Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When A Coincidence Sends a Chill Up Your Spine

I think most writers will relate to this. Sometimes when we are writing we become aware of a coincidence of some sort that sends a chill up your spine and makes you wonder if there is something unseen going on. I have had this happen quite a few times but the latest one was exceptional because it was shared with someone else.

To back up a bit: A couple years ago I started writing my Marienstadt stories which, while fiction, are deeply rooted in the history, customs, and folklore of my hometown, St. Marys, Pennsylvania. I made use of the kinds of popular stories that are told on front porches and in barrooms to concoct my own stories, weaving in bits of folklore and as much history as I could sneak in. I was aided in this by my long-time friend Ray Beimel who was the President of the local historical society for years and is still the town's most learned historian. Ray read every story many times, made corrections, as well as suggestions. The first collection of stories is called The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Secrets ofMarienstadt and it is dedicated to Ray because I couldn't have done it without him.

The collection was very popular and I decided to start a second which will be called The Bucktail Hat in the Trunk: Secrets of Marienstadt. I already have 6 stories completed and 4 more in various stages of development. One of the stories in the first book is called The Confession of Genny Franck and one of the characters in that story is a Hexe-woman named Sybillia Windfelder. She lives in a cottage in the woods and is reputed to have both healing and magical powers.

I chose the name Windfelder because it is an old St. Marys name that one doesn't hear much any more. I don't know where I got the name Sybillia—I just saw it somewhere and thought it was pretty so Sybillia Windfelder was born.

She proved to be a popular character and a number of people commented on her and on Hexe-Women in general. So for the second collection I decided to write more about her. In the story I am working on, Mulligan Wolfe has purchased the land she once lived on, including her little woodland cottage and, as he is cleaning it up, he discovers a handwritten book hidden behind stones in her fireplace. As he tries to learn more about it, the story develops. And, as I built the story, I began weaving in some history—particularly of our convent which was started by three German nuns from Eichstätt, Bavaria in 1847. The leader of the group was Mother Benedicta Riepp, O.S.B. who was only 27 years old. Mother Benedicta is something of a heroic figure. She died of tuberculosis 10 years later but in those 10 years she founded 7 convents and fought a powerful Abbott who was appropriating money meant for the Sisters for his own use. Not a lot of people know about Mother Benedicta and I decided to weave her into the story. I love the way she fits in and Ray was also pleased with it. The story still needs work but I am happy with its progress.
St. Joseph's Convent and St. Marys Catholic Church in St. Marys, Pennsylvania

Last night I was sitting here working on it when the phone rang. It was Ray. He sounded a little excited. He told me that he is giving a lecture for a historical group on the Benedictine convent in town and was doing research and he said, “You are not going to believe this. I looked up Mother Benedicta's information and do you know what her birth name was before she became a nun?” I said I did not. “It was Sybillia,” he said. Wow.

He asked if I knew that and I said I had no idea. But what an amazing coincidence. When things of that sort happen it really makes me wonder if somebody else has a hand in this. Gives me chills.

Thanks for reading. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hexe-Woman: A New Marienstadt Story

My Grandmother Werner was the first person to tell me about Hexe-Women—an Old Country term for women with the power to bewitch. In reality most of these women were herbalists and midwives who knew how to use natural plants and rituals to relieve suffering and cure ailments but to country people they were both necessary and frightening. The belief among many Christians was that women were meant to bring forth children in pain—the Curse of Eve for her betrayal in the Garden of Eden. Consequently, anyone who eased that pain was suspect—even when pregnancies and births were difficult and abnormally painful. Hexe-Women were also said to have the gift of prophecy. They could see into the future and tell you what was to come. Some Hexe-Women were charlatans who made money telling fortunes, most did not.

My Gram told of an old Hexe-Woman who lived in our town when she was a girl who would put a curse on someone’s cow so it would not give milk. This was a terrible burden for families relying on the family cow for milk, cream, butter, and cheese. In order to get her to lift the curse the family would have to pay her. Gram told a story about when she was little and it was her job every morning to walk their cow to the cemetery where it could graze, then to go walk it home at supper time. One day the Hexe-Woman saw her and came over to pet the cow. Gram was too scared to tell her mother but the next day the cow would give no milk. Gram’s mother, desperate to have the cow give milk again, consulted someone who told her to squeeze what little bit of milk she could from the cow and to heat it in a pan while beating it with a silver spoon. She said while she did that the person who hexed the cow would knock on her door.

Gram’s mother did as instructed and, sure enough, the Hexe-Woman knocked. When asked what it would take to have the hexe removed, she asked for a pound of coffee, a few pounds of flour, and some potatoes. Great-gram gave her what she asked for and the cow began giving milk again.

Is this a true story? Gram said it was.

In the fourth story in my Whiskey Bottle in the Wall cycle I introduced a woman accused of being a Hexe named Sybillia Windfelder. She is a controversial character because she will also perform abortions under certain circumstances. People were fascinated by her and wanted to know more so I recently began a new Marienstadt story, Hexe-Woman. Years ago I read a book that has become one of my favorites, The Seven Ages by Eva Figes. As I worked on Sybillia’s story, I got out that book again and reread much of it. It is powerful today as it was when I first read it.

Yesterday, I chanced upon a book called Hexe by Skadi Winter and downloaded it immediately. I am halfway through it and it is a fascinating book. It is set in Germany at the end of World War II. The story is told from the perspective of a young girl being raised by her grandmother who is said to be a Hexe-Woman. This book is a little treasure and I’ll write more about it when I finish.

The other book that has proven useful is one I read last summer, The Birthing-House by Ami McKay. Set in Nova Scotia, it is the story of a young woman who trains to be a midwife. It is a beautiful book.


