Finished-Ebook image

The story, set in Saratoga Springs, NY, is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet with a twist.

Back of the Book:

As her high school graduation nears, Olivia finds herself inexplicably drawn to the handsome and enigmatic Ethan. Almost from the start, a connection emerges, and the relationship between the two intensifies quickly and passionately. But as the young lovers are on the verge of true happiness, the unexpected strikes—a terror attack that changes their lives forever. While reeling from the devastating aftermath, Olivia and Ethan uncover a decades-old secret shared by their two families that tests loyalties as they confront heartbreak, fear and tragedy with hope, understanding and resilience. In the grips of this turmoil, they discover that their love and the lives of those most important to them are in jeopardy.

Early Review:
“With her new novel, Dawn Lajeunesse proves she understands the human heart as well as any writer working today, and she knows how to make a reader’s heart thump hard—with anticipation, with sorrow, with fear, and with joy. The Eyes Have It is an intelligent, poignant, rewarding experience.” Mark Spencer, author of A Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of The Allen House”

Hard copy versions will be available by the end of September.

E-books may be ordered through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or any e-book format. (If you buy it and like it, please post a review!)

Watch for more related announcements and reviews in the coming weeks!


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… a decade after the wedding day.

Child bride

What if you were promised to a man as his wife, at a very young age, too young for you to remember?

Imagine that the only obstacle to that promise is that you must 1) be a virgin and 2) be a pubescent woman who had reached sexual maturity.

Think about this: judges often considered menstruation a demarcation of legal majority, but jurists in the Ottoman Empire in the 1800’s argued that girls could be considered prepared for both marriage and sexual intercourse when signs of physical maturity made them sexually desirable—arguably a criterion judged in the eyes of the man in the case.

In researching some of the stories of the early Armenian immigrants from the Ottoman Empire to America, this was not an unknown circumstance.

The parents of one young teen boy—we’ll call him Marderos–had arranged with the parents of a girl—we’ll call her Sultan–who wasn’t even school age, for their future marriage. It was a solemn commitment, rarely broken. And it wasn’t unusual in their culture. Marderos would complete his education and establish himself in a business or professional position. Sultan would, if she lived in a village with a school for girls, receive enough education to read and write, and then focus on homemaking skills and needlework. Neither Marderos nor Sultan questioned the arrangement. It provided security for her, and assured Marderos of the services of a wife. Ideally, they would like and maybe even grow to love each other.

In the late nineteenth century, the Ottoman Turks intermittently attacked Armenian villages, usually raping the girls, killing most of the inhabitants and of course pillaging at will. Most of the attacks were taking place in villages far from Kharpert, the home of Marderos and Sultan. Within their own village, there existed an unofficial truce between the Moslem Turks and the Armenians. Many Turks and Armenians actually were friends. It was one such Turkish friend who warned the parents of Marderos that the peace in the village soon would end, and tragedy would follow. “Get out,” he told Marderos’ father. “Go, while you still can. Go to France. Or America. When the attacks begin, I won’t be able to help you.”

It’s not a stretch to imagine how hard such a decision would be. The Armenian part of Turkey had been their home with ancestors reaching back not just decades, but centuries. And yet they couldn’t ignore what the Turk, whom they trusted, had warned.
Although many Armenians at the time chose France, at least in part on the premise that—once the trouble had passed—they could more easily return to their homeland, the families of Marderos and Sultan chose America. The opportunities were greater there, they had heard. They could make their fortune and some day return to Armenia with more wealth than they could accumulate in a lifetime in their homeland.

In those days as now, you couldn’t decide to go to America and just do it. There were procedures to follow, papers to process. Approvals took months at best, and more often years. And entire families weren’t approved at once. Marderos’ mother died in childbirth not long after the decision was made. His father’s immigration was approved first, and then Marderos within months later.

But what of the contract for Marderos and Sultan to wed? Sultan’s parents had not yet decided on America. Her mother had a brother in Aleppo, and so far there had been no trouble there. But word was unmarried girls, especially pretty girls, were coveted by the Turks. So the decision was made that Marderos and Sultan should marry before he went to America, to provide her with some protection from the Turks, who preferred virgins. Then Sultan would be sent to live with the her uncle. And so Marderos and Sultan were married shortly before he left for America in 1895.

