The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle – Preview

My next novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle (out from Viking 3/15/16), is a middle grade mystery that’s part fantasy, part historical fiction. It’s set in Scotland in 1940, although it also contains a parallel story in a much earlier timeline. I thought it would be fun to run a series of blog posts on both the historical context of the novel, and the setting itself, as well as some of the fantasy aspects of the story.charmed

Here are some of the topics I’m hoping to cover in upcoming posts, all of which play a role in the story:

  • the London Blitz and other aspects of the early years of World War 2
  • some early history of Scotland, plus landscape, mythology, culture
  • spies, U-boats, enigma machines
  • mechanical clocks, mathematical algorithms
  • chatelaines

These are just a few of the possible subjects. For this post, I’d like to give you a small taste of the story. Plus…I’m running a SWAG giveaway!

First, a little teaser from the novel:

Kat stepped forward, hesitant. She unclasped the chatelaine and held it up. The three items—pen, scissors, thimble—swayed as they dangled from her fingers.

 Aunt Margaret leaned toward Kat, her lips close to Kat’s ear, and dropped her voice to a whisper. “It’s quite magical, you know.”

 “I’m sorry?” Kat whispered back. “Did you say magical?” Oh, goodness. Kat saw worry in the set of Mum’s face.

 Aunt Margaret straigcharmedhtened. “Yes, my dear. I shall explain. But do remember this: be careful with magic.” She fixed her eyes on Kat’s. “Do you hear me, Katherine? Magic is tricky. There is always a price to pay for its use.”

If you’d like more, and you haven’t already subscribed to this blog or my newsletter, there’s a longer excerpt waiting for you as a gift for subscribing.

Now to the giveaway! If you pre-order a copy of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle from my local indie, Country Bookshelf, you’ll receive*

  • a signed/personalized copy of the book
  • a necklace with charm (*while supplies last; one per customer)
  • a rook temporary tattoo

You can also preorder the book from your own indie, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble; the giveaway is only through Country Bookshelf. (But watch this space…there will be more giveaways as pub date draws near!)

In my next post I’ll talk about the early war years of World War 2 in England, including the London Blitz.

Kent Davis and A RIDDLE IN RUBY

I’m so pleased today to welcome my friend – and critique partner – Kent Davis. Kent’s debut middle grade novel, A RIDDLE IN RUBY, is out now and is a terrific page-turner, imaginative and loads of fun.

Here’s the description from his publisher, Greenwillow Books: “Ruby Teach, daughter of a smuggler and pirate, has been learning how to swindle and steal and pick the most complex locks for as long as she can remember. But a collision with aristocratic young lord Athen sends her spinning into chaos. Little did she know that her whole life has been spent in hiding from nefarious secret societies and the Royal Navy . . . who are both now on her trail. In this debut middle grade adventure, Kent Davis weaves a rip-roaring tale through an alternate colonial Philadelphia. A world where alchemy—that peculiar mix of magic and science—has fueled the industrial revolution. With this highly original setting, a cast of fully rounded characters and rapid-fire, funny dialogue, A Riddle in Ruby will call to mind fantasy greats like Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett.”cover A RIDDLE IN RUBY

And now, here’s Kent!

You’ve created a fascinating world. I know you were inspired by an image that popped into your head. Can you describe it, and tell us a bit about how it guided your research and the direction of the book?

Sure! Well, believe it or not, this all started out with that image: a girl in a tricorne hat in a barrel with metal ostrich legs. Not the most heroic image, I’ll grant you. But it stuck with me and eventually I had to investigate. I mean, that picture would just not shut up! So from there I wound my way into an alternate history Colonial America (tricorne); a brave, impatient, apprentice thief full of pluck and gumption (girl), and magic that sums up as high-end chemistry that you can give a nudge with your personal mojo (ostrich legs): cobalt gearbeasts, alchemical automatons, living purple goo. You know, standard kind of stuff.

Ruby is a great character, very three-dimensional. Do you have any favorite ways of getting into your characters – any techniques that help your process?

