I am over-the-moon excited! I’m finally a hybrid author! This has been a long time coming and I am so excited to write these books. Here’s a little more about them:
Obviously, not the real cover.
Sex and the City: A Cultural History This book will provide cultural context and analysis of the famous show, both how it affected cultural as it aired and also how it looks now 20+ years later. Some topics include:
Looking at what it means to relate to each of the girls (ala, Are you a Carrie? A Samantha? A Miranda? A Charlotte?)
What the men in the show illustrate about masculinity and what that means about the kinds of men women are attracted to.
Issues like diversity or lack thereof, treatment of sex and sexuality, LGBTQIA portrayal.
How the show made New York a character, built brands, influenced fashion and reflected third wave feminism.
And a lot more!
I have an end of year deadline, so hopefully the book will come out around the time the reboot, And Just Like That, airs.
Fierce Females in Television: A Cultural History
Thank God, not the real cover!
This book will briefly discuss the nature of physically strong women on TV from the 1950s-1980s, but will focus specifically on the 1990s to today because that is when we saw a major ramp up in the portrayal of these kinds of women.
Shows covered include: Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Charmed (1998-2006), Alias (2001-2006), Nikita (2010-2013), Agent Carter (2015-2016), Jessica Jones (2015-2019), Game of Thrones (2011-2019), and Homeland (2011-2020).
Some of the topics include:
An analysis of the main female characters on each show.
The meaning of female strength and friendships/family.
The influence of third- and fourth-wave feminism on the shows and their characters.
Treatment of sex and diversity.
The role of redemption narratives and change in female lives.
This book will be out sometime in 2023/24.
Between these, the League of Women Voters book (due Oct. 4) and at least one work of historical fiction, you know what my next few months and even my 2022 will look like!
My friend and fellow historical fiction author, Stephanie Dray, has a new book out today! She calls The Women of Chateau Lafayette a seven-year labor of love. I know all about books that take years to come to fruition so I can’t wait to read this one. I’ve read her previous books, America’s First Daughter and My Dear Hamilton and loved them, so I’m sure this one will be excellent as well.
Oh and it was picked as one of OprahMag’s most anticipated historical fiction novels, so….Be sure to check it out!
✭✭✭ ABOUT THE BOOK ✭✭✭
An epic saga from New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Dray based on the true story of an extraordinary castle in the heart of France and the remarkable women bound by its legacy.
Most castles are protected by men. This one by women.
A founding mother…
Gently-bred noblewoman Adrienne Lafayette becomes her husband, the Marquis de Lafayette’s political partner in the fight for American independence. But when their idealism sparks revolution in France and the guillotine threatens everything she holds dear, Adrienne must renounce the complicated man she loves, or risk her life for a legacy that will inspire generations to come.
A daring visionary…
Glittering New York socialite Beatrice Chanler is a force of nature, daunted by nothing—not her humble beginnings, her crumbling marriage, or the outbreak of war. But after witnessing the devastation in France firsthand, Beatrice takes on the challenge of a lifetime: convincing America to fight for what’s right.
A reluctant resistor…
French school-teacher and aspiring artist Marthe Simone has an orphan’s self-reliance and wants nothing to do with war. But as the realities of Nazi occupation transform her life in the isolated castle where she came of age, she makes a discovery that calls into question who she is, and more importantly, who she is willing to become.
Intricately woven and powerfully told, The Women of Chateau Lafayette is a sweeping novel about duty and hope, love and courage, and the strength we take from those who came before us.
STEPHANIE DRAY is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today bestselling author of historical women’s fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year. Now she lives in Maryland with her husband, cats, and history books. For more, see: StephanieDray.com
Don’t fall over from shock. I’m actually blogging rather than announcing something. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend. 🙂
If you’ve known me for any length of time, you likely know I have a thing for haunted houses, both in fiction and in real life. Like real haunted houses, not the fake kind that pop up around Halloween and are only good for a jump scare. No, no, I mean the old ones that have actual spirits in them. I have an aunt who for many years counted ghost hunting among her hobbies, so maybe it runs in the family.
