Summer Girl – An award-winning romantic short-story

“I won a trip to Disney World for this light-hearted humorous romance – it’s from a very youthful point of view that you will surely enjoy. Without further ado…  here is my favorite little short story… Summer Girl!

~ Jessica Leigh

romance fiction best sellers short story

 

My ears were burning, the tell-tale sign of my secret passion.  They always burned that way when Michael was near.

I rolled down the minivan window a fraction of an inch and stole a sniff of salt-laden air. Heaven on a highway.

“The air-conditioning is on, Althaea.”

I bit my lip and closed the offensive gap, trying hard not to appear annoyed with the reprimand. There were narrowed eyes watching me from the rear-view mirror.  Mrs. Gifford seemed to know me better than she did her own son.

From within the confines of his booster seat, Newton poked me in the side and giggled at my irritation.  I chose to ignore him, and withdrew a compact mirror from my beach bag. It was not too early to begin the careful inspection of my pre-beach face.

As always, I viewed a splash of too many brownish freckles, a nose too pert and girly, and messy strands of red hair loosened from a once-neat ponytail.  How did other girls get their how to stay so smooth and sleek? I frowned, but then focused determinedly on my mouth – my one, good feature.  My lips were full and well-shaped, and what I hoped Michael would consider sexy.

“Ally’s lookin’ for boogers in her mirror,” Newton announced.

I gritted my teeth, but refused to give him the negative attention he craved.  Newton was obnoxious and rather disgusting – and he loved to start up drama – but I had learned to deal with him to the best of my mature ability.

I didn’t have a choice really. I was his baby-sitter, and he was my ticket to the beach every summer.  My ticket to Michael, the gorgeous hottie of a lifeguard who haunted my dreams like a viral internet clip that played over and over. Only he was real.

I carefully withdrew Secret Weapon #1 from a separate compartment in my bag.  A newly purchased lipstick entitled Kandy Kane, it was a seductive shade of hot pink that would leave the savory taste of mint behind when I was kissed.  A wintergreen Lifesaver, held on the tongue and swallowed deftly an instant before our lips met would leave the final blow of a one-two punch.  I did not want Michael to think that I smelled like cheesesteaks or boardwalk fries, or sweaty Newton-hair.  I wanted to smell like… Christmas in July.

With a small, private smile, I applied the Kandy Kane and smacked my lips with relish. Newton began to bounce erratically, sending shock-waves pulsing through the vinyl seat with every heave of his bony rump.  “We’re there!” he crowed.  “Seashore, Ally, Ally!”

Although he was six and – I suspected – fairly bright, Newton had a disturbing fondness for acting half of his age.  His scrawny body and myopic eyes caged by coke-bottle glasses only added to the ruse. Thank God I would be old enough to drive by the time he reached the completely unmanageable age of nine.

As the minivan rolled to a torturously slow halt, I thrust carefully painted toes into my sandals and turned to Newton, who was flopping within the various straps of his seat like a fish in a net. He was likely big enough to ride without one but I vigorously reminded his mother of the severity of beach cops and their car-seat laws. They loved to ticket moms. It was their bread and butter.

“How could you forget my reclining beach chair? Really, Cliff…how?” Mrs. Gifford unusually high voice rang out.

When the metal clatter of beach chair legs hit the pavement along with more exclamations of dismay and confusion, I managed to free Newton’s legal ties. “Hurry,” he urged me, and we quickly sped toward the bright span of beach ahead of the now arguing Giffords.

When the hot sand curled over my flip flops and invaded the clefts between my toes, I yanked Newton to a crashing halt beside me.  He growled low in his throat much like feral cat and gnashed his baby teeth.  “Newton, we really should wait for your parents,” I told him in a no-nonsense tone that made his lips pooch out in a ridiculous way.

In truth, I didn’t want to wait either. I just wanted to savor this moment,  the startling blue of the sea as it swelled up to meet me, the throaty sound of gulls on the wind, the endless stretch of warm sand the hue and texture of… well, cornmeal was the nearest thing I could think of.

Cornmeal, really? Anyway, I wanted to relish this unique and special piece of my youth, because by the end of the week, I would be forever changed.  I was bound and determined that Michael would kiss me, and that this year, I would be his summer girl.  After all, I had pushed passed the immature tween age, and I was a true teenager now.  And, even more importantly, I was armed with Secret Weapon #2.

I glanced down at the hopeful pair of breasts that pressed against the satiny red fabric of my swimsuit, checking their placement and if they had perhaps grown any since this morning. The huff and clatter of chair-laden adults approached from behind, and I released Newton from my grip.  He rushed to meet them, fluttering his arms as if it would speed their steps.

“Mom, we gotta go! Why are you so slow?”

She sniffed. “It’s your father. You know he only has one gear and it simply can’t be shifted.”

It didn’t take long for me to realize that Mrs. Gifford was anxious to be rid of us. Her umbrella was already up, her chair in place, and her special “Mom Only” cooler was nestled against it. I even had to remind her that Newton needed his water shoes and his 90SPF lotion.

It took both of us to hold him down while Mr. Gifford applied it to his squirming and resistant arms and legs. Mr. Gifford look harried as he wiped off his hands, and the last piece of his remaining reddish hair stood up in the sea breeze like a rooster’s comb.

So, in mere seconds, I was weighed down with floaties, kickboards, towels, and sandcastle tools.  I may have even been shoved in the back lightly, but I couldn’t tell for sure. Newton skipped away from me on quick, bare feet before I could distribute the heavy load.  Grumbling, I trundled after him.

“Wait, Althaea!”

I turned, struggling to appear the patient and weary beast of burden, since I was being paid for my services.  Yet my insides churned excitedly, and my heart sang- Michael, Michael, Michael! Was he here today? The life guard tower he always manned was not far up the beach, number 23, I would never forget that number! I could be there in but a matter of minutes if we hurried…

“Remember to be back by, oh, around eight-o’clock, that’s about dusk, wouldn’t you say Cliff? Cliff?”

Mr. Gifford was staring mutely after the tan limbs of a bleach-blonde undulating by.  Sniffing, Mrs. Gifford flicked long fingers at me in a shooing manner as she reached into her cooler.  “Eight-o’clock,” she repeated. “You can check the time at the life-guard tower if you don’t want sand ruining your cell phone.”

My plan exactly. That and much, much more. I had devised so many scenarios and plot twists over those long and torturous winter months that lay behind me. The experiences that I could – right now – obtain on this mile long stretch of sand, sea and boardwalk would have to sustain me for another entire year. I was going to make the most of it.

I turned and looked for the small, knobby form of Newton, who was following the rippling edge of the surf, head down and arms pumping, like a hungry hound on the scent of fox. “This way, Newton!” I pointed in command. Determinedly, I headed up the beach toward the lifeguard tower in line with my finger. I could just make out the familiar block lettering against the white paint. Yep, 23.

Newton’s round head lifted in my direction, and sniffing the air, he picked up an ungainly trot in order to keep up with my hurried stride.“Good dog,” I mumbled, mostly to myself. I then focused my gaze on the blonde-headed body perched atop that white, wooden tower that hulked in the distance.  The body was definitely male…oh, yes… and the face was definitely Michael.