So I am hard at work on my next Marienstadt story and am grateful to have found such good literature to refer to. Here is an excerpt from my story:

“Is the well still in use?” she asked as they came around the corner of the cottage.
“No, I installed a pump and diverted the water to the cottage so I can use it when I make my sauerkraut. But I left the well there because kids like it. They throw pennies in it and make wishes.”
“Oh!” She stopped suddenly and crouched down next to it. “Look what we have here.” She ran her fingertips across a cluster of feathery, green leaves and brilliant yellow flowers. Mulligan looked down but couldn’t seem to focus on much beyond her legs.
“Do you know what this is?” She glanced up at him.
“Huh-uh.” He shook his head—more to clear it than anything. “It’s all over the place though. Every summer it creeps into the garden and I have to pull it up.”
“This is tansy.” Alfilda leaned forward and sniffed it. “Yes, it can be invasive but the old herbalists prized it greatly. It is a natural emmenagogue, an herb that’s used to regulate women’s monthly cycles. Do you mind if I look around a bit?”
He shook his head and followed her to the edge of the garden where the woods began and wildflowers flourished. She examined plant after plant.
“Would it be okay if I picked a few of these?”
“Sure.” Mulligan shrugged. “I cut them back every year but they’re persistent.”

She smiled. “Look at this. There’s yarrow and angelica and goldenseal. I suspect they are renegades from an old garden. All of them are traditional healing herbs.”

Saturday, November 08, 2014

#Ninja 3-in-1 Bubble-Up Pizza


It's been awhile since I've posted a Ninja recipe and I've made some good ones. This is from last night.


I have been seeing recipes all over the place for "Bubble-Up Pizza" so I decided to make my own and it is DELICIOUS. This is what I did:

  1. Open a can of Pillsbury Grands Biscuits and cut them into 4 pieces each. Place them in a bowl and add a little olive oil--just enough to coat, some Italian seasoning, and about ¼ cup parmesan cheese. Toss and set aside.
  2. Cook about ½ pound of Italian sausage and slice them. (I used links but you could use bulk sausage and just brown it.) Chop a medium onion.
  3. Place the biscuit pieces in the bottom of the Ninja, spreading them evenly. I let mine set about half an hour before putting them in the pot just to let them absorb the seasoning flavor.
  4. Distribute the sausage and onion evenly on top.
  5. Add 2/3 jar pasta or pizza sauce. I used Francesco Rinaldi Tomato and Basil.
  6. Sprinkle over the sauce 2 cups shredded mozzarella/provolone mixture.
  7. Place about 3 oz. of pepperoni on top.

Cover and cook on Slow Cook High for 1 ½ hours.

Delicious. I'm going to go have some leftovers for lunch!

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The First Review is Glowing!

Last night the wonderful Hawaiian author (and my good friend) Kiana Davenport posted a lovely review of The Crazy Old Lady's Secret to Goodreads and Amazon. Amazon removed the review. She has reviewed my books before and I can only guess that Amazon thought, Enough's enough. Fortunately, she also sent it to me so I am posting it here. I am reading Kiana's new book, The Soul Ajar: A Love Story, and am enjoying it very much. I'll post about that later. Here is Kiana's review.


5.0 out of 5 stars 
ASTONISHING! FASCINATING! I LOVED IT.
November 3, 2014
By DAVE PORT (HONOLULU, HI.) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Crazy Old Lady's Secret (Beacon Hill Chronicles Book 4) (Kindle Edition)


THE CRAZY OLD LADY'S SECRET is so rich in its writing and its history of Boston's wealthy, insular Beacon Hill, it left me awestruck. Kathleen Valentine delves into this world like an historian, then describes it like a poet! Her Beacon Hill Chronicles (this is Book 4) are more than Suspense/Horror/Thriller tales. They are a study in human nature, in the moral choice, in the crimes we commit to achieve acceptance, dignity, and love. She seems to know about everything! Pre-Raphaelite Art, interiors of splendid Edwardian homes of Boston Brahmins, and the blue-collar life of Boston Southies. Famous unsolved Harvard murders, and authenticated art heists from museums. She tells us about the Boston Art World of the 1900's, and the famous Fenway Studios where artists painted. We learn about the Golden Age of Italian artists in Boston, and even a secret concert hall still buried under the city!

This is the backdrop for her 4th installment of her Beacon Hill series. 'The Crazy Old Lady's Secret left me reeling with its twists and turns, its tender love scenes juxtaposed with serial murders in Beacon Hill mansions that are all somehow connected. In between, Valentine tickles our funny bone with fabulous character names like Calista Defarge (who owns a knitting shop, of course!) Fritzi Wiggleworth - a Hedda Hoppa wanna-be, and a detective named Derastus Clapp. On a more serious note, she educates the reader to the horrible conditions under which immigrant house servants lived in that era, and especially how young girls were sexually abused by their wealthy Brahmin employers.

But the character who enters and dominates this fourth installment is so foreign, mysterious and threatening, his true identity will erase all your emotions but shock. And he will forever affect the lives of several of the main characters we have come to know and love since the first book in the series. No spoilers here! Valentine writes like an angel. I learned so much about the history of Beacon Hill and Boston. The Crazy Old Lady's Secret is a must read! I loved it. I recommend reading the whole series chronologically. Thank you, Kathleen Valentine!

Kiana Davenport, author of The Soul Ajar, A Love Story
www.kianadavenport.com

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Another Marienstadt Story? THE WILDS

Much to my astonishment, I seem to be hard at work on a new Marienstadt story--I have no idea where this one came from, but here is a little teaser:


THE WILDS

Huckleberry pie for dinner, what could be lovelier? Gretchen Eberstark thought as she lifted a bucket of dark, succulent berries, still warm from the sun, into the back of her station wagon. Though most afternoons would find her in her shop, The Calico Cuckoo Quilting Fabrics and Supplies on Marienstadt’s Main Street, since her marriage to Oliver Eberstark a few weeks earlier, she spent less time there. She opened the shop in the morning, but whenever one of her employees, Trish Ritter or Miss Martha Neubert, was available, she left them in charge and drove back down into Opelt’s Wood to spend time with her new husband.
On this particular day she had found her husband sitting on the steps outside the kitchen door, pulling off a pair of wet and filthy waders, a pick axe propped beside the porch.
“Hi,” she said, as she parked and lifted a bag of groceries out of the car. “What have you been doing?” She leaned down to kiss him and saw that he was soaking wet—his hair, his beard, the sweatshirt he wore. “You have leaves in your beard.” She plucked a little green leaf trapped in the sparkling red hair.
“Careful,” Oliver said. “I’m filthy.” With a final yank he pulled the waders loose. He stood to hang them from a hook near the kitchen door. “I spent most of the morning busting up that beaver dam I was telling you about.”
“The one down by the dead elm trees?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I don’t begrudge the beavers space to build but that dam was blocking a bend in the crick and it’s flooding. The morels in that area are just starting to come back and I don’t want to lose them.”
Over the months of her engagement and now marriage to Oliver, Gretchen was discovering a whole new world of woodland wonders. In addition to his clock-making business and the management of Opelt’s Wood, Oliver was scrupulously exploring ways to restore and improve the woods he loved. One of his projects involved acquiring mushroom spores for some of the wild mushrooms that had once flourished in these woods. After attending a workshop on wild mushroom cultivation at a nearby Penn State campus, he scouted out the best growing places for morels, miataki, and chicken mushrooms and set to work.
“What are you going to do with them?” Gretchen asked the first time he carried a basket full of the peculiar looking fungus into the kitchen of the house they shared.
“Fry ‘em up with butter and wild garlic.” He grinned. “You’ll never taste anything better.”
She regarded them with no small amount of skepticism as he washed and trimmed them at the sink and placed them on paper towels to dry. “How do you know they’re not poisonous?”
He grinned his slow, mischievous grin. “Don’t you trust me?”
She took a deep breath. “Well, yes.”
“Doesn’t sound like it.” He winked at her. “You better get used to eating wild if you’re going to live with me, baby.”
At the time she thought he was just flirting but as they spent more time together, and especially after she moved in, she discovered that the delicious wild mushrooms he served were often accompanied by fish from Pistner’s Run, bear meat or venison, hearty stews flavored with ramps gathered near swamp land, and salads of wild greens and all kinds of nuts and berries. She grew to love all of it.
“How did you get so wet?” she had asked that morning as she followed him into the house.
“Toots decided to help me.” He held the door for her. “She’s a lot less help than she thinks she is.”
Toots, Oliver’s huge Newfie/shepherd mix dog, lay in a pool of sunshine in the grass just outside his workshop, her lush, black coat gleaming.
“I hope you’re hungry.” She placed her bag of groceries on the cupboard and began unpacking it. “I stopped at Kneidel’s Meat Market and Andy was just putting some of his bratwurst out. He had home-made rye bread from that new little bakery.” She turned toward him but Oliver had gone into the laundry room and was peeling off his sweatshirt.
“Oh my,” she whispered.
“What?” He turned around.
Gretchen took a deep breath and crossed to him. “I guess I’m not yet used to seeing my beautiful husband’s beautiful body in the middle of the day.” She placed her hands on his wide chest, running her fingers up through its hair.
He bent his head to kiss her and they forgot all about the bratwurst and rye bread.

“You’re a wild one,” Oliver said some time later as they ate their lunch. “I wasn’t expecting that but I’m sure not complaining.”
She felt the blood rising in her cheeks and kept her eyes on her plate.
“I told Jim Loeffler that I’d deliver the clock he ordered.” His voice teased her gently. “Is it safe for me to leave you alone for a couple hours?”
“Stop it.” She glanced up at him and was reminded once again how much she loved to see him smile. “I thought I’d drive down the grade to that huckleberry patch you showed me and pick some for muffins.”
“Good idea.” He stood, carried his plate to the sink, then bent down and kissed the back of her neck. “I’ll see you later. Don’t get lost.”

It turned out there were far more ripe huckleberries than she had imagined. She smiled as she worked, the sunshine warming her arms and shoulders while the recent memories warmed her heart. Small white moths in pairs danced around her and before she knew it she had a bucket brimming with berries. As she closed the back of the station wagon, she heard the rattle of a truck approaching. Gretchen turned in time to see a beaten-up Dodge Durango come into view. She smiled and lifted a hand in greeting.
“Well, if you ain’t a sight for sore eyes.” A head of thick, shiny white hair above a weather-beaten face leaned out the window. “What the heck are you doing way out here?”
“Hi, Ezra.” She walked over and leaned against the truck door. “It’s good to see you. I might ask you the same thing.”
“Jest takin’ a ride. You know me, I ain’t really happy if I can’t get out in the woods pritneer every day. Oliver don’t mind if I ride around in Opelt’s Wood, does he?”
“Of course not.” She leaned in the window and kissed his wrinkled cheek. Though Ezra Winter was past eighty he was a husky, well-built man with a sparkle in his eyes and a sly sense of humor. Gretchen’s grandfather, Judah, and Ezra’s father, Silas, had been brothers. Gretchen grew up thinking of Ezra as more of an uncle than cousin. “Besides, you’re related now that Oliver and I are married.”
“Boy, that was some wedding you two had. The whole time I kept thinking how much I wished my old buddy, Thad, was there to see it. Me and Thad about grew up together. He sure would have liked it that his grandson married into our family.”
“Oliver said that, too.”
Ezra studied her with his bright blue eyes. “You look like you’re takin’ to married life just fine.”
“I am. Oliver had to make a delivery so I came out here to pick some huckleberries for a pie or dumplings.” She lowered her eyes. “I want to surprise my husband.”

“Oh, honey.” Ezra put his hard, gnarled hand over one of hers and squeezed it. “I expect getting to see that sweet, pretty face of yours every day is surprise enough for him.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Now Available: The Crazy Old Lady's Secret, Beacon Hill Vol. 4

Another excerpt from The Crazy Old Lady's Secret - Now available!!!



Many of the shops along Tremont Street had grinning illuminated jack’o’lanterns in their windows and bunches of cornstalks that rustled in the night breeze by their doors. Gold twinkle lights wrapped around lamp posts and decorated trees. Whoever had strung the lights in the trees did so in such a haphazard manner that they appeared to have been placed there by a wizard too drunk to operate his magic wand. Though all the little trick-or-treaters were gone from the street, adult revelers in costume were everywhere. Music spilled out of bars and restaurants and the cool night was festive in a nerve-wracking way.

On the Common a group of musicians dressed in black outfits with glowing white skeletons on them played music by the Visitor’s Center. A pushcart vendor sold hot mulled cider and pumpkin cookies to ghosts and zombies, mermaids and monsters. Viv cut across the Common and, once she crossed Beacon Street to the Hill, all the noise seemed to fall away. In the glow of gaslight she saw that many of the houses had pumpkins on their doorsteps and in their flower boxes, but the decorations were mostly natural and discreet. Walking past number eight Walnut Street, Viv noticed someone had spread cob webs between the columns on either side of the door and she could not help thinking of George Parkman who once lived there and the grisly way he was murdered. It was not a good night to think about gruesome murders. She walked faster and turned down Mount Vernon Street.

A few lights were on in Ramin’s house—the sort of low, subtle lights that anyone would leave on while they were away. Viv hurried around the corner and entered the little alley behind the house. Except for the dim glow of windows the alley was dark. Shifting, moody clouds broke to reveal a brilliant crescent moon that was just as quickly swallowed by another cloud. As she approached the iron gate to Ramin’s back garden, Viv saw that it was closed and that his Aston-Martin was gone. She stood for a minute trying to decide what to do and, as she did, she heard footsteps behind her. Someone entered the alley and, instinctively, she ducked between the wall of the garage and an old lilac bush. The shadowy figure was large and walked briskly. She worked herself into the shelter of the garage’s side door and held her breath.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Wapiti" from Elk County, Pennsylvania


As readers of this blog know, I grew up in Elk County, Pennsylvania, where there is a large herd of elk. In my book The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall there is a chapter in which Oliver, my reclusive woodsman, tells Blaise, a taxidermist, about how he saved an elk's life. Today I came across a couple beautiful videos of Elk County elk so thought I would share them, along Oliver's story.





"Anyway," Oliver said, "it was a cold December afternoon – I remembered that because it was archery season. I was in Grandpop's workshop when I heard an elk. Have you ever heard an elk bugling?”
Blaise nodded. “It's not a sound you forget.”
I recognized the direction it was coming from so I hiked up toward it. What I found was terrible. It was a young female elk. She'd been shot through the rear haunch with an arrow. The poor thing was miserable. She was trying frantically to get the arrow out by scraping herself against a tree and she'd torn open a huge part of her haunch. She just lay there exhausted and in pain. The bugling was coming from farther up the hill so I knew there was a bull nearby.”
She was probably part of his harem.”
That's what I thought. At first I thought I should go get a rifle and put her out of her misery before the coyotes found her. I went back to the house but then – I don't know – I just had to try to save her.”
Blaise watched him quietly.
So I got some pliers, a jug full of water, and I took some antibiotic salve Grandpop used back when he had horses. I tore up a couple clean sheets and I took my rifle just in case. I had no idea if she'd let me near her or not but... well, what else could I do?” He looked around at the stuffed animals that seemed to be as intrigued by his story as Blaise was.
When I got to her she was just lying there, her eyes rolling so you could see the whites. I knew she was in awful pain and I didn't want to hurt her any more than I had to. I didn't know if the bull was watching or not but, well, I kept talking to her and stroking her. It was a nasty job getting the arrow out but I managed it okay. She just held so still. I kept thinking she would die but she didn't. I did what I could to clean the dirt and bark out of the flesh where she'd scraped herself against the tree. Then I spread the whole horrible mess with salve and bandaged her haunch with sheets. I backed away slowly and watched. She was tired but she knew what was going on. It took her a couple of tries to get to her feet but she did. She just turned and limped away. I followed her for a few yards then I looked up and saw the bull standing on top of the ridge. He was waiting for her and I knew he'd take care of her.” He took a deep breath. “It's strange to say this but I think it did more good for me than it did for her.”
I wouldn't be surprised. Do you have any idea what happened to her?”
Oliver smiled. “That spring I found the bandages in the rocks along Pistner's Run so I figured she'd made it. The funny thing was I found Toots a few days later just a few yards away.” He looked at Blaise and felt a deep sense of relief that he had shared his story. “Last summer I was coming back from town when I saw a female elk alongside the road. She had a calf with her. I'm always happy to see one but I didn't think much about it. Then, as I passed her, I saw the scar on her haunch. I think it was her.”
I'm sure it was.” Blaise smiled. “You know Native Americans call them Wapiti and in many of their traditions they believe them to be the protectors of women. What you did would be considered a sacred act.”
He shook his head. “It was just the decent thing to do, especially after Grandpop's story.”
Blaise leaned forward resting his arms on the table. “Can I ask you something personal?”
Sure. If I haven't spilled my guts enough.”
Are you in love?”
Oliver looked at him momentarily speechless then he cleared his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
Good. That's good. You make sure you hang on to this one.”
Oliver sat still for a minute. “I want to. Why?”
Wapiti are also the symbol of true love. I think that cow you helped has brought a gift to you."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Coming for Halloween, 2: The Crazy Old Lady's Secret

Another excerpt from The Crazy Old Lady's Secret. Enjoy!!!



~~~

Avast, matey! You gonna walk a’plank!” Adam, dressed like a tiny pirate, with a black patch over one eye and brandishing a rubber sword, jumped in front of Viv in the living room of her grandfather’s apartment.
Mattie rolled her eyes. “Stan taught him to say that. Honestly, sometimes I feel like I have two little kids.”
Let me see your baby.” Adam pulled up the patch and peered into the carrier. “Where’s her costume?”
Viv crouched down beside him and placed the carrier on the floor. “She’ll have it on for the party tomorrow.” She looked at Mattie. “I found the cutest little outfit. She’s going to be a daisy.”
Hi, baby.” Adam leaned over to kiss Veronica’s cheek and she grabbed at his eye patch, laughing.
A daisy? That’s adorable.” Mattie followed Viv into the kitchen where she unpacked the cartons of food she brought from Chinatown.
It really is. There’s this green one-piece jumper and then a bonnet with white petals sticking out. She’s going to look precious. Was Joe around when you got here?”
No.” Mattie took dishes from the cupboard. “Darcy downstairs said he stopped and got coffee but didn’t stay long.”
Viv carried the cartons to the table. “I don’t know what’s going on with him. He’s being very mysterious.”
~~~

Did you have fun?” Mattie asked, lifting Adam out of the back of the taxi. Though they had walked to the Prudential Center for the party, by the time it was over Veronica was fussy and Adam was tired so they called a cab.
Yeah,” Adam said, rummaging through his bag of treats and prizes for the dozenth time. “That was cool.”
Why don’t I get some food from the deli and bring it up while you get Adam squared away?” Viv lifted out the carrier and her drowsy little one. “Joe was meeting his brother at Handsome Molly’s so he won’t be home for a while.”
Sure,” Mattie said. “I’ll take Veronica upstairs with us.”
Need help?”
Both of them looked up to see Brother Maksim coming toward them.
Hi,” Viv said. “What are you doing here?”
Actually, I’d like to talk to you for a minute if I may.” Brother Maksim took the baby carrier from her. “I’ll take this little angel upstairs and then come back down if that’s all right.”

Viv glanced at Mattie, who shrugged and said, “Sure. I’ll change Veronica and then I’d really like to give my guy a bath before we eat; he’s got candy corn stuck in his hair. Take your time.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Coming for Halloween, I: The Crazy Old Lady's Secret

It's been a long time coming but it is almost time for The Crazy Old Lady's Secret:

Excerpt #1:

The day was bright and Commonwealth Avenue was full of people strolling in the crisp autumn air. Brother Maksim crossed to the mall so he could walk under a bower of colorful autumn leaves and think. It was Halloween and, if anyone asked he would have said that all this hobgoblin stuff was nonsense, but he also knew from personal experience that when the walls between worlds grew thin strange things could happen. He had participated in entirely too many inexplicable situations to be cavalier about their existence.
All his life Brother Maksim had taken pride in being a righteous man and a loyal one. Sometimes that led him into circumstances that endangered his life, but he had never shied away from trusting his instincts—instincts that were gnawing at him now. He did not know what was going on but he was certain that something was. While talking to Dori he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was lying. And he knew that something affecting Vivienne—his dear Vivienne—was involved. He took a deep breath and tried to ignore the feelings that churned in him whenever he thought of her. Since the day they met she had been as precious to his heart as anyone he had ever known. He told himself it was not just physical attraction, although he knew himself well enough to know that was part of it. But he had always found a wistfulness in her that appealed to his natural chivalry. 
The day he accompanied her to Ramin Aria’s house, Brother Maksim stayed behind to get a sense of Ramin without her presence influencing his feelings. He decided that he liked Ramin, but he was a complicated man who had the capacity to be ruthless under the right circumstances. But what man did not—especially where someone he loved was concerned? After Viv left that day Ramin took the monk down into the cellar to see the tunnel opening. Ramin had to duck his head when he stepped through the door but there was no way that Brother Maksim would fit, even turned sideways.
Are you going to keep it open?” Brother Maksim asked.
No, I’ll probably install a security door—or just fill it in. But if there are tunnels like this throughout this neighborhood, well, they could make life interesting, don’t you think?”
Brother Maksim agreed with that. 

The sun was low in the sky and All Hallow’s Eve was closing in as Brother Maksim crossed the Common and headed toward the T-station. As the streets filled with people in ghoulish costumes there were so many vampires, werewolves, and zombies that he could not help remembering himself as a boy traveling alone through the Carpathian Mountains. He changed his mind, crossed Tremont Street, and walked toward Washington. Vivienne had told him she and her friend Mattie planned to take the children to a party that afternoon. He decided they needed to talk.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Guest Post from Ray Beimel: More About the Bucktails

Since the next story in my Marienstadt series will include the Bucktails, the famous Civil War regiment of sharpshooters, many of whom were from Elk County, I have been fascinated by Ray's tales of the annual Bucktail Reunions.
 


Of Bucktails 
by Ray Beimel

First weekend of August was the 20th Annual Bucktail Reunion in Curwens-ville, Pa. That town has connections to both the original Bucktail Regiment (42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, 1st Pennsylvania Ri-fles, they had many names) and the 149th Pennsylvania, one of the two junior or bogus Bucktails. Thus the reunion of Bucktail reenactors is held there.
The encampment is held at a park hard by the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. As always happens at these things, the guy I signed in with was a distant cousin on the Beimel side.
That sine qua non of modern camping, the blue tarp, attends whenever there is old canvas. The camp is mostly authentic.
The original Bucktails  were armed with the breech loading Sharps rifle like the one seen here. Higher rate of fire and reloading while prone were the good things about them.
During the day visitors came and went, looking around, taking pictures, talking to the reenactors.

The boy above is posing next to a genuine Army wagon. Many of the parts are original. In the war, it would have been drawn by 6 mules. We often forget how important horses and mules were to the war effort. Michael Parana, a St. Marys native was the force behind re-storing the wagon. He had photos and information about wagonning during the war and lots of people came by to listen.

In midafternoon, I left to do some biking on the Clearfield to Grampian Rail trail. That story will be at the end of this. Chuck Copello, the organizer, asked me if I could do the group picture for them later before dinner. I was packing the new beater camera which delivers professional results in the hands of a skilled operator so I said I would be happy to.

The group gathered at Colonel Irvin’s house (at top). He commanded the 149th PVI. 20 years before the group had a photo taken in the same spot and many were there for this one.

Afterwards we went to the Bucktail Monument nearby. The man holding the flag is Terry Rickard, one of my coworkers in the Camp Mountain Run days and his cousin Josie.

After the photo shoot, we all came back to the encampment for dinner. I joked that authenticity demanded that salt pork, hardtack, and green coffee beans be served. But instead, we had a nice catered meal, lots of good food and cake for des-sert. During and after there was a lot of conversation of the “ah shit, that’s nothing, back when I was…” kind. I was able to hold my own given that I was packing a heap of Gettysburg anniversary tales.

Then it was time for music. This young fiddler was doing a good job accompanying Greg Hernandez, the fifer I met at the dedication of the Company G monument.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A New Story: "Continental Divides"

I have not been a good blogger lately. I have been writing a lot and designing books for other writers and have found too little time to blog. I have started a new series of Marienstadt stories and already have six stories completed toward a new collection. Over the weekend I read a wonderful book, Fox: Buffalo Swamp To Marcellus Shale: The History Of Fox Township Pennsylvania by Robert Schreiber Jr. and was reminded of something about my home town that I had forgotten--it sits directly on the Eastern Continental Divide. I had an idea and I started to write. Below are a couple excerpts from the new story. I hope you like them.


CONTINENTAL DIVIDES

The Great Buffalo Swamp it had once been called. Back in the early days before the coming of the Europeans not even the native Iroquois Seneca lived in these woods. They used it as their hunting ground because the forest was filled with deer and elk, wolves and bear, panthers and smaller game. But the land was too rugged; the hills too steep; and the tree canopy too dense to make the land habitable. Until the Europeans came, of course. Some days, when Oliver Eberstark ventured alone into the deepest parts of Opelt’s Wood, he daydreamed of what it must have been like hundreds of years ago before the coming of the farmers, then the loggers, then the miners. Oliver loved everything about the woods he inherited from his grandfather. He never thought of the acres of forest land as a possession, but rather a sacred duty entrusted to his keeping.
He had not been born in Marienstadt but in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived for generations. His mother’s father, and all her uncles, once worked in the steel mills. When the steel industry died, they stayed and eked out a living as best they could—driving taxis and working as handymen. His parents met when his father left Marienstadt to attend college in Pittsburgh and fell in love with a waitress in a diner where he went to study when his roommates were too noisy. They fell in love, married, and Oliver was born while his father was still a student—a student who, while studying for his final exams, contracted a virus that left him with myocarditis from which he never recovered.
Oliver’s only memories of his father were of a sick, frail man who needed his wife’s constant attention. The few times Oliver saw his father laughing were when his parents brought him to Marienstadt to visit his Grandfather Eberstark. During those rare weekends in Grandpop’s big timber and stone house on the bank of Pistner’s Run deep in Opelt’s Wood his father was a different man. As a little boy Oliver could not believe anyone would want to live anywhere else and every time, when the visit was over and they drove back to Pittsburgh, he prayed the few childish prayers he knew, that next time they would stay with Grandpop. He was convinced that the magic of the deep woods would heal his father’s heart.

Grandpop, whose name was Thaddeus, was a big, hardy, tough woodsman who built clocks in the workshop of his own grandfather’s abandoned sawmill. He loved the woods that surrounded his home and whenever Oliver visited he would take him for walks and talk to him about things that sounded mysterious and wonderful to the boy. Grandpop showed him great boulders with tiny mollusk shells embedded in them from a time long before the dinosaurs lived—when this land was tropical and near the sea. They found fossils with the imprints of ancient ferns and beetles in them. Grandpop told him stories of people and places that had names like Chief Tamsqua and the Chinclecamoose Trail. Those were the happiest days of the boy’s life. 
~~~ 

He skirted around the edge of a swamp with dragonflies flitting over it. The air was filled with the fragrance of blackberry blossoms. Bees buzzed back and forth collecting pollen before the petals fell away and the first green of berries emerged. Oliver climbed a grade to one of the logging paths so long abandoned that it was barely discernible through the vegetation. He remembered the first time Grandpop brought him here.
This is a very important place,” Grandpop had said. “Everything changes just about here.”
Oliver, who was always eager for new bits of Grandpop’s seemingly endless knowledge, looked up at him. “Why?”
Because right along here is the Eastern Continental Divide. Did you learn about continental divides in school yet?”
Oliver shook his head.
Well, a continental divide is a place that separates watersheds. Watersheds are areas of land in which all the water runs in the same direction. Here, I’ll show you. You stand over there.” Grandpop pointed to a rocky outcrop on one side of the path. “And I’ll stand over here.” He walked a hundred feet along the path then stopped and turned toward the boy. “Now, I might not be exactly accurate, but you are standing in the Atlantic Seaboard Watershed, where all the water from all the rivers and streams run toward the Atlantic Ocean. I’m standing in the Gulf of Mexico Watershed where all the water runs southwest toward the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf. Pretty interesting, huh?”
Oliver had turned and looked down into the woods where a small stream glittered in the distance. He pointed to it. “That means the water in that crick goes to the Atlantic Ocean?”
Yep. Come here.”
He joined Grandpop who pointed off into the woods. “On the other side of that ridge is Pistner’s Run.”
And so it goes to the Gulf of Mexico?”
Yep.”
Oliver looked back and forth between the two places trying to absorb what he was hearing. “So right here where we’re standing is where the Continental Divide makes them go in different directions?”
Grandpop put his big hand on Oliver’s shoulder and grinned. “Pritneer. I might be off by a few yards but this is just about the right place.”
Are there other continental divides?” Oliver liked these new words and he was eager to tell Nick and Dan about them.
Sure are. In North America there are six of them. Come on, I’ve got a map at home that shows where the others are.”

Since that day Oliver had often returned to the place where Grandpop told him about continental divides. It was a mysterious concept, he thought. Nothing you could see or examine and, yet, it seemed deeply important. If you knew which side of the divide you were on, you knew where the flow could take you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

October is Mystery Month on Reader's Rock!!!

My books have been in several issues of Tammie Clarke Gibbs' fantastic Reader's Rock Magazine and they will be in the October issue with the spread below. I love this magazine. Get your free subscription by clicking here:

CLICK TO ENLARGE


Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Stories That Come In Dreams

I have written before about how Arthur's Story: A Love Story came to me in a series of dreams. I have no idea where those dreams came from but I still remember them and writing that story was a pure joy. Lately I have been dreaming again and last night's dream was particularly vivid. I'm writing because I'm still trying to catch it and hold on to it.

There is a very special, brilliant luminous quality to these dreams. This one started out on Thacher Island, a place I have been to and spent a lot of time exploring. The two stone lighthouses are very eocative for me—in fact they are the wallpaper for this blog. Last night I was walking along the stony cliff at the back of the island and was very aware of these huge stone towers looming over me. The sky was very blue and the wild beach roses and grass rustled in a breeze that blew in creating whitecaps on the ocean.

At first I did not know what I was doing there but it had something to do with finding a group of women. At first I thought they were princesses but then realized, no, they were beautiful and seductive but more the lorelei than princesses. I had to find them but then the story changed.

I met a man. He was young and strangely beautiful and he told me that he lived in the keeper's house. He said that the town could no longer afford to take care of the island and so they sold it and he was hired by the new owners to live there and care for it. He did not want to be there alone and so he was walking the cliffs every day waiting for the young woman they were going to send him. He was worried something would happen to her.

There is a lot of story potential in this and I wanted to write it down for two reasons—so I would remember it, and also to illustrate the mysterious nature of the subconscious. I have three stories in various stages of development right now. The Crazy Old Lady's Secret just got good marks from a beta reader and is now off to another reader. I am finishing up a new Marienstadt story called Candy Dippold and the Mail Pouch Barn. I have done a fair amount of work on a new Halcyon Beach Chronicle, Ghost of A Dancer By Moonlight, and have roughed out the beginning of another Pitts Crossing Tale, currently called The Tuesday Night Baking and Assassins Guild. I have plenty of writing to do—including rough drafts for at least four more Marienstadt stories.

I have no idea where last night's dream came from but I have a feeling it will haunt me for a long time—and maybe insist I write about it.


Thanks for reading.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Marouflage: The Things That You Learn When You Write A Book

The Crazy Old Lady's Secret is still in process. I hoped to have it out by August but it is looking like it could be October. It is a long story—the longest Beacon Hill Chronicle so far—and it is different than the others in that it is neither a mystery or a horror story but rather psychological suspense. It is not hard to figure out what is going on and, eventually, it is not hard to figure out who is doing it. The question is, why? Why is this happening?

And there is one rather juicy twist in the story that comes about two-thirds of the way through.

The story is mostly based in Boston's art world and one of my beta readers pointed out something intriguing to me. In one of the early chapters, Ramin Aria, the new owner of GrammyLou's townhouse, tells lawyer Cushing Phillips that he is going to have the murals removed and it Matty (GrammyLou's granddaughter) wants them he will ship them to her. This becomes important later on in the story. However, my reader made an interesting observation. She said that she thought murals were painted directly on to walls, so how could they be removed without removing the entire wall? Fair point.

Because I was an art major in college and have worked around artists much of my life, I knew that many murals are painted on canvas in the artist's studio and only affixed to the wall later. This serves several purposes. It allows the artist to work in her studio where the light is probably best. It frees the client from having someone working in their house for days, weeks, months. Plus it allows the mural to be removed at a later date if the owner so wishes to take it elsewhere.

What I did not know is that there is a name for this technique. It is called “marouflage” and is a technique developed by French artists. When I found the word (thanks to the internet) I was delighted because Ramin Aria, despite his Middle Eastern name, lived in Paris most of his life so it would stand to reason he would be familiar with the technique. I was also struck by the similarity of the word “marouflage” to the word “decoupage” which is the affixing of paper or fabric images to a surface and sealing them with a heavy coating.


So, thanks to my very conscientious beta reader, I changed one scene slightly to clarify it for future readers. To wit:

Cushing picked up the pearl-colored embossed business cards. "Mattie was only five when her parents died and she went there to live with her grandmother. It's very kind of you to be concerned."
Aria waved a hand dismissively. “I plan to do extensive renovations. There are a number of murals especially in the second floor rooms. Unfortunately they are not particularly distinguished and I will most likely have them removed. If Madame Michaud would like to have them, I'd be happy to ship them to her.”
"I suspect she doesn't," Cushing said, "but I'll let her know. I'm surprised to hear you say they're of little interest. The Thorndikes collected some very fine art. I remember paintings by John Singer Sargeant and Lilian Westcott Hale in that house."
Aria raised an eyebrow. “Those would be valuable.”
I remember the murals in that house.” Cushing's brows knit, as he probed his memory. “I didn't know they could be removed. I thought murals were painted directly on the wall. Do you have to remove the entire wall?”
Not at all. Many muralists, particularly those who paint finely detailed pastorals, paint on canvas which is then applied to the wall. Actually, the French developed the technique. It is called marouflage.” Aria's face became animated as he spoke. “There were, of course, some great muralists of the period during which my new home was built but the overwhelming popularity of murals at one time led some homeowners to settle for inferior work when a more accomplished artist was unavailable to them. Naturally, one always hopes that there are treasures to be found in these old homes but such is not always the case.”

Friday, September 05, 2014

Guest Post by Ray: Hanging with the Bucktails

Another guest blog post by our good buddy Ray in Pennsylvania: 

Hanging with the Bucktails 

by Ray Beimel

This past weekend I had the fine experience of being present for the 21st Annual Bucktail Reunion. This year it was held in Wellsboro, one of the most pleasant and interesting small towns in Pennsylvania. For my friends who are not Civil War buffs, the Bucktails were three regiments in the Army of the Potomac that wore the distinguishing buck tail on their forage caps. The first unit recruited was the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, also called the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves or the 1st Pennsylvania Rifles. The initial core of that regiment was recruited in Clearfield, Cameron, Elk, and McKean counties by Thomas L. Kane. He wanted hardy woodsmen familiar with firearms. Fleshed out with men from other parts of Pennsylvania, the regiment had an enviable reputation for marksmanship and prowess in skirmishing tactics. Their success inspired the recruiting of two more regiments, the 149th and the 150th Pennsylvania. These two were called the Bogus Bucktails by the 42nd but earned a reputation as fighters in their own right. Books could be written and have been but that is enough from me to give you an idea of what being a Bucktail was all about.

Many Civil War re-enactors from this part of the state have chosen these regiments as their model. After many years of taking part in reenactments, they thought they should have a weekend just for getting together and sharing their stories and comradeship. This was the 21st year of that event. They were camped in a park, using vintage style tents and camp furnishings. Visitors were free to come by and talk. Down in the beautiful town square there were demonstrations and items for sale. You would see Bucktails in the shops, in the restaurants, sitting in the shade in the square.
The fellow below had a big display of Civil War medical items, including leeches, fake rubber leeches. He was quite knowledgeable and articulate and usually had a fair sized crowd listening to his presentation.

My part in all this was to make some photographs, including the official group photo planned for later in the afternoon. After a few hours of conversation, I wandered down the main street looking for something to eat. A Chinese place beckoned as I had not had any of that in quite some time. After that, it was down to the bookstore. This was a nice independent place with a very large selection, shelves almost as high as I could reach. I found something I had to have entitled Pacific Payback, the story of the dive bomber squadrons on the USS Enterprise that defeated the Japanese fleet at the battle of Midway, the turning point in the Pacific war. Heading back to the square, I stopped in one of the outfitter shops and picked up a guide to the Pine Creek Rail Trail. The trouble with outdoor stores is that I already have all the camping gear I can use and I don’t get to use it often enough.

I hung around the square for a while. I spent a fair bit of time talking to the president of the Clearfield County Historical Society. His organization published a book of the writings of one of the original Bucktails so I had to get one of those. He told me they were moving their records to a different building so we talked shop about moving historical societies. I met his wife and we exchanged anecdotes and would probably still be talking but I had a professional duty.

It was time to do the group photo. The location was an old house right near the courthouse. Now occupied by a law office, it was standing when the Bucktails held their first reunion in Wellsboro back in the 1880s. The group took a long time to assemble. I did some photographer stuff and worked out my location for the camera. The group milled about while the stragglers arrived. They were patient because they had nothing to do talk to other Bucktails. Finally, I turned on the crowd control voice and got everyone lined up. The location was good with only two window air conditioners to mar the period. Those were easily retouched out with a few minutes of Photoshop magic.
After the Bucktail group was finished we invited the ladies in period dress to join the group.
And then smaller groups were formed for photos.

The group was breaking up when one of then told me there was going to be a photo session at the Penn Wells Hotel. This inn was there for the first reunion. Several groups set up in the tavern in front of the same fireplace that was there back then.

I was having such a good time that I decided I would spend the night so I went to the front desk to see if any rooms were available. I was in luck, there was a cheap and yet small room available and I took it. But while negotiating for that, I missed a good photo opportunity. Some of the Bucktails in officer uniforms set up a table with whiskey bottles, much as officers were reputed to do in the Civil War. It would have been a good image but I missed the chance. The next thing happening was a pig roast dinner back at the park. I ended up sitting with some friends from Elk County but we made the mistake of sitting at the last table to be served. Not a lot of pig left by the time I got there. But it was good and the company better.

Then we got into the real part of the reunion, hanging out with likeminded folks in a pleasant setting. There was music from the period done by guys in period costume with banjo and fiddle.
Some listened, others sat around in small groups talking. I tried to do both. One of my old Camp Mountain Run staff buddies was there and I listened to him telling Bucktail stories that I hadn’t heard before. It was quite dark when I was ready to leave so I was really glad not to be driving the 100 miles back home.

I hadn’t planned on staying the night so I was not prepared with clean underwear, socks, or toothbrush. A shower was good and a little tooth scrubbing with a wash cloth got rid of most of the grody stuff. I read for a bit but soon found that the long day had tired me out. I was soon asleep. In the morning I woke up feeling well rested. As long as I was in Wellsboro I was going to have breakfast at the well-known Wellsboro Diner. Several years ago I ate breakfast there with Brad and Chris. We sat at the counter and watched the grill cook at work. Her name was Holly and she was still there this day. She did all the breakfast cooking for everyone, waited on the ones seated at the counter (like me) and kept up running banter with the other waitresses and the regulars. The show was well worth the price of admission. And breakfast was good too.

As I walked back to the hotel, the rain started. It would not stop that day. The Bucktails had planned a church service on the square and then a parade to the cemetery. I took a drive to find the cemetery and walked to the church service. It was under a tent and Reverend Herring was preaching. I waited until the service was over to get my briefing about what was next. Given the rain, the parade down the main street was canceled. The group would assemble at the cemetery and carry on their ceremonies. There were 7 former Civil War Bucktails buried in the Wellsboro Cemetery. Each was marked with a special wreath. The modern Bucktails formed up a platoon size marching unit lead by a color guard. They marched from grave to grave. At each, they stood at ease while someone read the biography of the deceased veteran.
Then the platoon was called to attention and a salute was given. Then the group marched to the next grave site.
Of course, it was raining at every moment and only a very few were wearing ponchos. Their wool uniforms got wetter and heavier. There were others accompanying the group who had the good fortune to use umbrellas. One of them was me. This kept both me and the cameras dry. After visiting all seven graves, there were some final words and then the group broke up and headed back to break camp, pack up, and head for home.

It’s an interesting group to hang out with. Some of them are quite knowledgeable about the regiments’ histories. All are good to listen to. It made for a pleasant weekend even with the rain. And as I close I have to speak again of Wellsboro. It is a town largely given to the tourist trade and they are very good at it. There is much to see and do and the area is well worth a visit whether as a day trip or overnight or several nights. If you want a hotel stay that will take you back to the turn of the 19th to the 20th century you can’t do better than the Penn Wells Hotel. The food is good there as well.
If you want to see more of the Bucktail photos, go to www.beimelphoto.smugmug.com. There they are rendered in the warm tones of Civil War era photography.
Thanks for reading, Ray


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