I received my inspiration for the chapter in Watermark where the steamboat explodes and ultimately sinks by reading the fantastic nonfiction book, The Sultana Tragedy: America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster by Jerry O. Potter. Now, if you’re like me, you probably immediately equate the luxury liner Titanic as the most recognizable and thereby the deadliest maritime disaster, but you’d be wrong. Over 1800 men died on the Sultana—nearly 300 more than did die on the Titanic. The Sultana exploded on the Mississippi River in April 1865, and hardly anyone but the most scholarly of history buffs knows anything about it. And why is that? Because it happened in the same month as the end of the American Civil War and President Lincoln’s assassination. Sadly, it got lost in the headlines.
Sort of brings a lump to your throat to think about all those forgotten dead.
Like a lot of events in history, truth is stranger than fiction. The Sultana was overcrowded with Union soldiers newly released from their miserable internments at Cahaba and Andersonville prisons. The war was over, and they were going home to their families, but one too many temporary patches on a boiler engine resulted in an explosion that killed hundreds and sent hundreds more into the Mississippi River to drown.
The book is gripping and full of personal accounts that will chill your blood and make your heart pound with fear. It’s a survival story, but it’s also a sad testament to human greed and incompetence. The last several pages consist of a somber passenger manifest with asterisks denoting who lived and who died.
The fear that was retold by the Sultana survivors helped me imagine what it might be like for Juno in a similar situation. Although she wasn’t on the steamboat that explodes in Watermark, she’s close enough to get thrown into the Mississippi from the percussion blast. To be swept along downriver while watching the steamboat break apart and burn had to have been terrifying, but even worse, I would imagine, would be having to fight for your life as panicked survivors tried climbing on top of you. Juno experiences something similar, and one can only imagine how desperate such a situation would be.
If you like survival stories, history, and the civil war, The Sultana Tragedy: America’s Greatest Maritime Disaster by Jerry O. Potter, is still available on Amazon by clicking here.
Hello again, folks! Well, as far as my new job is concerned, I’m no insurance prodigy. I work in an eye surgery center, and all my misconceptions that I’m a fairly intelligent person have flown out the window in the ten weeks that I’ve been employed there. I have zero talent for insurance calculations and even less for CPT and diagnosis coding. Woe-is-me.
As for news on the writing forefront, now that I’m employed again (gainfully, if not competently) I finally scraped up the extra funds and entered Watermark in a couple of RWA chapter contests. I’m pretty excited about that! A little extra exposure is always a good thing in an industry that is always acquiring new authors every day. I’ll keep you updated as soon as I hear anything! I believe the finalists will be announced in late summer/early fall.
As for The Pretenders, I’ve finally been able to find the time to jump back in to my writing, so I have high hopes that it will be released later this year! Again, I’ll be sure to pass along any significant updates as soon as I have them.
I realize I've been uncharacteristically absent on my blog for the past several weeks, but I finally got a new job after nearly nine months being unemployed! It's been a huge adjustment, and I've had zero time for my writing. My hope is that things will smooth out in a few more weeks and I'll have more leisure time to maintain my blog and work on The Pretenders, my third book which is currently in-progress.
Again, sorry for the lack of updates on my website, but fingers crossed that I'll get back to some normalcy soon enough. Thanks for your patience and check back again in a month or so!
The poor cat died in the box again.
Alas, such is the way with contests. Competition is stiff, and the chances to break out from the crowd are slim. Like last year, I may rally and enter Watermark in some individual RWA chapter contests, but that decision must wait for now since, ahem, I’m still unemployed after being laid-off last year (my day job was social work). Luckily, there’s chapter contests that are offered throughout the year, so there’s still an opportunity to become gainfully employed and afford to enter an additional contest or two this year. Although I did enter Watermark in the Carolyn Reader’s Choice Award as well, and finalists will be announced in early April, so who knows? As I always say, chin up, buttercup! Nobody likes a crybaby.
