Monthly Archiv: April, 2014
We have left Kingsley receiving the balance from Grandfather and setting off to Boston to live with his uncle. In the next chapter, having run away from Uncle ‘ Lije, finding work where his heart is — with horses and coaches, he is disembarking from the Yarmouth packet, on his way to seek a loan.
“The Yarmouth wharf was a scramble of luggage, wares and people, but Kingsley was well dressed and top-hatted, carrying a gold-knobbed cane which he could barely afford. However, it was a passport of sorts, and he had no trouble securing a boy to take his valise and the presents he had brought his cousins. The youngster, no doubt expecting a good tip, cheerfully led him through the mob, elbowing an opening when necessary, to the center of town and the Inn.”
And it’s still there. standing straight and tall,looking great. It’s used as a restaurant and tavern now, and appears to do a thriving business. However, it’s nowhere near the waterfront, and I can’t figure out where the wharf would have been. The way I pictured it, as you can see from the above quote, the town itself was hustling and bustling, and the road leading to the Inn congested.
Now comes the joy of being an author. Of course I don’t know what the scene would have been like, in those days, and when I was writing The House of Kingsley Merrick, I hadn’t even seen the Inn. Sometimes it’s a good idea not to verify the details that don’t much matter. It slows you down. It’s bad enough getting the history right!
So, why not invent a little more? The Inn needs to be placed in a context more like the one I describe. So, taking great liberties, I’ve added a few buildings and a road running down to the harbor. The stage coach would have used the High Road that runs in front of the Inn, presently Route 6A. Here’s my rendition: A little Grandma Moses-like but I’m satisfied, even though I can’t create hustle and bustle!
At about the time Elijah Merrick was agitating for a new church that proclaimed salvation for everyone (not just a select few chosen right from the beginning) the young nation was recovering from the financial panic that made 1819 a nasty year for everyone. Such recessions usually occur in the aftermath of war, but America hadn’t had a war before (the Revolution doesn’t count, since no one had any money to lose) and there were huge sectional rifts too, that polarized the country.
New England saw the Federalist party torn to shreds after the Hartford Convention. James Monroe, another Virginian, was elected president, to the despair of the mercantile community. Would tariffs be imposed to their detriment? Would commerce no longer have protection?
But Monroe was a statesmen, causing a Boston newspaper to coin the term “Era of Good Feelings” in describing his presidency. Up until then, no one in New England was feeling good at all, and the country was divided into opposing factions, with the south and the west pitting themselves against the north. But Monroe went on a national tour to help bind the nation into a unified whole, and arrived in Boston dressed up as a Revolutionary War soldier. The citizenry loved it. He came as a head of state, rather than the leader of a triumphant political party. In fact, he ran his presidency without the help of political parties at all, and won election a second time with only one dissenting vote in the electoral college. There! It was the “Era of Good Feelings”. The vote proved it!
But, did everyone really feel good?
No, not everyone. While Monroe hoped that the country could be run by statesmanship rather than politics, the politicians didn’t think much of that idea, and got rid of it as soon as they could. Their man was Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans – the last confrontation of the War of 1812 that in fact occurred when the peace treaty had already been signed. Of course, neither side knew about that detail, communication being what it was in those days.
Jackson was a westerner (from Tennessee) and championed the rights of mechanics, small farmers, and shopkeepers. Aside from being a war hero, he was even more loved because of his elevation of “the common man”. He proved it by inviting the public to celebrate his inauguration. Everybody came, like, EVERYBODY. Vats of alcoholic beverages were set up on the White House lawn, since there wasn’t room enough inside for all the guests in their muddy boots and coonskin caps. It must have been quite a party. At that point, everyone did feel good, thanks to good ol’ Andy.
Elijah Merrick’s championing the common man certainly was in keeping with Jackson’s vision. If you’re going to take a fall from grandeur, that was a good time to do it.
Let’s shift attention to the second book in the Kingsland Series. There’s a lot more we’ll say about This is the House, but my plan was to drift from one category to the other, mainly so I don’t get stuck on just one. (Easy to do. There’s so much background that has gone into the making of the Series that it’s sometimes hard to know when to stop.)
As The House of Kingsley Merrick opens, we are reminded that Elijah Merrick’s ship, (Sweet Charity) was lost when the Boston Port Authority scuttled it, fearing the plague that had decimated Merrick’s crew was still lingering in the timbers and sails and God-know-what-else. (The ancestor on whom Elijah Merrick is based, and did lose his ship, Seven Brothers, in just this way.)
When Captain Merrick returned, he came back ruined. He vowed to serve the common man, since now he was one, and became an ordinary citizen – a farmer – except for his interest in the Universalist Church. “Grandfather” was a political renegade (a Jacksonian democrat) in a Federalist town. (The party had disappeared by then, but its interests were still represented by Jackson’s opponents.) This, however, was not the reason the children at the Academy disliked Kingsley, Captain Merrick’s grandson. Due to mistakes of his father, the boy was from the wrong side of the tracks, and within the first five pages of Chapter One was in trouble at school because of it. The result – banishment to Boston relatives – was a terrible blow to both Kingsley and Grandfather.
