Between the Lines: Brattonsville Living Museum #novel #research

Sometimes by visiting one historic site, I learn about another one of interest. While visiting Cowpens National Battlefield and chatting with one of the park rangers about my research interests, he mentioned Brattonsville, South Carolina. After a brief debate, we determined we could drive there before the park would likely close for the day. So off we went. And boy, was I glad we did!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHistoric Brattonsville was a gold mine for my research. Not only does the site feature 18th century buildings, but also ones from the 19th century. The comparison between architecture styles proved fascinating indeed. Additionally, the office had a gift store, with a fine selection of music and books. Books that helped me with my research in several ways, as did the period music I played while writing. The music really set the mood. I’ll talk about one of the books in particular in a later blog post. I’ve learned, though, that the books available at historic venues are often very helpful and specific to the area where the site is located.

The earliest buildings in this living museum date from the 1760s, and many were open so my hubby and I could tour them. I’ve said it before, having the ability to walk on the wood floors and climb the creaky, steep steps in an historic structure feels like stepping back in time. I try to imagine living or working in the building, listening to the sounds, and smelling the aromas or odors of the place. IMG_0227Stopping at an upstairs window, I gaze outside and imagine what a person living in the 18th century might have seen in the fields, roads, or lawn stretching beyond the sometimes cloudy glass. Would there be a wagon loaded with hay, perhaps? Or someone herding cattle? Dogs and children? Would chickens be running in front of a horse and rider trotting along the road?

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What about soldiers marching by, or worse raiding the house and barns? Where would they hide? Or would they defend themselves? My imagination takes off while visiting sites such as this one.

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I wonder how they used the small buildings. Did they work in them, or use them as storage? This one didn’t have windows, so the only light came from the open door. To work inside, you’d have to have a lantern of some kind. I also look at the construction technique. Isn’t it amazing how simply this building was made, and yet it still stands today just as strong and secure as when it was first put together. Being able to stand in or near these historic homes and buildings also gives me a sense of space and size. Aspects important to consider when depicting any buildings in my stories.

If you’re ever in South Carolina, especially in the northeast part of the state, you might consider stopping in to take a tour of this lovely place. I know I’m glad I did.

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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#TBT Behind the Curtain: The Call

Today’s Throwback Thursday post is from February of 2014 when I received some of the best news of my professional life, I was going to be published! Especially with the recent release of Evelyn’s Promise, I enjoy looking back at where the journey started. Though it was a long road to where I am today, I wouldn’t change one minute of the experience.

When I got The Call it was actually in the form of an email. The very enthusiastic acquiring editor got my attention with a few simple words: “I had a chance to look at Traces tonight, and loved it! If it’s still available, I’d love to publish it at Liquid Silver.” I read and re-read those simple yet extraordinary words several times before I finally smiled and squealed and did a happy dance!

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I am not an overnight success story. Not by a long shot! I started writing novels while we were living in Indiana, which means it’s been about 20 years ago. In the interim, there’s been part-time jobs, rearing two kids, tending an aging father, full-time jobs, college classes to earn first a Bachelor’s then a Masters in English, family crises and deaths to handle. All the while writing on one story or another, researching, taking craft and business classes. Volunteering with my writing-related organizations, such as my local Romance Writers of America (RWA) Heart of Dixie chapter.

I’ve submitted query letters and full manuscripts many times but was always turned down for one reason or another. With the changes in the publishing industry, the idea of self-publishing my novels started bouncing around in my head. But, honestly, after all the time I’ve spent striving to sell my work to a publisher to publish the book, I wanted that sense of validation doing so would bring to me.

A few weeks ago I saw on Twitter the hashtag #pitmad (pitch madness) and inquired as to how it worked. Essentially, you pitch using a Tweet including #pitmad and the genre of the story. Then the agents/editors following the hashtag would favorite any pitches they wanted to see submissions on. They tweeted what kind of submission they wanted (query and partial manuscript; query and full manuscript; etc.).

Now consider this challenge. Boil down an entire novel into 140 characters including spaces; less the characters needed for the hashtags. Obviously, abbreviations would be necessary! After several attempts, I whittled the pitch down to, “Demo expert plans to raze inherited 1860s plantation while a spectral lady & a hunky lawyer teach her abt family/luv. #pitmad #Romance #WF”. When half an hour later I saw that my tweet had been favorited, I researched the press to ensure it was a valid request, then sent the submission as requested. Then I went on about my day, writing and revising my historical romance story before submitting it to a different editor at a different press.

