Working Title: Suzanne, The Midwife
This Book Is In Development
Suzanne Morse, a midwife in Watertown, moves to the remote frontier town, Groton, Massachusetts with her husband and two children in 1666. A hands-on practical woman who needs people, she bonds with the first two women she meets. The minister’s new wife, Abigail Willard, wants to learn Suzanne’s trade. At the same time, Dancing Light, a renowned medicine woman in the Indian town across the river, calls her to heal her sister with white medicine. In no time, Suzanne becomes known as an effective healer among Groton settlers, and Reverend Willard certifies her, a necessity to practice in the Puritan colony. However, the friendship between Suzanne and Dancing Light--the two collaborate with long forays into the wilds to gather herbs--arouses the town’s approbation. Abigail, too, is compromised when her servant, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Knapp is “bedeviled,” famously accused of being a witch. Some villagers project their fears on the neighboring natives, as well as anyone who befriends Suzanne, friend of a witch doctor. In 1675, when King Philip begins to attack colonial settlements throughout New England, the townsmen arm and build garrisons to defend themselves. After the Nipmuk sachem, Monoco, lays siege to and destroys Groton, the settlers turn on Suzanne. Notwithstanding she’s lost her sister, Joseph’s brother-in-law, and his uncle John Morse (a captive), the townsmen bar her and her family from the rescue caravan to Concord. In jeopardy, the family flees through spring-snowy forests on foot to her brother’s house in Watertown forty miles away, but not before Dancing Light warns Suzanne that Monoco plans to ambush the rescue caravan. It is the beginning of an existential crisis that may take her down.
I'm currently leading a book group reading "An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States." The author points out that England sent very few trained military personnel to the colonies. The colonial armies were made up of irregular fighters, settlers trained to fight outside any organized military institution. They believed the Indians were trying to take land that they held legitimate title to, land the English King had granted them. The result? They fought with extreme violence using special operations. These armed militants cold enter an Indian town and kill every man, woman and child with no repercusions from a military tribunal, no court trial. They targeted noncombatant civilians and their food supplies, seeking to remove them forever.
. I just found in my reading that the Puritans suffered an epidemic in towns surrounding Boston in April 1676 that sounds exactly like the pandemic we are suffering now. Since Major Simon Willard, age 71, succumbs to it (more than 600 died from the highly contagious upper respiratory infection that mimicked pneumonia), I have to add a few more chapters. I can’t resist the opportunity to illuminate harsh current events in the softer light of history. The Major, charged with commanding all of Middlesex county militia, dies at the darkest point in the war. Though the British have succeeded in killing the greatest Indian tactician and warrior Canonchet a few weeks earlier, in a Divine tit for tat, the British lose the Major. Towns are crowded with refugees who have lost their farms and livelihoods as the Indians push on toward Boston, to sweep the colonists into the sea..
Puritans pointed to the Indians as savages. Often, they were horrified at the dismemberment of victims, the torture of captives, and other methods of terrorizing the squatter settlers. However, most of what horrified them was common practice in English history. Scalping, for example dates back to the eleventh century when the Ango-Saxon king substituted the scalps for the heads of combatants. In fact, the Massachusetts aliance offered bounties for the scalps of Indians during the Pequot war in 1636. Armed settlers were paid differing rates for the scalp of a man, a woman, or a child. That custom remained in common practice throughout the history of the United States, coast to coast. Heads or limbs on pikes? The Puritans were mistaken if they thought only the "devil" Indians could perform the acts. European history is a ripe source for every kind of torture and desecration under the sun.
Suzanne's story is bounded by her gendered position within the society; for the most part women were bystanders in conflicts unless they were under direct attack. Unlike the men, they were not enlisted nor conscribed; they didn't drill for militias. What they knew of the outside world was filtered through their menfolk, some more reliable sources than others. Abigail Willard becomes Suzanne's greatest blessing; a reliable source of news from an irrefutable and powerful center. Not only is Reverend Willard dedicated to truth, but he is the son of the Major Willard, who is directly connected to the militias for the colonial enterprise. In this conversation, the woman sort through what they have heard to make sense of their world.
The Puritan minister of Groton, husband of her best friend Abigail Willard, warns Suzanne that the town views her commerce with the Nashua shaman Dancing Light with suspicion and asks her to demonstrate her faith by converting her Indian friend. In this story, Suzanne represents those Puritans who work to bridge language and culture barriers with the neighboring Natives, and she tries to meet his charge. Suzanne opens the discussion by turning down the shaman's baby blessing (Dancing Light has performed it for her third child, Joseph). Dancing Light demonstrates both a faith in an unseen spirit and an unfailing logic as she probes Suzanne's reason and belief. And Suzanne comes to realize she will never convert this wise woman she both admires and fears.
