Friday, February 16, 2018

Where Story Ideas Come From

The other day, someone asked me where my story ideas come from. Actually, I never considered the exact source. My writing process consists of kicking back, closing my eyes, and daydreaming. 
Abagail Eldan, hard at work.
But, if you really consider the question, our story ideas can never come fully formed. They have to get into our brains, somehow. Just as a calm, clear sky does not produce a storm, neither does an empty brain. Clouds must form, grow heavy with moisture, for the thunder to strike.

The brain must have fuel to "storm."
In the same way, we pluck ideas from the very air around us, forming the makings of a cloud, a vague idea that hopefully becomes a story.

An example of this happened to me recently. For Christmas, I received a DNA kit from Someone in my family had already done a great deal of research on my father's ancestors. I knew my family came into south Alabama at an early time, in the early 1800s, and that my great, great grandfather had been married twice.

The story, how much is true I do not know, had been told to me of a young widow who walked along the dirt road in front of my ancestor's house. This was shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, and this young girl's husband had been killed in one of the first battles.

My great, great grandfather, it was said, had recently been widowed and had a houseful of children. He invited this young woman to be his wife, and she accepted.

This has always struck me as a sad situation. This poor girl had nowhere to turn and ended up on a stranger's doorstep. She made a marriage in exchange for a roof over her head. Knowing the offspring of this great, great grandfather, I believe he was a fine man and did the right thing. The marriage, I believe, was a happy one.

However, this is not even the most interesting part of the story. On my family tree I notice something unusual. My great, great grandfather is listed as the father of this young widow's daughter, born before my ancestor's first wife died!

Several explanations can be formulated for this. This young widow may have had the daughter before traveling down that dirt road. My grandfather, compassionate man that he was, may have claimed his wife's daughter as his own. And, yes, that's the explanation I've most comfortable with. 

But other scenarios present themselves, story ideas waiting to be explored.

Time to find the hammock, to close my eyes, and daydream of the endless possibilities!

Abagail's latest book, Melly, Unyielding, will be free tomorrow, for one day only. Grab your copy tomorrow! Melly, Unyielding is book 4 in the Lockets & Lace series from the authors of the Sweet Americana blog!

Connect with Abagail:
Amazon Author Page

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Writing a Historical Mystery-Romance

Well, so far I am really happy with the reviews that Locket Full of Love is getting. This was my first all-out attempt to write a mystery-romance and readers seem to like it. This story was hard to write because of the intricacy of the plot! Plus, I had to do a lot of research into military intelligence during the Civil War.

Two things I learned in this process--One, a mystery has to be carefully, carefully plotted out. You have to think backward and forward to make sure the clues all fit together and the hero/heroine find them in legitimate ways. That was challenging. I mean I really spent a fair amount of time noodling over if this this/then this! Couldn't just have tips and clues falling out of the sky. There had to be a rational, logical progression.

The second thing I learned was how almost slipshod intelligence was during the Civil War. Generals tended to handle it on their own, employing their own men to gather information and make up strategies as they went along. General Grant was fond of using Allen Pinkerton--who at that time was also deeply involved in guarding Abraham Lincoln. I suppose you could argue he did a less-than-stellar job on that case.

Anyway, if you get a few moments and want to curl up a with a good mystery that is built around not only a fine romance but the actual historical character Juliet Watts, I hope you'll give Locket Full of Love a gander!

Was her husband a sinner or a saint? A spy or a traitor? For years Juliet Watts has believed her husband died saving nothing more than a cheap trinket--but the locket he foolishly risked his life for turns out to hold a mysterious key. Together, Juliet and military intelligence officer Robert Hall go on a journey of riddles and revelations. But Juliet is convinced Robert is hiding something, too. Maybe it's just his heart...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wedding Anniversaries are Special

Happy Valentine's Day! A romance writer's favorite day!

Today is the perfect day to talk about weddings and anniversaries.

The practice of celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries, such as the twenty-fifth and fiftieth, started long ago. Research shows that these special anniversaries were marked as early as the middle ages.

Many of the wedding and anniversary traditions we see today started in the Victorian era. Queen Victoria started the tradition of brides wearing white. Most brides wore their best dress for their wedding day no matter what color it was. After Queen Victoria’s wedding, white wedding dresses became more popular and brides would try to wear white if they could.

Queen Victoria’s daughter had the Bridal March played for her to walk down the aisle at her wedding. When there was music at weddings after that, this song was played when possible. This song is the one most associated with a wedding song today.

Giving gifts to mark a wedding anniversary became more common in the eighteenth century, mostly in Europe. The bride was normally given a silver colored wreath for a twenty-fifth anniversary. If the couple made it fifty years, a gold colored wreath would be the gift to the bride.

The gifts were meant to celebrate the commitment it takes to make a marriage last. A marriage built on love went against some of the traditions of arranged marriages or marriages based on purpose or need. Marking milestone years became important as people started to marry for love.

And finally, by the 1860’s the symbols for each anniversary started to evolve. The Farmer’s Almanac designated the first anniversary as the paper anniversary in 1859.

In my latest Cutter’s Creek story released just two weeks ago, Janine and Thad Hewitt have an anniversary coming up. It’s not a milestone year, but Thad feels the need to surprise his wife with something special. He’s sure his plans will please her and bring her out of the doldrums she’s experienced over the past few months.

The romance these two share was sweet to me because it reminded me of how our lives are today. We’re busy. We’re distracted. We’re not always focused on the romance in our own marriages. But the romance can be rekindled. It just takes a little effort and an open mind. And maybe a touch of creativity.

If you’d like to find out how Thad brought the romance back into his marriage, find Committed on Amazon.


Annie Boone writes sweet western historical romance with a happy ending guaranteed in every single story. Inspiration comes in many forms and Annie finds more than one way to make her stories entertain and inspire.

To connect with Annie, find her on Facebook, Twitter, or her website.

Follow Annie on Amazon, Bookbub and get email updates.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Civil War Lived On

In my most recent book, Otto’s Offer, part of the Lockets & Lace series, several chapters include reference to Otto's service in the American Civil War while serving in the 16th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. The chapter that actually tells of his wartime service and his experience on the Powder River Expedition of 1865 is based on regimental history of the actual 16th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry that was created on November 1, 1863. Although the initial enlistment period was three years, the entire regiment was mustered out December 6, 1865. What they were involved in during those slightly over two years I found interesting enough that I decided to include it in my book.
Capt Adoniram J. Miller 16th Kansas Cav
I was not the only author who wrote for the Lockets & Lace series whose story involved the Civil War in some manner. Starting with book 2 set in 1867 involving three sisters who are left to manage a farm by themselves due to their father and brother having been killed in the Civil War, all the way up to book 7 set in the late 1880’s, five of our books included the Civil War as a key element. It affected lives at the time the war took place, and continued to affect lives decades later.

Here’s a little background on my main character, Otto Atwell, and how his service did and did not accomplish what he desired as far as being a soldier. First, a snippet from my earlier book, Kizzie’s Kisses, where Otto is eighteen and still at home helping his father work their family farm.

The family had moved from Boonville, Missouri to Salina, Kansas, which in the 1850’s was on the edge of the wilderness. One motivation was to obtain prime farmland. Another was to escape the contention with some of their neighbors who were strong advocates of slavery. So, although Otto is of prime age for the Army in this 1862 scene, his parents have discouraged him from being involved with something that might pit him against some of their former neighbors.

In April of 1862, a band of about 40 hostile plains Indians attacked and killed several people on the western outskirts of Salina (a true historical event). The following scene takes place as Otto, with two of his two cousins, hides their best horses along the river to avoid them being stolen by the bushwhackers who invaded Salina in September of 1862 (another true historical event):

          Jesse guessed at what Otto intended to tell them. “You going to join up to go fight in the war, Otto?”
          “Sort of. I intend to join the militia. However, I don’t particularly want to go into battle back east. I certainly don’t want to join one of the regiments that are involved in the border wars between Kansas and Missouri. I’d hate to end up fighting against some of our old neighbors from Boonville. On the other hand, I can’t stop thinking about what the Indians did to all those people last spring. Now we have bushwhackers coming here to threaten us. Somebody has to do something to keep Kansas safe. I figure it’s up to me. I’m the right age. I know people look at me funny sometimes, wondering why I’m still at home helping Pa on the farm. I just have to find the right regiment, then I’m joining up.”

Otto’s father stalls him a year, but finally, at the end of 1863, Otto finds the right regiment—the 16th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. He enlisted right away, but found himself in “hurry up and wait” mode as those forming the unit struggled to find enough volunteers to fill a regiment. The regiment trained and served post and escort duty at Fort Leavenworth until General Sterling Price of the Confederacy made a bid to conquer the state of Missouri for the South. At that point, the 16th Kansas Cavalry found themselves on the battlefields of the Second Battle of Lexington, Battle of Little Blue River and the Second Battle of Newtonia—marching within a few miles of Otto’s childhood home.

The involved regiments and companies pushed General Price and his troops south, passing through the southeast corner of Kansas and into Arkansas where the 16th Kansas Cavalry stayed until almost the end of the Civil War.

Those in the regiment who anticipated being mustered out within a couple of months after the end of the war were soon disappointed. All while the Civil War had been going on, the hostilities between whites and the native tribes had not ceased. Some headway had been made by some Army leaders to persuade several tribes like the Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho to accept reservation land north and south of of the Kansas-Colorado corridor leading to the gold fields of Colorado (between the Arkansas and Platte Rivers). However, that was disrupted due to the Sand Creek Massacre which took place late November, 1864. 

Powder River
What little progress had been made to peacefully move the tribes away to reservation land was practically destroyed, and surviving warriors, especially the Cheyenne and Lakota dog soldiers who never agreed to peace terms in the first place, made several attacks against white settlements and settlers. 

Brig. Gen. Patrick E. Connor
In response, as soon as the Civil War appeared to about be over, orders were given to Brigadier General Patrick E. Connor to conduct a punitive campaign into the Powder River region against the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux. It was all right if some Indian-hating general like General Chivington from Colorado to slaughter a group of Indians who had already agreed to peace terms and were supposedly under the protection of Fort Lyon. However, it was not all right for the aggrieved, whose demands for justice were ignored, to retaliate.

Thus, in my book, we find my character, Otto Atwell, who desired to join a Kansas military unit in order to help protect Kansas homesteaders living on land granted them by the U.S. Government from attacks by hostile Indians, being ordered to the land set aside for the tribal people in order to attack them there. He was less than happy about that, especially after having become acquainted with his cousin’s half-Kaw brother-in-law who had a different perspective of the government’s dealings with the tribes in order to acquire land for the whites moving west.

The Army reports cite the Powder River Expedition as a success, although history had shown it was far less than such. From comments made by George Bent, the son of a white trader and his Cheyenne wife, the only reason the tribes did not attack more or manage to drive the white soldiers away was because their few weapons were antiquated and no match for the Spencer repeating rifles used by the whites.

Fort Conner, later Fort Reno
Beyond that, nothing substantial was achieved by the men who suffered hardship and starvation. Many of their horses and mules died in the harsh terrain. Fort Collins, named after the leader of the expedition was established. Gen. Collins determined most of the soldiers who arrived at the fort were unfit for further service and sent them to Fort Laramie to be mustered out. Although their fitness was no better than the men of the other units, the soldiers in the 16th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry were kept on duty to man the fort. However, by December 6, 1865, they also were sent to Fort Laramie where they were mustered out of service.

For Laramie in the earlier years
The name for Fort Collins was later changed to Fort Reno. Fort Reno was finally abandoned in 1868 after the Treaty of Fort Laramie ended Red Cloud’s War. Shortly afterwards, the tribes burned the fort to the ground.

This is a brief summary of events used in some of the back story in Otto’s Offer.

As for my character, Otto Atwell, his service in the Civil War will continue to affect him for the rest of his life—not so much due to the Civil War battles themselves, although they play their role in his bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder, but because he was among the unfortunate few who was wounded during the Powder River Expedition by one of those antiquated muskets the Cheyenne used. He is frequently in pain and has a limp as a result. Here is a snippet of part of Otto’s response to his younger brother seeking an affirmation about the glory of battle:

          After the two settled around the still-warm stove in the kitchen after supper, Henry turned to Otto, his face full of anticipation. “I can hardly wait to hear this, Otto. I bet it was right exciting, being able to go after a bunch of Indians to put them in their place after what they did to us white people, wasn’t it?”
          Otto shook his head, his eyes staring at the stovepipe without seeing it. “No, it wasn’t. I’ve never been through anything so miserable in my life. I suppose I learned a lot, but I’d never want to do it again.”
          Henry’s expression fell. He hadn’t expected that answer. “But…the only reason it was miserable was because you got shot, wasn’t it? I can see where that could have turned you sour.”
          “No. Even before that, it was a bad situation.”

For many who lived and fought during the American Civil War and dealt with the aftermath, “It was a bad situation” pretty much sums up how it affected lives for years to come.

Zina Abbott is the author of Kizzie’s Kisses from the Grandma’s Wedding Quilts series (on sale this week only for $.99), as well as The Bavarian Jeweler and Otto’s Offer from the Lockets & Lace series, both offered by authors who blog now or in the past on the Sweet Americana Sweethearts blog. Please click on the hyperlink for each book title to learn more about each book, or visit Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Social Games of the 1800s

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My household is a family of "gamers." Over the years, snow-days and holidays and birthday parties, whenever we were all together, we would usually have a game of some sorts going. 

What would they had been playing if we had all lived in the 1800’s? Some of the social games from then survived into my childhood, such as Blind Man’s Buff and Twenty Questions and Musical Chairs. But no matter the year or century, games have always provided a way for people to have fun, "let down their hair" a little, laugh, interact socially, flirt, and enjoy socially approved physical contact. It was mostly the upper and middle class that enjoyed them.

Something to remember about the spirit of the social games of the 1800s involving boys and girls, men and women, is that an overly competitive attitude was considered “poor form.” The idea was to have fun together and not to “out-do” another player to the point that feelings were hurt. Camaraderie, a relaxing of inhibitions, and laughing at one’s self were the important aspect of social games.

Here are a few examples of games from the 1800s that involve a mixing of the genders ~ 

Puss, Puss in the Corner

For the game, all that you need is a fairly square room with four corners and the furniture moved out of the way. If played outside, you need something to denote the four corners such as bean bags or chairs. I suppose a baseball diamond could be used, but such a large area would make for a very energetic game. The game requires five or more players. One stands in the center of the square, while the others stand in each corner. The central player calls out: “Puss, puss in the corner!” On the word “corner” everyone moves to a different corner. Since there are five players, one will always be left out and that one becomes the new “Puss.” If more players are involved, the one left out of a corner goes to the end of a line of the others waiting to play, and the first in that line becomes the new “Puss.” Sometimes when this game was played, a “forfeit” was demanded of the one who became the new Puss.  

Twirl the Trencher

In this game, everyone sits in a large circle (with or without chairs depending on the age of participants.) Each player is assigned either a number, an animals name, or a flower’s name. The starter goes to the center of the circle and spins a plate on its edge (wooden or some other unbreakable plate or disc.) He calls out a number or one of the names and dashes to his seat. The person being called out, must jump up and rush to the plate to spin it again and call out another player. The play continues until someone is not quick enough and the plate falls. That player, then must pay a forfeit. 

The Key of the King’s Garden

This is a memory game much like Grandmother’s Trunk. Players sit in a circle. The one starting begins by saying “I sell you the Key to the King’s Garden.” Then indicates a player on his right or left. That player adds to the sentence. For example, by saying, “I sell you the chain that held the Key of the King’s Garden.” Then it is the next person’s turn in the circle. “I sell you the dog that wore the chain that held the Key of the King’s Garden.” This continues around until everyone has played. If someone does not repeat the words exactly, a forfeit is demanded.

(My favorite part!)

These games were played for fun with a light-hearted attitude. Keeping score (numerically) wasn’t done. However, there was such a thing as “forfeits” which added tremendously to the fun.

Forfeits occurred when someone made a mistake, lost their chance to a seat or space in the game, or lost in some way. That player would write their name on a piece of paper, which would then be placed in a bowl or basket. At the end of the game (or the evening,) a judge would be chosen. A second player would select a paper from the bowl and announce: “I have a forfeit to be redeemed.” The judge would ask whether it belonged to a lady or a gentleman. Upon learning which it was, he would then assign a task for the person to perform (not knowing the actual person’s identity.)

Examples of “forfeit” tasks ~

The Imitation  
A man puts on a lady’s hat and imitates the owner. Or a woman puts on a man’s hat and imitates the owner.

The Statue  
The “forfeiter” is posed by a selected number of other players, usually in ridiculous positions.

Bow to the Prettiest, Kneel to the Wittiest,
and Kiss the One You Love Best 
This is reserved for a man.
(Hopefully he will do all three tasks with the same lady!)

The Nun’s Kiss  
A lady kisses a man chosen by the judge,
performing the kiss through the bars of a chair.

The Counsel  
The person must give a piece of advice to all (or just one) players. (Always done in the spirit of fun and good humor.)

The Will 
The person leaves to each other player an item or a quality he thinks he possesses. (Also done in the spirit of fun and good humor.)

Kiss the One You Love without Revealing Who It Is  
The individual must kiss all the players of opposite gender, without letting on which player is the one he or she loves.

There are many others – as varied as the imagination of the judge!

* * * * * * * * * *

With teenagers constantly watching their phones
rather than communicating face to face,
I can’t help but think that these would be fun to bring back!

Who is with me? 

What is a favorite social game of yours?

"This book was a pure delight."
The Prairie Doctor's Bride/San Francisco Review of Books

Check out my newest "sweet" release!