Sunday, June 26, 2016

Twenty Years of Fiesta: Viva San Pietro

One of the first things I learned about Gloucester when I moved here twenty years ago is that there is no point in making much in the way of plans for the last weekend in June—unless you plan to be gone from Thursday to Monday and who would want to do that. The last weekend in June is devoted to St. Peter and is known here as Fiesta. Gloucester is a fishing town and many of the residents here are from Sicilian backgrounds. They honor St. Peter as the patron saint of fishermen and they are very serious about their devotion to him.
Statue of Saint Peter being carried through the streets

 The first few years living here I went to everything! I went to the processions when local fishermen carried a statue of St. Peter on their shoulders through the streets while people prayed, tossed confetti and flowers, and taped money to the statues. I went down to the harbor to watch the seine boat races and the guys walking the greasy pole and, of course, the Blessing of the Fleet when the Bishop comes. The ceremony is held down by the statue of the Man at the Wheel and it is filled with prayers and flowers. And I went to the parties held in bars and in people's homes. I live on a street just a few blocks from the harbor and many of my neighbors fish.
Gloucester's mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken leading a cheer for St. Peter

After being an enthusiastic participant—and sometimes voyeur—I stopped going down to the carnival. It was filled with young people and families. It was loud and crazy and I began to be less and less enthralled by all the commotion. I liked to walk down and check out some of the hats that the Hat Ladies created—they are masterpieces of local color. The Greasy Pole walkers often show up in hilariously wild costumes and it is worth it to check those out. One year my parents came during Fiesta and I sort of think it scared them. They would venture out during the day but once it got dark and loud they were eager to be home.
Seine boat races

When the son of the family next door to me became old enough to walk the pole, our neighborhood got a real shot in the arm. Joe is young and cute and one of the most polite young men I've ever met. Because he was now among the Greasy Pole walkers, things got lively on this street and the parties got wilder. I was perfectly content to fix myself a gin and tonic, go out on my back porch, and listen to the fun.
Loading up the Greasy Pole walkers

Walking the Greasy Pole with City Hall in the background.
Inside the tower of City Hall written on the walls are all the names of
Gloucester fishermen who have died at sea in the 1600s

But through all the years, the thing that has stayed with me is the absolute, total and complete devotion of these people to their saint. The processions and parades remain the focal point at least for the families. No matter how drunk and wild and crazy the carnival and parties become, the devotion to Saint Peter rules everything. The cries of “Viva San Pietro” fill the streets.
Blessing the fleet with the Thomas E. Lannon in the background

I've written before about the European origins of these devotions. I have to remind myself that these men we see laughing and drinking and partying in the street, these men dressed like Marilyn Monroe or a pirate or a giant baby as they walk the Greasy Pole, come Monday these men will put away their costumes and go down to the docks and get on boats and they will go out to sea in search of fish. And there will be times when the fishing is poor, and the water is rough, and the waves are high and then they will count on St. Peter to help them come back home. Some will not be able to do that no matter how they pray.
Viva San Pietro!

So, relax, don't fight it, just enjoy. It's that time of year yet again. Viva San Pietro!


Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Syd & Tempest Do Fiesta! #ImaginaryFriends

In honor of Fiesta I am posting a selection from my novel Depraved Heart. Art curator Tempest Hobbs has been hired by convicted killer and former NFL star Syd Jupiter to catalog the art collection his daughter has inherited from her great-grandfather. Tempest knows about Syd's past but is still mesmerized by him. During Gloucester's annual Fiesta they are watching the Greasy Pole competition when things heat up between them.


