I finished this book during the pandemic of 2020 and during the time of the unrest following the killing of yet another unarmed black man, George Floyd, by police in Minneapolis. I now understand systemic racism in our country. I now understand white privilege, but it has taken me a long time. The research on this book forced me to confront our horrendous past of slavery. Slavery and its aftermath have taken a terrible toll on our country. Systemic racism, white supremacy and privilege, social injustices, suppression of voting rights for blacks and people of color continue today. Will we ever stop discriminating against people because of the color of their skin, their culture, and their beliefs?
Octoroon society existed in New Orleans in the early 19th century. A small portion of mixed-race people - mulatto, quadroon, and octoroon - formed a select gentry. Some were well-to-do. Some even held slaves. (One drop of negro blood made you negro. Mulattos were half black, quadroons were one quarter, and octoroons were one eighth.) I first learned about octoroon gentry in a film at the Josephine School Community Museum in Berryville, Virginia where I am still a member. Thank you, Dorothy Davis.
Many, many books fiction and non-fiction have been written about the Oregon and California trails overland migration, roughly the years from 1840 to 1860 when the Great Migration took place in the United States. Many reasons are listed for this phenomenon: bank failure, crop failure, disease, wanderlust, crowded conditions, free land, opportunity to start a new life, gold rush of 1849, Manifest Destiny.
When I first started reading the biographies, travel books, diaries, and oral histories, my one thought was: these people were crazy. Crazy to put up with the travails and hardships of a good six months on the open road, traveling for the most part in farms wagons drawn by oxen, mules or horses. The early wagon trains in the 1840s had different hardships than those who followed in the 1850s.
Women’s diaries wrote of daily life and hardships. They never mentioned women’s problems, sanitation, or childbirth, which were taboo topics. Women often didn’t want to leave home. Their husbands did. As in every age, there were extraordinary women in the 19th century who never made it into history books.
Men’s diaries noted where they found feed for animals and what the trail was like, how long it took to get from one place to the next. They also wrote about the disagreements in the trains and frontier justice.
Danger came from accidents and disease. Most people died of disease. Cholera was a big killer. Danger from Native Americans was overstated. Fear fed fears. People repeated hair-raising stories of Indian attack massacres they read in the newspapers, which for the most part were unfounded. Whites did impersonate Indians in raids upon the emigrants. Emigrant men were armed to the teeth, fearing an enemy that for the most part didn’t materialize. More often than not they killed themselves in accidental gun incidents. Wagon accidents and drownings were common.
Native Americans played an important supportive role in the migration with little thanks in return. They shared information with the settlers about the best trails, sources of food and water, and helped them in dangerous river crossings. They traded much needed food and articles of clothing. In return, their food sources were killed and run off, grass eaten and trampled, water contaminated, wood supply used up. When they asked the overlanders for tribute or tax, they were given so grudgingly if at all because the overlanders believed that the indigenous people did not own the land or resources over which they traveled. It was theirs for the taking. They believed in Manifest Destiny, a term originating in 1845, that expressed the belief that it was the mission of Anglo-Saxon Americans to expand their civilization and institutions across North America.
Without the support of the Native Americans, there would probably have been no migration; or the number of emigrants would have been greatly reduced by disease, starvation, and accident. Many fewer would have reached their final destination. When the real effect of the migration made itself felt to the indigenous people, they fought back only to have their way of life and culture destroyed.
The people who availed themselves of the opportunity for migration were mostly white, arrogant in their claims and outlook on life, what was owed to them as a matter of birthright, all lumped in the convenient term of Manifest Destiny. It was God’s will and the right of “Americans” to expand west.
African Americans went west. Accounts exist of who they were, where they came from, and where they went. Some were free; some were taken as slaves. Oregon territory was not well disposed to admitting people of color, free or slave. The infamous lash law was effective at keeping blacks out of the state. California was more open and welcoming, but not without its prejudices. In 1850 California was admitted to the union as a free state.
Some of the characters in Wings of the Dawn are inspired by real life people like Biddy Mason (1818-1891). She was a nurse, midwife, real estate businesswoman, and philanthropist in Los Angeles. She was born a slave in Georgia in 1818. A Mormon family who owned her took her to California in 1851 where they would not free her. She petitioned the California courts and eventually won her freedom. She was one of the first African American women to own land in Los Angeles. She amassed a good fortune and shared it with many. (See Wikipedia, Biddy Mason)
Some of the events come from real life diaries. I have tried to be as historically correct as possible, but any errors are mine alone. Above all, this is a work of fiction. It is one fictional overland migration story based on a character I created in my historical romance, Wings of the Wind. It led me to places I would never have gone as much of my writing often does. It allowed me to take a chance and write about what I don’t know and in so doing I expanded my horizons.
