1810, upstate New York. 21-year-old Ella Kenyon is happiest gliding through the thick woods around her small frontier town, knife in hand, her sharp eyes tracking game. A gift for engineering is in her blood, but she would gladly trade it for more time in the forest. If only her grandfather’s dying wish hadn’t trapped her into a fight she never wanted: for a flax-milling machine that could rescue both her family and her struggling town. Perhaps making flax—which grows in the North—as profitable as cotton at a time when cotton had yet to become king. If only she wanted it. Torn between what she wants and what she owes to others, no one could envy the choices she has to make. Nor the need to elude a ruthless foe determined to steal the machine.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult, New Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I am a stubborn person and this book wanted to be written. It took me ten years, five of which were spent on an original draft that got pitched in the trash. Other people put these first books under the bed or in a drawer and start over on a completely new book, but I started over on the SAME book. I brought not nothing with me except Ella–the main character–and the flax machine, which somehow felt essential to the story. What inspired me to write it? Some deep love for America and a fascination with the early days when everything was possible but also incredibly roughshod and difficult. It’s a tough setting made for someone as tough as Ella Kenyon. I can’t imagine Ella in our own days, and I can no longer imagine 1810 without her.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My main character Ella felt like she was there at the start and only grew in color and texture as I continued to find new challenges for her. After her I did a lot of sketching of characters that sometimes led to people I kept in the story and others who didn’t seem to belong. In general I tend to have too many characters and have to continually combine and trim to ease the complexity of the story. (and make it easier on my readers!)
A wall of dry heat surged from the broad bed of coals in the forge at the center of the room. The coals glowed deep red except where the blasts of the bellows fired them to white. Her grandfather stood at his anvil, across the forge from the mill horse who worked the bellows. He paused his hammer and said in his rumbling voice, “You’re late. Did something happen?”
When she shook her head she could tell he didn’t believe her. He squinted as if he suspected she’d begun to lie. And he was right. She lied because his interference no longer helped as it once had. Because her father had become skilled at simmering down for the moment and then boiling back up later. Which was always worse.
She’d tried to explain this to Grandpa Tunnicliff but that murderous look had come into his eyes and she knew it was no good. He wished to save them but what could he do, short of bludgeoning her father to death with his hammer. Instead she’d asked Pete to teach her to throw a knife so she could fight back in the moment, now that she was fifteen years and as tall as her father. It had to be someone there in the thick of it and she was the eldest. It had to be her. Just as it had to be her to work with her grandfather on the invention even if she didn’t want it any longer. She had the knack and there was no one else—so what was the sense in complaining.
About the Author:
Jodi Lew-Smith lives on a farm in northern Vermont with her patient husband, three wonderfully impatient children, a bevy of pets and farm animals, and 250 exceedingly patient apple trees which, if they could talk, would suggest that she stop writing and start pruning. Luckily they’re pretty quiet.
With a doctorate in plant genetics, she also lives a double life as a vegetable breeder at High Mowing Seeds. She is grateful for the chance to do so many things in one lifetime, and only wishes she could do them all better. Maybe in the next life she’ll be able to make up her mind.
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