A Journey through A MOONBOW NIGHT by Laura Frantz

MOONBow woods cr-BACKGROUND LOCATION - Woods450 COPYWhew. What a journey. I just returned from an arduous trek, blazing a trail thru untamed mountain wilderness of Kentucky. The doctors and lawmen back in Virginia could not help us with catastrophes there. But we enjoyed gifts along the way ~ like when lush moonlight “silvered  the woods and river.” And the “hallowed, heavenly magic … a star shower.” The moonbow rose from the mist of the falls, spanning the river, bands of white streaked with red and indigo and pale green, “vivid against the froth of the falls.”

 

 

GREEN VEIL OVIBut the journey was long. Through springtime teasing with warm breeze but dumping snow at night, “the cold polishing every rock and speck of grass like barley sugar.” Summer with its veil of green protecting us but also hiding danger. And heated “air shimmering like a cast-iron skillet.” Autumn with its canopy of color, treacherous when wet and fallen.

MOONBOW copy-SNOWY EVERGREEN TREE -crop - half Cmkm colorI ache with the walking and carrying supplies. My mind and senses cannot rest after months of being alert to any subtle change. Getting lazy in observing allows death to strike. I wonder if I will ever settle, not react to every slight sound. Every variance of breeze or temperature or color of the sky …

 

But wait. As I rouse, a book slips from my fingers and I sit in my own room. I glance around. Gradually senses adapt as I drift out of story-world reality of A MOONBOW NIGHT and into my 21st-century home.

moonbow night cover

As a reader I love a good story. One that invites turning pages quickly, chasing plot turns with characters that have captured my interest. I want be so immersed in a book that closing the cover and returning to my time and place is a shock. Laura Frantz writes stories that come alive. A venture she succeeds in every time. For a reader, that is enough to know opening A MOONBOW NIGHT will bring satisfaction.

Frantz creates living, breathing characters. Though this is her fourth novel set in l770-1790 Kentucky, her characters are always fresh, distinct, and seem to emerge perfectly from the era. Not a retread among them.

She places these characters in a time of keeping delicate balances. Frontier living was living on a knife’s edge. Survival was tentative at best. The times demanded one be constantly alert and correctly interpret even the most subtle of things around them. A rapidly-hidden glance. A slight weather shift. A near-indiscernible sound. A barely-there hint of something out of order—a fallen leaf out of season, birdsong gone silent, hoof print with no shoe… Missing natural or human clues left one vulnerable. Death could be sudden—in a rockfall, a storm, gunshot, snakebite. 

Trkee river

Much of MOONBOW unfurls as Tempe Tucker or Sion Morgan (with various companions) travel. Sometimes they trek familiar, narrow paths; other times unfamiliar territory, be it tough terrain, rough rivers, forests lost in fog or laced with enemies. Many miles are walked, then backtracked. Yet throughout Frantz keeps the action moving in a setting that some might see as an endless slate of green and wood to forge through. Not once does she revert to lazy repetition.

MOONBOW Yosemite - falls close up brtWith her extraordinary observation and writing skill, every turn of trail and fortune unfolds in a vividly-drawn setting. Much like inhabitants of extreme northern climes have a vast number of words for snow, Frantz finds a seemingly infinite variety of sights, sounds, and senses within which to place the action. No cookie-cutter travelogue descriptions here. Rather, an endless diversity of vegetation impedes progress or provides food, fuel, or healing agents as the characters move thru the forest. A variety of sounds soothe … or frighten, an array of sights assist in navigating the journey … or stirring emotions.

An example is when Tempe recalls first traveling to Kentucky. Weeks upon weeks amid a long, snaking column of people and animals, eating cornbread and meat that tasted of wood smoke and ashes, clothes full of briars and burrs. Then one night she was lost in a sunset, “a blaze of red and gold, the sky pretty as a party dress.”

God is Present Sunset cprt color - MOONBow copy

The germ of the story is a little-publicized event in the life of Daniel Boone. Frantz says learning about it as a child impacted her greatly. Around that incident, she’s woven a plot as filled with twists and turns as paths early surveyors had to travel through the wilderness. Sion, Tempe, and her family~indeed all the secondary characters spring to life so authentically connected to the era and location that MOONBOW seems a tale of history told, not a novel spun from Frantz’s imagination. Even knowing beforehand that part of the story was fact-based, as I read I could not find the line between fact and fiction.

