Sunday, December 19, 2010

A broken promise: Jacob, Rose and Turner's marriage plans

Jacob stared at the older woman, angry. Lines creased his forehead as he weighed his whether-to's. Finally, he stood and walked into the tent. When he emerged, Rose trailed along behind petulantly, her arm looking to be a permanent attachment to his hand.

"Siddown Rose and hear me out. I ain't comfortable with head-on talkin like this where I have to rein in my temper. Usually fer me, I only talk head-on when I'm bein challenged. But you got to know this thing I already know.  If what yer Ma explains is true, you got to know at least this one thing and I'm damned fer tellin ya and damned if I don't."
"Jacob, you don't have to -"
"Shut up, Rose! You tole yer Ma to shut it and now I'm a tellin you the same. Shut yer mouth and jes listen! Unnerstand?"

He was angry ...and afraid...and Rose saw both. She had to laugh.
"Please continue Jacob. You're quite interesting when you're angry."

Blushing, he saw Abigail squelch a giggle, felt his blush and blustered on without fanfare or preamble; just straight to the point.
"Rose, afore he left, Turner Cole tole me he'd marry you with no holdin back at all and made me promise never to tell anybody.
I ain't...til now."

"Then why didn't he say so?"
"Would'na been proper on his part. And how'd he know you would'na joint up with the Church just to egg im on?"

"He thought I would do something like that? Just to catch him?"
And before her own temper pushed out words of disgust, she caught her mother's silent rebuke.
You did do something like that when you got baptized anyway. Don't get righteous about it now.

Abigail was right and Rose could only stare into Jacob's eyes, not sensing the man's pain in discussing her affections concerning another man.

Jacob still had that same feeling in his gut.
Every damn time he thought about her anymore...
"Jacob Hannah, are you telling me Turner Cole went home with the idea he'd ask me to marry him when I came to Utah?"

Sighing, shaking his head and shrugging in a way only a big man does, Jacob looked into the fire.
"That's about the size of it. I think he meant he'd have no problem takin you to wife after you got baptized. He was willin to take the Lord at His word and if your sins was no more rememberd by the Lord, why should Turner Cole remember them?"

"Then why on earth did he get married?"
"Don't for sure know. Me'n Turner've always been close but not so close that he'd share his love life with me.
By the time we got to the age of interest, I spent more time with my Pa bein a woodsman and he stayed closer to the city and the religious stuff. Maybe he was commanded."

"But you both said there weren't arranged marriages in Zion."
"There ain't like that, but maybe he was commanded to start takin wives, but I doubt that too. Turner is still too young to start actin apostle-like."
"Meaning that he still might have marriage with me in mind - as a plural wife?
My God, Jacob!"

Abigail gestured, upset. "I certainly agree there Rose! Jacob, how could Turner or any good man be that casual about this?"

"Whaddaya mean casual? Far as I can see there wasn't nothin casual about thinkin about Rose and whether or not marryin her was somethin real in his heart.
Sharin it with me warn't casual. He never spected I'd ever tell you afore he could do somethin about it hisself.

And if he decided to do nothin, then I'm the only one he'd have to splain it to since you'd never a known. I'm the casual blabbermouth here."

"But Jacob," responded Abigail, “it sounds like he thought we would go dragging a handcart into Utah, ready to accept his proposal just because he wanted it that way. I mean, would Turner just walk up to us, maybe give a hug and tell my daughter,
'Welcome to Zion, Rose. By the way will you marry me?'
No courtship? No wondering if Rose cares in return, assuming he cares in the right way?"

"Hell, I don't know Sister! I ain't been involved with women and don't know how it's done, specially with plurals. I don't think I'll ever be commanded to take more'n one wife."
Oh? And why not, Jacob?", Rose wanted to know.
"Cause I'm not able to do it, maybe not even manage one wife. I don't have the temper to manage women in that way and everybody who knows me knows that too.

Old Brigham'd never be that blind as to call me to take more'n one woman."
"But Jacob, you have just as much right."
Right hell!  No I don't.
I ain't the man of the spirit like Turner. If the Prophet tole Turner to get hisself a wife or two, Turner'd have the spirit enough to know it was right.

I ain't that way. If Brigham tole me that, I'd have to take it on faith cause no spirit would ever prompt my soul to know it was right.