A few days later, I received the email from Ms. Terri Schaefer, Editor at Liquid Silver Books, offering to publish Traces. Wow! My heart sang. Then my mind kicked in and I contacted the two agents who had the manuscript on their desks for consideration to represent me. Ultimately, both declined though they both said my writing was “fantastic” or “wonderful” and they could understand why an offer had been made. So I contacted Ms. Schaefer and had a good friend who happens to be not only an author but a literary attorney review the contract and make some recommendations for changes. Once most of those changes were incorporated to our mutual satisfaction, I signed the contract.

Busy times, but I’m so ready after all the years of working towards this moment to enjoy this roller coaster of promotions and launch parties and book signings.

That’s my story about receiving the BEST NEWS EVER. What was the best news you’ve received? How did you react?

Between the Lines: Touring Drayton Hall #research

In Samantha’s Secret, Samantha has a slave woman as a patient. I drew upon my visit to Drayton Hall and the slave quarters there as inspiration for the description of Lydia’s home and situation. Not that it’s exactly the same in the story as what I experienced, but it’s similar.

One of the first surprises was that the plantation manor house wasn’t as large as I’d thought it might be. Impressive, but not as sprawling as I had anticipated. The interior made up for the slight sense of disappointment I felt as we drove up to the long straight, tree-lined drive.

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I’d never been in slave quarters before, so I was particularly curious about how they were built and what they had inside. The guide told us that the quarters at this plantation outside of Charleston were actually nicer than usual, since they were made from brick and stone.

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I stepped inside trying to imagine a family or group of people living within the four walls, literally. It’s not easy to do, given our current experience with houses and apartments with many bedrooms and bathrooms and a kitchen, perhaps a game room, or formal dining room even.

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No separate rooms at all, inside. That means several people probably shared the bed, or slept on the floor wrapped in a thin blanket perhaps.

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Then I tried to imagine making meals at the cook fire, with a minimum of pots and utensils. Now, I love to cook, so this attempt proved difficult indeed.

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Life as a slave, even one in a “fine” home such as these, had to be physically difficult as well as emotionally. We do have to keep in mind that most houses of the 18th century were not as refined as the manor houses, but were still more comfortable and spacious than the slave quarters.

Given my experience at Drayton Hall, I tried to convey the sense of bleak and Spartan furnishings within the character’s home in my story. To show what slaves may have faced and endured.

Did I succeed? I believe so, but ultimately it’s up to my readers to decide. If you’ve read Samantha’s story, how did you feel about where Lydia and her family lived?

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!

#TBT Automatic vs. Handmade: Is One Better?

Today’s Throwback Thursday post comes to us from October of 2014 when Miranda Lambert was heating up the charts with a new song and an interesting message. I still think that in some instances the old way of doing things might have been a better (or at least a more meaningful) way to get things done. Read on and let me know what you think!

I love Miranda Lambert’s new song, Automatic. Have you heard it? It’s all about how we used to do things for ourselves and now so much just happens with little or no effort. Her point is that we get out of life what we put into it, so having things handed to us lessens the importance or meaning of the item or act. For example, we take it for granted now, but newspapers have not always existed. Yes, I know, some have closed their doors, but we still have many in print and online. However, in the 18th century, they were only beginning to come into their own. In my American Revolution era romance, Emily’s Vow, Frank Thomson is a Continental Army spy who is undercover in Charles Town, South Carolina, playing the part of a printer. He’s not happy about his assignment, because he’d prefer to be out and about than tied down to one place and then inside to boot. The work of laying out the type and operating the press is hard and tiresome and downright frustrating to this strong, adventurous man. Yet it’s the paper that enables him to relay coded messages to the American forces surrounding the besieged city. It takes time and effort to accomplish his objective, too.

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Recently, I went to Philadelphia, home of not only Independence Hall (the site of the debate and signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution) but also Benjamin Franklin and his print shop replica. The park ranger on duty in the Printing Shop demonstrated the process of printing a one-sided broadsheet. When the press was active in the 1700s, it took several men doing individual jobs at the press to make each copy. One man laid out the type in the appropriate channels using the small metal blocks with letters on them. (Interesting side note: The two “cases” of type sat in such a way as to have one on a table (the “lower case”) and one mounted above on an angle (the “upper case”). We still use those terms today, don’t we?) Another man inked the type. Another laid on the wet paper in the frame and lowered it over the inked type, then slid it into the press. The “puller” then pulled the lever to apply the pressure to make the print. One copy of the news or announcement was made. One. The goal was to make something like 20-30 copies an hour. Compare that to the automated presses newspapers use today and I think you can imagine how much more treasured having a broadsheet or pamphlet was then than now.

