When The Worlds Runs You…

Dear HFA Readers,

It has been a crazy life.

Work

Directing

Graduations

Illnesses

Deaths

Some days the world runs me. Does it run you? The things you love-that ignite your passions, that take you away from it all, or that inspire you – are set aside as your world runs you. You don’t really know where you are going, only that you are going and you are going there fast. Before you know it time, precious time, was out of you and  you find yourself thinking you can’t pick up the things you once cherished so much.

But

You do.

Your head is bowed with guilt and your shoulders feel the weight of shame.

But

You pick them up. Dust off the dirt and dust of forgotten passions and begin again, praying your skills are renewed, your readers forgiving and time gentle on you.

If you understand this process. If this has been you. Then I know you understand me and I embrace you, friend. And I cheer you on! I say, throw off that shame and guilt. Pick up not only your passions, but your head and press forward, confidently. You are running this now! You know where you want to go and are mapping out the way. Let you energy be filled up again and run! I am running again. My limps and muscles are sore, but I am smiling.

Until next time…run!

 

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Great First Lines of Novels

snoopytyping I am taking a writing course offered through Masterclass.com about novel writing that author, Jim Patterson, leads. In lesson number 10 he discusses the importance of the first line of a novel. He explains that the first line of your novel  must grab the reader and then suck them into your story. It needs be so captivating that the reader must read on. I couldn’t agree more!

This, however, got me thinking about some of my favorite books and the novels we herald as the “Greats”. What were their opening lines? Did their lines get a hold of me, like Jim says they should? Take a look at the list I have compiled below and tell me, do these opening lines grip you hard or are they hardly gripping? Send me a message about what you  think and include your your favorite opening line.

First Lines

“It wasn’t a very likely place for disappearances, at least at first glance.” Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

3016 Shortlist for the David J.Langum, Sr Prize in American Historical Fiction

2016 shortlist for the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction. The winner and finalist will come from this list and will be announced on our website, http://www.langumtrust.org, in approximately one month.
Barkskins, by Annie Proulx (Scribner)

Champion of the World, by Chad Dundas (Putnam)

Cigar Factory: A Novel of Charleston, by Michele Moore (Univ. of South Carolina Press)

Exile on Bridge Street, by Eamon Loingsign (Three Rooms Press)

Fates and Traitors: A Novel of John Wilkes Booth, by Jennifer Chiaverini (Dutton)   

A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, by Stephen Harrigan (Knopf)

Ginny Gall, by Charlie Smith (Harper)

I Will Send Rain, by Rae Meadows (Henry Holt)
The Trust will announce the shortlist for the Langum Prize in American Legal History/Biography in the first week of February, and the shortlist for the Malott Prize in Recording Community Activism will follow in the first week of March.  

Getting Back on the Proverbial Horse

Writing- it’s a discipline that,like exercise, is best if practiced consistently. Let’s be honest though-it is not easy to be consistent. So many things vie for our attention, our time, our efforts and our talents. Some things legitimately require out focus- such as our “real” jobs, our children and, in some cases, our health. And when these things pull us out of our routine of writing, it becomes more difficult to find our way back to our desk, back into the story we had been writing and back into the lives of our characters. In fact, the longer we are away from them the more awkward and intimated we are by the idea of writing. It’s like a friendship you haven’t connected with for a while. You miss them, enjoyed your time with them but now you are ashamed you haven’t connected in a while. The idea of starting up that conversation makes your stomach feel like a thousand bees are swarming around your innards. And you tell yourself, it’s stupid. It’s been too long, they won’t want to be with you because you’ve been such a terrible friend. Nevertheless, you take a deep breath, send them a short text and before you know it, you are right back where you left off.

So, dear reader and fellow writer, if you are like me and it has been far too long since you wrote anything (besides the cheque to pay for bills and lessons for your children) that take a deep breath and write a few words on that page. Before you know it, you will be writing as though no Time has been lost. Get back on the horse and enjoy the ride!

