How do you start with a tiny spark of inspiration and end with a six book series?
I’ve just released THE ONE MY HEART LOVES, the fifth book in THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES so I thought it would be fun to walk down memory lane.
My writing mission that I didn’t know I had at the start:
To write deep characters with real flaws who, despite it all, find love and redemption. I didn’t know what grace was until I gave it to John Weldon in THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD.
THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD: Looking back it would have been impossible to write compassionately about morphine-addicted Civil War veteran John Weldon if I hadn’t fallen in love with a handsome boy in high school who was addicted to drugs. We dated on and off through college. He even looked me up after I was unhappily married with children and he was sober. I hope he still is — though the last time I looked he’d disappeared.
WEARY OF RUNNING: An addict’s road to redemption takes its toll on others. I was curious how John Weldon’s son William would handle adulthood with the hurts he carries. The saddest scene is when William takes his first drink. All of his secret yearnings for Thankful Crenshaw slip into far off second place. Thankful’s brother, Buck Crenshaw carries secret hurts of his own — how else could he be so easily tempted to take out revenge on one of the first black cadets attending West Point?
THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY is a reference to fleeting love. Buck takes center stage as he wrestles with disillusionment as a new Christian and runs off to a utopian society that promises a fast track to God (and worldly delights). He hardly has time to notice his sister Thankful, still reeling from the loss of her unfaithful fiance, and rushing headlong into another mistake. William’s cousin Lucy takes him to task over his drunken lifestyle but will he change? (You’ll have to read the book to find out :))
FORGET ME NOT is SAD. It just is. I do love how it ends and that’s all I’ll say.
THE ONE MY HEART LOVES: All of my favorite characters are paired off and making a hash of things. Buck is a wreck over his engagement. Thankful is a wreck because she’s jealous. Seeing how Lucy McCullough and William Weldon navigate the Crenshaw minefield satisfies something deep within me and sets us up for the final installment.
THE GRAND UNION starts off in Saratoga Springs, New York at The Grand Union Hotel. Will Buck’s marriage be a grand union? Will he screw up even this? What happens when his wife really gets to know him? I love this couple and want only happiness for them but new troubles await (with Thankful leading the charge) when they arrive back in Englewood to start a family. (Preorder TODAY!)
I love big books about families. How about you? Do you have a favorite literary family? I’m obviously biased.
And more importantly, what’s your mission? I’d love to know in the comments below!
“The past beats inside me like a second heart.”
Boys without fathers … some heroic men come home broken or not at all. Some battlefields are revisited from one year to the next. Veterans tease new recruits on spring campaigns with the bones of men left to winter over in thick forests.
“About 625,000 men died in the Civil War. That’s more Americans than died in both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam combined. This amounted to 2 percent of the population at the time, which would be the equivalent to about 6 million Americans dying today. Battles weren’t as deadly as disease, however..
An estimated 40% of the dead were never identified.”
Slavery is a human condition we have not come even close to eradicating. Sex trafficking in children is alive and well. Where are the abolitionists now? There are some brave souls but mostly we are just as ignorant of human suffering as we ever were. Willfully so.
Civil War Art
The picture above is so ambiguous. Are the former slaves happy to see their former mistress? Are they ashamed that with freedom not much seems to have changed for them? Were any of them house slaves who saw themselves as superior to field hands?
And what of the mistress? Is she visiting old friends? Is she discussing payment for field work? Did they once pray together? Are they all victims of a world system they did not create? I’ve often heard that impoverished people enjoy life more. I think people are people. We live in a spiritually impoverished world.
There is a war somewhere out there. There is a war in our hearts right here. Freedom is a wonderful but scary thing. Is this beautiful woman brooding about her present? Is she anxious about her future? Is she bitter? Will she forgive life’s unfairness? Choices we all must make.
Surrender. Surrender is not about giving up. At war are powers greater than humans can usually perceive. We are all slaves to a master. We choose the master no matter our place in this material world. Sometimes we are victims, but if we are honest with ourselves, we realize we are so often making war with others for our own selfish desires and out of a place of fear.
