The Girl Called Ella Dessa by Karen Prough

Posted by on Apr 24, 2015 | 18 comments

The Girl Called Ella Dessa by Karen Prough

This week my guest author is Karen Campbell Prough. She writes Southern/Historical Fiction, and her debut novel, The Girl Called Ella Dessa, was recently released by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas! Leave a comment and sign in on the Rafflecopter at the end for a chance to win one print copy! I know you’re going to enjoy meeting her!

 

 

 

Fabulous Fridays

Who was the first author who inspired you to write, and when did you start writing?

James Oliver Curwood was the first author to plant a seed of inspiration and longing to write. His way of describing northern settings drew me to his books. I soon knew I wanted to create stories that would stick with a reader the rest of their lives. By age six, my imagination could entertain my younger brothers for hours. I would cut a collection of paper dolls from old catalogs and form families. My mother would help me fashion furniture out of cardboard, which worked perfect for my paper dolls.

Tell us a little about your family.

My husband and I have four grown children living within fifteen minutes to two hours of us. There are seven grandchildren, from age sixteen down to nine. We have a big white dog, three red chickens, and an old cat. Our favorite style of vacationing is heading for the mountains and camping. Our belief in God is a very important part of our life.

What inspired The Girl Called Ella Dessa?

I cannot think of any one thing that inspired the book about Ella Dessa. Camping in the Georgia Mountains provided the setting. My fascination with the historical threads running through the every inch of those mountains started my books. But my characters seem to direct the story. Their lives are not planned out ahead of time. Life just happens to them, as I type their words.

The Girl Called Ella Dessa is considered Historical fiction, but also Southern fiction, which is almost becoming a genre of its own. Tell us a little about what makes it different.The Girl Called Ella Dessa

Historical fiction is a very broad term, covering many periods of time and even different parts of the world. I believe the interest in Southern fiction is catching people’s attention. By reading Southern fiction, you can find a common thread, a way of speaking, and a style of living, which harkens back to the first settlers who wandered into the rugged mountains, from Virginia downward. Characters introduced in books about the Deep South do not match the characters in the broader examples of Historical fiction. They expressed themselves with a dialect still recognized as southern. They reacted in a slower, more thoughtful way, but they fought hard to protect their own. And they seemed more accepting and willing to fight for those around them. They struggled to make a living, because the warmer climate and lay of the land dictated a response unique in its own right. Their determination to succeed was just as staunch as their counterparts in other regions of the United States were. But along with that determination, there grew an undeniable southern pride. FireFly Southern Fiction, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, hopes to capture the true essence of southern fiction.  

If you could spend the day with a character from your all-time favorite novel, who would it be and what would you do?

I suppose I should try to pick a modern novel, but my thoughts go directly to a book by Gene Stratton Porter … A Girl of the Limberlost, copyright, 1909. Elnora Comstock is the main character. I would like to spend the day with her, exploring the Limberlost—a swamp where her father died, after sinking in quicksand. Elnora collects moths to sell, in order to pay for her schoolbooks and new clothes—and then college debts. There are many twists and surprises in the book. But exploring the swamp with her would be a thing I wish I could do—to walk damp paths, where most men would fear to tread. By carrying an old-fashioned lantern, its dull light attracting the moths of the night, we might catch a brief glimpse of the pale green moth—the Luna moth. The sight of its beautiful large wings would be a grand reward.

What is your favorite period in history and why?

My favorite period of history is the early 1800’s. The United States had not been torn apart by the Civil War, and exploration still provided awe-inspiring discoveries. Yes, times were rough and life difficult for many, but there was the excitement of discovery lingering. Slavery had spread, which was awful, but up in the mountains streams around Dahlonega, Georgia gold had been discovered. Some slaves were actually able to work mines and buy their freedom, or they slipped away from the mines and headed north. The tragedy involving the Cherokee Indians took place within this time. Life was hard, but there are so many untold stories. A book written about that period can only absorb a small piece of everyday life.

How do you go about researching and creating a setting?

I read history books—ones I trust. I search for actual accounts or letters written by explorers or pioneers. I look up the moon phases, so if I mention a full moon and I have my character gazing at—it could actually happen. I use my imagination when in the woods and pay attention to details. I hike the areas where my books take place, so I am describing the truth. I visit museums and reproductions of settlements. I take many pictures. I try to weed out untrue accounts written by others. When it comes to the actual writing, I set my imagination free. I let my inner response to a situation take over. If dropped into the time period of my book, I want to know what it would be like. I’ve been lost in the woods. I’ve hunted alone and felt the unease one can experience while circling a swamp. Many of the details I place in my writing come from truth. If I mention a certain bend in the trail or a patch of blueberries on a mountain slope—I have been there, tasted those berries. Human nature does not change. Hearts pound at danger, feet stumble when fleeing the enemy, and love takes many forms.

Do you have any anecdote or interesting experiences arising from your research, which you would like to share with our readers? Have any of these found their way into your book?

I touched on that slightly in the last section, but I have many stories, which pad my collection of things I can insert into books. I have sat as still as a mouse—in a deer stand—with a huge bear crashing through the underbrush. It had a bloody spot on its head and was grunting and huffing the whole time. No, I wasn’t hunting bear. It was huge. Some hunters saw claw marks six-foot up on a tree. The big bear actually spooked a smaller bear out of the scrub, and it ran behind my stand and sat down to sniff the air. I felt trapped and dusk was approaching. How could I get out of the deer stand and make it through the woods to the clearing where my father had gone? What about the stupid idea of stuffing peanut butter cookies in my pocket? Bears have a great sense of smell! Now that is some heart-pounding moments, which can be written into a book … perhaps book two.

How would you like to inspire your readers?

I would like them to realize it has taken me years to reach the goal of having a book published. I have had short stories published but not a book. So, don’t give up. Try new angles. Search for the right people to talk to, but do not hound them or beg them to look at your stories. I’ve been writing all my life. I have a large collection of stories to polish and present in the future. Try to do that. Keep writing. Keep the faith. Get someone to give you an honest opinion about your work, and don’t be hurt by his or her answers. Dig deep inside and pull out what matters to you, what hurts you, what enthralls you, and work those things into your character’s personality. Ask God why he gave you the desire to write. It is okay to do that. Ask, and then tell him you will write what he wants to see in print.

How do you see the importance of Christian fiction?

Christian fiction, if written carefully, can present remedies to the woes and problems we all face or know others face each day. We aren’t immune, because of a Christian life. And Christian fiction can show the way to respond to hurtful situations—if someone is not a Christian. Christian fiction should teach a way to live a clean life in an unclean world. It is possible, and that life can be a happy one. Rejections, abuse, pain, love, murder, and heartache can be presented within the pages of Christian fiction … but we must not add to the filth filling the bookstores or online media. Abuse exists, but the subject must be handled in a way that it is not offensive to a reader. Sin is taking over lives. We must show that stories can have depth and truth, but present a clean copy—a book that does not offend or add to the rubbish staining our world and the minds of our children.

I understand you already have a contract for your next book. Can you tell us a little something about it? Hmm, yes, the contract is signed! Shh, keep this between us … it is a romance. Ella Dessa will get married, but you must not read the last pages when you get the book! I think I will run a contest and see what the readers think will happen … who Ella Dessa will marry. A character from the first book will return. And one character will have his past revealed to the whole cove. One character will face the issues of self-worth and loss. Ella Dessa’s hand will still reach to cover the scars on her neck, but someone’s lips will touch them.

Book Blurb:

Ella Dessa Huskey bears ugly scars from a young mountain lion’s attack. After her mama’s death, the disfigurement symbolizes her pa’s rejection and his selfish decision to abandon her in a rugged cabin on the mountain.

Would you share the first chapter of The Girl Called Ella Dessa with us?

 

The Girl Called Ella Dessa

Chapter 1

Thursday, September 15, 1836

“Mama, talk to me. I can’t do this by myself.”

Ella Dessa Huskey’s mama sat upright on the bed. “It’s too soon. I need help.” The lantern’s dull glow caused indistinct shadows to shift over the log wall and drift across the woman’s thin face and tangled straw-colored hair.

