Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Excerpt from “SPRING RETREAT”…A Short Story set along the Russian River, before it had that name.

“The days of my uncleanness are upon me, my husband. I go from you for a time, even as our son reaches his Days of Manhood. I will pray to Old Man Coyote to guide him in the trials to come.” Ni’ka made her statement as she gathered acorn meal and dried salmon into her feathered basket.

While it was unusual for her to leave the village, she had done so on rare occasions. The village was scarcely that: a collection of brush shelters, not destined for permanence. . A Dreamer Woman, she often retreated within herself, away from the Red Earth People.

The People were seasonally nomadic, settling in the oaken plains to gather acorns in the fall and then to remain through the winter. Spring would find them fishing the Shabaikai, or Snake, River or climbing the mountains to camp on the shores of the Sacred Lake. For Ni’ka’s group, spring usually found them following the Shabaikai through the Forest of Dark Giants to the Endless Waters, where fish and shells were more than abundant. Berry gathering preoccupied them at the edge of the cool woods and mountains in summer. Then, the cycle would start over again.

Ni’ka thought of these things as she made her way down river in the simple tule canoe, more commonly used on the Sacred Lake. The sun warmed her as the chill of winter lifted from the land. The great blue heron and a flock of snowy egrets watched her passing and were neither surprised nor fearful of her.

Coming to the place she sought, Ni’ka pulled her craft above the waterline and anchored it with heavy rocks. With a quick pace, she turned away from the river and headed into the forest. Ni’ka’s movements gave no hint of fear or revulsion for the myth of Evil Spirits in this darkened glade. It was late afternoon before she reached her destination, about five miles inland.

Alongside a thin creek, the giant tree she called “Old Friend” waited for her.At the base was a room larger than the brush shelter left behind that morning. Using a broom of ferns, she swept the place clean of rodent droppings and debris of five years absence. Filling her water basket and placing her food on high, she was satisfied by the completion of her tasks and settled in. She wouldn’t go far from the tree again until it was time to return to the People.

Sitting in the entryway, Ni’ka watched the darkness come quickly on the forest where dense treetops hid the setting sun. She listened for the rare sounds of animal life and was rewarded. A doe and her fawn came to drink at the creek and approached Ni’ka. They lay down near her, the fawn taking nurturance from its mother. The trillium, just outside the den, closed upon itself for the night.

Entering a suspended state, Ni’ka sought understanding, peace and renewal. Her son was passing into manhood and, with that passage, he would become her equal. She welcomed this strong muscled young man exuding the high spirits of youth . She mourned the loss of her baby, his buttercup soft skin, his deep trust. She remembered the seriousness of his infant gaze as his eyes followed her movements. How wise she was then, how quick, how able to meet his every need!

Ni’ka regretted the passing of her age of power. Now, her son was beginning to know the limits of her power to protect, to guide, to share. In coming into his own adulthood, he was discovering something of the frailty and powerlessness of the human adult. True, he had learned some lessons along the way, as when his friend, Ts’it, died, or when the People nearly starved during the Year of No Water.

She studied on the future. How could she keep him, but also let him go? The answer didn’t come readily. On the fourth day, sitting in her doorway, Ni’ka spied a grandmother sea trout making her way downstream. Ni’ka considered the ways of the salmon and sea trout. Each fights its way upstream in wild wintry waters. Then, spawning their young in near-glacial pools, their similarity stops. The salmon, exhausted by the task, dies, but in early spring the trout returns to the sea.

“I am as the sea trout. My young has spawned and grown. He has been just behind me in the creek of life. I can still guide him a ways yet. And as he catches up to me, we can swim companionably, side by side, past shimmering sands, warning each other of rough places and obstacles. When he passes me, as his strength and youth insist, I will be content to follow his lead. He may take me to new places and new ideas. I will not be able to follow him everywhere, but, then, I won’t want to. It will be enough to rest in my own quiet pool and enjoy his comings and goings.”

Ni’ka rested fully that night and returned to the People, her husband and her man-son on the fifth day.

