Sneak Peek: Down Salem Way

I wanted to continue sharing a sneak peek of Down Salem Way with you. Rather than writing in the same style as the other Loving Husband stories, going back and forth between the past and the present, Down Salem Way is strictly historical fiction written diary-style from James’ point of view when he and Elizabeth lived in Salem between 1691-1692. It still needs some polishing, but we’re among friends here.

If you missed the Prologue, here it is.

Here’s the first part of Chapter 1. Enjoy.

20 January 1691

This morn I walked along the seaside toward the near empty dock by the bay. The men who mulled about pulled their long hats closer over their ears and their woolen coats and scarves closer to their chins to keep away the wicked winter wind that poked at our ribs with pointed sticks and whipped our lips and chapped our eyes raw. I had to focus my eyes on the the horizon where the gray line of the sky met the black line of the sea, making the distance appear as though there were no sea and no sky but rather everything blurred into one vast array of nothingness. With my eyes turned toward gray, I bumped into one man, who must have been a ship builder since that was the only trade happening on the docks during the inclement weather. Ship builders abounded in Salem with the plentiful timber available within arm’s grasp. The man’s flat cap fell to the ground, his leather pouch flung from his shoulder, and he grimaced at me with great severity.

“My apologies,” I said. “I did not see you there.”

“Blind, are you? A pox on you!” The man spat tobacco on the ground near my boot and skittered toward the sea, his gray doublet and breeches blending into the slate colors surrounding us and he was gone from my sight as quickly as he appeared. I laughed to myself as I thought, indeed, I am blind. I cannot see without my spectacles, which are at home, and I care not to see anyone who is not my Lizzie, who is also at home, where it is warm, where she is warm, her embrace and her soft body warm, and I am here, being whipped like a thief in the stocks by the angry winter wind. I squinted into the distance, seeking out my father on this dark, frigid day. Standing on one of the docks, I shivered as I remembered how those who lived closest to the port were suffering from smallpox at that very moment, and once again I realized that I would rather be at home sitting in my chair before the amiable fire in the hearth, reading Samuel Pepys, Memoirs of the Navy, my wife sitting in her chair beside me knitting or mending or reading. I pictured my two-gabled wooden house and the dark-haired angel waiting for me inside, and suddenly the docks became even more miserable than they were when I first set out that morning.

Suddenly, near the ship builders I saw a group of men clustered close to one another and I guessed that my father was among them. Banging and clanging and shouted conversations among the ship builders filled the empty space alongside the waves crashing against the shore and the crisp cries of seagulls. I shivered,  shaken nearly senseless by the biting wind.

It was quiet by the docks today, as it normally is in January, the ship crossings lessened during the frigid winter weather. It was hard enough for the ships to pass through the unfriendly triangle seas of their destinations during calmer weather. While it may have been warmer in the southern destinations, in winter in Massachusetts it was virtually impossible to navigate the ships safely to harbor. For some reason, the weather did feel colder in January in Massachusetts than it did in London. Virtually, the sky was the same, deepening shades of gray that shed wind, sleet, or snow depending on its mood, but in London, more than 1600 years old and not yet three decades past the Great Fire, there are more people, more ways to deal with the discomforts of the cold. Especially at our home along the Thames between Westminster and London where we lived among earls and dukes. In Salem Town, where we have lived for more than a year now, everything is sparse. There are a few buildings, a few homes, a few artisans, and they call this a town. It makes me laugh when I think of home. Here there are so few people. So few ways to deal with vexations. There’s just so little of everything here, and it’s still a shock to walk outside my home and see nothing but a few trees and the sea. But my father and I decided to have a go here, settling in the Massachusetts Bay Colony since tis the epicenter of trade here. My father, already a successful merchant in England, had risen from the working class, his father being but a sailor for hire by whomever needed his hands. In England, we could never be anything but new rich, an uncomfortable realization since we lived alongside aristocrats and nobility. But here, in Massachusetts, there was the chance to begin again and see where our wits would take us.

I arrived near the group of huddled men and found my father standing among them as I predicted, near the dock where our ship, The Elizabeth, named for my wife, would be expected in the next few months. My father smiled his hearty smile when he saw me, threw his arm around my shoulders, and though he were a good eight inches shorter than me there was something about his infectious laugh that always made him appear taller, as though he might fill any room he entered. His head was covered under his hat, his balding head left his brain exposed to the cold, he liked to say, and his slanted, small blue eyes brightened. The other men, also merchants with their fortunes resting on the good behavior of the unpredictable seas, shook my hand and nodded in my direction.