“I don’t understand what to do.” Ella knew nothing of birthing babies. Her twelve years of life hadn’t included that experience. She felt a surge of panic, which caused her stomach to roll. “Tell me what to do.”

Mama collapsed back on the flat pillow. Sweat poured down her face. She panted, her blue eyes staring upward. “Ella Dessa, remember,” her voice sounded weak but understandable, “I might go to screaming before it’s here.”

“What do I do?”

“Keep clean sheets under me so your pa can’t see the soiled bed. There’s more in my trunk.” She groaned, twisted sideways, and shifted her narrow hips. “I can’t catch my breath. I’m too tired. Ohh … another one’s coming.”

Her mama grimaced. Ella clamped her teeth on her bottom lip and scrunched her face.

Just as the contraction peaked and faded, the cabin door opened. The morning’s meager light slipped into the grim interior. Her pa ducked his head, stepped in with an armful of dried wood, and snatched the door shut with his right hand.

With one swift movement, Ella leaned across the bed and let her disheveled hair hide the side of her face. She placed her lips against Mama’s ear. “I’m skeered. He should go for Granny Hanks. Let me ride there myself.”

“No— hush.” Mama’s sunken eyes went shut. “It’s too late.”

“Meara?”

“Jacob?” The callous tone in Pa’s voice brought Mama’s exhausted blue eyes wide open. Her quivering hands wiped at the sweat on her forehead.

“Is Ella Dessa a help or is she hinderin’ you? If so, I’ll kick her outside.”

Ella twisted sideways on the lumpy mattress and stared at her pa. Her initial panic doubled, and she clutched Mama’s clammy arm. I won’t go, unless I’m told to ride for Granny. She hoped her touch relayed those feelings to her mama. Words couldn’t be spoken with Pa glowering at her.

“She’s a help. Leave her be.”

“Mama,” she whispered. “I want to be here. But I fear I might not know what to do.”

Unable to answer, Mama shook her head. Her colorless lips twisted with agony. She panted through the next contraction, and her body sagged to the bed. “Don’t let it frighten you. Just stand by to tie the cord. Ella Dessa, you’re brave. Remember that always.” Her barely audible words drifted away. Her eyes closed.

Out of the corner of her eye, Ella saw her pa squatting near the fireplace. His large-knuckled hands stacked the split wood. The fire had died to gray coals, and the cabin chilled. She had a hazy grasp on the birth process, and the immediacy engulfed and terrified her.

With her thumb, she rubbed the sweat from Mama’s eyelids. “How’s the pain?”

“Let me rest.”

“Pa?” She clenched her jaw and turned toward him. “She’s too weak.”

He dropped a piece of wood. His curse sliced through the room.

The irregular flicker of the lantern threw a jumpy, distorted reflection over the sagging bed, and the cabin’s one window cast a dull hint of daylight into the room.

“Oh, Lord, give me strength.” Mama’s voice rose in a whispered prayer. “Let it be a son.” She clutched at the bedclothes and moaned through colorless lips. With the mounting contraction, she struggled to lift her head and upper body off the sunken cornhusk mattress.

Ella wedged a rolled blanket behind her back. “Better?”

Mama grasped her knees, pulled them toward the sides of her chest, and strained. A deep groan erupted from her throat. “Awww. No— awww!”

Firewood clattered to the clay floor and rolled. Ella whirled toward the sound. “Let me go for Granny.”

“It ain’t needed.” Pa pivoted on broken-down boot heels, and his savage kick sent a stick of wood spinning at her. “Yell for me when it’s here.” He crammed a worn-out hat over his unwashed hair and shoved long arms into his coat. “I’ll be at the corncrib.”

“Pa, no. I ain’t never done this. You ain’t gone for Granny. You can’t leave me to do this.” She ran and grabbed at his worn shirtsleeve. “Stay.” Her fingers clung with determination, even though she knew the danger of touching him.

As if they were nasty, he plucked her fingers from his sleeve. His cold inflection spoke of his disdain. “Take yer hands away— gurl. This be jest another untimely birthin’. She’s goin’ to kill it, ag’in. I got more important things on my mind, like a bear-damaged corncrib to repair.” He reached for the door latch and disappeared into the frosty dawn.