Sultan was eleven years old.

Did they consummate the marriage, although she may not have reached sexual maturity?

We can’t know for certain. But here’s a possible clue. They were married in mid-1895. Marderos left for America in November 1895. Sultan wasn’t approved to join him until sometime between 1903 and 1907 (records are inconsistent). Once in America and reunited with Marderos, Sultan birthed three babies in four years (1908, 1910, 1912) and then two more in 1916 and 1917. It may be that her body wasn’t sufficiently mature to become pregnant in 1895. It’s also possible that Marderos was an honorable man who chose not to bed a child.

We will never know.

Posted in Armenians, Arranged marriages | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment


Just finished reviewing the final cover and interior proofs for The Eyes Have It! We are on track to meet or beat our mid-fall deadline for release! To celebrate, I’m sharing another excerpt from the book:

I was a “walker.” I lived too close to school to take the bus. We lived in a nice enough neighborhood, near the edge of the city limits, less than a half mile from school. Most of the time, I liked being a walker. The pressure to rush for a bus and compete for the best seats wasn’t appealing. And since I was involved in a lot of school activities, I often didn’t get out in time to catch a bus, anyway, so living close enough to walk was convenient.

Except in midwinter. Like now. No snow, but a strong wind found its way down the neck of my partially zipped jacket. I was just a few blocks from home, but I set my bag on the ground and stopped long enough to zip and pull up my hood. I never wore a hat. Hats did terrible things to hair.

I saw the shadow as I reached to pick up my bag. My body tensed, and flashes of my self-defense course PowerPointed through my brain. My bag was loaded with books and pens, ready to be weaponized. I picked up my pace. My possible assailant mirrored the move. The shadow was gaining on me. I was surrounded by a city in transition. Most streets were crammed with houses. Some older blocks had been razed for new development. The side of the street I was on was dotted with vacant lots, awaiting an eager investor. Across the street was a convenience store I rarely went in, both because I had no need most days and because it was dark and crowded, with aisles close together. Still, it was a possible escape where I wouldn’t be alone. I remembered it was better to face the attacker than to be attacked from behind. If you couldn’t avoid a physical confrontation, aim for the parts of the body where you could do the most damage easily—eyes, nose, ears, neck, groin, knee, top of the feet. Avoid first. I stepped off the curb to cross the street. He followed. As I stepped up on the opposite curb, I gripped the handle of my bag and spun, swinging the bag as hard as I could.

“Hey!” Ethan shouted, his soccer reflexes kicking in as he deflected the bag with his elbow. “What are you doing?”

“I thought you were an assailant!” I scowled at him. “What were you thinking, following me and not telling me you were there?”

He looked a little sheepish. “I wanted to see how long it would take you to realize I was behind you.

“I knew someone was behind me. How was I supposed to know it was you? I don’t have eyes in the back of my head! What are you doing here, anyway? Do you live around here?”

Ethan shrugged. “I live that way.” He pointed east. “Just over the bus line, but I usually walk. I just took a little detour today when I came out of school and saw you walking.”


His turn to blush. But it only made his smile brighter. He had luscious lips.
“I wanted to spend more time with you.”

Valentine’s Day was over a week away. But in that moment, I felt like I understood why Cupid’s signature was his arrow, and it seemed he was on the prowl early. That was the only possible explanation for the sudden contraction and ache in the area of my heart. A wave of heat rushed through me. My hand had a mind of its own and reached out to touch his elbow.

“Did I hurt you?”

“Nah, I’m okay. Good thing I got my arm up.” He grinned. “That was a killer swing.”

I couldn’t pull my eyes from his face. How had I not noticed him before? Clearly, I’d been living in the bubble of my own comfortable group of friends and usual classmates. I sucked in a deep breath, feeling like I couldn’t get enough air. An unrecognized feeling swelled within me, an odd combination of awe and anxiety, excitement and exhilaration, heat and happiness. Was that …?

Ridiculous! I hardly knew him.

He raised his hand slowly. “May I?” he asked as his hand approached my cheek.

I nodded, my breath hitching at the warmth of his touch. And this time, I didn’t flinch. I leaned into his hand, closing my eyes, savoring the feeling that flowed through me.

