Working Title: Suzanne, The Midwife
This Book Is In Development
Suzanne Morse, a midwife in Watertown, moves to a remote frontier town 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 Nashaway town across the river, calls her to heal her sister, dying of a white man's disease, 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--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 the witch doctor. Despite her successful practice, birthing four more children, and two sisters marrying and moving to Groton, Suzanne must warily handle the rising tension in her community. It comes to a head in 1676 when King Philip's war reaches their small settlement, and in the heat of a siege, her neighbors turn on her. Denied the rescue train, Suzanne flees with her family, now homeless refugees, through enemy territory on foot. Suzanne must find love and friendship anew in Watertown.
I am struck by the symbolic nature of the Lakota ceremonies I have attended through a shaman trained by Leonard Crowdog of the Rosebud Reservation. Take, for example, the Sundance, a ritual to obtain leadership status. The "tree of life" is a full-grown living cottonwood tree. When it is cut down, the sun dancers carry it to the ceremonial ground and drape its limbs with prayer ties (tiny tobacco pouches, each with a silent prayer). Then it is seated in the ground and raised to stand in the ring's center. Each sun dancer is tied to this tree by ropes that are attached to two chokecherry sticks anchored beneath flaps of skin. The dancer must tear the flesh in order to break free of this "umbilical" attachment, not just once, but for four consecutive years. Each trial of self wounding is progressively more difficult. One can only remind themselves watching this spectacle that every child goes through it once, and despite the memory of being born, women do this year after year for every child they bear. Men emulate women in this ritual. Women do not sun dance because, it is said, they have already given their flesh sacrifice.
Fiction and fact are two sides to be balanced in historical fiction. However, TRUTH is the element that balances the weights on both sides of my stories. A good fiction, to be true, must be facts filtered through contemporary mores and polished by probability. For example, it is historical fact that both Samuel Willard and his new wife come from large families: Abigail Sherman had eighteen siblings; Samuel Willard had seventeen. What is more, in history, Abigail does give birth to six children in the fifteen years of her marriage; she gives birth to the last child the year that Groton is sacked and dies three years later at age 30. Her husband sires sixteen children in the end with his second wife. In my fiction, I account for only three of Abigail's births before the end of the war, which ends their friendship. I derive this truth: Abigail, who is married at 15 and pregnant with her first child at seventeen, is frightened at ending up like her mother. Her friend and midwife Suzanne determines this and offers her ways to control the timing of her pregnancies: birth control.
The Ardent Writer Press will release Suzanne, The Midwife on July 23, 2022. At the same time, Jennifer Dixon is narrating the audio book for this novel, and she will release it on Spoken Words and Audiobooks in late July. I expect to launch this book on Saturday, July 30, 2022. Place and times to be announced later.
This novel turned out to be a story of colonialism in its largest sense. The frontier town, Groton, provides a microcosm which mirrors the colonial progression all along the Eastern coast of North America. It was not my intent; I wanted only to explore two people trying to bridge diverse cultures to their mutual benefit. However, these two women, the colonist and the Indian shaman, can negotiate only the smallest shift toward equity in their shared history. That history seems almost fixed.
The first step in colonization of the Americas followed the outreach of traders. They set up temporary trading posts where the exchange of goods and culture began with a promise of mutual benefit. At this point in the relations between native Americans and the English immigrants, good will preceded the second step, in which the colonizers began to put down roots and the relationship shifted.
"By this illogic, if the Pequots can just steel themselves to the necessity of sheer wantonness, they can hold onto their land and their universe by a massacre, “man and mother’s son.” Only something that awful, we confess, can awaken the colonies to the story’s other side. The Pequots thus conceived have two “real world choices” that both come from Europe—disarray, or wanton retribution. And the “sad” part we accept is that neither will save them anyway, as what they truly are. In their world, war is another way to make a statement to others, not a “tragic” way to find oneself a neurotic mass-murderer, with “innocent” hands full of windfall-wealth. … Mason and Underhill, intending massacre, are sucked in, spun around and … [pursued] onto the wrong beach at Pequot mercy …. The captains conceal, confuse, bluster and browbeat, present us their model of innocent courageous public service, thrill us with their encounters with death and share their triumph against all odds. We the colonists “bond” by a terrified affirmation that “This is nature and people as they are: Thank God for the fort and amazing miracles.” … By this illogic, we grow into true Americans as education browbeats us never to consider Native imbeciles—who just weren’t advanced enough to wipe out Progress while they could. "
If you are over sixty, you probably remember the radio and TV show, The Lone Ranger. The ranger rode a horse named "silver" and had an Indian sidekick named Tonto. The pair called each other "kimosabe," which translates as "trusty scout" or as "faithful friend.". In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Captain Benjamin Church is credited with training the first troop of rangers. They were armed settlers trained by Indians to wage combat in Indian lands under the colonial militias' command..Troops of rangers always included allied, preferably christianized Indians in their rosters, and they ranged in the wilds that surrounded every English village or town guarding them from Indian attack. While the 20th century media fiction includes a white man and Indian side by side, the hero is one lone man and an Indian is his subordinate support. Do we think of the founding settlers the same way? As lone heros? Superior to the Indians?
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.
