I was in Alexandria, Virginia this past weekend for a book event and a visit with my brother, who loves to take visitors on the walking Ghost Tour of Old Town. Probably the most fascinating story on the tour was that of the Mysterious Female Stranger. Afterward, I was on the internet until midnight, reading everything I could about this subject, and in the morning before we left for home, I talked my family into visiting her grave.
My family's used to visiting strange graves by now. At least this one was in a pleasant cemetery! The morning was bright and cheerful, and the popularity of the grave is attested to by the fact that we found a bouquet of flowers lying in tribute to the mysterious young woman when we arrived.
The story of the Female Stranger begins in September 1816, when a ship from the West Indies made an unscheduled stop in Alexandria long enough to put off two passengers: a man and a woman. They were, by appearance and clothing, well-to-do, and the young woman was said to be beautiful. But she was also very ill. The gentleman carried her to the City Hotel, now known as Gadsby's Tavern, where she was placed in Room 8. The frantic gentleman then called for the best doctor in town, as well as two nurses. Before letting them into the room he made each of them swear an oath on their sacred honor that if -- while delirious -- his wife revealed her identity, they would take that secret to their graves.
Despite everyone's valiant efforts, the woman died on October 14, 1816. Her husband paid for an elaborate funeral and a lavish headstone where she was identified as "a Female Stranger." The epitaph read:
To the memory of a
whose mortal sufferings terminated
on the 14th day of October 1816
Aged 23 years and 8 months
This stone was placed here by her disconsolate
Husband in whose arms she sighed out her
latest breath and who under God
did his utmost even to soothe the cold
dead ear of death.
How loved how valued once avails thee not
To Whom related or by whom begot
A heap of dust alone remains of thee
Tis all though art and all the proud shall be
To him gave all the Prophets witness that
through his name whosoever believeth in
him shall receive remission of sins
Acts. 10th Chap. 43rd verse
By this time, the man had built up an enormous bill at the hotel -- as well as gambling debts in the tavern. Rather than press him to pay up immediately, the hotel owner granted him the night after his wife's funeral to grieve in peace. When morning came however, the man had vanished, leaving all his debts unpaid.
Who was she? One popular theory (though discounted by most historians) is that she was Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of disgraced vice-president Aaron Burr. Theodosia had vanished at sea four years earlier and was presumed dead, but some stories say she really ran off with a lover and the lost-at-sea tale was concocted to spare her reputation (or more importantly, her husband's). Other people speculate that the Female Stranger was a European princess who had eloped or possibly been kidnapped -- or that the couple was wanted for murder abroad. It's also been suggested that the whole thing was a con, and that both the Male and Female Strangers left town alive after swindling a lot of people out of their money.
The most outrageous theory I read? That the lady was Naploeon Bonaparte in drag.
Yeah, I'm not buying that one. But the story of the Female Stranger has some intriguing possibilities, doesn't it?
There are a few previous posts you may want to check out, including mine on antagonists, Matthew McNish's discussion of villain archetypes, and one called Villains are People Too by editor/author Harrison Demchick. Check out the series HERE.
Have an idea that would fit right in? Talk to me about guest posting for Project Mayhem.
Speaking of middle grade fiction, there are a couple days left for you to enter to win an e-book of Sherrie Petersen's Wish You Weren't. See the post directly below this one!
Today I'm bringing you an interview with Sherrie Petersen, author of Wish You Weren't, a middle grade time traveling adventure.
Marten doesn't believe in the power of
wishes. None of his have ever come true. His parents ignore him, his little
brother is a pain and his family is talking about moving to Texas. Not cool. So
when he makes an impulsive wish during a meteor shower, he doesn't expect it to
make any difference.
Until his annoying brother disappears.
With the present uncertain and his
brother’s future in limbo, Marten finds himself stuck in his past. And if he
runs out of time, even wishes might not be enough to save the ones he loves.
1. Sherrie, thank you for joining us here today. Tell us, what was the original inspiration for Wish You Weren’t?
Real life inspires so much of what I write. I’ve been known
to drag my kids out of bed to watch the stars, I listen to them bicker, I have
a younger brother that I’ve probably wished away on more than one occasion. J
I still make wishes when I go through a tunnel or find an eyelash on my cheek.
More than once when I’ve made a wish, I’ve had to stop and think, “Is that
really what I want to waste my wish on?” I loved the idea of having the one
wish that comes true be the one that you threw out there thinking it would
2. What is your writing process like?
My process has evolved over the years. I always have a
general idea of how the story is going to end before I start. But when I first
started writing, I was a total pantser. I completely rejected the very concept
of an outline. I saw it as too forced, too restrictive. But as I worked on Wish
You Weren’t and realized parts of the middle weren’t working, I found it really
helpful to at least sketch out where I thought each chapter should go in order
to get me to the end. The last novel I wrote I outlined about halfway before I
started. Things changed along the way, but I kind of liked having a map to follow.
It helped me write a lot faster.
3. Were there any characters who surprised you during the
writing of the book – maybe turned out different than you expected?
Paul was definitely a surprise. In the first version he only
played a small part in the last third of the book. But an editor who read and
loved the story thought he brought so much to the narrative that he should be
along from the beginning. At first I resisted because it meant a complete
rewrite, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. He was
such a complete opposite to Marten, but still a great kid. I kind of fell in
love with him. He added a lot of humor to the scenes.
4. Writers today are presented with many routes to publication
– seeking representation, submitting to small publishers un-agented,
self-publishing in both ebook and paper book formats. How did you go about your
I had an agent for a while and I tried the small publisher
route with another story. But I spent many years as a freelance writer and
graphic designer so the idea of being an entrepreneur and taking complete
control of my book wasn’t foreign to me. It can be overwhelming to see all the
opportunities out there, but with pioneers like Susan Kaye Quinn and Hugh Howey
out there paving the way and sharing everything they learn, it’s a lot easier
for people like me to find their way.
5. What are you working on now?
Outlining a companion novel for Wish You Weren't.
Sherrie is giving away e-copies of Wish You Weren't. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win!
SHERRIE PETERSEN still believes in magic
and she loves to write (and read!) stories that take her on fantastic
adventures. In addition to writing middle grade novels, Sherrie moonlights as a
graphic designer, substitute teacher, freelance writer, school newspaper advisor,
yearbook advisor and mother of two children. She spends her free time watching
movies, driving kids around and baking cookies. Or eating them. Wish You Weren't is her debut novel.
Please bear with me while I engage in some bragging rights. My daughter, Gabrielle, attended the Junior prom at the beginning of this month ...
See that patterned lining on the underside of her dress? Gabbey is giving us a peek at next month's prom dress. Yes, she is attending the Senior prom, too, and this dress is reversible. Turn it inside out, and it's a different dress. (Pictures to come in June!)
This one is my absolute favorite. There's a certain Daenerys Targaryen quality to her expression, and a gargoyle is as good as a dragon, right?
Not quite as lovely, but beautiful in its own way to me ...
First pass pages (or galleys) of The Inquisitor's Mark. And then there was this ...
Our third submission for
First Impressions is a YA sci-fi/fantasy titled THE DWELLERS from Mary O’Donnell.
By time the world
listened, the pain was too much to bear. A new dawn had risen above them that
cast a shadow so large that the sun couldn’t fight it. Now all there was to do
was become something else, a dweller.
It was a cold
winter, and Merrow didn’t want to be out in it longer than she had to be. Her
thin coat was a gift given out of love, but it wasn’t as warm. Bright torches
led her way through the moist cave as they made the dust within the walls
sparkle like the diamonds she had seen up in the sky. The cave seemed to go on
forever, and that only fed Merrow’s fear. She didn’t know why she had to come
here, this forbidden place. All she did know was that you didn’t ignore a dying
wish, especially from an elder. The light ahead became warmer and brighter as
she walked. A smile crossed her face, Merrow was only ten, but that was old
enough to know that warmth kept them alive in winters like this. The opening
widened and there were places made for sitting cut of the rocks all around a
large fire that came from the very depths of the earth.
footsteps are loud. Do you have nothing to hide child?”
this man, he used to lead them many moons ago. It took her breath away to know
that a man who had been dead since before she had ever been thought of was
here, and talking to her. Donn didn’t look like a ghost to Merrow. She couldn’t
see through him, and there was dirt over his shaggy black hair and beard. His
leather winter wraps that protected him from the cold looked solid enough for
her to reach out and touch it. Merrow stayed where she was, taking slow and
is nothing left for me to lose,” Merrow said, standing tall, her shoulders
rigid. Her fear didn’t show, which she was glad of. It was only her pride that
gave her away.
This is an intriguing beginning, and
as far as the content is concerned, I’d definitely turn the page to read more. It was easy to connect with Merrow. She’s cold, but walking toward
warmth. She’s afraid, but honoring someone’s last request. She’s going
someplace strange and forbidden – where she finds it remarkable to meet a dead man, but not
entirely shocking. More like, she knew to expect this but found the reality of
it different than anticipated.
I’m going to focus on editing. There
are several places where pronouns are used without a discernible referent, most
notably in the second sentence: A new
dawn had risen above them … We don’t know who them refers to. And because we don’t know, we also don’t know the
subject of this sentence: Now all there was to do was become something else, a
dweller. Personally, I’d remove the
reference to them and leave out that
next sentence altogether. Introduce us to the concept of dwellers somewhere
Another place where them is not identified is in this phrase
warmth kept them alive in winters like
this, and although I know they
means the torches in this sentence -- Bright
torches led her way through the moist cave as they made the dust within the
walls sparkle – something about the phrasing struck me as wrong. Maybe: The bright torches that led her way through
the moist cave made the dust within the walls sparkle … or some other
Here we have an
incomplete simile: Her thin coat was a
gift given out of love, but it wasn’t as warm. I think Mary means the coat
is not as warm as the love which prompted the gift, but rephrasing would make
that more clear. There are also a couple comma splices in here – places where
two complete sentences are incorrectly joined with a comma – and another place
where a comma is used for a compound predicate and should not be.
Mary, thanks for sharing
your first page with us! I think with a little editing and adjustment of the
language, you’ll have an excellent opener. Readers, what do you think?
Don’t forget to check
out Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same page at Mainewords.
Our second submissions for First Impressions in May comes
from Elizabeth Arroyo. It’s a New Adult Science Fiction/Dystopian with a
working title of THE ANIMATE.
Morph could almost forget that
Earth was a dying planet. It looked normal from space: a bright blue sphere
with a stable atmosphere. Most of its natural resources, including humans, had
been depleted as the Earth crumbled in on itself, unstable and volatile.
Morph turned to the cyborg. Its
sole purpose to record and retrieve information, Aislyn, priest and
executioner, listened when you thought you were alone and backstabbed you to
Crux with the information. Morph could forgive it since it didn’t have a
conscience. “Aislyn, how are you?”
“I am well, thank you. This
way.” Aislyn led him into the circular chamber hovering between Earth’s
atmosphere and space. The Needle.
The blackness of space jolted
Morph’s nerves. Shyla had demanded his council eighteen times in the last six
months, and he’d denied her until now. Keeping the supply ship from him had
convinced him of her power. As leader of the world government, Shyla was not
used to waiting. She was going to be pissed.
“Well, well, it’s about time.”
Morph drew a smile on his lips
and turned to the shadow figure outlined in red. “Hello, Shyla.” He had to
admit, though never to her, that he was relieved she decided to use a
holograph. It had been three years since he’d last set foot on the Phoenix
where Crux had settled. Since his mother died.
“I thought you were dead,” she
There were a lot of names – both people and places – in this
sample of less than 300 words. I counted 7, not including Earth. I assume Morph is a nickname for Lieutenant
Murphy, but I think it would be better if the page started with his full name,
first and last, and the nickname was explained afterward. (Maybe when the
cyborg addresses him by his title, he could be startled because he’s so used to
being called just Morph? Something like that?) Other than the name, I really
liked the description in the first paragraph. I get a strong sense of the
setting of the story.
I had trouble with this sentence and read it several times: Its sole purpose to record and retrieve
information, Aislyn, priest and executioner, listened when you thought you were
alone and backstabbed you to Crux with the information. I concluded that
Aislyn was listening through the cyborg, therefore I was surprised when the
cyborg was called Aislyn further down. I think my confusion is the use of the
pronoun it at the beginning of the
sentence in conjunction with such a feminine sounding name – not to mention
referring to the cyborg as a priest. I thought they were two different entities
After that, there was a lot of information for me to absorb.
This is something I struggle with myself—as my crit partners, beta readers, and
editors will be quick to tell you! It usually takes me several drafts to find
the right place to introduce information at the beginning of a story.
My suggestion is to focus on Morph going to meet Shyla and
especially his feelings as he accompanies the cyborg: This is a meeting he’s tried
to avoid. Help us make a connection to him through his feelings. His supply
ship, his mother, Phoenix, and Crux – perhaps all those things can be held back
and slipped into the conversation in later pages? Also I’d like a little more
physical description of his surroundings. I had trouble picturing a circular
chamber that hovered over the Earth, and I didn’t know exactly why it was
called The Needle. Oh, and one last thing – council
should be counsel, so we know Shyla
is seeking advice from Morph, not demanding he turn over his own council of
Elizabeth, thanks for sharing your first page with us!
Readers, please tell us what you think. Elizabeth can be found at her website, and
don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique of the same page at Mainewords.
I’m happy to be back (after our hiatus in April) with First
Impressions for May! Our first submission is a NA science fiction novel, a
sequel in fact: INDUCTION DAY, Book II of Butterman Travel, Inc. by Pk Hrezo.
I’m a time traveler, not a
superstar. Tristan doesn’t get it. He forgets people around him aren’t used to
the spotlight—with hordes of fans drooling over his every move. That’s his reality,
not mine. I have more important things to consider.
His serving-droid delivers a
fruit smoothie from its tray to my hand, the midday sun glinting off its shiny
metallic torso. “Anything else for you, mademoiselle?”
“No.” I chuckle at its
ultra-feminine, sultry voice and refocus on Tristan in the lounger beside me.
“French, huh? I’d have pegged you for someone who prefers a Southern drawl on
their cyber help.”
“Tried the Southern Belle
feature. Felt all wrong, like generations of repressed slave spirits were
cursing me from the shadows.” He resets the sliver of his shades on his nose
and maximizes them for full coverage, concealing his twilight-blue eyes. “Gave
me the creeps ordering it around.”
“But it’s okay ordering around
the French?” Squeezing the orange slice at the rim of my glass, I miss my aim
in the glass and ejaculate droplets onto Tristan’s cheek. I chuckle.
He purses his lips, wipes his
face. “What can I say? I prefer my droids with a French accent. Rolls off the
tongue like butter, Butterman.”
He seems to be studying me but
it’s hard to tell. Once his lips ease into his superstar grin, I know he is.
“I do like the fuchsia stripes,”
he says, referring to my hair. “Trés glam-rock.”
I brush my highlighted strands
back from my face in mock supermodel style. “Magenta Marvel. Not fuchsia,
thank you very much.”
He arches a brow as if to say
who-gives-a-damn, and I wait for his smartass retort because that’s how we
play, and I’ve been more than just a little eager to continue this flirty
slow-dance on the skirt of an emotion we haven’t yet come to declare.
I enjoyed the flow of the conversation between Bianca
Butterman and Tristan in this scene. As the beginning of a sequel, it suggests
that they know one another, but not completely – since Bianca has not
encountered Tristan’s serving droid before. There’s also a playfulness about it
that comes across as genuine.
With that said, I hope the flirtation will give way on the
second page to information that tells readers exactly
where in time they are in relation to previous events (no easy task in a book
about time travel!) and a hint of the premise/conflict for this sequel. In
other words, I like opening with this coy exchange, but Pk shouldn’t let it go
on too long without moving into the plot.
The one thing that I’d like to see tweaked is the
opening paragraph. Bianca says she’s not used to the spotlight like Tristan is,
therefore I expected this scene was going to put her in an uncomfortable
spotlight situation. However, they appear to be alone. So, unless hordes of
drooling fans are going to gate-crash on the next page, I’d suggest changing
the phrasing to say that Bianca is not used to luxury (like serving droids with
French accents), or something else that reflects what’s going on in this scene.
Readers, what do you think? Thank you, Pk, for letting us be
the first people to glimpse the sequel to Butterman’s Time Travel, Inc. And
everyone, please check out Marcy’s feedback at Mainewords.