Meet Ruby Weaver from The Roll of the Drums by Jan Drexler

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

Help us get to know you – What do people notice about you when they first meet you?

It has to be my red hair. Not just red, but wiry and curly. It never lies flat and never does what I want it too. Especially on humid days! Most Amish women have straight brown hair that lies smoothly under their kapps. My hair is always in my way.

What would someone notice about you after they learn to know you?

That I’m not the typical Amish woman. I don’t like to do quiet things like quilting or sewing. I’d rather be working outside. I like the open sky, and the wind blowing, and the smells of the earth. I enjoy spending a day in the woods hunting for a bee tree or an evening watching the stars come out.

Tell us about your family and where you live.

I don’t think my family is anything special. After all, we’re much like the other families in our community. My grandparents settled along Weaver’s Creek here in Holmes County, Ohio in the early 1800’s. They were the first Amish settlers here. I remember Grossmutti’s stories of bears and other wild animals in the forest, but now, sixty years later, this is a peaceful and settled area.

In my family I have two brothers, one older and one younger, and three sisters. Two of my sisters are married and live away in Berlin Township. My younger sister is my best friend. We’re having fun keeping house together while her husband is away fighting in the War Between the States.

You said your sister is your best friend. Who are your other friends?

I didn’t have any other close friends until recently. The girls I grew up with have all married and are busy with their husbands and children. Since I don’t plan to marry, we have even less in common than we did when we were growing up.

But when Gideon and Lovinia Fischer came to Weaver’s Creek, I found a kindred spirit in Lovinia. I long for the day when she finally recovers from her illness and we can do more than sit in her sickroom and visit. She is a true friend and I love her dearly.

You made an interesting comment earlier, that you don’t plan to marry. I thought all Amish girls wanted to get married.

That’s probably true. Every girl I know wants to marry and have a family. But in my experience, most men – except for my Datt and my brothers, and maybe Lovinia’s husband Gideon – are selfish pigs who only think about themselves. I had a bad experience with a boy when I was younger, and then I see my sister Elizabeth’s unhappy marriage. I’m not going to take a chance on any man when things can turn out so badly. 

There I go, being too outspoken. It’s a good thing I don’t plan to marry because I can’t think of any man who would put up with my temper and my opinions. Mamm says that both of those things go with my red hair!

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?

I would be careful to think before I speak. Mamm is so wise and good. Everyone comes to her for advice and help. I’ve never heard her say anything unkind and she is always patient, even when Salome Beiler is visiting.

There I go again! I should never have said that about Salome, and yet I can’t seem to stop myself. Forget I said anything, please.

But back to your question, if I could change anything about myself, I would want to be more like my mother. She is as strong-willed and opinionated as I am, but she tempers it with a gentle spirit. I can’t seem to learn to do that.

What is your heart’s deepest desire?

Even though I say I will never marry, I would marry the right man if I could find him. All I want is to meet a man who will love me for who I am and not try to change me. Is that too much to ask? 

What are you most afraid of?

I did something very stupid when I was younger, and because of me, Elizabeth married the wrong man. I didn’t realize how much influence my actions and my words would have on her. My greatest fear is that another younger girl would follow my stupid, sinful life. I don’t fit in with the others at church, and that’s all right. I’m used to it. But I fear that someday one of my nieces or another girl will think that kicking the goads is a good thing to do. I fear that I will unknowingly influence one of those girls to be like me.

What do you think your future holds?

I hope I will spend the rest of my life surrounded by my family and friends. I would like to watch Lovinia’s children grow, and to reach the end of my days being useful to them and to my nieces and nephews.

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!

About the Author Jan Drexler brings a unique understanding of Amish traditions and beliefs to her writing. Her ancestors were among the first Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. Jan lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband, where she enjoys hiking and spending time with her expanding family. She is the author of The Sound of Distant ThunderThe Roll of the DrumsHannah’s ChoiceMattie’s Pledge (a 2017 Holt Medallion finalist), and Naomi’s Hope, as well as several Love Inspired historical novels. 

Interview with The Love Note’s Willa Duvall by Joanna Davidson Politano

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

I’m honored to speak with you!

We heard you’ve found a love letter in an old desk—what are you going to do with it?

Reunite two lovers, of course. Anyone who writes that way deserves to be united with the person who inspired such words. This is no ordinary love story, and I intend to see it through—as long as it isn’t too late, that is. I cannot bear for the person who wrote that letter to wonder why he or she never responded. It’s been buried in a crack of my old desk for who knows how long, and it’s still sealed. Someone needs to fix it, and the letter’s in my hands, so it falls to me. The world is sorely lacking in authentic love, and I’ve found it in this letter—such love should never go to waste.

You do, however, seem like a rather unlikely candidate. What interest does a medical professional have with family drama and old, broken romances?

There’s no one more perfect to find that letter than me. As a soon-to-be-doctor, I’m in the business of mending. Nothing moves me more than repairing what’s broken, whether its bodies or love stories. Besides—and don’t print this–I’ve turned down four proposals, so I’ve had a bit of experience in love. I may be a scientist, but I’m deeply fascinated by love stories—as long as they’re not my own. 

What started you down the path of medicine?

My father serves as a doctor, and I’ve had the opportunity to learn from him and his progressive thinking on medical care. As I’ve grown, I’ve discovered I have a unique combination to bring to the medical world—the education of a man and the keen perception, the warm heart, of a woman. There’s a huge lack in the medical world, and I can help fill it. People are dying who needn’t perish. Every time I think of the lives written off by an overworked doctor or a contaminated hospital, I can think of doing nothing else with my life. 

We’ve heard your next assignment is a long-term one at Crestwicke Manor, serving one Golda Gresham. How does this fit into your goals for the future?

Crestwicke is exactly where I need to be. You see, I signed a contract with my father that if I can successfully complete one nursing assignment, he’ll lay off pushing me into a match. He’ll let me pursue a medical degree, as long as I can find a school to take me on. I have agreed to marry the man of his choosing, should I fail. But I never fail. 

Then there is my other goal—the love letter. The desk where I found that letter came from Crestwicke, and the manor house is mentioned in the lines. The person who wrote it has to be there, and I will not leave until I find out who it is, and who he or she wrote the letter for.

Lady Gresham has a reputation for being demanding. How can you be so certain of your success?

I have a habit of taking on the impossible, so her reputation does not deter me. I’m a capable practitioner, and I have no reason to believe I cannot resolve her complaints, whatever they may be.

To be honest, I find the letter more of a challenge. There is not a single person at Crestwicke with even a trace of romantic flavoring to them. Who could have written such a letter? How will I ever find the truth? I’ll have to use my medical skills of observation and digging to the heart of a matter to unearth the truth of what went on in that house. Certainly someone there wrote the letter—and someone else earned the writer’s love. If there’s an ounce of authentic love in that house, I’ll find it and fan it into a flame.

What is your biggest fear as you embark on this project?

The same thing I fear in every patient visit—that I’ll fail. I’m afraid of failing those who depend upon me as a doctor, failing to notice or investigate or understand, fail to keep myself out of an obligatory marriage and lose myself in the process. I have so much riding on this assignment, but I’ve had so many cases—what could possibly go wrong?

Thanks for visiting with us today!

Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne DisappearsA Rumored Fortune, and Finding Lady Enderly. When she’s not homeschooling her small children, she spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two children in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at www.jdpstories.com.

Meet Brandulf Rex from Bryan Litfin’s The Conqueror

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! If I may, I’d like to ask some questions to get to know you.

Very well. As long as you are not a spy of Maxentius.

First, please tell us something about where you are from.

I am the son of a warrior, King Chrocus of the Alemanni. Our homeland is far away along the Rhenus frontier with the Romans, in the region they call Germania. My mother is an innkeeper in Britannia – beloved to my father, though not his queen. For some years, I sojourned in that rainy land at Eboracum, near Hadrian’s Wall. But then I entered the legions, and my parents were lost to me.

Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name?

My name has two parts—one Germanic, the other Latin. My father named me Brandulf, predicting that I should have the skill of a swordsman and the character of a wolf. Many friends have agreed with that—and some enemies, too, as the light dimmed from their eyes.

When Constantine sent me to the army school to train as a speculator for the legions, the other cadets learned that my father was a king in Germania. So they called me Rex, which means ‘king’ in Latin, more to make fun of me than to affirm me. But perhaps some day they shall bow before me and recognize my lordship in truth!

Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work?

I am a soldier of Rome, yet no ordinary legionary. The speculators are the scouts who operate behind enemy lines. We are elite forces who know the ancient art of pankration, the Greek method of fighting and wrestling that no man can withstand. We are expert with the lance and the sword and bow. The most skillful burglars are spared from crucifixion so they can teach us to infiltrate buildings unseen. We are masters of disguise and experts in the assumption of secret personalities. No army in human history has had elite operatives like us. That is why Rome rules the world. And Constantine is its rightful lord.

Who are the special people in your life?

There are none. I let no one draw near.

Surely there must be someone.

Well, I will admit that Lady Junia Flavia has become a friend. A kind of confidante, I suppose you could say. Perhaps like a sister. Yes, like a sister, and nothing more.

Not a romantic relationship?

Surely not! Although, I will say—

Go on . . .

She is beautiful. That, I cannot deny. She attracts me. No man thinks that way about his sister.

Tell me about her.

Flavia is the daughter of a senator, descended from an ancient and noble family of Rome. Her wealth and status are the opposite of my own humble background. Yet between us, that does not matter. Our friendship transcends such things. The same is true of our religions. I am a follower of Hercules, a mighty hero and conqueror. Hercules is the Roman form of our god, Thor. But Flavia follows the Christian god. He is called Jesus, and his way is peaceful. Clearly, such a god could not be for a man like me. Yet he fits well in Flavia’s world. The Christians are good people, wrongly hated by the Romans.

But you would never convert to Christianity?

I think not. It would require bowing my knee to Jesus the Christ. You know what the Christians say? “Jesus is Lord.” Well, I will tell you this: Brandulf Rex has no lord but himself! Christianity is a religion for a different kind of person than me. And yet . . . 

Yes?

There is something that I like about their Jesus. I cannot define it. He intrigues me. I shall say no more.

What is your heart’s deepest desire?

I would never reveal that to someone unknown, lest it be used against me.

Just give me a general idea.

Fine. To serve Constantine as a faithful soldier. To rise in the ranks, gain victory in battle, and retire with military honors. Then I shall live somewhere along the Rhenus, perhaps along its upper reaches near the Alps. I shall marry and have children, and be happy.

What kind of woman would you marry?

Someone like Flavia, I suppose. Someone with her sweetness, her wise insights, her bravery in the face of adversity. Beautiful, as well. Captivating, one could even say. But not Flavia herself, of course. That would be strange. She is noble, and I am merely a common warrior. It could never happen. She would not want such a thing.

What are you most afraid of?

I do not understand your question.

Alright, let’s move on. Do you have a cherished possession? 

Look at this pendant around my neck. It was given to me by Constantine when I embarked upon his mission. Do you see the sign of the cross? It is a Christian symbol. Because I wear this amulet, I believe the god Jesus protects me, along with Hercules, too. They are the same god, I suspect. Perhaps also Apollo. And Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun.

