Family Histories: How Family Can Be A Driving Force in Your Writing

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and histories are sometimes their own and sometimes not.

This week JACQUI MURRAY discusses how her children’s military careers inspired her writing.

Family History and It’s Part in My Writing

Jacqui MurrayThank you so much, Adrienne (author of The Tenafly Road Series), for inviting me to participate in this wonderful exploration of families. When I received Adrienne’s invitation, my knee-jerk reaction was it didn’t fit me. My stories about ancient man (the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time) and my Tech-in-Ed writing didn’t have obvious connections to my family; they were tangential at best.

And then I thought about my novels, in the Rowe-Delamagente series. Lots of you know my daughter is a Naval Officer, my son an Army Sergeant, and my husband a saint, but I don’t say much about my family beyond that. Yet, they have been the driving force behind my writing. Here’s a rundown:

Building a Midshipman

This is a personal how-to on preparing for and applying to the United States Naval Academy.  It’s based on my daughter’s experience in high school where she first thought such a selective school was out of her reach and then was accepted into a life-changing activity that would change her forever. My daughter wasn’t the 4.0 (or 5.0 if you’re an IB school) student, the hardest-working or the one with all the answers but as it turns out, that’s not who USNA wants anyway. They wanted tenacious, never-give-up, critically-thinking applicants who always had another way to solve problems. They might as well have stuck her picture by the profile. I wanted to share her story so other high school girls who might think they could never be good enough for an Ivy League college like USNA would think again.

I wrote Building a Midshipman in about two weeks by replaying in my mind how my daughter had accomplished this feat.

To Hunt a Sub

jacqui murray 3This story comes from time spent with friends of my daughters from the Naval Academy who had served on or were serving in the Silent Service. It is a story of brain vs. brawn, creative thinking, and the importance of family in our lives, but at its core is patriotism. Many of my ancestors were in the military though I wasn’t, and by the time I started writing this book, both my children were committed to their paths. I respect the patriotism, single-mindedness, and stalwartness of our warriors–this story reflects that.

This book took about five years to write. I think being my first fiction book, I had little faith in its success so was afraid to turn it loose.

Twenty-four Days

This story takes place in large part on a US warship, the USS Bunker Hill. This was my daughter’s first ship after graduating from the Naval Academy. She secured amazing access for me during my research to the ship and its people. She put herself way out there to help me. For that I am forever grateful.

It took about three years to publish, slowed down a bit because I had an agent at one point, from whom I parted amicably.

Book 3 of the Rowe-Delamagente Series

This third in the series deals with satellites and the weaponization of space–in a nod toward my Army Signal Corps son. I’ve barely begun the outline so I don’t have a good sense of where it’s going but I do know it will be an action-packed thriller where Otto and a new AI friend Ascii will play a major role.

Born in a Treacherous Time

For this book, I go way back on my family tree, long before man was even man, to 1.8 million years ago. It’s always amazed me how our ancestors survived a world filled with vicious predators, not the least of which was the more improved iteration of man. That’s what I explore in this book, Born in a Treacherous Time.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

***Please visit next Sunday for the next guest post!

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Fiction: Adventurous Thoughts

As Thankful hung the last diaper, she heard Fahy’s laughter in the front parlor. Forgetting how she looked, she ran inside, trailing suds and sand behind her. “Thankful, you look a caution!” Fahy said with a grin. He liked the way she looked.

Thankful nodded his way but addressed her enemy. “Miss Peckham, Mr. Weldon was here awaiting your orders, and he was very sore!”

“Do you mean physically? Because we met him on officers’ row and he was cheerful as a bird in summer. Don’t you agree, Mr. Fahy?” Miss Peckham turned to the officer with a smile.

Fahy nodded in agreement then met eyes with his fiancée. “Miss Crenshaw, I was hoping you might be done with your chores so we could take a ride. I nearly have to get back to work, but our horses are warmed up.”

“Warmed up?”

