On this day in 1863, the first shots were fired during the Battle of Gettysburg and Jefferson Coates’s life was changed forever. In honor of him, I’m offering MEMORY OF LIGHT for free. E-book only. Today only. Enjoy!
I’m back! Welcome to Magpie Monday, where I offer some of my favorite blog posts that I’ve run across during my web “travels.” Enjoy!
Blogging about a French chateau.
Stitching for survival.
The costumes of Outlander.
A scrapbook found in an old house. (Not the stuff of fiction!)
See you next time!
Just letting you know, I’ll be taking a few Mondays off as I’m traveling to Germany and France. More to come–so stay tuned!
- The scent of honeysuckle thick in the air.
- Pine cones hanging heavy on the limbs.
- The field of wildflowers that I pass by every day is getting smaller. But it’s hanging on. Yes, indeed.
- I’ll be heading to Frankfurt a week from today–weeee!!!
- Such a gorgeous day. Warm, with a nice little breeze. Perfect morning for a run.
When I was first contacted to write a book about the life of Jefferson Coates to say I was excited would be an understatement. I love writing my mysteries—please don’t misunderstand. But I find when challenging myself to write in other genres, it helps make me a better writer all the way around. And this book was a challenge.
At first, I thought the book would be just about the life of Jefferson Coates, a young Wisconsin soldier who fought in the Civil War, was blinded, and became a homesteader on the frontier of Nebraska. That is more than enough fodder for a book. But the closer I looked at the story, the more I saw it was as much his wife’s story as his.
So it became a bit of a love story—not a romance, but a story of a man and a woman who overcame great challenges to build a life together.
As far as we know, Rachel and Jefferson did not know one another before he went off to war. She married him after he came back from the war and was a blind broom maker in Boscobel, Wisconsin. She knew what she faced as the wife of a blind man, who did not have much money or prospects, and she did not care. In fact, years later she told her daughter that Jefferson Coates may have been a blind man, but that he was the best looking man in town. That was probably true.
The man who hired me to write the story wanted to know a few things about his ancestor. One was how he could manage as a homesteader as a blind man. The answer is, of course, he had a hell of a wife. I don’t think he could have done it alone.
My first task in approaching this project was the research, of course. Which, for the most part, was fascinating. I found myself spending the day at places like the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia, Pa., who were very welcoming. I also spent the day with a Civil War tour guide, Roy Frampton, who took me out to the Gettysburg fields where Jefferson was shot. Both of these experiences are forever etched in my heart and mind.
My next task was to make sense of all of this. I’ve never been a big Civil War person. I’m much more fascinated by the Revolutionary War. The Civil War is one of those wars that people have glommed onto and formed their own opinion of—not necessarily grounded in fact. People have decidedly “romantic” feelings about this time period in our history. But one thing I found is that facts are not necessarily easy to come by. Records are scattered and sometimes not complete even when you find them.
So in making sense of it all I did three things:
- Created a timeline of Jefferson’s life, Rachel’s life, and what was going on during the war. This became very useful the further I moved into the project.
- Read a lot of good (and bad) Civil War fiction, along with history books on things like the Iron Brigade, which Jefferson was a part of, and Wisconsin in the Civil War.
- Had long and meaningful conversations with my husband, a trained historian, who observes everything with a keen academic eye. (So much so that I refuse to go to a historical movies with him. He ruins it, every time!) He read over the book, answered my questions, asked me questions, and on it went.
Because the gentleman who hired me wanted the book written as historical FICTION, I had another set of challenges. Real life often doesn’t follow dramatic narrative arcs to satisfying conclusions. I had to make some decisions about the story early on, like where to begin the story, but I found myself asking questions as I went along. As I explained in the Afterword in the book, I messed with the timeline a bit in order to keep the momentum of the STORY.
This is what I mean when I say that I think and hope I’ve become a better writer as a result of this book. This part really challenged me to look at story structure elements.
That said, I don’t think I could have done this without having the experience of writing mystery and romance novels. Genre fiction writing teaches you how to keep moving the story forward. Luckily, I have an excellent editor at Kensington (for my mysteries) who has pointed out things over the years, things that have become embedded in my nature. I can hear him say “This is a lovely description of the room, but how does this move the story forward?”
