Off to War – Chapter 2, Scenes 5 & 6

Off to War Cover 1

Off to War

Chapter Two (Shipping Out)

Scene 5

Dearest Father and Mother,

By the time you read this letter, I’ll be far away…

Abigail’s heart froze in her chest as she read those few words. Her maidservant moved to make another curl in her hair, but Abigail waved the woman off. What should she do? Continue reading or wait for her husband? Waiting for Thomas seemed by far the wiser thing to do. He would be able to keep a level head. Yes, he would know what to do.

Moments later, he appeared at the doorway, his features twisted in concern. Abigail couldn’t form the words, so she held the note out to him with a shaking hand.

He read the first few lines and looked up at her, eyes wide.

“Out loud,” she managed, her mouth dry.

Excusing the servants, he closed the door behind them and then sat on the edge of the bed nearby.

“Dearest Father and Mother, By the time you read this letter, I’ll be far away. I am sorry to have to do this in a letter. It’s not fair to either of you. Please forgive me. But I could not risk that you would stop me. What I am about to do is too important.

“I can no longer imagine continuing on here while John is at war, risking his life every day. The thought that I would wake each day not knowing where he is or if he is even alive is too much. I have to find a way to be with him. So, I am joining the women who follow the camps. This is the only way. Do not worry so, Mother, I will be away from the fighting. And I will write often. I love you both. Elizabeth.”

Abigail’s face fell onto her arms on the vanity. “My girl!”

Thomas stood and closed the distance to his wife, placing a hand on her back. “There, there.”

“You must go after her, Thomas. You must bring her home!”

“You know that’s not possible. The train left last night and for where I do not know. She is beyond our reach.”

“No,” Abigail insisted. When John first made it known he had enlisted, Abigail had sympathized with what she imagined Charlotte to be going through. Now she knew all too well the emotions that had coursed through Charlotte on that day.

Thomas’s arms surrounded her, holding her while tears poured forth. But in the midst of it all, Abigail felt moisture on her husband’s face. And she knew, he felt it too. Their daughter had gone off to war.

 

Off to War

Chapter Two (Shipping Out)

Scene 6

Just as Louisa had said, the next day proved to be arduous and every bit as long as she had promised. The train took them as far south as Charleston. From there, they walked for miles upon miles before they set up camp for the night. It couldn’t come soon enough for Elizabeth.

While she considered herself to be in excellent physical condition, young and capable, only a few hours in, her feet hurt. No doubt she had blisters from her impractical shoes. Why hadn’t she thought to exchange those when she bartered for plainer dresses? Her lack of foresight left her with no choice but to suffer.

For the sake of the women, the unit commander did pause from time to time for a break. However, the infrequent stops weren’t quite long enough for Elizabeth’s poor blistered feet. Finally, as evening neared, the unit came to stop and set up camp for the night.

Elizabeth and Melanie had been assigned a tent together with two nurses. Once the tent was miraculously assembled, due for the most part to their tent mates, Sarah and Lily, the girls went to setting out their sleeping mats. The tent only had room for their four sleeping mats to squeeze in, but they were thankful for beds and shelter all the same.

After her mat was set up, Elizabeth fairly collapsed on the padding. She wanted to lay there for the remainder of the day, but that would not be possible. Forcing herself into a sitting position, she pulled one foot close to herself and tried, with great difficulty, to take the shoe off.

“You’re over there grunting and whimpering about something. What’s the matter?” Melanie teased.

“It’s these shoes,” Elizabeth moaned. “I can’t seem to get them off.”

“Let me help.” Melanie came over to take a closer look.

Elizabeth’s face warmed. How was it that she couldn’t even get her shoes off by herself?

“Where did you get such fancy shoes?” Melanie asked, awestruck.

“It’s a long story,” Elizabeth looked away, hoping to dissuade Melanie from further questions.

“But, they…”

“It’s not important,” she snapped, a bit louder than she meant to. “I didn’t mean that. I’m just in a lot of pain. Please,” she begged her new friend. “Help me.”

Melanie untied the shoes and freed the laces all the way down, then worked at loosening the leather. Then she tugged at the shoes with great care. It still took some effort due to Elizabeth’s swollen feet. But after several seconds, Melanie managed to get them off.

Melanie’s breath caught.

“What is it?” Elizabeth worried about what Melanie might have found.

“These blisters. My goodness, Elizabeth! You need to see the doctor about this.”

Looking over her knees, Elizabeth caught sight of her lumpy feet even through her foot dressings.

“No, I’ll be fine.” The words rushed out. A doctor did need to look at her feet and tend to the blisters, but the last thing she needed was for John to find out she was here.

“Let’s take off your stockings,” Melanie countered. Without waiting for consent, she removed Elizabeth’s stockings. Then the angry, red, water-filled blisters on her heels and the pads of her feet were plain to see.

Elizabeth, grimacing, reached out to touch one, but drew back.

One of the nurses had walked back to the tent for something and Melanie beckoned her over to where Elizabeth sat. “Sarah, I am trying to convince Elizabeth that the doctor needs to take a look at her feet. What do you think?

She glanced at Elizabeth’s feet and made a small sound. Then she made her way back into the thick of camp before Elizabeth could protest. Sarah would certainly return in short order with a doctor.

Elizabeth fell back on the cot, throwing an arm over her face. Her well-laid plan was over before it had begun. All of this…for nothing. John would be here in a matter of moments and he would send her back home.

Two sets of footsteps crunched in the grassy area nearby. A whisk of a breeze flew through as the tent flap opened. Still, Elizabeth refused to look up into John’s face.

“What seems to be the problem here?” a male voice said, but it wasn’t John.

Jerking back to her sitting position, Elizabeth sought with her eyes to confirm what her ears had heard. The kind blue eyes she stared into were decidedly not John’s. Had she gotten the wrong unit?

“I have, um, that is…there are some, um…I’ve got blisters,” she managed.

“Is that all?” The man watched her, smiling, and a little laugh escaped from deep in his throat. He was older than John, but not quite her father’s age. And he seemed rather amused at her tongue-tied state. Getting down on one knee, he examined her feet.

“I’m Dr. Smith. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other. There are two other doctors in the unit – Dr. Taylor and Dr. Rhodes. You’ll meet both of them in time.” As he spoke, he began to examine her blisters. “And I’m afraid I’m going to have to lance these.”

Elizabeth nodded. She had known as much to be true.

“Sarah,” he called over to the nurse who stood behind him. “I need some clean bandages and a sterile needle.”

She moved off to fetch his supplies and he let his eyes wander around their tent. Salt and pepper eyebrows went up when he spotted her shoes not far away. When he met her eyes again, it became clear. He knew she was playacting, that she was from an upper class home.

“I hope you have other shoes for the journey tomorrow. There will be more walking and I can’t guarantee it will be any easier in those. In fact, I doubt your swollen feet will fit back into them.”

Elizabeth shook her head, looking down. She hadn’t planned well at all. And now she was terribly embarrassed.

“No matter,” Dr. Smith said, his voice kind and gentle. “I’m sure we can find a spare pair of soldier’s boots. You’ll need a larger size shoe with the bandages on anyway.”

Elizabeth nodded, meeting his gaze.

They both turned as Sarah shuffled back toward the tent with the things Dr. Smith had requested.

Taking the needle in one hand, he clamped a hand around Elizabeth’s ankle. “You shouldn’t feel much, Miss. But even if you do, you must remain as still as you can.”

Nodding, Elizabeth braced herself. But, true to his word, she didn’t feel much of the pin pricks. Then he cleaned them and began wrapping her feet.

“I’ll find you some suitable boots,” he said, as he tied off the last bandage. “I need you to stay off your feet the rest of the evening, understand?”

“Yes, Dr. Smith.”

He stood, turning to leave.

“Dr. Smith,” she called after him.

He turned back toward her.

“Thank you,” she said in a meek voice.

“Of course. Anything for a woman so brave she would leave all behind to join this ragtag bunch.”

Elizabeth nodded. They understood each other. He would not disclose her identity to anyone.

As he left the tent, she lay back on her mat and stretched out her tired legs so she could rest her bandaged feet on her folded jacket. The bed mat, a far cry from the down feather pillows and soft mattress she had back home, was little more than a thick blanket on the ground. Even so, after the exhaustion of the day, it wasn’t long before she slept.

Preparing for a 10K: Getting Ready for a Write-a-thon!

10K-Day-header-cropped

10K days have become a rare treat for me. Funny that I would call them a treat. 10K days are a lot of hard work. You have to push through boundaries and keep writing no matter how much you want to stop. You have set that goal and decide that nothing will stand in your way. Except, maybe you…and perhaps a lack of proper preparation. So, let’s take some time to set ourselves up for success.

organizeHave Your Work Planned Out. What I mean by this, is to know what you’re going to be working on. Which scenes you will be targeting. If you are a planner/outliner, gather those things together. If you’re a pantser (“fly by the seat of your pants writer”), have at least a general idea of what you’re going to be working on and put your “seatbelt” on.

beta readerDo Your Research. A 10K day is not the time to be sidetracked or bogged down by research. And we all know that research can lead to rabbit trail upon rabbit trail. So have that all squared away before-hand. This is one reason why it’s helpful to have a general idea what parts of the story you’ll be working on, so you know what research you must have done. If you typically research the whole novel before you write a word, you’re golden. But, if you are like me, and research lends itself to story/writing, which sparks new ideas and new avenues to research, leading to more story/writing…then I’m talking to you.

Check Your Environment Blog Post (1)Take Care of the Essentials. Have you’re meals at least thought out as well. If you have young kiddos that are going to be home, what are the plans for them? What are the plans for your school-aged kids when they get home? I would take care of these things. Don’t just assume you’ll be done with your 10K words by the time school is out. That is an admirable goal, but it may not happen. Get a pizza or plan on your spouse making dinner…really set the day aside for yourself so you won’t feel more rushed than you have to be.

cropped-webpage-background.jpgSet Up Your Writing Space. Do this the evening before. Remove the clutter and distractions from your space. Have everything set up to make your work more conducive. If you struggle with being pulled by social media or the internet, research some of the apps that block those things while you write. Speaking of social media, do your posting the day before, so you won’t be worrying about it that day. (Unless you want to post updates on your word count so your friends can celebrate with you and cheer you on.)

These are the big things, in my opinion, that need to be attended to in order to be ready for your 10K day. All in all, you want to set yourself up for success. And create a lower stress environment. Get up early, have breakfast, and get to work! But have fun. This is about you, your goal, and your craft. Are there other things you can think of that are helpful to do in preparation?

Off to War – Chapter 2, Scenes 3 & 4

Off to War Cover 1

Off to War

Chapter 2 – Shipping Out

Scene 3

A sharp blast from the train’s steam whistle pierced the air. The train jerked and began its forward momentum. Elizabeth grasped for a handhold as the train started moving. Thrown off balance, she knocked into another young woman who had been sliding past her.

“Pardon me!” Elizabeth apologized, mortified at her clumsiness.

“It’s alright.” The woman fought to right herself amidst the rocking motion. “Are you looking for a seat?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“There’s one available in my car. You are welcome to join me.”

Smiling her thanks, Elizabeth was relieved to no longer have to hunt for a seat in the crowded train. She followed the young woman into a car just a few doors down. Two middle-aged women sat on one side of the car, both dozing. The young woman moved toward the bench on the other side and indicated for Elizabeth to sit beside her.

“I’m Melanie,” she reached out a hand.

Elizabeth shook it. “Elizabeth.”

“This is Louisa and May. Both of their husbands are on this train. Enlisted. Myself, I’m not married. I’m just looking for some way to assist with the war effort. I thought I’d come along and do laundry and mending and cooking and whatever else the men needed. Why, I’d fight if they’d let me.”

Elizabeth nodded, trying to take it all in. She had a lot of respect for Melanie’s passion even if she didn’t share it. Take up a weapon? Unimaginable.

“You?” Melanie’s eyes were bright and earnest.

“Same as you.” Elizabeth plastered a smile on her face. She had not been prepared to answer questions about her presence. “I’m ready to help out wherever I can.”

