Daniel's Esperanza

Daniel's Esperanza

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Backstory to Williamsburg Hill

My novel Williamsburg Hill will be published soon, and I thought I'd share the backstory of how it started.  The genre is historical fiction with a dual timeline (present day and 19th century).  The back cover blurb begins with the following:

When history touches the present through an old ghost town, its cemetery, and an ancestral piece of furniture passed down through generations…

The Backstory:

In early 2014, I began listing ideas for my next book.  Historical fiction was a genre that I wished to attempt, but it was important to me that the historical part of the book be something that wouldn’t present a lot of challenges with research.  I lived in the Chicago area at the time, so I assumed some localized history would be easy enough to research; if travel were required, it would be simple to do by car.  Easy and simple were far from reality, as I discovered, with legends and lore playing greater roles than historical documents in creating this book.
I read about a town in south central Illinois, once active due to its main street being part of the Old Anglin’ Road stage coach route, that became non-existent in the late 1800s.  The town of Williamsburg (or village as some referred to it) was founded in 1839, and the region was referred to as Cold Spring.  Established at the time with a mill, the stage line, a general store, a blacksmith and postmaster, a medical doctor, Masonic hall and Methodist church, it is difficult to imagine how progress ultimately crippled the area and made it a ghost town.  In 1881, the stage line was discontinued as train travel replaced it, and the railroad tracks bypassed Williamsburg.  Residents and businesses moved, most to nearby Lakewood, leaving their former town to waste away.   
Williamsburg was located on the south side of Williamsburg Hill which still stands as the highest point in the area at over 800 feet.  Some speculate the hill was formed due to glaciers; others seem to think it to be an Indian mound.  There is really no definitive answer to its existence.  But resting at the top of Williamsburg Hill is Ridge Cemetery, still accessible today.  And there was the basis of my story.
I traveled to Ridge Cemetery twice (in 2014 and 2016).  It isn’t a place that one simply discovers on an afternoon drive. It is a pre-planned destination; its isolation is assurance of this.  It also isn’t a place a person should travel to alone.  As there is much folklore but little history that I could find about the cemetery, I assume it originated around the time that the village of Williamsburg did.  The dates on many of the tombstones verify this, but there are recent burials there as well.  It is an old cemetery, yet a currently used one; it is serene and peaceful, while strange and a little unnerving; it’s beautiful, yet rugged; maintained but weathered.  And yes, it is somewhat creepy.
The cast of characters in this story are fictional, with the exception of J.P. Dunaway, J.W. Torbutt, Dr. Thomas Fritts, and Orville Robertson.  Their occupations in my book are true to their history.  What is a little sketchy about them might be the location of where they settled.  I was fully into writing when I discovered a first-person historical account by a Dunaway descendant indicating the family had lived in Findlay, Illinois, not Williamsburg.  Because I was too far into the story to change anything, I took liberties.  Documented history about the area wasn’t easy to find, but plenty of folklore existed, so much of what I wrote is based on this.  And most of the folklore indicates these four figures and their families were part of Williamsburg Hill, at least at some point during the town’s reign.  It was important, perhaps out of obligation, to briefly mention the town of Findlay at the end though, which I did.  I also interchanged Williamsburg and Williamsburg Hill within the story, because it seemed to me that people living there would’ve done this as a way of generally referring to their home.
Finally, there is nothing left of Williamsburg.  Ridge Cemetery is not private, but open to anyone who wishes to visit as long as it’s done during the daylight hours.  It is a place deserving of respect.  If visiting, observe its history, wonder about its past, and listen quietly.  Perhaps you, too, will then hear the voices and laughter dancing through the breeze just as my character, Erastus, did.    

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Sunflower Love in Memphis

Sunflowers are blooming in Memphis.  It's an annual tradition for many, especially professional photographers, to visit the fields on the grounds of the AgriCenter International and Shelby Farms. Results of my first visit have been added to my Fine Art America site. Please visit www.veronica-batterson.pixels.com to view high resolution images. Purchases are always appreciated.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Views from the Passenger's Seat

