Saturday, April 10, 2010

Knights and Gangs and YA -- oh, my!

I have many happy childhood memories of lounging around absorbed in a good book. Nirvana for me was returning from the weekly trip to the library and having a huge stack of books to read. Now that I have a six-year-old, I get to read some of my favorites to someone else. I probably can't get him to adore all the rambunctious and spirited girl stories I loved as a kid (Caddie Woodlawn, Laura Ingalls Wilder, etc.), but I can certainly try.

I have a few YA books that I enjoy re-reading about once a year. When I’m sick or need a good comfort read, I read books like "The Secret Garden," "A Little Princess," (both by Frances Hodgson Burnett) "A Horse and His Boy" (or any of the other Narnia books by C.S. Lewis), and "A Greengage Summer" by Rumer Godden.

A rather obscure book from my childhood that really stuck with me is "The Golden Horseshoe" by Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth. It's inspired by an actual historic adventure in Virginia, an expedition to explore the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond in 1716. The Governor and some other gentlemen set out with a some Native American guides and explored "the west." Everyone involved got a gold horseshoe pin when they returned, and so were known as the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe.

In this YA book, a half brother and sister (she's half Native American) don't get along very well. And since she's a girl in Colonial Virginia, she gets to do roughly zero of the adventuring. When her father announces that he and her brother are going on this expedition, the sister decides to go, too. She runs away to her Native American relatives, and disguises herself as a boy. Her brother and father accept her as a boy, and no one guesses her secret. In the end, when her secret is revealed, they are forced to revise their opinion of her and girls in general.

The book is sadly out of print and rather old-fashioned (strangely enough, it was originally printed by my publisher, so perhaps I can start a one-woman campaign to get them to publish it again). But I was riveted as a child. I grew up outside of Charlottesville near the Blue Ridge Mountains, right around where the expedition began. There was a show of artifacts from the expedition a few years after I read the book and I got to see one of the actual golden horseshoe pins. It made the fictional story feel very real for me.

At this point it would be great if I could say that I grew up to write historical fiction or YA or something. But I didn't. I write mysteries, but I borrow from historical events all the time. And in my second book DEAD IN THE WATER, I call a Puerto Rican female gang "The Golden Horseshoe Gang" as sort of a twisted homage to the knights. No one will get the reference. Unless, of course, they read this blog.


Shane Gericke said...

There've been a few stories like that I've heard of, where the girls have to dress like boys in order to do the cool stuff. In fact, wasn't there a movie several years ago where the women dressed like a man to do something, wound up getting killed? Famous actress, too. Anyway, it's a damn shame they had to go to these lengths just to do what they should be allowed to do ... whatever they want.

And another great cover! I like this a whole bunch. Did our publishers get hit with a cool stick all of a sudden, putting out all this eye-catching art?

Kelli Stanley said...

Very cool, Meredith!! I'd want one of those pins. I've got fond memories of cereal premiums and Crackerjack prizes that were actually cool. :)

And that is one awesome cover for DEAD IN THE WATER!!

Gabi said...


I not only love the idea of naming your very modern Puerto Rican girl gang after your childhood girl adventure heroine, I really love that I'm in on it. I feel like I know the "secret." And historicals and YA may be in your future yet!


Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for swinging by Shane, Kelli and Gabi. I really wanted one of those golden horseshoe pins (I would even have dressed like a boy to get one). Maybe I should have tried the cracker jack box...

Thanks for the cover compliments. I'm really happy with it. They even took the photo in one of the locations in my book, a place where you can see the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.