Monday, March 02, 2015

Housebound and Crazy!

The past five weeks have been absolutely maddening thanks to the relentless snow. Because I live on a narrow, in-town street in Gloucester, we have to get our cars off the street when it snows and I have been parking at a friend's house because she has a large driveway. In years past, I would park there until the snow ban was lifted and then go get my car and park on the street again—not this year.

We have had a record amount of snow—over 90” in the past five weeks. My car has stayed buried in snow at my friend's house and, much as I am dying to go get it, there is no place to put it once it is dug out. Consequently, I have been fairly well stranded. Thanks to the goodness of friends, I have been well provided for—grocery delivery services and friends with cars and driveways have saved me—but this is a maddening situation.

In theory, this should be a peaceful break. A time to snuggle in and make lots of tea and write and read and knit and sew—all the things I love. But the fact is that I've been becoming increasinly nervous and irritated and I don't really know why. Worrying—worrying about my car, worrying about not getting anything done, worrying that I worry too much. Itell myself that worrying is a waste of time and energy and I just need to forget the situation and get to work. But it's never that simple. I find myself constantly on edge, jumping at every strange sound, checking the weather forecast over and over. This isn't me.

Or is it?

I am trying to figure out why this is so stressful. Is it just the absence of my car? Two years ago, before I bought the lovely car I have now, my old car was in really bad shape and I avoided going anywhere that I didn't absolutely have to go to. But then I had enough money to buy a new car and all was well. I don't remember this level of stress when I had a car that was close to useless, so what is the problem? Am I just getting old?

I can't say I have come up with any answers but this has made me think about how much I value my autonomy. It is hard for me to relinquish anything that increases my dependence on other people. In a way it is sort of like being an indie author/publisher—you have to be self-reliant and when anything compromises that reliance it is scary.

Spring is coming. Snow will melt. The street will clear and I will have my car once again—these things I am sure of. But this has made me think about how difficult it is for me to rely on others—far more than I ever thought. And that is something I need to think about, so this is time well-spent.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Another Cowl: Super Soft, Super Fast, Super Lovely

I am going cowl-crazy these days-- I made this from 1 skein of Lion Brand Hometown yarn in a color called Seattle Sea Mist. 

I just happened to have a Czech Glass button in my button box that was an exact match.

Cast on 24 stitches (on size 10 needles).
Row A. K3, ( P2,K2) 3x, P2, K3
Row B, P3, (K2 P2) 3x, K2, P3

Repeat 4 times.
Row C: P3, (K2 P2) 3x, K2, P3
Row D: K3, ( P2,K2) 3x, P2, K3
Repeat 4 times.
Keep doing that until it reaches the desired length. Before the last patter repeat bind off 3 in the middle to make buttonhole.

And speaking of gorgeous cowls, have you seen the new Outlander inspired ones floating around the internet. I am going to try my own versions of them and will post when I do.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Knitters Cannot Be Trusted

At least this knitter can't. This is in reference to my on-going failure to thin my yarn stash. Several years ago, when I wrote The Mermaid Shawl and other Beauties: Shawls,Cocoons, and Wraps, (it has stayed on an Amazon Best Seller list for 5 straight years) I knit up a mountain of patterns to use in the book. The book was very successful and I followed it up with a few smaller knitting instruction books under the Knit Your Tail Off series. They also sold well. But then something happened—I kept knitting but I started seeing so many new knitting patterns being published that I pretty much lost interest in writing any more knitting patterns. I had other books to write.

Consequently, I soon had a mound of knitted garments with no particular plans for them. In December, when I was packing my bags to drive to Pennsylvania for a family Christmas party, I filled up 2 shopping bags with scarves, headbands, cowls, shrugs, etc. and threw them in the trunk of my car. The day of the party, I spread all my stuff out on a table and told my family that they could just help themselves. It was so much fun. My sisters and nieces had a ball trying everything on and deciding what they wanted. Everybody claimed what they wanted and I was relieved that I didn't have to take that stuff back home.
Nieces Erica, Mia, and Abby--Erica and Abby wearing their new cowls.
So, I come back to Gloucester, determined not to buy any more yarn until I used up what I already had—right, like that would happen.
Four colors of Pelt

Normally, I knit in all natural fibers using lace-weight or fingering weight yarns. But I had seen a very cute cowl knit in Lion Brand's “Pelt” which is an acrylic yard in their Fun-Fur line. I decided I wanted to experiment with it so ordered a few skeins and that was the beginning of the end of my plans to clear out my stash. I made an ear warmer/headband out of the Fischer fur and then a cowl out of the Chinchilla and the next thing I knew Lion Brand had me hooked. They did something sneaky—they kept sending me discount codes and I kept using them. My stash is growing out of control again—and all with these adorable, funky, furry yarns.

