FROM PROFESSOR RANDALL’S NOTEBOOK…
Field Research Location:
Columbia and Waterloo, Monroe County, Illinois.
Discover where Fort Piggot was located on the Kaskaskia Trail, while staying clear of attractive, single colleagues (ie. Brett!) so as not to commit career suicide, while also keeping the “rewinding time” program secret, so Uncle Sam doesn’t turn into Big Brother.
Merrideth Randall’s day job is teaching history at McKendree College. But after hours she turns to her first love, historical research. And she has a tool other historians can only dream of—a computer program that rewinds time!
Merrideth makes a virtual visit to the 1780s, hoping to be the first to locate Fort Piggot. Along the way, she gets a first-hand look at the lives of the courageous pioneers of the Illinois Country, who withstood Indian attacks, hardship, and loneliness to settle the rich land.
One of the settlers is James Garretson, who risks his life to take the Gospel to the very tribe that wreaked havoc on his family. Merrideth is amazed that he could forgive a crime so huge. Hero or fool, James Garretson is the ancestor of her colleague Brett, a physics professor at McKendree College.
With her findings, Merrideth is able to help Brett with his genealogy, but she can’t tell him everything she learned—like that he inherited his black hair and green eyes from James Garretson, or that his aunt’s poetry is eerily similar to the verse Garretson’s wife Isabelle used to compose at her spinning wheel.
Brett has rock-star status on campus, but amazingly enough, he seems to be pursuing Merrideth—in spite of her firm policy against dating co-workers. She would love to tell him about her amazing program, but discretion is not his strong suit. She has secrets about herself that she’d just as soon he didn’t find out either. One virtue Brett does have is patience, and he’s quite willing to wait for Merrideth to figure things out.
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
When Every Hill and Mountain, the third in my Time and Again “history mystery” trilogy, was completed, fans asked for more. I’m very excited to announce my new Rewinding Time Series. It features some of the same characters from the trilogy but it takes place fifteen years after that amazing summer Abby came to tutor Merrideth. It is not necessary to read the trilogy in order read the new series, but those who did will enjoy revisiting Merrideth, who is all grown up with “history mysteries” of her own to solve.
Once Again: an inspirational novel of history, mystery & romance is the first in the series, and the second book will follow soon after in January 2015. And I have lots more historical adventures planned after that.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Merrideth Randall was the bratty eleven-year-old in my Time and Again trilogy. Now she’s a 26-year-old college history professor. It seemed only natural to make her romantic interest in Once Again a fellow faculty member. Dr. Brett Garrison is a physics professor with rock-star status on campus. Merrideth is amazed that he seems to be pursuing ordinary her, in spite of her firm policy against dating colleagues. That would be career suicide, and she’ll do nothing to jeopardize that!
(from chapter 1)
A student in the third row—Allison? Alyssa?—raised her hand. She was a beautiful girl and always looked cool and collected, as if she weren’t familiar with the human phenomenon of perspiration. And as far as Merrideth could tell her blond highlights had not come out of a bottle. She was one of the few students who ever asked a question or offered a comment. Unfortunately, they were usually so tinged with sarcasm that Merrideth had begun to dread calling on her. But now as always, hope rose that at last she was about to experience a lively interaction with a student.
Merrideth pointed to the raised hand. “Yes?”
“The proper term is Native American. Besides, they aren’t really Indian anyway.”
Merrideth was sure the smile she had drummed up looked fake, but it was the best she could do when her teaching competence was under direct attack. “I’m glad you brought that up. I recently learned that most Native Americans actually prefer to be called Indians.”
The girl looked decidedly skeptical.
“I was surprised myself.” Merrideth glanced down and shuffled her notes again. “Anyway, if Tecumseh had been successful, who knows what the map of America would look like today? While he was gone, Harrison and a force of 1,000 soldiers defeated the Shawnee at Prophetstown.
“At the time it was considered a huge victory for Harrison. He picked up the nickname Tippecanoe from the river of that name near the battlefield. Twenty-nine years later in 1840, a Whig campaign song called Tippecanoe and Tyler Too helped Harrison win the presidency.”
The girl raised her hand again. “Yes?” Merrideth said as pleasantly as she could.