He slowed the boat as we passed the point of land known in Gloucester as The Fort, where stacks of wire lobster traps were piled like a wall of green and yellow building blocks above the sea wall. As we passed a big white building with the words Cape Pond Ice painted on it, I could see the top of an illuminated Ferris wheel rotating slowly in the summer sunlight. Red, green and gold tinsel decorations strung between telephone poles glittered and the air was filled with singing and loud male voices chanting the Fiesta mantra.
Me chi samiou duté muté?
Viva San Pietro!
You and Dad should come to the carnival. Have you ever been to Fiesta?” Anjelica asked.
Lots of times years ago,” I told her. “When I was a little kid my parents always took me to the carnival, and when I was in high school my friends came every year. But I’ve never watched the Greasy Pole walk before. It’s kind of famous now.”
Syd was guiding the boat up to a float at St. Peter’s Marina. Two girls stood at the top of the ramp, and when they saw Anjelica, they began waving.
Do you need money?” Syd asked as Anjelica’s friends came running down the ramp.
No, I have enough left from yesterday.”
Okay, call me when you want me to come and I’ll meet you right here,” Syd said putting his arms around her.
I will. Love you, Dad,” she said and gave him an enthusiastic hug. He lifted her over the side onto the float. “Have fun,” she yelled to me.
I will.”
Wow.” I heard one of her friends say as they ran back up the ramp. “Your Dad is really big.”
He used to play professional football,” Anjelica said. With no small amount of pride, I thought.
Okay,” Syd said steering the boat back out into the harbor. “Let’s find a place for us.”
He guided the boat into a space close enough to see the fun but far enough away to be comfortable. We unpacked bottles of water and some of the still-warm hush puppies and settled down in the sunlight to watch.
Two hundred yards from the shore a wooden platform rose twenty-five feet in the air. What looked like a telephone pole was mounted at the top sticking straight parallel to the water. At the end of it was a vertical stick festooned with an American flag fluttering above three triangular flags in red, white and green, the colors of the Italian flag. The forty foot pole between the flags and the men crowding the platform was covered half a foot deep in a slimy, slippery concoction.
A police boat hovered below the end of the pole to keep the hundreds of boaters around the area at a safe distance. The entire harbor was packed with everything from large whale watching vessels to solitary sailors in brightly colored kayaks. All of them honking horns, screaming and cheering as each contestant waited for his turn to traverse the distance from the platform to the flag through greasy muck that fell off in clumps as the men ran, walked, slid or slithered along the pole. Most of them were dressed in flamboyant costumes from hula skirts to diapers, which was made all the more hilarious by the fact that the participants tended to be burly men with hairy chests and beards. The object of the walk through the slime was to capture the flags at the end of the pole but, despite an endless variety of techniques, they all ended up in the water, often bouncing off the pole to a chorus of “ouch!” from the crowd.
I’m trying to figure out if it would be better to go fast or slow,” Syd said as he unscrewed the lid on a water bottle and handed it to me. “I’ve seen guys try both methods but it’s hard to say which is better.”
Would you ever do that?”
He laughed. “Not a chance.”
Not even when you were younger?”
I don’t think so. My center of gravity is too high, I think being built low to the ground would be an advantage in that sport.” He leaned back in his seat and stretched his legs. He wore a pair of battered leather moccasins and his legs were well-tanned and muscular. I caught my breath.
Did you always want to play football? I mean when you were a little kid.”
Oh, sure, of course I did. What kid doesn’t? I also wanted to be a priest.”
I couldn’t help laughing. “Really? A priest?”
Well, I was an altar boy at the time at St. Louis Cathedral, and I was so in love with that church I wanted any excuse to be there all the time. Plus...” He looked sideways at me. “...I thought it would be a lot of fun to hear Confessions. I kept imagining all the terrible things I’d hear.”
I giggled. “That’s very funny.”
Yeah, well, I was a little kid. Then for a long time I wanted to be a fisherman like my Dad. He was a good athlete when he was young. He played baseball on a minor league team but never made the majors. I think that was tough on him. He got to see me play football at A&M but he died before I was drafted into the NFL. I’ve always been sorry about that.”
Loud cheering erupted from the crowd. We both looked up but the flags still fluttered at the end of the pole. Whatever happened, we missed it. I turned back to Syd and saw that he was looking at me, not at the festivities on the platform.
Do you mind it if I tell you that I think you’re very pretty?” he said in a low voice.
No.” I looked down at his hands holding the water bottle in his lap. I had admired the size of his hands before but now I noticed how brown and calloused they were. Between Miles’ boat and the gardens around Hathor he had been working hard and his hands showed it.
He kept his eyes on me. “You’re pretty but you also have a lot of warmth. That’s something that I’ve found to be surprisingly rare in young women.”
Well,” I said, “I guess you haven’t been around too many women lately.”
He gave a short laugh. “Good point.”
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound dismissive.”
You didn’t. You sounded like someone who has a hard time accepting compliments.”
I nodded. “That’s... well... yes, that’s true.”
I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
You’re not... well... no more than I ever am.” I looked up at him and wished he wasn’t wearing the sunglasses. I wanted to see his eyes. “I haven’t had very good luck with men in my life.”
Why?”
I shrugged. “It’s this crazy way I am with people. The way I sense what they’re thinking...”
He smiled. “A woman wouldn’t have to be psychic to know what I’m thinking right now.”
No...” Another roar went up from the crowd and I turned in time to see a young man in a 
Batman costume crashing into the water clutching his groin.
Ouch,” Syd said. “That had to hurt.”
What happened?”
He fell straight down straddling the pole. It looked really painful.”
Oh.” I glanced down at his hands again and, as though he knew my thoughts, he lifted one and touched a strand of my hair letting it curl around his finger tip. “So, were you surprised when you got drafted by a football team? That’s the word, isn’t it, drafted?”
He nodded, smiling. “Yes and no. Sure I was as surprised as anyone would be, but there was a part of me that sort of knew it was destined to happen. I’d always wanted to be a Steeler.”
His body was almost unbearably close. I found myself straining forward almost against my own will, just wanting to connect. “Not the Saints? You didn’t want to be drafted by the Saints?”
He was watching me and smiling slightly. “No, I wanted to be a Steeler... Actually,” he said. He put his water bottle aside and moved his other hand to pick up one of mine. He held it, caressing the back of it with his thumb. “Actually, what I wanted to be was Franco Harris.”
I looked up at him. Chills were running up and down my back and I was having a hard time staying still. “I don’t know who that is.”
He was their fullback, great big guy. Really, really powerful and really, really fast but so graceful. When he had the ball it was amazing to see how a guy that big could weave in and out without getting knocked down. But the thing I secretly loved most about him was he was mixed race, African-American and Italian.” He was lacing his fingers through mine and I was shivering.
He was mixed race...”
Mm-hmm. Back then there was a lot of racism in this country. I was lucky to grow up in New Orleans where being mixed wasn’t that big a deal, but when I was in Texas with my Dad I was always aware that I was different. So I wanted to be like Franco, a big, tough, good-looking, mixed-race football player.” He grinned. “At least I got to be big, mixed-race, and a football player.”
I think you’re pretty tough. How would you have gotten through everything you have if you weren’t?” I lifted my head and tried to see through his sunglasses. “And I also think you’re good-looking.”
He cupped my chin in his hand. “It doesn’t bother you that I’ve been in prison for fifteen years?”
It bothers me but not in the way you think. It bothers me that you had to go through that.”
Another huge cry arose from the crowd, boat horns began to blow. The cheering was deafening. I turned to look and the flags at the end of the pole were gone.
Somebody won,” I said.
And we missed it.”
He slipped one arm around my waist and lifted me closer to him..... Depraved Heart





Thursday, June 23, 2016

It's Christmas in Summer! #DomesticGoddess

It may be heating up outside but you'll think it's Christmas when you see this Giveaway!

In addition to being a writer, I am also, as you know, an avid knitter. When it is cold and wintery here in Gloucester, there's nothing I love more than curling up with an audio book and some knitting. Two winters ago, inspired by the Outlander series, I started knitting cowls, shrugs, and hoods out of fluffy yarns that either mimicked the look of real fur or brazenly defied it. The problem is, I went a little nuts and before I knew it I had a shopping bag full of beautiful handknits! Everyone told me I should sell them. I looked on Etsy and faux fur cowls and hoods like mine were selling for anywhere from $30 to $70! Then I had the idea to give them away to my readers. So starting today I have designed a giveaway that anyone can enter. Prizes will be awarded every other week until I run out of things to give away. For details and to enter go to the Oh! So Luxurious Giveaway page on this blog. You can enter as often as you like--the more you play, the better your chances are to win.

~~~~Prize Details~~~~

All of the prizes offered are my own work. I am not the most perfect knitter in the world but the fluffiness of these yarns hide a multitude of sins. There may be a few flaws, but I guarantee they will look great regardless. All of the yarns used in these items is acrylic--THESE ARE NOT MADE FROM ANIMAL FUR. Most of the yarn is manufactured by Lion Brand, but a few of them are not. They may be hand-washed in warm (not hot) water. The dimensions given are approximate because most of them are very stretchy so the length and width changes depending on how they are stretched. All of them were knit with lots of love, happy thoughts, and good Karma.




#1 - Blue Jean Cowl 
7" deep x 13" wide (approx. 26" circumference)
Very lightweight and fluffy. Looks great with blue jeans. 
Can be worn as a cowl of pulled up over the head.


#2 - Wild Wolf Neck Warmer
7" deep x 11" wide (approx. 22" circumference)
Smaller but very lush with a soft hand. Designed as a neck warmer 
but could double as a headband/earwarmer.


#3 - Flamboyant Flamingo Cowl
12" deep x 12" wide (approx. 24" circumference)

Very lightweight and fluffy in a brilliant Flamingo Pink, somewhere 
between orange and pink. Makes a luxurious cowl or hood.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Out of the Shadows #BookLove

For fans of my CRAZY OLD LADY books you can get a ‪#‎FREE‬, never before published short story along with 8 other stories in this new anthology. Just go to my author web site, sign up for my newsletter (I promise I don't send one out very often), then follow the instructions. If you are already on my mailing list and want a copy, let me know. It is available in MOBI (Kindle), EPUB (most ereaders), or PDF (everything else.) Just let me know. www.kathleenvalentine.com 

What Is The Group Noun for Crazy Old Ladies?
(A Beacon Hill Chronicles Short Story)

by Kathleen Valentine
I was coming out of the gym in South Boston when my cell phone rang. The display read Madame DeFarge's Knitting Basket, which surprised me because I didn't think Calista DeFarge had my cell number.
Vivienne Lang,” I said.
Baldy, is that you?”
It was Calista all right. Not only did I recognize her familiar husky voice, but she's the only person I know who calls me “Baldy.” I'm not actually bald, I just keep my hair very short for convenience's sake. I work out a lot. And I fight. Long hair gets in the way.
Yeah. Are you okay? You don't sound like yourself?” To be honest, it's hard to know what Calista might sound like from day to day. She is well over eighty and has been teaching knitting and selling yarn from her shop on Bowdoin Street for half a century, which is a good thing for me. Among Calista's clientele are some of Beacon Hill's oldest—and most gossipy—residents. Without her keen ear for gossip, I never would have discovered how a body came to be buried in the back yard of the Thorndike townhouse on Mount Vernon Street, or who murdered its old housekeeper.
Could you stop by my shop when you have a few minutes?” She paused and I got the impression she wasn't quite sure of herself, which is not at all like Calista. “There's something that's … well, it's kind of on my mind.”
Of course. Do you want me to come right over?”
No. I'm probably worrying for nothing.” She hesitated then said, “Next time you're in the neighborhood, stop in. Okay?”
Sure.” I tucked my phone back in my jeans pocket. Since I live in the North End, look after my grandfather in the Theater District, and work out in Southie, I'm all over Boston most days. The only time I'm on Beacon Hill is when I have to check on GrammyLou's townhouse. My childhood friend, Mattie Thorndike Michaud, inherited the five-story townhouse from her grandmother, whom we both called GrammyLou. Since Mattie and her husband live on Cape Cod, I have a set of keys in case of emergency. Frankly, I can't wait for the house to sell. It has caused one catastrophe after another since GrammyLou died. It's been the scene of kidnapping, imprisonment, torture, murder, and a couple of ghosts. I hope someone buys it soon.

It's too bad, really. When Mattie and I were children we spent hundreds of hours at GrammyLou's. Both of us were raised by grandparents—Mattie because her parents were killed in a car wreck when she was five, me because my mother had me when she was sixteen. My mother took off with a new boyfriend shortly after I was born; I never knew my father. When we were teenagers Mattie's life and mine went in different directions. It's what happened during those years that made me vow to never be vulnerable again. When I was old enough, I moved to Paris to study Savate, a form of kick-boxing. Then I studied Muay Thai in Malaysia. It wasn't until I came back to Boston and joined the gym I belong to now that I learned the fine art of good old American street fighting. Calista keeps telling me I need balance. She wants to teach me to knit. So far I've managed to avoid that.



Sunday, June 19, 2016

Writing Inspiration from Old Photographs

Recently a man from my home town, St. Marys, Pennsylvania, posted some photographs he has taken around town on a misty morning. They were beautiful and romantic and reminded me of how beautiful that are of the world can be at times. Over the years, as a writer I have drawn inspiration from photographs on a regular basis. In my desk, I have a file folder of images torn from magazines and cut from newspapers and some of them provided me with an entire story.
Mist rising from the hollows as seen from the St. Marys Catholic Cemetery,
 Photograph by William Hoehn
As I was thinking about this I went back to a folder I keep on my hard drive with old photos that I've either gotten a story from or hope to some day.

The photo on the right is very old but I knew the man in it many years ago. His name was Bert Schauer and he was an old logger who lived in a cement block building in the woods. The floor was made entirely of bottle caps stomped down into the dirt and he kept guinea fowl that roosted in the trees and were likely to drop an egg on your head if you weren't careful. I used Bert as the inspiration for Skidder Hoffman in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall. Of course he is long gone now but I'm glad I got such a good, useful character out of him.

The woman in the picture at the left is something of a legend among the kids I grew up with. She is the famous Mary Opelt who lived in the woods across the street from our neighborhood. It was a wonderful woods. She, of course, was long gone by the time we were kids but the foundation of her house was still there as were the remains of her garden. Daffodils and jonquils bloomed every spring and her berry bushes and apple trees still gave fruit. My dad told us that he remembers he walking down the alley from her woods and up to the convent every day where the Sisters would give her lunch. I've never written about her but those woods have been in all my Marienstadt stories including The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood. There is a terrible story whispered among us kids when we were little, that when she died her many cats ate her. I do not know if this is true but it might turn up in a story someday.




The man in the picture above is said to be Mary Opelt's brother. I don't know his first name but he had a fine team of oxen that he brought into town every day to do work for people. Again, I have never used him in a story, but it may happen some day.

The store above is one of the fondest memories of my childhood. Al Marsh's Stationery Store was a world of wonder for me--for a lot of reasons not the least of which was that he carried Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. I was in love with those books and I can remember hoarding coins until I had a dollar to buy one--they were all a dollar then. I remember one particular occasion when I had scavenged enough coins for a new book, walked down town to buy it, and walked home reading it--tripping over my own feet--and was almost finished with it by the time I got home.

I could probably go on and on with this--heaven knows I have enough images on my computer. But I'll end with the one above. In my Marienstadt stories, the Catholic church in town is called St. Walburga's. The shrine in the image above was on the grounds of our convent back home. It was brought from the convent of St. Walburga and is of the saint herself. The legend is that the body of the saint is preserved in the convent in Germany and that it emits a sacred oil that can cure all kinds of ills--or at least it used to. The story I heard was that when the First World War began, the saint stopped secreting her magical oil and has never resumed since.

So that is just a taste of where some of my stories come from and, as I have a lot more photographs, I am hoping there are more stories to come. 

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Meet Ezra Winter #ImaginaryFriends

Ezra Winter in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall:Secrets of Marienstadt is a crusty, old fart in his 80s who can be both charming and infuriating, sweet and cynical. I know this character well--anyone who knew my father will recognize Ezra's personality.

From The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall:Secrets of Marienstadt 

Titus sat back in his chair and stared at the framed photographs that covered the opposite wall. He had learned the names of most of the men in those pictures when he was so small his father had to stand him on a chair to see them.
“This is your Grampa Silas,” Ezra said. “He was Great-grandpa Jubal's middle son. He was the one who took over the construction company when Grampa Jubal retired. This is your Great-uncle Judah. He was a merchant marine who traveled all over the world and wrote a famous book. This is your Great-uncle Mathias.” He pointed to a handsome man with slim little mustache and a leather helmet standing next to a bi-plane. “He was one of the first barnstormers.” And he would tell young Titus about his great-uncle's spectacular aerial feats of derring-do.
All the Winter men had exciting stories, it seemed. Ezra himself had been an engineer during the Second World War who had built bridges in the south Pacific Islands under the most perilous of conditions. He had survived malaria, attacks by native islanders, and being shot twice. Sometimes Titus felt a little bit inadequate next to his brave and daring forefathers. So when Winter Construction was set to celebrate its 100th anniversary, Titus decided to spend some time researching the life of the company's founder, Grampa Jubal. He planned to write a book for the anniversary. What a bad idea that turned out to be.
“What do you want to waste your time doing that for?” Ezra said when Titus proposed the idea.
“Come on, Dad, all my life you've told me stories about Grampa Jubal. How he was born up in Michigan and was a fisherman on Lake Huron and how he worked in logging camps and on the railroad. Wouldn't it be interesting to know more about his life?”
Ezra shrugged. At just past eighty he was a burly, weather-beaten man with a face that was still handsome and a full head of shimmering, snow white hair. He lived by himself in the house he built when he first married Titus' mother and where they raised their five children. She had died following a long battle with cancer a few years back and now Ezra lived alone. He made regular visits to his children, most of whom were married and lived nearby. He kept himself busy with old friends like Tater Feldbauer. They had played baseball together as boys and now spent their afternoons driving logging trails and reminiscing about how much better things used to be.
“How are you going to find anything out?” he asked, twisting the top off a bottle of Straub's. “I don't remember much about him other than what you already know.”
“You said he always told a lot of stories. I bet you know a lot more than you think you do.”
“I don't remember anything in partic'lar that I haven't told you. My dad used to talk about Grampa telling how he worked in logging camps when he was young. He talked about how thick the forests were in the Upper Peninsula. You could ask my uncle Mathias what he remembers but he's so full of shit I wouldn't believe much of it. If you're going to do that, you better do it soon cause he's pushing a hundred and could kick the bucket at any minute.” He took a long swig of beer.
Titus smiled. He'd never quite gotten used to Ezra's colorful way of expressing himself but he'd learned to have a sense of humor about it. “Things are different now, Dad. Lots of towns have their birth records online and you can go to Ancestry.com and find out a lot of stuff.”
Ezra frowned. “What's all this dot com stuff? Do you really trust that?”
Titus laughed. “It's the internet, Dad. Maybe it's true and maybe it's not but wouldn't you like to know a little more about your own grandfather's life. Who his parents were and stuff like that?”
Ezra shrugged again. “Grampa said his father was a fisherman and a carpenter. So what?”
“Really? You never mentioned that.”
Ezra took another swallow of beer and thought about it. “It's not exactly a big deal. He didn't catch Moby Dick.”
“Well, I'd like to know more. Maybe we've got cousins in Michigan.”

Ezra snorted. “We've got more goddam cousins than we can count right here. How many cousins do you need?”

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sexy Silk Dupioni Tote Bag #DomesticGoddess

I love the colors magenta and periwinkle, I just didn't realize how good they look together. And I love silk dupioni because of its rich, jewel-like color. So when I had large pieces of magenta and periwinkle silk dupioni left over from 2 shirts I'd made the idea of combining them into a tote bag seemed like an good idea.

The fabrics in the picture below is from my current stash - you can see what colors I tend to stockpile.

This is the front. It is made from a 16 year old Vogue Boutique pattern:

The periwinkle lining has 2 interior pockets:

And there is one huge pocket that goes across the entire back:

I didn't have enough of the periwinkle silk to line the whole thing so I used some leftover hot pink satin for the bottom of the bag.

The handles are stuffed with drapery cord and the button is a lovely vintage Czech Glass button. 


I spent the better part of yesterday working on it and am very pleased with the results. I even have some leftover silk shantung -- one piece in royal blue and another in a gorgeous violet that might look just as special in this design. 
Thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Meet Susan Oleksiw #AuthorLove

Susan is not only an excellent writer but a good friend.
 Her writing is intelligent and cleverly crafted.
 I'm very pleased to have her on my blog today.

Susan Oleksiw writes the Mellingham series featuring Chief Joe Silva (Murder in Mellingham, 1993), set in a small New England town. Come About for Murder is Book 7 in the series, and features Joe's stepson, Philip.

Susan also writes the Anita Ray series featuring an Indian-American photographer living in her aunt's tourist hotel in South India (Under the Eye of Kali, 2010). The next entry in the series is When Krishna Calls (August 2016).

Susan's short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. She was co-founder of Level Best Books, which publishes an annual anthology of New England crime fiction.

She published A Reader's Guide to the Classic British Mystery (G.K. Hall, 1988), and served as co-editor for The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing (1999).

Born and raised in New England, Susan has lived in the Northeast, the Southwest, and India. She now lives outside Boston, MA.


Come About for Murder: A Mellingham Mystery
by
Susan Oleksiw

Chapter One

In his last will and testament, Commodore Charles Jeremiah Winslow, one of the greatest yachting enthusiasts in the history of Mellingham Yacht Club, asked to be wrapped in a mainsail and cremated, with his ashes left to sink into Mellingham Bay. His family argued for six days and six nights over whether or not to comply with his wishes, but when they understood how much money was riding on this, they agreed to do as he wanted.
Annie Beckwith, only a teenager at the time, thought it was a terrible waste of a good sail. But she agreed one hundred percent with his longing to remain in the sea for eternity and his equally strong desire to stay out of the family mausoleum. Her sister had achieved this two weeks earlier by falling off a sailboat and disappearing below the waves, but her sister’s husband, Randall Connolly, had died on land only two days later, early on Sunday morning. So here Annie was, on a Friday morning in August, standing outside the family mausoleum and all she could think about was that it was a perfect day for a sail.
If the day had been gray and rainy, that would make Randall’s funeral all so much easier. Funerals required a certain backdrop—dark gloomy weather, people in black leaning on each other as their umbrellas flapped in the rain, the cold wind sending sharp tendrils around bare ankles. The weather should make everyone miserable. Instead, she got men and women in casual clothes, khakis and summer dresses, and a sunny day with perfect air.
The clouds were just the right size, the right shape, little puffs to move a boat along, sending it cutting through the waves, lifting the spindrift to the bow and the faces of the crew. The sky was just the right hue to shade into the ocean, merging sea and sky into one magnificent world that animated her soul.
Annie’s thoughts went to the Lady Mistral, which should have been riding at anchor as the light breeze sent waves rippling along her water line. Annie imagined the halyards slapping the top of the mast, the creak of floorboards and the coaming. But the boat wasn’t at one with the sea and the wind. It was dry-docked at Mellingham Marina by order of Chief Joe Silva and various other authorities, including the Coast Guard. Annie winced at the thought. It was bad enough that she had to shut her eyes against the image of her sister slipping into the ocean. But to have the chief of police of quiet little Mellingham suspecting something more than an accident made her stomach clench and her knees go weak. She couldn't even bring herself to look at him, though she knew he stood among the other mourners, his uniform exchanged for a dark suit.


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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Breton Folklore and a Mysterious Gift

