March 30, 2015

Judith Redline Coopey - Guest Post

Writing a Trilogy – Why or Why Not

A word of advice from a slow learner:  never announce that you intend to write a trilogy before you’ve actually written the trilogy.  Mine, The Juniata Iron Trilogy, started out as what will eventually be Volume Three.  Actually it started out as a desire to write something inspired by the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.   I loved that book for its array of eccentric and memorable characters.  So with that in mind, I started to develop my own set of strange beings, delving into my memory of the 1950s in rural western Pennsylvania.  A gun enthusiast who shot out of his upstairs window at targets across the road as cars whizzed by.  An eastern European immigrant whose command of English was just about non-existent raising three kids on his own after his wife died.  A crazy dare-devil kid trying to wring every last thrill out of his young life before tuberculosis took him down. A kind unmarried woman dedicating her life to caring for her father and two bachelor brothers, finding joy in her collection of African Violets.  For these and other characters I turned for further inspiration to a place near where I grew up in rural Pennsylvania.

The place was Mt Etna, a lost soul of a community when I was growing up more than fifty years ago, and barely a distant memory now.  In the 1950s, Mt Etna was a collection of run down former workers’ houses strung out along the Juniata River, remnants of a once prosperous and energetic iron plantation.  As a youth, I passed through Mt Etna every day, not even curious as to its origins and former glory.  All I knew was that the place was derelict and the people who lived there were poor.

Mt Etna in the 1950s was fertile ground for a collection of eccentrics, so I started there and went my merry way, writing a little from memory and a little from imagination.  What happened along the way to divert me from a single volume to a trilogy was curiosity. What had Mt Etna really been like back in its nineteenth century heyday?  How and why had it come along at all? For an historical novelist those how and why questions are the essence of why we write.  Our curiosity leads us down roads we never imagined existed to destinations far from where we thought we were going.

So to answer the how and the why, I began researching Mt Etna.  Now this was a tiny hamlet, never more than about 300 to 350 people, and it’s been nothing more than a ruin for  the past thirty or forty years. So where was I going to find out anything about it?  Enter the internet.  That’s right.  Amazing as it seems, I found a treasure trove of information about Mt Etna’s history at the Historic American Engineering Record, HAER No. PA-224.  There it was, all laid out before me – narrative, maps, drawings, a solid historical account of The Mt Etna Iron Works.

Add to that local historical societies:  Blair County Historical Society, Huntingdon County Historical Society, and local newspaper archives.  I love local historical societies.  They preserve so much that would be lost, simply by collecting, cataloguing and keeping.  Someone has to do that!  And they do it without compensation for years.  So, armed with plenty of historical fact and what is still left of the buildings, including the furnace itself, the manor house, now undergoing restoration, the company store, a tenant house, three log workers’ cabins and a huge stone bank barn, I became familiar with the place again.  Only this time I paid attention.

For me, the story always emerges out of the research.  I read and study and think about the time and place until I think I know it, and then I wait for the story to make its way out of the jumbled mass.  Once I’d familiarized myself with the actual history of Mt Etna, I knew there was more than one book here.  I’ve always loved family sagas, where the reader gets to follow the ebb and flow of a family’s fortunes, so I opted for a trilogy about the MacPhail family, purely fictional, but true to time and place.

So that’s how I got to writing a trilogy from the wrong end.  The first volume, The Furnace, came out in the fall of 2014.  Volume Two, tentatively titled The Brothers, is due this fall, and Volume Three should follow in 2016.  Writing the first volume came fairly easily once I’d studied the history of the place, and when launched in October 2014, it quickly claimed its place among readers.  The only problem was, once they read volume one, they clamored for volume two, and I hadn’t even written it yet.  Having done such extensive research, and having established time, place and a cast of characters, it should have been easy to slip right into volume two. Well, it was, but…  The pressure was on.  Could I keep up the tension?  Could I shepherd this family through another generation?  Could I keep my readers happy and looking forward to volume three?

 Who knows?  All a writer can do is write.  And hope.  So I jumped into volume two, and at this writing the first draft is simmering on the back burner.  I’ll leave it there for a month or two before I begin the revision process.  It feels pretty good right now, but that will be for the readers to decide.  Volume three is already half written.  I know where this is going, and where it ends, but the pressure is still on to produce a good story well told – my ultimate goal.

Which brings me back to where this blog began.  If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s this.  Don’t ever tell the world you are writing a trilogy until you’ve written a trilogy.  The pressure can be deadly, and I’m up for it, but after this, I think I’ll go back to writing one book at a time!