The patterns I invented were simple. All of these cowls are knit on Size 6, 16” circular needles. The lavender one is knit in the yarn called Romance which looks more like feathers than fur.

Cowl in Romance, color "Sachet"

Feathery Cowl (2 skeins Lion Brand Romance):
Cast on 80 stitches. Knit in the round.
For the first 8 rounds alternate a K round with a P round (Garter stitich).
K next 25 rounds. (Stockinette stitch).
Repeat first 8 rounds (Garter stitch).
Bind off.
Cowl in "Chinchilla"

Furry Cowl (2 skeins Lion Brand Pelt):
Cast on 80 stitches, Knit in the round.
K2, P2, repeat for every round (2 stitch rib.)
Bind off.
Cowl in "Mink"

It's really pretty simple but I love the way these furry yarns knit up—I can make a cowl in 2 or 3 evenings. I have no idea what I'll do with them but they may wind up going to next year's family party with me again. I had a great time last year and it gives me an excuse to keep buying yarn.

Like I need one.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

50 Shades of Fed-Up

  • The books: I read about 50 pages of the first one, felt sick to my stomach, and gave up.
  • The movie: I have no intention of seeing it.
  • I am not in favor of censorship—if you can get through it, go ahead and read it.
  • I know it is fiction.
  • I know that many good people enjoy a BDSM lifestyle and that is their right.
  • I know that many people who read the books and who will go to see the movie got very hot and horny over them. I have no problem with that.

Here is what I have a problem with—romanticizing abuse.

The movie is opening on Valentine's Day, a holiday designed (largely by florists and chocolate manufacturers) to celebrate love. What happens over and over and over in the 50 Shades books is not love, it is emotional manipulation and abuse. I am not offended by the sex. I am not offended by the physical stuff—whatever you want to call it. What disturbs me is the way Christian Grey treats Ana—especially in the beginning. He is a rude, controlling, abusive stalker and what scares the living crap out of me is that so many women make excuses for him and view his behavior as being motivated by love.

Confession time: I have never been in a relationship as dramatic as the one in those books but I have had a couple of experiences with men who scared me with their controlling behavior. I was lucky—I saw what was happening early in the relationships and got out but it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy in no small part because my female friends told me I was crazy to let those men go!!!

The first one: When I was in college I met him at a party. Right from the beginning he was incredibly passionate and romantic. He wanted to spend every spare minute together. He frequently urged me to dress differently. I, like most college students in the 70s, lived in jeans and t-shirts. He wanted me to wear dresses and “girly” things. He sent flowers with notes that were embarrassingly graphic. He had no boundaries when it came to appropriate behavior and, after a few months of this, I was exhausted and fed-up. When I told my girlfriends about it several of them thought I was crazy. “He's so handsome!” He was. “He's so crazy about you!” Crazy being the operative word. Finally, I got up the courage, called him and told him I thought we needed to cool it for awhile. He argued passionately at first but then his whole attitude changed and he started screaming at me, calling me every filthy name he could think of—a tirade unlike any I have heard before or since. I finally hung up on him. I was lucky that time—he went from adoring me to complete indifference. I never saw him again.

The second one: Ten years later when I lived in Texas. I met a man in a pub where my friends and I hung out. He was a big, tough, ex-military south Texas petroleum engineer who went to Texas A&M on a football scholarship. Within months he was spending more time at my house than at his and finally he moved in with me. The first sign of trouble was when he stopped wanting us to do things with my friends. I worked for a big company—Enron, actually—and had a lot of friends who hung out together, went to happy hours, concerts, clubbing, to the beaches in Galveston on the weekend. In the beginning he joined us and seemed to have fun but before long he started complaining that he never got any alone time with me. We lived together—we had plenty of time alone.

My friends stopped calling me and inviting us places. At least I thought they did until the day I walked into the house and caught him erasing a message by one of them asking us to meet for happy hour. He also would make comments about things that happened in my past that I was sure I never told him. When I said that he'd say, “sure you told me that—you probably had too much to drink.” Then one day I noticed one of my dresser drawers was messy and, as I folded stuff, I realized there were several old journals—journals I kept through college and for years after—in that drawer. He had obviously been reading them because all the strange things he mentioned were in those books. When I told one of my friends she said, “Oh, that's so romantic—he wants to know everything about you!” I didn't find that romantic at all.

Then the physical intimidation started. I am a big woman—5'8” and have always been pretty muscular. But he was 6'4” with a 48” chest. He would back me into corners, and behave in a menacing manner. He would say, “Don't worry, I'd never hit you” in a tone of voice that implied the opposite. Luckily for me, I'm pretty good at not taking crap. It's strange when I think about it but when I'd look him in the eyes and say, “You better not try it” he'd back down. Like I said, I was lucky.

