"I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more."

- Richard Lovelace, Off to War

Award-winning novels!

Jessica James won the John Esten Cooke Award for Fiction in 2011 AND 2014.

Find out more about this Virginia writer on my Life in the Past Lane blog.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Taking a step back in time with sealing wax

Being an historical fiction author, I enjoy doing things the old-fashioned way (maybe that's why I haven't caught on to text messaging yet). Pictured at right is my wax seal set - a wax candle, "J" stamp and spoon.

I bought the set from an estate auction because I still love sending handwritten cards and notes. Also, I'm the type of person who loves to experience things - not just read about them, so I've been wanting to experiment with this process for a long time. What I found is that it's harder than it looks! Getting the right amount of wax on the envelope (without dripping it all over the place), is hard enough, but it also has to be done relatively fast - or the wax will harden before it is stamped.

As you can see, I didn't get quite enough wax on this one - the bottom part of the "J" is missing. It's also interesting how much the wax candle smokes (maybe I'm doing it wrong?), and how messy the whole exercise is. When you read about someone sealing an envelope with wax, it seems to take only a few seconds - not so!

To give a little background on wax seals, they were used as a stamp of authenticity, just as a signature is accepted in the world today. The sealing wax was used to "seal" the letters or envelopes.

During the early to mid 19th century the use of wax wafers became popular in less formal correspondence. (I do not have the wafers - I have a wax candle). Often times people would imprint their sealing wax with initials, coat of arms, or other insignia as their personal mark on the sealing wax. Some even had signet rings which only they owned to verify their stamp.

With the onset of gummed envelopes, however, sealing wax and wafers eventually took a brief repose. It began to gain acceptance and popularity again, especially in America, in the 1880s and 1890s.

Interesting etiquette of sealing wax use

It showed a lack of respect if you used a wafer to seal your envelope.
Men usually used red.
Ladies used gilt, rose, and other colors.
When in mourning you used black seals.
Using red sealing wax when writing to someone in mourning was considered rudeness or ignorance.
Large seals were considered bad taste.
A small letter gets one seal, a larger letter two.
If it contains important paper or documents it should receive three or more, according to the size of envelope.
When not using an envelope and the third part of the letter is written upon you would have left a small blank space where the seal was to be put so as to not cover over any words of the letter.
When staying overnight, and so as to not trouble your hostess, always carry a well furnished paper-case, pens, pencil, india-rubber, wafers, sealing-wax, and seals.

Do not use motto seals unless writing to a member of your own family, or to an intimate friend.
For common service, (and particularly for letters of business,) a plain seal, with simply your initials, is best.
For a note always use a very small seal.

Sealing wax went out of fashion. {However, it was still being used by some}

Civil War Era Red Sealing Wax

4 lbs shellac
1 1/2 lb Venice Turpentine
3 lbs Cinnabar
4 oz Vermillion

Mix whole together and melt over a very slow fire. Pour it on a thick smooth glass, or any other smooth surface and make it into 3, 6 or 10 cent sticks. To stamp it, it should be re-warmed, which will give it the gloss.

Etiquette and Recipe from www.victorianpassage.com

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The golden season of autumn

Love this time of year - though I don't feel I'm getting a lot done. My eyes are constantly drawn to the leaves tumbling and frolicking outside as if some giant being from above has cast golden tickets into the air and sent them spiraling to the ground.

I took a few minutes to take a photo of the trail into the woods, which still has a little green along it. As you can see, my dog Tara is waiting for me none-too-patiently to catch up, thinking we're going wood cutting or squirrel hunting (one and the same to her).

As I wrote in my historical fiction novel Shades of Gray, however, the leaves will go "from gold to gone" seemingly overnight so I guess I better enjoy the scenery while I can!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Remembrance Day weekend book signing

Just found out I will be doing a signing of my Civil War novel Shades of Gray at the new Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center on Nov. 21 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

It is Remembrance Day weekend so there will be a lot going on, including the must-see parade that starts at 1 p.m. Hope we have good weather for a change!

You can check out a list of events on the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau site. If you're in town for this great Civil War weekend, I hope you'll stop by and say hello.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Making time for the important things

"Lost time is never found again." - Benjamin Franklin

It's been at least three years since I've visited my college friend - probably more like four. We keep in touch the usual way - an email now and then, sometimes a phone call. You know how it is, you'd like to visit, but there just doesn't seem to be a spare weekend anywhere on the calendar.

