Inspiring Words from Beverly Jenkins

I don’t usually spring for the master class at conferences, but to hear Ms. Beverly Jenkins?! Yes, please! I was doubly excited when she said that this was the very first master class she had ever given. And triply excited—I know that’s not a thing—when she said her talk would be about world building. Perfect for a historical fiction author!

She talked about a book being like a painting: your hero and heroine are front and center, but the background is full of the details of your world. The beauty of the painting depends on these details, no matter what genre of fiction you write, from science fiction to historical. The geography of our stories should not just be what town or state or country they are in, but all the small details that add life to that image—from weather to topography to points of interest.

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Ms. Bev illustrated each point with examples from her own writing, especially two of my favorite books of hers: Indigo and Forbidden. But it was the Blessings series (a contemporary saga) that stole the show. I was completely smitten with the tales of Cletus, the 600-pound hog who wore human clothing, killed a man by sitting on him, and then went on the run from the law. (Yes, a hog went on the lamb. Awesome, right?) The whole audience very quickly felt like we knew the town of Blessings better than the one we were sitting in. Ms. Bev is a master world-builder.

We were treated to a long Q&A session next, and if you have heard Beverly Jenkins speak you know how clever and funny she is. There was a lot of nodding along with her insights on publishing, and also a lot of laughter. You bet I asked her about stuff relevant to my History Ever After talk at IASPR next month. When I asked if any editor or industry representative had ever asked her to change anything historical about her books, she said, “No, not a thing.” That is enormously refreshing, to be honest, given that Ms. Bev writes all kinds of underrepresented American history. She calls it “edutainment,” and there is not a duke in sight. What she did say, though, was that when Forbidden came out in France, they chose a white woman for the cover—and Eddy is not the one who passes, the hero Rhine is. “Oh, Jesus, is right,” Ms. Bev said.

Two-versions-Forbidden-Beverly-Jenkins

She ended with some inspiring advice for all us writers out there. I could not get it all down, but here are some of the pieces I did quote:

  • “The 38th book is just as hard to write as book one.” (Note: This is somewhat scary news since the fourth is hard enough for me right now!)
  • “It’s your book. Write it the way you want to write it.” (Yes!)
  • About writing the tough stuff from your own experiences: “Tell your story. [The readers] are not looking for you to sugar coat it.”

The woman is not a legend for nothing. Beverly Jenkins was such a wonderful person to talk to and to learn from—a highlight of #NECRWA18 for me. Thanks so much, Ms. Bev!

Ben Potter of the Ninth

A week ago, I re-introduced you to Allegra Alazas, the heroine of the upcoming Sugar Moon. She already has a fan club because she stole every scene she could in Under the Sugar Sun.

Her hero (or anti-hero?) is a different kettle of fish. Ben Potter is not someone you were supposed to like in the past book—and yet I always intended to give you his story because it needs to be told.

Almanzo-Wilder-as-Ben-Potter
Imagine Ben Potter as a little rougher-around-the-edges version of this photo of Almanzo Wilder.

Ben is loosely based on the real men who served in Company C of the Ninth U.S. Infantry. These men fought at San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Just as soon as they returned to their home barracks in upstate New York, they were shipped out again to the Philippines.

What had been meant as a sideshow the war against Spain became the first American imperial war overseas. In March 1899, only one month after tensions between Filipinos and Americans erupted in open combat, the Ninth was sent to reinforce the area around Manila. But they did not stay there long, either. After fighting in several battles that year, they were shipped to China to rescue to the American legation in Beijing (known back then as “Pekin”) during the Boxer War. They scaled the walls of the Forbidden City and camped in the palace grounds.

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The Ninth U.S. Infantry in the court of the Forbidden City. Image accessed from the Library of Congress.

One might question what the heck America was doing. A war against Spain fought in Cuba had blossomed into a new war in the Philippines that lent soldiers to fight yet another campaign in China. Talk about mission creep. Yikes. Progressives in the Republican Club of Massachusetts claimed in a 1900 leaflet that the end justified the means: “Isn’t Every American proud of the part that American soldiers bore in the relief of Pekin? But that would have been impossible if our flag had not been in the Philippines.”

