Friday, July 20, 2012

The Younger Days by Mike Hays

Cover Blurb
Even a decade after the Civil War, the evil deeds carried out in the Border War for "Bloody" Kansas are not forgotten. Hate and revenge still rule the hearts of some, while others wish only to forget and disappear.
In the beginning, Boy Smyth has a dull Missouri farm life and a burning desire to be an outlaw like his hero, Cole Younger.
In the end, Boy Smyth has five dead bodies and two burning buildings at his farm and the most feared man in the United States crying outside his front gate.
And that desire for the outlaw life? It's purged completely from his system.

Backdrop of the History Behind the Fiction
The Border War on the western edge of the American Civil War between Kansas and Missouri was one of the most lawless, ugliest periods in US history. When Kansas was admitted into the Union, a piece of legislation called the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1851 basically said the free or slave state choice of Kansas would be left to the people of the state. Missouri was a pro-slave state and being neighbor states, thought Kansas should be a slave state. Abolitionist groups from the East sent settlers to Kansas to vote free. Sounds innocent enough, right? But human nature being as it is, both sides began to escalate the confrontation. Pretty soon, weapons were being sent from outside interests to both sides. Then unsavory characters began to emigrate to the western border to pick a side in the fight and to offer their special “skills” to one side or the other (often the highest bidder).
By the time the Civil War began, a nasty decade of confrontation, robbery, and even murder had festered a horrible situation between the two states. Frank and Jesse James, The Younger Brothers, “Bloody” Bill Anderson and William C. Quantrill were some of the infamous characters on the Missouri side. The Kansas side was represented by such characters as John Brown, “Doc” Jenison, and Senator Jim Lane. The Free Staters of Kansas, although performing equally horrid acts of violence as their Missouri Bushwhacker counterparts, were often protected by being on the side of the Union Army and the Federal government, which further increased tensions between the two states, tensions that still exist today. 

A Favorite Scene
The scene I chose to present occurs right after two dark strangers ride up to Boy Smyth’s house. The strangers turn out to be Boy's hero, Cole Younger, and his injured brother, Jim. Boy first finds out the Younger brothers are old friends of his quiet, unassuming parents and have come for medical help. He then finds out the Youngers will stay at their farm for a couple days. What kid wouldn't be excited?

Outside I asked, “Are you sure Jim is going to live, Ma?”

“That man is too darn ornery to die from only one bullet to the shoulder. We got to get it out and pack the wound up tonight, though, or he will be in big trouble come morning.” We walked up the stairs to the porch. Ma continued, “He will need some serious rest, a couple weeks would be best, but Coleman says a couple days is all they have. Now, Boy, you get some sleep while we get that bullet out. Surgery is not a proper place for an eleven-year-old. But, mind you, tomorrow leave them alone and let them to some peace and quiet.”

I almost jumped out of my skin. “The outlaws Cole and Jim Younger are going to stay here? At our house? For a couple days? Wait until I tell my friends!” I headed for the front door.

Ma slid in front of my path and grabbed me by the arm. “Stop right there, young man.” She led me back to Pa’s porch chair. “Sit down; there is something very important I need to discuss with you.” I sat down, a bit in shock, for I had never seen Ma this upset. “Something you must swear on the word of God to keep true to.”

I nodded my head in agreement. I thought I was about to be entrusted with some monumentally important task for our guests.

“Son, you must swear that for as long as your father or our guests still live, you will never mutter a single word about their arrival and stay here.” Ma pinned me to the chair with a hard stare. “Not a peep to anyone, not a whimper. The future and well being of this family, especially your father, is at stake. No one can ever know anything about this while your father breathes and walks this earth.”

The conversation repeated over and over again in my head as I lay in bed. I tried to figure out the gravity of the promise I just made, tried to figure out just exactly what secrets my family still held. Eventually, the long day caught up to me, and I drifted off to sleep.

(How about that cover art by Kaytalin Platt? Pretty awesome, huh?)


Rosalie Skinner said...

Great information. Research is vital to having believable characters and situations in historic novels. Your background here is fascinating. Amazing what lengths people go to. I love Boy's reaction to the outlaw's presence. Imagine not being allowed to tell his friends. The importance of his silence is made very clear.

Nancy MacMillan said...

I'm normally not a buff of this genre, but I'm
always interested in "tasting an excerpt." You
are a good writer, your dialogue is natural. The line I like is...
'Ma pinned me to the chair with a hard stare.' Nice work!

Mike Hays said...

Rosalie - Yes, I love the research and learning about the little stories behind the big story. I also enjoy making up a story while staying within the parameters of the historical facts. I can't imagine Michael Jordan or Walter Payton visiting my house and not being able to tell anyone. Tough.

Nancy - Thanks! I like that line also. Most of this excerpt started out as a prologue, but my super-editors,Penny and Lea, kindly advised me to place it in the story. In fact, it was written with the help of editor Margot Finke during her First Page Critique workshop at the 2010 Muse Online Conference.