His frail wife writhed in pain. But he didn’t look back.

Fury and alarm choked Ella. She knew her mama wouldn’t kill her babies. Her pa just didn’t care. Crisp air rushed in at the wide-open door, and her hands shook as she closed it.

Mama struggled for another hour, growing weaker with each contraction. And Ella cried tears of relief when the blue-tinged baby, resembling a skinned rabbit, arrived. The infant slipped from its mother’s tortured body, onto stained sheets between skinny bent legs. A short span of eerie silence filled the cabin. The shrill screams of tormented birthing ceased.

She stared in disbelief at the infant until it gave a pitiful wail. “It’s here, Mama. It’s … here.” She stammered on the simple words expressing her astonishment. “It’s a real baby. This ain’t nothin’ like the pigs and cows droppin’ young. Mama, did you hear me?”

“It’s alive?” The woman sank back on the feather pillow, not bothering to examine the baby. Matted hair framed her head. The muslin gown, soaked with perspiration, clung to her emaciated form. Her once-beautiful face lacked color. She shook with chills. “If it’s a girl child, I want it named Aileen, after my mam. Aileen … such a soothing sound.” Her blue-veined eyelids closed.

“It is a boy. He’s awful little.” Ella spoke in hushed tones and marveled at the miniature human and the miracle of birth she’d witnessed.

The baby’s concave chest heaved. Delicate arms waved in the air, as his bluish-tinged legs and feet curled and drew tight to his body. He made pitiful raspy noises with every breath he tried to draw into his lungs.

With her eyes still shut, Mama smiled. “Ah, a boy. Let your pa name him.”

“Pa’s at the corncrib.” She shoved sweaty strands of hair out of her eyes. “He walked out.” She lifted a square of material and tried to wipe the quivering damp infant.

“Just as well.” Mama’s voice lost strength.

“The fire went out. He ain’t helped with that neither.” Bitterness welled inside her. She pressed her lips together to prevent another string of heated words.

“Don’t fret. The kettle of water will still have warmth.”

“He should’ve stayed!”

“Stop talking of him … like that. He’s done enough by you.”

“I don’t understand. Done what by me?”

“Hush. This be a woman’s trial. God’s punishment. Clear your brother’s throat and mouth with your finger. Has the cord stopped beating? Tie it like I showed. Keep him warm. I need to rest, I’m … so tired.” Sighing, she closed her light blue eyes. “Jacob Huskey can now stop bothering with me. I done paid the price for his name, accepted my duty. I bore him a live one. A son.”

“I’m not sure ‘bout it, Mama. I don’t know if I can cut it.” Her fingers trembled. She wrinkled her nose while she concentrated on tying two narrow pieces of cloth about the slippery cord. It reminded her of spilled hog guts at butchering time, and she shuddered.

“You can do it.”

“It’s makin’ me gag.” Soft moans of disgust escaped her lips as she used a knife to slice at the shiny, supple cord. “It’s done!” She felt as if she had run a lengthy race. “He’s his own sep’rate self.”

“I knew you’d do it. You’re a … brave child.” Mama’s bloodless lips formed the low words with short puffs of air. “Ella Dessa, stay that way. Keep faith in God … alone. Without His touch, we can’t stay strong. Don’t let no man beat you down.”

“I won’t.” She lifted the pot of lukewarm water out of the fireplace and set it on the clay floor. She used a dipper and poured water into a shallow pan. “I’ll clean the baby.”

She washed the baby’s body and bundled a scrap of blanket close around his trembling form. She felt older than her years as she cuddled her brother and rubbed her nose over the softness of his head. Ella drew in a deep breath. His sweet scent reminded her of baby rabbits plucked from a summer nest of dried grass.

She tucked him into the bend of her mama’s blue-veined arm. It took a moment or two of patting and jiggling Mama’s shoulder to get her to open her eyes.

“He’s right here by you. See?” Ella touched the baby’s diminutive hand and caressed each perfect curled finger. “Look at him. He ain’t cryin’, now.”

The baby’s convulsing limbs relaxed. His face took on a waxen appearance.

“I’ll look later. Ella Dessa, remember … I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She leaned to kiss the baby’s cool cheek. “This be home, little brother.”

“Ella? I feel …” Her mama grew silent.

“Open your eyes. Don’t go to sleep.” The chill in the cabin crept closer, surrounding the bed. She took Mama’s face between her hands. “Open your eyes!”

A weak moan passed over ashen lips.

“No!” Ella panicked. She threw a frayed horse blanket over Mama’s lower body and ran to open the cabin door. “Pa! She’s in a bad way. Come quick.” She screamed and beat the air with her clenched fists. “Please, hurry.” Tears poured down her cheeks.

Her pa jumped from the doorway of the raised corncrib, tossed aside a splintered piece of wood, and jogged toward her. “It’s here? What is it? It better—”

“Mama’s in a bad way. We need Granny.” She shrank aside to avoid physical contact. She wanted to slink into the shadows beside the cabin, but she continued to plead. “Don’t let her die. I’ve done all I were told.”

“I figgerd the baby were here. I ain’t fetchin’ the bossy granny-woman. She let my boy die years ago.”

“Mama’s strength’s gone.”

His calloused hands pawed at his unkempt beard, and his left eye squinted shut. “Take care of it, gurl. Women folk knows what to do. You’re born with it. Don’t tell me ya ain’t. You’re responsible fer what happens.” He stared over her shoulder at the quiet bed and woman.

“No, not me. It ain’t my fault. She’s gonna die!”

“She ain’t gonna die if ya take kerr of things the right way.” Pa grabbed her shoulders, shaking her. The back of her head banged against the doorframe. “You an’ her God will be to blame fer anythin’ bad. Ya stupid, gurl-child.” His fingers pinched her thin arms. “Should’ve left the wildcat to eat ya. I wish it had finished clawin’ yer head off.”

Shocked by his vicious declaration, she recognized pure loathing in his scorn. He sneered at her scarred neck. She sought to cover the bumpy disfigurement with her hands, but he held her arms too tight. She tried to wrench herself out of his grip while recalling how he slapped and beat her mother.

“Are— are you gonna beat me, ‘cause you wish I died?” she yelled, just as a raspy, choking noise filled the room.

Pa released her arms.

Ella ran to the bed and jostled Mama’s shoulder. “Mama, look at me.”

A soft sigh passed between parted lips.

The room grew unearthly quiet.

Ella stumbled away. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Her shaky hands covered her mouth, and she thought about running away. But instead, in desperation, she reached for her pa.

Pa’s expression changed, showing fear and confusion, and he shoved her sideways. His forceful push sent her into a crumpled heap on the hard-packed floor. “I’m leavin’.”

He walked out.

“No!”

A piercing whistle sounded as he called their old mare out of the side field.

“No.” Ella whimpered and crawled toward the door. She grabbed the wall, stood, and stepped out into the brisk autumn air. Her breath rose in white puffs. Once again, she felt as if the panther clawed at her, disfiguring her, but it was her heart shredding into pieces.

She staggered through the doorway.

“Git back inside.” Pa grabbed a worn bridle off a fence post and slipped it over the horse’s head. His right arm spasmed as he doubled the reins over his hand and pulled them tight. “Git back to yer mama.”

“Stay. Please?” She held out a hand to him, longing for him to make her believe he cared. “Pa, I’ll keep my neck covered so you can’t see the nasty scars. Please? I don’t want to be alone.”

Pa ignored her pleas and stepped atop a log. He threw a long leg over the bare back of the horse and hoisted himself up.

She experienced a sickening wave of shock rise in the back of her throat. It threatened to strangle her. Ella rubbed her face, wiping at tears.

Pa hates tears.

Before he nudged the horse with his heels, he stared at her— wild-eyed. His thin back hunched over the horse’s neck and caused his backbone to show through the worn material of his muslin shirt. His booted feet hung below the horse’s belly.

Her body sagged against the log wall. She stared in stunned disbelief until frost-tinged leaves of the mountain’s foliage hid the man riding away. The glow of the morning sun topped the ridge. It seemed like an evil iron vice gripped her chest, crushing her. She moaned and tried to fill her lungs, even as Pa’s hollered curses echoed along the mountain ridge.

