Novel 1: The Knife with the Ivory Handle

Creating the Historical Climate

It is 1900. Well, very close to it. For revealing the culture of coal mining, rural farm life, and the difficulties facing African Americans, children, and European immigrants in 1900, I revisited research gathered while a graduate student at Illinois State University and then wrapped the fiction around the facts. For example, Spring Valley’s race riot took place in 1903 while “The Location” was the name of the segregated neighborhood. Tarot cards as we know them today became popular after 1910. Orphan Train Riders were sent from the Brooklyn Orphanage to Illinois families from 1850s to 1920s. The House of the Good Shepherd, an asylum in Chicago, took in abandoned girls in dire need of shelter and food. The description of St. Patrick Church, alive and well in LaSalle, is a blending of many Catholic Irish churches I have visited over the years. St. Bede Abbey in Peru, Illinois, has functioned as a Benedictine school and Abbey for over a century. I appreciated the monks, faculty, and students for befriending me as a teacher from 1999-2005. The underground tunnel exists, and if you felt your way through it in the dark, well, it is as creepy as one can describe.

The characters in the manuscript are fictitious. Jonathan, Casper, Annette, and Father Kelly, as well as their friends, family, and pets,  are products of my imagination. My goal was to create believable, complex characters and place them in a historical context.  If you are interested in reading my research, I will happily share my findings with you.


Annette Vandenberg

She is fourteen and desires to become a physician. Angry at adults who orchestrate her life, she escapes the confines of authority by cultivating a nocturnal habit of wandering the orphanage halls as quiet as a ghost. On the Moriarty farm, she falls in love with Scott and runs away to Chicago with him, abandoning her brother. In turn, she is abandoned when she discovers she is with child.

Jonathan Vandenberg

At ten, he is artistically talented and in his spare time draws for ladies to earn pennies. He adores his sister and is thunderstruck when she gallops away with a field hand and disappears.  Sent as a boarder to a Benedictine monastery, he dabbles with oil painting and his talent opens the door to a new world. He has one last opportunity to say goodbye to Annette, but Jonathan is not sure he can forgive her.

Father Kelly

Father Kelly is a neophyte priest who has been assigned to St. Patrick’s church in Peru, Illinois and finds he’s little more than a glorified altar boy. In Spring Valley, Eastern and Southern European immigrants working in the coal mines suffer from an outbreak of tuberculosis, attacking a neighborhood of Russian Lithuanians. His ordeal heightens when he struggles to understand his feelings for the eldest daughter of the Pupka family.


Running from the law, he befriends Annette and Jonathan on the train. Soon Casper finds work in a coal mining town, hiding under the earth, grasping for ways to survive the descent into blackness. He tells himself that soon he will have enough money saved to rejoin his family in Chicago, but the haunting of Amelia, a white girl he fell in love with many years ago threatens to claim his sanity. His situation worsens topside when he becomes implicated in a theft.


Chapter I

In the farthest compartment in the procession, in the dark humidity among the stalls containing a horse, a calf, and a Border collie, a colored man sat in the shadows, his head swaying to the rhythm of the train riding the rails. His head fell forward, and he wept into his calloused hands. “You sure in a pickle,” he said clumsily. Since the attack two months ago, and a part of his tongue was sliced off, his words were incoherent. He forgot, sometimes, and when he spoke aloud, he was startled at how ridiculous he sounded. Ashamed, he clammed up and avoided people as much as he could. He was growing accustomed to the stub in his mouth, and he could still hum a tune, so when he was alone, he listened to the sounds of his voice in that way. He peered at his right calf where the blood seepage on his overalls made the shape of an enlarged circle. He ripped the material in order to see the bullet wound. The blood was thick and purple, clotting over the hole. His thoughts were rapid. “Get the bullet out. You lucky the bullet missed the bone. They will be waiting for you at the next stop. Cross the border into Illinois.”
He dribbled and snorted. What to do? Casper steadied his breathing and bubbles came out of his mouth. He wiped the sweat off his face with his palm. The black and white collie sat on her haunches and stared at him, head cocked, the same way his mama used to when he had done something foolish. He thought to the dog, “Yes, I bet I look a might peculiar.” The man snickered and shook his head because he could imagine the black, petite face and alert eyes of the dog transform into his dead mother. “That white patch around its belly could be Mama’s apron, and the white spot on the head her turban.” He saw her appear, pretty and scolding and frowning and sad all wrapped up at once. “Boy, where’s your wits?” She told him, “Take care of your wife and son. Stay away from white folks, and maybe you’ll live to see your son grow up, isn’t that what I always said? You’ll be lynched before the year is out, attacking those men.” She would have wagged her head. “Gone and killed one of ‘em.” She would have held out her arms to embrace him. “Come here, boy.” Casper imagined his mother rocking him. Even though she had been dead for almost twenty years, he liked to have conversations with her like this in his head. The train mimicked his mother’s motions and the panic floated away. The respite was momentary, for soon more warnings interfered. “They’ll find you. They’ll gut you like a carp. You will never see Clementine or Petey again. You will be dead by the end of the day.” He snapped open his eyes and wondered how to save himself…


Ethnic Regionalism Masters

25 thoughts on “Novel 1: The Knife with the Ivory Handle”

  1. Interesting teaser!! I wouldn’t mind reading the whole thing…

    I’d very much like to hear your thoughts on my book cindy… well I say book, its something I hope to somehow get published. I don’t know how to do that, perhaps you could help me out in that department 🙂

    cheers 🙂


      1. You self published? Huh… I have never heard that term before. Is your book online only then or…?

        I want to make mine online as people all use e-readers these days, including myself. Plus like you said, getting published the traditional way is almost impossible!


