Millie McLendon: Jayhawker! has a cover! I am so thrilled with this cover. Every time my graphic artist, Vanessa Hull, creates a new cover for me, I think, yup, this one’s my favorite. Well, this one’s my favorite, with the blue sky and golden wheat. The countdown to publication has started!
I suppose I could have written some cogent and pithy things just to fill up the space here. Thing is, I’m not that good at idle small talk.
So this me, waiting until I have big news to write something. I’m justthisclose to a publication date for my new book, Millie McLendon: Jayhawker! Jayhawker! is a first in many ways. For one thing, it’s the first middle-grade book I’ve written. It’s also the first straight-up historical fiction novel I’ve done.
I just got so tired of having 8-10 year olds come up to my table at tabling venues and walking away disappointed when all of the books were either too babyish (Finn the Hero series) or too mature (Cat Moon, The Second Battle, and Space Bugs.) I decided I needed something just for them.
I rolled around ideas for several stories, but then one morning I woke up, and Jayhawker! popped into my head, almost fully-formed. Even the name of my protagonist, Millie McLendon, came soon after. Every other story idea faded into the background, and I knew had the story I was looking to write.
The story of Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence, Kansas, is a well-enough known part of U.S. Civil War history, but let me tell you that for eastern Kansas, it is THE story. An argument can be made the Civil War didn’t really start at Fort Sumter. In fact, it started in many ways in the territories of Kansas and Missouri the decade before, in the 1850s.
As these territories (land stolen from Native Americans, I should add) were applying for statehood, the United States Congress decided to angle for a balance of power to keep the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions equal, so that one side would not gain dominance on the national scene. We sure wouldn’t want our government to disagree with anyone who thought that those who bought, sold, and owned other human beings were “very good people,” would we?
That, of course, set the stage for the “Border Wars” along the dividing line between the two territories. The town of Lawrence was, in fact, founded for the express purpose of bringing abolitionists to Kansas to ensure the state stayed slave-free. Eventually, Missouri entered the Union as a slave state, and Kansas as a free state. As you might imagine the trouble did not end with that. Raids and skirmishes, looting and pillaging, and even murders went on for years before and during the Civil War.
This “Bloody Kansas” period is full of colorful characters. John Brown, who was fanatically devoted to the abolitionist cause was in Kansas during this time. “Bloody Bill” Anderson was a feared pro-Confederate guerrilla leader. General James Lane was another anti-slavery fighter. Frank, and later Jesse, James were famous pro-slavery proponents who began their outlaw life as bushwhackers. And then there was William Quantrill.
It was Quantrill who organized the Lawrence massacre of August 21, 1863. Ostensibly an act of revenge for abolitionist jayhawker raids into Missouri, Quantrill led his band of mostly drunk and disorderly ruffians west into Kansas in the early hours of the morning. By noon, when they retreated in the wake of United States Army, the town of Lawrence lay in waste, burning, and two-hundred men and boys were dead.
The legacy of Quantrill’s Raid and the other acts of border violence is a population still on oddly precarious terms. The Kansas City metropolitan area is, of course, transversed by roads and bridges. Crossing back and forth over the state line is an everyday occurrence. And for the most part, residents of the KC metro rub along quite nicely together.
The rivalry, though, still runs deep in unexpected ways. The two Kansas Cities and their suburbs vie to attract business to “their” side of the state line with economic incentives. People often use unflattering language to refer to those who live on the other side of the river–often ridiculing each other over which state is the most right-wing and reactionary. (Spoiler: most days, it’s a tie.)
Nowhere is this rivalry more apparent than in the passions of fans of the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri.The annual games between the two schools are even given the unfortunate title of “Border War.”
It is against this backdrop of historical and modern hostility that the story of the fictionalized Millie McLendon: Jayhawker! unfolds. I can’t wait for you to read it!
I’ve settled on that as a working title at least. I have yet another work-in-progress in my brain, possibly for NaNoWriMo this upcoming November. The premise is “Whatever happened to Mary Bennet?”
Jane Austen gives precious few bits of information regarding the futures of the Bennet sisters in her letters. Obviously, Jane and Lizzy get their respective happily-ever-afters. And I don’t care one bit what happens to Lydia or Kitty. Not really, anyway. Lydia deserves what she gets, and Kitty is kind of boring. I wish her well with her vicar, but I’m not interested otherwise.
