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Kathy Fischer-Brown: Winter Fire

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Message From Kathy

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by early American history. In fact, when I was ten, I wrote my first novel; it was very loosely based on the Swamp Fox TV series (a Disney production 1959-1960), starring Leslie Nielsen as the Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion. I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since then J

From around this time until I was fourteen or fifteen, our family vacations involved visits to old forts, battlefields and living history sites up and down the East Coast of the US and Canada. My father was a Civil War buff who owned an extensive collection of books on the subject, but he was eclectic enough to include sites from earlier periods in our itineraries. Strolling through formal gardens and marveling at sumptuous bed chambers and ballrooms of Tryon Palace in North Carolina or expressing wonder over the three tiny rooms of an 18th century farmer’s house in Connecticut, I was deeply moved by the vibrations set off by the clothes, furniture and personal effects on display. Subsequent trips to Williamsburg, Virginia, and Old Sturbridge in Massachusetts—among others—provided far more insight than any high school history text could on how people in the past lived, worked and died, and with detail that struck all of my sensory nerves.

It was only natural that, when I took up writing seriously, I chose to set my fiction in the period I had come to love—the time encompassing the colonial and Revolutionary War eras in the U.S.

While searching for information on a book idea back in the days before the Internet, I became intrigued by “captive narratives.” In their time, and for a populace starved for the type of fabulous accounts that scream from today’s tabloids, this was an extremely popular genre depicting stories of white settlers taken in raids by Native Americans. Although these tales provided entertaining and informative reads, none was more gripping than the story of Mary Jemison, a teenage girl who was captured by a raiding party of French and Shawnee and adopted into the Seneca tribe in the area around what is now Syracuse, New York. Even as she mourned her family, Mary lived the rest of her life among the Haudenosaunee, marrying twice and giving birth to a number of children. By the time she was an old woman, Deh-he-wä-mis (as she came to be called) had all but forgotten her native language and was venerated by her tribe.

The story of Zara Grey, the heroine of my historical romance, Winter Fire, has as its core elements of these old captive narratives. Like many in the literature of her time, she is returned to what remains of her family. Fifteen years after her capture and adoption into a Seneca tribe in upstate New York, she finds herself once again reluctantly attempting to assimilate. As difficult as it was for many of these “redeemed captives” to readjust to a former life, the complications often proved far too great. The suspicions and mistrust with which they were perceived by their own people for their “Indian ways” put added strain on relationships and often prompted attempts on their part to rejoin their Indian families. In Zara’s case, a brutal murder makes her an easy scapegoat and puts her life in danger.

About Winter Fire

When Ethan Caine pulled the unconscious woman from the half-frozen creek, he had no idea that his world was about to explode. Dressed in quilled doeskin of Iroquois design, she stirred up dark secrets from his past. At the same time, she was everything he desired. But she was more Indian than white, and on the run for murder. He needed to know the truth. He needed to find it within himself to trust her.

Banished by the Seneca Indians who had adopted and raised her, ostracized by the whites in the settlement, Zara Grey wanted only to be accepted. “Ethancaine” treated her with kindness and concern. It was easy to trust him. But her Indian ways disturbed him, and in her heart she would always be Seneca.

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Excerpt

October, 1779. Six Nations Territory

She ran. Breathless, heart straining. Despite the stabbing pain in her side and the fire in her lungs, she forced herself on through the crackling underbrush. The cold wind whipped hair in her eyes. Briars tore her face and hands.

Cover_Winter Fire copyYet with each labored stride, the soldiers’ shouting voices drew closer. She dared not look back for fear of losing ground, dared not avert her eyes from the forest path.

But where was she to run? As if the question were an obstacle in her path she stumbled to a halt.

There was no one to help her. The People had gone, taking with them all help, all hope. She was alone. The outcast. Nameless.

Gasping, she slumped to her knees into the dew-drenched leaves.

The witch Jiiwi is no more!

The truth of it choked her. She set her teeth against the cry of anguish rising in her throat. She could have chosen death! Death at the hands of The People would have been swift. Nichus, her-husband-no-longer-her-husband, had assured her.

But her fear of death had been stronger than her fear of the unknown. She had chosen life. And with it, banishment.

She tore wind-blown hair laced with leaves and twigs from her face and glanced back over her shoulder. The soldiers were nearly upon her.

Five of them. They slowed their pace. Perhaps they knew she could run no more. They approached as if puzzled, talking among themselves. “Savages musta left her behind when they sneaked off,” one of the men said. “Why d’you suppose…?”

“Hotakwih!” she said to herself, unable to hold back the tears. It is finished. Raising her eyes to the sky above the autumn colored hills, she whispered, “Hohsah,” It has begun. She bowed her head. “Haywokahweh!” I have gone in a circle.

When the blue-coated soldiers caught up with her, she had neither the strength nor the will to resist.

Two of them edged closer to her in the shadows. “Here, we’re not going to harm you,” one said, his voice a raspy whisper. “Do you understand?”

She could not bring herself to look at them. Soon they would do more than talk. She knew. Soon they would see what she was. They would take her away. Take her back. Back to where the circle had begun.

She shuddered.

“Not so close,” the other man ordered. “Give her room. You’re scarin’ her.”

A twinge of unease rippled through her stomach. These were the same blue coats that had left a trail of ashes where thriving villages once had stood, who girdled the fruit trees so they would wither and die, who laid waste the fields of corn and squash and beans. She had seen them before, in her dreams. Her dreams had shown them the way.

“Good God!” another of them cried out. “She’s white! The woman’s white!”

The first man knelt before her. “Do you speak English? Can you tell us your name?”

She would not trouble herself to reply.

“Here!” A man fumbled in his pack, producing a slice of jerky. He extended it just beyond her reach, an attempt to lure her closer, like a starving dog. But she would not oblige him. “I’ll wager you’re hungry.”

She lifted her head slightly and eyed the meat with longing. Three days of subsisting on nothing but roots and groundnuts had left her light-headed and weak. But she would accept none of their food. She looked down at the leaves.

“Suit yourself,” the man grumbled, and tore off a piece with his teeth.

In the distance, the shouts of men rose above the morning stillness. An acrid odor wafted on the wind through the trees. Across the meadow, lush with green grasses, beyond the expanse of ripening fields and orchards, the soldiers had set fire to the village.

From a place deep inside her, as if awakened by the sounds and smells, an old terror forced itself past the dust of forgotten memory.

Zara! Run!

Voices from the past rang out across time. Silenced for so long, they gained new strength and force on the billows of smoke darkening the sky.

Mama! Her own voice. The voice of the child she had been.

For as long as she could remember, her dreams had been filled with fire and smoke. And a savage host tore her from one world and thrust her into another. So it had been in the past. So it would be again.

“Haywokahweh!” she said, and she closed her eyes.

The circle was complete.

About the Author

AuthorPic_Winter Fire copyAs a child Kathy wanted to be a writer when she grew up. She also wanted to act on the stage. After receiving an MFA in Acting from the Mason Gross School of the Arts and playing the part of starving young artist in New York, she taught theater classes at a small college in the Mid-West before returning home to the East Coast, where over the years, she and her husband raised two kids and an assortment of dogs. During stints in advertising, children’s media publishing, and education reform in the former Soviet Unions, she wrote whenever she could.

Her love of early American history has its roots in family vacations up and down the East Coast visiting old forts and battlefields and places such as Williamsburg, Mystic Sea Port, and Sturbridge Village. During this time, she daydreamed in high school history classes, imagining the everyday people behind all the dates and conflicts and how they lived.

Claiming her best ideas are born of dreams, Kathy has written a number of stories over the years. Her first published novel, Winter Fire, a 1998 Golden Heart finalist in historical romance, was reissued in 2010 by Books We Love, Ltd., which also released Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter, Courting the Devil, and The Partisan’s Wife.

When not writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, photography, playing “ball” with the dogs, and rooting on her favorite sports teams.

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