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.

Title for Book 5 of Pierce Family Saga

1st book cover attempt

Working title

Ever since publishing Hiram’s War in May, I’ve been searching for a working title for the next book in the series. Somehow a title helps me focus on the story. A few mornings ago, I had an “aha!” moment. I was so impressed with the idea that I headed over to Canva and made a temporary book cover. Emphasis is on “temporary” because maybe the title isn’t as good as I think.

The thought process that led me to Hiram’s Girls went like this. I wanted to focus on Jennie and Ella and their lives after moving in with their father. For several days, all that came to mind was Life with Pa. Ugh! Then I thought of the previous two titles in the series: Hiram’s Boy and Hiram’s War. So why not Hiram’s Girls?

Question: Does my “aha!” moment appeal to readers as much as it did to me? Should I keep searching? Do you have a suggestion for a title?

What? You need to know what Book 5 will be about before you suggest a title?

Here’s what I know: It is November 1864, and I’m thinking the book will extend to the end of the year, so Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays will be in the book as Jennie, 12, and Ella, 14, adjust to their lives in Hidden Springs with their three little sisters, ages 3 months to 2 years, and, of course, their father, Hiram Pierce. What could possibly go wrong? I’m making a list. Check back later for more developments.

What’s Next? A Look at Pierce Family Options

Hiram’s War: Live on Amazon
                     May 15,2020

Decisions

Those who have read Hiram’s War have a common question: What’s next for the Pierce family? It’s a question I’m asking the five older siblings. Let’s see what they’re telling me.

Cordelia: I’ve spent the last four years as a traveling photographer for Mathew Brady. I’m not sure what I’ll do when the war is over.

Ambrose: I’m heading to New York City to get my wife, son, and stepbrother, then we’re heading for Kansas and a new life.

Lucy: I’m on my way to Cairo to resume nursing duties, but I want to do more, to know more, to save more lives. I want to be a doctor, but I’ll have to fight to make that happen. Women are usually barred from medical schools. 

Ella: I’m looking for a husband and a permanent home for me and Jennie. My older siblings say I don’t know what marriage is all about and I’m asking for trouble, like being fourteen means I don’t know anything. We’ll see. 

Jennie: I always wanted little sisters, and now I have three of them under three years old. Ella and I have split the responsibility: she takes care of the house and I take care of the little ones. It’s only been a week, and I already think I’m in over my head. Help!

Another Option: Aunt Hannah

Hannah True is sister to the Pierce siblings deceased mother. She took the girls in after their mother’s death and raised them until 1860. Then Hannah’s mother died and her brothers-in-law sold the hotel she ran and left her uprooted. At thirty-eight, she is on her own for the first time in her life. In 1848, she was a suffragette. Now, on her way to New York City and a new life, she meets a man who runs a detective agency and gives her an unexpected option. Will she take it? 

So those are my choices. Which one appeals most to you and why? 

For more on the Pierce family, check out the following e-books: Cordelia’s Journey (always 99 cents), For Want of a Father ( on a 99 cent countdown sale May 29-June 5, 2020), and Hiram’s Boy

 

Hiram’s War Book Launch

 

It’s Live!

Today is the official launch date of the eBook version Hiram’s War on Amazon. I had planned for the paperback to be available too, but due to cover creation difficulties, it will be another day or so before that happens. I should be receiving my proof copy today or tomorrow, and if all my corrections look like they’re supposed to, I should be making the paperback available by Monday.

 

 

 

 

Cordelia’s Journey eBook free on Amazon May 15-19, 2020

I’m celebrating the publication of the fourth book in the series by making the eBook of Cordelia’s Journey, book one of the Pierce Family Saga, free from May 15-19, 2020. Get yours now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiram’s War: What Ella and Jennie Want

Live on Amazon May 15,2020


Homeless

After their mother’s death in 1855, Ella and Jennie went to live with their Aunt Hannah, a single woman who ran the family’s hotel in Westport. When the hotel was sold in 1860 and Aunt Hannah left town, the two sisters went from her loving care to a cold, judgmental  existence with Aunt Hilda and her husband, Reverend Graham Russell. Now it is 1864, and their world is falling apart as war rages around them.