Oddly enough, I can’t handle horror movies. I saw one in 1999 (The House on Haunted Hill remake) that scared me so much I had to leave the theater before it ended (there are reasons for that even though it is a terrible movie) and I haven’t watched one since. (Crimson Peak being the exception, but it was so bad it hardly counts as horror.)
However, one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies has long been the 1999 remake of The Haunting,starring Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta Jones, Owen Wilson and Lili Taylor. I will be the first to admit this movie is cheese – or at least the last third of it is. But I love it. You see, I have a special connection to it. I was fortunate to go to England for the first time in the spring of 1999 as the capstone to a class I was taking in college. We were there for two weeks and the first week we stayed at Harlaxton Manor, an old Jacobean manor house in Lincolnshire that is now used in part as the overseas campus for the University of Evansville. (It really is haunted by at least two ghosts. Ask me how I know.) That just so happens to be where The Haunting was filmed just a month before. They still had set pieces we got to see and we were allowed to fish through a pile of what they considered trash for souvenirs from the set. I got a wardrobe tag for the photo double for Nell (I checked the credits and it is authentic) and my friend got the padlock that is prominently seen in an exterior night shot when they show how the front gates are chained at night. I’ve seen every “making of” related to that movie. Sadly, only two of the interior shots (minor ones you wouldn’t even notice) and the exterior actually made it into the movie. The rest was filmed on a sound stage.
Quick plot recap for those who have not seen/read The Haunting of Hill House: Psychologist Dr. David Montague (in the book) or Marrow (in the movie) contrives to bring together a group of unsuspecting subjects (who all have some kind of psychic abilities) in order to study, well, here’s the first place where the plots diverge: in the book, it is supernatural phenomenon, but in the movie it is more the power of suggestion in supernatural phenomenon. Anyway, you get the point. He is hoping for a large group, but ends up with only two: Nell, a timid woman who up until recently has acted as caregiver for her mother (who has now died) and Theo, an obnoxious, possibly lesbian (or clearly bisexual in the movie), socialite who can be downright mean. Then there is Luke. In the book, he’s the heir to the house who is only there at the insistence of the current owners who want family present and as a possible love interest for the girls. In the movie, he’s another study participant. So they gather and are told about the history of the house and not long after supernatural things start to occur. Eventually, we are lead to question if those things are really happening or are just in the minds of the participants, especially Nell. I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers.
The Haunting has been adapted for screen three times: first in 1963 by Robert Wise (I’ve seen parts of this version and can say it is much better and closer to the book than the later version) and again in 1999 by Jan de Bont, then for Netflix in 2018. (I have not seen this; my friends have warned me it would be too scary for me.) If you want to see laugh out loud parity, watch Scary Movie 2, written and directly by the Wayans Brothers, which was highly based off of this movie. (Fun fact: their version of Theo was the inspiration for the physical description of Mia in Been Searching for You.)
For purposes of this blog, I’m only going to discuss the 1999 movie and the book.
The top picture is an actual interior of Harlaxton that appears in the movie. (I have the exact same picture from when I was there.) The bottom is one of the many interiors shot on a sound stage.
My thoughts on the book vs. the movie:
Characters – Nell is much better fleshed out character in the book. (Granted that is usually the case with film adaptations.) She has a charming, captivating imagination in the book that you can easily see devolving into madness, something totally lacking in the movie where she is just child-like. Theo is meaner in the book (sometimes unnecessarily so) and still lacks the depth of a fully-formed character, but she’s better than the vapid version in the movie. It’s like she only exists in the movie so Catherine Zeta Jones can be sexy. And Luke. *sigh* He’s a filler in both versions, but at least in the book he has a bit of a purpose as someone for Nell and Theo to fight over. In the movie, he’s just – there. Its like they felt they had to include him. One character I’m glad they axed in the movie is the doctor’s wife, who in the book is cartoonishly obnoxious, overbearing and wholly unnecessary. And why, why does each version have a different last name for the doctor? (Even different between the two movies.) Of all things to change, that is NOT important!