Frantz’s diction is another area where she displays her skill and her readers benefit tremendously. Her language is fresh, evocative, sensory, and captures the dialect of the times.

LIFE is chancy posterShe also captures the unsettledness and danger of 1777, a year of much violence and bloodshed in Kentucky known as “the bloody sevens.” Indian attacks grew more common. Constant vigilance and heightened senses were required. The story shows the toll vigilance takes, and the price of being careless.

Fog in valleyTempe, as expert as any professional guide, regularly finds solace from the past that haunts her by wandering through the woods. But now fewer patrons stop at their inn, and fog settles in. “The lull unsettled her. She didn’t dare venture far with the fog. It seemed to take the land captive whilst scrambling her usually sound sense of direction. Without the sun or North Star as her guide, she felt adrift.”  [p 65]

MOONBOW - blossom“Tempe was struck right then by how chancy life was. Like a spider’s web or an eggshell or a butterfly’s wing. Their world seemed made of little losses. She was always having to say goodbye, part with something. A brilliant sunset. A blossom. A sweet feeling.”  [p 182]

And again as Tempe trekked toward a favorite place:

MOONBOW - tree-massive“A hymn stirred in her spirit. Her mouth opened, then shut. She sensed the meadow wasn’t entirely hers … she felt a cloudiness. Not fear, just a foreboding, a heightening tension. She stepped behind a chestnut, its bulk broad as two men.

Raven.

He crossed the clearing, moving with an easy grace, gaze turned toward her as if telling her she was plain as a parakeet with its noisy chatter and brilliant plumage. She looked down at her showy skirt, dyed pumpkin orange … Half Chickamauga Cherokee, Raven seemed rootless, restless, living between two worlds, never quite at home in either. Whenever she saw him he was on the move, usually on the Warrior’s Path. But today he was in this very meadow, near her beloved Fairy Rock.

She felt … wronged.

Chafing … she stepped from behind the tree as if to banish any territorial thoughts. This was Indian ground be it anyone’s. She had no special claim … ‘Twas more Raven’s than hers.”  [p 70]

SCOTs AZALEA or rhod - MOONBOWThough the story is set in a turbulent, violent era, and covers many raw, tough days, do not fear it’s a dark and overwhelming story. That all is relieved when Frantz peppers the story with beautiful observations, joyous experiences, noble deeds, glimmers of hope, as well as snatches of humor. In this example Tempe, concerned by the reserve between her brother Russell and her friend (clearly smitten with him) decides to intervene.

“Mama, maybe it’s time to give Russell a talking to.”

[Her mother’s] dark brows arched. “What for?”

“Don’t you want some grandchildren?”

“I’d like a wedding first.”  [p 95]

Laura Frantz’s skill as a story-teller astonishes me. A MOONBOW NIGHT is filled with accurate historical detail, intricately woven, and beautiful. As a writer, I re-read her novels as a master class on technique. Though I must say studying them to explain details of writing craft feels like an intrusive act that violates their integrity and beauty, much like dissecting a delicate flower or pinning a lovely butterfly.

Thorough research is another of Frantz’s hallmarks. I could fill a page listing the areas she has mastered to give us the verisimilitude in this story—history, tracking, Indian languages, plant/animal knowledge, food preservation, weapons, to name only a few. All that plus her keen observational skills, and familiarity with and love of the region combine to create a world so immediate that a reader cannot help but inhabit it. You will find yourself holding your breath, the hair on the back of your neck tingling as you sense, without knowing why, impending doom. And relief will make your legs go weak when help arrives.

I think the magic of Frantz’s writing (which in my experience is shared by only a few) is that her stories are not so much read as lived.

 Visit with Laura on her blog or Facebook or Pinterest. She’ll be thrilled to meet you.

Adventure Calls – Love’s Fortune by Laura Frantz

So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. [Mark Twain as quoted in Love’s Fortune]

Ah, an adventure awaits.

For the rest of his life James Sackett would remember this moment.”

What about this moment is special?

Who could resist turning the page after reading such a line?  

Papa had forsaken his black mourning band.”

Oh my, what does that portend for young Wren?

Laura Frantz opens the door—just a sliver—into a world unfamiliar to us and then quickly plunges us into the culture shock Wren faces in tumultuous mid-nineteenth century America.

There Frantz’s cast of varied and strongly-motivated characters face dilemmas aplenty as they navigate through treacherous steamboat travel, slavery debates, and debut seasons. They are so richly presented, I can almost see with Wren the river made golden at sunset, inhale the mingled fragrance of cut wood and varnish, ache with James at the tough choices, feel the chilly condescension when Andra or Elspeth enter a room.

Frantz’s deft hand and thorough research bring alive the steamboat travel along the Ohio River, the cramped streets and luxurious upper crust homes of Pittsburgh. Did you know that before a wedding, Pittsburgh society brides had to be wrapped in a sheet to keep their gowns from getting sooty? Or that tobacco and molasses were shipped in a hogshead? (Not as gross as it sounds, a hogshead is a size of barrel.) Or that each steamboat had a distinctive whistle allowing folks on shore to know which boat was arriving? (Clever and extremely helpful in those days before cell phones.)

The hundreds of specific details Frantz includes make history come alive, and the setting so real you can feel the fresh air and freedom as Wren runs barefoot across the Kentucky hills. Along with Wren, I smile watching glamorous couples dance beneath the glittering lights of the ballroom and feel every pinch of high society’s conventions and corsets. I could easily slip into the music room and sway to the melody and eavesdrop in a hallway or on a garden stroll. The world Wren Ballantyne enters is so real, we step in right along with her—wishing at times she could hear our whisper,..

… “This way, Wren.” Or, “Don’t listen to the scoundrel’s slick words.” Or, “This is a person you can trust. That one? Most certainly is not.”

Frantz’s prose is rich and sings like the music Wren makes with her fiddle. She creates a world that throbs with life, filled with joy and sorrow, pride and shame, struggle and celebration, conflict and triumph. And story threads, like a spring, are wound tighter with each chapter. Speaking of chapters, Frantz goes to the extra trouble of selecting an epigraph to introduce each one~~small gems in themselves. A gift, indeed.

Do you remember those old-fashioned children’s pop-up books where, as you turn pages, a cardboard scene rises out of the book? Laura Frantz’s writing does that—it makes a 2-dimensional world 3-D.

So whatever makes a good novel for you~~high-stakes action, compelling characters, or a setting that takes you someplace new~~you will find it between the covers of Love’s Fortune. Frantz is skilled at the elements of writing good fiction—vivid characters, rich setting, taut plot lines. And also using the subtlety, red herrings, and misdirection of engrossing mysteries.  

But there is more, much more. Some authors have a way of weaving simple words, sentences, and paragraphs into a glittering jewel that is more than the sum of its parts. Laura Frantz is one of those, and we readers are the beneficiaries of her alchemy-like ability to transform these elements into a tale that Narnia-like captures and carries us into a satisfying journey. Love’s Fortune is a tale that unfurls at times with the grit and scrape of a coil of hemp rope, at others with the caress and shimmery mystery of a spool of moire ribbon. A tale that kept me reading until the dawn broke.  

Oops, need to give you a brief plot insight. Here’s the back cover copy:   Sheltered since birth at her Kentucky home, Rowena “Wren” Ballantyne has heard only whispered rumors of her grandfather Silas’s vast fortune and grand manor in Pennsylvania. When her father receives a rare letter summoning him to New Hope, Wren makes the journey with him and quickly finds herself in a whole new world–filled with family members she’s never met, dances she’s never learned, and a new side to the father she thought she knew. As she struggles to fit in during their extended stay, she finds a friend in James Sackett, the most valued steamship pilot of the Ballantynes’ shipping line. Even with his help, Wren feels she may never be comfortable in high society. Will she go her own way . . . to her peril?

With her signature attention to historical detail, Laura Frantz brings 1850s Pennsylvania alive with a tender story of loss, love, and loyalty.” 

You can learn about Laura’s other books and why she loves writing about Kentucky at her website: www.laurafrantz.net