Thank you! I do, actually. My professional training is as an actor and improviser, so a big part of my process is creating extremely difficult emotional or physical obstacles, then plopping the character down in the middle of the troubles, plopping myself into their head as an observer, and then just watching how the heck they’re going to try to get out of this one. To your point about three dimensions, I love characters that fail before they succeed. Failure is how we learn to fly, and the more spectacular failure, the better!Kent

This plot really moves. Is that fast-paced plotting something that comes naturally to you or is that a result of revision? Do you tend to cut more or add more – or both? And…are you a pantser or a plotter.

I have to cut! I think the original manuscript to the published version is lighter to the tune of about 20%. More than that, though, I try to think of each chapter as a mini-play, and momentum is as important to me on that narrower level as much as it is in the grand scheme. My goal is to hopefully end each of those little plays in a way that propels the reader forward!

I’m so happy that Kent came by! Here’s where you can find a copy of his book: Country Bookshelf, Amazon

 

 

 

FAITHFUL and the Yellowstone Volcano

Beneath my fingers, the ground was alive. It rumbled, creaked, and groaned – with each spray, the earth heaved. And as I sat there helpless and trembling myself, I began to sense the rhythm of it, just as the sea had a rhythm that I knew. I geyser roared and ebbed and roared again, like the ebb and flow of tides. I pressed my hand onto the ground and felt it shudder.

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Old Faithful

I cringed as another jet of water shot skyward, but the water caught the sun. It glittered and sparkled like a million diamonds, while the air roared and the ground trembled, and then the magic of Yellowstone caught me, and I was lost to it forever. (FAITHFUL, page 185)

My protagonist Maggie in FAITHFUL, like other early tourists in the Park, were struck by both the beauty and the deadly power of Yellowstone National Park. They nicknamed the Park “Wonderland” mostly for its many thermal features and variegated-color rock formations. With more than 10,000 thermal features, Yellowstone contains the world’s largest concentration of geysers, hot springs, steam vents, and mud pots. The reason for all this geologic activity and the varied rock types is that Yellowstone sits atop a giant volcano.

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Sinter terraces at Mammoth

Beneath Yellowstone is a large magma chamber, which lies at a level shallow enough that scientists consider Yellowstone to be an active super volcano, which is the surface expression of a hotspot. Periodically, the volcano erupts; the last time the volcano erupted it erupted explosively, creating the caldera which now forms the rims of cliffs within the Park.

Cracks and fissures in the earth’s crust allow water from rain and snow melt to penetrate to the hot rock below. This water is super heated and returned to the surface, creating the geologic features like the geysers and hot springs. The white sinter that forms at the surface around geysers and in areas like Mammoth is precipitated silica that dissolved in the water as it traveled back up through these natural plumbing systems.

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Hot spring at Norris geyser basin

While the last major eruption of the volcano was 640,000 years ago, as recently as 70,000 years ago Yellowstone volcano experienced minor eruptions and lava flows. And while the volcano is almost certain to erupt again one day, there is no indication at the moment that this will happen in the near future in human terms. Scientists constantly monitor the many small earthquakes and changes in Yellowstone.

Rather than fearing the volcano, Maggie – and we – can appreciate the beauty and power of this remarkable natural feature, the like of which is found in only a few places on earth.

Check out my previous post on the “wild” west; this is the final post in my Yellowstone series.

The Wild, Wild West

“Four men straddled the road, barring our way. They wore scarves that covered their faces except for their eyes; they carried what looked like long sticks. I shook, trying to clear my head of confusion. Four horses, tied to a nearby tree, whinnied anxiously. Then I realized that the men were carrying rifles, not sticks, and the rifles were pointed at the carriage.” Pages 176-177, FAITHFULon the Grand Tour in the west

Previously, I gave you a look at some of Yellowstone’s tourist attractions. This is the wilder side of the West.

As recently as the early twentieth century, highway robberies took place in parts of the western United States, including Yellowstone National Park. A number of robberies took place on coaches making their way on the Grand Tour (for more on the Tour, see this post.) Passengers were relieved at gunpoint of their money and valuables: watches and jewelry.

The last of these robberies – possibly the last in the continental U.S. – occurred only 100 years ago, in July, 1915. One of the victims, far from being frightened, found it so exciting that he claimed, “It was the best $50 I ever spent.”

outlaw in the westAnimals, of course, were and are one of the chief attractions of Yellowstone. In the early days of Park tourism the unfortunate decision was made to feed the bears nightly by hauling garbage out behind the hotels. This practice became such a draw, but also such a problem, that by the 1930s feeding was restricted to the Canyon area, where a seating platform was erected behind a chain link fence. Tourists would watch fifty or more bears congregate – many of them grizzlies. Bears became so habituated that they would beg by the side of the road for handouts from passing cars. This practice was banned in the 1950s when the consequences (bears breaking into campsites with the result that “a fed bear is a dead bear”) became clear.

Bison in winter

Buffalo, or American bison, once numbered in the tens of millions in the western U.S. By 1884 there were only 325 animals, 25 of which lived in Yellowstone. In Yellowstone, because bison numbers were so small at the turn of the last century, the animals were held in pens, one near Mammoth and one on Dot Island in the Lake. Poaching in the Park at that time had become a serious threat to these animals. The near extinction of bison was halted in the nick of time, and small numbers of the animals held by individuals were bred until the bison herd held on public lands today numbers about 25,000, and many more are privately owned in ranches and on reservations.

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A wolf I photographed in Montana

Wolves in the western U.S. were also driven to near-extinction, but they were never so popular as bison, and were hunted out of Yellowstone such that by 1912 it was reported they were effectively gone. Wolves are canny creatures, however, and it’s likely they never disappeared entirely. Wolves were reintroduced in a managed fashion into the Yellowstone ecosystem in 1995. I’ve seen and heard wolves in the years since and they are beautiful and intimidating and are an important part of the landscape.

The West was – and remains – wild. Next up: geysers, hot springs, mud pots – evidence of a volcano.

 

Yellowstone In 1904

“This is nothing. Just wait! You and your pa heading out on the Tour today?”

“No.” I stared over the milky-white terraces, avoiding his eyes, plucking at my gloves. Whatever the Tour was, it would cost money. Which apparently we had none of. I sighed. “What is the Tour, anyway?”1904 map of Yellowstone

“It’s a tour through the entire Park. You’ll see it all, all the geysers, hot springs – with any luck, animals, too.” Page 87, FAITHFUL.

Yellowstone, our nation’s first National Park, was in 1904 nicknamed “Wonderland”, and it certainly lived up to the name then as today. The Park was open to tourists who mostly would have booked a Grand Tour through one of a number of organizations. Those tourists were called “dudes”, while tourists who made their own way through the Park and camped rather than stayed in one of the hotels were “sagebrushers.” Most entered the Park as Maggie did, through the North Entrance at Gardiner, and clambered aboard a Tallyho stagecoach for the ride to Mammoth Hot Springs.

lady @ Norris 1903, Yellowstone

Hotel at Norris (no longer exists)

Yellowstone in 1904 looked very similar to Yellowstone today, with the road layout largely complete (except for the leg between Canyon north past Mount Washburn.) A number of hotels provided stopping points along the way, from two at Mammoth (the National and the far more humble Cottage), to the Firehole and Fountain hotels which preceded the Old Faithful Inn, to the Lake Hotel, and finally the Canyon Hotel. Once the Old Faithful Inn opened in 1904 the Firehole and Fountain were closed.

Yellowstone Lake Hotel 1904

Lake Hotel, 1904

The Old Faithful Inn was not only beautiful – an outstanding log structure – but also sported all the modern conveniences (electricity, hot running water). It still retains its charm, including the original massive stone fireplace and huge clock, and although the topmost galleries in the entry hall are closed today, in 1904 musicians serenaded guests from almost 80 feet above. The Lake Hotel was a classic frame-style building, also fully appointed and luxurious.

Tent campers had the option of traveling the “Wylie Way”, which offered permanent, gaily candy-striped tent camps and a less formal (and cheaper) accommodation.

Old Faithful Inn 1904

The newly opened Old Faithful Inn

Tourists naturally visited all the hot springs and geysers along the way. They were also treated to nightly bear feedings, which took place behind the hotels, where food scraps were piled high and as many as a dozen bears would come out to dine while visitors watched from bleachers. Even women in ankle-length skirts climbed the rough walls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone via primitive ladders. And it was possible to take a ferry from Lake out to Dot Island, which housed live elk and buffalo in pens.

The entire tour, including stops, took about six days. One tourist in 1917 remarked: “I have just completed the six days’ circular journey by stage through the Yellowstone National Park. I am moved to admiration, but still more to awe.”

See my previous post on 1900s social norms here; in my next post I’ll give you a glimpse into the wilder side of the west.

Social Norms of 1904: A FAITHFUL Reflection

Mary’s ball had been the last debut of the season, held on an August night that began so hot and still, even the flies seemed drunk with stupor…Lightning flickered on the far horizon, echoing the tiny lights strung from branch to branch in the gardens outside. Page 27, FAITHFUL

My previous post discussed the fashion and food of 1904. Another fun aspect of researching historical fiction is discovering the social norms of past times. Social life in 1904, the time period for FAITHFUL, was vastly different from today’s social norm. The most important aa social eventspect of that difference: the formality of society in the early twentieth century.

A seventeen-year-old girl from the upper end of society like Maggie would already have begun thinking about marriage. She would have been preparing for her debut – her introduction to her peers and elders as a marriageable prospect. A proper debut was every girl’s dream, as she selected her adult wardrobe and cast aside more childish clothing styles. Of course, she also would now wear a corset, a most miserable contraption. A girl’s debut would include parties and balls, and especially one thrown by her parents – a very glam affair.

A girl’s suitors would be less interested in love than in her social and financial standing. American girls whose fathers were industrial giants – who had made fortunes in the railroad or banking industries – were often sought by European bachelors who were land and title-rich but cash-poor. (The story line of Downton Abbey features this thread in the marriage between Robert Crawley and his American wife Cora.)

Social separation in Downton

Downton Abbey’s two rigidly separated castes.

Maggie would be expected to behave with certain constraints. She would not be permitted to spend time alone with a man in a private place; she’d be expected to ride a horse side-saddle; she’d wear a hat and gloves when out. Her education would be completed by seventeen or eighteen. She’d be expected to go “calling” on her upper crust neighbors each afternoon, and to receive “callers”, who would leave calling cards on a silver tray at the house entrance. And, of course, a woman couldn’t vote in the United States until the suffrage law passed (see here for that discussion) and women really had no rights at all.

Consuelo - a social prisoner

Beautiful, rich, but sad Consuelo Vanderbilt.

In the lower classes of society, a young girl would either find factory work – grueling and poorly paid – or if she was lucky, would go into service as a ladies’ maid. Maggie would have needed a maid to help her dress and make up her hair, and to keep her clothing clean and in good repair. It was generally impossible for a girl from the lower classes to ascend to upper class status – marriage between classes was unthinkable.

This rigid caste society dictated everything from what a girl could eat, to what she could say, to those she could spend time with. Her marriage would have been almost arranged – that is, she would have only been able to choose from a select number of suitors, and love was not a high priority. (It’s said that Consuelo Vanderbilt sobbed throughout her wedding to a man she did not love, as she was forced to leave behind her true love.)

An upper class girl would want for nothing. She’d have beautiful clothing, jewelry, and a lovely home. But a lower class girl could make her own way – including marrying for love, if she was lucky.

In my next post, more about Yellowstone in 1904.

Fashion & Food in 1904

One gown hung from the door of my wardrobe. Black and white, with lace at the throat, and tight through the waist, where a crushed satin belt was a slash of scarlet. Page 27, FAITHFUL.

One of the fun things (for me) about writing historical fiction is researching food and fashion of the time. Of course I want my character’s behavior to accurately reflect what she wore and what she ate (how did women sit down while wearing those large bustles? How much could a girl eat when laced in a tight corset?) Since FAITHFUL is set in 1904 I spent a lot of time looking at those details.1904 women's fashion

In 1904, clothing styles still reflected Victorian propriety. Women wore corsets that required back lacing (necessitating servants), wore clothing that was made of rich materials like velvet and silk (necessitating great care), and were generally covered up head to toe. Hemlines still trailed the floor except for ensembles worn on outings, like you see here. Women wore their hair long but swesporting fashion 1903pt up in elaborate hairstyles.