“There is no fear where love exists. Rather, perfect love banishes fear, for fear involves punishment, and the person who lives in fear has not been perfected in love.“ 1 John 4:18
LOOK AT HOW THE FILM MAKERS PAID HOMAGE TO HOMER’S PRISONERS PAINTING:
Whores, Thieves and Militants of the Civil War
I may have mentioned before that I love men in uniform (I think because my father was in the army and then became a police officer but who cares? Men just look great in tailored outfits). So when my best friend’s husband suggested I come with him to the 140th Re-enactment of Antietam for research for my novel, I jumped at the idea.
Someone lent me hoops, a corset and a fantastic day dress and I was hooked. All of the reading in the world could never replace the smell of campfire in my hair and the way it felt to flirt with soldiers while wearing truly feminine clothes. I learned a lot about Enfield rifles( too heavy for me to ever try to use) and about human nature.
Civil War Re-enactment Types:
- SNOBS I think this is what I expected to find more of: people who talked about blouse button accuracy and looked scandalized by a soda can peaking from beneath a canvas tent. I personally drew the line between kids and adults. Kids were being dragged to these events and forced to wear weird clothing and hang out with weird adults who lectured them about civics and states’ rights. The occasional soda did no harm. On the other hand I wanted to time travel and fully immerse myself in the period. Plastic milk containers and talks about television spoiled the mood sometimes. Most people were exceptionally kind and understanding.
- ECCENTRICS The leader of our hospital unit was a toothless old lady who refused to be called by her real name–ever. Her modern bank account even sported her Civil War persona’s name. She really thought she was a surgeon. She really thought we were nurses. The men were afraid of her but loved lying in the shade and having their foreheads dabbed with cold water by the nurses. “Doc” also fantasized about her nurses dressing as whores in the evening. She wanted to be our pimp. She said she didn’t want a partner because she knew how to sexually satisfy herself. Thankfully my kids were too young to understand much of what she said.
- MILITANTS “Doc” was also a militant — as was the head nurse. Towels had to be hung in an orderly way. Children had to use proper slang. “Doc” once lectured my son about his period incorrect hair and his period incorrect use of the term “mom.” Not all militants were bad. All of the men I met — without exception — had a healthy respect for period correctness and some were quite militant about it but they seemed to always have more fun around their campfires at night than we nurses who were forced to sing Grandfather’s Clock and be in bed by nine. (Many overly militant people — even in missionary work — have this weird desire to control other people’s bedtimes).
- THIEVES One thief arranged for our unit to “star” at a National Park living history event and pocketed the money for herself. No one realized it was a paid event. This same person lost her real job. My husband at the time found her a job at his very modern company as receptionist. It was discovered that she was stealing cases of soda and modern chips to bring to re-enactments and then to her home (along with food we all brought to the events). She was fired from the job and kicked from the re-enacting world.
- FLIRTS Okay, so this was my true role. I found that as soon as I put on those dresses I couldn’t stop flirting. Many of the militant men couldn’t help flirt back. Once a man I knew from a Union unit stopped me on the lane and gushingly said I was “positively glowing.” My kids have never let me live that down. A surprisingly fair amount of affairs took place in tents at Gettysburg and Antietam — or so I’ve heard. I may have flirted but I never cheated. Once “Doc” warned me not to break a lost puppy of a soldier’s heart. I told her he needed to man up if he wanted to re-enact (I’ve always been more the Scarlett than the Melanie). “Doc” wanted to keep us ladies for herself and said as much.
Admittedly my time at re-enacting doing “research” didn’t do much for my failing marriage but it was a lot of fun.
How about you? Any unusual hobbies or methods of research that led to meeting interesting people? Let me know in the comments!
INSPIRATION: Every addict needs a scapegoat.
Captain Simon McCullough’s motto: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die. This gets John Weldon’s goat. How unfair it is that Simon coasts through life suffering nary a scratch while drinking, womanizing and joking all the way?
Weldon fails to note the fatalism in Simon’s motto. He underestimates the friend he tries to hate.
There’s a type of 19th century military memoir tremendously fun to read. The accent is on the antics of soldiers in downtime that almost trick one into believing war is quite a great time. I’ve always admired the way boys and men conduct friendship and briefly considered running away to be an intelligence officer in the Navy (to escape that first marriage and possibly meet a naval officer–a weird twist of fate had me meet and marry a Navy man years later).
