Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Perfect Storm: 15 Years On

Fifteen years ago today I was living in a house on a bluff overlooking the ocean in Marblehead, Massachusetts. It was a Thursday and and I stopped at my friend Judy’s house on my way home from work. “You better go home and batten down the hatches,” she said. What do you mean? “Didn’t you hear about the monster storm that’s coming?” she asked.

By the time I got to Peaches Point the waves were halfway up the lawn and the house was shaking like a wet dog. It occurred to me that maybe it would be wise to go camp out at someone else’s house for the night but there is a local superstition that unoccupied houses get hit harder in storms than occupied ones do so I decided to stay. The back of that house was all made of glass with a big wrap-around deck and I went outside to bring in porch furniture. The wind was unlike anything I have ever experienced. It sucked the breath right out of you. I had to turn my back to the wind in order to drag the few remaining deck chairs to a safe, protected corner and then struggled to get the doors shut.

I had been through a few hurricanes in Texas and thought I knew a thing or two about storms but this was a monster. I spent that night on the sofa in the livingroom listening to the wind torturing the trees and bashing them into the glass plates, listening to the grates in the fireplace rattle and clank. When I went to the bathroom the floor was wet from water that had splashed out of the commode when a particularly hard blast of wind hit it.

When morning came it was completely dark in the house. All the windows along the back of the house were coated with a thick layer of leaves and crusted salt spray. When I finally managed to get one of the sliding glass doors onto the deck open it was like that scene in the Wizard of Oz only in reverse. I never saw so much destruction! The entire lawn was littered with fallen branches, lobster traps and buoys, assorted sea vegetation in great piles, an old anchor, and a 35 foot cabin cruiser lay on its side against the tree by the seawall.

The seawall was gone in places. So was most of the pier as well as the piers of the neighbors on either side of us. Everything was a mess.

Work was cancelled and, in the afternoon, after I had cleared away as much debris as I reasonably could, my friend Trudi and I decided to take a ride up the coast. It was just worse and worse the farther out Cape Ann we went. By the time we got to Gloucester there were boulders the size of coffee tables in the middle of the road, mountains of tangled debris consisting of smashed lobster pots, buoys, nets, seaweed, and all the flotsam and jetsam that the ocean could throw up. It was a beautiful, quiet blue day and the devastation was amazing. Eden Road was impassable. The backsides of the houses that lined it were missing, dories lay smashed on lawns, the breakwater out to Cape Ann Lighthouse looked like some great seamonster had taken a bite out of the middle of it.

We stopped at a little restaurant for a late lunch and, while we were eating, a man came in and said to a table full of mean near us, “Did you hear? The Andrea Gail is missing.” The room became very, very still.

That was fifteen years ago. We had a heck of a storm over the weekend but today is sunny and beautiful. The crew of the Andrea Gail is long gone. Books have been written, movies have been made, tourists come each summer to drink in The Crow’s Nest and look at their pictures on the wall. Sometimes I see Bobby Shatford’s brother and sister around town. Fifteen years has helped them. Storms come when they please. There’s nothing we can do to stop them. They’re a reminder that life is uncertain — enjoy the sunny days. Always enjoy the sunny days.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 27, 2006

My Bed of Roses Bed Jacket & Other Silk Pretties

This horrible cold is still horrible but my good friend Jane brought me a big kettle of her wonderful homemade chicken soup with matzo balls and it has perked me up a bit. So I figured it was time I posted the little bit of knitting I did this summer. All three projects were made with silk or silk blends so they are beautifully lusterous and shimmery.

The first one is a long, rectangular shawl knit in a Haitian Silk called Gemstone. It is a combination of silk and rayon, thick and thin and quite "slubby" and very soft when finished. The finished piece measures 76" by 24". It was knit on size 7 needles and has a crocheted edge.

The second one is also a long, rectangular stole knit from 100% raw silk that I reclaimed from a thrift store sweater. The sweater had the original label in it and it was very easy to unravel. The yarn was very thick and very thin and has the most gorgeous sheen to it (see the closeup). I knit it on size 10.5 needles using a basic Old Shale stitch. I just love this as it goes with everything and looks so elegant.

The third piece is my new favorite-garment-I-own. It is a bed jacket style sweater made from KnitPick's 100% Pima Cotton Crayon in Pink and a scrumptious hand-dyed silk eyelash yarn I bought on eBay.. This is the softest thing you can imagine and it is warmer than I thought it would be. The only thing is, it does "grow" as cotton often does but it tightens back up when it is washed. I just knit a basic V-neck cardigan holding one strand of each yarn together on size 10 needles. I knit from the top down and, when I got to the appropriate place I started a lace stitch. i don't even know what this lace pattern is called. I got it off the Internet.

The sleeves are 3/4 length, which I love. The overall garment comes down to mid-thigh. Every time I wear it people stop and ask me where I got it. The color is just scrumptious and the combination of cotton and eyelash silk looks like old-fashioned chenille. As usual, I just made it up as I went along. I call it my Bed of Roses bed jacket because of the softness and the color.

I love this bed jacket so much I am making another one in a slightly different lace pattern out of Crayon in Periwinkle. I'll keep you posted.

Stay warm --- it is very windy and cold here in Gloucester. Br-r-r-r.....

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

F/V Black Sheep in the GD Times

Back in June the Gloucester daily Times (affectionately known around here as the GD Times) expressed an interest in doing a story about Mark's book. It came out yesterday. The writer, Gail McCarthy, has been a staff writer there for awhile and did a very thorough job in my opinion. It made the front page and I am reprinting it, with photo, here. Mark says he looks like a dead haddock in the picture. Enjoy!

Local lobsterman writes about life on the water and in Gloucester
By Gail McCarthy
Staff writer

Late one fall afternoon about a decade ago, a soaking wet Mark Williams entered City Hall with a bag of "goodies" - pizza, rum, Coke and ice.

Williams stood in the stairwell, dwarfed by the list of names that cover the walls. He knew, though still dazed with shock and chill from the North Atlantic waters, how close he came to becoming one more name on the list of 5,000 Cape Ann fishermen who have been lost at sea.

As he sipped the rum to numb the pain and warm his body, he read each and every name stenciled on the wall.

"I've been in the water all my life," said Williams, who grew up near Good Harbor Beach, spending his days in the tidal creek behind his family home and who had nearly died alone in the water that day, when a trawl line became wrapped around his leg and dragged him overboard a mile or so off the beach.

Now, William has written about his experiences on the water and in Gloucester, in a memoir, "F/V Black Sheep," the name of his lobster boat.

Floating memories

As he clung to the vessel, memories raced through his mind from when he was a boy shooting rats on the waterfront to scenes of his adult life as a lobsterman.

Those thoughts quickly disappeared when the lobster gear gave way, pulling Williams to the bottom of the ocean. Williams' physical strength and commercial diver training would help him win his race with death in the next few minutes.

It took a couple of years before details of that afternoon began to surface in his memory. On a whim, he began to jot them down. Over the course of the next few years, he filled 23 notebooks with stories of his life and the near death experience.

In a book he self-published, Williams shares tales of Gloucester lore past and present. Writing in language both gritty and prosaic, he unveils the warmth of close friendships and the violence of barroom brawls. He writes in frank language about everything from his first job working for his father to seeking the erotic charms of local women.

His stories are funny as well as sad. He described his first meeting with the late David "Sully" Sullivan at a local bar. Sully died along with the rest of the crew of the Andrea Gale, the subject of the book and film, "The Perfect Storm."

The book's dialogue brings to life his opinion on everything from the politics of the government's fishing regulations to his view of the New York "yuppie" who tried to rent his lobster traps for the movie version of "The Perfect Storm," when it was filmed in Gloucester.

Gloucester bred

Williams, the son of Ted and Elizabeth Williams, was one of five children.

He attended Gloucester schools before attending St. Peter's High School, where he played both football and baseball. After he graduated in 1970, he went south to study at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. An all-star baseball player in high school, a shoulder injury put a stop to a baseball career.

His father, Ted Williams, and brother Jeff Williams, both played professional football. His father, after his football career, worked at the Empire Fish Co., where he was foreman, for more than 30 years.

Mark Williams, 54, also has the build of a football player - broad shoulders and a stocky frame. His brawn, as well as his knowledge of staying alive under the water, played a role surviving an incident that would have killed others.

He credits the memory of his father, his tough love and training to "always think before acting," for helping him endure the pain and find a solution to the death trap in which he found himself. He said thoughts of his father helped him find the power to free himself under water.

Finding a career

After college he returned to Gloucester, where he bought and refurbished houses for a spell in the late 1970s.

Then he entered the world of commercial diving. He trained at the Commercial Dive Center in California, after which he traveled to Aberdeen, Scotland, where he worked at Sub Sea Off Shore. He also worked in the Norwegian fjords. Then he returned to Cape Ann when he landed a job at the Atlantic Dive Co.

"Like everyone else born in this town, they can't wait to get out. But after a while, they can't wait to get back here," Williams said. "People say 'Why don't you go over the bridge?' I say I did for a decade, and I don't want to go anywhere else now."

When the Gloucester dive company closed, Williams needed to find a new job. He decided to try a new venture and bought a lobster boat called Chassea.

"Stumbling at first, I learned the world of the inshore lobster man," Williams said. "When people ask what is the best part of lobstering, I tell them 'the trip home.' If you don't get along with yourself, you better find something else to do."

The vessel eventually sank after it became disabled, and the Coast Guard plucked a freezing Williams from the ocean in the mid-1980s.

He then purchased The Black Sheep.

In all, William worked 17 years at the back-breaking trade, quitting the business around 2000. He sold the boat about three years ago.

The memoir

Williams approached editor and writer Kathleen Valentine in May 2004 after her name was recommended.

"He asked if he could drop off a chapter for me to look at, which he did," Valentine said. "As soon as I read the manuscript, I knew he was very talented. His spelling and grammar needed work but, despite that, his writing was so powerful that I called him and suggested we meet."

After lengthy discussion on publishing options, Williams decided he wanted to publish independently.

"He's a Gloucester fisherman, what did I expect," Valentine said. "So we set about preparing the manuscript and designing the book."

Williams said 99 percent of the book was written just as the accounts happened once the repressed memories began to seep into his consciousness. He said he can't remember what year his near-death experience occured, which he tried to block from his memory for years. He thought he could never tell his story.

"By a miracle I lived through the afternoon. It was only later that I began to write down the long-forgotten stories of my life that had flashed that day before my eyes in incredible detail. The result is this book. I wrote this almost verbatim as parts of my conscious brain kicked in that I never felt before," he said.

The result is a 31-chapter book, dedicated to the more than 5,000 fishermen who sailed out of Gloucester Harbor but never returned.

One chapter describes an incident in the late 1990s when he and many others fought through a 25-foot rogue wave known among Gloucester fishermen as the "10:21 wave."

In chapter 22, he writes about other dangers.

"Lobster fishing is an inherently dangerous endeavor practiced in what is most assuredly a hostile environment," he wrote. "... Probably the most common way for a fisherman to die is the simplest - you fall overboard and you drown. Yes, most lobstermen can swim. However, clad in rubber overalls and boots, swimming is impossible. You sink like a rock."

Fellow Gloucester lobsterman Harrison Golden of Magnolia was the first fisherman Williams had read the 338-page book.

Golden knows firsthand how quickly a lobsterman sinks.

"I went overboard, but I was with someone. A trap wrapped around my leg, and when I went over, I went down about 25 feet. The fellow with me was quick to respond. He didn't know if I was going to come up and where I was going to come up. I was down 15 to 20 seconds. He hauled me up like a heavy trap," he said.

Golden, who also teaches English at a New Hampshire prep school, has known Williams for about 25 years.

"You don't lobster very long without experiencing some of the things that Mark writes about, even a run-in with another lobsterman," he said.

Jane Daniel, a former publisher and writer who read the book, described it as a masculine story, but one a woman can enjoy. The strength of his prose and his storytelling "ooze testosterone."

"It really shows you what the culture was among the guys who fish. These are tough hombres. It's foreign to anything in my life," she said. "It's a peek into another world for me now that I live in Gloucester. This book is about the culture of the city that has existed for hundreds of years. People from Gloucester will recognize all kinds of things."

Williams quietly promotes his book, which can be purchased at local bookstores or online.

"I give books to people and tell them if they like it, they owe me $20," he said. "I find people are stopping to tell me they like my book and hand me $20 bills."

Monday, October 23, 2006

“The Truth About The Novel”

I came across a wonderful little book recently, The Kenneth Roberts Reader, a collection of essays and short selections from his novels. For anyone unfamiliar with Kenneth Roberts (1885-1957), you should be ashamed of yourself. Seriously, he is something of a recent discovery for me and I’m ashamed I didn’t get to know him long ago. Roberts was the consummate Mainer, or Maine-iac as they are known in these parts. A novelist, essayist and general curmudgeon who defined the downeast toughness, humor and practicality that downeasters take pride in.

Roberts wrote some wonderful and very popular novels including Northwest Passage and Arundel. His wry humor and dry wit fills every page along with the kinds of observation for detail that is the mark of a great lover and a great writer. His section in Northwest Passage about the benefits of hot buttered rum instigated a fad across the country that was a benefit to the butter and rum makers of various regions, if not the general populace.

It has been a pleasure to spend time with this lovely little book. There is a perfectly delicious essay on his grandmother’s kitchen and all the delights that came from it. His loving descriptions of a well made corned-beef hash and the proper way to make a pot of genuine beanpot beans had me thinking about breakfast and all its shortcomings when there is no grandma at the woodburner. His recipe for grandma’s homemade ketchup seemed worth a try and he surprised me by advocating a heaping teaspoon of curry powder added to fish chowder.

However after reading grandma’s recipe for coot soup I think I’ll stick to fish, thanks.

Then I came across an essay titled “The Truth About The Novel”. What a jewel. Roberts starts out with the observation that from his observation of the situation roughly 97% of American university students want to “break into literature”. I’m quite sure he is correct about that and it has probably gone up considerably since then. Roberts then goes on to recount, step by step, his own trials and tribulations in getting a novel written and printed. From the first pitch to an editor who “successfully managed to conceal his enthusiasm” for the project, through a meeting with Mr. Russell Doubleday who gave him a check for $1000 in an act of “reckless trustfulness” so he could go to Italy to write, through his four months stay in an Italian cottage engaged in the “romantic and stimulating occupation of sitting at a desk staring at the wall”.

The book Arundel was a success selling over 9,000 copies in 2 years and netting the author a sum of $2,420.95 — minus the $1000 advance. Now, in 1928 $1,420.95 went a lot farther than it does today but, even at that, it was far from a princely sum and, as Roberts points out in the essay, selling a little more than 9,000 books in a nation of 125,000,000 people is pitiful. I’d venture the statistics today are even more pathetic.

Much to his amazement he was not overwhelmed by ladies seeking to win his favor and publishers begging for his next book — and that, despite the claims by popular authors that they were overwhelmed with grateful letters from fans, he received eleven of them.

Roberts is a terrific essayist and, all these years later, reading about the tribulations of such a gifted novelist is healing to the soul. It reinforces, at least to me, the old axiom that anyone can write but a real writer can’t NOT write. We can only dream of doing it as well as Kenneth Roberts.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 20, 2006

We Need Our Help!

Yesterday while I was writing my blog, First Lady Laura Bush was speaking at the first Preserve America Summit in New Orleans. She talked about Gloucester and mentioned the Luminists who began painting here. It was an interesting coincidence to me that while I was writing about them, she was talking about them.

It was a nice speech. I like the First Lady well enough though think she has dreadful taste in husbands but, as is the job of a first lady, is doing a good job of traveling around and saying nice things. I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying nice things – the world could use more of that. I just hope that her nice words aren’t also empty words. Gloucester is in trouble. We need help. Our levy hasn’t broken but our streets are crumbling, our sewers caving in and out beautiful City Hall with its names of 5000 drowned fishermen on its walls is falling down. Our harbor, that beautiful sparkling harbor that has served as a portal for the country and North Atlantic fish and lobsters, is facing big changes if we are to survive as a city. Those of us who live her and love it here don’t want to see the changes change the character of Gloucester, too.

The developers want more luxurious, money-making playgrounds for the affluent — pretty marinas, snazzy condos with waterviews, shi-shi little shops and upscale restaurants. Everything that would make the people who made Gloucester Gloucester run away screaming. Would Fitz Henry Lane and Frederick Mulhaupt and Emile GrupeĆ© paint marinas and condos? Would Rudyard Kipling write about the heroic lives of Sunday afternoon sailboaters? Gloucester has a distinguished history as a hard-working town (and a hard-drinking/hard living town) that may be only a memory after the present generation.

I don’t know what is wrong with us these days. We have become a culture of the most impossibly superficial people on the planet. The world is in chaos and we stay home and watch Dancing with the Stars. Reality TV has become a lot of people’s substitutes for having a life. I say this as a person who has lived in Gloucester for close to 13 years now and has played an active role in one aspect of this city’s history. I’ve chosen to work to enhance and preserve our artistic history by serving on boards and volunteering my time. There are other areas that need help too — especially in historic preservation. But what I have noticed is that every committee I serve on, every endeavor that I get involved in, I see the same faces, the same core of wonderful, devoted people who give their time and energy and money to these very worthwhile endeavors.