Plot – This actually follows much more closely than I expected. Most of the supernatural phenomenon are similar, at least until you get to the end of the book/movie, which I think is good. Jackson does a pretty darn good job of scaring the crap out of you, to the point where it doesn’t need to be embellished. However, the back story of the house is TOTALLY different, another completely unnecessary change from book to movie. In the book, the story is of the tragic family of Hugh Crane and his two daughters who possibly haunt the house. In the movie Hugh Crane is a coal magnate who employs slave labor and the ghosts are the children he worked to death. WHY? Why, why, why, why, why? Ugh! Throughout the book, I found bits and pieces that the movie gave a brief nod to (such as one of Crane’s wives hanging herself), but if you hadn’t read the book, they didn’t make any sense. They do now that I have read it, but it is a sign of poor film-making when you don’t weave your homages into the plot.
The scene from the 1999 movie where Nell’s bed attacks her.
Setting – I’m biased here. I think Harlaxton was perfect for the movie, especially in it’s isolation and architecture, though I wish they would have used more of the actual interior in the movie. What they did design was beautiful in an odd way, but also way over the top. I would have preferred more of an old Victorian house interior, the kind of place that could give you the creeps in real life. (For what I’ve seen of the 1963 movie, they did right in that version.) There is a scene in the book where Nell fears the canopy of her bed is going to lower and suffocate her. Now the scene in the movie where Nell’s bed attacks her and cages her in makes more sense. But there is one change in scenery doesn’t make sense to me. In the book, next to the huge main doors there is a little door that goes into the library that Nell refuses to enter. For some reason, it scares the hell out of her. (I don’t think you ever find out why…or least I don’t remember it.) In the movie, when Nell finally gets up the courage to enter, it goes into a replica of her mother’s sick room. I think there is supposed to be some psychological symbolism there, but to me it is totally baffling why they didn’t keep it as a library and a totally pointless change.
Script – If you’ve seen the 1999 movie, even without having read the book, you will find yourself repeating “in the night, in the dark.” I was thrilled to find that phrase came from the book. Seriously, anytime anyone says “in the night,” I have to say, “in the dark,” which makes me giggle. Read it or watch the movie and you’ll see why. And the movie tagline “some houses are born bad” also comes from the book.
Ending – I won’t give anything away here, but I will say that the ending to both the book and movie are highly unsatisfying. The book feels like Jackson got bored with it and took the easy way out. I mean, there is sort of a motivation there, but there are other ways the same point could have been accomplished that would have been more in keeping with the plot and more satisfying for the reader. The movie, oh the movie. Let’s just say that someone was impressed with their own CGI skills. The movie actually scared the bejezzus out of me until they showed you the ghost of Hugh Crane. I am a firm believer that your imagination is way scarier than anything Hollywood dreams up to make a ghost visible. At this point, the movie devolves into a sort of morality tale that pits the evil child-killer (Crane) against the savior of their spirits (Nell) for the redemption of the house. It has a kind of similar theme to the book’s ending, but is utterly ridiculous.
(The cherubs are from the 1999 movie.)
Even for all it’s faults, the book is iconic and has spawned countless ripoffs and retellings. (For a fairly good YA version, read Lois Duncan’s Down a Dark Hall.) Jackson’s writing is likely the reason why. That woman can turn a phrase and build atmosphere like no one’s business. The movie, is…well…likely only admired by me and the director.
Have you read the book or seen any of the movie/TV adaptations? Let me know your thoughts. I’d love to discuss them in the comments.
I’ve been kind of cagey about the biography I’m working on (not Rose Ferron, which is on the back burner at the moment, this is another one), but I’m getting close to finishing my research and submitting to agents, so I’m now comfortable with talking about it. I am working on a dual biography of husband-wife suffragist team, Virginia and Francis Minor. I happen to have a guest post today about Virginia over on author Suzanne Adair’s website, if you want to see a summary of her life.