Whenever we had a fight and I was absolutely furious he would try to calm me down by saying, "Maybe we should get married. I think it would be good to start planning a wedding." In his mind that was what every woman wanted. I was so mad I wanted to clobber him and that would be his response.

I asked him to move out and he did but wouldn't give back my key. He called several times a day and would turn up on my doorstep any time he pleased. I was going through other changes in my life and I decided to move. I packed up and, within a week, was living in Camden, Maine. But he always got my new number wherever I was and kept calling. I found out one of my girlfriends was keeping him informed. When I moved to Marblehead I didn't tell him or her and the calls stopped.

Conclusion: Over the years, when I have talked about those relationships to other women there have always been a few who would say, “He must have loved you so much—I wish someone was that wild about me.” Unbelievable.

My stories are nothing like the 50 Shades story. I only tell them to illustrate my point—crazy, possessive, controlling, stalker-like behavior is not about love, it is about mental illness. It is abuse and it is NOT romantic. End of story.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Tutorial: Selling eBooks Directly from Your Site or Blog

I have had a few requests to repeat this tutorial from April 2011. Here it is:

Selling books for e-readers through Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, etc. is easier than ever but, with a little bit of work, you can also sell your eBooks directly from your own web site or blog. You can set your own price and the only cost to you will be what Paypal deducts for their services. I have sold hundreds of books and knitting patterns in PDF format this way. Below I'll walk you through the steps you'll need to take to do this. All the images below can be enlarged by clicking on them. What you will need are:
  1. Your manuscript in e-book format – PDF, HTML, TXT, DOC, EPUB or any other.
  2. An online storage site. If you have your own web hosting site that will work. If not you will need an online storage service like Dropbox, LiveDrive, etc. If you do a search for “online file storage” you can find one that will work for you.
  3. A Paypal account that is upgraded to a Merchant Account. If you already have Paypal you can use that by just upgrading the account. It's free.
  4. A web site or blog where you plan to sell your books.

That's it.

You can sell your book in any format that you have the capability of converting your book. Almost every word processing program (Word, Open Office, etc.) has the capability of exporting your file to a PDF (especially good for image/graphic rich books) and HTML. You can also Save As in TXT, RTF and DOC format. Once you have created your e-book and saved it to the format you wish to sell it in, follow these steps.

First: Upload your file(s) to your online storage site or server. Remember the URL of your file once it is on your server. For this demonstration we are going to call it:

Second: Go to PayPal and login. Select the Merchant Services tab from the top tab bar. Under Create Button select “Buy Now”. Fill in the form as indicated in Figure 1(above).
  1. Select the Buy Now button.
  2. Give the item a name.
  3. Set your price.
  4. Now Scroll to the bottom of the page and select Step 3: Customize Advanced Features.

Third: Once you are in the Customize Advanced Features screen check “No” for the first three items. Scroll down and follow the directions in Figure 2 (above). Check the box as indicated and then put your book's URL in the blank as shown. Scroll down and click “Create Button”.

Fourth: You will now be directed to the screen that gives you the code for your button as shown in Figure 3 (above).  Click “Select Code” and use Control+C or Edit>Copy to copy the code. You are now ready to insert the code into your web page or blog.

Fifth: If you have your own web page you will go to the place on your page where you wish to insert the Paypal button. Insert the HTML code in to the appropriate place using Control+V or Edit>Paste.

In order to add the button to your blog you will need an area that accepts HTML code. I am using Blogger for this demonstration but other blog sites should offer similar possibilities. 

For Blogger, log in to your Dashboard and select the Design tab (above). And do the following:
  1. Select Add A Gadget
  2. From the pop-up box select Add HTML/Java Script.

Once the HTML box popup apprears do the following (above):
  1. Give the box a title
  2. Make sure the “Rich Text” option is showing, this means you are in the HTML screen.
  3. Paste the Paypal code into the body of the box using Control+V or Edit>Paste.
  4. Click Save. (Before you click Save you might want to add information about the book, a picture of its cover, price, etc.)

That's all there is to it. I find that it is a good idea to include directions on my site advising people to wait until the link appears after they click the Paypal button but a lot of people do not. I get emails almost every day asking me to send the link which I email out promptly.

You can set up as many buttons as you like for different books and different versions of books (PDF, HTML, etc.) but you can only set up one automatic download per button. There are a number of services that offer secure storage for online files but they charge a fee so you have to decide if you think it is worth paying that. Check our E-Junkie.

So that is it. Please let me know if something is unclear or if I forgot something.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Creativity and Messiness Connection

Albert Einstein is alleged to have said, “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk a sign of?” I don't know if he said it or not but his desk was pretty cluttered and his mind was—well, anything I say about Einstein's mind would be laughable. But I understand his point. I read recently about a study by a psychological scientist named Kathleen Vohs from the University of Minnesota who did a study on the link between creativity and messiness. Her conclusion was that clutter and creativity are definitely linked for many people.

Does this mean that making a mess will make you more creative? No—at least not in my opinion. But the clutter that accrues while someone is creating is often inevitable. I see it in my house to a nearly embarrassing degree but there is a reason for it.

There is a small room off my kitchen that I use as my sewing room. It is, generally speaking, pretty messy. I have lots of storage bins and organizers but the thing is I have to have lots of stuff around me to get ideas. I tape pictures out of magazines to the wall. I pin pieces of ribbon and feathers and strings of beads and postcards and patterns to a corkboard over the sewing machine table. I stack folded fabric in piles according to color or texture or fiber. These things feed my creative soul.

In the room I use for writing I have books stacked all over the place. And magazines—many with post-it notes sticking out of them to mark something I don't want to forget. There are also books piled up around my bed. There is the book that I am reading plus lots of books I am using for research—I never know which one I am going to feel like reading. On the wall over my desk are lots of photographs of interesting looking people that I think might inspire characters. There are also a lot of rocks and crystals and little hand-sculpted figures of mermaids that people have given me because I have this peculiar notion that they bring me good luck. There is a stuffed doll next to my laptop of a bearded fellow in a Steelers uniform with the number 99 on his jersey because I think he is good karma. Plus there are bottles and jars of vitamins and herbs, empty tea cups, and candles. Because I need them.

See here is the thing—clutter does not inspire creativity. You can't mess up a room and then sit down and wait for inspiration. You have to start working on something and allow the clutter to accrue organically. Your clutter will be different from any other creative being's clutter. Your clutter reflects the way your mind wanders.

Even in the kitchen I tend to have too much on the counter at all times. I am very much an out-of-sight-out-of-mind cook. If I don't see something chances are good I'll forget it is there to be used. Just last night while cooking dinner I opened a cupboard door to search for something and I saw a jar I hadn't noticed in ages. It contained dried shallots and it was a very happy find for me but I had totally forgotten I had them.

I don't know if clutter is a good thing or a bad thing—I do know that for some of us it is an inevitable thing. Lucky for me I have only me to answer to—I'd hate to inflict my world on anyone else.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Warm Thoughts While Waiting for the Blizzard

I have been a very bad blogger lately, mostly because I have been busy with other things—all writing related, though, so I will not complain. According to the National Weather Service we have a blizzard headed our way so, in a little while, I will go out and do a few errands—stock up on any essentials that are not already sufficiently stocked—then come home and hunker down. My only concern is losing power for very long. However, since I live close to downtown and just 2 blocks from City Hall, even when we do lose power we are among the first to have it restored.

The first good thing that happened this week is the proof copies of th book I have been working on for Dick Dornisch arrived. Much as I appreciate the ease and convenience of digital book, there's nothing quite like a real book. The St.Marystown Saga is beautiful! The paper is a nice, sturdy, pure white that shows the drawings well and I'm happy with the cover.

The book is now live on Amazon and has been selling well enough to climb to #44 on Amazon's Local History list. That makes me happy.

The second good thing is that the boxed set of my three full-length novels is $2.99 for Kindle all this week. The novels are $3.99/each if purchased separately and the boxed set is normally $8.99 so this is a very good deal for a short time.

And the third good thing is that the new Marienstadt stories for the next collection are coming along. I finished a long one called The Memory Quilt of Lacey Mulhearn which turned into a very endearing story that I love. And I finished the first draft of a very short story called A Mystery in Porcupine Run. It's a combination of funny and sad but I like it.

So, that is my life these days—stay home, stay warm, work, be productive, and think about Spring. If you are in the path of the storm I wish you warmth and safety, and if you are not, I wish you happiness and productivity.

Thanks for reading.   

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Doing Research: Mail Order Brides & Arranged Marriages

One of the stories in my new series of Marienstadt tales concerns a mid-19th century marriage between a successful 30-something businessman in America and a pregnant and disgraced 15 year old from “the Old Country”—Ireland. In the story, Paddy came from Ireland as a teenager to work on the railroad but, being a very industrious young man, he made the decision not to marry until he had made his fortune and had a proper home to offer a wife. However, by the time he has made a success of his life, he discovers there are no suitable wives available. Then he learns that the teenage daughter of a friend from the Old Country has gotten herself “in the family way” by a married man. He sends for the girl, concocts the story that she was married but that her husband died to tell his friends, and promptly marries her upon her arrival. It turns out to be a reasonably good marriage and the story has a sweet ending.

