Category Archives: Last Day of Forever

An Eternity of Four Years – UPDATE

Heads up! Better get with finishing up your read of The Last Day of Forever, because I just uploaded the files to CreateSpace for the exciting conclusion to this epic story.

Here I go making predictions again… I expect to have it published in June.

Meanwhile, here is a teaser for you from An Eternity of Four Years. This scene takes place in the spring of 1862 and the boys from Louisiana are joining Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley for the start of Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign.

*****

Book 2 1As the sun rose on the morning of 19 May 1862, we marched out of camp. Ewell went north, and the Louisiana Brigade went west. Taylor had me ride along with him so he could question me about Jackson. Blue rode along with Taylor’s servant.

As we drew near New Market and Jackson’s camp, Taylor had his regimental commanders tighten up the formation. The men of Taylor’s Louisiana Brigade, 3,000 strong, marched down the Valley Turnpike and into Jackson’s camp that evening with regimental bands playing smart martial airs, the drums beating the cadence, and bayonets and polished gun barrels glistening in the warm glow of the setting sun. It was a sight to stir the hearts of even the most hardened.

Taylor and his staff were in the vanguard, followed by Wheat’s band playing The Girl I Left Behind, then the Tiger Rifles in their fancy zouave uniforms following close behind the band. The Virginians and Marylanders of Jackson’s command poured out of camp and lined the road on either side, hooting and cheering us on. That only served to make us prouder. The bands played louder, and we put even more snap into our step. I am here to tell you that there was no grander sight than this magnificent brigade marching proudly up the turnpike under our blue pelican battle flags. My heart fairly wanted to burst from my chest!

Jackson watched from a distance as his fresh new brigade trooped smartly by. He soon sent a member of his staff to greet us and instruct us to march through his whole army to camp on the north side. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the Tigers were being positioned in camp so we would march in the vanguard of Jackson’s army when we broke camp the next day and moved north.

We marched into the fields designated for us, and our officers shouted commands in French to the amazement of Jackson’s troops gathered around to watch the show. Our bands continued to play, and some of our boys joined in pairs and danced in gay abandon as if their partners were the most beautiful Creole belles of New Orleans. Once more the battle hardened veterans of Jackson’s Valley Army cheered.

Taylor laughed at the amazed Virginians then turned to me. “Where is he, Captain?”

I looked about for Jackson. I had seen him earlier when we marched down the pike but had lost him in the crowd. I soon spotted his lanky figure sitting on a rail fence overlooking the camp and road. “That’s him, sir, there on that fence,” I replied, pointing.

“Come along, Captain. I expect you will want to tell him hello.”

“Yes, sir.” I followed Taylor as he made his way through camp to Jackson.

Stonewall was sitting on the top rail, sucking on a lemon to ease his stomach problem as was his habit. He wore high cavalry boots that seemed oversized even for him, and his uniform was faded and weathered looking. I soon realized it was the same one he had worn back at VMI. He had a dark heavy beard, and brooding eyes peeked out from under the bill of his kepi, which he wore rakishly low over his brows so as to almost hide his eyes. He looked weary and much older than when I had last seen him.

I held back, and Taylor stepped up and introduced himself. Jackson nodded and glanced over at me for a moment. Then turning back to Taylor, he asked in a low even tone, “By what route did you march today and how many miles?”

“Keazletown Road. Six and twenty miles.”

Jackson gestured with his lemon to our brigade. “You seem to have no stragglers.”

“Never allow straggling, sir.”

Jackson nodded knowingly. “Then you must teach my people. They straggle badly.”

One of our bands struck up a tune, and the men began dancing again. Stonewall watched for a few moments then said softly, “Thoughtless fellows for serious work.”

Taylor turned and looked over his shoulder at his brigade then turned back to face Jackson. “I expect the work will not be less well done because of the gayety, sir.”

Stonewall nodded but made no reply. Turning once more to me he said, “I believe I know you?”

“Yes, sir. I was a student at VMI, class of ‘60.”

Jackson smiled. “Of course,” he replied evenly. “You’re Ethan Davis, aren’t you? The moustache deceived me. How are you, Captain Davis?”

*****

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The Perfect Sazerac Cocktail

SazeracCocktailThis is a continuation of my recent post A Short History of the Sazerac Cocktail.

The Sazeracs Ethan drank in The Last Day of Forever and An Eternity of Four Years were not as sophisticated as the modern versions. Sazeracs in the 1850s and 1860s were probably only Sazerac Cognac, a couple dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters and some sugar. While ice was available then, the drink was more likely served at room temperature.

The modern Sazerac is not an easy drink to make and requires a bit of ritual. While a well-made Sazerac is a delightful drink, a poorly made Sazerac is truly awful. Many bars and restaurants in New Orleans make good Sazeracs, and some not so good. A safe bet to have one is at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel. You can use theirs to gauge what a good Sazerac should taste like. Or, make one according to my recipe.

