Posted on 10/21/2016
- Full Name:
- Where I live:
- Years Writing:
Five or More Years
- Primary Goal:
Publisher or Agent
- Type of Project:
- Fiction Genre:
- Number of Words:
- Breakout Title:
ONE LIFE IS ENOUGH
Ann Patchett, A STATE OF WONDER. Elizabeth Gilbert, THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS
- Publication Creds:
Working on Publication
- Other Creds:
Belong to a Writer Group, Relevant Expertise
I'm a Blogger, Other Social Media, Relevant Experience
- Synopsis (novel / nf):
In Boston, in 1921, a matter of social import played out amid waves of immigrants, a liberated society and emerging technologies that followed the end of WWI. At this time, modern doctors went forth, from the newly formed medical association, to discredit herbalists who adhered to a time-honored tradition of efficacy rather than Modern Science.
OLIVIA HARNSWORTH is caught in this struggle when she inherits a healing clinic after her aunt inexplicably vanishes. The aunt, MADELINE ROY, a Master Herbalist, had become famous for miraculous cures. Olivia commits to keep the clinic open even though it could tarnish her reputation as a newly minted botanist. With Madeline gone, the leading doctor in Boston, THOMAS BURNSIDE, moves to close the clinic, asserting that it is a public danger, and has Olivia arrested. Olivia is temporarily released from jail, and a few brave herbalists help with the clinic, until Burnsides accuses Olivia of murdering a patient with herbs and the clinic is closed.
During this, an old friend of Madeline’s, an Italian alchemist, DR. SEYMOUR LATUNO, counsels Olivia and claims to know Madeline’s miracle methods. Improbably, he also claims to possess the ancient elixir of immortality, which is effective only if used along with herbal alchemical mixtures. Olivia is uncertain how to navigate among these opposing forces, but she bravely fights on for her patients, holding out hope that the police will find her aunt.
Dr. Latuno argues for a centuries old view of healing: one that goes beyond “mere resuscitation” and includes methods to re-invigorate and ultimately rejuvenate a patient. This fascinates Olivia who takes increasingly risky measures to experiment with herbs, believing that she is following the same path her aunt had followed. Although she has no scientific evidence that proves the elixir works, Olivia firmly hopes immortality is possible and changes her life to pursue this improbable but worthy goal.
- Writer Organization:
Alexandra Writers Center, Alberta Writers Guild
- Your Bio:
A veteran, east coast, marketing and research consultant, I am now a writer and yoga teacher. I have a long time interest in mysticism and yogic philosophy. I have a BA in Social-Psychology from the University of Minnesota and an MBA from Boston College. For ten years I have practiced the craft of creative writing, starting with short stories and now a novel. Notable influences among the courses I’ve taken are: John Truby’s Master Class in 2012 and Michael Neff’s Algonkian Writers Conference in 2014. I lived in Boston for over twenty years, have researched the period, and also consulted with a Master Herbalist, a senior yoga teacher, and an alchemist on particulars in the manuscript.
- Your Writing Life:
A long career in Marketing included writing in different business forms, getting feedback from peers and clients. I am a writer and researcher at heart and writing this historical novel has involved plenty of both. For ten years my main occupations have been writing and yoga, the subject of my blog. I have taken many writing courses to develop my craft first writing short stories and, for the past five years crafting my first novel.
- Your Career Goals:
I'd like to have a best selling novel. The novel I've written could easily expand into a series - both prequel and sequel which I'd love to write. At this point, I am writing short stories, revisiting that form and finding that I have an improved talent for it.
- Inspiration for Work?:
My inspiration to write has been to express my view of the life and activity around me. I kept a journal starting in high school because I felt my perspective, or maybe my interests, were not generally shared by my classmates. I read novels and short stories extensively. Tolstoy's WAR & PEACE amazed me on first read, and I've reread it several times over the years. John Irving's characters and their stories are favorites. But I read widely in fiction and nonfiction - good writing inspires me to put my ideas and perceptions into words.
- Reading Now?:
This summer: Pat Barker, TOBY'S ROOM, Elizabeth Gilbert, BIG MAGIC, Kurtz & Harris, THE ADEPT
- Manuscript Type:
- Working Title(s):
ONE LIFE IS ENOUGH
- Hook Line:
In 1921 Olivia Harnsworth, a young college graduate in botany, is left to run an herbal healing clinic after her aunt, a master herbalist, disappears. Olivia is further challenged by the leading medical doctor in Boston who charges her with murder and then by her aunt’s records that show she was experimenting with herbal alchemy to become immortal.
- Conflict + Stakes:
The conflict between modern medicine and herbal remedies plays out between the leading doctor and Olivia Harnsworth who is not an herbalist, but committed to continuing her aunt's legacy. The stakes are Olivia's reputation, but more importantly that the ability to prepare miraculous herbal remedies (herbal alchemy) will be lost if modern medicine prevails, along with the elixir of immortality.