Broad shoulders, sleek muscles, fashionable board-short swim trunks… he was perfection. I even recognized the cute little cowlick in the midst of his shaggy mass of white-gold hair.

Oh my. Ears burning red like never before, I dropped our heavy pile of goods onto the sand and shook out a blanket to stake our claim in this carefully selected position.  It would not do to park our stuff at the base of the tower… that would be way too obvious.

Chewing my lip, I handed Newton the kickboard when he approached, and thought on the best course of action. Any more delay was not an option, in my opinion. We only had four days. It would slip away like the wind over waves.“Gotta tie it on, Ally,” Newton reminded me sternly.

Aghast, I stared back at him.  “You’re too big for that this year!”

His face screwed up horribly, and his hands formed small but deadly claws. He was going to cry out loud again, I could sense it.It was the one public weapon in his arsenal that still worked on me. At least it did this close to Michael. The horror of a public tantrum was not something that I was willing to deal with right now.

“Okay Newton,” I relented with a huff, stopping the dramatic fit before it could run its full course.  Resolutely, I tied the humiliating length of rope about my midriff and followed him into the cool, gentle surf.  Newton was deathly afraid of water above his knees… unless he was fettered to another live body.  Then he became freaking AquaBoy. If he grew any bigger, he would soon be able to pull me under and drown me.

Gritting my teeth, I waded even deeper, tugging Newton in my wake until the crests curled over my waist and covered my embarrassing burden. He paddled happily around me in circles like a small Ninja-Turtle, with a neon-green floatie wrapped tightly around his waist.

I pondered how to attract Michael’s attention without looking like a complete idiot.  Should I walk right up to the tower – all bold breasts and girly swagger?  Nope, too forward, I decided. I just didn’t have the experience to pull that off. Splashing and yelling would be way too pre-teen.  And, although I cherished the image of Michael cradling my limp, wet body in his 11strong arms, allowing Newton to drown me like I feared was probably a bit risky.

Knitting my brows, I thought back to the synchronized swimming lessons that my mom had forced me to take over the winter because I was on the computer too much.  I hadn’t exactly excelled in the gracefulness department, but still… a few smooth, supple movements through the water might just be sexy enough to catch Michael’s eye.

Yes. I imagined the flash of a female thigh, an elegant arm, the tinkling of feminine laughter echoing through the sea spray to entice him much like a mermaid. Hmm. I thought that perhaps I could pull that particular scenario off.  After all, I had lasted through two whole weeks of classes before faking a pulled hamstring. Changing in the shower room had been simply too traumatic of an ordeal and girls with bigger chests were just plain mean about it.

I drew a deep breath and dove gracefully into the surf. Although I cut the water smoothly, I was immediately pulled up short by Newton’s lagging weight and I surfaced with an ungainly lurch.

Slicking drowned hair strands out of my eyes, I pulled fiercely on the line to create more slack between us. Then, I casually backpedaled with long, splashing arm-strokes… kicking my knees into the air, turning, turning, dunking, and then pedaling again.  The slack soon wrapped itself around my legs, bringing me nose to nose with a gleefully howling Newton.  “It’s not funny,” I ground out.

“Dipstick!” he crowed. “Ally, you are!”

“Well, you are a cretin,” I returned snidely, plunging him into momentary confusion as he pondered the unfamiliar word.  I bobbed with the slow waves, trying to disentangle myself. My ponytail was hanging sideways. This was not working at all.

“Althaea! Hey Red!”

A shiver worked its way through my body.  ‘Red’ was Michael’s nickname for me.  I thought it was very sexy- and I had long sinceblocked out the memory of the painful sunburn of my winter-pale skin that had been the true reason behind the term ‘red.’

I swung my gaze to the lifeguard tower, and Michael was waving at me.  Holy crap, I had achieved victory! Was it really that easy?

I tugged Newton by the rope hurriedly toward the shore. “Come on.”“No!” he screeched.“We have to go see Michael.”

“Who?”

“The lifeguard.  The nice one. Remember last year?”  Michael had even bought the spoiled brat a funnel cake when he cut his big toe on a sharp shell. But the sullen look on Newton’s face told me that he didn’t remember Michael’s superior kindness at all.  Well, that figured.

Michael’s family, the Giovanni’s, owned a restaurant right on the boardwalk and were somehow old friends with the Giffords.  Lucky Michael got to live here for most of the year enjoying the teenage dream beach-life that I envied so terribly.

Sand and sun, a constant stream of boys and girls, crazy-good food, bonfires, and Ferris wheels… I couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of such a fairy tale life. I just knew that I wanted it, too. Michael had always been friendly to me, so cute and kind, even when I was a dorky twelve-year-old with no breasts at all.  This year was different.  I was different.

“Hi, Michael.”  I was immediately embarrassed by the shy and breathy tone of my voice.  I lifted my shoulders and arched my back. Would he notice?

“Hey there, Red. You guys on vacation again?” he questioned the obvious, looking down on us with his blond surfer’s smile that quirked up in the corner and exposed an irresistible little dimple.

He was so….golden. My stomach churned and flipped over with nervous joy.

After a moment, I nodded, frantically trying to think of something fascinating to say.  “I’m a year older,” I eventually blurted when the silence lengthened.

Michael laughed and winked at me.  “That’s a funny one, Red, so am I!”

I smiled back at him, turning sideways so that he might catch a profile of my womanly curves. I just had nothing else to go on. Just nothing. Where was the witty charm that I had practiced all winter? Should I talk about global warming? Italian recipes? Beach volleyball? Oh God, what??!!

It was then that Newton rapped on a leg of the tower, and Michael glanced away from my uncomfortable silence and down at his upturned face.  Newton’s lower lip was pooching out and I knew that was a certain signal for impending trouble. Newton was a brat – flat out – and the Giffords had never reined him in. Halting the inevitable drama was all up to me.

“Hey, how old are you, Dipstick?” Newton demanded in a belligerent tone.  My hand itched, aching to whack the back of his wet, brown head for such blatant disrespect.  I settled for a stealthy but meaningful poke in the back.  Shut up. Newton merely grunted and lashed out from behind with one bare foot without even relinquishing his grip on the tower leg.

“I’m sixteen,” Michael returned, maturely ignoring the minor fracas occurring between us.  “That’s pretty old, don’t you think?”

Newton cocked his head and pondered the age difference and its impact on the potential success of a tantrum. Finally, he caught his pooching lower lip between his small but crooked teeth. I knew this to be a possible sign of surrender and released my pent up breath.

“Yeah,” he finally mumbled, “I guess so,” and then dropped the wet, sandy kickboard on my feet and headed for the blanket.  I watched him go with a strange mixture of both relief and utter terror.  His departure meant that Michael and I were now alone.

“Hey, I get break in about ten minutes, Red.  I gotta get back in the chair. You know, my brother’s around here somewhere. You should find him.”

“Oh,” I said dejectedly, feeling my lungs deflate at the obvious dismissal.  “I’ll be over there.”  I pointed to our blanket but he was already climbing up the ladder.

I stood there for a moment, unwilling to leave at first. Michael blew his whistle and screamed something unintelligible at a wayward family drifting too far out to sea.  Finally, I wandered toward our blanket. Surely, Michael would visit me on his break.

I hoped that his little brother wouldn’t show up to bother us.  I clearly remembered a gawky, skinny kid named Danny with a mouthful of silver braces and greasy-looking dark hair. His voice cracked when he talked, and he blurted out even dumber things than I did. I remember thinking that Danny must have been adopted or switched at birth in the hospital.  He couldn’t be Michael’s flesh and blood.  No possible way.

I plopped down on the blanket and miserably watched Newton imitate a crab by rubbing his butt into the wet sand at the edge of the ocean while scrabbling around on his palms.  The sea behind him was unusually quiet, the vast stretch of sapphire broken only by a single boat in the distance.  Last year, I sat on this very beach and prayed that Michael would eventually notice me. He would see that I was a diamond in the rough and that I adored him like no other. I could be everything to him, because my love was that great.

But, being only twelve at the time, I was also filled with dreams of swimming out into the ocean with Michael until we reached our own private liner, and then climbing aboard and sailing away into a blood-red sunset. With flutes of sparkling grape juice, we would venture toward a destination unknown… or perhaps Bermuda…or even Venice to hob-nob with the old Italian families Michael’s father was distantly related to.

Those dreams were silly and childish, I had come to realize over a long, bleak winter.  Now, I coveted the much more mature fantasy of sneaking into the shadows beneath the boardwalk, of stolen kisses and warm, mint-flavored lips. Hmm, was I obsessing on the mint thing too much?

I withdrew a Lifesaver and sucked on it hopefully. Probably, but what did it matter? There was nothing wrong with good breath. I was just sooo ready for my first kiss.

Ten agonizingly slow minutes ticked by, and I grew restless and itchy.  I began to worry about sand fleas and impetigo.  Newton returned for a shovel then immediately charged a hapless little girl, wielding the plastic instrument like a sword.

There was an awful tangle of arms and legs and I closed my eyes to block it out, and waited for the wailing to begin.  When there was none, I opened one eye to see the poor girl pinned to the sand.  Newton was quite obviously peering down her bathing suit top.

“Newton!” I screamed in the fiercest of baby-sitter voices. Hopefully, he parents were not watching this crime unfold.

“Hey, Red.  Got your hands full again, I see?”

I struggled to compose myself before turning to send a dazzling and recently applied Kandy Kane smile to Michael.  It died instantly on my lips.  There was a girl on his arm.

“This is my girlfriend, Shelly.”  Michael smiled down at the top of her frizzy blond head and gave her shoulder a little bump. She giggled.

I managed to mumble a half-hearted ‘hi.’  Shelly.  What a stupid, generic name, I thought spitefully.  But she had breasts, big ones, and lots of other curves, everywhere, even in the back.

The word that came to mind was ba-donk-a-donk, and I really hated that word. I immediately felt skinny and awkward, as if I was twelve again.  I wrapped my arms around my knees self-consciously.

“So…. is this your first day here, Red? With the Giffords again?” Michael questioned.

I merely nodded, not trusting my voice.  I felt mean things bubbling up inside my body, awful things I wanted to say to Shelly.

Shelly giggled again, and it was a simpering, grating sound to my disapproving ears.  “Is that your little brother?”  She was pointing at Newton with a slight curl to her lip like he was some disgusting bug.

Well, he was, but he was my disgusting bug.  I ground my teeth and lifted my chin.

“Newton is my charge,” I explained haughtily.  “I’m his… governess.”

Shelly looked at Michael dubiously.  “Oh, really?”

“Althaea has a lot of responsibilities,” Michael replied seriously.  “She’s very mature for her age.” Michael flashed a wink at me. “She’s got brains.”

“Oh.”  Shelly began an examination of her long, perfect nails.

My heart surged.  Michael had defended me!  He thought I was smart. He-

“Well, Shelly and me gotta get going,” Michael announced suddenly.  “I only have ten minutes of break left.  I’m hungry.”  He took Shelly by the voluptuous elbow and led her away.

“I think my brother is bringing free fries over for you and Newton,” Michael called back to me over one beautifully muscled shoulder.  “I told him to anyway. He’d better or I’ll kick his ass.” Again, Shelly had the nerve to giggle.

I was dumfounded by this new development, wounded to the quick, my life blood running into the hot cornmeal sand.  I fell back against the blanket in a swoon.  Closing my eyes against the stinging sun lest my pupils burned be away, a low, agonized moan escaped me. All my plans were ruined. Miss All-That Plus Some Extra Junk-in-the-Trunk had seen to it in a giggly little snap.

How was Michael supposed to resist that kind of allure? She had smelled like watermelon and…bubbles. Not a bit of mint for Shelly.

A shadow crossed my eyelids.  “Hey, are you O.K.?”

I opened one eye to locate the unknown voice.  The shadow was actually the shape of some strange boy standing over me. I sighed deeply.  “No,” I muttered, closing the eye again.  “I’m not. I think I’m nearly dead.”

He sat down on the blanket next to me.  “Need CPR?”  When my eyes remained tightly closed and unresponsive, he added, “How about some fries, then?”

I smelled them suddenly, the thick, rich aroma of the boardwalk.  I slitted my eyes open cautiously.  “Hey,” I said.  “Who are you, anyway?”

The boy looked wounded.  “I’m Dan.  Michael’s brother. You don’t remember me?”

I sat up and stared at him.  “You look really different.”

Dan looked away and shook his head. “Well, I hope that’s a good thing.”

At my silence, he swung his head back. “Is it?”

I swallowed. “Ah, sure.” He looked almost…cute actually, though I’d never dare say it.

The braces were gone, replaced by even, white teeth.  His hair was dark and rumpled in a beach-fashionable way, and his body was no longer skinny, just lean and covered with a smattering of man-like muscles.  How could this even be little Danny Giovanni?

Sighing, Dan held the fries out to me.  I took one and nibbled on it daintily.  With raised eyebrows, he grabbed a handful and just shoved them in his mouth the way I truthfully longed to do.

One long and beautifully golden fry fell onto the sand and I had to fight my initial impulse to retrieve it. Did Italians have the 5-second rule? Did it even count on sand?

“Feel any better now? It’s easy to get sunstroke on your first day.”

“Yeah, I do,” I replied, feeling a lot better, actually. I breathed deeply, and ate another fry. They had never tasted so good to me.

“I have some jawbreakers with me, too,” he announced with a nod. “If your sugar’s low, it will help. I heard that can happen if you get dehydrated.”

“Cool. I like jawbreakers,” I admitted. Hey, I liked my food, no sense in lying about it. I glanced over Dan’s shoulder to see Newton barreling down on us at a run. My heart lurched in horror.

“I’m a shaaarrrrkkkk!” he screeched, then plowed into me at full speed.   My head hit the sand with a thunk and I saw stars for a full five seconds.  The thud of Newton’s pounding, evil feet faded away, after kicking sand on me in their wake. I felt a wet plug of it lodge in my ear.

I opened my eyes to find Dan peering down at me.  His face was close, and I tried hard to focus on the blue of his eyes.  I was amazed when I did… they were really blue, bluer than Michael’s even.  They were like a mix of the sea and the sky.

“Red?” he questioned worriedly.

My head pounded in response. “I think I might need CPR now,” I heard myself croak. Did I actually say that??

“Awesome.”  Dan grinned and lowered his lips to mine before I could say anything else.

His mouth was warm and firm, tasting mildly of sea spray.  I didn’t even mind the aftertaste of boardwalk fries.  I mean, I had eaten them too, so we canceled each other out.

He lifted his head after a moment, still grinning, and then slyly popped a jawbreaker in his mouth.

I was in shock.  I had been kissed.  Not by Michael, but by his brother.  Who was, in truth, a whole lot nicer and almost cuter than his older sibling. Almost.

“I saw that on a Baywatch rerun,” he said proudly. “I think CPR looks just like kissing. Feels like it too.”

I couldn’t yet speak. My tongue wouldn’t even move.

“Hey, there’s fireworks tonight, Red, so you think the Gifford’s will let you come?”

“Maybe,” I finally managed to whisper.  “Probably,” I continued, my voice gaining strength.  I suddenly realized that Dan had called me Red, just like Michael always did.

“I think you should call me Althaea,” I said after a moment of thought.  “I like that better.”

Dan unwrapped another jawbreaker. “Okay, no problem.”  He handed it to me.  “Althaea.” He smiled at me then. “I like that better too. But then you have to call me Dan, okay?”

I nodded and sucked hard on the cherry jawbreaker, thinking that it tasted much better than the wintergreen Lifesavers anyway. I slanted a sideways glance at Dan, who was laughing and pointing at a surfer in the throes of a wipeout. I decided that I like the shape of his nose. And his jaw.

His elbow bumped against mine, and I looked down at his arm with interest.  I was amazed that there were golden hairs along the length of it.  He had muscles – shoulder muscles, biceps, triceps, forearms…where had they come from?

Dan had changed so much in the space of a single year.  But so had I, I reminded myself.  Last year I was Red, a gawky pre-teen filled with fantasy and delusion.  This year-

Sneakily, Dan chose to let his hand stray over mine.  With a start, I realized that he might actually be making a move on me. That little incident was not necessarily an attempt at CPR. It was a real, first kiss.  Warm lips, meeting together, holding, exchanging little breaths.

I shivered in memory and reddened a bit – okay a lot – but I took a breath and spread my fingers so that they slid neatly through his.  I felt a warm feeling inside my stomach at the contact, along with a fluttering in my belly, and my ears were burning like fire.  A good sign, I thought giddily.

“There’s a bonfire tonight,” Dan offered, covering the silence and soothing my nerves over the fact that we were holding hands in broad daylight, with the whole wide world watching. Well, maybe just the fat lady wallowing under the umbrella next to us.

“I’m sure that the Giffords will let me come,” I assured. “I’m old enough.”

Dan nodded. “I’ll talk to my Dad. It’s just my family and a few extra friends. They won’t have to worry.”

A nighttime bonfire on the beach was the stuff of my girlhood fantasies. Boys, laughter, the pop of driftwood, the enticing scent of roasting food, the warm, night sea breezes. The presence of an interested boy next to me. The crash of surf and the white glow of the moon over the surging waters.

Such moments were life-changing, and ingrained forever. I tried not to tremble at the thought. This day was turning into more than I had ever imagined. And not because of Michael… but because of Dan.

I cleared my throat. “Good. I’d love to be there.”

Newton and the little girl that he had surely traumatized ran passed us, and there was a moment where I thought she was fleeing in fear. But no, they were actually hand in hand and giggling fervently.  They dropped to the sand together and began an intensive effort to build a castle.

“Hey, look. Newton found a Summer Girl,” I said, astonished at the mere idea. Newton made a friend? Especially a female one? Perhaps he wasn’t a total cretin.

Dan laughed at my disbelief.  “You know, Ally, miracles happen every day. Especially at this beach. You never know what’s going to happen next. Seriously.”

I glanced at him once again, looking over the contours of his face in quiet amazement. The sea-blue color of his eyes crinkled at me and it felt like I was gazing into a sun-drenched sky, both warmed and blinded by the light .

All in all, he was pretty darned close to sexy. As close as I needed to get, anyway.

The pound of the surf and the cry of gulls wheeling overhead lent a magic to the moment, just as I had always hoped.

“Yeah,” I managed to reply with a smile of my own. “They do.”

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Feel free to leave some comments below, or check out my latest novel Savage Journey!

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About the Author:

native american historical romance author Jessica Leigh jm9424@gmail.comJessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. The sequel, Savage Journey, was newly released in June of 2014. Jessica’s 2014 contemporary romantic suspense release, Waiting for Eden, is also available on Kindle.

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Savage Journey 4.5 Star Read by Blogger Long and Short Reviews

new release amazon kindle historical romance“Aptly named, Savage Journey follows the life struggles of a small group set in the mid 1600s on the American continent.

This drama is a serious novel of life; there’s romance there, of course, but also a certain grim hardiness, an admirable determination that runs not only through the novel, but through the best of the characters as well.

Characters in this epic story are both good and bad, and those that sit somewhere in the middle. We find ourselves in the midst of the “Wolf Clan” of Lenni Lenape people. There are those of mixed races among them, and also, they welcome fur trappers and other visitors. Their lives are busy and eventful – and their culture here is presented in a very straightforward yet interesting way.

We recognize the thoughtful wisdom of the sachem, the kindness of some of the village women, as well as the different motives, lives and loves, of different tribe members. The same could be said of the visitors – from the good-hearted young Nicholas, once forced to steal to eat, and to the brutality of others.

Katari, a woman born to the Wolf Clan, and Nicholas have spirits that soar – yet they are in some way worlds apart. Ms. Leigh does a magnificent job setting the stage for their meeting–as well as letting us understand with eyes that seem to look on these Native traditions as if one of them–the many cultural things, from misunderstandings to agreements, that stand between them. Yet, readers will find that they cling to hope.

Nicholas is steadily revealed as a decent guy at heart and will capture readers’ hearts more and more. Katari is a survivor – and is, in a curious way, perhaps on the most immense journey of all. There are wonderful, touching moments, even after moments of terror and fear. This reader found it an absolute page-turner, with not one word wasted.

Perhaps, in such an epic, it is impossible to completely miss the odd stereotypical character or the occasional predictable thread of plot. Still, there is more than enough of the unexpected drama to keep readers guessing, and a few humorous moments too. Do read Jessica Leigh’s Savage Journey.”

About the Author:

native american historical romance author Jessica Leigh jm9424@gmail.comJessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. The sequel, Savage Journey, was newly released in June of 2014. Jessica’s 2014 contemporary romantic suspense release, Waiting for Eden, is also available on Kindle.

Sign up for monthly newsletters at writerjessicaleigh.com!

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Seeking The Original American Way

Seeking The Original American Way.

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Seeking The Original American Way

Original Native American Philosophy is why this Country Worked for Eons

native american historical romance savage journey jessica leigh

I am a romance author and although I try to keep my tales both light-hearted and positive at the core, my research often puts me in a melancholy state of mind. It also makes me want to share what I have learned with others of a similar mindset (for example… readers of romance or fantasy, perusers of historical accounts, piners for days of yore, and dreamers of what might have been).

Do any of these things describe you?