When I got an email two weeks ago telling me that her mother was losing weight, I responded by sending my best wishes and telling her to say hello to her mom for me.

Last Tuesday I received another email. Her mother had been diagnosed with cancer the preceding Thursday and passed away on Sunday. Suddenly, time and the silly things on my calendar were no longer obstacles. I switched hours with a co-worker, packed my bag, and headed to West Virginia.

I found the funeral home and time of the service on the Internet, so my friend didn't know I was coming. During the three and a half hour drive there, I had a lot of time to think - about life, about friendship, about how LONG ago it was that I had graduated from college and traveled these same roads.

Not much had changed really. The two-lane road was now four - but the mountains rolling up high before me were the same as I remembered. The vistas from the top were still breathtaking, the mist in the valleys and the vibrant hues of the trees seemed to be showing off autumn's glory. The short-cut route I took meant I had to drive slowly along a winding road by a lake. I felt like God was talking to me - showing me what I've been missing by losing sight of what's important.

At the gathering to celebrate my friend's mother's life, I saw a few old friends and a number of acquaintances I had met only once or twice during my once-frequent visits to West Virginia. We caught up on each other's lives, laughed about the old times, and talked about how the years have flown.

Most of all we talked about time - about never having enough it, and how important it is to use it wisely. I still haven't figured out why it takes death to open our eyes to that. But hopefully, if you're reading this, you'll think twice about the order of importance of things on your to-do list today.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Excerpt from Noble Cause

Background: Union spy Andrea Evans wakes up in the home of the Confederate officer she believes sent her to prison, and takes every opportunity to voice her displeasure about the situation. In this chapter, her supposed tormentor Alexander Hunter is wounded in battle, and for a short time, Andrea forgets their differences and provides tender care to her captor.

Hunter heard a voice and felt fingers probing his shoulder. Although his arm throbbed with pain, the touch felt tender and soothing upon his bare flesh. He tried to force the cobwebs from his brain, to clear his blurred vision and mind. Opening his eyes and blinking at the pain, he stared at the face leaning over him.

He thought he recognized the countenance—but no, that could not be. The image could not be of the one he had quarreled with just four days earlier. He saw no sign of the hatred and anger that blazed so fervently then, nor any sign of the customary sullen frown. All that showed there now was deep concern and a look of tenderness.

He closed his eyes and tried to think. Tired. So tired.

After being hit, he had fallen. Perhaps he had hit his head and was hallucinating now. Or perhaps he was just so exhausted he was having a strange dream. Strange, indeed. Because the woman he had left in the next room would be more inclined to strangle him than bend over him in aid.

Hunter blinked at the intensity of light flooding through the window while gazing upon the worried face. He became more certain he was dreaming, but decided to talk to the apparition. “What do you think, Doc?” He hoped he had actually spoken the words aloud, because it was only with supreme effort that he retained consciousness.

The figure did not respond right away. She seemed intent on cleaning the wound. Or maybe, Hunter thought, she really is just a figment of my exhausted imagination.

“It appears a bullet has pierced your celestial armor, Major,” she answered at last. “Unfortunately, it does not appear to be fatal.”

She did not lift her eyes at first, but when she did bring them up to meet his, they brimmed with amusement. Hunter thought he had never seen anything so beautiful, so exquisite, as those two dazzling green eyes filled with laughter. He contrasted the image to the raving, maddened woman he left, but could find no comparison. Where did this person come from or where had the other gone? He hoped they had switched places for good.

“I’m not the first to baptize the soil of the Old Dominion with my patriotic blood,” Hunter said weakly. His words made her frown, and her eyes reflected a look so somber and wise it made his bones ache.

“Nor will you be the last, I fear.” She bent back over to examine his wound. Her breath was now so near, Hunter could feel it on his skin; her hair so close, he could smell its sweet fragrance. Her touch was divine. He felt strangely out of breath.

Hunter raised his eyes to her, but she seemed not to notice. Lost in silent observation, she bit the inside of her cheek as she concentrated on her work. When a tendril of hair fell and brushed his neck, a shock surged through his body that made him shudder.

“I’m sorry, did I hurt you?” She looked up anxiously, her eyes filled with unconcealed alarm.

“No. Go on.” Hunter transferred his gaze to the ceiling and bit the inside of his cheek as well, forcing himself to concentrate on something else. Although worn with fatigue, he could no longer think of sleep.

