I’ve been so blessed to get to know talented historical author Jocelyn Green. If you’re looking for a well-researched, gripping Civil War series, look no farther than her Heroines Behind the Lines series. I am reading her latest, Spy of Richmond, and I’ve already learned so much!
Today I ask Jocelyn some questions AND as a bonus, you can read an excerpt of Spy of Richmond below. Also, her books are on sale right now, so do check them out and support this gifted author! Finally, Jocelyn is offering one commenter his/her choice of one of the books in this series in e-book or softcover format! So comment for a chance to win! I will announce the winner next Thursday!
Interview with Author Jocelyn Green
HG: I’ve recently started reading Spy of Richmond but need to get caught up on your entire Heroines Behind the Lines series. I can already tell a) you are a master wordsmith and b) you have done immense research into this time period. Since this is the last in series, can you tell us if you’re working on another Civil War series?
JG: Thank you so much, Heather! I do have another Civil War series brewing in my imagination, but another historical series might come first. I stumbled across a slice of our history from 150 years before the Civil War that has really captured my attention. I’m in the research stage right now, so we’ll see where that takes me. But historicals are most certainly in my future, as far as I can tell!
HG: I know you are also involved in helping military wives and have written some books on this topic. Can you tell us more about why you are so passionate about this? I’ve often thought it must be so hard to have a deployed spouse.
JG: When I was a military wife myself, I craved spiritual encouragement that spoke to my unique challenges and situations. I loved the women’s Bible studies I was participating in, but really felt the need for something even more relevant for military wives. That’s when I first became inspired to write the books I wanted to read, such as my first book, Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives. My husband is no longer active duty, but I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be the home front spouse. The Lord has really opened doors for me to continue writing to this audience. In fact, six of my ten books are nonfiction for military. The cherry on top was that I was able to co-author The 5 Love Languages Military Edition with Dr. Gary Chapman. That was an amazing privilege.
HG: I also find you have a nice balance of showing the factual horrors of the Civil War without getting grotesque in your details. Is this a difficult balance? I know it must be difficult to write about many of these things that happened at that time.
JG: Ah, yes! That is a difficult balance, but I think I’ve gotten better at it throughout the series. My editors needed to rein me in more in my first two books. The research that I do is ten times more graphic than anything I print in my novels, so when I was starting out, what I thought was fairly tame was still too much detail for my editors. And they were right. My goal is to give the reader a realistic sense of what it was really like without overwhelming them with it. I do leave some to their imaginations. J But I also feel strongly that we need to understand that war wasn’t and isn’t glorious, adventurous and romantic. It’s dirty, ugly, and terrifying. And yet, with God, it’s possible to not just endure those hardships, but to triumph over them. The hope we have in Jesus shines all the brighter when it is set against the dark backdrop of war.
HG: I totally agree! Finally, because you are such an outstanding writer, could you share how you developed your writing skills? Do you read books, have great editors, critique partners or groups, etc? I’d love to know your secrets! 🙂
JG: Well, I have a B.A. in English writing, and I was a journalist for years before I started writing books. Journalism was an excellent background for me because it taught me to fine-tune my observation skills and to ask the right questions to get at the most interesting stuff. Before I write my novels, I interview each of my characters to get at the heart of their motivations, fears, conflicts, etc. But beyond that, I read plenty of books on the novel-writing craft, and I read good books. Lots of good books, in a variety of genres. When I notice how an author does something, I take notes in a special notebook I have with me when I read.
I do have a great editor, who points out when a character is acting inconsistently, or when I use a word that hadn’t been invented yet by the time my story took place. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I do not have a critique partner or writing group! However, for my first novel, I did hire a book coach who went over my manuscript and gave me general feedback, not a line edit. And I did hire My Book Therapy to help me brainstorm my second and third novels.
With Spy of Richmond, I was fairly confident about the book except for something I did in the epilogue. My editor was on the fence about it, too, so I sent the epilogue to six readers and asked their honest opinion. Thankfully, they were very honest, which helped me fix up the epilogue so it wasn’t corny.
Overall, I’d say the best thing I do is read. I can’t be a good writer if I’m not a good reader.
HG: So true. I agree that in the end, we are writing for our readers, and we need to be sensitive to what their expectations are for our books. Jocelyn, it was a joy to have you over today and I have “mad” respect for your writing skills! 🙂
***Readers, enjoy the excerpt of Spy of Richmond below…I’ll bet you get hooked just like I did!***
Spy of Richmond Excerpt:
Outside Savannah, Georgia
Thursday, March 3, 1859
It is madness.
Rain hissing to the earth in torrents behind her, Sophie Kent shivered and craned her neck toward the platform, half expecting lightning to strike the Ten Broeck Race Course any moment. It was the second day of the auction selling more than 420 slaves, and the second day of boiling, weeping storms. Gripping her pencil and papers beneath the folds of her wrap, Sophie trained her eyes and ears to the drama around her.
Humiliation tightened her throat as she watched a woman on the stage made to jump, bend, twist, and turn. Her smooth complexion was the color of tea with milk and honey, a bright contrast to the cocoa and coffee bean shades of the others. Her almond-shaped eyes were cast downward as a man tugged off her shawl and head rag before pinching her arm and pulling her lips apart to display her teeth. Modesty told Sophie to avert her gaze from the indignity, but she resisted. For years, she’d been blind to the horrors of slavery. This time, she would not look away. Neither will I stay silent. Not any longer.
The man spun the woman around and made some remark into her ear; she let him expose her back to the audience. “No scars from the disciplining lash—no trace of rebellion in her spirit,” he said. The woman covered herself once more.
As the bidding began from within the two hundred buyers in attendance, Sophie withdrew her auction catalogue from her wrap, her pencil poised to take notes. Humidity curled the pages, and the list of souls for sale drooped in her gloved hand.
116—Rina, 18; rice, prime woman.
118—Pompey, 31; rice—lame in one foot.
256—Daphne, 32; house servant.
257—Judy, aged; rice hand.
342—Cassander, 35; cotton hand—has fits.
Murmuring voices pricked Sophie’s ears. “Well, Smith, I saw you inspecting this chattel yesterday. Going to buy her?”
“I think not. No. 256 looks healthy enough, and can do a heap of work. But it’s been years since she had any children, she told me. Done breeding, I reckon.”
Heat scorched Sophie’s cheeks as she furiously recorded the exchange in the margin of her catalogue. Do they not hear themselves? Do they not understand these are people not livestock?
In front of her, rough-looking young men with knives in their belts and tobacco in their cheeks spoke of managing refractory slaves. Joining them were white-haired gentlemen with silk cloths at their necks. These advocates of severe whipping and branding were silenced by a booming voice: “I’m a driver, myself, and I’ve had some experience, and I ought to know. You can manage ordinary slaves by lickin’’em, and givin’’em a taste of the hot iron once in a while when they’re extra ugly; but if a brute really sets himself up against me, I can’t never have any patience with him. I just get my pistol and shoot him right down, and that’s the best way.”
Sophie looked up to see more than one man nod in agreement.
“Sold!” The gavel struck, and Daphne, chattel no. 256, twisted her bright yellow head scarf back into place over her hair. Her face settled into tense lines as a family of four replaced her on the platform.
Thunder snarled, and wind wailed through the pines surrounding the race course. The crowd shifted closer to the platform, away from the spitting rain. All except for Sophie, who remained rooted in place.
“Pardon me, Miss.” A man in gold-rimmed spectacles tipped his broad-brimmed hat to her. “Tedious doings, eh?”
“I can think of another word for it,” she muttered without looking up from her catalogue, waiting for him to pass.
He didn’t. “Sophie?”
She turned in time to see lightning’s flash brighten his twinkling brown eyes. “I thought you were in—” New York.
But the sharpness of his gaze penetrated her surprise. Harrison Caldwell was here for the same reason she was, which was why he wore spectacles he didn’t need, and a mustache too full to be his own
“Shhhhh,” he said beneath his breath. “You can do this. Write it.” He bent, kissed her hand, and whispered, “Four years to go,” then stood tall and stepped away from her, his eyes focused on the platform.
Heart hammering, Sophie clenched her papers, careless of the ink and lead smearing her gloves. Aware that he would disappear into the crowd any moment, she stared at his broad back while she could. Memories kindled until her face burned.
A hand squeezed her shoulder, and she nearly jumped out of her kid leather boots.
“Daddy!” Sophie gasped. “You startled me.”