Now, as for the RITA finalists this year, here’s the list! I was so pleased to see several self-published books made the cut this year! I’ve already gone through and picked some books out that I’m eager to start reading, so don’t miss your opportunity to do the same. The RITA finalists are a great way to find new authors that might soon become some of your favorites. Enjoy!
This week is a big one for all us romance writers. The Romance Writers of America announce their finalists for the 2018 RITA award on Wednesday, March 21st, and those finalists move on to the last round of judging, which concludes in July. Very exciting, folks! It’s the highest award granted in romance and highlights the best of the best. Several genres of romance are covered: contemporary, historical, suspense, young adult, and so on. As you might already know, this is my second year entering, and so it’s always a very nail-biting morning when those calls and emails start pouring in to the winners. The competition is stiff with 2000 entries, and only about 4% of authors place, but it’s still thrilling to think “what if.” That being said, my next post will either be very ecstatic as I share great news or very philosophical (no, really!) as I share my time-honored tradition of envisioning Schrodinger’s Cat (read 2017 blog entry). Whichever outcome, I hope you’ll stop by next week to find out.
Also, in honor of spring, I did a little spring cleaning on my author website and spruced up the place a bit. I restructured the layout and got my hands on some really fetching fonts! I’m particularly excited about the individual “Watermark” and “Clingstone” web pages. I used my couples as the background for the blog reviews my books have received over the last couple of years, and I gotta say, it turned out great! Unfortunately, the full effect doesn’t translate as well on mobile devices—you can’t see my couples as well—so if you’ve got a free moment, check out my website updates on a laptop or tablet to see the new design. May you be dazzled and awestruck! Or something aptly in between is also fine. Happy spring!
It’s true that some parts of writing are effortless. Sometimes, a scene almost writes itself, and the little creative muses are working their magic overtime. Other times, the muses are nowhere to be seen, or worse, they’re laughing and giving you the bird.
For those who haven’t read Watermark yet, spoiler alerts ahead! For those who have, Corbin Sweeney, the myopic river pirate who is interrogated by Malcolm early in the book, was actually killed by Malcolm in the first draft. And yet, no matter how many times I rewrote the scene, there was no way I could pull off Corbin’s execution without Malcolm coming across as, er, well, a little bananas. Sure, he had excellent justification for executing him—he’d been sanctioned by the townspeople of Cassville to do so, and the story takes place in a time where lawmen were few and far between in that area of the country--but none of those rationalizations translated onto the page. The scene simply came across as too gruesome; as a result, my lovely hero came across as a tad homicidal. Yikes.
Thus began a research quest for deaths related to near-drownings, and hooray! The creative muses sat up and cheered. There’s a rare complication with secondary drownings which involves water entering the lungs and causing a condition called pulmonary edema. Secondary drownings mainly affect children, though, and can take up to 24 hours to fully manifest, but further research revealed that pulmonary edema can result from other conditions besides secondary drowning—pneumonia, heart failure, and as a major complication of trauma victims, to name a few.
According to emedicinehealth, “Non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema is less common and occurs because of damage to the lung tissue and subsequent inflammation of lung tissue. This can cause the tissue that lines the structures of the lung to swell and leak fluid into the alveoli and the surrounding lung tissue. Again, this increases the distance necessary for oxygen to travel to reach the bloodstream.” Symptoms are excessive sweating, shortness of breath, wheezing, and pink, foamy sputum.
Sound familiar? And so the details of Corbin Sweeney’s death fell into place. Although our main characters were never privy to the particulars, Corbin ultimately perished from a massive pulmonary edema triggered by a blunt-force chest injury that occurred during the fight on the keelboat. Mission accomplished! My rewrite allowed my hero to avoid appearing a tad homicidal, and I had fun looking up various morbid conditions that can lead to a speedy death. Win-win! Ah, the joys of writing…
While researching Watermark, there were several resources I mined in order to learn about what life would have been like living on the Mississippi River. One of my favorite and undeniably one of the most prolific resources I came across was a website called, “Steamboat Times, A Pictorial History of the Mississippi Steamboating Era.” I don’t believe the site has been updated for several years, but the site itself is still alive and well in that eternal ether called the internet.