My gut feelin would be to tell Brother Brigham right where he could go hang his hat. And since I ain't likely to be some Church big shot any time, I wouldn't have no obligedness to show a public example by acceptin the difficult callin like Heber Kimball did.

My only wife'd never have to pray to God about me stayin awake at night tryin to decide whether or not to refuse that commandment from the Prophet."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rose embraces a truth

"My dear daughter, this is a traveling group of Children of Israel. We're leaving our 'Egypt' to go to the Promised Land and the Lord and the P.E.F. have made it possible. It's a miracle like unto the parting of the Red Sea.
Rose, my Rose, I hope you find a new life out there!"
Rose sighed,
"I've already found a new life Mama, whether I like it or not. This is my new life.
But everyone here is so SERIOUS!
The men never smile. At least the men around the docks at Insley and the women smiled at each other."
"Yes, they probably did. And probably screamed and profaned at each other, Rose, and beat each other didn't they?
These are a new kind of man and woman you're seeing.
These who are also poor are betting their all on one more turn of the card. Some of them have been so foolish as to quit their jobs as soon as emigration with the cheaper handcart method was proposed. They didn't need to save up as much money as they thought, but took no thought for how far down the road they'd have to wait before ships could be chartered.
Some of these people were living on charity when they left, barely keeping back enough money to pay their way through. If they need anything on the journey they'll be out of luck."
"Mama, we'll all be out of luck if Utah turns out to be  something other than Zion."
"Rose, please don't tell me you -"
"Don't get me wrong. I'm glad we're going; more glad that I'm leaving Insley. I'm just hoping it won't be too hard there where we're going."
"Well child, you had faith to be baptized. Surely you can find enough to trust the Lord to get us there safely."
"Mama, Mama. I got baptized to make sure there wouldn't be any trouble with both of us going with the help from the P.E.F.”
"Then you still don't believe it's true?"
"I guess I believe part of it is true, but until I see for myself that these Elders are really what they say they are and that in Zion women are happy, I won't be able to do more than what I've already done.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jacob on the risks of marrying Rose

"Jacob Hannah, you're a hard man."
              Cause I'm bein honest about it?  Turner, I don't ever aim to be asked to take more'n one wife and I'd be riskin a hell of a lot to take Rose, no matter how prettified she gits and how clean she repents herself to."
              "Why do you say risk? You mean you'd have a hard time trusting her?"
              "That and more. Albert says she's been a whorin for the most part a two years and not once has ever showed signs of gittin with child."
              "Albert thinks his daughter is barren?"
              "Yeah, it looks that way. If I made someone like that my woman I'd have two strikes agin me."
              "An ex-harlot you couldn't fully trust and the danger of a childless union?"
              "You got it."
              "I'd do it ..."
              "You'd what?
              You'd take a chance on her?
              Turner that's crazy! She ain't your type."
              "Why not? Besides, what makes you think we won't be commanded to marry more than one?"
              "Hah! You, maybe. I won't do it."
              "Oh yes you would. You might not feel that way now but by the end of your mission, when the labor of preaching is so full that your testimony is three times what it is now, you'll change your ideas. You'll do what the Lord asks."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"You mean to say that God gave that woman a revelation? What about your living prophet?" - Turner explains polygamy to Abigail

Furthermore, my father was four wives only after my mother, his first wife whom he loves very deeply, gave her consent and helped him choose the other three."
                This brought Abigail clear out of her chair, startling Rose.
                "You mean she agreed?
                His foolish first wife agreed to let him -"
                "Yes! Yes, Sister Blake, she agreed and I don't believe she was foolish. Neither she nor my father wanted to do it, but you see, when you have been blessed so much and given sufficient testimony of the divinity of this work, it's possible to possess a faith so powerful, one can conclude the rightfulness of a commandment and obey it, even if one is not inclined to favor it.
                In other words, knowing the gospel and knowing we have it in its entirety, including the plan of salvation, we must be a faithful people.
                `We accept the principle of revelation completely and honor a living prophet chosen by the Lord as His mouthpiece on earth. If the Lord tells his prophet to tell me to take more than one wife, it is as if He has told me Himself, just as He called me through His prophet to leave my home and come preach to you here."
                "But your mother! Your father's first wife," Abigail argued, "How ... oh, how could she agree to something so monstrous?"
                "Let me tell you about the wife of one of our current apostles, Heber C. Kimball, the one Reverend Charles talked about last night who first opened England to the gospel.
                Heber's wife's name is Vilate and after Joseph Smith made known the commandment and told Heber he must comply, Brother Kimball very nearly went crazy with worry and confusion. You see, his relationship with Vilate goes clear back into their childhood and their romance and affection for each other is legend in the church.
                Many's the time I've heard brethren exhort husband to love their wives and continue the courtship long after the wedding, just as Brother Kimball does with Vilate. How he feels about Vilate has always been obvious, even now when he's taken more than twenty five additional wives."
                It was Rose's turn to shout,
                "Twenty Five???
                My God!!"

