Sneak Peek: Prologue, Down Salem Way

.

20 December 1691

My life has only just begun. Is that not odd? I am nine-and-twenty years old and did not know who or what or why I was until I met my Elizabeth.

How did I know she was the one for me? In truth, I cannot say, but knew I did from the instant I saw her. Twas but three months ago, over the supper table where we were gathered with friends from the Village where Elizabeth and her father and sister had recently arrived from England. I noticed her the moments I walked in I saw her floating gracefully about the simple wooden cabin, making sure everyone’s mugs and bellies were full, caring for her younger sister, tending to her father. And then our eyes met and my life on earth made sense to me. I wanted to know Elizabeth, and when I discovered that she wanted to know me, I knew why I was brought forth on this earth—to love and cherish this woman.

I am not a religious man. I believe in God, I believe in His mercy, but I do not believe our lives are predestined, mapped out for us before we are born. I do not believe we have to forgo earthly joys in pursuit of some unknown Paradise in a mysterious afterworld. I believe we make our own fortunes through our work, our families, our friends, and elsewhere. I can devote my heart and soul to my wife and still do good and be good to those I love on earth and those I love in heaven. I listen to Reverend Noyes in the meeting house on a Sunday and his brimstone and hellfire sermons do not prompt my piety. There is a lot of brimstone and hellfire here in Salem, but I let it pass over me. If this is what others believe, that is all and well, but I believe in a God of compassion.

I’m certain I sound like an old married man though I have been married but this week past. Though my father is one of the wealthiest men in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, my wife is a farmer’s daughter, and she decided that our wedding would be a simple affair with family and a few friends. My wife, beautiful no matter her clothing, looked ethereal in the brown silk that matched the brown silk of the wisps of her hair that fell from her coif and the brown silk of her soft eyes. My father presented us with the best food and drink money could buy—spiced hard cider, fish chowder, stewed oysters, parsley-flavored mussels, roasted game birds, red pickled eggs, succotash stew, bearberry jelly, rye bread, maple syrup candy, nutmeats, my wife’s bride cake, and my father’s favorite, the Indian pudding with dried plums and West Indian molasses.

For myself I was all of nerves, trembling and stumbling, not from fear but from disbelief that Elizabeth Jones was about to become my wife. I forgot to tidy my hair or my clothing prior to the wedding, and I’m sure I looked like a rumpled roll of bedding tossed from the last ship to dock from England. I had to run to my own wedding, smiling, happy, impatient to create a life with the woman I love. It has been cold this December, but Elizabeth decided we would be married after the harvest months so that my father-in-law, a farmer, and our other friends from the Village could join in our joy. The magistrate recited the vows. My wife and I exchanged rings. My father bought us the rings, for, though rings are unpopular here where any earthly adornment is considered vain, he says that the thin bands represent eternity, which is as long as I shall love my wife.

“I shall never leave you ever,” I said to my blushing bride, and she promised me the same. My father brought us to our new two-story, two-gable house, one of the larger homes in Salem Town, his wedding present to us. When Elizabeth and I were finally alone, I was tongue tied. I had been dreaming of this moment from the very first time I saw her, but there I was in the great room staring into the kitchen where she appeared to be examining the larger cauldron hanging from the center of the hearth. I thought if she spoke first then she might alleviate the awkwardness. Finally, I laughed, and she laughed, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where I’m supposed to be, in my beautiful home with my beautiful wife, and there was nowhere else in the world for me.

As I sit here looking through the diamond panes into the fading daylight I see my Elizabeth sitting in her chair by the heat of the hearth, her feet up on the tapestry-covered stool, a book in her lap, the flickering flames illuminating her peach-like complexion, her lips parted as if she had bitten into berries that stained her full mouth red, her dark curls falling down her back, her hair loose since it is just we two in the privacy of our home, her thin linen shift covered by a shawl to protect her from the cold that still filtered between the diamond panes of the windows. She looks from her book to me and smiles, and I know that all is well in the world. As I write this she stands, places her book on the chair she had been sitting on, and walks to me. She is placing her warm hands on my shoulders, and with the knuckles of her thumbs and forefingers presses the tight muscles of my neck and shoulders into submission. I exhale and lean back into her kneading hands, allowing the relief they bring me body and soul.

I thank God every night for this woman. Who am I to have such good fortune? Tonight, I, James Wentworth, am a content man, a joyous man, a grateful man with my loving, radiant wife beside me.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

5 Books to Read if You Love Fantasy Romance

One of the fun things about reading is that once we discover a new genre we love we go on the hunt to find similar books. I love historical fiction, so it’s relatively easy to find more to read since I’m interested in most eras of history. I love novels set everywhere from Ancient Greece to the Jazz Age to World War II. As an author, I’ve written books set in Biblical Jerusalem, the American Civil War, World War I and the women’s suffrage movement, the Salem Witch Trials, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, the Japanese-American internments during World War II, and the Victorian Era. It’s fair to say I have varied tastes as a reader and writer of historical fiction.

Fantasy romances were another matter. After I wrote the Loving Husband Trilogy I stayed away from other fantasy romances because I felt like I needed to extend my horizons as a reader and a writer. Then recently I discovered Outlander (novel and TV show), and I fell in love with the fantasy romance genre all over again. Like any other reader, I scrambled to find other books that gave me that same magical, historical, romantic feel.