I came across “Steamboat Times” early in my research and was amazed at the architect’s thoroughness. In terms of design, the website is easily navigable with pages broken down into specific vessels: keelboats, flatboats, rafts, steamboats, and so on. It’s also visually rich; as the website title says, it’s a pictorial history and not simply dry facts. There’s a remarkable compilation of daguerreotypes, drawings, watercolors, wood engravings, and maps that depict every vessel imaginable. In addition, the site is a wealth of information on dimensions, steamboat races, the life of boatmen, living conditions, and the dangers they faced on the river. Firsthand accounts of the era are depicted in letters, diary entries, and even court cases.
If you have any interest in what it was like to work and live on the river during the 19th century, or even if you just want to see an example of what Malcolm’s flatboat would have looked like, visit “Steamboat Times, A Pictorial History of the Mississippi Steamboating Era” by clicking here.
I’m happy to announce that award-winning author Regan Walker has reviewed Watermark on her historical romance blog! Click here to read the review.
The small primer that Malcolm gifts Juno in Watermark was indeed an actual 19th century textbook. I purchased it myself in order to get a feel for the lessons in pronunciation and to envision the full scope of Juno’s challenges in overcoming her illiteracy. The version I have was printed in 2002, but it’s an unabridged reprint of the 1824 edition. It’s actually an incredibly efficient little book, and it’s little wonder that it helped “build the most literate nation in the West.” According to the publisher’s note, many of the nation’s Founding Fathers used the Blue Back Speller, as Noah Webster’s The American Spelling Book or A Grammatical Institute of the English Language was commonly called, to teach their children and grandchildren to read, beginning with its first publication in 1783.
In Watermark, the reader only ever sees Juno advance through lesson twelve (helped along by Malcolm’s very creative tutelage), but it’s inferred in the epilogue that she continues her studies and becomes well-educated, which is hardly surprising considering the sheer number of tutorials covered in her beloved primer. The Blue Back Speller is packed full of simple and complex pronunciation tables, but also fables like The Cat and the Rat and The Fox and the Bramble, facts such as the inhabitants of the United States (beginning in 1790 and ending in 1820 in my edition), the names of rivers, lakes, and cities, and the crowning glory, a piece called “Domestic Economy, or the History of Thrifty and Unthrifty.” How scintillating that last one is! A real page turner, I swear…snore…
All in all, I loved writing Juno’s character and her quiet determination to better herself, just as I loved Malcolm’s for admiring education in a woman and encouraging Juno to accomplish her dream with his gift.
Curious about all those lessons and page-turning fables? The Original Blue Back Speller is still available for purchase on Amazon by clicking here.
I completed judging my book assignments in the first round of the RITA contest! Although this is only the second time I’ve participated in the RITA contest, it’s fast becoming a yearly tradition that I enjoy immensely. What better time than January to be shut indoors reading books, am I right? Also, it encourages me to read romances outside my genre; it’s always good to dip one’s toes outside his or her comfort zone. All sorts of new authors and stories are available to you when you do. As a writer and avid reader, I love any story, no matter the genre, so long as it’s an exciting one. I really enjoyed my reading assignments and can’t wait to hear the list of finalists in late March!
Love to read ROMANCE? Want FREE(ISH) BOOKS?
If you said yes to both questions, then please consider signing up to judge in The Carolyn Readers Choice Award contest.
The North Texas chapter of Romance Writers of America is looking for close to 400 romance readers to help choose winners in six romance sub-categories. To be eligible, you must be 18 years of age or older and not affiliated with the publishing industry in any way, to include being an aspiring author.
Judging involves reading the entirety of up to five books and filling out an online score sheet.
Contest closes for entries on Feb. 14 and judging panels will be emailed out during the following few days. Judging deadline is April 14th.
For more information and to sign up, visit http://www.ntrwa.org/thecarolyn/the.carolyn.judge.info.htm. If you have any further questions, contact Jen FitzGerald, the contest coordinator at email@example.com.
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