The Christians would never agree with what you just said.

Definitely not! Flavia would rebuke me for such a statement. I surely do not understand those Christians. Everyone knows there are many gods! How can there be just one? Only the Jews believe such a thing. I am very curious about this new faith. I think it will benefit many people, except those of us in the army, who need a the patronage of a victory god.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

As the years go on, the name Brandulf Rex will be one of renown in the empire. My sword is strong, and the arm that wields it is even stronger. Yet I am no tyrant! My sword is not to be used for domination. I will be known as one who fights injustice, who protects the downtrodden and the weak. These things I believe about myself—and I know them to be true even more so now than in years past.

How come?

Because Flavia has affirmed them in me. She says that she sees these traits too. She wishes that my abilities could be brought into the service of her catholic church. 

But that will never happen?

No one knows the future except the gods.

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better! 

Farewell. And as you go, let me advise you: you can read more about me and my story in The Conqueror, releasing October 2020 from Revell. 


Bryan Litfin is the author of the Chiveis Trilogy, as well as several works of nonfiction, including Early Christian Martyr StoriesAfter Acts, and Getting to Know the Church Fathers. A former professor of theology at the Moody Bible Institute, Litfin earned his PhD in religious studies from the University of Virginia and his ThM in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is currently an acquisitions editor for Moody Publishers. He and his wife have two adult children and live in Wheaton, Illinois. Learn more at www.bryanlitfin.com.

Meet Sister Mary Katherine (Kate O’Neill) from Marian O’Shea Wernicke’s Toward That Which is Beautiful

                                  

In a small town in Peru in the summer of 1964, Sister Mary Katherine, a young American nun, walks away from her convent with no money and no destination. Desperate in this foreign place and afraid of her feelings for an Irish priest, she spends eight days on the run, encountering a variety of characters and situations along the way. As Kate traverses this dangerous physical journey through Peru, she also embarks upon an interior journey of self-discovery — one that leads her somewhere she never could have expected.

What is your name and where did it come from?

My name now is Sister Mary Katherine, O.P.  This is the name I chose when I became a novice in the Dominican community of sisters outside of St. Louis, Missouri. My former name was Kate O’Neill, given to me by my proud Irish American parents, and the name I secretly still think of as my real name.  

Tell us something about where you are living now.

For the past months, I have been living in the parish convent of the small town of Juliaca in the highlands of Peru. We are near beautiful Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world at 12,000 feet. The air is thin due to the altitude, and nights are cold, but the sunshine is bright and hot during the day. Sometimes I am breathless when I try to run or climb stairs too quickly. From my bedroom window on the second floor of the convent, I can glimpse the snow-covered peaks of the Andes in the distance.

Why did you become a nun?

I grew up going to Catholic schools in St. Louis where the Sisters of St. Joseph were our teachers. One sister especially drew me to this life.  Her name was Sister Helene, and she was my favorite teacher. She was young and happy, quite pretty and lots of fun.  She made me see that a life given totally to God and others could be full of joy and fulfillment. So ever since sixth grade, I had the secret feeling that God wanted me to be a sister. I tried to fight this vocation in high school when I found myself becoming boy crazy, as we used to say, but eventually I decided to surrender to this calling. 

What do you like and dislike about your work now in Peru?

I love the children I teach and the teenagers I meet with once a week after school. These are Quechua- speaking kids who know very little Spanish, and who are just learning to read and write.  My job is to teach them Spanish and religion.  When I am teaching religion, I have a translator in the room, a young Quechua woman, who also knows Spanish.  The children are very hard working from an early age on, helping their parents in the fields and caring for the babies. In the classroom they are quiet, rarely saying anything, but their eyes light up when I tell them stories about Jesus and when they learn new words in Spanish. 

I dislike very much the fact that I do not speak Quechua. Also I do not know the culture nor the history of the people.  I should have studied these things before I came to Peru, not just Spanish. I’m having to stumble through with too little preparation.

What are you most afraid of?

Right now I am most afraid of my feelings.  You see, I find myself falling in love with one of the priests I work with here in the parish.  He’s a fine priest, and I don’t want to disturb his vocation.  I’m trying to be true to my vows. 

What is your heart’s deepest desire?

I want to love God above all things, but I also want a deep human love, not just a general love for all people.  How do I reconcile these two desires as a nun?

What are you learning about yourself during this time in Peru?

I’m learning that I am not as stable as I thought I was.  I’m seriously considering running way. I need time and space.  I need to figure out who I really am.  Wish me luck, please. 


Born and raised in an Irish Catholic family in St. Louis, Missouri, Marian O’Shea Wernicke is the eldest of seven children. She was a nun for eleven years and spent three years working in Lima, Peru, during that time. She is a former professor of English and creative writing at Pensacola State College and the author of a memoir about her father called Tom O’Shea: A Twentieth Century Man. She also coedited and contributed to an award-winning book of short fiction and memoir called Confessions: Fact or Fiction

A Candid Talk with Frankie Washington and Rena Leland from Michelle Shocklee’s Under the Tulip Tree

Welcome, ladies. Tell us how you became friends. 

Frankie: It began when I received a letter from the gov’ment wanting to hear my stories about being a slave. I thought they was fooling with ol’ Frankie. Why would anyone care about such things in 1936? But sure enough, one day this pretty gal arrived on my doorstep with a list of questions a mile long. 

Why was the government collecting stories about slavery seventy years after the Civil War ended?

Rena: I think there are two reasons. First, when the stock market crashed in 1929—on my sixteenth birthday, no less—a terrible depression hit the economy. Millions of people lost their jobs, including my dad. President Roosevelt hoped to help people get back to work by creating jobs through the government, and one of those organizations was the Federal Writers’ Project. Because I’d worked for a newspaper, I was hired by the FWP to interview former slaves for a project they called the Slave Narratives. People like Frankie were getting older—sorry, Frankie, I don’t mean to say you’re old.

