her Pa’s a drunk, her man can leave her without any sense of obligation and because she don’t care what others think others won’t help her.”
Tears flowed freely. “And thanks to you, she now knows that.”
“Good! There’s nothing she’s told you that’s been useful. She’s had you believing things that aren’t possible. I was there when she asked Mr. Waddel if he’d hire you as accountant.”
“You were? When?”
“Back in Brownsville. When the company was flush with federal funds.”
“What did he say.”
“Said his company doesn’t hire women.”
“I see.” Sarah slumped back onto the bed. She wiped her tears. No point in crying. She knew all along. She wasn’t going to head off to Denver. She wasn’t going to make her way in this world. It was a man’s world and that was Cob’s point of brutally punishing Joseph Holmes in front of Nancy Jane. Cob could do it, her father would suffer it and there was nothing Nancy Jane could do. Cob broke her. He took everything she had. Her sense of independence, her freedom, her security.
“Nancy Jane will learn her place. All women do, Rosebud.” He kissed her and pushed her back on the bed.
Imagination fills the gaps.
Sometimes I struggle because I want to be right. When writing history, it’s easy to slip up and include an object not yet invented or miss a social cue that today would be non-existent but back then ever so important.
The temptation is to research while writing. Yet that interrupts the flow of the underlying story. In the beginning I wrote a single flash fiction based on a historical event. It lead me to wonder…why? Then…what if?
Writing flash fiction and reading more about the event was complementary. It allowed me to find the story among the facts.
Once I felt the story had a hold of my imagination, I was ready to draft long prose. Yet, that temptation to be right, to be accurate, frequently grabs me. And when I go to look up a fact or better understand a place, I find that the story dwindles.
My discipline has been to use my imagination to write what I don’t know. My strategy is to go back and create a research list for revision. The importance is the story and getting it down. Once a writer has material, then revision is possible and research is refined.
This is why I like NaNoWriMo as a tool for drafting. My imagination gets a full 30 days of play. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s just pure writing. And that leads to discovery beyond any research.
Thought for the Day:
“The work is the work itself. If she writes a lot, that’s good. If she revises a lot, that’s even better. She should not only write about what she knows but about what she doesn’t know. It extends the imagination.” ~Toni Morrison
Word Count: 2,900
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
The voices in the hallway drew closer and two men emerged. One was as tall as Hickok but broad as a bull ox. His dark brown hair was thick and she recognized those intense brown eyes. It was Cob McCanles. He wore a linen scarf of black and white around his neck and his billowing white shirt was as bright as fresh snow. His dark brown leather vest was snug as were his close-fitting trousers that were the color of buckskin, but made of that material Sarah called linsey-woolsey. The other man was shorter and rounder like a barrel in a gray suit. His pudgy cheeks were hidden behind a mass of graying facial whiskers and the top of his head was bald and gleaning.
“Mr. Waddel, Mr. McCandles,” Horace greeted.
“Hello, Cob,” said Nancy Jane.
If Cob was surprised to see her, he didn’t reveal it. He merely nodded at her.
“Cob,” said the man Horace had called Mr. Waddel.
“Kin name for David Colbert,” said Cob.
“Ah. So, this miss is your kin?”
“No she is not. A neighbor.”
“I’m a friend of Horace.” Nancy Jane felt that the office was too small for her and these three men.
The round man turned to Horace who was starting to blush once again. “Oh, she’s your friend, Mr. Wellman.”
Horace sputtered. Nothing he said was coherent.
Nancy Jane wasn’t sure what to do, now. “I’m going to go over to the boarding house where Joe Baker is staying with his wife. I’m bunking with him.”
“You know Joe Baker, too? Another employee.”
“And Jim Hickok and Dock Brinks. Most of your freighters. The ones that head into Colorado, that is.”
“Just how do you know all these men? I’m not sure Mr. Majors would approve.” Mr. Waddel looked like that pastor that once told her Pa they were headed to hell.
“Nancy Jane Holmes was a cook at Rock Creek station before Mr. McCandles bought it. Her father has long settled in the Territory and he’s done carpentry jobs for us. Joseph Holmes.” At last Horace found his tongue.
“Holmes, yes, seems I recall hearing that name.”
