Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Engaging Books for the History Lover

The following two books each stake their claim at a fascinating juncture of history and geography. One is a fictionalized biography set on the American frontier and the other is a memoir of Eastern European life during Word War II. I am proud to say I had some influence in their development. Don't let the self-published status hold you back—you'll remember each of these characters for some time to come.

Infinity Publishing; $10.85

This title won the 2009 WILLA award for historical fiction, a prize given annually for outstanding literature featuring women’s stories set in the west. While I did not edit the book, I was one of Fern's critique partners during its development.

It is an imaginative piecing together of the few facts known about a California gold rush era stagecoach driver, who, upon death, was discovered to be a woman. Charley Parkhurst ran away from an orphanage determined to drive a stage coach, a life unattainable for a young woman of that time. This did not stop her. Binding her breasts, speaking in a husky tone, and picking up work around horses where she could, she eventually drove a six-up in a career that spanned Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, and California. A member of the all male Independent Order of Odd Fellows, gruff old Charley was the first woman to vote in California during the 1868 federal election—fifty-three years before women won the right to vote.

What I love most about this book: the voice. Fern gives Charley Parkhurst a voice so frisky that you can’t believe she’s been dead for more than a century and a half. You can feel the broken-in leather of her driving gloves and smell the manure clinging to her boots and see the determined set of her jaw as she finds a way to buck discrimination against the "weaker sex." I’m proud of Fern for resurrecting this remarkable character. You won’t forget Charley, and what she sacrificed to live a life of her own design.

BookSurge; $17.99

This is the kind of triumph over adversity story that you wish didn’t have to be true. As a young boy in Ukraine, Roman witnessed the upheaval of life in his native Molodych as World War II began. By the age of twelve, his father already murdered by the Communists, his family dissolved, and the threat of enslavement in a Nazi labor camp imminent, he became the youngest member of the Ukrainian underground, serving as a scout, special courier, and often as a terrain operational leader during armed conflict. This sometimes required he spend long stretches of time underground in one-man bunkers while awaiting further instructions. Even at that tender age he understood the stakes: to win the freedom of Ukraine or die trying.

Four years later, after the forced resettlement of his villagers to Poland's Recovered Territories and still wanted by the Communists for his underground activities, Mac and several comrades walked all the way through Poland and Czechoslovakia to West Germany's American Zone, where they laid down their arms. He immigrated to the United States in 1950, but the loss of a constant adversary to push against proved a stumbling block. He joined in the US Army, eventually graduated from college, married, and established a business manufacturing accessories for musical instruments in Bethlehem, PA.

It was a pleasure to edit Roman’s story—which had already been published in Ukrainian and Russian—and adapt it for the American market. (Who ever thought those seven years of taking Russian would come in handy.)

What I love most about this book: Roman’s resilient spirit, which shines through on every page. That and the fact that I have read it at least five times and cried at the end every single time.

Click on Roman’s name link (above, beneath the book cover and title) to see the amazing web site he built for this book. If the music and the passages from the book move you the way they did me, buy it.


Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com. Nurturing the birth of great literature is both her work and her joy. May you take time to read many good books in the upcoming holiday season!

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  1. Thanks for two great gift book suggestions. They both sound terrific. I never knew about a woman stagecoach driver. I had read about a woman who joined the Pony Express -- wanted to be her when I was a child - but not the stagecoach driver.

    At first, I thought this idea of running a series of suggestions for books all month was a good idea. But already I have a list of books I want to buy that is longer than my list of people who might like a book for a gift, and we've barely just begun.

  2. Thanks for sharing. The books sound lovely.

  3. I love the fact that you were able to run down all the facts needed for your story. Congratulations on winning your Willa award.

  4. It's always nice to hear of books new to me and ones that sound as though they not only would be great reads, but great gifts. Thanks.

    Straight From Hel

  5. Once I started reading Charley's Choice I just didn't want to put t down. I loved the details and suspense.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.