Utilising A ‘Useless Degree’ In My Writing
I have what many would call a useless degree: an Honours BA in History and Philosophy. There was a time when a BA was money in the bank when you went looking for a job. Not so much anymore. If I had any sense at the time, I would have trained to be a plumber.
Still, I’ve never regretted my Artsy-fartsy degree. I learned how to think critically, how to research, and how to write to the point. (Sometimes I still waver on that last one.) All of those skills come in handy writing, whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, or advertising copy—and I’ve done all of the above.
For instance, my Nineteenth Century American history course focussed on the Industrial Revolution and the Robber Barons. What I studied about the Civil War, at the time, was looked at from that specific angle. So, I knew that north versus south had more to do with industrial wealth versus land-based aristocracy than whether or not blacks should be citizens. This knowledge came in handy later. About the same time I was taking that course, the 1985 miniseries North and South was released. Not long after, Ken Burns’ Civil War came out on PBS. I went back to that documentary, and what I learned in my course, and most importantly my research skills when I was writing HAZARDOUS UNIONS.
My co-author Kat Flannery and I did mountains of research in order to do our stories credit. You might not realize how much when you read the book. In fact, I hope you don’t. In one respect, writing an essay and writing fiction are alike. You can’t include everything if you want to keep on point. The point of HAZARDOUS UNIONS is to give the reader an entertaining story to read, not a history lesson. But, without beating them on the head with it, I hope our readers will also walk away know a few new things about this fascinating period in the United States’ past.
Thank you, Alison. You can find out more about Alison and her writing from…
- Website: http://www.alisonbruce.ca
- Blog: http://alisonebruce.blogspot.ca
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/alisonebruce
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alisonbruce.books
And now more about her / Kat’s book…
HAZARDOUS UNIONS: Two Tales of a Civil War Christmas
Twin sisters separated by war, bound by love…
After the death of their father, twin sisters Maggie and Matty Becker are forced to take positions with officers’ families at a nearby fort. When the southern states secede, the twins are separated, and they find themselves on opposite sides of America’s bloodiest war.
In the south, Maggie travels with the Hamiltons to Bellevue, a plantation in west Tennessee. When Major Hamilton is captured, it is up to Maggie to hold things together and deal with the Union cavalry troop that winters at Bellevue. Racism, politics and a matchmaking stepmother test Maggie’s resourcefulness as she fights for Bellevue, a wounded Confederate officer and the affections of the Union commander.
In the north, Matty discovers an incriminating letter in General Worthington’s office, and soon she is on the run. With no one to turn to for help, she drugs the wealthy Colonel Cole Black and marries him, in hopes of getting the letter to his father, the governor of Michigan. But Cole is not happy about being married, and Matty’s life becomes all about survival.
Two unforgettable stories of courage, strength and honor.
- Title: HAZARDOUS UNIONS
- Genre: Historical Romance
- Authors: Alison Bruce (www.alisonbruce.ca) & Kat Flannery (www.katflannery-author.com)
- Publisher: Imajin Books (www.imajinbooks.com)
- Purchase link: http://www.amazon.com/Hazardous-Unions-Tales-Christmas-ebook/dp/B00EXA735I
Excerpt: Maggie by Alison Bruce
The Yankees were coming.
We’d seen the signs days ago. News was, most of west Tennessee had fallen under Union control. Thaddeus scouted them out while hunting rabbits in the brush that bordered the plantation’s cotton fields. We’d prepared as best we could as fast as we could, and now I was waiting for them on the front veranda of Bellevue.
“Someone has to meet them, Miss Maggie,” Mammy said, setting out tea things as if the neighbors were coming to call. “Mrs. Hamilton hasn’t got your nerve and Miss Patience wouldn’t be a lick of good even if she would come downstairs.”
“I’m just a servant,” I objected half-heartedly.
“Yeah, like Tad here is just a dumb nigger.” Mammy cocked her head to one side and a moment later I heard the faint but shrill whistle of the kettle. She smoothed the skirt of her greying white pinny over her faded grey dress. Eventually, the two garments were going to match. “Watch out for her, boy,” she said, before heading around the corner of the wraparound porch toward the kitchen door.
Only Mammy could get away with calling Thaddeus “boy” or “nigger” without coming under the resolute stare of a man who looked like he could have been carved out of a huge block of obsidian. Mammy was his aunt and had raised him, along with Major Hamilton, from nursery age. The boys had been more like brothers than master and slave, Mammy said, until Master Ned was sent off to West Point to be made an officer and a gentleman. It was hard for me to reconcile her picture of Master Ned with the aloof man who had employed me to take care of his wife.
I was barely sixteen when I was hired by the Captain, now Major Hamilton. Some days I felt that I was twice that age now, instead of just a couple of years older. Today, watching the Union contingent approach, I felt like that frightened girl again. I took small comfort in the pair of pistols hidden in the pockets of my crinoline. Knowing that Thaddeus was watching over me from the shadows, armed to the teeth, was more reassuring.
Half a dozen hard looking men approached the house. Four of them spread out, some facing us, some partly turned to keep an eye on the out buildings. Two of them rode up the path towards the porch. I felt like I was being ringed in by a pack of hungry wolves. The leader of the pack rode up to the bottom of the front steps.
Wolfish was a description that fit him. Hard muscled, wary eyes, shaggy dark hair spiking out from his cap, he looked old with experience and young in years. His uniform had seen better days and his beard was untrimmed, but it appeared that he had made some effort to clean up before approaching the house. That was a good sign.
I had also made an effort for appearances sake. Instead of my usual long braid, I had twisted my blonde hair into knot and allowed tendrils to fall free on either side of my face. I was wearing one of the calico dresses Mrs. Hamilton bought me in St. Louis. She wanted to make it clear that I was no mere servant any more. I was using it today for similar reasons.
“Afternoon, ma’am. I’m Captain Seth Stone. I have a cavalry troop under my command that needs to set up quarters for the winter.”
“I see.” My voice was steady, but I could feel my knees wobble beneath my skirts. “And?”
“And this looks like a good place to stay.”
“How many are you expecting us to accommodate?”
I heard a chuckle from one of his men. It was stifled with a sharp look from the grim-faced sergeant behind the captain.
“Not so many as there should be,” the Captain said, ignoring the interruption. “If you’d oblige me by asking your man to lay down his arms, maybe we can discuss terms.”
“Gott hilf mir,” I prayed, but held my ground. “You have your protectors, Captain. I have mine.”
With a hand gesture, he signaled his men and they all dismounted as neatly as if they were on parade. Then he dismounted and held out his reins to the sergeant.
“Thaddeus, would you lead these troopers and their horses to water?”
Thaddeus stepped out of the shadows, empty handed. “Yes, miss.”
The two men passed on the stairs. Thaddeus was significantly taller and broader than the Union officer and was doing his best guard dog imitation, but the Captain didn’t flinch when they passed. He did keep his eye on Thaddeus until he was in the range of his own men. Then he turned his attention back to me and I lifted my head up to make eye-contact. He may not have been as tall as Thaddeus, but he was not a small man and I am on the short side for a woman.
Having asserted his dominance, he backed up a step.
“I understand this is the Hamilton home. Are you Mrs. Hamilton?”
“No, sir. I am Magrethe Becker, Mrs. Hamilton’s companion.”
His eyes widened. “Maybe I should be speaking to the lady of the house.”
“Mrs. Hamilton is indisposed and asked me to…” I stopped, looking for the right word. Meet with him? That sounded too friendly. Deal with him? Almost rude. “Negotiate terms with you.”
He let out a short bark of laughter.
“My terms are simple, Miss Becker. I need to winter seventy men and three officers, plus myself. It’ll be tight, but this place looks like it has enough room with the house and out buildings. We’ll need food and fodder of course. You can either offer, or I will take.”
I shook my head. “No.”
He barked out a longer laugh. “What makes you think you’re in the position to say no?”
“Twelve wounded union soldiers in our care, Captain Stone.”
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. Guidelines on guest-blogs. There are other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internet, view my Books (including my debut novel The Serial Dater’s Shopping List, various short story collections and writer’s block workbooks) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating and choose an optional free eBook.
For writers / readers willing to give feedback and / or writers wanting feedback, take a look at this blog’s Feedback page.
As I post a spotlight or interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. If there’s anything you’d like to take part in, take a look at Opportunities on this blog.
I welcome items for critique directly (see Editing & Critique) or for posting on the online writing groups listed below:
Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
We look forward to reading your comments.