Between the Lines: America’s First Museum #research #history #amwriting

My character Nathaniel Williams earns some extra money in Evelyn’s Promise by helping to move items into the collection of America’s first museum, founded in 1773, at the Daniel Cannon house on what is now Queen Street, Charleston, SC. (I used the present day name in my book only to avoid confusing present-day readers. In fact, in the 18th century the street was known as Dock Street because of a dock at the east end, the part of the street which is now known as Vendue Street.) But how did I know where the museum collections were kept during this time period?

I asked the Charleston Museum folks, of course. Carl Borick is the Director of the museum, and he was very helpful in answering my questions about where the museum was housed in 1783 and after. In fact, he provided a wealth of information, which I used some of in Evelyn’s Promise.

According to Mr. Borick, there was no dedicated building for the museum until the 1820s. In the time period of my series, the collection was maintained by the Library Society, but the society burned down in 1778:

Among the items lost from the Museum were “a pair of elegant globes, mathematical and other instruments, and many specimens of natural history.” After the fire, the remaining collections of both the Museum and Library Society would have been moved to the Daniel Cannon house on Queen Street in Charleston. This house was probably a Charleston double house (two-story) constructed primarily of brick. Not much was done with either organization during the Revolutionary War.

250px-Charleston_County_Courthouse_2013In 1785, the museum moved to the State House, a masonry building still standing in the city and known as the Charleston County Courthouse.

The collection included some really amazing artifacts from what Mr. Borick shared. Including a case of insects from Surinam, an Indian helmet from the Sandwich Islands, part of a human thigh bone with oysters growing out of it, the head of a turtle from Calcutta that weighed 700+ pounds (whole turtle, not just the head), an Indian hatchet, and a rock crystal from Greenville, SC. Early collectors contributed things from all over the world that “reflected the cosmopolitan nature of the major port city that was Charleston.”

Knowing this, I tried to capture the essence of the city and its people in each of my four stories in the series. Besides, I really enjoyed my visits to the city to do my own research as to the feel of the place, the taste of the food, and the smells of the ocean and gardens the city is known for.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts and opinions!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

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Between the Lines: She wrote what? #American #women #history #research

Ann Frobel CW DiaryThe inspiration for the A More Perfect Union series of historical romances came from reading early American literature. An essay by Judith Sargent Murray, specifically, in which she argued for equal education for girls, and argued against the mistaken notion that females would become sick with too much education. Looking back on how our understanding of human capabilities has morphed over time, it’s difficult to imagine anyone would believe the brain couldn’t learn without making the person—female, that is—ill.

One symptom of this idea is the denial of women to write for publication without being criticized for “manly” behavior. But by the end of the American Revolution women had started to write for publication. Even young slave Phillis Wheatley wrote poems and had them published.

One thing I’ve noticed in my research is the expansion of available written materials for women’s lives over the last 240 years of our country’s existence. What’s interesting to me is that the earliest written record is usually in the form of letters between women and their friends and family. Few colonial women had the time, the materials, or perhaps even the interest in documenting their day-to-day existence in a diary. I can think of one that is famous for the very fact that it was written by a lady in South Carolina during the Revolution. Add to the dearth of materials available the fact that these women often had a sense of privacy they held dear. Which often led women to burn their letters before they died, like Martha Washington is known to have done. (Sadly…)

Mary Chesnut CW DiaryBy the time of the Civil War, however, it’s easier to find the histories of women. For example, both Mary Chesnut, wife of a Confederate general, and Anne Frobel, a Virginia lady, kept diaries specifically to document their lives during the conflict, recognizing that others may actually want to know what they had to endure after the fact. Which they were indeed correct to presume!

I found myself pondering the expansion of women writers of all kinds over the centuries. From writing letters, to keeping diaries, to writing essays and novels and nonfiction books, to the vast array of writing we enjoy today. Even this blog is an example of a woman voicing her thoughts to others. I think all this stems from women having more education, less manual labor around the house, more “leisure” time as a result. (Note that although I’m calling it leisure time, we all know that most people fill every waking hour with something to do!) And of course, the materials are always at hand, whether it’s paper and pen or some form of keyboard. But also because women are people who have a voice and thoughts worth sharing.

So I thank those courageous women like Judith Sargent Murray who stood up to be counted and helped to open the door to the world of writing I enjoy today.

Thanks for stopping by!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

My American Revolution series of romances begins with Emily’s Vow, which was a finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards contest. The stories each feature a strong woman who declares her own independence for a variety of reasons, but ultimately they each find and fall in love with their soul mate. You can purchase the 4-book series for Kindle, or for Nook. They are also available in paperback if you prefer. Happy reading!

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Between the Lines: What a Family Tragedy #women #history #research

Winnie Mae MurphreeWhen I was researching for Hometown Heroines: True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure back in the 1990s, I ventured out into many different cemeteries. It’s always a somber moment to locate the grave of a person, whether you knew them or not. The older tombstones often included a message, a poem, or a few heartfelt words revealing how much the person was loved or would be missed.

Winnie Mae Murphree is remembered for her heroic act, along with her sister Celia, in capturing Union soldiers in Alabama and turning them over to the Rebel army camped nearby. I Murphree Historical Markerwanted to find where she is buried, but when I did I also found that her husband, Asa Bynum had faced a terrible personal tragedy the year Winnie passed.

Winnie died from unknown causes on November 29, 1899. But two of their children also died around the same time. Maud had died a week before Winnie, on November 13 (or 18), 1899, at 16. Albert died December 3, 1899, at 20 years old. My heart still aches for poor Asa having lost three family members within a month.

Murphree TombstoneI wonder what caused them all to die in such a short span. I can’t locate anything about an epidemic in Texas during that time. I found some mention of pneumonia and smallpox but not during the end of 1899. Could it have been an accident? Was Albert still living at home at the time? I don’t know. If anyone does know, please tell me. I’d love to find out what happened.

If you’d like to see more pictures related to Hometown Heroines, you can find them on my Pinterest board. Thanks for stopping by. I love to hear from my readers, so please feel free to comment below.

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

Literary Classics International Book Awards - Youth Award Winning Book
Literary Classics International Book Awards – Youth Award Winning Book

Interested in your own copy of Hometown Heroines: True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure? You can find it in ebook and/or paperback at the following sites:

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Between the Lines: Skeletal Remains Reburied #research #fiction #romance

 

Firor Graves
Some of my Firor ancestors’ graves.

I love to do research, especially into American history. But for my contemporary ghost story, Traces, I had Meredith find the skeleton of one of her ancestors. Then I had a question: what would she be required to do after finding it? In other words, what authorities needed to be informed? Could she bury the bones in the family cemetery on the fictional plantation property? Or did she need to do something extra to get permission to do so?

 

I dug around (pun intended!) online, reading the information on various Tennessee government sites related to regulations for graveyards and such. But I couldn’t figure out the answers to my specific questions.

Then I stumbled upon a government site that listed a contact person I thought might be able to either answer my questions or point to me someone who could. Pay dirt!

I was referred to the TN State Archeologist who was able to clearly and concisely answer my questions. Here’s what I asked:

Would the person discovering the remains call the sheriff if the site of the find is in the county? Would the sheriff then call the ME to come collect the bones, etc.? How long from the time of the call to the local police would it be before the police or ME showed up to collect the remains? Hours? Days? What happens to the remains once collected: carbon dated? DNA? Other tests? Finally, once the remains are returned to the family, is there any special permit or anything needed in order for said family to bury the remains in the family cemetery on their property?

Mike Moore then gave me the specifics to my questions. In the county, the sheriff would be notified, and he’d call the ME; sometimes the notification is reversed. Since human remains are involved, they show up the same day. No permit is needed to rebury skeletal remains. As for the kinds of tests, he said:

Medical examiner will try to determine age and sex of individual, and note any obvious trauma or pathology.  Radiocarbon dating is not conducted in a modern forensic case (this particular analysis is conducted on carbonized wood, nutshell, corn, and at times shell recovered from prehistoric Native American sites).  DNA testing could be done, but probably not unless there was a specific need due to expense and time involved. Not sure what other analysis/tests they may do, perhaps contact a medical examiner’s office to ask that question.

So, armed with this knowledge, I could portray in the story how Meredith and Max dealt with the skeletal remains of the Lady in Blue and know that it was as accurate as I could make it. After all, I didn’t want someone to think they could do something that might have been illegal if I had not done my research.

Digging to find the facts to provide the proper context for any story I write is one of my main focuses. In this case, I chose to have Max know the proper response since he’s a preservation lawyer, rather than have Meredith bungle around trying to sort it out. I wanted to keep up the pace of the story and the focus of the situation on their relationship and not the legalities involved.

Thanks for stopping by!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

LSB Cover Art Template for PhotoShopIf you’d like to find out more about the Lady in Blue, you can get your copy of Traces at any of these places. Note that it’s available in paperback also at Amazon and B&N. Happy reading!

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Between the Lines: Donner’s Pass #research #history #histfic

VirginiaReedWestward expansion of America happened through the courage and dauntless efforts of many pioneers. Among them was Virginia Reed, who at age 12 years survived one of the most dangerous and horrific winters. She was a member of the ill-fated Donner Party.

The idea to move to California came from Virginia’s father, James Reed. Neighbors Jacob and George Donner decided to join the Reeds on the journey west. The group was known as the Donner Party. They left Springfield, Illinois, on April 14, 1846, with a total of thirty-one people in the wagon train. By the time they departed Ft. Bridger, Wyoming, on July 31, 1846, there were seventy-four people and nineteen wagons in the wagon train.

Crossing the plains, Virginia’s grandmother died. The party paused to bury her and then moved on. Virginia had to desert her pony when it couldn’t keep up with the caravan of wagons any longer. She was heartbroken over the loss of both. Little did she know just how many more trials waited for her and her family.

As they struggled to climb the Sierra Nevada Mountains with their wagons and oxen, men, women, children helping to push, pull, and carry their possessions, winter descended upon them, a heavy blanket of snow that refused to melt for months. Many died. The Reeds boiled the leather covers of their books and Bibles and ate it as soup. They were trapped until men wearing snowshoes could come rescue them.

The group that was snowed in at Donner Lake consisted of eighty-three people. Of those, forty-two died at the lakes. Only eighteen of the original thirty-one people who left Springfield, Illinois reached California in February 1847.

Writing Virginia’s story was difficult, mainly from trying to imagine what she would be thinking, feeling, worrying about. I don’t like cold and snow, so that part was fairly easy for me. But the rest of her challenges and sorrows – I felt so bad for her, and all that she endured, and survived.

A couple years ago, I actually rode a train through Donner’s Pass as part of a tour of several national parks. I wish I had chance to visit the nearby Donner Memorial State Park but since we were traveling by train, that wasn’t an option. But the scenery was beautiful! At least in the late summer/fall. But to imagine walking up the mountain slopes reminded me of the very difficult adventure Virginia and her family had faced.

We all have faced our own challenges, though most likely not like the Donner Party. My biggest personal challenge was breast cancer (20 years ago), at a time when my children were 7 and 5. Writing Hometown Heroines (the first edition that released in 2001) helped me get through a very dark period in my life. The inspiration of each of the girls’ stories gave me hope for my own future.

What about you? What has been your biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts and opinions! Until next time!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

Literary Classics International Book Awards - Youth Award Winning Book
Literary Classics International Book Awards – Youth Award Winning Book

Interested in your own copy of the book? You can find it in ebook and/or paperback at the following sites:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/VrXZy6

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Between the Lines: The First Independence Day Celebration #holiday #history #research

file7521278557214When America’s Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the city of Philadelphia rejoiced by shooting guns into the air, parading through the streets, and many toasts with ale and whiskey, as well as celebratory feasts.

My research revealed that Martha Washington was staying in town with friends while George had gone to New York with the Continental Army to face the British troops there, so she actually heard about the history-making event before he did. I imagine she and her friends witnessed the reading of the Declaration with very mixed feelings. First and foremost, we know from Martha’s existing letters that she was fervently in favor of American independence. But she also must have had some trepidation about her husband leading the army, a defiant act of treason in King George’s eyes. Punishable by death and confiscation of all his property.

Imagine how she may have felt, with her husband on the front lines, figuratively if not actually, during the entire war. The threat of his capture or assassination persisted until the fighting ended. No wonder she braved the terrible roads, foul weather, and many inconveniences to be with him, to support him any way she could at every winter camp the army established each year.

 

WomrathSummerHouseDrawing-297x300
Courtesy of Persistent History

Philadelphia figures prominently all during the Revolution that followed and still harbors many historic sites related to that period and the momentous events, as well as many more minor ones. For example, I recently came across an article that talked about a summer house owned by Quaker Mr. Henry Drinker, the site where the signers of the Declaration went for dinner after they signed the document. The Elm or Violet Hill estate was situated some distance from the heart of the town, and today is only identified by a small park. I imagine they sat within the airy walls of the house, enjoying a pleasant meal and discussing possible future ramifications of their act.

 

Oh, and I learned while researching for this blog that they didn’t actually sign the Declaration until August 2, 1776. Almost a month after the adoption of the resolution. I may have dig a bit more to find out exactly why they delayed, though. That’s very curious to me. Perhaps it was because not all of them were present to sign it? I seem to recall something along those lines.

IMGP7451Nonetheless, today we still celebrate Independence Day with barbecues and fireworks, with toasts (apparently more beer is consumed on this day than any other American holiday) and special red, white, and blue desserts. We also hold parades, concerts, and other commemorative gatherings by the many patriotic organizations across the country, from the Veterans of Foreign Wars to the Daughters of the American Revolution (of which I am a member as of this year!) and beyond.

117Around here, we celebrated yesterday with a barbecue (grilled hamburgers, homemade potato salad, steamed asparagus with cheese, and homemade peach ice cream), followed by fireworks my hubby and son set off out back. We also plan to watch the patriotic concerts today on TV. How are you celebrating today?

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts and opinions! Happy 4th!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

My American Revolution series of romances begins with Emily’s Vow, which was a finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards contest. The stories in the A More Perfect Union series each feature a strong woman who declares her own independence for a variety of reasons, but ultimately they each find and fall in love with their soul mate. You can purchase the 4-book series for Kindle for only $12.79, or for Nook for only $15.96! They are also available in paperback, if you prefer. Happy reading!

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Between the Lines: The Secret of the Corinthian Column #research #fiction #romance

Rattle and Snap PlantationTo create a fictional place that won’t be mistaken for an existing one, I like to combine various aspects of two or more places into one with some imagination magic dust thrown in for luck. So after visiting Greer House (see last week’s blog if you missed that discussion), I organized a ladies’ day out trip to visit the Rattle and Snap Plantation near Columbia, Tennessee. This adventure happened in August 2013 while working on my first published romance, a paranormal, Traces.

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We were all very excited about visiting the historic site and wondered what we’d find. We were not disappointed. The owners gave us a personal tour of the grounds, the first floor, and even (surprisingly!) some of the upstairs rooms which were not open (and now are complete and ready for visitors). Since I was there for research, they made an exception for which I’m so very grateful!

They’ve worked hard to restore the plantation to look its best after many years of neglect. Walking through the historic home, hearing the sound of footsteps on the floorboards, noting the details in the woodwork and the fireplace mantels, and even the old door knobs and keyholes were fascinating. But I had one burning question I still needed to answer.

Where could I hide a body, so that the plantation would indeed be haunted? Think Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-tale Heart or The Cask of Amontillado.

Now, if you don’t know me personally you may not realize this. I am not a person who seeks out conflict or likes to inflict pain. So writing enough conflict into my stories has been one of my challenges. But I needed a ghost. Which meant somebody had to die – and not pleasantly.

When we heard the story of the hidden silver tea set, my friend Jan looked at me and we both raised our brows and smiled. According to the story, during the Civil War the family who owned the house tied a rope around their youngest, thinnest child and handed him the silver. They then climbed to the top of one of the columns, which was open at the top and which are very wide, and slowly lowered him and the precious tea set to the bottom where he left the silver and they pulled him back out. Only after the war ended did they cut a rectangular hole in the side of the column to retrieve – and sell – the silver so they had some money to live on after losing everything during the fighting.

Ladies Day at RnSWhat if… a person was lowered down presumably to safeguard the silver, but then wasn’t brought back out? Gives me chills to contemplate that scenario, let me tell ya! Stuck in a dark place 26 feet tall with no way out and nobody around to help? But…

The column was the site I needed! In the photo at the left, you can see just how wide those columns actually are. Now to explain how a woman’s body would end up there, which you can discover in the story, and more of a technical question: what would the family be allowed to do with her remains when found. But that’s for another day’s post. I love figuring these details to make the story as authentic and plausible as possible.

Thanks for stopping by!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

LSB Cover Art Template for PhotoShopIf you’d like to find out more about the Lady in Blue, you can get your copy of Traces at any of these places. Note that it’s available in paperback also at Amazon and B&N. Happy reading!

LSBooks: http://bit.ly/1fp2brP

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1ivVTpS

Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1j7WOwq

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1tUDIic

iBookstore: http://bit.ly/1FCoy5L

Between the Lines: This Old Plantation House #research #fiction #romance

Greer 3If you know me, you also know how much I love to visit historic places. Doubly so for researching my stories. This applies for both my historicals and my paranormals. Where would I go to research a contemporary ghost story, you might ask? For my two paranormal romances, Traces and Remnants,  I needed to find a plantation to haunt.

One of them was an old plantation that happened to be for sale. Greer House is outside of Petersburg, Tennessee, and has seen better days. The real estate agent met me and a friend at the house (no way was I going out to a site alone to meet a man I didn’t know). Thankfully, the person we met turned out to be the wife of the agent, which was fine with us. Jan and I roamed through the house, pointing out various details and aspects of the layout.

I was searching for a good place to hide a body, a body which would then become the ghost haunting the house in my story. There were several possibilities – the closet under the stairs; the basement; a secret panel in the bedroom (in my imagination, not in the house we toured!).

IMG_0397Mostly though I was saddened by how deteriorated the building was. Despite upgrades over the years – bathrooms with indoor plumbing, a new state-of-the-art kitchen – there were also holes in the walls, stains on the wallpaper, missing boards, and the overall sickly sweet smell of mildew.

I came away with ideas on how Twin Oaks, the plantation featured in my two ghost stories, might have decayed with lack of attention. But I tempered the images from Greer House by visiting another plantation that was restored to its former beauty by caring owners. I’ll talk more about that one in a separate post.

No matter what time period or setting of a story, some kind of research is typically need to get the facts right. It’s a good thing I love to research! To dig into the details and find the surprises to share in my stories. Like where to hid that body I was talking about, which came from visiting the second plantation.

Thanks for stopping by!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

LSB Cover Art Template for PhotoShopIf you’d like to find out where I hid the body, you can get your copy of Traces at any of these places. Note that it’s available in paperback also at Amazon and B&N. Happy reading!

LSBooks: http://bit.ly/1fp2brP

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1ivVTpS

Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1j7WOwq

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1tUDIic

iBookstore: http://bit.ly/1FCoy5L

Between the Lines: Learning the Moves #dance #research #history

One thing I love to do is to dance. So for a story I’m working on, I needed to understand about balls and the dances people enjoyed in the 18th century. So when hubby and I went to Williamsburg last year, one of the opportunities that excited me was a ballroom dancing lesson.

IMG_0140Not only would we experience the sound of the music performed by a flutist, but we were also taught the positions and steps of several different dances. I learned that when a man bows to his female partner, he extends his leg in front to demonstrate his strength. That’s also why men of that period wore breeches and knickers, so the calf muscle was evident and proved their strength. Thus, their worthiness as a partner, for dancing or perhaps marriage.

IMG_0198We joined in the circles of dancers, learned to turn to greet our partner and then turn to greet the person on our opposite side. The instructor showed us how to clap and spin, step in one direction and then other, all while not touching each other, except maybe to pat hands with another dancer. It was all very prim and proper and took more effort than it appears!

We had a fun hour or so, dancing and laughing at our ineptness. Afterward, I questioned the lady instructor as to particulars I was curious about, and then we went out to a tavern to find something cold to drink! Whew! We had such a great afternoon there. I hope to return sometime in the near future.

Have you been to Colonial Williamsburg? What’s your favorite memory?

Thanks for stopping by! Until next time, happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

Emily's Vow Finalist SealWant to read more about 18th century America? Check out my A More Perfect Union series, which starts with Emily’s Vow (a finalist in 2015 International Book Awards).

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Between the Lines: The Girl Who Changed the Face of Lincoln #women #history #research

GraceBedellOne of my favorite stories from Hometown Heroines: True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure, is that of eleven-year-old Grace Bedell. Her story remained a secret for many years, but once it came to light her fame has spread. What did she do?

She wrote a letter in 1860 to Abraham Lincoln when he was a presidential candidate. In part, she said:

“I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.”

Not only do we know that Lincoln indeed grew a beard, he also responded to her letter. In part, he said:

“As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affect[at]ion if I were to begin it now?”

Today, two statues commemorate her actions. One is a granite monument bearing copper reproductions of both letters which stands in the Delphos, Kansas, town square. The other is the statue pictured here that I took while visiting in Westfield, New York, where the two correspondents met when Lincoln traveled by train through the town in February 1861.

Can you imagine? This little girl had the gumption to pen a suggestion to Abraham Lincoln, a man she did not know and who had no real reason to respond. Yet he did both respond and agree with her suggestion. Then he made a point of meeting her when he went through her town. No wonder so many people find the story compelling! The rest, as they say, is history.

If you’d like to see more pictures related to Hometown Heroines, you can find them on my Pinterest board.

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I only send out when there is news to share. News like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers. Thanks and happy reading!

Literary Classics International Book Awards - Youth Award Winning Book
Literary Classics International Book Awards – Youth Award Winning Book

Interested in your own copy of Hometown Heroines: True Stories of Bravery, Daring, and Adventure? You can find it in ebook and/or paperback at the following sites:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/VrXZy6

BN: http://bit.ly/1wbftz7

Indie Bound: http://bit.ly/22qxkD4

Kobo: http://bit.ly/1nMDpGh

iTunes: http://bit.ly/1FCoy5L