Category: story

COUNTDOWN: Three Days to Remember How It Rained

Floodwaters in Alma, Nebraska

THREE separate references to earlier (pre-1935) Republican River floods . . .

 

. . . from Native lore and local retelling, as recorded by Follansbee and Spiegel in 1937:

“For the Republican River, as for many other western streams, there is the usual Indian tradition of a higher flood before the days of the white man. Engineers, in the course of their investigations of the flood of May and June of 1935, found three separate references to such flood. An old Indian in the vicinity of Benkelman made the statement that 40 years before he was born there was a great flood 2 feet higher than that of 1935. As he was about 70 years old, this would date the legendary flood as approximately 1826. A resident near Cambridge stated that when his father settled the Republican River bottoms would be flooded out, as he had seen, while a boy, the waters ‘extending from bluff to bluff.’ At Red Cloud several residents stated that one of Chief Red Cloud’s relatives who lived nearby was authority for the statement that more than 100 years ago a flood covering the bottoms “from bluff to bluff” had occurred. These statements are consistent and apparently had partial historic confirmation. At the time of this earlier flood there were no white settlers in the Republican River Basin, and the only white travelers were fur traders on the way from St. Louis to the Rocky Mountains and points beyond. Search through the available writings of these travelers fails to reveal any reference to such a flood. It is therefore necessary to rely on inferential evidence from localities where whites had settled.”

(Follansbee and Spiegel, 1937, pg 50.)

*photo by Webber from noaa.gov, courtesy Joe Torrey

COUNTDOWN: Five Days Until Release for Remember How It Rained

 

FIVE HARROWING DAYS

. . . in history, as the 1935 Republican River Flood disaster unfolded, traveling from west to east:1

  1. Intense rainfall in Eastern Colorado on May 30, 1935, set the flood in motion.
  2. The river floodwaters first gathered on May 31, 1935 in Colorado, near the town of Cope.
  3. The flood gathered strength from tributaries as it flowed west, reaching Oxford, Nebraska around 4 a.m. on June 1st.
  4. Superior, Nebraska flooded by 1 a.m. on June 2nd.
  5. Floodwaters reached Clay Center, Kansas on June 3rd by 2 a.m. See maps and diagrams of the flood’s progress here.

*photo from noaa.gov, courtesy Joe Torrey

I’d Rather Forget the Whole Thing

It’s Easier That Way, Right?

We’ve all said it. I’d rather forget the whole thing. And it’s true. Given the choice, we’d rather leave behind the unfortunate twists, the impulsive decisions, and the sad endings. We’d toss the old newspapers, Photoshop the mugshots, and rip those ambiguous, embarrassing relatives from the family album.

We tell ourselves, let it go. Nobody wants to see that side of who we are. That might be Too Much Information. Worse, people will gossip, laugh or judge. It’s tempting to retouch or select our pictures, maybe even our entire history, to show only our best, public selves. All ballet and balance, no banana-peel slips or pratfalls. No driving off the bridge. But nobody can hold that pose or balance for long.

The truth is, everybody falls.

Individuals. Families. Cultures. Nations. Although painful, a fall can be more telling, more significant in forming character, than the bounce that preceded it. As individuals, as neighbors, as citizens and as cultures, we have fallen and will continue to fall. Sometimes we lie to cover what we’ve done, to avoid consequences, or to look better than we are. Sometimes we twist things around, bragging about our shameful actions. We record them and put them on Facebook or Twitter (those places where nothing is forgotten). We lose our capacity to see ourselves honestly, in our broken, hilarious, fragile, destructive humanity.

At our worst, we’ve also lied, blotted records, torn out pages, violated others and cultivated ongoing disasters that might yet be averted. A false self-esteem that insists it’s never fallen, has never done wrong, and then blames the victim is the core of narcissism.

How to Be a Real Hero (not that guy)

When seen through a lens of humility, the history of our falls becomes the essence of our heroic journeys. We fall, but we can get up conscientiously. We can ask what happened. We can show remorse, learn from errors, listen to others, acknowledge harm, resolve to do better, and ultimately, initiate durable reconciliation. Maybe even build a better world.

But It’s So . . . Embarrassing.