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jacob Hannah ground his teeth together and got to his feet. Glad he thinks so.... no idea what I'm goin to say.

"Remember Jacob, you weren't sent to argue with the Reverend. The Lord wants you to deliver His message and you know what that is. Go ahead, Elder. You'll do fine"

Jacob Hannah ground his teeth together and got to his feet. Glad he thinks so.... no idea what I'm goin to say.

Rose was disappointed. The majority of the listeners were disappointed.

Mister Calm and Quiet was not rising to speak, instead letting his partner, Mr. Nervous Eyes struggle to the front, a Bible and another book in his paws. She watched as he laid both books in front of him, looked out at the congregation and hesitated, not anxious to speak.

Why not?

Did not he come here for this very thing?

Assembling the few scattered ideas left in his head, Jacob still hesitated.

Declare the message Turner had said.

Answer the charges the Reverend had demanded.

Jacob swallowed hard; then charged, stumbling at the start.

"Uh, Ladies, and, er Gentlemen....

No! I can't call you that. That is, I, I gotta call you 'brothers and sisters'.

I hope yer not mindin that, but the Lord, er, Jesus taught that you an me’re all sons and daughters of God, the Heavenly Father."

What the hell am I sayin? I'm runnin out of words!

"...and where I come from we respect each other that way. My ... my companion, behind me ..."

Of course he's behind me! Dammit Hannah! Quite stutterin!

"My, uh, companion behind me's always spected me to call im 'Brother Cole'.

Ah, that is, I mean that was in Utah. Here in England he wants me to call im 'Elder Cole'. Of course when we was youngsters in the wilderness we only knew each other's folks as 'Brother this' or 'Sister that'.

Brother Cole is, well, I, er, hope you'll all come to think of us -- both of us as your brothers."

Lord! I gotta get on with the subject!!

The whole chapel seemed on the verge of an exploding restlessness. Rose felt as if her skin was crawling, so irritating was the Elder's fumbling. The speaker was obviously a humble man, but his fear and reluctance was almost palpable.

Why hadn't the other one spoken?

Come on, Jacob old boy! You can do this.

Keep goin!

Either yer a man about this or ya ain't. Ya quit now an you might never try public speakin agin!

And there ain't no damn way I'm lettin Turner go back to Utah or even to Franklin Richards and say Isaac Hannah's boy done made the pure ass fool a hisself.

"My name is Jacob. I mean, it's Jacob ... Jacob Hannah."

Please Lord!!! Please give me the what to say!

"I drew ... I have drawd ... the lot to speak first. Yeah, Elder Cole'n me drawd lots and the lot fell ta me, an that's the Lord's way a sayin I shoulda oughta speak first..."

Rose felt there might be, perhaps 30 seconds more of calm in the chapel before people started to walk out.

SPEAK, damn you!

Get on with it!

Answer the goddamned Reverend's goddamned questions before we all rush out of this crazy farm.

What do you idiots think of God?

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Yeah, well ....." Jacob shook his head, "I'd like another shot at Albert. You know, if only that old biddy would listen with her heart, she'd know too."

"Mysterious are the ways of the Lord," Turner observed to Jacob.

"Perhaps Albert's small part in the introduction of the gospel into Insley has been played to completion. Maybe the rescue of his daughter was necessary to get him to help us into the Reverend's chapel. Now, with the Reverend publicizing our preaching, there is more interest than we ever had before we met Albert Blake."

"Yeah, well ....." Jacob shook his head, "I'd like another shot at Albert. You know, if only that old biddy would listen with her heart, she'd know too."