I first heard about Virginia when I was researching Victoria Woodhull for my book Madame Presidentess. Virginia was a contemporary of Victoria’s. While we can’t prove that they knew one another, it is likely. Virginia was a big deal in the National Woman’s Suffrage Association and she is the one who originated the idea that the Fourteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote, and idea Victoria used when she spoke before Congress. Even if Victoria didn’t personally know Virginia, she almost certainly had heard of her.
You know me and stories of forgotten women. There was something about Virginia that I was immediately attracted to. I haven’t yet been able to put my finger on what. But I knew I had to tell her story. This one didn’t strike me as right for historical fiction, though. I did some digging and found that no one has ever written a biography of her. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
The book started out just being about Virginia, but then I realized that her relationship with Francis was integral to her work and highly unusual. They lived a life of purposeful equality, beginning in the 1840s, way before that was common practice, so I knew I had to include him as well. They also both lived in my hometown of St. Louis for over 40 years, which is really helping with the research. We have some great archives here with very valuable information. Neither Francis or Virginia is well-known, and so not much about them still exists, but it is possible to find it if you look hard enough. I love the thrill of the chase in research, so I am having a ball. This June I will be visiting archives in Virginia, where they were both born, so hopefully that will shed light on their childhoods, which is really the missing piece at the moment.
I can’t wait to tell you more about them as the project progresses and to hopefully soon have a contract on the book.
P.S. – So far, I have not been able to track down a photo of Francis, which is why there isn’t one in this post. I have, however, held documents written in his own hand. It was so cool!
OMG y’all I am so excited! Camelot’s Queen has been chosen by TaleFlick as Team Pick. TaleFlick is a company comprised of movie/TV producers (including one formerly of Apple and Netflix), filmmakers, writers and tech experts that aims to get storyteller’s stories turned into TV and movies.
Now, this doesn’t mean there’s been an offer; only that Camelot’s Queen is getting extra promo from the company, but the more eyes that see it, the more likely it is that Camelot’s Queen will be eventually turned into something. Cross your fingers!
Surprise! I’ve got a short story (the first one I’ve ever successfully completed) in an anthology, which is a dream come true for this writer.
Here’s all the official info:
Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology
Publication Date: November 4
This holiday season, twenty talented, award-winning, and bestselling authors have crafted never before released Yuletide-themed tales about their most beloved characters.
From murder to magic, love to loss, the past and the future, this multi-genre collection of poems and stories has something for everyone.
In the spirit of giving, the authors have generously opted to donate all profits to The LifeAfter—Visions of Hope Project, whose passion is to shatter the stigma and spread awareness to three taboo topics that underscore society today: Suicide, Substance Abuse, and Domestic Violence.
Nicole Evelina’s story:
A Vanderbilt Christmas
A companion story to the award-winning novel Madame Presidentess.
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull made history by becoming the first woman to run for president of the United States. But four years earlier she was still struggling to overcome her shameful past and establish herself in New York’s high society. She has finally secured an entre into that glittering world by way of an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. But when her uncouth family crashes the party and threatens to send her social status spiraling, it will take a Christmas miracle to recover her reputation and keep her dreams on track.
Want a sneak peak?Since the story is so short, all I can give you is the first few paragraphs…
If anyone had told me a year ago that I would be spending Christmas Eve at the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in the country, I would have booked them a room at Blackwell’s Island with the other lunatics. Me? The guttersnipe daughter of a confidence man and a religious zealot whose favorite hobby was blackmailing people? Even with my gift of clairvoyance, it would have been too much to believe.
But then again, much had changed over the last year. When my sister Tennie and I moved to New York at the direction of my spirit guide, Demosthenes, we had no idea the good fortune that awaited us. Our Pa, no doubt sensing a way to make a quick buck, had arranged an introduction to Commodore Vanderbilt in the hopes he would employ us as mediums and magnetic healers. But the tycoon did him one better. After I successfully channeled the spirit of his long-dead mother and gave an accurate prediction of the stock market, he took us in as his assistants. Although, this may have had more to do with my sister’s beauty than our skill.
No matter. We were here now. An invitation to Christmas Eve dinner was a rare honor, one much coveted by New York society. Ma and Pa would be fit-to-be-tied when they found out we were invited but they were not; but I thanked God their troublesome selves were back in the slums of Five Points where they belonged.