Falls and failures are by nature unpleasant things we’d rather forget. We are (knowingly or unknowingly) guilty of ongoing indifference, racism, unjustified violence, even acts of terrorism and racial extermination. These are not mere incidents, but ingrained habits. We’d rather omit the ugliness, but if we find and acknowledge our place in our (his)tory, we claim the power to write a new chapter and a better ending. We earn a shot at being truly great.

Let’s remember together, doing the research to fill in the blanks. Let’s read and write stories that bring overshadowed facts into the light. There are funny parts we can remember, too, and golden, everyday moments we should cherish.

Durable, Everyday Things

Remember our ancestors and how they lived. Let their voices and ongoing presence inspire us. Admire the toughness and sacrifices of those who came before. Celebrate the myths, question their origins and open up history to diverse narratives and voices. Let’s examine our stories with humility and courage, and then resolve to make amends. Let’s earn a truly heroic tale to tell our children.

Sometimes You Need to Go Home Again

Find your place in a story. It’s my mantra, my trademark, my storytelling obsession, to lead readers into history to find something new, something worth keeping, and better yet, something worth changing. Remember How It Rained, River Saga Book Two will take my readers back to the American Great Plains in a time of economic depression and drought, the 1930s. It was a desperate, dirty, thirsty, hungry time that shaped our families and our nation. Bootleggers, sharecroppers, gangsters, wayward women, abandoned children, stingy relatives, child labor, bare-knuckle fights and time served . . . and that’s just my family. In ways your family may not even be ready to admit, the Great Depression probably shaped you, too.

In Remember How It Rained, Maggie, Jack and Kuruk are still reeling from what they suffered as children. They must decide to either keep running or dare to return and remember. Facing the truth of the past and taking action can be terrifying, but remembering is where justice begins.

So, dear readers, Remember How it Rained is coming January 27, 2017. If you’d be so kind as to share this post, I’d greatly appreciate it.

I’ll be celebrating the novel’s release with a book club that’s grown near and dear to my heart, The Book Babes of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. People talking about books . . . what a great way to remember who we are.

What better way to find your place in a story™?

 

(Thanks to http://publicdomainarchive.com/public-domain-images-1920′s-vintage-mugshots-nswpd-special-photographs/ for images in this post.)

 

 

Delbert’s Weir, a great YA survival story

Welcome to Delbert’s Weir, a great YA survival story by Carmen Peone

Today I have the great pleasure of introducing a Women Writing the West® member and author friend, Carmen Peone, and her novel Delbert’s Weir, a great YA survival story. I read this novel last week and found it not only an intriguing survival tale, but also a believable and engaging coming-of-age story.

Clearly Carmen has history parenting, teaching or otherwise guiding teenaged boys! She captures the language and nuances of growing friendship, emerging Christian faith and everyday conflict among 16-year-olds. She’s also done her historical and cultural research, which I respect immensely. This historical novel comes alive in her well-crafted words.

delberts-weir-ebookforweb

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Summary: In a time when the west was still untamed, sixteen-year-old Delbert Gardner leads two friends into the backcountry for a three-day adventure. Little did they know three days of hunting and fishing would turn into eight days of near starvation, injury and illness. When hope of returning home seems out of reach, Delbert recalls watching his Native American friends construct a fishing weir and sets out to build one himself. To him, it is the only way out.

A Story that Begins with Family

Carmen Peone has family history among the Colville Tribes and spent a great deal of time gathering information from tribal members and history about something I’d never heard of . . . a fishing weir, a fencing and net apparatus used to capture fish in rivers and streams.

Native Fishing Weirs and the Columbia River

Carmen shared with me these insights to fishing and weirs in Native life along the Columbia River:

“For the Plateau Natives, salmon was the main staple. That is until Grand Coulee Dam was built in 1942. In the final draft of the plans for the dam, a fish ladder was omitted. Since then, salmon have ceased the 700-mile migration to the Kettle Falls to spawn.

“Elders talk of young warriors standing out over the falls on wooden platforms with large nets catching those salmon that were too weak to jump the 50-foot falls prior to the dam’s construction.