I’m up for an Award but I need votes to win!

my dear friend (unbeknownst to me) entered me to win an award for helping her face cancer. I’m presently 1 of 10 in Canada up for the award but now I need your help! Please go to the link below and vote for me (click on the reaf more of the story-My angel Kelly-Lynne and then on the vote button). Then share the link with anyone and everyone to help me win. Thanks so much for your suppor!

http://www.facingcancer.ca/contest/co-survivor-award-entries

 

Sneak Peak

04_Outrageous_Blog Tour Banner_FINALHello my wonderful HFA readers! Yes, it’s true I am giving you another sneak peek into another Historical Fiction Novel.  Enjoy a glimpse into the world of Victoria Woodhull as seen through eyes, penned by Neal Katz in his novel, Outrageous – The Victoria Woodhull Saga Vol.1

Before you sneak that peek, I thought you’d like to know a Little about Neil Katz

03_Neal Katz

Neal Katz is a semi-retired, serial entrepreneur, CEO with a passion for women rights. He lives a life based on self-awareness and Love. He practices Yoga, meditates daily, has taught A Course in Miracles, produced Oregon wines, enjoys being a gourmet chef, recites Vedic sutras, and writes his own inspirational poetry.

The saga of Victoria Woodhull appeales to Neal, as it serves three purposes. First, the story provokes public awareness of the historical and continuing denigration and subjugation of gender prejudice. Second, the tale exposes the historical basis for the manipulation of the free markets of stocks, bonds and commodities. Third, the story shows how existing financial and political power structures used prison and seizure of assets to prevent innovation and social change. Victoria Woodhull overcame all these obstacles in a remarkable life.

Neal chose to write in first person using Victoria’s words, thoughts, and point of view to tell the tale, inviting the reader to see through her eyes. The style is magic realism along the lines of Allende, Marquez, and Kathleen McGowan (The Magdalene Trilogy). This is an expression of the HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality championed by Emma Watson, and Neal proudly proclaims himself a male feminist!

Neal has pledged fifty percent (50%) of his author’s royalties from book sales and all ancillary revenues, including foreign print distribution and Hollywood rights to a foundation formed in tribute to Victoria Woodhull and her passion for woman rights. The foundation will promote and prove programs for the empowerment and sustainable economic improvement of women, especially single mothers.

At the End of this Post you will find links to the author’s website, Facebook and Twitter account. PLUS where you can purchase your own copy of Outrageous!

02_Outrageous

And here it is…the Sneak Peak !

From Chapter 22

Torn Assunder

Before I realized it, I was standing and everyone was looking at me. I looked around and peered into the surprised, curious faces in the room. I tried to say something, but I was overwhelmed by the realization that I had never spoken my thoughts, or feelings, amidst such august people. I tasted bile at the back of my throat and felt my heart racing.

I made a choice. Instead of getting lost in my apprehensions, I focused on the roiling anger in my gut and the pain I felt in my womb. I wanted my thoughts spoken. I wanted to be heard. I turned to Mr. Frederick Douglass and addressed him.

“Good Mr. Douglass, you are a man of high education and broad experience.” I stopped and look around the room and nodded at each one present. “In fact, all of you are.” …

“I must ask you if there is anything that I could do or say that would fully convince you that I completely understand and appreciate your circumstance?

“Were I to tell you that I can fully imagine the pain and suffering of the lash whipping on my back and tearing my skin away, would it assuage your pain? No, sir, I think not!

“What if I were to proclaim, with God as my witness, that I see all the ugly, craven, and disgusting indignity, opprobrium, injustice, and inhumanity with which my race has treated your race? Would that make your circumstance any less intolerable? Respectfully, no, sir. I think not! …

“With your incredible ability at persuasion, could you convince me that you know what it feels like to be raped by your father at age nine, sold into prostitution to feed your family and later by your husband? To be repeatedly used and abused as an object created solely for the pleasure of men? No, sir! I think not!” …

“Mr. Douglass, I stand before you both naked and unabashed as a child of God to tell you openly and without hesitation, that I will never be able to fully understand your plight as a Negro male. It is not within my powers.” I looked directly into the eyes of the powerful advocate before me. I appealed to his humanity and begged of him. “I ask you, most educated of men, will you not confess, with the same innocence and revealed truth, that you will never understand the circumstance of being a woman?” 

From Chapter 23

The Gold Scandal of 1869, Too Big to Fail

I was dumbfounded. Yet, there it was, a single check for Seven Hundred and Ninety Thousand dollars! I didn’t know what to say or think. The Commodore gestured around the room. He pointed at my inability to voice a single word and exulted to the assembled crowd.

“Well, I’ve finally found the way to make ’er speechless!” He beamed his radiance upon me. “Ininit enough, girl?”

