Category Archives: England

Another bit on exposition– Abandoned fragment # 10– Uncle Zedekiah’s Bible.

I haven’t done one of these for a while. This is another snippet from my abandoned series of alternative history novels, an alternate beginning I never completed. In it I attempted a bit of incluing. It seems clumsy now, but I think it works as an example of how you can go about it. The main purpose of the scene, though, is to establish the relationship between Nathan Cooper and his grandmother, and to show what Nathan is leaving behind. The incluing is in the background, as it should be.

Copyright 2015 Douglas Daniel

It was surprising how little twenty years amounted to.

The recruiting officer had told Nathan he was allowed only one bag. The only bag the family had that he could reasonably carry in one hand was an old carpetbag that had been up in the attic for at least thirty years. He took it down and knocked the dust and cobwebs out of it, run a moist towel over the interior and then set it out in the sun all day, until finally it no longer smelled like an old carpetbag that had been in the attic for thirty years. Or, at least, not as much.

Now it came down to what he would take with him. Nathan laid his belongings out on his bed by the yellow light of his room-lamp. One change of shirt and pants, two of underwear and socks, a towel with his shaving kit and toothbrush rolled up in it— and there he stuck. In desperation he added an old pullover. He doubted he would need it in New Albion, but it was better to be prepared. There were mornings here in the Washita that turned cool, even in June. He would also be wearing his duster, although that was mostly for the train ride south. He wouldn’t need more than one pair of shoes, he figured, and he would be wearing those.

Even with the addition of the pullover, there was still a lot of empty space in the bag. Nathan was tempted to add more clothes. The recruiter, however, had made it clear that he shouldn’t burden himself with too many civilian clothes he would have to either mail back home or give away to charity. He looked around his room. The desk with its own lamp was obviously staying. The rug on the polished floor served no military function. The bookcase wouldn’t fit into the carpetbag.

He hesitated. My books. The product of years of scrimping, doing odd jobs, carrying golf clubs for Banker Nugent and Mr. Pinter who owned the feed store, doing carpentry and hauling trash and doing without a noon-day meal sometimes—he was going to have to leave them behind. Somehow that had not sunk in until this moment.

He ran his hand along the spines. Hermann’s History of the Confederation, Georges’ Works and Ways of the Native Fathers. Rabelais and Montaigne and two or three of the permitted Shakespeares. Cassidy and Simonides, Livy and Plutarch, Josephus, and Clark’s Tales of the Americas, which he had almost worn out through years of reading and re-reading. Modern historical novels and the speculative fiction that earned so much of Gran’s scorn. The complete set of Everett’s histories– The Wars of Faith, The Fall of England, and The First Fleet. Ickes’ Principles of Science, and the math and Latin texts that had once been the bane of his existence and with which now he didn’t want to part. A crowd of friends he was leaving forever.

Nathan sat down on the bed. He felt homesick already, and he was still at home. He hadn’t expected it to hit him this hard. His anger had carried him a long way, and his resentment even further. Now, he wasn’t sure anymore.

A floorboard creaked. It was Gran, come to stand in the doorway. She stood straight, but with her arms folded in that way of hers that told Nathan she was perplexed or upset. Perhaps both, this time around.

“I am trying to understand,” she said. It was a continuation of their argument before dinner.

“That puts you ahead of Anna and Cee,” Nathan said. “They’ve locked me out of their hearts already.”

Gran didn’t respond to that. “I know you’re disappointed….”

“It’s beyond disappointment, Gran.” Nathan sighed. “It’s just the last of a long series of insults.” He hesitated. “What do you think there is for me here?”

Gran did not answer at once. “I supposed,” she said finally, “that you could follow in your father’s footsteps…in mine. Help with the school…perhaps restart the gazette….”

“The gazette?” Nathan snapped. “And what good would that do? What good did it do Father? It’s not worth it if you can’t tell the truth in it. And the school— Gran, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I have no desire to spend the rest of my days trying to scratch out a living teaching snotty kids who’d rather be gigging frogs down by the river. You know I wanted more.”

“I know,” Gran said. “And your Uncle Richard has been very cruel. I do not excuse what he did. To give you every indication that he was about to help you, when he knew how badly you wanted to attend university, and then….”

“Don’t say it.” Nathan couldn’t bear to have it all rehashed again. The useless acceptance letter lay in one of his desk drawers. It had briefly made him the happiest young man in Garrison. The illusion had lasted two whole days. The apogee of my life.

“I do understand,” Gran persisted. “What I don’t understand is why you think going for a soldier is an answer.”

Nathan gave a short laugh. It was an unhappy sound. “Bare minimum, it’ll get me out of this town. Right now that looks really good all by itself.”

Gran sighed. “That’s not a sufficient reason throw away everything you have….”

“What do I have?” Nathan said, his voice rising.

“Do not raise your voice to me, young man,” Gran said back, glaring.

“No, Gran—I honestly want to know what you think I have.” Nathan knew his face was ugly with resentment, but he didn’t care. “Do I have a future here? To work at the family school, under Anna’s sharp tongue? To do odd jobs trying to make ends meet for the rest of my life? And you know there’s always the chance that I’ll get taken in a levy anyway. Better to go as a volunteer than be dragged. What other choice do I have, Gran? Please tell me.”

His grandmother met his look. “Child, I am not going to play your game. I hear your disappointment, but I also hear a good deal about yourself and your wants. God is not in the business of giving us what we want, least of all when we throw tantrums over it. If this is a trial, the Lord wants you to meet it with humility and faith.”

“It’s a little late to be bringing God into it, Gran,” Nathan said. “If you wanted to tell me that it was my God-given duty to endure and stay put, you should have mentioned it before I took the King’s coin and signed the paper. Unless you want another Cooper spending time in a royal prison.”

Gran said nothing for a long moment. “So that’s that.”

“Yes,” Nathan said, “pretty much.”

Gran hesitated, then said, “Wait here,” as if he were about to jump up and run away. She turned and left.

Nathan had just enough time to wonder where she was going before she was back. In her hands was a small Bible. Nathan recognized it as one of the old Bibles she kept on a shelf over her writing desk. Gran held it out. “This was your great-uncle Zedekiah’s Bible. He carried it with him when they took him in the levy for the Patagonian War. The one thing I know they allow you in the Army is a Bible. Take it.”

Nathan stared at it. “Gran, I can’t. It’s an heirloom.”

“It’s the only Bible we have of its size,” Gran answered. “You surely can’t take one of the study editions. It will make me feel better knowing you have it. So long as you promise to actually read it.”

Nathan, hesitating, reached out and took the Bible. The leather of its cover was worn; he could barely make out the lettering spelling out Holy Bible on its front; the former gold gilt was nearly all worn away. “Thank you, Gran.”

And now for something different– the bicentennial everyone is ignoring….

At least, that’s how it seems in the US– I can’t speak for Canada or Britain. Here in the States we’ve hardly heard a peep about a critical event in our history, which shaped us almost as much as the Revolution.

I am referring, of course, to the War of 1812.

Being the history fanatic that I am, I find this omission frustrating. The war, which lasted until December, 1814, is almost forgotten nowadays, although it has been referred to as the Second War for American Independence. Had we lost it, the United States as we know it probably would not exist. But there has hardly been any public mention of the bicentennial, and only a few, small remembrances of individual battles and events (in Canada it may be a different story– the war was an important factor in the development of a Canadian national identity).

I do, however, understand why we Americans are reluctant to remember the war. It’s embarrassing.

Basically, the war, launched on a mixture of genuine grievances against Great Britain and an imperialist lust to conquer Canada, was plagued with failure and disaster. Our attempts to invade Canada (at least four separate efforts) all failed in welters of mismanagement and stupidity. We enjoyed some successes against the Royal Navy in individual actions at sea, but eventually the British locked a blockade on the American coast and largely bottled up our navy. Toward the end of the war we finally began to field effective armies, but they weren’t there to stop the British from burning Washington DC in August 1814. The war ended in a stalemate and a peace treaty that addressed none of the original American grievances.

Reading this history as an American, my basic instinct is to cringe and cover my eyes. Not only were our forefathers infected with naked imperial ambition– even Thomas Jefferson thought taking Canada was a great idea– they were incompetently nakedly imperially ambitious (yes, I need three adverbs– it’s that bad). The American grievances were about British interference in neutral trade and their impressment of American citizens into the Royal Navy and were real enough, but they were used as an excuse for the United States to go conquering other people, most of whom refused to be conquered.

Ironically, despite the final stalemate, the disasters and the failure to take Canada, the war produced a surge of nationalistic feeling in the US. In a classic example of selective memory, Americans focused on their successes (especially the much ballyhooed Battle of New Orleans, which happened after the peace treaty was signed), and the fact that we had, for the second time in our history, stood off the greatest empire on Earth. In time, though, the war faded from our consciousness, except when we wanted to remember our early naval victories or Andrew Jackson.

Personally, I think some remembrance would be appropriate, if nothing else to remind ourselves of the costs of greed and arrogance, and to admit our past wrongs. More than likely there will be a remembrance of the burning of Washington and the bombardment of Fort McHenry, to which we owe “The Star Spangled Banner”, easily the most musically difficult national anthem in the world. But, aside from that, it looks as if the whole business is going to be passed over in silence. Sigh.

As a writer, though, I find this another period loaded with riches– overlapping the Napoleonic Wars, the Regency, and the start of the Industrial Revolution (at the war’s end the Americans were close to launching Demologos, the world’s first steam-powered warship. There’s an alternate history story for you). Jane Austen lived and wrote in this period, although, oddly enough, she barely mentions the war against Napoleon in her novels, and the American war, not at all. There are all sorts of fascinating details and events. For example, the British had a fortress in Dartmoor which served as a prisoner of war camp for both American and French POWs. The history of the place reads rather like ‘Jane Austen meets Stalag 17‘. There was the American guerrilla war against British commerce at sea, the tragedy of Tecumseh and the loss of the last chance for a Native American confederacy in the Midwest, the American victories on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain (which forestalled British counter-invasions from Canada), and the resurgence of piracy in the Caribbean (a consequence of the extended war between Britain and France). It is a marvel to me that no one has made a movie of the cruise of the USS Essex in the Pacific under David Porter, one of the epics of American naval history.

Other authors, such as C. S. Forester, Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O’Brian, have mined this period well for material. I have at least a few story ideas, starting with the Demologos, a tale about the Dartmoor prison, and a novel about a pressed American seaman in the Royal Navy. This last idea could be really interesting, as Americans are known to have been involved as seamen in many battles against Napoleon prior to 1812– for example, there were at least twenty-two Americans aboard the HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. This created some problems, obviously, when the United States declared war on Britain, which could be a great source of tension.

But these ideas, at this point in time, are part of that mass of story concepts I have in the back of my head which I may or may not ever have an opportunity to write. I’ve got a solid set of projects already in progress, so it’s an open question if any of these historical stories will see the light of day. If anyone else feels inspired to tackle the ideas I mentioned, have at it.

As far as the bicentennial is concerned, I suppose we’ll each have to remember the war in our own ways. For me, there’s always Johnny Horton.**

(**To be fair, Johnny’s history is wildly inaccurate– but I love marching Legos. And, no, I’m not terribly consistent….)

Abandoned fragment #5- Love and rockets

I’m doing better today, and making some progress on the line-edit for Shadows. If I can stay focused I probably have no more than four days or so of work left to do. The operative word in that sentence is, however, most definitely if.

I’ve got another abandoned fragment, and this time it is definitely a fragment, and almost certainly abandoned. For a brief time I had a delusional concept for, of all things, a romance novel set in England during World War II, during the V-2 campaign in late 1944. I don’t read romance novels, so I have no idea where this came from. I now doubt most extremely that I’ll ever write the thing; but since I tend to doodle the really dramatic scenes of my concepts first, I wrote this down, which would have been the emotional payoff for the entire story. Sometimes my writing process is just…odd.

One WAAF officer + one US Army Air Force tech sergeant + one V-2 rocket – one fancy radar set = this scene.

Copyright 2013 Douglas Daniel

The cellar shook as if it had been hit by a giant’s hammer, together with a roar that left Anne’s ears ringing. She went to her knees from the concussion. The overhead light flickered and went out. Anne felt dust cascade down on them.

The roar ended and the room steadied. Someone was praying, loudly, sobbing every other word. “Shut up!” Anne yelled. “Somebody find a torch.”