One week later the missionaries heard again from Reverend Charles. Soon a flyer was seen all over Insley.


The Reverend Charles had taken it upon himself to try to discredit and drive the Americans out of Insley, issuing a public challenge to a debate.

Albert took the notice home and literally forced Rose to plan on going with him. With Abigail his success was nil. She had retreated to her silence and her kitchen.

"God forgot me a long time ago, Albert, and it's too late for Him to try to get me back. Reverend Charles is perfectly able to defend the faith without my support."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

That big one with the dark beard-- somehow he's dignified and mean at the same time.

"Mr. Leach, when we come back there will be more than two of us. I'll have the law and perhaps a barrister if I can find one. That shouldn't be too difficult if we mention the Leach family name."

Jacob added, "An if I find you here with a gang, I won't try to discuss a thing. The law can sort it out after I break your back!"

Rose could not believe men would risk a fight over her after what she'd become. Why would they risk injury over a whore? Maybe risk their own death in the river.

Jacob saw her face, remembering he could do nothing unless the girl gave him some encouragement.

"That is, of course, if you, Miss Blake, won't mind my comin back to escort ya home to yer father?"

Ollie made a slight move, probably intending to catch her eye with a threatening look. This American making a fool of himself over an English trollop. Why?

Her resolve fled ... then returned. It seemed possible that in one moment she could push Albert and Abigail away; forever freeing them from a daughter's shame; doing it for their own good.

Let them get on with their lives without their child's chains around their necks too. Oh, how much better to make the break with her father, once and for all, no matter the pain of the moment.

But then to what? She would be a slave to Leach; to his business of procuring women for those who would pay, not to mention his own need for a woman to roll with.

The Americans?

What about them?

That big one with the dark beard-- dressed more roughly than the farmers of England when they dress up. Yet somehow he's dignified and mean at the same time.

Her next thoughts made her blush. Think he's interested in you?

A preacher?

Interested in a whore?

Sinner among sinners?

Lady of the night?

Interested in you?


Albert ...

He's interested in preaching to Albert and using me.

But still he's willing to challenge Ollie to fight here and now for me.

She saw Leach's impatient silent threat again and felt anger; then hopeful about escape.

But for how long? How long if the Americans aren't around the next time? What if I leave Ollie and they then leave me? Ollie will get me back or send me into the river.

'Jacob', the other one called him, Jacob is willing to fight for me. What would it take to hold on to him?

I'm such a fool! Why would he be interested?

She looked one more time at Leach; afraid and knowing she had good reason to fear. But then, to her surprise as much as anyone's, she nodded at Jacob.

"Would you please? I mean, you wouldn't mind coming back for me?"

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jacob Hannah on how he’d like to preach

"Uh, Brothers and Sisters!” he managed to choke out. How he hated those sissified words! It was more practical and comfortable to say 'ladies and gentlemen' but he was not permitted to say that. It wasn't preachy enough.

'Ladies and gentlemen' was something you might say to a crowd about to look into your tent to see a two-headed calf or a woman with a beard. But he'd have felt a little better talking like that anyway.


Come up here and let me tell you about God jumping down from his throne and scarin hell out of a young boy in the woods!

Pay me yer shillings and I'll excite you through and through! I'll tell ya things you'll hardly believe, but you'll get your money's worth! It'll thrill ya. If God coming to Earth in the 1800's don't thrill ya, then it oughta make ya laugh and you still won't miss your shilling!

But old Turner'd never let him say it like that because they had come to preach, not bark.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Take a stroll with Worry and a willing partner find,
who'll bring along your troubles so they'll not be left behind.
He'll summon all the vultures who will hover overhead
while  fear about your troubles leaves your courage feeling dead.

Mr. Worry will not comfort you; commiserate he does,
for he thrives and grows but stronger while reducing you … because
the more he walks beside you the more welcome he remains
and feeds upon your sorrow making loses of your gains.

Take a stroll with Worry and you stroll on liquid sand
where to step away is difficult and nowhere can you stand,
for standing still is sinking and his vultures overhead
will feast upon the hopes and dreams you've given up for dead.