“Will that be on the final exam? The nicknames and songs, things like that?”
A disdainful expression flittered over the student’s face, and then she lowered her eyes and resumed writing. Just as Merrideth looked back at her own notes, the girl muttered, “I registered for Illinois History, not Trivial Pursuit.” It was said loudly enough that it was clearly intended for Merrideth to hear.
She stifled the urge to smack her. To reward herself for her restraint, she decided to wrap up class three minutes early. “But historians know,” she said tersely, “that the victory at Prophetstown only ratcheted up the violence between the whites and Indians. Six months later when the War of 1812 began, the Indians naturally sided with the British. We’ll talk more about that next time. Be sure to keep up with your readings.”
The students began gathering their things with an eagerness that was a further insult to Merrideth’s confidence. Then she remembered her announcement and called out, “Don’t forget, if you want to be a volunteer at the Fort Piggot archaeological dig Saturday, there’s still time, but you’ll have to be a member of History Club. Just let me know if you need a sign-up form.”
No one responded. No one even looked interested, much less stayed behind to get the details. She felt her face heating and turned away to gather her own things. Her embarrassment grew ten-fold when she realized Dr. Garrison was watching her from the door. With a mind of its own, her hand started to rise, intent on checking her hair. But she forced it back down to her side. She would not allow Brett Garrison to trigger any fluttery female instincts she might have.
The thought that the most popular professor on campus had witnessed her debacle just added icing to the cake. She had heard that gushing groupies congregated outside his classroom like he was Indiana Jones, and they were there to catch him before he cast off the trappings of academia and went off on an action-packed adventure.
But Brett dressed more stylishly than Indy had—never in tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows, for sure. And he was much better looking than Harrison Ford. His black hair was thick, and his eyes were so green that Merrideth once asked Marla White if she thought he wore colored contacts. Marla had smiled knowingly and said, “No, ma’am! They’re the real deal. It’s the Irish in him.”
The moment she was introduced to him at the faculty icebreaker at President Peterson’s residence, he had set her nerves on edge. Sure, he was pretty to look at, but his vanity ruined it. Twice she had caught him admiring himself in Peterson’s hall mirror. She had avoided him ever since.
But now she smiled and said, “Hi. Don’t you math types do your thing in Voigt Hall?” It hadn’t come out in the friendly manner she’d intended, and she mentally kicked herself for letting her rattled nerves show. He sure didn’t need anything more to stoke his ego.
But he didn’t seem to take offense, just grinned. It did not help her nerves one little bit.
“I was just taking a short cut to 1828.”
“It was a very good year, from all I’ve heard.”
The witticism was a mistake. He laughed, and her pulse skipped. It was confirmation that Brett Garrison was a man she should continue to steer clear of.
A therapist had once chided her for being a reverse snob when it came to good-looking men. She had reminded Merrideth that they couldn’t help the way they looked any more than anyone else could. If she were here now she would tell her to give Brett Garrison a chance, for crying out loud.
“I meant the 1828 Cafe, not the year,” he said. “I heard the last part of your lecture.”
“It was very interesting.”
“What?” she said.
“Your lecture on William Henry Harrison.”
“Oh. Well, tell that to my students.”
“They looked interested to me.”
“Ah, yes, Alyssa Holderman. I have her in Calculus. She has an attitude problem. You know Holderman Library is named for her great-grandfather?”
“That explains a lot.”
“Don’t let her get to you. The other kids are cool.”
“I’ll try not to. Thanks.”
“Would you like to join me at the cafe? The have good coffee.”
The offer put her hackles up. “No thanks. I need to get home.” She started down the hall, hoping to put distance between them, but he fell in beside her.
“So, Dr. Randall, what do you do when you’re not lecturing about the past?”
“Prepare more lectures. It takes a while to get them polished into the scintillating gems that they are.”
“Don’t be hard on yourself. You’ll hit your stride soon enough.”
He held the door for her and she went out ahead of him onto the quad. Brilliant orange maple leaves, carrying the scent of autumn, fluttered by against a deep blue sky. Nearby, Alyssa Holderman and four other girls, busily texting on their phones, paused and looked up with interest.