Once the foreign powers—Europe, Japan, and America—consolidated their hold on mainland China, the Ninth was sent back to the Philippine-American War. Their vacation was the steamer trip to Manila. There, the battle-weary group was given the privilege (and bother) of serving as honor guard for newly-named civilian governor (and future president of the United States), William Howard Taft.

Two years into their overseas rotation, this company of grizzly veterans was sent to one of the roughest outposts in the islands: Balangiga, Samar. Tasked with closing the port to trade—thereby preventing weapon smuggling to the Philippine revolutionaries—Company C settled down to village garrison life.

These men may have been the worst possible choice for this task. By this point, they were unlikely to trust anyone. In addition, some soldiers were likely suffering from what we would now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Finally, they were cut off from the rest of the world, without even mail call since they were not on the main steamer line. Private Patrick J. Dobbins wrote to his family:

One man in my company went crazy a week ago and escaped to the hills, probably to be killed and eaten by the natives. Another, who was sick unto death, committed suicide this morning at 6 o’clock.  His name is Schechterle and he enlisted at the same time I did in Boston. . . . A grave has been dug near our quarters, and a guard of eight men are over the grave. The body is being lowered into the earth. The flag is at half mast. Three volleys are fired, taps is sounded. It is his last call, ‘absent, but accounted for.’ He is better off. Many of us watch him as he is gently lowered with envious eyes.

Though the commanding officer of Company C, Captain Thomas Connell, was a West Point graduate (1894), he did not manage his garrison well. At first too permissive, he became stringent when he realized that his next promotion was on the line. He felt that the villagers were not obeying his commands to “clean up” the streets, so he ordered Company C to round up all the men and keep them prisoner in two tents on the square.

Yes, my character Ben will try to stop all of this from happening, but history is history. He will not be successful. A week later, the town—with help from guerrillas in the jungle—would ambush the company, killing 48 out of 74 Americans. This was real war with real consequences.

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The 1st Reserve Hospital in Manila (1900), similar to the field hospital in Basey, Samar, where Company C survivors would have been tended. Photo courtesy of the Philippine-American War Facebook group.

Obviously, my imaginary Ben Potter lived—or did he? For families like his in America, it would have been hard to know. Names in the real reports were spelled wrong. Numbers changed. It felt like even the Army did not know who had survived. When I found a real article in the Manila Times about a sister writing to a missing brother, I rewrote it in my mind to fit fiction:

Georgina search Ben Potter in Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

This is a lot of backstory, to be sure. And it is only backstory, not the plot of my book. But I think it is critical history that Americans have forgotten and been doomed to repeat: the Philippines was the Vietnam or Iraq (or Syria?) of the Gilded Age.

Ben lives through these events as a very young man, and they will haunt him for years. Love may not be a cure for combat trauma, but it can encourage Ben to face his past—especially when that past threatens his future with an amazing woman. (Want to read some teasers? There are some here. Enjoy!)

NECRWA This Weekend!

It was a long Monday, and I’m feeling like this weekend cannot come soon enough. NECRWA 2018, baby! Have you registered yet?

ballroom-invitation-NECRWA-workshopThis is the only way to see my workshop with RedHeadedGirl of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books on practical history research.

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There are so many other amazing workshops, including Namrata Patel’s two-workshop series on SEO, or search engine optimization. Honestly, that’s worth the registration fee right there. And whether you are a reader or writer, you do not need to register to come to the amazing book signing this Friday night from 6-8:30 pm. Admission is free and there are over 35 raffle baskets you could win! And look at those authors!

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For example, you could win the basket that Jen Doyle and I made:

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The theme of this location-driven romance extravaganza is a throwback to Jen and my amazing #RT17 road trip, but without the Peachoid—because honestly that you have to see to believe.

Come on out to NECRWA 2018!

Introducing Allegra Alazas

Do you ever make imaginary friends with a character from a book? I do all the time. These are often characters I have made up in my own mind—and yet I still need to get to get acquainted with them from scratch like they’re strangers. If I have done my job right, by the time the book is ready to print, the hero and heroine are my family. I love them.

Sometimes a character does not wait for her own book. She steals the show from the first moment she is introduced. Such a character is Allegra Alazas, the fiercely loyal cousin of Javier Altarejos, and the woman who plays his matchmaker in Under the Sugar Sun.