The Mother of your soul doth weep when Worry slithers in,
an uninvited guest so cruel who wants you not to win.
And Worry wed with Anger -- both destroy a vital chord
when the Mother weeps while watching you pick up a sharpened sword

to wreak a mindless havoc without wisdom at your side,
but Worry, laughing all the time will see how you deride
your essence and your virtue in the thrall of Anger's lust
and full of pride so wounded you grind Wisdom into dust.

© 2000 My Secret Thoughts, Arthur Ruger

Friday, May 21, 2010

”We must wait for help or death must come to us. Few of us cared which.” - The recollections of Sarah Crossley Sessions

Sarah Crossley Session, Mary’s daughter, was 14 in 1856 but perhaps the strongest person in that family making the handcart journey.

We felt that he had gone only a little ahead of us, that we would soon be with him. I did pray though that the commissioner of provisions would not know of it until I had received Joseph's portion of flour.

I cannot tell you the pang that smote my heart as he counted out the spoons full and when he came to Joseph’s he said, "Oh Joseph died last night didn't he”?  I had lost my brother’s portion and it hurt me worse than it did to first look upon his still white face.

In 1986,  the night I stumbled across Mary’s name in  Handcarts to Zion 1856-60 (by Leroy R. and Ann W. Hafen (Arthur H. Clark Co., Glendale CA, 1981), I called my mother immediately. It was 10:00 PM.

When I asked Mom about it she didn’t have much detail but told me my Aunt Hope Hayes who lived in Soda Springs did.

So late that same evening I called a relative I’d never met nor  spoken to in  my life to ask about Mary Jarvis Crossley and the Martin Handcart Company. Aunt Hope knew who I was and seemed quite amused that I had only just now discovered something important about my family heritage.

… and she sent me copies of all her genealogy and family records regarding Mary and the handcart tragedy.  Aunt Hope’s copies included the following excellent recollection written by Mary Jarvis Crossley’s daughter Sarah which is also online and  linked below.

Sarah Crossley Sessions -  MEMBER MARTIN HANDCART COMPANY, Submitted By Olive Sessions Howell

He [Elder Perregrine Sessions] often urged my father to go to America and unite with the Saints in the Rocky Mountains. 

This time my father did, leaving Mother and us children to follow as soon as he could make a home for us; this was not easily done for work was scarce and money hard to obtain. We almost despaired of ever seeing him again, but after two years the way came to us. 

The handcart Plan was introduced into England, and it seemed so cheap and easy, only nine pounds or forty-five dollars in United States money, for each of us. 

We were so anxious to join our father and many friends who had gone before, that we decided to go. Mother was a frail woman and Joseph, our crippled brother could never walk across that 1300 miles of plains; but Hannah and I were very healthy and strong girls. Ephriam was a lad and very willing, so we gathered together what clothing and bedding we were able to take and sold our little home and all else we had. We bade farewell to our many friends and merry old England, sailing from Liverpool early in the spring of 1856

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The most famous debate between a Mormon and non-Mormon preacher

The Deseret News announcement of a debate over polygamy between Orson Pratt and President Ulysses Grant’s personal pastor.

And this summary from the Wardell Family Genealogy site:

In August, 1870, Dr. John P. Newman, chaplain of the U.S. Senate and President Ulysses S. Grant's personal pastor, delivered a strong anti-pologamy sermon in his Metropolitan Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.

Salt Lake Daily Telegraph editor Edward Sloan proposed that Newman debate polygamy in Salt Lake.

Newman accepted and, when Brigham Young declined to be his opponent, debated instead with Orson Pratt.

The 3 day debate was reported daily in the New York Herald. Edward Tullidge declared that "millions of readers followed the arguments of Dr. Newman and Orson Pratt and it is safe to estimate that quite two-thirds of them yielded to the Mormon apostle. It is reported that Newman never forgave "the Mormons". 


And this from

Salt Lake City l9 January 1871
Elder P. O. Thomassen

Dear Brother,
Thank you for your letter of 20 December. Since returning from my mission in Denmark I have had some amusing experiences, including a few religious ones. I'll try to tell you a little about them.

First, the "learned" chaplain of the American Congress, Dr. Newman, challenged our president to a debate on the frequently discussed question, "Does the Bible sanction polygamy?"

Brigham Young found it beneath his dignity to defend our principle, but sent Orson Pratt in his stead.

