Ransom’s Law: Chapter One

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Using the tip of his index finger, eleven-year-old Junior Ransom traces the edge of the hammer and the smooth handle of the pistol as it rests snuggly in its worn, leather holster hanging on the bedpost of his sleeping father’s bed.

Kerzzan, Junior’s mixed-breed, long-haired dog, sits at attention beside him, watching his every move.

The morning sun, streaming through the screen-less, open window, frames his Pa’s head in a square of yellow. If not for the many flaws in his Pa’s character, the light might cause one to think of the glow of a halo. But no one would ever suggest that Roscoe Ransom is an angelic being.

Junior listens to the growl of his Pa’s rhythmic snoring. Even at his young age, Junior has learned to distinguish between the kind of snoring that comes from exhaustion and the kind that is the result of being drunk. With his Pa, it’s most often the latter.

Slipping his hand around the pistol handle, Junior gets a firm grip on it and begins inching it out of the holster. Just as the trigger guard is about to clear the holster, his Pa snorts, coughs, and rolls onto his side. Instantly, Junior drops the pistol back into the holster as if it had just come out of the hot forge that produced it.

His Pa’s bloodshot eyes stare at him from behind the strands of his pompadour haircut that have fallen onto his face. He smacks his lips and attempts to wet his lips.

“Morning, Pa,” Junior says.

Roscoe blinks slowly until recognition registers on his face. “Hey, Junior.” As he sits up, the gold star pinned to his rumpled shirt catches the rays of the sun and shines it in Junior’s eyes.

Squinting against the reflection, Junior asks, “Don’t you need to get up and go to work?”

Roscoe runs his hands through his thick, black hair and shakes his head.

As Junior watches him rub the three-day beard stubble on his cheek, he’s reminded of the sound of sandpaper on a wood plank. Even though he’s not certain what the hand through the hair and the head shaking means, Junior has been told his Pa does this in an effort to clear the cobwebs. If that’s true, then it means the spiders in his Pa’s head do most of their work at night, because it’s always in the morning that he shakes his head like this. However, Junior suspects that it’s alcohol that plays a role in filling his Pa’s head with dust-covered cobwebs.

From outside the window comes the sound of their mule braying.

Lighting a cigarette, Roscoe looks over his shoulder towards the sound. “Sounds like Pat’s ready to go to the field.”

His father’s deep voice has always reminded Junior of the sound of rumbling thunder – sometimes frightening, but sometimes soothing. When singing at church, the few times they’ve gone together, it made the wooden pew vibrate and tickled Junior’s buttocks.

“Yes sir,” Junior says. “I was just getting ready to go hook him up to the plow and get started, but I thought maybe I should wake you first. You want some coffee?”

Roscoe coughs a couple of times before saying, “Yeah, that’d be great.”

Junior’s bare feet scruff against the unfinished, gray wood floor as he exits his Pa’s bedroom and heads down the hallway to the kitchen, while the click-click of Kerzzan’s toenails on the floor let him know his dog is close behind him.

In the kitchen he walks over to the wood-burning cook stove and, using a dishtowel to protect his hand from the hot handle, lifts the coffee pot off the eye and pours his Pa a cup. When he turns around to head back to the bedroom, his Pa limps into the kitchen.

Taking the cup of coffee from his son, Roscoe lifts it to his face and takes a sip.

Junior watches the steam touch his father’s face and then scatter away as he blows gently to cool it.

After two more sips, Roscoe lets out a satisfied “Ahh,” then sips again and looks at Junior. “You make a good pot of coffee.”

Junior grins. These occasional words of praise from his Pa are what he lives for. “You helped teach me how,” he says.

Roscoe pulls a whiskey bottle out of his hip pocket and pours some into his coffee.

“Maybe you could go without that for today,” Junior says tentatively. “I know you say it helps your headache, but – ”

“When I want your opinion on it, I’ll ask you for it!” Roscoe snaps and, at the same time, slaps Junior’s face. “I don’t need yours or anyone else’s permission to do anything.”

While the sting of his father’s hand hurts, it’s the tone of voice his father uses that strikes him in the pit of his stomach. Junior lowers his head and twists his foot on the floor. In an effort to deflect some of the hurt, he points at the headline on a newspaper lying on the floor, and asks, “What does ‘Great Depression’ mean?”