I often hear about those extroverts who skim the surface of life with little self-reflection. Simon McCullough only plays that role in his family. Never judge a book by its cover, they say.
“Have you read all these books, sir?” Weldon asked but regretted it.
Scott laughed tracing his fingers over the rim of his glass with a self-satisfied air. “These and more. A person is nothing without a mind for knowledge. I had high hopes for Simon and bought every book here for his education.” He sighed.
Simon took a drink, his expressionless face toward the fire.
“Well, when things turned sour, and we sent Simon off to military school…our Katherine kept reading for enjoyment sake, I suppose. She has a decent mind for a girl, but an education is wasted on women. And truth be told Simon was no scholar.”
Simon, with his light hair slicked back and his brawny shoulders pent up in fine summer linen, oozed a restlessness which annoyed his father and saddened Katherine who knew that Englewood was too small for him now. Simon poured another drink in the stifling silence. Katherine mourned over something lost in him. She went to a shelf and took out the scrapbook she had made since his first going away to West Point and then the war. She ran her fingers over the tintypes of Simon at war and the yellowing newsprint which had brought the battles home to her. The boy who used to bring her into his world had never come back as a man.
Scott’s eyes fell upon Katherine with an air of sad disappointment.
Simon noticed and broke into story. “Father, you’d have been appalled at the antics of the soldiers away from home doing as they pleased. One officer even tended bar in a bawdy house in full uniform . . . or so I hear.” Simon winked at Weldon. “And some of the girls were pretty . . . from a distance, anyway. Father, you know the Renner’s from English Neighborhood? Remember, Weldon, how we caught him out? It was a laugh. We were just walking through Murder Bay—for an evening stroll to round up the boys, Father, nothing more—and who do we come across after leaving a drinking establishment but Renner as tight as can be in an alley—how idiotic he looked with his trousers around his ankles and a Cyprian with her mouth around his . . .”
Novel Inspirations: THE ADDICT
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INSPIRATION: Years of the culture telling me men were monsters who would trample my timorous soul if I let them.
The character Katherine McCullough came from a dusty unfinished diary in a university library. While doing missionary work (which at the time I thought was savaging a culture) her young son died of lockjaw after stepping on a rusty nail on a barge while crossing the Mississippi to visit his mother. Served her right! I callously thought (btw Katherine’s son doesn’t die in the book).
The original intent of the novel was to trash missionaries and keep the myth of the noble savage alive and well. Then I did research. Turns out I had a lot to learn about human frailty on all sides.
My mother said the problem with me was that I didn’t respect my husband. I wondered what it would look like if I did respect a husband. My ex-husband thought John Weldon was him, but Weldon was the man who wanted to quit his addiction and that made all the difference.
Katherine and I are not one. She married for love. Despite my best attempts to force modernity upon her, she never took the bait. I married with the intent of dominating a man before he could destroy me. But life doesn’t work that way, does it? Fear is a destructive force.
Katherine’s voice echoes the thoughts and feelings of the women my mother often told me about. The women who came before her. The quiet ones.
Weldon reentered his home.
“John, I’m sorry over the state of things and…what I said,” Katherine whimpered.
William sat washing dishes on the floor, making more mess in the process.
“Willy, what are you doing?” Weldon complained as he raced around ignoring Katherine’s words. Forgiving her would make it more difficult to escape so Weldon hardened his heart to Katherine’s pleas, finding it pathetic that she would not get up from bed. He shoved everything into a sack.
“John, I haven’t gotten the chance to clean those, I…”
“I can see that…and stop crying!”
“I don’t understand why you hate me!” Katherine sobbed. “What have I done? Why am I so hard to love?”
“Kate, your children love you.”
Katherine flew from the bed at Weldon. “How could you? Why did you bring me here just to kill me with your words? I need you!”
“You’re pitiful,” Weldon said. “Get off me. I can’t take it anymore. You smother me!”
“Smother you? I love you!”
“Katherine, I don’t love… let me go,” Weldon said softly, trying to believe his words. He pushed her away.
Willy let the last of the dishes sink back into the dirty water and ran to his father. “Please don’t leave us!”
“Clean up the mess you’ve made, William,” Weldon said, detaching himself from his son’s grip. He threw the sack of laundry over his shoulder and walked double time to the beautiful laundress awaiting his call.
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CHARACTER: Morphine addict Lieutenant John Weldon
INSPIRATION: Katherine McCullough needed a husband in the military. I was listening to a lot of Americana music and crushing on a young Robbie Robertson from The Band while collecting Civil War era prosthetic limbs and morphine kits. Having just recovered from a life threatening blood clot and feeling wistful about the painkillers I was given in the hospital, I suddenly understood the draw of self-medicating.
A heroin addict friend told me a story about having to kill a bunch of puppies as a child living on a reservation.
JOHN WELDON WAS BORN:
“Doctor Dudley, you in?”
A sudden panic in the pit of Dudley’s stomach caused him to hesitate before opening the door to let Weldon in. They stood together uncomfortably in the center of the room.
Weldon scanned the room, searching for a place to rest his eyes. “Dudley…I have a problem, a concern really…”
Weldon rolled up his sleeve.
“Lieutenant Weldon, what happened here?”
“Well, it’s a burn, I think…” Weldon said.
“You THINK it’s a burn? You would know if it was. You would remember it, I’m sure. This is no burn.”
“Well,” Weldon stuttered, “I d-don’t know…”
“Lieutenant Weldon, this is badly inflamed. What have you been doing to yourself?”
Weldon scratched the sore skin behind his ear.
“Weldon, are you listening?” Dudley asked, thinking of Katherine and how she would feel if her husband died of blood poisoning.
“Yes, I’m listening…it’s not a burn. No, it’s not a burn at all…I’ve never told anyone…I don’t know why I’m telling you…”
Dudley looked Weldon in the eye. “Lieutenant Weldon, how long have you been doing this to yourself?”
“On and off…I hoped you might know a cure…I trust you won’t tell my wife…my career, my family….” Weldon drifted a moment, but came back. “I want to stop…I tried…”
“Well, good luck,” Dudley said dismissively trying to collect his thoughts while sifting aimlessly through stray papers.
“What? Is that all you have to say?” Weldon asked, the hopelessness in his voice reminding Dudley of his vocational duties.
Dudley reluctantly looked at the sore again and roughly let go of the arm. “There’s been missing stores of morphine. I assume you’ve been stealing them.”
“NO! I haven’t… a laundress gets…I haven’t taken anything from you, Dudley!”
“For Mrs. Weldon’s sake, I won’t seek charges against you. I can’t believe you fooled me. I even felt some sympathy for you when you left.”
“I’ve come to you for help. I’d never steal from you,” Weldon said in a surprisingly indignant tone. “I figured you might have experience with other veterans.”
Dudley sighed. “Weldon, I can put a little carbolic acid on your arm. It might help prevent further inflammation.” When his voice shook Dudley wondered at his inability to stay neutral and professional. “I’m so disappointed for you…for Katherine…there’s no cure for what you have. I’ve heard of people like you who’ve freed themselves from it, but I’ve never met them. Most just got sent home to be taken care of by their families.” Dudley was cold in relating the facts. He had been taught how at school. “This is your life, lieutenant. Get used to it. Most don’t live long—their teeth go bad, they lose their hair…and you’re already using it through a syringe and probably not diluting it that much…am I right?”
Weldon shook all over. He searched the doctor for some little hope or sympathy even, but didn’t expect it.
“Weldon, your wife should be prepared. Mrs. Weldon should be told so she can plan for the future. Soon enough you’ll be too much a mess to care for yourself. You both should leave here before that happens.”
“I—I can’t leave the army! What would I do? There’s NO cure at all then?”
“No, lieutenant.” Dudley looked for his carbolic acid, sprayed it onto the swollen, sore skin and wrapped a bandage around it. “I’ve never seen someone stop the habit once they use the needles.”
“I’ve tried to tell Katherine.”
“Well, trying and doing are two different things, lieutenant. Listen, you wouldn’t want to embarrass your wife. Mrs. Weldon isn’t looking well. I see she’ll have another child, and you’re no help to her anymore. Katherine should be with someone stronger,” Dudley said, regretting his spitefulness.
Weldon nodded. He pulled his sleeve down and walked out into the bright twilight.
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