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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

June 2014

Rainy Mornings Encourage List-Making rather than Doing Something

Saturday mornings around here offer a chance to stop, catch my breath, take stock of where I've been, and get ready for what lies just ahead.  This morning my head is buzzing as I realize how many activities I'm juggling.  They reduce themselves to list-making, so here's the weekend's RBOC:


  • The audio book files for "Beyond All Price" have gone to ACX for quality control checks before the final copy is ready for sale.  They suggest it will be 10 - 14 days, so there's still time for you to get your name entered into
  • the contest for a free copy.
  • I've opened two more titles for auditions.  With luck we may someday have audio books for "The Road to Frogmore" and "Damned Yankee." Narrators, please take note and check ACX for further information.
  • I heard yesterday from my only living first cousin -- someone I had not seen or heard from in 54 years. He turned up on Facebook with a comment that began, "Hi Cuz!" and then told me I looked just like my mother. Mixed reactions to that!
  • His resurfacing, however, is pushing me to get back to our family genealogy and scan in some more pictures from the early 1900s. That may be a good way to spend this rainy day.
  • Looking ahead, I see two unusual events scheduled next week: the calendar reads "jury duty and fishing rodeo."
  • Jury duty? Yep, being over 70 is no longer an excuse, apparently.  I have to report on Wednesday, not to start passing judgment but to choose what week I will be on call. I'm hoping to get it out of the way soon.  Hate having it hanging over me.
  • Fishing Rodeo?  That's a Lions thing.  Every year the Germantown Lions Club sponsors and runs a children's fishing rodeo to kick off the city's Fourth of July activities.  I'll be working the registration table on Friday, not handling the fish, thank goodness.  It's a fun activity, provided it doesn't storm or turn horribly hot.
  • And to end with some good news.  We'll be celebrating today because "Damned Yankee" has made it into the top 100 Kindle books on the Civil War.  The specific ranking varies from hour to hour as people make purchases, but it's a lovely bit of recognition.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Book Club Guide for "Beyond All Price"

I've opened a new Pinterest board designed to furnish suggestions to any book club that decides to read "Beyond All Price."  It contains a couple of longish articles about why I chose to write about the Roundhead Regiment, and then why I decided to focus on Nellie Chase, the regimental nurse.  Two book lists provide additional reading; one on the other books in this series, and the other on the general topic of nurses in the Civil War. After that come several pins of discussion topics--questions about plot, setting, character, and theme. 

I always enjoy putting together some book-related menu items, but in this case, I ended up with two different ideas.  So why not let you choose.  One of the central scenes in the book is the Christmas party the Roundheads hosted in Beaufort in 1861. If your club has a December meeting, this might be ideal.  The text suggests that they served only cakes, cookies, and punches.  There's a wonderfully dense fruitcake featuring only dried fruits, not that horrid technicolored mishmash of candied stuff sold in modern supermarkets.  The other two cakes are traditional Southern specialties -- coconut and caramel cakes. To accompany them, there is syllabub, which probably sounds more interesting in the text than it is in practice.  Another possibility, and one the Roundheads would have applauded, is Artillery Punch, a particularly lethal blend of all varieties of alcoholic beverages. (Artillery Punch is still to be found in military circles.  We first encountered it at a Navy base on New Year's Eve.  Luckily we lived just across the street from the party site, so we made it home!)  Nellie also recommended a non-alcoholic punch, so there's one of those, too.  Throw in some spicy pecans and some benne wafer cookies, and you have a sure-fire formula for a rowdy, if not scholarly, book discussion.


At other times of the year, a brunch might be more suitable.  The scene in which the Leverett slaves introduce the Roundheads to the traditional southern breakfast provides many ideas.  You probably don't want to put acorns in your coffee, but chickory is an acceptable subsitute.  Then offer ham biscuits, grits, and sausage gravy (or maybe red-eye gravy).  If it's a late morning affair, add a bowl of Nellie's own oyster stew.

Nellie knew that good food helped her patients get well faster.  You won't go far wrong following any of her suggestions.

A Second Look (and a Listen) at "Beyond All Price"

I've been absent and preocupied with one of my own books ever since last Thursday. That's when the audio files arrived for our upcoming audiobook edition of Beyond All Price. The narrator had finished recording and editing all 122,000 words and 14 hours of the original book.  Now it was my turn to read it carefully -- word for word -- and look for any errors, omissions, or extraneous sounds. What a different experience it turned out to be!

I've never used audio books -- my eyesight is better than my hearing -- so it had never occurred to me to do so. But I was impressed. The narrator, Adrianne Price, is an accomplished voice-over actress, and she managed to make each of the characters come alive.  She even managed a very believable cat.  When she meowed in one scene, my office cat raised his head and started looking around for an interloper.

I still don't know when the book will be ready to go on sale, but it will be available soon on audible.com, Amazon's Audiobooks, and iTunes. We'll keep you posted. But in the meantime, you might drop around to the landing page of this website and register to win one of the free copies of the new audiobook that I will receive at publication. 

Here's a small sample of what  you'll be hearing:


Nellie and Bessie the Cook
A small taste of their conversation about how women need to behave.
You need Flash Player in order to view this.

What's Been Happening in the Old Neighborhood?

While we were in Charleston last month, I took a morning to revisit some of the locations I used in Damned Yankee.  In some ways, tha was a case of "shutting the barn door after the horse ran away," but I wanted to see what my readers might notice if they hunted down some of these locations.  I was hoping my descriptions had been accurate, but some of them had been written from memory.  So off we went.

First stop was Legare Street south of Broad-- the neighborhood I had chosen for Susan's wealthy planter family.  I had even picked out my favorite house on that block to stand in for the Dubois house.  Here it is, with all its tropical elegance, multiple stories, wide piazzas, bay windows, sleeping porch, and elaborate gardens. I was momentarily tempted when I saw that it was unoccupied and for sale. Known now as The Rebecca Screven House, its $1.825 million dollar asking price was more than enough to scare me away.  Even if I could sell the 500,000 copies of the book that it would take to raise that kind of money, two other items gave me pause -- the work being done on its foundation, a sign that said it was being sold "as is," and the termite control truck out front, pumping some lethal mixture into the parlors.  Still, it's a beautiful house -- first mentioned in the records in 1828 but likely built in the late 1700s. And it was a perfect setting for the Dubois family.

While we were there, a small horse-drawn carriage came by, reminding me  that in many ways Charleston has not changed a great deal in the past 150 years. Oh, there are sidewalks now, and painted street markings.  And the people in the carriage were surely tourists. But on Legare Street it is easy to feel as if it is still 1860.

The next stop was Logan Street, where I had placed the house that Jonathan and Susan Grenville occupied with their seven children -- the house that burned to the ground  during the Great Fire of 1861.  It was surely never as grand as the Dubois mansion.  After all, it was slightly north of Broad. But it would have been large enough to accommodate their large family and a staff of slaves, with a slave yard in the rear.  I wondered what I would find -- not the visible scar of a fire.  That had long since passed. -- But a scar, nevertheless.  These "new" houses, sturdy though they might be, sit right at the street edge.  They are utilitarian -- functional -- not a symbol of wealth and social class. Instead of a horse-drawn carriage, a pick-up truck sputtered past.

Even more obvious, the trees were different -- thinner, shorter, healthy enough but young.  There are no centuries-old oaks here on Logan street.  They disappeared in the fire. I knew from reading old newspapers that one house on Logan Street survived the flames, and it didn't take long to spot it.  It sat well back from the road, surrounded by a brick wall, its walls made of that "tabby" cement that contained beach sand and oyster shells. It looked lonely in this new neighborhood -- a relic of the past.

If Legare Street draws us back into the world of the past, Logan Street stands as a reminder that time moves on, leaving some behind.  It was a lesson that Jonathan and Susan had to learn for themselves.


Nete: I will be adding these pictures and others to my Pinterest board for Damned Yankee.






Don't Believe Everything You Read. (author edition)

Turning from my academic work about medieval Europe and focusing on America's Civil War was a challenge. The research involved took me to new places and required new skills in interpretation. One such research trip taught me something important about the nature of evidence.  It also set my writing goals off on a new direction.

I was in the public library in New Castle, PA, this time looking for newspaper articles that would reveal how much the people back home knew of the war and how they felt about it. At one point the librarian came back into the archives to chat. She casually
mentioned an elderly gentleman who had been there several years before. He had been looking for evidence that the regimental commander had been having an affair with the regimental nurse. He had insisted that the chaplain had been upset about the affair. Had I seen anything about that, she asked. I dismissed it out of hand. After all, I had just finished reading a typescript of Rev. Browne’s letters, and I had not seen a single mention of such a thing. I dismissed it as utter nonsense. The librarian was relieved; Col. Leasure was a New Castle native and a local hero. She wanted nothing to sully his name.

I, too, put it out of my head for the time being, but I became a bit intrigued by the possibility. Col. Leasure was a dapper little fellow. Nurse Nellie was young and attractive. Rev. Browne was a straight-laced Calvinist. When I went to the Military History Institute in Carlyle to investigate their holdings, I was pleased to learn that they had the original letters from Rev. Browne—some three hundred of them, many more than I knew about. I asked for the collection and put my husband to work on one stack while I plowed through the other. “Look for any mention of Nellie,” I told him.


It didn’t take long! These original letters were full of innuendo, snarling attacks on Nellie’s character, and semi-veiled accusations of improper relationships. It was clear that the good chaplain had hated the nurse with a finely-honed passion and that he resented the fact that the colonel seemed to favor her. But why the difference? When I talked to the archivist there, he shrugged and said, “Well, Browne’s granddaughter was the one who prepared the typescript before we received the letters.”

And there was the answer to at least part of the puzzle. The granddaughter had sanitized the collection, systematically removing anything that might have reflected badly on her beloved ancestor. It didn’t prove, of course, whether or not there had been an affair. It simply explained why I had not reached the same conclusion as the elderly gentleman who believed what Browne had believed.

I remain grateful for the discovery. It gave rise to my next book, Beyond All Price, and in that novel I had to deal with the question of the affair. I won’t give away my final conclusion, but I can tell you that I would have written a much different book if I had not read the original letters for myself.