The debate lasted three days.

The first two Elder Pratt lathered his learned opponent, and the third he shaved him as smooth as an eel.

I attended the entire debate. Shortly afterward several American newspapers, both in California and the eastern states, wrote things like: "The learned Reverend Dr. Newman recently went to 'the city of the Saints' to convince both the prophet and all true Mormons that polygamy is wrong. He wanted to point out verses in the Bible that forbid its practice.

Old Brigham did not himself refute Dr. Newman, but sent one of his apostles, Orson Pratt, who did it so impressively that we must tell the learned gentleman from Washington the same thing the Savior told the woman: 'Go and sin no more."

- Letters: Scandinavian Saints write about America

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mary Jarvis Crossley and James Crossley – my people

Part I is a work of fiction and other than actual historical figures, the characters are fictional.

The events in part II about the handcart journey are offered as more or less accurate and in sequence.  A more personal and significant source to me came about after I  discovered, during the writing and while scanning the roster of emigrants in Edward Martin's Company, the names of Mary Jarvis Crossley (45) with two sons and three daughters: Mary Ann (23), Joseph (19), Hannah (15), Sarah (12), Ephraim (5) and Mary Ann's son William (1).

At that point something changed for me in the writing of this story. It suddenly became extremely personal and, as I had already invested quite a bit of energy in trying to write about the handcart journey, I acquired a new and more powerful sense of heritage.

Mary Jarvis Crossley was the mother of Ephraim Jarvis Crossley who made the handcart journey at the age of five.

Ephraim Jarvis Crossley became the father of Joseph Ephraim Crossley, who became the father of Joseph Heber Crossley, who was the father of Cora Lanor Crossley, my mother.

Mary Jarvis Crossley is therefore my Great Great Great Grandmother.

Up until the time of discovering this information, I knew very little about my mother's side of the family; where they came from, when and how they joined the LDS Church and how they came to reside in Idaho.

I found a family member, Hope Hayes of Soda Springs, Idaho, who could answer my questions about my Crossley ancestors and also sent me a most precious package of information upon which the events and activities of my fictional characters were based.

I received life stories of James Crossley (Mary's husband and my Great Great Great Grandfather), Mary Crossley and Sarah Crossley Sessions (age 12 during the handcart journey), diary entries from James Crossley and, extremely precious and useful, diary entries from the journal of 19-year old Joseph for May and June, 1856 when the family crossed the Atlantic on the ship Horizon.

In the novel, Rose Blake's journal for May and June, 1856 is based entirely on what is in Joseph's (his last name was Smith as he was Mary's son by a prior marriage) diary.

Joseph died at Martin's Cove and the incident in the novel when Abigail see's  wolves attack Albert's body is based on Mary Crossley  seeing wolves go after the deceased Joseph as the emigrants were leaving Martin's Cove and she gazed back at her son's body.

The handcart story became a story I have inherited; became in that way my own story, helping me, more than a hundred years later, come to a greater sense of who I am.

Part of my mother's side of the family came to Utah in handcarts and part of my father's side of the family, namely Anson Call who is named toward the end of the rescue, participated in helping them get to Utah.

* * *

Words and acts of actual historical persons are quoted and described according to the reference materials utilized in the crafting of the story.

All characters named were actual people with the exception of Turner Cole, Joshua Cole, Jacob Hannah, and the Blake family, Reverend Charles, Oliver Leach, Tommy Brown, Sabina Cole and the Jenkins family which was named in one fictional conversation.

The Rescue Team characters were all actual historical personages as were Edward Martin, James Willie, Franklin D. Richards, Levi Savage and the emigrant families named in the novel.

The words of Brigham Young are quoted based on historical quotations.

Reference works included:
Handcarts to Zion 1856-60, by Leroy R. and Ann W. Hagen (Arthur H. Clark Co., Glendale CA, 1981);

Rescue of the 1856 Handcart Companies, a Charles Red Monograph in 
Western History (distributed by Signature Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1982);

The Latter Day Saints Emigrants' Guide by William Clayton (printed in St. Louis, MO 1848 and edited by Stanley B. Kimball//The Patrice Press, 1983).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Conversion of a prostitute? By LDS missionaries?