Cob looked at Nancy Jane. “Carpentry? He didn’t build those hovels I tore down and rebuilt did he?”
Nancy Jane wouldn’t have called them hovels, but she did know that Cob’s work was stouter and more square. “No, fixing spokes mostly.”
“A wheelwright then.”
Nancy Jane shrugged. “He once had a carpentry shop in St. Jo. Used to make fine lady’s boxes.”
“In St. Jo, Missouri! Yes, Joseph Holmes. I remember now. My goodness, I think I bought one of those boxes you speak of. Heavens, I thought his family all died when the typhoid fever swept the place.” Mr. Waddel’s face softened.
“Me and my brother survived. Pa moved us west. Thought it would be healthier.”
“What’s your brother up to these days? I’m always looking for men who know the territory. Does he hunt, scout?”
“I do, Sir.” Maybe she could get a job, just like she kept telling Sarah. These men be damned.
They all laughed like she told a great joke. Even Horace, although halfheartedly. “I hunt near every day and know the lay of the land. I can outrace most your outriders including Dock Brink who they say is your best. I can load and shoot a Hawkins rifle with great accuracy and I ain’t’ afraid of the wide open spaces like most easterners.”
Cob stopped laughing. “Lass, you’d be called a mountain girl back home and expected to be self-sufficient. You aren’t any different from the women I know. And none of them work a man’s job.”
Nancy Jane stuck out her chin. “What of Sarah? She keeps books. That’s a man’s job.”
Cob folded his arms. “Yes, she does keep books. Once for her Da and now for me. Sarah’s kin. No man outside of kin would hire her to keep books.”
“Mr. Waddel, would you hire Sarah Shull to keep books?”
Mr. Waddel raised an eyebrow and shook his head. “I would not hire away the book keeper of a man whom I have business dealings.”
Nancy Jane wondered what business dealings he could have with the company. “What if she wanted a job?”
“The company does not hire women.”
Nancy Jane balled her fists at her sides. “Fools!”
“Nancy Jane, that is enough.” Horace looked appalled, Mr. Waddel shocked and Cob laughed with mirth.
Cob said, “What do you do, Nancy Jane? I could hire you.”
Mr. Waddel shook his head. “Are you upon hard times Miss Holmes?”
“No Sir. I’m self-sufficient as a mountain girl.”
Horace said, “Mr. Waddel. Nancy Jane lost her husband to the border troubles, her brother too. And this past summer her young child died of sickness. Her father is immobilized with his grieving.”
Nancy Jane couldn’t believe Horace would spill out her troubles that were no one’s concerns but hers. She set him straight. “He weren’t my husband.”
Cob said, “And an honest lass.”
Mr. Waddel looked stern. “So you do sleep with men. Is that why my freighters stop by your place?”
“No Sir. They know I hunt and stop by my place for venison and to ask what I might have seen out in the open country. Might say I inform your scouts. Only Horace…”
“Nancy Jane!” Horace flushed his reddest.
Good. Let him suffer.
Mr. Waddel turned to Horace. “Is she you’re common-law wife?”
Horace hesitated. Nancy Jane didn’t know what he meant. “What’s that?”
“It’s a man who has taken a woman out on the frontier. He’s then responsible for protecting her. Watching out for her. Otherwise the woman would just be a common strumpet.”
“Yes, Mr. Waddel. Nancy Jane Holmes is my common-law wife.” He then looked down at his desk.
“Good, then. You’ll see to it that you take care of Mrs. Wellman. David, or perhaps, Cob, it’s a pleasure doing business with you. I look forward to the improvements you’ll be making to the station to prepare it as a stage stop.”
The two men left with Nancy Jane staring at Horace. “Mrs. Wellman? So your wife is here in town?”
“You. He was referring to you as Mrs. Wellman. My common-law wife. And no. My wife is back in Ohio with family. She hates the frontier, and I’m not all that fond of the pressures of Ohio. I feel freer out west.”
Later, when Nancy Jane went to visit Joe Baker to explain her turn of events, she found Joe looking woeful. His wife it seems was not happy to have a house on the prairie unless it was a fine house. She spoke endlessly of Denver and what the ladies were wearing. She yelled at her daughters to be quiet and soon took each girl by the arm and drug them off to bed.