“You feel it, too,” he half whispered.

I nodded, still not understanding what “it” was, but relieved that I wasn’t alone in the feeling.

“We don’t know anything about each other,” I said, still leaning into the warmth of his hand.

“We know our feelings. The rest can follow if we spend more time together.”

“But what if the feeling doesn’t last?” A parade of casual boyfriends marched through my mind, mocking me. Even as they marched, I knew this was different.

“There’s only one way to find out.” He kissed his fingertips and touched my forehead, sending a power surge straight through to my toes and back. “I have to go,” he continued. “I work for my dad a few evenings a week. I’m saving up for a car.” He sighed. “It’s so hard to leave you. What time do you get to school in the morning?”

“In time for the homeroom bell, but the building opens at 7:30.” Was he asking me to meet him?

“Would you come in that early?” His question so eager, so open.

I gulped a deep breath through my mouth, not quite a gasp, but close.

“Uh, sure.” Of course. Anything you want, you got it. I’m yours.

I was so screwed. I hated that. I also loved it. How could that be?

He smiled that deadly, beautiful, leg-melting smile that started this just a few hours ago.

“My locker, whenever you get there. I’ll be waiting.”

I would have been a prime victim for a predator as I walked the last few blocks home. I was on another planet. On cloud nine. In la-la land. How many other clichés applied?

I felt it in my gut—life as I’d known it was about to change. Dramatically.

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One of the lesser-known stories about the experience of Armenians during World War I, the period of the most aggressive extermination attempts by the Turks, was the formation of The Armenian Legion: 1916-1920.

IMG_2801 (2)
One of the women I interviewed spoke of her father’s decision to join the Allied Forces in the Middle East. She said he was frustrated that the Americans were not joining the war effort. His betrothed and many other family members were trapped under the oppression and extermination efforts. She spoke of him saying he wanted to kill the Turks who were killing the Armenians.

He wasn’t alone.

According to the display in the Armenian Museum in Watertown, MA, “The Armenian Legion was formed during the darkest days of World War I, when the Allies (France, England and Russia) faced a military deadlock on the European and Middle Eastern Fronts….. At that time the Armenians were facing the devastating aftermath of the Genocide of their people at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government.”

1200 Armenian men left their comparatively comfortable lives in America to fight and possibly die in foreign lands. Their explanation? How could they not, when their families and neighbors – if they had survived the actual genocide – were still under threat and domination by the Muslim Turks who despised the Armenians.

Many of the soldiers in photos of the Armenian Legion appear to be little more than boys. And perhaps that’s what they were. Their mothers and sisters and aunts and neighbors had disappeared—in the desert, in their village – and they had no way to know who, if any, were still alive. Most were not. But they knew they had to help stop the devastation. They had to kill Turks.

Along the way, they helped orphaned Armenian children and even adopted one boy as their mascot.


Their heroism reached its peak – literally and figuratively – in September of 1918, when they seized the hill at Arara.

It would be years in most cases, if ever, before they would learn the fates of their loved ones. Too often they just never knew.

But this story has a happy ending for at least one family. The woman I interviewed was proof. Her grandmother and mother survived the death march through the desert. When the Central Powers nations were defeated, with the help of the Armenian Legion, they were able to find their way to America and reunite with the men who had come before them. These surviving women went on to create home and family in America. The father survived the war and brought home a physical reminder of his time with the Armenian Legion–matching vases made from spent weapons, which my interviewee proudly displayed on her mantle.

Vases made from French Army Artillery Shells

Learn more about the heroic Armenian Legion at the Armenian Museum.

Posted in Armenians, Genocide, History, WAR! | Tagged , , | 12 Comments


Enjoy this sneak peak at THE EYES HAVE IT!

Kuwait–Saudi Arabia Border—199117671959[1]

Josh’s Arabic was rudimentary. He understood it better than he spoke it, although even that was rough. But the most flawless Arabic wouldn’t have made this conversation with Samar easy. It was even harder than he’d expected.

They had just made love. It wasn’t the first time. He never meant for this to happen.