On Rose Blake - heroine

Rose’s circumstances as a historical character trapped in a life of prostitution that was as cruelly enforced 150 years ago in industrial England as it is today, is not extraordinary nor forced  creative license.

Among numerous  readings I learned about Mary Woolstoncraft who has been called “the first feminist” or the “mother of feminism” and whose influence was quite strong in mid-19th century England.

I also found the following tragic quote while researching how I might portray Rose.
“The getting of fresh girls is easy enough. I have gone and courted girls in the country under all kinds of disguises, occasionally assuming the dress of a parson ...and got them in my power to please a customer.... I bring her up, take her here and there, give her plenty to eat and drink, especially drink. I contrive it so that she loses her last train ...I offer her nice lodgings for the night client gets His maid." - THE ENGLISH- A SOCIAL HISTORY: 1066-1945, Christopher Hibbert
My larger priority in writing And Should We Die was always authenticity and consistency in historical details of the actual handcart experience. The England context was based on readings and study of available personal journals and recollections as well as published histories such as Hibbert’s above.

Furthermore for a sense of mood and social environment, I was counseled that I might also take a long look at the writings of Dickens whose David Copperfield, for example was not that dissimilar to the background of what I needed for the Blake family circumstance when found by Jake Hannah and Turner Cole.

The greater priority for Rose was the exploration of the literal difficulties of conversion not so much  from one religion to another but of an attempt to change – based on spiritual values – of a way of life condemned by Christian religion. 

Rose then does not appear as an innocent almost diva-like beauty more related to stereotypical historical romances for whom visually we are treated mostly to life where heroes and heroines have much more time on their hands to be in love with love and the afflictions of  soap-opera drama.

When we meet Rose we meet her gritty hand-to-mouth existence – a pattern of life that might be so conflicted or convoluted by greed and cruelty that escape or empowerment  by religious conversion might be an impossible task.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

If you yearn to write, quit stalling and dare it

Who are we really?

In the late 70's and early 80's I concluded that I might have it in me to write and get published.

What followed were hours and hours composing stories - remembering biographies I'd read of my first literary heroes, the early writers of science fiction.

And reading somewhere, "the best way to learn to write is to write, write, write."

Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Harry Harrison, John Campbell and Frederich Pohl, whose article on writing fiction I found way back then and copied from a library book.

Pohl's writing suggested to my inner thinking "you can do this, Arthur."

In the mid-80's I set out to write what in my mind would be my version of a "Louie L'Amor" western complete with gunfights, secrets revealed and violence exploited. 

However, the novel that finally emerged in the late fall of 1986 that - although its setting was the Western United States of the mid 19th century - looked nothing like a L'Amor novel and looked nothing like something publishable.

The novel continued on into over 600 pages of historical fiction set within the context of the handcart immigration program launched by the Mormons in the mid-1850's. I was writing – as suggested -  about things with which I was familiar.

The particular immigration event was  that of the Martin Company, memorialized by tragedy in both Church and secular histories of the American West.

Almost from the get-go, as I became immersed in my writing processes, the gunfighter story began to evolve and, as I had been given to understand from reading Pohl and other publications on creative writing,  my characters began to take over not only my attempts to portray them, but also the plot and direction of the story.

From my perspective, what finally appeared was a novel prompted and inspired by personalities who seemed to have come out of solitary inner places whose doors I had finally unlocked by activating my writer's imagination. The world might say my muse woke up.

The watershed moment came when I inadvertently discovered that my own family heritage included direct involvement in the Martin Handcart Company.

To my shock and dismay, I discovered that my mother's side of the family had come to Utah as English immigrants in that company that walked across the American plains and mountains, suffered privation and the loss of a loved one along the way.

This discovery changed things internally in an extremely powerful way. Suddenly it was personal ... my story about the Martin Handcart Company was no longer idle fictional speculation.

Never having known this history, I contacted other family members and quickly obtained the existent journals and writings of my own ancestors who made that trek.

Somehow, with the story now so deeply personalized, the writing and events that had already been written - birthed, I assumed, in my creative imagination - began somehow to feel much more real, more vivid and definitely more intense ... as if I were recalling experiences I myself had known back then.

It was then that the characters stepped out of two dimensional plotting and took over every word, every thought and every action I assigned them.

My experience suggests something more than an awakened muse.

