You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Reasons and Explanations’ category.

Okay, so we released Wise Woman, the final book of our Appalachian Journey series, in e-book on the 29th of January December (sorry, got ahead of myself), and in 3 days it’s already made it onto three bestseller lists on Amazon. Needless to say, we are thrilled and, of course, want to thank all of our wonderful readers–the absolute best readers in the world!

When it released, Christy and I breathed a mutual sigh of relief. I swear I could hear her “Whew!” echoing with mine all around the Blue Ridge mountains. It’s finished!. No more agonizing over which family stories to include or how much history/Cherokee folklore/herbal medicine to balance the stories. And most important, no more self-imposed December deadlines! Those things are killers! Not gonna do that to ourselves never, ever, EVER again …

GabiYankee… and then Christy, her husband Steve, and granddaughter Gabi traveled over the mountains to spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with me and my husband. We went Bear-footin’ on Main Street in beautiful downtown Hendersonville. That’s Gabi to the left posing with the hated Yankee bear (sorry Meghann, it broke my heart too!). Then we had a wonderful dinner and did a little shopping at Dancing Bear Toys and Mast General Store. A peaceful, relaxing New Year’s Eve which is just what Christy and I needed.

 

LotMwaterfallThen this morning we went to breakfast and decided to go to Chimney Rock/Bat Cave/Lake Lure to play tourist and do a little sightseeing and more shopping.

Chimney Rock is where they filmed the waterfall scene in The Last of the Mohicans. That’s the waterfall on the left. Even on a dull, dreary day in winter the Blue Ridge is filled with beautiful scenery.

 

LackeLureBridgeBat Cave is a tiny little town nestled in between Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. No pictures of Bat cave but we did buy sweat shirts. As for Lake Lure, it’s where they filmed the movie Dirty Dancing.  That’s the bridge over the Broad River in Lake Lure on the left. It’s a beautiful little town and they have a Dirty Dancing Festival in the summer. Today, New Year’s Day, they were having the Polar Plunge where all the idiots brave souls jump into the lake. Brrr!

So anyway, while we were eating/shopping/sightseeing/taking pictures, Christy and I were talking about the feedback we’ve gotten on Wise Woman from readers who have already read it. Specifically, how almost all of them said they loved the book, they were sad to see the series come to an end.

And we realized that we agree with them: while we are extremely thrilled to be through, we’ll miss working together, researching and plotting a story and then writing it down to share with our readers so …

… we decided we’re not finished yet. We have the bare bones of a new series centered around the legend–not sure if that’s the right word since it has been witnessed by people. Perhaps mystery works better–of the Brown Mountain Lights in Burke County, North Carolina (for more info, click on the name.) This is a phenomenom we’ve heard about for years and even had one of our readers call it to our attention too. We even talked about putting it into Wise Woman but it got lost in the shuffle somehow.

Also, a couple of months ago, we had another reader mention that we should write a series about the Walker Sisters from Sevier County, Tennessee. We did some quick research and while it’s interesting, we found there were already several books written about them so we nixed the idea and didn’t think anymore about it. But now with this new series we thought we could incorporate characters similar to the Walker Sisters with the mystery of the Brown Mountain lights. That way we could stick with our favored Appalachian Mountains and the mountain people we’ve come to know and love.

(Sorry, I can’t remember the names of either reader. They’ve fallen into one of the many holes in my MS addled brain–that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!–but if you’re one of them please let us know so we can acknowledge your contribution!)

And there you have it, our big news for this new year of 2016 is we’re writing another series. Funny how our relief and resolve only lasted a couple of days. No title yet and we can’t promise we’ll have the first book out in a year like we did with the last three of the Appalachian Journey series-it took us 3 years to research the first book in that one–but stay tuned. We’ll be posting about the development of the new series and on our progress soon.

Meanwhile, Happy New Year to all our cherished readers and everyone else! We hope it’s one filled with love, happiness and peace for all of you!

Christy and I have been a little busy and when that happens this blog is always the first to suffer. Not sure why that is, but we apologize and hope our readers don’t give up on us. All comments have now been approved and replies posted. Sorry for the wait!

Okay, we have some news about Beloved Woman but first we’d like to thank everyone for their patience. We are working on Beloved Woman (in between book festivals!) and as we wrote this phase of Aunt Bessie’s life the focus of the story changed quite a bit so…while the title remains the same, we’ll be changing the cover (again!) and–here comes the sitting down part–there will be a fourth book in the series. No title yet but we plan to use the cover for Beloved Woman because the fourth book will deal with what we thought the theme for Beloved Woman would be. Does that make sense? Probably not, my mind is a little frazzled right now! We’ll do our best to explain why we made the change when Beloved Woman is released later this year but until then we’re not talking because we don’t won’t to give away any spoilers.

So, without further ado…

BWCover1563-1-ch

Oh, boy, I really hated putting that red X over one of my favorite pictures but it had to be done and I assure you, no pictures or characters were harmed in the process–they were only moved forward in time and saved for the fourth, and probably final (but we’re not making any promises!), book in the Appalachian Journey series.

As soon as we have the new cover we’ll post it here and on our Facebook page. Now, I’m going to try to erase that picture from my mind and get back to writing…

 

Chugged full – an old southern saying that means full and/or overflowing with happiness.

Chapter three starts with Bessie and Papa getting ready to leave on a business trip to Paint Rock. Papa needs to see a man about a horse…wait, no that’s wrong, he needs to see a man about doing some repair work on a house. There are several places in this chapter when fiction crosses fact but for the most part, it’s all 100% true and it’s based on my favorite story when I was a kid: Bessie dancing in her red dress in a saloon in Paint Rock. I always wished I had the courage and confidence to do something like that!

Shelton Laurel Massacre Historic Marker

Shelton Laurel Massacre Historic Marker

Okay, so the story is true, but Christy and I did take a few liberties with the facts. For instance, the story Papa tells Bessie about the Shelton-Laurel Massacre which is well-documented and well-known here in western North Carolina. All of that happened, there really was a Colonel J. A. Keith who lined those men and boys up and had his soldiers shoot them, and they really did leave them on the bank of the creek, some of them buried but most of them just lying on top of the ground. And the families really did come the next day and buried them.

The liberties came with Bessie imagining she hears the Melungeon boogie-man. As Christy told you last week, parents were prone to threaten their children back then with an imaginary character of Melungeon descent but we have no idea if Bessie or Papa or even Mama knew of such a made up monster, much less if it played a part in their lives. We used it at this point to give Papa a reason to tell the Shelton Laurel Massacre story and of course, because that’s one of the major themes of the book; the persecution of people who are different in some way.

The part about Bessie dancing at the saloon while wearing a new red dress is true but we had to use our imagination to fill in the description of the saloon. We also made up the…shall we say, ladies-of-the-evening. We have no idea if there was a player piano in the saloon, Daddy always called it just a plain piano. We do know that the saloon was in an old house on the main street that ran through Paint Rock but when we tried to find it, we had some trouble. Not much to the town of Paint Rock any more and I have a feeling there never was much–but the drive from Hot Springs was absolutely gorgeous, if a little harrowing at times!

John Warren Daniels (Papa)

John Warren Daniels (Papa)

And finally, we come to Papa and Bessie and their relationship. Neither of us remember our Great-great Grandpapa John but we remember Aunt Bessie talking about him. It was obvious, even as young children, she absolutely adored her Papa. And then we have the many stories Daddy’s told us. Daddy, whose real name is Raymond Earl, goes by John because as a young boy, he was always with his Grandpapa John and people started calling him “Little John.”  And I just noticed, looking at that picture of him, there’s a birt of family resemblance there. So, we never really knew him, but I think we came very close with his personality from the many stories we heard. Daddy always says he was a good-natured soul, always smiling and joking, and with more than his fair share of charm–and of course, a natural born storyteller–which he passed on to Bessie and then to Daddy, thank goodness!

Chapter 2 begins with the dead body of Mr. Fore still on the kitchen table, waiting for Papa to take it to Marshall. (Side note: Does a dead body actually wait?)

Fact: Papa did shoot a man and bring his dead body home, placing it on the kitchen table.

Fiction: Mr. Fore’s name. We couldn’t find out who the man was that Papa actually shot at the train station, running down the tracks.

Fact: Papa took prisoners and dead bodies of prisoners to Marshall, the county seat, in a horse-drawn wagon.

Aunt BelleLater, Aunt Belle comes to visit and tries to convince Mama that Papa has cursed the house by bringing a dead man home and encourages her to have Miss Cordy cleanse the house.

Fact: Aunt Belle is an actual person, Lucinda’s sister Elizabeth, three years younger, who married a Candler. Candler, NC is named for this family.

Ficton(?): Aunt Belle’s personality. We had no one to talk to to ascertain the type of person Aunt Belle was. I think Cyndi did a great job developing her persona and describing the way she dressed.

(Cyndi here, we found this picture in the little photo album Aunt Bessie gave to Daddy before she died. There’s no indicaiton on the picture of who it is but Daddy says he’s pretty sure it’s Aunt Belle. She sure looks enough like the pictures we have of Aunt Bessie to be her sister.)

Fact: Green, Bessie’s little brother, was named for the blacksmith who took Papa in as a striker during the Civil War when Papa was a boy and his mother and sister were forced to go to a women’s home in Greenville, SC after losing the family farm.

Fact: The description of houses in this chapter built by Papa were taken from written descriptions by Bessie.

Daddy's painting of Miss Cordy

Daddy’s painting of Miss Cordy

Fact: Miss Cordy was an actual person.

Fiction(?): We gave Miss Cordy a mystical quality although we do not know if she actually had that ability. From the stories Daddy tells us, she was a sweet, gentle soul with a big heart. One of the saddest true stories is Miss Cordy and her pet hen.

Fiction: The Melungeon boogie-man.

Fact: Parents did try to instill fear in their children by threatening them with the Melungeon boogie-man if they didn’t behave. We wanted to introduce at this point the prejudice at that time against the Melungeons.

I’ve been considering doing a post like this for a long time but never seemed to get around to it. I’m still not sure I’m fully into it but since Christy and I are in the process of transferring the paperback version of Whistling Woman to our control (which is causing some major frustration, I am not a happy camper right now!) I decided what better to do than add to my frustration by writing a blog post. Why should writing a blog post frustrate me, you ask. Well, I’m one of those bloggers whose brains won’t stay on a set track when writing a post. My mind tends to go off on tangents and my fingers always seem to follow right along. I often end up with a couple of thousand words that jump around like a grasshopper, landing here and there, and never quite getting to the point…

See? I’m doing it again when I should be introducing this post and getting on with what I want to say. So, here goes:

Christy and I have had several readers ask us which of the stories in Whistling Woman are fact and which are fiction. That’s not as easy to answer as you might think because we took liberties on almost every page of the story, weaving fact with fiction, reality with imagination, truth with…um, shall we say, little white lies. The one thing we never fiddled with was the historical facts. We researched them endlessly, going back time and time again to make sure we had them right. Also, the Cherokee legends and medicine were, to us, sacrosanct but of course, where the legends are concerned, who knows exactly what is truth and what is ficiton.

So, in an effort to enlighten our readers (who we totally love and are eternally grateful to!) I’m going to take the book chapter by chapter and hopefully (by the time Moonfixer’s is out at least), I’ll make it all the way through the book. That’s 22 chapters–Yikes!

Okay, the first chapter deals with Bessie sticking her finger into the bullet hole in the man Papa shot. Fact or fiction?

John Warren Daniels (Papa)

John Warren Daniels (Papa)

A little of both, Bessie did in fact stick her finger into a bullet hole in a man’s forehead and Papa did in fact shoot him, bring him home and put the body on the kitchen table until he could take it to Marshall in the morning. We heard that story quite a few times as children and I think it’s one of the reasons why we grew up thinking Aunt Bessie was the coolest person in our family–aside from our dad–and quite possibly it started the whole fascination with her stories and the desire to write them down before they were lost.The fiction part comes with the background information. Bessie was only around 10 years old when it happened (in the book we have her at 14) and neither she nor Daddy ever mentioned what it felt like when she did it. For that part, we went to friend and fellow author, David Hunter, who after marveling at the questions he gets from his friends, told us what it would feel like. Having never stuck our fingers in a bullet hole in a person’s forehead before, we have no idea if that part’s fact or fiction, but having no desire to actually check it out and verify it, we were willing to take David’s word for it.

A bit of backstory in the chapter tells about Bessie hating her name and changing it when she was eight years old. That part’s all true. She was named Vashti Lee at birth and she did hate the name (though she never said why) and she did in fact decide to change it when she was only 8 years old. The fiction comes with the reason she did so, and how she came by the name “Bessie.” As far as we know our Great-aunt Loney didn’t start calling her that when she was a baby leading her to take that name as her own.

Then there’s Elisi who is probably 90% fiction and 10% fact. Bessie’s great grandmother was indeed full-blooded Cherokee (making Bessie 1/4 and Christy and me 1/16) but we have no idea if she gathered wild plants and herbs as a way of making a living. We do know Bessie was familiar with some of the Cherokee medicine but we don’t know where she learned it or who taught it to her. And the name Elisi? That’s Cherokee for grandmother which is why we decided to call her that. We weren’t able to find her real name in the records nor were we able to verify the heritage but family history via Aunt Bessie tells us she was indeed full-blooded Cherokee and that she and her familly hid in the mountains to escape the Trail of Tears.

I think that covers the first chapter. All the characters in this one were real people (witness Papa’s picture above) but the stories, while based on fact, are laced with our imagination.

Did I forget anything? If I did, please leave a comment and I’ll address it next Friday. For now, happy Memorial Day everybody and amid all the cookouts, picnics and parades, don’t forget to honor all those who are currently serving or have served our country!

…and the most ridiculous are the most adhesive.–Thomas C. Haliburton

Stone Mountain Missionary Baptist Church - picture from Find A Grave by Carroll

Stone Mountain Missionary Baptist Church – picture from Find A Grave by Carroll

I’ve spent the last week immersed in genealogy sites while becoming more familiar with my ancestors–both those I actually knew and those I didn’t. And after spending hours on the Find a Grave site, looking at the many “Elliott” tombstones at the Stone Mountain Baptist Church Cemetery, all I can say is Stone Mountain must have, at one time, been crawling with our relatives.One of the things I’ve enjoyed most while doing this research is the names. Names have always been a problem for me when I’m writing, especially for secondary characters. I’ve been known to agonize for hours over a name for one character.

With Whistling Woman, we were lucky enough to have the book The Season of Dorland Bell, written by our cousin, Jackie Burgin Painter who grew up in Hot Springs. Jackie, thankfully for us, did a tremendous amount of research on Dorland Bell, including a list of students’ names from the first years of the school. With that at our hands, all we had to do was look at the list and choose a name–we usually did this by picking a first name at random and then choosing another surname to go with it, instead of using the actual names of people that once attended the school.

With Moonfixer, I don’t think names are going to be a problem either–all we have to do is look at the tombstones of the Elliotts in Stone Mountain Church Cemetery (a huge thanks to the person who downloaded all the pictures to the Find a Grave site!) and that’ll be it. There are so many to choose from;  Doctor (no, that wasn’t his profession, it was his actual name), Daisy, Easter, Taft Commodore, Gemma Alephair, Mintie Jane, Dollie, Lura, and yes, even an Ellie Mae.

In addition to all those wonderful real names, we also have our Uncle Ken (Daddy’s half brother) who read and loved Whistling Woman and now is sending us stories he remembers Aunt Bessie, Uncle Fletcher or other relatives telling him while he lived on Stone Mountain with his mother (Francis Ann–Jack–from Whistling Woman) and her third husband, Boyd Elliott (a cousin of Fletcher’s).

And those stories are chock-full of nicknames (Daddy and Uncle Ken tell us the mountain folks were partial to giving nicknames to people for a particular trait or characteristic): “Stumblin’ Gilliam, “Buttermilk” Stroud, “Bad-eye” Bruce, “Cotton” Davis and his brother “Goober,” and, of course, Moonfixer, the name they gave Aunt Bessie because she was tall for a woman.

Given that, we’ve decided to use some of those unusual nicknames as the chapter headings, like we used southern sayings for the chapter headings in Whistling Woman. So, we have the chapter titles, a good resource for the secondary character names, scads of books and websites dealing with NC history, and most important, lots of family stories. Next up, finish writing the book!

(One interesting note about Aunt Bessie and Uncle Ken; when he was a child she predicted he’d grow up to be a scientist and live far away from North Carolina. He grew up to be a nuclear scientist and lives in New Mexico! You can bet Aunt Bessie’s “gift” will play a huge part in Moonfixer!)

mockingbird

“Your father’s right,” she said.  “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.  They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.  That’s why it’s  a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Miss Maudie to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

That’s one of my favorite quotes from my favorite book and movie.  In the movie, Atticus is the one to speak it to Scout, Jem, and Walter Cunningham, but in the book, it’s Miss Maudie speaking to Scout.  Of course, it really comes from Harper Lee’s talent and heart and that quote describes her book perfectly…which is exactly what Christy and I tried to do when we started the book about our great aunt’s life in the mountains of North Carolina.

We’d heard stories all our life, both from our dad and from great aunt Bessie when she was still alive, about a life that to us was nothing short of amazing.  The stories are many and varied, but in a nutshell,  Aunt Bessie lived life her way.  Christy and I encouraged our dad to write them down, but he says he’s an artist–he paints–not a writer so we knew it would be up to us, the writers in our family.  Those stories are too precious to let them die. 

When we decided to write the book–and hopefully do justice to the stories and our great aunt’s life–we of course thought of Ms. Lee’s masterpiece and the old southern saying that she used for her title, ’tis a sin to kill a mockingbird. That adage describes her book to perfection and so, emulating our favorite author, we started searching for just the right saying for our book. When we found it, we knew it right away.

“A whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to a very good end.”

It means to be who and what you’re meant to be.  That saying not not only gave us the title of the book, Whistling Woman, it also fit the main character and gave a hint of what the book was about.

Many thanks to Harper Lee for writing what we both consider the quintessential book and for giving us the idea to go looking for a quote that would describe our book as perfectly as hers describes To Kill a Mockingbird.

Chasing the Brown Mountain Lights

Into the Brown Mountain Lights

Seeking the Brown Mountain Lights

Through the Brown Mountain Lightss

Brown Mountain Lights Book 1

Wise Woman

Appalachian Journey Book 4

Beloved Woman

Appalachian Journey Book 3

Moonfixer

Appalachian Journey Book 2

Whistling Woman

Appalachian Journey Book 1

Madchen, die pfeifen

Whistling Woman (German)

Les deces arrivant toujours par trois

Whistling Woman (French)

Christy Tillery French Cynthia Tillery Hodges