Brett doled out one of his smiles. “Hello, ladies. Nice day, isn’t it?”
The girls preened and twittered like pretty birds in designer jeans. “Yes, Dr. Garrison,” one said. “It sure is.”
The girls’ heads swiveled in unison as they watched their idol pass by. Merrideth was pretty sure she heard a sigh. Surprisingly, Brett Garrison didn’t seem to notice their worshipful adoration.
“So what about family?” he said.
“Oh, I’m all in favor of them,” Merrideth said. “How about you?”
He chuckled. “I’ll go first so you’ll know how to answer that question. I have a brother in Texas and a sister in North Carolina. My parents are deceased, but I do have an Aunt Nelda.”
She smiled. “You do not have an Aunt Nelda.”
“I do, in fact, have an Aunt Nelda. A very nice Aunt Nelda.”
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“And you being a history expert would like Aunt Nelda, for her old house if nothing else.”
“Really? How old?”
“Aunt Nelda or her house?”
“The house,” she said, smiling in spite of herself.
“I’m not sure of the exact date. The family has owned the property for generations.”
“I love old houses.”
“Then you should take the Haunted Lebanon tour in town. I know someone who could get you a ticket, if you’re interested.”
“No, I’m good. I did the Haunted Alton tour a couple of years ago, and once was quite enough for me. Life is scary enough as it is. Besides, I’m tied up with the dig.”
“See, you do other things besides preparing lectures. Where is it?”
“We’re looking for a fort that was once down in the American Bottom.”
He laughed uproariously. “I know I’m reverting to my junior high self, but a fort in the bottom? Really?”
Merrideth rolled her eyes. “The American Bottom is the southern Illinois floodplain of the Mississippi River. After the Revolutionary War it was the western frontier of the brand new United States, hence the name American. The French who had lived there for more than a century, migrated across the river to the French city of St. Louis, and the Americans began to arrive. The early settlers built several blockhouse forts there.”
“And you think you know where one was.”
“We hope so. Fort Piggot was the largest of them, but ironically, historians didn’t even know of its existence until relatively recently when the so-called Piggot Papers were discovered. Just by coincidence, someone found them concealed inside a framed river pilot’s license that had been hanging on a wall in the Green County Museum since forever. It’s really fascinating and…I’m boring you to death. Sorry. I get carried away talking about this stuff.”
“I’m not bored at all.”
“Really?” And she realized that he wasn’t. Either that, or he was a good actor.
“Sure. I don’t even particularly enjoy history, but you’ve made me curious to know where this fort was.”
“Near Columbia. About thirty minutes from here. James Piggot built it in—.”
He laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”
“I never kid about history.”
“My Aunt Nelda’s farm is not far from Columbia, above the famous American Bottom, although I had no idea that historians had given the area such a charming name. Come have coffee and tell me more.”
Inexplicably, Merrideth found herself standing at the sidewalk that led up to the 1828 Cafe. Somehow while she was yammering on about the fort, she had forgotten to make the turn that would take her to Hunter Street where her apartment was. Somehow, she had just followed where Brett Garrison led like a mindless twit. Worse, students were staring at them from the cafe’s windows. Marla White had warned her that rumors spread faster than the speed of light in a small town, faster still in a small college. There was no way would she let false rumors about her and Brett Garrison prevent her from achieving her career goals.
“Sorry,” she said. “I have to get home. Enjoy your coffee.”
About the Author:
Deborah Heal, the author of the Time and Again “history mystery” trilogy, which has been described as “Back to the Future meets virtual reality with a dash of Seventh Heaven thrown in,” was born not far from the setting of her novel Every Hill and Mountain and grew up just down the road from the settings of Time and Again and Unclaimed Legacy. Today she lives with her husband in Monroe County, Illinois, not far from the setting of Once Again. She enjoys reading, gardening, and learning about regional history. She has three grown children, five grandchildren, and two canine buddies Digger and Scout, a.k.a. Dr. Bob in Unclaimed Legacy. She loves to interact with her readers, who may learn more about the history behind the books at her website www.deborahheal.com and her Facebook author page www.facebook.com/DeborahHeal.
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