"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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Recent Posts

19th Amendment Becomes the Law of the Land
A Belated "Happy Happy Day!"
Preview of Coming Attractions
The Names Have Been Changed To Protect the Not-So-Innocent
Where Do Baby Books Come From?

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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

19th Amendment Becomes the Law of the Land

Today -- August 26 -- marks the formal adoption of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. The year was 1920. I find it rather remarkable that Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify the amendment, thus giving it the requisite number of states voting in favor.

It had been a long fight, starting right after the Civil War.  During the research for my upcoming book, I found a pamphlet distributed by suffragettes in Pittsburgh in 1914. It illustrates some of the arguments for and against allowing women to vote. The second one, in particular, makes me shake my head a little.

Some Say: The majority of women don’t want to vote, and women will not vote when they are given the right.
We Say: The number who want the vote is always many times greater than the number who don’t, and official figures show women DO vote largely wherever they have the right.

Some Say: Women have enough to do without voting.
We Say: Voting only takes a few minutes and can be done on the way to the market.

Some Say: It would double the ignorant vote.
We Say: One-third more girls than boys attend high schools, and women are rapidly becoming the more educated class.”


A Belated "Happy Happy Day!"


I was so busy yesterday (and so frustrated) that i completely forgot to acknowledge the importance of the date.

I was trying to convince my computer programs that (1) Yes, I really did intend to write one line in English and the next in German; and (2) Yes, I really can spell both languages correctly, even without automated assistance.  When my word processors proved to need continual preference-changing in order to accomplish my purposes, I switched to the simplest plain text editor I could find, only to discover that it, too, thought it knew what I was doing better than I did. it was more insidious, however. It would ignore a suggested error when I asked it to, and then, in the final printed version, a telltale red line would once again appear under every German word i used. I ended up wiping out an entire Pinterest board and going off to read a good book.

That does not excuse me, however, from celebrating the 96th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment -- an event extremely important to one of the characters in my next book. So here, just a little late, are the greetings I forgot:

"Thank You!"  to all those suffragettes who worked so long to get their state legislators to pass the necessary ratifications.

"Way To Go!" to all the millions of women who have demonstrated their political acumen by voting in local, state, and national elections for the last 96 years.

And "Don't Stop Now!" to every woman over the age of eighteen. Go register and then follow up by casting your vote. And don't forget how many of  your predecessors fought to make that possible.

Preview of Coming Attractions


A special "heads-up" for those who are awaiting the third volume of the Grenville saga. "Yankee Daughters" will not be available until sometime around the end of the year. However, I have started two new Pinterest boards to whet your curiosity.

One contains the names of all the new characters being introduced in this third generation of the family. Many of them are based on members of my mother's family, so I've used those real pictures to illustrate the fictional characters. I've changed their names, but there's often a hidden clue. For example, if I had an aunt named Rose, her fictional name might show up as Lily or Iris.

The second board draws on other illustrations of the real pertinent objects, events, and places in the novel. Many were old photos taken in and around Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Others are "ripped from the headlines" of contemporary newspapers. The idea here is to immerse you in the period, roughly from 1886 to 1920.

And eventually (maybe even today)  there will appear a third board dedicated to the repertoire of "wise old sayings" -- the majority of which were cited as Biblical truths by my grandmother (who is Katerina McDevlin Grenville in the new book) and passed down through her eight daughters. Some of them are better in German than in English, but you'll get both versions.

Hope you'll drop by and get a taste of what is to come. You can  find them all on my Pinterest page:  https://www.pinterest.com/roundheadlady/

The Names Have Been Changed To Protect the Not-So-Innocent

When I first began thinking about the book that would follow “Yankee Reconstructed,” two different ideas tempted me.  One was that unspoken demand of the marketplace that two volumes about a South Carolina family needed a third to make them a trilogy. The other was a different project, based on the stories my mother had told me about growing up in a family of eight girls on a farm in Pennsylvania. Which one would win my attention?

I really did not want to do another South Carolina book. The story was pushing into the last decades the nineteenth century, a dark period in the history of the state. There had been an earthquake, i knew, that had destroyed almost the entire city of Charleston in 1886. But just as devastating was what was happening politically and socially. The education system that my characters had worked so hard to put in place had completely collapsed. State government was riddled by corruption. The economy had crumbled. it was also the era of Jim Crow laws, which were nothing more than a white supremacist plot to destroy the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution. The state gave off an aura of hopelessness that no mere novel could hope to counter.