“That makes us kindred spirits,” Melanie said, her voice elated. “Which is just as well. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other, I’m sure.” Melanie smiled at her.

Elizabeth didn’t know about kindred spirits. Melanie seemed a little chatty for her liking.

“I don’t mean to interrupt your tea party,” Louisa spoke up, opening one eye. “But we will have a long day tomorrow. I advise we all get some sleep if we can.”

Melanie and Elizabeth apologized, sharing another smile with one another. And Melanie quieted down.

Elizabeth leaned her head back and gazed out the window, watching Boston fade out of view. She still couldn’t believe she had done it – left her home and everything she had known to join a Union camp’s Sanitary Commission. Not just any Union camp – John’s camp.

How was she going to keep John from finding out? If he ever did, he would see to it she was sent home. The women that traveled with the troops were either wives coming to help out with the cooking and laundering or nurses for the most part. She would have to steer clear of the hospital and blend in with the wives as much as she could. Which apparently seemed to be Melanie’s plan.

The rocking of the train and the lateness of the hour began to work on Elizabeth, causing her eyelids to feel heavy. In a matter of minutes, she was sound asleep, dreaming of what the next day might bring.

 

Chapter 2 – Shipping Out

Scene 4

One of the Thompson’s maidservants, Alice, made her way into Elizabeth’s room as she did each and every morning. Her job included waking Elizabeth and getting her ready for breakfast. Upon entering the room each day, she would open the curtains and let some light into the room. Any sound in the room was usually enough to rouse Elizabeth. So Alice never paid her much mind until she returned with fresh water, at which time Elizabeth would be getting out of bed and moving over toward the vanity.

Such had their routine become, that Alice moved about her part of the morning independently, not even observing the state of the bed or the absence of its owner. However, as she returned with the pitcher of water, Elizabeth was not at the vanity where she was expected. Instead, Alice found the room quite empty. Had Elizabeth roused and gone somewhere?

Calling for her mistress, Alice moved around the space, glancing back and forth. After convincing herself that Elizabeth was indeed not in the room, she walked over to the vanity to think. And she saw it – the letter inscribed with “Father and Mother”. Something was wrong. She took the envelope and rushed to Abigail’s room.

Alice hurried into Abigail’s room, so disturbed she forgot to knock.

Abigail, at her own vanity, sat in the process of getting her hair curled when. She turned at the intrusion. Eyebrows up, a question graced her features.

“Excuse the intrusion, Ma’am,” Alice said, curtsying. “But I cannot find Miss Elizabeth.”

“Can’t find her?” Abigail’s eyebrows knit together.

“She wasn’t in her room this morning. But I found this note.” Alice handed the envelope over.

Abigail took the it and confusion became concern as she recognized Elizabeth’s penmanship on the front. She ripped at the seal and began reading. A gasp escaped her lips and she grabbed at her chest.

“Go get Dr. Thompson!” she said, looking up at Alice.

A sick feeling filled Alice, but she turned and moved off after her given task.

Off To War – Chapter 2, Scenes 1 & 2

Off to War Cover 1

 

Off to War

Chapter 2 (Shipping Out)

Scene 1

Night fell upon the grand house that the Thompson family called home. All within lay in the comfort of their beds, in peaceful slumber. All but one. Elizabeth strained her ears, listening for any sounds outside the walls of her bedroom. The time had come to put her plan into motion. It pained her to leave like this, sneaking off into the cover of night. But her parents would never let her go if they had any idea. Still, she could not sit idly by if John was in harm’s way. She just had to be with him…somehow.

Grabbing her bag, she packed the few things she might need: clothes, shoes, paper, and writing tools. She had no real idea what she would need for the journey. One thing was clear – her current wardrobe would not do. There weren’t many simple dresses in her collection, so she had bartered for some from a young maid in the house she supposed to be about her size. Even now, she slipped into one of the simple frocks. Thankful for the darker blue of the fabric, she hoped it would make her disappearance into the night easier. As she adjusted the skirt, she noted that it was a bit loose in the waist and bust. But it would do.

A knot twisted in her stomach as Elizabeth set out the letter she had written for her parents to find in her absence. It wasn’t fair. In the letter she apologized as best she could for that and begged their forgiveness. She also explained she would not be able to live without knowing about John’s whereabouts or well-being, that she had to find a way to be with him.

They would shake their heads. And they would try to find her and bring her back. She prayed they wouldn’t be able to. Grabbing the money she’d been able to gather these last few days, she frowned. There wasn’t much, but she hoped it would be enough to buy her passage closer to the front lines.

Moving through the house with soft footfalls, she made her way to the kitchen to gather what foodstuffs she could carry in her satchel. Some bread, a small bit of cheese, and a few apples. What more was there to prepare? Maneuvering toward the servants’ entrance, she steeled herself against what she had to do. Then, opening the door, she slipped out into the night.

As she came back around to the front of the only place she’d called home, she stopped to let her eyes soak it in. Who knew if she’d ever be returning? That evening, when she hugged her parents good-night, she’d had to fight the urge to linger in their embraces. Would she ever see them again? She was determined that she would. So, she kept her good-nights as simple as any other night, not wanting to arouse suspicion.

Yet even as she gazed at the only home she’d ever known, she couldn’t look upon the house without thinking of John and times spent here. In her mind’s eye, she saw him as a younger boy standing outside her window on the street throwing pebbles at her window to get her attention. John. The reason she was doing this. She had to be with him. Her resolve deepened and she turned in the direction of the train station to face her destiny.

Chapter 2 (Shipping Out)

Scene 2

John meandered through the train, looking for an empty seat. He spotted one next to a young man who seemed almost too young to have enlisted. The boy appeared apprehensive about the train ride and, more probable, their destination and what they would face when they arrived.

“This seat taken?” John put on his most charming smile.

“No, sir,” the young boy responded, his voice shaking.

John settled into the seat and took his hat off, trying to calm the boy by doing his best to relax. He stuck out his hand. “John Taylor.”

The boy shook it. “Jacob Moore.” Even his hand trembled as John shook it.

It was difficult for John to think of anything encouraging to say because he couldn’t imagine any reason this young man should be here.

At last, he found some words. “You’re doing your country proud, you know.”

Jacob shook his head. But he still had a haunted look.

Facing forward for a moment, John took a moment to think. The silence between them was thick and uncomfortable. He just had to get a conversation going.

“I’m a doctor. I signed up because I wanted to make a difference. Thought I could do a lot of good for the soldiers getting wounded if they could get good medical attention sooner. What about you? What made you enlist?” he tried.

“M-my older b-brother enlisted a couple of months ago,” Jacob stammered through his simple explanation.

“Ah, what’s his name?”

“Benjamin.” Jacob’s voice was already stronger. Talking about himself and his brother did seem to calm him down some, so John kept pushing.

“Did he send a lot of letters from the front?”

“Yeah! They were incredible. The stuff he wrote about was amazing and I wanted to be right there beside him.” The young man seemed much calmer.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. When we were kids, we did everything together.”

“That sounds amazing,” John said, truthfully. He had always wanted a brother.

“It was. We would play pirates, or cops and robbers, or army. Yeah, we’ve always been there for each other. Do you have brothers?” Jacob’s eyebrows raised.

“No, I have a younger sister. But she never wanted to play any of those games. She just wanted to play princess.” John laughed a little.

“I have a sister, too. I know what you mean.” Jacob’s gaze turned forward and John feared the conversation might dwindle.

“I think girls get better as they get older.” John stretched out his legs as much as the tightly-spaced seats would allow.

“Yeah?” Jacob quirked an eyebrow. His features displayed his skepticism.

John stifled a laugh. “Sure. Don’t you have a girl back home? Someone you care about in a special way?”

“I don’t know.” Jacob’s words came out slow and hesitant. His tone betrayed that he didn’t, but his eyes said that he was at least interested.

“I do.” John laid his head back on his seat. “Her name is Elizabeth and she is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

“That is special. Does she like you back?” Jacob was beyond curious.

Then John leaned toward him as if he were sharing a deep secret. “Oh, it’s more than that, Jacob. We’re in love.”

“How do you know?”

John paused. This was a deep subject to get into with someone you just met. But it kept Jacob’s mind off of what awaited them on the other side of this train ride. So, he decided to share what he knew of love.

“When you’re in love, you want to spend all your time with that person. You get a certain happy feeling inside when you think about her. It’s hard to explain. Trust me, you’ll just know.”

Jacob remained quiet.

“Being in love isn’t always easy, though. Because the women we love won’t always understand the decisions we have to make. We just have to hope they have the courage to support us.”

Jacob nodded, but John’s gaze drifted toward the window and into the distance. He wasn’t talking to Jacob anymore. His thoughts were on Elizabeth and how she tried so hard to understand. But in the end, had she been able to? Already, he couldn’t escape that he missed her terribly.

Check Your Environment: Preparing to Write

Check Your Environment Blog PostIs anyone out there a recovering perfectionist/borderline OCD like me? Didn’t think so 🙂 Well, I am. And sometimes that can cause havoc for a girl trying to get some writing done. I’m all over the place, all the time. My mind is filled with the things on my to-do list (which grows by the minute, especially if my environment is cluttered). I find it difficult to concentrate on anything, much less my characters and plot lines, if my environment is out of sorts. I found that I need to take time preparing to write. What do I mean?

Take time to set up your space. This is best done ahead of time. Have a space that is yours for writing. A place you feel comfortable and inspired. Or at least able to work. Then get to work setting it up with the things you need. Like your research, your notebooks or paper, pens, notes, character sketches, outlines, basically any supplies you think you might need. Take the time to have it all there when you start writing so you don’t have to stop and go looking for it.

organizeMake out your to-do list. This may seem inconsequential, but if I don’t do this, I will think about it the entire time I sit there. If I take a few moments, to write out what needs to be done that day and put it to the side, my mind is more clear for writing.

De-clutter. It may just be me, but who can write with a ton of clutter around them? If I see something out of place in my periphery, it bothers me and distracts me until I get up and put it away. So, my writing suffers. It would be better, to ensure my writing space is as it should be before I get started. Again, this may just be for the border-line OCD-ers out there.

Check Your Environment Blog Post (1)Eliminate distractions. You know what I’m talking about – social media, the internet, e-mail, your phone….the list goes on. There are apps out there (which you can search google for) that will block your access to the internet for a given timeframe (determined by you). And apps that silence/block your phone likewise. These can be super handy if you find yourself intending to sit down and work, but end up an hour later deep into social media. It happens.

All in all, when I sit down to write, I want to be producing quality work. That means I need to take the time to set the stage for said work. What things do you find make your environment more conducive for good work?

Off To War – Chapter 1, Scene 5 & 6

OFF TO WAR

Chapter One (News)

Scene 5

Dr. Franklin Taylor walked into his home and was welcomed by his butler. The man relieved the doctor of his overcoat and bag. Franklin thanked him and moved toward the parlor where he would be certain to find his wife, Charlotte, working on any number of projects. This afternoon, she sat at her small desk writing letters. She had been on such the campaign since John enlisted, trying to secure more support for the troops, and for the wounded soldiers in the hospital. John was proud of his mother taking a more active role in the war effort on behalf of the soldiers who couldn’t help themselves. But it wasn’t for their sake she made such tireless efforts.

As Franklin entered the parlor, Charlotte looked up from her work.

“Good afternoon, darling. You are home early. Is everything alright?”

Closing the distance between them, he leaned over to place a kiss her on the forehead. “Our son has news for us.”

The pen slipped from Charlotte’s fingers. Could her heart take the news? Settling himself on a settee nearby, he beckoned his wife to join him.

“Come, my dear. Come sit by me.”

Her movements were slow, hesitant. But after some moments, she rose and took the steps to where her husband sat.

“Let us just sit together for a while.” Franklin wrapped an arm around her as she sat.

Her brows furrowed as she searched his eyes.