Here are five books for lovers of fantasy romance:

  1. Outlander—As you probably already guessed, Outlander is at the top of my list. Outlander has everything I love—fascinating historical descriptions of 18th century Scotland, a fast-moving plot, a genuine love story, and a hunky male lead. There are eight books so far in the series, and as of this writing I’ve read the first two. All of the books are at the top of my TBR pile, and I’m looking forward to reading them all. Definitely start with Outlander. It really does set the tone for the overall story.
  2. A Discovery of Witches—This was published around the same time Her Dear and Loving Husband came out, and I think I was afraid to read it because it sounded similar in many ways to my own story of a vampire professor. I’m glad I finally picked it up. I’m nearly finished reading A Discovery of Witches, and I’m ready for Book Two. This first book in the All Souls Trilogy also talks about history (how can you have a conversation between a witch historian and a vampire professor without discussing the past?), but my understanding is that in Book Two there’s a time travel element where Matthew and Diana visit Matthew’s past. Like Outlander, there’s history, magic, and a great romance in A Discovery of Witches.
  3. The Time Traveler’s Wife—Here’s another romance with the mystery of time travel. This is a story of a great love that continues despite the many obstacles in Henry and Clare’s way (it’s hard when the man you love suddenly disappears). But Henry and Clare are committed to each other, and in a way the problems associated with Henry’s time traveling only serve to strengthen their love.
  4. The Mists of Avalon—I read this last year, and I absolutely loved it. It’s a magical retelling of the story of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and it’s told from the women’s point of view. While there are romances (this is based on the legends of the Knights of the Rount Table after all), the emphasis here is on the magic of the faery world, the priestesses of Avalon, and the emergence of Christianity. This is part of a series, and though I’ve only read The Mists of Avalon, there are other books to enjoy if you love the first one.
  5. Her Dear & Loving Husband—You didn’t think I’d leave my own James and Sarah off this list, did you? The fantasy in this book, and in the whole Loving Husband Trilogy, comes from the magic of vampires, witches, werewolves, and ghosts. The romance, of course, is between vampire James Wentworth and human Sarah Alexander, and their love spans more than 300 years. There’s also history thrown in through accounts of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. I talked in this post about how I see my books as romantic rather than romances, but if you’re into heartwarming love stories, then Her Dear & Loving Husband may be right up your alley.

I said this was going to be a list of five books to read, but each of the novels on this list is part of a series, so there’s actually many books here to help you quench your thirst for more fantasy romance.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Watching the Witch Trials: The Crucible and Three Sovereigns for Sarah

To get into the flow of life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony while I’m writing Down Salem Way, I just rewatched The Crucible, which is a story I love. When I was teaching American literature, one of my favorite lessons was when we read and watched Miller’s work because there’s such depth to the story and it provided much for us to think and talk about. When I rewatched The Crucible, it was helpful seeing the period costumes, the wooden houses, the horse-drawn carriages, and the farming because it helps me visualize what I’m writing about.

It’s important to remember that Miller’s play is an allegory where the witch hunts represent the finger-pointing madness of McCarthyism where no one was safe from accusations of Communism. For anyone familiar with the events of the Salem Witch Trials, it’s easy to say that The Crucible is more fiction than fact. However, the point of the play is not to illuminate the real-life events of the witch hunts but to make a point about how easily we turn against each other when it suits our purposes. The names of those involved in the witch hunts are true and the general events are based on fact; the specifics of the play, however, not so much. Abigail Williams was 11, John Proctor in his 60s, and I feel  confident saying that he looked nothing like Daniel Day-Lewis. To know about the Salem Witch Trials and allow for the way it’s presented in The Crucible, you have to accept Miller’s story for what it is—a parable about how vulnerable we are to our own weaknesses. Miller was a master at dialogue—there is not one word out of place—and Proctor’s speech at the end (where he cannot sign a false confession) sums up perfectly why so many of those convicted of witchcraft wouldn’t falsely confess despite the fact that confession would save their lives.

If you use Amazon , you’re familiar with those lists of “If you like this, you’ll like this…” Sometimes I find those lists annoying, but the day I watched The Crucible another title popped onto my TV screen—Three Sovereigns for Sarah. I wasn’t familiar with this movie starring Vanessa Redgrave, but in a way the 1985 film is the perfect companion piece to The Crucible since Three Sovereigns for Sarah is also about the Salem Witch Trials. The main difference is that Three Sovereigns is based more on factual accounts; in fact, much of the dialogue in the film comes directly from transcripts from the trials in 1692. Three Sovereigns is about three sisters caught up in the horror of the witch hunts—Rebecca Nurse, Mary Easty, and Sarah Cloyse (played by Redgrave). Rebecca and Mary are hung after their witchcraft convictions, while Sarah survives, barely, because she was jailed away from the others due to the prisons in Salem and Boston overflowing with suspected and convicted witches. Twenty years later, seeking to clear her sisters’ names, Sarah is given three sovereigns, one for each sister, meant to appease her loss under such tragic circumstances.

Watching the film version of The Crucible does give a sense of life in Salem in 1692, but really I watch The Crucible for the pinpoint perfect dialogue and the message within the story (and, yes, for Daniel Day-Lewis). Watching Three Sovereigns for Sarah gives a more accurate account of what really happened during the witch hunts. As someone currently writing about the Salem Witch Trials, both The Crucible and Three Sovereigns have played a role in helping me bring Salem in 1692 to life.

On the literary side, I’ve downloaded The Scarlet Letter, the classic from Nathaniel
Hawthorne (a descendant of Salem Witch Trial magistrate John Hathorne, Nathaniel having added the w to the spelling of his surname to avoid a direct connection to his decidedly unsympathetic ancestor). The Scarlet Letter is not about the witch hunts, but it is about life in Puritanical Massachusetts, which will also help me get a feel for the time. I’ve also discovered a documentary about the Salem Witch Trials from the History Channel, and I’m looking forward to the new perspective that will bring.

I look at it this way: I get to watch TV and read classic literature and call it work.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave