The Bereaved comes out in August, and the launch party is days away. I wanted to share some fun stuff with you. For one, there’s a Goodreads Giveaway going now through the end of the month. (Click the link there to enter.) No charge to enter, of course. Don’t be silly. Of course I want you to win a copy!
Then there’s The Bereaved book trailer. I’m working on posting it to the site here; it goes live on Friday on social media. Which, by the way, for me now is mostly Facebook, Instagram, and Threads, although I am definitely on TikTok, and I have a toe in the water at Spoutible and Post, and my old account still lingering on Twitter, aka X. Follow the links on the main page to find me!
The Bereaved book trailer:
And then there’s just the joy of holding the book and seeing friends reading or receiving their books. This makes me so very happy.
Thanks, Simi, Ann, Laura, Lisa, Dad and Glenn!
Not to go bonkers here, but it’s all part of the book release, marketing and all that. More to come! Stay tuned.
Countdown is on for my book launch — August 8, in Grass Valley, 6-8 pm, at the UUCM: Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains. I’m ordering cake! I’m placing ads!
You like cake, don’t you?
We’ve been collecting reviews, including this starred review:
Planning the book tour, writing essays and blog posts, and the like–it’s the kind of zany fun part of getting published. It’s midsummer, and ideally I’d be sitting out in the hammock with a book or a notepad. But not this year. Why, you ask? A couple of reasons.
Weird weather– it was chilly for most of June for some reason (cough–climate change–cough!)
I’m doing some research that involves reading old family letters and they would blow around outside.
We have a ton of ants and mosquitos this year, probably because of high rain and snowpacks over the winter. Too many bugs– on and near the hammock.
I must admit it — I have a small case of breast cancer. I was diagnosed in March after a wonky mammogram, had lumpectomy surgery in May, and have been undergoing radiation treatment over the past few weeks. Two more weeks to go, and I will be super radiated and ready to launch. My diagnosis was early, and it’s a Stage 1A, one breast, and they have high hopes for 100% cure. So my fingers are crossed as much as anyone can cross them. I haven’t posted about this on social media but it’s true. I was planning to post *after* I finish radiation. As in, fait accompli. So far, so good.
So bear with me as I go squiggly with book release excitement. Know that I am finishing up revisions on my historical novel slated for next fall release through Sibylline, and the letters? Research for the next novel, also historical fiction based on my an-sisters, as I like to call them. Won’t this look good on a cake?
It has been a long winter and spring, and we are finally in the home stretch before The Bereaved arrives at bookstores and Kindles everywhere.
Nervous? Not really.
Big plans? Yes!
I loved this “Eye” artwork and was so happy when Sibylline’s art director chose to use it on the cover. I’m leaving the cover image large so you can see the details, and I’ll tell you more about it. Take a look at how it turned out:
The theme is Victorian mourning, and the Eye artwork centers the book cover. The background is a flocked Victorian wallpaper. It was more golden in an earlier version, but the red really pumped up the energy. The Orphan Train is the bottom photo, an old photo from as late as 1900, or as early as 1870. Hard to tell from the kids’ clothes. This is kind of the quintessential Orphan Train photo that shows up when you Google the term. On the right is a portion of the New York Home for the Friendless, which was an orphan “asylum,” or orphanage, where children who had lost their parents, or whose parents couldn’t keep them fed and housed, landed, if they didn’t make it another way. And on the left? That’s little Willie Gaston, about 8-10 years old. Hard to tell, because children dressed like undertakers in the 1860s.
William L. Gaston was my great-great grandfather, and I have several photos of him throughout his life. He married Winifred McDonald, and had two daughters, then one of them (Laura) had two daughters. Little Winifred (named for her grandma) was my Meemaw, but I never knew her; she died when I was less than a year old. The stories die out over time and no one remembers who came from where — until Ancestry came along and helped me find all the footprints and arrows and signposts.
The Bereaved is the story of how my 2x great-grandpa went from New York to Ohio as an orphan–but it’s told from his mother’s point of view. Who was Martha Seybolt Lozier? My third-great-grandmother, whose DNA runs in all my cells and mitochondria–who was this, and how did she lose her child? Read the novel and find out.
I will be posting more about my upcoming book launch, book tour, and some side quests along the way, to illuminate Martha’s story, and Will’s, and my own. It’s always more complex than you think. But get this: As I learned about Martha, I also found her parents, and their parents, and so on, back to Puritan times, where another long-forgotten grandmother appeared, just in time to become my next historical novel. That woman’s name was Silence Greenleaf, and I went on a trek last fall to find her.
I’d like you to meet here here, first, and next fall (September 2024), in the pages of my next novel, Silence.
That’s the topic for another day, so I’ll leave you wondering about that, and anticipating the release of The Bereaved, my eight-years-in-progress baby. Links for preorder below. Thanks for checking in!