About the books

The Furnace (Juniata Iron Trilogy, #1)
Publication Date: October 1, 2014
Fox Hollow Press
*Formats: eBook & Paperback
Pages: 336
Series: Volume One, Juniata Iron Trilogy
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Elinor Bratton, young, beautiful, and privileged is pregnant and cast aside by her lover, the wealthy and spoiled scion of a eastern Pennsylvania family. As a result she is forced by her father into an arranged marriage to a man she barely knows. Adam MacPhail, a common iron worker whose only wish is to become an iron master agrees to the match as a means of realizing his dream. Ellie’s father, Stephen Bratton, well to do, well connected and determined to save his daughter’s reputation, orchestrates the union — not as Ellie would have it, but as he sees fit. So begins a marriage in a time when a woman had no voice, no rights, no say in matters directly pertaining to her. Ellie, exiled to the wilderness of western Pennsylvania with a man she would not have considered three months before, declares her intention to make Adam’s life miserable and make her father pay for his high-handed disregard for her rights. Adam, unschooled in dealing with women, chooses to focus his energy and attention on turning a down and out iron furnace into a profitable, well-ordered producer. Through the first half of the nineteenth century, the couple struggle to establish a life, disentangle an ill-conceived marriage, and make a success of a derelict furnace through the ups and downs of an unpredictable industry. Volume One of The Juniata Iron Trilogy, The Furnace chronicles Ellie and Adam’s efforts to find a balance and build an enterprise worthy of Pennsylvania’s iron industry, producing Juniata Iron, the finest in the world.

Buy The Furnace

Looking for Jane
Publication Date: December 21, 2012
Fox Hollow Press
Formats: ebook & Paperback
Pages: 238
Genre: Historical Fiction

“The nuns use this as their measuring stick: who your people are. Well, what if you don’t have no people? Or any you know of? What then? Are you doomed?” This is the nagging question of fifteen-year-old Nell’s life. Born with a cleft palate and left a foundling on the doorstep of a convent, she yearns to know her mother, whose name, she knows, was Jane.
When the Mother Superior tries to pawn her off to a mean looking farmer and his beaten down wife, Nell opts for the only alternative she can see: she runs away. A chance encounter with a dime novel exhorting the exploits of Calamity Jane, heroine of the west, gives Nell the purpose of her life: to find Calamity Jane, who Nell is convinced is her mother.
Her quest takes her down rivers, up rivers and across the Badlands to Deadwood, South Dakota and introduces her to Soot, a big, lovable black dog, and Jeremy Chatterfield, a handsome young Englishman who isn’t particular about how he makes his way, as long as he doesn’t have to work for it. Together they trek across the country meeting characters as wonderful and bizarre as the adventure they seek, learning about themselves and the world along the way.

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Waterproof: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Fox Hollow Press
Formats: ebook & Paperback
Pages: 266
Genre: Historical Fiction

Fifty years after an earthen dam broke and sent a thirty foot wall of raging destruction down on the city of Johnstown, PA, Pamela McRae looks back on the tragedy with new perspective.
When the flood hit, it wiped out Pam’s fondest hopes, taking her fiancé and her brother’s lives and her mother’s sanity, and within a year her father walked away, leaving his daughter
—now the sole support of her mother—to cope with poverty and loneliness.
The arrival of Katya, a poor Hungarian girl running away from an arranged marriage, finally gives Pam the chance she needs to get back into the world; Katya can care for her mother, and Pam can go to work for the Johnstown Clarion as a society reporter.
Then Davy Hughes, Pam’s fiancé before the flood, reappears and, instead of being the answer to her prayers, further complicates her life. Someone is seeking revenge on the owners of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, the Pittsburgh millionaires who owned the failed dam, and Pam is afraid Davy has something to do with it.

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Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground Railroad
Publication Date: April 2, 2010
Formats: ebook & Paperback
Pages: 280
Genre: Historical Fiction

Ann Redfield is destined to follow her brother Jesse through life – two years behind him – all the way. Jesse is a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and Ann follows him there as well.
Quakers filled with a conviction as hard as Pennsylvania limestone that slavery is an abomination to be resisted with any means available, the Redfield brother and sister lie, sneak, masquerade and defy their way past would-be enforcers of the hated Fugitive Slave Law.
Their activities inevitably lead to complicated relationships when Jesse returns from a run with a deadly fever, accompanied by a fugitive, Josiah, who is also sick and close to death. Ann nurses both back to health. But precious time is lost, and Josiah, too weak for winter travel, stays on at Redfield Farm. Ann becomes his teacher, friend and confidant. When grave disappointment disrupts her life, Ann turns to Josiah for comfort, and comfort leads to intimacy. The result, both poignant and inspiring, leads to a life long devotion to one another and their cause.

Buy Redfield Farm

About the Author
Judith Redline Coopey, born in Altoona, PA holds degrees from the Pennsylvania State University and Arizona State University. A passion for history inherited from her father drives her writing and a love for Pennsylvania sustains it. Her first book, Redfield Farm was the story of the Underground Railroad in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. The second, Waterproof, tells how the 1889 Johnstown Flood nearly destroyed a whole city and one young woman’s life. Looking For Jane is a quest for love and family in the 1890s brought to life through the eyes of Nell, a young girl convinced that Calamity Jane is her mother. Her most recent work, The Furnace: Volume One of the Juniata Iron Trilogy, is set on an iron plantation near where she grew up and tells the story of an ill conceived marriage of convenience as it plays out over a lifetime. As a teacher, writer and student of history, Ms Coopey finds her inspiration in the rich history of her native state and in stories of the lives of those who have gone before.

For more information please visit Judith Redline Coopey’s website. You can also find her on Facebook,Twitter, and Goodreads.

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