Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bleeding Kansas and the Border War

While researching for one of my Historical novels, I encountered a lot of interesting history on the Bleeding Kansas era, which occurred in the years leading up to the Civil War. I'd like to share some of it with you now. This is part one of a three-part series.  It is my hope you find something interesting to take away from it.

The Missouri Compromise of 1861 held the nation together by maintaining a fragile balance of slave states and free states. When settlers began moving into the Kansas and Nebraska territories, it threatened another imbalance between slave and free states. The proposed solution was the Kansas-Nebraska act, in which each territory would vote on whether to be slave or free. Politicians presumed that Kansas would vote to become a slave state and Nebraska a free state, thus continuing to maintain the balance.

Settlers from Missouri moved to Kansas, establishing many towns including Leavenworth, Lecompton and Atchison as slave state communities. Settlers from free states, many with the assistance of the abolitionist New England Emigrant Aid Company, established other towns such as Lawrence, Topeka, Osawatomie and Manhattan as free state communities. In 1855, Kansas held its first election for the Territorial Legislature. Thousands of "Border Ruffians" rode into the state, mainly from Missouri, and used fraud and intimidation to influence the election. Almost all the pro slavery candidates won, but the number of votes cast in the election was twice the number of eligible voters.  The pro-slavery legislature became known as the 'bogus legislature' by free-state Kansans and relocated Lecompton.

Free-state Kansans formed their own legislature in Topeka and drafted the Topeka Constitution in 1855, which established Kansas as a free state. In July of 1856, pro-slavery president Franklin Pierce declared the Topeka legislature in insurrection and sent 500 federal troops to Topeka to forcibly disperse the free-state legislature.

Throughout the first half of 1856, hundreds of pro-slavery men had been entering Kansas, and many more free-state men arrived to oppose them. By the spring of 1856, rampant open violence had broken out.  Numerous massacres occurred. Raiders from Missouri burned the Free State Hotel and two newspaper offices in Lawrence and the entire town of Osawatomie. John Brown, the same man who would later seize the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, led the free-state cause and retaliated with equal brutality. Finally, the new territorial governor, John W Geary, persuaded both sides to come to an uneasy peace.

In 1857, pro-slavery Kansans drafted the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. It was condemned by the largely anti-slavery US congress, but was supported by President James Buchanan. Congress declared this constitution invalid. Another election was held, which was widely boycotted by pro-slavery Kansans.  The elected delegates drafted the anti-slavery Leavenworth  Constitution. In 1859, the Kansas legislature re-affirmed Kansas's status as a free state by adopting the Wyandotte Constitution.

Sporadic violence continued until the outbreak of the Civil War. In the end, demographics determined that Kansas would be a free state.  By the eve of the Civil War, there were simply more free-state citizens in Kansas than slave-state citizens. The pro-slavery US senate managed to keep Kansas from being admitted to the Union as a state until January of 1861. By this time the Civil War was only three months away.

The total number of deaths is estimated at from 56 to roughly a hundred plus that number. The end of the Border War is generally considered to be 1861, with the start of the Civil War. It didn't end, though, it simply merged into the greater conflict of the Civil War. The real violence along the border was just beginning.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Please help me welcome my friend Annamaria Bazzi's new novel The Incantation Paradox

Greetings, all. For those of you who do not know her, I'd like to introduce my friend Annamaria Bazzi.  I met her on Critique Circle and have known her for years. She has a number of self-published works and is about to add her novel The Incantation Paradox to her collection. I find her marketing efforts to be every bit as interesting as her writing. If you are a self-published author or thinking of becoming one,  you may want to check out her social media links and see how she does it.
And now, on with the novel:
Many critics say that everything has already been written. Can the human imagination be that small? Anyway, with this in mind, I decided to take an old theme and make it my own, adding a twist of deception, murder and intrigue into the mix. This is not Freaky Friday because evil lurks at every corner waiting to satisfy the inner selfishness of one of the characters.


Can magic be blamed for everything that happens?


From the point of view of the main character, Dolores, I never knew what Eric was thinking and why he did the things he did. I knew he was a bad person, I just didn’t understand how evil he was until I decided to rewrite the novel in third person to get inside his head.


I was shocked to find so much evil in one human being, but I must be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed writing his character. The third person also gave me the opportunity to bring forth Jason’s goodwill and feelings toward Dolores. To make the bit of romance between them work, I had to use some special event that happens only when they step into the veil of magic.