    1. 🙂 if you go to the Novel 1 tab at the top, it will take you right to Amazon. You can buy on on kindle for dirt cheap. I appreciate your support. Please let me know what you thought when you are done. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I tried to buy your book but it says I can only get it on kindle cloud or something. What is that? I need a epub or mobi file to read it on my Samsung tablet, I don’t even know what Kindle means


    1. Jordan, first, thanks for trying to buy the book. Amazon has a relationship with Kindle, an e-reader. Must not work in Australia?
      Send me your address and I’ll mail you a copy. Second, I’m super busy (two summer jobs) for the rest of the week. I’ll do my best to read your chapter and I will comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed it, Cindy. I purchased it and did’t get a chance to read if for a while. When I started it, I couldn’t put it down. Keep up the good work and I am waiting for that new one you keep teasing us about.


    1. OMG ! You couldn’t have given me higher praise. Thank you so much, Don. When you have a spare moment, providing a review on Amazon would help me out in the future. An aspect about it that you liked would be great.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I wish you luck with your novel, and its sequel. I self-published “Pope on the Dole” in 2013 using Amazon’s CreateSpace platform, and will use it again when my two detective novels are completed (hopefully, by January 2019). I agree that it’s nearly impossible to hook a literary agent or publishing house. One huge advantage to self-publishing is that the writer is free to write whatever he/she wants without anyone meddling with it. What may appear extraneous to an editor may actually be an essential part of a book. An editor may not take the time to actually delve into the book in order to truly understand it. Also, editors these days follow certain guidelines when it comes to style and structure. Many of our great classics would never have seen the light of day, or would have been dramatically altered, if these editors had been working at the time.


    1. Hi Millerswindmill! I see we share a love for Pete at Beetley. I appreciate you coming over to my blog to check it out. I’m glad for you and your self-publishing goals. Congrats! The second novel is a part of the series I have in my head which, when done, will encompass the 20th Century. Like John Jakes, I’m taking a character forward to the next chapter. The first novel is 1900. The one I’m writing now is 1927. The one after that will surround WACS in WWII. Anyway, I hope for tradional routes, but will self publish again, using Amazon, if all else fails. It’s a love for research and writing that keeps me sane. I don’t care if I’m famous. But, it would be nice to be picked up by a publishing house, I won’t lie. 😉
      Cheers, fellow writer!
      So, where are you from? Do you have a name or is it secret?


      1. Pete always mentions my first name when responding to my comments (my username there is “lividemerald2013”) on his blog. My own blog, millerswindmill, gives away my last name. But here’s my full name: David E. Miller. As for “LividEmerald,” that’s actually an official pseudonym registered with SACEM (Société des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs de musique). Quoting Wikipedia, SACEM is “a French professional association collecting payments of artists’ rights and distributing the rights to the original songwriters, composers, and music publishers.” I write lyrics for Chris Almoada, a French composer (rockabilly, Texas swing, etc.) who no longer performs concerts. Most of the lyrics I’ve written have not yet been published (I’m waiting for our joint Facebook page—which will propose our collaborative songwriting to recording studios/artists—to go live later this year), but those that have been published can be found at millerswindmill, or, more conveniently, by going here:

        I’m from Missouri originally, but I’ve lived in Las Vegas since 1995. If I’m not mistaken, you live in Arizona. It seems to me that you once told me we were neighbors.

        With respect to your writing, I like your plan to carry forward characters through time. By the way, I read the reviews for “The Knife with the Ivory Handle” on Amazon. It sounds quite interesting. I don’t know how many books are planned in the series, but I would guess at least four. You could also eventually delve into the 21st Century. Regardless of whether you find a traditional publisher or self-publish, I wish you success. I do want to eventually read your books. Right now I’m finishing up book four (out of five) in Philip José Farmer’s “Riverworld” series. It’s really boring, but I’m reading the series in French translation, so it’s the language that keeps me going. At least writing my own novels isn’t keeping me from being an avid reader!


        1. I can’t believe I somehow missed this! How kind of you to comment so thoughtfully. I think it is awesome that you are tackling a boring book in French. It says a lot about your character!
          This series I see in my head and it’s taking forever to complete. I wish I were retired or had a patron so I could spend all day writing instead of earning a living. Ach, well, no excuses.
          I really like novellas and I think a series of novellas would be interesting. I’m close to completing the second installment. After the editor takes a look at it, the search begins for an agent. I admire you for writing your own novels!


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