Saturday, August 30, 2014

HELP!!! Marienstadt Needs A Mayor!

As I work on a new collection of stories set in the town of Pennsylvania Dutch town of Marienstadt, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this town is becoming unruly and it needs a mayor. As readers of this series know, we have a wonderful Chief of Police—tall, blond, and handsome Henry Werner, who is a good person and looks out for his town but is not above overlooking a crime or two to protect his people. We have a judge in pompous windbag, Harrison Buerk, who, for all his pomposity, is always willing to be persuaded to give someone a break—especially when tempted by one of Lola's confections. And we have a town historian, Margaret Simons, who knows everything that has ever happened to anyone and likes them anyway.

So, my friends and beloved readers, what kind of mayor would be best for Marienstadt? Male or female? Young and eager or old and jaded? I am eager for suggestions. Please reply in the comments section of this post or on Facebook. Please give a description of the person you would like to see as mayor and tell me something about him/her. Suggest a name, if you like, too. I am open to any and all suggestions and look forward to your replies!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More About Marienstadt

The other day on Facebook I wrote this status update: Cool, breezy day with lots of salt water in the air. The gulls have been in a big flap about something and carrying on quite loudly. Time to go to Marienstadt for a couple hours--we've got a barn to save.

This morning a guy commented on it by saying. You know, Kathleen, it's kind of cool to read something like this, "Time to go to Marienstadt for a couple hours--we've got a barn to save." and actually know where you're talking about. 

That cracked me up and so I decided to add more from the story I am working on. This one is a lot of fun!

“Mail Pouch Tobacco barns have been a beloved feature of the American landscape since 1890,” Margaret Simons said as she pulled a file folder from a drawer in the Marienstadt Historical Society offices on the third floor of Town Hall. “They used to be all over the place in the mid-west from Wisconsin to New Jersey.” She sat down at a table across from Candy Dippold. “By the mid 1960’s there were at least twenty-thousand of them. I’ve been able to document eight of them right here in Elk County.” She opened the folder and spread photos out on the table. “Unfortunately, Aaron Fledderman’s is the last one that is recognizable. There’s another one in a field out on the Bucktail Trail but it caved in several years ago and you can only see bits of painting on the boards.”
Candy sorted through the photographs, studying them carefully. “This one looks to be in good shape.” He turned the picture toward her.
“That’s in Potter County. The people who own that barn have done a good job of restoring it. I’m so glad they cared enough to do that.” She sighed. “I really hope the Fledderman’s barn can be saved. Aaron’s father built it in the thirties when he quit the Post Office and took up farming. That barn is painted on two sides so it’s especially significant.”
Candy picked up the photograph of the Fledderman barn. Though he had driven past it several times a week most of his life, and had always enjoyed seeing it, he had never thought of it as being anything more than one of the local features. It was a large black building with the traditional gambrel roof and sliding doors along the stone base. On both the front end and the side facing the highway the words Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco Treat Yourself To The Best were painted in white and yellow capital letters. Blue stripes highlighted all three visible corners. The barn was surrounded by elderberry bushes and a three rail fence formed a corral on one side.
“I wonder what shape it’s in?” he said.
“I don’t know but if the money could be raised to purchase the land it stands on we might be able to get a grant to help preserve it. When the Highway Beautification Act was passed in 1965, Mail Pouch Barns were exempted because they were considered historical landmarks.”

“Really?” Candy looked up at her. “You don’t say.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Time to Return to Marienstadt?

Seems like it's a good time to get back to my favorite Pennsylvania community:

Other than the few years spent in the Air Force, Candy Dippold had lived in Marienstadt all his life. He had been lucky enough to serve his country during a peaceful period but, despite that, he came back to Pennsylvania convinced that it was the center of the universe and there was no reason to stray farther afield. He married Eunice Woelfel, who was, technically speaking, his third cousin, and took over the running of his family’s grocery store on Church Street across from St. Walburga’s Parochial School. For decades Dippold’s Grocery had been one of the busiest stores in Marienstadt and, even after the big Bi-Lo market moved into a shopping center out on the highway, Dippold’s continued to thrive. Candy accomplished this by making it his mission to carry as many of the locally produced food products as he could.
Due no doubt to the long-standing tradition of Bavarian thriftiness, Marienstadt was blessed with an impressive variety of unique and exceptional businesses. Kneidel’s Meat Market was one of the oldest in the county and Andy, the proprietor, continued to produce the sausages, scrapple, sultz, and more from recipes that his grandfather brought from the Old Country. Mulligan Wolfe, who owned Stooges Pigs and Kraut, made his own sauerkraut from cabbages he raised himself and cured bacon, jerky, and ham from his own pigs. Lola Eckert’s Strudel Shop was one of the prime gathering spots downtown and her strudels, pies, and pastries were responsible for more than a few locals taking up jogging. And Bearded Lady Hometown Treats, run by Stella Loeffler and Lettie Miller, was becoming increasingly popular for the relishes, preserves, jams and sauces they made from their home-grown produce. Candy was proud to carry as many of their products as they could spare. Plus there was his candy counter—the candy counter that was responsible for him being known as Candy and not his given name, Gunther.
The candy counter was four yards long, covered in glass, and featured every delicious morsel he could find to keep in stock. There had been a time when all the goodies were a penny but those days were long gone. However, because the store was across the street from a grade school, the candy counter was always busy regardless of the prices.
“Candy? Are you back there?”
Candy was in the combination warehouse/workshop behind the store when he heard the bell over the door jingle and a woman call to him. “Coming,” he answered. He put down the photographs he’d been sorting through and went out into the cheerful shop. “Mandy! Did you bring me more goodies.”
Standing at the counter carrying a large cardboard box was Mandy Herzing, a short, sturdy woman with curly blond hair that always made him think of Cupids. She wore jeans and a blue sweatshirt with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows and was, as usual, smiling her pretty smile.
“I did. I have some more of the pint jugs of our syrup and a couple boxes of the maple sugar candy you asked for.” She shoved the box up onto the counter. Mandy and her husband Bob owned Herzing’s Maple Sugar House, a large maple syrup bush and sugar shack. They harvested sap from their sugar bush every spring and boiled it down into syrup that they sold and made into a variety of candies, butters, and creams.
“Great.” Candy lifted out a box of maple sugar candies molded to look like little boys and girls in traditional Bavarian costumes. “I can’t keep these in stock and it isn’t just the kids that like them. Ezra Winter can’t come in the store without buying a couple.”
“Really? I didn’t know he liked them.” Mandy grinned. Ezra, who was well into his eighties, was generally acknowledged as a typical Marienstadt character. “Ezra’s father and my granddad were brothers. I’ll have to take him some. Bob said to tell you we’re getting some new molds so when those candies are ready, I’ll bring some by for you to see.”
“Good. What kind of molds?”
“Bob’s been wanting to do something with a local theme and he found molds that are shaped like elk. Then Father Nick came by—talk about someone who loves our candy—and he suggested we might look for some Belsnickel molds for the holidays.” She laughed. “Everyone always has ideas for us, that’s for sure.”
Candy grinned. “I think those are great suggestions. Father Nick has Sister Hilda at the convent making Belsnickel ornaments in the ceramic shop, too.”
Mandy nodded. “I saw them. They’re very cute.” She leaned closer. “Did you hear that the Fleddermans have put the family farm on the market. It’s been just sitting there ever since Aaron died a few years back. I guess I always knew this day would come but I sure hate to see it.”
“That’s the land right across the highway from you?”
“Yes. Bob said he’s going to talk to Harry Lenze at the real estate office to see how much is involved. Bob thinks there are quite a few acres. We don’t want the whole thing but if the land is going to be divided up, Bob said he wouldn’t mind getting a few acres close to us.”
“No kidding. What does he want them for?” Candy took the invoice from Mandy’s box and reached under the counter for his checkbook.
“He’s been talking to Stella Loeffler about starting an apiary.”
“Bees? Really?”
“Yes, but we want them far enough away from our house. We have three little ones and they play outside all the time. It might be better to keep the bees across the highway.” She took a deep breath and sighed. “I’m just worried about Aaron’s barn. I sure would hate for that to be torn down.”
Candy frowned, trying to picture the barn. “I don’t remember…”
“Candy! I can’t believe you forgot about it.” Mandy put her hands on her hips and gave him a mock scowl. “It’s the last Mail Pouch Tobacco barn in Elk County!”
Candy’s eyes widened. “Oh, that can’t be torn down. We have to save it.”

To be continued.....

Friday, August 15, 2014

Guest Post: Dr. Tiffany Brown

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Dr. Brown will be awarding an ebook copy of Anger: How to Control It So It Won't Control You to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Everyone has experienced it at least once in their life. Some have experienced it at least every day.

I have traveled all over the world and have seen it in every place. I have struggled with it as well. It’s a family problem for generations. It can be your greatest motivator or worst enemy.

Anger. Anger is defined by the Webster Dictionary as a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire.

I will show you not only how to control your anger from a Christian perspective but also have manage it until it motivates you; not hinders you. Get Ready. Anger is nothing more than manifestation of fear. Once you eliminate fear, the anger will be gone. Become Fearless.

Read an excerpt:

Section 2 - What is Fear and its connection to anger?

Fear is defined as a perceived threat of some type. It can be emotional or physical. When you feel that you’re in some form of danger. This activates your fight or flight response. Most animals respond to threat by either fighting or fleeing. However, we don't always have the option to fight what threatens us. Instead, we have anger. Words are the civilized way that we get to fight threat.

Some of my biggest blowups often involved a fear of being alone. When I have depended on people to reciprocate support for me on various levels, (new venue, in a relationship, or just life) they have disappointed me. I have never felt more rage in my life. It wasn't the disappointment that I was feeling or the feeling of being used. It was the thought that all my hard work wasn't good enough. I was unworthy, not loved, and alone.

Anger is just a manifestation of fear. For some people, when you are fearful of something, the first response that comes up is usually anger. Anger is a mask of fear.

I have learned that despite it all, I must be able to rely on myself and God. People, situations, and organization will fail you time and time again. When God is with you, nothing is against you.

You can do all in Christ that strengthens us (which is my current Church's motto).

Through my personal evolution of how to handle my anger, I have become fearless. I think before I move, I think instead of becoming angry. I am also slow to anger. I have now begun to think about the motivations behind people's actions. Sometimes, the only answer is indifference. Never fight anger with anger. It causes long reaching effects in ways you cannot even possibly imagine.

Fear is nothing more than an illusion of a possible threat. If you can control your response to your fears, then the anger will melt away.

