I’m so excited about my new book, Witch Dance! It’s in the final stages of editing and will be available for pre-orders very soon for only $0.99. I’ll post the link here as soon as it goes live. The official release date is September 15th and will be available in ebook and paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Create Space, Kobo, Sony, iBooks, and other online retailers. There will also be a blog tour and a Facebook release party, so stay tuned.
Just south of Tupelo, Mississippi on the Natchez Trace lies a place of mystery called Witch Dance.
When Thomas and Margaret Speedwell took their twins to Witch Dance for a weekend camping trip, they never imagined they would be pulled into a vortex of witchcraft, tragedy, and karma. One of the girls goes missing; the other won’t say what happened on the other side of the hill.
The tragedy pulls together a cast of characters from Margaret’s childhood and beyond – Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians, Toltec ancestors, the extinct Hopewell tribe.
With the help of a childhood friend, a concerned newspaper reporter, and visions by a strange old woman, a two thousand year old mystery begins to unfold, uncovering missing children throughout generations. Who is taking them? Could it be the infamous witches of Witch Dance?
“I, John Culpepper” is FREE on Kindle through 4/19. Grab a copy and relax with a good book this weekend. Click here – “I, John Culpepper” at Amazon.
Below is the blurb and a snippet from the book.
I, John Culpepper
John Culpepper was born into a privileged childhood, surrounded by abundant wealth, vast land holdings, and stately English manors. As he grew, he was expected to follow family tradition—attend law school and serve in Parliament, following which he would retire to a quiet life as a country gentleman.
John, however, had different desires. He longed to captain a mighty ship, to hear the snap of the sails, to taste the salty spray on his lips. To follow his dreams, John would have to risk being disinherited by his unyielding father. He would have to defy family convention. He would ultimately be forced to choose between the woman he loved and his mistress—the sea.
I, John Culpepper is a work of historical fiction based on the life of the 17th-century man historians refer to as John Culpepper the Merchant. He is believed to be the progenitor of the modern-day American Culpeppers. He was my 10th great-grandfather.
Here’s a snippet from the day John was born. The photo is the replicas of the ships mentioned in the scene. These replicas were built in the late 1900s and are currently docked on the James River in the Jamestown settlement where the original ships were heading. Road trip! Let’s go!
1606, Blackwall, London
“Master Culpepper! Master Culpepper!” the servant boy shouted over the bells clanging from the church steeple. He pulled the scratchy scarf tightly around his neck to ward off the chill as he pushed his way through the masses gathered on the foggy banks of the Thames.
The crowd had been gathering on the wharf for nearly two days to witness the departure of the ships, and they were prepared for a spectacle unlike any they had seen before. When the tide came in, the three ships carrying one hundred forty passengers and sailors would depart England on an exciting adventure. The air smelled of salt and tar and sweat. This was a remarkable place, a magical place, where the preparations were as exciting at the coming voyage. The anticipation in the air was nearly as thick as the fog.
The boy stopped for a moment as a wooden cask was rolled across the cobblestone in front of him. He watched as workers carefully rolled the barrel up the tilted gangplank. He remained frozen in the middle of the bustling crowd, staring at the ship. He had never seen anything so majestic in all his twelve years, and his jaw dropped at her sheer size. She was an enormous castle-like structure, at least eighty feet in length, her belly bulging at the side where the last of the cargo was being loaded in. Crates and boxes were continually being carried up the gangplank, where they disappeared into the ship’s dark interior. The deck above the cargo area was much narrower and the boy imagined that’s where the sailors would remain during the voyage, climbing masts and hoisting sails. Circling the spiderweb of hemp ropes and yardarms, seagulls cawed as if singing along with the rhythmical clanging of a nearby metal object. The boy scanned the scene for the source of the sound and noticed a blind beggar sitting on the cobblestone near the bow of the ship, tapping a stick on a metal bowl.
Behind the ship floated a second ship, nearly as large as the first, and behind that loomed a third. Each hosted its own cast of sailors, supplies, vagrants, and gangplanks. As wavelets gently raised and lowered the vessels, moans of protest arose from the taut ropes, and the weathered wood creaked with each stomp of a sailor’s boot. Nearby, two mangy hounds barked and growled over some fish scraps, bringing the boy’s attention back to his task at hand. Remembering why he had come, he yelled, “Master Culpepper!” He spun around and around looking for the man, weaving between horses, carts, trunks, and sailors shouting commands. He darted in and out of the crowd, making sure he didn’t bump into any wealthy gentlemen, recognizable by their long cloaks adorned with colorful silk threads.