Abigail and Reverend Samuel Willard are historical personages. The Rev. Willard's father was the chief military officer for the country of Middlesex in Massachusetts, Major Simon Willard. This commander worked closely with the tribal people in Massachusetts, often together with Elliott and Gookin. His son Samuel Willard, the minister of the Groton church, later became the first President of Harvard college in Cambridge. His wife Abigail is the daughter of a famous minister in Watertown, Massachusetts, Reverend John Sherman.
When Abigail Willard says that her mother, wife of Reverend John Sherman of Watertown Massachusetts, has a "a lot of children," it's a gross understatement. The minister sired eighteen children in serial marriages with two wives. Ten children was the average for New England farming families. To understand the impact the population must have had on the settlers' and Amerindian natives' customs and cultures, we have to do the math. How fast would the population grow if each one of the ten thousand couples added ten children to their numbers in one generation? Immigrants returning to England during the Commonwealth era and those expiring from the harsh exposure to the wilderness may have tempered the birth rates. But notwithstanding the attrition, by the start of King Philip's War in 1675, in one generation, the settlers population had doubled to forty thousand, far exceeding the Indian population two to one person. It stands to reason, the population explosion both alarmed the natives and tested the Puritan authoritarians..
I have posted chapters for this third book in my Watertown Chronicles series to ask for input from readers. I have a contract with the Ardent Writer's Press to publish it in the latter part of May 2020, and have completed the plotting and all but the last six chapters. I would love any comments on this as I refine and develop it. My writing group has read through the chapters that I have posted so far, but it has yet to pass inspection of my editor.
Working Title: Everyday Miracles
This Book Is In Development
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I thought the medical establishment could heal me, but when my doctors told me they couldn't, I began a search that led me to reject the notion that I was a cancer victim and to embrace the responsibility for my disease. I searched for vital alternative therapies that resulted in a healthy life. Even though I had changed all of my treatment choices to alternative therapies by the time I was declared free of breast cancer, the traditional radiation I'd undergone before I changed my mind caused me a second, deadly cancer. Seven years after my first surgery and radiation, I found three tumors growing in the area that had been radiated: three angiosarcomas. After reviewing the medical literature on this rare cancer, I determined their prognosis that my survival horizon was two years without surgery, three years with. I sought the latest in alternative therapies, and then booked a trip to India. I figured I would travel until I was too sick. This memoir tracks the amazing shifts of consciousness during this journey that leads me here, to these pages. Forty years later, I am here to tell my story. I never had cancer again.
One of the ways I had fostered cancer in my body was stress. I felt such surges of energy when I taxed myself, I was so proud that my productivity exceeded any expectations. In those times, I had mistakenly equated this boundless energy with vital health. In fact, though, I was actually addicted to stress and high on adrenalin rushes. It took some time to understand what this was doing to my body. I thank all of the practitioners who finally were able to show me this and teach me better ways.
When our health insurance is connected to employment, there's no guarantee cancer patients will end up with either one! When I was facing cancer, I was a contractor and could be let go at will. My contract had no clauses in it that required my contractor to keep me on if I wasn't bringing in money. Any absences from my work at McDonnell Douglas would not be paid. I worked as a computer system consultant, a stressful position in Information Technology. We contractors often said we worked at "the bleeding edge" of technology. In this chapter, I build a picture of my cubicle space to reflect not only the stress in my workplace but the metaphor for my physical, mental, and spiritual condition as well.
Gifted with clairvoyance, a strain that runs through her Celtic ancestors, Mary is born in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded by Puritans in 1630, tolerates no other faith or people. After the magistrates execute the first midwife for witchcraft, Mary dares not admit her visions to anyone, even to herself while she conforms to the Puritan faith. Marrying both wealth and power, she struggles to maintain the respect of her community while concealing her visions. With the aid of her concerned and understanding parents, Mary finally learns that she can no longer hide her non-conforming ways; she must embrace this gift with its dubious benefits and find an acceptable way to fully live her life. “Mary, The Clairvoyant” is the second book of The Watertown Chronicles, a saga of one of America’s immigrant families. William Sherborn, an early immigrant to Massachusetts, his wife, and their family of ten children live through the turbulent period in colonial history that surrounds the devastating King Philip’s War in 1675.
I originally self-published "Mary, The Clairvoyant" using Amazon's KDP press. However, the Ardent Writer Press has taken up the Watertown Chronicles series and they will re-publish the first two novels and add the third, "Suzanne, The Midwife." I'm very excited about the prospect. Readers can expect closer editing, new covers, better maps, minor changes to plot, and a new distributor. Look for the improved edition in May 2020. Meanwhile, the print, ebook and audio book versions are still available on Amazon.com.
The Puritan women in Massachusetts were not allowed to speak aloud in the Sunday meetings or in the prophesying that followed them. Although I have no historical basis that they formed networks outside of these institutional rules, I know that the Deacons wife, or Deaconess, did take charge of distributing charity. I imagine the prohibition would create an underground sub-culture where women pulled strings from the sidelines. Even where women's rights are suppressed, when wives and children were considered chattel, women may have persisted. So I take liberty to invent an elite women's social group in this first Watertown congregation. Does this stretch the history too much?
When his father dies and his older brother inherits the family’s estate in Stogumber, England, William Sherborn becomes an easy target for companies recruiting skilled workers for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England. A devout Puritan, which makes him a persecuted political outcast in 1640, eighteen years old with a civil war and conscription looming, he believes his decision to emigrate is God’s will. The colonies promise land grants for weavers and a Puritan community. William leaps at the chance to belong and be counted and boards a ship for the British colonies in north America with his inheritance: a bit of cash, his father’s loom, and two spinning wheels. Twenty-four years later, the year his tenth child is born, he must admit that he might have been mistaken. Although he has reaped the bounty of God’s Providence tenfold, the political winds turn, the Indians become enemies, and his children leave the faith. What he had fled in England may have followed him to New England. Can he escape his fate? William's longing to return to his home in England becomes almost unbearable when a series of dreams point the way. When he has overcome all of the obstacles presented by his community, his family, and his church, he packs for his journey. Only fate has a surprise in store for him.
It's common knowledge that victors write the histories, and accounts of our past will always show this bias, leaving holes in our understanding of what happened. However, recent histories are delving into those pasts that have been repressed to date. Fortunately, I was privileged to read a second volume that takes the hidden narrative to task (Ronald Takaki's "A Different Mirror" was the first). I'm grateful I found "An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States" at the beginning of my project, which illuminates the lives of New England settlers in the era of King Philip's War in Massachusetts. The Ardent Writer's Press will release the first book in The Watertown Chronicles series, soon. "William the Patriarch" takes place in that time leading up to the war. Although book one focuses on the trauma of immigration from England, subsequent volumes, each written from the pont of view of his children, will illuminate a more balanced view of this war.
I first published two books of The Watertown Chronicles with promises to produce Book Three in the next year. However, since that time, the Ardent Writer Press has decided to publish all of the first three novels in the series. Consequently, "William, The Patriarch " is now in production with an expected release date of May 22, 2020. The new and improved edition promises closer editing, a new cover, a better map, a few changes to the plot, and a new distributor. I'll let you know when I launch the new edition.
The minister at the First Unitarian Universalist church gave a sermon today on the history of UU in America. I was surprised to hear him compare the early Puritan faith to the Taliban, but had to agree they shared similarities with the harsh fundamentalism of our time. The churchmen silenced women, who had no spiritual, political or economic parity with men; it executed heretics, such as Quakers and Baptists; it enforced laws for small infractions with unreasonably harsh punishments. That said, I find that individuals lend windows into the resistance that inspired the evolution of these institutions to our modern times. I presume some were enlightened in that time.
The day of rest, the Sabbath, must have been a welcome break from the hard toil of daily life. The colonial settlers, struggling to eke their living out of the wilderness, could take time to visit with friends, to connect with their neighbors. Even the sermons and prophesying provided some intellectual stimulation that was not present otherwise.
Christmas cards usually romanticize country winters, warm rooms from which we look out at the frosty landscapes. My childhood years spent on a farm, a mile from the nearest neighbor, was a window on what these colonists must have experienced. We huddled around wood stoves and slept beneath rugs in rooms without heat. My grandmother paced the floor in thunder storms because lightning struck often, even emanating from our radio at dinner one night. In these colonial houses with no insulation and cracks the wind could whistle through, surrounded by lands barely cleared, it would have been even worse. Have you had experiences like this?
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