“Legends, including how Coyote brought salmon to the people from the mouth of the Columbia River to the Arrow Lakes band of the Colville Tribes, have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries in an oral tradition. Those legends have now been recorded and can be found on the tribe’s website: colvilletribes.com. Sons and daughters of elders are currently recording legends so the flames that keep culture brightly burning in the hearts of the people remain alive.  Tradition and culture are fading as young people’s interests have turned to technology and the future.

weir-1“The Colville Tribe is sinking its hooks into the past, dragging tradition along, breathing new life into an almost forgotten slice of culture–fence-style weir fishing. I have managed to dredge this custom from the bottom of the river, helping the tribes bring it into the forefront with a new young adult fiction book titled Delbert’s Weir.

weir-2

“Four years ago, Tribal Fish and Wildlife erected an aluminum fence style fishing weir and stretched it across the Okanogan River near Omak, WA. They now catch thousands of salmon each summer, filleting and freezing the meat for tribal members and their families. It may not be wind dried like the old days, but it is a way of providing traditional food to the people. The fishing weir is the inspiration of my book Delbert’s Weir. The weir in my book is actually made of cottonwood, the traditional wood used in this area. My character uses horsehair to tie the poles together. Indian hemp or the inner fibers of cattail stock or tule were used as well. Both fibers were also used to make fish nets.”

I appreciate Carmen’s presence  on my blog, and I highly recommend Delbert’s Weir to those adults and young adults interested in Pacific Northwest Native histories and traditions. It’s a great read for deepening historical understanding of the Colville Tribes and insight to their relationships with the earth and water. It also could be used to prompt discussion about how environmental changes and government water management policies deeply affect diverse communities’ traditions and food resources. All in all, Delbert’s Weir is a well-told story of finding one’s courage to survive, with a can’t-put-it-down opportunity for deep learning across cultures.

An Excerpt from Delbert’s Weir:

He watched the leaves of the quaking aspen ripple in the breeze as if to encourage him. “Get up. Keep going,” is what they seemed to say. His mind flashed images of him watching Pekam. He and some other men walked up a stream and pushed fish toward traps. The same traps he’d made.

Delbert jumped to his feet and sprinted to camp. He shook each tent, even his own in the wake of excitement and yelled, “Get up!”

Jed popped his head out first, a grumpy frown on his face.

Ross attempted to open his blinking eyes.

“Come on. Get dressed. Daylights a burnin’. We’ve got work to do.”

Ross rolled over on his back and groaned. “What’re you babbling about?”

“The traps are empty, but I have a plan.” Delbert shook the tents until the boys crawled out. “Pekam spoke to me. No, God did, through Pekam.”

Jed’s sleepy eyes strained to focus. “What?”

“This better be worth it,” Ross sneered.

“I was sure there would be fish in at least one of them. But listen, when I was young, I saw Pekam and his pals walk up a creek toward different types of fish traps filling ‘em pretty fast. I think we should try it. It’s like herding cattle, but with fish. In water.”

“Now?” Jed complained. “Can’t we at least give the horses a drink first?”

Delbert turned his attention to Jed. “When did you start caring about the horses’ well-being?” Delbert felt hair on the back of his neck spike outward, so he spoke in a calm, slow tone, “Did you hear me?”

“Yes, I heard you. Did you hear me? It’s early. I wanna finish sleepin’.”

“Sure ya do.” Ross walked off.

“Hey, we can water the horses. Then how ‘bout trying to catch some breakfast.  How’d ya like worms for breakfast?  If you’re really fast, maybe you can snatch a grasshopper or two with a flick of your tongue.  I’ll start callin’ ya frog, or does toad suit ya?  Or would ya like to go on a Sunday afternoon stroll?” Delbert felt his patience leave his body as quickly as his last meal disappeared from his fish-oiled fingers.

Ross glared at him.

Delbert held out his hands. “You got a better idea? We’re outta of food. You think it’s gonna magically drop on our plates, cooked and all?” His tone sounded as impatient as a hungry wolf.

“Well, no…” Ross slouched and rubbed his eyes.

“Well, let’s get goin’.” Delbert marched toward the beach. He sat on the cool, damp sand, tore off his boots, and rolled up his pants. He slid the tip of his toe in and shivered.

Jed grunted and followed. He sat beside Delbert and peeled off his socks.

Ross straggled behind. He sat a spell before he yanked off his boots and rolled up his pants, grumbling about the injustice. “Maybe we need to cut off the legs of our britches. I have a feeling we may be in there–a lot.” He tilted his head toward the creek.

Delbert stared at his bare feet. No need to stir those two up any more than they already are. “Okay. Let’s walk downstream a ways, check things out, and meander back up.”

“Yep.” Ross’s eyebrow twitched. “Whatever you say, boss.”

Ross’ll be eatin’ his words soon enough.

carmen-peone-2forweb

Author Bio:

Carmen Peone has lived in Northeast Washington, on the Colville Confederated Indian Reservation since 1988 gleaning knowledge from family and friends.  She had worked with tribal elder, Marguerite Ensminger, for three years learning the Arrow Lakes-Sinyekst- Language and various cultural traditions and legends. She has owned and trained her horses for thirteen years and competed in local Extreme Challenge Competitions for three years.  She lives with her husband and tribal member Joe.  They have four grown sons who are also tribal members and seven grandchildren.  With a degree in psychology, the thought of writing never entered her mind, until she married her husband and they moved to the reservation after college. She came to love the people and their heritage and wanted to create a legacy for her sons.

Buy Links for Delbert’s Weir:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=carmen+peone

Barns and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/carmen+peone?_requestid=709814

Carmen Peone’s Links to Social Media:

Website and blog: http://carmenpeone.com/

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4862063.Carmen_Peone

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarmenEPeone/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carmenpeone

About me: http://carmenpeone.com/about/

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Carmen-Peone/e/B00A92O4R4/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1451363711&sr=8-1

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=AAIAAAc0cLgBl2D1zC4yDzz9aHb0cyvqDneZFA0&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/carmenpeone/

 

 

 

 

A New Kind of Rain

A Change in the Weather

You could say it’s a new kind of rain. Or seven kinds, to be clear.

Imagining, researching, crafting and editing. Three years of cultivating Seven Kinds of Rain are about to bear fruit. That’s a long time to wait for a crop, but so it goes with writing novels. Seven Kinds of Rain, River Saga Book One is available for purchase this Friday, July 1.

I’ve read about and walked through the environment and history of my beloved Nebraska and Kansas Republican River Valley. I’ve developed, challenged, and deepened my characters. The result? Seven Kinds of Rain is a story about the early 20th-Century Great Plains, about marginalized people who struggle to survive. It’s also about how, by reconsidering history, we can make the world a better place today.

http://klynwurth.net/book/seven-kinds-of-rain-river-saga-book-one/

What About that Bird? And Is That a Tornado?

Now, a little background for the cover design. The magpie represents not only actual birds who appear in the story, but also Magpie, a significant and powerful figure in Pawnee culture and legends. Magpie also becomes the nickname for a character, Margaret Rose. The window and wall where Magpie perches represent an inside view of the riverside treehouse where the three children gather. The storm clouds in the distance and the descending tornado signify the importance of rain and weather disasters in the characters’ interests, in the plot and in Great Plains history. As for the title, I’ll leave you to read the book to find out what that means. I can’t tell you everything!

Writing Brings Change

Since my first novel’s publication in 2013, I’ve become more deeply committed to this writing life. I’ve met people who’ve read The Darkwater Liar’s Account, and they’ve overwhelmed me with their love and support. I’ve made countless friends through Women Writing the West, strong writers who’ve improved my writing and galvanized my commitment to telling stories of the Great Plains and the American West. You can learn more about that here.

Available Now, for Your Imagination

Book marketing is harder than writing, and much less fun. The shameless self-promotion involved is embarrassing at times, and I’m no social media whiz. Yet, I’d like to invite you, gentle reader, to take a chance on my novel, Seven Kinds of Rain, River Saga Book One. And then, if you like it, recommend it to a friend or leave a brief review online (amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or Goodreads.). The number of words doesn’t matter…as in so many things, it’s just showing up that counts.

You can preorder Seven Kinds of Rain now online (CreateSpace, Amazon or Barnes and Noble), if you like to shop that way. It’s also available through Ingram’s bookstore distribution service, if you prefer to shop at your local bookstore on or after July 1, which I strongly encourage you to do. I love bookstores. I need bookstores, and so do you. So please spend money there whenever you can.

But Wait…There’s More Coming!

I hope you’ll read and enjoy Margaret Rose, Jack and Kuruk. They’ve become some of my favorite people, so much so that I had to give them another book to live in, along with more changes in the weather. You’ll read more about them in Seven Kinds of Rain‘s sequel, for now mysteriously subtitled Book Two of the River Saga. I’ll announce that novel’s full title later. I’m hard at work on the sequel’s rewrite (meaning the full story’s on paper, undergoing quality reconstruction.) I intend to publish River Saga Book Two in January of 2017, so you won’t have long to wait for more of the same characters you’ll come to know in Seven Kinds of Rain.

