Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Amanda Flower's New Series Featuring Emily Dickinson Bound to be Must-Read for Dickinson Fans Plus Mystery Fans!


Because I could not stop for Death— 

He kindly stopped for me— 

The Carriage held but just Ourselves— 

And Immortality. 

—Emily Dickinson

“Mr. Allen, the party is not dead,” Mr. Dickinson said."Am I not still a Whig in the eyes of Congress?”
“But for how long? I tell you the Whigs are all but gone, and it’s over slavery. The nation is being ripped in two because of it. Those who are left standing in the middle are the ones who will be torn to bits when this all blows up,” a red-faced man said from the other end of the table. Perspiration gathered on his forehead as he spoke. 
Mr. Dickinson set his wineglass back on the table. “There are other issues that my party is more concerned with. Economic stability is at the forefront.” 
“How can the economy or any of these other so-called issues be more important than this one?” Mr. Allen wanted to know. 
“All topics of the law are given their due,” Mr. Dickinson said. “I agree that this issue of slavery seems to be coming to a head. Every time a new state or territory is added to the Union we have to ask if this new addition will be slave or free. It’s a ridiculous question to ask. What we should be asking is how this new territory will increase the wealth and power of the United States of America.” 
“When you do that,” a second young man spoke up, “you are displacing the Indians who live in those places.” 
“Let’s not get into that,” the red-faced man harped. The young man looked like he wanted to argue more but pressed his lips into a thin line. “Where are the Indians going to go if we continue to push them west?” 
Emily chimed in. “Will we push them into the ocean?” “This is not a discussion to be had at the dinner table in mixed company,” Mr. Dickinson said. “Politics is men’s work.” 
“Men’s work, women’s work. I can scream the number of times I have heard that. What if my interests are supposed to be reserved for men? What am I supposed to do with those?” Emily wanted to know. 
“They can’t be your interests,” the young and bearded Mr. Allen said. 
“How can you tell me how I can and cannot feel?” Emily asked. “If you stub your toe and experience pain, what should I say to you? Well, as a man you should be stronger than that. That should not hurt you. I don’t think you would like that.” 
“That is not the point I’m making.” 
“I see, but it is the point that I’m making, which is the difference,” Emily said archly. 
“Mr. Allen, it seems that you have met your match in Miss Dickinson here,” a man with sandy-colored hair that was going gray at the temples said. 
“Westward expansion is not the main concern,” Mr. Johnson spoke up in his gruff voice. “Our country is being torn in two over the issue of slavery as Mr. Allen said.” 
Everyone at the table looked at the stable owner. “And what is your view on it?” Emily asked, holding her glass in the air. 
“My view is of no importance,” he practically growled. Emily set her empty glass on the table. “I think your view is very important, Mr. Johnson. Is it not true that a young man was killed in your stables a few weeks ago? There are murmurings in Amherst that he was in some way involved in the Underground Railroad. Is that not true?” 
I froze in my spot against the wall. How could Emily just come out and say that? She had to know that it would send Mr. Johnson over the edge. 
Mr. Johnson glared at her. “I had a stable hand that was killed by a horse because the stable hand was careless. That’s all there is to it. When people are around horses they forget that they are large and powerful animals. That’s what my employee did and now he is dead. It’s no one’s fault but his own.” 
I gave a quick intake of breath. When I did I grabbed the attention of Matthew. His head turned in my direction, and his eyes went wide as if he realized that it had been me standing there the whole time. In the hotel uniform, I had been overlooked by everyone at the dinner table, including Matthew. It was far too easy to see servants as fixtures in a room instead of the real people that they were. 
“You seem to be very determined to blame young Henry for his own death,” Emily said. Mr. Johnson’s jaw twitched, but he didn’t say anything back. “Emily,” Mr. Dickinson spoke up. “That is enough.” Emily frowned but did not argue with her father. She knew that she had pushed the conversation as far as it would go. 
Mrs. Dickinson cleared her throat. “Mr. Campbell,” she addressed the balding man who had been speaking to Matthew when I first came into the room. “Have you had an opportunity to speak to Mr. Milner? He’s our postmaster in Amherst.” She gestured at Mr. Milner who was sitting across the table from her next to Matthew. Mrs. Dickinson smiled at Mr. Milner. “I’m sure you already know that Mr. John Campbell is the postmaster general for the nation.” 
Mr. Milner pulled on his collar. “I do.” 
“Oh!” Mr. Campbell said in a friendly voice. “How nice to meet one of our postmasters from a small town. Every member of the postal service is important. We are making so many vast improvements because of the hard work of the men on the front lines of delivering the mail.” 
Mr. Milner’s face turned red. “Thank you, sir. We all try to deliver the mail in a precise and timely fashion.” 
Mr. Campbell nodded. “I know this very well.” 
“Mr. Milner told my sister and me that he was in Washington for a postal conference this week. 
Were you at that conference as well, Mr. Campbell?”
Emily asked. 
The postmaster general wrinkled his brow. “I don’t know anything about a postal conference happening this week in Washington. Usually, I’m notified about such events. I do hope that my secretary did not make a mistake and leave this off my calendar for the week.” 
“No, sir.” Mr. Milner took a sip from his wineglass and then set it back on the table. “The conference was a small regional affair. As much as we would have been honored to have you be a part of it, sir, we know your duties are far too demanding for our small gathering.” 
“Yes, that must be it,” Mr. Campbell said absently. 
“If it was a regional meeting,” Emily said, “it does not make much sense that you meet so far from home. There are many big cities in New England to meet.” “Emily,” Mr. Dickinson said in a measured tone. 
Mr. Campbell opened his mouth as if he wanted to say more on the matter, but Mr. Johnson stood up from the table. 
“Thank you for the kind invitation this evening, but it is time for me to leave. I have pressing business that I must attend to.” 
Mr. Dickinson’s face turned red. “Please stay, Mr. Johnson. I hope my daughter speaking out of turn has not caused you to leave.” 
“It hasn’t,” Mr. Johnson said, but I believed that everyone knew that it had. 
I noticed then that Mr. Milner stared at the table and his arms were pressed closely to his sides. It was almost as if he was trying to make himself as small as possible. 
“Good evening.” Mr. Johnson stomped out of the room. When he was gone, Mr. Milner looked up and seemed to visibly relax. 
Mr. Dickinson cleared his throat. “I want to apologize for my guest’s behavior. I was hesitant to invite him here tonight with so many esteemed guests at my table, but he is a businessman from Amherst. I invited him out of duty. I regret that decision now.”
“Yes, that was quite rude to leave the dinner party like that,” Emily said. 
Mr. Dickinson glared at her. I would say that Emily was in a whole heap of trouble as far as her father was concerned. 
Without taking the time to think about it, I went through the door after Mr. Johnson. By the time I made it to the lobby, he had his coat and hat in hand and was striding out of the hotel. I hesitated. What did I do now? Follow him? By myself? Was I crazy for even thinking it? Outside of the hotel I watched as Mr. Johnson climbed into a carriage and a moment later the carriage was underway down the busy street. “Miss Willa, you look like you’re lost.” 
I turned and found Buford standing on the sidewalk. “That man who just came out of the hotel. I—I think he’s up to something.”
 “I do too. That’s why we need to follow him.” 
I looked over my shoulder to find Emily standing in the middle of the sidewalk in her ball gown. Buford began to untether his horse from the hitching post. “Then we better go before we lose sight of him.” Emily ushered me to the carriage. 
I climbed inside and she came in after me. The wide hoops of her skirt took up most of the space between us. Buford called to Betty Sue, the horse, and the carriage rolled into traffic. I stared at Emily. 
“How?” I couldn’t even think of the best way to ask the question. 
“How did I get here?” she asked with a smile. 
“Yes, did you walk out of your father’s dinner party too?” My eyes were wide. She looked out the window of the carriage. 
“Not exactly. I said I had a headache and needed to lie down. I’m sure my father is using that right now to explain my behavior to all of his guests. I helped him by leaving. He will say something to the effect that women don’t know what they are saying when they have a headache or some such nonsense. The key to the nonsense that men say about women is to use it to our advantage as I did in this case.” She opened the window and stuck her head out. 
“Buford is good at following. He is keeping a delivery wagon between our carriage and that of Mr. Johnson’s. I’m sure Mr. Johnson has no idea we are behind him.” 
I folded my hands in my lap. I was alone with Emily in the carriage. I went along with her like I always did, but how could I trust her when I knew either she or her sister stole my brother’s diary? I considered saying something about it, but it seemed the more pressing issue at hand was the fact that we were following Mr. Johnson. I asked, “And what are we going to do when we catch up with him?” 
“I haven’t settled on that part yet.” 
I bit the inside of my lip. She had better settle on it soon, because I had a feeling that Mr. Johnson would not like it if we showed up unannounced. The small window between the driver’s seat and the carriage opened, and we heard Buford’s voice. “It looks to me like he’s stopping at the Washington Monument. You want me to follow him?” 
Emily’s skirts made a ruffling sound as she scooted closer to the window to be heard. “Yes, don’t lose him!” 
The wagon jerked as Buford snapped his switch in the air to encourage Betty Sue to trot faster. A moment later, the carriage rocked to a stop. 
I peered out the window and saw the foot of the Washington Monument twenty or so yards away. I could only make it out because of the gas lampposts throughout the public grounds. The sun had long set. “What do we do?” I asked in a hoarse whisper. 
She opened the carriage door. “We get out, of course.” Without waiting for Buford to help her, she hopped out of the carriage. 
Even with my trust in Emily waning, I groaned and followed her.

Flower's first novel featuring the character, Emily Dickinson, is interesting inasmuch as the Point of View is by a maid that had recently been hired into the Dickinson household. The period is pre-Civil War and Emily's father is at the close of his congressional seat in Washington.

There is talk of slavery being an important issue in upcoming elections. Indeed, the Underground railroad is already underway. Still, there are Black men who have already been freed and living in Amherst, Massachusetts, where the family homestead is still located... 

“There is always a reason to write,” 
-“Words fall differently on the page 
than they do from the lips. 
There is more control, more thought,
 and more possibility.”

The story starts as Willa, a young orphan who has been working for 8 years in domestic work, comes to apply for the position at the Dickinsons. She meets with the Housekeeper and after being interviewed, was about to leave, when Emily, came into the room and declared that they had found the maid that they needed. The Housekeeper was hesitant and asked, "Are you sure, Miss Dickinson?" And Emily confirmed that Willa was to stay...

Right away we wonder what had led Emily to make a decision on hiring. Something that was delegated to staff and, with few exceptions, "the help" would be seen but rarely involved with other than their work. Perhaps, I wondered, whether Emily had seen a kindred spirit in this young woman, who, when forced to work, had started early and had already moved from job to job to improve her living conditions.

Or, was it merely a part of the plot that was needed by the author, so that she could have a new member of the staff describe everything there, including Emily, to the readers? Well, if so, then that was certainly a grand idea because I found myself thoroughly enjoying meeting the renowned poet through the eyes of a maid who would be living with her and the family for many years... 

Perhaps a combination of the two? For, almost immediately, Willa's brother is killed in what was to be called an accident, but that, in Willa's mind could not have been. Henry was Willa's younger brother and she had been taking care of his since their mother had died. Henry, somehow had found his way into the new bedroom where Willa was staying and spent time with her talking about what he'd been doing and that, in fact, he had a new and wonderful opportunity which would provide sufficient funds for both of them to begin to live different lives.

Time quickly passed and Henry was killed by a horse, kicked to death. I must stop, here, and ponder the apparent possibility of that type of death being common in early years... For, it was that same type of accident that had killed my father before I was born...

But Willa refused to believe it. Of course nobody else knew that he had come to visit her. But she also knew that Henry had a true gift of working with horses and other animals and that there was no way that one would turn on him...

Miss O'Brien, the Housekeeper, immediately gave her a little time to go to her bedroom, but indicated she would have to realize that it would be required that she continue her work. And grieving would have to be done on her own time...

Once again, Emily intervened not only about giving Willa time to grieve, but she also listened to what Willa said about her belief that it was not an accident. And made a commitment to Willa that the two of them would work to discover exactly what happened!

Emily and Willa first went to "the scene of the crime" where they met a good friend of Henry. Jeremiah was a freed Black man who saw Henry as his best friend. They slept together in a horse stall covered with hay and spent each night there with the horses. Jeremiah, too, felt that Henry's death was no accident...

At the same time, Jeremiah was not there when the accident occurred and could not, or would not, explain where he was. Nevertheless, he showed the burns on the horse's body and where it was that Henry was pushed against the wall. Something would have had to occur to make the horse react...and it wasn't Henry who did it! The three agreed on that!

The story soon takes readers to Washington, D.C., where Willa (who was named as ladies' maid to the two sisters to permit her involvement) and Emily started to investigate... For there were a number of men in Amherst who they felt were suspicious. And two were also scheduled to be in Washington! Additionally, rumors had been going around Amherst that a slave catcher had been seen and was paying for the return of slaves who had escaped in the south and were on the run to the north...

I enjoyed the outspoken brave words that often poured out of Emily's mouth. One in particular must have been a puzzle to those in the conversation...
 ...Did you enjoy this morning’s services? My father did a fine job, did he not?” Miss Dickinson looked at him down her petite nose, which was quite an accomplishment seeing how she was a foot shorter than the twins. “I did not go to church. I am not a member of this church as you well know. Carlo and I were just out for a morning walk. That’s our means of worship.” The twins looked at each other. “Surely, that is just an oversight,” Urschel said. “You have not taken the time to finish your membership. Our father would be happy to welcome another member of the Dickinson family into his flock.” 
“You are assuming that I intend to. My god is not there.” She pointed at the white meetinghouse with its peaked steeple. The twins were confused. “If he is not there, where is he?” “If you must ask, you will not understand the answer. Therefore, there is no purpose in answering a question that does not need to be asked.” She looked to me. “Willa, Carlo and I have finished our walk. We will accompany you home. Since you ran into me on the way home, it will explain the delay to Miss O’Brien.” I nodded and started to follow Miss Dickinson.

Let me close by sharing directly from Amanda Flower about her dream... This literary masterpiece has been created as a result of the fascination of the author for this Writer... What a Tribute! I loved it and You Will Too!

To write this book is an actual dream come true. I have been a fan of Emily Dickinson since I was fifteen and was assigned the poem “I heard a Fly buzz - when I died” to memorize in high school. Ever since I have been fascinated with the poet and her work, and considering the content of the poem, it’s not surprising I was destined to write mysteries. Emily has inspired me as a writer, but as a mystery novelist, not a poet. The unanswered mysteries of Emily’s work and life are what I find more interesting. The first novel I wrote inspired by Emily was a contemporary cozy mystery, Crime and Poetry, where the sleuth interprets Emily’s poems to solve the crime. Because I Could Not Stop for Death is the first time I have written Emily as a character, which has been exciting and challenging. So first and foremost, I want to thank Emily Dickinson for her life and work, without which this novel would not exist. I would also like to thank the countless Dickinson scholars who helped me with this work by making their analysis and research available in books and articles. I read so many accounts of Dickinson’s life for this one novel. It would be impossible to share them all. However, most noticeably I would like to thank the following: Richard B. Sewall, the author of The Life of Emily Dickinson, and AĆ­fe Murray, the author of Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language.


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