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EXCERPT FROM “SPRING RETREAT,” PART 3

RUSSIANS IN SONOMA

“But, Alexei, we have made a good life here. What is there for us back in Russia other than the ostracism of my family? You know they’ll never let you progress in the ranks there as you might here or in Sitka.” It wasn’t the first time Helena made the plea to her husband.

“My dear, I know best in these matters and you really must let me do what I think right. Hadn’t you better see to Monsieur du Mofras’ entertainment? I must see the Captain and get provisions on board for the Alaskan settlements. He already has my letter requesting transfer and will see that it gets on its way to St. Petersburg.” Having said his piece, Alexander Rotchoff, commandant of Russia’s southernmost settlement on the North American continent, left the room.

With a sigh that might have been of sadness, Helena prepared to greet their distinguished guest as he made his way toward the house from her garden. M. du Mofras was with the French legation in Mexico City and was making a tour of the coastal area. Alexei thought his motives were innocent, but Helena, a princess of the house of Gargarin, had grown up in the midst of household and political intrigue. She was suspicious. Dinner last night went quite nicely. She delighted in serving her best Bordeaux and the Frenchman was genuinely startled to see and hear her play from an original Mozart piano score. The distraction of an interesting guest would be more enjoyable if only Alexei would be more reasonable.

“Ah, Madame, I am not disturbing you?”

“Please, M. du Mofras, won’t you join me for tea? The samovar is always at our call,” responded Helena in her purest Parisian French. “Perhaps you know the story of our settlement?” asked Helena, as she poured. Last night’s dinner conversation had dealt with recent events abroad.

“Wasn’t it Captain Ruskoff who found the Ross Colony?”

“Yes, he came from Sitka to establish a garden for the Alaskan communities. He went as far south as the bay the Spanish call Bodega, but then he returned here.”

“Perhaps he found the soil and climate here would raise better crops,” said du Mofras.

“I suspect you’re right. Captain Ruskoff became a folk hero to our people, traversing the wilds on his one good leg and opening up new territories. He found friendly natives here who called the place ‘Mad Shui Nui.’ He got a bargain lease at three blankets, three pair of britches, three horses, two axes and some beads. I’m afraid it wasn’t any more honorable a price than the Dutch paid for Manhattan.”

M. du Mofras chuckled at the story and added, “Perhaps those items were worth more in 1812 than now, nearly thirty years later.”

An hour later, a mounted party of six could be seen leaving the fort: two Russian soldiers in front, Helena and M. du Mofras, Helena’s Pomo Indian maid and a male servant, burdened with picnic hamper and blankets. The soldiers and du Mofras were armed against the occasional bear or wild boar known to roam the coastal mountains. The afternoon passed quickly and, high in the hills, the party stopped to picnic. At Helena’s suggestion, Monsieur and one of the soldiers continued deeper into the country, leaving Helena to her private worries. Resting against a young redwood, Helena looked down on the fort, its surrounding orchards and grazing lands, to the sea.

“Oh, Alexei, can’t you see the wealth, the beauty, and the potential here! Thirty years, tui! That is nothing in the march of history. So, we devoured the otters and seals. Leave them be and they’ll be back. Let their Highnesses wear rabbit! The orchards are flourishing, we only need more. The soil and the fog may not be right for grain, but what of the cattle and sheep? We are a self-sufficient colony. There is little we cannot grow, make or build. And we have only begun to explore the Slavyanka and her primal forest.”

The heady wine, warm sun and her feelings overcame her. In her dream, Helena saw the history of Russia past and future. Blood ran, flags and crowns passed. Through the violence, the laughter and the tears, she saw one face clearly and it was Alexei’s. Her dream tried to awaken her.

“Darling, I’m here. Have you lost our guest?” teased Alexie.

Trembling and reaching for him, Helena spoke. “I was far away from here, in St. Petersburg, and there was much trouble and danger. But we were there together. Oh, Alexei, I’m so afraid.”

“Nonsense, Helena. It was nothing more than an afternoon’s bad dream. You will see. All your friends and family long for your return. I am sure your father will forgive our elopement. You are too precious to him for us to remain in exile forever.”

Helena gave up her effort to win him over. She missed her family and there was always the music and the ballet. She would return with him, but they must find a way to share their thoughts and feelings. She would insist.

The exuberant M. du Mofras and his guide returned soon after to find the Rotcheffs restored to each other’s good graces. The party followed the sun’s path, reaching the fort just as the sun took its plunge into the sea.

 *  *  *

 

 

Excerpt from “SPRING RETREAT,” Part 2

AILEEN’S STORY

At nearly six foot, Aileen Mary Shaver stood eye to eye with her husband. Her hair was the sort of red that gradually fades with the years. It was half as bright at thirty-five as when she was a young bride. Her hazel eyes remained clear and strong in color. Her sinewy frame turned any threatening fat to muscle. In a softer life, Aileen might have become matronly, but the hard life of the logging camp minimized that risk.

As the wife of the foreman, it fell to Aileen to supervise the company kitchen. Up at four, she directed the two Chinese hands in preparing meals for thirty men. She’d done all the work herself in the early years, but by the time she was twenty-seven with her seventh child due, Mr. Shaver went to the bosses. The bosses sent to San Francisco for the Chinese. In 1869, the gold fields and the City were flush with cheap labor. Chin and Wong were glad for the work. At first, they had only a smattering of English, but proved to be quick learners. Aileen found some respite and rescue from an early gravesite up on the hill.

Aileen’s seventh birth had gone badly for her, but the twins survived and no more pregnancies followed. The loss of eighteen month old Annie in ’65 and nine year old Seth, Junior, in ’67 had been hard to bear. It looked now as though the other children might make it safely to adulthood.

With little time to count her blessings, Aileen worked at a grueling pace from her early rising until after dark. Most foodstuffs were homegrown. Whether tending animals or garden, she was often out of doors. Her four room house was halfway up the hill and set apart from the mills
in Big Bottom. The smoke and haze lingered from March to October when the rains washed the sky clean.

“Oh, Mama, your Ohio washes were so crisp and clean, even in harshest winter! And your pure white Irish lace curtains! On my windows, they’d be Black Irish,” she thought with each turn at the washtub.

The town slid along the river with shanties braced against towering tree stumps. Folks called it Stumptown in the early days with good cause. Old timers like the Shavers built their houses on the surrounding hillsides to escape the mud and debris of the flats.

Most of the mill workers, loggers and men from the chair factory and fledgling tobacco farm were single. Barely twenty children were to be seen about town, though more and more women and infants were arriving on the weekly packet out of Santa Rosa. Aileen started teaching her own children almost from the cradle. After Annie’s death, she opened her parlor to all the camps’ children over the age of five. In time, there wasn’t a school aged child not attending Mrs. Shaver’s. By 1870, the church had been built and served as a school weekdays and Aileen was due to be replaced in September by a certificated teacher.
Today, the first Saturday in April, was Aileen’s special day. It was her day to walk deep into the forest, seeking out the wild mushrooms and bay. Later, she would search the fields and river bed for mustard, mint, arrowroot and wild asparagus. Leaving home before dawn, she followed the logging road into the ravaged forest. The road petered out about five miles from town and Aileen was ready to begin her search when she picked up the strong scent of the bay laurel.

“Lovely laurel, I spy you,
for sauces and mendicants I’ll brew.
Look you up and look you down,
I am here, there and all around.”

Laughing at herself for the silly verse, Aileen gathered the fragrant leaves. With a gunny sack nearly full of her treasures, she dropped to the ground and thought of napping.

“Aileen Shaver, you old fool, naps are for the very young or old or sick. But, then, today is different. No gardening, no teaching, no cooking or baking, no washing or tending or mending. Maybe just a short nap will do.” With a laurel pillow to rest her head on, Aileen looked to the sky. A bluebird darted about and a lone woodpecker was doing damage to an old tree.

“Must have lost your way, Mr. Pecker. Not many grubs to be found in this dark place. Go to the apple orchard and you’ll find a good dinner. Stay here and you’ll starve.” The woodpecker took her advice and flew off.

“I feel like I’m ten years old again and on the Ohio farm. Were there really days when I was free to roam, to read, to play and to do nothing?”

Drifting into her nap, Aileen’s eye caught a glimpse of a curiously shaped laurel tree. She was startled awake by recognition. “I know you, old tree. You are me. The storm knocked you over and down and now your back is arched from root to tip, but still you continue to grow. Tiny new growths remind me of the gifts of Annie and Seth. That branch, a different color and shape, reminds me of the uniqueness of Chin and Wong. Still another, reaching straight and strong to the sun, makes me think of my husband. He’ll be there, the companion of my final days. Laurel, you’ve taught me well.” Aileen rested as fully as her babies ever did.

She found the mushrooms along the pathway home. The sun was just going behind the hills across the valley as she climbed her own hill. The noises of home greeted her and Aileen welcomed the sounds.

MUSEUMS AND WRITING PART 1

Writers are often asked: “Where do you get your ideas from?”  The answers are myriad: from my imagination; news clips; bits of over-heard conversation; family stories/characters; biographical/historical/political/philosophical tidbits shared; or “I dunno.”   When asked, I have a ready answer for the setting of the Huachuca Trilogy:  “…from visiting and falling in love with the area and from one-liners told by my brother-in-law over a New Year’s Eve fire about his Grandmother Josephine.”

Other questions will center on research: when, where, and how much? I use many tools in researching material: books, the internet, old photos or news stories, interviews and travel. To be in the place has meant travel to Chicago and west across the plains and mountains; time spent in the San Pedro River Valley with Bisbee and Tombstone to the east and the Huachucas to the west; walking the streets of El Paso, Albany, San Francisco and Los Angeles; calling on memories of feelings, experiences and relationships.

One of my favorite methods is to visit museums where I have learned about local characters; clothing, tools and utensils in use at the time; learned about the geology of the area or absorbed quotes from the diaries, letters or notes of those before me.  In my second or third visit to the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, I came upon an amazing exhibit on 19th century farming life. In bold display was a story of the original Josephine as she stopped a Model T from running off with her friend’s children. The 1925 tale is found in HUACHUCA WOMAN, the chapter on Annaliese, The Matron of Bisbee:

“” I was holding Howie, asleep on my shoulder, a sure cure for anyone’s blues.

“Jo, the brakes are gone. I can’t slow her down.”

Quick as that, I shoved Howie to the floorboards and he didn’t even stir. Don’t know what I thought I could do but, with that precious carload of life yet to be lived, I had to do something. I threw open the door and skidded my heels along the roadway, digging my back into the Ford. All the while, I was yelling at Anna, “throw her into reverse, cut the engine.”  The kids held on hard, squealing as we slid down that rocky road.

“Aunt Jo, make it stop!” from Bruce

“I’m scared, Mama!” from Utah.

And, “Help, help!” from Vicky and Franny, a frantic duo.

“Anna, head for that ironwood tree!” I gasped. It surely seemed a long, long while before that machine gave up the fight. We were slowing and the ground was taking a slight upsurge, enough to bring us to a grinding stop against the old tree. In the end, my shoes wore out, my feet and back were all scraped up, but I wasn’t feeling no pain, yet.

“Rah, rah, for Aunty Jo,” a chorus of my favorite little ones let out.

“Oh, Jo, you are my hero, our hero,” from Annaliese. “Let me see your poor feet.”  I’d barely managed to hobble away from the car when the pain took over.  ”

Do museums bring out stories for you?

Does your imagination go to work envisioning a time and life?

MORE NEXT TIME

 

The Next Big Thing Blog Chain

THE NEXT BIG THING BLOG CHAIN

Sandy Baker, writer and friend, sees the Next Big Thing as a reference to the next major earthquake to hit California.  When Sandy sold me on the idea of the Next Big Thing Blog Chain, I didn’t realize what I was getting into.  A simple series of questions to answer about my work in progress, right?  NO,! It turned into a challenge, my next big thing, that I dragged my feet and psyche through. I should have taken lessons from Sandy’s children’s gardening books , Mrs. Feeney and the Grubby Garden Gang or Zack’s Zany Zucchiniland  and dug much deeper and sooner. Sandy wrote and published The Tehran Triangle last year with Tim Reed. A wild ride with CIA operatives in danger and mayhem you will want to check out at http://writersandy.wordpress.com. Then, watch for Sandy’s WIP, Tehran Revenge coming to you very soon.

 

A Blog Interview of Arletta Dawdy

What is the working title of your new book?

ROSE OF SHARON is my work in progress or WIP.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I knew this would be the third in a loosely connected trilogy; I wanted a young writer/heroine with paranormal powers (the “gift”) who spends her life in the Huachuca Mountains of southeast Arizona.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical Fiction.

What actors would you choose to play your character in a movie rendition?

Rose of Sharon Welty is short (5’2”), full figured but not chubby, long red tresses and is a very emotional person. She has major self-doubts yet is very independent; fearing her gift, she is often lonesome and conflicted about her talents. Rose is a keen observer as seen in the dime novels she writes. She ages from 8-60. Perhaps Scarlett Johansson  would fill the bill.

Rose’s twin, Jacob, is also a redhead, tall and lanky with a strong work ethic and determination to go to West Point.  Jackson Rathbone might fit this part.

White Buffalo/Buff could be Chaske Spencer. White Buffalo is multi-racial: half  Native American and about a quarter each white and black. May have to leave that to a casting director.  Buff is 14-18 when he lives in the area, leaves and returns 10 years later. He is determined to educate himself and attain a strong role in society but can’t do that in the Huachucas.

For Blake Harris, perhaps Kellan Lutz, a tall, well-built cowboy/family man who finds his allegiances compromised. He is 24 when first met and ages well.

Elise is a thin, about 5’4-6” black haired schoolmarm ; I’d love to see Pauley Perrette take this on.  She’s in her late twenties when she first enters the scene.

Finally, we have Jim Blaine, cowboy, adventurer and loyal friend; he’s in his 40’s when he meets up with Blake. I think I’d like Timothy Oliphant in this role.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Rose, of many talents, choses a life of isolation and loneliness when she fears her psychic gifts will create more havoc than hope.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I will self-publish ROSE OF SHARON with Amazon and Kindle..

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

ROSE OF SHARON is very much a work-in-progress and, as such, I am in the process of polishing it. The book began as a short story which now serves as the first chapter. It has been dormant until recently while I focused on publishing the first two books in the series: HUACHUCA WOMAN and BY GRACE. I will soon head to Cochise County, Arizona to spend six weeks in the Huachuca Mountains’ Ramsey Canyon. It is home to the fictional homesites in my work. In current time, the area hosts The Nature Conservancy’s Hummingbird Preserve and, right next to the cabin I’ll rent, is the Arizona Folklore Preserve with cowboy music concerts every weekend.

I plan to send blog posts from this inspiring and beautiful setting…and finish  ROSE OF SHARON.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I know a number of writers who portray real or imagined strong female characters of the Old West: Nancy Turner, Velda Brotherton, Jane Kirkpatrick, Eunice Boeve and many more. I am not aware of even a somewhat similar book to compare to Rose of Sharon; her psychic gifts take her into the present and the future. Is this a new sub-genre in historical fiction? As Rose reveals more of herself in my writing, I may be better able to answer the question…or leave it to the critics.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Rose is a healer, a prognosticator and a writer. Her challenge is in how she integrates these in her life. There’s humor, enchantment, stories of love and betrayal along with a bit of magic and beauty.

All three of the books are stand-alones, meaning they can be read in any order and are not dependent on the others. What binds them are the Huachucas and Josephine who makes cameo appearances in BY GRACE and ROSE OF SHARON after telling her fictional memoir in HUACHUCA WOMAN.

WHO’S NEXT?

 Julie A. Winrich writes mystery/suspense/thriller novels, young adult, and Spanish/English children’s books. She loves writing as it completes her, feeds her soul, and provides entertainment. She has published three short stories, has three completed novels, and is working on two more. I was intrigued when Julie asked her readers for suggestions for the title of her WIP. She chose a working title from the offerings:  Night Terror Arsonist.  Now, how’s that for Julie’s next big thing?

Check Julie A. Winrich out at: http://writerjaw.com for “Thriller Writing, Views on Writing.”

 

 

WHERE AM I AND HOW DID I GET HERE?

The proofs are in the mail…”Oh, my goodness,” said Little Orphan Annie and me.

I began to work on Huachuca Woman over twenty years ago and it will now, finally, see the light of day on paper and epub smaller than 8.5″x11.” Early on and for too long, I took the high road, looking for the power people (read:NYC publishers) and not getting past the gatekeepers (read: agents.) After the first seventy passes, rejections and no replies (a form of rejection,) I began to look at vanity publishing. For a mere $2-5000, I could fill my garage or spare bedroom (assuming I have one) with hundreds of my books to sell at book fairs, conferences, writers’ club meetings, beauty shops, medical offices and captive audiences (read: family and friends.) Did I REALLY want to do this, even if I could afford to? NOPE.

And so, I kept up the search for independent publishers where I passed on them or they passed on me.  And agents, at conferences, classes, forums or wherever I came across their paths. It seemed the personal connection would strengthen my chances and so I kept at it.  Last Fall, I thought I’d found the perfect match…only to have her reader pass. Whether on purpose or by design the reader’s notes were included in the returned manuscript, I was dumfounded. She couldn’t identify with the protagonist “despite the two deaths” in the pages she’d read; I wrote her off as a “22 year old with no life experience” and gave up my search for another agent’s reader.

Sometime ago, a guardian angel tried to convince me to epub and offered to cover the costs. I dithered with the same old fears: inadequate editing, wanting great quality, success/failure and a certain techno phobia. “Get on with it, find someone to do the technical work,” said Angel. And I did.

This was still a complicated process and I can’t imagine doing it all on my own. Writer friends my age have persisted in stretching their minds and joining the 21st century. I’m still very much in the 19th century with occasional adaptations to the 20th. Fortunately, I came upon a gifted man (Blake Webster: www.mediadesignpublishing.com) to upload my manuscript to CreateSpace and the Kindle and yet another to do my cover design (Kent Sorensen: www.kentwsorensen.com.) I feel very fortunate in being able to entrust my dreams to these men.

Where are you in your dream to publish?

What is/was your plan to get there?

What would you suggest to others?