Fiction: Love and Marriage

William had three drawings published in an obscure magazine back east and even one sketch put into the Army Navy Journal. He sent that one to his father. As long as he avoided Thankful, Lieutenant Fahy and thoughts of home, his days were bearable. The Apaches rampaged as the garrison troops polished their guns, awaiting orders. None of it mattered to William. He’d burnt that bridge.

Slipping out of his room he made his way towards the edge of town for horizontal refreshment. In funds again, however briefly, William whistled a tune.

Ginny always waited on the rickety, bone-dry porch for him. Sun-bleached as the wood planks, she had the prettiest blonde hair William had ever seen. Today another form sat beside her. He strode up, not bothering to tip his hat. The strange lady glared at him. This woman was cutting into his time. William stood waiting, hands shoved in pockets. Ginny looked caught.

“Say, Billy; this is Miss Peckham from Philadelphy.”

William nodded.

Ginny played with a long strand of hair that had fallen from her bun. “Yes, Miss Peckham is studyin’ the West and all us—ain’t that so, Miss Peckham?”

“Please, Virginia, you must call me Gertrude—we’re all equals, you know,” Miss Peckham instructed.

“Please, Miss Peckham, I mean Gertrude, I ain’t never been called Virginia. It’s always Ginny, please.”

“You must embrace your rightful name; lord knows how men try to define us otherwise.” Miss Peckham glared at William for a second, but worked a small charming dimple into a condescending smile.

“But, scuse me, Miss Peck—Gert—it’s my dead mother that named me Ginny so I’d like to keep it just the same,” Ginny said, her pock-marked face turning purple in consternation.

“Ginny, what’s the time?” William asked, jangling the coins in his pocket.

“Why, I have the time, sir,” Miss Peckham said. She stood and reached into the pocket of her mannish bloomers.

William gave Ginny an appalled look.

Miss Peckham opened her man’s watch and snapped it shut again. “Mister, you’re too late. Ginny will no longer be used by men like you.”

“Oh, and what will you do, Ginny, go east for a job in the White House?” William joked.

The women didn’t laugh.

“Ginny, what’s this all about?” William asked.

“It’s about women bein’ made all captured by men and such,” Ginny said. “I don’t mind you, Billy, but . . .”

Miss Peckham pushed her arm through Ginny’s supportively. “Ginny, when I asked, did you not say that this man was your worst customer?” she quizzed like an attorney.

“Well, no and then yes. He owes me, but . . . it’s different.” Ginny blushed.

“Didn’t you say he treated you like any other whore?”

“Say! There’s no need to call her that!” William said, expecting approval for his defense of Ginny.

“But it’s fine to ride her and use memory loss as an excuse for non-payment?” Miss Peckham asked.

“I pay when my money comes through—you know that, Gin,” William explained, pulling his hat low over his eyes.

Miss Peckham surveyed him, her free hand resting on her hip. “This world is run on men’s terms. That’s why things are such a mess.”

William laughed. “I doubt you and Ginny could do any better . . .”

“Women have run societies—Indian and aboriginal and . . .” Miss Peckham said as she fingered her fashionable bangs.

“And where are they now if they were so superior?” William asked.

“White men and their brutal ways destroyed all that was good and . . .”

“So these female societies never properly defended their people . . . hmm,” William responded, turning to Ginny. “Want to get in out of the sun?”

But Miss Peckham continued. “What men don’t understand they destroy or ignore!”

“I understand you perfectly. I just disagree. In a perfect world there would be no need for Ginny—I mean her profession . . .” William replied, taking Ginny’s hand even as Miss Peckham grabbed her at the opposite elbow.

“I’d like ta get married one day,” Ginny confessed, looking up at William with adoring eyes.

“Marriage is a death sentence for women!” Miss Peckham said. “They lose their names and their personalities, and I for one shall never marry. I have a greater love for all of humanity. Romantic love is a trap, made up to yoke women into slavery.”

“A trap, maybe, but one that women happily get caught in,” William said.

“Well, if they understood; I feel sorry for most women . . .” Miss Peckham stated. “Is dying in childbirth a good thing, sir?”

“Is dying in war, miss?” William asked. “You should take your men’s clothes and crazy notions back where you came from.”

“Why on earth would I take a suggestion from a man so lacking in manners?”

“This is how I speak to all men—we’re equals, right?” William said, pulling Ginny, but Ginny stood still.

“I ain’t too sure I agree with Miss Peckham about nothin’ cept gettin’ paid. Sorry Billy.”

William jangled his coins again more emphatically, but a stubborn look came upon Ginny’s usually compliant face.

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.”

The Real (Fake) Lives of Authors

I’m a big fan of those feature stories that circulate on writer blogs and The Huffington Post about what famous authors wore. Or the ones about where they lived. Or the ones about the superstitions they had. All the while, as I gaze at the artfully photographed author posing as if in mid-thought, I’m aware of a small jealousy.  I know these things are fabricated for mass consumption. I really know it, and yet I still feel, because they had a better desk or cooler shoes, they had a leg up on the ladder of success.

The ones I remember most are the photos of great-looking authors who later went on to commit suicide. I don’t know about you, but I’m drawn to  studying the demise of celebrity authors–so tragic, so mesmerizing.

I think the real problem is photography. It captures just a moment–a perfect moment. The unreal moment when an author becomes famous. Even for the biggest writers the moments are only small things that happen for a few hours now and again.

It’s why reading about what authors do when not writing is so interesting. Are they really human? Are they witty all the time? Are they jerks to family? I know the answers but still need reassurance.

This weekend THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD about a dysfunctional family in the post-Civil War era received this review:

“*****I started this book without bothering to check the length. Had I done that, I may have changed my mind. So many of those books are full of pages that say nothing – or the same thing.

This is not one of those books. This is a piece of art – a story that flows from one page to the next, one year to the next, with absolute beauty. It was painful at times, full of raw emotion, but so beautifully, wonderfully written.

Well done!”

I was elated and grateful, of course.

But then we had to shoot one of our goats.

Yes, my favorite milking doe Kate who loved peanuts and affection has spent the last year barely hanging on. The vet hinted last year that she should be culled as a weak link in our herd, but I adored her and spent the winter injecting her with all sorts of remedies that didn’t work. In the thick of blizzards I was in the dark barn running my fingers over Kate’s rib cage looking for some fat to stick a needle in twice day.

When spring came on we thought we saw some hope, but then there was none. We researched the most painless, least stress inducing way to put her down: gun to the back of the head while she ate. I milked her one last time (we needed the milk for other goat kids) and brushed her–she liked that–and then I brought her into the big fenced in area to graze until my husband came home from work.

I did what everyone does in the movies–I took that one long look back at her and she at me. A little while later I heard the gunshot and that was it.

The next day my husband and I got into a two day fight about hummus–the stuff you put on crackers. When we spoke to each other again it was about the fact that one of our registered bucks turned out not to be a purebred Nubian. We had foolishly assumed he was and paid a purebred price a few years back but he was just an American Nubian (a step down in breeding circles). A customer of ours knew the breeder and pointed out our mistake  after I had advertised and sold a few babies as purebreds! I had to call everyone to apologize and offer to take back the babies or keep them for the $50 deposits they had given me. Luckily everyone was fine with getting great animals for a great price, but still I was mortified.

One of the babies was born with entroption (when eyelids turn under). I spoke with the vet and she assured me it was an easy fix and I could come by the next day and she’d walk me through the procedure. Instead I sat on her porch with a knocked-out baby goat on my lap as the vet with a tiny scalpel sliced off skin. The eyelid was HUGE like the vet had never seen. BTW, both of us humans were in a weird mix of farm clothes and pajamas since we thought we would only be injecting the lid with a tiny bit of penicillin.

I could also go on about our Golden Retriever whose face blew up after having eaten a bee this week, but the goat stories and last week’s post on the trials and tribulations of adoption are enough.

It’s raining again today. I’m beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as weather manipulation. Photos of famous authors (and not so famous ones) are manipulated. The perfect turtleneck sweater, the relaxed sitting on the porch look, the deep in thought at typewriter pose . . . all fabricated, idealized versions of lives. Lives where writing is the obsession maybe but lives with a lot of mess. My life is no messier than others–it’s actually quite good despite goat shootings and bee stings.

I think for today I’ll luxuriate in a good review, knowing that for a brief few moments I took someone’s mind to another place.

MORE FUN LINKS:

WHAT WRITERS WEAR

WHAT WRITERS WEAR WHEN THEY WRITE AT HOME

THE CLOTHES BEHIND THE BOOKS

Fiction: Go West, Young Man (and Grow Up with the Country)

An old soldier has dreams for his son.

The oncoming evening and the hangover tugging William’s stomach tempered the brief elation he felt after abusing his father. As William lay in bed, he remembered the day back  home, over a year ago now, when his father called on the landing in that hopeful  way he had.

“Willy, how about a walk in town?”

“Papa, not today,” William moaned from bed, knowing he’d give in.

“I want to buy a gift for my little bird, Kate,” his father insisted.

The humidity made William’s collar and shirt stick and a mosquito sucked blood at the exposed part of his ear. His mess of golden hair needed cutting. The sidewalks, slick with late summer showers, led them through mildewed shade past Queen Anne houses and manicured lawns. William’s father preferred not to use his walking stick (just in case he needed his hands—for what William never knew). And so with his one strong hand, John Weldon clung to William, who labored under his own handicaps.

Once William caught the reflection of the two of them in a storefront window and kept this awful picture in his mind all through their subsequent walks. His father always found the slickest paths to stumble and slide over. William never listened to what his father was saying as they passed sympathetic or curious townsfolk.

Today his father fell. The damp air made his leg worse and his butchered arm made it near impossible for him to get up without his son’s help. He laughed at his weakness, much to his son’s consternation as the twins, Meg and Thankful Crenshaw, came into view, followed by their fashionable friends.

Thankful rushed up, dressed in the softest looking cream walking suit. “Oh, my goodness, Mr. Weldon, are you all right?” she giggled.

William noted her sweet and accepting blue eyes. Meg and her friends whispered, probably assuming that his father was drunk since he’d fallen in front of Stagg’s Ale House. Thankful extended her white-gloved hand and Weldon grabbed it. William cringed.

The old soldier failed to get his leg straight and needed the girl’s and William’s help on the mossy, wet planks. Meg moaned. “Do let Willy take care of his old father, sis!”

Thankful turned on her. “You’re so rude. And his name is Mr. Weldon! For shame, Meg!” Thankful took the old soldier’s hand and pulled hard but her glove slipped and she fell back into the wet road.

William pulled the girl steady. “Oh, dash it, Thankful. Why did you jump in to help so fast?”

Thankful laughed and punched his arm. “William Weldon, you’re too serious. You should be more like your nice father who still sits waiting for help.” She went to Weldon and held out both hands. “Come along, Mr. Weldon, we’ll get it right this time, won’t we?”

Weldon grabbed her hands with a chuckle and William helped, too, but less enthusiastically.

“Thank you, young lady,” John Weldon said catching his breath once righted.

Meg grabbed her sister, and the girls hurried off, Meg checking as she went looking for witnesses.

“Well, that was about the most embarrassing way to start the day, Papa,” William complained.

“Oh, William, there are worse things than a little fall,” Weldon said.

“Yes—I’ve experienced them,” William replied.

Weldon flashed him a quick, hurt look. “I know, William. I know. It’s stupid of me to make you come to town. I see how it embarrasses you now with the young ladies.”

William slipped from his father’s hold. “I’m going to take you home. Mother’s got enough of your silly gifts.”

“Does she say that?” Weldon asked.

“Papa, isn’t it enough that we’ve made a scene in front of a tavern? I’m getting a roaring headache. Let’s go home.”

“No! Something’s come in t-t-t-today that I w-want. . .”

William sighed. “Papa, Papa—take a breath. I can read your mind, anyhow. You won’t let us go home till you get what you want.”

Weldon laughed.

They strode into Demarest’s store. “Afternoon, old soldier and young Willy,” Demarest said in a way that grated on William’s nerves so he didn’t reply.

“Do you have my order then?” Weldon asked.

Demarest passed a box over the counter and John pulled a decent sum of money from his pocket.

“These are for you, Willy. Paints and things . . . for your trip. It’s a nice set so I hope you like it.”

Demarest added, “Your father spent quite a lot of time picking out just the right one.”

William touched the smooth wooden box—an artist’s kit. His face tingled with suppressed surprise and gratitude.

John spoke haltingly, but with no stammer. “William, it’s time for you to go. We want you to be happy one day.”

“Papa, I don’t understand,” William whispered. They were sending him off?

“I never should have filled your head with notions about West Point. It was unfair and my dream . . . but you’re different from me, thank God,” Weldon tried to laugh. “You’re more like your mother. You have her talent for art.”

“Art?” William never thought anyone noticed.

“Painting, you know,” Weldon explained. “It got me to thinking that there’s more than one way to join the army—if you’d like to. Your mother’ll worry—she’d keep you here forever . . . but . . . I feel it—you need to be away from me—f-from here.”

“Papa!” William pleaded, glancing at Demarest. “Don’t talk like that!”

The storekeeper disappeared into the back room.

“Papa, I don’t feel that way! Not at all. I won’t leave you. I can’t!”

Weldon took off his cap and smoothed his hair back with a lonesome false laugh. “As much as we’d like it, we can’t keep you forever—we’ve—I mean I’ve given you enough trouble.” He messed William’s hair like he used to. “You’ve turned out brave and good—there’s no need to hide yourself. You remember Captain Bourke, I hope. . .”

“Yes, I think so.”

“He says to send you out for a small visit and see what happens.” John slipped the long box under his arm and rested his other on William’s shoulder. “Good day, Demarest.”

“Good luck, William!” the storekeeper called back.

William helped Weldon out onto the walk. He never did stretch out quite as tall as his father and so he looked up to him. “Papa, I don’t think I’m ready.”

Weldon gave his son a stern look. “By your age I was years in the army.” He handed the box to his son and held tight to William’s other arm. “Come along now. We need to tell your mother you’ve decided to go.”

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.”

 

Top 5 Reasons to Write a Series

 

desk 2Three minutes into sobbing over the ending of my first very long book, a new curiosity arrived about one minor character who pushed William Weldon from a hayloft in childhood. Now as I edit the final chapters of what has become a four book series (THE HOUSE on TENAFLY ROAD being a prequel to the series) I want to celebrate the joys of writing (and reading) multiple books about your characters.

I set out to write one small novella ten years ago, but life took hold of my muse and carried me along through at least 2,200 pages (and more lost to editing) of a series I never imagined when first dipping my foot in the pond.

I offer no hard and fast rules because my natural tendency is to resist such man-made limitations and trends. When I began it was to entertain myself. Quite early on I realized that the books I adored were often quite different from the ones I admired. Adoration has kept me going all of these years later.

LOVE: When a writer falls in love with a character the love is forever. The sad and lost John Weldon swept me through a thousand pages of addiction and the underlying terror of being found truly worthless. As a loving creator I set Weldon up with everything he needed to see his value, but being lost comes with a blindness to certain realities. I believed at the close of the book that my final gift to him was a glimmer of hope in a marriage he’d worked so hard to destroy, but my muse gave him a good and troubled son with a love interest in Thankful Crenshaw. I had to know what would become of them!

LAYERS: A series allows for unmasking the layers of a character or a whole town of characters. A chance remark on page two of a book sprouts a whole series of future events. In WEARY of RUNNING, the first in THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES, a young girl stands up for Buck Crenshaw. Born with troubled eyes she hears the truth in Buck’s voice though no one else does. This small act of kindness hints at Lucy’s sudden emergence as the series heroine she will grow into in the last two novels. Life isn’t chocolate and vanilla. Some readers prefer easy answers, but in a series the writer can play with nuance, growth and regression. When Thankful Crenshaw makes her first bad decision with Lieutenant Fahy the reader knows it won’t be her last. There is a risk here for series writers. Will the reader follow lost characters for long? Will they love them enough to stand by and watch (and cringe) at the way these people seek love and redemption? The risk is well worth it if the author is being true to her muse. Critics be damned.

LAUGHTER: Gallows humor is my cup of tea. It’s not for everyone. “Only kidding” is a family mantra when so often outsiders look askance at the way we joke. The House on Tenafly Road can be a tough read for some. Can one really make addiction funny? Sometimes it is. As the characters grew and I grew to love them more I allowed for more fun and faster pacing. The House on Tenafly Road stands alone as historical fiction while The Tenafly Road Series is more an American period drama. We laugh best with people we know really well–and cry all the more bitterly when these people hurt themselves. William, Buck and Thankful carry a whole lot of hurt, but they make me laugh (especially when I forget what I’ve written and come back to something as if for the first time).

LOSS: Loss and love. The stuff of life. There is something so edifying when you kill off a character. Let me explain. To have a well-loved character die with a Victorian sense of dignity feels like doing what’s right by your kin. The author is the ultimate funeral planner, the writer of letters found tucked in the cubicle of a roll-top desk in the study. The laurel wreaths are hung and mirrors covered to prevent lost spirits. Oh, the many ways to explore grief as time passes! What does it say about Buck or William? How does it change Thankful?

LIFE: A day in the life of a character is sometimes all an author needs to make a novel. I’m not that author. I devour whole lives. I want the beginning, middle and end. I want a prologue and an epilogue. I want growth and maturity, death and rebirth. In writing a series, especially an epic family saga, I’ve lived so many lives in the last ten years. When the series is over (though ideas float around about a new direction in writing) I will be satisfied that I’ve lived life well. Before writing a series I couldn’t honestly say that.

 

And now a note for the READER of my books: Realize that life is a slow burn with sudden temporary gusts to enliven the fire. Yes, THE HOUSE on TENAFLY ROAD is a bit heavy and long, but (in my opinion) worth the buildup. And yes, there are terribly many mistakes made by Buck and friends in THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES but if we take the blinders off we see so much of ourselves in the house fires and dampened reversals. I do believe that endings can be happy and well worth the wait. In the meantime there’s love, loss and laughter. I hope you enjoy the layers and the lives of the (fictional?) people I adore.

And now for the WRITER a quote by Thomas Merton to hearten you on your journey:

“Many poets never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet they are intended to be by God. They never become the person or artist who is called for by all of the circumstances of their individual lives. They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet. They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else’s experiences or write somebody else’s poems.”

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