“James!” my father said. I have always been certain that, had we remained in London, he could have made his living treading the stage with that hearty, sometimes exaggerated voice that carried over the hammering of the ship builders in the distance. “You see. Here he is. My James. What better son could any father wish for.”

The men murmured their agreement, then turned their eyes to the gray wash from the bay into the horizon. Tis a worrying time for the ship owners, the waiting. Anything could happen from here to there and back again, and it was all too easy to lose goods, men, and most importantly, profits from their merchant trade. In a burst of a bad decision, or a bad wind, everything they depended on could disappear to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean Ships from the Massachusetts Bay Colony carried rum made in New England to Africa where it was traded for the human beings meant to be sold as slaves, who were then brought to the Caribbean plantations where liquid sugar was purchased and brought back to New England to make rum. It could take a complete year for the ships to travel the triangle, and that was a year of worry for the ship owners. Together, these men had built wharves along the bay, a safe place to unload goods destined for local markets or to load cargo onto ships bound for distant ports. They also constructed warehouses and fashionable homes so everyone would know that they were not merely merchants, but successful ones at that. These men were more than shopkeepers who bought and sold goods. Some, like my father, had come from England with success already filling their pockets. Some had come from England with nothing more than the clothes they wore and they created wealth for themselves because of their enterprising spirit.

The ship owners like to congregate near the shore these winter days to gossip. They, including my father, are well dressed men in their finely fitting, jewel-toned fabrics and their jewelry. They are not so overdone as to be ostentatious since there are those in the Village who call them sinful for their vanity, but they are done just enough for others to see that they can afford that ruby ring. The ship owners leaned their heads close as they shared whatever they knew of interest in the Town or the Village. They held their heads high, letting the five-inch cock feathers on their hats reach towards the sky as though together they might lift off in flight like a bird at any moment. They kept their eyes on the barely visible horizon, as though, if they squinted, they could see their ships sailing smoothly across the Atlantic. It was, I thought as I stood near the lapping waves of the bay, not unlike a wake for ships not yet sunk or sailors not yet lost. I was not happy to see the men my father kept company with, but I daren’t bring up the subject with the men themselves stood there. My father had a small but profitable role in the trading—his ship traveled exclusively back and forth from England, sending fish, rum, and molasses to the mother country, receiving beads, copper, cloth, and hardware in return, which he sells round the colonies for a healthy profit. Still, he needs the cooperation of those with more extensive roles in the triangle trade, and my father, ever ready with the bawdy joke and the vivacious actor’s laugh, found that cooperation often in his reach.

My father clasped my shoulder more firmly and brought me into the circle of men. Again, I nodded to the others, waiting for the swift wind to lift away the distinctly sweet smell of the rum my father traded wafting from the breaths of the men leaning toward me.

“Ah!” Mister Boxley was one of the leading shipping merchants, one of the wealthiest men in Salem Town, as displayed by his fine fur-collared robe, white linen neck ruff, and fingers glittering with gold. I watched his hands flash like lightning during a storm, and I wondered if Lizzie might like gold of her own, but then I reminded myself of my wife’s simple tastes and I put the thought away. As if reading my mind, Mister Boxley grabbed my arm as though we were the greatest of friends. I had to turn away or else become intoxicated by the rum induced fumes emanating from his very pores. “There you are, young Wentworth! I was wondering why we haven’t seen you about. Too busy at home with that pretty little wife of yours, eh?”

I would have said something rude in reply if my father hadn’t stepped between Mister Boxley and me. “Now, now, George. You know that my James has been married but a month. What else should he be doing these days, and nights for that matter?”

George Boxley slapped his hands together. “Ah, aye indeed, the bliss of early married days. But they pass, young man. They pass. Enjoy them while you can.”

“My wife and I intend on remaining always as we are now,” I replied. “We are quite content together, I assure you.”

“Aye, but weren’t we all quite content when we were first married?” Mister Boxley looked round at the others, and each nodded as though this were all quite serious. “You see, young James. There is joy, but then it is gone. As I say, enjoy it while you can.”

“And as much of it as you can!” said a small, round man whose name I did not care to know.

“Hush!” My father looked around as though looking for spies among the ship builders in the distance. “If the farmers from the Village hear you speak in such a manner they’ll cite you for vulgarity. Perhaps they’ll set you in the stocks for your sin!”

The men slapped their knees at the mere mention of it. Good rum will do that to you, and my father was always keen to allow the merchants whose help he needed to sample as much of that rum as they liked.

“The Villagers can go to the devil,” said Mister Davies, “if they haven’t already. What with their superstitions and beliefs in things unseen. The invisible world they call it. Ha! That’s what happens when you’ve no proper education—you’re too easily manipulated to the biddings of others. Tis no wonder their reverend’s own family suffers. ”

“They have no thoughts other than that which their Reverend tells them to have,” said another, a Mister Stevens, “and I’ve heard he speaks of nothing but the spread of the devil’s own magic everywhere in the Village. Tis no surprise his own family suffers.”

“They’re simple folk,” said the small, round man. His white-shirted stomach pressed his coat aside as though it were only meant to stretch halfway round his waist. “Uneducated. Unthinking. Tis like living down the road from a field of cattle who allow themselves to be led to wherever someone else decides they should be.”

“I’m not sure that is correct,” I said. “My wife is from the Village, and from what she says the people sound like no fools to me. They fight firmly and forever if they believe they’re in the right, as might anyone else.”

“What do they have to fight about?” asked Mister Stevens. Mister Davies, who stood beside him, nodded sagely. “Someone stole their livestock? Someone borrowed their plow?”

“Yes, and they argue about who has the deeds to which lands and who had legally inherited those lands and who has too much land and who has lost too many children. And they argue about their reverend amongst themselves. Some want him at the head of the church in the Village, and others cannot stand him and want him gone. And so they bicker amongst each other.”

“Some of these families have been bickering amongst each other for generations.” Mister Boxley shook his head. “The intolerance they display toward anyone or anything they do not understand is unbelievable.”

“When you, of course, have the utmost tolerance.” My father smiled. The small, round man laughed, thinking my father teased him. But I knew. I heard the sarcasm underlying my father’s actor’s voice. My father said nothing else, looking from man to man as though making some vital decision about each of them. Then, as though the thought only just occurred to him, the small round man said to me, “Your wife is from the Village? My blessings on you, young man.” There was something behind his words, some glint in his small eyes, that made me think he included my wife in his small opinion of the Village though he had never, to my knowledge, set eyes on her.

My father’s hand touched my arm, imploring me to stay silent. He knew what I might say, and he would not have me say it there where I could do some harm.

“We speak not of Goodwife Wentworth when we speak of those in the Village,” said Mister Davies.

“Not at all,” said Mister Boxley. “Goody Wentworth is as fine and lovely a lass as one is likely to see.”

“Mistress Wentworth,” I said.

I am not a violent man. I am not the sort who gives vent to his frustrations by thrashing others. But that is exactly what I was about to do to these supposed gentlemen in that moment. By referring to Elizabeth as Goody Wentworth, they had essentially reduced her social rank. She may have been born into the farming class, but she was now my wife and she is due the respect of her proper title. Still, I stayed silent. I did not wish to impede my father’s business because I could not hold my tongue, or my fists.

“My point,” my father said, “is merely to say that not everyone is the same, no matter who they are or where they’re from. You cannot make generalizations about those in the Village any more than they can make generalizations of us in the Town.”

“Ha!” Mister Boxley poked my father in the ribs. “They make plenty of proclamations about us. We are sinful. We are wrong. We are bound for hell. What it boils down to is that we are too worldly for their simple ways.” He looked at me as though he pitied me. They could not bear to be in our church because they could not stand the proximity to us. They believe themselves to be too goodly, too godly for our kind of people.”

“Ignorant farmers,” Mister Davies said. “That is all they are. When the new charter arrives and we are a people under law again, we will put them in their place.”

“Massachusetts is a theocracy,” my father said. “With the loss of our charter, they have lost their ability to make the laws. That frightens them. When people become frightened of losing their power, they become even more far-reaching in their demands.” My father bowed toward the other men. “I shall meet up with you Thursday next. As always, gentlemen…” The others shouted their thanks for the rum, to which my father returned another bow. My father and I walked away from the shore, leaving behind the hammering of the ship builders and the shouts of the fish sellers in the distance and the rum-fueled laughter of the merchants who were still scanning the bay for their ships hundreds of miles and an ocean away. The further toward land we walked the faster our steps became, as though we could not put distance between ourselves and the shore fast enough. The smell of dried codfish was everywhere around us, and we watched the fishermen sailing into the bay in their boats. My father nodded toward them, hoping to expand his business in sending the codfish places where people might be willing to buy, perhaps in Spain or the West Indies. My father removed his flat hat and scratched at his balding head under its wrap. Finally, nearing the road where the farmers from the Village carted their flour, salt beef, pork, firewood, and cider to the market, my father stopped. He has a faster gait than I do since he is  shorter than me, and I was feeling winded from our brisk escape from the sea.

“Why are they so intent on cutting down those in the Village?” I said. I felt the anger thumping my heart briskly against my ribcage. “Did you hear them?”

“Never mind them, Son. They are foolish men with enough prejudices between them to stop everyone in the world from getting anything done.”

“And your business partners.”

“From necessity, James. We are here but a year, and I am still learning my way round these ports.”

I exhaled. “And what were they saying about the Reverend Mr. Parris in the Village? That his family suffers?”

“Ah.” My father smiled, always happy to share any new story he had. It was how he made friends so easily. “The Reverend Parris’ daughter and niece have had a turn, a burst of sickness that came on just sudden like. The girls have been overcome with fits and screaming or they are trance-like. Parris knows not what to make of it. Some say it is the work of witchcraft.” I laughed at the thought. “Do you not believe in witchcraft, James?”

“I prefer demons I can see,” I said.

To be continued…

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Christmas in the Massachusetts Bay Colony


As I’ve been working on Down Salem Way, a diary-style narrative written from James’ point of view when he and Elizabeth lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, I started wondering what Christmas would have been like for the Wentworths in Salem in the late 17th century. I hadn’t researched Christmas during that time since it wasn’t necessary for Her Dear & Loving Husband and the diary for Down Salem Way begins in January and ends in October. My curiosity got the best of me, as it often does, and I was surprised by what I found.

There are those who like to say there’s a war on Christmas, but everywhere I look these days there are rainbow-bright Christmas lights and Christmas trees, and there’s Christmas music on the radio and Christmas movies on TV, which makes it a pretty feeble war on Christmas indeed. As it turns out, there once was a war on Christmas, and it came from the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans didn’t take much to Christmas; in fact, they disliked it so much they banned it.

The Puritans had many good qualities…no, they did. They were hard workers, and they put a premium on education, though they may have been a bit harsh with those who didn’t conform to their austere ways. Nonconformists could be banished from the colony in freezing winter weather when there was little chance of survival without stored food or shelter. The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century lived their lives according to a strict interpretation of the Bible—their own strict interpretation of the Bible, but still, it was an interpretation of the Bible. If it didn’t say so in the Bible, then it wasn’t so to the Puritans. The Bible has nothing to say about the celebration of Jesus’ birth, so to the Puritans, Christmas wasn’t a true celebration of Jesus. It was a fake holiday invented by those seeking an excuse to party. After all, Christmas celebrations are about making merry—eating, drinking, caroling, and carousing in more or less (often less) polite ways. And the Puritans didn’t see the point of making merry, especially in impolite ways.

It was the pagan beginnings of Christmas that the Puritans disliked so much. Puritan minister Increase Mather noted that Christmas was celebrated on December 25 not because “Christ was born in that month, but because the heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those pagan holidays metamorphosed into Christian [ones].” For the Puritans, Christmas was a pagan practice adapted by the Catholics without any Biblical basis for it. To the Puritans, anything pagan was the work of the devil, and the devil had no place in pious Massachusetts (a belief which they would go to great lengths to prove in 1692).

In 1647, the Puritan government in England cancelled Christmas, and making merry was forbidden, shops stayed open, churches were closed, and ministers were arrested for preaching on Christmas day. Puritans who immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony brought their strict values with them, and between the years 1659 to 1681 anyone caught celebrating Christmas was fined five shillings, which in today’s money would be around 1000 US dollars according to measuringworth.com.

For my fictional characters James and Elizabeth Wentworth there still would not likely be much of a Christmas celebration since hostility toward Christmas remained in Massachusetts after 1681. When Sir Edmund Andros attended Christmas services in Boston in 1686, he prayed and sang hymns surrounded by soldiers meant to protect him from violent protesters. It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that Christmas was formally recognized in Massachusetts.