Was his behavior so suspicious? It wasn’t as if they had a loveless marriage, but he had never come home early from his practice to just sit on the couch with her. He sighed. She was bound to at least suspect that he already knew John’s news. Taking her left hand in his, he softened his tone.

“How are Rose’s studies?”

“Quite well. She is in her room even now, busy with school work. Shall I have her come down?” Charlotte shifted as if to stand.

“No,” he said as he moved his hands over her arms, stilling Charlotte.

They sat in silence for a few moments.

“What is this news from John? Do you know?” Charlotte blurted out after several seconds, an edginess in her voice. “Or are we waiting for him?”

Franklin sighed again. He had wanted to wait until Charlotte was much calmer.

“John is coming home soon. He stopped by the practice before lunch and had a discussion with me.”

“And?” her voice rose.

“Charlotte, he is shipping out tonight.”

“Tonight?” The color drained from her features and her body became stiff.

“Yes, tonight. Look, I know it’s not ideal, but we need to be supportive. He’s coming here from the Thompson’s home. He will have told Elizabeth and said his farewells to her. You know how hard that will have been. We cannot make this more difficult.”

She nodded, but the way she drew in a broken breath betrayed that there were many emotions rushing through her. They played out across her face. The news hit her hard.

Charlotte took one more deep breath, this one more even. Then, when she looked at her husband, there was only determination in her features.

Franklin found a smile for his wife. One thing he loved and respected about her was her ability to gather her wits and face emotional situations with grace. And while he would be holding his wife as she cried tonight, he knew that for her son’s sake, she would be strong for him right now.

Franklin kissed the side of her face. “If you’re ready, we need to go upstairs and tell Rose.”

Charlotte nodded. “I’m ready.”

And he knew she was. Ready for anything.

***

Chapter One (News)

Scene 6

The Moore family would never be the same. They had been splintered when the eldest son, Benjamin, had gone off to war. Now they were hopelessly split this night as Henry Moore left his house to take his youngest son, Jacob, to the train station. Martha had not been able to leave her room since news of the early departure reached their home. Had it just become too much for her to bear to say farewell to her second son?

And so, Henry decided he and Jacob would slip out this evening while she napped. Try as he might, Henry had been unable to disguise for Jacob how this affected his mother. How could Jacob not know why she kept to her room? How could he not hear her as she cried at night?

“Please help her understand, Father,” Jacob said as Henry closed the door to the house.

“I will do my best. She will come to understand in time.”

Jacob nodded, his heart aching.

“Let’s get you to the train.” Henry turned in the direction of the train station, putting a hand on his son’s shoulder, clad in Union blue.

Jacob thought he looked rather distinguished in his uniform, perhaps even a bit older. His father even told him as much when he’d first put it on. But he felt a hesitation within himself on this night. He no longer felt the confidence he once had. Yet he obeyed his father and moved in the direction of the station.

They walked much of the distance in silence. Jacob wondered if his father, too, dealt with his own thoughts and emotions about what would happen in the minutes to come once they arrived at their destination. He did. How would they say good-bye? What would it be like to walk away from his father for perhaps the last time?

“Did you pack enough paper to write us?” Henry broke the silence.

Jacob nodded, “I’ll write often and tell you all about what’s happening.”

Benjamin’s letters had become something the family enjoyed together these last couple of months. Jacob could envision his parents and younger sister huddled around the parlor’s fireplace as his father’s booming voice recited his letters from the front. As he dreamed this scenario, he remembered the numerous letters from Benjamin that his father read in just this fashion.

However, this time, instead of focusing on the letter’s contents, he let his mind’s eye take in the people in the room. He saw, for the first time, his mother’s reaction to these letters – relief that they had another letter, fear for her son’s safety, helplessness. How had he never noticed these things before? Had he been so caught up in the grandness of the idea of what Benjamin was doing to see her response?

In that moment, Jacob determined that he would write faithfully, but also that he would guard his writings to give his mother comfort and not cause unnecessary worry.

“Will you write to me and tell me of Benjamin?” Jacob asked.

“Of course. We’ll send word of your brother as often as we have it.” Henry flashed him a half smile.

Neither of them could think of anything else to say the remainder of the walk to the station. As they arrived, they met with ordered chaos. Supplies were being loaded and soldiers were saying good-bye to all manner of family. There were also women registering to join the regiment as part of the Sanitary Commission as well as a myriad of other passengers milling about, saying their farewells and trying to find places for their luggage amidst the soldiers’ things.

Jacob’s gaze wandered across the platform at those families saying farewell. There were no shortage of tears. Though his heart ached to not have a farewell with his mother, he told himself to be glad she had not come. He had no desire to cry in front of the members of his unit. And his mother’s tears would inevitably lead to his own.

Henry clapped a hand on Jacob’s shoulder as he turned toward his son. “This may well be the worst part of it,” his father said, his voice soft and low.

Jacob nodded, a lump forming in his throat.

“I wish I had some great words of wisdom to impart to you, but I have none. You are your own man now and we are so proud of who you have become.” The shaking in Henry’s voice was almost imperceptible. Almost.

“Thanks, Father.” Jacob attempted to swallow past the lump. It was not easy.

Then Henry’s eyes became serious as he laid a firm hand on Jacob’s other shoulder. “Be mindful of yourself, son. Be careful. Come home.”

Jacob nodded, and with a confidence he didn’t quite feel, said, “I will, Father.”

Henry pulled Jacob forward into his embrace. They held each other for only a handful of seconds. Then Henry gave his son one last smile and clapped his shoulder again. His lips quivered, but he didn’t speak as he indicated with a wave of his hand that Jacob should check in with his commanding officer.

As he moved in that direction, a familiar voice called for him.

“Jacob! Jacob!!”

He whirled around, eyes scanning. At last, he spotted his mother running through the station, barreling straight for him. His father reached out to stop her, but Jacob moved around him and toward his mother to embrace her. They crashed into each other.

“Jacob! How dare you try to sneak out like that!” his mother admonished him. The tears rolling down her face wet his neck and the tears forming in his own eyes wet his face. And in that moment, it didn’t matter who saw him crying.

“I’m sorry, Mother, I didn’t want to…I thought…I shouldn’t have.” He buried his face in her shoulder.

