Reminder of the Local Author event at the Spencer Road library in St Charles from 10 a. to 2 p. I will be there peddling books, including Guerrilla Bride.
I have read any number of histories of the Second World War and of the war in the Pacific. One of the reasons I keep plowing over this same field is that new information keeps coming to light, new interpretations are put to well established facts. Some of this new or re-interpretation twists my skivvies into a knot, but, as I’ve mentioned before, readers of history should keep their noses open to detect the smell of a writer’s pants burning, or not.
I just completed “The Fleet at Flood Tide, America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-1945,” by Hornfischer. I appreciated the author’s preface as much as I did the text. He gives a nice treatment, I thought, to moral questions warriors face. He offered no judgement, and thank you, no sops to the purveyors of political correctness, but just laid out the questions. In the text, he describes how various individuals in positions of authority dealt with those moral questions.
Furthermore, it gives a great treatment of amphibious ops.
Darned good book.
After his first day courting Deborah Simmons, Emerson decides Paw treats him like a field hand, a slave, or one his draft animals. He decides he isn’t those things. He will go visit beautiful buxom Candace Barlow. She’s flirted with him. If he has to marry Deborah at least he will have one night with a woman of his own choosing.
The night with her on a blanket in the Barlow apple orchard is heaven on earth, but the next day, Candace’s brothers find out about his dalliance with their sister. They come looking for Emerson.
Emerson didn’t know the baptism names of the Barlow brothers, but everybody called them Big and Tiny. Big was six foot two and weighed two hundred pounds. Tiny was six four and weighed two fifty. Big was strong, but Tiny was stronger by a fair amount.
Folks said, “Them two Barlows got the strength of five men.” And someone else would say, “And the brain of half a man.” Which of course they never said in earshot of Big. He was the one with half a brain.
Tiny drooled. Once in a saloon in Terre Haute, a fellow laughed at Tiny. Big said, “Hit ’im.” Tiny did. Sent the man flying and crashing into a post holding up the second story of the building. Broke the man’s jaw. He wound up simple in the head and drooling more than Tiny ever had.
Big and Tiny came looking, and Emerson climbed on Horse and skedaddled heading west. Horse was mostly Maw’s buggy puller, and not much of a riding animal. But Horse was what he had.
Emerson Sharp rides Horse to the neighboring Simmons farm for his first day of courting. He and Deborah sit on the front porch.
She didn’t say a word. He was tongue-tied. After a time of just sitting there, he glanced at her.
She seemed to throw off a chill, like when a person stood next to a block of ice. At the same time, he thought the anger showing on her face was as hot as a red horseshoe with a blacksmith whanging away at it. She wasn’t ugly. He was sure she’d look better if she loosened up some, stop pressing her lips so tightly together. Those lips slashed across her face made her nose look sharp and pointy. The sun had colored her smooth cheeks. Emerson liked the line of her jaw. He thought it might be nice to run his fingers over her cheek and along her jaw.
She turned her head, and it was as if her eyes burned a hole in him. He looked away.
After a long time, he snuck another peek at her profile. She was as the boys at church said of her. “Plain straight up an’ down.” She was flat-chested, and that was God’s own truth.
She swung those eyes onto him again. He forced himself to not look away.
“I ’spect, Miss Deborah, you don’t want to be here neither?”
“Either,” she said.
“‘You don’t want to be here either?’ That’s the proper way to phrase your interrogative.”
“That’s what I said.”
“The you rode over here has more education than you do.”
Horse had dropped a pile of biscuits before they’d taken him to the corral. He caught a whiff of the smell. Horse manure, just then, carried a more pleasant aroma than the lilac water Deborah smelled of.
You court her ever day until Saturday. Saturday’s yore weddin’ day, Paw’d said.
“This how it’s going to be, being married to you, Miss Deborah?”
“Until death do us part!”
The look on his intended’s face reminded Emerson of Paw’s bull. “A ton a pure cussed cantankerous, Bull is,” Paw said.
She went into the house and returned shortly with a book. Seated again, she opened it. A tiny smile softened her face as she settled into her reading.
He thought about asking her about the book, to read it aloud, but it was likely it would only earn him a stinging, snotty put-down. He sat up straight on his chair and wondered what had happened to the silence. Before she got her book, the quiet covered the Simmons porch with a big bunch of uncomfortableness. He felt like he had to do something to bust it apart. Now the stillness worked just the opposite way. It lay over him, sort of like when he crawled into bed on a winter night, and the comforter began to keep some of his body heat inside instead of having the cold night suck it out of him.
Silently was the best way to sit with Deborah Simmons.
When I decided to take a stab at turning a short story into a novel, the first thing I decided was the short story was not the beginning. I thought of my favorite western characters, Shane and Hondo. Now Hondo was with the Apaches growing up, but where did Shane grow up? Well, I didn’t know, but I wondered. And somehow, out of the wondering came Emerson Sharp.
Emerson Sharp. We meet him as an eighteen year old. For the last eight years, every aspect of his life has been controlled by Paw. Before age ten, he was Maw’s boy, but that changed drastically when Paw decided it was high time he had a field hand. He could have hired someone, but his own son was free.
Excerpt from chapter one:
The smell of breakfast meat in the skillet woke Emerson. Bacon. And potatoes and eggs fried in the grease.
Emerson got up and trekked to the outhouse. It was the same way every morning began since those first couple of days almost eight years ago.
Emerson washed his hands in the basin on the porch and went inside.
“Tuesday,” Maw remarked as she placed the coffeepot on the trivet on the table between Paw and Emerson.
She kept track of the days of the week and looked forward to Wednesday with her circle of women friends and especially to Sunday. Paw saw Sunday approaching and worked Emerson and himself harder to make up for losing a whole day in the field.
“Say the blessing,” she said.
Emerson did and then poured a cup for Paw and one for himself.
Paw sipped, replaced the cup on the saucer, leaned back as if he had all the time in the world, and stared at Emerson with a funny little smile on his face. Paw had never acted like this before. Emerson sat forward. He noticed some gray hairs above his father’s ears in the black hair Maw kept cut short. That smile of his crinkled up a passel of wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. He couldn’t understand how those things had happened to his father without him noticing. Emerson gulped a mouthful of coffee.
“Boy,” Paw said. “Time for you to get married.”
Emerson snorted coffee out his nose and set to coughing.
Paw rounded the table and pounded him on the back. Maw ran from the sink, drying her hands on her apron.
When the coughing fit quit, Maw wiped up the table with a flour sack dish towel. Paw told him to take a bath, cut a handful of flowers from the garden, put on his go-to-church clothes, and call on Deborah Simmons.
“You court her ever’ day until Saturday. Saturday’s yore weddin’ day.”
As Paw grinned at him, Emerson thought of the gaggle of young men that huddled after church services to size up the girls. The less attractive ones were characterized finally as “Least she ain’t plain as Deborah Simmons.” In that moment, Emerson saw himself as the laughingstock of Terre Haute—hell, the entire state of Indiana—and for the rest of his life.
“Deborah Simmons! For Christ’s sake, Paw!”
Maw slapped the back of his head for blaspheming, and Paw clouded like a July thunderstorm boiling up, a living mountain high as heaven and full of black anger flashing fire.
So maybe Shane didn’t grow up in Indiana. If he had and been about Emerson Sharp’s age, he would have in his late forties when he rode into the valley and met the Starretts in 1889. I think that cold fit. Give or take a few birthdays.
Guerilla Bride started out in life as a short story of some 8000 words in “War Stories.” Included with suggested fixes after the first round of editing, was the suggestion that I turn the story into a novel. Which I did not really want to do. I had other things I wanted to write, and it would take a lot more research. Which sounded like work. But, what the heck. I’m always reading. Why not read about the Civil War in Missouri?
Researching for Guerilla Bride was an interesting journey of a little rediscovery and a lot of plain discovery. I had read about Quantrill and Jesse James and Bruce Catton’s and Shelby Foote’s works. Most of the latter deal with the major battles farther east. So, I started looking for other material and came across “Necessary Evil,” by Johnston, and the “Civil War In Missouri,” by Gerteis, and another book about guerilla hunters. It became apparent that the 1800s was a wild and violent time in Missouri. The early 1800s had plenty of conflict between Mormons and those not of the faith. The Civil War, however, intensified the violence and spread killing and burning far and wide. There are a couple of lines from a song about Quantrill that go something like, “All riding and shooting and giving a yell. Like so many demons just let out of Hell.”
Guerillas, not all of them associated with William Quantrill, and raiding southern armies, and guerilla hunters and Union army units, and Red Legs from Kansas all raiding, revenging, rampaging through a good bit of the western part of the state, and all of them ready to shoot first and say, “Friend or Foe?” second. The more I read about the time, the more fired up I got about sticking my short story character Emerson Sharp into the middle of it.
Guerilla Bride is a Civil War set in Missouri Story. I wasn't sure it would go live in time for a local event, but thank You, God, here it is.
The event is for local authors to sell their books. I will be there with Bride. The event is at the Spencer Road, St Charles County Library branch.
Saturday, 14 October from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The book is live on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. iBook and Nook formats are available now. The kindle version is not out yet.
I got interested in doing this story while researching my wife Karen's family history at the County Historical Society. It turns out, two of her predecessors were members of the militia during the war. It spiked my interest and I dug out books about Quantrill and Jesse James from my library and read others having to do with the Civil War In Missouri. One was a book of love letters a Union lieutenant wrote to his wife. It was a kick doing the research. And the writing too.
Hope you like it.
John Zerr is the author of four novels, The Ensign Locker, Sundown Town Duty Station, Noble Deeds, and The Happy Life of Preston Katt.
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