As I was working on it I became interested in the customs and expectations about such marriages in the mid-19th century. The term “mail order bride” is commonly used for marriages at that time but it is misleading. It implies that the young women were just picked out of a catalog and sent for but the reality was quite different. Thanks to two factors—the building of the trans-continental railroad and the Civil War—there was a huge imbalance of unmarried people in the United States. The west was filled with single men who had worked their way west building the railroad. The east was filled with young women whose chances of marriage were slim because of the massive loss of men in the Civil War. It is estimated that in the late 1860s there were 30,000 unmarried ladies in the east with no husband material available. Consequently, if a woman wanted to marry her only option was to travel west. Thousands of women did.

At that time the generally accepted sentiment was that marriage was a matter of practicality and that love would come later. Usually marriages were arranged by a local clergyman or marriage broker. Though the betrothed couple sometimes communicated by letters before meeting, illiteracy was common so, unless there was access to someone who could write for them, they knew very little about each other before they met.

There are accounts of prospective bridegrooms meeting their new bride at the train station accompanied by a priest or minister who performed the ceremony then and there. The reason most often given was so that the couple would not be tempted to “sin” before marriage, but it is acknowledged that a far more common reason was that the men did not want to risk the girls taking a look at them and turning around to get back on the train. Among the Irish this was especially true because, being mostly Catholic, the marriage was not considered valid until it was consummated. A new Irish bride could expect to be married while still in her traveling clothes, then led across the street to a hotel where the marriage was “made valid”—so to speak.

All of this seems very scary and somewhat unsavory to us now but in the 19th century such marriages were often the only way many people would marry and have a family. In the west single men were not thought capable of managing a farm or ranch without a wife and children to provide stability and help as the farm or ranch grew. In the east single women were considered a burden that their families had to support if they couldn't find older widowers willing to marry them.

As I was doing this research I was somewhat surprised to see how many times married people described their marriages as happy or, at the least, content. They did not have the expectations of love and romance we have today. Both parties knew their duty and fulfilled it.

So my story of Paddy and Lacey follows the customs of the times. It will be interesting to see how it is received by contemporary readers. The Memory Quilt of Lacey Mulhearn will be added to the next Marienstadt collection. And all this research has added considerably to all the strange information swimming around in my brain.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Unique Approach to Story-telling

In my last blog post I talked about the book, The St. Martystown Saga, that I was designing. I was very excited about the project and, frankly, I have gotten very little else done since I started working on it. The deeper into the project I got, the more dazzled I was by the sheer complexity of what Dick Dornisch accomplished with this work. The history that he wrote is so detailed and so grounded in events around the world that it makes the growth of our community fully understandable in terms of what was going on in the world. As before, I am just in love with the drawings in these comic strips. I've isolated a number of them to use on the front matter and back matter of the book just so people can appreciate the art without being distracted by the words.

I read comic books when I was a kid—I loved Katy Keene but was also a big fan of my brothers' action comics. I remember reading the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four and Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. I also loved all the Classics comic books which told stories from world literature in comic book format. I avidly collected all of them and, to this day, there are a few classic novels whose characters still look like the drawings in the comic books inside my head.

Maybe this is why I was so taken by the whole notion of Dick's comic strips. I love the combination of images and words. Comic strips have been around as long as newspapers have but learning history this way is not something I would have thought of. And I cannot help but wonder if I would have loved history more back when I was in school if it had been presented this way.

As an adult I've occasionally picked up graphic novels and am awed by the workmanship. My problem, of course, is that I am not a big fan of fantasy/science fiction and it seems most graphic novels are in that genre. But the artwork continues to impress me.

So the paperback of The St. Marystown Saga is nearly complete and I am looking forward to seeing the actual books. This has been a labor of love for me and I hope that the results reflect that.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

St. Marystown Saga: A Publication Long Overdue

Although I was born and grew up in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, my inspiration for the fictional town of Marienstadt in many of my stories, I have not lived there since 1980. In some ways, I suppose, that makes it possible for me to recall the town in a spirit that is quite a bit more idealistic than realistic. One of the things I most remember from my young years there was the abundance of “colorful characters” that the town seemed to grow in great number. One of these was a man named Dick Dornisch.

