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Tagged with " historical fiction"
10 May
2017

Interview with “Sarah Martin”

“Sarah Martin” is the key protagonist of my novel. Some readers have posed questions wanting to learn more about Sarah. Curiosity is good, and I’m pleased that readers are engaged enough in the story to wonder a little more about my character’s background.

To answer the questions raised by readers, I’ve conducted a “virtual interview” with Sarah, whose story is based on my real grandmother’s life. I hope this interview will reveal some of the back story and satisfy readers’ curiosity. Sarah’s answers below are as close to the real-life situation as I know.

Since this is historical fiction, you can choose to think of other ways that the character Sarah could have answered the questions! When you read the interview, imagine someone like Sarah and see if you think my interview captures what such a person might say in reply to my questions. People were much more private back then, and it was easy to hide secrets. Of course, this was a key premise of the book!

——————————-

Grandma Scott, portrait

The real Grandma Scott served as inspiration for “Sarah Martin.”

Imagine Sarah Martin at seventy, petite, dressed in a cotton house dress, with a shawl over her shoulders. She takes each step with care and caution as she moves toward the rocking chair. Her gait is uneven as she favors one knee. She wears special shoes to accommodate her crippled feet. Before she looks up, she lowers herself into the chair and smooths her skirt over her knees.  She looks directly at me with a tentative smile and then she looks down.

I begin:

BAS: “Thank you, Mrs. Martin, for agreeing to be interviewed. The readers of “Sarah’s Secret” have asked questions about the background of the story and what happened in your life after the story in the book ends. Do you mind answering a few questions?”

Sarah Martin (SM): [She pulls out a lace trimmed hankie from her sleeve and fingers it in her gnarled hands.] “I’ve never been interviewed like this before. I’m nervous.” [She takes in a deep breath, lifts her head, and smiles.] “Please call me Sarah.  What would your readers like to know?”

BAS: “Let’s talk about Sam. What attracted you to a man who was so much older than you were?”

SM: [Leaning forward in her chair and rocking slowly, her hands quiet in her lap, she smiles.] “Well, he was a very handsome man and I was a spinster school teacher. He was very kind, interesting and a good conversationalist.” [Pausing as if she might be considering her next words] “Of course, now, I don’t know how much he was pulling my leg sometimes.”

BAS: “What do you mean, ‘pulling your leg’”?

SM: [With the firm confidence of a teacher] “That is an expression we use when someone exaggerates and tells stories.”

BAS: “So he didn’t tell you the truth about his life before you met? What did he tell you?”

SM: [Sarcastically] “Not much that was true”.

BAS: “And you accepted enough of what he did tell you to marry him?”

SM: [Slumping in her chair and lowering her eyes, toying with her hankie] “Yes, I trusted him. It turned out I was naïve. I thought he would be a good husband and father. I wanted children of my own. He did give me five wonderful children.” [She stops rocking and straightens her back. With wide eyes and defiance] “I have never told them the truth about Sam. And I don’t want you to either. I want them to feel positively about their father.”

BAS: “Don’t worry your children aren’t around anymore. They won’t find out. But, why didn’t you want them to know the truth?”

SM: [Sounding defensive] “I didn’t want my children to be as embarrassed and humiliated as I was.”

BAS: “Did you know he came from Indiana? And that his father died when he was four? His mother died in the poor house with no one to support her. I think Sam had essentially abandoned his mother to the poor house.”

SM: [With sarcasm] “Abandoning women in his life seems to have been a habit!” [Rocking again in an even voice) “He never mentioned his roots, only that his family was gone and he wanted to create his own family with me. I wanted children too. He was a good husband. My family approved of him although they wondered why he had never been married before.” [Her eyes wide and she lets out a short laugh.) “It turns out there was reason to wonder.” [Suddenly sharp and irritated] “I don’t want to spend time talking about him anymore.”

BAS: “You were left destitute when your husband died. How did you manage?”

SM: [Patiently explaining] “I had hoped to get the Widows Benefits from Sam’s service but that didn’t happen. I went back to teaching. I had been a teacher before we were married. Of course, the older boys helped to support us and we lived very simply.  I have few needs.”

Old-time Classroom Scene

BAS: “But I thought school boards frowned on hiring married women. How did you manage to get hired?”

SM: “Well initially, I was a replacement for my nephew who went into the army. Also, because Sam was gone they accepted me as a single woman. It helped that my family had homesteaded the area and my father was a respected judge. Of course, he died before I could get back to Nebraska. So, he wasn’t any help in dealing with some of the hostile town folk”.

BAS: “Why were they so hostile?”

SM: “There was one man in town who was angry with my family because of a disagreement over water rights.  He vowed to get even so he spread rumors about me and Sam.”

BAS: “Does that have anything to do with why you didn’t get Widows Benefits?”

SM: [Offended] “No, that was a government decision.”

BAS: “But why didn’t you get them? What reason did they tell you? And why didn’t you ever tell anyone”

SM: [Sharply] “That is something I have never discussed with anyone. It was too humiliating.”

BAS: “You were school superintendent of Thomas County. Are you proud to be possibly the first woman school superintendent in Nebraska?”

SM: [Frowns and looks confused] “Proud? I was proud that I did the best job I could. I made some mistakes. I learned how to deal with the problems…but I don’t have any thoughts about being proud to be the first woman. That would be unseemly to feel that way.” [Pausing before she continues] “I had to leave after a few years because my illness got worse. I took my two youngest children to live in Wyoming near my middle son who homesteaded there. They graduated from high school. I am very proud that they went on to college and ultimately graduated. They each supported themselves working to pay for school so it took a few years. All of my children were very good to me and helped support me into my old age. I am proud to have sixteen grandchildren.” [Wistful] “I haven’t even met all my great grandchildren.”

SM: [Quiet, seemingly lost in her memories. Then, abruptly] “That’s enough.  I don’t want to answer any more questions.”

END

Blackboard "History"

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14 Apr
2017

Launch, Crunch, Oh My! Introducing Sarah’s Secret to the World

Airplane banner Sarah's Secret

A Time to Celebrate

The room was bubbling with conversation, laughter and congratulations. The book cover was fabulous and everyone loved the title. I felt energized and pleased. When I read suspenseful excerpts from the story, the audience wanted to know what happens next. Many of my guests engaged me with questions about the story and my journey as an author. I had finally held my very first book launch event, in January 2017.

Despite several guest cancellations due to a winter rain storm of epic proportions, I had an overflow crowd. I autographed and sold many books which was gratifying. Thus, I looked forward to the second launch party in February. But that was not to be. On the last day of January, I tripped and fell, breaking my arm near my wrist.

 A Time to Step Back

Since I needed to have surgery on my arm, I was forced to cancel a week’s vacation in Hawaii and the second book launch party. I solicited help to complete the publication on Amazon Kindle and Ingram Spark; friends came to visit and brought me meals. I had to learn to let go and let others take care of my needs. Once I accepted this slight twist of fate, I felt deep gratitude for the supportive community that surrounded me.

Journey of Independent Publishing

I’ve experienced quite a journey of research, learning how to write historical fiction, writing many drafts and deciding how to publish. Although this was my first novel, writing and editing were familiar from my prior work in non-fiction. But I had no idea what was in store when I decided to self-publish. I joined the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) and learned a lot from the generous and experienced members. Publishing tasks and promotion tasks piled up on my to-do list. Even so I didn’t know about the promotional advantage of scheduling the “Cover Reveal.” I missed understanding about fixing the launch date far enough in advance to have time to send out advance reader copies for review and to set up a pre-order process.

Who’s Coming to the Party?Plan A B C

As I planned the book launch, I was thrilled to have a friend offer a venue for a second launch party. So initially, I sent out invitations via an online event management program for guests to choose one of two dates. That turned out to be complicated and some people overlooked the need for an RSVP to get the venue address resulting in much confusion and frantic emails.

This reminded me that coordinating any sizable event, with RSVPs, is still a big undertaking despite the software and apps that supposedly “simplify” the process. I learned that many people still do not respond to or are a bit baffled by e-invite systems. I had to keep updating my “e-list” manually and respond to emails sent to me directly. I felt anxiety because my invitees were good friends, colleagues and family members. What if I inadvertently had left someone out or forgotten to follow up?

Lessons Learned

Still, despite the challenges and the weather, the first launch party was a great success. Now as we begin to re-schedule the second book party, I look back on what I learned about launching my book:Magazine with Sarah's Secret

  • Most importantly, given my goals for the book, I don’t need to rush to meet anyone else’s expectations or schedules. Stressful deadlines are not worth it. I have enjoyed my slower pace.
  • It is important to plan extra time for key first time tasks that are likely to take longer than expected.
  • There are many ways to promote and launch a self-published book; and all of them don’t necessarily fit for my book.
  • Simplifying the invitation process makes it easier on both the guests and the host.
  • Appreciate colleagues and friends who provide support and laughter for the milestones.
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9 Feb
2017
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Book Review: “Colorado Dream” (The Front Range Series) by Charlene Whitman

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Colorado Dream by Charlene Whitman, book reviewed by Bev ScottMy first book by Charlene Whitman kept me engaged through most of the story to the happy ending.  The writing is excellent and the story line is unique, a young Italian girl comes from New York to commission a violin from an exceptional violin maker in Greeley, Colorado in 1877.  Of course, Angela meets a handsome cowboy, Brett.  Although she is drawn to him she rejects him as uncouth, uncultured and dangerous.  Brett falls hard for her but believes she is too sophisticated and cultured to care for a cowboy.  He is sure she rejects him and will return with her new violin to New York.  A sweet romantic story, but I found the constant description of the physical and emotional attraction between the protagonists as way over-done.  Consequently, I lost interest toward the end.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

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8 Dec
2016
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Book Review: “Fire Lilies” by Cynthia Leal Massey

Fire Lilies, by Cynthia Leal Massey

Reviewed by Bev Scott

The story of two beautiful and rebellious sisters in early twentieth-century Mexico hooked me with the opening chapter, and continued to move at a fast, engaging pace. The loves and passions of these two sisters is intertwined with the political intrigue and upheavals of the Mexican Revolution. The author provides an engaging historical context which adds depth and interest to the unfolding romances of Dolores and Alicia.

Dolores, forced by her father to marry an older man who is cruel and demanding, falls in love with a vaquero working on her husband’s hacienda. She takes amazing risks for her life, defies the expectations of her family’s social class and struggles to control the carnal desires expressed by her sister’s husband.

Alicia, the younger sister refuses a marriage arranged by her father and marries the man she loves but with lower social standing. Her love and trust of her husband results in the birth of fifteen children which is almost beyond belief, but, perhaps tolerable if one has servants. Ultimately, she is forced to cope with unfaithfulness, the disruption of the revolution, death and the loss of her comfortable way of life.

I highly recommend this historical romance set in a little known period of Mexican history.

More information: Cynthia Leal Massey

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1 Sep
2016
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Book Review: “Dakota: Or What’s a Heaven For” by Brenda K. Marshall

Dakota, by Brenda K. MarshallReviewed by Bev Scott

This complex historic epic brings together politicians, the Northern Pacific Railroad, land-hungry men, European immigrants, especially Kristen and her family from Norway, with the main protagonist Frances Bingham in the Dakota Territory of the late nineteenth century. Frances is married to Percy, an educated but lazy man addicted to his flask of brandy. They live in Mr. John Bingham’s house (Percy’s father), with his disabled sister Anna, who Frances admires and longs for unconventional intimacy. Kristen, who becomes the housekeeper, offers her naive observations directly to the reader which reveal many hidden truths of the story. Frances manipulates the members of the household to achieve her own desires only to find in the end that she is rejected, turned away and without any means of support. The story describes the political and economic intrigue and greed which drives the personal and social lives of the Bingham family while crushing many poor immigrant farmers.

The characters are finely drawn by Marshall, leaving the reader with a sense of personal knowledge of not only their behavior but also their motivations, emotions, and secret longings. The descriptions of the landscape provide a photographic image of the Dakota Territory at the time. The tales of manipulation and the exercise of power by the political and economic elite offer a fascinating historic context despite the sometimes boring descriptions.

I found this book to be engaging and engrossing. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and is willing to learn from the complex historic context of the story.

Author: Brenda K. Marshall

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22 Aug
2016

My Final Book Title

A final title! I am excited! Thank you to all of your who contributed ideas, re-wording, themes and ideas.

Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness

Sarah's Secret, final book title

The book title is so important. It must compete with all the other options available to readers…other books as well as other activities. The title must engage potential readers and interest them in reading this book. It needs to show up in search engines and be enticing on the bookstore shelves.

Beyond all this competition, I want a title that reflects the story being told. A story from the West and homesteading days, a secret never revealed and Sarah’s emotional journey. I remember reading a book a few years ago with a title that was very misleading given the content of the book. Perhaps it was chosen for search engine optimization but the inconsistency left me puzzled. Consequently I wanted to hue closer to the actual story, even if it doesn’t have all the key words for search engine optimization.

Thank you for helping me choose a title that comes as close as I think possible to these criteria:

Sarah’s Secret: A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness.

Now on to the cover design.

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8 Aug
2016

Thank You! Now, the Sub-Title

Help Me with My Book Sub-Title!

 

Thank you to those of you who made suggestions and contributed ideas for the title of my new book. You are great friends and supporters! It was so helpful for me to see what you liked and endorsed. I gave it much thought and as a result I have narrowed it to the following title:

SARAH’S SECRET OF BETRAYAL AND FORGIVENESS

BUT I would love your suggestions and thoughts about a sub-title. I am interested in getting either words or images of the West or Western themes. What are your suggestions???

Thanks so much for your help.

Here is a short summary of the book or you can read the longer synopsis of the book I included in my last post requesting your help in choosing the title.

SUMMARY

The story is told from the perspective of two protagonists. In the 1880’s, Sam, irresponsible, lonely and untrustworthy has abandoned those he loves until he seeks redemption and marries Sarah. In 1911, Sara, struggling to find the inner strength to overcome loneliness, poverty and illness to support her children after Sam’s death. After a perilous journey by wagon from New Mexico to Nebraska, she learns of Sam’s betrayal. Will Sarah find forgiveness in her heart and the resolve to accept her new life alone?

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21 Jul
2016

Help Me Choose the Title

I am excited to be finalizing my manuscript for publication. But I can’t decide on the final title. Would you be willing to help? I have listed four of the finalists below. I would be so grateful for your help.

Book Titles, Bev Scott

Which title do you like best?

Let me know which title is most likely to attract your attention if you were looking for a book to read. You might have other ideas or combinations, which is fine, too.  Let me know your choices and your thoughts in the Comments section of the blog.  Thank you!

Here is the synopsis to give you context for the title.

Synopsis

The story is told from the perspective of the two key protagonists, Will and Sarah.

In 1878, Will is on the run after killing a man in a bar room gunfight. He escapes the Texas Rangers by joining a cattle drive headed to Dodge City, as the cook. He struggles with the dilemma of saving his life or attempting to return to his pregnant wife and five children. Just when he thinks he might be able to return home, he is confronted by a bounty hunter who captures him and plans to return him to Forth Worth, Texas to be hanged. Will is freed by his trail boss and a buddy from the cattle drive. He finds himself “riding the owl hoot trail” in Kansas as a wanted man.

Will finds refuge on an isolated homestead with Peggy, a widow and her daughter, Margaret Ann. He helps her with the livestock, building a corral and a “real” house while he hides out from the law. He struggles with his responsibility to return to his wife and family and his increasing attraction to Peggy. When Will learns that his wife and children may have perished in a tornado, he gives in to his desire for Peggy, only to find that he is too afraid to take on the responsibility Peggy asks. He abruptly abandons Peggy and finds himself on the dodge from the law again when he meets an itinerant preacher named John who saves his life. John recognizes Will’s guilt and challenges him to grow up and be a man. When Will struggles with his culpability in abandoning the women in his life, he turns to John who guides him to find redemption. Will decides to homestead in Wyoming ready to settle down with a good woman.

In 1911, Sarah, a widow with five children struggles to find the inner strength to overcome betrayal, loneliness, fears, and self-doubt. Her husband, Sam, thirty years her senior, died with a curious and defiant declaration, “I won’t answer!” Despite poverty and a crippling illness, she is determined to keep her family together, leave New Mexico, and return to Nebraska to be near her parents and siblings.

Horses, great PlainsDuring the perilous journey home, Sarah must face her fears as a woman traveling without the protective company of a man, confront her son’s sometimes reckless attempts to be the man of the house, and cope with real dangers which threaten their lives. Still grieving from the loss of her husband, she ventures into unknown territory desperate to find help for her sick infant daughter and then learns of the death of her beloved father.

When Sarah returns to Nebraska, she receives staggering news which complicates her efforts to support her children. She is shocked, angry and emotionally devastated. Since she is attempting to establish herself in the community as a teacher, she believes she must keep her husband’s betrayal a secret even from her own family.

Title Choices for You!

Again, here are the titles I’m considering for the book. Let me know what you think in the Comments below. Which of the following seems to fit the story line best? Do you have any other thoughts, ideas or critiques of the title choices that could help me? Or do you have an completely different title you might want to suggest?

I’m all ears!

A. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: A Western Tale

B. A Family Secret: Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness

C. “I Won’t Answer!” A Secret from the American West

D. Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: She Kept the Secret

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13 Jul
2016

“Killing My Darlings?!”

old cemetery headstoneAdvice, often passed along to novice writers, includes that we have to learn to “kill our darlings.” This advice has been attributed to many famous authors such as Falkner, Wilde and King. As writers, we can become very attached to what we consider a brilliant piece of writing, a scene or a character description in earlier drafts, that no longer fits or is not appropriate for the story as it has evolved. Recently, as I worked through needed manuscript revisions and feedback from “early readers” and my editor, I came to the realization that I needed to “kill one of my darlings”. Let me share with you an excerpt from the original story which takes place in Texas in 1878:

 

Susanna

Will stepped up to the door of the tiny house off the noisy main street in Fort Worth… The door opened, he saw the flash of welcome in Susanna’s deep green eyes as a smile spread over her face. He gathered her up to carry her inside, kicking the door shut behind him. With her arms around his neck, he buried his face in her copper hair breathing deeply the sweet fragrance that always seemed to float around her. She giggled as he carried her to the back room depositing her on the bed. He began fumbling to unbutton her dress with one hand while he dropped his overalls with the other. His withered finger didn’t help.
“Let me help you.” She laughed as she finished the buttons and dropped her dress revealing her smooth unblemished skin the shade of Colorado alabaster.
Afterward, he felt more relaxed as he teased her, “I bet you let all the cowboys who come along into your bed like this?” 
Susanna lowered her eyes guiltily and then burst into the laughter that sounded like bells ringing. “You shouldn’t care. You’ll go back to your wife in a few days anyway. You can visit again the next time you’re in town.” 

I resisted this act of murder for a long time, despite advice that I should “kill this darling.” I liked Susanna’s independence.

As a beautiful woman living on her own, Susanna was used to adoration from the cowboys who came into town. Most of them would never settle down to get married. Besides, she liked her own freedom and independence. Of course, the stuffy, nose-in-the-air women in town whispered about her. But, she didn’t care. Their opinions didn’t matter to her. Their lives were controlled by weak men who tried to act powerfully by ordering their wives around. She didn’t want to cater to the demands of such a man every day.  

“Killing” Susanna

This story continues when a former lover/patron of Susanna’s barges into her house, Will gets involved in a gunfight, Susanna is killed and the Texas Rangers are looking for Will. I thought the story helped explain Will’s later behavior as he runs from the law. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that instead of explaining Will’s later behavior, this story only made him more puzzling and really didn’t explain his character at all. I did need to “kill my darling”, dump Susanna and do a major re-write.

But what would be better? The other problem was that “killing” this story meant that something needed to replace it. It is easier to delete than to create. I finally had an idea and as it unfolded, I was excited. When I finished writing, I realized I had a much better story. I needed to overcome my resistance and “kill my darlings” to write a better story.

The Revision

Here is the opening of the revised story:

The hay was tickling his nose but Will didn’t dare sneeze or even move. The voices and footsteps were coming toward theGhost town, Old West scene stables. Will held his breath and wished his pounding heart wasn’t so loud. His throat was dry, his body tense.
“I thought I saw him run this way.” One voice sounded tentative.
The second voice responded chuckling, “Didn’t expect a hay-shoveler to be that fast with a gun.”
“Well, no-one’s going to miss Graham too much, not even his wife. He was a mean SOB,” the first voice spoke again.
A third voice spoke up, “Yea, that’s true but that sod buster did kill him. Maybe he’s not really a sodbuster. Bein’ a Texas Ranger, I…”
“Hey, looking for someone?” He had heard that voice before. Will tried to place it. 
Then the third voice answered, “Yeah, mister, we’re looking for a sod buster in overalls and a vest. Bushwacked a man in the saloon. Have you seen him?”
Will’s breath caught in his throat. Did this guy see him dive into the hay? Who was he anyway? Would he turn him in? He was worried and listened intently. 

As a writer, have you had to dump a favorite passage of your own? Have you had to “kill your darlings”? Or as a reader, do you wish that a writer had deleted a section that didn’t add to the plot or make any sense?

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6 Jul
2016
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Book Review: “Bodie” by Anne Sweazy-Kulju

Book review: Bodie, by Anne Sweazy-Kulju

Reviewed by Bev Scott

The story of Bodie, an abandoned mining town in the California desert, knits together the violent and mysterious events of 1879 and two Oregon sisters in 1993. The sisters, who share the same vivid dream set in Bodie, seek professional guidance from an academic therapist-hypnotist to understand their dream. This meeting triggers a series of events: clandestine meetings in Washington, DC, murder, and the suspense-filled tracking of the sisters by a hired killer in the abandoned town of Bodie. Interwoven in the story of the sisters is the psychic or intuitive ability of one of the sisters and her daughter.

The descriptions are vivid with convincing characters and active dialogue. Bodie is an engrossing story which moves at a good pace. The historical background of Bodie is well researched and provides intriguing twists to the story. However, I found it somewhat confusing to switch back and forth in chapters with different characters, settings and times. The author’s approach to the story does seem to require this chapter switching. Perhaps it would be helpful to readers like me who get confused if the chapter headings (which give dates and location) more clearly and boldly announced the new context.

Despite these issues, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The complexities of the plot provide an absorbing read.

A complimentary copy of the book Bodie was provided to me by the author with no obligations.

Author website: Anne Sweazy-Kulju.

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