Ella Wood and the Grimke Sisters

ella wood

Another post in a series about writing and researching my upcoming young adult historical fiction novel, Ella Wood.

I had created the character of Emily Preston as a slavery-questioning Charlestonian long before I heard of the Grimke sisters. I knew there had to be dissention in the South; not everyone could be a rabid, card-carrying Secessionist. But because of the heavy-handed tactics employed by those who advocated slavery, it was difficult to find real life individuals who spoke up in the face of intense persecution. Angelina and Sarah Grimke did just that.


Sarah Grimke

Sarah was born in 1792 and Angelina in 1805, to a well-to-do, slave-holding family. Their father, John Faucheraud Grimké, was a Revolutionary War hero, judge, and politician. They were 2 of 14 siblings, not all of whom lived. Angelina was the baby.

At a young age, Sarah began to hate the abuses she saw heaped upon the slaves in her own household and spoke out against them. She took a primary role in the raising of her younger sister, actually talking her parents into letting her become Angelina’s godmother. It is no surprise that Angelina adopted Sarah’s views on slavery. Both of the girls’ diaries are filled with their emotional responses as well as their pleas with friends and family to eradicate slavery.

Their admonitions had little effect on Charleston society or even within their own family. In 1821, Sarah moved North to insulate herself from the institution that so disturbed her, eventually embracing the Quaker faith. Angelina followed in 1829 and also became a Quaker. Eventually, amidst a great deal of persecution even in the North, both joined the Abolitionist society and became outspoken proponents of emancipation as well as forerunners for women’s rights.

Angelina Grimke.

Angelina Grimke.

Sarah and Angelina feature only peripherally in Ella Wood. I don’t even model Emily after them, as her personality and motivations were already fully formed. But the Grimke sisters serve as verification that my story is plausible. Perhaps the biggest contribution they make to the figure of Emily Preston is in their frustration with the limits of a girl’s education and the resulting lack of marketable skills as an adult. Both Grimke girls were well-educated by standards of the day, but Sarah in particular longed to expand her mind beyond that which was acceptable. She tried studying Latin and law, but was ridiculed by both her father and her closest brother and gave it up. Later in life, she futilely sought employment but had to content herself with living as a dependent in the household of friends. Again, Emily’s passion for further education as well as her frustration at societal restrictions were already in place, but I’ve drawn inspiration and verification from the historical figure of Sarah Grimke.

To Kill a Rumor About a Mockingbird: Have it Be True

Michelle Isenhoff:

I’m taking advantage of the reblog feature again. I’ve been wanting to sneak this one into my schedule since reading it a few weeks ago. Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of my favorite classics. (My review: http://michelleisenhoff.com/2011/05/20/to-kill-a-mockingbird-by-harper-lee-book-review/) This post contains some very interesting news about another Lee book. I hope the rumor is true!

Originally posted on Wing's World:

“When he was thirteen, my brother Jem had his arm badly broken above the elbow.”

Two points if you can identify the book and the speaker of that quote; an extra point for identifying its place in the novel. (Note to my former 10th grade English students: you better know this one!)

‘Course, my post title’s a bit of a giveaway. And it’s possible that I’ve quoted imperfectly. Thing is, that quote’s from memory. Want some more?

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.”

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

“Pass the damn ham.”

OK, that last one’s not particularly significant–except that it makes me laugh. Which I guess is significant. Considering that To Kill a Mockingbird is, nearly 55 years after publication, still the most widely-assigned…

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The Fault in our Stars, by John Green

faultI’m going to tackle a major pop phenomenon by reviewing John Green’s story of star-crossed cancer patients almost a year after the movie came out. And my opinion will probably differ vastly from the scads of teens who flocked to theaters and as well as the confirmed “Nerdfighters” dedicated to the 2012 book.

The Fault in our Stars is a sweet romance between two teens with cancer. Green does a marvelous job getting us inside Hazel’s head and creating not just sympathy (that’s easy) but relatablity with a character who totes an oxygen tank and participates in experimental cancer treatments. Her boyfriend, Gus, an athlete who survived his carcinoma but lost a leg in the process, is hugely likeable. Their relationship is quirky and unrushed, their dialogue witty, and I was cheering for them both all the way.