2020 has been a pretty horrendous year for most people. The pandemic is still raging. Vaccinations are starting to be administered. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris got elected - Yeah! Through it all I continued to write Wings of the Dawn. On December 21 I finally wrote "The End". But now I go back and start the endless task of editing, polishing, rewriting. But at least I got a story complete and the plot worked out. I may be able to publish by the summer.
Meanwhile, I wish all of you a very healthy, safe, happy, and peaceful New Year. It's gotta get better.
I know I said I was working on my next science fiction in the Deovolante Series but I got sidelined. I usually have several projects started at once. I got hung up in Return to the Stars on the space-time thing so I put it aside and took out Wings of the Dawn which is an historical fiction featuring a character from Wings of the Wind. Fabienne Beluche now Nicole Duval goes west on the Oregon Trail to get away from her past in New Orleans which includes her life as an Octoroon. She's going overland to California to start a new life. It's turning into a book about transformation. I'm about halfway through and it is really getting interesting.
The other book I have started is a mystery, working title The Three Sisters set in Bend Oregon. I got hung up on something in that one, too. So it's sitting on the shelf waiting for me to return.
I also have a memoir started which I worked on to keep in writing practice while I waited to get interested in one of my fiction projects. Such is the life of a writer. It's a perfect profession/hobby during a pandemic. On my writing mornings I'm on the California Trail in 1853. I'm perfectly content working at home. I don't have volunteer/community/activist meetings to go to, although some weeks I have too many Zoom meetings. Even the Willamette Writers Conference this year will be online. Strange times we live in. I never thought I'd live to see this. Very surreal. Like living in the Twilight Zone.
Winter 2020 Reflections
I've published ten novels over the last ten years that include mystery, utopian sci-fi, and one romance. I've written poems, made a guest appearance at a high school poetry class, and created two workshops. One was Finish the Book and the other was Publish the Book. I produced a workshop on screenwriting and helped produce and fundraise for an actor-screenwriter workshop. I've attended Willamette Writers conferences, where I discovered self-publishing. I've attended a writer conference at Yachats on the Oregon coast in 2009 produced by Jane Kirkpatrick.
I started in Washington DC Romance Writers back in the early 90s. It was through romance writer workshops that I learned character development, voice, and plot. I belong to the local Harney Basin Writers group which is a great group for feedback on one’s work in progress. Past a point one has to just write. I no longer attend the weekly writer meetings. I'd rather write. I no longer go to workshops. I'd rather write. I no longer produce and fundraise for writer events. I'd rather write.
Now at the grand ole age of seventy-two, I'd rather pursue my art. I am in the process of backing away from community and civic volunteer involvement, opening up space for drawing, beading, writing, and music. From head center to feeling center. From certainty to exploration.
I love making interesting necklaces with beads. I love beads and the feel of them. I first learned beading from my friend, Marlis Hodges, who I met in the Houston Gurdjieff work. I used to work with seed beads. I used to make earrings and bracelets. I used to bead clothes, fabrics, and pillows. Now mostly I make necklaces with semi-precious stones like turquoise, rose quartz, agate, carnelian, tree agate, garnet, jasper, onyx, amethyst. I used to decorate necklaces with silver, Bali silver, copper, and some gold beads. But now I don’t buy semi-precious. I am using what I have accumulated over the years. I bought out my Aunt Nancy years ago when she got out of the beading business. I work now in less expensive beads like shiny, faceted glass beads and base metal spacers. I enjoy finding old necklaces, taking them apart, and using them for new creations.
I love writing. I have four different projects started. One is a mystery set in Bend Oregon, working title, The Three Sisters. I'm working on my memoir, The Ditch Witch Blues, which is a fun project. It won't be for general circulation. I'll include photos. Then I'm struggling with Wings of the Wind, a novel set in 1853 when an octoroon woman goes West on the Oregon trail. It has led me to study black history, especially William Loren Katz’s black histories for young readers that have lots of photos. I now read black fiction authors like Ta-nehesi Coates and Toni Morrison. I read Ibrim Kendi’s book How to be an Anti-Racist. Toni Morrison is a huge influence and inspiration. I read Sulah. She helps me understand how black women think, feel, and view their world.
