Thursday, December 29, 2011

Digging my way out with my fingernails

For 8 years now the work I love has hidden from me while I experienced every stress factor on the actuary list at lease once, usually more often.  I never called it Writer’s Block because the stories were always there in completed outlines with the research mostly squared away.  Instead, and with the blessings of a string of therapists, I’ve hidden behind the term PTSD.

I wish to take nothing from our valiant fighters who rightly suffer from the disease but I want to point out that PTSD is not limited to combat veterans.  It can happen to anyone who experiences things their psyche cannot process.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is what happens when various events taken together or in series become too muckin fuch for our brains to process.  Simply put, I lost touch with who I was.

I was my mother’s daughter until I became my husband’s wife.  When I lost both of them within a brief span of time I leaned on the fact that I was still “the baby of the family” with my “big sister” to go to when life became too much.  Then she died and I became the eldest living female in my extended family.  My mind went numb.

Nine months later, I put my home on the market and 4 months after that I sold it and moved in with my lovely daughter mere days before Hurricane Katrina destroyed, rearranged and/or demolished everything in the five Mississippi Coast cities I’d been familiar with for over a quarter of a century.  We deal less easily with change as we grow older.

Ten days less than two years after Katrina I lost my Prodigal Son in a stupid “accident'’.  After that the Stress Factors seemed to arrive more swiftly.  Less than two years after the loss of my son came the economically forced sale of my daughter’s beautiful, peaceful home and a move to a strange state for a brief nine months before another move to an even stranger place this time alone.  I don’t know how to be alone.  I ‘m not even sure I know me.  Who is this person who is no longer someone’s daughter, someone’s wife or someone’s full time mother?  I don’t know her and I’m not sure I will like her when I do but I have to try.

As I rapidly approach eighty, I have to remind myself that I am Peggy Ullman Bell, Author of SAPPHO SINGS, a semi-fictional biography of The Poetess of Lesbos that lived through thirty-five years of re-writes before finally becoming available to a surprisingly receptive public.  Then came Women at Gettysburg FIXIN’ THINGS an overlapping thirty years of writing and re-writes because my mother still lived in the Battle area and wanted bragging rights.

Now, thanks to eBooks and the one-hundred and fiftieth anniversary of our American Civil War, FIXIN’ THINGS is selling well and it’s time I find the Author in me again.  I can count the breaks between the traumas by the dates on my rare creative files.  Here’s hoping I don’t break too many fingernails digging my way out of this malaise.

Blessed be, Y’all.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Excerpt from Shelf Awareness 8/8/11

Putting Food & Books on the Table

"I was once having dinner with an international group, and an American was complaining about the price of books in France. 'Yes,' said a Frenchman. 'We have this silly theory in France that our authors should be able to eat.' We don't know what the future of publishing is, but we know that the future for every writer requires food. And we know that one way to help writers eat is to encourage people to buy good books."

--Tom Lutz, editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books, in his essay "Future Tense."

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock

I don’t know why I chose The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock from the June 2011 Early Reviewer’s list on Library Thing.  The book’s arrival in my mailbox was a bit of a shock.

The Hardest Thing to Do is so far from my normal reading patterns that I assumed at first glance that it would be torture for me to read and review it.  How wrong I was.

Even though there is not a single female of note in the book, I found myself drawn into the story to a remarkable degree.

I write women’s history.  What was I doing reading a book with no women and about monks no less so nothing salacious.  Not a single sensual hint throughout and yet the writing and the characters kept my eyes glued to the pages from start to finish.  Luckily for me  The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock is not a long book.  It’s a thin book without noticeable flaw.  May I say congratulations for the outstanding editing?

The Hardest Thing to Do is the fourth book in Penelope Wilcock’s Hawk and Dove series. These books chronicle the events in a Benedictine monastery, and follow the monks who live their during their eventful lives.
In this fourth volume, the titular abbot (called both Peregrine and Columbe, meaning “hawk” and “dove” respectively) has passed away, and the former infirmarian, John, is away finishing the necessary training to become the new abbot, leaving the monastery in the hands of a temporary leader.

