Saturday, February 21, 2015

A False Start...

So I've been doing some computer "housekeeping", deleting old files etc. and I came across this short piece I wrote a long time ago when I first started working on A Buss from Lafayette.  (It was so long ago that my niece, Lucy, for whom I then named the character, was a young girl. She is now in her mid-twenties!)

This was the original beginning and has very little resemblance to how the completed story opens.


"This is not the way it is supposed to be," Lucy thought, as she cut another white rose from the garden fence and put it into her basket. Only last week, she had picked blooms from this same bush for her mother.  Now her mother was dead and her father had sent Lucy into the garden to gather another posy.  A wedding posy for a new "mother".

Lucy's eyes were stinging, though whether from tears or from the sweat of her brow, she couldn't tell. She thought she had no tears left.  Hadn't she had cried her eyes dry by now? She sniffed, wiped her eyes with the back of her arm, and squinted up at the hot June sun.  Almost mid-day, by the look of it.  Nearly time for the ceremony. 

She looked into the basket.  A dozen white roses. And still there were plenty left on the bush. There had been enough to cheer Mother's bedside when she began her travail to birth the new baby, now wailing inside the farmhouse.  There had been enough to mark Mother's plot in the small family graveyard on top of the hill.  And now there were enough to bedeck Mother's sister, who was to take Mother's place. 

 How is the final version different from this?

1.  Lucy is now named Clara Summer Hargraves, after another niece and a grand niece.

2. Clara's mother has died from tuberculosis, not childbirth, so there is no newborn baby in the story anymore.

3. The tone of this opening is SO DEPRESSING, as it takes place just a few days after Lucy/Clara's mother has died.  The final version opens a year later.  Lucy/Clara still has big problems with her stepmother, but things have settled into an uncomfortable pattern that can be broken a little more easily as she comes to understand her father, stepmother, et al a little better.

4. The first chapter of the completed story (like all the other chapters) opens with an entry in Lucy/Clara's diary which lets us see what she is like as a person and what is on her mind. It is also somewhat more humorous in tone.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Preface to a book that was never published:The American Revolutions

Here is the beginning of a non-fiction piece I wrote for a series of history books for kids. I tried to write (as I always do) as if I were just talking to the reader and explaining things in the most entertaining way possible.

It ended up being rejected because it was too funny for serious history, apparently.  This pretty much convinced me to continue writing fiction instead, so I could leaven history with humor as much as I want.

Anyway, this has been languishing on my computer (or series of computers) for nearly 25 years.

Hope you don't mind the funny bits.



P.S. If you are curious why I entitled this The American Revolutions, read on....

The American Revolutions
by Dorothea Jensen


   In Washington Irving’s story Rip Van Winkle, the lazy, henpecked hero, Rip, wakes up from a nap on a mountainside with no idea that he has been asleep for twenty years. When he picks up his mysteriously rusted flintlock and returns to his little village, Rip finds everything strangely altered:

   Instead of the great tree that used to shelter the...little...inn of yore, there now was reared a tall naked pole, with something on the a red night-cap, and from it was fluttering a flag...a singular assemblage of stars and stripes—all this was strange and incomprehensible. [Rip] recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George...but even this was singularly metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of blue and buff, a sword was held in the hand instead of a scepter... and underneath was painted in large characters, General Washington...The appearance of Rip, with his long, grizzled beard...and the army of women and children that had gathered at his heels, soon attracted the attention of the tavern politicians...a[n]...old gentleman...demanded 'what brought [Rip] to the election with a gun on his shoulder, and a mob at his heels, and whether he meant to breed a riot in the village?' “Alas, gentlemen", cried Rip, somewhat dismayed, “I am a poor, quiet man...and a loyal subject of the King, God bless him!" Here a general shout burst from the bystanders—“A tory! a spy! hustle him! away with him!"...It was some time before [Rip] could be made to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his torpor. How...there had been a revolutionary war...the country had thrown off the yoke of old England—and...instead of being a subject of his majesty George the Third, he was now a free citizen of the United States." – Washington Irving
   When Rip Van Winkle left his village (probably around 1763) to go hunting and nap in the mountains, virtually nobody in the American colonies wanted to break away from Great Britain. In fact, most colonists proudly thought of themselves as Englishmen. At that time, the idea of independence would have astonished and outraged many of the very people who later led the effort to bring independence about. Of course, for the one third of the American population who eventually changed their minds and decided that independence was desirable and necessary, this was a long, drawn-out process. No wonder that Rip , who had slept through the whole American Revolution, found these “instant” alterations in his world to be baffling. If he'd been wide awake, however, he might have been more than just bewildered.

   The American Revolution was also a war of words. If Rip had altered his views along with those who favored independence, he would have called himself a Whig (one who favors the anti-Royal English political party), a Patriot (one who loves his/her country) or a Revolutionist (one in favor of a revolution). Furthermore, if Rip had then actively participated in the revolt against England, those against independence would have cursed him as a Radical (a wild-eyed extremist who strives for fundamental change), a Rebel (one who openly resists control by the legal government), or a Traitor (one who betrays his country). If Rip himself had actually taken up arms against the British army (as a Whig/ Patriot/Revolutionist/Radical/Rebel/Traitor), he would have often found himself hungry, ragged, cold, barefoot, outnumbered, discouraged, and facing some of the finest, best-equipped professional soldiers in the world. On the other hand, he would have shared the thrill and the pride when independence was finally won.

   If, however, Rip had stayed “a loyal subject to the King” along with the one fifth to one third of his fellow colonists, he would have proudly called himself a Loyalist (one loyal to the King). The Patriots, however, would have scorned him as a Tory (one who favors the British pro-King political party) or as a Traitor (again, one who betrays his country) As a Loyalist/Tory/Traitor, Rip might have been tarred, feathered, dragged by a mob to a “liberty tree” (a pole topped by a symbolic “liberty cap”) and forced to publicly embrace the cause of independence. Even if Rip had managed to escape such dramatic ordeals, he most likely would have lost his home and property and faced imprisonment or exile. Then if , along with the tens of thousands of other Loyalists who left America during and after the Revolutionary War), Rip had tried to find someplace else to live, he would have had few choices for refuge. One place, of course, would have been England itself, but Rip would have found it difficult to support himself there. Hunting game, which was Rip’s main way to put food on the table, was illegal in England except for landowners shooting game on their own property. Even if Rip had been wealthy, or a successful tradesman, he would have had a hard time getting by in England. Rich loyalists, accustomed to living off rent paid them for houses or farmland, lost all the property that supported them. Refugees who had been tradesmen in American also suffered financially : shopkeepers had no shops or merchandise, innkeepers had no inns to earn a living. American farmers had no English farms. Even colonials who had professions - such as doctors and lawyers - found it hard to start up practices in Great Britain.

   Rip might have done better as a Loyalist if he chose the other main refuge open to him - Canada. There he would have found plenty of game to shoot, but he would have had to start from scratch settling the wilderness in a bitterly cold climate. This would most certainly have required lots of the backbreaking work Rip generally avoided at all costs. In any of the places he could have gone as a refugee, however, Rip would have felt himself to be a foreigner. In fact, one of the greatest ironies of the Revolution was that the Loyalists discovered , too late, that they were far more “American” - and less British - than they had thought they were!

   The other possibility for Rip during the Revolution (his most likely choice, given his usual laziness) would have been to “sit on the fence”, not siding with either the Loyalists or Patriots, but just waiting to see which side won. That was how a third or more of the American population got through the Revolutionary War. Staying neutral would not, however, have kept Rip out of the turmoil and terror of war. War is not neutral.

   No matter how Rip might have chosen, he would have encountered strangers, friends, neighbors, and family members who violently disagreed with him. Thus, the Revolution which “threw off the yoke of old England” was also our first Civil War - a fact often overlooked in our celebrations on the Fourth of July. Although two centuries of spectacularly successful nationhood make the American Revolution seem natural, necessary, and inevitable it was anything but. It was a desperate venture from start to finish. During the seven long years of the actual war, it often appeared that the British were going to win in the end.

   The American Revolution was also more than a matter of battles, however. Long after the war, John Adams said that the real Revolution took place long before the Revolutionary War began:

The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people...before a drop of blood was shed.The radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.

   In a way, then, it can be said that there were two American Revolutions. The first was the process by which a great number of Americans “turned away” (the literal meaning of revolution, as in “revolve" ) from the mother country, Great Britain, and came around to the idea that America should be an independent nation. The second was the Revolutionary War, that combination of bravery, bloodshed and blundering which made independence a reality.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Struggles with a Title!

I've been trying to decide what to call my new historical novel for kids.  From the beginning, I planned to call it A Buss From Lafayette.  (Buss is an old-fashioned word for a playful kiss.) This is what I call it in my head, and have done so since I came up with the idea for this book, which was 18 years ago. (I'm a slow worker.)

As some of you know, my first novel of this sort was The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. Although everyone knows what a riddle is, very few know (before they read the book) that it also is the name of an antique farm implement, a large sieve used to separate chaff from grain.

Several people who know about what makes a young reader pick out a book to read, however, have told me that no one today, especially no one YOUNG, realizes that Buss means kiss.  Some have told me it makes the story sound as if it is about bus travel from a town called Lafayette.

I have tried coming up with subtitles that explain what a buss is, but all seemed quite cumbersome, and destroyed the way in which A Buss From Lafayette  echoes The Riddle of Penncroft Farm. For the time being, I changed the name to A Kiss From Lafayette, but I can't help feeling that this is the WRONG TITLE!

I think I may have found a solution, but I haven't quite made up my mind.

Hope it doesn't take me another 18 years to figure this out!

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Wonderful Pre-Publication View of A Buss From Lafayette!

 A Buss From Lafayette
Dorothea Jensen has written a warm, funny, coming-of-age novel about a 19th century teenage girl who lives on a farm in Hopkinton, New Hampshire. Set in June 1825 as the Town and its inhabitants prepare for General Lafayette’s Farewell Tour visit, the story begins on June 21 and ends 6 days later, the day that Lafayette pays Hopkinton (and Clara) a call. A lot happens in that fateful week; and we see Clara morph from a precocious, rambunctious, somewhat petulant 14-year old into a wiser, more mature young adult.
Jensen sketches her characters with short but believable strokes. Clara, her aunt/stepmother, Priscilla, her brother, Joss, the boy Dickon and her cousin, Hetty, are vividly and sympathetically portrayed. Lafayette is, well, Lafayette, charming and oh so French. Jensen also paints what appears to be an authentic portrait of life in 1825 New Hampshire as well as the Nation’s response to Lafayette’s final visit to his adoptive land.
The story has a number of twists and turns, but the plot is resolved in a satisfying, wholly heart-warming dénouement. Though A Kiss From Lafayette is billed as a young adult novel, it is truly a tale for adults of all ages.
- Alan R. Hoffman, President, American Friends of Lafayette; President, Massachusetts Lafayette Society; translator, Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825, by Auguste Levasseur.A

Blast from the Past

I am trying to organize my office and came across this clipping from 1987 from The Loft, a writers' center in Minnesota.

I went there for a conference in 1986 and saw a notice for their Children's Literature Competition (for manuscripts of children's stories). The deadline was my birthday, January 16.

I sent in a chapter of The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, but only put D. G. Jensen on the entry.  As my story's main character was a 13 year old boy, I didn't want the judges to know if I was a man or woman.

About a month before the announcement of the winners, I received a phone call from the Loft.

"How do you spell your first name?" was the question.

I thought "Rats!" my cover is now blown. "Why do you need to know?" I asked.

Then the Loft person said "So we know who to make the check out to. You won."

"D-O-R-O-T-H-E-A," I quickly replied.

(By the way, I'd completely forgotten that I started out using my maiden name, Johnson, as my middle name for writing children's books. Eventually I decided that Dorothea Johnson Jensen sounded a bit silly so I went back to using my regular middle name, Graham.)