No matter. We were here now. An invitation to Christmas Eve dinner was a rare honor, one much coveted by New York society. Ma and Pa would be fit-to-be-tied when they found out we were invited but they were not; but I thanked God their troublesome selves were back in the slums of Five Points where they belonged.
My husband, James, Tennie, and I, on the other hand, were seated along one side of a massive dining table that could easily seat twenty and was laden with china, crystal, and silver. The other chairs were occupied by a handful of the Commodore’s close friends and business associates – including his rival Mr. Fisk – plus several generations of his family. Around us, wreaths of evergreen and holly decorated the damask covered walls and pine boughs dripped from an elegant gold chandelier, while wreaths of orange, bay, and cinnamon perfumed the air.
Across the table, the eldest Vanderbilt son, William, shot daggers at me and Tennie. Clearly his disposition toward us hadn’t warmed any with time, nor had he grown in trust of us.
“Tell me, what will be your parlor trick tonight?” He picked at one of the starched white lace napkins. “Will you channel the angel who announced Christ’s birth to the shepherds, or perhaps even the baby Jesus himself?”
“If you are so certain you know, perhaps you should place a bet on it,” I shot back, referencing William’s secret vice of gambling.
Today is a momentous day for me. Not only does it mark the publication of my sixth book, Mistress of Legend (Guinevere’s Tale Book 3), and a single-volume compendium of The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, it is also the end of an era.
You see, 19 years ago Saturday is when I first heard Guinevere speak in my head. (Yeah, I’m one of those authors – wouldn’t have it any other way.) I tell the whole story in the Author’s Notes to Daughter of Destiny, the first book in the series, but for now suffice it to say she told me she wanted me to tell her story and that it would be unlike any written to date. I’ve always loved Arthurian legend, and Guinevere in particular, so I thought, “why not?”
That afternoon when I got home from school (I was a sophomore in college at the time), I sat down at the computer in my dad’s bedroom and began to type the words Guinevere was saying in my head:
I am Guinevere.I was once a queen, a lover, a wife, a mother, a priestess, and a friend. But all those roles are lost to me now; to history, I am simply a seductress, a misbegotten woman set astray by the evils of lust.This is the image painted of me by subsequent generations, a story retold thousands of times. Yet, not one of those stories is correct. They were not there; they did not see through my eyes or feel my pain. My laughter was lost to them in the pages of history….
It goes on for a bit longer, but you get the idea. That prologue is mostly intact in the published version of Daughter of Destiny (though it was shortened a bit). I can’t tell you how many times I rewrote the first few chapters of the book (it was in the double digits for sure) as I learned to find my own voice as an author and developed a plot and style that was doing more than simply aping The Mists of Avalon (which was the book that inspired it). But somehow, Guinevere’s words remained.
(Some of you know this story, so feel free to skip down if you have heard it before.)
I never thought I would become a published author. For the next 10 years I played around with the book when I had free time from college, then grad school and my first two grownup jobs. But it was just a hobby.
Then in 2008 I started taking my writing seriously. The catalyst? Twilight. (Shut up.) By that time I was about halfway through what would become Daughter of Destinyand realized I had something worth reading on my hands. At this point, I still thought the book would be one doorstop of a volume (which is why I’m publishing the compendium). Upon researching the publishing industry, I realized it would have to be trilogy.
Fast forward another 10 years – past an agent, countless rejections (okay, I counted, it was like 40), three damn-near book deals with Big 5 publishers, self-publishing and three Book of the Year awards – and here we are, on the precipice of the final book being published. And I have to say I am very, very proud. It may have taken me two years to finish this book (much longer than I know my readers wanted to wait), but I think it was worth it.
I set out to give Guinevere back her voice and give her the fair shake I never thought she had from other authors (at least the ones I had read). In my mind, she was a full-fledged woman with hopes, dreams and desires, not the one-dimensional adulteress we usually see. In order to show that I set out to tell her whole life story, not just the part that involves Arthur. That meant dreaming up a youth for her in Daughter and imagining her heading into old age in Mistress of Legend. I feel like I’ve told the best possible story I could and did as much as possible to redeem her from the stain of sin past literature has laid upon her.
