My Favorite Excerpts from Once a Stratton
As you may or may not know, I worked on Once a Stratton for Camp NaNoWriMo this year. I only went for 10,000 words (I wrote 24,593 bringing the novel to 59,749 words), but I’ve still got a bit to go. It’s going to be a lot shorter than I’d planned, though!
Returning to this world and these characters – 1850s Pennsylvania, Lilli and Chris Strauss – is like coming home again. Honestly, Lilli is one of my favorites as far as writing her goes, and Chris just has so much sass! #sassyhusbandsaremusthave #forfictionalcharactersanyway
I’ve really been enjoying it. Today I’m going to share a couple never-before-seen excerpts with y’all. Let me know what you think in the comments!
This excerpt is from a slightly older section of the book where Lilli decides she wants to put her writing talents to good use – and fight to end slavery once and for all!
“Passion,” I mumbled. “People write about what they care about, and it makes writing easier. What do I care about? My husband and child. But that’s not really material for a great writer. Abolitionism, then. I haven’t … I haven’t really thought about it since we left Fantasies, but it was certainly something I cared about. Certainly something I’d like to write about.”
I put the pencil to the paper once again and began writing.
It’s a beautiful day on a plantation in southern Virginia. It’s mid-June. The sun is shining, bees are buzzing, butterflies are fluttering. Everything is as it should be. Only one thing is out of place, and no one knows that it’s even wrong. The people at this plantation are blissfully unaware, even as they are the perpetrators.
The wrong I’m speaking of is, of course, the enslavement of human beings so to enrich the select few. This dark spot in the history of these United States has continued for the seventy-plus decades of its existence.
I went on to describe the conditions of the slaves, the racial persecution, the anti-Abolitionist prejudice, the slave-catchers, and several other things that I’d only heard or read about—I could feel in the details later.
Though I was passionate, I forced myself not to rant, and I kept my words quiet and measured, just as I knew my mother would should she be writing this piece. I described my own brief experience, leaving out the part about it being my only experience. Georgiana would kill me, but she would never see this … no one would. They were my own, these words.
I finished with a plea to the masses—to act, to feel, to find a way out of this shroud of darkness, no matter what the cost.
copyright © 2018, Kellyn Roth, all rights reserved
More writing-related stuff from Lilli. Talking to a newspaper editor this time!
I slowly approached the building, feeling dreadfully small. Once inside, I consulted a desk clerk, a happy boy several years my junior, who led me straight to the office of Mr. Thaddeus B. Wells. It was at the back of the newsrooms which were situated on the second floor. All around me, paper rustled, people shouted across the room—I even heard laughter coming from one of the desks where a few reporters clustered. The copyboys darted about and a few newsies loitered, perhaps waiting for the next set of papers.
The clerk motioned to the door. “He should be waiting for you, Mrs. Strauss. Just go on in.”
I opened the door and entered a medium-sized room containing a desk, a few chairs, and a thousand sheets of paper, some crumpled, some simply drifting about. Behind the desk sat a man of average size with brown hair and green-brown eyes. He stood and smiled when I entered the room.
“Mrs. Strauss, I presume?”
“Yes, Mr. Wells. I …” I paused, unsure what to say next.
“Please take a seat, Mrs. Strauss. We have much to discuss.”
I nodded and slid into the chair across from him.
“I considered putting this first topic off to the end, not to scare you away at the very beginning, Mrs. Strauss, but I feel as if it’s best to have it done with.” Mr. Wells took a deep breath. “I admit that I’m somewhat hesitant to have a woman write even a single article in my newspaper. It’s simply not something that is allowed. Yes, women sometimes write for magazines—under aliases—or publish novels, but … I’m not quite willing to take that responsibility. I’m not sure how the public would react. It would be new territory to the Pennsylvania Herald.”
I pressed my lips together, holding an inward shouting match with myself. I should have expected that, but I just hadn’t thought about it. “I see. But … if I were to use an alias … and remain completely anonymous?”
A look of relief flooded his face. “That would be lovely, Mrs. Strauss. A fine way of accomplishing both of our goals.”
“Would it have to be a male name?”
He hesitated. “I think that would be best.”
I nodded slowly. “Very well. I’ll think of something.”
“Just write me when you’ve decided,” Mr. Wells said. “To continue our discussion, I was considering putting an article or piece by you in the column twice weekly … or just weekly if your domestic duties keep you too busy.”
“I might be able to manage twice a week,” I said. “At least for the time being. But what would you like me to write about? I never thought the Pennsylvania Herald to be an overly-abolitionist paper, though it has published some exciting articles in the past.”
