A Hannah True Prequel

Hannah True, a popular character in the Pierce Family Saga novels, now has her own series, The Adventures of Hannah True. A romance that didn’t work out was hinted at in the Pierce books. In Uprooted, the first book in Hannah’s series, we learn that she was once engaged to be married, and that the man, Paul Simmons, has learned she will be back in New York sometime soon–and he wants to meet with her.

In Undercurrents, book 2, which is still in progress, Hannah makes it to her Aunt Gertrude’s in New York City and re-connects with Paul Simmons. This book, like Uprooted, has a mystery to be solved, so I didn’t want it to get bogged down with flashbacks to the past. Still, I thought some readers would like to know what happened back in 1848 when Hannah met Paul at the Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Therefore, I have written a prequel, The Courtship of Hannah True, which I will make available as soon as I figure out how to distribute it for free. My goal is to resolve the distribution question before Christmas. Until then, a sneak peek at the prequel appears below.

The Courtship of Hannah True

February 1848

It was a normal winter day with a few snow flurries but nothing threatening until we finished our evening meal. Then Papa touched a napkin to his lips, sent a meaningful glance at Mama, and then they both turned their stern faces on me.

Papa cleared his throat. “Let’s retire to the parlor. Your mother and I have something to discuss with you.”

My nerves tightened as the determined glances they exchanged told me I wasn’t going to like what they had to say. I was a grown woman of twenty-six and earned my keep by working in the hotel, but me being unmarried gave Mama and Papa the illusion that they should direct my life toward a more desirable situation.

We rose from the dining table in unison. Papa stood back and motioned me forward, Mama followed me, and then he fell in behind. I felt as though I were being herded to my destiny.

It turned out, I was.

In the parlor, a fire crackled in the hearth, casting a warm glow on the room, but outside the wind howled, and a bit of cold seeped into the room around the window frames. Papa turned up the flame of a lamp on the table between his chair and Mama’s. I sat in the third chair that formed a semi-circle in front of the fireplace.

Again, a serious look passed between them that set my nerves on edge.

“What is it?” I asked. “Is someone ill?”

“Not exactly,” Mama said, “but we’re concerned about Aunt Gertrude.”

“Why?” My stomach knotted. Aunt Gertrude was Mama’s older sister, and though I hadn’t spent a great deal of time with her, she was dear to me, encouraging me in the many letters we had exchanged over the years.

“Because of Uncle Stanley’s passing,” Papa said.

My forehead furrowed as I tried to make sense of their reasoning. “That was last April, ten months ago. Why are you concerned now?”

“Well, of course, my sister is still in mourning,” Mama said. “She’s rattling around that big house all alone except for the servants. She really needs some companionship.”

“Why me? Why now?” I asked. But I was certain I knew. My parents were eager to have me marry, and I had just broken off a relationship with a possible suitor. In their eyes, I was an old maid and needed a husband to take care of me. In my eyes, I needed nothing of the sort.

Would you like to read more of this prequel?

Please click on Leave a Comment at the top of the post and give me a yes or no.

Did this word exist in that time?

I came across this article in my drafts section. Because my struggle with getting the right word for the time continues, I thought you might be interested in the following statistics about the number of English words in existence and the number the average person actually uses.

The same issue of Godey’s that suggested Christmas gifts for 1864 contained a paragraph of information taken from the Literary Gazette claiming that the English language at that time had only 25,000 words. According to several internet sources, the English language currently has over 170,000 in current use, and the average person knows about 40,000 words but uses around 20,000 of them regularly. After my recent suffragist/suffragette experience, I have become hyperaware of when words came into existence, and from the above statistics, I have reason for my concern.

In the same paragraph stating the number of words in the English language in 1864 (I am supposing someone arrived at that statistic by counting the words in a dictionary ), additional word counts were given for specific works. According to the Literary Gazette, the Old Testament has 5,643 different words, Milton’s Paradise Lost has 8,000 different words, and all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems together, have 15,000 different words. What I wanted to know as I read the above is who in the age before computers made the count and why. Unfortunately, the brief paragraph did not disclose that information.

An Update and a Question

As you can see from the blog header, Uprooted, the first book in the Pierce family spinoff series, The Adventures of Hannah True, has been published. I am about halfway through the first draft of Undercurrents, the second book in the Hannah series. The time is July 1860. Hannah has left Chicago and has at last arrived at Aunt Gertrude’s in New York City.