“I appreciate the confidence, Major. I am an honorable woman, and despite the fact you are my enemy, your treatment will be just.” She sounded innocent enough as she repeated the exact words he had said to her, but Hunter saw a smile twitch along the corners of her mouth. Then, like a mass of storm clouds parting to expose the rays of the sun, she revealed a smile.

Hunter was thankful he was lying down. A face that had heretofore only frowned, glared, and grimaced at him now glowed with a teasing grin. He gazed upon lips that were not merely turned upward but that lit her countenance with a lovely sparkle of enchantment. He thought the smile the sweetest that had ever illuminated a mortal face. The throbbing in his shoulder mysteriously disappeared.

“Then I shall attempt to put on as brave a front as my houseguest and endure the fate that has befallen me.” Feeling slightly out of control, Hunter took a shaky breath and wondered if she had dosed him with laudanum when he was unaware. She suddenly possessed some power that made him feel light-headed and dizzy. He glanced again into her eyes and felt a dull ache in his chest begin to spread throughout his body. He forced himself to look at the ceiling and concentrated on breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

He tried not to think about the soft hands gently probing his arm, tried not to think about how they would feel— His breath became ragged. His nerves throbbed and jumped involuntarily.

“I’m sorry. I know I’m hurting you. I’m almost done.”

Her voice jolted him back. He attempted to ignore the roaring in his ears and the wound that had started to ache in the back of his teeth. “Tell me, Miss Evans,” he said, trying to regain the self-control he prided himself on. “Are you trying to get on my good side?”

Andrea paused a moment and gazed at him with a puzzled look. “That is quite impossible, Major,” she said, cocking her head to one side, “as I was not even aware that you possessed one. But I thank you for letting me in on your well-kept secret.” She smiled, her eyes twinkling mischievously, and then went back to work, her jaw set firmly as she attacked her task with renewed fervor.

Hunter smiled too, a cockeyed schoolboy grin, which he quickly suppressed. “Perhaps it’s like yours, merely hidden most of the time,” he said, his voice huskier than he would have liked.

“Perhaps,” she responded. But Hunter could tell she was more engrossed in her grim work than the conversation. Maybe she was letting him know she had no intention of discussing her good side, which she evidently preferred to keep to herself.

Andrea sat back and surveyed her work, then her gaze drifted up to meet his. “You have a funny look on your face, Major.”

“I do?” He choked out the words.

“Yes. You look like you’ve met a foe worthy of your esteem.”

She smiled then, and, in a motherly way, put her hand on his forehead to see if he had a fever. Stroking the hair from his brow, she looked with a mixture of sympathy and concern at the spot where his head had made violent contact with the ground.

Something about that look reached down to Hunter’s roots and made him struggle to catch his breath. He closed his eyes, lest she read more secrets there. He agreed that he had met a foe that caused him concern, but it had nothing to do with the enemy he had recently faced.

“Probably just the pain from your injury,” she continued, not noticing his distress. “Bullets have a way of humbling one, I suppose.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve been humbled.” He meant to say it was not the first time he’d taken a bullet. But he was so tired and confused, he could not think straight. So tired. Yet his heart banged against his rib cage like it wanted out.

Hunter forced his eyes open again. “You seem experienced in the art of healing, Miss Evans,” he said weakly. “Have you done this before?”

“Oh, yes. I used to help Mammy with the sla—”

She looked straight into his eyes, her brows drawn together, her face just inches from his. Apparently realizing it was too late to stop, she finished matter-of-factly, “…with the slaves.” Andrea turned back to the basin and busied herself wringing out the washcloth.

“But,” Hunter said, genuinely confused, “I never assumed you were Southern by birth.”

“It should not be hard to believe that I was born and lived among the misguided,” Andrea snapped. “When one is reared in the presence of some six hundred slaves, a proclivity against, and an intolerance for, the institution and those who condone it can hardly be considered unjustifiable.”

She turned back to the bowl of water, but the tone, the words, the savagery, were more like that to which he was accustomed. Even her eyes took on that all-too-familiar look that meant the mule was back.

“I didn’t mean . . .” Hunter stuttered. Please don’t go, he thought.

“My heritage is Southern. My devotion is, and shall always be, Union.”

Thus ended the conversation. And thus ended the appearance of the gentler side of his houseguest. Hunter closed his eyes again. Six hundred slaves? She must have been born into one of the wealthiest families in the South, entitled to all the luxuries and comforts that such breeding grants. She had never boasted of wealth or influence, yet apparently possessed both. What in the hell was she doing here?

"Noble Cause" Book Trailer