Roscoe looks at the paper, then at Junior. “Mostly it means there’s more poor people like us than there used to be. We’re just luckier than some because we’ve got land to grow food on. People who live in big cities don’t have nothing. They have to stand in line just to get a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. Some of them have even jumped out of the windows of tall buildings to kill themselves.”

Junior is shocked. “Kill themselves?”

“Yep. They’re too chicken to face the world and to try and work at rebuilding their life. I’ve got no respect for people like that, and you shouldn’t either. Always remember, if you want something out of life, you have to work for it – and work hard! And even then there’s no guarantee that life won’t kick you in the teeth and take it all from you again.”

Junior isn’t certain what his Pa is talking about, except for the two words “work hard,” because he’s been doing that for as long as he can remember. But he suspects his Pa’s message has something to do with what happened to him in the war and with Junior’s mother dying.

Just then, someone knocks on the back door.

“Go see who that is,” Roscoe says.

Junior obeys and finds their neighbor, Willow Muscadine, standing on the other side of the screen door. He takes in her long, straight, black hair, her dark eyes and skin, and her expressionless face. It’s this last feature that makes trying to read her mood as impossible as trying to accurately predict the weather. People say she’s half Cherokee and the descendant of a Chief. Junior has also heard people say that she killed a man and took his scalp afterwards and that she keeps the scalp hid in her house.

“Good morning, Junior,” she says as he opens the door. “You look awfully handsome this morning, like a proud warrior.”

This is why he enjoys being around her – she is nice to him and finds a way to make him feel proud. Grinning, he says, “Good morning, Miss Willow.”

When she steps inside, she touches the side of his face, and says, “Has he hit you again?”

Junior sees the briefest of a spark of anger in her eyes. Like an arrow, her question pins him to the wall. He doesn’t want to lie to her, but he doesn’t want to put his Pa in a bad light, either.

As he tries to sort out the best response, Willow says, “Do not answer me. I know the truth. One of these days he will do that one too many times.”

Junior hopes that she is making a small joke but can’t be certain by looking at her inscrutable face, so her threat hangs in the air like the blade of a guillotine.

“Is he up?” Willow asks.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She turns from him and heads into the house.

Junior has thoughts of running to the barn and getting in the field with Pat because he knows the red mark on the side of his face has betrayed his Pa’s actions, and if Willow raises a raucous with his Pa about it, his Pa might think he told what happened. Then there would sure enough be heck to pay, especially if his Pa is drunk when he dispenses judgement.

But instead of running away, Junior tiptoes to the doorway of the kitchen so he can hear what happens between Willow and his Pa.

“Are you drunk?” Junior hears Willow ask. He’s amazed at how brave she is to ask such a pointed question.

“What business is it of yours?” Roscoe growls.

“What you do means nothing to me,” she retorts.

Junior knows this comment by Willow is a lie, because the one thing she has not been able to hide from him is the way he has seen her look at his Pa. She sometimes looks at him the way his mother used to; the kind of look that says “you matter to me” and “why won’t you love me?”

Even though he was only five years old at the time, Junior felt sorry for his mother because of how hard and unkind his Pa was toward her. He often wondered why she married him to begin with and if maybe he was a different man when they married. If he was, Junior wishes he had known him back then.

“Do you have washing that needs to be done?” Willow asks Roscoe.

“You don’t have to do that,” he replies. “I’ll get it done. I don’t need anyone’s help.”

“You need lots of help from lots of people,” she countered, “but you are too stubborn and unwilling to admit it. We go through this every time. I’ve told you, with all the washing I take in for other people, doing the little bit you and Junior have won’t make that much difference.”

Suddenly, Junior’s ears detect the sound of an approaching car, and he quietly slips out the back door and walks around to the front of the house.

Speeding toward the house with a cloud of dust trailing behind is the patrol car that his Pa and his Pa’s deputy, Hollis Craig, share. Hollis pulls the night shift, while his Pa works the day, or at least is supposed to work days. When the car comes to a stop in front of the house, the dust cloud catches up and envelopes both the car and Junior. He squints as Hollis exits the car.

Junior wishes he looked like Hollis, with his low forehead, thick hair, muscular build, and large forearms. Hollis told him one time that if he milked as many cows as he did when he was growing up that he’d have large forearms, too.

Hollis gives him a grim look, and says, “Is your Pa inside?”

“Yes sir.”

“Is he sober?”

Junior hates that so many people think of his Pa as a drunk. He wishes he had a Pa he could be proud of. “Yes sir. Willow’s in there with him.”

Without another word, Hollis heads straight to the front door, with Junior trailing close behind. Hollis knocks once on the screen door and walks inside, saying, “Hey, Sheriff, it’s me, Hollis.”

Junior slips inside just before the squeaking spring slams the screen door shut. He watches as his Pa comes around the corner and meets Hollis in the living room. He also notices Willow’s black hair, as she lurks just the other side of the corner.

Roscoe says, “You ready for me to take you home so you can get some sleep?”

“Not this morning,” Hollis replies. “We’ve got trouble.”

“What’s happened?”

“Somebody murdered Gideon Turner.”

“Murdered? You sure?”

“No doubt about it. His throat was cut, and,” he hesitates and glances back at Junior, then looks back at Roscoe and adds, “and he was castrated.”

(If you enjoyed this look into the book, be sure to search for it when it releases on Amazon on Oct. 26!)

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The Story Behind the Story: An Unexpected Frost

[SPOILER ALERT]

I’ve always thought of the Tucker series in these terms: Tucker’s Way is a challenging story; An Unexpected Frost is a sad story; April’s Rain is a forgiving story; March On is a dark story; and Who Will Hear Me When I Cry is a sweet story.

Tucker’s Way was about whether or not a character like Tucker could change and bond with a person who was the opposite of her; of course, she did that with Ella. In that book Tucker overcame so many obstacles and became a powerful heroin—the kind of person you would want as a friend.

If you have a friendship with someone, like Tucker and Ella had, what is the one thing that frightens you the most about it? It is that you will lose that friend. How will I survive without them?It is these kinds of relationships that make us feel secure, which is one of the basic needs of humans, and is why we fear losing it. Therefore, it seemed natural to me that the evolution of Tucker would have to involve how she would deal with such a loss.

I will admit that An Unexpected Frost was a most difficult story to write. I had grown to love Ella, just as Tucker had, and I loved seeing the bond that formed between them. Killing a character was something I had never done and had never thought about what that would feel like to me, especially if it was a character I cared about.

You see, a writer develops relationships with his characters, has conversations with them, asks them what they are thinking, quizzes them about their behaviors. It is a very personal and intimate process. And so, when I formulated the basic storyline for An Unexpected Frost, I dreaded writing it. Many readers have told me how much they cried when they read this book. What might might surprise you to learn is that I shed tears as I wrote it.

It was this book that taught me how passionately readers felt about my characters. They gave me an earful!

  • “Why did you let Ella die?”
  • “I can’t believe you killed Ella!”
  • “How could you do such a thing?”
  • “I didn’t like what happened to Ella.”

Those criticisms, however, made me smile because it let me know that I had created a character that people connected with and loved.

 

The Story Behind the Story of August, March, and April

[SPOILER ALERT]

The worst thing you could say about how August, March, and April were raised is that it was both abusive and neglectful at times. Tucker was not equipped to be a parent; she was never given parenting tools for her toolbox by her parents. But the best thing you could say about the children’s raising is that Tucker did instill resiliency in them. As the Tucker series progresses, it is easy to see how all three of them overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles much like their grandmother, Tucker, did.

In this entry of “The Story Behind the Story” I’m going to focus on the children as they were in Tucker’s Wayand in An Unexpected Frost. How they were when they were older will be covered in future articles.

When I first began writing Tucker’s WayI didn’t intend on the children playing such a central role in the story, but I quickly realized that they could be a vehicle whereby people could get to know and understand Tucker. If you think about it, much of what you learned about Tucker was in observing her interactions with the children. No doubt you cringed at times over how rough she was toward them, yet you couldn’t help but be moved to tears over how tender she could be.

The struggles that the young children had were multifaceted. First of all, they all had different fathers and none knew who their fathers were, at least as the story begins. Secondly, they were abandoned by their mother, but not just abandoned; she played the cruel “game” of showing up and promising wonderful things for them which she never fulfilled. That is a particularly demoralizing thing to do to a child.

Looking at the children individually, August’s life was made more difficult because he was a bi-racial child growing up in the South in the early 1970’s, and as such never felt like he was accepted by whites or blacks. I thought it would be a touch of irony (and shock and surprise!) for him, Smiley Carter, and Tucker to learn that Smiley was August’s father. And Smiley was very helpful to him as he traversed that uneven landscape.

March was a classic middle child, feeling unimportant to anyone and that there was nothing special about him. He was also a very sensitive child who was attuned to the feelings of others around him and his own. That was why he was so often emotionally reactive to the uncertainty and changes in his world. And it also explains why he ran away, which was a particularly heartbreaking thing to write about. At the time I wrote it I wasn’t certain he would be brought back into the storyline.

April, of course, was the heartbreaker of the three children and the one who elicited the most empathy from readers. She suffered from what is known as selective mutism. In the first two books in the series she was seen as beginning to come out of her shell and flourish, but trouble was brewing inside her, and that is what April’s Rainis about.

And then there was the “secret” about what happened between the three children, a secret that burdened them deeply but unnecessarily. I included this in the storyline because parents sometimes overreact to young children who are becoming familiar with their bodies and are curious about the body parts of other children. There was no coercion nor physical harm done between August, March, and April, and it wasn’t something that happened over and over and evolved into an incestuous relationship. Unfortunately, they had no one they felt they could talk to about their feelings, and so their thoughts and feelings about what they’d done mushroomed into a heavy burden they didn’t know what to do with, a burden that led to March running away.

[Next up: I’ll delve into the story behind the story of An Unexpected Frost.]

The Story Behind the Story of Tucker’s daughter, Maisy

[WARNING: There are story “spoilers” in this article.]

A common reaction I get from readers of Tucker’s Way is how unbelievable a character her daughter, Maisy, is. “Nobody acts like that” is their comment.

So, let’s jump in and look more closely Maisy to see if we can “analyze” her and make sense of her behavior.

To understand Maisy we have to start with Tucker. As amazing a person as Tucker was we have to agree that she was also terribly flawed, especially when it came to parenting skills. Neither of Tucker’s parents equipped her to know how to be a good parent; quite the opposite is true. Between abuse and neglect Tucker essentially raised herself. So, when she became the parent of her father’s child, Maisy, when she was a teenager she for certain knew how not to parent but didn’t have a clue how to parent in a positive manner.

We have to assume that there were times that Tucker was both abusive and neglectful toward Maisy, hopefully not to the extent her parents were, but still she acted in a way that was familiar to her, however unhealthy it might have been. And it was in that environment that the seeds for Maisy’s personality were planted.

Maisy grew up to be what people often refer to as a “crazy maker.” But the proper designation for that type person is they have a Borderline Personality Disorder.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition is the “bible” that mental health practitioners go to to find the diagnoses and symptoms of every type of mental illness. Here is the definition for Borderline Personality Disorder:

“A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

  2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).

  5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.

  6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days.).

  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness.

  8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).

  9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms”

I think you’ll have to agree that Maisy had nearly all nine of the criteria, and within that context her behavior in the book was predictable.

And while some might judge her harshly for abandoning her three children to Tucker, I think they were better off than if they’d been raised by Maisy.

[Next up: The Story Behind the Story of “An Unexpected Frost”]

The Story Behind the Story: Tucker’s Way

Tucker's Way

She’s one of the most forceful and unforgettable characters you will ever meet—she’s the main character in my best-selling Tucker series, Tucker. But how did Tucker come into existence, and where did the storyline for Tucker’s Way come from?

A number of years ago I completed an online writing course with Long Ridge Writers Group (now known as Institute For Writers https://www.instituteforwriters.com). My instructor throughout the course was Sylvie Kurtz, herself a well-established and published author. One of my assignments was to create a character that would be so striking that readers would have difficulty forgetting them. So, I described this large, older woman with short-cropped hair, scratched-up eyeglasses, dressed in overalls the cuffs of which did not quite meet the tops of her worn, leather work boots. She had a broad back, thick arms and large, calloused hands.

The problem for me with this character was that I couldn’t quit thinking about her and wondering what kind of life experiences would produce such a person. That turned out to be the seed, or perhaps earworm, that prompted me to delve into Tucker and write her story.

But simply telling a story of why she was the way she was wasn’t enough. There had to be some sort of conflict, which triggered the idea, “What would Tucker do if she met someone who was her polar opposite and was forced to interact with that person?” And so was born the character, Ella McDade.

Ella was easy for me to draw because I had the portrait of Tucker “setting on an easel,” and all I had to do was find the opposite of all of Tucker’s traits. Grasping Tucker’s story in one hand and Ella’s in the other, I felt like I was ready to tell a story. I just needed a setting.

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s and a rural setting were perfect because I was so familiar with both. My fear had been that if I chose something I was unfamiliar with and began doing research on another time and place, that I would become consumed with the research and not return to the surface for a year or more. You could say I chose the late 60’s and 70’s because I was lazy, and perhaps you’d be correct, but I was getting more and more eager to start writing Tucker’s story.

One question I cannot answer is, why did I choose the name Tucker? I simply wanted a name that worked as both as a first name and a last name. The name is sort of an enigma just like Tucker herself.

“Is Tucker a real person?” is one question I’m often asked that makes me very happy because it means that the character I created seems real to people. Everything about her is real in the sense that how she acts, thinks, and feels are examples of things that I have seen and heard, but the truth is, she is completely fictitious.

Most people are not aware that the first version of Tucker’s Way began as a chapter a week on my blog, similar to the old radio serials. I did it as lark and was shocked when people told me how much they loved it and asked me, “What happened next?” THAT was a question I was unprepared for and had to spend time thinking about. The result, though, was “An Unexpected Frost.”

I will relate the story behind the story of that book, but up next will be the story behind the story of Tucker’s daughter, Maisy.

 

 

He Refused to Stand for The Pledge of Allegiance

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IT WAS THE MOST UNBELIEVABLE THING I’D EVER SEEN. I was twelve years old, the year was 1964. Every morning in school we stood, faced the American flag, put our hand over our heart and recited The Pledge of Allegiance.

But one morning, halfway through the pledge, my buddy nudged me and motioned with his head for me to look behind us. Sure, that would be the wrong thing to do and risked raising the ire of my teacher, a former Marine who was pretty insistent on things being done his way, but hey, I was twelve years old. So I glanced backward and saw the new kid sitting in his chair looking down at his hands in his lap. To say that I was stunned would be a gross understatement.

I thought that perhaps he just didn’t know what the drill was in Mr. Traylor class, so I tried to get his attention so I could motion for him to at least stand up. I’m sure I looked like a gecko with one eye focused on the flag and Mr. Traylor and the other focused on the new kid.

For an unknown reason to me, Mr. Traylor looked over his shoulder in my direction. (Maybe it’s true that teachers have eyes in the back of their heads.) He gave me a look that made my blood freeze. Not knowing what else to do, I leaned a bit to the left to give him a line of sight to the boy behind me. (Yes, I gave up the usurper for the sake of saving my own hide.)

As soon as the pledge ended, we all sat down and stared as Mr. Traylor marched toward the boy behind me. I heard the three words that no student EVER wanted to hear, “Come with me.”

The “prisoner of war” was escorted by Mr. Traylor to the cloak room, a small room in the back where we all hung our jackets and coats AND where Mr. Traylor kept his paddle (a cruel looking piece of wood with holes drilled in the middle so that he could swing it faster). I cringed at the thought of what was going to happen next.

Everyone in class strained to hear what was being said behind the closed door or at least hear the “whack” off the paddle. Several moments passed without a sound of any kind passing through the thin walls. Then suddenly, Mr. Traylor and the student exited the room. The new kid resumed his seat behind me as Mr. Traylor proceeded to the front of the room.

All of us had our eyes glued on the most feared teacher in the school as he turned to face us.

“Students,” he said, “the newest member of our class, Master Jennings, chose not to recite the pledge because the religion that his family practices forbids it. While I might disagree with that position, I fought for his right to practice it.”

That was it. That’s all he said or ever said about it. It made an impression on me and a memory that I’ve never forgotten.

The Woodcutter’s Wife – chapter 1

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Chapter One

Struggling to catch her breath and with her face glistening with sweat, Mary finally made it to the top of the hill that formed one side of the hollow that she and William’s cabin lay nestled in. The top of the hill was no peak, rather it looked as if the top had been sliced off with a large knife, leaving a small, flat, half-acre area. In the valley to her right she saw an autumn fog lying over the flowing waters of Chickamauga Creek as it wound its way toward Chattanooga where it emptied into the Tennessee River. She watched in silence for a few minutes, then turned to face her final destination – a large, spreading American chestnut tree standing in the center of the clearing, with low-hanging limbs that seemed to bid her to enter their embrace.

The leaves crunched underneath her knees as she knelt underneath the tree and stared at four small, wooden boards sticking out of the ground. From a pocket on the front of her dress she withdrew a small book: In Memorium, A.H.H. by Alfred Tennyson. The book had become her constant companion ever since she purchased it a month ago. She’d never read anything that grasped the depth to which grief can take a person like Tennyson did.

She flipped through pages until she found the passage she was looking for and read it aloud:

Old Yew, which graspest at the stones
That name the under-lying dead,
Thy fibres net the dreamless head,
Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.

After returning the book to her pocket, she placed a goldenrod bloom at the base of each of the boards, then, slowly, she read the engraving on each of them, starting with the one to her left:

Elizabeth Thomson

Born January 23, 1854

Died January 27, 1854

 

Alexander Thomson

Born April 30 , 1857

Died April 30, 1857

 

Naomi Thomson

Born May 28, 1860

Died August 20, 1860

 

X Thomson

Born July 3, 1862

Died July 3, 1862

After reading the last one, she said, “You are the one I feel the most pity for because we didn’t even give you a name. I should have insisted, but your father, William, had decided that maybe it was bad luck for us to name a child before it was born and that was why none of your siblings survived. But I know the truth. The truth is that I am cursed by God. For reasons that I don’t understand, he has decided that grief will be my constant companion and that loss will follow me everywhere I go.”

She laid down on her back so that some part of her body was on top of each of the tiny graves of her children. Her long, thick, flaxen hair, tucked inside her cap, provided a pillow for the back of her head and framed her smooth-skinned face as she looked up through the branches of the chestnut tree. A single tear, a small reminder of the untold number of tears she had shed under this tree, slipped from one of her blue eyes and dampened the hair on her temple.

At least I’ll never suffer the pain of losing another child, if what the doctor said is true. And I’m glad of it! I’m soul weary of getting my hopes up and having them repeatedly smashed.

She knew that her barrenness was a bitter disappointment to William, and while she appreciated his efforts to hide it, there were times when he said things that made it clear he still wished for children.

There was a time she had longed for the joy of seeing her and William’s children grow and thrive and work alongside them on the farm, but when she learned that that opportunity had ended, she became determined to fill the void in her and his life by being the perfect helpmeet, working the farm side by side with him and having him teach her how to make the chairs, baskets, and tables that he sold during the winter months. And she would be his partner in cutting and selling firewood to people who lived in the nearby city of Chattanooga.

After a few more minutes, she arose, said goodbye to her children, and headed back down the hill. Halfway down, she paused to catch her breath and sat down on a large limestone rock that jutted out from the hillside. From her vantage point she could look down and see the cabin and barn. There was no sign of William, but she knew he was busy, probably still feeding the livestock or out hunting for meat for their table. A thin trail of smoke from the chimney of their house snaked upward toward the top of the ridges on either side of their hollow. As she followed its journey she took note of the rust-colored leaves of the sycamore trees, the hickory trees’ deep gold color, the bright reds of the red maples (her favorite), dashes of crimson from poison sumac, and the earth tones of the oaks.

Suddenly she heard the sharp snap of a twig close by, and jumped, every nerve alert and heart pounding. She turned her head this way and that until she spotted the intruder coming through the thick foliage. She frowned. “You startled me.”

William strode toward her, his rifle hanging comfortably in one hand. The cheeks of his ruddy face glowed bright red. “You don’t need to walk off by yourself without letting me know where you’re going. You gave me a fright. I’ve told you you need to be more careful. There is war all around us. What if I had been a Yankee soldier or a Rebel deserter? What would you have done?” With concern etched on his face, he sat down beside her.

It was a familiar chastisement, one that rankled her. “If you’re really worried what might happen to me, then teach me to use a gun like you promised to!”

“Yes, yes, I know. I just never think of it at the right time.” His dark eyes slipped from her gaze, and he looked up the hill. “Why do you go up there so often?” he asked. “It always makes you melancholy.”

She pulled her knees to her chest. “I’m fully aware of my melancholia. I live with it every day and don’t need you to remind me of it. I try hard to fight against it, and sometimes I win, but other times it is too overpowering. What I don’t understand is why you don’t go up there at all.”

“I just try to keep it pushed out of my mind and focus on what’s going on today.”

“I wish I could do that,” she replied. “I can’t help feeling like they are lonely. I don’t know if they knew they were loved. So I go up there to tell them about you and about me and how much they meant to us.” Suddenly, sadness, pity, regret, anger, frustration all fill her chest, and she feels if it is about to burst. I thought I was past all this. Perhaps the grief of losing a child never completely leaves a mother’s heart.

William laid his hand against her cheek. “You know,” he began, “the doctor could be wrong. Perhaps we can still have a child.”

Mary slapped his hand away. “I’m still not enough for you, am I? Why must women always be measured by their ability to give birth, not just by men, but by other women, too? It’s always the first question I’m asked when I meet a women for the first time – ‘How many children do you have?’ they ask. What I’d like to tell them is that I have four children, and then I’d like to take them up this hill and show them the markers and see what they have to say. And if they gave even a hint that my four babies don’t count, or if they looked at me like they pitied me, I would – ” her hands ball into fists. “I don’t know what I would do, but they would for sure never do it again.”

She sees the hurt on William’s face and knows she should apologize for speaking so harshly, but at the same time didn’t mind that he felt some pain. She always loved him, but sometimes, like right now, she hated him – hated him for not feeling like she did, for being able to push the pain so far away from him that he seemed unaffected by it, and there were times she hated him for continuing to insist they try to have a child, even after they had lost the first two.

She took a deep breath and let it out, in an effort to let go of her hatred and to grab hold of love. Finally, she said, “I’m sorry for how I speak to you sometimes and how I treat you. In Tennyson’s poem that I am always talking about, he says, ‘I sometimes hold it half a sin To put in words the grief I feel; For words, like Nature, half reveal And half conceal the Soul within.’ That is exactly how I feel. I don’t even know how to talk about how I feel.

“But this I know, you will never know how sorry I am that I can’t give you children. I know you wanted a son more than anything on – ”

William reached over and covered her mouth with his hand. “Shush, Mary Elizabeth. Don’t say another word. I know you don’t always mean what you say, because I know you love me. Losing your babies has changed you, but I know that the woman I married is still in you and will live and breathe again some day. I should be apologizing to you. I shouldn’t have said what I said to you. It was thoughtless of me. To be blessed to have a wife like you, the most beautiful woman in the land, is more than I could have ever dreamed of. If it is God’s will that we have no more children, then it is my place to accept that and be content with it. And I promise you, I will.”

It was hard for Mary to appreciate William’s attempts at easing her burden, because all that she could hear him say was that he would accept her barrenness, not that he had accepted it.

(To order your copy of this heart stopping historical romance by best selling author David Johnson, click on this link  )

[Official release date is July 4.]

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How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

Tired business man thinking about a concept

It’s a simple question. One that I’m often asked. But the answer is a bit more complicated.

Should I start the calculations from the time I first had the idea for the story? Or the time that I spent just thinking about it? Hmmmm, that’s hard to do.

If I use the beginning of the journey of a book as the first key stroke on my laptop, then my latest book, The Woodcutter’s Wife, took me nine months from the time I began typing it to the time I finished the story (word count:  149,612). (Hmmm, nine months from the beginning until finished. The same amount of time from conception to birth of a human. Interesting.)

But just because I finished writing the story doesn’t mean the book was finished, because then comes the editing and revisions. That process took another four months (words cut from original draft: 50,358).

Then the draft had to be resubmitted for review by an editorial board. (cue the sound of foot tapping while I waited – and waited – and waited). Two months later I was awarded a contract for the book. Yea, I’m done!

Nope, not yet. Next comes finding someone to design a cover. In terms of sales, the book cover is one of the most crucial elements. So there were design proposals, rejections, and revisions (another month). Finally finished!

Sorry, still not done. Now there’s the story teaser that is used to hook people into being curious enough to buy the book. It’s sort of like a summary of the story, but you can’t include any spoilers in it (which is always hard to do). That took about two weeks.

After ALL that, MY work is done. I package it all up and send it in to the publisher.

OOPS! Not so fast. The publisher does one more, FINAL edit, cleaning up any tiny items like punctuation, paragraph alignment, etc. After that, the book. is. FINISHED.

Whew!

(Now I’m waiting on the publisher to decide the date when the book will be released. Stay tuned.)