In 1994 I was living in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in a house overlooking the ocean. From the sliding glass doors in my bedroom I could see the North Shore coast, Baker's Island, and Dogbar Breakwater. Three different lighthouses were visible and it was there that I decided to write The Old Mermaid's Tale. I had just come back from visiting my grandmother in Erie, Pennsylvania, where I lived while in college and I had an idea for the story I wanted to tell.
Two pictures of Peter Anson and the cover of my book
in front of the Phare de La Vielle--The Old Lady--Lighthouse,
beloved of the Mariners of Brittany.

I knew I wanted the story to be based in the folklore and legends of the Great Lakes that my uncle had loved so much and always told stories about. And I knew that I wanted the main character to be named Baptiste because I had briefly been in love with a man with that name from Quebec.

Among my acquaintances at that time was an old Breton fisherman named Jean whom I met from time to time at Castle Rock in Marblehead. He liked to sit there, stare out to sea, and smoke his pipe. When he found out I liked to hear stories from the old days, he told me a lot of them. He was wonderful to listen to.

As I got more and more serious about writing this book I started going to the library and checking out books about maritime folklore, legends, and sea stories. As I was doing this I came across a book that sounded interesting but the only copy available was in Swampscott, the next town over. So, one Saturday morning I drove over and went looking for the book. When I showed the librarian what I wanted, she directed me to a “dead” books room in the basement where the lighting was poor and the shelves were pretty messy. I found the shelf I wanted but my book wasn't there. The librarian had said the books there weren't carefully attended. I was disappointed but I found a couple other books of some interest. And then I found the most amazing treasure, an old cloth-bound book with lettering so faded I could barely read it. It was called The Mariners of Brittany, Written and Illustrated by Peter F. Anson. It was published in 1931 and, according to the card in the pocket in the back, it had not been checked out since February 1961. Prior to that was October 11, 1945.


I checked out my books and took them home and I fell in love with that book. The drawings were wonderful. The end papers at both the front and back were hand-drawn maps of the Breton Coast and there were lovely drawings throughout. Reading it was an incredible pleasure. The author, who was a well-known art instructor, had spent years along the Breton coast collecting stories, traditions, religious rituals, etc. He included a chapter titled Superstition and Folk-Lore that was just packed with all the sort of stuff I wanted to weave into my story.


Once I began writing, I kept the book by my word processor (yes, my first book was written on a word processor) and referred to it so often that I had to renew it from the library several times. The last time I took it in to renew the librarian said, “Why don't you just keep that?” I was so delighted.

The more I found things in that book to use as I created the character of Baptiste, the more I realized that legends and folklore were an irresistible resource for me. I've written a lot of books since then and almost all of them have drawn on tall tales, legends, and the kinds of stories people told on front porches, around kitchen tables, or sitting on a bench overlooking the sea.
Maps on the end papers (above and below)


And so, here is a sample from The Old Mermaid's Tale, a few paragraphs that I could not have written were it not for a mysterious little treasure from the Swampscott Library:

I thought about the time he told me how happy he had always been that he was born on the feast day of Jean-Baptiste, the patron saint of the sailors of the Côtes du Norde.
It was a great feast day, cher,” he said. “The women would rise early in the morning to bake loaves of sweet bread filled with raisins and cherries and apple brandy. They would use the salt that was blessed on Easter Sunday and they would shape them into three long rolls to represent the Holy Trinity and then they braided them together.
The young girls would gather flowers from the fields and weave them into necklaces. All the seamen—the fishermen, the young mousse, the captains and mates of ships, even those old corsairs who had not been to sea in many years, would dress in their best clothing but would wear no shoes. Jean-Baptiste was a humble man and so we would wear no shoes.
We carried his statue covered with garlands of flowers on our shoulders as we walked in procession along the quay. And some men, to show their gratitude, would throw themselves into the sea and then walk dripping wet to the church for Mass. The girls would put flowers around our necks as we walked and there would be a great feast.
Oh, cher,” he said. “I wish you could have seen how beautiful it was!”