“Yes, I hope you don’t mind that I let Miss Peckham ride Durie.”

“That horse needs firmer discipline and less feed. If he were my horse, he’d receive a sound thrashing,” Miss Peckham bragged.

Fahy gave Thankful an exasperated look. Thankful dug her fingernails into the soft wood of the little dining table. “It’s very pathetic that you must prove your masculinity by mistreating animals, Miss Peckham. Mr. Fahy never should have been such a gentleman to take you out, but you probably strong armed him.”

“I will have you know, Miss Thankful Crenshaw, that I’ve won at many women’s riding events in New York!”

“Isn’t New York famous for its corruption? It’s the only way you could win a horse show–or a beauty contest,” Thankful said.

Fahy stood with his cigar hanging from his mouth. Miss Peckham tossed her gloves and hat on the sofa and ran up the stairs to Thankful’s room. Fahy and Thankful listened to her muffled cries.

“Damn it, Thankful, that was low of you. Peckham’s no great shakes, and she’s a pest, but really—you’re better than to be so—well—so vicious.”

“She abuses my horse and I’m low?” Thankful asked.

“Well, I took the whip from her pretty quick,” Fahy said.

“Thank God for small favors.”

“Mrs. Markham said that you threw a tantrum over an egg . . .”

“Land sakes! Not even an egg gets by people in the army! I just hate Miss Peckham. She told me last night she was only being nice to William for his family’s connections to the military.”

Fahy laughed. “So what? I’m so tired of Bill Weldon. I don’t care a fig, and you shouldn’t either.” He pulled her close. “I love that you care so much about your homefolk and all, but a different man than me might get jealous.”

Thankful looked at his sunburned and freckled face and his impressive sun-bleached mustache. “My sweet lieutenant, you are the most attentive, kind person I’ve ever met. I hope one day we’ll have adventures of our own.”

“Adventures? You amuse me. Sometimes you really act your age.”

Thankful pulled away. “What does that mean?”

“Well, nothing exactly—you’ve got very romantic and naïve ideas. It’s adorable.”

“Miss Peckham has all the adventure she wants and . . .” Thankful began.

Fahy tapped her nose. “And she will most likely spend her life alone.”

“She has such a full life and . . .”

Fahy grinned. “I thought you didn’t much admire Miss Peckham? Anyway, won’t your life be full enough taking care of me?”

“I plan to care for you, but is that all?” Thankful asked, feeling sweat trickle down her spine.

“No, of course not. There’ll be children and we can take trips if you like.” Fahy looked worried. “Won’t I satisfy you?”

“Oh, Mr. Fahy, you already do. But I never have any larks with you. We both work so hard. I want to play a little more than I do now—don’t you?”

“Life is about work, I’m afraid. Childhood is almost over for you, Thankful. There’s no point clinging to it. That just makes the adjustment more painful.”

Thankful sniveled. “But when we are married won’t we still dance and ride?”

“Of course, silly,” he said.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

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“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

Family Histories: Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

This week Luanne Castle discusses how the exploration of family history has enriched her creative life:

By combining a passion for family history with my creative writing, I felt able to—for a brief moment—inhabit the lives of women and men from previous generations and imagine how their stories felt to them.

Family history as done by genealogy buffs only interested in filling in the dates and places of lineal ancestors miss the point. Everybody has ancestors. What becomes fascinating is that by recreating and listening to the stories of previous generations, we learn from the experiences of those who have lived on Earth before us.

Family history is a messy, complicated, and very loose collection of stories bound together with overlaps and gaps and sharing. Those are all the reasons I love it.

And all the reasons that I keep picking at the loose threads, following clues left in documents and photographs, and searching for information to fill in the empty stretches of time—or so it can appear from this angle—of the people who have come before me.

Researching family history is never ending. I’ve been at this for a long time. New information can refine, surprise, or alter what I think I already know. As a writer, this makes my path difficult. There is no moment where I can say to myself, “OK, my research is done. Now I can write.”

Therefore, research has to be done for the sake of the hunt, the rewards fate doles out to me, and an appreciation for the continuous process. In this way, Kin Types is the slim fruit of years of difficult “gardening,” but not the final fruit or the final say.

The following prose poem from Kin Types explores a moment in the life of my great-great-grandfather’s sister, Jennie DeKorn Culver, the custody battle during her divorce.

What Came Between A Woman and Her Duties

14 May 1897

On this Friday, in our fair city of Kalamazoo, Recreation Park refreshment proprietor, John Culver, has applied to the Circuit Court to gain custody of his two young daughters from his divorced wife. The girls currently reside in the Children’s Home. They were accompanied to court by Miss Bradley, the matron of the home.

Mrs. Culver, the divorcée, and the children were represented by J. W. Adams. The father was represented by F.E. Knappen.  Mrs. Culver, pale and stern-looking, wore a shirtwaist with tightly ruched collar and generous mutton sleeves. The strain of her situation shows clearly on her visage. In the past, Mrs. Culver has been aided and abetted by her female friends in the art of painting, as an article of 6 February 1895 in this very daily can attest.

A large number of friends of both parties were in the courtroom and heard emotional pleadings on both sides. Judge Buck ascertained that Mrs. Culver is engaged in the pursuit of an honest living at this time and so ordered that the children remain in the mother’s care. She was given six months to bring them home from the orphanage or they will go into the care of their father and his mother. Let us hope that Mrs. Culver can stay away from the easel.

I used articles from the Kalamazoo Gazette, as well as legal documents, to recreate Jennie’s fight for custody of her two daughters. The only documentation I can find that Jennie was an artist is a newspaper article commemorating the gift of an easel to Jennie during the term of her marriage by her female friends.

Finishing Line Press has published my chapbook, Kin Types, a collection of lyric poetry, prose poems, and flash nonfiction that interprets the lives of some forgotten women in history—my own ancestors.

 Kin Types can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Finishing Line Press.

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BIO

luanne-headshotLuanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English, history, and creative writing at UCR (PhD); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. She taught college English for fifteen years. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. Luanne is an amateur genealogist and publishes some of her family history research on the blog thefamilykalamazoo.com.

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle’s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Phoebe, Six Hens, Story Shack, The Antigonish Review, Crack the SpineGristTABRiver TeethLunch TicketThe Review Review, and many other journals. Luanne’s 2017 chapbook Kin Types, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Contest.

She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Her heart belongs to her six cats and the homeless cats at the animal shelter where she volunteers.

Luanne’s sites: THE FAMILY KALAMAZOO

WRITERSITE

LUANNE CASTLE: WRITER AND POET

 

 

Please come by next Sunday!

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Fiction: Dirty Diapers

When was there a time when Thankful did not have to concern herself with diapers? Now as Thankful scrubbed shit far from her family, she wondered why she had traveled a great distance only to immerse her hands in dirty laundry water again. Her tantrum may have ruined a friendship with Mrs. Markham, who had been a kinder mother to her in a few months than Margaret had been in her entire lifetime. Either way—in Englewood or Arizona—she was pushing other folks’ strollers.

“Say! Anyone at home?” William called as he came around the back gate. “Oh, I wasn’t expecting to see you, Thankful.”

Thankful’s dress and her stylish apron hung sodden and dirty. “I live here don’t I? What do you want?”

“Um, well . . . are you all right?” William asked.

“I’m perfectly fine, William. You must be wrecked after the show you put on for the garrison last night,” she said, punching at the diapers in the basin and giving herself an uncomfortable splash in the eye.

“Funny thing; I’m right as rain,” William replied, tipping his hat back and leaning on the gate. “I always sleep well at army posts. My legs are sore, but . . .”

“Well, that serves you right—hopping around foolishly!”

“I can’t hop, Thankful, so I guess you’re wrong on that. As far as being a fool—well—I don’t mind if I was!” William laughed.

“Why are you here, William? I’m too busy for small talk.”

