Tag Archives: fiction

The Murphy-Harpst Home: Writing About the Past

Rolling some ideas around in my head. I guess I should tell you where I am before I embark on something new. I have a tendency to get several projects going and bounce around between them.

It wasn’t like that when I wrote Red Clay and Roses. The idea for that story had rolled around in my head for twenty years. Having the time to put the words down brought it all together in a hurry. I didn’t really intend for it to become a published book. It isn’t set in a standard novel template and has its share of faults, but I’m proud of it just the same as if I had set out to accomplish writing a novel.

Naked Alliances was my first attempt at actually putting together a totally fictional story. There are things I like about it and things I don’t. I can’t say that I’m totally thrilled with it. I know authors are supposed to be very confident and write what they want to read and be all excited about putting it out there. I’d be lying if I said that I did not have any reservations.

At any rate, I know it has improved thanks to some wonderful beta readers and a couple of fantastic editors. I just got the novel back from its last pass through an editor’s hands and I am on chapter twenty-one of thirty finishing up those edits and I am much more excited about it now than I was at the start. I plan on continuing the Naked Eye series.

I have rough outlines completed for the next two novels. One involves missing elderly, and another involves development encroaching on wildlife habitat.

I still have Surviving Sister in the works, a 1950s-60 saga that continues with Hannah Hamilton’s family members, particularly her mother and her Aunt, who both suffer from mental illness during an era of major changes in how the mentally ill were treated. Concerning the Hamilton family members, it could be read as a sequel to Red Clay and Roses or a standalone. One of the biggest hindrances to writing this novel is the research required. There is so little documentation of treatment modalities in that era. My personal psychiatrist has given me some reference books that might help move things along. There is also a romance in that book that has slowed me down.

A nice lady from the orphanage that I lived in back in the mid-seventies has written to me. She found a blog post in which I mentioned the Harpst Home. That really has me thinking. I’ve done loads of research on Ethel Harpst and the Harpst Home and still have contacts there. Although it is primarily a treatment facility now, no longer an orphanage as most children are housed in foster care nowadays, it is still home to dozens of youth who would be at serious risk if the home did not exist.

Here is an excerpt on Ethel Harpst from “Georgia Women of Achievement”


Ethel Harpst
Ethel Harpst

 Perhaps Ethel Harpst’s biggest gift was the time and effort she gave to so many children in need. Harpst began her long career of caring for children at the McCarty Settlement House at Cedartown’s mill village. During her time teaching there, she took in a number of children who had been orphaned by parents who succumbed to illnesses. The Ethel Harpst Home opened in March 1924 and housed many children until the walls could expand no more.

Harpst traveled to raise funds for a new home, and in 1927 the first modern building, James Hall, was completed. And just in time for children who were displaced and orphaned during the Great Depression. An answer to prayer was the interest and attention shown by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Pfeiffer of New York. Through the Pfeiffer’s and several other friends, money was raised to allow more buildings to be constructed on the campus over the next 20 years, and hundreds of acres of land were contributed to the cause. All this is thanks to the dedication and tenacity of Harpst to continue fundraising. Today, the site houses the Murphy-Harpst residential program, where Georgia’s severely abused children can go for healing and therapy. In 2010-11, the program served nearly 300 children, which included 97 children in residential treatment.”

Sarah Murphy
Sarah Murphy

Long after her death in 1967, the Harpst Home merged with the Sarah Murphy Home. Sarah Murphy was a black woman in the area who had created a home for black youth.  Harpst Home became the Murphy-Harpst Home in 1976, during my last year there when it started integrating.

So, I’ve been wondering if I should write a book about them. It would either be non-fiction or a historical fiction based on their stories.

OR, Should I write a purely fictional story about a resident there and how she saw her world and the changes she went through?

Having been a resident there myself, I could better relate to a fictional character and write in the first person. There were so very many different coming-of-age stories to come out of that place during my short time there, I think it would make for a most interesting read.

What do you think?

What would interest you most?

Historical Fiction about the founders?

An orphan’s personal story?

I remember the first black girl that came from the Sarah Murphy Home to the Ethel Harpst home, and her roommate. I’d love to tell their story.

What would you, my audience, like to read?

Any ideas you’d like to share?

Writing to Make Readers Think Deeply

I have almost finished the edits on Naked Alliances and I still can’t say that I am totally satisfied with it. It’s entertaining, but there seems to be something I enjoy about writing that it is missing.

I like to make readers think deeply, to consider, contemplating an understanding of some serious subjects.

Red Clay and Roses does that.

Naked Alliances has a few moments of prose that might have someone pondering, but it is generally quite shallow. It lacks the depth of the solid reads that I most enjoy.

I have heard readers should never compare their writing to others, but I feel it is necessary to learn and to be inspired.

Anne Rice is one of my most favorite authors. Most people think of her in association to her legendary vampires, but she has written so much more.

She has erotica written under Anne Rampling, The Sleeping Beauty Quartet is a series of four novels written by American author Anne Rice under the pseudonym of A. N. Roquelaure, her Seraphim Series, the Christ the Lord books, The Wolf Gift Chronicles, The Vampire Chronicles, and The Mayfair Legacy trilogy. I’ve probably left something out, but needless to say, she is a prolific author with decades of terrific writing under her belt.

She also writes full-length novels on some of her ancillary characters, like Pandora, Merrick, Armand and writes on other subjects that interest her like Egyptian lore, Servant of the Bones and others.

With all of her writing, regardless of genre, Anne has an intuitive writing style that makes us think.

I believe many readers like to be challenged in that way with fiction.

One of my most favorite scenes in one of Anne’s books comes, not from vampire legend, but a man named Ashler in her Mayfair Legacy.

He’s thousands of years old and extremely wealthy. She has him standing in his penthouse suite in Rockefeller Center surrounded by his doll collection. This eccentric modern man is a descendant of Picts and has lived in some extreme conditions in medieval times.


Here, in his contemporary form, he is thinking about capitalism, corporate America, wealth, prosperity and the Roman Catholic Church’s near poverty by comparison as he gazes out at the snow falling to cover the rooftop of St. Patrick’s Cathedral below.


There is something deeply metaphorical about that sort of writing. It takes us beyond the scene and inside ourselves.

She’s an inspiration.

It’s magical.

I want to write like that.

Do you have a particular author that you thoroughly enjoy reading? Why?

 What intrigues you about their style?

Do you have an author who is an inspiration to your writing?   

The Buzzing Bumblebee


Angry bee tattoo
There is a buzz going around the internet about content in writing. There are things some people are either offended by, or are so emotionally moved by that it becomes unhealthy for them to experience reading about it. Some psychologists actually encourage people to face their fears and pains, processing through them. But some people may not be ready to do that. Some writing stings.




Writers write for a variety of reason: to entertain, to educate, to share opinions, to share news.





In memoirs, most often people write to provide inspiration. Sometimes they write to share a story that does not necessarily directly offer hope, but indirectly shares how that person processed through a difficult life situation…it may not be a pretty story, but the hope is that you will see the writer’s triumph over a bad situation. The growth experience, and in the end, the hope.

downloadLuanne shared a review of such a story: “I find it so hard to write a review of this book that I can’t help but wonder how Kathryn Harrison wrote it. It was a New York Times bestseller when it was originally published in 1997 and has been read by many. The Kiss is a very disturbing story. It’s about incest. And betrayal. And mental illness. And a “man of God” who was anything but. But mainly it’s Kathryn’s story* and how she negotiated growing up and learning how to be a woman.” But read the full review.

Incest is not a pretty topic. It’s not entertaining. I don’t know if this book is promoted with “trigger warnings” or not, but it is an example of what exactly disturbs me about this current BUZZ.

When you read the book description, I am certain that you will have some idea on what this memoir is about.

And then there is fiction.

Fiction is most often designed to be entertaining. But different people are entertained by different forms of fiction.

Some people prefer light reading. Others want to delve deeply into recesses of the mind and soul.

There is a current trend to avoid certain subjects that a number of people find offensive in fiction. I am not talking about murder, blood, guts, and gore. We tend to accept those things. Not only in crime fiction, but in mysteries, fantasy, vampire novels and horror.

But as  mystery writer tells us here: http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/genrefiction/tp/mysteryrules.htm

Certain subjects are considered absolute taboos, even in crime fiction. Mysteries should be about murder. Detectives should not be dealing less serious crimes. Or those crimes that are emotionally sensitive.

Rape, child molestation/incest, animal cruelty are subjects that even the most horrific writers are cautioned to avoid. These things are not “entertaining”. And in her point of view, these things can, in no way, be entertaining. They are not only politically incorrect, but they are emotionally incorrect. So now, we have to concern ourselves with emotional correctedness.

Crime is supposed to be bad. It is what sends people to jail. It is what makes law enforcers have to kill over. It is not supposed to be pretty.

Kirsten Lamb recently did a post about how we have begun to expect writers to show sensitivity.


Educators being expected to coddle the feelings of students so that nobody feels unimportant, left out, or harmed in any emotional way. University students objecting to being expected to read material that they might find offensive.

What?! University students should not have to learn about the atrocities of man/women in our society?

Another author blogger, C.S. McClellan, shares his opinions on trigger warnings and content here:


Red Clay and Roses is a roman à clef. It is a fictionalized true story, like a biography of everyday ordinary peopleRed Clay and Roses who lived during a time period of political upheaval in this country. Bad things happened. Progress was made. But it is not a pretty story. I did not set out to entertain when I wrote it. It does have a satisfying ending, but the subject matter could be painful to some. Someone is raped. Should it have been published? There is more than one abortion. It also deals with adoption. Should it have a trigger warning?

knots_mb_crime_preventionThe crime novel that I am writing now deals with subject matter that could be painful to some. It has a villain, and although you don’t see a lot of her directly, you see the terrible things she does. I’m not talking graphic images, but allusions to terrible crimes. It’s a reality in our society. I want her to be bad, really bad, and horrible, worthy of death by dynamite! It’s crime. I don’t want her to get a slap on the wrist by the legal system. I want her to die. I want you to want her to die.



Do you think it should come with a trigger warning to spare potential crime novel readers the likely agony they just might feel if they are exposed to a distasteful subject?
How do you feel about trigger warnings? Is it censorship? Are there subjects so taboo that no genre should touch them?

download (2)
If Lolita, written in 1955 and still listed at #785 on Amazon’s Top Sellers list,had been written today, would it have been published? The story of a girl repeatedly raped. A child. Would Vladimir Nabokov not written it because it is taboo?


So what are your thoughts?

(My apologies about the formatting…never could get it to behave!)


Sunday Synopsis: WIP

I have thrown myself well into this WIP this week and I don’t plan on doing anything else next week beyond tossing a few chemicals in the pool and maybe working a couple of days doing wellness clinics, so I don’t think a bullet list of my progress is necessary to explain where I am.

There is a whole discipline dedicated to the study of relationships. It is called Sociology.

Psychology focuses on the individual and Sociology focuses on how these individuals relate to one another, whether independently or in groups.

My apologies in advance to all of you romance genre writers, I admire you (more and more everyday) but I really don’t like reading romance novels. I know the romance genre is a HOT TOPIC, but most of them bore me. I will read them if there is meat to the story beyond the relationship…a political conflict, a societal issue, a history to be discovered. I want some substance in my reading that speaks to a higher intellect. I don’t mean to sound snooty, but I can’t deny that I prefer literary or historical fiction over genre fiction.

I actually enjoy high minded ideals dissecting the human condition or creating timeless portraits of complex and interesting characters — in other words, I’m talking about going out and committing “literature,” whatever that might be.

The good stuff almost always works, first and foremost, viscerally. We are drawn into it because something there speaks to our deeper selves, gets inside us and takes hold.

Fiction always has to sneak past the barriers our intellects erect, because (by virtue of the label “fiction”) we know that the stories we’re being told are fabrications. We call this feat of mental gymnastics “willing suspension of disbelief,” and good writers tend to help us accomplish it in two ways: by making their fiction as plausible as possible, and even more significantly, by blazing through the brain and going for the gut.

But I am not normal.

My relationships have not been normal.

After a bizarre childhood, I was in therapy with a sociologist from 1979 to 1996 coming to terms with being married to a gay man who had a domineering mother. I have no qualms about that relationship, I came out of it a whole lot better off than I was when I went into it. But it was different.

I am writing a novel about two sisters who are not normal.

They are coming of age, though, in a society that has emphasis on traditional values, and at least giving the sense of an image of normalcy.

I have managed, I think, to show the relationships of the sisters to each other, their parents and authority figures, their community, but now they have reached the point of developing intimacy with the opposite sex.

So far, going between the two points of view in a fused third person perspective has worked quite well, but it seems to be seriously slowing things down at this point. I am now boring myself with the mundane and somewhat tedious task of developing these romantic relationships.

I am recalling the words in a very critical editorial review of my last novel concerning Sybil and Nathan: That I, “Rushed plot development,” through their relationship. (Which was brief, and not the gist of the story line.)

The reader did not feel as if I devoted enough time and effort into developing a meaningful relationship between the two before they were intimately involved, and then terminated their relations too abruptly. God forbid casual sex occur a few times between two consenting adults in their twenties out of curiosity.

There was a reason for that in RC&R, because Sybil was Bohemian, a free spirit, independent minded, and non-traditional. Part of what was to make that clear was how she reacted in relationships. It was 1954, and her behavior in that community was not supposed to be what one would consider acceptable or correct.

Again, we are in the late 1950’s.

Now I have these two sisters. One is involving herself in what would be considered an acceptable relationship, albeit a bit earlier that her elders had hoped.

The other is involving herself in a relationship that is clearly inappropriate. It is part of what will define her as abnormal by those standards that were in place in her community.

My dilemma, you ask?

I am boring myself into tears with the tedious task of painstaking plot development that I don’t find pleasant reading or writing.

I don’t like romance novels.

They are in relationships.

There is—must be—romance.

I want the walls to come crashing down!

I want to get on with the story!

Anyway. That’s where I am.


I hope you had a good week and have a good week in front of you.

Flowers from sky to earth just because it is springtime and they are pretty.
Flowers from sky to earth just because it is springtime and they are pretty.


What is Faction?

What is Faction?

No, I did not misspell the word fiction.

Faction:  Webster

1: a party or group (as within a government) that is often contentious or self-seeking: clique

2: party spirit especially when marked by dissension.

I know, in literary terms, that tells the reader nothing.

Wikipedia, while not always the most reliable dictionary, often explains the definition of contemporary word usages that might not have become acceptable standards.

Faction: Wikipedia

  1:  Faction (literature), a type of historical novel rooted in fact.

A faction is a non-fiction novel.

The non-fiction novel is a literary genre which, broadly speaking, depicts real historical figures and actual events woven together with fictitious allegations and using the storytelling techniques of fiction. The non-fiction novel is an otherwise loosely defined and flexible genre. The genre is sometimes referred to as or faction, a portmanteau of “fact” and “fiction”.

Historical fiction, by definition, is a fictional story that is written about a time before the author’s birth.

All fiction, to some degree, is based on the author’s real life experiences as well as imagination and creativity. Fiction writers have often  been called the world’s greatest liars. 🙂 A non-fiction novel can be written about a historical event or real events in a person’s life or in the character’s lives. A non-fiction novel is less of a lie.

In the 1970s non-fiction novels were all the rage. Since the ’70s, the non-fiction novel has somewhat fallen out of favor. However, forms such as the extended essay, the memoir, and the biography (and autobiography) can explore similar territory.  I would like to see a resurgence in popularity of the non-fiction novel as I have always been fond of “true stories” and the storytelling experience.

Norman Mailer‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning Armies of the Night is perhaps the most critically appreciated non-fiction novel, a narrative which is split into a history and a novel, and which autobiographically recounts the March on the Pentagon in 1967 from the third person.

In contrast, Non-fiction (or nonfiction) is the form of any narrativeaccount, or other communicative work whose assertions and descriptions are understood to be empirically factual. Some non-fiction may include elements of unverified suppositiondeduction, or imagination for the purpose of smoothing out a narrative, but the inclusion of open falsehoods would discredit it as a work of non-fiction. Some fiction may include non-fictional elements

The first line of my novel’s dedications and disclaimers page causes people to do a double take.   This sentence states, “Inasmuch as this is a work of fiction based on a true story, references to real people, events, establishments, organizations or locales are intended only to provide the reader a sense of authenticity and are used fictitiously.”  How can it be fiction and be true?facebook-header6.jpg

My novel, Red Clay and Roses, is a non-fiction novel.  The novel is faction.  It is a fictional account of a true story.  It is not historical fiction, by definition, because much of it occurred after the time of my birth.  (Hey, I am not THAT old!)  It is; however, a historical account of a true story which is written in the style and manner of fiction.  Facts regarding what actually occurred have been imaginatively woven into the story.  The events in the story are true events and the people are real people.  Embellishments came in the form of dialog and additional narrative concerning people who are no longer living or people who were telling me about other people (ie. I could not ask them what they were thinking when this or that event occurred or how they would have reacted.  I only had the storyteller’s information as it was related to me either years ago or through a third party.)

It is not an essay, a memoir or an autobiography.  It is a story about the lives of real people during a time in history when the world was going through very dramatic changes.  During this time, blacks (or any people of color) and women in the South had much fewer opportunities and suffered serious oppressions.  Non-white men were seen as the enemy.  This was the general undertone, although there were individual exceptions. Unconstitutional laws were repealed, but it took society a long time to respect the new law and to enforce it due to generations of indoctrination.  In many ways, we still are not there yet.  Times were even more drastically different in the 1950-60s and early 1970s.

jim_crow2Photo credit: Mr. Nussbaum.com

Jim Crow Law not only allowed for discrimination, it encouraged the bigotry in society.  Blacks could not dine in the same restaurants as whites, drink from the same water fountains, utilize public transportation the same way, and attend white schools, or frequent public libraries or swimming pools. It was not simply discouraged for blacks and whites to mingle, it was against the law. It is difficult to imagine such times as these now.

Women were expected to be domestic, to stay home and cook, clean sew and serve.images (2)  Although WWII brought many women into the workforce, by the early fifties women were back into their traditional roles.  Men had little involvement in the actual child-rearing process. Women also carried the brunt of reproductive rights and responsibilities, as they do for the most part today, Orders to pay child support were not enforced.

The book is set in small town USA, in a very real place, where the events truly did occur.  The dialog and story narrative have been fabricated to some extent to allow for the fictional sense and feel of the read.  There are embellishments to the extent that much of the story was based on old interviews, the stories of a few people, and the diaries of one individual.Render 2

I don’t know if my mini research paper has clarified or confused the reader further, but it is the best explanation I can come up with for my literary work and its design.  The paperback with a slight revision of the first chapter will be available soon. ~ S. K. Nicholls