Yes, it is an overly done theme, but my version is very different and if you enjoy murder, deception and intrigue with a twist of magic, this urban fantasy might be for you.


I had a lot of fun writing the novel, and now I hope you will enjoy reading it.



Book Blurb:


A car accident cuts Dolores Reynard’s life short, leaving her with a long list of unfulfilled dreams. When she awakens in a strange bed, inside a much younger body, and living with a new family—she can’t worry she might be going insane. How can she be a teenager again?


Jason Richmond understands the danger awaiting his new houseguest. Wanting to ease her concerns, he works to earn Dolores’ trust. But attraction flares in the most unexpected way, and he finds himself caught between setting the situation right and following his heart.


An enduring evil threatens not only the blossoming love but their lives as well. As Dolores and Jason struggle to unravel the truth behind her resurrection, they find themselves tangled in a web of murder, intrigue and magic. Only together can they hope to overcome the incantation paradox holding them captive.


Book Links:





Author Bio:


Although born in the United States, Annamaria Bazzi spent a great deal of her childhood in Sicily, Italy, in a town called Sciacca. Italian was the language spoken at home. Therefore, she had no problems when she found herself growing up in a strange country. Upon returning to the states, she promised herself she would speak without an accent. She attended Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computers with a minor in Spanish.

Annamaria spent twenty years programming systems for large corporations, creating innovative solution, and addressing customer problems. During those years, she raised four daughters and one husband. Annamaria lives in Richmond Virginia with her small family where she now dedicates a good part of her day writing.

You can visit Annamaria at:



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Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Border Reivers - British history you may not be aware of

The territory along the English-Scottish border is rugged and ill-suited for farming. Many of its residents supplemented their meager income by conducting raids across the border to steal livestock and other goods. These men were known as the Border Reivers.

They would typically conduct their raids between the months of November and February, when nights were long, yet the livestock still strong from summer grazing. The reivers were expert horsemen and proficient with the lance, sword, longbow, and crossbow.  Most wore armor composed of small metal plates sewn into cloth, known as jack. They also wore metal helmets.

The borders of both nations were divided into three marches. Each had a march warden, who was charged with keeping order in his territory. Once a month they would hold a truce day, in which the march warden would meet with his counterpart to redress wrongs. Merchants and entertainers would show up. There would also be heavy drinking and inevitable ruckuses.

A man who had been "spoiled" by a reiver had six days to legally mount a counter raid.  This was known as the hot trod. The party would identify itself with a piece of burning peat stuck to the end of a spear. Every neighboring man between sixteen and sixty was obligated to join. The hot trod also had the right to assistance from the first village they came to.  Anyone who refused to help could be prosecuted as if he were a reiver himself.

The border people usually took their livestock inside the villages at night. Men who were wealthy enough built strong stone houses known as bastles. They drove their livestock into the first floor, while living on the second floor. Local officials also built a system of towers, surrounded by stone walls. Each one had a brazier filled with roots and peat, which the garrison would use to light signal fires when they spotted reivers.

Sometime around 1650, authorities managed to bring order to the border. Also, local people became tired of the reivers, and they became outcasts even among their own people.  Over time the reivers faded and are now just a colorful piece of British history.

Monday, May 19, 2014

I can't believe I wrote that

Recently, I read through my first published short story. I couldn't believe the number of small mistakes such as filter words and word echoes in that story. Looking at it now, I think it's lucky someone decided to publish it. Last night I was making some more touches to my recently-finished novel. Once again, I spotted several word choices that I know now not to do.

At one point, I thought there would be a time when my writing would become fully developed.  It seems no matter how much effort I put into a piece, however, I could always write it better if I came back to it later. Now, I'm thinking that moment I 'arrive' as a writer will never come, and that's actually a good thing.

Would you really want to reach a point where your writing, or any other endeavor for that matter, stops improving?  Athletes don't stop training the moment they win the gold medal. Most business men do not stop earning money after they reach their first million.

One advantage of writing is your words are permanent. You can see exactly what you wrote a year ago, twenty years ago, or even in your first story.  It gives you a great yardstick for measuring your progress year to year.  Hopefully, that progress will never stop.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The most important battle on American soil you probably never heard of.