The original (modern) Sazerac consists of five simple ingredients: Sazerac Rye Whiskey (I use Sazerac Rye 6YO), simple syrup, Peychaud’s Bitters, a sliver of lemon peel (the yellow part, not the pulpy white part or the juice), and good quality ice. You will also need two heavy-bottomed, Old Fashioned glasses, a teaspoon to measure and stir with, a two-ounce jigger, and a cocktail strainer of some sort. There are variations on this ingredient list; some use Angostura Bitters along with the Peychaud’s. While that is a common practice these days, that is not the original (modern) recipe.

You must prepare ahead. One of the two glasses needs to go into the freezer for at least 30 minutes to chill down. In a pinch, you can pack it with ice and let it chill that way, but the freezer method is much preferred. You must also prepare the simple syrup far enough ahead so it can come to room temperature or even be chilled. I make small batches and store mine in a jar in the refrigerator. They say it keeps for up to a week, but I have kept it a bit longer.

Lane’s Sazerac Cocktail Recipe Secret #1: Most make simple syrup using white refined sugar, but I have recently experimented with Organic Turbinado Raw Sugar, which is partially refined sugar. It retains some of the natural molasses flavor of raw sugar. That little hint of molasses adds a wonderful subtle bouquet and flavor to the Sazerac. I make all my Sazeracs with Turbinado Raw Sugar simple syrup these days.

Simple syrup is easy to make, but you must be careful or you will have a sticky mess to clean up. I make mine in the jar I am going to store it in, and I suggest you use a cooking container that you will not fill to more than one fourth. (Why in a moment.) Mix one part Turbinado Raw Sugar (or white sugar) with one part bottled or filtered water by volume. I usually make only a two-tablespoon batch (two tablespoons sugar and two tablespoons of water). Using only a teaspoon of simple syrup in each Sazerac, this is more than enough for my relatively infrequent needs. Mix it as best you can, but much of the sugar will not dissolve. Next, the mix goes into the microwave or on the stove. I use the microwave because it is faster.

VERY IMPORTANT: You must not leave the cooking simple syrup unattended. Once it starts boiling, it is like a volcano erupting, only much faster. You must stop the cooking before it erupts all over the inside of your microwave! This is why I suggest the total contents not exceed one fourth of the cooking container.

Cooking time will depend on how much is being made. Stop the cooking as soon as it begins boiling. Take it out and stir it to dissolve the sugar. One trip through the microwave will probably not be enough to dissolve all the sugar. Stick it back in and bring it to a boil again. It will boil sooner this time. Take it out and stir. Make sure all the sugar is completely dissolved. Twice usually does it for me, but if a third trip into the microwave is needed, then do it. You can, of course, make simple syrup the old fashioned way in a pot on the stove. Bring it to a very low boil and stir as it cooks. Once all the sugar dissolves, take it off the heat to cool.

If made with Turbinado Raw sugar, the resulting simple syrup will have the color of motor oil. That is because of the molasses content of the sugar. This has to cool before you use it. Once it reaches room temperature, I cap it and stick it into the refrigerator to be used when needed. It will hold for at least a week.

The third ingredient that needs pre-prep is the lemon peel and use good fresh lemons. As mentioned, you want only the yellow part of the peeling and none of the white pulpy part. You are after only the oils in that yellow peel. Use a sharp knife and carefully shave off a strip about a quarter to a half-inch wide and an inch to two inches long. You can experiment with size. I prefer a larger peel.

Lane’s Sazerac Cocktail Recipe Secret #2: Recently, I started experimenting with orange peel instead of lemon peel, and I like the very subtle flavor the orange peel adds. Lemon peel is traditional, but try both and see which you prefer. Whether lemon or orange, you need good quality fruit to harvest the peel from.

Gather your ingredients and get ready to build a fabulous Sazerac. Everything should be at hand and ready to grab except the frozen glass, which I leave in the freezer until the last possible moment.

Step 1 – In the unfrozen Old Fashioned glass, add one teaspoon of your simple syrup, three dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, and two ounces of Sazerac Rye Whiskey. I use Sazerac Rye 6YO (SPAR did the package), but their Antique Collection Sazerac Rye 18YO, the winner of American Whiskey of the Year (SPAR did this package, too), makes a Sazerac to die for. However, you may have to arrange bank financing to buy a bottle of the 18YO, assuming you can even find it. It is usually released in October and gone before the end of the month. If you want a bottle, make friends with your local liquor store owner. (You might want to consider bribing them.) And expect to pay above MSRP. It is that good and that popular.

Next, fill the Old Fashioned glass containing the ingredients to the top with a good quality clear ice and stir (not shake) vigorously until the ice is partially melted. This usually takes about ten seconds. I stop when I see the ice has melted enough the cocktail is nearly covering it. Obviously, more melt means a weaker drink. Experiment and find your perfect melt level.

Step 2 – Now, you must move fast! Retrieve the frozen glass from the freezer (or dump the ice from it if you chilled it that way). I usually have my wife hovering near the freezer awaiting my call for the glass. Best to do the following over a sink, because you might spill some of the Herbsaint. Put about a tablespoon or less of Herbsaint into the frozen glass. Rotate the glass so the Herbsaint coats all around the inside of the glass as far up to the rim as you can get it. (This is where you are likely to spill some.) Work fast; you want that glass to stay cold! Dump any remaining Herbsaint out. You want only a hint of the Herbsaint remaining in the glass. Too much will ruin the drink.

Step 3 – Using the cocktail strainer, strain the mixed cocktail into the frozen Herbsaint–coated glass. Some drink it “on the rocks.” That is not the original, but if that is “your perfect Sazerac,” go for it.

Step 4 – Wipe the rim of the glass with the lemon (or orange) peel then twist the peel over the drink to squeeze out some of the oils. I toss it in for good measure, but that is not the original. Some say never toss it in but hook it over the rim of the glass as a garnish giving off a citrus aroma as you sip the drink.

Step 5 – After all that work, you must be tired? Head for your favorite recliner and rest from your efforts while you enjoy your perfect Sazerac Cocktail.

I think I hear a Sazerac calling me now?

The Sazerac Cocktail name is a trademark of the Sazerac Company of New Orleans.

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A Short History of the Sazerac Cocktail

Both The Last Day of Forever and An Eternity of Four Years mention a drink called the “Sazerac” but give only minimal information about how it is made. I am going to boast that I make the finest Sazerac in the world, maybe even the Universe.

But first, in the interest of full disclosure: The Sazerac Company of New Orleans is one of my clients at Spar, Inc. In fact, the man who owns the Sazerac Company and the five distilleries that Sazerac owns, starting with the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY, plus two others in Kentucky, another in Virginia, and one in Canada, also owns SPAR, Inc. I have worked for SPAR since I got out of the Air Force in 1973. Started as a graphic designer, and now I am the general manager and creative director. SPAR designed most of the packages for the Sazerac Company, such as Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Sazerac Rye Whisky, Herbsaint, W.L. Weller, Old Charter, Elmer T. Lee, Nikolai Vodka, and a ton more. You get the picture?

So, I have a financial interest in the Sazerac Company, so to speak. They generate my paycheck. But that isn’t why I mentioned the drink in my story. I mention it because the Sazerac Cocktail is such an integral and beautiful part of New Orleans history. It was created here, and its ancestry goes all the way back to the eighteenth century when Antoine Amedee Peychaud, a refugee from the slave uprising in Haiti, landed in New Orleans in about 1795 with his family recipe for bitters and eventually set up shop as an apothecary.

CoquetierAs the story goes, Peychaud served shots of brandy laced with his bitters in a little double-ended eggcup called in the French a cocquetier. Legend has it the term “cocktail” comes from the Americans arriving in New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase, tripping over the unfamiliar French word, and anglicizing it. To be fair, that is under dispute. Some claim the term “cocktail,” describing a mixture of whiskey, bitters, and sugar, came into usage around 1800 before Peychaud started serving his coquetiers, but I am sticking to the New Orleans version.

The Sazerac name came from the brandy that was originally used to make the drink. That would be Sazerac Cognac Brandy imported from Sazerac des Forges et Fils in France. That Sazerac Company did exist until fairly recently. Evidently, they have folded, because I cannot find them on the internet anymore.

People in New Orleans always seem to do things just a little differently. For example, we had lots of coffee houses back in the nineteenth century, only they weren’t really coffee houses. Oh, they served some coffee, usually laced with brandy or rum and later American bourbon, but they were, in reality, saloons. By 1859 there were 204 saloons coffee houses in New Orleans. In the early nineteenth century, New Orleans entered its coffee house gem period, with owners naming their saloons coffee houses after various precious stones. Each new saloon coffee house tried to top the other by selecting a more valuable gemstone for its name. One named the “Gem” opened in 1851. The Gem featured the Sazerac, as did most other saloons coffee houses in New Orleans, but this one became famous. It was located in the first block of Royal Street with another entrance on Exchange Alley. Its name was eventually changed to the Sazerac Coffee House. This is where Ethan with Morgan and later his friends, when he enlisted in Wheat’s Battalion, shared many Sazeracs. Don’t bother to look for it, because it isn’t there anymore. The Sazerac Bar eventually moved into the Roosevelt Hotel and remains there to this day. The Sazerac Bar is not owned by the Sazerac Company.

Originally, the Sazerac was made with Sazerac brandy and Peychaud’s Bitters, but American rye whiskey began replacing the brandy around 1870 because of the phylloxera epidemic in Europe that devastated the vineyards of France, making brandy scarce (brandy is made from grapes). Kentucky had been settled by many of Scottish origin and they were converting their corn crops into whiskey, because it was easier to move whiskey to market than corn. Packed in barrels, Kentucky whiskey made its long trip in flatboats down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Storing the whiskey in barrels and the long trip actually aided its flavor, and the product that arrived in New Orleans was less like the raw fiery spirit that left Kentucky. About the same time, a bit of absinthe was added to the recipe of the Sazerac, and the recipe was sealed until the 1930s when Herbsaint, a New Orleans product, came into common usage in the Sazerac.

Herbsaint Absinthe was produced using a recipe ­­­­New Orleans native Marion Legendre brought back from his service in France during World War I. Legendre began producing his Herbsaint during the mid-thirties and ran afoul of government regs that had banned absinthe back in 1912. He was forced to change his recipe to suit the government bureaucrats. Only recently has absinthe reappeared in America again, and that is only because it was discovered the law banning absinthe was written in a way that actually allowed its production as long as the amount of wormwood, a botanical, was below a specified amount, and absinthe’s wormwood content is well below that point. With that, the Sazerac Company, owners of the Herbsaint brand, dug into their archives and came up with Legendre’s original formula. The Original Herbsaint is back (and SPAR did the retro package).

The Sazerac Cocktail, now enjoying something of a revival, is served in bars and restaurants all over New Orleans and many other cites, as well. But I must warn you. Not everyone makes a good Sazerac, and a poorly made Sazerac is truly awful, usually because they put in too much absinthe. But I am going to tell you how to make a good one, in fact, a perfect Sazerac Cocktail. You will have to wait for the next post to get my “secret” recipe.

Wikipedia absinthe page.

Absinthe deserves its own post. It is featured in the opening chapter of An Eternity of Four Years, and will get that post eventually.

Coquetier photo credit: Coyau / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

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AT LAST! It is published!

Cover B1Well, almost. The digital version of The Last Day of Forever will be released for sale on Friday May 8! It is available as a preorder NOW. To order it now for delivery May 8 (digital versions) go here.

BUT, the paperbacks are available for purchase NOW. To get your copy go here.

This is what will be available:

Digital versions of The Last Day of Forever – Right now, it is only available on Amazon for Kindle devices. You can download free Kindle reader apps for other devices like iPads. There is a link for that at the Amazon page for The Last Day of Forever.

Print version of The Last Day of Forever – The link will take you to CreateSpace, a division of Amazon. (Eventually, it will be listed on the Amazon page also.) These books will be PoD (Print on Demand), meaning they will be digitally printed as they are ordered. They will be 6×9 paperbacks, but the quality is very high. Sorry, but I will not have any to sell direct, because I will not be applying for a retail sales tax license from the parish and state. If you simply must have it signed, I will be glad to do so. Contact me, and we will work something out.

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Buy a copy now.
  2. Read it and enjoy it.
  3. Go back to where you bought it and post an honest review.
  4. Tell all your friends.

What is next?

Assuming you like The Last Day of Forever, you will probably want to read An Eternity of Four Years, which continues the story. While The Last Day of Forever is mostly a coming of age love story, An Eternity of Four Years is much darker since it takes place during the Civil War, and both Ethan and Rachel are, of course, involved in it. The Last Day of Forever will probably appeal more to women; An Eternity of Four Years will probably appeal more to men. Not sure that was a good idea or not, but it is where the story went. I expect to release An Eternity of Four Years very soon.

Will there be a Book 3? Working on it. Working title is The Avenging Angel, but it has a long way to go. There may also be other stories in the Catahoula Series based on spin-off characters, like Silas Riddle, whom you will meet in An Eternity of Four Years.

Lastly, I want to thank you, my friends and relations, who have been supportive of me and patient during this process, especially my bride. I truly enjoyed telling this story, and I hope you will enjoy reading it. By all means, email me with your comments and suggestions. The nice thing about digital publishing is if something is broken, it can be fixed. I can simply correct the digital file and upload the new one. I did my best to rid the files of issues and had several beta readers review the story and edit it, but I am sure something slipped past all the eyes that were on it.

As my teachers in school used to say, “Put down your pencils and turn in your papers.” Pencils are down and the papers are turned in—warts and all.

Thank you! Enjoy!

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What I planned…

Plans

I have been making bold promises about a release date for The Last Day of Forever, which seems to be taking forever, but maybe we are getting close to the last day? (Sorry! Couldn’t pass up all the puns.)

I found the above illustration on FaceBook. It kind of explains it all.

Regarding a release date? I am about to hit the publish button.

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An Eternity of Four Years – Excerpt 1

I am moving right along on An Eternity of Four Years, Book 2 of the series. Took three days vacation from work. Since we are real close on The Last Day of Forever, I thought I might start teasing you with Book 2. This is from the first chapter titled The Duel. I also made some changes to the cover.

*****

Book 2 1The sun was just peeking over the eastern horizon. Its feeble rays stabbed fitfully through the dense morning fog to give the gray monotones of dawn an ethereal glow. The chilling mist that hid the features of the so-called “Dueling Oaks” along Bayou St John restricted my visibility to but one hundred paces or so. The oak’s massive branches, touching the ground in places, had the appearance of being overly burdened and unable to lift up to reach the sun. Spanish moss dripped from those branches like ghostly fingers probing towards the earth.

As I stood upon the Field of Honor and awaited the arrival of my opponent, my clothing was damp from the fog, and my head throbbed from the copious amounts of absinthe I had consumed the previous night and well into the morning.

My Second, Jean DuBassey, having arrived only a few moments before, seemed irritated that I had sent for him to act in that capacity. He arrived in a bit of a huff.

“Forgive me, Ethan, for I’m a bit confused. The last time I saw you was five years ago at your father’s plantation in Catahoula Parish . . .”

I interrupted him, “More or less, and the plantation is also called Catahoula.”

He shook his head, frustrated at my response. “No matter! And now, five years later, you want me to act as your second in a duel? And you do realize dueling is illegal in New Orleans?”

“As I recall, Jean, five years ago you said if I needed anything just ask, or words to that effect. Besides, you are the only person I could think of.”

“You’re drunk!”

I dismissed that accusation with a wave of my hand. “Maybe a little.”

“Maybe a lot! How do you expect to fight a duel while drunk?”

“Actually, I was hoping you might help with that. You did claim you were an accomplished duelist, did you not? And don’t you teach the use of the sword and pistol?”

“You want me to teach you how to kill someone in ten minutes?”

I nodded. “Personally, I have not found killing someone anymore complicated than that?”

“Who have you killed?”

“Just a few renegade Indians out west when I was in the Army.”

He leaned in and smelled my breath. “What have you been drinking?”

“Absinthe. Say, did you know there is a saloon on Bourbon Street—oh wait, you call them ‘coffeehouses’—and it sells mostly absinthe, and you drip water from these marvelous little marble fountains over lumps of sugar­­…?” I paused and considered what I had said. “Well, I guess you do know; you live here, don’t you?”

Jean shook his head again. He was becoming quite exasperated with me. “You dragged me from my bed, which I was sharing with a beautiful lady, by the way, to help you fight a duel? Who did you insult?”

“An arrogant fellow by the name of Toutant.”

“Emile Justin Toutant?”

“The same. Friend of yours?”

“Not hardly. There are two people in this city you do not want to get into a duel with. I am one, and he is the other. What did you say that caused him to take offense?”

“He called me a coward, so I punched him.”

“And why did he call you a coward?”

“Because I said the South is likely to lose this war.”

“And he took offense at that?”

“That—and maybe I called him a name.”

“This is like pulling teeth! What did you call him?”

“An ignorant buffoon.”

Jean sighed in resignation. “What is the choice of weapons?”

“Pistols.”

“Not ten pound mauls in five feet of water on a sandbar in the Red River?” he said sarcastically to remind me of our “almost” duel five years before.

“That worked for you because you are only just over five feet tall, but the buffoon is as tall as I am.”

Jean looked past me and said, “The buffoon here.”

I turned and saw nothing at first but heard the trod of the horses, the rattle of the harness, and rumble of the carriage wheels. It appeared like a specter drifting out of the swirling fog and came to a stop under a gnarled and sagging oak thirty paces or so from where my second and I stood.

A gaudily dressed black man of immense size drove the rig. He was well over six feet tall and weighed 250 pounds or more. He was dressed in sky-blue, silken, knee-length pantaloons and matching swallow-tailed coat, vest and cravat, with a ruffled shirt, white silk stockings and black pumps. He wore a matching blue ostrich-plumed turban on his head. Costumed so, he looked like some eunuch from the Arabian Nights. He jumped down from the driver’s seat with a grace that seemed in stark contrast to his huge size and opened the door for his master.

A man I assumed correctly to be my opponent’s second stepped out of the carriage. The surgeon followed, identified by his black bag.

Then Monsieur Toutant stepped arrogantly up to the carriage door and stood there for a moment smiling sardonically before dropping to the ground, alighting like some bird of prey. He drew a dainty, lace-trimmed handkerchief from his sleeve and dabbed his lips, and with a flourish, returned it to its place. He was handsomely dressed in a very fine, white linen suit and a ruffled shirt, a white silk brocade vest, and maroon, silk cravat. He carried a silver handle cane, using it more as an extension of his arm and part of his costume rather than for any assistance while walking.

He stabbed the ground with his cane, and with his other hand upon his hip, struck an arrogant pose. His head thrown back, he looked down his long slender nose at me and said, “Good morning, Monsieur Davis.” He took a deep breath and pursed his lips before saying, “A good day to die, is it not?”

I suppose that statement was meant to unnerve me. It did not, because I was in an absinthe-induced daze. Quite frankly I was so distressed as the result of other matters, matters of the heart that is, that I really didn’t much give a damn if I lived or died. As a result, I stood upon this so-called Field of Honor to answer my insult to this finely dressed, pompous ass, and I was totally unafraid of the outcome. In retrospect that attitude likely saved my life that morning. Events that had brought me to this state of depression were out of my control. I was, therefore, forced to place the whole miserable affair into the hands of the Lord—along with my life. As it were, He had plans for me but had not seen a need to take me into His confidence concerning them.

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The Last Day of Forever – Another Update and Excerpt

This is way more difficult that I ever thought. Proof #1 had issues that needed fixing, thus we had proof #2, and it had different issues, all my fault. Now we are on proof #3. I am making no predictions, but I think we are close—but then I have said that before.

Meanwhile, for those patiently waiting for me to get my act together, here is another excerpt from early in the book.

*****

Cover B1I looked at Rachel, her face not more than three inches from mine as she held my hands to the floor beside my head. Her chest was heaving from the exertion, and there was a look of confusion on her face. “Very well, you have me pinned. What do you intend to do now?”

…I did not rightly know what I was going to do then. I looked at him, and he was smiling at me, so I did the first thing that came to mind. I kissed him right on the lips…

I was more than a little surprised when she kissed me. It was only a peck on the lips, but I was not expecting it. With speed and strength I am sure surprised her, I flipped her off my chest and rolled her onto her back. Before she knew what was happening, I sat astride her with her hands pinned to the floor.

Surprise showed plainly on her face. “So,” I said, “It’s a kiss you want from me. Perhaps you should have a real one.” She looked shocked then.

As I said that, I heard my mother’s footsteps on the stairs. Our roughhousing had brought her to investigate. “Ethan! Brandy!”

“Perhaps some other time,” I said as I stood and pulled Rachel to her feet. I turned to take my medicine just as my mother stepped up to the parlor door. Not knowing what to expect from an angry Analee, Rachel tried to hide behind my back.

“What is going on down here? It sounded like you and Brandy were tussling.”

“You called?” Brandy showed up then, her hair looking a mess. My mother noticed that right off. She gave Brandy a once over, then me, and drew her own conclusions.

“Rachel, you can come from behind Ethan. I know you’re there.” She peeked around me at Analee. Her expression was one of near terror as she stared big-eyed and gape-mouthed at my mother. She looked a mess; her hair was down and hanging in her face, and her blouse was pulled from her skirt. “You too?” said Analee with disgust in her voice.

“Yes, ma’am,” she stuttered. “But we didn’t break anything.”

“Ethan!” exclaimed my mother, and Brandy mimicked her behind her back. Analee spun. “I saw that, Brandy!” That did it! I was absolutely convinced right then she had eyes in the back of her head. Brandy looked contrite and more than a little surprised.

Analee turned her attention back to me. “Ethan, these are two young ladies…”

She paused and looked at them, first Brandy and then Rachel. “Rachel!” Poor Rachel jumped. “Pull your blouse down! Your bosoms are showing!”

That caused me to turn and look. Her blouse was pulled up, but I didn’t see any bosoms, just camisole. Rachel tugged her blouse down as she looked sheepishly at my mother.

Once more my mother turned her attention back to me. Her eyebrow went up and her hands were on her hips. That was a guaranteed, sure sign I was in trouble. “As I started to say, these are two young ladies, and you are a gentleman—or I thought you were. It is not proper for you to be tussling on the floor with them as if they were children. The three of you are a little old for that. And you know I never allow that in the house.”

By then Mammy had shown up with a stern expression on her face. She stood behind Analee and nodded her agreement to every word the mistress of the house said and punctuated the important points with a slap on Brandy’s backside. Brandy squealed, but I’m sure she didn’t feel a thing through all those petticoats.

Analee turned to Brandy. “Now, you get out to the kitchen and help your mother with supper.

“Ethan, you find yourself something to do—outside.”

“Rachel, if you want that gown fitted in time for the party, you best get yourself upstairs and let me help you with it now.”

The queen bee had spoken, and with a flourish, she spun and left the room.

*****

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Slavery

It is such an ugly word, but one I was forced to deal with while writing The Last Day of Forever and the second half of the story in An Eternity of Four Years.

Cover B1I began this project over 20 years ago, and when I wrote the first draft of The Last Day of Forever, never for a moment did I really give much thought to the issue of slavery. But the writing process forced me to think about it.

The story concept began simply as one about the exploits of the Louisiana Tigers during the Civil War. Everything else was written around that and ultimately pointing to it in some way. That isn’t how it ended up. First, it morphed into a love story, and while I tried to keep the focus on Rachel and Ethan, dealing with the character’s relationships with the slaves gradually emerged as an important underlying theme that had to be developed better.

I grew up in the South during a very uncomfortable period in our history. Racism was common, acceptable, and never given much thought. My father’s doctor’s office waiting room was initially separated “white” and “colored” by a wall and an aquarium. My family on my mother’s side owned slaves prior to and during the Civil War. I am not proud of all that, rather I state it simply as a fact I must live with and to give the reader a frame of reference for where I am coming from.

My first draft of the story presented the subject of slavery in a way that, in retrospect, was not honest. It was the Old South, white man’s view of the subject, and the slaves at Catahoula Plantation weren’t really mistreated but lived happy and productive lives leisurely picking cotton all day. But as I wrote the story, it became obvious that was not only dishonest, but it was wrong. As the attitudes of the main character, Ethan, and his issues with slavery began to more strongly emerge in the numerous rewrites, I was forced to face the uncomfortable truth that the issue of slavery had to be dealt with in a more honest manner.

Gradually, the story was changed to more accurately reflect the truth of the times, but I did not want it to become a story about slavery. It is really about Rachel and Ethan and how people and the world around them so profoundly affect their lives and their relationship to each other. The question became how to balance that.

Book 2 1It needed some stronger black characters dealing with the issues they faced during this time. That became Mammy, Old Zeke, his son Little Zeke, and Brandy in The Last Day of Forever, and Blue in An Eternity of Four Years. Brandy was the most interesting because of her plight, being mostly of white lineage yet still a slave. Her story brought the absurdity of the institution into sharp focus for me.

I felt Ethan’s issues with the peculiar institution needed a root source, so I added the opening scene in The Last Day of Forever of the killing of Cornelius the slave. Some of my beta readers found it disturbing. That was my intention, although it was not included just for shock value. It plays an important part in Ethan’s developing attitudes towards slavery, and it comes back into the story later with an explanation of what and why it happened to flesh out the story arcs of other characters. Not only did the event profoundly affect Ethan and Brandy, but it also helped to define Morgan’s character.

I also wanted the reader to understand how conflicted Ethan must have felt to hold views not commonly held by those around him. The story was written as if the events were being viewed through the eyes of Ethan and Rachel and told by them, thus one would naturally expect that perspective to be somewhat biased towards the prevailing attitudes of the times, and it is; intentionally so. In the beginning, slavery is simply a fact of life Ethan must live with and does so perhaps a bit too comfortably at first. But as the story progresses, he is compelled to face how he really feels, and he is forced by circumstances to act on his beliefs.

It takes Ethan almost nine years to come to a full realization of where he stands on the issue, but we are yet to see a full manifestation of that. That will come in Book 3 (working title: The Avenging Angel), which takes Rachel and Ethan into the period after the war known as Reconstruction. There, the two of them really come face-to-face with the racism of the times.

Where am I going with all this? I guess I want the reader to understand that although the story sometimes seems to treat slavery in a somewhat stereotypical manner, that is because Ethan is the main author, and he is telling the story in the context of the times and his own personal growth as a person.

It was also a journey for me to have to explore my own feelings on the subject and in considerably more detail than I had ever done before. I can no longer look at a cotton boll in quite the same way I did before I started this.

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Proof Copies Have Arrived!

 

Last Day BooksI just received two proof copies of The Last Day of Forever. I want to tell you, it is an awesome feeling to hold a real live book in your hands with your name on it as the author!

These will be gone over carefully one last time before publishing. I already see some things I need to fix in the cover image and internal formatting, and I haven’t even begun reading it for errors.

I am thinking (hoping) this last step won’t take more than two weeks to get to hitting the “publish” button.

We are getting closer!

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The Last Day of Forever – Update and Excerpt

We are getting closer. Just uploaded the files for the print version. That will need to be proofed and any corrections made. I would like to publish the digital version and the print version up at the same time. Digital is ready to go. Print is holding up the works.

Since you are so patient, here is another taste from The Last Day of Forever, Chapter 18 – Femme Fatale.