About the Author:
Dr. Tiffany Brown is a native of Atlanta has taken great pride in her education and strives to continue broadening her knowledge. Graduating with a degree in Political Science from the prestigious Spelman College in 2001, a Master's degree in Public Administration from Clark Atlanta in 2004 and also a Doctorate in Public Policy from Walden University in 2009, she earned these achievements through determination and the desire to achieve her goals. She has held positions with the United States Government Accountability Office, Fulton County District Attorney's Office, Georgia Law Center for the Homeless, Georgia Conservation Voters, Supreme Court of Georgia, Equifax, Coca-Cola Enterprises, and Atlanta Bar Association. Upon Graduation from Walden University, she has truly impacted change as an academic and practitioner. She is former 2009 Write-in Atlanta Mayoral Candidate and owner of 3 companies: Tribute Contracting LLC, a minority owned government consulting firm TB LLC; Tiffany Brown Design House; Tiffany Brown Holdings Inc. - Consulting firm that has five divisions: entertainment, vending, radio, food, nonprofit management and book publishing. She is an author of several books: Daily Reflections of Life: A Book of Affirmations for the Ambitious and Prayers of a Faithful Woman. In 2010, She is honored as a Influencer by BOSS Network. The BOSS Network is a women's empowerment alliance dedicated to highlighting women and creating opportunities for growth through networking beyond events. BOSS was named among the top 100 websites and one of the top 10 career sites for women in 2010 by

Goodreads ~ Facebook ~ Website ~ Blog ~ Twitter

Buy the book at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Writing About Kids

Because I've never had a child of my own, I feel a little awkward sometimes when it comes to writing about children. Of course I've never murdered anyone and I write about murderers all the time so I guess that shouldn't matter. I grew up the oldest of eight and I changed many diapers and spent many hours taking care of kids of all ages. I left home thinking, “That's enough of that.”

In my third Crazy Old Lady book, The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed, there is a two year old named Adam who was great fun to write. He is also in the new one, The Crazy Old Lady's Secret, along with a new character, Veronica, who is Viv and Joe's baby. One of my beta-readers said she wished she could see the baby and I found the picture at left which is close although I imagine Veronica having dark hair and olive skin like Viv. Adam, who is now three, is hilarious in this story—like many three year olds he loves worms, saying bad words, and is fascinated by boogers.

While I was working on the story, I found myself going to YouTube a lot and searching for videos of children of the appropriate ages. That way I could better visualize how children at those ages behave. I've read a lot of books with kids in them that are either totally unbelievable or dull as dirt. I'm trying to avoid that.

In two of my books I have teenage girls—Anjelica, 15, in Depraved Heart, and Charity, 12-13, in TheChristmas Daughter. I found it interesting to write each of these because in some ways they were similar and in some ways incredibly different. Anjelica was raised by her grandmother because her mother died when she was a baby and her father was in prison. But she had every advantage in the world—her family was very wealthy and loving and, though she only saw her father on rare visits to prison, he wrote to her every week, long letters that she cherished. Charity, on the other hand, was raised by a careless, irresponsible, prescription drug addicted mother, never knowing her father, and never having anything at all. In both stories the girls are now living with their fathers. Anjelica adores hers and is very protective of him. Charity is frightened to have no one but this man she has never known and, even though he is endlessly concerned and kind, she has trouble trusting him.

I find all of these scenarios both challenging and sweet. Challenging because I want to get it right. I suppose in some ways all of our characters are parts of ourselves and children are no different. I am grateful to the people who put videos of their kids on YouTube so I can see how a baby changes from two months, to three, to four, and so on. I love the difference between the way a two-year old talks and a three-year old. Without helpful videos, I'd probably forget.

As I await feedback before I can release The Crazy Old Lady's Secret I intended to start a new Marienstadt story but I read through a third Halcyon Beach story I started a couple years ago and seem to be working on that one now. It is called Ghost of a Dancer by Moonlight and it is about a young journalist, Cleo Blair, who goes to Halcyon Beach to investigate a story about a ghostly dancer but finds herself falling in love. A few of the characters from the other Halcyon Beach books are in it—Darby and the “Geezers.” I am enjoying this.

So I write. I write and I write and I write. It's what writers do....

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Bonus Material for COL4

Now that The Crazy Old Lady's Secret is pretty much finished and is out with beta readers I can relax a bit and think about the next project. I got feedback from the first beta reader who said that the plot twist I like so much was a “” which is good. His feedback was all good and encouraging so I am pleased by that.
Rooftops along Commonwealth Avenue in Boston

Because this story—like the other Crazy Old Lady stories—is set in Boston it has a lot of local color and, while people around here most likely are familiar with the places that are featured in the story, people in other parts of the country may not be. So I have decided to add a “Bonus Material” section at the end of the book. It consists of 10 photographs of places that are referenced in the books—from Steinert Hall, the fabulous but abandoned concert hall buried four stories under Tremont Street, to some of the houses on Beacon Hill and Commonwealth Avenue that served as inspiration for the locations I created. I hope people enjoy this.
#8 Walnut Street where Doctor George Parkman lived
The one overwhelming passion that has influenced nearly everything I have written in my life is folklore/myths/legends. There is something so deeply visceral about stories that persist through decades, generations, continents, that it leads me to believe that we human share a commonality and we cling to it because it connects us. When I was in college taking some classes in folk literature I was always struck by stories that, with a small amount of massaging, could take place in nearly any country and nearly any century.
The foyer in a Commonwealth Avenue townhouse, cozy, isn't it?
I think there is something that draws all of us to secret places, hidden nooks, mysteries, and dreams. Carl Jung wrote extensively about archetypes and I think that there are not just human archetypes but life-experience archetypes. I think about stuff like this a lot when I write. People often tell me that my people seem so real—I have even heard readers say that they have had dreams about some of my characters. This is such a great compliment because it means I am touching something that is universal and common to their experience.
A Commonwealth Avenue music room for an intimate evening with friends
So, as I am going through the manuscript of The Crazy Old Lady's Secret one more time and picking out material for my Bonus section, I hope I have included stories within my story that will spark curiosity and make readers want to know more about them.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Prejudice and Bigotry Are for Old Folks

Back in May I wrote a blog post about a television series called Twisted that I had become fascinated by. The program is geared toward teens and is about a group of high school kids going through a lot of teen angst and high drama. I loved the program, not for the angst and high drama, but because the cast was about as racially diverse as it could get and the characters in the story held no prejudices along those lines. The were friends and dated one another without any apparent opinions about one another's racial or cultural backgrounds. I found it hopeful.

Today I came across another sign that maybe we are out-growing the foolishness of racial prejudice and bigotry. A study published in the Journal of Applied SocialPsychology found that kids who read the Harry Potter books were far less likely to express prejudice against immigrants and people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. This is encouraging.

I read all the books and I was very charmed by the attitudes the kids in the stories had to “mudbloods” and toward “muggles.” The anti-bigotry message was clear and, though a lot of the old-folks in the book (mostly the Malfoys) were pure blood snobs, only a few of the kids were (Draco and his pals.)

To me this is very heartening news. If we can't erase prejudice and bigotry through enlightenment, maybe it will happen through attrition—the old bigots and racists will die off and the younger generations will take over. We can only hope.

I am a firm believer that the art of storytelling will triumph in the end. Uncle Tom's Cabin was one of the first American stories to open eyes to the problems of racial prejudice. It helped bring on the Civil War. To Kill A Mockingbird was another and it helped usher in the Civil Rights Movement. Now we have hope that Harry Potter and shows like Twisted will influence a new generation and encourage tolerance and diversity. Kids give me hope for a more enlightened future.

Thanks for reading.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Guest Post by Sonia Koso

Smart Blondes
by Sonia Koso

Austin socialite Carrie Pryce has no clue her criminally charming husband is carrying on with another woman until she returns home unexpectedly, mistakes the sounds of passion for a home-invasion robbery and accidentally shoots him in the backside. Stunned, Carrie drives all night to her quirky hometown and collapses in a near-catatonic state.

A crew of ladies spanning three generations realize it’s up to them to help Carrie get her life out of the ditch. Known as the “Presbyterian Mafia,” these are not sweet old gals. They have a book club that never reads, a garden club that doesn’t garden, and a bible study class that gossips about the Methodists. They’re known around town for antics including catfights, car chases and Voodoo rituals. The women enlist Carrie’s former childhood best friend Portia (now a lawyer) and her flamboyant cousin Eric (recently returned from New York) in their effort.

While dealing with the after-effects of her imprudent gunplay and managing a hair color disaster, Carrie meets Rhett Richards. He’s an attractive oil field worker who can make women think un-Christian thoughts by the mere act of wearing a pair of tight wranglers. Carrie soon learns that hometowns can be the perfect places to bury old scandals and create new ones.

Read an excerpt:
“Baby, put the gun down,” Jake said in a tone of voice one would use with a naughty three year old. “It’s…it’s not what you think.”

Carrie froze. She couldn’t have lowered her arms if she tried. As she scanned the room, she saw the remnants of a well-planned romantic event including champagne, massage oil, and discarded lingerie.

Jake was slowly moving away from the defiled kitchen island and found a potholder to shield his now deflating manhood.

“I wanted to tell you for a while,” Jake started. “I hate that you had to find out about it this way.” Carrie recognized this as his salesman tone of voice—over-articulated, round tones that were completely full of shit.

“This has been going on for a while?” Carrie asked. Jake looked down and then nodded his head.

He exhaled slowly and gazed downward, his default action before saying something awful. “We’ve been having problems...I’ve tried, but the excitement is gone.”

Excitement? Carrie immediately knew this was man code for I want to trade you in for a new one. She’d seen it many times but never thought it would happen to her. The phrase I’ve tried but the excitement is gone would run through her head in a relentless loop a thousand times.

“I need to be on my own for a while,” Jake continued in round tones. “With you and Kayley around, I can’t figure any of this out. I can’t be a grown man. I need fewer responsibilities…”

“You want me and Kayley to leave so you can figure out how to be a grown man? Jesus H. Christ!” Carrie screamed it more than speaking it. She couldn’t help herself.

“Maybe you need to get a few things,” Jake began, “And I’ll call the Driskill Hotel and get you a suite. We’ll talk in a day or two after we both cool down.”

“Let me get this straight. I walk in on you with your cock in the help… and you think I need to leave?” She firmed up her grip on the tiny Kel-Tec pistol. “I’m not leaving this house, this room or even that damn Aga!” It was an out-of-body experience. She wasn’t sure why she did it but Carrie fired the pistol at the stove.

There was bang followed by a ping and a whoosh and Jake’s scream. The bullet hit the front of the Aga, ricocheted off the cast iron and bounced into Jake’s naked butt cheek.

The next few seconds seemed like a year. Jake’s hand went to his ass then up to his face where he saw blood.

“Holy shit, Carrie!”

AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Sonia Koso grew up in the eccentricity-filled piney woods of North East Texas. She has been writing since an early age and considers it her first love. After receiving a B.A. in English Writing, her life took a drastic turn and she went to law school. Sonia practiced law for over a decade but was drawn back to writing in 2012. Sonia's stories feature strong women, good-looking guys, legal dilemmas and a dose of humor. Smart Blondes borrows many characters from her childhood as well as her legal career.

Sonia does most of her writing at her condo in Austin’s hip SOCO district. It’s in walking distance from landmarks including Lady Bird Lake, the Continental Club, and the Congress Avenue Bat Bridge. When not writing, Sonia divides her time between the live music of Austin and the sunshine of Boca Raton. She loves Tex-Mex food, blue water, cocktails and good friends. Sonia often dreams of a man who can do his own laundry and a walk-in closet with a chandelier…but not necessarily in that order.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

“Who was that character based on?”

Recently a friend I have known since we were in college read my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale. She called me when she finished it and said, “I loved Pio! That was Tony (not his real name), wasn't it? I recognized him immediately.” Actually, it wasn't Tony—in fact I'd pretty much forgotten about Tony and, except for the fact that Pio in my story and Tony in real life are both Italian-Americans, they really bear no resemblance.

I say that because, while they bear no resemblance to me, they obviously did to her. This is a phenomenon that both baffles and pleases me in my readers. Very often I'll get an email or be talking to someone who tells me how much they loved a certain character—or hated—and they want to know who it was based on. Honestly, with very few exceptions, and all of those in my Marienstadt stories, I never base a character on a person I know.

Now, to be fair, I do sometimes find that I am creating a character who faces challenges similar to those faced by someone I know or who has personality quirks. When I created Miles Wainwright, the honest, loyal fisherman in Depraved Heart, I thought a lot about my dear friend Mark (it wasn't until much later that I realized they had the same initials.) But I do try to keep my characters original.

Often, when I am developing a character, I will cruise the internet looking for pictures of people who appear similar to what I have in mind. When I started work on The Crazy Old Lady's Secret I was obsessed with a new character named Ramin Aria. He is an Arab who grew up in Paris and is now a very wealthy art dealer. He's also mysterious and sexy. As a young man he boxed and has a scar across his nose and under one eye. I found a photo that was nearly perfect—I added the scar and changed the color of his eyes and I kept the picture on my desktop while I was writing scenes with Ramin in them. I had no idea who the man was—it seemed as though someone had taken a photograph of the inside of my head and captured him nearly perfectly.

Later, quite by accident, I saw the photograph on an article about an actor named Joe Manganiello, who is actually Italian. I was thrilled and delighted when I found out he was from Pittsburgh (and refers to himself as a “Pittsburgher” on his Facebook page) and even more delighted when I saw a couple pictures of him wearing a Steelers jersey. I obviously have good taste in picking models.

One of the best parts of writing for me is slipping into my world and describing it, populating it, bringing it to life. It's almost impossible to describe how real and full that world is when I am in it. Rarely does my real life intrude on my fictive life. As a writer it is my goal to bring my readers into that world with words—to let them experience what I experience when I go there. Whether or not I succeed only the reader can say.

The Crazy Old Lady's Secret is nearing completion. I have the first draft done and am now going through the painstaking process of massaging the order of events into place—ever trying to tease, tempt and tantalize without giving too much away. Will readers recognize people they know when they read it? I just hope they recognize people they long to know.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Guest Blog from Ray: Spook Hollow

by Ray Beimel

I am an Eagle Scout. I was involved with Boy Scouting for 18 years. I went to a World Jamboree. I was a member of the Order of the Arrow. I worked on the staff at Camp Mountain Run for two years. I was on many 50 mile hikes and a couple of 50 mile canoe trips. People sometimes ask what was the best part of all that. Read on to find out.
In 1973 I was the Field Sports Director at Camp Mountain Run. Those were halcyon days, sleeping in a tent, working outdoors, spending my hours doing enjoyable things with like-minded folks. Each week followed a pattern. Sunday night was the welcome campfire, Wednesday the chicken barbecue, Friday the Order of the Arrow tapouts. But one night stood out from the the others. That was Spook Hollow night. This Camp Mountain Run tradition was a creation of Charlie Snyder, the camp ranger. Any campers who dared to come along met at the gate on the dirt road that led up toward the Boone Mountain fire tower.

A few of the staff workers were there to help keep order. They told the campers to make sure their shoes were tightly tied and that their flashlights were working. Then Charlie would drive up accompanied by two of the older staff members. His arrival always got attention because the two guys with him were armed. One was carrying a shotgun; the other had a bolt action rifle. That was me with the rifle. Charlie toted a Coleman lantern and led the group up the old road. The other staffers would tell the campers to be quiet on the walk. It was dark and most people feel some primal apprehension in the woods at night. Charlie hadn’t said a word yet and already the stage was set to put the campers on edge.

When the group got to a place where there was a grassy bank along the road, Charlie would stop and tell the campers to take a seat there. Everyone sat down except Charlie and the two guys with the guns. The lantern was set on the ground. All the flashlights were out. Charlie was in the circle of light, the armed guys were back in the shadows but still visible. He started his stories by noting how quiet it was, how you could no longer hear the gurgling of the stream that paralleled the road. From there he went on to speak of the many strange things that happened in that area. There was the mystery of the panther’s behavior in Lambskin Hollow. He spoke of the strange beasts from old Indian legends, among them the Hodag, the most feared creature of the north woods. And there was the story of the odd character called Hatchet Hands, a poor cripple whose misshapen hands gave him that nickname. Ridicule had driven him to being a bad tempered recluse. Seldom seen but always wearing a long raincoat and a slouch hat, he was often accompanied by a large white dog whose eyes glowed red in the light.

Then he became a bit more solemn as he spoke of his experiences there in years past. He told of being there with Bill Shobert and John Kriner, old Scouters, one from St. Marys, the other from DuBois. He said they felt a strange chill in the air as they walked up the road past the place where the campers were sitting. An unexplainable paralysis hit them and they felt they were in great danger even though they could see nothing. Whatever it was struck all three at once. They all had the same unnamed dread, a consuming fear even as they could see nothing and could only hear the chill wind blowing down the hollow. The three retreated from that spot and talked about what they felt. Kriner and Shobert decided they would return in the daylight and place a can in that area that had a substantial sum of money in it. It was there for anyone who could go up into the hollow at night and retrieve it. To this time, no one had ever succeeded.

Charlie then asked if there was anyone in the group who wanted to attempt to get the can. Often enough a volunteer would step forward, usually a kid around 12 or 13, never one of the 11 year olds. Charlie would ask the kid some questions about his health, wanting to make sure that he was up to the challenge. Then Charlie turned to the group on the bank and advised them to stay still and quiet but if they heard gunfire to immediately head back to camp. Then the kid making the attempt, Charlie, and the two staff members with the guns started up the road. They walked maybe 50 yards until Charlie stopped. He told the kid that he wouldn’t go any further but if the kid just kept going straight ahead, soon enough he would see the can. As the kid took his first hesitant step up the road, Charlie would say loud enough for the kid to hear, “you guys should lock and load.” The kid heard the distinctive sound of the pump action of the shotgun being worked and then the characteristic four part click of a bolt action rifle chambering a round.

The faint beam of the kid’s flashlight slowly going away from us showed where he was. Usually he got 30 or 40 feet away before his nerve failed. The kid would turn and start running back. That would be the signal for us to fire a few shots in the air. And that was the signal that sent all the kids on the bank running back toward camp. Everyone was running except Charlie and the guys with the guns. We walked back slowly by the light of the Coleman lantern accompanied by the sounds of Charlie chuckling and dozens of sneakers pounding down a dirt road.

Being trusted by Charlie to carry the rifle: that’s the best thing I did in Scouting.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wisdom from Stephen King

Stephen King's On Writing is one of the best writing books of all time. I have not always liked all of his stories, but I love the way he writes. Here are some hints from On Writing:

1. Stop watching television. Instead, read as much as possible. (Totally agree with this! -KV)
If you're just starting out as a writer, your television should be the first thing to go. It's "poisonous to creativity," he says. Writers need to look into themselves and turn toward the life of the imagination.

To do so, they should read as much as they can. King takes a book with him everywhere he goes, and even reads during meals. "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot," he says. Read widely, and constantly work to refine and redefine your own work as you do so.

2. Prepare for more failure and criticism than you think you can deal with.
King compares writing fiction to crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub, because in both, "there's plenty of opportunity for self-doubt." Not only will you doubt yourself, but other people will doubt you, too. "If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that's all," writes King.

Oftentimes, you have to continue writing even when you don't feel like it. "Stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea," he writes. And when you fail, King suggests that you remain positive. "Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure." 

3. Don't waste time trying to please people.
According to King, rudeness should be the least of your concerns. "If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway," he writes. King used to be ashamed of what he wrote, especially after receiving angry letters accusing him of being bigoted, homophobic, murderous, and even psychopathic.

By the age of 40, he realized that every decent writer has been accused of being a waste of talent. King has definitely come to terms with it. He writes, "If you disapprove, I can only shrug my shoulders. It's what I have." You can't please all of your readers all the time, so King advises that you stop worrying. 

4. Write primarily for yourself.
You should write because it brings you happiness and fulfillment. As King says, "I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever."

Writer Kurt Vonnegut provides a similar insight: "Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about," he says. "It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style."

5. Tackle the things that are hardest to write.
"The most important things are the hardest things to say," writes King. "They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings." Most great pieces of writing are preceded with hours of thought. In King's mind, "Writing is refined thinking."

When tackling difficult issues, make sure you dig deeply. King says, "Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground ... Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world." Writers should be like archaeologists, excavating for as much of the story as they can find.

6. When writing, disconnect from the rest of the world.
Writing should be a fully intimate activity. Put your desk in the corner of the room, and eliminate all possible distractions, from phones to open windows. King advises, "Write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open."

You should maintain total privacy between you and your work. Writing a first draft is "completely raw, the sort of thing I feel free to do with the door shut — it's the story undressed, standing up in nothing but its socks and undershorts."

7. Don't be pretentious.
"One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones," says King. He compares this mistake to dressing up a household pet in evening clothes — both the pet and the owner are embarrassed, because it's completely excessive.

As iconic businessman David Ogilvy writes in a memo to his employees, "Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass." Furthermore, don't use symbols unless necessary. "Symbolism exists to adorn and enrich, not to create an artificial sense of profundity," writes King.

8. Avoid adverbs and long paragraphs.
As King emphasizes several times in his memoir, "the adverb is not your friend." In fact, he believes that "the road to hell is paved with adverbs" and compares them to dandelions that ruin your lawn. Adverbs are worst after "he said" and "she said" — those phrases are best left unadorned.

You should also pay attention to your paragraphs, so that they flow with the turns and rhythms of your story. "Paragraphs are almost always as important for how they look as for what they say," says King. 

9. Don't get overly caught up in grammar.
According to King, writing is primarily about seduction, not precision. "Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes," writes King. "The object of fiction isn't grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story." You should strive to make the reader forget that he or she is reading a story at all.

10. Master the art of description.
"Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's," writes King. The important part isn't writing enough, but limiting how much you say. Visualize what you want your reader to experience, and then translate what you see in your mind into words on the page. You need to describe things "in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition," he says.

The key to good description is clarity, both in observation and in writing. Use fresh images and simple vocabulary to avoid exhausting your reader. "In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling," notes King.

11. Don't give too much background information.
"What you need to remember is that there's a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story," writes King. "The latter is good. The former is not." Make sure you only include details that move your story forward and that persuade your reader to continue reading.

If you need to do research, make sure it doesn't overshadow the story. Research belongs "as far in the background and the back story as you can get it," says King. You may be entranced by what you're learning, but your readers are going to care a lot more about your characters and your story.

12. Tell stories about what people actually do.
"Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do — to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street," writes King. The people in your stories are what readers care about the most, so make sure you acknowledge all the dimensions your characters may have.

13. Take risks; don't play it safe.
First and foremost, stop using the passive voice. It's the biggest indicator of fear. "I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing," King says. Writers should throw back their shoulders, stick out their chins, and put their writing in charge. 

"Try any goddamn thing you like, no matter how boringly normal or outrageous. If it works, fine. If it doesn't, toss it," King says.

14. Realize that you don't need drugs to be a good writer.
"The idea that the creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time," says King. In his eyes, substance-abusing writers are just substance-abusers. "Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit."

15. Don't try to steal someone else's voice.
As King says, "You can't aim a book like a cruise missile." When you try to mimic another writer's style for any reason other than practice, you'll produce nothing but "pale imitations." This is because you can never try to replicate the way someone feels and experiences truth, especially not through a surface-level glance at vocabulary and plot.

16. Understand that writing is a form of telepathy.
"All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing is the purest distillation," says King. An important element of writing is transference. Your job isn't to write words on the page, but rather to transfer the ideas inside your head into the heads of your readers.

"Words are just the medium through which the transfer happens," says King. In his advice on writing, Vonnegut also recommends that writers "use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted."

17. Take your writing seriously.
"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or despair," says King. "Come to it any way but lightly." If you don't want to take your writing seriously, he suggests that you close the book and do something else. 

As writer Susan Sontag says, "The story must strike a nerve — in me. My heart should start pounding when I hear the first line in my head. I start trembling at the risk."

18. Write every single day.
"Once I start work on a project, I don't stop, and I don't slow down unless I absolutely have to," says King. "If I don't write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind ... I begin to lose my hold on the story's plot and pace."

If you fail to write consistently, the excitement for your idea may begin to fade. When the work starts to feel like work, King describes the moment as "the smooch of death." His best advice is to just take it "one word at a time."

19. Finish your first draft in three months. 
King likes to write 10 pages a day. Over a three-month span, that amounts to around 180,000 words. "The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season," he says. If you spend too long on your piece, King believes the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel.

20. When you're finished writing, take a long step back.
King suggests six weeks of "recuperation time" after you're done writing, so you can have a clear mind to spot any glaring holes in the plot or character development. He asserts that a writer's original perception of a character could be just as faulty as the reader's.

King compares the writing and revision process to nature. "When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees," he writes. "When you're done, you have to step back and look at the forest." When you do find your mistakes, he says that "you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us."

21. Have the guts to cut.
When revising, writers often have a difficult time letting go of words they spent so much time writing. But, as King advises, "Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings."

Although revision is one of the most difficult parts of writing, you need to leave out the boring parts in order to move the story along. In his advice on writing, Vonnegut suggests, "If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wisdom for Writers

I have been so caught up with finishing The Crazy Old Lady's Secret, Volume 4 of the Beacon Hill Chronicles, that I have not had time to do anything--including blogging. So here are a few pretty item with words of wisdom for writers. Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Blending Fact With Fiction

Sometimes the Universe gives writers gifts that are just too irresistible. Six months ago, as I was contemplating whether to write another Crazy Old Lady book, I came across an article on the internet about a fabulously beautiful theater with perfect acoustics buried four stories underground in Boston. I started doing searches on it and was amazed at what I discovered.
Steinert Hall, four stories under Tremont Street

As I was doing these searches I found a couple other stories of interest. One, of course, was about the 1849 murder of Doctor George Parkman at Harvard Medical School. Not only was he murdered there but his body was chopped up into pieces and hidden in various locations around the building.
The murder of Dr. Parkman by Dr. Webster, 1849

Another story involved one Captain Grunchy, a privateer licensed by the King of England to intercept and plunder French ships. During his plundering, Captain Grunchy took 4 beautifully carved angels captive and carried them through the tunnels from his ship to Old North Church in Boston where you can still see them today.
Captain Grunchy's Angels, Old North Church, Boston

These three stories were just so delicious I had to find a way to build my story around them and for the past six months that is what I have been trying to do. It has been slow going at times but it has also been tremendous fun. Over the weekend I wrote the big climactic scene and now it is just a matter of wrapping everything up. I hope to have this book ready for re-writes within a week and then I can begin the process of massaging everything into place so it all fits together.

I suppose there is a case to be made that we find what we go looking for and when I went looking for interesting legends/stories based in Boston, I found them but sometimes I think it is a little more magical than that. I've always believed that there is an alternate universe filled with fictional characters who are in search of someone willing to write down their stories. I try to leave myself open to that when I write.
Fenway Artist's Studios, Boston

This story is full of “Boston.” There is an art gallery in a fabulous mansion on Commonwealth Avenue, GrammyLou's mysterious townhouse now under new ownership, and a long ago murder in the legendary Fenway Studios. I am having a great time now that history, legends, and story are finally coming together. I hope my readers will enjoy The Crazy Old Lady's Secret!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Guest Blog by Ray: Camping with 21st Century Boy Scouts

This is a guest blog by our good friend Ray Beimel in St. Marys, PA. Thanks, Ray:

I spent 18 years in the Boy Scouts, 6 as a boy, 12 as an Assistant Scoutmaster. I left the organization in 1980 and never looked back. I learned a lot, I taught a lot, I got a lot of good stories. After I left, occasionally I would see a Scout troop on the trail somewhere and nothing I saw made me feel I was missing something. Then last week, my good friend and Scout from the old troop 99, Joe Labant, asked me if I wanted to go along with his troop on a two night backpacking trip. I hadn’t done any backpacking since the week after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 so I said yes right away.

Part of the fun is the packing, making a list, finding all the gear, figuring how to fit it in the pack. I would be on the trail without my long time travelling companions, Brad and Chris, so I couldn’t count on their carrying their share of the common gear. I would have to pack it all myself. The big decision was whether to tent camp or tarp camp. The weather would be fine if the weather guessers knew anything so tarp would work. But we were hiking on the Quehanna Trail and camping near streams which made me think there would be mosquitoes and flies. That meant taking the tent. I offered to do the cooking for Joe and me so there was some shopping to do. But come Friday afternoon everything was in the pack and I was already.

The hike would be a on the Quehanna Trail, a 70 mile loop whose westernmost point is Parker Dam State Park. We weren’t anywhere near there. The hiking started easily enough, following an old dirt road. But soon enough, it veered off into the woods and became not so much a trail as a series of blazes. Relocation had happened and it is my experience that they never put the relocated trail in a better place. It reached a nice overlook and we gazed down into a deep gorge in the shape of a wye. Joe said we were going down there. This would have been fine had it been a trail of well-engineered switchbacks. But it went almost straight down. It was the nearly steepest descent I ever made in all my days hiking. I was afraid that the slightest slip meant a really quick to the bottom. The boys took it all in stride and cheerfully made it to the bottom without incident.

At the bottom of the hill we ended up on an old railroad grade of the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company. This was our campsite for the night. It was flat, hard by Mix Run, and in the middle of a hemlock grove. We didn’t have a lot of time left before dark to get the tents up and firewood gathered. The boys pitched their tents right on the grade while I found a flat spot for mine just a few feet away. The boys started their cooking, most of them over the open fire. One kid had an alcohol stove that he fueled from a large bottle of 91% isopropyl. Given the weight of the fuel bottle, I am not sure he was traveling lighter than I was with an MSR canister stove. I cooked steak fajitas for Joe and I. This cooking thing felt a little funny as normally Brad would be doing that. I was using the smaller of my two frying pans. The bigger one makes everything stick. The smaller one does not stick but of course, it holds less. There was a log there and I put my seat pad on it and had a comfortable place to sit and cook. That was more than faintly reminiscent of many nights with the troop and the Travelling Circus. It was nearly dark and we were at the bottom of a deep hollow so the carbide lamp was fired up to the usual chorus of oh wows! The kids had never seen anything like that so I explained the process using the technical terms. Water added to calcium carbide releases acetylene gas and leaves behind calcium hydroxide. The gas burns with a bright yellow flame and with a polished reflector, lights up the whole kitchen area. The boys went to bed surprisingly early so Joe and I and Duane, the other adult along, spent a pleasant time sitting by the fire trading anecdotes.

The night was clear and cool. I soon learned that my lightweight summer bag required my wearing more than underwear to be comfortable. Once I put my long pants on, I slept well enough. Of course, the kids were up earlier than me. They spent the time eating. It could be argued that they spent half of the daylight hours eating. I marveled at the amount of food they brought and how much they ate. I made scrambled eggs with crumbled sausage for breakfast. And of course, they were served in MexAmerica tortillas, a most excellent product made here in St. Marys. I filtered water from Mix Run for the hike ahead. Since there was less than 6 miles to hike there was little time pressure to hurry. The trail led upstream on a branch of Mix Run, crossing several times. The bridges were made of aluminum I beams and were several feet about possible high water. They all survived the great floods of late May so whoever designed them did well. What we couldn’t figure out is how they got the beams into that location as it was quite some distance from a road. We also marveled that no one had stolen them for the scrap value. Sometime the trail was in the bottom, sometimes it slabbed along the hillside. Often it was very muddy. Occasionally it was rocky.

We stopped for lunch at a rustic camp that had a picnic table outside. For Joe and I lunch was chicken salad flavored with Cajun Spice and Caribbean Jerk Seasoning, a recipe I got from my friend Chris. Again I was impressed with the pile of food they put away. The trail followed the branch but the hollow grew steeper and we got into some uphill hiking. The day was sunny and warm and the uphill lit off the sweat pumps but the kids continued hiking at a good pace. Finally we crossed the crest and had level walking all the way to the campsite. This site was a largely open area but covered with small shrubs and ferns. 

There was a very small stream very close that was the color of weak tea, the characteristic look of waters that pass through wetlands. The color comes from tannic acid. When run through a pump filter, it tastes fine. In a dryer summer, it might be hard to find enough water at this site.

Since we got there early in the day, the boys had a lot of time to kill. Mostly, they ate. They had eaten lunch just two hours before. And now they were eating again. One kid who probably barely weighed 90 pounds ate a whole can of Spam in one sitting. There were beanie weenies, Vienna sausages, homemade sausage, candy bars, Pringle’s, other starchy salty snacks, and more. Of course, there was nothing that could remotely be called a vegetable or a fruit. After ingesting considerable calories, some of them decided to build a bridge over the little stream. They actually did finish the project with nothing more than one saw and one axe.

One of the younger guys, out on his first trip, started periodically throwing up. After several bouts of barfing, we decided it was more than punk grub and Duane evacuated him back to St. Marys. Duane took advantage of being home to get a shower and bring two hammers and some nails to put the finishing touch on the bridge. When it got closer to traditional dinner time, the boys started eating again. There seemed to be no end to the grub they carried. For my part, I made a dish that we used often on trips of the Travelling Circus. A can of white meat chicken in a pot of a Lipton instant noodle dish makes a tasty meal. Joe had not encountered this before and thought it was a good thing to eat. I also had some carrots, celery, and green peppers. These constituted the sum total of vegetables present. I had a lot and Joe had some. I offered them to the boys but they declined this unusual (by their view of it) food.

This night the boys stayed up later but I went to bed shortly after it got dark. Since most of my recent backpacking has been in late fall, the idea of it still being light at 9PM was a little odd. It was a warmer night and I slept well. Since there was no need to be up and out early, the morning was leisurely. Of course, they boys were eating again. I just had peanut butter on MexAmerica whole wheat tortillas. There was the usual business of cramming it all back into the packs. It was easier for the boys since most of what they brought was food and they had eaten very nearly all of it. It was a short hike out to the trucks and once on the trail, the troop was hiking like horses headed for the barn. We lost sight of them in the first 50 yards. But I have to compliment them for hiking in a compact group with no laggards.

And that’s my most recent outdoor adventure. It is always good to be out on the trail and it was a fun time with these guys. They restored some of my lost faith in Boy Scouting.

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