The Hardest Thing to Do takes place during Lent and shows the drastic deprivations the monks endure while preparing for the Easter when the gentle quiet of their lives will be interrupted by an influx of visitors, especially patrons upon whom the monks depend for their meager livelihood.

Enter into the tale of self-denial and introspection, a refugee from a burned out Augustinian monastery noted for its gross mistreatment of  the people in their village, [many suspect arson] but also known for having mistreated their now diseased but still much beloved Father Columbe some time in the past.

Into this quagmire of discontent comes the newly minted Benedictine Abbot John, who must decide if this wayward and now homeless monk may find a new home and new brothers in this new abbey after having been turned away by everyone he sought refuse with in his long journey.  But despite the prayerful requirements of this sacred period between Ash Wednesday and Holy Easter, some of the brothers being human hold grudges that supersede not only reason, but also basic compassion.

The characters talk of other characters in a way that feels realistic, but also gives you a glimpse of the character behind that name. William, Their uninvited Augustinian guest holds and entirely different memory his encounter with Columbe and can’t understand why the Benedictines consider it so terrible they would hold such grudges against him. To him the encounter had been a friendly debate to make a point to a third party.  Rather than seeing their point of view that he had humiliated their beloved abbot, he considered Columbe the winner of the debate and was himself quite fond of the old abbot for having bested him. Overall, The Hardest Thing to Do was to put aside rash judgements and learn to forgive; to be more Christ like in their inner lives.

Not being a Catholic myself, I can’t critique The Hardest Thing to Do from a sectarian perspective but I found many of the monks sorely lacking in Christian charity although the book was enjoyable and as mentioned earlier virtual;ly free of errors which I as a novelist consider to be a remarkable accomplishment.

The Hardest Thing to Do provides an interesting look into monastic life and may prove useful to someone looking for a relatively inoffensive read.

( )

From the author of Sappho’s Sisters

Thank you so much, Peggy, for including the blurb for my story here. Sappho was indeed a very important and influential woman throughout history.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

"Sappho's Sisters"

sapphos sisters cover
Lady Eustacia Lumley is the only child of the Earl of Wentworth. It is her duty to marry well and ensure the succession.
Margaret Durrell is the fourth daughter of a gently born, but near penniless vicar. She has no option but to marry a man who can provide for her and possibly for some of her sisters as well.
Best friends since their days at Miss Marcomb's Academy for Young Ladies, both young women are very interested in Sappho's poetry and ideas. One evening while visiting the Wentworth estate, Margaret has a headache and Eustacia offers to massage her scalp. This act of kindness leads them into an encounter they both find very enjoyable.
The two young women fall deeply in love, but is there any hope for them? Or will they both have to conform to the rigid rules of Regency society?
Sappho's Sisters: Excerpt PG 13
After a week in Town, Eustacia was keen to return to Green Meadows, her home outside London. It was ideally situated on good farming land, a full day's journey from the bustle of the city—close enough to make a trip to Town for shopping or parties easy, but not so close that people were endlessly arriving unannounced.
She was particularly pleased to have Margaret staying with them for at least three months. Margaret's long-suffering Papa despaired of marrying his four motherless daughters appropriately. Both Margaret's Mama and her Papa came from the nobility, but the Reverend Mr. Durrell had inadequate funds to launch them onto the marriage mart. He loved them and wanted them to be happy, not just married to the highest bidder.
"Ah well, he won't need to worry about Margaret for a while," she mused.
Although Margaret was eighteen to Eustacia's twenty-four, they both had lively minds and had formed an instant bond in the brief year they'd both been at Miss Marcomb's Academy for Young Ladies—Margaret's first year there and Eustacia's last. They both loved learning and had read avidly. Since then, they'd kept in touch with long letters and had recently been reading and discussing Sappho's poetry. Eustacia was looking forward to talking more about it with her friend.
Sappho's sharp imagery, her immediacy, her control, and the rhythm and almost melody of her words were immensely appealing. Not to mention some of her underlying ideas—ideas which were increasingly compelling to Eustacia.
Eustacia had never been sexually attracted to men. While all the other young ladies at school had been sighing over the dancing master and the riding master, Eustacia had only desired to learn the subjects they taught. Their male beauty stirred her heart not one iota. When she had first made her curtsy to the Ton, many handsome and eligible young men had sought her hand for that lascivious dance, the waltz. Not one of them had made her heart beat faster. Fortunately, her father, the earl, had made no attempt to push her to accept any of the three very flattering offers he had received for her hand. Even more fortunately, Gervase's younger brother, Anthony, had three fine, strong sons to inherit the title, so there was no pressure on Gervase to marry again and produce an heir, or to marry off his daughter to ensure a grandson to inherit.
But Margaret. Ahh, Margaret did make her palms sweat and her heart beat faster. Margaret's bright, inquiring mind and ability to converse intelligently on any topic. Margaret's soft brown eyes and shiny brown hair. Her white skin and pale cheeks that flushed enchantingly when Eustacia smiled at her.
Eustacia had read widely about Sapphic love and was eager to experience it—but only with Margaret and only if Margaret was willing. Meanwhile, her reading had taught her much, and with the help of a handheld looking glass, she had learned a lot about the art of self-pleasure. As for the anatomist Mateo Renaldo Colombo, who claimed to have discovered the amor Veneris, vel dulcedo—"the sweetness of Venus"—Eustacia was willing to bet her late mother's emeralds that Sappho and her followers had known about their nubbins six hundred years before the birth of Christ!
Visit the Sappho's Sisters page at Logical-Lust Publications:

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Official site for this author of historical fiction includes bio, photos, interviews, reviews, novel excerpts, readers' guide, writing advice, and poetry.

Monday, July 18, 2011

message 1: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars


Jul 08, 2011 10:19pm

Ruth SimsI read this book months ago but was delayed by vision problems from finishing and posting the review. I wanted to polish it a bit, but decided to post it as is. It's a fine book and I didn't want to delay any longer. So here is my review of Women at Gettysburg: Fixin Things.
Peggy Ullman Bell
ISBN-10: 1452892040
ISBN-13: 978-1452892047
Peggy Ullman Bell is a fine writer, as I discovered when I read her novel about the woman we know as Sappho, “Sappho Sings.”
WOMEN AT GETTYSBURG: FIXIN’ THINGS is an historical novel centered on one traumatic and history-changing battle in the American Civil War, 1861-1865. The battle around Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, left 21,000 men dead and wounded, fertile land laid waste, lives ruined. This book is not primarily a battlefield novel, however, except as events leading up to, during, and afterward affect the female protagonists.
From the beginning, the story brought to mind a line that has lingered in my mind since High School literature. Milton was not referring to war, but that’s what it has always made me think of: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Most of the war novels I have read—and I went through a Civil War phase years ago—focus on the soldiers, the fighting, the military. “Fixin’ Things” focuses on those who “stand and wait,” the civilians, mostly women in those days, who were affected in every way by war and struggled to keep their sanity, protect their families, and keep body and soul together in the midst of blood, death, mud, filth, and horrors they could never have imagined.
“Fixin’ Things” is the story of women. When the story opens, the women at Loren Farm, not far from the town of Gettysburg, Megan and her sister Kathin, are surreptitiously and dangerously involved in helping runaway slaves to maneuver the Underground Railway to freedom. Like many families in the nation, especially in the so-called border states, their family is divided. Kathin’s husand is a Union officer. Her sister-in-law is a pretentious Southern sympathizer married to a Confederate officer. Kathin and Megan are accustomed to frantic secrecy and tension because of their work helping runaway slaves, but they have no idea that the hideous cloud of battle is about to envelop them. Their lives and the lives of everyone they know are about to become hell on earth.
Feisty Megan Loren, at seventeen, knows what it is to be the unwilling object of a man’s lust; to make a bad situation worse, the man is her brother-in-law, husband to her older sister, Kathin. The husband, Union Army Captain Edwin Brown, is an arrogant, always randy “it’s my right as a man” type when it comes to sex. When the story opens, they are blissfully unaware that their family home, Loren Farm, will be in the midst of the great battle.
For a novel centered around a battle, there is comparatively little actual battle description but what there is, is very realistic. Her descriptions shine brightest when writing about the human element. It’s easy to think of historical battles as Historic Battles, forgetting, from our distant viewpoint, that there is no battle without desecrated human flesh.
The author hones in on the people.
Soldiers screaming in pain, faces and bodies ripped apart but somehow still living, bleeding out their young lives, pleading for death, facing the horrors of amputation with a dirty saw by a bloody-handed, exhausted doctor—and in one case a blacksmith—with no anesthetic and no pain killer, little water to quench burning thirst. The civilians, mostly women, dirty, sweaty, as exhausted as the doctors, doing their best to help without regard to which army the wounded belongs to. A peaceful town and bucolic countryside laid waste in three days, every available building turned into a field hospital. Petticoats torn into bandages, the women giving and doing all they can, knowing it’s not enough and wondering if it will ever end. Wonderful, harrowing descriptions by a master.
There is a fairly large cast of mostly female characters in addition to Megan and Kathin, including, among others, a woman blacksmith (the first I have ever discovered in a book) as strong as any man and her physically frail but lion-hearted “friend,” Anne.
I like the way the author presents them as just what they are: no sermon, no soapbox. One unforgettable female is as unlikable as you can imagine. Anyone who ever watched the TV series Little House On the Prairie will recognize Sybil Mercer, Kathin’s sister-in-law, as the doppelgänger of Harriet Oleson times two. Every time she opens her mouth, the reader feels like slapping her. Among the memorable lesser characters, is a young woman who has donned men’s clothes and is part of the battle as a soldier. The only character who did not come alive for me through the first part of the book was Lainy, Sybil Mercer’s daughter, mostly because she had been brought up to be no more than a smiling ornament. She does have an independent streak, but it wasn't very convincing until she, like the others, was dirty and bloody and terrified.
The focus is on the women, but the author also does well portraying the men, both good and bad. Cathin’s husband, Edwin, is a selfish, violent beast who thinks nothing of raping his own wife. There is Chris, the honorable Confederate soldier who falls in love with Megan. Most of all there is Sam, the free Negro who has been with Megan and Kathin’s family since he was a little boy. He’s almost predictably brave, loyal, and honest, with a fierce and protective love for the white family who took him in. Sam is by far the most interesting male character in the story.
Women at Gettysburg: Fixin Things is an exciting, well-written, meticulously researched, and thunderous book full of the violence of war, and the courage of women. I recommend it most highly.

Friday, June 17, 2011

New review of Sappho Sings

A wonderful new review of my novel Sappho Sings has just been posted by Nan Hawthorne, author of BELOVED PILGRIM and AN INVOLUNTARY KING.


Review: Sappho Sings, by Peggy Ullman Bell

Sappho Sings
Sappho Sings

Peggy Ullman Bell
Reviewed by Nan Hawthorne
The historical Sappho, about whom we sadly know so little, was known in her time as The Poetess, and fittingly Peggy Ullman Bell has made this fictional biography a work full of beauty and poetry.  The novel is strewn with verse by Sappho herself and by her literary descendants, like Byron and Swinburne, each piece perfect for where it resides along the garden path of the story.  This is a lovely, sensitive interpretation of the poet's life, and the included poetry makes it a veritable garden of delights. more

Beloved Pilgrim

List Price: $15.95
About the author:
Nan Hawthorne is a historical novelist with a particular interest in exploding the myths of the Middle Ages. Her books include AN INVOLUNTARY KING: A TALE OF ANGLO SAXON ENGLAND,
and LOVING THE GODDESS WITHIN. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Beloved Pilgrim

Authored by Nan Hawthorne
Unwilling to settle for the passive life of a noblewoman, Elisabeth dons her late twin brother's armor and sets out for the Holy Land. On the journey she learns many things, not the least of which is that she can pass for a young man because, as she says, "People see what they expect to see." Her lessons also include that honor is not always where you expect to find it, and that true love can come in the form... of another woman. (quote from book listing on link above.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Sarah and Hagar

I am calling you, oh Sarah;
This is your sister, Hagar,
calling through the centuries
to reach you from afar.

Here is my son, Ishmael,
your sister's son, alive.
We share the sons of Abraham:
two peoples, one tribe.

Oh yes, I am your Sarah.
I remember you, Hagar.
Your voice comes through the distance,
a cry upon my heart.

It was I who cast you out, in fear and jealousy;
Yet your vision survived the wilderness
to reach your destiny.

But it wasn't till my Isaac lay under the knife
that I recognized your peril,
the danger to your life.

I tremble now, Hagar,
for our peril's still the same.
We will not survive as strangers;
We must speak each other's name.

We must tell each others' stories,
make each other strong,
and sing the dream of ancient lands
where both of us belong.

Oh, let us hear the prayers
where spirit first was sown,
that all of our children
may call this land their home.

By Linda Hirschhorn (© 1988,2000)

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A blog post worth reading…

Gay People in Historical Novels

With a widely accepted estimate that ten percent of men and women prefer their own sex for love and lovemaking and most likely always have, it can be difficult to find gay and lesbian characters in historical novels. This issue is important to me as the author of Beloved Pilgrim whose protagonist is a lesbian. Besides caring that a group of people who have almost no written history should at least be represented in historical fiction, I also worried whether there would be some barrier to my own novel’s acceptance by readers. I wondered about the instances of other gay characters and did some canvassing to find them in well-known novels.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Beloved Pilgram by Nan Hawthorne

imageA woman dons her brother's armor and heads for the doomed Crusade of 1101


Nan Hawthorne

Nan Hawthorne is a historical novelist who lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband and doted-upon cats. She has been in love with history and historical fiction since, at four, she discovered the Richard Greene “The Adventures of Robin Hood” television series. She wrote her first short story at seven, then launched into the letters and stories with a teen friend that ultimately became her first novel, AN INVOLUNTARY KING: A TALE OF ANGLE SAXON ENGLAND (2008). The author of one nonfiction work on women and body image, she now concentrates primarily on historical novels set in the Middle Ages. Her latest novel, BELOVED PILGRIM, looks at gender identity and self-realization during the chaotic and doomed Crusade of 1101. She writes several blogs on historical themes, owns the catalog and also Internet radio station, Radio DĂ© Danann.

Peggy: Why did you choose a lesbian protagonist?

Nan: I am afraid I cannot claim some sort of holy mission for my decision to make the protagonist of my new novel, Beloved Pilgrim, a woman who loves women. If it had been that simple, well, I doubt the book would be anything like it is.

I am in a relationship with a man, have been for almost thirty years, but when I tried to imagine a relationship like mine for Elisabeth, I just couldn’t do it. Perhaps it's a lack in me, or perhaps I am absolutely right, but I can't imagine a man she would meet in 1101 who would be interested in a woman as strong as or stronger than he is. I usually find that a short way into writing a novel the characters become concrete enough to me that they ultimately have the last word anyway. You can count on it Elisabeth let me know just who she planned to love.

Then there was the woman on a writing group who said if I wrote a novel about a woman knight in love with a Saracen woman, she would love me forever. The idea of someone loving me forever for something I chose for a novel was the final deciding point! Maliha may not be a Saracen, per se, but rather Byzantine/Turkish, but it appears I made my reader very happy.

Elisabeth is not the only gay person in the novel. She and her beloved, Maliha, are lesbians, but Elisabeth’s brother Elias and his own lover are gay and so is the Byzantine functionary, Andronikos. I suspect every book I ever write will have gay characters because I am drawn to wanting to create places in history for people who have been so horribly oppressed. There is poignancy in such thoroughly star-crossed love that speaks to me like no other theme in historical fiction.

I also reject those critics who say that there were no gay people in the Middle Ages or that the ones who did exist were shortly to climb to their death at a stake. My personal opinion is that more or less the same proportion of humans now who are so inclined has always been the case. How people managed to live is for novelists to imagine. The threat of discovery is part of Beloved Pilgrim’s story, just as it would be, no matter how rosy a particular situation might develop.

Finally, and utterly frankly, I wrote this novel because there is a dearth of lesbian historical fiction. An unfilled niche is an author’s opportunity to succeed.

Now my challenge is to affirm the lesbianism of my characters but not limit interest in the broader story thanks to readers’ biases. Gay people read novels about straight people, so why shouldn’t the opposite be the case? I hope in my book’s appeal, it will be obvious that there are universal themes that will appeal to anyone interested in history.

Excerpt from Beloved Pilgrim by Nan Hawthorne

The scene: The first night on the ship from Italy to Constantinople.

Once the light had failed she leaned to Albrecht. "I have to piss," she said in a whisper. "What do I do?"

It was apparent that Albrecht had not thought about the problem any more than she had. "It's dark. Can you just go to the rails?"

She watched other men making their way through the standing crowd. "Where are they going?"

Albrecht stood on the tips of his toes to see what Elisabeth saw. "They are going to the beakhead."

"The beakhead? What is that? And how do you know what it's called?"

"Some squire told me to find a spot up near there, that I would be glad I did. Wait, I see him. He's the big burly fellow, the one climbing out on the beakhead." He watched a moment. "Oh."

"What?" she pressed.

"He's leaning way out to take a piss."

Elisabeth paled. "You have to climb out on that thing to piss?"

Albrecht shrugged. "Well, at least it's more private. I guess that is where you should go."

"And do what?" she demanded irritably. "Pull down my britches and sit with my arse to the sea? Everyone else is facing the other way."

Albrecht replied, "Not everyone. Can't you pretend you have to, you know . . . ?"

"I suppose. I might be able to get away with that in the dark." She started the process of pushing between men and made her way to the beakhead. To a man standing in her way she quipped, "Gotta take a shit. You mind?"

The man moved away from the spot at the fore of the cog. Elisabeth managed to relieve herself without anyone being the wiser.

Back in her old spot, she nodded to Albrecht. "It worked."

"I had an idea about daytime," he whispered as she pressed herself next to him.

"I can try to wait," she suggested.

Albrecht glanced about to see if anyone was regarding them. He shoved something hard against her thigh. "Put this in your britches," he rasped.

"What?" she asked, feeling for whatever it was he was poking her with. It felt like a piece of leather or some other hide. It was about the length and width of her hand. She obediently slipped it under her tunic and shirt and then into her britches.

"Roll it up," Albrecht instructed.

Her eyebrows darted up. "Oh, I get it! Then I just piss through it." She reached in to manipulate the improvised penis.

A man next to her looked her up and down, disgusted. "Can't you do that in private?" he complained as he turned his body so his back was to her.

"I wasn't . . . ," she began. She continued to grapple with the leather piece. She sighed deeply when she was done, then grinned at the man. "There, all done and no accident."

Best comment. in my never humble opinion, will receive a free electronic edition of Beloved Pilgram

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