Escolta Manila Philippines Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series Jennifer Hallock author. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Sugar Sun‘s heroine Georgina Potter first meets Allegra in a store on the Escolta, in Manila. As she tells it:

Señorita Allegra was perfectly happy to keep the conversation going all on her own, just as she had done for the past half hour. They had met by chance at a dry goods store, and Georgie had not been able to shake the woman since. Allegra could not believe that any American would walk the Escolta without shopping, so Georgie now found herself unfolding a delicate slip of lace, pretending to consider it despite its prohibitive price. Even though Georgie was supposed to be getting married soon, she did not feel sentimental enough about the occasion to plunge into debt over it. This treasure was not for her.

Allegra kept talking. “I have to sew my flowers on dresses now, though Hermana Teresa will jump off the Puente de España before she believes it. Yesterday she says I will fail domestic labors class. Fail! So I say it is okay—one day I will hire her as my costurera. Do you hear nuns curse before? Very quiet, but they do.”

No doubt nuns cursed around this young woman a lot, Georgie thought. Allegra looked demure but was really quite untamed. Black, roguish eyes set off her fair, delicate skin. Her pink lips were small but curvy, as exaggerated as the outlandish words that came from them.

Allegra inspiration for Sugar Moon by Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. History ever after.

She sounds like fun, doesn’t she? Allegra—or Allie, as she will soon be known—was inspired by the lantern slide photo above. True story. It was the look on this woman’s face that won me over. I thought her story had to be written.

Sugar Moon teaser for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Want more Sugar Moon teasers? I could not keep myself from posting these.

If I had to cast a movie version of Sugar Moon (and I am open to offers), I would love to see Maine Mendoza in the role:

You see the resemblance, don’t you? It is all about the attitude.

Well, I’d better get back to it, or else you will never get to read Allie’s story. I had to do a massive rewrite this past winter, and I’m about 40% through the Big Edit now. There are some complicating factors that make this book tough. The history is real, and I do not want to skim over that fact. (As author Elizabeth Kingston pointed out recently, colonialism needs to be critically examined, even in romance. Actually, especially in romance. I have tried to do this, and I will keep trying—which to me means not ignoring the difficult stuff.) Also, Ben Potter has to be carefully transformed into hero material; he was not likable in the previous book. But he will be, I promise. Barring major problems, I am gunning for a September release. Fingers crossed.

NaNoWriMo to finish Sugar Moon part of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.

Baseball teaser from Sugar Moon

In the Sugar Sun series, I have attempted to combine the authenticism of well-researched historical fiction with the emotional payoff (the feels) of romance. The more tragic the history in the book, the more important it is to lighten the mood when I can. Music cannot be made with only one note, nor even one movement. A really good read should be like hearing a whole symphony.

Ben Potter’s past is pretty dark: opium addiction, combat trauma, and more. So he seeks out the light: the capable but audacious school teacher, Allegra Alazas. And he will have to win her heart in the light—the sunlight, to be exact. It will be out on the baseball field where Ben wins Allie’s hand.

(Yes, I am not only taking on historical romance and historical fiction, but I am throwing in some historical sports romance, too. What bang for your reading buck!)

baseball colonial sport by Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Baseball was a perfect metaphor for American colonial rule. Find out more.

The Americans brought baseball to the Philippines as a part of their educational system. The sport caught on. It even found its way into courtship rituals—feats of valor on the baseball field could replace them on the battlefield. Whereas medieval knights used to win jousts to earn the heart of a lady, now you just needed a good hit. According to sportswriter Ernie Harwell, “Americans, acting as muscle-bound cupids, often played simple grounders and easy outs into home runs so their Filipino friends could escape bachelorhood” (quoted in Elias 45).

history baseball Philippines for Jennifer Hallock author of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A Benguet Igorot boys baseball team, as photographed by Philippine Commissioner Dean C. Worcester.

Plot bunny! Keep in mind that Allie is an exceptional young woman, and she will not sell herself short. She will not require one run, but eight. And Ben won’t accept any help from the defense; he is going to do this the hard way. Hold onto your hats, folks!

Baseball Philippines sports romance steamy historical romance Sugar Sun series by author Jennifer Hallock. History ever after.