Frankie: Child, I’ve seen 101 birthdays. If that ain’t old, I don’t know what is. {chuckles}

So, the government wanted to preserve the stories of former slaves? Why are they called narratives?

Rena: Yes. Like Frankie said, when I arrived at her house, I had a list of questions I’d been given by the FWP director in Nashville. My instructions were to ask the questions and then record the interviewee’s answers word-for-word. That’s what makes the narratives so special, in my opinion. They are the words of the person who actually lived them out. 

Was it difficult to revisit the dark days of slavery, Frankie?

Frankie: It was, but the Lord helped me. I know it’s important that our stories aren’t forgotten. Slavery might not be legal nowadays, but there’s still a lot of problems left over from slavery times. I have hope that people like Rena and her young man, Alden, will be the ones to bring about change. 

Rena, did you know much about slavery before you met Frankie?

Rena: I’m ashamed to say I didn’t. Even though I’d grown up in Nashville and had studied about the Civil War in school, I don’t remember learning much about the evils of slavery. When I heard Frankie’s story, I knew there were thousands of others like it that needed to be told. People of my generation and the generations to come shouldn’t forget about slavery. I’m thankful it isn’t legal to own a fellow human being anymore, but, like Frankie said, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order for everyone to have equal rights.

Frankie, you’ve shared that you’re 101 years old. You’ve seen a lot in your lifetime. What are some of the most memorable events you recall?

Frankie: Gracious, there’s so many. I remember hearing the news that President Lincoln had been killed. Sam and I cried our eyes out, ’cuz he was a good man. I remember when the first black senator was elected—Hiram Revels of Mississippi—five years after the war ended. I didn’t think I’d live to see such a thing. I believe it’s good to have different kinds of folks running the gov’ment. Kinda give them a more complete perspective on things. I remember seeing a car for the first time and hearing a man’s voice coming from a wooden box called a radio. Those are some mighty amazing inventions, and I ’spect there will be more to come long after I’m gone home to heaven. 

If you could go back in time and change something about your life, what would it be?

Rena: I wish I could stop the stock market from crashing, because it caused so much pain for so many people. But, admittedly, I wouldn’t have met Frankie if I hadn’t taken the job with the FWP, and I took the job because my family needed the money. I also wouldn’t have met Alden.

Is he someone special?

Rena: Yes, he’s become quite special to me. He also works for the FWP.

Frankie: This might come as a surprise to you all, but I wouldn’t change anything about my life, not even being a slave. God didn’t make me a slave, but he was with me as I lived as one. Back in the Old Testament, his chosen people were slaves in Egypt for four hundred years. That doesn’t make slavery right, but it tells me God has bigger plans than what I can see in my present circumstances. Like Rena said, if I hadn’t lived the life I lived, I wouldn’t have met my Sam or her. 

What do you hope your friendship with one another will inspire in others when they read about it?

Rena: I hope it will inspire people like me and my family to get to know people like Frankie and her family. I’d always been warned to stay away from the neighborhood of Hell’s Half Acre because it was dangerous, so you can imagine how surprised I was to find this dear woman had lived there most of her life. Too often we make judgments about people and places without knowing the full story. I can’t imagine my life without Frankie in it. 

Frankie: I agree. Unfortunately, the same can be said for folks down in the Acres. We make judgments about people who are different from us, just like anyone else. My hope and prayer is one day we’ll all simply love one another as Jesus commanded in Matthew 22:39. Wouldn’t that be something?  

Thank you, ladies, for sharing your hearts with us.


Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at michelleshocklee.com.  

Photo credit: Author photo taken by Jodie Westfall, copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.

Book Review: Under the Tulip Tree by Michelle Shocklee

Come back tomorrow for the character interview of Rena and Frankie!

Tyndale House Publishers, September 8, 2020, Pages:400, ISBN:978-1-4964-4607-7

The story begins with the stock market crash of 1929 when Rena Leland is about to celebrate her sixteen birthday. Because her father is a banker who mismanaged his assets, their lifestyle takes a dramatic turn for the worse.

For me, this beginning was slow. The real story gets going when we leap forward seven years as Rena, out of work at a newspaper office, takes a job with the WPA interviewing former slaves. (If you find the beginning slow, stick with it. You’ll be glad you did.) I knew about these slave narratives and have read a few of them. With all the stories and movies out there on slavery and the Civil War, readers might be tempted to think it’s all been done before. However, the author drew me in as Rena is engrossed in hearing the story of Frankie Washington, a woman who said God told her she couldn’t die until she told Rena her story. I was engrossed too. It kept me turning pages as the book is partly told in Frankie’s point of view from the past.

Uncomfortable at times (how can it not be?), readers are taken back to the horrors, the heartbreak, and the incredible endurance of those who lived through it. Frankie’s story takes place in Nashville before and during the Civil War. Frankie and other slaves are held in a contraband camp when the Union Army takes control of the city. She is allowed to work and be paid for washing officer’s clothing. During a battle she cares for injured soldiers. And then she is asked to do the same for the Confederate soldiers, something she struggles against, blaming them for all the pain and suffering she endured as a slave. How she deals with this and what she learns will also teach Rena some incredible lessons.

Rena feels regret for her family having owned slaves in the past, but she thinks all that is in the past. Then she realizes that between her mother objecting to the neighborhood she must visit for the interviews and her own anxious feelings when she travels there without a companion and is stared at, there is still a vast difference in the white/black culture and much mistrust on both sides. With the supporting characters of her grandmother and a handsome co-WPA worker, Rena learns things about the past that she never learned in school. More importantly, she learns about the life-long spiritual journey of the former slave, and this changes Rena’s outlook on her own life and on her family she previously had trouble tolerating, and also on the man who has been transporting her to Hell’s Half Acre to conduct the interviews. This transformation flows perfectly. It’s not rushed for the sake of the story or preachy at all. The ending held a surprising twist that will cause this story to stay in readers’ minds for a long time.

I really enjoyed this book, and having recently read Lisa Wingate’s The Book of Lost Friends, I found Under the Tulip Tree a fitting companion. Highly recommended.

Cindy Thomson, Novel PASTimes

I received a free advanced reader copy from the publisher with no obligation to review.

Meet Ana and Rachel from The Lines Between Us by Rebecca D’Harlingue

NPT: Welcome! Today we have a guest interviewer, Rachel Pearson Strand, from The Lines Between Us, in conversation with co-character Ana Torres López.

Rachel: Ana, I’m so excited to be able to talk to you today! I know so little about you, but yours was one of two names that my mother spoke on her deathbed. When I later found her papers, there was still only the letter you wrote to your niece, Juliana, whose diary I also found.

Ana: Thank you, Rachel. I am also grateful for this opportunity to speak with you, without the encumbrances of temporal or geographic limitations.

Rachel: Yes, I live three centuries after you, and in a place that you would have generally referred to as the New World.

Ana: My dear husband had a particular interest in the New World, and so I am curious about that faraway land.

Rachel: Well, Spain doesn’t seem as far away to us now as it would have been in your time. Despite the difficulties, though, your niece, Juliana, managed to make the journey, and that is how I know anything at all about you or her.

Ana: I understand that you found a diary of hers, isn’t that so? I also discovered a journal that she had kept hidden in her desk in my brother’s home here in Madrid. Until she wrote to me years later, however, I never knew what had become of her after she disappeared at only sixteen years of age.

Rachel: I imagine that the diary that I found took up where yours left off. While I have you here, I wanted to ask you about what my mother said when she was dying. She said, “ I am like Ana. I have failed Juliana.” From what I’ve read in Juliana’s diary, and in the letter that you wrote to her, I’ve had a hard time deciding how my mother felt you were to blame. My best guess is that perhaps she thought you should have kept looking for her when she disappeared.

Ana: It could be that, I admit, and I have at times deeply repented that decision. However, as you know from my letter, once I learned the reason for my niece’s flight, I feared that seeking her further might have caused her to be in greater danger. To this day, I ask God whether I did what was right. There are other things I have accused myself of over the years. Perhaps I should have told her sooner what had become of her mother. I must confess that I did not do so partly because I was afraid that my brother, Juliana’s father, would have cut off all communication with me, and I needed them in my life, especially after my own dear husband passed on to Our Lord.

Rachel: If it’s of any help, I don’t fault you for your decision to abandon your search. You just did what you thought was best at the time.

Ana: Thank you for that. Your understanding means a great deal to me.

Rachel: I know Juliana only through the diary that I found, after the event that drove her to leave Spain. What was she like before that?

Ana: She was a loving, serious young girl. My brother was generous with her, allowing her to study as only boys are usually allowed. He showed her a loving father’s kindness, and she was happy in his household. I think it was that fact which made it all the more tragic when he so dangerously turned against her. 

Rachel: She does seem to have felt his betrayal very deeply. Is there anything that you would like to ask me?

Ana: Yes. I have so longed to know whether Juliana had a happy life after she fled Spain. All I know is the little that she told me in her letter decades after I last saw her. Can you tell from the papers you found how my beloved niece fared in the New World?

Rachel: I think she found some contentment, but she had dark moments, too. Maybe she wasn’t so different from most of us. 

Ana: Indeed, the Lord gives tribulations to us all. 

Rachel: And you, Ana, what happened to you after Juliana left?

Ana: Having lost those whom I held most dear, I found that I even questioned my faith for a time. Finally, I had the strength to continue with my ministering to the poor and sick. If it had not been for that, my life would have been without meaning. 

Rachel: I’m so sorry. It sounds like you were really lonely.

Ana: Can I ask you, how did your mother think that she had failed Juliana?

Rachel: I’ve asked myself that so many times. All I can think of is that she wasn’t able to pass on the papers in the way she’d promised to do.

Ana: Still, you found them. 

Rachel: Yes, but that was just luck. You know, I’ve thought a lot about family secrets, those kept in my family and those kept in yours. I sometimes wonder whether there is ever a case when they’re more protective than destructive.

Ana: I cannot give you the answer to that. I know that secrets within my family caused great harm, and I am sorry to hear that it seems that continues in your time, too.

Rachel: I’m afraid it does. Well, thank you so much for talking with me, Ana. It has been a pleasure and a privilege.

Ana: I would say the same, my dear. Thank you!

About the book

IN 1661 MADRID, Ana is still grieving the loss of her husband when her niece, sixteen-year-old Juliana, suddenly vanishes. Ana frantically searches the girl’s room and comes across a diary. As she journeys to southern Spain in the hope of finding her, Ana immerses herself in her niece’s private thoughts—but when, after a futile search in Seville, she comes to Juliana’s final entries and discovers the horrifying reason for the girl’s flight, she abandons her search for her. 

In 1992 Missouri, in her deceased mother’s home, Rachel finds a packet of letters and a diary written by a woman named Juliana. Rachel’s reserved mother has never mentioned these items, but Rachel recognizes the names Ana and Juliana: her mother uttered them on her deathbed. She soon becomes immersed in Juliana’s diary, which recounts the young woman’s journey to Mexico City and her life in a convent. As she learns the truth about Juliana’s tragic family history, Rachel seeks to understand her connection to the writings—hoping that in finding those answers, she will somehow heal the wounds caused by her mother’s lifelong reticence. 

About the author

Rebecca D’Harlingue has done graduate work in Spanish literature, worked as a hospital administrator, and taught English as a Second Language to adults from all over the world. The discovery of family papers prompted her to explore the repercussions of family secrets, and of the ways we attempt to reveal ourselves. She shares her love of story both with preschoolers at a Head Start program, and with the members of the book club she has belonged to for decades. D’Harlingue lives in Oakland, California, with her husband, Arthur, where they are fortunate to frequently spend time with their children and grandchildren. 

A Conversation Between the Characters of Mountain Laurel by Lori Benton

1793 Pennsylvania

Once upon a muggy summer twilight I came upon a solitary traveler, camped along the road. With darkness falling, fireflies lighting the verge, and nary a public house in sight, he kindly welcomed me at his fire, introducing himself as Mr. Cameron, lately come from Boston. While our horses grazed at the firelight’s edge, we fell to talking of ourselves—or I did. Realizing I’d been doing the lion’s share, after a pause of flame-crackling silence, I began to question him. 

“Might I have your given name?” I asked, having provided him mine. 

“It’s Ian,” he said. “Ian Robert Cameron. I’m called after my da—that’s the Robert. Ian is after one of his half-brothers who fell in battle at Culloden—the Jacobite Rising in ’45. Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that.”

“That was in Scotland, right? But you said it’s Boston you call home?” Ian Cameron had taken off his cocked hat, baring tailed hair, dark blond in the firelight that cast his features in shadow. Still I caught the wry glint in his blue eyes.

“Where I call home? Ye’d think that easy enough to answer, but I’ve lived so many places—beginning with Scotland, though I was barely more than a bairn when Da sent for us—Mam, my brother, and me—to join him in Boston, where he’d set up as a bookbinder. It was Boston through the war and beyond. But until this spring I spent the past five years in Upper Canada with my mam’s younger brother, a fur trader. Now…”

“Now?” I urged when he hesitated.

“I’m headed to North Carolina, to another uncle. His farm’s called Mountain Laurel. I’m reckoning to take up a planter’s life.”

“A planter? Had you some experience farming tucked in there somewhere?” 

At that Ian Cameron laughed, a little ruefully. “Not a bit of it. I failed to mention I also lived in Cambridge—near enough to Boston—from the time I was apprenticed to the age of eighteen, when I hied off to Canada. I learnt the cabinetmaking trade.” 

He nodded at a heap of baggage piled nearby. The tools of said trade, I presumed. “Why Canada? Why didn’t you set up for a cabinetmaker after your apprenticeship ended?”

Ian Cameron shifted where he sat. “Aye. Well… my apprenticeship didn’t exactly end. I mean, it did, but… it was complicated.” 

“Complicated?” I suspected a story there, but he merely shook his head when I pressed. I let it be. Perhaps this uncle in North Carolina would get that story from him. “Does this uncle you’re headed to have a family?”

“He does. A wife and two stepdaughters.”

“No son?

Ian Cameron reached for a stick and stabbed at the fire’s edge. “Not anymore. He hopes to make of me a fitting heir.”

“You sound doubtful of the prospect. Is there some catch?” 

His eyes flicked to me, alert and wary. “If ye must know, he doesn’t farm alone. He owns slaves—they do the work, along with an overseer.”

“And you don’t hold with slavery?” I asked. 

He wasn’t comfortable with the question. “I suppose I haven’t thought much about it. I never had to—until lately. My parents are against slavery.” 

That surprised me. “Did they approve this North Carolina venture?”

“Aye. That says something, doesn’t it?” When I merely stared, he added archly, “It speaks to the level of my Da’s disappointment—in me. Not that I can fairly blame him, after all my false starts at settling to a useful life. Thomas would say…”

“Thomas? Who’s that? Your brother?”

“In a manner of speaking—” 

Out in the darkness a stick cracked. One of the horses whickered. The way he gazed around, it seemed Ian Cameron suspected something—or someone—was out there beyond the fire’s light, creeping about. 

“Thomas is a friend,” he said. “I left him behind.” 

Still his glance strayed toward the dark. “Are you worried about something? You seem a little jumpy.”

“I am worried,” he said. “About a good many things. Whether my uncle or his wife or anyone at Mountain Laurel will approve the man they’re getting. Whether I’m suited for the life or doomed to find it fits me like an ill-made coat.”

Not wanting to ruffle his feathers further, I transferred my attention to a garment folded beside his bedroll. “Speaking of coats… might I have a look at that one?”

“That? I suppose.” He handed it to me, careful of the flames between us. While I spread it across my knees he asked, “Have ye never seen quillwork? That’s what that is, the red, white, and black designs. Made by an old Chippewa woman. It’s generally known as a half-breed coat.” 

The coat—cut little different from those one might see on the streets of Philadelphia—was made of tanned hide and heavily fringed, besides the colorful quillwork adorning it. I looked at him, tanned himself, with more experience than his years should account for staring from his eyes. “I suppose you’ve had your share of adventures, on the Canadian frontier?” 

“Aye,” he agreed. “I’ve hunted elk and bison to help feed a village. I’ve tracked a panther—and been tracked by one in turn. I’ve watched wolves take down a bull moose and—with my uncle’s help—driven them off it long enough to take a portion of the kill. I’ve feasted on bear, fished for sturgeon, and harvested rice from an elm bark canoe at the edge of a lake so vast ye cannot see its other side—though I paddled my way to it more than once. I can use a bow and arrows, tan a hide, and boil maple sap for sugar. I’ve learned to make my way by stars and to count the months by other names than June, July, and August. I’ve four times run a trapline in the depths of a winter more brutal than ye can imagine and survived an attack by an Indian warrior that nearly cost my life. And while I cannot shake the notion that none of that has prepared me for what I’m walking into at Mountain Laurel,” he finished with a prodigious yawn, “I think I’m done with talking and ready for sleep. If ye don’t mind.”

I didn’t, and told him so. In short order he’d checked his horses, his rifle, and lay down on his bed roll with his back to the fire, and me. 

I followed suit, thinking that whatever challenges awaited him in North Carolina, I suspected he’d find the wherewithal to meet them. Even so, as I lay beside his fire that night, I said a prayer for the soul of Ian Cameron, who was gone from camp by the time I stirred next morning, having slipped away as silently as the panther he claimed to have tracked. 

Lori Benton was raised in Maryland, with generations-deep roots in southern Virginia and the Appalachian frontier. Her historical novels transport readers to the eighteenth century, where she expertly brings to life the colonial and early federal periods of American history. Her books have received the Christy Award and the Inspy Award and have been honored as finalists for the ECPA Book of the Year. Lori is most at home surrounded by mountains, currently those of the Pacific Northwest, where, when she isn’t writing, she’s likely to be found in wild places behind a camera. Her latest novel, Mountain Laurel, releases in September. 

Lori’s Website | Instagram | Facebook

Original photography by author Lori Benton

Meet Abigail from Jane Kirkpatrick’s Something Worth Doing

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today. I’m happy to be here too! I travel a lot despite the stagecoach discomforts, the sometimes-smelly trains and of course, on horseback and walking, so it’s nice to have a little respite here with you today and put my tired feet up. Thanks for asking me to stop by.

Tell us something about where you live. I live in Oregon but I was born in Illinois and crossed the Oregon Trail in 1852 with my parents and siblings. I was asked to keep the diary of our crossing (I was 16 and love words!) and later I used the diary to help me write my very first novel. I’ve written over 20! My husband and six children have lived on farms (one I named Hardscrabble and it was!) and then we moved to Lafayette, Oregon where I taught school and later Albany, Oregon where I ran a millinery and owned a school and then Portland where I was one of the few women in the country to start and operate a newspaper supporting women’s rights for 17 years. We lived on a ranch in Idaho for a time too. We Duniways did get around, sometimes because of poor choices we made.

Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name? My name is Abigail Jane Scott Duniway. My family called me Jenny. I never knew why my parents gave me that name but my mother did admire Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, a signer of the Constitution and later President of the US. Perhaps she indirectly affected my life with that name as women and the rights of other minorities became my life’s calling in response to Micah’s question what does the Lord require?  “To seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with my God.”  I have to work on the humbly part though. That name, Abigail, gave me a sound base from which to seek justice for women.

Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work? My most important occupation is being a faithful wife and mother. But my calling is to help the downtrodden especially women. My husband and I both felt strongly that helping women get the vote would be the best way of helping women deal with the way the laws discriminate against us. There are laws forcing us to turn over our egg money to husbands or fathers who may well drink it up; or making us pay the debts of fathers and husbands who deserted us. Or not being able to take jobs to support our families because we’re women or like my sister, who was widowed, becoming a teacher but who got paid half of the previous teacher – who was a man. My work of fighting for women’s rights is invigorating, frustrating, inspiring, draining but most of all rewarding.  I get to travel to other states and territories, speak before legislatures; listen to the stories women tell me about their lives. Sometimes I go to court with them. Sometimes I visit them in prisons to offer hope. I also write for a living: novels, articles and then editing my newspaper.

I have a full plate. Novels are considered ideal ways to change people’s hearts and minds so writing them an hour at a time at 4:00am before I get ready to serve the boarding house girls who live with us and then off to work on the paper or off to give a speech, or listen to my one daughter Clara Belle play the piano while I’m stitching a dress for the millinery – I rarely have a minute to myself. In your time, you’d call me a workaholic I guess. In my time, I was often considered strident, maybe a little pushy, but absolutely passionate about my cause to change the lives of women for the better. By the way, I traveled around the Northwest with the famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony and she camped with my family at the Oregon State Fair in 1871. Now that was an adventure!

Who are the special people in your life? My mother was…but she died on the trail along with my youngest brother. Both of Cholera. My mother hadn’t wanted to go west but my father had the bug as they called it. She gave birth to 12 children and I think she was weakened on the journey. She told me once that she was sorry I was a girl because girls had such hard lives. She inspired me to do what I could to make girls’ lives easier.

The other special person in my life is my husband Ben. He is the kindest of men, generous, puts up with me. He invented a washing machine! He has a beautiful singing voice and he’s the diplomatic one who has to smooth over his wife’s sometimes intemperate tongue. I wrote a column for awhile called “The Farmer’s Wife” that was funny and pointed about martial life etc. It was published widely in Oregon and surrounding territories. Sometimes he was the brunt of my stories and he never complained. He was also badly injured in a horse accident and his chronic back pain affected our lives. But he was always there for the family when I traveled and was sometimes gone for months at a time, he was the father and mother of the household. I never could have accomplished what I did without his support.

I have friends, too, of course. Shirley is one such friend though she lives in California. I get to see her on my buying trips for the millinery. And we are both suffragists. And my children are incredibly special to me. One girl and five “potential voters.” I know, I can be a bit much about the voting. 😊

Do you have a cherished possession? My mother’s earrings. I had my friend Shirly and two of my sisters pierce my ears on the trail after my mother died. It was a way of stating I would try new things despite the pain, especially if it meant working on behalf of women trying to make a woman’s life better. It was how I keep her with me and honor her life.

What do you expect the future will hold for you? A big challenge I have is convincing my brother – who is the editor of the largest newspaper in the Northwest and my business competitor– that he should support the right for women to vote. My newspaper, The New Northwest, strongly supports that effort and we have our first vote (only men get to vote!) in 1883. Pretty exciting. My sisters and I are meeting with Harvey, the only surviving boy in our family, to try to convince him to endorse the petition. If the vote fails, we will keep trying. That’s what my future holds – working on behalf of women getting the vote. Falling down and getting up again.

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story? I confess, I have a hard time learning from past mistakes. I work at it, I do. And I’ve discovered that I am at times envious of my brother and others who seem to have an easier life which is not very Christian of me. I have come to see though, that it’s in the challenges that we discover who we really are. I’ve had a rich, full life and while I always thought I’d want easier days, when we moved to the ranch in Idaho and I had all the time in the world to rest and write, I found myself missing the excitement of what I called “the still hunt” working for rights without losing my femininity or credibility as a woman. I never participated in a parade or rumbled through a saloon decrying men. I worked quietly and encouraged the same in the organizations I helped start and run. I have few regrets and that to me means a great deal as I grow older. And I can see looking back that it was in the trials that I discovered who I really was.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you? At a time when women were not supposed to be public, I began giving speeches.  I gave more than 1500 in my lifetime from New York to California and in between. Some of them are now posted on this thing called the internet. I never read them when I delivered them, hough I wrote them out. But my passion for the subject enabled me to talk for more than an hour, inspiring, encouraging and praising the work of women as wives, mothers, daughters, workers. You can read some of them at www.asduniway.org

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better! It’s my pleasure! I love chatting with people. I hope you’ll find my story Something Worth Doing worthy of your time. I 

About the Author 

Jane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling and award-winning author of more than thirty books, including One More River to CrossEverything She Didn’t SayAll Together in One PlaceA Light in the WildernessThe Memory WeaverThis Road We Traveled, and A Sweetness to the Soul, which won the prestigious Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center. Her works have won the WILLA Literary Award, the Carol Award for Historical Fiction, and the 2016 Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award. Jane divides her time between Central Oregon and California with her husband, Jerry, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Caesar. Learn more at www.jkbooks.com

Meet Diana from The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

Tell us something about where you live.

 London is the most beautiful city in the world.  Its ancient Roman history –especially in the City proper –is a favourite place for me to roam. I love how the ancient walled city gates are still visible even after centuries. 

Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name? 

My first name, Diana, is special because my father (like myself) was obsessed with history, churches and the architectural legacy of Christopher Wren. It is said that St. Paul’s Cathedral, Wren’s magnum opus, was built on what was once a statue of the goddess Diana in the Roman occupation of the city…way back when it was known Londinium.  My maiden name, Foyle, is special to me because it is the same as my favourite bookseller’s in Charing Cross Road. 

Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work?  

Before the war, I  was a graduate student in King’s working toward a doctorate in architectural history.  Now that the war has come, I am working for the foreign office in translation at a manor house in Bletchley Park –a few hours from London in Buckinghamshire ( I can’t really speak of it, but the Foreign Office translations role is one we feed the public,  what I really do is intercept messages, and hold up a listening station in Hut 3 where under my supervisor, Simon Barre, I am charged with making out patterns from Luftwaffe Air Signals).

Who are the special people in your life?  

I have two close friends here at Bletchley: Simon Barre and Sophie Villiers.  My husband Brent Somerville is a professor of theology at King’s College and is currently a stretcher bearer at the front. 

What is your heart’s deepest desire?   

To be home with Brent. Our honeymoon never happened. Our wedding night was spent in a Tube shelter as the bombs fell around us. 

What are you most afraid of? 

A telegram telling me he is taken from me. 

Do you have a cherished possession? 

My father left me a book of Ditchfield’s Cathedrals of Great Britain.  I hold fast to it. 

What do you expect the future will hold for you?  

Part of me wants it to hold my finishing my doctorate and rebuilding the churches that the bombs have felled. Here, we call the bombs Blitzkrieg (or Lightning War, in German) or just Blitz. There are volunteers on the Paul’s Watch who have badges and pledge their lives night after night to protect the cathedral at Churchill’s behest.  I hope my future holds a standing St.Paul’s: it is the tallest building in our skyline… 

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story? 

 I always thought I wanted to end the war and go back to being a wife and eventual mother. To finally get to keep house and tend to Brent but now that I’ve been given the opportunity to use my degree in a new way I wonder if that will ever be enough. I’ve learned that while I love Brent and while he compliments me, he does not consume me. I need to be my own woman as well.  What I am doing in Bletchley for the war is as important as his role at the front. He knew when he married me that I was a strong, intelligent woman (he told me this was part of the reason why he married me) I just hope this lasts beyond the war. 

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you? 

I come across as someone who talks too fast and too much.  But that is only because I talk when I am nervous and it takes a certain special person to decode that facet of my personality. Fortunately, Brent did. As did Sophie Villiers and Simon Barre when I arrived at Bletchley Park. 

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!


Rachel McMillan is the author of The Herringford and Watts mysteries, The Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries and The Three Quarter Time series of contemporary Viennese romances. She is also the author of the London Restoration and The Mozart Code.  Her non-fiction includes Dream, Plan and Go and the upcoming A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide. Rachel lives in Toronto, Canada and is always planning her next adventure

website: www.rachelmcmillan.net/
Twitter: @rachkmcinstagram: @rachkmcfacebook: rachkmc1
The Herringford and Watts SeriesThe Van Buren and DeLuca Series The Three Quarter Time Series Dream Plan Go (May 2020)The London Restoration (Aug 2020)