“Our business is finished here.” Head and shoulders above Sophie, Preston Kent’s silver-striped suit gleamed with the light of the storm, as if he were Zeus himself.
“Do you mean—”
“We’ve secured a new maid for your mother. Rachel’s been doing her best since Matilda died, but she’s no maidservant. I don’t blame her, of course, a housekeeper isn’t trained to wait on the personal needs of a mistress the way your mother has been accustomed. We simply must have a proper replacement. A marvel I was able to get this chattel no. 256—calls herself Daphne—alone, with most slaves being sold in families.”
“Has she none, then?”
“Not anymore.” Mr. Kent puffed on his cigar, the wind stripping the sweet blue-grey smoke from his lips. “No. 257—apparently, her aged mother—died of consumption in the sheds just after the catalogues were printed. Fortuitous, yes?” She looked away. “Not for Daphne,” she murmured. “Not for her mother.”
“It’s good business. For instance, why buy two horses—especially when one of them is infirm—for a one-horse carriage?”
“ ‘No. 257’? Her name was Judy, Daddy, and she most certainly was n-not a h-horse!”
Preston’s gaze pounced around them, until landing on Harrison, who had never strayed far from Sophie, and watched her still. Lips forged into an iron smile, Mr. Kent caught his daughter’s wrist and cut his voice low as he led her away from the crowd. “You’re making a scene. Don’t embarrass me.” His blue eyes slanted into glittering slits. “Is this what I can expect from you from now on? Blatant, public defiance?”
“I’m capable of walking without you dragging me.” Sophie pulled away from him, but he only twisted harder. “You’re treating me like a child. I’m nineteen years old, Da—”
“So was—” He dropped the thought like hot coal, but Sophie could read the unspoken. So was Susan.
“I’m nothing like her.” Sophie was Daddy’s little girl from the first.
Mr. Kent jerked her farther from any listening ears, wrenching her wrist harder, until her catalogue dropped from her weakened clutch. As her father scooped it up, the draft of the story she’d been working on last night peeked from between the pages. She reached for it, but he turned her notes toward the watery light of the rain-drenched sky.
“What’s this now?” He squinted at her script as ash dripped from his waiting cigar. “A story? You were writing a story about the auction?” “A newspaper article about the largest slave auction in history. I—I want to be a writer. Like you were, before you became editor.”
The lines around his eyes softened as looked down at her. “I still write, you know. But to be published—that is not a ladylike enterprise. There’s a reason all the writers for the Richmond Enquirer are men.”
“Not all.” The words slipped from her lips like oil through her fingers. “Daddy.” Her smile trembled as she gathered courage. “I have a surprise for you. Those columns you’ve been printing these last several months from a writer who goes by the name John Thornton . . .”
“Yes? With his anti-secession views it’s no wonder he uses a pseudonym. Still, his arguments are sound and well-stated. What is it? You don’t mean to say you want to write by a pseudonym, too?”
Sophie shook her head. “I’ve already done it.” For a moment, she wondered if he’d heard her. “I’m John Thornton. You’ve already been printing me. Don’t you see? You’ve already decided my words are as good as any man’s.”
Mr. Kent looked through her draft again. Winced. “What is the meaning of this?” He jabbed his finger at her words, a storm gathering in his eyes.
“I—I told you. I want to be a writer, like you.”
But he was already stalking from beneath the shelter of the Grand Stand and into the driving rain. Sophie followed him, shoulders hunched, her boots sinking in mud.
“No.” His voice matched the rolling thunder as he threw his cigar down and ground it beneath his heel. “Not like me. Like Harriet Beecher Stowe.”
Sophie’s spine straightened at the name of her secret heroine. With a single book, the woman had influenced millions. Uncle Tom’s Cabin infuriated her father. “She wasn’t wrong.”
“And I suppose I am?”
Raw, wet wind swirled in the silence between them, knifing through Sophie’s wrap as though it were made of lace.
“I never should have sent you to that boarding school in Philadelphia.”
“Mother’s old school—”
He held up his hand to stop her, as if he couldn’t bear to be reminded that Eleanor Kent, the woman he’d married after his first wife died, was born and raised in Philadelphia and not in his native, beloved Virginia. “Yes, your mother. I blame myself for bowing to her demand that she nurse and raise you herself. You should have had a mammy from infancy, like every other child in the civilized South. You should have learned from the cradle that white people command the lives of colored. These are the proper roles for our races, Sophia Virginia! It is madness to suppose otherwise.”