When his father dies, and his older brother inherits the family's homestead in Stogumber, England, William becomes an easy target for recruiters of skilled workers for the newly chartered Massachusetts Bay Colony in America. A devout Puritan (and political outcast in 1640), of marriageable age but landless, he faces conscription for a looming civil war. The colonies promise land grants and a Godly Puritan community. Believing it's God's will, William leaps at the chance to be counted and belong. He bounds a ship for Boston, Massachusetts 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 his mistake. Although he's reaped the bounty of God's providence tenfold, the political winds turn, the Indians become enemies, and his children leave the faith. What he'd fled in England has followed him to New England. William, The Patriarch is the first book of The Watertown Chronicles, fictional accounts of a real family that lived through the turbulent and devastating King Philip's Indian War in 1676-1676.
When I began to plot the story of Susanna, William’s wife, I woke from a dream of a Pilgrim woman on her deathbed who laments, “So few women.” The dream was inspired by a book on the Plymouth settlers who arrived in 1620, twenty years before William does. There are only 21 women among the 102 passengers on the Mayflower. One dies on the voyage, but 14 more die while anchored offshore during that first winter. Of the 5 surviving women, another dies after they leave the ship to live on land in spring. Only four married women remain among the 52 survivors, and that state continues until the next ship arrives two years later. These four women are surrounded by single males, 13 men for every woman, which would of necessity strike down any adherence to gender-based mores and labor division. Only 4 households have a female occupant. The never-married and widowed men are parceled evenly between the 11 dwellings. My dream of the Pilgrim’s lament raised more questions than I found answers in history. Did surviving women become as men because surrounded by men? Were they revered? Sheltered? Precious? Did they feel threatened? Harassed by rutting men with no women? How did their Puritan subjection to men hold up with this new world arrangement?
Noone can overestimate how important the Bible was to the East Anglian Puritans settling in Massachusetts. To uphold a religious conviction that each one must experience a relationship with God to be a member of the community predicted that the words of God, the Bible, must be accessible. The Puritan government made it a law that every child must be able to read the Bible. To stand as good citizens, they must be able to read the word of God, to interpret the parables, to use history as allegory for current events, to follow the commandments for the collective good. These prosperous, energetic middle-class immigrants valued a universal literacy. Indeed, they established a school to teach the Indians to read. The Bible was early translated to the Algonquin language.
I have just released an audio book through Audible.com for "William, The Patriarch." The protagonist of this historical novel is an immigrant from Somerset, England who arrives in Boston in 1640. The colonies on the eastern seaboard of North America were a boiling pot of mixed nationalities, languages, customs, and races from the very beginning. It is a hallmark of the American experience. For that reason, readers will find that the audiobook can best illustrate this diversity. The narrator, Jack Wynters, masterfully narrates using many of the regional English accents that were present in those early colonial days of New England. In Watertown, Massachusetts, it was a critical part of naturalizing experience. The audiobook is available on Audible books or on Amazon.
The fictional family in "William, The Patriarch," is modeled from a family that actually lived and died in Watertown, Massachusetts in the seventeenth century. In fact, the Puritan progenitor, William Shattuck, was my ancestor. However, the artifacts that prove and detail the existence of this family are few. He was a skilled tradesman, not an important person, nor were his children. I had very few details to guide a rendering of their private lives. Even so, I was inspired by his published will to build both his character and the relationships he had with his family members. So, I may say the facts are solid before I stretch them into their story.
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.
In 17th century New England, the childbearing years of the mothers and their daughters often overlapped, making familial relationships complex. For example, Mary Brown's son, Johnny, is the same age as mother Susanna Sherborn's son. Johnny, indeed, all of Mary's children, are nephews or nieces of their playmate Samuel. He, in turn, is their uncle. Multiply this complexity across a family of ten siblings, and Uncle Samuel is anywhere from one to five years younger than five of his nieces and nephews.
The greatest disadvantage for the colonial militias was their training. The military leaders from England were put in charge of the town trainbands and taught European military maneuvers. Combat in England was fought on open battlegrounds, often with armies both on foot and horseback. In New England, battles were fought with an enemy in swamps, where heavy undergrowth obscured vision. The men were on foot and combat was face to face. Mustering European troops, the captains of trainbands taught them to march in files. On narrow New England foot paths through forests, single file, they were targets for Indians who used ambush as their chief maneuver. Indians could pick them off one by one. Another contrast was the weaponry. The standard musket of the time took some time to reload after each shot. So, pikemen, wielding twenty foot poles, could impede the onrushing horsemen while the lines of their own musketeers protected them. Indian warriors used stealth and surprise in their attacks, whether they carried traditional weapons such as bow and arrow, clubs or tomahawks or guns. Fighting in close quarters, the pikes were useless. Eventually, the military caught up, often using Indians to teach the men how to fight.
The Ardent Writer Press is publishing the second edition of "Mary, The Clairvoyant." The new edition has been improved by adding maps of Watertown and the complete genealogical tree for the fictional Sherborn family. Readers can order the pre-release copy on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and it will be shipped on August 31. Or, readers can wait for the launch party on that date. When I say that Mary mystified me; I must add that she was the character who stood out in book one of The Watertown Chronicles. In "William, The Patriarch," she was so prominent that I had to write her story in a seperate book. I think Mary invented the chronicles.
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?
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.
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