- The Protagonist:
Olivia Harnsworth, a twenty-one year old with a college degree in Botany. She has been raised and tutored by her Aunt Madeline since she was nine, the year her parents died. This story is set soon after women gained the right to vote and Olivia has been raised to become an independent woman. Olivia's loyalty to Madeline influences her at every turn and she steers a rough course between her scientific training, the results of the herbal remedies she learns to prepare, and the fantastic notion that her aunt was secretly working on the elixir of immortality.
- The Antagonist:
Thomas Burnside is the leading medical doctor in Boston and is set on eliminating the practice of herbal medicine. He targeted the clinic Olivia's Aunt Madeline had run for years. Once Madeline vanishes, he attacks Olivia, who he sees as young and weak, even more aggressively. He publicly berates her and also uses the police to carry out attacks on the clinic.
- Other Characters:
Madeline Roy, Olivia's aunt and accomplished Master herbalist, vanishes in Chapter 3. Dr. Seymour Latuno, an old friend of Madeline's who'd come to help her, stays on to help Olivia. He is a complication: a foreigner, a man of mysterious ways, and an alchemist who claims to have the elixir of life. Detective Trumbull investigates Madeline's disappearance and is torn between enforcing the law and feelings of sympathy for Olivia.
- Unique World:
Set in Boston post WWI, this is a historic period of tumultuous change in the New England and the East Coast. Thousands of European immigrants flooded Boston with foreign ideas, women won the right to vote, and the old order challenged. At the same time, modern medicine was organizing and intent on disrupting the common and effective use of herbal remedies that were dominant then.
- Climax and Denouement:
Olivia is released from jail on the condition that she no longer practice herbal medicine. The clinic is closed and other herbalists jailed and harassed. She loses her research position at the college, her reputation tarnished, and leaves Boston. Once she is no longer in the public eye, to her surprise, Dr. Latuno's cryptic conversations and his claim to have the elixir make sense to her. She strikes out on a new course — using her education in botany and what she'd learned about healing — to learn the secrets of herbal alchemy and miraculous cures.
- Your Opening :
Madeline Roy entered a bedroom as opulent as any she’d seen in her well-traveled life, but none of the ornate furnishings would help the young woman who lay in bed feverish, gasping and frightened. The symptoms were all too familiar to Madeline and she knew exactly which herbs she’d need to employ. She dug into her herbal kit, but stopped when the man standing near the bed turned to her, with a somber demeanor, and shook his head. She recognized him by his thin, dark moustache and cleft chin, a serious medical man, but a man with no tools to help this young woman so close to death. He snapped shut his black medical bag and walked to the door where the young woman’s parents waited. The three stood watching, but he had a smirk as if he knew how this would end.
Madeline often encountered victims of the Spanish Flu this way: the patient weak and breathless, the family willing to try anything, but only after the medical doctor had failed. Only then did they call in an herbalist, one who knew the traditional ways, to save a loved one. She placed her hand-stitched suede pouch on the bureau now and removed the contents: two bottles each the size of a fist and an envelope of dried herbs. These were her tools: peppermint for headache and nausea, hyssop for coughing, and, importantly, sage for the cold and inflammation. Headache, nausea, coughing and fever, the cluster of symptoms told the story. Observing these, there was no question the girl had the scourge that had ravaged thousands.
The young woman lay in a bed of ornate, carved cherry wood wearing a thin gown, her hair tousled. The silk brocade draperies had been pulled shut, the room lit only by two painted porcelain lamps. Veronica was nineteen — the same age as Madeline’s niece, Olivia — too young to die. Madeline placed one hand gently on the girl’s forehead, and leaned in close to listen to her labored breathing. When she measured the pulse at her wrist, the girl gripped her fiercely and gasped for breath.
The housekeeper brought in a bowl of cool water and a compress, which Madeline applied to Veronica's forehead to tame the fever. She turned and groaned, throwing her delicate hand back to the pillow. Madeline asked for a pot of boiling water and two small cups. When they arrived, she added a chamomile flower tincture to the hot water and held it under Veronica's nose until her hand relaxed and fell back to the silk pillowcase. Next, Madeline removed a vial of powder from her pouch and tapped a small amount onto her pinky finger, then tipped it into the cup.
Madeline held the cup to the girl’s lips. “Start with a small sip, one you can barely taste.” Madeline waited.
Veronica winced at the bitterness. “Take another sip,” Madeline instructed. After she’d taken several measured doses, Veronica closed her eyes and began to breathe more normally.
Rose Nichols, an old friend of Madeline’s, sat in an ornate chair near the bed and looked on. It was Rose who had called Madeline to the house.