Everyone in the room laughed. The men laughed to accommodate the Commodore, the women out of nervousness. I tried to clear the fog from my head. I thought I’d better sit down, but held tight onto Tennessee instead. Finally a thought came to me.

“What is Woodhull, Claflin, & Co., a Registered Brokerage?”

The Commodore’s voice cracked, like thunder in a storm. “Ye all see, takes ’er but a moment to find her sea legs!” He laughed along with everyone else. “I didn’t deduct from your funds for costs. The company is owned by you and Tennessee, equal shares, if you’ll sign the agreements on the table. Ye ladies are the first brokerage firm in the history of the United States that is founded, funded, and owned by women alone. Heaven help us!”

Applause broke out. Tennessee could not support my weight. Colonel Blood helped me sit down. I looked up at our benefactor and started to weep openly. Tears of gratitude and joy streamed down my cheeks and I tasted the sweetness of salt on my lips.

“Now, now, young lady, ye are the principal of a registered brokerage firm now. Ye need to know we men feel helpless when one of yer kind starts weepin’. We don’ know what to do. Now, now, no more tears.”

“We’ll use the firm to help women gain financial strength.” I declared.

“Aye, I’m sure ye will.” Cornelius Vanderbilt smiled his big broad smile and gently patted me on my shoulder like a kind father. “Besides, we’ve work to do tonight and I’ll be needin’ yer help and that of yours, Miss Tennessee Celeste Claflin.” 

To purchase a copy of Outrageous, visit Barnes & Noble, Amazon, iTunes

Visit the author on his Website, Facebook or Twitter

Until Next Time…Read & Read Some More!

Sneak Peek at the novel – The Darkness That Could Be Felt: Treasure of the Raven King Book One

Hello HFA! I am excited to give you a sneak preview of C. Wayne Dawson’s novel, The Darkness that Could Be Felt: Treasure of the Raven King Book One

Here’s a little about C.Wayne Dawson

wayne dawsonWayne Dawson writes for The Williamson County Sun, and has written for History Magazine, Focus On Georgetown, and SAFVIC Law Enforcement Newsletter. He also founded Central Texas Authors, a group that helps authors promote and market their books through media and collaborative efforts. Wayne  was a Professor of History for ten years and created the Chautauqua program at Mt. San Antonio College. There, he invited scholars, government officials and activists from clashing perspectives to engage one another in a rational, but passionate public forum.

The discussions took on the burning issues of the day: Immigration, Islam and Democracy, Israel or Palestine, The Patriot Act, and Human Trafficking. Attendance ranged from 200-350 people, including students, faculty and the general public. These events attracted representatives from the press, several radio stations, and Telemundo television.

In 2009, the students of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society honored him with the Glaux Mentor Teacher of Year Award for his efforts in bringing the Chautuaqua program to Mt. SAC.

He recently completed writing his historically based novel, Vienna’s Last Jihad and begun his second, Treasure of the Raven King.

A Brief Synopsis of his novel – The Darkness Could Be Felt

The Darkness FrontCover (5)Women are disappearing off the streets of Vienna in 1684 and Captain Mathis Zieglar vows to find out why. Defying orders to break off his investigation, he discovers they are being trafficked into the Muslim slave market. His only hope of ransoming them from a life of abuse is to find the treasure of the Raven King. The treasure is a secret code lodged inside an ancient text that will rock the Ottoman and Holy Roman Empires to their foundations.

Now for the Sneak Peek You All Have Been Waiting to Read….

 

Chapter One

November, 1462

Wallachia, near Castle King’s Rock

“The Mohammedans have found us, Sire.”

Vlad Dracula, War Lord of Wallachia and Transylvania, jerked his horse to a stop. Dracula snapped his head around to look at his companion. “How close, Grigore?”

An excited buzz broke out amongst the warlord’s ten bodyguards. They came to a halt, sending up billows of dough-colored dust that contrasted with the forest’s darkness. Sweat dripped down their leather armor. Their horses pawed the ground impatiently, straining to resume their canters.

Grigore steadied himself with one hand against the back of his panting horse and caught his breath. He turned his steed around and pointed to a mountain pass five hundred feet up the road. “They’re there, Prince. If we pause for a short rest, they’ll be upon us and have our necks.”

“Damn. Reversing our horse’s shoes didn’t throw them off our trail for long,” gasped a trooper beside Dracula, fighting to control a mount that grew nervous as the pitch of desperation in the men’s voices intensified.

Dracula nodded as he tightened his grip on the reins. He focused on the road climbing sharply to the west. “No one can outrun Turkish cavalry forever, Luca. The spahis never quit.”

Cold hatred stiffened him in his saddle. He would love dashing into his pursuers and tearing into as many as possible before they could bring him down. It would be sweet revenge. They had taunted his fiancée until she flung herself from the castle window to her death. But no, not now. There was something more important to finish, something that would deliciously even the score.

Dracula called out to a man holding the reins of a packhorse. Bulging saddlebags draped over the animal’s sides. “Imre, you and Cosmin must take the next road away from us and keep the treasure safe.”

Dracula looked toward a basket lashed to the side of a mule, which was tied to the packhorse. A small head with wide eyes peered over the brim. “And take my son with you. Remember, you hold the fate of Christendom in your hands. Make your way to Buda and meet me there.”

As the men rode away with the boy, Dracula pulled chainmail over his head and tossed it to the side of the road. “Lighten your load, brothers. If we can make it to the next pass, the Hungarian army will save us.”

The small band of Dracula’s retainers cast aside their armor, then spurred their sweating mounts up the grade.

His heart pounding like a drum, Dracula racked his memory. There was a special trail up there somewhere. He’d outwit the Mohammedans, he always did.

Halfway up the grade, an arrow flew over his shoulder. Another struck Grigore in the leg.

“Radu.” Dracula cursed. “My brother has shown the Turks the shortcut.”

A minute later, a band of Turkish spahis emerged from the woods close behind them. Luca screamed as an arrow knocked him off his horse. The shafts buzzed closer as the men approached the top of the ridge.

Suddenly, the Turks halted and the arrows stopped. Rows of mounted soldiers in black armor appeared at the crest, led by a standard-bearer holding a brilliant red flag with a raven in the middle flanked by diagonal squares containing lions. Archers raised their bows, ready to let their arrows fly over the Wallachians and into the Turks behind them.

“God’s mercy,” one of Dracula’s companions cried out. “The Hungarian Black Army.”

Shouts of greetings roared from the rescuers, who met the refugees and led them to a base camp in a clearing on a nearby ridge. As the Wallachians dismounted, a heavily armored man emerged with a measured pace from a tent, flying the army banner.

Dracula cast his reins aside and opened his arms as if to embrace the man. “General von Brandeis, how good to—”

Von Brandeis raised his hand to block his visitor’s embrace. “Throw this man in chains.”

***

June, 1466, Four Years Later.

Beneath the king of Hungary’s summer palace in Visegrad, Hungary

 

“Walk quicker, daughter, we haven’t all day,” Father Adan urged.

Ilona stumbled haltingly over the rough earth, steadying herself against the tunnel’s uneven earthen walls. She could barely keep up with the wraith-like figure in front of her who stepped rapidly down the descending passage as surely as if he lived there. After tripping over stones twice, she lowered her flickering candle to light her path. But her carefulness only slowed her pace. Father Adan soon pulled ahead and disappeared, the winding tunnel cutting off his light.

Ilona shivered. Was the priest leaving her behind? Despite her fear, she had to pause a moment to massage her sore foot. She lowered her headpiece to her shoulders and felt dampness soaking the hem of her dress. Disgusted, she rolled the skirt up to her knees. The candlelight revealed a small stream trickling down the tunnel’s floor. “Another miserable irritation,” she muttered.

She drew in a long breath, inhaled the musty air, and fought her anxiety. She would make it to the Tower of Solomon if it killed her. Then she would cast her net around the legendary man everyone traveled to Visegrad to gawk at. Her charms would overcome him and he would make her his consort. From now on, whenever visitors from Venice to Paris visited, they would speak of the beautiful Princess Ilona. “Then I’ll be rescued from my wretched existence,” she vowed.

Father Adan’s voice drew near again, speaking with restrained intensity. “Now, now, daughter, your life is far from wretched. Come along. We have to make this quick or we’ll be noticed and have to face the king’s wrath. If he finds out I showed you this tunnel, he’ll put me in prison and not one as nice as the one we’re going to.”

“Father, you are a true saint for helping me. The day will come when I’ll thank you by getting you promoted to a higher position in the church. You are an incredibly wonderful man.”

Father Adan grunted wearily as if he had heard it all before. “Yes, yes. Let’s just finish this.”

Ilona resumed walking. The priest slowed a little, enabling them to stay together. Finally, they reached an enlarged area containing an iron gate lit up by wall torches and guarded by two sword-bearing sentinels.

Father Adan motioned to Ilona to retreat into the tunnel behind them. His voice rose into a scolding falsetto, something he did in times of stress. “Lower your veil before they see your face. Don’t say a word until we reach our destination. Remember, our purpose is to bring Vlad Dracula into the arms of the Church.”

Well, Ilona would see to it he’d fall into someone’s arms, all right. She tugged the veil over her face. Her heart pounded as they re-approached the soldiers.

“Father Adan?” one of them called out.

The priest nodded, reached into his cassock, and pressed coins into an officer’s hands. He swung the barred door open, revealing a narrow stone staircase leading upward.

“Shouldn’t we ask who this woman is?” another sentry asked his superior.

“You should trust the priest and be satisfied with your portion of the fee,” the officer snapped.

Father Adan and Ilona ascended the steps to the first floor. The priest paused at the top of the staircase, slowly opened a door, and looked both ways down a hallway. He motioned to Ilona. They went a few feet down to their right until they were at the foot of a winding set of steps. They climbed until they reached a landing on the top floor.

There they encountered five guards, three of whom had nodded off in their chairs above mugs spilled over the floor. Two others wearing blackened breastplates stood alert, each one steadying a gleaming halberd. Adan turned to Ilona, warned her by raising his finger to his lips, and then paid the two men.

The soldiers turned around, opened a grilled door, and stepped inside. They reached for curtains hanging from an arch inside, but an erect figure threw the folds open before they could act. The man had a thin, wolf-like head divided by an aquiline nose over a brushy mustache that rose in a grin. “Father Adan, Princess Ilona,” his voice seemed to echo inside his throat.

Ilona’s legs began to buckle, she stared blankly, transfixed like a bird caught in a viper’s gaze. Who else could this be but Vlad Dracula? She gasped. His eyes sparkled like emeralds.

Father Adan recovered sufficiently to point excitedly to the sleeping guards. “Quiet. For heaven’s sakes, you’ll wake them.”

“Small chance of that.” Vlad laughed with disdain. “Those drinks would knock out a gargoyle.”

He stepped forward, took Ilona by her hand, and kissed it. “You honor me with your visit, Princess.”

Surprised Vlad recognized her, Ilona nodded, and then slid her hands sensuously down the sides of her neck where they found the edges of her scarf. She brushed it and her veil to the floor with one motion, exposing an embroidered beige dress. The neckline plunged low, exposing rounded breasts that rose and fell with each breath.

Dracula’s eyes startled her; they seemed to shine with satisfaction rather than excitement, not the reaction she got from other men. Was he not pleased?

“Forgive her, St. Agnes.” Adan rushed to Ilona, stopping only to scoop up her veil and scarf. He attempted to put them back on. “Modesty, woman.”

“St. Agnes never found a husband, Father.”

They struggled briefly until she waved her hands in disgust and gave in. She would let him have his way for the moment. There would be plenty of time for Vlad in the future.

“Let me speak to him,” she pleaded as Father Adan dropped the veil over her.

The priest folded his arms and retreated, but only a few steps. “You may speak as long as you remain properly dressed, daughter.”

Ilona sighed and turned to the man she came to visit. “Vlad Dracula, my visit here was supposed to be a secret between Father Adan and myself. How did you recognize me beneath my veil?”

Dracula’s smile exposed a row of white teeth. “A man who inherits his throne from his father learns very little about how to rule.” He heaved a long steady breath and moved close to her, his voice low. “But a warlord, a voivode, must earn the right to rule. He can only survive if he knows the future before it happens. And then, he must seize the moment.”

Vlad’s energy gripped Ilona and held her. She struggled in vain to talk. Finally, she squeaked out a breathless sentence. “Tell me how you knew about my coming, Voivode.”

Vlad drew back Ilona’s veil and put his lips to her ear. “I share my powers only with those who share theirs with me.”

She put her hands to her tingling throat. After taking a breath, she whispered back. “Of what benefit will it be for me to share what I have with you?”

Vlad stepped back, grabbed the edges of the curtain, and closed them, leaving only his head visible. “We have much to discuss, Princess. Until that time, dream of tomorrow.”

The drapery closed, and he vanished

 

Sooo Dear HFA reader if you want to read more please visit the following links to find out where you can purchase a copy of this novel and/or to learn more about the author.

Author’s Website

FACEBOOK

Twitter

Amazon

Thanks for stopping by,

Until Next Time…read on!

Sneak Peak at the novel, Searching for Vivian by Babette Hughes

Hello HFA! I am excited to give you a sneak preview of Babette Hughes novel, Searching for Vivian.

Here’s a little about Babette Hughes

Born in Cleveland Ohio, Babette Hughes grew up in the time of Prohibition and Babette Hughesbootleggers. Her father was one of the first bootleggers in the country, and was murdered by the Mafia in a turf war at the age of 29. Babette was just two at the time.

Writing has allowed her to draw from her unusual life experiences to create her characters and tell their stories (and sometimes cautionary tales) in vivid detail.

Now 93, she writes every day with fluidity and grace. “The truth is liberating, but sometimes elusive.” She explains. “I’m always looking for it and how to best write about it, and I probably always will.”

Searching for Vivian Overview

In 1966, seventeen year old Vivian Russell disappeared like smoke. The seemingly senseless murder of her parents in their home in Cleveland, Ohio was as unexplainable as her vanishing act in its aftermath. Her younger sister, Emma-traumatized by the horrific event- grows into a capable and relentless investigator who decides to do whatever it takes to find her. Her search takes her through the turbulent sixties- Viet Nam, The Black Panthers, dead ends, and bank jobs. Along the way, she finds herself and, whether she is prepared for it or not, the truth.

Chapter One Preview!

9781939828569 copySEARCHING FOR VIVIAN

By

Babette Hughes

Chapter 1

1966

 

The Cleveland Press called the murders senseless because the Russells had no known enemies and lord knows there wasn’t much to steal; all they had was a pickup, an old black and white TV with one snowy channel and little else. A detective was quoted in the article speculating that perhaps the killers had gone to the wrong house in some kind of a tragic mistake. But the baffling part was that the murdered couples’ oldest daughter, Vivian, 17, home from school with a cold that day, had vanished like smoke.

But events like that, tragic and bizarre as they are, are soon forgotten, except perhaps when someone passes the house and wonders whatever happened to Vivian Russell. Sometimes someone hints knowingly that the Russells were drug dealers, or fences, or Russian spies. (The more years that transpired the more exotic the theories.) But for the most part people went on about their lives and, of course, as the years passed there were those too young or too new in town to have even heard of the murders or of Vivian’s disappearance.

Even her sister, ten-year-old Emma, seemed to leave it behind. Even from the beginning. Even from the first day when she came home from school on a sunny Tuesday afternoon and found neighbors staring behind yellow police tape. Her parents’ bloody bodies were being carried on gurneys into an ambulance. Her big sister was gone. Struggling with her own grief, her Aunt Eleanor couldn’t understand the child’s stoicism and as the weeks and months passed she worried about her more and more. It isn’t natural, she complained to her husband–it isn’t normal for a ten year old not to cry and carry on, not to grieve. The child acted as if she were just visiting her aunt and uncle as she sometimes did when her parents were alive; as if she hadn’t just lost her mother and father; as if her own sister hadn’t vanished into thin air. Although Thad Fisher was as shocked as anyone else over his in-laws’ murders, the truth is that he never really liked them and was secretly rather pleased to have them out of his life. They were damn hippies as far as he was concerned and it infuriated him the way Ellie ran over there all the time when they were alive. He had no objection to taking Emma in— where could the kid go? She was a quiet, well-behaved ten-year-old, a bit dull for his taste, but a small eater and so quiet you forgot she was around—actually an easy kid for a childless couple past middle age to raise. And she was someone Ellie could chatter to and leave him in peace.

Still, it annoyed him the way the child refused to let Ellie out of her sight, following her from room to room, even coming into their bedroom at night in her white nightgown like an undersized ghost. After he locked their bedroom door she wailed and beat on it until she fell asleep on the floor and Thad carried her into her own bed.

Ellie had eagerly welcomed Emma’s arrival. Like many childless women she envied her friends who had children; she even envied the problems and commotion and mess they complained about. She thought of her sister’s murder and Emma’s sudden arrival as a kind of terrible deal from God; she lost her sister but received the child she had prayed for. Quiet and small, transparent almost, Emma seemed to take up less room than the beautiful big doll Ellie had bought her the day after she arrived, which Emma ignored. So she offered her a puppy and then a kitten, but the child merely shook her head.

She tried to get her to talk about what happened. She tried to get her to ask questions about that terrible day. She wished the girl would grieve so she could comfort her. Or just cry. Something. Anything. But it was as if her family had been mysteriously wiped from Emma’s mind like an eraser on chalkboard leaving the same cloudy, formless residue.

Ellie took Emma to a psychiatrist who specialized in treating traumatized children; a Doctor Isabelle Dryer. She drove her to her office on Fairmount Boulevard twice a week until Dr. Dryer told her that although Emma came dutifully, she simply would not talk about the loss of her family and that after almost six months any further sessions would be a waste of Mrs. Fisher’s money and her time.

Her aunt went to PTA meetings and teacher conferences and Home Room Nights like a mom and bragged to Thad about Emma’s A’s. (Who didn’t seem very impressed at this information; his disapproval of Emma’s parents hung in the air like fog.) Emma always hurried home after school to be with her Aunt Ellie. She liked her quick hugs and jokes; she liked seeing her in the shining, good-smelling kitchen in her high heals and sheer hose that she wore even around the house, even to the super market. (Ellie had beautiful legs the way some heavy-set women do.) She liked the way she sat down with her at the round yellow kitchen table while they talked and ate her freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Evenings, as Ellie prepared dinner, Emma followed her around the kitchen, putting lids back on jars, returning milk to the refrigerator, wiping the counter, sweeping the floor as the Mixmaster whirled, driving Ellie crazy.

She put up with Emma’s constant presence wondering if the child associated disorder with the blood and violence of her parents’ deaths. The child lived in a state of discipline and order, doing her homework, volunteering to clean blackboards and empty trash at school, cleaning her room, pressing her blouses. Where there were no rules, she made them up as if she had to be this perfect child or she would get lost in the world like Vivian.

Her room was always in perfect order, clothes hung according to type, (school, gym class, dressy for dinners out with her aunt and uncle) color and season; the hangers all uniformly plastic, her shoes lined up by season and color (and later heal height although they didn’t exceeded an inch and a half). She catalogued her aunt’s recipes by soups, appetizers, entrees and desserts, and then alphabetized them within each category. She began to arrange them again by calorie and cholesterol count until her aunt stopped her. She organized and indexed the Fishers’ record collection according to type (classical, jazz, show tunes, operas, soloists.) She arranged books on their shelves not only by fiction, non-fiction and authors, but also by genre’s: mystery, horror, biography, (separated from autobiography) science fiction, politics, literary classics. She even created a section of books made into films. Her aunt and uncle shook their heads at each other and refused to let her into their closets or Thad’s den.

Emma did her best to act like a normal kid so everyone would leave her alone; still she refused to sign up for extra-curricular activities at school, her fantasy life more interesting than any chess club or work on the school paper. In a favorite daydream Uncle Thad died of a mysterious illness leaving her Aunt Ellie all to herself. When the telephone rang she imagined it was Vivian calling to say she was back from a trip to San Francisco or New York. Sometimes it was England. She pretended that her parents were divorced and that one of them would come back for her, or that they sailed to England on the Queen Mary like Patricia in her Social Studies class who stood up and bragged about her parents’ trip. Sometimes she pretended that her parents were both killed in a respectable car crash that wasn’t their fault. Half aware that her daydreams were an excessive and neurotic substitute for reality, they were so sweet and satisfying that if they also made her a bit strange she didn’t mind.

 

If you curiosity is peaked, then please visit Babette’s author page, join her on facebook or to purchase a book visit amazon.

For a good review of this novel visit Huffingtonpost.

On the Subject of Subject Matter- Guest Author Blog Post

 

On the Subject of Subject Matter

by Joan Schweighardt

joanschweighardt

When I was a little kid I loved to draw. I drew all the time. The problem was that sometimes there were things I wanted to draw, badly, and sometimes I was at my wits end trying to come up with new ideas. I would ask my mother, What should I draw? Cooking, cleaning, doing for my siblings or my father, she could not take the time to sit down at the table and puzzle out a vision for me. She would say the first thing that came into her head. For instance, she might come to a near-halt midway across the living room floor, the plastic laundry basket crushed to her chest, and glance out the window and see our neighbor Mr. D. outside with his hedge cutters, again (he was a fanatic). “Draw Mr. D.,” she’d say, and in a flash, before I had time to protest, she’d be gone.

Her ideas were always that bad. But if nothing else occurred to me, then I would eventually take my pad and pencils outside and sit in a place where Mr. D. wasn’t likely to see me, and start drawing. Since the subject matter (imagine it: old Mr. D., visible from his skinny chest up, his eyes ablaze with concentration, the awful giant slow-slicing scissors that would doubtless find their way into my dreams hours later) was outside my scope of interest, the finished drawing might be second rate. On the other hand, it might be okay. Sometimes I would come across details that weren’t obvious at the start (the glint of sunlight on those long sharp blades, the shadow from the house falling over half of Mr. D’s face…) and surprise myself.

But the best times were when I knew exactly what I wanted to draw, when I had closed in on my subject matter of preference with the ferocity of a dog closing in on a beefy bone. I drew my father’s profile in pastels. He was the perfect model. He sat for two hours without moving on night one, and two hours again on night two, his expression never altering. (He was watching TV; he never even knew I was drawing him!) When I got oil paints for Christmas one year, I did my first still life: a wine bottle, a wine glass and some lemons set out on a white tablecloth against a dark red background. Nobody in my family drank, so that wine bottle had been sitting on the kitchen counter teasing me with its highlights and shadows since the Christmas before. (Ironically, the wine had been a gift from Mr. D.) I was in love with the subject matter. I couldn’t wait to paint the wine glass, the thin gleam along the brim. I couldn’t wait to mix the colors that would bring those lemons to life. And I found I loved the breadth of an oil painting project too. The oil took forever to dry. There were endless opportunities to tweak, to add more details, to right any wrongs.

Writing has been more or less the same for me. When I know what I want to write about, I am unstoppable and more than happy to add details, polish, adjust, expand… My most recently published book, The Last Wife of Attila the Hun, is an example of the unstoppable me. Last Wife is based, in part, on Nordic legends from a book called The Poetic Edda. The legends, which are all about love and lust and greed and loyalty—all unfolding in the darkest of the dark ages—are very earnest in their attempt to bring the historical Attila the Hun into some of their narratives. The legends are fragmentary, because they existed orally for centuries before anyone collected and recorded them, and therefore they lend themselves all sorts of possibilities and interpretations. Once I decided that I wanted to make them my own (which was virtually the minute I finished my first read-through), I also felt compelled to superimpose them over the historical material. That meant I had to learn everything about Attila and then everything about the Roman Empire and the main players in the battles between the Huns and the Romans, and on and on. I couldn’t have been happier.

Last Wife AttilaWriting The Last Wife of Attila the Hun was an oil painting writ large. I was engaged, often enraptured. I’ve worked on other projects like that, but I’ve also written some books over the years that have been the equivalent of drawing Mr. D.: While I might be happy with the outcome, getting them off the ground can feel like work—good work, but work nonetheless.

 

Today a friend of mine, a fabulous writer, asked me what she should write her next book about. She had a collection of essays published recently and it was very well received. For her it was an oil painting, a book she loved working on. Now she wants to write something new because it is time, but nothing has occurred to her. This friend loves cats, so I suggested she start with a cat and work from there. It was the kind of suggestion my mother might have made, but my friend thought it was a good one.

There are two kinds of people in the writing world, it seems; there are those who must write all the time whether they are obsessed with a subject or not, and those who can go years waiting for the perfect idea to rear its lovely head. I saw Isabel Allende on a TV show interview recently. She said she starts each new novel on January 8, right after her holiday break. If she doesn’t have an idea when the 8th rolls around, she starts anyway and an idea always follows. I have never given myself a start date, but I like the concept.

Actually there may be three kinds of people in the writing world. Maybe there are people who continually have fresh ideas they fall in love with all the time. Maybe writers like Jodi Pocoult and Joyce Carol Oats get their “next book” ideas before they finish what they’re working on. Or maybe they are like me—and Isabel Allende, for that matter. Maybe, feeling compelled to write nonstop, they will look for the light on Mr. D’s hedge cutters while they wait for Attila to wield his resplendent sword.

Last Wife AttilaA Review of The Last Wife of Attila the Hun

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