Corsets of the time were back-laced, but a woman who was traveling or had no access to a maid wore a corset with front hooks called a busk. Once the corset was laced to the proper cinch (the tighter, the better) the wearer could hook or unhook the corset herself. When Maggie finally casts off her corset, it’s not only a sign of her rebellion and growth, but an indication of the changing times.

As today, day wear was less formal than evening wear, but unlike today the wealthier folk always dressed formally for dinner, even when not entertaining. Men wore white tie and tails, and women wore elaborate gowns, elbow-length gloves, and jewels. Younger, especially unmarried women could get away with a low-cut gown for evening, but most women wcasual fashion on tourists in Yellowstoneore blouses or dresses with modest high collars.

Food was more formal, too, and multiple courses were standard at evening meals. A fish course came first, followed by a meat course, and a tiny amount of sorbet was served between courses to “freshen the palate.” One especially popular dessert was Nesselrode pudding, a confection of cream and fruit. The ice cream cone is said to have originated at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, when a waffle vendor and ice cream vendor were stationed side-by-side; this is unlikely, but cotton candy was indeed introduced at the Exhibition.

Nesselrode pudding

Nesselrode pudding. Yum!

Obviously the fine fabrics of delicate hand-made clothing, the corsets, and the fancy food were all standard in high society, and required the aid of multiple servants. The lower classes emulated their employers in fashion and food, though with simpler materials and fare. More on the social norms of the early twentieth century in my next post.

See my previous post on travels and the Exposition here.

Trains and World Fairs: Progress in 1904

Today I’m posting the second in my series about 1904, the time period for my YA novel FAITHFUL. (For the first post, see here.)

Pullman train carMaggie’s father tells her that he is taking her across the country on a pleasure trip. In 1904, the best way to travel was by train. Maggie and her father would have traveled in first class, in a Pullman compartment, with sleeping quarters. The steam-driven locomotive made the voyage across country in only a few days.train sleeping compartment

On the way, Maggie recounts that they stopped to take in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. The Fair was a marvel of architecture and display, of art and technological advancements. It’s popularly thought that the ice cream cone was invented at the Fair – certainly it was a popular treat eaten by fairgoers. Over 1500 buildings were erected on 1200 acres, and 62 nations participated, introducing the American visitor to oddities from around the world.

For a retro glimpse of the Fair, take in the 1944 Judy Garland movie Meet Me In St. Louis:

[youtube]https://youtu.be/7guqfYsG0dE[/youtube]

By 1904 electricity was in use in most cities, and the Fair even boasted the Palace of Electricity, which was described as follows: “DynamosSt. Louis Exposition and motors of many kinds and new electrical machinery for a multiple of uses may be seen in operation.  Definite progress has been made during recent years in the use of electricity in the treatment of diseases.  How it is thus used is illustrated with X-ray apparatus and the famous Finsen light.  The progress in electric lighting and the use of electric power is shown.” Thomas Edison had not only perfected the electric light bulb, but had begun to develop the modern electrical network, which changed society forever.

Once Maggie arrived in Livingston, she and her father stayed at the Murray Hotel, which still exists. Some rooms at the time featured a relatively new luxury – en suite baths. The Murray and Livingston itself have changed little in 111 years.

Yellowstone

Tally-ho coach in Yellowstone, 1900s

From Livingston yet another train ran down the Paradise valley to Gardiner, where visitors to Yellowstone National Park would disembark and catch a horse-drawn Tally-ho coach for the ride to Mammoth Hot Springs. The road follows the same path today as it did in 1904. In fact, while there have been changes in the Park, much of what Maggie experienced in 1904 remains today. More about that in an upcoming post.

But up next…clothing and food of 1904.