If that’s all it was, a teary little romance, I’d give it a glowing review. I really did enjoy the story. But I have three strong cautions for you, moms. Hazel and Gus do have sex. Just so you know it’s in there. And the book includes a good deal of language, including a vast amount of profanity involving the names of God and Christ. The last one is a little more sneaky but not at all subtle. That would be the deeper philosophical issues expounded upon at length. Basically, Green has created two kids facing untimely death and used them to write an emotional theology for atheism.

A few quotes:  “I’d always associated belief in heaven with, frankly, a kind of intellectual disengagement.” “I fear your faith has been misplaced–but then, faith usually is.” “You are a side effect of an evolutionary process that cares little for individual lives. You are a failed experiment in mutation.” And “I am in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.” Getting the picture? It’s a veiled reincarnation of the age-old question, “How can God be real if there is so much suffering in the world?” John Green’s answer? He can’t be. We are just by-products of the unfeeling course of the universe.

Meaningless, all is meaningless.

That’s the book in a nutshell. And while I found Hazel and Gus’s story engaging and beautiful, their conclusions were utterly hopeless and depressing and contrary to everything I believe. This one will not be getting passed along to my daughter.

Charleston, Here We Come!

ella woodAnother post in a series about writing and researching my upcoming young adult historical fiction novel, Ella Wood.

As I mentioned earlier, my husband and I celebrated our 18th anniversary in Charleston, South Carolina late in the fall. What a fun, fabulous trip! One I’d recommend to anyone looking for a great city to explore. Blessed with temps in the high sixties (In charleston map blogDecember! We Michiganians were loving it!), we stayed two nights in the historic district. Aand when I say historic district, I’m talking about 1-1/2 or 2 square miles. Charleston is located on a penninsula that juts out into the harbor where two major rivers converge. The historic district takes up the entire tip. The 1855 map I’ve included should give you a good idea.

We spend most of those first days just walking around, familiarizing ourselves with the layout of the town, locating significant historical sites, and admiring the architecture. Fabulous architecture. Street after street after street of it. Many of the homes date back to antebellum–even colonial–times. It 075felt like we could have been walking around in 1860 if it weren’t for the cars. City building codes are very specific about keeping the historic feel. Only one towering condo slipped in before the law that prohibits building above a particular height. With the low skyline, church steeples are predominant on the horizon.

The third night we spent on Charleston’s north side where we were within an easy drive of Middleton Place, plantation home of the historically signficant and politically active Middleton family. (Also the site of the garden party in Mel Gibson’s “Patriot”.) Several guided tours familiarized us with the family and gave us a good look at the lifestyle on a plantation. Fabulous guides answered dozens of my questions. And the gardens provided plenty of plant names that made their way into my book.

Charleston houses are usually one room wide to aid air movement during tropical summers.

Charleston houses are usually one room wide to aid air movement during tropical summers.

We also got to see the river tides change, miles upriver from the ocean. (Tides were important in the production of lowland rice.) I jotted down lots of notes, lots of pictures, and lots of impressions. We even got a good look at a family of alligators who call the lawn home.


Middleton Place

We spent an afternoon on Sullivan Island, just across the river from Charleston. We toured an aircraft carrier docked in the harbor (hubby’s choice), ate at a great BBQ place, and stood in Fort Moultrie where the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter.

Our kitchen house guest quarters at Mansfield.

Our kitchen house guest quarters at Mansfield.

Our last two nights we stayed at a bed and breakfast at Mansfield, a privately owned plantation an  hour north of Charleston. They have a fabulous website that I had visited several times during my research–which is actually how the idea for the trip began. Several of the outbuildings have been remodeled into guest quarters. We stayed in the old kitchen house. Kathy, the host who lives on site, was wonderfully gracious, and golly could she cook! The B&B was secluded, quiet, with lots of acreage to roam. We just had to watch out for alligators on the path that ran along the river and through the rice fields-turned-bird santuary. A perfect way to wind down after lots of active tourist time. And since the weather turned sour, we even relaxed with a movie or two.

In conclusion, it was the best anniversary ever. I’m not sure how to top it. Maybe I’ll set my next novel in Scotland? :)

I’ll end with a few more pics.

Along the East Battery in Charleston...lots of antebellum mansions.

Along the East Battery in Charleston…lots of antebellum mansions.



These tiny courtayards are squeezed between every house in Charleston.

These tiny courtayards are squeezed between every house in Charleston.



Alley in Charleston.

Alley in Charleston.


Entryway to the Manigault House, which we toured.


At Fort Moultrie, which fired on Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War. You can just see Fort Sumnter in the harbor behind us.

A little better shot of Fort Sumter.

A little better shot of Fort Sumter.

Charleston street.

Charleston street.

In front of the only slave mart still standing in Charleston. It's now a museum.

In front of the only slave mart still standing in Charleston. It’s now a museum.

This Greek style is everywhere in the city. Many buildings survived the war and the fire.

This Greek style is everywhere in the city. Many buildings survived the war and the fire.


Residents at Middleton Place.

Me, declaring the Sullivan Island lighthouse is UGLY compared to our Great Lakes lighthouses.

Me, declaring the Sullivan Island lighthouse is UGLY compared to our Great Lakes lighthouses.


Live oak-lined drive leading to Mansfield Plantation. You can see some of the tumble down slave quarters. The chapel and one house have been restored.

Miss Kathy, our wonderful hostess at Mansfield.

Miss Kathy, our wonderful hostess at Mansfield.

Two thousand year old live oak at Middleton Place.

Me befriending a two thousand year old live oak at Middleton Place.








Introducing…Ella Wood

ella woodMany of you know I’ve spent the winter working on a new volume of historical fiction. Ella Wood is a sequel to my middle grade novel, The Candle Star. (It’s free. See my sidebar.) Due to reader request, I decided to follow Emily Preston home to South Carolina and continue her story. However, as Emily is now 16 and standing on the brink of Civil War (and as most of my readers continue to be grownups), I choose to make Ella Wood young adult instead of middle grade. As such, I’ve doubled the length and added some romance. It will be the first in a trilogy that takes Emily all the way through the end of the war.

Ella Wood has been stretching me in ways I hadn’t imagined. First, I’ve never been much of a romantic, so including a love triangle has proven extremely challenging. Also, though I’ve written several works of historical fiction, they’ve never been of such ambitious lengths. In addition, there’s a good deal of research required, as you can well imagine. I love it, but it takes copius amounts of time. Then, of course, I have to be careful to write inside that historical box. I’ve even found that characterization changes when you have twice as long to illustrate a personality–and you end up with twice as many characters! Definitely a stretcher for me. But I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge.

I still have some work ahead of me. I hardly dare give a release date more specific than “May”. It’s a whole new ballgame and none of my estimates have proven accurate. It will be done when it’s done, and that won’t be till I’m completely satisfied with it. But I thought it was time to make introductions anyway.

Over the next weeks, I’ll be including a few posts about Ella Wood‘s creation. I’ll let you in on some of the background details and share a few fascinating tidbits I uncovered in my research. My husband and I also journeyed to Charleston, South Carolina at the end of last year for some on-site exploration. I’ll share some of the highlights (and some great pictures!). I hope, through my chronicle of posts, that you can get an idea of what goes into the production of a novel and that you’ll share my excitement for its upcoming release.

First post coming soon! I’ll collect them all in the “Ella Wood” category way down my sidebar.

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883

Treasure_Island-Scribner's-1911We tackled another classic as part of our homeschool reading curriculum, Treasure Island. I knew the antiquated language would prove plenty challenging for my tween boys, but I really wanted them to experience the original instead of an abridged version. So I read it to them. It was a good move.

Treasure Island is classic adventure story. Pirates, treasure, suspense, a dangerous voyage. It’s right up a boy’s alley. My guys ate it up. I had to explain some vocabulary. And there were plenty of times, especially when the pirates were talking, that the vernacular got pretty crazy. At those moments, I plowed through and then gave a brief explanation the end of the paragraph. They enjoyed the sound of the old pirate words, even if they couldn’t always follow the train of thought. I enjoy the language because it’s so colorful and inventive without being crass.

We sometimes had to stop and discuss the characters as we went along. They needed some guidance on who were bad guys and who were good guys. Long John Silver is a particularly dynamic character, deceptive and sneaky but so charming. I helped them locate clues in the text to sort out motives and then make predictions about what Silver was really up to. Once they identified personalities and motives, my boys had no trouble following the characters through all the twists and turns, and, yes, violence. An awful lot of fellows meet their demise in this one, good guys and bad guys alike. It’s not terribly bloodly, but the pirates are pretty horrible, greedy, callous individuals.

So this brings up a really good question…if it’s so difficult and so violent, what age recommendations would I make for Treasure Island? As far as an independent reading level, unless your child is an exceptional reader, you should probably save it for junior high. The old language makes for tricky reading, and you really have to follow carefully in some parts to understand that slippery fellow, Silver. As far as graphic content, it’s not terribly bloody for all the violence. And I actually appreciate that pirates are portrayed realistically, as the nasty outlaws they were. Long John Silver is not an eccentric, loveable Jack Sparrow. He’s evil. So I’d probably say seventh grade for independent reading, but as a guided read aloud, third or fourth grade should be fine.

Thumbs up for this old-fashioned boy adventure. It was not an easy read. It required some explaining and some critical thinking, but we all enjoyed the adventure. There is historic and literary value in a book that has stood the test of time. I think it’s worth a little effort to mine out the gem.

The Stone of Valhalla, by Mikey Brooks

valhallaWow! I’m afraid I might have to do a little gushing on this one. This is middle grade fiction at its best. An epic adventure I’d put side-by-side with names like Spiderwick and Fablehaven.

I actually listened to this one as an audiobook from Audible.com to give myself a break during our read aloud time. Narrator Shea Taylor is a wonder. The way he creates a distinctive voice for each character and flips between them so effortlessly left me in awe. Seriously. I really enjoyed listening. Unfortunately, I’m such an extreme visual learner that I miss a lot when I only take in info through my ears. So after listening with my boys, I’d sneak off and reread the chapters.

Funny enough, I was a little apprehensive going into this one only because my brain resists when it enters a world not familiar to me, where the rules all change. Such is the case in the two other books I’ve read by Brooks. I always struggle with abstract Otherworld settings. But in Valhalla, the Otherworld is akin to our Middle Ages. It’s comfortable. It’s solid. I’ve studied a lot of history, and stepping into this book felt like stepping into a world of times past that I love so much, only with magic. The world building was one of my favorite elements.

Another is the trio of heroes. Aaron comes from our world, so when he befriends Bran and Rosella, some great moments of humor arise. Yet they all find a common denominator in simply being kids, and they keep a tight friendship despite some, uh, shall we say undesirable circumstances? For the three of them are each keepers of a piece of the all-powerful Stone of Valhalla, which the Goblin King will do anything (and does!) to claim for himself.

Squeaky AwardSamarlidi the crotchety old wizard (love him!) and Klara, an equally crotchety old lady, make for a great secondary plotline. The dialogue between them is filled with snarky comments that sometimes made me laugh out loud. The plot is well thought out, with some twists and turns I didn’t see coming. And as for style, I give this one bonus points. There are some lovely, poetic moments, yet Aaron is so darn unassuming that his point of view adds an honesty and innocence to the thoughts being presented and magnifies their beauty.

This is fine literature, suitable for ages 9+. I give it my absolute highest honor by bestowing a Squeaky Award. It is among the few and proud.

Grab a copy! Kindle editions are only .99, and audiobooks are currently an amazing 1.99.