 

Once a Massive Original Society

As I research the many illustrious historical accounts – especially the ones hidden from the school textbooks- of this American landscape, I have come to realize that it was once an even greater place. A massive society of Original People was in existence. It was comprised of smaller units (over 500 distinct nations) that functioned together smoothlnative american history fictiony, prospered mightily, and supported millions of people efficiently – all without destroying a single non-renewable resource. They were healthy and hearty, and they did not have a need for prisons or taxes.

It is now believed that Native American medicine and philosophy may perhaps be as old as 40,000 years. And the inhabitants of “Modern America” have been here…oh say, 500 years maximum? Yet it is written down that we made this country great? With our European-based philosophy of Manifest Destiny – to explore, expand, and ultimately, to conquer and overcome, we have built this land of plenty? That we have a inherent right to our innumerable conquests ? And we are guaranteed the freedom to do whatever we chose with the property we conquered? Hmm. Really?

How Do We Uncover the Truth?

There are anthropologists and archaeologists with many differing opinions, but the truth about our ‘factual’ rich history may never be known. Native American culture did not develop a written language, but was based on oral tradition, so there was no real documentation until the Europeans arrived half a century ago. Within a few short decades, we began the decimation of the philosophy that sustained a thriving population for thousands upon thousands of years. In some estimations, perhaps even 400 million strong, before the diseases spread by colonization wiped out nearly 90 percent of the population. Unfortunately, this culture literally hit an end-of-days, apocalyptic scenario.

A Different Belief System

native american spiritual beliefIn my writing, I strive to exemplify the way of life that once was and why it worked so well.  The Native Americans believed that the Earth (which means all of it – even the non-animate) was a miraculous gift. The people were not given the right to ‘own’ it, but instead, received the sacred blessings that the Earth – and the one Creator of it – chose to bestow upon them. It was difficult to even grasp the European concept of land ownership and in many cases Native peoples were swindled from their hunting grounds due to this misunderstanding. The earth itself was of God – the ultimate Creator – so how did one presume to own God? Crazy talk. Blasphemous even. And ultimately sad.

So, Is Time Travel Possible?

Although I don’t write traditional time-travel romances – where the heroine is thrust back through centuries or millennia by some paranormal event – this premise is what I try to do to the reader through the written word alone. I want you to see the flickering rays of sun as they slant through hemlock boughs and bounce upon the fern fronds that sway in the undergrowth. I want you to feel the pine needles beneath the buttery doeskin moccasins that encase your feet as ywriting fiction author novelou move along the trail. I wish for you to smell the spruce grove in the distance, and feel the coolness of the mist rising up off the mountain stream that lies just around the bend. Can you hear and identify the cry of the sharp-shinned hawk above the canopy, and the raucous call of the blue jay from the thicket of witch hazel ten yards away? Do these sounds leave a warning for you, to step more carefully, for there could be danger around the corner?

I won’t continue on, although I would love to, as I am sure you get the gist from my little prose-a-thon. Writing descriptively is my way of passing on the ‘feeling’ of the past – and the emotions they generate that should be shared and remembered. Intertwining romance and adventure along the twisting path is just a big-old bonus! It is my way of shaping your philosophy about love and life, and the reason we are here. Everything in our world – even today – is a gift and not a right. Live graciously, and pass this forgotten native tradition on to your family and your community.

What are your thoughts? Anyone that can add some knowledge or history to this discussion, please feel free to comment!

Check out Jessica Leigh’s historical fiction on Amazon.

~Author Jessica Leigh
(I would love for you to visit me on Facebook or Twitter!)

About the Author:

native american historical romance author Jessica Leigh jm9424@gmail.comJessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. The sequel, Savage Journey, was newly released in June of 2014. Jessica’s 2014 contemporary romantic suspense release, Waiting for Eden, is also available on Kindle.

Sign up for monthly newsletters at writerjessicaleigh.com!

 

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Mouthwatering: An Eastern Native American Historical Recipe Guide

Today, I find myself…well, hungry.

native american healthy recipes historicalResearching historical fiction can be tiresome work, but as I was editing some text late last night, I discovered something of interest. My stomach was growling -literally – from the descriptions I presented in my storyline. I thought I would share some amazing recipes I have uncovered while writing about the Lenni Lenape people. I am preparing to try out a few of these things in my own kitchen as well!

It is fairly well-known that the early Native American diet – eastern woodland to be more specific – was centered around the basic groups of corn, squash, and beans. These items were known as the Three Sisters, and formed the base of a well-rounded diet supplemented with lean meats. It sounds rather bland, in theory. How much can be done with corn, beans, and chewy game meat over an open fire…really? The story-teller in me thought it might be wise to dress it up a bit, throw away the bland part, and make it sound really tantalizing.

Yet, the more I researched and wrote about the topic of feasts, dances, and all manner of culinary delights that my characters might find there, the more my inner gourmet was tickled and teased.  It sounded incredibly mouth-watering, and I did not even need to embellish my writing! Here’s a sample of what I am talking about:

 

“It was time for the feasting to begin. There were various seasoned and slowly roasted meats and smoked trout to chose from. Tiny golden corncakes had been wrapped in leaves and baked slowly in the embers then sweetened with maple sugar, and they instantly melted in the mouth. There were herb soups, baked squashes, fried beans, puddings seasoned with berries, and a variety of steamed greens to select from. Katari could not even mount an attempt to sample it all.”

Hey Katari, could I perhaps try the melty corncakes sweetened with pure maple sugar, please?

lenni lenape native american recipe venisonI have read a lot about the use of venison, as it was a valuable source of lean protein and nourishment for the Native peoples of the time. But why does it not sound like an enticing dish to place in a scene that I plan to make sparkle with romance? Honey, have a hunk of deer meat. Hmm.

 

“The delectable scent of wild onions and garlic complemented the roasting venison. Jenna had collected some excellently flavored wild mushrooms, fresh tiny root potatoes, and hearty chestnuts to round out the pottage. The curling rumble of her stomach was testament to just how well it was coming along. She dipped her longest bone ladle into the pot, and stirred the bubbling contents diligently. The dance was quickly approaching.” 

Umm, Jenna, perhaps I could come along too? I will take a bowl! The point is, taking the time to thoroughly research menus and place them into your writing will set the historical scene like nothing else. The reader’s discovery that he or she might just love to sample such a meal adds validity and ‘pop’ to your tone. The reader is placed at the scene, and smells, sees, and just about tastes all the marvelous things you have described.

Healthy Native Recipes to Try in Your Own Kitchen

I have collected and adapted a few recipes that can fit into your traditional kitchen with materials that you can locate in your grocery store – you won’t need to go collecting in the forest, although that is likely half the fun!

Sa’Pan (Corn Hominy)

In my Native American novels, I make reference to a dish made from cornmeal that was a daily staple for Eastern Algonquin tribes such as the Lenni Lenape. The trick was how a woman baked it – and the special ingredients she added to give it extra sweetness and flavor. Berries – dried or in season – were an excellent addition, as well as pure, sweet maple syrup. This recipe is low in sodium, low in cholesterol, and high in the essential nutrient manganese.

