Today, we welcome Carrie Dalby, author of Fortitude to write a guest post about why she chose historical. Take it away Carrie!
Thank you, Vincent Morrone, for hosting me on your blog today. My debut novel hit the shelves December 8 and to help wrap-up my blog tour, I thought it’d be fun to share how I went from a history hater to writing historical fiction.
Let me begin by saying I never appreciated history class. I was a student who found it hard to remember dates and the weird (often long) names of explorers, presidents, and such were difficult to pronounce and even harder to spell. History didn’t sit well with me—it ranked at the bottom of the school hierarchy, along with P.E. and algebra. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t pass my A.P. U.S. History exam in high school. Yeah, history was something for old people, not me.
I read my first historical fiction book when I was in middle school: Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck. While I enjoyed a good ghost story, this was the first time I read a book that was set in the past, rather than a modern child being haunted by a historical spook. I was surprised the past wasn’t dull like black and white photographs and movies always seemed to be. I was still leery of history but I slowly started reading more historicals. Several years ago I realized the majority of my favorite books were historical novels—and I gravitated to them more often than contemporary or other genres in any reading level.
So I did what any other book nerd would have done: I embraced my inner history geek and set about filling in the gaps from my own education with historical literature featuring stories from around the globe. I read about feudal Japan, Medieval Europe (in many different countries), as well as the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. I could smell the diseases and wars, taste the food, and feel the fabric of the clothing. I even (gasp!) started reading non-fiction for pleasure because the stigma of the past had been removed.
It was while reading Lady from Savannah: The Life of Juliette Low by Gladys Denny Shultz and Daisy Gordon Lawrence that the main idea for Fortitude came to light. I’d been thinking about turning a short story I’d written into a historical novel and I was intrigued and horrified by the conditions the gathering troops suffered from in the Florida camps. It’s no surprise that I remembered nothing of this war from history classes, but the information struck me as so profound I knew I had to share the information with others. Thanks to my ever evolving readership in middle and young adult novels, I knew exactly where to take the passion. I researched for years, outlined, researched more, wrote, and then edited lots.
History offers so much; we only have to be willing to open our heart and mind to the past to appreciate our present even more. I hope you’ll get to know Claire O’Farrell as she lives through the summer of 1898, both in southern Alabama and in the Spanish-American War camps in Florida. Experience the climate, triumphs, and tragedies along with Claire and her family and friends as she pushes her Fortitude to the limit.
Fortitude by Carrie Dalby
Growing up with a Creole best friend, sixteen-year-old Claire O’Farrell held little regard for the Jim Crow laws and the consequences of befriending those of a different color. But once she leaves the haven of her home on Dauphin Island, the reality of racial intolerance can no longer be ignored. Though she’s underage, Claire makes the bold decision to serve alongside Loretta, her best friend, in the “colored camp” hospital tents during the Spanish-American War, but her idealistic attitude and choice of working location immediately puts her in danger. Claire gives her heart to a soldier in the camp, only to find herself caught in the racial violence besieging the area. When the intolerant attitudes and stigma follow her home, she clings to her faith to navigate through her social isolation and find the path she was meant to travel.
December 8, 2015
Print ISBN: 978-0-9966827-6-3
eBook ISBN: 978-0-9966827-5-6
Anaiah Press: TBA
Review Snippets: Coming soon
Book Trailer: Coming soon!
Born and raised in California, but a resident of Mobile, Alabama since 1996, Carrie Dalby is a homeschooling mom with a love of literature for young adults and children. Some of Carrie’s favorite volunteer hours are with Mobile Writers Guild, SCBWI, and Metro Mobile Reading Council’s Young Author workshops.
© 2015 Carrie Dalby
Loretta, Aunt Norah, and I reach the waterfront after a short walk from the end of the trolley line. The docks are crowded with people, passengers, fishermen, and city officers going about their business.
When we spot my pa’s boat, Loretta grabs my elbow with her gloved hand. “Is that the one? The guy who had the nerve to kiss you on your birthday?”
Sure enough, Pa’s hired man, Joe, is tucking in his grimy shirt, his sun-streaked brown hair dusting his broad shoulders.
“Yes.” I clutch the carpetbag to my chest. “Why did he have to come along? It’s not like Pa’s going to be catching anything on the way home.”
“Don’t be coy, Claire O’Farrell. He wants to admire your fair beauty on the sparkling waters of Mobile Bay.”
I ignore her remark. After all our years of friendship, she knows I’m jealous of her fawn-colored complexion because it never betrays a blush.
“I missed my girl.” Pa stops for an embrace and his bushy beard tickles my forehead. Then, he’s on to speak with Aunt Norah.
Joe’s still a good twenty feet away, but his eyes are on Loretta and me.
“More likely he came to see if I really do have friends in higher society.” I run a hand over my ankle-length gingham dress, one that isn’t fit for city dwelling.
Loretta, adorned in a gray linen skirt and crisp white blouse, turns so Joe can gaze upon her supple profile, wiggling her lace-covered fingers in a mock-wave. “Well, I’ll bet he’s never seen the likes of a Creole princess.”
As if sensing our inappropriateness, Aunt Norah turns to us in the moment of Loretta’s flirting. She marches over, the wooden planks groaning beneath her weight.
“Miss Loretta Davis! I hope your dear mother never sees you behaving in such an unlady-like fashion!” My aunt is the active chaperone for Loretta, as well as the cook in her household. “If one of those patrolmen come over, you’re liable to get young Joseph Walker in trouble.”
“Why, Miss Norah, I was only waving hello.” Loretta’s thick eyelashes play their innocent game.
Aunt Norah’s face is as red as her frizzy hair. “If you were ten years younger, I’d put you over my knee right here on this dock, young lady!”
Loretta’s giggle sprinkles across the lapping waves. “Yes, Miss Norah. I see the error of my ways.”
Joe joins our little group and hands a basket of fresh oysters to Aunt Norah, sneaking one more glance at Loretta. “For your kitchen, Ma’am, from Mr. O’Farrell.”
“Much appreciated, Joseph. I’ll be sure to give my thanks to him.” Aunt Norah tucks the basket in the crook of her arm.
Loretta takes my arm and turns to Joe. “What’s your opinion on the disagreements with Spain?”
Joe removes his hat and runs the back of his hand against his forehead. “Ain’t any of my business what one country does to another. Cuba might as well be across the Atlantic for all I care.”
“But those soldiers gathering in Florida in preparation for war are taking ill on our own soil.” Loretta leans into my side. “I want Claire here to volunteer as a nurse with me so we can help relieve their sufferings. What do you say to that?”
I can’t help but become irritated at her dragging Joe into her scheme. To be sure, Loretta has more than the desire to become the next Florence Nightingale urging her plan. Her focus has always been finding the perfect gentleman, and I don’t think this idea of hers is any different.
Joe looks me over before speaking. “I’d say that’s a right fine thing to do.”
“Don’t do anything rash, Claire,” Aunt Norah chimes in. “I know Miss Loretta put some big ideas into your head, but think them through.”
“Yes, I will.” I say my farewells and hug my aunt and dearest friend good-bye.
The two ladies head off with Pa to accompany them to the streetcar line, and I seek a quiet spot to think. I forget my city manners and pull my skirt a little too high to step down into the boat. Joe unnecessarily holds my hand to steady me before I sit. I pull away.
“Your family sure is dotty with how things are between your aunt and the Davises. But your friend’s a mite perky thing, ain’t she?”
“I’d rather not discuss Miss Davis, or Aunt Norah’s position at their house.” I keep my voice formal, trying to discourage further questioning.
Joe isn’t one to take hints. “Did you have fun?”
“It was a lovely weekend, but I’d rather not discuss it. Shouldn’t you be fixin’ the sails for the trip home?”
“Nah, Mr. O’Farrell won’t be ready for a good five minutes.” His adorable crooked-tooth smile taunts me. “I was hopin’ you might want to tell me something, like how you’ve missed me, because I’ve missed you.”
The seagulls seem to be laughing at my predicament.
“It’s my family I missed, though three days isn’t much time to start pining after someone.”
He’s leaning close to me now. “‘Tis when someone fills your heart.”
In exasperation, I pull one of Loretta’s tricks—I pat my stylish coiffure, compliments of Loretta herself—and roll my eyes. “Well I wouldn’t know, since there’s no one on the island I feel that way about.”
“Always so proper, but just you wait, Claire O’Farrell. I’ve been told I grow on people.”
“Moss can grow on things, too, but that doesn’t make it good. It can be downright slippery.”
Joe’s dimples crease his cheeks as he smiles. “I’ve done been warned ‘bout you. They told me to watch out for that Irish temper and feisty tongue.”
Shock causes me to sit upright. “And who are they?”
Joe pulls a cover of seriousness over his jovial face. “Oh, I’ve got my sources, but don’t worry your pretty lil’ head, I’ll protect you.”
“And from what, or whom, do I need protection?”
His dark eyebrows close the gap above his nose and he reaches for my hand, but I tuck it under my skirt. “All the single men on the island have their eyes on you, from the widowers to the school boys. They’ve been watching since before I came along, and think it crazy for your ma to keep educating you the way she does. Not to mention sending you off to that Creole house for visiting every month.”
I’ve never thought myself the topic of conversation among the fishermen. The need to know pulls me closer, so I lean toward him.
“It’s fine to romp n’ play as kids, but those strings to the Davises should’ve been cut years ago. Some people might—”
“And what right do you have to say something like that after that flirting you did with Loretta?”
“She’s a sight to behold, that’s for sure.”
Pa chooses this minute to board.
“Lose your sea legs already, Claire? You look a wee bit green.”
I shake my head and try to breathe. Joe gets to work, following Pa’s silent lead. As the miles to Dauphin Island decrease, I mull over my trip to town. It was different than my typical visitations because in celebration of my sixteenth birthday the week before, Mrs. Davis and Loretta put me up in the fancy guest room, on the second floor hall between their own bedrooms. Usually, I bunk with my aunt, who has a simple clapboard room off the kitchen in the back of the house, but for the past two nights, I slept in a wallpapered room with silk sheets.
Besides the use of the guest room with the four-poster bed, I received a streamer trunk full of clothes, most of which were left in Loretta’s care, awaiting my call to adventure. The bounty included a ruffled mint green frock with capped sleeves. I’d never felt as naked in my life as when I tried it on. The thought causes me to look around self-consciously. Joe’s sitting against the side of the boat across from me, mending a net. Our eyes meet and I look away, my face hot from embarrassment.
“Everything all right?” he asks.
“I’m worried about the war.”
“There’s plenty right here in this boat to keep me occupied. I don’t need to go lookin’ for adventure.” Joe tosses one net aside and picks up another for inspection.
Pa, one hand on the sail ropes, takes a few extra puffs on his pipe and looks from me to Joe but remains silent.
“All that disease they’re suffering from, right here in our own country. It doesn’t seem right for the soldiers to grow ill and die before they have the chance to prove worthy in battle.”
“There’s no honor in death,” Joe says, “whenever it comes.”
His words are almost poetical. I suspect he’s been reading, so he can try to impress me with wisdom or wit, but the way his callused hands work the nets make it difficult to imagine them holding a leather-bound book. My own freckled hands are used to hard work, though I never much get to aid people outside of the community of Dauphin Island.
A gull cries out, and a brown pelican passes overhead. The birds and the smell of low tide—comforting details of shore life—help me temporarily forget the ill soldiers. I turn back to the water, casting my gaze starboard. We’re sailing past Mon Louis Island—a piece of land separated from the mainland by Fowl River. I can’t help but think of Loretta’s relations there. When her parents moved from New Orleans after they were married, they settled in the Creole community with her father’s extended family, but moved on to town while Mrs. Davis was pregnant. Having Loretta a few miles across the water would have been grand, but I don’t think our paths would have crossed if her parents stayed there. Besides, having Aunt Norah in common, we’re better than kin because Loretta chose to bunk with us rather than her relations when her mother sent her out of the city during the yellow fever epidemic last year. I do want to help Loretta volunteer, but I’m not sure rushing off to Florida is the best idea.