Context For FAITHFUL, 1904

This is the first post in a planned series on aspects of my debut YA novel FAITHFUL. If you haven’t read it, here’s the skinny: In 1904 Margaret Bennet has it all – money, position, and an elegant family home in Newport, Rhode Island. But just as she is to enter society, her mother ruins everything, first with public displays, and then by disappearing. Maggie’s confusion and loss are compounded when her father drags her to Yellowstone National Park, where he informs her that they will remain. At first Maggie’s only desire is to return to Newport. But the mystical beauty of the Yellowstone landscape, and the presence of young Tom Rowland, a boy unlike the others she has known, conspire to change Maggie from a spoiled girl willing to be constrained by society to a free-thinking and brave young woman living in a romantic landscape at the threshold of a new century.Faithful high res

When I first conceived the idea for FAITHFUL I had the notion of setting the story in Montana. It wasn’t that I was writing about Montana; I was writing about the loss of my own mother through Maggie’s search for her mother. Then my husband made the suggestion that if I was going to write about Montana, why not write about Yellowstone? Maybe even the historical Yellowstone? I liked that idea a lot, and chose 1904 almost out of thin air, because it was the year that the Old Faithful Inn opened, and I love that building, which is much the same today as it was in 1904 (see my later post for more on that).

My research took me into many aspects of the early 20th century, because I wanted to place Maggie in t1904 orphan trainhe correct social, political, and economic environment. Here are just a few of the things I uncovered:

Orphan trains: Between 1853 and 1929, roughly 250,000 orphaned or homeless children were relocated to foster families throughout the mid-west and western U.S. While it seemed like a good idea to remove children from1904 camera poverty and a life in an eastern city orphanage, many of these children were separated from siblings and placed in homes where they were treated like indentured servants. You can read more about this in Christina Baker Kline’s bestselling ORPHAN TRAIN.

Photography: Photography gained popular ground quickly in the early 20th century and in 1904 Kodak introduced the Brownie, a folding camera that could be used by the amateur. Costing a whopping $1.00, the ads for the camera proclaim “a child can handle the shutter.”
1904 airplane

First flight, early automobiles: In December 1903, the Wright brothers made their first successful airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Olds company (later Oldsmobile) began mass producing autos in 1901, and by 1905 was selling 5,000 automobiles per year.

The early 1900s were years of revolutionary change, and the rapidity and magetude of that change would have had a profound impact on a seventeen-year-old girl like Maggie. In future posts, I’ll be examining cross-country travel, clothing, food, Yellowstone itself and the Old Faithful Inn, and more. Next up: westward, ho!

Setting Writerly Goals

Yes, I know. It’s summer. You are lounging on a beach, or hiking in the mountains, or fishing a great creek, or…or…anything except writing. Goals are not on your mind.

I’m not here to jerk you away from a much-needed rest! I’m just here to inspire you so that when September rolls around (and it will) you’ll be ready to tackle those dormant writing plans.

a serene scene to help with goals

A serene scene to help with goals

Here are a few exercises that will hopefully get you started. Some of them are actually ideal summertime activities – expressing yourself artistically when you are playful is a great way to reinvigorate your brain.

1. Freewriting. Allow yourself to write by hand – by hand is important – for fifteen minutes without stopping to correct or think. Let your hand and brain run as fast as possible.

2. “Dreamstorming”. Rather than trying to brainstorm ideas, dream them. As you fall asleep, plant your story/sticking point in your mind and let your subconscious go to work while you sleep.

3. Try your hand at any other art expression. Draw, doodle, craft, play music – these other expressions will liberate the right side of the brain because you have nothing invested in them.

4. Read fairy tales, and Greek, Roman, Norse, and Native American myths and legends. Read Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. These tales form the basis of our oral traditions, and often contain repeating imagery and symbolism, much of which has been incorporated into our everyday subtext. Become familiar with them so you can consciously incorporate them into your work.

And here are a few books to set your goals in motion:

Lewis Hyde, The Gift
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk
Jane Yolen, Take Joy
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning
Bruce Ballenger & Barry Lane, Discovering the Writer Within
David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear
Eric Maisel, Fearless Creating
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron, The Vein of Gold
Bernard Selling, Writing From Within
Robert Olen Butler, From Where You Dream
Jeff Vandermeer, Wonderbook

So don’t feel pressured. Just gather yourself into a fresh place, so come fall, your goals will be in place and your soul will be ready.