HUACHUCA WOMAN…1952

HUACHUCA WOMAN started life as THE GRANNY JO STORIES and was work-shopped, critiqued, revised, edited, and advised about more times than I kept track of. Now, the book, much modified from those early efforts, is about to hit the market which is you, my followers and, I hope, many others. I am sharing an excerpt today from the first of the 1952 segments that are interspersed throughout the book as Josephine tells the old tales to two of her grandchildren.
Enjoy!

APRIL 1952

Early morning found Josephine Parthenia Lowell Judson Nichols moving stiffly across the kitchen, tea-cup in hand. Odors of oak and mesquite hung in the room. A thin braided rug covered a portion of the worn pine flooring, but couldn’t hide the years of wear and scarring. At the far end of the well-used room, pine-framed glass walls gave a panoramic view of the high desert, close in Huachuca Mountains and far-reaching sky. Rocking chairs sat in a half circle within the windowed alcove and it was to the easternmost rocker that the old woman headed.
She slipped into the rocker with its creaky protest and watched the sky lighten from pre-dawn lavender to a dusky rose. Rays of amber spread in slow motion into the desert moonscape. The promise of another dawn settled on her as muscles sculpted themselves to the contours of the oak rocker. A sigh fled her lips when Patches, the calico cat, leapt into her lap. Josephine set the tea-cup aside.
Wisps of whitened hair shadowed her face. A single braid, caught in a turquoise and silver clasp, reached to the waist of her faded dungarees. Rolled at the leg end and stiff from line drying, her pants gaped at the feminine waist they were never designed to fit. Curling leather boots stuck out below. A crisp new shirt of ruddy cabbage roses topped her outfit.
Josephine’s gentle strokes along Patches’ back soon took on intensity and such discomfort that the cat reached back, swatted her hand and flew from what had been a comfortable lap. He barely missed the much-mended wrist band from the Geronimo visit.
“Shoo, then, you ol’ varmint. Who needs you anyway?”
Frown lines ran across her forehead. She fingered the old band, then started her right hand thrumming on the arm of the rocker, beating out a wild drum roll. Josephine’s shoulders stiffened in a cramp as she fought against the conflicted feelings once again set in motion in the morning just past.

THANKSGIVING, ARIZONA TERRITORY 1888

EXCERPT FROM ROSE OF SHARON

At noon on an unusually balmy Thanksgiving Day, the ranch yard was jumping with activity. Guests were arriving, but not Miss Jacks. Blake had delayed so long in inviting the teacher, she had accepted another invitation by the time he got up his courage to ask. Rose had something to say on the matter when she approached him as people gathered.

“I surely do wish you’d invited Miss Jacks. I think she’s sweet on you, too.”

Blake blushed in shades of pink below his tan. “Why do you say that?”

“You mean about wishing she’d come or that she’s sweet on you?”

“I don’t know, both, I guess.” He didn’t look at her, struggling to find something to distract them both.

“She watches out the window when you come to school and she asks about you.”  Rose answered with a big smile. “I just plain like her, and you do, too.”

“Better look to our guests,” he mumbled, even redder in the face.

The Tomlins, with their father and husband home from the sawmill up Carr Peak, accounted for six visitors and brought peach pies and “smashed” potatoes, as their three year old called them. The elderly Browns added home-canned green beans and cornbread to the table. Blake’s fresh caught wild turkey roasted in the yard pit with the children taking turns at rotating the bird on its spit. Venison steaks and ears of corn were added to the feast as they came off the grill.

“I think that turkey is about done, don’t you, Miz Brown?” Jim was quick to seek the experienced woman’s counsel.

She demurred, just briefly, and then spoke in a thick, lady-like southern accent. “I do believe you are right, my boy.” She prodded the leg of the bird and juices ran into a pan sitting in the fire for that purpose. “We will have us some fine gravy to go with the Tomlin’s taters. Please take that pan in the house and I’ll work it up.”

“Yes, Ma’am, I’ll do just that.”  Jim grinned and caught up the pan with a coarse cloth serving to protect his hands.

“Come along, Rose,” said Mrs. Brown. “Y’all can be of help and learn at the same time.” She put her arm around the child’s shoulder and Rose snuggled into her embrace.

“My mama made good gravy.”

“I’m sure she did, child. Ours will be different from your mama’s, but I think we will do alright.” They busied themselves with the drippings, flour and milk, whipping it to a frothy blend in a separate pot. “Did your mama ever use our desert sage in her gravy?”

“I don’t think so, Ma’am. .” She watched Mrs. Brown open a tiny cheesecloth bag to reveal a dusty gray matter and stir a small quantity into the gravy. “Maybe my grandma back in Texas used it.” She couldn’t remember for sure.

“I suspect you are right, my dear.” She tapped Rose’s hand gently. Jacob, Rose of Sharon’s twin, ran in and grabbed the pan back from the pair, yelling as he went, “It’s done. We can eat.” Rose carried the thickened and flavorful gravy out to the table while Mrs. Brown brought out her beans and the potatoes. Others scurried about pouring milk and coffee, placing utensils around the table, heading back into the cabin for last minute needs.

“Mr. Brown, sir, would you do us the honor of carving the turkey?” Blake asked. He handed the tools over to the older gent.

“Don’t mind if’n I do.” Though from somewhere in the south, his speech wasn’t as genteel as his wife’s and that caused some folks to wonder how they’d come together. But, in the custom of the west, it wasn’t something polite folks would ask. As far as their neighbors knew, they’d been in the area for more than thirty years and had no children or other family. They’d put in orchards of apples and walnuts early on and prospered in feeding the workmen and families of the San Pedro River Valley and its mining communities.

When the group settled at the table, Blake asked if one of the twins would recite the old Bobbie Burns grace after explaining its family history to those gathered. Jacob and Rose, seated on opposite sides of the table, nodded and spoke the grace in chorus as they’d practiced for a week.

“Some hae meat, and canna eat,

And some hae none that want it.

But we hae meat and we kin eat,

So, let the Lord be thankit.”

“Why, thank you, children. That was very nice,” said Mrs. Tomlin. “I’d like to learn it for our family to say.”

“It’s in old Scottish, my mama said, but I bet you could learn it.” Rose was proud to pass on her mother’s custom to one and all. She stated it line by line, with first Mrs. Tomlin repeating and then others joining in. Jacob’s grin spread ear to ear as the old refrain was echoed about the long table.

“It’s surely fitting for us this Thanksgiving for ‘we hae meat and we kin eat,’ just as it says.” Mr. Brown leaned over and kissed his wife which got all the young ones giggling.

“Mr. Brown, you surely do taste sweet as ever,” she said. Giggles gave way to pure laughter.

With bowls and dishes flying up and down the table, the meal was the richest feast many had seen in months. For the Welty twins, it was a little reminder of meals taken at their grandmother’s table back in Texas. Those memories were growing faint, especially as their new life filled in voids and emptiness with laughter, good stories and new friends. Later, around a campfire, the grownups talked while the children ran about in a game of hide and seek. The talk was quietly shared over coffee and a bit of brandy in some cups. The Tomlins and Browns expressed regrets for not getting to know the Welty parents before the raiders came and killed the parents while the children watched from nearby.

“I surely wish those young’uns had known where to come to us for help. That walk across the desert had to have been awful,” said Mrs. Tomlin. She was gently bouncing her newest child in her arms.

Jim spoke up. “Yes, ma’am, it was hard on them, but I don’t know if we’d have caught up to the murderers without Blake here recognizing them from the twins’ description.”

“The marauders were blabbing about what they did at that place in Bisbee, so somebody would have gone to check, I’m sure,” Blake answered.

Mr. Tomlin added, “Maybe so, but by the time the sheriff could do that, they’d have been long gone.”

“You got that right,” said Jim.

“The important thing is for them to grow up believing the Good Lord will keep watch over them from now on.” Mrs. Brown said this with an emphasis in her voice.

“Yes’m,” said Blake. He silently renewed his vow to protect them with his life, if need be. “And they need a mother,” Mrs. Brown added

                                                  Blake squirmed in discomfort and thought of Elise Jacks for the umpteenth time that day.

A quietness settled on the adults as the sun moved to the west and the shadows of the Huachucas descended into the canyon. Birds were twittering the last songs of the day just as the children drifted closer to the fire. One by one they sought its warmth. Three year old Benjy Tomlin climbed into his father’s lap while his two older sisters found comfort nearer to their mother and Mrs. Brown. Rose and Jacob squatted on the ground between Blake and Jim with Rose resting her head against Blake. He settled his arm on her shoulder.

One of the ladies started to hum the old hymn “Now the Day is Over.” Soon, everyone joined in, singing the words.

THE WRITING PROCESS

INSPIRATION…

      NOVELS: often begin with a dream, a fantasy exploration and the “what if”

 1. Begin with character- who is she, what marks her as different, what are her attributes and what is her story? Rancher,      businesswoman, artist,healer, psychic? What is her challenge: survival, search for meaning, helping others?
 2.Who threatens, challenges or supports her? Protagonist? Can I see him, it?
 3.Setting/s? Where and how does it impact the character/s? Do I know the setting, draw on own experience..yes.

      POETRY:  often springs from an experience with great emotional impact (nature, family member’s illness, death) but also comes from stories told to me (The Apple Factory), out of my experience(White Girl, Black Heart,) or tidbits of historical research (Pancho’s Sister.)
 

PROCESS:
 1. From idea, get words on paper, rough or smooth, with energy/emotion behind them.   “Mother said the Arizona Territory was good for only two things: tame Indians and wild children. Me and William Ebert were her wild children and Geronimo was our Indian.”
 2. Research for Content: could journalist John Reed have been in El Paso and meet Jo in the spring of 1914? Yes, he’d just come back from Mexico and following Villa and Carranza.
 3. Setting: Have I been there, what’s in my journal, what other place do I have personal knowledge of that will fit the story?  Without first- hand knowledge, go to museums, internet and library research for displays, books, news articles, photos.  Be open to serendipity: as when Jo’s stopping the Ford story showed up in Bisbee Museum and what did the Tiffany Studio look like in 1898 since it no longer exists?
 4. Because it is historical, what is the timeline?  I plot out  the story arc with sensitivity to what was happening in the world, area to incorporate later.
 5. Write, rewrite, research, read aloud, write some more, stay open to critique, rewrite/rebuff and write again.
 6. Get frustrated, let it rest, go at it again.
 7. Get Writer’s Block, kick the imaginary cat, turn to another format (Short Story,Poem, Essay) , write in longhand, journal over it, write again.
 8. Along the way, rest on my laurels…perfect dialogue, gorgeously conveyed setting, strong plot twist, praise from others.(ahem…)

Throughout all this, I attend writers organizational meetings, gather with writer friends, take on writerly tasks (ie, coordinating contests, participating on panels,)  keep up on Face Book, Blog, follow others’ blogs, find my personal Max Perkins and attend conferences. I do all for the purpose of honing my skills and making connections to aid the writing process and move me toward publication.

WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?  HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM MINE?

I HOPE YOU WILL SHARE YOUR PROCESS SO WE CAN ALL LEARN FROM YOU.

 

Why I Write

I have made up stories since early childhood, just as most of us did and left behind as we aged. I worked on short stories and poetry by the time I was in my forties. Marrying a New Mexican took me into the southwest frequently over the years of our life together. Place has always been a character in my work and never more so than when I started writing historical fiction. I draw on my journals frequently to retrace an experience or impression of a site or emotional experience.

In the ’70’s, I started on two historical novels only to leave them on the shelf. Ten years later, my brother-in-law told one liners around a New Year’s Eve fire in northern New Mexico, about his grandmother Josephine. At 3:00 am, I sat in the family bathroom with pencil and a tiny tablet writing down his one liners like: “She met Geronimo; rode in a cattle drive disguised as a man; had a child out-of-wedlock and lost him; met Pancho Villa; had a romance with a Buffalo Soldier, etc.”  From this came my first book in the Huachuca Trilogy: Huachuca Woman, a fictive autobiography.

Writing stimulates my imagination, opens new doors and shows me aspects of my own history and character that I hadn’t recognized previously. Writing has brought me new and strong friendships that I value.

Look for the first two books, Huachuca Woman and By Grace, to be published in the near future.