He didn’t seem to mind how angry and upset Thankful was.

“Well, yes, um, is Miss Peckham in?”

“No!” Thankful replied, huffing as she punched the wet diapers in the water. “She’s not in. She’s doing ‘research’ on the army species of man. She’s man enough—she needs no study.”

“Which way did she go? I wanted to know if she needed anything else from town before I head back.”

“Perfume and plenty of it!” Thankful said.

“What? Oh, your idea of a joke, I guess. Anyway, you don’t seem to know much so I’ll be on my way, Thankful.”

“Oh, yes, girls in trousers are much cleverer than the rest of us!” Thankful muttered as William closed the gate behind him, and was gone.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

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Generational Curses

An old piece of my own family history…

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm

Charles Foster my great, great, great grandfather (yes, he was that great) led a drunken life after a childhood of chilling abuse. And here stands his house--a bit drunk looking itself. What a foundation for a family of storytellers. Charles Foster my great, great, great grandfather (yes, he was that great) suffered a childhood of chilling abuse. And here stands his house. What a foundation for a family of storytellers.

This is our family home. The family that runs in my blood through my mother’s side of the tree. Curses and gifts intermingle, don’t they? When I looked upon this house I knew I was home. I could have stayed for hours listening to the spirits moving the tall grass. I could have stayed for days seeing out of the corner of my eye a young, strong Charles Foster building this house for his mother.

If I’m remembering right, the curse was liquor. Daniel Foster was  a cooper  (barrel- maker) who couldn’t support his family. By the time Charles was six (in 1815) he was sent  off to live and work for others, first a Mr. Clemens–the idea was…

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Fiction: Escape to Marriage

Working for the captain’s wife is no longer the lark it once was.

Thankful marched back into the Markhams’ finding Miss Peckham, dressed in one of Mrs. Markham’s plain visiting dresses and brushing out the matron’s long, mousy hair.

“Be a dear, Thankful, and do up the egg—fried—while Miss Peckham shows me the latest style.”

Miss Peckham stopped a minute appraising Thankful’s dark curls. “I could show you how they wear their hair in New York these days, Miss Crenshaw.”

“I know how they do hair in New York! I like to wear my hair my way!” Thankful responded storming to the kitchen.

By the time Mrs. Markham joined her, Thankful was in tears again. “Thankful, why are you so upset?”

Thankful shook her head. “I don’t care for Willy any more than a friend, but he’s from home, is all. That’s all it is, but Miss Peckham—I just hate her, and I’m sorry, but I can’t have her in my room. I work for that space, and it’s unfair that I should have to share.”

“Thankful Crenshaw, that is a very unchristian way to be, and I’m surprised.”

“Why should I have to be her slave?” Thankful asked rolling her sleeves.

Mrs. Markham laughed. “Don’t be so naughty. When you’re married, it won’t do to start fires with other women. Some army wives are just as—difficult as Miss Peckham.”

“I didn’t start anything! And I’ve never met anyone in the army as horrid as Miss Peckham!” Thankful said just above a whisper.

“Hold your tongue, Thankful. Miss Peckham’s a guest, and I hate to make mention of it, but your work here includes cooking.”

“Ordinarily I don’t mind that a bit. You know that!”

“You must never mind it when I have a guest,” Mrs. Markham said.

“But she got up late . . .” Thankful tried with no success.

Mrs. Markham folded her arms, but was distracted by Fahy’s knock at the door. Miss Peckham led him into the hallway.

“Morning ladies, I didn’t see Miss Crenshaw out on the grounds. I was wondering if she’s still unwell.”

Mrs. Markham met Fahy in the dining room. “Thankful is fine but busy making breakfast for our guest. I’ll tell her you inquired.”

Miss Peckham smoothed her hair back and grabbed her hat from the table. “Oh, Mr. Fahy, would you to show me around the place?”

“For Miss Peckham’s research . . .” Mrs. Markham added.