It becomes a careful play between giving the right amount of story background and action. I think in historical fiction it’s much more of a challenge to keep backstory at bay. To know how much history to include is key. If I had written this book ten years ago, it might have been double the size, at least. It’s a real temptation, after you’ve done all this research, to want to put every piece of it in.
My next mystery comes out in August and I keep plugging along on them. As long as readers keep enjoying them and my publisher is on board, I am thrilled to write them and already have other ideas in mind for more books Cora Crafts Mystery Series. Also, I have an idea for a way in which I might blend my passion of history and mysteries together. Not a historical mystery. Not exactly, that is. Grin. Stay tuned for more.
Welcome to Magpie Monday! These are some of my favorite blog posts and podcasts I ran across last week. Enjoy!
Whales older than Moby Dick, the novel, that is.
Walt Whitman’s sister.
A visual history of crinolines.
Knitting’s early history.
Dorset buttons! How lovely and what what a fascinating history behind them.
See you next time!
When I was in the eighth grade, I studied German. The language was difficult, but I adored the “culture days” the teacher gave us every Friday, where we learned about the history and culture of Germany. At one point the class went to Germany on a field trip. I sold the gummy bears to help raise funds for the group to go—but I didn’t join them. My family could never have afforded it.
Fast forward way too many years, and I’m planning a trip to Germany, with a little side trip to Paris. (Because Paris is just 3 hours away and is always a good idea. ) Since I was a girl, I dreamed of those castles that King Ludwig built—and they are first on my list of stops.
I’m flying to Frankfurt, taking a train to Munich and staying in Munich for three days—one of those days I’ll make a day trip to see my beloved castles. Then I’m off to Baden-Baden, for the real reason for my trip. I’m going to be interviewed by a German TV station. They are actually paying for my airline tickets and for two nights in a hotel, which is, quite honestly, the only reason I could afford this journey.
After the interview, I’ll be off to Paris for three days and back to Germany—Bingen, for my last full day in Europe.
This is really the craziest thing that has happened in my life.
I can’t tell you the exact reason for this trip. I will, after it’s all over. I promise. But suffice it to say it has nothing to do with my books and everything to do with a relative of mine, of my grandfather. If this is all not strange enough for you, I have and extra little nugget to this story.
I never use family names in any of my books. But I mentioned my grandfather’s name to my daughters one day and they though it was so cool—Paul Eugene. So I used it for a very special character in an upcoming book (No Charm Intended, out next spring). So I had been thinking a lot about him—a man who was very influential in my life.
At the same period, I was being more reflective than usual and regretting I’ve never really had the time or money to travel like I wanted to. I was beginning to let go of some of those far-reaching travel dreams.
Then I heard from this TV show, and the next thing you know, I’m making plans to see those castles. I know it might seem strange to some of you, but I believe my grandfather had a hand in all of this. It’s just too far-fetched and specific and the timing just so for me to believe otherwise.
So starting June 2, follow along on my journey on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Here’s hoping all the technology will be in working order. I have a feeling it will be—if Paul Eugene has anything to do with it. Wink.
- The smell of freshly mown grass. One of my favorite smells ever.
- One step after the other. That’s all I need to think about.
- Except there is my trip to Germany and Paris coming up– a lot of details to plan!
- The day is sunny and warm and a slight breeze blows across my skin. Life is good.
- My new book! Memory of Light–$2.99 for an e-book! Wow, there has been such a leaning curve on this. I think I’ve grown as a writer, as well. This book was a challenge–getting the history right and combining it with a good story. Check it out.
Welcome to Magpie Monday, where I share some of my favorite blogs posts from the pervious week. a little of this, a little of that, dontchyaknow. Enjoy!
To be or not to be…a gaggle of Brits weigh in.
In the market for productivity apps?
Upstate New York, who knew?
The real Wolf Hall.
The Claddagh community and ring.
Miniacs living in a small world.
I’m having a giveaway on Goodreads on my soon-to-be-published, MEMORY OF LIGHT: AN AFTERMATH OF GETTYSBURG. Click here.