Ruth will be receiving an autographed copy of my latest book,
I’ll be sending you an email, Ruth, so be watching for it.
Thanks to everyone who entered.
Be sure to hug a teacher this week … or at least eat an apple in his/her honor.
Here in Texas, our children have returned to the classroom. My three kids were up early Monday morning, making lunches, packing backpacks, and rushing off to the first day of school. My oldest is starting her senior year of high school. Gasp! Not sure mom is quite ready for what that means. But whether mom is ready or not, it has begun.
In the American West, teachers were often little more than former students who had completed the 8th grade and gone on to pass a teacher’s examination. My youngest is starting 8th grade this year, and I can’t even imagine him having enough knowledge to turn around and teach.
As more settlers headed west and communities grew, so did the demand for teachers with a higher education. In the early 1800s, schoolmasters were men. They ruled their classrooms with discipline and authority. Yet in the 1830s when tax-supported common schools made education more widely available, the result was a teacher shortage that left the door open for women.
“God seems to have made woman peculiarly suited to guide and develop the infant mind, and it seems…very poor policy to pay a man 20 or 22 dollars a month, for teaching children the ABCs, when a female could do the work more successfully at one third of the price.” — Littleton School Committee, Littleton, Massachusetts, 1849
By the time of the Civil War, women dominated the teaching field. However, if a woman wanted to set herself apart, to establish herself as a professional, she required training that went beyond the rudimentary grammar schooling of her peers. She needed a diploma from a reputable Normal School.
Normal Schools were two-year academies designed to grant teachers a mastery of the subjects taught in the common schools as well as giving them a practical knowledge of teaching methodology. Normal Schools prided themselves on their thorough, cohesive, and “scientific” curriculum. They would provide a norm for all teachers (hence the term Normal School) that would assure a level of quality generally unavailable previously.
The Boston Normal School, for example, was established in 1872. According to a regulation manual published in 1888, a teacher studying there would have taken courses in the following areas:
- Mental and Moral Science and Logic
- Physiology and Hygiene
- Natural Science
- Study of Language
- Elementary Studies
- Principles of Education, School Economy, and Methods of Instruction
- Vocal Music, Drawing, and Blackboard Illustration
- Observation and Practice in the Training School
- Observation and Practice in other public schools
Not so very different from our current teacher education programs, is it?
The heroine in my latest release is a teacher of exceptional youths, or what we would call today – gifted children or child prodigies.
In honor of teachers across the country who are getting back into their classrooms, I’ll be giving away an autographed copy of A Worthy Pursuit to one reader who leaves a comment.
Tell me about you favorite first-day-of-school memory. What made you excited, what you dreaded. How long it took you to pick out the perfect outfit. Anything related to the first day – kindergarten through college. Or maybe your first day as a teacher, if that is your profession. Anything is fair game.
Have fun! 🙂
Right around the start of the Civil War, Erastus and Irwin Beadle published a new series of cheap paperbacks entitled Beadle’s Dime Novels. Thanks to increased literacy rates among the American people during this time, and the inexpensive price (yes, they truly did cost a dime), these thin, paper-bound books met with huge success. The debut novel – Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, by Ann Stephens (a woman – hooray!) sold more than 65,000 copies within the first few months of its publication. Those are the kind of numbers even today’s authors would get excited about – believe me! The book released on June 9, 1860 and was basically a reprint of a serialized story that had appeared in the Ladies’ Companion magazine back in 1839.
Dime novels varied in size and thickness, but the tended to be about 100 pages in length, about the equivalent to today’s novella. At first, dime novel covers had no cover art beyond the fancy title script. But it didn’t take long for the Beadles to move to illustrated covers, better designed to grab a browsing customer’s attention.
If you saw a homicidal squaw about to tomahawk a frontiersman, wouldn’t that grab your attention? The next one is slightly less blatant with the rifleman helping a young woman escape danger, but there is certainly still an element of adventure and the breathless question of “What will happen next?”
Dime novels were famous for lurid, often melodramatic tales of the frontier. Heroes were larger than life and typically had exaggerated strength and skill. Not that the readers cared. The more jaw-dropping the story, the more fun it was to read. Hence the birth of genre paperback fiction.
In my latest release, A Worthy Pursuit, I have a lot of fun playing with these dime novel ideals. Young Lily is an avid, and rather bloodthirsty, fan of dime novels – her favorites being the tales of Dead-Eye Dan and his winsome companion Hammer Rockwell, who just happens to bear a striking similarity to Stone Hammond, our hero.
Here’s a sneak peak from one of the scenes where Stone and Lily are reading dime novels together:
Taking Dead-Eye Dan in hand, Stone fanned the pages to a random spot in the middle. “‘Dan dove behind a fallen tree as a hailstorm of bullets rained down around him. The Gatling Gang had come by their moniker honestly, laying down rapid fire that mimicked the output of the famed war gun. Unruffled by the deadly flurry, however, Dan flipped onto his back behind the log and reloaded his Henry repeater with methodical precision. The six-gun at his hip sported full chambers. The knife on his belt was razor-sharp and ready for action.'” Stone’s voice trailed off, cueing Lily.
She grinned, taking up the challenge like a seasoned gamester.
“‘Bullets blasted shards of bark all around Dan, but he just brushed the pieces off his chest with a flick of his wrist. Billy’s gang couldn’t aim worth a hill of beans. That’s why they always sprayed so much lead. It was the only way they ever hit anything. Too often, innocent civilians. Dan scowled, his jaw tightening as he rolled onto his side to steal a peek over the top of the log. One against seven were lousy odds, but Billy Cavanaugh and his crew were vermin that needed e-rad-i-cation.'” She stumbled slightly over the large word, but it didn’t stop her. She passed right over it and forged ahead. “‘He’d just wait for them to reload, then take them out one by one.'”
Stone closed the book and set it in his lap. “You do know this story is hugely exaggerated, right?” He tossed the dime novel to Lily and winked at her. “There were only five men in the Gatling Gang, not seven. And Daniel Barrett didn’t bring them all in on his own. He had help.”
Lily’s blue eyes glimmered as she rose up on her knees, bringing her face level with his. “Do you mean to tell me that you know Dead-Eye Dan?”
Stone blew a self-deprecating breath out of the side of his mouth. “Know him? Shoot. He and I were partners back in the day. ‘Course no one actually calls him Dead-Eye Dan. He’s a rancher now, foreman at a place called Hawk’s Haven up north a piece. Gave up chasin’ criminals in order to chase cows. He is a crack shot, though. Saved my sorry hide more than once.” He nudged Lily with his shoulder, nearly toppling her back onto the cushions. “‘Course I saved his hide a time or two, myself.”
“Wait a minute.” Lily drew in a breath so large, he expected her head to start swelling. “You’re . . . You’re . . . Hammer Rockwell. The man who shows up in the nick of time and takes the Gatling Gang by surprise by climbing down the box canyon wall with his knife clenched in his teeth!”
Hammer Rockwell? Knife in his teeth? “Of all the ridiculous, made-up, nonsense,” Stone sputtered. “I’ll have you know, all my knives were safely stowed in their sheaths when I made that climb.”
- Do you like your fictional heroes larger than life? Or do you prefer more realistic story lines?
All my life, I have adored music. I played the flute from 5th grade through my freshman year in college. Then I met my husband, and he convinced me to switch to choir. I sang in the top choral group for 3 years and a smaller group for 4, continuing during graduate school. My husband and I both sang with a community chorus for a couple years as well. Of course, we sing in church, and all three of our kids have found some level of enjoyment with music, too. We have our own little family quartet on Sundays. I sing soprano, my 17 year-old daughter sings alto, my 15 year-old son sings tenor, my hubby sings bass, and my youngest (13) sings whatever part he feels like.
My daughter plays the same flue now that I did back in the day. My oldest son plays French horn, and my youngest plays trumpet. I guess you could say we have a musical gene in our DNA.
The one instrument I always wished I could play is the piano. Growing up, I begged my parents to buy one for our house, not quite understanding how expensive that would be, and every year they turned me down. When I got to college, I took 2 years of private piano lessons as an elective, but I was a little too set in my treble clef ways and never really got the hang of the bass clef parts.
So, when I decided to write Charlotte’s story in A Worthy Pursuit, I gave her the gift I’d always wanted for myself–the gift of playing the piano like a master. And one of her charges is a prodigy as well.
Stone, the hero, has never really heard classical piano music. He’s more used to the tinny sounds coming from saloons and dance halls. But just because his ear is uneducated doesn’t mean it’s unappreciative. The first time Charlotte and Stone really let their barriers down with each other is after Stone overhears her playing her heart out on the piano.
Here’s a glimpse:
The piano beckoned to her like a lost love, promising solace. Promising peace. She slid onto the bench and positioned her hands over the keys. Dobson had taken the children fishing down at the lake. There was no one to hear. No one to see.
As a music instructor, she’d played in front of her students countless times, but always when she was in full control. Never when the storm raged so recklessly inside her that she had to play or be consumed. Not when her soul would be vulnerable, exposed. No, those times required privacy. And God’s providence had provided precisely that at the moment she needed it most.
Closing her eyes, her fingers hit the keys. Chopin. Her fingers needed to fly and her mind needed the challenge. The dark tones and unconventional chords of the prelude in G minor told her story. Trapped. Helpless. Questions that had no answers. But the short piece ended too quickly. Her emotions still churned for release. So she chose another. Number 28. F sharp minor. Her agitated spirit accepted the frantic pace, stealing her breath as her fingers sprinted over the keys. But it wasn’t enough. Chopin challenged her, pushed her, but his music didn’t speak to her soul. Not like Beethoven. The Tempest. That’s what she needed to play.
Lifting her hands away from the keys, Charlotte straightened her posture and let her gaze rest on an indistinct space on the wall over the sofa until the melody of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 17 in D minor sang through her mind.