But Mary? Sure, she was foolish and self-important and prudish in P&P. But think about how very alone she was. Jane and Lizzy had each other. And, well, Lydia had Kitty to domineer and influence, if it wasn’t equally requited to Kitty’s benefit. Still, they had each other for companionship. Mary, however, was simply in the middle and alone, merely tolerated by both her older and younger sisters.
I was noodling the information Austen revealed in letters around in my head one day, just before Creative Writing Club one morning at school. Mary, she wrote, grew somewhat more social when forced to go with her mother on outings and visits after all her sisters were married and out of the house. Eventually she married a clerk in her Uncle Phillips’ law office and became quite content with her status as a social big fish in the small Meryton pond. That’s it. That’s all that Austen revealed about Mary’s outcome.
I started imagining the when and how of all that, and I eventually wrote this little drabbly-bit to get myself started. I think it has good potential.
It is an occurrence commonly understood that it will befall an unmarried daughter to be required to care for her parents in their waning years, and so it had turned out for Miss Mary Bennet. Mary smoothed down the coverlet and placed a small pillow under her dear Papa’s head, that he might breathe more comfortably.
In her head, Mary had become, the older she got, brutally honest with herself. As sure as she was that the joy playing her pianoforte and singing afforded her was far outstripped by any actual talent she might possess, Mary was also cognizant of the fact that Mr. Bennet had not, by her, always been considered “dear Papa.”
Mr. Bennet had made it no secret to a younger Mary, that he, when he considered her at all, thought her to be dull and disagreeable. When Mrs. Bennet had surprised her family by succumbing to influenza some years ago, and not, as they had expected, outlived her husband after all, Mary became the mistress of Longbourne, her childhood home. The propinquity thrust upon them gradually fostered in father and daughter a new respect and understanding between them. This happy feeling had, in turn, grown into an honest and forthright affection.
Mr. Bennet patted her hand and murmured, “Mary, my dear. Such a comfort to me. Such a good girl.”
Mary’s typically stern countenance was broken by a tight smile. She was not a girl. It was the year of Our Lord 1832, William IV was on the throne of England, Mary Bennet was eight and thirty years old, and her father was dying.
Just a quick catch-up. It seems as if nothing happens forever, then *whoosh* things happen!
- This summer I (mostly) got the rough draft
for Wolf Moon done. This second book in the Were-Children series picks up right after the end of Cat Moon. It’s a-ways yet from coming out, but the story is finally done!
- The final book in the Finn series will be Finn and the King. There’s a monster!
- National Novel Writing Month is fast approaching, and I’m super excited about a brand new story: Millie McClendon: Jayhawker! This one is middle grade chapter book, and it’s straight-up historical fiction. It’s August 1863 in Lawrence, Kansas, and ten-year-old Millie McClendon is about to meet up with Quantrill’s Raiders.
- Fall events. I’ll be doing the Holly Holly Holly Days event in KCMO before the holidays, and right now, I’m sitting in the Super 8 in Park City, KS, ready for tomorrow’s day in the Kansas Authors Pavilion at the Great Plains Renaissance Festival in Wichita. Come on out!
- I got nothing. But five makes a list!
I posted this on Facebook yesterday. It’s not really author- or book-related, but I thought I would post it here anyway. I’m a teacher at my day job, and this is something I feel strongly about.
Yesterday, after 17 people died at a school shooting in Florida, I stood in front of my middle school classrooms, hour after hour, reteaching the intruder drill procedures for my room. I wanted to reassure my kids that there was a plan in place if this thing that should be unthinkable, but which is now perfectly thinkable, should happen to them.
In my classroom, there are two doors to the hallway. One of them remains locked from the outside at all times. The other is the door students use to enter and leave class. It’s the only door I need to secure in the event of a lockdown. Both of these hallway doors have floor-to-ceiling windows to one side of them. That effectively means that I do not have a safe corner opposite a door anywhere in my room. All four corners are exposed.
What I do have, though, is a huge storage area with a locked door. It only locks from the outside. Let me repeat: IT ONLY LOCKS FROM THE OUTSIDE.
I reminded the kids of our plan. In the event of a lockdown, they will quickly and quietly come to the front of the room and raise the projector screen, open the closet door, and go in. I will be locking the hallway door while they do this. Then, I will retrieve the closet key from where I have it taped up for easy access, and I will lock them in the closet. I will then slide the key under the door to them.
Mostly the kids grew silent. Some started thinking hard. You could see it in their eyes. Others, being middle-schoolers, snickered and giggled and cracked jokes. Don’t be put off by them. It means they either just don’t get it, or that they’re so scared the only way they can deal with their fear is with gallows humor. They’re twelve, so cut them some slack.
One girl, this time, shouted across the room, “Shut up. This isn’t funny.” The room grew quiet.
Then the questions started. “Well, what if . . .” “But what if . . .” “How about if . . .”
I raised my hand for silence. “Here’s the deal, folks. Our school’s plan is designed to save as many lives as possible the best way we know how. It is not a guarantee that everyone survives. All those kids in Parkland did exactly what they were supposed to do. They did everything right. And seventeen people still died.”
It grew very, very quiet. I heard a lot of deep breaths around the room. One girl had tears in her eyes. Then another voice piped up.
“Wait, Miss.” she said, “If you lock us in the closet, doesn’t that mean you’ll be out here?” All thirteen pairs of eyes looked up at me.
“Yes,” I said, “and that’s why I need you to be absolutely silent in that closet, no matter what happens.”
“You would do that?” she pressed.
“In a heartbeat. Just stay quiet so you get out alive. Make it worth it.”
The thing, though, is that I’m not extraordinary. I’m not special. I have never met a teacher in my entire career who wouldn’t do the exact same thing. That’s not what this is about.
Here’s what I want you to understand. This is normal, everyday life in America’s schools. Students in every school, at every grade, are being educated on their responsibilities in preventing a massacre, things that the adults in their lives should be assuming the responsibility for, whose responsibility it truly is. And all the while the president is telling massacre survivors that maybe they could have done just a little bit more to prevent what had happened to them.
For an entire generation of American students, just living with this possibility that is increasingly feeling more and more like an eventuality is traumatic. Our kids are already traumatized by living like this, even if there is never a shooter in their building. Just as my generation was shaped by practicing getting under our desks in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack—another futile exercise—this generation is in trauma over the expectation that anywhere they go, whether it’s a concert, a mall, a restaurant, or their school, there is a good chance they’ll be murdered.
It has to stop. And spare me your Second-Amendment arguments. It’s all you’ve got. If you don’t have any other practical solution than MOAR GUNS, then you don’t get to participate in the conversation about what we do next to make this stop. If you, deep down in your heart of hearts, feel perfectly content to exercise your allegedly restraint-free right to bear arms on the backs, not of Revolutionary patriots of mythic proportion who fought and died for your freedom, but on the backs of children who are bleeding out in the hallways and cafeteria floors of U.S. schools, on the backs of their friends who watch helplessly as it happens, and on the backs of the teachers who are placing their very bodies in front of bullets for them, then shame on you. You don’t deserve those rights. Your right to own possessions of any kind is not and never will be greater than the rights of our children to live.
If you plan to respond to any of this, I suggest that you be careful how you do so. I am not sad, and I am not scared. I am ENRAGED.
2017 ends with three new titles and several events!
In time for Saint Patrick’s Day, I re-released The Second Battle with Four Phoenixes, complete with a dramatic new cover. It opened to some reviews that delighted me.
Later in the year, Adam and I finally got the second book in the Finn the Hero series, Finn and the Fish, out for readers. It spent some time in its Amazon category rubbing shoulders with Tomie dePaola and Rick Riordan, so that was fun.
And last, right before the holidays, I released Space Bugs, the first book in my new hi-lo YA series called Space Cadets. Trying not to be sad about the sales on this one because it is, after all, for a pretty niche audience–struggling or reluctant teen readers. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will be perfect for those who need books like this.
This year, I also made a concerted effort to reach out to events where author’s table their wares. I shared a table with a fellow author at the Kansas Book Festival on the Capitol lawn in Topeka. It was good have a presence there and to chat with fellow authors in the state. I also attended the Great Plains Renaissance Festival, with a table at the Authors Pavilion.
Then towards the holidays, I tabled at Kansas City Comic Con. Didn’t make my table fee back for that, which honestly surprised me. It was a matter of the right audience, but the wrong venue there, I think. It was hard to compete with all the shinies at the other vendor booths.
I had a great deal more success at our local Holly Holly Holly Days women’s arts and crafts event. To make it even better, I did a little networking (do people still network?) with a woman who just opened a local boutique shop with local artists and artisans. Consequently, all my titles are now for sale at 3 Wishes in Merriam, Kansas.
All in all, it was a very productive year, and now I’m looking ahead to 2018. Assuming the world doesn’t end in a cataclysmic inferno (and I’m not taking bets on that) my biggest priority is to get Wolf Moon out to readers. No more excuses, and I’m posting here to keep myself accountable!
If that happens, then Finn and the King and a new Space Cadets book can follow. Bring on 2018!
Forgot to post this at Christmas!