For those of you who are already ordering, reading and reviewing Seven Kinds of Rain, thank you for your interest and kind comments. I treasure you, my readers. I hope my writing will be some of your best summer reading.

With words of gratitude and love,

Kelly

A New Place, a New Story

k lyn wurth great plains and western fiction

Announcing a New Place

Thanks for visiting my blog. This is a where I write at length about the research, references  and influences that inform my writing. This blog is a peek behind the curtain, but there’s a new place, a new story…

Find Your Place in a Story™

There’s a new trademark, too, giving greater emphasis to what I hope for my readers, that they will find their special place and a more meaningful life in the stories I tell.

To learn more about the purpose and heart of my writing, and my commitment to writing about the Great Plains and American West, I invite you to visit my new web site:

http://www.klynwurth.net.

horseshoe from klynwurth.net

Go West, my readers, go West, and Find your Place in a Story

find your place in a story trademark K. Lyn Wurth

Nebraska, 1900: Where Are the Pawnee?

Sculpture near Naponee Nebraska

Driven From Home

In my upcoming novel, Seven Kinds of Rain, one of my main characters is Kuruk, a Kitkehahki Pawnee character born in Oklahoma around 1904. As a child, he runs away from different Indian schools to finally establish a tenuous existence in the heart of his ancestral homeland. Yet, in the early 1900s there were few, if any, Pawnee tribal members living in that part of Nebraska. For my writing, I set out, into libraries and on a trip through the Republican River Valley of Kansas and Nebraska to more deeply understand this change.

Looking back to Nebraska in 1900, where are the Pawnee?

For the following information, I draw heavily and cite page numbers from David Wishart’s powerful book, An Unspeakable Sadness: The Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians. I encourage you to consult it for more information on the course of Indian tribal histories in Nebraska. It was one of my most useful resources for understanding the devastations of regional history, and gave me insight to the injustices visited on Plains Indian tribes in the 1800s and 1900s.

The Pawnee’s Chaui, Skiri and Kitkehahki bands traditionally inhabited much of the region the U.S. divided into Nebraska and Kansas.

Pawnee territory map

They made their homes, circular, domed riverbank earth lodges, and raised some crops, living off native plants and hunting native animals.

model of Pawnee earth lodge

model of Pawnee earth lodge at Pawnee Historical Museum

They seasonally migrated west for buffalo hunts, utilizing portable hide-covered dwellings.

Pawnee Family Summer Home

I learned about Kitkehahki Pawnee band plains life, as it flourished in the 1700s and early 1800s, at the Pawnee Indian Museum near Republic, Kansas, where I saw this and other Pawnee portraits by George Catlin.

George Catlin painting of Man Chief, a Kitkehahki (Republican) Pawnee

George Catlin painting of Man Chief, a Kitkehahki (Republican) Pawnee

A series of government-engineered cessions of Pawnee lands during the 1800s (most of which occurred against a backdrop of tribal starvation and decimation by disease) drove the Pawnee into smaller and smaller spaces. By 1844, the meager Pawnee annuities expired, and in 1848, they lost rights to all lands south of the Platte River. (Wishart, 66) By 1858, all four Nebraska Indian societies had sold the last of their tribal lands, apart from small reservations. (69) Neglect by reservation agencies, conflicts with White settlers, and repeated intertribal conflicts further weakened the Pawnee, making Nebraska reservation life near the Loup River at best unstable, and at worst, untenable. (132)

An 1857 treaty required all Pawnee children between the ages of seven and eighteen to attend school. (179) The continuity of Pawnee culture was even more completely disrupted, as was that off all Indian tribes, by the American government’s Indian School policies of the 19th and 20th Centuries. One such Indian Industrial School was located at Genoa, Nebraska, and while some Genoa and other Indian school students reported being pleased with their American education and acculturation, for many others, their separation from family and the attempts at assimilation they suffered were devastating, sending trauma down through generations of Native families.

Genoa Indian Industrial School

Genoa Indian Industrial School photo from usgennet.org

After the Kansas-Nebraska act, and by the 1870s, the Pawnee in Nebraska suffered from White settlement and theft of Pawnee land and resources, including timber, along the Loup and Platte rivers. By 1873-1875, the Pawnee were squeezed out and relocated to Oklahoma Indian Territory. (188)

Nebraska, 1900: Where are the Pawnee?

