Monday, June 21, 2010

a dandy comes to call, part 2

When Alston appeared in my bathroom, I was surprised -- but not by his contention that I'd misjudged him. After all, that's what scoundrels always say when cornered. "So you're the hero." I cocked an eyebrow at him. "Difficult to believe when you dress like a war profiteer."

He tugged at his waistcoat, the brocade too bright, the buttons too large and brassy. "Ghastly, isn't it? Effective, though. Priscilla was taken in as well."

Deep in the bath water, my hands clenched into fists. If he had purposely misled my heroine, I didn't want to hear any more. "So you're a walking lie."

Alston jerked to his feet, every line of his body stiff. "Duty and honor are my life." The corners of his mouth sagged, weighing down his shoulders. "I just never dreamed that fulfilling one would force me to abandon the other." He slumped back down onto the side of the tub, and I wondered which he had chosen. "It is far more difficult than I supposed to be a spy."

A spy? At last his claim that "I am not at all what I seem" made sense. "You're a Union spy, working undercover in the South!"

He nodded, and the misery on his face quickly erased my elation at having learned his secret. "That's why I'm here," he said. "I need your help. I'm hoping you can write me out of the mess I've made."

I studied him for a moment. He might just be playing to my writer's vanity. But if this was an act, it was a good one. "It sounds as if we have a great deal to discuss."

The light came back into his eyes. "You'll write it?"

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

a dandy comes to call

The book I'm currently shopping to editors and agents is nothing like the book I had in mind when I sat down to write it. In fact, about the only parts that have survived are the setting (my hometown of Wilmington, N.C.); the Civil War time period; and the names of three characters.

The book I set out to write was intended for pre-teens in the 10-12 age range. My premise was that young people were forced to grow up much faster in the mid-1800s, and so took on extremely adult roles and responsibilities. I thought young people of today would be surprised to learn about some of the jobs they might have held if they had lived 150 years ago. I wanted to show teens from a variety of backgrounds and classes, and I wanted to have their stories revolve around the fall of Ft. Fisher, the amazing-but-relatively-unknown Civil War battle that had been steeping in my brain for nearly thirty years.

Almost immediately, four characters between the ages of 13 and 15 began clamoring for my attention. Priscilla was a Wilmington girl, daughter of a prominent merchant, wealthy and a bit spoiled. Jaime was the son of a Cape Fear river pilot; when I met him, he was on his first blockade-running mission. Ben, son of a prominent Union admiral, had just arrived on the flagship of the Union blockading squadron to serve as a cabin boy, and participates in an attack on Jaime's ship. Caleb, a slave boy, fishes for the food that graces the table of his mistress, who owns the boarding house in Smithville (today's Southport), the town where all the Cape Fear river pilots live. The book also had several minor characters, including a bona fide dandy war profiteer conceived as a pure plot device. My dandy didn't even have a name. All I knew about him was that he was a scoundrel.