Category Archives: historic fiction

when rabbit holes are “work”

You may recall that my manuscript consultant suggested an epilogue. How about 1758? That’s the year Eliza and her husband, Charles Pinckney, return to South Carolina after a lengthy stay in England. Charles dies in July. Malaria claimed a lot of lives in colonial America.

Prior research had been pretty laser-focused on the years 1738 to 1744. With many historic tomes, in fact, I just stopped reading at 1745. I barely read Eliza’s letters after her marriage in ’44.

Well that’s not entirely true. I read them two or three times, but I didn’t MINE them and their footnotes for personal events and tone and history.

So I had to ask: what was Charles Town like fourteen years after my original narrative ended? Also, because one character flees to Philly, what was the City of Brotherly Love like in 1758?

Imagine my glee — yes glee! — to learn about an early abolitionist who published the very first unequivocal position against slavery in the western world! His name was Anthony Benezet and he was a Huguenot-turned Quaker. The Quakers adopted the proclamation in Philadelphia in 1758. *

I found a Library of Congress lecture by one of Benezet’s biographers, Maurice Jackson, and listened to it in its entirety (those of you who know me understand how rare that is).

Why isn’t he better known?

His pamphlet or Slave Almanac was later copied in large measure by better known abolitionist John Wesley and relied upon by the likes of Granville Sharp.

I noodled around Ben Franklin’s early career as a printer (he was out of the business by 1758) and his then equivocal stance on slavery — or at least his unwillingness to attach his name to those early anti-slavery pamphlets.

The other thing to know generally was that the French and Indian war was going on. It was the reason why Charles and Eliza Pinckney had returned to South Carolina. They wanted to secure or sell their properties.

Fun fact: the Join or Die flag originally referred to the necessity to cooperate in the fight against France and only later was coopted by the Revolutionaries battling Britain.

* The proclamation was approved at a Quaker Yearly meeting in 1758 but not printed until 1759.

In other news, the wisteria is blooming and I got my hair cut. New glasses ordered. All systems go!

And I’m making a tunic. Ha! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Writing about writing

This post is a prompt response from yesterday. Of five provided images, the one I responded to was of a piebald horse (not unlike the one above). I quote two poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Joyce Kilmer and for your enjoyment include the entirety of the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, Pied Beauty, at the end.

It helps to know that I am ten years plus into writing a novel in which one of the central characters is Eliza Lucas Pinckney (b. 1722) and that the other three main characters are enslaved Black women.

 

Rhombuses of Light

The morning light is sectioned
mintons and mullions
through the glass, hitting floor and
wall, bending at baseboard.
She often referred to light
as “lozenges.”

It’s the glow we like
especially when April
breezes seep past sills
and chill. But what about the
bend at the baseboard?
An easy compliance.

“Glory be to God for dappled
things,” said the poet.
Rhombuses of light
are not pied or
dappled, but when created
by a window speak
to the relationship between
solidity and light.

She repeats herself. All
those references to clouds!
It’s time to find and replace.
Thunderclouds with slate
grey bottoms, slants of
rain like an etching against
the horizon. Again, Eliza,
really?

Her friend rode a dappled
grey sixteen hands high. How I had
to look all that up, authority running
to cats and dogs and at a stretch to
the way the interior of a barn
smells and how light catches
dust and particles of hay
drifting below the rafters.
How light and gravity inform
a moment.

Imagination as authority,
not a popular position
these days.

Ripples of clouds above
the marsh, liked ruched
silk. Sunlight on creek
shining like pewter. God
in nature. We get it! Eliza
got it.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
got it.

Light will slide up the
wall as day goes on.
Sometimes the miraculous has
a predictable element to it.

All those author interviews
and how they make her
shrink. What’s on HER
bedside table? Did she
even read as a child?

The Case of the Hidden
Staircase.

But it occurs to her now,
more memory than thought,
that reading Gerard Manley
Hopkins as a teenager
opened a previously
undisclosed chamber in
her heart.

You can do that with
language? Light can
bend at baseboard
and be celebrated and in
strange syncopations?
Why does one element
mimicking another thrill
the senses? Light like
water. Sedimentary rock
like ripples of corduroy.
Memory like glass.

As a priest, he told
himself to shut up.
Figures an early hero of
mine would go to such extremes
and for all the wrong
reasons. Virginia Woolf with
rocks in her pockets.

Heroes, heroines, perhaps
best not to have them —
but how else learn how
to write, how not to panic,
how to pick at a scab and
move on?

Just once, she’d like the column
to soberly reveal an author
that didn’t read until she
was seventeen or so. Too busy
mucking about in creeks and
negotiating with terror. Why
sit still?

Music floods the chest.
A good reason for silence,
she thinks, a single window
at a time being enough,
the light passing through
glass from the east,
inching toward the center of the hall.

You mean to tell me
the rhombuses of light float down the wall
and not up as morning progresses?
The unreliability
of observation. What motes?
What barn? Memory like glass.

Eliza’s daughter was about to
turn eleven when he died. Eliza’s
husband. Harriett’s father.
The dates are there for the finding.
July 12, 1758 and August 7, 1758.

What I make of turning
eleven just after the death of
a parent is not what you will
make of the same.

Even Harriett, poor dear,
would have made several
things of a singular devastation.

She had wanted to read
“Pied Beauty” at her father’s
funeral. The altar boy
turned atheist would have
appreciated its point, even
if Longfellow and Poe were
his favored fare.

Her sister overruled the selection.
Longstanding habits
of bullying that can’t even
be attributed to grief.

“I think that I shall
never see a poem as
lovely as a tree,” he
wrote in my autograph
book — remember those? —
“But with his help, I’ve
made a Dee.”

“He fathers-forth whose
beauty is past change.”

Swapping out an altar
in the Catholic Church for the
Kinderhook Creek doesn’t mean
one has no god.
Trout fishing as sacrament.

Harriett was ten about to turn
eleven. I was 24 or 26 and the fact that I can
never remember without adding age-at-death to
one birth year and then subtracting another
birth year speaks to loss.

 

*     *     *

Poetry Fdtn link here.

Avoidance and chores

Have other bloggers noticed that if you let a few too many days go by, it can be hard to step back in? Right now, I’m procrastinating.

I should be putting my recently printed manuscript into a binder for ease of editing. Instead, I vacuumed. To finish properly, I had to pull a big jam out of the tubing using forceps. Found a bic pen lodged in there (– perhaps a symbol about getting down to business today?) Then I knocked over a Christmas cactus and had to clean that up.

I rearranged papers under the desk to make room for my soothing noise maker, because leaf blowing season is upon us again. “I must be ready!” she said.

Then there was a little candle lighting (my brother hasn’t been feeling well; D lives in Boulder — AND IS OKAY — but shops at that grocery store).

Then, because it’s lovely today, I opened a bunch of windows and got a couple of fans going and in the process kept losing the cup of coffee which any writer can tell you is an essential element of GETTING ONE’s ASS BACK IN THE CHAIR. One screen got stuck. Par for the course.

It occurs to me that if one had a practice of praying for all the victims of gunfire in this country, and their families, there’d be little time for anything else.

It also occurs to me that keeping a catalogue of the sickening and vast difference in how Black and white bodies are treated by cops could be a full time job.

On that note, I’ll leave you with yesterday’s historical tidbit (think: a trump-corrupted CDC playing down the Covid numbers).

And now, off to work!

A Wednesday in March

More light in the kitchen late afternoons. I arranged my sister’s blue bottle collection on the sill to invite that vibration and to mark my sister’s passing.* This week marked two years gone. I’ve had a lot to say about that, but for now, not here.

This lovely heart came from Hazel after Noreen’s death. She was grieving too. I looked at the stitching up close today and appreciated once again, the craft, the care. My sister and I found this Virgin at a second hand store in Salem that we enjoyed frequenting. She mounted it on wood and added eye hooks. The ceramic pentacle had been hers as well.

Editing going full throttle right now. Or at least, as full throttle as I do anything anymore. Needed a solid nap this afternoon after being awake til three am.

When I couldn’t sleep last night, I came downstairs and read a Booker Prize winning novel set in Glasgow: Shuggie Bain. Alcoholic mother, despicable father, unbearable poverty. I’m compelled to finish but it is unrelentingly grim.

Almost done reading Eliza’s letters post-1744. Those describing her husband’s death are full of anguish, full of praise for Charles’s virtue and character. They had fourteen years together. Good years. Malaria did him in.

* also prompted by chakra/color exploration on sparklinglotusink, Acey’s blog.

Adding light, revising novel

I’m adding light and shadow to appliqued hawk. Made her head lighter and used white poly for beak to make it pop. A scrap of fabric practically fell out of the basket and felt like a minor show of Providence.

Jude had the idea over on Instagram to darken some of the ripples around the hawk’s head. Since I like the way it adds a sense of motion, I may continue around the body as long as I have that color thread. It’ll look good flowing off the wings.

Had some gross polyester swirled with black in that basket, too. Added to tail and wings for more contrast. Light. Maybe you can see a difference with earlier incarnation, maybe not (below).

It’s nice to have company.

In the meantime, I finally talked to my paid manuscript consultant yesterday. Round three coming up. I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, perhaps even shouting off the rooftops: SHE LOVES MY BOOK.

I think people forget how solitary a process writing is.

House names should not be italicized. If I’m gonna talk about the elder Middletons toward the end, they need to be introduced earlier. Still sags here and there — needs tightening. Not so many descriptions of clouds, perhaps. Maybe not so much about Melody’s first owner. Explain what head rights are and how to memorialize land in Author’s Note, which starts like this:

When I began this novel, Trayvon Martin was alive and as I finished the second edit, George Floyd was dead.

The suggestion that I add an epilogue (say in 1758 after Eliza and Charles Pinckney return from a five year stay in England), will take a little more thought. That’s fourteen years after my original end. Lots of years I haven’t thought about all that much.

A six year time frame (1738 to 1744) allowed a laser-like focus. Etiquette in 1720? I don’t care! Rice markets in 1750? Also don’t care. Now I need to care. I’ll start with Eliza’s letters.

A walk with temps in the 40’s was cause for celebration this week. Daffodils shoving aside leaf debris. Snow shrugging off the curbs. It won’t be long now ’til the miracle of hyacinths.

In the meantime I am trying to answer the question (Acey’s): how do you hold your heart? Or maybe just asking it. Softly.

The collage challenge with Paris Collage Collective continues. This week: Shirley Chisholm.

More to come. I want to cut up seed catalogues and wreathe her head with flowers. In the collage above, the headstone of Harriett Jacobs served as reference to the long history of oppression, Jacobs being another Black woman who overcame so much.