On their allotted reservation lands in Oklahoma, the Pawnee and other Plains Indian tribes came together to embrace change, wrestling with the government for decades and adapting to survive legislated deprivations and broken promises. Some of the young people became outwardly modern, educated in White ways, even as their elders preserved traditions, as in this photo.

Pawnee father and son, 1912

Pawnee father and son, 1912

Long removed from their ancestral lands, the Pawnee have re-established a presence on their sacred land near the Loup River, an interesting development I’ll address in a later post. Both on and off the reservation, the Pawnee flourish and their population is on the rise. But in the early 1900s, a Pawnee character in Nebraska would seem to have been unlikely. Yet, from my authorial standpoint, one seemed necessary, to expose and explore the injustices of history.

So Kuruk Sky Seeing came to be. I hope I have done him some justice, by showing his dispossession, his fragility, and his tenacity in the place he insisted on calling home, against a world that insists he doesn’t belong off the reservation.

 

*All page numbers (in parentheses) refer to: Wishart, David J. An Unspeakable Sadness: the Dispossession of the Nebraska Indians. Lincoln, Neb.: U of Nebraska, 1994.

 

 

Little Servants

Little Servants

Children at Work in the 20th Century

 

The little servants were everywhere . . . until 1938, when President Roosevelt’s Fair Labor Standards Act included some of their concerns, American children were subjected to all manner of exploitation, service and labor, unprotected by any national laws. It’s sometimes said that, had the Great Depression not made adults willing to work for a child’s wage, reform may not have happened even then. Before Roosevelt’s Act, a 1916 national child labor law went into effect to block interstate transport of goods if underage laborers were involved in production, but it was struck down in 1918. In 1924, Congress attempted to pass a constitutional amendment to protect children, but it was blocked and eventually dropped. Children were fair game in America in the early 1900s, both in their families and in society.

1280px-AddieCard05282vLewisHine

“Frequently beginning their working lives before their tenth birthday, children worked in hazardous jobs at mines, mills, factories, sweatshops, and on farms, with little or no wages. Labor laws did not exist, and the common perception of the ease with which children were manipulated made them targets for a variety of rights violations.”1

While laws protect most children today, their labor remains unregulated in American agriculture. The 1938 federal laws still allow children as young as 12 years old to work unlimited hours before and after school in the ag sector. As a result, as many as 500,000 children pick almost a quarter of America’s harvested food, and they’re sorely underpaid. Some may assume this is an immigration issue, or describes children who work on prosperous family farms, but most of these working children are American citizens who suffer from poverty so intense, they can’t afford to buy the food they harvest.2

My grandmother, Laura, was born in 1906, into a world where children were often seen by many as little servants, small adults expected to work to survive, often in fields or factories. Readers may have seen Laura’s handwriting and read her ledger notes in my first novel, The Darkwater Liar’s Account. Before she was the young housewife recording how to make her own soap from lard and lye, she was the abandoned child left at a Lutheran orphanage in Fremont, Nebraska.

For some orphans in 1911, adoption offered a chance to be part of a family, but this didn’t happen for my grandmother. When she was five years old, she and her sister were placed with different families, and Laura’s didn’t choose to adopt her. They wanted a worker, so in the official census in 1920, she’s recorded as a “boarder” at that family’s address. In truth, she was a hard-worked child servant in a household that looked down on her, even as they provided the bare essentials. A typical Christmas gift was a few yards of cloth for that year’s dress. Her responsibilities included taking care of children not much younger than herself, and she was whipped for their misbehavior. There were no laws to protect children during her childhood, and no loving parents, in her case.

My grandmother’s story, like many stories of the little servants who worked in America, remains a mystery. We’ve never located either of her parents, and we don’t know why her father left her behind, promising to return, and yet, never did so. Family mysteries inspire stories, and my grandmother is the inspiration for Margaret Rose and the little servants, the unwanted children in my new novel, Seven Kinds of Rain, to be released this summer. My grandmother was quieter than Margaret, but surely had as much grit, to survive as she did.

magpiealonebw600

I think readers will like Margaret Rose, who earns the nickname Magpie in the story. She’s smart and takes on all comers. Here’s a little of Maggie’s voice, as she considers the woman she works for, in Seven Kinds of Rain:

“In one carton of books up here, I found Fowles’ New Easy Latin Primer. It teaches a funny language nobody speaks, but it’s a mother to other languages. It has no letter W. Latin is confusing, so I asked my teacher about declensions. She said it’s not a usual question for an eight-year-old girl, but she explained well.

“Trying to forget about Florence, I sit on my mattress to look at the Latin book. My teacher says I’m lucky to have a special talent to remember everything I read and with Latin, I have my own secret language. Maybe for a diary, or if I have a friend someday, we can use it for secrets. To help me feel better, I also found some little swears nobody will understand, but nothing bad enough to send me to hell. Like puter anus, which means rotten old woman but sounds worse. And verres and clunis, hog and buttock.

“Remembering Florence’s red, crying face distracts me from the Latin on the pages. I’m sorry for her and want to forgive the whippings and missed school. The Latin swears help a little, like letting steam out of my hot kettle, but I can only say them in the closet or up here. It doesn’t help that Florence’s little pointy teeth and long nose remind me of a fox, vulpes. If she looked softer, more like a rabbit, lepus, I’d feel more like petting her, and less like trapping her and pelting her out.”

Watch for more information about the world of Seven Kinds of Rain in upcoming posts, with Maggie and her friends, Jack and Kuruk. Then the book comes, in summer, 2016, for you to find yourself in the story.

Be sure to subscribe for updates, and follow K. Lyn Wurth on Facebook, to stay up-to-date. And thanks for reading. I appreciate every one of you!

Notes:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_labor_laws_in_the_United_States
  1. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/do-children-harvest-your-food/254853/
  1. Child photo from Wikipedia, “Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill. Vt.” by Lewis Hine, 1912 – 1913. E. F. Brown – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, National Child Labor Committee Collection, Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-nclc-01830 This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID nclc.05282.

Magpie and Ancestral Voices

Mr. Magpie photo by Keith Williams to be used on Seven Kinds of Rain book cover

In my upcoming novel, the title of which I will soon announce, Magpie and ancestral voices are inseparable. Magpie is a figure of myth and a real bird, but also the nickname for one of my central characters. In the story, Margaret Rose doesn’t choose that nickname for herself, but it is apt. She’s both dark and light, smart, vivacious and a bit of a thief. Like the bird, she’s smart, sensitive, loyal and eager to make use of what others leave behind.

I harbored some reservations about including magpies in my Nebraska stories. I wondered if they truly inhabited the Republican River valley, as I couldn’t remember seeing one when I was a child. I try to mind regional details, as well as historical ones, in my writing. As if to answer my concerns, when I drove along the Republican River last year for my research trip, a magpie flew low along the roadside where I traveled, showing me his white belly and glossy blue-black plumage. It seemed more than a random wildlife sighting, perhaps even a blessing on how I’m weaving the birds, the characters and the myths of Magpie into my novels.

Magpies, mystery, meaning and myths run through my writing, alongside what history would retell and science would prove. Margaret, my novel’s Magpie, loves both stories and science, as do her friends. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss about other folktales, rhymes and mythical threads I’m weaving into the early 1900s characters, along with scientific theories and historical events.

The epigraph I’ve chosen for the book is a verse from Psalm 78. I claim no Biblical authority with these words, nor do I announce any religious theme or agenda for my little book. Rather, the quote expresses my belief that we should hold on to all the stories we receive from ancestors, and bring them to light for generations.

I will open my mouth in a parable, things we have known from of old, things our ancestors have told us.         Psalm 78

When we braid the old stories with our own, our lives become an extension of those who stood in this place before us. Even if the storytellers are not related to us by blood, their stories are one with this place, and their voices can deepen and amplify our own accounts.

No longer wandering alone in the midst of our facts, may we find ourselves illuminated by the multitude of ancestors, their presence, whimsy and wisdom. May our children and grandchildren, well-educated in science, consider also the light of history and myth.

(I’d like to give special thanks to Keith Williams, the photographer who captured this brilliant photo of Mr. Magpie, which I use as the featured image for this post. He kindly gave permission for me to use the image on the book cover of my upcoming novel…what a great guy, and an amazing photographer!)

