Novels Based on Historical Facts

I’ve been attracted to studying history lately. It started as I began reading about the Civil War as I prepared presentations about my great grandfather’s Civil War experiences captured in his journal. (Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier) But it’s gone further on either side of those watershed years in United States history. 51TYhlVodCL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_

As a result, My husband and I have been enjoying Ken Burn’s series: The Civil War and PBS’s The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Both of these in-depth looks at previous eras shed light on where we are today economically, politically, socially, and culturally. I realized something as I delved into the past. I’ve forgotten much of what I’d learned in school. Here’s the difference: I studied it then to pass a test to earn a degree to land a job. I study it now because it interests me. World of difference.

Of course, the Broadway production of Hamilton opened up more folks to learning about the early days of our fledgling country, but I’d resisted delving into the founding father’s until I came across a book offered for free with my Prime membership.

The Midwife's RevoltThe Midwife’s Revolt by Jodi Daynard is the type of historical novel I’ve been reading for a few years now.  Fictional accounts with the historical facts and people–most of them featuring women often ignored as the men they loved received all the infamy leave me impressed with the courage and strength needed to survive harsh circumstances.

Lizzie Boylston possesses a gift in the art of midwifery, but she’s living in perilous times as the Revolutionary War looms. The novel begins in 1775 during the Battle of Bunker Hill and continues through the struggles of war. Her best friend and neighbor, Abigail Adams suffers greatly when both husband and son are swept away to Europe where they are kept safe from the factions who seek to do them harm. Lizzie herself becomes a spy for the cause and it puts a strain on her relationship with Abigail who must  not be told about the midwife’s efforts. At times deemed a witch for her special tinctures and medicines, Lizzie fights the restrictions on her sex and on her craft. Dynard created the character of Lizzie, but keeps to the historical happenings and the whereabouts of the Adams’s family during this time. I was very much captivated by the conditions under which the women lived, worked, and loved.

The reading of The Midwife’s Revolt led me directly to learning more about Alexander Hamilton, not that he plays a role in the book, but all the hoopla about him and the time period piqued my interest. I could have gone for the biography Hamilton, and I probably will read it at some point, along with book, The Founding Fathers, which has sat on my bookshelf for too many years–pages on the paperback have yellowed.

The Hamilton AffairInstead, I opted for another book of historical fiction about the real people, namely Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth Schuyler. The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs uses the point of view of both Hamiltons to tell the story of this couple brought together 1777 by Eliza’s father. We all know it ends tragically for Alexander but Eliza manages to live long after her husband’s fatal duel  According to Cobbs, most of the characters are real and the events are not fabricated, but the conversations and intimacies exist in her imagination based on her extensive research.

Once again, I found myself lost in another time and place with admiration for the women who kept the families together while the men received the notoriety. It’s an absorbing read.



The last one I’ll address in this post, leaves the Revolutionary period behind and heads into the Civil War era. It was a coincidence that this one also featured a female heroine from history. I bought the book because of the author, Charles Frazier and my enjoyment of his Cold Mountain and its setting near where I now spend my summers.

Varina is the story of Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis. I’d never heard of her before I read this book, but it only made her story that much more interesting. Plus, I’ve spent so much time on the Union side of this history, I found it jarring and intriguing to go to the other side. The story is told through the point of view of James, who as a child was taken in by Varina while living in Richmond as the first lady of the Confederacy. He’s of mixed race, and no one knows whether he’s free or not. He lives with her children and is treated as one of their one. But when the Confederacy falls and Varina is on the run with her children, she turns James over to a home for orphans. From there, they lose contact until James–left with only a blue book of his history–tracks down Varina in 1906 in Saratoga, New York. James is the glue for the story, but Varina is the storyteller.

I enjoyed reading about Varina, a strong woman who stood up to Jeff Davis’s authoritative brother and often questioned her husband’s decisions. However, it took some adjustment to Frazier’s literary technique of not using quotation marks around dialogue. A line of dialogue begins with an “em” dash: –We’ll see, V said. As with any technique where the author creates their own style, it’s a matter of reader adjustment to the accustomed style. Once I adapted, it didn’t interrupt my reading even though it did at first.

I very much enjoyed all of these books as well as others in a similar vein about a woman pilot, the mistresses of Marshall Field and Frank Lloyd Wright, wives of Robert Louis Stevenson and Ernest Hemingway and more. Most of the books rely heavily on letters and biographies, but the fictional scenes created allow the imagination to wonder about how one person’s life can impact the course of history. In many cases, it’s obvious that without the guidance of strong and brilliant women in the shadows, the men might never have been recognized.

Does this mean I’ll be rushing off to write my own historical “faction?” I don’t think so. I love history. I admire those who write historical fiction. I adore historical biographies. But write them? It’s not on my horizon, but I stopped saying “never” a long time ago when it comes to my life as an author.

cover smoky mountain romances

It’s not historical but there are some interesting characters. Click here to see my latest release, a new compilation of all my Smoky Mountain romances under one cover.





instagramI’m pleased to announce the release of a collection of Christmas short stories, Bright Lights and Candle Glow. You can download this anthology for FREE!

This collection from eight talented authors boasts short stories set during the winter holiday season. These tales encompass sober themes, heartwarming messages, and uplifting endings, appropriate for the winter season or all year long.

Arranged in chronological order, witness winter miracles from the mid-1800s through modern day, running the spectrum from somber to lighthearted.

  • Learn the meaning of the season from a Civil War soldier.
  • Go from rags to riches with a 1920s mobster.
  • Relive a fond holiday activity with a helpful Grinchy neighbor.
  • Create new holiday memories with a 1970s ranching family.
  • Meet a new friend whose advice rekindles the magic of the season.
  • Experience Christmas from a wise, aged perspective.
  • Cross cultures and beliefs to create a new holiday tradition.
  • Celebrate the season with estranged family after a life-changing revelation.