A hastily-raised militia of some 10,000 men marches from northern West Virginia to southern West Virginia with the objective of seizing the coal mines there. A defending force of some 3,000 men is cobbled together and takes a defensive position on a mountain in front of the objective. For several days, the attacking force tries to find a way around the defenders and sustains 50-100 men killed. The defenders lose some 30 men. The commander of the attacking force calls off the attack.  The militia disperses and the men go back to their homes.

Sounds like a Civil War battle, right? Let me provide some additional details. The defenders set up machine guns to cover their defensive position and use aircraft to monitor the attackers. They even drop a few bombs on the attacking force as it approaches.

So now you're thinking there were no aircraft or machine guns during the Civil War. You're right. This battle occurred in 1921.  Hey, wait, you say.  There were no wars on American territory in 1921.  You're right again. There was no declared war. This event is known as the Battle of Blair Mountain.

It started during the movement to unionize the coal mines of West Virginia. The mines in the northern counties of West Virginia were unionized. The miners here were better paid and had better working conditions than the ones in the non-union mines of the southern part of the state. The mine operators in the southern counties were determined to keep their mines non-union.

The events leading up to this battle included several instances of deadly violence between mining company "detectives", essentially hired thugs, and law enforcement officials of county governments sympathetic to the union. The last straw may have been when "detectives" murdered two unarmed union-supporting law officers while they were headed to a legal proceeding.

Miners assembled, gathering their guns, and marched south. The mine operators put together a force of lawmen and company detectives, determined to stop the miners. They set up positions on Blair Mountain.

The miners were never able to get past Blair Mountain. The President decided things had gotten out of hand and sent in the army to restore order. It appeared the mine operators had won the battle.

They may have lost the war, however. The battle brought national attention to the plight of the coal miners in non-unionized areas. Public opinion, which tended to be against unions, began to change. Eleven years later, the election of FDR gave unions allies in the Federal government. Conditions for miners and workers in general improved.

What does this have to do with writing? Probably nothing, but I think it's an important event in American history that few people know about.

Monday, April 28, 2014

I question questionable writing practices

A lot of us who write, including myself, would like to earn extra money writing for others in legitimate activities such as editing, proofreading, writing projects and similar things. Just for grins, I took a look on Craig's List to find out what writing services others were offering. What I saw turned my stomach.

In addition to the legitimate activities, I also saw some very questionable services offered such as:

·         "do online coursework (perfect for online college students who also have to work and do not have time for their studies)."

·          "Our expert and experienced writers will provide you with custom-made research papers and case studies. The content is creative and original and can pass all plagiarism tests easily."

·         "Now you can enjoy all the parties and mingle with your friends and we will write all your papers."

These are only examples. The questionable ads exceeded the more legitimate-sounding ones by a ratio of several times to one.

I'd like to think the writing field is composed of well-educated people who follow a strict ethical code. Everyone knows that is not always true. Personally, I don't see how some of these professional "writers" manage to sleep at night.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What my wife has taught me about self publishing.

Consumer of Self Publlishing

My wife recently downloaded a number of Romance novels to her kindle. So, how did she decide which ones do download?

She chooses free novels. Because of the number of writers who are trying to promote their works, there is no shortage of free works to download.  My wife knows full well that if she wants to continue in the series, she will have to pay for the next volumes, but doesn't care. Since the first volume is free, there's nothing to lose. If it's no good, she simply switches to another free novel.

I have heard an interesting comment from her considering self-published works she's read. She has said she found a series she likes, if she can ignore the errors. Many authors can't or won't put out the money for editors. However, when the author publishes without an editor, it's very noticeable in the final product.

So, what are the lessons of her experiences?  First, since writers are so anxious to get their works to the forefront, they are willing to offer a part of their portfolio for free. It may be heart wrenching to work for a year on a novel just to give it away for free, but that may be the price of getting people to sample your works. More important, you need to find a way to get your novel noticed. Since the first things a prospective reader will see of your novel are the cover picture and the blurb, they have to be eye-catching. Your novel could be another Twilight or Harry Potter, but if you don't have the attractive cover or blurb, no one will want to read it. Finally, in order to stand out (or at least keep in line with professionally-published novels), it should be well edited. If not, it needs to be awfully good or the reader will have a tendency to quit for another of the legions of novels out there in self-published land.

My wife is only one of millions of Romance readers, but I don't think her consumption habits are different from most readers.  There's no easy route to success in publishing. Then again, if there were, everybody would be a novelist.