A Special Sort of Patience

Thirty years ago, I was a young mother with two preschool children, one of them less than a year old. The necessities of life transplanted me to a tiny house in a tiny South Dakota town, where I was lonely and exhausted, with a touch of the postpartum blues. There were cloth diapers to wash, a home to maintain on a shoestring, cheap meals to prepare, a baby to nurse, kids crying and laughing, me crying and laughing and not one friend within a 500 mile radius. Life took a special sort of patience, then.

It was a good, messy, joyful and hard time, and I sensed even then that my children would bring me a lifetime of rewards. Yet, in the midst of it all, something was missing, specifically the creative writing process that inspired me as a college student. In a life-changing moment of temporary insanity, I resolved to add fiction writing to my hectic days.

So at five a.m., while everyone else slept, I would seclude myself in our little enclosed front porch. There were no heat vents out there and the chill poured off the old storm windows, requiring socks, sweaters and, if memory serves me, a blanket over my shoulders. I wrote for a while by hand, then bought a used typewriter (a major investment in those lean days). Between ideas, I’d sit looking at my reflection in the glass (which is all you can see at five a.m. in South Dakota in winter, in case you wondered) and make up stories. Some were long and some were short, and few were notably good. But I knew I ‘d learn, if I didn’t give up.

In order to have something else to look at besides my own ghostly pre-dawn image, I took a 3×5 piece of notepaper and wrote on it a quote from Gustave Flaubert.

Talent is a long patience.

I taped that quote to the woodwork between the windows above the typewriter. Of course, the day I copied it down, I didn’t imagine how long my patience would need to be, to become the writer I hoped to become. And yet, I was already a writer from those first days, because I was putting down stories, editing them and sending them out.

This was back when we ambitious, wordy folks with delusions of publication typed stories on paper and sent them through the mail. With stamps. You know, to publishers and editors, who sent back rejection letters. If you remember, you probably did it, too. I looked forward to the rejections and those mostly-kind editors sent many, but I kept writing. I took pride in having been gently, even personally, rejected by some of the best publishing houses in New York. Yes, a personal rejection with a note of encouragement went a long way, in those days. I even had a close call, coming a hair’s breadth from having a short story published in Redbook. An agent represented my second novel manuscript, and I felt discouraged when that story didn’t become a book. Now I’m glad it didn’t. It wasn’t ready and neither was I! But I kept writing, and more short stories and novel manuscripts followed, along with skill and confidence. They were just the practice I needed.

Because practice didn’t put bread on the table, I pursued other lines of work, some quite happily. I went to grad school, studied writing and medicine, ran a home-based writing and graphic design business, learned about the world from different viewpoints and raised my family. Writing fiction and telling stories ran through it all, like an underground river, coursing unseen while sustaining me.

The tools changed . . . I graduated from typewriter to word processor to computer, from dot-matrix to digital printing and from typed letters to email. Publishing changed, too . . . it opened to everyone, even as it became more challenging to land a book contract with traditional publishers.

an occasional payment for words

an occasional payment for words

Inevitably, I changed, as well . . . there were personal problems, life problems and health problems. Unforeseen interruptions appeared to veer me off track, then turned out to be the stuff of life and writing. It’s been quite a time, the past thirty years. Good news, though. Everything got better! (Everything that matters, anyway.) Even my writing skills, apparently, because a few stories found publication in journals and in an anthology, The Arduous Touch: Women’s Voices in Healthcare. Every now and then, a check came my way. I went out on a limb and embraced publishing my own novel, The Darkwater Liar’s Account, in 2013, a grand adventure because talent isn’t only a long patience, it’s being willing to take a risk now and then. I have two more novels sitting on my desk right now. One is en route to an editor, and the other, its sequel, is a completed first draft.

In thirty years, some things haven’t changed, perhaps most notably that I’m still writing. I enjoy research and growing stories out of what I learn, about life on the Great Plains and in the West, history, family life and health. That scrap of note paper with its message is constant, too. Eleven different apartments and homes have housed me since I first taped up that quote. Everywhere I’ve gone, it’s followed. The tape’s changed so often, the paper’s upper edge is tattered as if someone’s been chewing on it. It’s a little wrinkled, too, like me. We’ve both proven ourselves in ways that the twenty-something girl I was wouldn’t have expected, and may have terrified her, had she known.

Talent is a long patience.

 As I write this, I look up and it’s there, between the windows in my workshop, over my desk. The words still inspire me. After all this time, I don’t intend to lose them.