Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sweet Saturday Sample: A Seventh Excerpt from The Man from Shenandoah

This week's sample for Sweet Saturday Samples (clean fiction excerpts from authors) is once again an excerpt from the Western novel The Man from Shenandoah, the first book in "The Owen Family Saga." This week, we learn more about the devastation visited upon the Shenandoah Valley when Phil Sheridan received orders from General Grant to burn it bare. I hope you like twists in your novels.

Carl and Rod headed for the house as the sun dropped toward the horizon. The rain earlier in the day had left the air cool and sweet, and a light breeze was blowing the final clouds away. Carl handed the milk pail to his father at the door.

“I’m all covered with mud, Pa. Best I wash up before I eat.”

“You’ll have to use the crick, son. The Yankees knocked the top of the well apart and dumped it into the shaft. I ain’t got it cleaned out yet.”

“Then I’ll bring back some water.”

Carl took two pails from the back stoop and slogged his way through the muck of the yard to the creek path. He felt like a small boy again, recalling the times he’d walked this path before the well was dug.

Carl came up to the creek, knelt, and dipped the pails into the deepest part of the water. After he set them high on the bank, he removed his shirt, tossed it aside, and plunged his arms into the water. Gasping with the impact of the cold, he splashed it onto his head and chest.

Once his face was clean, he wiped off his boots and rubbed most of the mud from his pants, then rinsed his shirt in the stream and wrung it out several times. He shook out the shirt and put it on, shivering when the cold, wet cloth made contact with his flesh.

Twilight took away most of the daylight as Carl paused to look into the water of the creek where it pooled below him. He saw a distorted reflection of the outline of his form in the dim light. Nineteen years had built his body well and tall, but the last four, with the privations of war, had hardened the muscles of his frame and made his features gaunt. His hair was too long, and the week’s growth of sandy red beard itched. He’d have to hunt up scissors and a razor as well as a comb.

As night fell, Carl shrugged his shoulders to rearrange the damp shirt, picked up the pails, and headed back to the house, guided by the lamplight from the kitchen window. Breeze on the shirt chilled him, and he walked a little faster. At the steps he re-scraped his boots, then opened the door and went inside.

“We’re just fixing to eat,” Julia called. She turned and saw the water buckets. “Thank you, son. You saved me a trip.”

Carl pulled up a chair to the table and joined Rod and Albert.

“It ain’t much, Carl, but it’ll keep you from blowing away.” Julia waved her hand toward the food. “We’re lucky to have greens. They popped up down by the crick, and I picked them late this afternoon. ‘Course, there’s corn pone, and we have milk, but there ain’t no real coffee, just roasted chicory.” She sighed as she sat at her place. “We’ll have real food again once we get a crop up.”

“That’s something we need to do some talking about,” Rod declared. “First, let’s give thanks for Carl’s safe return, and for this food we got.”

At the end of the grace, Carl glanced across the table at his father. There had been something in his voice that foretold serious business. Rod must have felt his stare, for he looked up, his beard wrinkling as he chewed.

Rod swallowed, then said, “Tell me how it looks south of here, son. What did Sheridan leave for the folks in the south end of the Valley? You came from Staunton, I reckon?” Rod took a bite of greens.

“He burnt or pulled down homes, barns, crops, orchards, ‘most everything, all the way to Staunton and beyond. It’s a famine time. A crow flying by would have to bring his own rations.” He paused to chew a piece of pone. “Ma, it’s a wonder to me the Yankees left our house alone when they came back through.”

“I had my good Sharps rifle, and I set right there in the doorway and wouldn’t budge none. After a while they left me be and went out back to burn the barn.”

“Marie could-a been killed,” Albert said, frowning. “Them dirty Yankees didn’t wait ‘til she was out of the barn to set it afire.” Albert’s eyes looked dark and fierce. “I wish I’d a been down here shooting me some Yankees instead of up in the hills with Clay and all them cows!”

“Likely they’d have shot you, Albert,” Carl said. “Praise God you was up there!”

Rod’s mouth tightened. “What about livestock, son? What did you see?”

“I reckon we’ve got more cattle than any five stock men down the Valley, Pa. Maybe five pigs, thin stuff; not more’n ten hens anywhere. I reckon Grant didn’t want no more supplies coming out of the Shenandoah. He meant for little Phil Sheridan to clean us out, and he did the job.”