These stories are sure to enhance your experience of the holiday season. It’s a holiday-themed compilation of short stories with heavy messages and uplifting endings sure to warm the heart in the cold winter months.

Click here to download now!

Book Review Friday – The Dolan Girls

DOLAN_GIRLS_largeOne of the first full-length books I ever read was a biography of Annie Oakley. I loved that sharpshooting sassy woman, and it started me on a lifelong love affair with reading. So it gave me pleasure to read S.R. Mallery’s latest work, The Dolan Girls and discover that my Annie Oakley played a role in this rollicking Wild West romance set in the years before, during, and after the Civil War.

I admire Ms. Mallery’s ability to delve into the past as she’s done in her short stories and her previous novel, Unexpected Gifts. But with the latest novel, she immerses the reader in the feel of what it must have been like during those days of high expectations for what the West held for those fleeing the East and the disappointments that lay waiting like a rattlesnake in the grass. It was called the “wild” west for a reason. It was a place where the law was written as needed, and often, the outlaws were writing those laws. From this world of lawlessness, came the inevitable services, such as houses where men could drink, relax, and enjoy the beauties of the night. Ms. Mallery sets her novel up in such a place, but Madam Ana’s is not a place of ill-repute as you might imagine. The Madam sets a tone of civility and gentility with all her girls and the patrons who frequent the place. She’s the Madam with a heart of gold, shown when she takes in two abandoned girls, Cora and Minnie, who eventually take over the running of the place.

There’s plenty of violence and heartbreak in this novel, but there’s also love between men and women and the love in families, such as the one that exists at Madam Ana’s. The Pinkerton detective who rides into town wearing a white hat disrupts the peace and fights to win the heart of Cora. Cora’s daughter Ellie, is caught up in a love affair with one of the horse trainers from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. It is this show that brings dear Annie to town. And when the entire household at Madam Ana’s is treated to front row seats to watch the shenanigans, Ms. Mallery shines in her descriptions, transporting the reader back to the late 1800s Nebraska.

Ms. Mallery uses her fine paint brush to bring us a portrait of a time often romanticized, but not often personalized with such exquisitely drawn characters. Annie Oakley was exactly as I imagined her. And Buffalo Bill is a hoot. So is the sister Minne and her romp with a famous photographer.

But there are serious moments as well as Cora deals with her past and her present. I’m thrilled knowing that we’re not done with The Dolan Girls. Word out on the street and in the wild west says Ms. Mallery is hard at work on a sequel.

Lasso that bull, S.R.!

Click here to read Author Wednesday on The Dolan Girls.

Purchase The Dolan Girls.

Read an excerpt of The Dolan Girls.

1861: Young Kisses

Cora Dolan refused to talk about what had happened six years earlier, ten miles above town. Sealed up as tight as a snail in the cold she was, even to her sister Minnie, who was there with her the whole time; even with Thomas, who held her heart.

Cora Dolan refused to talk about what had happened six years earlier, ten miles above town. Sealed up as tight as a snail in the cold she was, even to her sister Minnie, who was there with her the whole time; even with Thomas, who held her heart.

Yet one star-flushed night, as the wind’s edges were chilling and the shortening days were trumpeting the around-the-corner autumn, the two sweethearts pressed against a neighbor’s barn door, and Cora opened her mouth to share her past, then paused.

“What is it, Cora?” Thomas whispered, his steady arm around her sixteen-year-old waist, his mouth brushed against her ear. “Tell me what gets you sad sometimes. Let me help you.”

She forced a smile. “I’m all right, truly I am,” she said, placing her right hand gently over her heart for a couple of seconds. With her arms then draped over his broad shoulders, she uplifted her face for a kiss.

“Oh, Cora,” he said softly, his lips heading toward hers, “I love it when you put your hand over your heart. It’s so sweet. So trusting.”

Suddenly, a horse’s sudden clop-clop broke their embrace, sending them scurrying off to Cora’s residence. Several blocks away, still running, laughing, holding hands, they slowed their pace down to a stroll as they passed the livery stable, the local blacksmith, the church shut tight for the night, the brand new post office, and the local saloon with its strong bouquet of whiskey and beer wafting into the air. Finally, they stopped in front of the red-curtained Madam Ana’s, South Benton’s second watering hole, the place for pleasuring most any man.

And home to the Dolan girls.

“I guess it’s good-night, then,” her young suitor murmured, angling for another kiss.

A male snicker rang out. “Well, well, well. What do we have here?”

Out from behind the southeast porch post stepped a slightly older young man, his black hat cocked forty-five degrees, his leather jacket opened, his six-shooter holstered just below his waist. He moved in close.

“Cora, sweet thing, why in the world do you waste your time with such a greenhorn, huh?” he sneered. “Be like the gals you live with and try a real man for once!”

Thomas stepped in front of Cora. “Wes, that’s no way to treat a lady. Let her be!”

The stepbrothers faced each other. “Don’t you threaten me!” Wes spat back, splaying his tall, wiry legs and fingering his new grown mustache as if to further prove his manhood.

“That’s rich––me threatening you. Now, leave us alone!”

As Wes half walked, half hitched away, chortling, Cora clutched her protector. “He’s always so scary,” she whispered…

“… I think you’re beautiful, Cora. In fact, you’re perfect.”

Concentrating on his piercing blue eyes, she leaned in for a kiss. All of a sudden, they heard Madam Ana inside, laughing with one of her customers while an out-of-tune piano clunked loudly in the parlor. Although the kiss ended up much shorter than he would have liked, he said nothing when Cora turned and swung the front door open to head toward the back of the house where she shared a bedroom with her sister Minnie.