Start with five awakened muses.
Five individuals with five perspectives,
five temperaments
five voices all insisting that their stories be a part of the unfolding revelation of a novel I had titled "And Should We Die."

The novel was finished after what seemed like countless editing and polishing actions of the entire draft involving some 2000+ pages using an IBM Selectric typewriter and white-out.

I then sent in a draft of 650 pages to Scott Meredith, a New York Literary Agent and paid him (with help of supportive family members to whom I remain indebted) a fee to assess it.

The agency staff considered the novel too long for a first novel and sufficiently complex to make it an impossible publishing.

As Meredith wrote to me, "you made most of the mistakes all first-novel writers make ... I don't suggest you try to fix this one."

However, he added, "your writing skill is considerable" and made the suggestion that I start a new project and send it to him as soon as it was ready.

All this was probably routine and generic responses that his agency sent out all the time. But for me it constituted validation of at least a few hopes, permitting me then the positive illusion that I was on the right track ... that writing as a craft was an area of personal development worthy of my time and effort.

I have yet to write a second work but continually dabble in starts, restarts and scrapped novel-length projects. In the meantime, I've contented myself with non-fiction articles on politics and religion and blogging on the same topics.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"With Interest As Required"

Perpetual Emigration 
Fund Agreement

"We the undersigned, do hereby agree to bind ourselves to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company,in the following conditions:

viz. - That in consideration of the aforesaid company emigrating or transporting us, and our necessary luggage from England to Utah, according to the rules of the Company, and the general instruction of their authorized agents;

we do severally and jointly promise, and bind ourselves to continue with, and obey the instructions of the agent appointed to superintend our passage thither,

that we will receipt for our passages precious to arriving at the port of disembarkation in the United States at the point of outfit on the Missouri River,

Prior to arriving in the Great Salt Lake Valley, and at any intermediate stopping place the agent in charge may think proper to require it.

And that on our arrival in Utah, we will hold ourselves, our time, and our labor subject to the appropriation appropriation of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company,

until full cost of our emigration is paid, with interest if required."

"Brother Martin?” someone asked, "How far is it from Iowa City to the Valley?"
Martin hesitated and Rose wondered.
Afraid to say?
Martin continued,
"I believe the figure is close to one thousand three hundred miles."
There were more than a few gasps and mutterings but Martin had prepared for this,
"You have looked upon the journey all in a lump! You are going to divide those miles into perhaps seventy five or eighty smaller daily chunks.

Rose was surprised at how easily the cart with its high wheels rolled as she and Abigail squeezed themselves inside the pull space and stepped forward.
"Aren't you glad the land is flat, Mama? See how our feet sink a little bit into the soil?"
"Yes. They tell me that our advantage of flat land is offset by the soft walking,
but that when the ground gets hard and we leave the plains the land will rise upward into the great mountains. We'll make no better time because of the need for constant pulling."
Rose found herself already puffing from her exertion.

"If you was my wife and Rose was my daughter - both of you meanin more to me
than anything else in this world - I'd make you stay in Florence until spring."
Abigail shook her head.
"But why, Jacob? Surely the Lord -"
"Surely the Lord helps them who help themselves, including thinkin straight about danger.
You ain't seen what's waitin fer ya at the end of the prairie. You still got to climb a lot of mountain passes ladies, an more'n a few are more than a mile high.
You want to try that in a snowstorm?"
Abigail's response was stubborn,
"I can't believe that. Snow that early?"
"Hell yes! And I don't mean just higher up. In late fall even the lower passes might have snow.
Let's say you get out of Florence within the week. The trip from Florence to the Salt Lake Valley is maybe seventy five days. October is only thirty days away
You'll still be on the plains in thirty days.
I'd sure as hell keep my women off the road through to next spring if I wanted to be sure I'd ever hold em close agin!"

Rose's Journal:
"Captain Martin has ordered our rations cut from a pound to three-fourths pound
of flour per person per day.
Jacob was right. Elder Savage knew what he was talking about.
Mama's and my seventeen pounds of clothing included mostly summer costume.
It is getting much much colder and harder to sleep at night, leaving us too tired
to pull during the day.
I'm beginning to worry ...seriously worry.

"Don't you see that what happens in the next few hours may very well free or seal
the thinking and path of the rest of my daughter's life?
... we have got to try!"