Cover B1CRed BlogThe second week we were in Baltimore, The Herndons put on a party to welcome their prodigal son home from school for the summer. In the Landon/Herndon fashion, it was indeed a grand soiree, which included the financial and political elite of Baltimore and Washington. The food was fabulous and in plentiful supply, and there was a fountain spouting streams of rum-spiked punch. As guests of honor, Miles and I were expected to turn out in our VMI uniforms. I had not seen so many handsome men and beautiful women so elegantly dressed in one place before. A full orchestra, not like the little five piece band at my birthday, was on hand for dancing.

The first time I saw her, I was standing beside that fountain of spirituous punch, engrossed in the mechanics which enabled it to spout the élixir de la vie, as it were. I had just about reconciled myself to the fact that I would have to peek under the tablecloth in order to discern its secrets when I heard my name called.

I looked up and saw a most lovely sight, Mademoiselle Aimee de Beauchamp, on Miles’ right arm as he made his way across the ballroom of Herndon Manor with her equally lovely and charming twin sister, Annette, on his left arm.

“Ethan, there you are! I’ve been looking all over for you. I have two most charming ladies I want you to meet.”

I must confess their beauty immediately enraptured me.

He introduced me in his broken French, “Mademoiselle Annette, Mademoiselle Aimee, this is Cadet Private Ethan Davis.”

I took the hint and responded in kind. “Enchanté, Mademoiselles,” I replied with a sweeping bow.

Both of the sisters immediately looked at each other as if they had finally found a home in the New World, someone who spoke their language. They curtsied and in unison said, “Parlé vous Francais, Monsieur?”

“Oui. Je suis la Louisiane.”

Their eyes lit up. “Un Creole?”

“Oui.”

“They are the daughters of Monsieur de Beauchamp, a diplomat with the French embassy in Washington.” And according to Miles, they spoke not a word of English. “Are they not absolutely stunning? Aimee is mine, no, I think I prefer Annette,” said Miles in English.

They looked exactly alike, and their gowns were identical. Had I not kept track of which one was on which side of Miles, I would have easily mixed them up. I wondered how he could tell them apart or what difference it made. Both had dark hair and stunning blue eyes, reminding me of Rachel. They were on the petit side, not more than five feet four inches tall and slender of build.

“I think Mademoiselle Aimee would like to dance, Ethan, and I think you should ask her.” I took the hint, a proposal to which she readily agreed. Miles, of course, followed suit with her sister, and the four of us stepped onto the dance floor.

Mademoiselle Aimee proved to be even more enchanting than I had first thought. She was well educated, intelligent, and as poised as the most polished diplomat. Moreover, she had a sense of humor, which I found most refreshing, and a marvelous smile that made me want to make her laugh all the more. She wanted to know all there was to know about Louisiana and asked me endless questions about my home and my Creole heritage. We danced several dances until she appeared to be tiring, at which I suggested we retire from the floor for refreshments.

We met Miles and Annette at the mysterious fountain of spirituous elixir, and he suggested we take some fresh air. As we passed through the doorway to the patio, he said to me in English in hushed tones, “Keep Aimee occupied for me, so I can be alone with her sister. The two are almost inseparable.” With that he swept Annette away and out into the garden.

Aimee seemed not the least disturbed that her twin was gone off with Miles. We moved into the garden, and she took a seat on one of the garden benches there. She sipped her punch pensively for a moment, as I was somewhat at a loss for words, then she looked up and said in accented but grammatically perfect English, “It seems your friend Miles is quite fond of my sister.”

I looked at her askance. “You speak English?”

“Yes, I am the daughter of a diplomat. It is expected,” she replied with a wry smile.

“But Miles said you spoke no English.”

“It is a little game my sister and I sometimes play. We told Miles what he wanted to hear.” Once more she flashed that arresting smile as she patted the bench beside her. “Please, have a seat.” Somewhat stunned, I took the offered seat. She saw my confusion. “You are offended, Ethan?”

“No, just a bit taken aback.”

She smiled. “I imagine Miles will be, as well, when he learns Annette understood every word he said.”

I then remembered Miles’ remarks as he conspired to get Annette away from her sister for who knows what in the garden. Fortunately for me, it was dimly lit around our bench, or she might have seen my red cheeks. Then it hit me; the sisters de Beauchamp were also conspiring.

I looked at her and chuckled. “Old Miles thinks he’s such a ladies man. Wait until he discovers he has been had by someone more clever than he.”

She giggled at that remark. “I do not know when she will tell him or even if she will.”

“Well, I won’t tell on her. It’ll be fun to see just how long she can fool him.” I looked into those blue eyes. “Why did you confess to me?”

“I thought it best our relationship start off on an honest note.”

Our relationship? I thought about what she said. It was possible to read all manner of meanings into it, but I decided I should simply take it at face value.

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