“It’s alright.” She stroked his back.

He rested for a few moments more in her embrace. And Henry’s arms encircled the both of them. After some time, his father pulled back, tugging on his mother to do the same. She wiped Jacob’s tears away as she did so.

“I love you, Jacob. Take care of yourself,” she said through her tears.

“I will, Mother. I promise.”

She nodded, straightening his jacket for him.

“You are so handsome in your uniform.” She offered him a smile.

One side of his mouth curved upward in a half smile.

“I’m certain your commander is waiting,” his father interjected.

With slow movements, Jacob took a step back from his parents and, turning, walked toward his commander. After he had taken few steps, however, he turned and saluted his parents, wanting to show them all the love and respect he felt for them in that moment.

Smiling, the dipped their heads in response.

With that, he turned toward his commander and did not look back.

‘Tis the Season: Picking the Right Writers Conference for You

It is coming, folks…for many of us, it is already upon us…CONFERENCE SEASON. Some would argue that it is all year round. And they wouldn’t be wrong. But for many of us, the major time for conferences is during the summer months. For newbies, the number of conferences out there are astounding. Just stay calm, I have some tips to get you through.

start smallStart Small. For those who have never been to a writers conference, I recommend starting with a smaller conference. This is for many reasons: networking is easier, interacting with speakers is less intimidating, there are fewer options to choose from (so you won’t get overloaded with choices on top of everything), and you’ll find yourself less overwhelmed in general in a smaller venue with less people. My first writers conference was a small local conference. I share the details here.

Prepare Yourself. There are some wonderful resources out there to help you prepare. And I share some experience getting ready for a national conference here.

If you plan on pitching, which I think you should (see below), you’ll need a synopsis and one sheet for your novel. Search google for these to get an idea of what agents/editors are looking for.

Plan to take a notebook or paper with you to take lots of notes. Not every conference facility will have a place for you to plug in your laptop (surprise, surprise) and you won’t always have a table to set your laptop on during sessions (but if you are a lap person with your computer, have at it).

And have business cards ready to go. The vital info you need on your card is your name, face, contact info (I would not include your phone number. Media outlets, website, and e-mail are sufficient). If you are a speaker, try to include your speaking subject matter as well.

bob mayer's bookThere is a good book out there I would recommend for getting the most out of your conference experience. It’s called “Write it Forward: Writer’s Conference Guide” by Bob Mayer.

Elevator Pitch to Others. People are going to want to hear about what you’re writing. Be prepared to talk about it. Have your elevator pitch prepared (this is being able to sum up your book in the amount of time it takes for an average elevator ride – about three floors). So, that’s 1-3 concise sentences. But be ready to expand on those 1-3 sentences too. This will be good practice for more formal pitching…which brings me to my next point.

Plan on Pitching. If the conference has an agent, a mentor, or an editor you can meet with, plan on pitching. Even if you’re not ready. If you need to, go in planning on not landing a contract. Think of it as practice. Because that’s what it is: an opportunity to practice, to hone a new skill. Plan on asking questions. But be mindful that you may only have 15 minutes. So, pick that one or two burning question. I talk more about pitching here.

Take Time. No matter how small the conference, there will be a wealth of information available. Give yourself time to decompress, digest what you’ve heard, and bring it back to your work. There may be things that you disagree with, sure, but that doesn’t make it less valuable. Consider it, consider why it makes you react that way…and maybe it is still something not relevant in your case.

All in all, I am very excited. I love going to conferences – learning, networking, and just soaking it all in. If you want to read more about why you should go to a conference, check out my other articles here and here.

Off To War – Chapter 1, Scene 4

OFF TO WAR

Chapter One (News)

Scene Four

The doorbell rang, disturbing the Thompson family’s lunch. In the dining room, Elizabeth exchanged looks with her parents and brother as their conversation halted. No one gave any indication they expected anyone. All they could do was wait until a servant came to announce whomever it was. Everyone set their silverware down, dabbing at their mouths, each readying him or herself to receive the unexpected visitor. They didn’t have to wait long until the butler appeared at the doorway.

“Mr. John Taylor is here to see Miss Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth’s heart tumbled. The hour was early for his arrival. With John shipping out tomorrow, they had agreed he should spend the day with his parents. And that he and Elizabeth would meet later in the afternoon. Had something happened to cause him to change their plans? Fighting a wave of dread that rose from within her stomach, Elizabeth waited for her mother to excuse her.

“Go ahead,” Abigail motioned for her to follow the butler to the parlor.

Elizabeth stood and fell in step behind the tall man who looked after their home.

The parlor, adjacent to the dining room, lay just a short walk away. But today the hall stretched for miles as Elizabeth anticipated what news John might bring. Stepping through the doorway, Elizabeth found herself unable to catch her breath for a moment. John stood tall and proud in his Union uniform. A question bubbled to the surface, but her emotions overtook her and she could not form it into words.

John nodded to the butler before the man took his leave of them, leaving the door open and positioning himself on the other side as a chaperone. Only then did John speak.

He moved toward her, placing his hands on her arms as if preparing to embrace her. “We’re shipping out tonight, Lizzie.”

She held back, moving a hand across her face in disbelief. “What? But you were supposed to leave tomorrow.”

“I know. But things have been expedited. I was informed this morning that our train leaves tonight.”

It was too much for Elizabeth to take in. The room began to spin. She allowed him to pull her into his embrace, but she couldn’t gather her thoughts even enough to put her arms around him. Tonight? But she wasn’t ready! Her plans were not fully set in place yet…

“I know it’s a little sudden, Lizzie. But we knew this was going to happen. It’s just happening a little sooner is all.” He pulled back to look at her and brushed away the tears she didn’t realize she had shed.

“I…I can’t…” she tried.

“Can’t what, Lizzie?” His voice was soft as he tucked an errant curl behind her ear. The touch of his fingers on her skin felt gentle, soothing.

“I can’t say good-bye.”

He wrapped his arms around her again. This time she clung to him and sobbed. It didn’t seem possible, but he held her even tighter.

“It will be alright,” he soothed.

She trembled.

He leaned back, only far enough to capture her lips with his. When the kiss broke off, he held her to himself again.

“I need you to be strong for me now, Lizzie.”

She wanted to be. Breathing deeply, she attempted to reign in her emotions.

All the while, he continued to rub her arms, her shoulders, pressing kisses to her forehead and her hair.

Why did he have to be so wonderful? Tears threatened to break through again, but she held them back.

Once she calmed, he used his finger to tilt her chin so she looked up at him. “Can you be strong for my parents?”

She knew what he meant. He spoke not only of today, but also if something were to happen to him. “Yes,” she lied.

“I know you can, even if you don’t,” he assured her, cupping her face.

She hung her head, fighting more tears.

“Write to me?” he hooked her chin with his finger so she had to look at him.

“Every day.”

“Wait for me?” he asked in the tenderest voice possible.

“Forever.”

John’s face broke out in a slow smile at that.

Elizabeth allowed herself to get lost in his eyes. They belonged together. In that moment, she knew…that’s why he wasn’t afraid. He would return to her because he had to.

His lips met hers again in a gentle kiss. She returned his kiss with everything she had, longing to communicate all of her love, all of her hopes and dreams in that one kiss.

When John broke contact, her head spun.

“I must go.” He blinked, moving toward the door, his step wavering. Was the room spinning for him too? “Know that I carry you with me, Lizzie. Always and forever, remember?”

“Always and forever.” She fought down a fresh wave of emotion, refusing to cry in front of him again.

He reached over and pulled her to him for another quick kiss. Then he was gone and she was alone.

Elizabeth fell to the floor in tears, sobbing, truly sorry for her loss. From the depths of her heart rose a determination to see her plan through. If his leaving was accelerated, so was her plan. She had to get things in motion. Wiping at her tears, she got up. There was much to do.

Reviews: To Read or Not To Read

reveiwI am an author. My books have some reviews (albeit not as many as I’d like). And, while many, many people have really enjoyed my work, there are those that do not. And they will let the whole world know about it through their reviews. I have read some of these reviews. And cried. And cried. And cried.

Putting out a book into the world is like putting out a piece of ourselves. We become quite vulnerable to everyone’s opinion. And, for some reason, we believe that everyone is going to love our work. We may say we don’t, but, in our hearts, we seem to think they will.

I received the advice long ago to NOT read reviews. Period. Did I take that advice? No. Because I thought I could handle it. Could I? Nope. So, my support system was left picking up the pieces of my broken confidence. Now, I know (a little) better. And I am the one advising authors NOT to read reviews. Why?

IT IS ONE PERSON’S OPINION. There is not a whole lot to gain from one person’s opinion. Especially someone from a random walk of life who is not a writer and doesn’t understand the context of your work. If you must read reviews, read through this lens: it is their opinion. What can I gain? Can something they are saying make me a better writer? If so, you can walk away with something. If not, it is not worth you dwelling on.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THERE ARE THOSE OUT THERE WHO THRIVE ON WRITING BAD REVIEWS. I know, I attracted one. Honest. This reviewer’s profile stated that he/she enjoys dishing out harsh reviews on authors that deserve them. Maybe I did deserve some of the things he/she had to say. It was my first novel. I have learned SO MUCH since then. But the tone of the review was definitely meant to tear me down, not simply review the book. So, be aware of this. It’s just best not to go there.

HAVING “HATERS” MUST MEAN YOU HIT A CHORD. What on earth could you have possibly done to upset someone so much to leave not just a negative review, but a nasty review in some cases? This must be something beyond you. Maybe something in your book did strike a chord that made them uncomfortable. This is what I’m left thinking.

HAVING NEGATIVE REVIEWS IS A PART OF IT. All authors have negative reviews. Look up “Pride and Prejudice”. Yep…negative reviews. Can you believe it? Poor Jane Austen is, as they say, “turning over in her grave” I suspect. Not a chance. People come in all shapes and sizes and walks of life and experiences. So, there are going to be those that just don’t care for your work. Just as much as there will be those that love your work. It’s not you, it’s because we, here on earth, are blessed with wondrous diversity.

I truly hope I have given you some reasons to ignore negative reviews, or at least, take them in stride. Better yet, let’s not even read them. But that means we’re not reading any reviews. Well, that’s okay. As much as we like the warm fuzzies that come from positive reviews, they, too, can have an impact on our writing. And I choose to write from the places of my inspiration rather than write to my critics (positive or negative). But that’s me. And that is how I handle my art.

Off to War – Chapter 1, Scenes 2 and 3

Off to War – Chapter 1 (News), Scene 2

Abigail Thompson sat in her favorite chair in the family parlor, working a cross-stitch that would become a decorative pillow. She enjoyed this craft as it gave her ample time to work things out in her mind as she worked the thread with her hands. If only everything could work out as easy and clean as her designs did! As her mind wandered amidst the ornate décor of her parlor, her thoughts dwelt on how weary she had grown of watching her daughter mope around the house these last few days. Since the night of John’s big announcement, Elizabeth moved about her days as if she were a million miles away. Always sad, always downhearted.

Abigail could only imagine the pain her daughter went through knowing her best friend and beau would soon be off to the war, perhaps never to return. It could not be an easy prospect to face. Indeed, they were all shaken by the news. While she admired John’s decision to fight for his country, to stand for the principles for which the Union stood. Still, she couldn’t agree with his decision to leave. As he neared the end of his internship, the prospect of his future lay before him. There was so much good he could do right here in Boston. So many people here needed him. Including Elizabeth.

Gentle footfalls neared the parlor. Abigail paused her work. Whomever dared disturb her solitude stopped just behind her chair. She turned as Amanda, one of the maidservants, came around to face her.

“Excuse me, ma’am. I have the menu for this evening.”

Abgail set her cross-stitch in her lap and, smiling up at Amanda, encouraged her to continue. “Alright.”

“Roast, potatoes, carrots, green beans, yeast rolls, and custard dessert,” Amanda recited.

“Let’s change that custard to a cherry cobbler, but everything sounds fine indeed.”

Amanda curtsied and took her leave.

Every night since John made known his intentions to join the Northern army, the Thompsons and Taylors had dined together. John insisted on spending every available moment with Elizabeth. Even now, she was due back from the hospital. She spent her midday there to take lunch with him. Of late, their lunches became drawn out. Abigail found it doubtful that any of John’s supervisors minded, considering the circumstances. But no matter how long they were together, Elizabeth always returned in a sullen mood, causing Abigail to wonder what they talked about. What did one talk about when you were off to war in a handful of days?

Just then, the front door creaked. It must be Elizabeth’s return.

“Elizabeth!” Abigail called out.

“Yes, Mother?” she heard from the direction of the foyer.

“Would you join me in the parlor?”

“Of course.” Elizabeth let out a deep sigh. She sounded so tired. No – weary, fatigued.

Moments later, Elizabeth came into the parlor, countenance as downcast as ever.

Abigail’s heart broke for her daughter. “Please, sit with me for a while.”

Elizabeth nodded, taking a seat on the settee near her mother’s chair. She seemed disinterested in anything her mother had to say. It was clear all she wanted to do was escape to her room.

Abigail put her cross-stitch to the side. “Tell me. How was he today?”

“Just as he always is…excited about the difference he’s going to make.” The exasperation in Elizabeth’s voice was evident.

“Perhaps he will make a difference. I’m sure he will save lives.”

Elizabeth became quiet. This wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

“But it doesn’t help your heart to hear that, does it, darling?”

Elizabeth shook her head and fresh tears appeared at the corners of her eyes.

Abigail reached out and took her daughter’s hand. “Do not fear for him so, Lizzie. I understand that the doctors are kept far from the front lines in the camps where they can do the most good. He will be out of harm’s way.” Abigail hoped to assuage her daughter’s fears if even the slightest bit.

“John said as much, too. But I don’t know if I can take it. Not knowing day to day if he is well. If he is alive, or…”

“I know, darling, I know,” Abigail said, hoping her voice betrayed the tenderness she felt in that moment.

“If only I could go with him…” Elizabeth started.

“Shhh,” her mother patted her hand. “Darling, you know that’s not possible. Women of our station do not say such things. We will support him in the ways we can. You can join a booster or write letters.”

Elizabeth nodded.

Perhaps Elizabeth didn’t think that Abigail understood. She did. Elizabeth wanted to go with him. But that wasn’t possible. Taking another long look at her daughter, she confirmed that Elizabeth’s tears had been dried, replaced by a look of determination. There now, they would work together to support the cause. And that would be the end of it.

***

Off to War – Chapter 1 (News), Scene 3

Martha Moore stood in her family’s parlor, hanging her head, not able to brace herself against the tidings she just received, stunned. It couldn’t be so. Shutting her eyes against the news her seventeen-year-old son brought to her, she felt faint. She reached for the arm of the closest chair.

Her husband, Henry, must have seen her distress for he reached out an arm to help her sit. Though her husband’s hand stayed on her shoulder for strength and comfort, she felt numb. If only time would stop so she did not have to endure the pain of what lay ahead. The parlor whirled around her for several seconds. This room was filled with happy memories of family times spent together. Now it would forever be scarred with the memory of this interchange.

Her son, her sweet boy, Jacob, barely a man, had enlisted to go to war. Oh, he was old enough to be recognized by the state as a man, old enough to enlist. So, she could do nothing but let the tears come. And she did nothing to stop them. How could he do this to his hapless parents? He was too young to understand the ramifications of what he had done. But, of course, the Union army didn’t see things that way. No, he became one more soldier added to their roster today. That was the price of war.

Martha’s older son, Benjamin, had already enlisted and gone off to war months ago. At that time, they had been proud of his bravery and respected that he wanted to fight for his country. But he was a grown man! And Martha had been naive to the burden of having a son at war. Every day since he left had been a lesson. She had since learned what it was to have a son off at war. Since last she saw his face, she feared for his safety every minute of every day. But at least she’d had Jacob at home. At least, that is, until now.

“Mother, I promise, I’ll make you proud. Just like Benjamin!”

She shook her head. So that was it. He had seen how pleased they were when Benjamin enlisted. Had he been counting down the days until his enlist date? Did he think this was what they hoped for? This was the last thing she wanted.

“You don’t understand, Jacob, I can’t…” Her husband’s grip tightened on her shoulder, cutting her off.

“We are proud of you, son. You’ve done us both proud,” Henry said. “I think your mother is just surprised. We both are.” Her husband’s voice was steady.

How can he be so calm when my whole world is falling apart?

“I know I should have said something first, but I wanted to surprise you,” Jacob said.

“Well, you certainly did that.” Henry smiled at Jacob.

Martha began to understand what her husband tried to communicate. The deed was done. He needed support.

She didn’t know if she could do that. All she wanted to do was scream. What could he have been thinking enlisting? Didn’t he know he was breaking his poor mother’s heart? But she knew she would have to lean on her husband’s wisdom no matter how her heart cried out against it. At this point, there was no going back.

“Do you think they’ll put me in Benjamin’s regiment?” Jacob asked, his voice hopeful.

“No. Not likely,” Henry said, his voice even.

Jacob’s features dropped. It was clear this hadn’t occurred to him.

“But I’ll get to wear a uniform and carry a gun?”

Henry nodded. “Yes, you will.”

Martha’s stomach churned. The thought of her little boy who used to play with wooden guns carrying a real weapon into a fight…it made her nauseated. She looked away lest Jacob see her sickened expression. He was so eager. And he hadn’t a clue. War was a game to him. The reality had not yet set in. Looking back up at her son, she motioned for him to come closer to her.

He did, crouching in front of her so they were eye-to-eye.

“Just promise me one thing, Jacob,” she said, taking his face in her hands.

“What, mother?” his eyebrows went up.

“That you won’t go rushing into any fight. That you will stay back and watch out for yourself.”

His brows furrowed, but he nodded all the same. If he didn’t understand now, Martha hoped at that critical moment, he would remember and heed her advice. And so, she smiled at him and leaned forward to kiss the side of his face.

He accepted her affection, smiling back at her.