I didn't really know Dick, though I knew who he was. He worked for the local newspaper, The Daily Press, and was the leader of a book club that was well-regarded. I knew him well enough to say hello on the street but that was all. By 1996 I was living in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and going back to St. Marys for visits about once a year. During that time I started hearing about a comic strip that appeared every Saturday in the local paper. It was called St. Marystown Saga and was a combination of history lesson and cartoons written and illustrated by Dick. My mother had recently passed away and my dad, living alone, began cutting out the comic strips and mailing them to me—especially when they mentioned people we were related to. I enjoyed them, pinned them on my refrigerator, and didn't think more about them.

In 2011 I wrote my first Marienstadt story, The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood, never dreaming it would grow into an entire series. That story grew into ten more which were published as The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall:Secrets of Marienstadt and the title story of the collection won the the eFestival of Words award for Best Short Story of 2013. People kept asking for more and as I began work on a sequel, The Christmas Daughter, I thought of Dick's comic strips and all the history they contained. I wished I had saved all of them to refer to for inspiration.

Then it came to my attention that a man named Dennis Lecker had scanned all of Dick's comic strips and posted them on a web site. There were over 350 panels posted. Not only did he tell the story of our town but he placed events within an historical context to show how our little St. Marystown grew in relation to world events. He drew pictures of people and events both local and global—fabulous little cartoons of our town's colorful characters as well as U.S. Presidents, world leaders, people in the news. His drawings were amazing.

I saved the web pages to my tablet and spent hours looking at the pictures and reading. The story was thorough and endlessly interesting but the drawings were what fascinated me. They were tiny but as I enlarge them on my screen I was endlessly charmed by the tiniest details—the ribbons on a little girl's pigtails as she ran, a man rushing for a train losing his hat, the buttons on the back flap of a lumberjack's long johns, or the coffee grinder on the counter of a housewife's kitchen. Beautiful, perfectly illustrated little touches that delighted me. I wanted all these comic strips in a book where people could see how talented this man was.

In December when I was in St. Marys I met with Dennis Lecker, a close friend of Dick's, who had scanned all the comic strips. I outlined my idea for a book to him and Dennis said he would talk to Dick, who is in his eighties now, about the idea. Dick gave him the go ahead. Dennis gave his high-res scans to me, and I set to work. In a little over a week, I cleaned up all of the cartoons and assembled them in an InDesign file. I was so taken with some of the illustrations that I isolate them and enlarged them to use as ornaments on the opening pages. Last night I sent the manuscript off to Dennis for his inspection and, if all goes well, this book will be available from Amazon within the next few weeks.

Even though I happily volunteered my time for this, I feel I got so much from it—I learned more about my hometown and got tremendous inspiration for additional Marienstadt stories. I cannot wait to see the finished books and I am honored and thrilled to play a part in bringing this talented man's work to the world. St. Marystown Saga by Richard “Dick” Dornish will be available soon. Stay posted.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Welcome 2015—It's About Time

I'll be honest—2014 was not my favorite year but it ended well and is now over and we are on to 2015 which I have every hope will be excellent. This year, for the first time in over a decade, I drove to my home town of St. Marys, Pennsylvania, for the holidays and everything about the trip was perfect.

Traditionally, my family holds a Christmas party every year between Christmas and New Years. In the past this has always been at someone's house but this year my brother Wayne decided to host it at the function hall of the PFL (Protective Fraternal League) where he is the president. Our Grandfather Valentine was the president there in the late 1940s so he is carrying on the family tradition. The party was scheduled for Saturday the 27th so on Christmas Day I packed my car and the morning of the 26th I drove 556 miles—most of it across I-80 through Pennsylvania.

It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day in the 40s and a good day for getting to see a lot of geology in the deep cuts in the Applachian Mountains that line I-80. Because I have been writing more Marienstadt stories this was an added opportunity to feed the Muse. Though I have driven I-80 many times—both coming an going from Maine and then Massachusetts nd when I was in college at Penn State—I tend to forget how beautiful and multi-layered the mountains are.

As I was climbing Red Hill Summit, just outside of St. Marys it was a little after 4:00 pm. The sky was bright with lots of moisture in the atmosphere and at the top of the summit I saw the most brilliant and enormous sundogs I have ever seen. We get to see sundogs here in Gloucester a lot but I don't recall ever seeing them in Pennsylvania before. They were huge and brilliant. It felt like a welcome home.

Saturday morning, before the party, I drove down to the Elk Park in Benezette which I've written about in a couple of Marienstadt stories. The Elk Park itself was pretty much deserted—no elk to be seen but as I was coming down through Medix Run I saw these two fellows and that made the trip worthwhile. They were just grazing by the road looking handsome.

