Thursday, June 6, 2013

America's first Samurai was a teenage girl

Hi! I’m Jamie Brazil.  Last month I joined the Windtree group and I’m thrilled to announce my upcoming release, The Commodore’s Daughter.  While the story begins in Newport, Rhode Island, most of this novel is set in Japan. Year: 1853.

This coming week I'm releasing a novel that took a long time to write.  Years.  And I feel bad about that, given that I keep some rather prolific writerly company.  Not only was this book research intensive as it’s based around an actual event (Commodore Perry’s historic treaty that opened the doors of trade with Japan) (note to self: never attempt another historic novel!), writing the heroine became a sort of personal journey… Jennifer Perry wasn’t just in my brain, somehow I sort of absorbed her into my whole being.

If it weren’t for writing this novel with my husband, I’d still be swallowed up in the nitpicking perfectionism of it all, my worst maternal instincts running amok, and never letting go of my baby.  But that said, I also know it’s time to share.  Time to return this baby to the universe and let it find its way. 

I hope you enjoy reading this first chapter excerpt of The Commodore's Daughter. ~Jamie 

Emily Bronte wrote about being poor and female and not having rights or even the chance to have a better life. She died five years ago. That was in 1848. She was only 30. Of the Bronte sisters, Emily was my favorite author. I can completely relate to her, not that I’m poor.

My name is Jennifer Perry. I live with my family in Newport, Rhode Island. Our house is quite grand, but not nearly as grand as our neighbor’s houses that are filled with maids and butlers and cooks. I know this because my mother and I visit often. Too often as far as I’m concerned. For every dreary hour spent in the company of Mrs. Astor or Mrs. Vanderbilt, my mother would nag me for three about the importance of marrying well. Like my older sister did.

The very sister who introduced me to Emily Bronte’s novels, and who, now, showed up at my door with an evening gown, stockings, silk shoes and corset.

“I can’t breathe, Caroline,” I wheezed as she mercilessly cinched me into the corset. The whalebones that lined the inside crushed my ribs together. If my sister pulled it any tighter I swear my eyeballs might pop right out of my head.

“You must suffer to be beautiful,” she replied and gave the corset another hard tug.

“I don’t want to be beautiful,” I gasped for air, silently cursing whoever came up with that ridiculous saying. I mean, really, who decided that beauty equaled a waist measurement of twenty inches or less? And who came up with the idea that if a gentleman placed his hands around a ladies’ waist, and was able to touch his thumbs and middle fingers together, he would consider her marriageable? Of my mother’s wealthy friends, all their waists were considerably larger than the ideal. So was my mother’s. My sister’s waist, too, but then she was pregnant and unable to wear her corsets.

“Appearance is everything,” Caroline chided. “Besides, don’t you want to be just like me someday?” She patted her big, round belly.

I didn’t. Not that I would say that to her face because it would hurt her feelings and then she would tell mother and that would lead to more afternoons of sipping tea and being educated in the importance of marrying a rich husband like Caroline’s, only richer. Being the younger, blonder and even more blue-eyed version of Caroline, my chances of outdoing my sister in the marriage department were excellent. Except for one thing… I didn’t want to get married. Possibly ever.

 I glanced to my bedroom mirror and caught the reflection of my sister who waddled to the bed where my gown for tonight’s party was laid out. Sometimes it seemed like just yesterday that Caroline and I had spent lazy winter afternoons laying on my bed reading and rereading passages from Wuthering Heights. We had promised ourselves an ocean voyage to England to visit the castles and moors, then together we’d write books about our travels. It was a silly notion, especially now, with Caroline’s growing family.

Caroline raised the dress to her body and swayed to and fro. “Mother never spent this much on my dresses. Not even my wedding dress. You’re so lucky.”

I felt anything but lucky.

Until today, all my dresses had been Caroline’s hand-me-downs, re-sewn and re-styled with buttoned up collars that covered up my small, bony chest and long sleeves to hide my pale, skinny arms. I liked those dresses. If the urge to climb a tree and write in my journal hit, I scaled my favorite oak with a notebook tucked in my petticoat and pencil between my teeth. If I ripped a seam or tore a hole in the hem, my mother would roll her eyes and lecture me on the proper way a young lady should address nature: wildflowers pressed tight between the pages of a large book.

Our library was full of them, wildflowers and large books. The dried bouquets were Caroline’s, not that she had time to collect flowers anymore, and the books were mine. Actually, the books belonged to my father, but being away so much of the time, the only books he ever read were on his ship. I was the only one who spent time in the library. And I was most definitely not pressing flowers.

But there was little time to read or write now.

My new dress, along with a pair of matching shoes, had been purchased in New York. Both cost a small fortune. The gown’s floor-length silky layers were embroidered with tiny pearls. Delicate sleeves barely covered my shoulders. A deeply cut neckline, trimmed in ruffles, framed my small breasts – now pushed up high by the corset. I looked much older than I felt.

The only thing I really liked were the shoes. They were sky-blue silk with plump bows. They had identical mother-of-pearl buckles, hand-carved in the shape of mermaids. The shoes looked magical. When I slipped them on my feet I felt like anything was possible. Too bad the shoes would remain hidden below the gown’s long, sweeping skirts.

I’m not like other girls my age, at least not the ones I know. While they giggle about boys who might ask them to dance at the ball, I daydream about worlds far away, exotic plants and animals and discovering new cultures. I’m a lot like my father. Except he doesn’t dream, he really does these things. If I had the chance to travel I’d explore the world with him.

Instead, I’m supposed to get married.

It’s not like this is something new. Men have asked my father for my hand in marriage since my thirteenth birthday. He has always declined their offers, telling them that unless they were wealthier than the German industrialist Caroline married, the answer was “no.” Few men have that much money. I counted my blessings… until yesterday when I found out that my brother-in-law had a brother.

His name is Heinrich and he’s older and even richer than Caroline’s husband. It was arranged that we’d meet at tonight’s ball even though he’d already asked my father for my hand in marriage. My sister told me so. She also told me that father had accepted his offer! This was awful news, but there was little I could do to protest. Father had agreed. He was a man of his word.

I took the dress off the bed and dutifully put it on.

I’m only fifteen years old. Too young to be a wife!


There’s so much I haven’t done yet.

While everyone tells me that my life is just beginning, I feel like it’s over.

1 comment:

Karen Duvall said...

This sounds like a fascinating book! The first chapter is great. Best of luck with it! :)