“Can you help my niece or is it too late?” Rose asked.
“She’ll be able to sleep, now; that’s the most important first step,” Madeline said. “I’ll leave the tincture. Have her sip a cup of hot water with the powder added every two hours. Tomorrow when she’s rested and stronger, we’ll start a more potent remedy. The herbs will do their work, but we must also keep her spirits up.” She handed a small bottle to her friend. “You’ll need to take this preventive, Rose, while you sit and tend her.” Madeline stood, cleaned her hands at the washstand and tied off the leather laces on her buckskin medicine pouch.
As Madeline tidied up, the parents watched from the doorway, hovering behind the medical doctor.
The doctor stepped forward and spoke in a strident voice. “Madame, you must be aware the Spanish Flu is fatal in over ninety percent of cases.”
Madeline raised an eyebrow. “You would surely know, Dr. Burnside, as head of the Massachusetts Medical Society.”
He gave an angled nod. “Do you believe these plant tonics can cure this patient?”
“The flu is not necessarily a death sentence.” Madeline shouldered the pouch. “I assume you’ve tried everything in your medical kit, Doctor?”
“I have.” He pursed his lips. “And modern medicine has yet to find a cure for this deadly disease, so pardon me if I doubt your chances of success with your sack of herbs and potions.”
Madeline smoothed her skirt. “I’d be more confident if I’d been called sooner.” She strode toward the door to Veronica's parents, their faces drawn and worried. The mother fiddled anxiously with her hands. Madeline took them in hers.
“Doctor Burnside is correct, your daughter is gravely ill. I believe I can help, but I must work alone.”
“We don’t want to lose our daughter, Miss Roy,” the mother said through tears.
“Then it’s agreed. The powdered remedy must be administered every two hours, precisely.” Madeline put a hand on Rose’s shoulder. “Rose knows what to do. She has agreed to stay the night. Now, please, get some sleep.”
The parents left reluctantly, uncertain whether they’d see their daughter again.
Madeline turned to the doctor. “If you’ve done all you can, I’m sure you have other, more important matters that require your attention.”
“Isn’t this convenient for you, Miss Roy. If she dies, no one will be surprised. But if she lives, ah! They’ll say you achieved a miracle. Not a miracle I’d bet on, though, not tonight, not this young woman.” He pulled on his lapels to straighten his jacket and left bearing his felt hat and medical bag.
- Writing Samples:
Life is brief enough and then there are times when a life hangs in the balance for want of a healer. This was the reality that Olivia Harnsworth faced as a young girl. First, her parents died on an ill-fated luxury passenger ship that sunk off the coast of England taking them, and hundreds of others, to icy graves. Years later, she waved off childhood friends who sailed to Europe to fight in the Great War, never to return. Millions died fighting. Those who returned seemed to have lost their inner spark. Later still, millions contracted the insidious Spanish Flu and many of them died. But some did not. They recovered, either by a force inexplicable, or a force in the hands of a worthy healer.
One such healer was Olivia’s Aunt Madeline Roy who nursed dozens of these flu victims through to health and long lives. It was during this epidemic, when Olivia was nineteen and studying Botany, that she began to wonder about life at its essence: what made it possible for one person to recover from an illness and another to die of the same ailment? Her aunt, with herbal curse considered miraculous, seemed to have the answer to this perplexing question, an answer Olivia would learn over time.
Olivia was twelve when she first met her aunt. Madeline, after years of travel, returned to Boston, Massachusetts, because of a last wish. Olivia’s mother, Rosalyn, was Madeline’s older sister and in her will gave Olivia over to her sister’s care. At first, the woman and her niece had little in common, except blood. Olivia was born to a notable Boston family, a cherished and protected daughter. Madeline, too, was born and raised in the city, one of two daughters, but as a young lady dared to travel, un-chaperoned, to far corners of the world in search of the mysteries of life. Over the years Madeline studied with traditional medicine men, shaman, yogis. When she returned to Boston, the place was anathema to her with its stodgy Puritan values. What she and her niece did have in common was a house on Pinckney Street where Madeline had been raised and Olivia had once known her grandparents, both long dead.
Within a day of her arrival home, Madeline moved into that house, swept away the cobwebs, ordered in painters and opened a healing clinic employing herbal medicines, commonly used in New England at the time. Olivia, fascinated by her beautiful aunt’s stories and easy manner, left her elder brother’s elaborate home to live with Madeline. The house on Pinckney Street was a simple, two-story clapboard affair. Madeline and Olivia lived a quiet life: they kept only one servant, Durga, an old Packard automobile, and a driver, Albert. Olivia accompanied her aunt on weekly trips to Haymarket, previously a forbidden place, where they shopped with the common folk for their produce and replenished Madeline’s inventory of herbs for her healing remedies.