A jump back in time

In Hiram’s Girls, I left the Pierce siblings during Christmas season, 1864. That means in Uprooted and Undercurrents, everyone is four years younger than they were at the end of Hiram’s Girls. Hopefully, that isn’t a problem for you, dear readers. In some ways, it is like reading a prequel. This is what happened that wasn’t in the other books. My plan is that by the fourth book in the Hannah series, the story will be in 1864 again, and we can see the events of the search for Ava through Hannah’s eyes.

The ending of Hiram’s Girls

In the Amazon comments, a few readers have voiced their dissatisfaction with what they considered a quick ending to Hiram’s Girls. I want to assure everyone that you have not seen the last of the siblings. They will be part of the new series, and they may even have more books of their own as the Civil War ends. Ambrose must decide where his family will live, Lucy will study to be a doctor, and Jennie will have to decide what to do with her psychic abilities. And then there is Cordelia. The first book in the series was hers. Should she have another?

Question

Would you like another Pierce family book, and if you would, whose story would you like me to tell?

Please answer in the comments section.

The Monster Tornado of 1860

From The Press and Tribune, Chicago, June 5, 1860

Combining History and Fiction

Uprooted is set in Chicago in June 1860. As I searched for a way to describe the city, its newspaper, The Press and Tribune, seemed an excellent place to start. I didn’t expect to find an event that would become part of the novel, but being from Kansas and having lived in two towns that experienced tornadoes, the story of the tornado that wiped out Camanche, Iowa, and other towns in its path caught my eye and my heart.

It caught Hannah True’s heart too. Her life had been uprooted because her father’s will left her without a home or income, but when she read about the death and destruction caused by the monster tornado, she understood what true loss was.

Then as now, communities came together to help the survivors of this monster storm, originally reported to have traveled one hundred miles, but days later, the distance was corrected:

“…each day has added to the news of the disaster, each mail has brought us fresh accession to the horrors of a Sunday evening when a fiercer tornado than ever in the memory of man visited the tropics, passed over an extent of country, as it now seems from Western Iowa across Illinois, across the lake and thence into the heart of Michigan, a distance of upwards of four hundred miles.”
“The Great Tornado,” The Press and Tribune, Chicago, Monday, June 11, 1860

Woven into the novel are some of the efforts Chicagoans made to help the victims of this devastating event.

The Adventures of Hannah True

Better Late than Never

Back in September 2021 when I published Hiram’s Girls, I promised the first book of the spinoff series, Uprooted: The Adventures of Hannah True, would be out in November 2021. I had a complete draft and revisions, but life happened, and I didn’t make that deadline. In the meantime, I have been working hard to make the book even better, and it is now up for pre-order on Amazon.

An 1860 Start

Hannah’s story begins four years before the end of Hiram’s Girls, so Lucy, Ella, and Jennie are younger than they were when you previously saw them. Uprooted begins in 1860 when Hannah’s mother dies and her father’s will goes into full effect. Her father left the hotel to his daughters’ husbands–and Hannah has never married. The brothers-in-law sell the business, and Hannah is left at age 38 to make her own way in the world.

Her plan is to visit her aunt, Gertrude Oaks, in New York City, and reconnect with suffragists, thinking she might join the cause. On the way, she meets a man who offers an alternative. Will she take it? The novel will go live on February 28. You can pre-order an eBook copy here. I’m still working on the paperback. I promise there will be one, but it will probably be after the eBook is available.

My Friends Have Me Covered

With the loss of my best friend, Bonnie Myrick Eaton, to COVID in January 2021, I was left on my own to make a cover for the last book in the Pierce Family Saga series. Bonnie had warned me many times that she wouldn’t be around forever, and I needed to learn to make book covers, but even if I had listened, images are not at the top of my skill set. With no cover skills, I was dragging my feet on finishing Hiram’s Girls.

I knew what I wanted the cover to look like, so I turned to Dave Leiker of Dave Leiker Photography for the photo. He enlisted the help of Greg Jordan, Executive Director of the Lyon County History Center and Lisa Soller, Deputy Director who opened the Howe house and arranged the lamp in the window. Many thanks to them for the wonderful cover photo.

Photo of the Howe house, Emporia, Kansas, by Dave Leiker Photography

So now I had a great photo, but how was I going to transform it into an eBook cover? With my limited Photoshop skills, I gave it a try. Here is my attempt:

My best effort

Still not satisfied, I sent my file to friend and publisher, Tracy Million Simmons of Meadowlark Press. Lucky for me, she couldn’t resist playing with the file and making it better instead of just giving advice.

Final eBook cover by Tracy Million Simmons

With an eBook cover completed, I turned my attention to the paperback. Tracy had offered her help, but I didn’t want to put too much on her, so I went to another friend, Gordon Kessler, who has created many covers for various authors over the years. We used to be in a critique group together and members of both Kansas Writers Association and Kansas Authors Club. He was kind enough to take the original photo and Tracy’s eBook image and create the paperback cover.

Final paperback cover by Gordon Kessler, with the help of all who came before.

So a big thank you to everyone who contributed to the book cover for Hiram’s Girls. The book is currently on preorder on Amazon and will go live on September 4. If you liked the previous books in the series, I hope you will enjoy this one, as well.

Receipt? Don’t You Mean Recipe?

When I was a child, every time my grandma talked about her favorite receipt for fry bread, I wondered why she mispronounced the word. It was recipe. Didn’t everyone know that? Well, my mother didn’t. They were receipts to her, too. You can guess where she got that. Imagine my surprise when I learned that historically, receipt is just as correct as recipe.

In Hiram’s Girls, Ella and Jennie go in search of their mother’s cookbooks. They find Miss Beecher’s domestic receipt book by Catherine Beecher, as well as Seventy-five receipts of pastry, cakes, and sweetmeats by Eliza Leslie, and The American economical housekeeper, and family receipt book by E. A. Howland.

So Grandma and Mom were right. For a little more on the history of receipt vs. recipe, check this dictionary entry and this article on the history of the two words.

Saga update: I’m working hard on Hiram’s Girls, trying to get all the details worked out. I have an ending. It’s what leads up to it that is still in limbo.

Character Interview: Ava Carstairs Pierce

Who is Ava Carstairs Pierce?

Ava joined the Pierce Family Saga cast in Book 2, For Want of a Father, and married Hiram Pierce in Book 3, Hiram’s Boy. She created havoc and splintered the family in Book 4, Hiram’s War. But who is Ava really? As the author, I set up an interview with the woman many readers love to hate and asked a few questions.

But before the interview, a few facts

Ava was 30 years old when she married Hiram on September 1, 1860. She is 5 feet, 7 inches tall. Red (dark auburn) hair, green eyes. Sturdily built. Not overweight, but big-boned. She has five defining personal qualities: shrewd, ambitious, manipulative, jealous, and impulsive.

Ava Carstairs: Interview with the author

Author: Hello, Ava. Thank you for joining me today. I’ve been wanting to get to know more about you ever since you showed up unexpectedly in Book 2.

Ava: You’ve had three books to get to know me. You didn’t care before, so why now?

Author: You were always an important character, but in Hiram’s Girls, you will have your own point of view chapters. For me to tell readers your side of the story, I need to know more. Will you help me out?

Ava: I suppose. What do you want to know?

Author: What brought you to Hidden Springs?

Ava: My cousin, Agnes, was here, and I had no place else to go after Jack Yates ran out on me. The law was after us, and Jack figured he could travel faster on his own. Agnes’s husband Joe didn’t want to let me in, but she finally persuaded him to let me stay for a few weeks. I hoped Jack might come for me. Until that happened, I tried to fit in, even sang in the church choir, and that’s how I met Hiram. I wasn’t impressed at first, but then I found out he had his own business, a nice home, and a respected position in the community. Well, I wasn’t getting any younger, so when Hiram asked me to marry him, I said yes.

Author: I already know all that. Tell me something I don’t know.

Ava: Like what?

Author: What are some of your first memories?

Ava: My mother left me with my uncle and his family when I was four years old. I’d just had a birthday and got a rag doll for a present. Then Agnes, my cousin who was five years older, got a doll with a china head and hair and that looked like a baby. Agnes always got the good stuff, and I got her hand-me-downs. 

Author: You sound jealous.

Ava: Wouldn’t you be? Can we move this on? I’d rather think of something else.

Author: Okay. What can you tell me about your son, Daniel? What is your last memory of him?

Ava: Leaving him on the Laird’s doorstep. I couldn’t take care of him. Jack had gone off when he knew I wasn’t going to win the court case against Gerald Ward’s estate. I couldn’t prove Ward was Daniel’s father, and his relatives, the Lairds, showed some evidence that he wasn’t. So I had no money, and Agnes’s husband, Joe, kicked me out when the bad publicity caused so much gossip his customers started shopping elsewhere. Wherever Daniel ended up, he was better off there than with me.

Author: Surely, you have some good memories.

Ava: My best memory was marrying Hiram. I laugh at that now, but then it seemed like a dream come true. I thought he loved me. He even believed in me enough to toss out his son and leave his daughters by Minerva in Westport with their aunt. I promised him sons, but I birthed girls. That’s when I found out he didn’t really care about me. He only cared about the possibility I might give him a son. Still, I could mostly get what I wanted from him, but the town turned against us when he kicked Ambrose out, and they blamed me. Well, it was my doing, but who needs the approval of a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites?

Author: If that was your best memory, what was your worst?

Ava: How do I pick one worst memory out of so many bad ones? Jack Yates is the reason for most of them. He was Daniel’s father, but he ran out on us, which I’ve already told you about. Even so, I always went with him when he asked me, only to have him to desert me again. The absolute worst was this last time in Colorado when he got arrested. I had to steal a horse and run from the law in the middle of the night because he had stopped to gamble on our way out of town. If we’d just left as soon as we’d collected the gold, everything would have worked out. I can’t let them catch me. I can’t–I can’t talk about this anymore.

Author: I’m sorry to have upset you. Maybe we can talk more later. Readers, if you have any questions for Ava, leave them in the comments. Ava, thank you for your time.

The Right Word: Suffragist/Suffragette

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

John Wooden

What I’ve always heard

As a woman who has always been interested in the women’s rights movement, I thought I knew the right word for the women who fought for the right to vote in the United States: suffragette. It was repeated in everything I read and heard over the years. Then I read Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler and came upon the word suffragist for the first time. Because the word was new to me, I had to learn more.

What was true

A quick search on the term revealed Fowler was right. On learning that suffragette as a word did not exist until the early 1900s, I was embarrassed that I had used it in reference to Hannah True, the aunt of the Pierce siblings, in all the novels set in 1855 and forward. If you’d like to know more about the origin of suffragette and how it differs from suffragist, go to this article on the National Park Service site.

My point

When you write historical fiction, or any fiction that contains facts, you run the risk of being wrong, and often it is what you thought you knew that turns out not to be true. However, if you spend time investigating the origin and meaning of every word and detail of every event you want to include in your story, you’ll never get the story written. Research what you know you don’t know, and when you see something at odds with what you believe to be true, look it up. In the meantime, keep writing. The world needs more stories that touch our hearts and minds and challenge our beliefs. And if you do use an incorrect word, sooner or later, someone will let you know.

Christmas Presents: 1864

In 1864, Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine was the go-to periodical for women. It was filled with advice on fashion and family matters along with needlework patterns and “receipts” or recipes as we call them today. Because of the magazines popularity, it is one of the periodicals I have chosen for my characters, particularly Ella Pierce who loves cooking and all aspects of homemaking, to spend time with.

I was browsing the December 1864 issue of Godey’s when I happened upon an article titled

NEW CHRISTMAS PRESENTS: GOLD PENS–SEWING MACHINES.

Intrigued, I began reading and learned the article was really advice from an editor to a reader who wanted to know the appropriate gift for a young woman to give a young man. The editor suggested a gold pen because the pen suggests “mental power and moral improvement, of refinement of thought, and progress in civilization.” Wow! All that in the gift of a pen.

But wait! The advice does not stop there. The editor continues with a suggestion of what gift one might give a woman, particularly one who has fallen on hard times and must earn her own way in the world. Mention is then made of a specific class of women who need the gift: widows with small children they must support. After declaring that these widows are often “in delicate health,” the editor declares that the best profession for these women is needlework, and the gift of a sewing-machine would make earning a livelihood even easier.

This gift advice is followed by a list of professions widows should not undertake. These include any attempt at literature (although Godey’s publishes the work of women writers), starting a school (requires capital and time), or opening a boarding-house (which also requires capital, good health, and steel nerves).

I found this advice fascinating because it comes from Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of a magazine for women and says much about the view of what women could do in that time and place. The editor then suggests the rich might do great good by giving these poor women a sewing machine. I can picture the reactions of my various characters to such a gift. Ella would love it, Cordelia would shake her head and move on in her photography wagon, and Aunt Hannah would be too busy in her new career as a detective to appreciate the gesture.

PIERCE SAGA UPDATE: I am halfway through the rough draft of Hiram’s Girls. I’m hoping for a late January launch. Also, Aunt Hannah is getting her own series, so come back for updates. To see all my books, visit my Amazon author page.