Another project is the fifth book in the Deovolante sci-fi series. I got stuck on space time after about 50,000 words. It wasn't making sense so I'm reading Carlo Rovelli, my favorite Italian physicist. He wrote The Order of Time, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, and Reality Is Not What It Seems. I found his email on his website and emailed him to say how much I enjoy his books. He answered and said, “Thank you, Marjorie!! Carlo”. I was thrilled! He gets me to thinking about reality, space and time, which informs my science fiction writing. He says, “Space is granular. Time doesn’t exist. Things are nowhere.”
I am playing the piano again. John got interested in centers through a Cynthia Bourgeault post on Richard Rohr’s daily meditations. She points out that arts and music are the first thing cut from school curriculum. They come from the feeling center. It made me realize that I need to play the piano again. I am starting with the Gurdjieff/ De Hartman music. Working at the art gallery, I listen to All Classical Portland. I need more feeling center food.
I have stopped reading headlines because they are too depressing. Mass psychosis. On the way into town, which is half an hour drive, I listen to Portland jazz radio KMHD instead of OPB news. Tosca is playing now on All Classical as I sit at the art gallery. I see how it touches me. Bourgeault also talks about how white society is stuck in its head or the thinking center to the detriment of other cultures, who are more moving and feeling center. Black soul music comes to mind. White society has a lot to be remorseful for, and they aren’t. I am. I only recently came to understand white privilege.
I like to draw and have for years in sketch books and on drawing paper. I like colored pencils best then crayons then No. 2 pencils. I hope my friend Terry Keim, who is a fabulous artist and drawer, will help me improve my craft. I draw fences, trucks, trees.
I want to devote some of each day to beading, writing, music and drawing, to my art, to creativity. This is my wish.
In my inner work, I see that I cannot do. That I am asleep. I see my certainty. I ask the question “What is pulling the strings?” I wish for intentionality. Seeing my automaticity, I am freed to seek intentionality through self-remembering.
I'm working on the next book in the Deovolante Space Opera - Return to the Stars. The process entails rereading the first four books in the series to make sure I have everything in agreement. I have forgotten a lot! I also have a mystery set in Bend Oregon that I've worked on and a memoir that I started this winter which includes essays and poems and remembrances. I love writing. It helps me sort through ideas and thoughts that I have.
The fourth book in the Deovolante Space Opera series is on sale on Kindle for 99 cents until December 19. This is the last of the special Christmas offers for my Deovolante Space Opera series. Look for Earth Risingby searching on Marjorie Thelen in Amazon.com. In this book our erstwhile group of Earth physicists and Deovolante aliens team up to try to help planet Earth rise to a higher vibration but run into opposition from no other than Earth and her inhabitants. Enjoy!
My very best wishes for a happy holiday season and a joyous new year!
Announcing a New Romance Novel by Marjorie Thelen
Wings of the Wind: A prosperous shopkeeper, a pirate captain, a clipper ship, and uncle who isn't what he seems. A historical romance set in Galveston, Texas, 1850.
Now available on Amazon Kindle. Search on Marjorie Thelen in Amazon for all my books.
Starting Monday, December 3, the second book in the Deovolante Space Opera will be on sale for three days at 99 Cents in Kindle Store for three days, then $1.99 for three days. Look for it under Kindle Countdown Deals. In this spoofy tale from the Deovolante Galaxy Space Opera a reformed pirate, a holy person, and crew end up in the Next Universe Over by mistake.
Rodan, former misguided pirate, leads an expedition from planet Earth back to the Deovolante Galaxy to re-establish contact with the Oversee, the Deovolante ruling entity, who have disappeared. The return trip is plagued with problems. First and foremost, they discover a mysterious being in the ship’s freezer, who shouldn’t be there. She is Freya from a Holy Planet that disappeared eons ago. When the expedition arrives back in Deovolante, they discover there is a strange entity pursing them that may be key to the disappearance of the Holy Planet. Rodan and company decide to confront the strange entity at a black hole rendezvous. Unfortunately, their navigator makes a wrong calculation, and they end up in the Next Universe Over.
I'm a serious writer, meaning I have a regular daily writing habit, and I'm interested in sharing my work through publication. My favorite literary form is the novel. I write to entertain myself and my readers.