“Nooo! You can’t leave me. Come— back.” She bent at the waist and clenched her arms across her midsection. It wasn’t her pa’s departure torturing her. The truth hit her. Almost gagging on the realization her mama had died, she dropped to her knees in the dirt and stony rubble.

Not Mama.

Ella fought to breathe, to feel, but a weight of numbness encompassed her while random thoughts flashed in her mind.

Pa’s gone. What if Pa don’t come back?

He ain’t seen the baby.

“He wouldn’t have left a boy baby. It’s just me he hates ‘cause I lived. The others died,” she whispered. Now, he’d blame her for Mama’s death. “He’d have stayed here, if I’d showed him the baby.”

She raised her head, peering through her tousled hair, expecting to see him ride into the clearing. Her fingers furrowed the dirt. The understanding of what Pa’s temperament would be like when he returned caused her to quake with fear. He’d make her the brunt of his rage. Mama wouldn’t be there to step between them when he reached for the twisted leather strap hung behind the door.

The baby.

He was alone inside. She brushed hair out of her face, stood, and faced the open door. I’ll have to be his mama. Her thoughts became more rational. She accepted the responsibility and feared punishment. I’ll love him and protect him like Mama did me. I can do it. I’ll bear the strap for him.

Trepidation filled her heart and soul as she slipped into the sparsely furnished room.

About the author:

Karen Campbell ProughKaren Campbell Prough writes historical fiction and a broad range of short stories. She knows her life-long desire to write comes from God. The love of books and the heartfelt urge to be a storyteller has been with her since childhood. Seven of her short stories were published in a variety of magazines. She has won awards at the 2014 BRMCWC and the 2015 FCWC. Her first book, The Girl Called Ella Dessa, came out April 2015

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karencampbellprough.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Karen.c.prough

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kcampbellprough

Book Links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Called-Ella-Dessa/dp/1941103855/

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-girl-called-ella-dessa-karen-campbell-prough/1121681928?ean=9781941103852

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas: http://store.lpcbooks.com/product/the-girl-called-ella-dessa/

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18 Comments

  1. That was so heartbreaking! I’m definitely interested to see how Ella fares. (And if “Pa” returns – kind of hoping he doesn’t…HA!) Also, if Karen plans to continue this beyond the next book Great chapter!

    • Thanks for taking time to comment, Felicia!

  2. I can’t wait to read this book! Ella has had a rough life to start with.

    • Thanks for commenting, Donesse!

    • Donesse, thank you for your interest in my book. Yes, Ella had things that hurt her, but life does get better! 🙂 Thanks for leaving a comment!

  3. Felicia, thank you for your comment. Yes, there is another book coming after this one. Will be out within the year or less! Ella’s story continues. 🙂 Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but “Pa” just might leave the story.

  4. I just finished the book and can’t wait for the next one to come out……….

    • Thanks for taking time to comment!

  5. Sherry, I think you know the second one is moving through the editing process! 🙂 Thank you for commenting. I’m so glad when people say they want to read another book!

  6. This excerpt caught my attention thoroughly! I am eager to read the test of this story about this brave little girl. I too, read Curwood as a girl and fell in love with ‘the north’. Would love to win a copy, would love to read the whole story!!

    • Thanks for taking time to comment! I hope you will read it!

    • Yeah! Found another person who read Curwood! Hope you get a chance to read my book, although I don’t compare with Curwood. 🙂

      Karen

  7. NormaGail and Karen, what a wonderful interview! And thank you for including that compelling first chapter of The Girl Called Ella Dessa. I already have my copy and look forward to reading it! 🙂

    • Thanks for taking time to leave a comment, Kate! I appreciate it!

    • Thanks for stopping by Norma Gail’s blog. I’d vote for your book over mine any day! 🙂 Loved it.

  8. Great book, just loved the story. I got a kick out of your wanting to spend a day with one of Gene Stratton Porter’s characters. I married a Stratton and his family is related to her.

    • Thanks for taking time to comment, Carol! God bless!

    • Ohh, that’s great! That’s so neat. I didn’t know I’d meet a Stratton. so funny, small world. My mother’s favorite story was “Freckles”, I believe. Thanks for commenting!

      Karen

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