Just inside, Cora walked into the parlor, with its red velvet wallpaper and red carpeting, stretching out onto the large, winding staircase that led upstairs. She continued on, past the central eye-catchers of the room:  a large maroon settee, piled high with plump, satin pillows, and a glittering chandelier hovering overhead that word had it, cost a small fortune. Nothing was too good for the ambitious Madam Ana Prozinski from Russia, she was always being told.

“Cora!” called out Becky, a voluptuous blonde squeezed into a purple, gusset-enhanced corset, high-heeled boots, and her famous black velvet choker. “While we’ve been workin’ here a month of Sundays, you get to make a night of it! For two cents, I’d love to know what you’ve been doin’!”

“Yup, I reckon she just got a lick and a promise!” added a red-petticoated Julie to a chorus of shrieks and laughter.

Amy, in a rose-colored shimmy and fishnet stockings, chimed in. “Look at her red face! Did you ever see anything so perty? It’s just like…”

“She’s always pretty!” Julie interrupted. “Talks fine, too. Must be all those speakin’ lessons from Pete she’s always taking.”

“Yeah,” Becky said, chuckling. “She talks like one of them refined ladies, but she’s also so pretty she could be one of us. I’ll bet she could bring in those cowboys by the wagonloads! She’s…”

Madam Ana strode into the room “Girls, enough!” You know I take no stock in dis kinda talk. Leave Cora be. Now go back to verk!” She looked around at her employees and clapped twice. “Now!” she barked.



cropped-typewriter.jpgIt’s already hump day, and that means another installment of Author Wednesday. I’m very excited today to welcome S.R. Mallery. I know her as Sarah, and I’m proud to say that not only have I had the privilege of working with her as an editor, but she has also become a dear friend in this sometimes isolated profession as an author and editor. She’s a gem, and she’s just published her first “Wild West” historical romance, The Dolan Girls.DOLAN_GIRLS_large


From S.R. Mallery on writing The Dolan Girls

When an author keeps on writing one particular genre, people naturally assume his or her choice of reading material is undoubtedly in that same genre. I pen mostly historical fiction; ergo, my TBR pile must be filled with books of that same ilk.

No, not necessarily. Although I do read practically every fictional genre, I tend to gravitate toward mysteries, thrillers, and in some cases, romances. So why, you might ask, do I write historical fiction? Research. I love reading nonfiction books/articles about history and watching a myriad of documentaries and TV series about different time periods. And so, by writing historical fiction, I get to really learn about whatever era I’ve decided in which to place my story and characters.

I am also fascinated by older customs, cultures, and language. Just looking at photographs or pictures, watching films, or listening to the music of different epochs, instantly stimulates plots and motives in my brain, steering me on toward creating a complete story. Additionally, what I have ultimately discovered through this process is no matter the generation, no matter the geography, people and their emotions have never really changed.

Then, Forrest Gump-like, I like to insert my fictional characters into settings of real historical events, or alongside real historical figures, helping the reader envision what it must have been like to live way back when.

After publishing my first three books (Unexpected Gifts, Sewing Can Be Dangerous, and Tales To Count On), someone suggested I try my hand at writing a historical fiction Wild West romance. I had already tackled a couple of love scenes in my other books, and suddenly, I remembered how many westerns I had watched growing up. And how many crushes I had on the male actors who aided and abetted the blossoming of my prepubescent hormones!

So I started my ‘field-work.’ I quickly learned how the existence of madams and their whorehouses was as important as schoolmarms and their teachings; how the Wild West outlaw was often a direct result of the southern anger at losing the Civil War; how “the way out West” justified the poor man’s escape from a congested, restricted life to an open-aired one, and how Buffalo Bill was a true showman, treasuring the famous Annie Oakley. And rightfully so. Reading about her shooting accuracy, coupled with her pretty face and petite frame, captivated me.

I also discovered the sparseness of the new western towns cropping up was in direct contrast to the rich, colorful language used.

Here’s a TINY fraction of terms and phrases from the book, Cowboy Lingo, by Ramon F. Adams:


“pill-rollers” or “saw-bones” = doctors      “wisdom bringers” = teachers      “Prairie wool” = grass


“they came skally-hootin’ into town”

“have about as much chance winnin’ as a grasshopper that hops on an anthill”

“had him settin’ on a damp cloud learnin’ to play a harp”

“handsome as an ace-full on Kings”

“put windows in his skull”

“big enough to hunt bears with a switch”

“he don’t know dung from wild honey”

“as prominent as a new saloon in a church district”

“showed up like a tin roof in a fog”

“as wise as a tree-full of owls”

“as useless as a twenty-two cartridge in an eight-gauge shotgun”

Now, after all this, how could I resist writing a Wild West romance? In the end, I had a total blast doing researching for The Dolan Girls and its sequel, which will take place during the late 1800s, set right smack in the middle of the infamous Johnson County Cattle War in Wyoming.

Yippee Ki-yay!!

Thanks, Sarah. And everyone else, watch for my thoughts on The Dolan Girls on Book Review Friday.

S.R.Malleryheadshot_04forblogs (1)About S.R. Mallery:  Let’s face it. S. R. Mallery is as eclectic as her characters. Starting out as a classical/pop singer/composer, she next explored the fast-paced world of advertising as a production artist while she simultaneously dipped her toe into the Zen biosphere as a calligrapher. Having started a family and wanting to work from the home, she moved on to having a long career as an award-winning quilt artist and an ESL/Reading instructor before settling on her true love––writing. Her short stories have been published in descant 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller, and Down In the Dirt. Her quilt articles have appeared in Quilt World and Traditional Quilt Works.