“Lucky I was warned some,” Julia said, “or I wouldn’t have had time to send the boys off up the hill.”

Rod chewed his food slowly, his face looking thoughtful. “I reckon we’re eating about as well as Rand Hilbrands. The Yankees missed burning the store in Mount Jackson, so he still has food to put on his table.”

“What happened over to Chester Bates’ place, Pa?”

“He lost his barn, and the house is gutted out. They burned his fields bare. The Bates family is about wiped off the face of the earth, I’d say.”

“Are they all dead?”

“They’ve got their lives and little else.”

“That’s sure a pity.” Carl wiped his mouth with his hand. “They had the prettiest stone house I believe I’ve ever seen. Where are they living now?”

“Right on the place, in the old tool shed.”

“Hush, that’s a shame. There’s no finer man than Chester Bates, ‘cept for you and John Mosby, Pa.”

“Andy Campbell says his pa’s so mad about his place being wrecked, he wants to clear out and go someplace else,” Albert reported.

Rod Owen cleared his throat. “That’s just what I aim to do.”

This novel is available from in many electronic book formats, and from in print and Kindle editions. Also available at,, and Search term: "Marsha Ward"

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  1. And he'll do it, I have no doubt! Great sample!

  2. thanks - I love stuff like this and it just flows along - like the crick

  3. What a fascinating way to tell history. Great writing.

  4. You're really grabbing the history of the south.

  5. Jennifer, Rod is a strong character, so you're right! He will do what he has set out to do.

    Thank you, Sue. It was fun to write.

    Yes, Donna, fiction is often a painless way for readers to get a sense of history.

    Lindsay, for some reason, the Civil War era resonates with me, and the circumstances of the South, in particular. A famous author once told me that every historical novelist has "their war." His was the French and Indian War. Apparently mine is the Civil War. The fifth book of the series will really get into it as I tell Rulon Owen's story. Oh, the research ahead of me!

    Thank you all for visiting!

  6. Loved this excerpt and the twist at the end. Didn't see that coming! Are you from the Shenandoah Valley area, Marsha? I went to school there. Breathtakingly beautiful.

    Great sample.

  7. Thanks, Jenna! Sadly, I've only traveled through the southern part of the Valley, and that was with the light waning. I wish we could have spent more time, but it was the end of a long cross-country trip to New York State, and my husband wasn't feeling well. Unfortunately, he was NOT well, and would leave us a bit more than a year later.

    My dream is to go exploring someday and see all of the Shenandoah Valley. I'm glad my research was sufficient to make the novel feel authentic, though.

  8. Boy, that was a surprise to everyone! I can see their shocked faces, now :-) Great sample, Marsha! I felt like I was experiencing the civil war with them!

  9. Anonymous3:54 PM

    I'm sure that's not an easy decision to come to, but one that probably makes the most sense.

    Great conversation, emotions, reactions. It all flows really well.

  10. Thanks, Gwendolyn. I'm please that you enjoyed this sample.

    Rod must have taken some time to think this decision through, Mirriam. Even so, the future is not going to be easy for either him or the rest of the Owen family.

    Thanks for visiting, ladies!

  11. I'm loving these excerpts. You draw me in with each one.

  12. You definitely caught me! I already care about these people! I want to know more!

  13. Thanks, Elaine. I aim to please. :-)

    Bwahahaha, Diane. You scoped out my evil plan to ensnare anyone who wanders by. Just kidding! Thanks!

  14. This story has a good flow, and the dialogue carries it well. Great sample!

  15. Thanks, Melynda. I appreciate your approbation.

  16. I can understand why he'd want to leave, just to escape the memories if nothing else. This is a fantastic story.

    Thanks for stopping by my site!

  17. If the choices are 1) to stay where you are--with deep roots and a child buried on the farm--and see your family starve to death, or 2) to go to a new land where you've heard you can make a living and flourish, I guess the decision is simple, although heart-wrenching.

    You're welcome. I love reading your work.

  18. I continue to love this story! The last sentence was a big twist - so totally unexpected. I wonder if the entire family will go with him.

  19. Thank you, Patricia! Since the aim of leaving Virginia is to keep the family from starving, yes, they all go with Rod. That's where the adventures come from, and they are many and varied. I know you will enjoy reading the entire novel.

    However, this is the end of Chapter One, and I'm moving on to do excerpts from another book next week.

    Thank you to those of you who have purchased my work. I do so much appreciate your support.


I welcome your comments.

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