I think Miranda Lambert is on to something. Not that I want to go back to the way papers used to be printed in lieu of the current processes! But there are aspects of our current society’s expectations as a result of how fast things are done or produced that I wish were different. Can you think of something we take for granted that perhaps we shouldn’t? Or, the opposite, something you wish was more automatic?

Between the Lines: On the Streets of Charleston #research

One of the more challenging aspects of writing historical fiction is attempting to transport myself back in time. How can I experience living on the streets and in the buildings of the past? One way I tried to put myself in an earlier time was to walk the historic streets of Charleston, seeking out the houses and buildings that still exist today that were built in the 18th century. Fortunately, I was able to buy The Revolutionary War Walking History Book by Mary Clark Coy at the Visitors Center. Ms. Coy is not only a fourth-generation Charlestonian but also a licensed city tour guide and former teacher. Her guide proved invaluable to me and my hubby as we walked the streets of Charleston, and then even as I returned home to write my book I could refer to the historical details and the pictures of the historic homes and structures. I also used street view of Google to see the streets and houses from the comfort of my own home. All in an effort to bring the past to life in my stories.

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By walking on the cobble stone streets, my shoes sliding and toes straining to grip the rounded surface.

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By standing on the battery with the wind in my hair, and the scents of the ocean and rivers combining with the sounds of the gulls and terns flying overhead.

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Peeking down alleys into small fenced in gardens beside two- and three-story homes. Strolling past the Rainbow Row of houses along Bay Street. Hearing the sound of footsteps on the wooden floors of historic homes and churches.

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We even took a carriage ride so I could describe the sound of the wheels on the roads, the jostle and bounce of the vehicle, the jangle of harness and clip-clop of hooves. All to bring the past to life for my readers. I’m thinking another trip to Charleston may be in order for the new trilogy I’m currently working on, too. A hardship I’ll gladly endure!

Have you read the A More Perfect Union series set in Charleston in 1782-1783? Could you see and hear and feel the rhythm of the town and environs? I hope so, of course.

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!

 

#TBT Stepping into the Past: Inside Rattle and Snap Plantation

To go along with this week’s BTL blog post I enjoyed looking back at my visit to the Rattle and Snap Plantation in September of 2013. There are few things I love more than literally stepping back into history, and these amazing plantations are just the place to do that!

Recently, I posted here about my trip to the 1840s antebellum home, the Rattle and Snap Plantation, but only talked about the exterior. Now I’d like to share more about the interior and some insights about the families that lived there. Including the purported ghost who visits occasionally.

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Walking in the front door really did feel as though I’d stepped back in time. The gleaming hardwood floors with the antique furniture and lamps transported me to the 1800s. Oil paintings of George and Sally Polk, the original owners, hung on the back wall of the foyer. Our tour guide, Bobbi Kaslow, pointed out the glass-encased wedding bouquet hung on the wall between the two portraits. They’d found the bouquet in the attic, and have no idea whose it is, but felt it should be presented to Sally. Only a few pieces of the furniture actually belonged to the Polks because they lost everything during the Civil War, being reduced from one of the wealthiest families in the area to poverty.

We next went into the double parlor on the left. This room took up the whole end of the house, with fireplaces at either end, and groups of chairs and settees with accompanying tables arranged down the length. Heavy drapes hung at the windows, pulled back with velvet ties featuring hand-made tassels that cost a fortune to make (I forget the exact amount but it was approximately $1700 just for the tassels). Imported carpets lay beneath the furniture. Small footstools waited in front of many of the chairs. Interestingly, the furniture sat much closer to the floor (shorter legs) than modern furniture, indicating the difference in average height between then and now. I do wish I could share photos of the furnishings, but I was not allowed to take pictures inside due to insurance restrictions.

This feel of antique furniture, mostly dark woods (mahogany, cherry, etc.) and brocade or flowered prints, carried throughout the house. The single parlor on the right end of the house, at the front, was where the ladies would have retired after supper. Here an antique wedding album rested on a lovely curved leg cherry table. A green marble fireplace stood at one side, one of only three marble fireplaces in the building. This parlor contained more feminine accoutrements, like needlepoint projects and flowers in vases.

