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final coverToday UNDER THE ALMOND TREES is featured on the historical fiction blog Novel Pastimes.

There’s  an interview with yours truly then a question. Answer the question (it’s an easy one–your opinion) and you’re entered to win a free copy of the book. Pass it on!

Excerpt From Under the Almond Trees

From Chapter 8, Ellen 1871final cover

Yellow has always been a color that is sunny, bright, and optimistic. No coincidence then that the suffrage movement has adopted it. This afternoon the hall we rent at the new Unity Church glows yellow. Early spring roses and daffodils, from the gardens of the ladies assembled here, fill tables covered in yellow cloth. The Women’s Suffrage Association gathers in style, as they have for the past year.

Issues raise their heads and roar, each one clouding the main cause of the vote. I support temperance and abolition, but I long to vote. In Santa Cruz, my Women’s Suffrage Association works with the churches and the other ladies’ clubs to bring progress to each of our causes. There is a lot of work to do, but at least suffrage now has a face in our fair town.

“Good evening, Mrs. VanValkenburgh.” The speaker is younger than I am, but a married woman. “So glad to be a part of this fine effort.”

“Yes, Mrs. Hihn, thank you again for coming,” I tell her with a polite smile.

“She says that every month,” L’Amie, standing beside me, whispers.

“Yes, dear sister, but her husband is a member of the County Assembly and has real power to help us.” For two years L’Amie has been back at my side where she belongs.

A few men, mostly husbands of the members, sit in a row of chairs along the back wall. I wish I could measure the depth of their devotion to the cause so as to determine if and when they are willing to act. I fear most are merely waiting for their wives.

Continuing to scan the room, I spot Marion pouring tea at the refreshment table. My oldest daughter has excellent posture, poise, and erudition, and her character is above reproach. Not bad for fifteen years old. When Mama passed three years ago, she left us money that keeps us housed and fed and pays for the simple but stylish dresses we wear. It is not enough, however, to fill the space she left in my heart or to attract a suitor for Marion. My political views are even more of a detriment, and now she has allied herself with the suffragists, possibly sealing her fate as a radical spinster. Her entire life has been molded by strong women with strong ideas, though, and I am proud of the young woman she is becoming.

The president’s gavel brings the meeting to order, and I see Mrs. Hihn hurry to sit with Mrs. Kirby and Mrs. Blackburn and Mrs. Manor. They are the elite of Santa Cruz society, leaders of every civic group that supports the arts and the downtrodden. Their presence is a benediction, but I need warriors. They’ve not yet proven themselves as such.

“Hundreds of those freed negroes have arrived in Santa Cruz County,” our president, Mrs. Howay, declares with just the right mix of pride and horror.

Having yielded my year-long presidency to the pretty woman with more vision than action, I stifle a groan. Abolition of slavery is a victory, even if it means former slaves will be our neighbors. The women here don’t all agree. Heads nod, but are accompanied by nervous titters. I am tired of nervous titters. I am tired of head nods, too. We must do something to make our struggle visible to the community.

“Actually, the group was not that large.” Marion’s interruption draws attention, and a roomful of skirts rustle as everyone turns toward her. “They joined a negro group already in Watsonville. That is not the issue.”

“She’s magnificent, Ellen,” L’Amie whispers.

I agree. Marion is afire with youthful passion, idealism at its best, clad in one of her first grown-up floor-length skirts.

“What, pray tell, is the issue?” Mrs. Howay’s tone is frostier than it should be. I frown in her direction. All other eyes are on my daughter, who reminds me of L’Amie at the same age.

“The Fifteenth Amendment has been ratified. Those negroes will be voting on our new trustee.” Silence follows her words, and I know Marion has captured them. Everyone’s face reflects outraged horror at the idea of negro men being able to vote but not fine upstanding female citizens. The trustee election will put a new member on the board that runs our county and our town.

“Whatever will we do?” A theatrical gasp punctuates Mrs. Howay’s words. It’s a blatant attempt to retake control of the meeting. It doesn’t work.

Marion is young. She has made her observation, but has no idea what to do now. She looks to me, panic starting to show on her face. Last year, when I started this organization, I was proud to serve as its first president. The ladies are eager to attend the meetings, but they dither about like a flock of chickens with a dog in the pen—lots of noise and motion, but no progress. They read the newspapers from New York and San Francisco. They held a grand party when Wyoming women won the vote in 1867, and they elected Mrs. Howay for our second president. Clearly they are lost. They need a leader. I step forward.

“The Fourteenth Amendment clearly states that all persons born in the United States are citizens. The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits the government from denying citizens the right to vote.” At my words Marion smiles with relief, and the others are listening. “I think we should take advantage of that and register to vote in the next election.”

A cacophony of clucking erupts.

“But those amendments were meant for the negroes!”

“Can we do that?”

“The Sentinel would support us.”

“The Surf would ridicule us!”

“My husband would not approve.”

That last comment deadens the room. More than one of the ladies present agrees, or suspects it’s true. I’m not sure how many will risk disapproval that will rock their homes, but I must continue. “We can sit here and sip tea, whining about what we want, or we can go get it. Some of our opponents say that women wouldn’t vote if they had the right. We can refute that. The election is in April. That gives us a month.”

Mrs. Howay proves she has worth. “An excellent idea, Mrs. VanValkenburgh. Shall we vote on the idea?”

A motion is quickly made and seconded. It passes. We’ll be showing up to vote at the trustee election. Somber faces look at me.

“All of us?” I ask.

“I don’t think that will happen,” a reluctant voice near Marion says.

“Maybe we can elect a representative,” suggests Mrs. Howay.

Everyone’s already looking at me. They continue to do so as my name is suggested, a motion made and seconded, and the vote taken. Not long ago, L’Amie would have been included, but she is to be married later this week. She will be on her wedding trip during my attempt to register for the vote.

“Mrs. Ellen VanValkenburgh will be our representative. She will present herself to the registrar’s office for the next election.” I can’t decide if Mrs. Howay is proud of me or relieved they didn’t ask this of her.

A wail from the back corner announces that my younger children are bored with the proceedings and beginning to bicker. At nine, Henry’s main source of amusement seems to be eliciting a shriek from his twelve-year-old sister, usually with a pinch. Ellie obliges, her blue eyes outraged. Marion hurries over to chastise her brother and soothe her sister, but the mood is broken and the meeting adjourns.

 

Historical Fiction

rdgpastToday Sarah Johnson’s blog, Reading the Past features an article I wrote. It details the preparation and writing of Under the Almond Trees. It explores the question all historical fiction writers face–how much fact and how much fiction do I include? Click on the picture to the right to read my article. Please leave a comment!

Under a Wild and Darkening Sky

coverA review of my book by Megan, one of my students!

Under a Wild and Darkening Sky, by Linda Ulleseit, portrays Alyna and Ralf adapting to their new home in, High Meadow while working in their father’s bakery. Their parents plan out their future, but Ralf and Alyna chose not to follow in that particular path. They must also make careful decisions, and one wrong step comes the fall of High Meadow. Whew! That’s intense.

Alyna easily adapts to life in the barn, with a little help from a friend. I found this quite nice, as Alyna was never able to make friends in Merioneth. Alyna’s change adds a nice touch to the story. Ralf, on the other hand, is very adventurous. I really don’t know what to say. I can’t describe what he’s like. If I could, the word would be mixed-up-torn-loyal-maker of decisions-helper all mashed up into one word. Other than that description, he is hopeful and courageous when he helps restore- oh! I can’t give too much away, now can I? I was doubtful he would be any good when he helped his new troublesome friend, but as the story progressed, my opinions changed. I was hooked on like a fish, I suppose.

Evan, one of my least favorite characters from the beginning of the series, becomes crazed with power. People lose themselves to power, which I think is what happened to Evan. An important lesson in this part of the story is not to lose yourself to power otherwise you will get hit by- Oh no! I can’t give the book away!  And it was an exciting part about Evan! Oh well. You’ll have to read the book yourself! Anyway, as I just said, it teaches you an important lesson.

This is an excellent ending to the trilogy, and you don’t have to start from the first book, it’s easy to understand the idea of the story. I never thought I would enjoy Historical Fantasy/ Young Adult Books, but this, THIS! is truly fantastic. On my best book list!  The tension and the grabbing plot caused me to keep reading to find out what happened when Ralf and Alyna- No! I can’t reveal it! Okay, never mind. I would DEFINITELY recommend this to everyone in the whole wide world! Only if they would listen…

Yes, Grammar Matters

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Click the picture to read the full article

In today’s San Jose Mercury News, the Sunday Homes section, an article by Erik J. Martin validated my entire DOL program (which often causes major parent complaints for its insistence on details). Martin writes about a study that examined more than 100,000 listings for homes priced at a million dollars or above. Those listings with perfect grammar and spelling dramatically outperformed other listings.

What this shows, according to the article, is that an agent with a grammatically perfect listing makes a better impression on buyers. That agent clearly cares about their work and is much more organized. Former students of mine are laughing now because they’ve heard this before. From me.

How refreshing to find such attention to detail out there in the real world. In today’s fast-paced Twitter and text era, abbreviations and ‘convenient spelling’ abound. I knew there was still a place for proper English, and I’m going to frame this article for my classroom wall.

Erik J. Martin was never a student of mine, although he clearly got a good education. Why then is his title not capitalized correctly?

Excerpt from Under the Almond Trees

From Chapter 5: San Francisco 1861final cover

After tossing and turning to the accompaniment of nature’s crescendo one January night, I am awakened by a kiss on my forehead, his luxurious mustache tickling by skin. Still dreaming, I murmur, “Jacob.”

A sharp exclamation replaces the soft warmth of the kiss.

I force my eyes open and my brain to awareness. Henry paces the room, fully dressed. He checks his pocket watch without looking at me. “Ellen, I must go to the mill.”

I wipe sleep remnants from my eyes and nod. He is desperate to assess the damage form the storm that has kept him home since before the New Year. Stiff and tired from a night disrupted by storms, I listen. The wind still howls outside our snug home, but the rain doesn’t slam against the windows.

Henry stops before me, places his watch back in its pocket and puts his hands on his hips. The clock in the parlor strikes, but my husband’s stern face captures my attention so I can’t count the tolling bells.

“How many children must we have before you stop calling his name in your sleep?”

“I’m sorry.” Normally I would rise and walk him to the door, but I am so tired. When I close my eyes for a moment, the room tilts. “I think I’ll sleep a little longer,” I tell him without opening my eyes.

“Pleasant dreams,” he snarls.

I hear the creak of the third stair, then the front door clicking shut. Now that I’m awake, guilt prevents me from falling back to sleep. Henry is a good man. He deserves my heart, but I gave it away long ago. I rise from bed and don a gown. I move slowly although I do not think I am ill.

Later I retire to the parlor, where I remove my knitting from a basket kept by the fire. I can knit and think about how to cheer Henry tonight. Maybe the cook can make his favorite vanilla almond cake for tonight’s dessert. My guilt stabs me. It’ll mean more if I make it. My knitting falls to my lap.

Our daughters play on the floor, quarreling quietly, moods matched to the weather. Moisture is in the air; the window panes are sweating. Another storm moves closer. Fresh rain pelts the windows as a sharp rap at the door draws me from my thoughts.
I rise and answer. On the stoop a mill worker has removed his hat and is shaking droplets to the boards below. Something about his expression… Dread descends on me and I feel the blood leave my face. Visions of a telegram ten years old haunt me. Jacob killed in mining accident. My deepest condolences.

“Mrs. VanValkenburgh?” the mill worker says, twisting the sodden bowler in his hands. He has trouble keeping his eyes to mine. Swallowing, he barrels on, “The mill sent me ma’am. There’s been an accident—I’m so sorry.”

“What are you saying!” I shout at him. If I have the courage to hear it, he should have the courage to say it.

“I’m so sorry. We was cuttin’ a tree ma’am. It fell wrong … A branch hit Mr. VanValkenburgh … He’s dead, ma’am…”

I am unable to respond, and he slinks away into the storm. For several minutes, I listen as the rain patters on the porch roof. Then I shut the door and lean my head against the painted wood.

Jacob and I were married a year—two months of bliss and ten months of waiting. Then the telegram. With Henry I had eight years and two daughters. In the eyes of some, the second marriage was more successful. To me, it makes no difference. I am once again widowed.

 

Contact the Author!

I am available for Skype interviews, and blog posts or interviews. I love personal appearances and have spoken at schools, conducted signings, and participated in book events. Is your school or community having an event? Let me know!

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