“Maybe Cob could help you build a fine home.”
The two stepped out so Joe could smoke his pipe. Nancy Jane took a few puffs. Hickok saw them when he stepped out of the saloon for fresh air. “Why so long in the face friends?”
Nancy Jane explained that Joe’s wife wasn’t happy to be homesteading after all, and that she was somehow Horace’s common law wife.
Hickok chuckled. “You? A squaw wife?”
“I’m no Pawnee!”
“True. You could probably out ride one. Well, let’s toast to our futures.” Hickok pulled out a whiskey flask and they each took a pull.
Trust your sense of taste.
Cooking a book is a lot like kitchen cooking. We have recipes from the masters like Chef of the Day and Author of the Year, but learn to trust your own taste.
It’s nearing my favorite feast of the year and I’m pecking away at the keyboard so I can go get sloshed with my bird. Over the years, I’ve followed recipes, experimented with techniques and have come upon a formula for the best Mills Family Thanksgiving Turkey. We affectionately call it the “drunken turkey.”
After writing, I’ll pop a cork on a cheap bottle of Riesling and I’ll brine my 18 pound bird in wine, Kosher salt, honey, juniper berries, caraway seeds, mustard seeds and peppercorns. I’ve taste-tested many recipes and this one is the best.
I look forward to the day that I feel as confident with writing novels, that day when I can learn to trust my own sense of taste and break away from recipes and perfect my favorite. I want to achieve those same looks with readers as my family gives me at the dinner table. Ah, the ultimate goal.
Thought for Day 25:
“Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.”
Word Count: 1,537
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
“Is your mama dead?” Cling snuggled closer to Mary.
“I don’t rightly know. She was sold when I was but a boy not much older than you.” Cato shrugged, bouncing Lizzie who cast a rare smile.
“Sold?” Monroe folded his arms across his chest.
“Slaves are sold like horses or mules,” said Celia, as if explaining how to plant corn seed with pole beans.
James added, “According to the Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court has declared that slaves are indeed property and subject to their owners regardless of the owner visiting a free or slave state.”
Monroe looked at his grandparents and then at the man holding his sister. He flung out his arm, pointing, “This is not a mule. He’s a man.”
“I belong to the O’Bannon family,” said Cato.
“But you aren’t a mule. Do you want to be owned?”
“I can’t talk about such things. It’s not how things is in Virginia.”
“Mama, this in not Virginia. Can’t we help Cato stay here?”
James walked over and laid a gentle hand on Monroe’s shoulder. “Monroe, North Carolina and Tennessee are both slave states, too.”
“But there’s no slaves in the mountains!”
“There’s a few plantations down in the valley at the edge of Watauga county. They have slaves. You’re right. We have no slaves here in the mountains.”
“We grow our own farms up here,” said Emily.
“Monroe, this is why our nation is squabbling, even our neighbors because the free states don’t want the slave states to expand their territories west. Some even want to abolish slavery all together.”
“Why don’t we?”
“Large plantations are created on an economy that requires slave labor. This is why those of us who believe in an intact union also believe in creating a fair economy. While slavery is something that needs to be addressed, so do the economic gains of all men in this nation. Not just the industrialists of the north.”
“What do the industrialists want,” asked Monroe.
“They want us to buy everything they make in their factories,” said Emily.
“Why? We make what we need.”
“Exactly. The common man needs to have a voice in economics,” said James.
Monroe looked at Cato. “Slaves need to have a voice, too.”
“I understand how you feel Monroe. It’s your Scots blood rising. The call of freedom. But freedom always comes at a cost. This is why a nation stands together for the good of its people. Otherwise its no better than serving a crown.”
“Let’s give him some gold coins so he can escape to a free state then.” Monroe looked at his grandfather, hopeful.
“Oh, no, young Master Monroe. I can’t run away.” Cato’s eyes grew wide.
Celia added, “If he was found with gold coins he’d have a difficult time explaining how he got them. And if he was captured, he could be severely punished.”
Mary realized that Monroe was developing Cob’s scowl. “Is Nebraska Territory a slave state,” he asked, practicing that scowl.
“No, it is not. Although that’s part of the dispute between states.”
Monroe kicked at a pebble in the yard. “Then I’m glad to be going to a free state.”
Later, James took the boys fishing and the women settled into making supper. Mary was denied even the most minimal of tasks in her pregnant condition so she sat in a rocker on the porch feeling useless. Cato had chopped some wood and returned to the porch where he was rocking Lizzie and telling her what a pretty girl she was.
“No one has said that of my Lizzie.”
Cato smiled wide. “Why she’s a pretty soul through and through.”
The longer Cato stayed with them the more Mary felt like Monroe. She had never thought much about slavery. It was a rich folks problem. If they could find a way to hide Cato and get him all the way out to Nebraska she would do it. Then she considered the obvious condition of Cato’s skin. He was so black he’d stand out. That thought made her even angrier. The slavers must have figured that one out long ago.
The skin color was so different that it made other folks superstitious. Silly prejudices that people developed out of fear so they wouldn’t involve themselves. Even Lizzie with her discernible differences made most people nervous. Being different scared folks. Look at what silly gooses they all acted like when Cato showed up. But what was even worse is how the black skin color stood out, making it difficult to hide.
This Nebraska Territory was sounding better all the time. She didn’t get into the politics of men, but now she had a better understanding of the economies men fought over. To Mary it seemed like the rich in the south were fighting with the rich in the north. They might go to war, but it would be people like her brothers and nephews who would fight it. Wasn’t this nation supposed to be different from that? Yes, she was beginning to better understand this desire to go west for a fresh start.
Celia stepped out on the porch and said, “Supper soon. Cato, would you fetch James and the boys?”
Mary watched Cato walk toward the creek, chatting away to Lizzie as if she were grown. “I hope the slaves are freed if it comes to war.”
Celia shook her head. “I wish it were that simple. They will be like a lot of lost children if set free. They’ll not know how to make their way in this world and they’ll be at the mercy of evil men for a long time I fear.”
Mary sighed. Nothing was easy and this coming war was only going to make things harder for good folks. She said a prayer for Cato at bedtime, for Cob and for her family. “Lord spare us from the evil in this world.”
Your story is both unique and part of something greater.
It’s snowing tonight and I can’t help but compare stories to snowflakes. Each storm is new, fresh. No matter how many stories go out each one is a fresh new voice. Like snowflakes, each story is unique though collectively it forms snow.
So what does that make our collective of stories? Literature. You might think of literature as high prose or the work of professional authors but did you know that literature is defined as, “all writings in prose or verse, esp. those of an imaginative or critical character, without regard to their excellence: often distinguished from scientific writing, news reporting, etc.”
Stories become part of the literature of one’s time and place. Do not underestimate the unique potential that your story can express. Treat it as unique, your voice, your perspective, your influences, your experiences. Let those things come through. Add to it your research, you imagination, but make your story unique as a snowflake then let it fly in the storm of literature.
Thought for Day 24:
“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” ~Stephen McCranie
Word Count: 1,500
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Not long after the men had left, a soft knock came at the door during supper. With all the men gone, it was just Emily, Mary, Sally, Celia, James and the children. Emily had a large shepherd that usually announced loudly the arrival of any strangers. He was silent so they assumed it was Julia or Mary Catherine, or perhaps one of their older children.
Emily rose and stepped back from the door looking startled. In the open frame stood a a small black man with gray at the temples of his curly hair. His eyes were wide with worry, his clothes dirty and torn. “I’m lost,” he said.
“Where are you from,” asked James, rising from the table.
“I don’t know. My family is the O’Bannons”
Celia wiped her mouth with her linen napkin and set it on the table as she rose. “Emily, go fetch a bar of pitch soap and some clothes that might fit this man.”
Emily looked even more startled looking back to the man and to her mother who stood firm until Emily went to fetch the items. Celia prepared a tin plate of food.
When she returned, Celia took them and walked over to the door. “Eat some food. Then I want you to go bathe in the creek, put on some clean clothes and then return here when you are through.”
The man nodded and left. Celia returned to her dinner and everyone turned to stare at her. “Mother, what are you doing?”
She took a bite and chewed before finishing. “I know the family he speaks of. They’re from Virginia.”
“He’s probably an escaped slave,” said Mary.
“He’s frightened. If he had escaped he wouldn’t have come to the door. Let him settle down and we’ll find out what his story is and help him find his way back to Virginia.”
James had stopped eating. “Your shepherd, Emily. He never barked.”
“Oh, no! He might have killed the dog.” She rose and pushed away from the table.
Monroe and his cousin Ranze got up, too.
“Hold on, boys. I’ll go look for the dog.”
“I’m going with you, Father,” said Emily.
Everybody filed out of the house except Sally who refused to go and said she’d stay with Lizzie. They all followed James to the creek. They could hear the man talking to someone. James raised his hand to keep his family quiet and to stay put. He crept quietly through the bushes as any old fisherman could do, and disappeared. Soon they heard James laugh and when he returned, the shepherd was with him, bounding through the brush and lapping his greeting across the smaller faces.
“He was talking to the dog as if it were his new best friend.”
Relax. Breathe. You’ve got this!
I don’t know about you, but I need a massage. I type one-handed so my right shoulder is starting to burn with marathon writing sprees. I’ve surpassed 33,000 words so I feel like I deserve something relaxing.
Without losing momentum I turned to something horsey since horses have a role in my novel. So I’m sharing a relaxing horse moment with you:
While you write, be sure to take breathing breaks. Stand up, swing your arms overhead, hands to the sky. Breath deep, pushing out your belly so your lungs can fill. Hold…1…2…3…4…5…exhale, swing arms down. Do this four more times and your brain will feel revived, your body oxygenated.
Thought for Day 20:
“You have to relax, write what you write. It sounds easy but it’s really, really hard. One of the things it took me longest to learn was to trust the writing process.” ~Diane Setterfield
Word Count: 1,766
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Allen stood as tall as Cob and had white streaks starting at his temples. He nodded. “More sensible plan than that of digging holes for elusive metals. Come on up to the house.” He spoke softly to the man with the pitchfork before motioning to Cob and Sarah to follow him.
Sarah stared at the great white columns that held up the front of the house. It reminded her of an illustration she had seen of Washington’s Great White House in the nation’s capitol. She suddenly felt grimy so close to such gleaming whiteness.
Inside Sarah saw polished and gilded furniture, colorful carpets, crystal hurricane lamps mounted on painted walls among portraits and grand scenes of hunting and horses. A negro dressed in finer clothes than Sarah had seen on a person greeted Allen who again, spoke softly. The man walked swiftly away. Sarah had never seen a negro before, though she once heard of bounty hunters passing through Watauga in search of an escapee.
“We’ll prepare you rooms for the night. Separate rooms.” Allen leveled a stare at Sarah that said he knew she wasn’t Mrs. McCanles. She flushed.
“Sarah’s my accountant. She’s going to help me get my business started.” How Cob managed to look as innocent as a newborn babe, she had no idea.
Allen raised one eyebrow and directed his gray-eyed stare at her. “Accountant? And what ledger system do you prefer, Miss Sarah?”
“Nothing complicated. A simple cost management system will do.”
Allen smiled. “Really? And where did you learn accounting?”
“My father. His grandfather was German and taught him a ledger method from that country which differs slightly from what British companies follow. I maintained the cost management of his store.”
“Ah, Father. We have guests from Appalachia passing through. Family. Celia’s boy, David.”
Moses Alexander was once tall, but now his shoulders and back stooped and he walked stiffly, the way Sarah felt some mornings when she woke up cold and aching from the thin ticking of her mattress. His hair was white as the pillars of the porch and his eyes were glazed yet still gray. “Celia,” he said, nodding but not sure he could recall.
“David’s daughter, Father.”
“David’s daughter. The one who married that school teacher from North Carolina?”
Allen cast a sideways glance at Cob. “The very one.”
“Ah, such a pity. Such pretty girls and they both ran off to the highlands.”
“Damned highlanders, stealing pretty girls. Louisa? Is Louisa well?”
Cob stood with the bundles at his boots and Sarah fancied he looked every bit of a Robbie Burns hero with his thick black hair and keen brown eyes beneath his broad-brimmed hat set askew and linen scarf wrapped about his neck. “Aunt Louisa is quite well. Her son James Wood will be joining my brother and me out west in our business venture.”