He paused for breath, and looked at her as though searching for the daughter he wanted to see. If he only knew their Richmond home had served as a stop along the Underground Railroad right beneath his nose. . .“Just how many abolitionist rallies did you attend for you to write such fanatical nonsense about a simple slave auction?”
She set her jaw and lifted her chin as the voices of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and the Grimke sisters washed over her.
“It ends now.” Mr. Kent shredded her article draft, as well as the auction catalogue in which she had taken notes. “The writing must stop.”
“Oh no, don’t!” Sophie lunged for the remnants, her bonnet slipping off her head and bouncing against her back. Rain sprayed her face as mud puddles swallowed the crumpled remains of her story.
“Have I lost you, too?” Mr. Kent’s face twisted. “After I’ve given you everything a father could possibly lavish on his child—you would turn your back on me now?” He lurched one step toward her, then grimaced, his fist to his chest.
“A disagreement is not a personal betrayal.” Blonde ringlets, teased free by the wind, clung to her face and neck.
“It is to me. This time.” Blanching, he dropped to his knees in the spongy earth.
“Not your heart!” Not again! Wrapping her arms around his shoulders, Sophie knelt in the mud beside him. “I never wanted to hurt you!”
“Some things have been too painful—for me to speak of—” He collapsed onto his heels and leaned into her for support. Terror seized her breath.
Her father’s eyes closed. “But you need to know this.”
Still mute with fear, Sophie nodded, barely noticing the water dripping down the back of her neck, or the cold seeping into her from the ground up as she leaned in close to hear him.
“My parents didn’t just die years ago as I told you . . . After I moved to Richmond to be a reporter, they—and my younger sisters—were killed in their beds. By slaves. Sophie’s stomach roiled.
Nat Turner’s Rebellion. Did you learn about that—in Philadelphia? The slave said he’d been called—by God—to murder white people. So he—and dozens of other slaves—killed sixty good citizens in Southampton County. My—entire—family. I was twenty-two—when I lost them all. When you choose—to crusade for the slave—you reject me.”
“No, Daddy, I—”
His groan stopped her. “You’re all I have left.”
Sophie wanted to deny it, to say he had Mother still. But he didn’t, not really, and they both knew it.
“The one thing I want—and the one thing it seems I cannot have—is family. Truly,” her father whispered. “You are breaking my heart.” His lips pulled back as he clutched at his lapels once more.
“Let me go for a doctor.”
“Say it first. Say you’ll not betray me.”
All the speeches she’d rehearsed retreated behind her fear for her father. She’d planned on telling him she would always love him, but she was a grown woman now with a fine education, and that her conscience demanded she follow her own convictions. She was going to be strong.
Instead, she leaned over and planted a kiss on her father’s clammy brow. “I’ll always be your girl.”
~copyright Jocelyn Green 2015~
Spy of Richmond Blurb:
Trust none. Risk all.
Richmond, Virginia, 1863. Compelled to atone for the sins of her slaveholding father, Union loyalist Sophie Kent risks everything to help end the war from within the Confederate capital and abolish slavery forever. But she can’t do it alone.
Former slave Bella Jamison sacrifices her freedom to come to Richmond, where her Union soldier husband is imprisoned, and her twin sister still lives in bondage in Sophie’s home. Though it may cost them their lives, they work with Sophie to betray Rebel authorities. Harrison Caldwell, a Northern freelance journalist who escorts Bella to Richmond, infiltrates the War Department as a clerk-but is conscripted to defend the city’s fortifications.
As Sophie’s spy network grows, she walks a tightrope of deception, using her father’s position as newspaper editor and a suitor’s position in the ordnance bureau for the advantage of the Union. One misstep could land her in prison, or worse. Suspicion hounds her until she barely even trusts herself. When her espionage endangers the people she loves, she makes a life-and-death gamble.
Will she follow her convictions even though it costs her everything-and everyone-she holds dear?
***Readers, comment below with which novel you feel you would be most interested in and tell us why. The winner will have his/her choice of e-book or softcover of your chosen novel!***