You only have to look outside your window to see that there isn’t much of a war on Christmas these days, but in the Massachusetts Bay Colony the war against Christmas was so complete that the holiday was forbidden. The next time someone tells you there’s a war on Christmas, you can point to any sparkly display, and then you can tell them that there once was a real war on Christmas, and then you would have had to put your carols, your ornaments, and your ugly sweaters away unless you were willing to pay a fine for them.

Merry Christmas!

References

Forbes, B. D. (2008). Christmas: A candid history. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Klein, C. (2015) When Massachusetts banned Christmas. History. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/when-massachusetts-banned-christmas

Kohler, R. (2007). Ruling the lords of misrule: Puritan reactions to the Christmas festivities of early modern England.

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Character Inspiration: Sarah Alexander and Elizabeth Wentworth

Fans of the Loving Husband Trilogy are familiar with Elizabeth, the greatest love of James Wentworth’s life. She is the woman he sees across the dining room table in Salem Village in 1692, and her beauty and warmth capture his heart forever. But where did the idea for Elizabeth come from? And who came first, Elizabeth or James’ future love, Sarah Alexander?

To answer the second question first, trying to figure out who came first, Elizabeth or Sarah, is like a chicken and the egg question. On the one hand, you think the chicken had to come first because how can you have an egg without a chicken to lay it, but then you think it had to be the egg because where would a chicken come from if there wasn’t an egg to hatch from? You can’t have Sarah without Elizabeth. They’re too intertwined. Chronologically, Elizabeth was first since she married James in 1691, and James and Sarah married in 2011.

Writing the novel was more complex than following the chronology. My initial concept for Her Dear & Loving Husband was for it to be a completely modern novel. In my mind, Sarah came first. The bigger story that includes the Salem Witch Trials didn’t come to me until I decided where to set the novel. Once I decided to set the story in Salem and include the witch trials, then Elizabeth appeared. Are Sarah and Elizabeth exactly the same? Not quite. Obviously, they share similarities, but Elizabeth lives in the late 17th century; Sarah lives during our times. The differences between them are the differences you might expect from people who live in different centuries.

Sarah was easier to conceptualize since she’s a modern woman. I can’t say that there was any one major inspiration for Sarah. For most of the characters I write, I imagine a favorite actor in the “role” of the character, which gives me a sense of mannerisms and speech cadence. For example, for John Wentworth, James’ father, I imagined one of my all-time favorite actors, Sir Patrick Stewart, as John, which gave me a very clear vision of how John would sound as he spoke, what he looked like, and how he acted. I didn’t have a particular actress in mind for either Sarah or Elizabeth. They were completely figments of my imagination, which can work as well since I can allow my imagination to run wild. While we’re on the subject, I didn’t have a specific actor in mind for James. Every other character in Her Dear & Loving Husband had a well-known actor in the “roles.” Call it my Loving Husband dream team. But the three leads—James, Sarah, and Elizabeth—were all from my own imaginings.

Elizabeth is more of a mystery in Her Dear & Loving Husband. We see her in snippets throughout the novel, and we have some sense of her personality, and we see how close she and James are so that we undertand why James was so devastated by her loss during the witch hunts. But we don’t learn a lot about her. She’s there in the background, a shadow that haunts both James and Sarah, but by the end she’s relegated to her role as a memory. My inspiration for writing Down Salem Way came from the fact that I felt like there was more to explore about James and Elizabeth’s experiences in Salem in 1692. I wanted to know Elizabeth better. I wanted to see more of James and Elizabeth together, happy, content in their lives together, and I wanted to examine how it all fell apart, through no fault of their own.

Character inspiration can come from anywhere. It can come from books, movies, TV shows, music, people you know, favorite actors, or your imagination. My imagination was my main tool for creating both Elizabeth and Sarah. What I’ve learned from this experience is that you can go home again—at least when you’re writing fiction. I wanted to explore Elizabeth a little more, and now I’m able to do that through writing Down Salem Way.

You can see the first sneak peek of Down Salem Way here. It’s written diary-style from James’ point of view. I’m enjoying writing as James. It’s time he had his chance to share his side of what happened in 1692.

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Sneak Peek: Prologue, Down Salem Way

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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.

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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—Rebecca Nurse, Mary Easty, and Sarah Cloyse (played by Redgrave)—caught up in the horror of the witch hunts. Rebecca and Mary are hanged 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.

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