My new release, A Sagebrush Soul: A Biographical Novel of Mark Twain, is now available in ebook and print formats. This is the second volume in my Great American Authors Series. The first was A Quiet Madness, a biographical novel of Edgar Allan Poe, which was published in August of 2020. The Twain book, which has been in the works for over two years, is a dramatic recreation of the life and legend of America’s most famous humorist. His hardscrabble childhood; the influence of his older brother Orion; his teenager romance with Laura Hawkins; his wild and wooly days out West including his passionate fling with poet Ina Coolbrith; how he wooed and won his beloved Olivia and how, after rearing three children, neither would survive the death of their oldest daughter. It’s all here!
Following is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of A Sagebrush Soul:
Two days later, Clemens and Orion were in the field picking cotton. They worked from early morning until dark, dragging the cotton sacks down the rows, closely watching the sharp hulls of the bolls so they wouldn’t cut their hands and selectively picking bolls that looked easy. By the end of the day, they had picked just over 100 pounds of cotton.
At the dinner table that night, Jane, who was raised on a cotton farm, had a comment.
“Only 100 pounds?” she said. “Why I used to pick that much cotton before lunchtime.”
“We did the best we could,” John said.
“Tomorrow, I’ll go pick cotton,” she said. “The three of us, if we work at it, should get it done in four or five days.”
Delrina spoke up.
“Mrs. Clemens,” she said. “You can’t go picking no cotton in your condition.”
“Don’t tell me what I can do, Delrina,” Jane said. “I was picking cotton for my daddy in Kentucky when I was twelve years old.”
“You’re heavy with child,” Delrina said. “Only two more months to go.”
“When I had Benjamin,” she said. “I worked right until two hours before he was born. The work didn’t bother me then, why should it bother me now?”
“Maybe Delrina is right,” John said finally. “It might be best if you let me and Orion pick the cotton.”
“No! I know my abilities better than either of you. Tomorrow we’ll get up each and go to the field. The three of us should have all four acres picked in four or five days.”
The following day, Jane, her husband, and their son Orion were in the field picking cotton. Jane, like Hezekiah, was an expert at picking cotton. On the first day, they picked just over one acre with Jane accumulating more cotton in her bag than the other two combined.
That night, at the dinner table, John asked about her health.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I had forgotten what I good cotton picker I was. We should finish this in the next few days.”
Over the next three days, the three managed to pick the remainder of the cotton crop. On the afternoon of the third day, they started on the last row.
“Just one more row,” Jane said. “Thank God! I knew we could do it.”
Two hours later, the sun was going down as John, his wife and his son Finished picking the last row. Then, with Jane in front and John and Orion dragging two bulky cotton sacks behind them, they started for the house. Once they were out of the field and into the front yard, Jane suddenly stopped.
“What’s wrong?” John asked.
“I feel faint,” she said.
She put her hand to her head, then collapsed on the ground.
“Oh, my God!” said John. He knelt beside her
“Orion! Go to the house and get Delrina.”
Orion turned and ran to the house. Moments later, Delrina appeared.
“Mr. Clemens! What’s wrong?”
“Jane has collapsed.”
“Oh Lord, Delrina said. “I was afraid of this.”
Moments later, the husband pulled his wife to her feet, then, with John on one side and Delrina on the other, they started across the yard to the house.
When they entered the sitting room, the other children, Pamela and Benjamin, were playing in the front room. Upon seeing their father and Delrina helping their mother, they were frightened.
“What happened to mother?” Pamela said.
“We don’t know,” John said. “Now you children stay out here.”
Pamela started to cry as she watched the others lead her mother into the bedroom. Moments later, Jane was in bed. She lay quiet for a moment, then opened her eyes.
“I’m going to have this baby,” she said. “And soon.”
“I’ll get the doctor,” John said. “Orion, help Delrina with your mother. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Moments later, John was out the door.
“Oh, no!” Jane said. “My water is breaking.”
“Orion!” Delrina said. “Start a fire in the cook stove.”
Orion left the room and went to the kitchen.
Quickly, Delrina removed Jane’s clothing and inspected her.
“You’re opening up,’ she said. “That baby is coming any minute.”
“Oh, Delrina!” Jane screamed as her face contorted in pain. “Here it comes!”
Delrina stood over Jane and held her hands tightly.
“Push! Push!” Delrina said.
“Oooooooh!” Jane screamed. “Ooooooh!”
“Push! Push!” Delrina said again.
“Just a little more!” Delrina said. “Just a little!”
Then there was one final scream.
“It’s a boy,” Delrina said, picking up the newborn. Then, holding his feet, she slapped the newborn on the bottom. No response. She slapped the baby’s bottom again. Again, no response.
“Poor little thing is not breathing,” Delrina said.
“Oh, God! No!” Jane said. “He’s still born?”
Delrina, who seemed to not hear, turned to Jane.
“Do you have an old shoebox?”
“Up in the closet,” she said. “What are you going to do?”
“I’ve seen my older sister do this. I hope it will work.”
Quickly, Delrina went to the closet and took down an old shoebox. After dumping the contents on the floor, she placed the newborn inside and started to the kitchen.
“Orion!” Delrina said. “You got a fire started in the cook stove?”
Through the bedroom door, Jane watched as Delrina went into the kitchen to the cook stove. She opened the oven door and stuck her hand inside to check the heat. Then, satisfied with the temperature, she placed the shoebox with the newborn infant into the oven, closed the door, then watched through the glass window in the door.
Several seconds passed.
“Oh, Lord!” Delrina prayed. “Please do this for me!”
For several more seconds, she peered into the oven waiting for a response.
Suddenly, she heard the wailing of a newborn infant.
Quickly, she opened the oven door and removed the baby from the shoebox.
“Thanks be to God!” she said.
Quickly, she cleaned up the child, which was bawling his lungs out all the while, then handed the child to his mother. Moments later, the newborn was nursing quietly at his mother’s breasts.
“You saved him, Delrina,” the mother said.
“I didn’t do it. God did it!”