“Here, Annie.” A light clicked on. It was a torch in the hands of one of the girls– Steffie. The Scotswoman’s hands shook; her hat was askew, and dust coated her face. The torch’s beam swung around, a solid shaft of light in the swirling dust. Isaacs was picking herself up off the floor; Bradford was the one praying, on her knees in a corner; Cooper sat in the middle of the floor, looking dumbfounded.

“Is anyone hurt?” Anne called, getting to her feet.

“No…I’m all right….Lord Jesus, help!” The chorus of voices told Anne everything she needed to know.

“Come on, Steffie,” she said. “Help me get the door open.”

“Is that wise?” Steffie said.

“Don’t ask questions– come on!”

Anne unlatched the cellar door, but it took both of them to shove it open. It finally swung up and open; timbers had been lying across it. Filtered sunlight flooded the cellar. Anne crawled out and stood.

There was smoke and the stink of burning things; but the first thing she saw was the manse. The roof of the old house was gone, along with the eastern wall. The three remaining walls cupped only broken masonry, splintered wood and a cloud of dust.

“Thomas!” she yelled. She ran toward the manse.

She clambered atop the pile of debris. For a moment she couldn’t comprehend what was where– the interior walls were smashed, as well, and everything was a welter of broken junk. Then she saw the chintz curtains, tattered and bedraggled under a layer of brick. She bent and began throwing bricks aside. “Thomas!”

Steffie climbed up on the wreckage beside her. “Annie, don’t,” she said. “It’s…he’s probably….”

“Shut up and help me, damn you!” Anne snapped. Panic choked her. “Thomas!”

She heard a cough. She stopped, listening. Another cough. And then, “Ah, crap.”

A pile of broken timbers to her left slithered and fell, and there was that stupid, bloody, beautiful mahogany table, nicked and battered, but still intact. And out from under it crawled Thomas.

Anne clambered across the wreckage toward him. Why was she crying now? She nearly impaled herself on a splintered wood beam, and then she was there. “Are you all right?” she asked, relieved and frightened at the same time. She reached down to help him up.

“I’ve been worse,” Thomas said. He coughed again and stood up. His glasses were gone. Pulverized brick dust sluiced off his uniform. He had lost his cap and dust covered his face. Anne saw that one sleeve of his uniform blouse was ripped from shoulder to cuff. More alarmingly, a trickle of blood ran down the side of his face. Thomas seemed wholly unaware of it.

“You need to go to hospital,” Anne said.

“Maybe—gotta clean up first.” Thomas turned, rather unsteadily, and then stopped. “Jesus Christ!” he said. Anne turned to see what he was staring at, and then wondered how she could miss so large and dramatic a tableau.

Between the manse and the radar unit was a huge crater– thirty feet across and half that deep, raw earth sending up tendrils of smoke. On the other side of the crater the transport truck lay on its side, burning. The radar unit itself had fallen off the trailer and lay on the ground. The housing was riddled with shrapnel holes; the dish was shredded. Over the smell of concrete dust and burning petrol Anne could definitely detect the ozone stink of fried electronics.

Thomas raised his hands, in rage and despair. “Look what those Nazi bastards did to my radar!”

It was too much. Anne grabbed Thomas by the lapels and shook him with all her might. “Damn you! I don’t care about the bloody Nazis, and I don’t care about your bloody radar! You were nearly killed, you stupid sod! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Whoa, stop the roller-coaster,” Thomas said, grabbing hold of Anne’s hands in an attempt to damp out the oscillations. She stopped shaking him and they stood there for a long moment, panting, face-to-face. Without his glasses, Anne realized, Thomas’ eyes were brilliant blue.

Dust be damned. Anne raised herself up on tip-toe and kissed Thomas right on the lips. The sergeant’s eyebrows went up, but he kissed her back. For a moment she hung off his neck and he lifted her up off her feet, and they were just there.

They finally broke the kiss. Thomas set Anne back down. He stared into her face, wondering and confused. Anne stepped back and slapped him, hard enough to make dust fly. She stalked off.

Group Captain Carter came running from the direction of the bunker. He had to step out of Anne’s way. He looked at her retreating figure, then at Thomas. “Are you quite all right, sergeant?”

Thomas rubbed his face. “Beats the hell out of me, sir. And the day started out so normal.”

You can probably see why I don’t write romance novels.