When Kingsley was forced to leave Waterford, Grandfather gave him a gift which has special significance for me. By way of reminder, let me quote from the last pages of chapter one:
Grandfather took a small case out of his pocket and opened it, revealing a tiny scale with miniature weights in graded sizes. “This is called a balance. I used it in Africa,” he said, “to weigh gold dust.” He closed it and pressed it into Kingsley’s hand. “Keep it, lad. I hope it’ll remind you to weigh your choices more carefully, next time, and balance your gains against your losses.”
Here it is:
It’s one of our family’s most treasured possessions. There are several references to it here and there in Kingsley Merrick, but by the time The Heir comes along, I don’t find it mentioned at all. I’m sorry about that, because it’s such a cool device and, in fact, beautifully illustrates The Heir’s Epilogue.
My first foray into the world of writing was described in my April 2 post. To continue:
Like most writers, I have always been an avid reader. First came Thornton Burgess’s books:
My father had a whole set of these from his childhood, and I plowed through them all, more than once. But eventually I wanted something with a more human perspective, so the Bobbsey Twins came into my life.
I might not have loved them if I’d seen this cover – in fact, none of the books in my little library had dust jackets. This one is so sweet and sickening I’d have probably scorned it if I’d known. But I didn’t, and there were many books in the set. I read every one I could get a hand on until I met Nancy Drew, girl detective.
Nancy was a great favorite among us girls, and when I was in the fifth grade, a friend and I decided we’d write a mystery novel with a heroine like Nancy. We thought that making up a girl like her, smart, able to solve mysteries that adults couldn’t – shouldn’t be too hard.
(In case there’s anyone who doesn’t know, Nancy’s the 1940’s equivalent of Harry Potter.)
So, my friend and I asked our teacher if we could confer in the cloak room on rainy days during recess. Mrs. Clark agreed nearly instantly, after extracting certain promises about behavior when we were in there. I don’t think she believed we had talent (a little young to judge that, in any case,) but I do believe she hoped this would be a way to keep me out of trouble. In fact, I was a pain in the neck, even when I didn’t mean to be, and I was very lucky that she was willing to go the extra mile instead of banishing me to the principal’s office when it was indoor recess time.
So there we were, my friend and I, now able to take chairs and a table into the cloak room on rainy cold days that winter when the kids couldn’t go out. Our exclusivity was very exciting, but unfortunately we couldn’t agree on a name for our heroine. After several recesses, we decided that each of us would write her own book, though we continued to use the cloakroom whenever possible to avoid the bedlam of indoor recess. But my friend lost interest in this project, and by then it was spring. The playground called.
I didn’t think more about it until the following year when again, indoor recess became a reality. I explained to my sainted 6th grade teacher, Ruth Smith, that I’d been given permission to use the cloak room on rainy days the year before, and could I use it again? She not only gave me permission, but also suggested I read what I wrote to the class. I agreed, though a little reluctant to actually stand up there in front of God and everybody and show what I was made of. But I did, for there were my classmates, who would be given a reprieve from schoolwork while listening to me. But would the kids like what I wrote? Since they’d be getting out of work, I didn’t think the quality of my writing would be a problem for them. I knew no one would make fun of me, but much worse would be their boredom. I could just picture it:
There’s always one person, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, following each word. As for the others…I tried to forget about them. After a few chapters were complete, I DID IT. I told Mrs. Smith that I had enough. She waited until 2:00 that Friday and had everyone clear their desks and fold their hands, with the admonition to listen.
And they did! They listened well. No noise at all. Just me, droning on and on. This would never do! I began to get dramatic, so they wouldn’t fall asleep, and they didn’t! They clapped when I was done, and although I probably hadn’t read for more than 15 minutes, because I didn’t have more than that written. Since our books had been put away, Mrs. Smith gave us the rest of the afternoon to read or draw or even talk (quietly) to each other. Needless to say, I became very popular very fast. And began to write fast, too, because the kids were expecting more the following Friday. In fact, I read every Friday for the rest of the year, about a girl named Peggy who was much like me, always getting herself into some sort of fix that she’d have to figure her way out of. I was savvy enough to always stop just before the resolution of whatever trouble Peggy was in, so the kids would remain interested. I was able to rescue us all from the tedium of having to study late Friday afternoon, but by the end of the school year I was definitely running low on ideas, and was glad when school let out for the summer.
And that was my second foray into writing.
I’m often asked when I began writing, and I answer (somewhat smugly, I’ll admit) “I was eleven years old”. But this is not true. My career actually began a few years before, with the publication of The Bugle. (I apologize for the awkward placement of inserts. Maybe WordPress will help me wrap text around later.)
Now, The Bugle would have disappeared into oblivion (where it belongs) were it not for my mother, who saved each issue. I discovered them when going through her things, and took a few to remind myself of my first writing experience which, until then, I’d forgotten.
I was nine years old, my sister 13, and we were stuck for something to do on a rainy winter’s weekend. My mother had always encouraged creative endeavor of any kind, so we set about being creative, and published a family newspaper. My sister’s printing was nice and neat, as you can see:
But the day arrived, rather soon, when Marcia was no longer interested in printing The Bugle. Undaunted, I forged on by myself:
We had moved to Ohio from the Boston area, and Mrs. Newman was a family friend from our former life. I don’t know what the circled “3” meant – maybe third edition. Please note the weather has been faithfully recorded. There were, of course, other stories of interest:
But the reporter/printer eventually ran out of steam, and so The Bugle was shut down and, the weather no doubt improving, its publisher went out to play.