“That’s just it, Mrs. Strauss.” He leaned forward, excitement sparkling in his eyes. “The anonymity gives us an opportunity to write something a bit more fiery, if you will. I’ve never made it a secret that I support freedom for all men. However, I can’t write the articles myself, and most of the reporters don’t want to risk it. I am responsible for the paper as a whole—but an anonymous columnist would be a wonderful way to ease our paper towards the movement.”
I nodded eagerly, growing excited. “So I can continue writing … something like what I wrote before?”
“But … but I’m not a reporter, Mr. Wells. I have very little practical experience. I’m not even sure my knowledge of abolitionism and all concerning it is ample.”
“But you can learn. You can discover. You can write the kind of articles that will start a fire in the breast of whoever reads them. You have talent; all you need is refining.” Mr. Wells took a deep breath. “Mrs. Strauss, we don’t know each other very well. My wife would say we’re ‘hardly speaking acquaintances.’ But I can tell you genuinely care about what happens to those poor souls. I’ve traveled to the south. So have you. We know. We’ve seen, and it breaks our hearts. Both of us have to do something … and it just so happens that this is the speediest way to do so. Will you try?”
I bit the side of my mouth. “I’ll try.”
copyright © 2018, Kellyn Roth, all rights reserved
Lilli and Chris going to church with their new friends, Mariah and Clayton Farrenson, for the first time. This one’s super random, but hey, I enjoyed writing it! For no reason!
Mariah and Clayton had invited us to their church, and we had talked about going several times but never made it a reality. I think Chris hated to disappoint his parents, and, though I was keen to meet new people and search for a place where we could truly worship God in the way we believed to be correct, it was a big step.
However, Mariah wore us down. She knew I wasn’t happy with the church we’d been going to—not happy with just sitting in a building for an hour with people who wouldn’t meet my eye and then shuffling out afterwards—and she used this to her advantage.
“It’s all so friendly there,” she said. She didn’t look me in the eyes as she said these words, but I could tell she was smiling slyly. “Everyone is open and kind—we’re like a family!”
It was that phrase—“like a family” —that did it for me. Chris, not naturally outgoing, took a little more convincing, of course, but he agreed to do it at last.
“We’ll just go once,” he said. “If it’s not all Mariah says it is—”
“Well, we can’t really judge from one week,” I said. I hesitated then placed a hand on his arm. “And anyway, I’m convinced we will like it.”
As I’d said before, it was a big decision, but sometimes you do have to take a leap of faith—per se—and this was one of those times.
Mariah and Clayton and Chris and I with little Maddie and Peter left our houses at the same time and walked to [can’t remember the name I decided on for the church] together.
I was excited. I didn’t feel even the slightest tinge of apprehension. But I could tell Chris was nervous. Or at least a bit worried. It took him so long to warm up to strangers, and he tended to be hesitant around people like the Farrensons—people who reeked of ’Old Philadelphia’ event if they weren’t rich or grand.
The church wasn’t as large as I had built it to be in my mind, but it was still very pretty. A white building with a small steeple. There was a patch of grass in the front, well-groomed and divided in half by a stone walkway that led to the door. I paused behind Mariah and Clayton as we reached this walk. They kept going up, but Mariah glanced over her shoulder when she sensed that I’d stopped behind her.
“Scared?” she teased.
I laughed. “No, of course not! Who’d be scared of going to church?”
“The devil,” Chris muttered.
I gently nudged him—not the time for his little comments—and followed Mariah and Clayton into the building.
Once inside, Mariah took my arm and steered me over to a group of ladies clustered towards the back. They were about her age, some a few years older, some a tinge younger, some middle-aged, and they were talking up a storm.
“Ladies, could I have a moment?” Mariah said smoothly when they stopped talking for a moment. “This is Mrs. Lilli Strauss, my new neighbor.”
A few of the women drew back a little, glanced me up and down, took my measure. Others gave friendly smiles and soft greetings. Whatever their response, it wouldn’t bother me, though—I was determined to make friends with each and every one of them. Well, unless they were determined to do otherwise, in which case let them!
“It’s so nice to meet you!” I said. “Only now I’m at a disadvantage; I don’t know any of your names!”
“Oh!” Mariah said. She rattled off each of the women’s names—and I really tried my best to retain them.
Once we were properly introduced, I began chatting with them. It wasn’t too hard to get along with people, really—all I had to do was ask them plenty of questions, smile and laugh and be open, and that I did.
copyright © 2018, Kellyn Roth, all rights reserved
Just a sweet little family scene. It leads into a suspenseful-ish part, but of course I’m not giving you that. 😉
The night was dark and clouds swirled about in the sky, blocking on the stars. Chris came in the door stamping and shivering.
“Cold snap.” He cupped his hands together and blew through them. “This isn’t April weather. It feels like February!”
I set the final plate on the table and smiled at him. “Well, you’re home now, and the stew’s warm. It’s beef.”
A slight grin flickered through his eyes. “Honestly, sometimes I believe you can read my mind, Lilli. I was thinking about beef stew all the way home.” He kissed my cheek. “It’s only a little frightening.”
I shoved him away playfully and turned to the stove. “Sit down, you. Peter, in your seat, too.” I glanced over my shoulder to check that my son had stood from the floor where he was playing with a few little toys Chris had carved for him. When I saw that he hadn’t moved, I repeated his name and at last he heard me, looking up with dazed eyes. My little dreamer.
“Peter.” I forced the smile out of my voice. “Sit down, please.”
He quickly jumped up and made his way to the table where he took a seat. I brought the pot over and in no time we were taking our simple meal. I watched Peter closely, but he was surprisingly good with a spoon. Yes, he held it tight in his fist and a bit splashed down his front—I tucked his napkin about the neck of his shirt to prevent it from being ruined—but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
We cleaned up afterwards together. We spent the evening in the parlor, me writing while I chatted with Chris—it was a skill I’d acquired from weeks of practice—and Chris read and pretended to be ignoring me. Peter played with his toys quietly or looked at pictures in a few books Mariah had given me when she learned I had nothing of the sort for him.
Then Peter’s head started to nod and his little fists rubbed at his eyes. A quick glance was exchanged between Chris and I, and I said, “Fortune, it’s time for our story, don’t you think?”
Peter looked up at me. “Stowwy?”
“Yes, our story.”
He stood and came to stand at my knee; I set my paper pad and pencil aside and opened my arms, and he crawled onto my lap.
Soon he was settled, his head against my shoulder and his thumb creeping towards his mouth. I had determined that Peter would not suck his thumb, and he obeyed my warning looks, but he would rest his fist next to his lips. It was adorable.
“What story shall I tell today, fortune?” I whispered, rocking back and forth slowly.
“A nice stowwy,” Peter said. “A pwetty stowwy.” His head nodded then he shook it and forced his eyes open.
“About … adventure? And daring? And quests on the high seas?”
Peter’s head barely moved.
“I think you’re too ambitious,” Chris said. “That will stretch your story telling abilities to the limit.”
I glared at him, sitting in the corner which was still chairless on an old quilt with his legs supporting a heavy history of Britain. “And I suppose you could do better?”
“Hmm. Perhaps not,” he admitted. “But you’re no Dickens.”
I scoffed at this and adjusted Peter’s position against my shoulder. “Let me tell you about my puppy Harriet.”
“You had a puppy named Harriet?”
I grinned and winked. “You don’t know everything about me, Chris.”
He grunted and returned to his book. I delved into a tale about a little puppy—partially true, partially from my imagination—who became lost from her beautiful and talented mistress, Miss Lilli, and had to find her way back.
By then Peter was slumped against my shoulder, his breathing soft and even. Chris helped me to my feet, and we walked upstairs to Peter’s room together. All that was in the bedroom was a pallet and a wooden crate that held his clothes and few other personal possessions. I lowered him down on the pallet, and we both knelt beside it to whisper prayers over him.
At last, I rose and went to the window. I’d attached pieces of an old knit blanket to it in place of curtains—just to keep the warm in and the cold out, especially with this unexpected cold snap.
As I was adjusting it over the window, I saw a flicker of light from in back of the Farrenson’s house and paused, narrowing my eyes. Walking into their back yard was a small group of people, from what I could tell, and one of them was carrying a dim lantern. Lights were on in Mariah’s kitchen, and as I watched the back door opened, and I made out Clayton’s broad figure.
What on earth?
copyright © 2018, Kellyn Roth, all rights reserved
Well, that’s about it for today. Still reeling from the blog tour and from personal stuff, haha, so sharing some excerpts was a nice change. 😀 I hope you enjoyed them!
Did you enjoy the excerpts? Are you excited for Once a Stratton, or am I going to have to convince you that this book is just as awesome as my others? WAIT … do you not even know how awesome my others are? *offended* 😉
What did you write during Camp NaNo April (if anything)? Are you taking a break from writing now? Happy May Day! What’s the weather like in your part of the world?