The party started at 2:00 pm and in no time the whole hall was filled. There were over 30 of us and it was so good to see all the beautiful nieces and nephews again. Wayne had knocked himself out with food—spaghetti and meatballs, ham and scalloped potatoes, home-made bread. Anne and Any brought Andy's home-made venison sausage and there were tons of cookies and snacks plus two kegs of beer on tap and lots of wine. The PFL has the advantage of having a game room so we could play pool or darts and, because it is right downtown, the teens could go out and walk around town when they were restless. I left at 10:45, absolutely exhausted, and the party was still going strong.

The next morning we all met again at the West Wind Grill and, although most of us were a little hung-over, we all showed up and had a fine breakfast together. After much hugging and well-wishes, most headed back to wherever they came from. I was meeting my long-time friend Ray for a late lunch so I went to the cemetery for a little while just to pay respect and do a little research.

Lunch with Ray was fine as it always is and I could have stayed all day if I were not so tired. I had one more mission and that was to go in search of a Mail Pouch Tobacco Barn. Years ago there had been many of them in Elk County but the first two I hoped to see while driving in were gone. So I headed out the Bucktail Trail and, sure enough, I found this one.

My next collection of Marienstadt stories has a story in it called Candy Dippold and the Mail Pouch Barn, about the efforts of townspeople to save the county's last one. So it pleased me to discover there was still one around.

And that is the highlights of my first holiday trip to Marienstadt in many years. More to tell later but thanks for reading and wishing everyone a peaceful and prosperous 2015.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

#Christmas with My Characters: V. Ruthie, Bertie, and Jim

This is from the story Treeing from A Very Marienstadt Christmas:

In the dining room, Belva carefully stirred a blend of rum, cognac, brandy, and milk into the Tom and Jerry punch bowl, being careful not to disturb islands of spicy meringue.
I never heard of Tom and Jerrys before Father Nick told me about them,” she said to Ruthie.
When I was little,” Ruthie said, “my mother served it for every Christmas party from Belsnickel to New Year’s Eve. She always made hers with milk but Mother Bertie said she used to make hot Tom and Jerrys with coffee.” As she said it she looked up to find her tall, imperious mother-in-law headed toward her. Ruthie reached for the last mug and ladled punch and meringue into it.
Here, Mother Bertie,” Ruthie said, “let me fix one for you. I’m so glad you got here before all the mugs were taken. I tried to keep them just for Tom and Jerrys but the kids love them and keep grabbing them for their fruit punch.”
That’s perfectly all right.” Bertie smiled with genuine pleasure in her eyes. “It just warms my heart to see my grandchildren using the very same mugs that my mother served our Christmas eggnog in.”
As Ruthie turned the cup to hand it to her mother-in-law she saw something that made her hand tremble and her knees wobble.
Oh dear!” she gasped before she could stop herself. A few guests standing nearby glanced over at her. Bertie looked up.
Whatever is the matter?” She reached to take the mug from Ruthie’s shaking hand.
Oh, my!” Ruthie looked up with wide eyes. “I don’t know how that happened. I never even noticed it.”
What?” Bertie said, turning the cup. Then she laughed. “Oh, I forgot all about that.” She held it up and ran one finger over a chip the size of her little fingernail in the handle. She laughed. “Oh my. That was a very long time ago.”
Ruthie stared at her—her mouth moving but no sound coming out.
My husband is responsible for that, God rest his soul—he always was the clumsiest man
in town.” Bertie smiled with a misty expression in her eyes.
What?” Ruthie could barely speak.
I think it was the last Christmas we spent together.” Bertie sighed. “We had a wonderful party and after everyone left I was starting to clean up, but Norm said he wanted me to come have a drink with him by the Christmas tree.” Her eyes misted with tears and Ruthie stared at her. In all the years she had known Bertie she’d never seen a tear in those sharp eyes. “Norm turned out all the lights except for the tree and fixed us each a drink in these mugs. We were cuddling on the couch and…” Bertie flushed. “Norm was kissing me but he had this mug in his hand and he got so carried away he smacked his hand into a lamp and took a chip right out of the cup.” Bertie took a napkin from the buffet table and wiped her eyes. “Oh my. He thought I would be mad at him but I couldn’t stop laughing. Poor dear Norm. He was killed in an accident at the plant the following summer.” She looked at the chip in the handle of the cup and smiled. “I’m so happy I remembered that.” Bertie leaned forward and kissed Ruthie’s cheek. “Thank you, dear. Thank you so much.”
Ruthie stared with her mouth open as Bertie walked away.