What Jennie wants in her own words:

I’m twelve years old and the baby of the family, and that’s all my sisters and Ambrose see when they look at me: a child who needs protection. They all have advice about my dreams: mainly how I should keep quiet about them. I did that once, and my baby brother, Mark, died. And now I’m having dreams about Pa, and I know he’ll die if I don’t find him, so I have to make my siblings believe me. While I was trying to convince Ella, Uncle Graham and Aunt Hilda overheard us, and Uncle Graham beat me to get rid of the demons he said were working inside me.

Ambrose and my sisters rescued me, but now Ella and I have no home, and she feels responsible to get us one. I’ll have to think about that later because right now, the most important thing is to save my father’s life. I didn’t save my baby brother’s life. I was only three years old then. Pa thought I smothered him when I crawled into his cradle to get him warm, but he was already cold. He didn’t move. Ambrose says Mark was already dead. All I know is I didn’t tell anyone about my dream and Mark died. This time, I have to tell. I have to make people listen. I don’t want to be responsible for another family death.

 

First book in the series


What Ella wants in her own words:

I’m fourteen years old now. I remember when our family was all together, and Jennie and I were the little sisters. We lived in our cabin in Hidden Springs: Ma, Pa, Ambrose, Cordelia, Lucy, Jennie, and me. Those were good days. Then Mark, only one week old, died and Ma got in the family way again, and Delia ran away to get Aunt Hannah. Then Ma had to stay in bed and Lucy took over the cooking and cleaning and taking care of us. I was five and tried to help, but the best I could do was keep track of Jennie. That’s been my job ever since.

I love Jennie, but keeping her out of trouble hasn’t been easy, especially since Aunt Hannah left and we had to go live with Aunt Hilda and Uncle Graham. I’ve told her over and over that she can’t talk about her dreams, but sometimes she blurts them out—and they come true. Now we are homeless. I know Ambrose will find a place for us, maybe with Aunt Gertrude, but that would be only temporary. I want a permanent home. I want to get married, but with a war on, how will I find a husband.

Lucy complained that five years ago when she went to live with Pa, he wanted to find her a suitable husband, someone well-off and respected in the community. If we find Pa and he’s alive, I’m going to ask him to do that for me. I want a real home for me and Jennie.

 

For more about me and my books, visit my author page on Amazon.

 

 

 

Hiram’s War: What Lucy Wants

Remember Lucy Pierce, Hiram’s oldest daughter, from For Want of a Father?

Lucy’s back, nineteen years old now, and she’s been to war with the boy she loved and served as a Civil War nurse with Mother Bickerdyke. She’s taking a break from a battlefield hospital to join her sisters in Westport and do what she can to protect them from Confederate General Price and his soldiers who are planning to march through the town on their way to Ft. Leavenworth.

Lucy in her own words: 

I’m almost twenty, and I’m a widow. I married Jake when he was dying from dysentery like so many other soldiers. No one knew the cause or what to do, so all I could do was sit with him. Now I will devote my life to healing the sick in honor of my one true love. But first, I must make sure my sisters are safe from Price and his rebel marauders.

I convinced Cordelia we must go to Westport and watch over them. Now that we have arrived, I see the situation is much worse than I imagined. Jennie is still having visions of the future, and Uncle Graham has beaten her with a belt until her back bled. I have put iodine on the cuts, but there will be scars, and it will be some time until her bruises heal.

Jennie insists she’s had a vision of Pa being hurt, and we must help him. After the way he treated me, Cordelia, and Ambrose, I am resistant to the idea, but Jennie won’t stop pleading, so we must do it for her sake. Once we have found him, I will move on to the next goal: finding a home for Ella and Jennie. Ella’s marriage idea is so misguided. She doesn’t remember how bad things were between our parents and how bad an arranged marriage can turn out to be. Once my sisters are taken care of, I will return to the Sanitary Commission and see where my nursing skills are most needed. Please, let this war be over soon.


Hiram’s War is available for pre-order on Amazon and goes live on May 15. If you enjoy American historical fiction dealing with family struggles, order your copy now.