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.
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.
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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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.
Ambrose: the disowned son of Hiram Pierce
If you have read Hiram’s Boy, you may remember the incident that caused Hiram to disown his only son. Despite Ambrose’s attempt to show his father the truth in January 1860, they have not reconciled. It is now October 1864, and Ambrose’s main concerns are his wife and children and his younger sisters who may be in the path of General Sterling Price’s Confederate forces on their way to Ft. Leavenworth.
Ambrose in his own words: I’m twenty years old and married. Susan and I have a son who is four, and we hope to adopt my stepbrother, Daniel Carstairs. His mother never wanted him and left him on a doorstep. He was sent to an orphanage where Cordelia and I found him when I was trying to prove to Pa what a liar his new wife was.
Lucy and I have given up on Pa, but Jennie hasn’t. I don’t know about Ella. She has some plan about Pa finding her a husband. I can’t believe she wants to do that, but she doesn’t have as much personal experience with him as Lucy, Cordelia, and I do.
I came to Westport to protect Ella and Jennie from Price and his soldiers, but I found out they needed more protection from Uncle Graham. Now that they’re out of his house, we’re on our way to find Pa at Jennie’s insistence. No matter what happens with that, I need to find my sisters a new home, and then I need to get back to my family. If Ella would give up her nonsense about getting married, she and Jennie could come with me, and Aunt Gertrude would take her in.
No matter what decisions my sisters make, as soon as I can, I’m going to bring my wife and son to Kansas and start our life together. Will this war ever end so I can make that happen?
Hiram’s War is on pre-order on Amazon and will be live on May 15.
After two years, I have finally finished Hiram’s War. What made it so rough, other than I don’t like war, is that I didn’t like Hiram much either. After a year of not liking him any better, I asked him what he wanted out of life. Below is his answer in his own words.
All I ever wanted was respect for me and my family. I wanted a successful business, and when my father passed me over because I was the youngest son, giving me work for a wage instead of part of the business, I did my best to get the money to start over in a new place. It took years, but in 1854, I finally made a home in Hidden Springs, a new town in Kansas. A blacksmith is an important part of any community on the frontier, and I soon became of the town leaders. From there I made friends with territorial legislators and worked to make Kansas a free state.
I was disappointed that I had only one son, and more disappointed when it turned out he had betrayed me. I had already experienced family betrayal. My oldest brother, Duncan, slept with my first wife, Constance. She died giving birth to a child. Had it been mine or my brother’s? Unimportant, since the child died too.
Then I married Minerva, knowing she had another man’s child in her belly. Her father paid me a dowry to keep his family from having the shame of an unmarried daughter bearing a child. Minerva was young and I expected sons, but Ambrose was the only boy she bore who lived beyond infancy.
Ambrose was a good son until he betrayed me, trying to take liberties with my third wife, Ava. He was loved by the townspeople for his good nature and good work. Loved more than I was because they all sided with him when I tossed him out for his betrayal. Of course, I didn’t say what he’d done. I didn’t want that gossiped about. And he didn’t say either, so no one knew what he’d done, and the men I’d thought were my friends and respected me showed their true opinions.
So I’ve gone to war because it is my duty to Kansas, for my own self-respect and for revenge in some way against border ruffians who had burned a horseshoe shape into my chest with a branding iron. None of my neighbors will be able to say I am a coward or that I didn’t fight for my state and country. I will protect what is mine personally and patriotically. I’m fifty-three years old, and the governor’s call is for all men between eighteen and sixty. I will answer that call and regain the respect of those who have turned away from me.
What other characters want
Hiram’s children–Ambrose, Lucy, Ella, and Jennie–have their own goals, which I will share with you in future posts. In the meantime, Hiram’s War is available for pre-order until May 15 on Amazon.