Monday, August 29, 2011

Frontier fiction for Children: William O. Steele

I've made a happy reading discovery. His name is William O. Steele  (1917-1979). He was the award-winning author of historical fiction for children written in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Particularly fiction set on the 18th century frontier of Tennessee. That's why I've just discovered him, because I'm writing a novel set on the eastern Tennessee frontier in the latter quarter of the 18th century, and it's always part of my research process to scour my local library and Amazon for novels set in the time period and setting I'm writing about, both for inspiration, a broader view of time and place, and to be sure I'm not writing a book that's already been written!

Thus it happened that I found William Steele, and his book The Man with the Silver Eyes.

"Talatu (which means "the Cricket" in the language of the Cherokee) has spent his young life hating the whites, who have taken his people's land and driven them deep into the wilderness. He is stunned when his beloved great-uncle tells him he must accompany Shinn, a white man with the palest eyes Talatu has ever seen, to the settlement of Watauga, where he is to spend a year with him. Autumn becomes winter as Talatu continues to despise the white Quaker who attempts to live in peace with his frontier neighbors, and he dreams of joining his warrior uncles in attacks on the white settlers.

Set against the backdrop of the raging Revolution and the tensions of frontier living in 1780, William O. Steele has written a memorable story about an encounter between a young Cherokee boy and a white Quaker trader culminating in a confrontation that transforms Talatu from a sullen and suspicious boy into a resolute and courageous man."

 ~ from the book's jacket flap

Child-me would have adored this story back in 1976, when it was published. She would have gone on to devour every book this man wrote. It was in 1978, after all, that I wrote my first story about a Lakota girl called Yellow Feather, and the wounded mustang she nursed back to health, tamed, and rode in a race to win a prize. I do wish I'd discovered him back in the 1970s when the first stirrings of this frontier fiction lover's wee heart were being fed over and over and over again by the Little House books (always wishing Laura would run off to visit the Indians her Ma so feared).

Grown-up-me is still hungry for books like The Man with the Silver Eyes, in which characters from different frontier races, or those caught between races, overcome monumental differences in culture and world view to find the common ground of friendship. Better late than never, I say, to have found Mr. Steele's books. And with titles like the following listed on this book's "by the same author" page, I will be spending many enjoyable hours visiting Mr. Steele's frontier world.

The Buffalo Knife
Wilderness Journey
Winter Danger
Tomahawks and Trouble
Davy Crockett's Earthquake
The Lone Hunt
Flaming Arrows
Daniel Boone's Echo
Andy Jackson's Water Well
The Far Frontier
The Year of the Bloody Sevens
The No-Name Man of the Mountain
Trail Through Danger
The Old Wilderness Road

The Man With The Silver Eyes at Amazon

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When family history mirrors fiction (or the other way around?)

Roan Mountain, TN
Something unexpected happened today while I was doing some final research reading for my current novel in progress, set in the Tennessee Valley in 1787. In an effort to plot out the last few chapters of the story, while pouring over several reference books, I ran across the name of someone in my maternal family tree.

Thomas Amis (b. 1743/44), my seven times great uncle*, lived in the Tennessee Valley and took part in the history of that area during the time I'm writing about.

I didn't know this when I first conceived the story. I didn't know this until today, when the surname Amis caught my attention and I cross referenced the details given with those I have in my extended family tree, compiled by various relations. It was a match.

Apparently Thomas was one of the first merchants to arrive in the Tennessee Valley (then part of NC), having relocated himself and his family from east of the mountains in North Carolina. He owned a small store and tavern in what is today Hawkins Co. TN, and he attempted to run for a seat in the North Carolina Assembly in 1787, the year my novel commences. But for reasons I won't go into now (to avoid story spoilers), the election was unsuccessful, the polling stations were close, and the Assembly declared both parties from the county not "entitled to a seat."

It's both thrilling and surprising to have found this unexpected link between my family and my novel in progress. This is the second time I've set out to tell a story and ended up brushing shoulders with my maternal family's history. Though seeing as how they settled in the Virginia/Carolina area from the late 1600s, I suppose it was inevitable.

*I've been corrected about this detail by my mom, who has a better head for keeping straight all our family connections. Thomas Amis wasn't my many times great uncle, but my cousin. My second cousin six times removed to be exact. Thanks mom!

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Kaye Dacus's Ransome's Quest has released!

August 1st was also the release date of my friend, author Kaye Dacus's, third book in the Regency era Ransome Trilogy.

Ransome's Quest continues the story where Ransome's Crossing left off, and I for one will be very glad to get my hands on this long awaited (well, it seemed long... oy, that last ending!!!!) sequel to the Ransome books. I'll be sad to bid these characters farewell.

But until then, there's pirates!

Kaye's blog

Ransome's Quest

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Laura Frantz's The Colonel's Lady has released!

I could not let another day go by without posting that my friend and fellow author Laura Frantz's third Kentucky frontier novel, The Colonel's Lady, had it's nationwide release yesterday, August 1. I was honored and privileged to read this book as her critique partner (and am reading it again now, with its gorgeous cover). If you are a fan of Christian fiction and/or 18th century historical fiction, or Laura's previous two novels, you won't want to miss The Colonel's Lady.

Laura's blog: The Colonel's Lady launch

The Colonel's Lady

Monday, August 01, 2011

I'm still here

I'm still here. Still enjoying a semi-break from blogging while I concentrate on the end game of my novel in progress, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn. It's another late 18th century-set story. Here's a note I just published on FB, about where I am in the glorious and maddening process of novel writing:
This is a brain-stretching day and no mistake. Plotting in detail the last section of the WIP, which not only needs to be satisfying and entertaining on a story/character level, but (more than any story I've yet written) must fit what actually happened in this moment of history. I can't make this part up!

Interweaving my characters and their story with the historical narrative of the mid-1780s frontier is like hunting for the pieces of a challenging puzzle. At least there's a picture on the box cover. It's coming together, slowly, with many note-stuffed and highlighted reference books spread across my desk. Too much coffee. Spinning brain cells!

And as inspirational timing would have it, another story, the one I may write next, is nudging in the wings today so I have a file open for that one too to let all that new material pour out. I'm editing something for my hubby as well. And on the back burner (to be brought up front later today as time allows) are thoughts for my crit partner's exciting novel in progress too.

Did I ever think I couldn't multi-task when it comes to writing?

Is it lunch time yet? :)
So I'm hiding away inside my writing cave, very thankful for the air-conditioning, while the temps outside soar into the 90s (we haven't hit 100 yet this summer, which is very odd, and very welcome by me). Thoughts of green huckleberries starting to ripen in the mountains play at the back of my mind. It's a late crop this year. We had a long spring. I eagerly await our bucket-toting treks to our favorite patches. We've been up to inspect them already and it looks to be a better crop than last year. God and the weather willing!

In honor of huckleberries, here's an excerpt from a children's book I wrote many years ago, called Bear Country. Palister is a teddy bear, discovering a bear's delight for the very first time.

Angus... stood on his hind legs, looking around and sniffing. “Ah! There’s something nearby I think you’ll find to your liking, youngster. Follow me.”

Palister followed the badger into a leafy thicket that spread up the mountain side. Most of the shrubs grew higher than Palister’s head.

A delightful scent caught Palister’s nose. He bent close to one of the shrubs. Peering under a leaf, he saw a shiny purple berry.

“Huckleberries,” said Angus. “A bear’s delight. Give ‘em a try.”

“I already tried grass,” said Palister. “I didn’t like it.”

“Grass?” Angus snorted. “Grass is no good for eating unless you’re sick. Or a rabbit. Trust me, you’ll like these better.”

Palister doubted it, but knew better than to argue with the badger. He plucked the huckleberry from its stem and put it in his mouth. His eyes grew wide.

“Sweet!” he said.

Angus looked both smug and wise. “What did I tell you?”

Palister found three berries on the next stem. He ate those, too. When that shrub was picked over he headed for the next one.

“Looks like a bumper crop this year,” said Angus. “You’ll feel better about things with a full belly, so eat your fill while I take a quick nap.”

The badger curled up in a patch of sunlight. Palister barely noticed. He even forgot to worry about meeting a bear. His mouth and paws grew purple with berry juice. He ate and ate, moving from one bush to the next. He’d gone quite far from Angus, who snored in the sunlight.

“Do badger’s eat huckleberries?” Palister wondered out loud.

I hope your summer is going well, or winter, if you're in the Southern Hemisphere. I'm enjoying mine, and the company of the current cast of characters. Blessings!