In April, King James had created the Virginia Company, which would finance sailings to Virginia and Plymouth with the aim of settling colonies and profiting from the land’s abundant natural resources. The aristocracy funded the expeditions with the expectation of making an exorbitant profit. The three ships embarking from Blackwall on this day would sail to Virginia and bring back riches. There were rumors of gold, silver, and gems merely washing up on the shore for the taking. If nothing else, there was surely timber to be harvested. The trees in England had long been felled and the rising price of timber would certainly bring the investors a hefty return.
After they finished loading supplies and the morning fog had dissipated, the ships would raise their sails and ride the tide down the Thames. They would enter the English Channel and cross the great ocean and return by summertime.
The boy bobbed in and out of the crowd, searching for his master.
“Who are you searching for, lad?” a man in a ruffled collar asked.
“Master Culpepper,” the boy replied, removing his hat and revealing his dirty blond hair, which was sticking this way and that like a wheat field in a mighty windstorm. He twisted the wool hat in his hands.
“Johannes or Tom?”
“Johannes Culpepper, sir.”
“I saw him down by the front ship—the Discovery—only moments ago. He was standing right on the dock.”
The boy nodded, replaced his cap, and shoved through the workers and onlookers toward the front ship. As he passed the first ship, he looked at the name written on her side and sounded out the letters. He couldn’t make any sense of the words Susan Constant, but when he reached the second ship, he could read God…speed. He wondered if the Godspeed was true to her name. If he were to sail, he would rather sail on the Godspeed and get there faster. From what he understood, it was a two-month voyage if the weather was bonny, maybe four months if the ship ran into rough seas.
He had once spent a morning in a small fishing boat and instantly became green with sickness that lasted for days. He didn’t think he would be able to survive the time it would take to sail to Virginia. He gawked at the bow of the Godspeed as he ran past, witnessing a young lad about his age. The sailor dripped with sweat, even in the chill of the damp morning air, as he coiled ropes and folded sails. What a great adventure it would be to sail to Virginia, but alas, the boy would never get to do such amazing things. He was a servant, a gift from His Majesty King James I to Johannes Culpepper. He would always be a servant, but perhaps someday he would be fortunate enough to serve the king. Even though Master Culpepper was good to him, he wished to someday live at court and be somebody. At least he had the slimmest of chances. His sister had been placed in the kitchen of some castle in Wales. She would never be anything more than a scullery maid. Women would never hold a place in society. They were not welcomed on this voyage, either.
He hopped up and down, unsuccessfully trying to look over the crowd. “Master Culpepper!” he called.
A man turned and pointed. “Culpepper is right over there, son.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The boy sprinted in the general direction, and when he pushed through a couple workers conversing on the dock, he saw him.
The boy ran up behind Johannes Culpepper and patted the back of his master’s arm, hopping up and down. “Master Culpepper!”
Johannes turned and looked down at the boy, his square jaw set and his blue-gray eyes burrowing into the lad. “What is it, boy? Why are you making such a commotion?”
The boy panted, out of breath from running. “Master Culpepper, m’lady is havin’ the baby, sir!”
Johannes’s face turned red as he glanced around the crowd to see if anyone was eavesdropping. When he saw no one was, he folded his arms across his chest and stroked his beard. “You came all this way to tell me that?”
“Very good, boy. You run along home now.”
The boy didn’t move. How could his master not be excited about this news? Did he not want to return home and see his wife and child? Was there anything the boy could say to convince the man to accompany him back to the house?
“Go on. Run along.” Johannes waved the boy off with a flip of his ringed fingers and abruptly turned his back.
“Yes, sir.” The lad backed up, keeping his eyes on his master, wondering what he would tell the governess when he returned home without his master in tow. He had ridden nearly four hours to get to Blackwall this morning, most of it in the dark as the sun had not even risen when he left. He would have a four-hour return trip to think of something. He turned and walked back in the direction from which he had come.
Not only earthquakes, but huge 6.8 to 8.8 earthquakes!! They happened back in December of 1811 and January of 1812, but they could happen again.
The New Madrid Seismic Zone, (shown here compliments of Encyclopedia Brittanica) is six times larger than the San Andreas fault zone in California. It lies centered in New Madrid, Missouri, and the last time it shook it’s ugly head was two hundred years ago. It’s waaaay overdue!! Back in 1811/12, there were over 2000 earthquakes and aftershocks that shook the midwest. They were felt as far away as NY, Boston, and Washington D.C. President James Madison felt them at the White House.
No other quakes have produced so much damage in the history of the world. The Mississippi River ran backwards, crevasses opened up in the land, and missing people were assumed swallowed by the earth. It created two waterfalls in Mississippi.
The prediction for the future?? Some say an earthquake this size will split the United States in two. Some say we haven’t seen any activity from the New Madrid fault for two hundred years, so why worry about it now?
My book Elly Hays opens with Tecumseh’s prediction for the quake, and the quake is the cause for the family moving from Tennessee to the Mississippi Territory. The story isn’t about the 1811/12 quakes, but they are the reason the story happened. Elly Hays is based on a true story and is the tale of my 5th great grandmother Elizabeth Hays Rodgers. It is the epic clash between a fearless warrior with nothing to lose and a young mother on the verge of losing everything.
I wrote the wrong book!
My idea was to write about the wild adventures of a young woman traveling alone across the deep south in the late 1800s. Imaging steam trains and covered wagons crossing the “wild west,” encountering gentlemen who were not always gentlemen, accommodations that were less than luxurious, and money non-existent following the Civil War. Now, place a young girl fighting for survival in this rough and tumble world. That’s what I wanted to write.
I ended up writing an emotionally deep love story that made people cry. It wasn’t the story I set out to write. When I finished it and sent it to my editor, I told her I wasn’t happy with it, but it just sort of wrote itself, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. When she returned the manuscript to me, she said, “I think you’re a lot closer than you think. It’s a beautiful story.” After living with it for a few months, I decided to leave it alone, allowing it to be what it was, and ended up with 92% of the Amazon reviews being three, four, and five stars. It just goes to show you, you never know what the public is going to like.
An Orphan’s Heart is about a young girl from Mississippi who at the age of nine lost her parents to typhoid, during the Civil War. She was subsequently shuffled from family member to family member through her teenage years, ending up in Alabama. When she became a young women, she traveled to see her brother in Texas and fell in love with a young man there. The love doesn’t last long…you’ll have to read the book.
The heroine is a real person. She is my cousin, Martha Ellen Rodgers, simply known as Ellen. She was raised by her aunt Mary (my 3rd great grandmother). I’ve taken the family events, census records, newspapers, train schedules, cover wagon trails, and social events and weaved them into a story of love – NOT a story of adventure, darn it. She was a very brave young woman, surviving things we can only read about.
An Orphan’s Heart is on sale for $0.99 on Kindle at Amazon through March 22. If you like a tear-jerky (is that a word?) tale about a different time and place, give it a try.
This week’s snippet is from An Orphan’s Heart. It’s the story of a girl who was orphaned during the Civil War and her quest to find the love she lost as a child. Martha Ellen Rodgers, simply Ellen in the book, grew up in a large, loving family in Mississippi. Her parents died of typhoid within days of each other when Ellen was nine. She spent the rest of her life searching for love and a place to belong. Her travels took her to Alabama, back to Mississippi, and eventually to Texas where she found the love of her life – only to have everything ripped from her in a shattering turn of events.
Note: You’re going to need a kleenex for this one.
An Orphan’s Heart is being offered for only $0.99 this weekend (March 18-22) on Kindle at Amazon.
Enjoy the video trailer and a snippet below.
Ellen is staying at her aunt’s house in Alabama and helping with the children. She met a handsome boy named Milton who has unexpectedly dropped by while no one was at home.
We make ourselves comfortable at the table, and as we sip our coffee, we chat about his family and farm, but his deep brown eyes make it hard for me to concentrate on anything he’s saying. We chat about his siblings and his hopes for the future. He even mentions that he might like to go to a big city someday, which brings up his desire to ride a train. I would tell him of my dreams of riding a train also, but I can’t seem to get a word in edgewise. Throughout the one-sided conversation, he’s very friendly and open, and I think I may like him a lot more than my first impression, especially his penetrating gaze. Nothing else in the world exists while I’m under that gaze.
Hours later, in the middle of a sentence, he suddenly stops and pulls out his pocket watch. “Oh, it’s getting late.” He rises from the table. “I need to get back to the farm, and you probably need to pick the children up from school.”
Reality hits me like a lightning bolt. I hadn’t thought about the time since we sat down. “Yes!” I jump up from the table. “What time is it?”
“It’s almost three.”
“I do have to go get the children right now. I only have a few minutes to get there. Please excuse me, Milton. It’s been nice spending the afternoon with you, but I really must hurry.” In one move, I grab my bonnet and head toward the door, hoping he’ll hurry behind me, but he seems to be taking his time. I stand with my back against the open door, ready to close it the moment he exits.
As he nears the door, I impatiently wait for him to walk through, but he stops an inch from my face. I think he may kiss me and I feel panic rise in my chest and can’t breathe. I close my eyes for a moment, but then think maybe I shouldn’t because it’ll look like I want him to kiss me, so I quickly open them. His full lips, that cocky grin, and those dimples are enough to set a girl’s head spinning. I’m late to pick up the children, but for that split second with his mouth an inch from mine, I really would like him to kiss me. But then I get this uncomfortable feeling that spending this afternoon with him has been highly inappropriate, so I sidestep away from him and move outside onto the porch.
“Thank you for coming by, Milton. It was very nice seeing you, but I really have to run.”
He steps out onto the porch, with his head cocked to one side, looking at me through squinted eyes. The afternoon sun in his face shows the slightest beginnings of lines around his eyes, and I think as he ages, he’ll become more and more handsome. He shrugs and his smile widens. His smile is filled with a knowledge and confidence that’s alluring, but it also unnerves me in a way I can’t explain. I wish I was more attractive, more assured of myself, more experienced with boys.
I slide behind him, pull the door closed, then quickly move around him again to step off the porch. He watches me with the look of a lion stalking his prey as I climb onto the wagon.
“The visit was my pleasure, Miss Ellen, my pleasure,” he says as he strolls over and places his hands on the worn wood of the wagon.
“I really do have to go now. Please come by again anytime,” I mumble. Did I really just say that? Did I just invite him over again?
“Oh, I’ll be back. You can count on that.” He winks and his eyes twinkle.
I snap the reins and coax the horse away from the house. I take off so fast, I almost rip Milton’s hands off, but I refuse to look back and check. I know he’s standing there watching me. I will not look back. I will not. No.
As I reach the bend in the road, I glance back. Sure enough, he is still standing in the yard with his arms folded across his chest, watching me and smiling. And now he knows I looked back. Oh, what a mess.
An Orphan’s Heart is only $0.99 on Kindle March 18-22 at Amazon.
Lori Crane is a bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction and the occasional thriller. Her books have climbed to the Kindle Top 100 lists many times, including “Elly Hays” which debuted at #1 in Native American stories. She has also enjoyed a place among her peers in the Top 100 historical fiction authors on Amazon, climbing to #23. She resides in greater Nashville and is a professional musician by night – an indie author by day. An Orphan’s Heart was a finalist in the 2014 Eric Hoffer Awards!
Here’s a little background on my series – The Stuckey’s Bridge Trilogy.
My childhood: I grew up in Meridian, Mississippi and heard the legend of Stuckey’s Bridge my whole life. It actually began in a book about the area written in the 1970s. The local paper, The Meridian Star, picked up on the legend from the book and the story spread like wildfire. The bridge instantly became THE place to party on the weekends, searching for ghosts and frightening girls into cuddling closer. (If you want to go there: head south out of Meridian on Interstate 59. Turn right at exit 142, then a quick left onto Meehan-Savoy Road. Travel 2.2 miles until you see a dirt road on your left. That is Stucky Bridge Road. The bridge will be about two miles down the dirt road. It is now closed, so you’ll have to turn around to leave. After you read the following legend, you may not want to go.)
The legend goes: In the late 1800s, a former member of the Dalton Gang came to Lauderdale County, Mississippi to find his fortune. He opened an inn near the Chunky River and stood on the old wooden bridge at night, flagging down merchants with his lantern, offering them a warm bed and a hot meal. Supposedly, he murdered his victims in their sleep and buried their bodies on the banks of the river. In 1901, the Virginia Bridge and Iron Company began rebuilding the old bridge and the bodies were discovered. The innkeeper, Old Man Stuckey as he is known to the locals, was hung by a posse from the iron rails of the new bridge.
If you know me, you know I couldn’t stop searching until I figured out who this Old Man Stuckey really was…that became the first book in the Stuckey’s Bridge Trilogy – The Legend of Stuckey’s Bridge. (Check out the book trailer here…creepy!)
While writing the story, I didn’t want Old Man Stuckey to be alone all the time, so I had him run across a young boy named Levi. In the story, young Levi took on a creepiness all his own, and I received tons of emails and messages asking what Levi’s past was. As usual with my overactive imagination, I was more interested in his future than his past, so I wrote Stuckey’s Legacy: The Legend Continues. At the end of that book, Levi “got his” and the story became focused on the young woman Levi met during the story – Penelope Juzan.
Back to my childhood: There was a second legend around the area where I grew up. Supposedly there was an inn on Lake Juzan in the 1840s where an innkeeper murdered his guests for wealth, much like Old Man Stuckey. The man’s name was Pierre Juzan, and he dumped the bodies in the lake with the help of his Indian sidekick. Toward the end of the legend, one of them killed the other for the wealth of gold they had confiscated.
Side note: There were also a couple different accounts of trunks of confederate gold disappearing as they traveled through the area during the Civil War.
I thought all these stories had a similar thread, and I wondered if I could separate them or maybe combine them.
Back to the trilogy: I came to the conclusion that these legends were indeed different stories, but thought they were probably connected in some way. Those crazy ideas in my head became the third book in the trilogy, Stuckey’s Gold: The Curse of Lake Juzan.
These tales tickled me pink while writing them, and I hope you enjoy them too!