Apparently others think so as well. I sent an ARC of Mistressto my friend and fellow author Tyler Tichelaar so he could review it on his website. He liked it so much, I ended up using the opening of the review as a blurb on the cover. But the part that brought tears to my eyes was this line: “She has given back to Guinevere, an often overlooked and derided figure, her dignity and endowed her with a true personality.” Mission accomplished.
Completing a trilogy is no small feat. There were years upon years where I wondered if I could do it and feared I could not. I remember burning with jealousy the day one of my friends completed her first series. But now all I feel is tremendous accomplishment and pride. I want to jump up and down and yell “I did it! I did it! I did it! I did it!”
More than that, I feel like each book on the series got better as I grew as a writer. One of my biggest fears was that my story would end up like so many other trilogies and peter out or go totally off track in the last book. (Breaking Dawn, anyone?) In fact, I feel like this is the strongest book in the series, and early reviews are indicating the same.
Now I face for the first time in nearly two decades a future without Guinevere. (Well, not totally. She’ll be one of the point of view characters in Isolde’s story whenever I get around to writing that.) I will be forever grateful for all she as done for me. She was meant to get me started in my career, and I know she will gracefully cede the stage to the characters who come next. I just hope this trilogy is repayment enough.
PS – If you want to catch up, Daughter of Destiny and Camelot’s Queen are only $0.99 for a limited time…
PPS – For those who know of my obsession with the band Kill Hannah, the reference in the title of this blog to “a wild dream achieved” comes from their song “Believer.”
Today I’m also part of the blog tour for A Slave of Shadows by Naomi Finley.
A Slave of the Shadows
by Naomi Finley
Publication Date: March 5
Huntson Press Inc.
eBook & Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
In 1850 Charleston, South Carolina, brutality and cruelty simmer just under the genteel surface of Southern society. In an era where ladies are considered mere property, beautiful and headstrong Willow Hendricks’ father has filled her life with turmoil, secrets, and lies.
Her father rules her life until she finds a kindred spirit in spunky, outspoken Whitney Barry, a northerner from Boston. Together these Charleston belles are driven to take control of their own lives—and they are plunged into fear and chaos in their quest to fight for the rights of slaves. Against all odds, these feisty women fight to secure freedom and equality for those made powerless and persecuted by a supposedly superior race.
Only when they’ve lost it all do they find a new beginning.
Book 1 presents Willow and Whitney—and the reader—with the hardships the slaves endure at the hands of their white masters.
Naomi lives in Northern Alberta. Her love for travel means her suitcase is always on standby while she awaits her next plane ticket and adventure. Her love for history and the Deep South is driven by the several years she spent as a child living in a Tennessee plantation house. She comes from a family of six sisters. She married her high school sweetheart and has two teenage children and two dogs named Ginger and Snaps.
Creativity and passion are the focus of her life. Apart from writing fiction, her interests include interior design, cooking new recipes, throwing lavish dinner parties, movies, health, and fitness.
During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a Kindle Fire HD 8″ 32GB & signed copy of A Slave of the Shadows! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on May 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US/UK/Canada only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
Happy Beltane, everyone! I’m so excited to have Jacqueline Friedland as my guest here today. As her post below makes clear, she’s a soul-sister of mine in her love for strong women. Her post really got me thinking about how our early experiences with reading shape who we are later on as writers. I think I may do a follow up post on that with my own thoughts. But this post is about her, not about me. Take it away, Jacqueline!
Photo: Rebecca Weiss Photography
Did you ever try to figure out why certain novels make you fall in love and others make you fall asleep? Perhaps you’ve wondered if there is a common thread, a specific literary ingredient that draws you so deeply into certain stories? Maybe if you could identify a trend in the books that invariably keep you reading late into the night, that knowledge might allow you to better hone in on other books that would provide you with equal delight.