“Business, eh? And who is this mountain filly? Not your wife, I suppose.” He turned his glassy gray eyes on Sarah.
“Miss Sarah is David’s accountant.”
“Accountant! Is that what they’re called these days? Well, not bad for an accountant.” Sarah didn’t like the way Moses was summing her up.
The negro returned and Allen announced that they would be shown to their rooms and that dinner would be served in an hour. The door to Sarah’s room was across the hall from Cob’s. He winked at her before he went in and said, “Don’t worry. Alexander blood is thick. Endure what you must tonight, but tomorrow we’ll be leaving on fine Kentucky horse flesh or my mother will will whip up Grandfather Alexander into a furry that will rain down on Uncle Moses’s head like hail.”
Sarah smiled, but worried about what it was she might have to endure. When she walked into her room, she realized that it was as large as her entire cabin. The bed was so tall that it had steps and was draped in thick tapestry with mauve blossoms on burgundy, swirled with white vines and green leaves as dark as pine needles. The walls were striped with gold and cream with burgundy curtains at the windows that rose taller than her. Paintings of horses on green grass and one of a magnolia tree hung in gilded frames on the walls. Two rose-colored chairs sat facing a crackling fire in a marble fireplace. What heaven did she just walk into?
A woman’s voice chuckled from behind her. “Your bumpkin eyes don’t know where to set do they, girl?”
Sarah turned around to face a woman no taller than she with a massive bosom and a plain dress with a crisp white apron. Her black hair coiled in tight curls beneath a red headscarf and her skin was golden-brown. Her eyes were a light gray. “Hello. Are you one of the Alexanders? I’m Sarah.”
The woman had a booming laugh that could rival one of Cob’s rumblers. “I belong to the Alexanders, girl. I’m Bessie and I run this household. Let’s get you fixed up. We only have an hour and your dishevelment could frighten the Holy Spirit out of a reverend’s mother.”
In an hour, Bessie had transformed Sarah into a fairybook queen. While she bathed Sarah, coiffed her hair and dressed her in a cast-off from Allen’s youngest daughter who was away at boarding school in Virginia, Bessie informed Sarah of who the Alexanders were and where each one was. She spoke of the trouble with catching the chickens that morning, of the latest filly born and the news about the northern aggressors. Sarah didn’t know how the woman could be so swift with her fingers and so fast with her tongue. She could hardly digest all the information.
By the time Bessie introduced Sarah to the corset, she realized that she would endure much discomfort. How in the world did women where such horrid things? Her ribs ached and breathing felt shallow as if she had a boulder pressing down on her. Next came a hoop and a pile of petticoats, which felt strange as if her legs had a private room. But Sarah forgot all about her discomfort when she saw the dress.
Blue and ivory plaid with narrow pink striping, it was trimmed with edged bows. The neckline swooped from shoulder to shoulder and the sleeves were nothing more than caps like the bell of a lily. “This will show off those pretty blue eyes of your, Miss Sarah.” Bessie slipped the softest shoes onto Sarah’s feet that were ivory with leather soles. “You do look presentable, and just in time.”
Bessie led her downstairs to a formal dining room where the men were each holding crystal glasses with dark amber liquid. They all turned and stared at Sarah and she worried that maybe something was wrong with her dress. Why were they staring at her?
“Well, Miss Sarah, for an accountant of German origins you do clean up nicely.” Allen toasted her with his glass.
“Very nice, Lass, very nice. I see why my grand-nephew needs an accountant.”
Cob’s brown eyes the color of the liquid in his glass had deepened into a smoldering stare. “You look beautiful, Sarah.”
For the rest of her life, she’d never forget that dress. Bessie packed her two simple cotton dresses, one the color of dried tobacco with tiny orange flowers and the other a dark hunter plaid with blue and ivory stripes. And as Cob predicted, they left riding two long-legged bays followed by two pack mules, a mare and a filly. Cob was riding a stallion and as his Uncle Moses said, he was leaving Kentucky with the beginnings of the finest horse ranch Pikes Peak would ever see. Cob struck gold barely out of Tennessee.