Links to S.R. Mallery’s Books

The Dolan Girls

Unexpected Gifts  

Sewing Can Be Dangerous  

Tales To Count On 

More on S.R. Mallery




Facebook Fan Page



Pinterest  (I have some good history boards that are getting a lot of attention—history, vintage clothing, older films)

Amazon Author Central




AudiACXIn 2013, I published the memoir of my great grandfather, Harmon Camburn, based on his days as a Union soldier from 1861-1863. It’s been a true labor of love, and to celebrate his words, the Kindle version is free until November 1. Also, the audio version has just been recorded by Jeffrey A. Hering at Hering Voices, Inc., and will be available on Amazon and iTunes in time for the holidays. Click here to get your free download today.

Here’s an excerpt from 1862:

October 28 – We left Edwards Ferry and moved up the river nine miles to Whites Ford. At this point, the Potomac broadens and shallows so as to be fordable. In mid-channel is a small island. Here we found troops crossing into Virginia. The current was quite rapid and the water was cold and waist deep. The troops preceding us were slow and straggled badly in getting across. Our colonel held us until nearly all those in advance were out of the water when he said, “Now boys, show those fellows how to ford a stream.” Entering the water with a shout, we cleared the stream and were on the high bank ahead of some that were nearly over before we started. The banks on the Virginia side were nearly perpendicular, and the cannon had to be hauled up by ropes. After hauling up those belonging to our brigade, we moved back a short distance and built large fires of rails and dry logs to warm our limbs and dry our clothes.

October 29 – We marched toward Leesburg.

October 31 – We reached the vicinity of Leesburg, a village that nestles at the foot of a high range of hills or a low range of mountains, called the Kittoclan Range, a spur of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Leaving Leesburg to our left, we began a gradual ascent of the hills. Taking a shortcut from one road to another, we passed directly through the grounds of Mr. Swan, the President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Passing through an arch, the uprights of which were surmounted by large cast-iron eagles, we traversed the deep park and approached the castle-like residence situated half way up the side of a mountain. The building and grounds were very imposing and the view was magnificent. Without halting, we toiled on to a still greater elevation and camped on the summit of one of the lesser hills of the range. Here we found General [George] Stoneman’s cavalry division, the cavalry and our brigade forming a corps of observation, which was to scour these mountain ranges to discover a lurking enemy and gain information that might be of use in future campaigns. Stoneman issued an ironclad order forbidding his soldiers from taking anything from the inhabitants without pay on pain of having their heads shaved, their buttons cut off, and of being branded on the cheek with the letter “T” for thief, and drummed out of the service. Our marches were rapid, and their directions were changed from day to day.

November 1 – Standing upon Faitheys Hill, the highest peak of the range, Leesburg lies at your feet like a toy. To the north, thirty miles away, over in Maryland, the Sugar Loaf Mountain, clothed in green, looms high above the surrounding country. The Potomac, a silver thread, winds its way for miles among the forest-clad hills. Washington, sixty miles away, glitters in the sunlight. The expanse between the river and the Blue Ridge Mountains lays spread out like a panorama, with cultivated fields, beautiful dwellings, and woodlands. To the south, the crest of the range, with it s undulating swells dotted with brown fields of corn, stretches away with its diversified scenery. To the west, the Blue Ridge Mountains, towering, crazy and wild, their lofty peaks and dark glens, veiled a thin haze of blue smoke, completes a picture of grandeur and beauty.

Leaving these beauties of nature, we went on picket near the village of Hamilton on the Winchester Road.

We were now in a country that had never been devastated by an army, and poultry, vegetables, and dairy products were plentiful. Thirteen dollars a month would not buy many of these things; still the soldiers indulged to the full in these luxuries despite Stoneman’s withering order.

November 2 – From my post in the edge of Hamilton village, it was amusing to hear a rooster begin a lusty crow in the early morning and change it to a squawk right in the middle.

At ten o’clock, we took up our march along the western side of the Kittoclan Range. A little skirmish near Snickersville resulted in driving some rebel cavalry through Snickers Gap in the Blue Ridge.

November 3 – Our march led us along the base of Bull Run Mountains, through Mountville and New Lisbon, in the direction of Ashley’s Gap. As we traversed this rough and rugged country, government rations were almost entirely discarded, and we lived off the country.

Harmon and Eliza Camburn

Harmon and Eliza Camburn

Author Wednesday – John Holt

cropped-cropped-typewriter.jpgIt’s Wednesday, and time for another installment of Author Wednesday where today John Holt stops by for a chat. John joins us from England where he writes detectives, mysteries, and historical fiction. His novel The Thackery Journal explores a “what if” concept regarding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.DCP_5221 Most of his novels feature Tom Kendall, a private detective.

John, I’m so glad you could join me today. I know that you had another career before starting to write fiction, so tell me, when did you first discover your voice as a writer?

I guess, like a lot of people, I had always wanted to write a novel, or certainly as far as I can remember, I did. I could never think of a decent original plot. Then in 2005, we went on holiday to the Austrian lake district. We stayed at Lake Grundlsee. The next lake was Toplitzsee, which had been used by the German Navy to test torpedoes and rockets during World War II. I had the basis of a plot. The Kammersee Affair was published in December 2006. It was when the five-star reviews started to come in that I began to think that just maybe I was a writer.

You are definitely a writer. Do you set timetables or deadlines for yourself as a writer?

I don’t have any set routine, no particular targets, no particular times for writing. Sometimes I might write nothing for days on end, then I might scribble down just a few hundred words. I don’t see the need to have some arbitrary target of  x-thousand words a day. What’s the point? If the words aren’t quality, and are merely a forced quantity, then they are of no value. Why set yourself a set time for writing if you’ve nothing to write. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night, with a whole scene in mind. I quickly make notes and go back to sleep.