We owned property in Virginia and we owned property in Maryland, and unfree people were part of that chattel property at the time. There is very little left of the actual plantations in the state of Maryland, but surprisingly, there is a fairly large influence left behind. Our Bailey, Upshaw and Hillary ancestors lived in Maryland in the 1700s and claimed land plats that were very large in comparison to the quarter sections of land in the Southern states. We visited the Largo and Marlboro areas in Maryland to find traces of the former Largo, Meadows, and Beall’s Pleasure, and found essentially nothing like avenues of trees, brick houses or swanky pillars. Instead, we found parking lots, freeway onramps, and a toxic waste disposal unit. But the neighborhoods have traces everywhere, to wit—
Maryland is lousy with Beales and Upshers, with Largos and Marlboros and so on. The very scope of their plantations is astonishing—how much land they must have had in cultivation. Maybe it just seems big, under the parking lots, onramps, and Lowe’s shopping centers. But these plantations were veritable villages. They sprawled. And the markers today, the length of Old Largo Road, for example — it just keeps reappearing on the map. According to my measurements (and Google maps), the Old Largo Road, which was there before the newer Route 202 Largo Road, is more than six miles long. How much of that was within or alongside Largo itself? How large was Largo? I clearly have more exploration to do, but as one of the landowners in the area, Thomas Beall or Beale (Bailey) would have owned a piece or pieces of land that today would be worth millions. Many millions.
Meanwhile, history is underfoot in Maryland in other ways. How do you get to Baltimore from Burtonsville? You take the Old Baltimore Road.
You want a sandwich? Stop at the Sisters Sandwiches & Such, which used to be the Higgins Tavern, built in 1823, or go hiking in the Blue Mash , where the enslaved used to hide from their captors but now you can do some nice jogging or birdwatching. You can trip over history, traces of the past, if you’re not looking, and it’s everywhere, once you start to pay attention.
The plantations in Maryland were underneath parking lots, and in one case, a toxic waste drop-off facility, so you can no longer see what used to be. But then there’s the Three Sisters Plantation, which has become a housing development, and the main house has been clad in vinyl siding. It’s still there, but not. The Beale houses are gone but their neighbor’s place survived, from 1700s era—Darnall’s Chance was their closest neighbor, and that house remains.
I wish I knew what to say beyond, “This is weird, can you believe it? Look at this!” I joke with people about how they owe me back rent, as if I ever had a thing to do with that era, the ownership of these places, or the captives they enslaved.
But I grew up in houses that my parents owned, and my four siblings and I all went to college. We all went to Cotillion (ballroom dance and comportment classes) and learned to dance the foxtrot and waltz, how to sit and stand and wear gloves and greet our elders. We know how to be courteous in any social situation and which fork to use. We’ve been to the symphony, opera, and ballet, and know how to eat in a restaurant. We have books in our homes, and we enjoy learning. There’s a certain class awareness as well as race awareness in how we live our lives, some more than others. I believe these attitudes are inherited, taught along the way. My great-grandmother sneering at people who worked with their hands ripples down. We worry what people think of us. We don’t want to let down the side.
The privilege is real. I don’t know any other way. I don’t feel guilty about the life I live. I do feel that acknowledgement is vital. We got here because someone else did the work so we didn’t have to. We got here because someone else paid the true cost. It’s deeper than that, but I’m still thinking it over.
“On your left, hidden almost totally by the trees, is Warwick, whose oldest section is believed to date back to the 17th century. In 1749, the house’s mistress, Rachel Revell Upshur, was bitten by a rabid fox and developed rabies. Her servants smothered her in her feather bed to end her suffering. There are tales of ghostly visitations by Rachel, and when it rains, it is said, her blood still appears on the doorstep of Warwick, left there when she was carried into the house after the fox attack.” — Washington Post, March 31, 1989
So we went here yesterday. It was a little off the beaten path but worth the venture. I thought it was a ruin or a shell, abandoned, but it turned out that someone still lived there. But as we drove in the dirt lane (clearly marked as a public street, but what used to be the grand entrance to the 4000 acre Warwick plantation), there were signs of life. A child’s play structure, curtains, a mowed lawn at the smaller residence on the right… and on the left? A graveyard. An old cemetery, for family.
But the NO TRESPASSING signs everywhere made us reluctant to get out and explore. It’s private property. People have guns. The haunted house legend has attracted lookyloos. They are annoyed. I will write to the local historical society and see if I can determine who is buried there. But one thing I’m betting: it will be White folks, not the enslaved. Not out front where everyone could see.
I really just wanted to see the ruins but it turned out not to be a ruin, so I was unable to explore or do more than snap some quick photos from the car, and take a soil sample for memento. People get techy about their property, with good reason.
We left there, and drove farther up the peninsula. At another point we crossed the Mattapoony River and that is where another Upsher had several thousand acres and of course a lot of enslaved workers to do his bidding.
“Take the oyster-shell road to the left and drive for six-tenths of a mile, until you reach an attractive mansion, Brownsville. John Upshur built Brownsville in 1806, adding the wooden portions three years later when visiting relatives made the main house too cramped for him. President Grover Cleveland is said to have stayed here during his fishing trips to the barrier islands. The mansion and grounds are owned today by the Virginia Coastal Reserve, which makes its headquarters there.” — Washington Post, March 31, 1989
We were unable to get to that spot, Brownsville. Time is flying and we have been on the move constantly. I have been trying to keep track of all that takes place, and am grateful for my phone. The sheer number of photos is overwhelming. We stopped for two nights in Chincoteague, to rest and see birds, wild ponies, and take a pontoon boat out to see the islands and water. We saw dolphins out in the open water, and so many seabirds. It was truly magical. Excellent seafood and a picnic on the beach. I named the enslaved people who had lived in Virginia while I stood on the beach, the great Atlantic behind me. See my Facebook page for that video.
Tomorrow we head toward Newport News (a former family plantation), and then to Richmond, stopping at Shackelfords along the way — more family heritage there. And more after that. Thanks for reading along.