She could hear her father’s instructions. Don’t touch the keys until the music is in you. Until your heart is one with the song.
Her fingers hovered above the piano. She breathed. In. Out. Felt the storm build.
It began gently. Like she had. Wanting to trust. Wanting to believe that Stone Hammond wouldn’t betray them as so many men in her life had done before. But in less than two bars, the doubts rained down. She didn’t really know him. Why would he forfeit Dorchester’s payment? Why would he care?
Yet he’d taken on a wildcat for Stephen without a thought to his own safety. The music slowed again, like a ray of sun peeking through the clouds just long enough to give hope before the gray storm blotted it from the sky. This time the storm raged longer. Her right hand warring with her left as the lighter tones tried to press their way through the roiling seas of the lower hand, like a mermaid calling to a sailor caught in a maelstrom, urging him not to give up, not to be afraid.
Unlike the Chopin preludes, Beethoven’s sonata stretched long before her, allowing her to fully immerse herself into the swells and currents of the song. Up and down she went, over and over. To trust or not to trust? If she did and he betrayed her, what would she do next? How could she protect Lily?
The music became a prayer, the groans of her spirit that were too complex for words. She poured herself out until exhaustion claimed her, the tempest building to its thunderous conclusion before finally giving way to peace. Her spirit gave up the fight as well. Spent from the frenzy of worry. She couldn’t control Stone or his motives. She had to give that over into God’s keeping. He could be trusted even if Stone couldn’t. The Lord would show her what to do when the time came.
How about you?
- Do you play an instrument or sing?
- If you could play any instrument in the world, what would you choose?
Yes, today is the big double 4. But since I’ve always been a fan of the 11’s times table (who doesn’t love the fun of 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, etc.?), I’m embracing the additional tally on my age column with good humor.
And since I’m in such a good mood, I thought – Why not give away 2 copies of my brand new release? Couldn’t think of any reason not to, so here we go.
I will choose two winners at random from those who leave comments below. (US addresses only.) And since it’s my birthday, let’s go with a theme question.
- What is the craziest birthday gift you ever received? (It can be crazy good, crazy awful, crazy funny, or just crazy bizarre.)
And in the meantime, I thought I’d give you all a taste of A Worthy Pursuit. So here’s a excerpt from Charlotte and Stone’s story. In this scene, Stone Hammond has been knocked out, trussed up, and is being dragged to Charlotte Atherton’s doorstep. Having regained consciousness on the way, Stone decides to feign insensibility to covertly learn more about his target – the woman who abducted three children from their school in the dead of night. Only she’s not the cold-hearted kidnapper he expected to find.
“Mr. Dobson? What on earth . . .?”
Fabric snapped back and forth in a rapid staccato as Miss Atherton hurried to see what her guard dog had drug in.
“He was up on the ridge, miss. Spying on you and the young’uns. With these.”
Ah. Well, at least Stone knew where his field glasses had ended up. The evidence they presented was rather damning, though. He could practically feel her gaze wandering over him, assessing the threat.
Then she was touching him. Her cool hand skimmed over his face until her fingertips rested against the pulse point at his neck. His blood surged at the contact.
“He has a vigorous pulse. I suppose we should be thankful for that.”
Too vigorous for an unconscious man. She didn’t say the words, but Stone heard the suspicion in her tone. The woman was no fool. He willed his breathing to slow, hoping to compensate for his unplanned reaction to her touch.
“I don’t see any blood. You didn’t shoot him, did you?”
“No, miss. Just knocked him a good one. He’ll rouse afore long. What do you want me to do with him?”
An excellent question, Stone thought. Time to see just how far the teacher was willing to go to keep her ill-gotten gains.
“You’ll have to help me get him into the house. I can’t tend to him properly out here in the yard.”
“Get him into the . . .” Dobson sputtered. “Have you lost your mind, woman? You can’t take him into your house. That ain’t what I was askin’. I was askin’ if you wanted me to cart him into Madisonville to the sheriff or take him out back and work out a more permanent solution. Sure as manure stinks, he’s Dorchester’s man.”
“Probably. But we don’t know that for certain. Perhaps he’s simply a cow hand with a penchant for bird watching.”
Bird watching? Stone nearly jumped to his feet to defend his manhood against the foul slur. Only sissified dandies wasted time on—
Her palm pressed against his chest.
As if signaling him to stay down. Had she read his mind?
“Bird watching?” Dobson’s incredulous voice soothed Stone’s pride. “What a load of bunkum. Look at him. He ain’t no bird watcher. He’s a mercenary.”
Retriever, Stone silently corrected. Not mercenary. His brain was for hire, not his gun.
“Even so,” the teacher said, “I can’t condone violence against him. The Bible instructs us to love both our neighbor and our enemy, so no matter which category this man falls into, it is our place to offer assistance. Now, help me carry him into the house.” Her hand finally slid from his chest, but Stone was too stunned to move a muscle.