As a voracious reader and an author, it has been important to me to pinpoint the devices and themes embedded in the books I most adore. Not only can such knowledge save me from muddling through books that don’t speak to me, but it can also help me to create written work of my own that feels appropriate and substantive in all the right ways. Over the past several years, I have identified several characteristics that lead me to gravitate towards a novel. I like a fast-pace, a strong plot, accessible prose, maybe some romance, perhaps some humor. Nothing scary, gory, or overly experimental. But there is something more elusive that has made certain books stay with me for years.
When my mother read aloud to me during my early childhood, we loved The Little Engine that Could, The Secret Garden and Little House on the Prairie. As I grew older, I was drawn to books like Nancy Drew, The Babysitters Club and Anne of Green Gables. Then there were the books that shot to the top of my list as I reached adulthood: Gone with the Wind, Jane Eyre and The Bronze Horseman. What these books all have in common are strong female characters (and if you weren’t aware, Watty Piper’s plucky little engine is indeed female). These works of fiction portray girls and women who have grit, the will and determination to continue striving until they reach their goals.
There is an additional commonality between these characters though, which is that these females are not only strong, but kind. In today’s world, there is so much discussion of women needing to be strong, but not enough emphasis on the fact that in appropriate circumstances, kindness should be perceived as a type of strength. The ability to think about others and see past one’s own experience in interacting with people requires a special kind of fortitude.
In creating my debut novel, Trouble the Water, I felt it was imperative to include positive messages about feminine power and decision making. The manner in which my characters approach the circumstances fate deals them is what I believe defines their spirits and ethos. I wanted to portray characters who could make the best of difficult circumstances while also being brave enough to reject conformity. I created women who took the lemons life handed them and decided to use those lemons as paperweights. After all, not everyone likes lemonade.
The central female characters in Trouble the Water are each willing to think outside the Victorian or antebellum box, despite the constraints of the 1840s. The women are courageous enough to make their own choices and to shout until they are heard. Abigail Milton, the story’s protagonist, has worked in a cotton mill in Lancashire England, receiving a pittance in recompense since she was eleven years old. When her parents ask her to travel to America so that she may live off the charity of their old friend in Charleston, and thereby lighten the financial burden on her family, she agrees to set off on her own, traveling across the Atlantic Ocean with little more than a stale bread crust and unwavering determination to make a better life for herself.
As the story unfolds and Abby discovers that her new home is rife with clandestine efforts to free local slaves, she is excited, energized, and eager to participate in the abolitionist effort. Rather than judging the high-risk and profoundly illegal activity of her patron, Douglas Elling, Abby wants to jump directly into the trenches of abolition with him. It’s a whole different kind of #metoo.
Throughout the story, Abby repeatedly resists being corralled into any of the stereotypical gender molds of the day. From her penchant for physical exercise to her continued rejection of assistance from men, even those who simply offer to carry her bundles, Abby is her own person. She is desperate to create meaning in her life, which she believes can be achieved through teaching and helping others. When she develops romantic feelings for another character, she struggles greatly over how to reconcile those feelings with her burning desire for independence.
In addition to Abby, the other women featured in the novel are full of conviction and tenacity. Cora Rae Cunningham, a beautiful, spicy, nineteen-year-old who has rejected one marriage proposal after another will not be seduced by wealth nor forced into an arrangement that is not to her romantic satisfaction, much to the dismay of her plantation-owning, socially conforming parents. Clover, a house slave impregnated by her master, refuses to birth her baby into a life of bondage, and in the ultimate act of bravery and sacrifice, takes her chances on running North.
Creating a realistic historical novel that depicts female characters who are ahead of their time, models for women in any time period, is a challenge that I was glad to undertake. I felt it was incumbent on me to portray women who were progressive for their time, active players in their life stories, rather than passive guests, living out the scripts that had been handed to them by other forces. My characters have strong backbones, as well as moments of unexpected kindness and generosity. They are just the type of women who would keep me reading deep into the night.
Sounds like your characters and mine would get along great! Thank you so much, Jacqueline! I know I can’t wait to read her book! If you have any questions for Jacqueline, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll make sure she sees them.