The dining room contained a large table, set for ten guests, complete with plates and glasses and silver. Of course, with a family of twelve, the Polks filled the table most of the time by themselves! The centerpiece of flowers and individual salt and pepper shakers, though, all made me think of formal dining of the past, something most of us do not do very often if at all. Many family portraits hung on the wall. There was also a pendulum clock that would chime when the family was supposed to pray.

We were fortunate that Bobbi allowed us a sneak peek at the upstairs rooms that have not officially opened for tours yet. I was surprised to find that the ballroom is located on the second floor, surrounded by elaborately furnished bedrooms. These bedrooms were for the many Polk children – ten I believe Bobbi said – and for guests when they entertained. Which they apparently did often.

It’s up here where the ghost has been seen. A group of young teens saw him one night when they were in one of the bedrooms for a sleepover. They saw a tall Confederate soldier walk past the door and go into the back corner bedroom, replete with saber at his side. This soldier has been seen on more than one occasion, and often they find the purely decorative bed mussed in the morning. They believe it’s the ghost of George and Sally’s son, Joseph, who was injured in the battle of Franklin. Although his family believed he’d been killed in action, he managed to return home months later still recovering from his injuries.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Rattle and Snap and hope to go back again before too long. It’s well worth the small admission price, which goes entirely toward the restoration efforts.

Do you know of another historic home I should visit? If so, what makes it special?

Between the Lines: Dungeon in the Old Exchange #research #fun #facts

Today I want to share how I learned the importance of visiting historic sites when researching the setting of a book. It never hurts that I love Charleston and its history! I’ve already forewarned my hubby that we might have to go back to poke into another aspect of the city’s past, but that’s another story for another day.

The main reason I returned to tour the Old Exchange in Charleston, South Carolina, was to find out how the prisoners were restrained. I had originally written in Emily’s Vow that Emily had been arrested and thrown into the dungeon, into a cell with a heavy door. Most jails are constructed in such a fashion, right? I’d done my online research and had surmised from looking at the Old Exchange and Dungeon virtual tour online that they must have used shackles and chains, or they had cells constructed in the basement. But I needed to know for certain. Turns out it was a good thing we made the trip!

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My assumption that the floor was made of wood was false. So was the guess that there were cells. In fact, the floor was made of stone, and the walls and ceiling were brick built using the groin and arch type of architecture. I learned that they built the ceiling this way to be strong enough to support the open air exchange of the main floor. To create it, they piled sand bags on the floor to support the mason’s efforts until the mortar between the bricks had dried. Then they simply removed the bags and voila!

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In peace, the Harbor Master performed his duties as shown in the picture. But during the British occupation, the Britons converted the basement into a communal jail. They built up walls to section off a portion and posted guards at the doors to keep the political prisoners secure. In Emily’s Vow, I had written a scene where she was thrown in this jail for two days. But after touring the place, I had to change that scene! Turns out only a handful of women ever spent time in the jail, and then only for a few hours to terrorize them into revealing where their menfolk were hiding. I could well imagine how scared those women must have been, too. The prisoners slept on beds of straw on the cold floor among the vermin and filth. There may have been a bucket in the corner to pee in, but that was it. Not a place I’d want to visit let alone reside.

Being able to visit such historic places and ask specific questions helps me to describe for my readers the time and place of days gone by in such a way as to bring the reality to life for modern folks. And it gives me a great excuse reason to travel and experience wonderful houses and buildings, to boot!

So it’s your turn. What was the last historical setting you’ve visited? What did you find surprising or enlightening about the place?

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!

#TBT Research Done Right (or not!)

Research is fascinating to me. The first hint of a question, a puzzle, a mystery fires my imagination. That is why I poured so much time and travel and effort into uncovering who the girls were who inspired the various landmarks across the United States in their honor. Over the years of doing that research, though, not everything went smoothly. (To say the least!)

For example, traipsing through rain soaked grass was not my idea of fun, but I and my long-suffering husband did so many times to photograph the graves and road side historic markers of some of the girls. Don’t even try to count the number of times I became lost in unfamiliar back roads and busy cities looking for parks or statues.

But researching for Vinnie Ream’s story brings back a sense of alarm and near panic like no other research trip. In fact, my heart tightens at the memory.

It all started with a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, technically in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from downtown D.C. I’ve been there several times before, on field trips while a schoolgirl and for family funerals. This visit proved different because my brother-in-law (BIL) went with me to help me navigate through the many lanes and tombstones to locate the correct section (Section 3 on Miles Drive) of the cemetery.

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We found the monument to Vinnie Ream without much trouble, that was the easy part. I sat down on the little white stone bench and made some notes, soaked in the atmosphere of the quiet stillness, the peace of the park-like setting. The monument rose up before me, featuring a bronze of Vinnie’s own statue of Sappho.

Then it was time to leave because my brother-in-law had to return to work across the bridge in D.C., and I had to hit the road for my next stop in central Virginia. So we hurried away, on to our separate tasks. And that is when disaster struck, though I didn’t know it at that moment.

Several hours later as I neared Harrisonburg, Virginia, I realized I had left behind my Day Runner calendar/address book. Oh – my – god! Where was it? I searched the front seat of the car and then my heart stuttered. It wasn’t with me. It was – memory kicked in finally – laying on the little white stone bench in the cemetery! My heart raced as I frantically thought through what appointments I had in the upcoming week, the contact information contained solely within those pages. I could envision missing important client meetings and doctor appointments due to my Swiss cheese memory.

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By this time I was several hundred miles away and didn’t have enough time to drive back before the cemetery gates closed. Feeling my pulse hammering in my ears, I called my brother-in-law and asked him if he could please, please, please go back and find it, ship it to me if he found it, and I’d repay him anything! Talk about a heart-twisting experience.

My wonderful superhero of a BIL left work and raced back to the cemetery, but my Day Runner wasn’t on the bench. He knew that it had been swept up in a policing-up action. Then he spent hours chasing down where my calendar/address book had been shuffled off to. See, periodically soldiers police the cemetery grounds, picking up anything left behind and disposing of it. My BIL had to track down the correct group of policing soldiers and find out if they’d seen it. Thank goodness, he finally managed to locate it before it reached the incinerator (yikes!) and return it to me. I sent him a restaurant gift card as a thank you, too.

But for nearly a week I didn’t have my schedule nor the contact information to reach those clients I had appointments with. My reputation and credibility were on the line. It was a difficult and terrifying week, let me tell you.

But I still have that little book, and often think of all that my BIL had to go through to return it to me. And of course, I have some great stories to tell as a result of my research endeavors. Who ever said research was boring just did not do it “right.”

How about you – have you had any adventures while researching a question or perhaps doing genealogy research (another love of mine), or while traveling, that gave you a heart-twisting moment or two? Want to share it?

Between the Lines: The Old Exchange – fun facts from my #research

Today I’m kicking off a new series of short posts to share some of the discoveries I’ve come across while researching for my stories. I’ll talk about tidbits of interest behind the stories in Hometown Heroines, in the A More Perfect Union series of historical romances, and fascinating factoids from upcoming historical fiction releases as well. It’s the little-known facts that I find the most interesting, and I want to share those with you.

Today, I’m going to talk about the Old Exchange in Charleston, South Carolina. This building has served an important role in the development of the once prosperous port city. I’m not saying the city is not prosperous today, but in the 17th and 18th centuries, Charles Town was a thriving port city because of its location and association with Boston and Barbados. The Exchange was the place where products arriving and departing for trade with other ports of call were “exchanged” and distributed to merchants for sale.

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My hubby and I have been to the Old Exchange while I was researching Charleston’s history for the four books in my A More Perfect Union series. It’s featured in the first book, Emily’s Vow, more than in any other in the series. I had several specific questions I needed to answer, so we toured the building with a guide who happened to be a retired school teacher.

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This man was a wealth of information, too! He told me all about the uses of the building, but most importantly he was able to tell me what the building looked like in the late 18th century. Which was very different from how it looks today. In the picture of the Exchange, you can see the two floors of the building, with a basement foundation just visible. While this is a circa 19th c. photo from the Library of Congress, it shows approximately how the building appears now. But back in the 18th c. it was much different.

The top floor has always had glass windows and was used for community meetings and celebrations/dances. The middle or main floor, however, used to be an open air marketplace of sorts. No glass windows or even walls, but an open area where people could come and go. Merchants set up temporary desks on the floor of the Exchange to conduct their business. Access to the basement—where merchandise was stored during peace time or prisoners were held during British occupation—was through an outside door, not from the interior as it is today.

Knowing those facts informed the description and usage of the Old Exchange in my stories, helping me keep my stories as accurate as possible. I do try to keep to the historical facts as much as possible. Am I perfect? Probably not. But I do my best to bring the context of the times to my stories.

It’s not surprising that homes are modified and built onto. We still do that today. In fact, the house I live in, we added on to the kitchen to enlarge it. Have you ever lived in an historic home? Or renovated your own house to suit your particular needs?

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!