Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Savage Secrets?

Warning: This post contains examples of bad writing.

After reading a couple of good books, I decided to read some trash—er, some less than excellent writing. At Goodwill, I found Savage Secrets, by Cassie Edwards, now known as the historical romance plagiarist. I figured, since her recent notoriety, that a book by her might have some collectible value in the future. Besides, 75¢ wasn’t too bad a price for the used copy. And it’s good for a laugh. Or several laughs.

This particular book (in a series of innumerable Savage books) is about Rebecca Veach, who is alone in the world (or at least in St. Louis) since her father died and her brother never returned from the Civil War. She returns home (via horse and buggy) from her father’s funeral to find her mansion gutted of all furniture except for her chiffarobe that contained all her clothes. (The funeral must have lasted a long time for the robbers to get all that furniture and not be seen by anyone!) Oh, but the robbers didn’t find the money hidden under the floorboards of the heavy desk they took from her father’s study. Apparently, though wealthy, the Veaches didn’t have any servants. Why she left the horse and buggy out front is anybody’s guess. With no servants, she should have driven to the barn and unhitched. (p. 24: “Becky stepped from the buggy and wound the reins around a hitching rail.” Uh, aren’t the reins kinda long and don’t they run through some rings on the harness?)

Anyhow, determined to report the crime, she decides to ride to town (Why not take the buggy?), she changes from her black silk mourning dress into a riding skirt. In fact, she hurries (p. 29):

Becky hurried into a riding skirt and white cotton blouse. After tying her long golden hair back with a ribbon, she hurried down the stairs.

Whew! Kinda leaves you breathless. And I’ll bet you’d already guessed that she had “long golden hair.” After all, the best of romance heroines do—plus the cover illustration shows it. Anyhow, the next paragraph puzzles me:

She ran past the horse and buggy to the stable and grabbed a horse from a stall. She led it outside, then quickly saddled it.

“Let’s go, boy,” Becky said as she swung herself into the saddle. She nudged the steed’s flanks with her heels and urged the horse into a gallop up the long, narrow drive.

So why didn’t she use the buggy that was ready and waiting? Why didn’t she at least unhitch the poor buggy horse? How did she run in that long riding skirt? How did she “grab” the horse? She saddled it but never bridled it, so how could she control it? How could she swing herself into the saddle with the long skirt—especially if she happened to be riding sidesaddle? I assume she was riding sidesaddle, as most young ladies did in 1869. And doncha love it when they call a horse a “steed”? (Blazing’s Eagle’s horse was called a steed in Chapter 1) I’ve only read as far as page 68, but I’ve found at least three more instances of “swung into the saddle.”

Anyhow, she gallops to town. Once in town she goes to the sheriff, who once again proposes to her, and she notices on the jail wall a wanted poster of her brother. Seems he’s a big outlaw in Wyoming. Turning down the sheriff’s proposal, she grabs the poster and decides to go to Wyoming.

She travels by train, wears “a pale blue silk dress,” her golden hair cascades, a traveler flirts with her but she doesn’t flirt back, she watches the scenery, etc.

Meanwhile, Chief Blazing Eagle and a couple of his buddies decide to have a little fun by tearing up a portion of the railroad tracks. When they see the train coming, they decide to have even more fun, so they chase it. Of course the train stops, the passengers disembark, Blazing Eagle notices Becky and grabs her by the hair . . .yada, yada, yada . . . they have a brief conversation (yes, he does speak English), after which (on p. 63), “he swung himself into the saddle,” and “his loins ached with a passion. . . . “ (Anyone who rides in a saddle while wearing only a breech clout and moccasins is probably gonna get a bad rash, too, in addition to the achy loins.) Also from p. 63:

Lifting his reins, Blazing Eagle wheeled his horse around to ride away, then swung his steed back in Becky’s direction. He rode toward her, stretched out an arm, and swept her onto his lap, then positioned her in the saddle in front of him.

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m having a difficult time wrapping my mind around the above image. The poor horse—all that wheeling and swinging, and it probably hasn’t recovered from the galloping a few pages back. Also, when you’re mounted on a horse, there’s no lap. Laps only happen to people in sitting positions. Plus, wouldn’t the horse (identified elsewhere as a sorrel or a steed) get spooked by having a girl in a big skirt suddenly dragged onto his back. I once tried to pick up a raincoat (which wasn’t even screaming or flapping around) while mounted on my mare Melody, and she took off bucking and running. As for the positioning her in front of him on the saddle, the saddle would only have space for one. I figure it must have been a cavalry saddle, which has a large solid pommel. It would really hurt to sit there, especially if galloping is involved (which it will be). If it were a saddle with a horn—well, I won’t go there.

Anyhow, the train guys fix the track and the train leaves without her, while Blazing Eagle takes her to his village—a long ride which involves galloping—where his lodge is the biggest. From p. 67:

She was impressed. She had learned enough in her studies of Indian to know that the size of a lodge was determined by the number of horses possessed by the lodge owner, by the owner’s wealth and position in the community. If a man had but a few horses, his lodge was small. Becky recalled having read also that one hundred elk teeth were worth one good horse.*

She noticed, as her studies had taught her, that all lodges were set up to face the rising sun each morning, the west wind always at their backs. At the top, two flaps served as windbreaks. From the fires in the center of the teepee. . . .

Sheesh. I can’t finish this digression! Anybody wanna bet she plagiarized the above passage? My gosh, if you’ve just been kidnapped and taken to a strange place and have no idea what might happen to you next, you don’t admire the village and notice how it’s just like what you studied.

Eventually, I’ll read more of Blazing Secrets. But not for a while. I can only take so much bad writing at one time.

*She probably read about the elk teeth/horse thing online: here.

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Blogger CountryDew said...

I don't know how you can stand to read through that! Yikes.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

I'm an internationally ranked bad writer (1996 Bulwer-Lytton: Worst Western winner). I can deal with stuff like this.

Still, I can only read so much at a time. Books like this one should come with warning labels.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Amy Hanek said...

I have become spoiled in my reading and will only divulge in the good ones lately. I have even found myself only trusting those authors I can truly count on. Jodi Picoult, Margaret Atwood, Alice Sebold... to name a few. I am looking forward to reading the latest Stephen King novel, "Duma's Key." My mother could not put it down. I have my name on the list for holding it at the FCL.

Yep, you're braver than me...

9:29 AM  
Anonymous wombat1138 said...

George Bird Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Ways of Life, U. of Nebraska Press 1972 (, p. 226:

"The size of the Cheyenne Lodge was usually determined by the number of horses possessed by the lodge owner; i.e., by the owner's wealth. If a man had but few horses, his lodge was small; if he had many, it was large."

4:28 AM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Aha! I knew that passage was plagiarized. Thanks, wombat 1138, for the source.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

I couldn't get past page one.

10:10 PM  

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