Grizzly mama & three cubs - Alaska 
Early in my marriage, road trips were predominantly the way my husband and I traveled.  Since we made a few moves across country, much of the car journeys involved packing up the kids and seeing family in other states, getting to know the areas in which we settled, and taking advantage of the freedom traveling by car (and mini-van, and SUV) brought us. Fortunately, my husband enjoyed being behind the wheel, and I was content to let him take it.  I prefer looking at the surroundings and absorbing as much as possible (a lot of what I write comes from being able to do this, especially if I’m listening to music). 
As with most things, there are always hiccups that find and surprise you, sort of like potholes as soon as you hit one.  Whether it’s forgetting to pack those extra shoes, remembering something you didn’t do, or taking the wrong exit (we relied on road maps until recently), it jars you.  But it happens to be those little occurrences, memorable or forgettable (depending on the point of view) that add to the trips. While I’m a “it’s time to fill-up even though I still have half a tank” kind of gal, my husband enjoys living life on the edge and sliding in at the gas pumps on that last gasp of fumes, then looking at me with defiant eyes, saying “made it”.   
One particular event many years ago caused neither one of us to speak to each other for quite a while, and that’s hard to do when you’re confined in a moving vehicle for hours on end.  About sixty miles after making a pit stop, I glanced down at my hands and my engagement ring was missing.  Saying I panicked was an understatement, and I remembered taking it off in the ladies’ washroom when we last stopped.  So back we went, retracing those sixty miles.  Once there, I jumped from the car and reached into my pocket for no particular reason.  Facial expressions give much away, and mine were obviously loaded.  “In your pocket?” he asked.  “Yep,” I mumbled, slinking back in.  I don’t remove the rings anymore.  Stone cold silence and a wasted 120 miles will do it.
That incident was brought to mind recently with something similar though.  I thought I’d lost the lens cap to a new (and expensive) camera lens until I remembered “the ring”; panic, worry about retracing steps (in the dark this time around), then the light bulb moment.  Pocket!  The back one this time.  I didn’t even have to tell him, as we continued traveling down the highway.  I smiled a little with relief. 
My camera has caused a few memorable travel incidents.  I wouldn’t have believed one had I not seen the evidence; it will forever be affectionately referred to as “the bird incident”.   On one excursion, I wanted to get a few quick shots of something, so my husband pulled into a parking lot and waited for me.  There is much debate as to who was at fault with this one: me for leaving the car door open, him for looking down at his cell phone.  I suppose that the phone wouldn’t have prevented what came at him, but how was I supposed to know that a seagull wanted to take a ride in the car? I was gone mere minutes, but when I returned I was greeted by my husband, wild eyed, wiping his brow with one hand, while wiping the dashboard with the other.  Fortunately, he had more than one handkerchief; all of the spare napkins in the car were used as well. 
His account of the incident included many words, some of which were: minding his own business, looking at cell phone, foot on brake, swooped in, attacked, never put it in park, accidentally stepped on accelerator, then slammed on brake, choked by seatbelt, Alfred Hitchcock movie, you left the door open, why did you leave the door open, crazed bird, bird blank everywhere, thought I was going to die.  I’m pretty sure profanities were intermixed and woven through these fragments of expressions, too.  Sometimes the bird gods give us laughter, I just regret my camera was turned elsewhere at the time.
We have spent hours on the road trying to find (and succeeding) an obscure cemetery that’s part of a ghost town in the middle of Illinois cornfields so I could write about it; finding and observing wild horses in New Mexico for research (again for my books and photography); breathing wild fire smoke and seeing the devastation it caused; enduring an outlandish stop in Connecticut that my daughter can fondly recount verbatim; fourth of July in Boston (the best city to celebrate the holiday in my opinion); driving over so many mountain passes in this beautiful country (accompanied by colorful commentary from my mouth during these spine-tingling journeys); seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time made me cry (the sheer beauty of it is overwhelming); the same happens whenever I visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington (even though I’ve seen it numerous times); city lights and urban areas; rural towns and natural settings; desolate terrain and lush beauty; extreme poverty and enormous wealth.  
Sea otter - Glacier Bay National Park - Alaska
Our travels have allowed us to see many things, and it obviously hasn’t always been by the road; planes, trains and automobiles have figured equally.  In May, the views for both of us came via a cruise ship to Alaska that offered some of the most stunning vistas imaginable.  It also provided special glimpses of wildlife in their natural habitat: a grizzly bear and her three cubs wandering along the shore, herds of mountain goats grazing on the slopes, a pod of orcas, humpback whales, sea lions, dolphins, dozens of sea otters (many carrying their babies), bald eagles everywhere and ravens (hearing one screech is rather startling).  
Orcas - Alaska (from the distance I initially thought dolphins)
Visiting Alaska meant one more thing to us: it was an accomplishment.  We have now traveled to all fifty states in this country.  Yes, all of those little side trips, jumping in the car and driving trips, hitting the road and going trips have added up.  I have been asked more than once:  which state is my favorite?  My answer would be: many.  I think it’s easier to answer which states I like the least but I won’t offer that here.  Some have wondered where we’d like to go next.  I’d say seeing things we’ve missed, visiting more national parks, and doing much more international travel.  Of course, revisiting the places we love.
Wherever we head, I’ll have my camera, take my notes for research, daydream, observe, and brace myself for those surprises that make memories.  

Rainbows changed and reappeared within minutes - Alaska