But the Pennsylvania topic also had its problems. True, the North had much more to commend it at the turn of the century. Rapid industrialization had benefited the economy but had also revealed a need for social and political reforms. The period from 1890 to 1920 has been called The Progressive Era, as it sought to transform society. It was an exciting time, with campaigns to give women the right to vote, to put a stop to the excesses of alcohol, and drive political bosses and their corrupt machines out of local and state government. But the stories I had inherited from my mother were much more personal than that. They were the stories of individual struggles to find new roles for ordinary people in the dawning twentieth century.

it is not my favorite period of history, but I knew i could pick up the information I would need. No, what troubled me was the reliability of the stories in question. I first saw a book about my mother’s McCaskey family as a return to my favorite genre of creative biography rather than fiction. But that plan rested on  the assumption that what my mother had told me was completely accurate. And there I hit a wall. My mother, the youngest of the eight McCaskey sisters, was a creative soul, with a well-known habit of . . . uh . . .embellishing the facts. She told a great story, but it was not one on which I was willing to rest my own reputation as a historian. I also had to think about all my second, third, and fourth cousins out there, who might be disturbed or hurt by a less than factual “tell-all” book about their grandmothers or great-grandmothers.

I dithered and put off making a decision. Then came two small revelations that suggested a third path. First, that real Charleston earthquake drove thousands into the streets, and anyone who could escape the city did so. The three youngest Grenvilles had only loose ties to the city. Rebecca Grenville had agreed to stay there only to keep the family mansion open. If the earthquake destroyed it, she would be free to go anywhere, even Pennsylvania. 

And then I noticed that the fictional Jamey Grenville was exactly the same age as my maternal grandfather, Joseph McCaskey. Both had been little more than toddlers at the beginning of the Civil War. Each was the youngest child in his family, and both had older brothers who fought in the war. How easy it was to conflate the two—to use the details of Joseph’s adult life in Pennsylvania to create a new fictional life for Jamey Grenville.

And that’s how “Yankee Daughters” came into existence. Jamey Grenville met a young Pennsylvania Dutch girl who, due to a tragic accident involving her parents, had inherited a farm that she could not manage on her own. In a novel he could ride to the rescue, marry her, and save the farm.  A few years later, as the earthquake destroyed the last Grenville ties to Charleston, he could once again be the hero, rescuing his sister Rebecca Grenville and bringing her to live near his own growing family in Pennsylvania. 

Suddenly, all I had to do was change the names of the McCaskey women, and  I had a novel on my hands. There was a hero who was adored by both the women in his life— his wife and his sister. He had a family of eight daughters—interesting creatures with eight distinct personalities. And there was a feud between the wife, who wanted only to see to it that her eight daughters found suitable husbands who would support them and protect them, and the sister, who hoped to encourage her nieces to become strong, independent women in their own right. At one point in the story, Rebecca complained that her sister-in-law was raising 19th-century women who would have to live in a 20th-century world. She thus neatly summed up the central theme of the coming book.

Coming soon: A series of posts to introduce the new characters, illustrated by old photographs of the real women who inspired the characters. Stay tuned.

Where Do Baby Books Come From?

I get a variation of this question at almost every talk I give. Readers want to know where or how their favorite authors come up with their stories.  At first, I found it easy to answer. I wrote "A Scratch with the Rebels" to tell the story of my great-uncle's Civil War regiment and their experiences.  I wrote "Beyond All Price" because I was curious about the nurse who kept cropping up in my research on the Roundhead Regiment. I wrote "The Road to Frogmore" because I wanted to know more about the missionaries who came to South Carolina during the war to work with former slaves.

But then, once I started writing pure historical fiction, the question got tougher. How do you create a whole family and their stories? Well, certainly, they have to be based on what the writer knows about real people who were living in that place at that time. I don't write fantasy or science fiction. My emphasis is always on the historical rather than the fiction. When I created the Grenville family, I had great fun giving them time-appropriate names and birthdates. I worked up a genealogical chart to remind myself of who was related to whom and a time chart to match the characters' lives with the real historical happenings around them. Then I could give my imagination full play as I thought about these people and their reactions to the world around them.

So far, so good. "Damned Yankee" was easy. What happened to the Grenvilles also happened to many other families living in Charleston or on the plantations of the Low Country. Then came the idea for a sequel. "Yankee Reconstructed" was set in the ten to fifteen years after the Civil War. But it didn't take long for problems to set in. Taking into consideration the five years of the war and the following fifteen years, meant I had a whole new generation to deal with. The children of "Damned Yankee" had grown up. Their parents were aging. For that matter, so were the older "children" who had been in their late teens when "Damned Yankee" opened. So, too, my focus had to change to new historical realities and new characters.

And now, the problems multiplied. Once i had written two "Yankee" books, readers expected a third. There's actually no separate word for a series of two. Books come in trilogies. But where will a third story come from?  I had neatly wrapped up the lives of Jonathan and Susan Grenville. Their older children, too, were settled into marriages and careers. All I had left to work with were the three younger children, who had played only walk-on roles in the previous books. Could i get a story out of them? I barely knew them. And what about the historical details? I would be moving out of my comfort zone into a period I knew little about. So, where will this new book come from?  I'll try to answer that tomorrow.