That’s a great way to do it. I tend to agree, except for that little devil sitting on my shoulder telling me I need to be productive to be successful. I like your way better! Do you have any messages you try to insert in your books?

There are no messages, no hidden agendas. No profound meanings to be unraveled. No deep meaningful content that needs to be analysed every which way. I write for pure enjoyment, nothing else. I just want people to read my works, and say that was good. I enjoyed that.

Perfect. What are you working on these days? 

I currently have four projects that I’m working on, at various stages. Firstly, there is the sixth novel featuring Tom Kendall, my private detective. It is currently about fifty percent complete, and I am hoping for a release in June or July. I have also made a tentative start on an adventure story, but it is only about ten percent, so a long way to go. Finally, I have a basic idea for another Kendall novel, and for a second American Civil War story. I’ve also recently published a novella, The Candy Man, which I hope to be the first of several novellas.Book[1]

You’ll be busy. You must love the character of Tom Kendall. Is he your favorite character? 

I have now written seven novels, five of them feature my private detective Tom Kendall. Without a doubt, he is my favorite character, and I’m glad to say that he seems to be quite popular with my readers. There’s a lot of me in Kendall. He is stubborn, dogged, and determined. Once he gets an idea, he sticks with it. Just like me. He’s not the fittest guy in the world, and doesn’t exercise as much as he should. Also, just like me. He has a wicked sense of humour. Again, just like me.

That’s funny. What’s the best thing said about one of your books by a reviewer?

Taken from a five-star review of The Kammersee Affair – “I loved this book. John Holt is clearly a born story-teller. He has the knack of dangling together just the right mix of interesting characters and impossible situations and then takes you on a journey full of twists and turns and surprises and amazing endings. The Kammersee Affair is a perfect example of this clever list of ingredients. Highly recommended.”

How lovely! I’m sure you appreciated those words. Tell me a little bit more about The Thackery Journal. What’s your one sentence pitch for your book?

Civil War – the worst kind of war that any nation could face. Fighting against itself there could be no winners in such a war, a war that divides communities, splits families, and makes enemies of long-time friends.

How did you choose the title? 

Generally I prefer short titles – three or four words maximum. I had imagined this story to be told in the form of a diary, a journal, kept by a particular person – hence The Thackery Journal. That title has remained unchanged since it was first chosen some five years ago.

How long do you estimate it took you to take the book from an idea to a finished, published?

I have always been fascinated by the American Civil War. A civil war is the worst kind of war that there could be. A war that divided the country and split communities, a war that put brother against brother and father against son.  A war where in reality there were no winners and the effects would be felt long after the war ended.  But that in itself is hardly a reason for writing the book. I started to write The Thackery Journal about five or six years ago. I had finished my first novel The Kammersee Affair in December 2006, and the first of the Tom Kendall stories, The Mackenzie Dossier, had been published (as The Mackenzie File in August 2008). I began outlining my next novel, The Marinski Affair. Somewhere along the line I got sidetracked. During my research into The Kammersee Affair (a story of hidden gold bullion), I found an item on the internet about a consignment of Confederate gold that had gone missing as the Civil War was coming to an end. The gold had apparently never been found. I thought perhaps I could make up some kind of a story. The gold had obviously been stolen by someone, and I got to thinking how that person would feel as his pursuers caught up with him. Very quickly, I had the makings of a fairly well developed final chapter. That chapter is now the last chapter of The Thackery Journal, and largely unchanged from when it was first written.  That last chapter gave me the basis for the opening chapter. After some months, I had a good couple of chapters at the beginning, and a couple at the end, together with about 100 pages of research. I then came to a complete stop. I wrote two more novels featuring Kendall, adding little snippets to Thackery as I went along, but still basically stuck. Then suddenly the whole outline of the book came into my mind. It was all there. I knew exactly what to do. The book was completed three months later and self-published in August 2013.

I love it when that happens. Sometimes the best thing we can do is leave the story for a bit. Why did you choose to self-publish?

I had long realized that the chances of being published by a mainstream publisher was remote. My first novels were originally published by a vanity publisher in New York, between 2006 and 2010. In March 2012, I decided to go down the self-publisher route. I now have seven novels under my ‘Phoenix’ banner.

What is the best thing someone could say about The Thackery Journal?

This is a beautifully written book, which grips you from the first page to the last, with very believable characters. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the American Civil War. I will be looking for more books by this author.

Without giving us a spoiler, tell us a little bit about your favorite scene in this book.

There are so many scenes that I like, but I would say that, now wouldn’t I? But certainly, I enjoyed writing the scene where Miles Drew, a southerner, meets up with the Union soldiers he will be joining to fight the war. However, my favorite scene is probably the one set up in the final chapter of the book, where the two friends, fighting on opposite sides, meet up once again.

If you could invite two other authors over to your house for dinner, who would you choose?

If I could choose any two authors, alive or dead, then I would pick Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, so that I could learn her secrets of how to create a plot; and Charles Dickens, to my mind one of the greatest authors of all times.

Great choices. I’d like to be invited, too. Is there one book or author with whom you identify or hold up as your standard-bearer?

I was brought up on Enid Blyton, possibly the greatest author of children’s stories ever, sadly no longer in fashion. I subsequently progressed on to Nevil Shute, Alastair Maclean, and Hammond Innes. But I do not consider any of them as a standard bearer. I have developed my own style, and do not attempt to copy anyone.

That’s a healthy perspective, John. Thank you for stopping by today. It’s been a pleasure to learn about you and your works. You are unique and passionate–all things that will bring you great success in your writing career.

John 2-AAbout John Holt: Born in 1943 in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire. I live in Essex with my wife, Margaret, and my daughter, Elizabeth. For many years, I was a Senior Project Manager with the Greater London Council. Then in 1986, I started my own practice as a Chartered Surveyor, working until I retired in 2008.


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Twitter: @JohnHoltAuthor


Book Review Friday – Savannah’s Bluebird

bluebird_small web

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Lori Crane has done it again. She’s written another southern historical novel with unforgettable characters. Savannah’s Bluebird is set in the years after the stock market crash in 1929 in Biloxi.

The delightful story of the bluebird and its relation to true love stands at the center of this charming and magical tale of the vagaries of life and its various dips and turns.

Crane creates a haunting tale with a surprise ending. Savannah’s Bluebird is more of a novella, so to say anything more about it would be to give away too much of its intriguing plot.

I recommend Savannah’s Bluebird for a relaxing read on a rainy afternoon or a day at the beach this summer. You’ll be rewarded with a trip back to a different place and time with a few surprises on the journey.

Okatibbee Creek

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Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook of another of Lori Crane’s novels, Okatibbee Creek.

From the very beginning, I was captivated by this story and its picturesque setting and its cast of characters making a life before, during, and after the years of the Civil War. The narrator of the audio tape, Margaret Lepera, provides just the right touch of a southern accent to make the narration of Mary Ann Rodgers’ landscape and personality leap to life.

Lori Crane is an exceptional storyteller of the Deep South. The ingrained notion of slavery is accepted by the characters and the fight over it through such a high price is puzzling to the characters of Okatibbee Creek. They end up freeing their slaves anyway as a result of the destroyed economy of this part of Mississippi. The strong female, Mary Ann, keeps families together and carries on the tradition of her father and mother in the love shown to all human beings. A life examined is one worth living and Crane presents us with one exceptional life worth examining in the audio or book form of Okatibbee Creek.





Book Review Friday – Underground Angel

Dr. Sheryl White with her historical novel, Underground Angel

Dr. Sheryl White with her historical novel, Underground Angel

Underground Angel by Sheryl D. White, Ph.D., touched my heart so many ways that I’m finding it difficult to begin this review. Dr. White deftly takes the historical figure, Laura Smith Haviland, and lovingly creates a novel depicting the life and times of a woman noted for her unwavering dedication to the abolition of slavery. For me, the reading of this novel was a personal journey as well. (Click here to read interview with Dr. White on Author Wednesday).

I grew up in southeastern Michigan, calling Laura Smith Haviland “Aunt Laura,” even though she died more than fifty years before my birth. I knew very little about her except for a statute of her in Adrian, Michigan, heralding her work with the Underground LauraSmithHavilandStatueRailroad. Last year when I began pulling together my own great grandfather’s memoir Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier, I learned more about this heroic woman.

Only upon researching her did I discover that everyone called her Aunt Laura because of her dedication to humanity. She worked tirelessly to ensure young women and African Americans received an education. She advocated for the abolition of slavery and became a leader in the Underground Railroad. She also fought for women’s suffrage although she died two decades too soon to see women receive the vote. Her Quaker upbringing created in her the quest to help all those who suffered at the hands of inequality. She worked tirelessly for the Freedmen’s Board in several states, including Kansas, which is how Dr. White became familiar with Aunt Laura’s work in her studies and her work in Haviland, KS, a town named for the tireless Laura Haviland.

I attempted to read Aunt Laura’s autobiography Laura S. Haviland: Woman’s Labor and Lifework, but found the recounting of her life as dull as the title of the book. When Dr. White contacted me after discovering Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier, I was very excited to discover her newly released novel, Underground Angel. This is the story of a woman of God who worked tirelessly under one simple creed: In God’s eyes we are all created equal and deserve equal access and respect as humans simply “being.”

Dr. White points out the absurdity of the notion of slavery and all its inherent cruelties of “owning” another person as property. Aunt Laura’s faith remains strong throughout, even when the laws of the land do not support her conviction that no one may own another.

Through most of the years of the Underground Railroad and Aunt Laura’s association with it, she appeared on countless “Wanted dead or alive” posters with a $3,000 bounty on her head for her “illegal” and “dangerous” activities. The criminalization of Laura Haviland probably aided her in her work and her ability to pass in and out of slave states unnoticed. This highly wanted criminal was less than five feet tall and may have weighed no more than ninety pounds, only after swimming in her Quaker clothing.

Laura S. Haviland - Wanted Dead or Alive

Laura S. Haviland – Wanted Dead or Alive

Dr. White chronicles Ms. Haviland’s encounters with figures from the history pages, such as Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Comstock, and Susan B. Anthony. The story of George and Eliza Harris is recounted in this novel as well. These names may not sound familiar, but they are a part of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the Mrs. Smyth who helps them escape is none other than “my very own Aunt Laura.”

The novel form brings Aunt Laura’s life and words into focus in the deft hands of Dr. White. The author is a skilled writer and a storyteller with a vision of using the life of Laura Haviland as an example for young Christian children today.

I believe Dr. White has painted a portrait on a much larger canvas. Laura Smith Haviland’s story is an example for all people of all religious persuasions. Dr. White shows us a woman whose faith is so strong she fears nothing except that her fellow men might be diminished by the lack of character and morality in others. She stands strong in her beliefs even when life brings her down roads of unbelievable sorrow. In 1845, in a horrifyingly short time, she lost her husband Charles, her youngest child, her mother, father, and her sister to an epidemic sweeping Michigan.

She carried onward with the faith she would see her loved ones one day again. She fought the prejudice of the time against her as a single mother of seven children, and then she began her work in helping slaves escape to freedom in Canada.

Dr. White showed the irony that Aunt Laura herself must have felt when she went from being a criminal breaking the laws of the slave states, to watching slave owners become the ones breaking the law after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Underground Angel also depicts the work Aunt Laura did during and after the war as she continued in her fight to see that all people received equal treatment under God’s law that guided her every breathing moment.

I thank Sheryl White for writing this beautiful novel of faith, love, and equality. She’s given us a hero for which we all should strive to emulate.

Note: I found during the reading of Underground Angel that I am related by marriage to Laura Smith Haviland, a relationship of which I’m extremely proud. Laura and Charles Haviland had eight children: Harvey, Daniel, Esther, Anna, Joseph, Jane, Almira, and Lavina (the baby who died in 1845). My great grandfather, Harmon Camburn, whose memoir I published as Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier, grew up in Adrian, Michigan, and had many older brothers and sisters, three of whom married three of Aunt Laura’s children. Daniel Haviland married my great, great aunt Mary Jane Camburn. Esther Haviland married my great, great uncle Almond Camburn, and Anna Haviland married my great, great uncle Levi Camburn. Levi is referenced in Underground Angel as Aunt Laura’s son-in-law, who had to be convinced that the cruelty of slave owners could not be tolerated. When Aunt Laura died in 1898, her body was brought home to Adrian and rested for viewings in the home of my great grandfather. After reading Underground Angel, I feel even prouder and more entitled to call her by the loving name of Aunt Laura.

To purchase Underground Angel:

Please visit Dr. White’s website: Underground Angel

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Click here for Xulon book page

Click on cover to purchase

Click on cover to purchase





Author Wednesday – Sheryl White


Welcome to Author Wednesday. It is with great pleasure that I introduce today’s author, Sheryl White. The subject of her work of historical fiction, Underground Angel, is close to my heart. Dr. White writes about the very real Laura Haviland who worked tirelessly in the 1800s for abolition, suffrage for women, and education for all people regardless of race and sex. I’ve written about Mrs. Haviland, or “Aunt Laura” as I grew up calling her, on my blog Living LightlyEveryone who knew her called her that because of her loving care of all human beings.

Dr. White published her book a month after I published my great grandfather’s Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier. She contacted me through the Facebook page for Civil War Journal, and I’m so glad that she did.

She’s created a portrait of a woman in her work of fiction that deserves its title: Underground Angel.

Welcome Sheryl. I’m so happy to have you drop by today. You’ve written quite a piece of historical fiction in Underground Angel. Do you remember when you first discovered your voice as a writer?
I wrote my first book at age eleven. It was a group of pages stapled together entitled, “My first book!” As a child, I read a lot and envisioned myself as a writer one day. Writing my book Underground Angel has given me a voice, and it’s very satisfying.

That’s a great title for your first book. I always love to hear about the moment when a writer is finally able to call herself a writer. It took me many years. When were you first able to call yourself a “writer” or “author?”
There is a powerful image in the term “author.” The week my book was published, my friends started calling me an “author.” That was very meaningful to me.

That’s wonderful that your friends recognized it for you. What are your writing rituals?
I approach writing as a student. In my course of study, many papers were required. I actually have always enjoyed the writing (not always the research) so I just set a goal and keep flowing.

I’ve always enjoyed researching, but putting it all together is certainly more fun. Rachel Carson (Silent Spring) said she never chose a subject because as a writer, the subject chose her. Did this happen for you?
Certainly Underground Angel found me. The thought of writing such a book came after I saw there was a need to inform others about her great sacrifice and achievement.

Yes, Mrs. Haviland’s story is certainly one that needs to be heard. What messages or themes did you try to convey to your readers in Underground Angel?
I approach life from a faith perspective, which I project in my writing, and in particular, the message of living out our convictions in serving and caring for others as Mrs. Haviland so courageously did. I want Christian young people of our current generation to understand the sufferings of race due to bigotry and greed. I also want them to recognize the difficult sacrifices made by people of faith living out their convictions and principles. (Jn 15:13).

I love the title. How did you choose it and has it always been the title even through the first drafts?
It was just an obvious, easy title. It fit. Yes, Underground Angel was the first name I chose.

How long do you estimate it took you to take this book from an idea to its final published version?
The idea was planted in 2003, some ten years before it was completed. I had read Mrs. Haviland’s autobiography (A Woman’s Life Work: Labors and Experiences), several times, and 2009, I read it again to refresh my memory. I started writing in February 2010, and it was published November 2013.

When I was putting together my great grandfather’s memoir, I tried reading her autobiography, but the language was very difficult to follow. I was so happy when you told me about your book. It’s much more understandable and dialogue helps tremendously. Is the book traditionally or self-published?
I self-published with Xulon. I felt I had an important message to get out that was time sensitive. Authors I visited with assured me that this was a good way to go to get my work out.

I’m glad you made that decision. You mention the message of the book. What is the message you tried to convey?
True meaningfulness comes in serving others rather than a self-serving mentality that is prevalent today.

That’s a very important message, and I hope your book is read by many young folks. What is one the best things that’s been said about Underground Angel?
“Sheryl White’s narrative is an immersive, emotionally charged experience, one from which no reader will emerge unchanged.” This is what Eddie Cruz, my Xulon editor, shared, and it certainly is the best I could ever hope for out of my work. Several friends told me that when they watched the Oscar award-winning movie 12 Years a Slave, they punched the person next to them and said, “This is just like Sheryl’s book.” But, this statement really impacted me as well, as it carries significant meaning:
“Dr. White brings such a richness to Aunt Laura Haviland and her faith and untiring work to help those less fortunate. Thank you for publishing this important book, and thank you, Dr. White, for writing it.” – Patricia Zick

Yes, I did leave that comment on an article about your book. I’m glad you liked it. That’s also very high praise to be compared to that powerful movie. Taking a real person and turning their life into a fictional piece is quite tricky. How did you conceive of doing it this way?
My historical fiction book was based on Mrs. Haviland’s life story, but the fiction sections were those I created projecting what her life must have been like given the nineteenth century socio-political realities. I tried to make her home and family life “real” and believable with all of the emotions that would be involved in today’s everyday life.

It worked. It takes her off the pedestal and makes her real, yet after reading it, it’s clear she deserves to be up on that pedestal. What type of research was required to write Underground Angel?
I read Laura Haviland’s autobiography several times, along with Mildred Danforth’s biography on her life-A Pioneer Woman. I traveled to Adrian, Michigan, her hometown, for a tour of her stomping grounds. I visited some underground sites, her home place where the Raisin Institute historic marker stands, the Raisin Valley Friends Church where there is a designated historical marker, and the Lenawee County Historical museum. The museum has a Laura Haviland designated room, and the statue of her stands in front of the museum.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Sheryl. I hope one day we can meet in Adrian and explore Aunt Laura’s and my great grandfather’s “stomping ground.”



Blue Moon BS photoAbout Dr. White: Dr. Sheryl White has served as the Director of Lay Ministries at the First United Methodist Church in Pratt, Kansas for eight years. Sheryl received her Doctorate of Ministry Degree in 2004 from Houston Graduate School of Theology.The dream to create Underground Angel arose from her doctoral dissertation, The Haviland Heritage Foundation: Extending the Life of Laura S. Haviland in 21st Century Haviland and Beyond. Sheryl lived and served the community of Haviland, Kansas for twelve and a half years serving as an instructor at Barclay College and Minister of Christian Education at the Haviland Friends Church. She is a graduate from Anderson University School of Theology, Anderson, Indiana earning two degrees, a Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Theology and Ethics.

To purchase Underground Angel:

Please visit Dr. White’s website: Underground Angel

Click here for Amazon

Click here for Barnes and Noble

Click here for Xulon book page






Time to Review and Renew


Now that I’m in the down period before the start of 2014, I thought it a great time to look over the past year and the goals I set for myself. If that doesn’t discourage me, I’ll move into the new and renewed goals for 2014.

The Writing Goals for 2013

  1. Launch Trails in the Sand Done3-D1web
  2. Finish Safe HarborThis didn’t happen, but I’m working on it and changed the title to Native Lands.
  3. Publish a book of essays on my travels. I already have a name: Odyssey to Myself –  I have a file started and introductory chapters are forming, but still lots of work to do. Hopefully, I will get it done during the winter months.
  4. Pull together all of my gardening blog posts from my blog “Living Lightly Upon this Earth” into a bookDone. I published From Seed to Table in May 2013.S2T-5
  5. Read the pile of books on my desk, both fiction and nonfictionSome of the pile is still there, but I’ve made a dent. I’m also working through all the books on my Kindle. And I’m attempting to show self-control by staying away from bookstores.
  6. Establish myself as a bestselling author – I suppose in some altered reality, I could claim this title. I’ve made it to the No. 1 slot on Kindle during my free day offerings. I don’t think that really counts, but it’s something. I continue to add followers to my twitter account (more than 2,000 followers at @PCZick), I have three Facebook fan pages now: P.C. Zick Author, Florida Environmental Novels, and Civil War Journal. The pages continue to gather followers. Combined they represent nearly 1,000 “likes.” Each week I receive several more followers to my two blogs: Writing Whims and Living Lightly. I try not to obsess over the numbers but the last time I checked I had more than 500 “real” followers of my blogs.

So those were the goals of the past year. Even though I marked two and a half of them in red, I’ve at least made progress on them. In addition, I did one major thing this year that never made it into the goals because a year ago, I didn’t know that I would put together the Civil War journal of my great grandfather, but I did just that and published it in October as Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier. I’m very proud of that labor of love.Civil War Kindle CoverI also re-released a novel from 2003. A Lethal Legacy is a psychological thriller and still one of my favorites.LL_PBOOK005

With that out of the way, I have some new and old goals for 2014.

1. Establish myself as a best-selling author – I’m going to keep this one on here until it happens in a real universe. There are sidebar goals to achieve toward this end:

  • Market all of my books through free websites, social media, and paid advertising only after researching the outcome.
  • Continue building social media relationships. I’m better on Facebook than Twitter but I keep trying. For now, I’m concentrating on those two giants before expanding out. However, I believe Google is coming on strong so I will keep my eye tuned there.
  • Continue writing my blogs to give my followers something interesting, intelligent (most of the time), and worthwhile to read. I will continue Author Wednesday and Book Review Friday which are a delight to do while helping my fellow authors. I plan to get back on a regular schedule with Living Lightly.
  • Most importantly, I will continue to write and publish.

2. Finish writing Native Lands and publish it in 2014 – I’m not quite ready to make a date commitment yet, but I will in a few months.

3. Publish Odyssey to Myself – Goal for publication: March 2014. We shall see.

4. Work on new travel blog, P.C. Zick Travels – I already have this set up for photos and essays from my travels, but I need to work on it more and then promote for followers.

5. Establish my editing and formatting business – This is something I’ve put off while working on my books, but I will soon be offering my services in a formal way. I’ve been editing fiction and nonfiction for years but went away from it when I started my journey as an Indie Author. A former client, Leona Bodie, hired me to edit her new book this year and now another fellow writer has hired me to format her book of Cuban recipes for Create Space. I’m excited about getting back to helping others realize their own writing dreams.

6. Start a new work in progress by the end of the year – I have two or three ideas floating around, and I keep jotting down ideas.

So that’s it for me this year. These are all reachable goals and help me clarify my focus.

Happy New Year to you all. I’m so grateful to all of you who follow this blog and who take the time to comment and “like” my posts. Thank you.

What are your goals for 2014?