“Well, I suppose I could,” Fahy hesitated. “I’m free now for about an hour, if you’d like . . .”

Thankful jumped out from the kitchen. “Miss Peckham, here’s your breakfast!”

Fahy tried to greet Thankful, but the other ladies were in the way.

“Oh, Miss Crenshaw, dear, set it aside for me,” Miss Peckham said. “I’ll be back for it later.”

Thankful walked back into the kitchen and slammed the fine china plate against the counter, chipping it. She glanced behind her, found the chipped fragment and hid it in Miss Peckham’s burnt egg. After covering the plate with a cloth, Thankful untied her kitchen apron and pinned on the prettier one she’d made for walks with the children and hurried into the dining room just as Lieutenant Fahy escorted Miss Peckham out the front door.

“Thankful, dear, I’ve decided that today I’d like a stroll with the children,” Mrs. Markham said. “My nerves are shattered with still no word from the captain. But there’s a small bit of baby’s soiled things that need washing. Miss Peckham mentioned that she was highly sensitive to smells. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No, of course not. I love cleaning diapers,” Thankful said.

“Get used to it,” Mrs. Markham said with a smile. “Mr. Fahy wants plenty of children.”

“Well, I guess he’ll have them with someone else. I’ve told him I’d only like one, maybe. I’ve been sent off with my father to rescue babies from breech birth and all. I don’t want any of that!” Thankful declared.

“One baby?” Mrs. Markham laughed. “What’s the point of one? Immigrant families are having upwards of nine or ten.”

“It’s not my job to populate the world!” Thankful complained. “You and my mother are doing a fine job of that.”

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Thankful! Next you’ll be like our visitor discussing suffrage for women,” Mrs. Markham said tapping her closed fan once before opening it and using it to shoo the children out the door.

“I’m nothing like her! What has the vote got to do with anything in my life? I only don’t want so many little ones—is that a crime? And I don’t know why Mr. Fahy would discuss his plans with you, not me!”

“Mr. Fahy is a fine man, but he’s a Catholic and they don’t believe in . . .” Mrs. Markham whispered, “and with the Comstock laws . . .”

“My father is a doctor. I know all about how to prevent babies. I don’t want to hear any more about the lieutenant being Catholic! My mother is extremely upset over it–as if she is so damned religious!” Thankful bawled.

“Thankful, when you’re finished with the laundry, wet a rag and go to your room for a rest—you are over excited today.”

“I’m the same as I ever am! Why didn’t you send Miss Peckham to my room when she spoke her mind? I’m not your child to send to bed!” Thankful cried.

“Well, you’re behaving like a spoilt one. I’m appalled. I feel great affection for you, but you’re acting disrespectful,” Mrs. Markham said, pulling her bonnet ties tight.

“As you hinted over the cooking,” Thankful said, “I’m just your hired help. I should have realized it sooner before considering you to be a real friend. I won’t make that assumption again.”

“You’re breaking my heart, young lady. I didn’t realize how you resented your work here! I was doing you a favor!” Mrs. Markham said.

Thankful sobbed. “And I haven’t done you a favor? Watching the children and cooking and cleaning while you lounge drinking nice lemonade! But I never minded. I’ve been very grateful to you until this minute. You’ve humiliated me in front of the lieutenant and Miss Peckham. Why did I have to get her that egg? Toast was fine for the rest of us!”

“To lose your temper over a ridiculous egg confounds reason!” Mrs. Markham said. “I have my own more important troubles. I shouldn’t have to keep you and Miss Peckham from each other’s throats! I do love you dearly, but you are a shallow and insensitive girl at times. Miss Peckham shall be treated as a guest—and that is my final word on it.”

Thankful wiped angry tears from her eyes and turned to the laundry basket. She fed the stove and hauled water to be heated. She scraped and cleaned diapers made messy from the disagreeable diet and water of Arizona in the sandy backyard.

“I cannot wait to be married and able to do what I want for once,” she mumbled, filling the basin in the yard with the hot water.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

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