Evening settled in and, though soft snow continued falling, no one seemed in a hurry to leave. Lucius arrived and let Belva lead him around as she showed off her diamond and collected congratulations and hugs. Ruthie thought Lucius looked like he would explode from happiness. She was carrying an empty tray back to the kitchen when, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a couple making good use of the mistletoe hanging in the hall. Jim held Ellie against him, his head bent over hers. She ran her fingers through his hair and sighed as he kissed her.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

#Christmas with My Characters: IV. Oliver and Gretchen

From Story #9, The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Ever since she was a kid Gretchen has had a crush on Oliver but in recent years he has lived as a recluse deep in Opelt's Wood. Finally, Gretchen discovers the reason for his seclusion and helps their mutual friend Father Nick to do something about it. Oliver is grateful and Gretchen can't stop thinking about him. On Christmas Day she leaves her mother and sister and drives down to Opelt's Wood to find him:

 There were over a dozen deer feasting on apples in the hollow as she approached the sawmill. One was a buck with a beautiful rack. She was glad to see he had survived another hunting season. She pulled her car up beside Oliver's truck but before she could get out he appeared at the door of his workshop with sandpaper in his hand, Toots by his side.
“You're not supposed to work on Christmas,” she said as she got out of her car.
“Who says?” he asked.
She shrugged. “You're supposed to sit around the table with a bunch of relatives, eat way too much, get drunk, and pass out in front of a football game. Isn't that the tradition?”
He laughed and she noticed he looked very good, happy, rested, and content.
“Merry Christmas,” she said as she approached and stood on her toes to kiss him.
“Thanks for what you did,” he said. “I still can't believe it. I'm so happy.”
“It was Father Nick who found them.” She was intensely aware of the feeling of his hand on her back as he guided her into his shop. “And thank you for my beautiful clock. Where did you find that little lady with the quilt?”
He grinned. “Sister Hilda at the convent made it. I ordered a bunch of miniatures from her to put on more clocks.”
“I love it.”
He stood silent for a moment and then he looked at her feet. “I'm glad you have good boots on. I've got something I want to show you. Come on,” he said, pulling on his jacket. “Toots, you stay here. We'll be back in a bit.”
Toots gave a little whimper and curled up by the woodstove.
He walked with her to his truck and opened the passenger side door for her. “Watch your step,” he said.
He stepped up into the driver's side and said, “Fasten your seat belt and hang on.”
They headed off past the sawmill, up the single lane drive that hugged the river. Here in the depths of Opelt's Wood the snow was deeper on the ground. The trees grew thicker and darker almost blotting out the sun.
“Okay, hang on.” He guided the truck off the road onto an old logging grade and they bumped and lurched through miles of bushes so thick they scraped against the sides of his truck. She rolled down the window and captured a juniper bough loaded with frosty blue berries. The trees were wound round with the skeletons of wild grape vines. Hemlocks brushed the windshield leaving scatterings of little cones across the hood of the truck.
“This is my favorite Christmas adventure ever,” she said laughing.
“Just wait,” he said. “This is part of the Seneca Highlands not many people get to see.”
They climbed a steep hill with the truck tipped so far to the side that she thought if she reached out of the window she could touch the ground. Then, as suddenly, as they had entered the deep woods, they emerged into a clearing... a vast field in which the milkweed plants stood as high as the windows and sumac and sassafras bushes were everywhere. Ahead of them, at the crest of a rise, stood a mammoth oak tree, whose bare branches formed a pattern of black lace against the bright blue sky.
“That's beautiful,” she said.
“Wait,” he said, “I'll get us closer.” As they approached the tree he leaned over to her and pointed. “See that?”
She followed the direction of his finger. Though the branches were bare, in the them, on the right side of the tree, low in the limbs, was a ball of brilliant greenery. It looked completely out of place in a tree bare of leaves and yet it swayed and shone in the winter light.
“What is that?”
He smiled. “Come on.” He parked the truck and they hopped out. The dry winter grasses weren't as deep here at the top of the hill and he put his arm around her waist and guided her through the ankle deep snow until they were standing under the tree.
She looked up and saw clusters of small white berries nestled among the leaves.
“It's a parasite,” he said. “It takes up residence in some trees like big oaks and it grows there all on its own. Here...” He bent down and picked up a sprig of the green leaves and clusters of white berries that had fallen into the snow.
“It's beautiful,” she said, touching the berries.
“Let me,” he said and he wove it into her silky blond curls. “That's a perfect place for it. Haven't you ever seen it before?”
She shook her head. “I don't think so.”
“I bet you have,” he said. “It's mistletoe.”
He looked into her eyes and knew, as they stood under the old tree atop the snowy landscape on this Christmas afternoon, that he wanted children of his own and that this woman beside him was the one he wanted to have them with. So he stroked her hair, and drew her to him. He cradled her warm body against his, cupped her face in his big hand, leaned down, and shared with her the tradition of the mistletoe. 
Read the rest of the stories, The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall, Boxed Set.

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