When his regiment first arrived in Saudi Arabia during the military buildup, he had two things on his mind. Make that three things. First was surviving the war to come. Second was concluding his military commitment, preferably alive and fully intact. And last, but far from least, marrying his fiancée, Emily.

Josh and Emily had been a couple since their freshman year of college. They were a good match, because they had so much in common and shared so many interests. Family definitely was important to them. They defined success as doing something they enjoyed that mattered to society. Their friends joked about them, saying they sounded more like a Kennedy-era ’60s couple than one that came of age in the glitzy yuppies decade.

But Samar stirred his soul. Haunted his dreams.

“They will kill me,” Samar said quietly, eyes averted. “My brothers. I have dishonored them. They will have no choice.”

“They don’t have to know,” Josh replied, so naïve, so self-centered. He had not considered the clash of cultures. Had not thought about what this meant for a Saudi Arabian woman.

“They will know.” She turned away from him. “They may already know.”

“Then come to America.”

“They will not let me. And even if they agreed, the process takes so long. Years.”
Josh tried to turn her back to face him. She resisted.

“Then I will tell them I want to marry you.” Those words choked out. What about Emily? But how could he abandon Samar? How could he allow her to be stoned to death because of him? Because of their love? How did they get here?

“They will not allow it. You are American. You are Christian.” Silence. “I am dead,” she added quietly.

What could he do? How could he prevent a tragedy? One for which he was responsible? He had never felt so powerless.

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A-no’o-nus Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse. Hal’/lee a-me-ree-ga-tsee yem.
Hos yem.

My name is Dawn Essegian Lajeunesse. I am Armenian American.
I am here.DSC00675

It has been a while since I have posted about my Armenian book project. Happily, that is because I’ve been immersed in the edits and preparations for the publication of my fourth novel, The Eyes Have It. But thoughts and actions related to sharing a story about Armenians and their immigration to America during the genocide years under the Ottoman Turks have never been far from my mind.

My research into the early Armenian immigrants, including my grandparents, has been going slowly. As an example, I requested a copy of my grandmother’s death certificate and was told it would take 4-6 months. I know when she died, but no one, even the oldest surviving family members, knows the cause of her death at the age of fifty-five.

Since I anticipate writing this story as historical fiction rather than non-fiction, the exact cause of one character’s death isn’t essential. But it could provide some insights into her and her lifestyle.

Who, really, was Sultan?

Characters in any story must spring to life for the reader. The more I can learn about each of them, the more alive and real they will seem. What did they like to do? How did they spend their time each day? How did they interact with others, both family and non-family? How did their origin influence all of this?

How similar and different were they from other immigrants who may or may not be related? How did the immigrants from, say, Kharpoot (like my ancestors) differ from those who came from Van, or from Marash, or Adana, or Aleppo?

How did the circumstances surrounding their leaving Armenia or Turkey influence them? Their age? Before or after the worst of the massacres? Surely a woman—with or without children—who was driven on a forced march through the desert, watching the deaths of so many—including children—at the cruel hands of the Turkish soldiers, that woman, as a survivor, likely would have a different life view from one who fled the threat of massacre. One who watched family members gunned down or hung or otherwise tortured would evolve differently from someone who escaped before the worst of times.

And how did their experiences translate into how they interacted with their children, the first generation of Armenian Americans? And how did the experience of those first-generation children affect how they lived, married, and interacted with their own children?

These are the puzzle pieces I must locate and place into the bigger picture I hope to create–the tapestry woven by these Armenians and their families and friends.

Who are these people?

Early Sunday School

Bedk e meg-neem hee-ma.
Gu des-nu-veenk no-ren.

I must go now.
I’ll see you again

Posted in Armenians, family, Genocide, Grief and Loss, Immigrants, Resilience, Strength, survival | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments



Star-crossed lovers, 21st century style.

“With her new novel, Dawn Lajeunesse proves she understands the human heart as well as any writer working today, and she knows how to make a reader’s heart thump hard—with anticipation, with sorrow, with fear, and with joy. The Eyes Have It is an intelligent, poignant, rewarding experience.”—Mark Spencer, author of A Haunted Love Story: the Ghosts of the Allen House

Finished-Ebook image

Two editing reviews completed, one to go.


Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Editing, Fiction, romance | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments