Los Angeles,1952 and the story behind the story

When that first dime-sized drop of blood hit her blouse, I figured the evening was pretty much shot.

Los Angeles, 1952 part 1

One of the favorite stories I’ve ever written is Los Angeles, 1952 which is now out (at least part 1 is) in Issue V of Twist in Time Magazine. It came out the same day as another story, Ava, Lana and Old Bob Campbell was published in Ragazine.

The stories are a little similar, in that they both take place in the 1950s (at least partly) and are based on semi-historical events and involve Studio-age Hollywood. I gave you a little backstory on that tale in a previous post, and thought I’d do the same for this one.

LA 1952 is the most thoroughly researched short story I’ve done. On the surface, it’s a tale of boxing, old Hollywood, and first dates. In its own way, it’s also a very personal story. Here are some of the tidbits you might not know.

The boxing card that night was real. Using BoxRec, a website for the geekiest of boxing geeks, I found a real fight card for June 7, 1952 at the Legion (later to be the Olympic) in Los Angeles. All the fighters and the results of that card are as stated in the story. Gil Cadilli was a popular LA-based fighter who fought the likes of Davey Moore and Willie Pep in the early and mid-fifties. He was one of “Senator” Johnny Forbe’s proteges… Forbes helped set up boxing programs in East LA and was responsible for a good percentage of the west coast fighters of that period.

The details about Monarch Studios contracts are accurate. As stated earlier my wife, the Duchess, is a fount of information about the golden age of Hollywood. She also has a number of friends who are equally geeky. One of them is Gary Brumburgh, a singer, actor and someone who has contributed to hundreds of IMDB bios and articles on the studio days. He gave me the low-down on the small studios like Monarch and all he asked in return was to name the actress Lorna Malone. Seemed like a fair deal. Lorna got her big raise in 1952. Unfortunately, Monarch closed its doors in 1954. I hope she married well.

The Hollywood Studio Club was a real thing and my wife lived there. The studio club dormitory where Patsy/Lorna lived was on Lodi Place between Fountain and Lexington in Hollywood. It opened in the early 20s and remained open until 1975. A number of famous actresses lived there, and literally thousands of wannabes and never-weres. in 1972, a bright-eyed 22-year-old from Miami named Joan Herrera pulled up in her Toyota Corolla planning to be a star. They put her in the room once occupied by Marilyn Monroe. She immediately asked to be put in another room fearing bad juju. She became the actress Joan Dareth, and then the current Joan Turmel.

I sold cars in LA for a short time in the 90s, and that was pretty much my boss. Morrie existed, and he’d have absolutely been that guy.

The final part of the story will be out November 1 in Issue 6. Please read it.

If you enjoy my short stories, you can find a list here of what’s out in the world. Better yet, buy one of my novels and support my habit by visiting my Amazon Author Page.

Support Litmags #2 – The Mighty Line

The Mighty Line is looking for stories that are technically sound and culturally relevant.

John Hegellund, publisher The Mighty Line

As someone who loves the short story, it’s kind of staggering how many places are you can find them. If, of course, you know where to look. Because so few print magazines feature short fiction, most of these places are to be found online. This is the second in a series of interviews that might steer you towards places I find great stories to read.

Some of these mags, like Storgy, or Twist in Time, have published my work. Others I enjoy but have yet to crack (although it doesn’t stop me from trying.) Such is the case with The Mighty Line magazine.

Here’s my interview with John Heggelund.

The Mighty Line is kind of unique among lit journals. Tell us about it.

The Mighty Line is a digital magazine of short fiction and visual art. We publish our issues online for free (www.TheMightyLine.com) so our contributors can share their work with as broad an audience as possible. We do not solicit fiction. Every story we publish starts in the slush pile, so every submission we receive is given equal attention. Contributors are paid $25. In addition to standard submissions, we offer expedited submissions, which receive responses in two weeks or less, and feedback submissions, which receive a critical essay critiquing the story submitted with suggestions for improving it.

What was the big idea behind the site? That’s a nice way of asking what the hell you were thinking.

The journey from amateur to professional writer is long with few avenues of support. Your friends and family can encourage you, but they can’t edit your work or give you critical feedback, typically. For the most part, magazine editors respond only in form rejections and paying for editing can get real expensive real quick. I received 168 form rejections before my first story was published. I had spent hundreds of dollars on submissions fees and racked up twice that in editing costs. It was all worth it, but it was a huge investment in time and resources that many people can’t afford. I want to change that. That’s why I started The Mighty Line.

You just publish short stories, rather than poetry or essays. You also showcase one visual artist per issue. What kind of material excites you? What are you looking for?

The Mighty Line is looking for stories that are technically sound and culturally relevant. I love a great plot, but if the story does not encourage the reader to reconsider their perspective on the concepts it touches on, then it’s a lot less likely to be selected. We believe stories resolve internalized conflicts by reconciling opposing ideas in specific contexts. This is a citable public good we want to see in everything we publish.

I won’t take it personally that you haven’t selected one of my stories yet, but you do get major karma points for positive encouragement and feedback. But let’s get negative for a second. What drives you crazy about submissions?

Guidelines. There will always be people who don’t follow guidelines, so I’m railing at the wind here, but it’s very frustrating. It seems incredibly rude that some people expect me to read and seriously engage with their work, yet they aren’t willing to even make sure it’s in the requested format. Our guidelines aren’t arbitrary rules for making the submission process more complicated. A readable font, decent spacing, numbered pages, email in the cover letter, these are all things that make my life so much easier.

What are the long-term goals for The Mighty Line?

As long as The Mighty Line continues to exist and publish writers, I’m golden. I didn’t start this magazine to make money. Our submission fees barely cover our costs most months, and the vast majority of those are tied to services such as providing feedback, which is increasingly taking up more of my day. This mag isn’t going to make me rich, and it surely isn’t going to make me famous, but it does give me a daily opportunity to encourage people to critically engage with literature. I want to inspire people to decide for themselves what is good writing and what is bad writing and why. I don’t care if you’re a tenured professor or a dilettante mystery writer, everyone can engage with literature equally. I want to convince as many people of that as possible.

That’s the goal, so as long we’re receiving submissions, I’m living the dream.

If people are motivated to submit now, what should they know?

Follow guidelines, have a discernible theme, and build to a climax in which a decision is made whose ramifications meaningfully subvert or fulfill the reader’s expectations. Do not summarize the story in the cover letter. The longer your cover letter is, the more likely I am to skim it rather than read it. Please, please, please do not send me something unless you are absolutely sure it is ready for publication. Rejecting good stories that aren’t sufficiently refined breaks my heart. Don’t break my heart.

Most of my short stories, published or otherwise, can be found here on this website.

New Short Story- Ava, Lana and Old Bob Campbell

…you can imagine my surprise when, out of the blue, the old guy ups and says, “I ever tell you about the time I had a three-way with Lana Turner and Ava Gardner?”

Ava, Lana and Old Bob Campbell Ragazine, Sept 1 2019

So, I have a new short story out in the world this month. Two of them actually, but more about that in a minute. This one appears in Ragazine, which is a smart, eclectic collection with some world-class contributors. I’m always glad and a little surprised when places of this caliber let me come and play in their sandbox. I also think it’s a pretty nifty little story.

The story is called Ava, Lana and Old Bob Campbell. It’s a tale of Old Hollywood, memory, and day-drinking. There is also a story behind the story that I thought you’d find amusing.

Usually, writers hate the “where’d you get that idea from?” question. It’s what we do. But the fact is that this story actually has roots going back 20 years or more.

My wife, The Duchess, is an old Hollywood geek. Like the Rainman of old movies. Anyway, we were sitting at the table after dinner with friends one night and we were relating our favorite scandalous tales from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Out of the blue, she comes up with one that knocked us cold.

When she lived in Palm Springs in the 80s, there was a local urban legend that sometime in the 1950s, Ava Gardner and Lana Turner were having a bit of a lost weekend in The Springs. According to the tale, they picked up a local gas jockey and gave him the weekend of his life. Well, of course, everyone said, “Can you imagine? That had to be the luckiest SOB that ever lived. Must have been the greatest night of his life!”

The writer in me asked a different question: What if it wasn’t? What if instead, it started a downward spiral and the guy never recovered? Since then, we’ve talked about that story many times with people, and I had threatened to write about it but it just stayed so much cocktail chatter.

The Duchess thought it should be a novel. I actually considered making it part of a play (yeah, I had delusions of grandeur. Don’t worry, it will never happen). At any rate, this year as I was stuck on the last few chapters of Johnny Lycan and needed a distraction the story finally came to me.

As usual with these kinds of pieces, the research was a blast. I had to pick a year when Ava and Frank were on the skids, Lana wasn’t married and hadn’t yet gotten involved with Johnny Stompanato, and the kid could still mathematically be alive today to tell the story. I settled on the summer of 1957.

Then there were all the details about the Coachella Valley and the people who lived there. Go Arabs. Only they’re not the Arabs anymore, for reasons you can well imagine. You also shouldn’t use the word “beaners,” but the behavior of the characters is not always condoned by the management.

If I thought nobody would care about such an odd little tale, I was disabused of that notion when I brought it to my Sin City Writers critique group, blessings be upon them. Enter Mike Foldes and the good folks at Ragazine, and here we are.

I had another story, with an equally twisted history published this week in Twist in Time. Part 1 of Los Angeles, 1954 is here, and I’ll say more in another post.

I hope you enjoy it. If you want to read more of my short piece, you can find them on my website under Short Stories and other Pieces. Support the litmags who publish writers, and if you like the short stuff, imagine entire novels full of that brilliance. You can find The Count of the Sahara, Acre’s Bastard and its sequel Acre’s Orphans on my Amazon Author Page.

New Orleans and Reconstruction- Amanda Skenandore

One of the best things about moving to Las Vegas has been developing a whole new network of local writers. One of the nicest and, more importantly, successful of these is Amanda Skenandore. Her first book, Between Earth and Sky, impressed the heck out of me. Her second, The Undertaker’s Assistant, is just out now.

I’ve met you a few times now, but tell my readers about you. What’s your deal?

I’m originally from Colorado, but I now live Las Vegas, NV with my husband and our pet turtle, Lenore. When I’m not writing, I work as a registered nurse at a local hospital. My first novel, Between Earth and Sky, came out last year. The highlight of my debut years was winning the American Library Association’s Reading List Award for Best Historical Fiction. My second novel, The Undertaker’s Assistant, released in July. I’m an avid reader, tea-drinker, and wanderlust. I love to write historical fiction because it transports me to past while at the same time shining light on the here and now.

What is your book about? 

The Undertaker’s Assistant follows the story of Effie, a young freedwoman who earns her living as an embalmer, as she seeks out her past amid the growing violence and racial turmoil of Reconstruction-era New Orleans. She says in the novel, “The dead can’t hurt you. Only the living can.” A former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, she knows the truth of her words and keeps her distance from the living. But two encounters—with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline—introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find a place of belonging.

What is it about that time period or character that appealed to you? What are the roots of the story?

I wanted to explore Reconstruction. Growing up, I remember learning a lot about the Civil War, but very little about Reconstruction. I’d learned the names of a dozen generals, but not the names of the African American men elected to congresses and statehouses throughout the South in the decade following the War’s end. Some of these men, like Robert Smalls and Blanche Bruce, were former slaves. What struck me most as I researched, was how progressive the era of Reconstruction was and how quickly that progress crumbled. I’d been taught about carpetbaggers and political corruption, but not about systematic violence and intimidation that truly undermined this progress.

I also wanted to explore the nature of death and dying in an era when that experience was often more frequent and intimate than we know today. A few years ago, I came across an article in The New Republic titled “Who Owns the Dead.”  In it, the author explores the increasing distance modern funerary practices place between the living and the dead and compares that to earlier American practices. The intimacy and continuity of care our forbears practiced with the dead intrigued me. The article also mentioned how the rise of embalming in America coincided with the Civil War as families sought a way to bring loved ones killed in battle home for burial. I knew I wanted to set my second novel during the era of post-Civil War Reconstruction, so the profession of undertaking seemed like the perfect intersection of these two interests.

What is your favorite scene in the book?

My favorite scene—favorite scene to write anyway—was one that takes place during Mardi Gras. It’s Effie’s first social outing in the New Orleans and is unlike anything she’s experienced. I enjoyed researching early Mardi Gras traditions and imaging the varied sights, sounds, and smells Effie would have encountered. Mardi Gras in the 1870s was part celebration, part political rally, and part melee. The hand-stitched costumes and horse-drawn floats were not only mean to dazzle but to convey a message: carpetbagger-rule was coming to an end. It’s a tumultuous scene for Effie, one of both excitement and injury.

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

I’m most active on Instagram, but you can find me on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter too. My books are available wherever books are sold, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Support Litmags #1- Storgy

If we start zoning out a page in then it needs work. Don’t bore us. You know what’s good.

Anthony Self, Executive Director, Head of Film, Storgy Magazine.

Since I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. In particular, I had visions of being a wildly successful short story writer, firing off brilliance to magazines like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Fantasy and Science Fiction, slumming occasionally in Esquire or the New Yorker and the checks would just flow to my mailbox.

I still love writing and reading short stories and there is a crop of new online lit-mags and publishers who are flying the flag and keeping the art-form alive. I’m going to showcase a few of them over the next couple of weeks. Some have published me, some have kept their standards high (Kidding!)

A few years ago, I had a boxing story I was looking to submit. While it went to another magazine, the kind reply inspired me to stay connected with the boys in the UK. If you haven’t checked out Storgy.com yet, you’ll find a mix of opinion, short fiction, and just cool stuff, unbounded by genre (although they do skew heavily to the snarky and slightly weird.) Their new short story collection, Hopeful Monsters is available for pre-order now. (It’s on my Kindle TBR pile)

Here’s my interview with Anthony (Tony) Self.

What is Storgy, and why should we care?

STORGY magazine initially started as a closed-off writer’s group, where a few of us would be able to massage our own egos and pretend to know about the craft to put stories online. People started sending us their own work to put online and we liked the attention like craven wannabe-celebrities so I guess something stuck and we began publishing stories that fell through the cracks. These were the stories that didn’t have a home. The bastard children of literature. 

Given how hard the publishing business is, what the hell were you thinking? How did the original concept come to you?

I know, right? Five years ago we were dilly-dallying with a story a week and now we’re independent publishers; posting reviews, previews, interviews and short fiction for all the masses to gobble up like malnourished street urchins. We wanted to write a 1,000 story every week and challenge ourselves to accomplish this. Looking back we were probably naive. Or had head trauma. One or the other. 

Editor’s note: through a series of late-night emails the name of the magazine is a mashup of “Story” and “Orgy.” An Orgy of Stories. Don’t form companies while drinking. What kind of content are you looking for?

All kinds. We’ve had essays, we’ve had poems, we’ve had mythological Buddhist zen-like soliloquy’s, at the end of the day if the story keeps us engaged from beginning to end we may publish it. If we start zoning out a page in then it needs work. Don’t bore us. You know what’s good. And don’t send us your first draft. You’re better than that. 

One of the reasons for this post is to encourage submissions. What do writers do that drives you crazy?

We used to heavily edit stories because a lot of mistakes were evident in the prose. We want to get stories out there to the masses but we also want to be professional about it all. It kind of hits us in the feels when we’ve edited something, send it back to the writer for review and they’re indignant about a rewrite as they consider their work a masterpiece and HOW DARE WE TRY TO CHANGE IT. Oh yeah, and ‘it was all a dream’, type endings

I love when I get constructive feedback from an editor. Most of us are submitting to find an audience and build our brand, such as it is. What are you and the the boy’s long-term plan for world domination?

A less elitist New Yorker type mantle would be fun. We’ve pushed ourselves to become independent publishers to create content for the short story form, so we’d like to carry on with that. Oh yeah, and get a $1,000,000 grant or something like that. That would be nice. 

Any advice for authors submitting?

We’re flexible with a lot of things, such as number count, typeface, formatting – but look at our FAQ’s before submitting, it’s a courtesy to the person reading and potentially wanting to publish your piece. 

You’ve been very kind to my work, publishing a number of stories and reviewing Acre’s Bastard and Acre’s Orphans. At the risk of sounding needy, what is it you like about my work?

Personally, I really liked The Towel – on one level it’s a snapshot of a boxing fight, conveying the imagery of RagingBull, Southpaw or Warrior, but on a deeper level it can be interpreted as the indomitable spirit of never giving up. This is something we agree on. In fact, it’s the core message of what STORGY is all about..

Storgy has expanded to publishing short story collections. Check them out here.

Most of my short stories, published or otherwise, can be found here on this website.


How the Hell Can You Write If You Don’t Read?

Maybe one of you can talk me off the ledge. I was sitting with some of the members of my writing group the other night, and I innocently asked who everyone was reading at the moment. Fully half the people at the table gave me some variation of, “Oh I don’t read much these days,” or “I haven’t read a book since college.”

What in the name of Robert Ludlum is going on? I thought all writers, especially fiction writers, were voracious bookworms. Apparently I”m living in a fool’s paradise. But seriously, how can you write well if you don’t read widely?

I’m not even talking about the “great books.” I know a lot of people who got turned off to older works in college and never came back. But I’m a big believer that reading anything–even the stuff I lovingly (and jokingly) refer to as crap–is invaluable for a writer.

I know this is a thing. A good friend of mine in Chicago has three pretty good novels out in the world and hasn’t read anything written after nineteen sixy- four or has over two hundred pages. It wouldn’t kill him to read a book that isn’t a pulp-detective-crime novel, but hey, I’m not his mom.

I look at genre books as a gateway drug. As a kid, my first introduction to adult work was Classics Illustrated Comics. Frankenstein, Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers were all brought into my world in inked panels. From there it was an easy step to the real thing.

Reading my dad’s cold-war spy novels like Ludlum and Van Lustbader (which nobody will ever confuse with great literature, but they amused the hell out of me and if you talk smack about them I’ll fight you) led me to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

As an adult my reading, especially fiction, slacked off. But when I decided to try writing stories again, beginning with Count of the Sahara, I went back to school

First stop was Esquire’s list of 80 Books Every Man Should Read. While I’d read a fair number of them already, I worked my way through the list. Some, like Winters Tale, I never expected to like but I loved and learned a ton about descriptive writing. (I wish I loved my wife, my daughter or the Blackhawks as much as Mark Helprin loves New York City, just saying.)

Some of those books I hated and swore never to inflict writing like that on a reader, which is a valuable lesson.

Then I started reading genres I haven’t really read before. Nobody believes me that I’m now a sucker for epic fantasy like Robin Hobb, but there’s actually a lot historical fiction writers can learn about world-building from fantasy writers. It’s also, you know, fun. Nothing wrong with that. And a lot of those folks can write circles around more respected literary authors.

Lately, I’ve been challenging myself to read writers from other countries in translation. I am a sucker for Spanish authors like Arturo Perez-Reverte and Carlos Ruiz Zafon as well as the Cuban Leonardo Padura. The Korean writer Un-Su Kim’s The Plotters rocked my world.

I’m not a snob, I”m just trying to learn my craft from people more successful than I. It was the same doing standup. If a newbie on an amateur night couldn’t go further back than Pryor or Carlin, I didn’t think they were serious. If they could talk Jack Benny, Fred Allen and Alan King, we could hang.

Film and TV are great ways to learn plot, pacing, and action, but writing–fiction writing–is a very specific and demanding art.

There’s be no Count of the Sahara without Rafael Sabatini, and no Acre’s Orphans without Kipling.

What do you all think? Am I wrong? Am I just an old geezer and this is the literary version of “get off my lawn?” Talk me off the ledge!

Acre’s Orphans is an Indie B.R.A.G Medallion winner

So, my little third-born Acre’s Orphans has received another honor. Indie B.R.A.G has given it their award for excellence.

Their committee of readers had some nice things to say, but this killed me:

Wow! The last book I reviewed for BRAG I wanted a rating below “Yes” but above “No”. This time I want a rating above”yes”.
Like maybe “bound to be a classic like Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer or Kim.” There should be an award above a simple
BRAG medallion, like maybe “A Double B.R.A.G. Medallion” or maybe “No! I won’t turn out the light until I finish reading this!”
which my wife got tired of hearing the last three nights. I usually complain loud and long about first-person books, as they
make the main characters too narcissistic and the other characters too shallow. Ten-year-olds KNOW the world revolves
around them, especially when they know how to successfully play the “poor but cute orphan” face. First-person is perfect for
the “son of fleas”. Perhaps it is his training as an observer/spy (like Kim in Rudyard Kipling’s stories) that allows him to flesh
out the characters around him. The momentous events of history seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old put some of those
legendary people in their appropriate places. I look forward to reading the first book to get Lucca’s take on the Hattin debacle,
which is one of my favorite times in history to have NOT been there. This is one of the few books I wish I had written. Maybe if
I write until I die, my last book will approach the quality of “Acre’s Orphans”.

Reviewer, Indie BRAG

I’m honored and humbled (shut up! I can be humble if I have to!) at the love the book is receiving. Go check it out already…

The First Draft is Done. Ta-Dah!

The first draft of a book is often malformed, ugly, and unfit for human consumption. Such is the case with the first draft of Johnny Lycan. You know what? I don’t care! It’s done. Let the rewrites begin.

Yes, Johnny Lycan. That might be a clue as to what it’s about. Or not. Stay tuned.

It’s done. It’s unlike anything I have ever written before, and I think it will be really good when it’s been whipped, prodded, dragged and mercilessly pounded into submission.

Here’s what it’s not: Historical fiction. Not even close. Those of you who read Count of the Sahara, Acre’s Bastard and Acre’s Orphans and have come to know me through those books, I really, really, really hope you stay with me. I get it if you don’t.

Here’s what it is: Nope, not ready to tell you yet. But it will be funny. And bloody. And more like some of my short stories than any book I’ve written so far.

Stay tuned for details, and of course, you can join my mailing list for updates. Just use the email link on the left-hand side to let me know you want to be added.

Now there will be a Templeton Rye and a Cigar. Because that’s how we roll here at Casa Turmel when milestones get met. Send thoughts and prayers for the ugly little bugger. He’ll need all the help he can get.

Join me August 4th at Dime Grinds

One of the first Las Vegas literary events I found out about when I moved here was Dime Grinds. The first Sunday of every month the Henderson Writers Group has three writers talk about their books, read, and introduce themselves to an always-packed group of readers and authors. Now it’s my turn.

On Sunday, August 4th, I’ll be reading from Acre’s Orphans, along with Steven Murray and Susan Johnson. Get a cup of regular coffee for a dime, hang out with the local writing community and have some fun.

Joe Maxx ( our local hangout, better than Starbucks) Coffee supports this fun event. 500 E. Windmill Ln, #175 at the corner of Windmill and Bermuda. Come visit.

Revisiting Roanoke with Harold Titus

The early days of exploring North America are full of fascinating missteps and accidents–lucky and otherwise. One of these is the “missing” Roanoke colony. Harold Titus has written about it in his new novel, Alsoomse and Wanchese.

Let’s start with the easy part. What’s your story?

Born in New York State in 1934, I moved to Tennessee when I was seven and then to Southern California when I was nine.  I grew up in Pasadena, lived with my parents until I went to college at UCLA, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1956.  I taught high school English for one year in Los Angeles, spent two years in the Army, then moved to Northern California and for 31 years taught intermediate school English, American history, and a drama elective and coached boys’ and girls’ after-school sports teams in suburban Orinda, just east of Berkeley.  I retired in 1991.  My first historical novel, “Crossing the River,” printed in 2011, is about the experiences of English and American participants in the first two battles (Lexington and Concord) of the American Revolution.  My second historical novel, the subject of this interview, “Alsoomse and Wanchese,” was published in May 2018.  I continue to write a blog mostly about American history and historical fiction (http://authorharoldtitus.blogspot.com).

What’s Alsoomse and Wanchese about?

Why are human beings so fascinating regardless of period of time or degree of cultural and technological advancement?  My answer: strengths and failings of character, group ideological orthodoxies, non-conformity.  “Alsoomse and Wanchese” narrates a year (1583-1584) in the lives of Roanoke Island Algonquian sister Alsoomse and brother Wanchese as they reject tribal conformity, question tribal decision-making, decide for themselves what is true and just, and seek accomplishment.  Their six-village chief Wingina is at war with an upstart chief of one of his villages.  Wanchese, 19, seeks to become one of Wingina’s essential men.  His impulsiveness and quick temper work against this.  His strenuous efforts to both achieve his goals and learn from his mistakes broaden him, temper him, make him laudable.  Alsoomse, 17, is a questioner, a seeker, an individualist in a culture that demands conformity of behavior and belief.  She is placed in situations that exacerbate these attributes, her subsequent conduct causing her leaders to regard her increasingly as dangerous.  Englishmen sent to North American by Walter Raleigh to find a suitable place to establish a colony arrive near the conclusion of the novel, their appearance complicating each protagonist’s conflicts. 

What is it about the Roanoke Colony you found so interesting?

What we know about the story of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island is related to us by Englishmen.  Missing from that story is any detailed understanding of the Algonquians, as human as any Englishman that stepped then on North American soil.  In my novel, about to leave Plymouth Harbor, the painter John White and his associate, the young scientist Thomas Harriot, have this conversation.

Harriot half-turned. “I have seen your painting of the savage that Frobisher brought back [from Baffin Island, Canada] in 1576 and the woman and child from the 1577 expedition. I have been wanting to ask you about them.”

“Ask.”

“What … did you see? Are these people so behindhand as to be mentally deficient? I do not know what to expect.”

White leaned against the gunwale, his long coat bending near his right hip. “I saw human beings, who think, who suffer, who in our presence sought of hide human emotion.”

“What was their sense of us, as best you could tell?”

White moved his left foot ahead of his right. … “I wish there had been some way besides the use of gestures and facial expressions to communicate. What they thought and felt I can only imagine.”

“What did you think they felt?”

“Fear. Despair. Resignation. We uprooted them, Harriot. We took them to London as specimens! What they could have told us, if they had survived and learned our language!”

Historian Michael Leroy Oberg wrote: “Indians are pushed to the margins, at best playing bit parts in a story centered on the English. … Roanoke is as much a Native American story as an English one. … We should take a close look at the Indians who greeted and confronted Raleigh’s colonists. … Because Wingina’s people, and his allies and enemies, in the end determined so much of the fate of the Roanoke ventures, it seems only fair that we concentrate upon them, and how they understood the arrival of the English.”

That is what my novel does.

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

She was waiting for Wanchese in a corner of the chamber close to a raised, small-branched, deerskin-covered bed. At first he thought he was alone, that the girl would enter from outside. A slight movement caused him to look in her direction.

He stepped over to her. It was difficult to see. He made out her features.

She was young. Fifteen? Sixteen? Not yet Alsoomse’s age. She was naked, adolescent slim, her breasts small, her limbs and buttocks not yet pleasingly rounded.

Her eyes darted. She appeared defensive. This was not what he had experienced the year before at Mequopen.

“What is your name?”

Her right hand moved toward her mouth. “Waboose.”

It was an Algonquian custom that important visitors to an Algonquian village be provided young women to spend the night.  Waboose is a virgin.  She has been chosen by the chief’s wife to perform this duty but is frightened.  Wanchese and she talk.  They learn a few facts about each other and their respective families.  Conscience-stricken, reluctantly, Wanchese relents.  They sleep together but refrain from intercourse.

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We interrupt this interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.