Ingredients:

1 cup blue or white cornmeal
1 cup cold water
2 cups boiling water
A dash of salt
3 tablespoons dried blueberries (or your favorite fruit – fresh works as well)
1 tablespoon butter (or lard – Lenape would have used animal fat)
maple syrup to taste

1. Mix the cornmeal and cold water.
2. Bring the rest of the water to a boil; stir in the cornmeal mixture and salt. Add the blueberries.
3. Lower the heat and slowly cook it uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. When it’s nearly done cooking, stir in the ghee until mixed and then beat the sa’pan to a smooth texture and serve topped with maple syrup.

Enjoy!

OJAWASHKWAWEGAD (Algonquin Wild Green Salad)

native american healthy salad recipeThe ingredients of this particular salad are off the charts as far as a health rating goes – watercress and dandelion are two of the most nutrient-dense greens that you can find. No wonder the Europeans described the Eastern Native Americans they encountered as a tall, hearty people of both amazing strength and longevity.

1 cup  Wild onions  OR leeks/shallots, well chopped
4 cups Watercress
1/4 cup  Sheep or wood sorrel
1 1/2 cup  Dandelion leaves

DRESSING:

1/3 cup sunflower seed oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Toss together the salad greens.  Combine the dressing ingredients and mix well.  Lightly toss the salad in  the dressing and serve. Your body is already thanking you.

Lenape Venison Stew

There are a plethora of was to create a winning venison stew or “pottage” as I sometimes refer to it my writing, but I will list one here that was passed down by an Eastern Pennsylvania Lenni Lenape family and would be much like a stew found within a Jessica Leigh historical novel. Venison is a protein and iron-rich, yet low-fat staple of Native diets. If you aren’t a hunter – or friends with one – you could substitute bison meat, which is also lower in fat than our common grain-fattened beef cattle of today.

Ingredients:

2 deer steaks or 1 bison roast, cut up
Wild garlic and leeks or shallots, 2 large of each
Wild mushrooms (or any store bought variety of your choice)
1 cup of flour for thickening and coating
Wild root potatoes  (native groundnut) or substitute regular white potatoes
One handful of hazelnuts, hickory nuts, or chestnuts
Sunflower oil (can substitute vegetable)
Salt and pepper to taste
Pie crust

Directions:

Sprinkle enough flour to thoroughly coat the cut up deer or bison chunks.  In a cast-iron skillet, heat oil and pan fry the meat, leeks, garlic, potatoes. Add the nuts in last. Brown everything well for the best flavor. Add a little water to create a bubbling gravy. After meat is cooked through, turn to low heat to simmer while preparing your pie crust. Fill crust with stew and back at 350 degrees until the crust is light brown.

Enjoy!

Are you willing to try the original “All American” meal? Let me know how it turns out for you! My new goal is to identify and collect wild watercress in the woodlands behind my home. I am hungry for that salad!

~Jessica Leigh

 

Feel free to leave some comments below, or check out my latest novel Savage Journey!

(I would love for you to visit me on Facebook or Twitter!)

About the Author:

native american historical romance author Jessica Leigh jm9424@gmail.comJessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. The sequel, Savage Journey, was newly released in June of 2014. Jessica’s 2014 contemporary romantic suspense release, Waiting for Eden, is also available on Kindle.

Sign up for monthly newsletters at writerjessicaleigh.com!

 

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Historical Fiction’s New Leading Man… Nicholas Belline, Coeur de Bois

The French-Canadian adventurer, explorer, and trapper makes his mark on a wide, frontier land… and it’s Native inhabitants.

Savage Journey Jessica Leigh native american historical romance kindle

My latest hero is my favorite… hands down folks, no regrets, sorry to the others I have left behind, but..I simply cannot help it. Nicholas Belline is the whole historical package. (This is how I image him – the cleaned-up version soon after he receives a sexy shave from the woman he desires and a crisp, refreshing skinny-dip in the running waters of the Hudson River.) Nick is a Coeur de Bois – a French-Canadian runner-of-the-woods… the original mountain man…a hunter, explorer, and the ultimate adventurer.

So what is Nicholas’s back-story?

Without spilling all the beans, Nicholas Belline was born into the unfortunate life of harsh and abject misery. He received no loving mother’s embrace or a father’s gentle guidance. Everything he acquires in the first twelve years of his life is through pure grit, determination, and quite a bit of skill as a thief. But Nicholas is loyal to the other homeless children and exists with them as best as he can on the cold back alleys of the south side portage of Lachine, Montreal.

But as a result of one, critical mistake, Nicholas is forced into indentured servitude among the roughest and most deadly men he has ever known – the French-Canadian Voyageurs. These men paddled canoes laboriously down the massive St. Lawrence river, facing danger at every moment of the day. In this wild land, Nicholas grows to manhood, and learns to survive in any way that he can. Nicholas becomes a Runner-of-the-Woods.

Nicholas has one particular advantage. He is keenly bright and perceptive. He adapts, he grows, and he prospers. He learns languages and the ability to read from Jesuit priests. But he is lonely.

A Sneak-Peek into the Life of Nicholas Belline

Nicholas has a penchant for getting himself into extreme situations that may or may not be harmful to his health. It was wonderfully entertaining for me to write his scenes…

~~~~~~~

Nicholas Belline sported a black eye, a sore jaw, and most likely a busted knuckle judging from the speed of its bruising.  The bleeding man sprawled on the floor of the tent had fared much worse, however.  Nick spat and tasted blood.  Not that it bothered him much, for he was quite used to its familiar tang.

The tent flap opened behind him.  He tensed for more fighting, but it was only Pétant.  “Where the hell were you ten minutes ago?”  Nicholas grumbled over his shoulder.

Pétant laughed as he took in the carnage, and the smell of jack-whiskey filling the musky tent gave Nick the answer.  “Where ever you go, you manage to locate yourself some of the same sort of trouble, boy.”

Nicholas looked at the cowering squaw in the corner, and silently cursed.  He knew that both he and Pétant scared the shit out of most Native women.  They were both barrel-chested White men, dirty, with thick beards even grizzlier than the beasts of the forests.

Nicholas ground his teeth.  Këshinalùkw?” he questioned the girl gently as possible.  Did he hurt you?  Looking closer, he saw the young squaw could be no more than fourteen or so.  Of course the brute of a man had hurt her.

The girl was crying, but she shook her head no.  She still cowered in the corner as would a whipped dog, with her arms wrapped tightly around her knees.  Her skirt was askew and there were bruises on her arms.  Fingerprints.  She stared with wide eyes at the unconscious man on the floor.

“Do you think I should leave?” Pétant questioned.  The Frenchman was an ugly giant, with a visage that frightened all but the toughest of the trade post women.  Yet he was of a gentler nature than Nicholas would ever have imagined fifteen years earlier.  The man had been his protector and comrade ever since that first, frigid night along the St. Lawrence River.

Nicholas gestured to the girl, making firm eye contact, and then pointed at Pétant, as well as himself.“No hurt you.  Ku hitehùkw.”  The girl nodded, but she pointed to the man on the floor.

“Don’t tell me that’s that Le Tousse?” barked Pétant.  When Nicholas nodded, the man shook his head in dismay.  “Jesus Christ man, what’s it gonna take to keep you out of the bastille?”

“Me leaving,” returned Nicholas grimly.  “I’ve stayed my fill here.”  They had been at this particular portage, or trading outpost, on the lake known as Seneca for two full years now, making forays into the outlying territories for beaver, mink, and river otter.  They trapped, camped, and traded with whatever Natives were willing to talk business peacefully.

But Nicholas had ended up in more brawls and spent more time in the rough-hewn brigades under the torment of self-appointed lawmen than he would have liked.  He didn’t seek out trouble, but it seemed to follow him doggedly. Fur traders were a rough lot, and their penchant for heavy drink never helped matters. The fact that there was no civilized justice system out in the frontier wilds of the New France had cut short many a man’s life for no good reason.

“Ah, come on boy.  I was just settling in with a new missus too,” Pétant moaned.

“I can only imagine her superb capabilities,” Nicholas grumbled.  He approached the girl slowly, holding out his hand.  She looked as if she might bite him.  “No teeth, perhaps?” he tossed back over his shoulder.

When Pétant guffawed loudly, the Indian girl actually hissed at him in response.  Nicholas sighed, and struggled for some words to use.  Finding the right Native language, not to mention the dialect, was nearly impossible.  He knelt, then pointed at her, and then back at his chest.  “Hnakewsëwakàn.”  Help.

She could be Huron, Lenape, Ojibwe, or even one of the many Iroquois peoples that abounded in the wilderness.  Trappers didn’t squabble over clanship or language barriers when they took their country wives.  They wanted female bodies to cook, make clothes, and share their beds during their forays into the wilds, and a connection with her Native family members – who were oft extremely skilled trappers.  That is, until they chose to return to civilization.

“Well, we should skip along in a hurry, Nick, no matter what the case may be with la petite fils here.  Le Tousse is going to wake soon.  You can bet his friends aren’t far behind, and ready for piss and vinegar for sure, seeing that it’s you and all in the mix.  You should’ve left well enough alone, tonight of all nights.”

The outpost had only today seen the arrival of a new spring brigade from the north, bringing alcohol and all manner of provisions in abundance.  The ribald drunkenness was rampant.

“Couldn’t,” he shot back.  “She’s just too young to be humiliated that way, and then raped by that stinking cul.  I’m willing to bet her family didn’t sanction this one.”

By the Native traditions, there would be an agreement between the girl’s family and the white man who wanted to make her his “country wife.” There was usually an exchange of gifts to celebrate the arrangement.  With these customs, the fur trader would become, through marriage, an honorary member of the girl’s family.  Thus, he would gain the loyalty of the woman’s kin when it came to trading furs and supplying game.  It put coin in a man’s pockets, made Native allies, and warmed his bed in the process.

It worked, sometimes.  In other situations, well, it just didn’t, not for the bride anyway.  It depended on the quality of the man, and Le Tousse was both a prick and a cheat.  He likely stole this girl without her family’s approval. The Natives treated their women well, and would not tolerate such abuses.

But Le Tousse was good at his game, and had plenty of supporters.  For months, the arrogant and foul-mouthed bastard had been making every effort possible to get under Nicholas’s skin.  Ripping off the girl’s tunic in the cold night, and fondling her in public before dragging her, crying, to his tent had pushed Nick’s temper a little too far.  He had snapped.  Again.

He stood and sighed.  But surprisingly, the girl rose too, and adjusted her torn tunic and skirt, gaining her composure.  She located her rawhide bundle of personal items and her coyote pelt cloak.  She nodded at Nicholas.

“I’ll pack my things quick,” sighed Pétant.  “Where are we headed then, boy?  You got any great ideas?”

“I think it’s time to journey to the New Netherlands,” Nicholas mused.

“What the hell? Why?”

“I’ve been hearing things.  Good things.  It’s a place of merging cultures, and it’s quite a bit more civilized than this shithole.  The Dutch are tradesmen.  They’re shipping in tools, clothing, better firearms, household items, liquor, sugar, salt, and other luxuries that we haven’t seen in years, man.”  Nicholas laughed.  “We’ve got the coin now, why not put it to use?”

Oui, but why not venture back to Montreal?” grumbled Pétant.  Why the New Netherlands?”
new release amazon kindle historical romanceNicholas visibly darkened.  “I won’t go back to Montreal.”  He had paid off his indentured servitude in less than three years, and grew twice his size in the process.  There were no good memories for him in that city.  At all. And what no one would realize was how much he had come to love the wilds.  He was born for it.  He was an adventurer.

“After the New Netherlands, I’ll be heading south,” Nicholas continued.  “New land, new peoples, more furs.”

“Hell, you outta just become a Jesuit.”  Pétant shook his head.  “It’s practically how you live, anyway.”  Nicholas had enjoyed the company of many Jesuits over the years, and learned much in the process.  Reading, writing, history… and the lust for continual journey into new land.

“I just like my solitude,” Nicholas returned. The Native girl tugged on his arm.  They were taking too long.  He knelt to check the level of unconsciousness of Le Tousse, and then shoved the body underneath the cot in the corner with a booted foot, allowing the blankets to drape over him.  With the extreme level of alcohol in his body, Le Tousse could be out cold for hours, buying them plenty of time.

Exiting into the night, Nick felt that familiar tingle of excitement in his belly.  He was a natural coureurs des bois, a “runner of the woods,” an adventurer who hunted and explored, continually moving, always seeking that elusive something that he could never quite find.  The night he was caught stealing a pelt in Lachine, and indentured as a voyageur, had actually been a blessing.

Alàps,” voiced the girl sternly, at his side. Hurry.

“Huh,” snorted Pétant, “I’d bet by tomorrow she’ll be yapping off our ears.  Typical.”

They gathered their provisions and their mounts.  The darkened night beyond the sprawling rings of tents and raucously attended bonfires slipped away behind them as they melded into the forest.

What do you think of my leading man and Coeur de Bois, Nicholas Belline?

Feel free to leave some comments below, or check out the book in its entirety!

~Author Jessica Leigh
(I would love for you to visit me on Facebook or Twitter!)

About the Author:

native american historical romance author Jessica Leigh jm9424@gmail.comJessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. The sequel, Savage Journey, was newly released in June of 2014. Jessica’s 2014 contemporary romantic suspense release, Waiting for Eden, is also available on Kindle.

Sign up for monthly newsletters at writerjessicaleigh.com!

 

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Sidekicks, Accomplices, and Oddballs – An Author’s Guide to Creating Superb Supporting Characters

The birth of a unique side character is probably the most enjoyable aspect to creative storytelling, in Jessica Leigh’s opinion.

romance author tips savage forest jessica leigh

Create

Many new writers are caught up – and rightly so – in the intricate development of the hero and heroine, including their pasts, their storylines, and the process of their relationship reaching its fruition. Authors will spend countless hours pondering their main character’s traits, hopping in and out of their heads, and creating temperaments that are both compelling and attractive to the reader.

What is the Purpose of a Side Character?

Generally speaking, we insert additional characters into situations that will help move the plot or storyline forward, and help the hero/heroine achieve whatever action the scene requires. In most cases (guilty), a lot of prior thought does not enter into the mix; side characters crop up as a matter of convenience.

For example: Main character Nicholas Belline is forced into servitude rowing canoes down the Saint Lawrence River into the wilds of the 1600’s New World. He is twelve years old – so, how do I show horror of his situation? I insert a wretched, giant, red-headed beast of a man that spits on the floor at the boy’s feet and grins at him – this is the man Nicholas must travel with.

My original idea was fleeting concept – but this beast-man continued to appear in my mind’s eye with greater clarity. He is built like an ox, he smells terrible, he eats salt pork and beans at the campfire, he is French-Canadian, and he must bunk down next to poor little Nicholas. Now, would this brawny troupe of wild men traveling together have nicknames for each other, perchance? Yes? Well then, what would a good nickname be?

I pulled out my online language dictionary – and the word ‘Pétant’ appeared before me. It means ‘farting’ in French. I do think that these men would give each other crude names whenever possible…. So, yes. Now, what does this man do next? Would he really have an evil intent? Would he beat Nicholas or bully the scrawny boy? Nope, I really don’t think so.

Pétant shares his beans – even giving an extra ration to the boy – and subsequently becomes his watchdog and teacher on the River. Now, I am really beginning to love this guy! I think about him more and more. His character blooms.

The Power of Vivid Side Plots

Once a side character is birthed, he or she can serve to strengthen plot depth and action, to fascinate the reader, and even to provide humorous relief whenever necessary. A great storyline is not merely linear. It is very prudent to allow these ‘extras’ to grow, and to have goals, needs, and challenges of their own. And guess what? Your main hero/heroine can help this side character with these tasks, increasing their own depth of personality and likability from the reader’s point of view. Now, you are interjecting additional action into your story and creating opportunities for more emotional connections to occur – a winning formula!

The Benefit of Humor Using Side Characters

An exceptionally positive aspect about side characters is this: they do not have to be perfect. They don’t have to be as pretty as your heroine, as dashing as your hero, exude sex appeal, say the right thing, or fulfill any stereotypes at all. You are after pure uniqueness, and the element of surprise.

For Example: Pétant is as ugly as a grizzled cinnamon bear – hell; he even admits it quite openly. He curses, and he is impatient. He is known for his flatulence. But his generous lion-heart of gold is irrevocably part of him and allows him to become attractive to a young – and pretty – side character. Suddenly, an additional side-storyline has evolved that is both humorous and endearing. Winning!

The Necessary Steps in Creating a Great Side Character

When you are about to place someone new into your plotline for the purpose of moving the story forward, I have compiled a list of things for you to contemplate:

1. Once you have placed the new character in the setting, identify two or three unique characteristics about him or her that would stand out in a crowd. Think of looks, mannerisms, or language traits. Is there anybody highly unique in your ‘real’ life that you could pull ideas from?

2. What is this character thinking about – right at his point of time? Is his mind in the moment or is he recalling other events that recently transpired? Is he comfortable, hungry, pissed, or amused? How would he show this emotion in a uniquely individual way? Can you infuse humor into the situation without distracting from the action?

For example: Pétant eventually comes to marry the pretty, young female side character – a Native American girl known as The Robin (who took on a life and back-story of her own during the process). It comes to light that she does not care for his extremely bushy red beard. She insists that her mother would hate it as well. Pétant’s reactions are comical, and fitting of his character, yet, he eventually submits to her wishes. This small idea has now expanded into a completely unplanned ‘shaving scene’ that utilizes comedy, detail, and quite marvelously allows for some delicious sexual tension to develop between my participating hero and heroine. Another win that I was not expecting!

3. What does this character feel about the hero or heroine? Is there an opportunity to develop a deep friendship? A pissing match? Jealousy? Conflict resolution? Anything that can further deepen your plot and be used farther on in the story to your convenience? Think hard.

For example: Pétant’s good nature and steadfast guidance have developed my main character Nicholas’s personality from frightened young boy straight through to his current, competent manhood. The gentle, yet fierce, giant has been the only family this unwanted and abandoned boy knew in the wilds. This kind of bond is now unbreakable. Nicholas would do anything for this man Pétant, at any place, at any time. The depth of my hero’s personality and his capacity to love is enhanced. Am I going to use it later? You bet! Another score!

4. What is the side character’s past history? Yes, you definitely need to go there. If you want a strong and lasting sense of personality to develop, you need to venture all the way back to childhood. Give him a full life so that he can give back to you as your story progresses. It becomes much easier to jump into a side character’s mind and create a unique depth if you know him both inside and out. Don’t focus solely on the depth of the hero and heroine.

For example: ‘The Robin’ was stolen from her Native tribe when she was only 13 years of age. She was used cruelly by White trappers and moved far from her homeland, basically as a slave. Technically, she should be mentally scarred as well as distrustful of Pétant and my hero Nicholas. However, she is undaunted by her circumstance, and has an innate capacity for seeing through to the soul of a man. In fact, when speaking of her growing love for Pétant, the now fifteen year old very wisely says, “Native women see with their hearts, and not with their eyes.” Those simply uttered words define her character even more.

5. Is there a potential for this individual to move on to additional books? If you are planning on a sequel or a series, the development of great side characters is paramount. Readers grow bored with a completely linear plot, and they love to see the return of beloved characters. Always look toward the future when developing your sidekicks.

6. Where can you interject small bits of the side character’s history appropriately into the storyline? I certainly do not mean that you should focus an entire chapter on their childhood experiences! But several well placed lines that include memories or incidences can work magic.

For example: I wished to demonstrate the loyalty of my heroine’s twin brother. I devised events that happened in the past to showcase this trait:

“When Katari had positioned herself between a cranky skunk and its kits on a dare, Grey Wolf had scooped her up, only to be sprayed for his efforts. He had smelled for five full days.
When she had been stranded on a rock ledge for six hours, her ankle twisted hard and stuck in between boulders, Grey Wolf had found her, and carried limp and sobbing form her for many miles, back to their village. When a mean boy had once dared to call her a wild and disobedient brat, that same boy had later appeared with a blackened eye and a quiver full of broken arrows.”

That shows you quite a bit about his character and his feelings for his twin sister, right? And it leaves a vivid – and humorous – picture in your mind. Yay!

It’s Not over Till the Side-Kick Sings

If you are going to develop superior side characters and nurse them along through the storyline, do not forget to tie up their stories in the ending! Readers want to experience a feeling of completion for more than just the hero and heroine. In the past, I have received specifically addressed reviews that said – “the ending was great, but what the heck happened to ____? I want to know! Don’t leave me hanging!” This spoke volumes to me.

Your side characters become very important to your readers as the story progresses. This is a true indication of just how critical they are to the quality of your novel! Never skimp, and give all of your characters the ultimate creative license. If you simply yourself up to ANY possibility – even the oddball – these characters will bring a life of their own.

For me, it is a fun and fascinating process, and offers more freedom than the crafting of the hero and heroine. With side characters, it does not matter if they are strange, ugly, or even offensive at times. Let them be eccentric outburst of your subconscious mind. It can be pure creative magic that sets you apart from other authors.

~Author Jessica Leigh
(I would love for you to visit me on Facebook or Twitter!)

About the Author:

Jessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. The sequel, Savage Journey, will follow in spring, 2014. Jessica’s 2014 contemporary romance release, Waiting for Eden, is also available on Kindle.

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