I always say that the same 200 people do everything on Cape Ann. There are over 25,000n people living here. What the hell are the other 24,800 doing? I’ll tell you, they are sitting at home watching televisions or in front of their computers pounding out cranky emails and message board posts about how bad things are. WE NEED YOUR HELP! We need those people to take an interest in Gloucester and get involved.

This is not just a problem in Gloucester but in a lot of cities and towns. We are now longer a dynamic, young country full of vim and vigor. As I go farther into my fifties I realize that middle age is a lot of work! And so it is with America — our country is now middle aged and it can’t keep living like a clueless kid.

The First Lady gave a good speech yesterday. It is posted on Mark’s blog. But we can’t sit around and wait for THEM to do something. Americans have always enjoyed a reputation for rolling up their sleeves and giving it a go with humor and creativity. We need to do that now — each and every one of us.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Luminists

I was at The Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, MA not long ago and they have a room full of paintings there from the Hudson River School of Art. Fabulous, luminous paintings mostly of upstate New York — memorable paintings of Niagara Falls. It made me think of Thomas Cole’s remarkable painting of Niagara Falls — I don’t remember when I saw it, I just remember how awed I was.

Niagara Falls was a popular summer time vacation destination when I was a kid. While in college in Erie, Pennsylvania, my friends and I took jaunts up there and later I had a romantic rendezvous in an old hotel overlooking the Falls. So, when I saw the first Hudson River paintings of it I fell in love with them and, ultimately, with much of that entire genre. Later, when I moved to Gloucester and saw my first Fitz Hugh (Henry?) Lane paintings I noticed again the quality of light, the luminosity, that infuses these paintings and makes them glow.

In a painting class in college I had a teacher who loved luminosity and used a technique called “glazing” to build up layers of paint with a semi-transparent quality that allowed the light to travel down through the layers and reflect back causing that sense of glow. He taught us to mix a glaze of equal parts turpentine, stand oil and damar varnish to mix with the paint. I never mastered the style but I loved the technique. Now when I look at the few paintings I have left from those days I can still see that faint glow. I know enough about painting now to know that it is not my greatest strength. So I write but the techniques learned in painting translate well into writing — at least I hope that they do.

In painting classes with Betty Lou, I heard her say again and again that you put your darkest dark next to your lightest light to make your painting glow. The luminists knew that. In the Cole painting of Niagara Falls, the deep, mysterious, dark vegetation of a wild new world surrounds the bright, shimmering luminosity of the Falls. But there is more, the light penetrates the layers of paint and reflects back off the canvas creating that shimmer.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the thing that distinguishes a luminist painting from any other landscape or seascape is that added depth and the contrast in values. BL says that values are the basic structure, the form or skeleton, if you will, that supports a painting, much as they are the basic structure of a life. And a book. And so, when I write, I want to tell a story that is not particularly unusual or extraordinary but to tell it in such a way that the light shines through it, that the ordinariness of relating to another person shimmers with layers of complexity that make the ordinary thing extraordinary.

In My Last Romance and other passions it is the passion that is the glazing medium. The relationship between the characters isn’t particularly different than most relationships — some are good, some are not so good. Some make foolish choices and some look at the person they have married and committed their life to and suddenly see something new. It is all because they are people with deeply passionate natures and that passion brings luminosity and the shift in values that BL extolls. Art is instructive to life on so many levels. Today it is instructive to writing, at least for me.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Guess Who is at Know Your Neighbor?

Is the world ready for this? I ask you.........
Thanks for... um ... looking.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Classic Sensual Romance? Uh...No.

I seem to be on a mission to figure out what to call the sort of writing I do. Right now I can explain it better by what it is NOT than by what it is. What it is NOT is Contemporary Romance of the sort that seems to be popular these days —actually it’s been popular for 20or 25 years now. It is the sort of romance published by companies like Harlequin about two beautiful young professionals caught up in busy lives who just haven’t found the right one and how they then do that. There as an absolute formula that romance writers have to follow. The characters have to be of a certain type, there has to be a particular arc to the story and the ending has to leave the reader feeling good and optimistic. That’s not me.

I’m only thinking about this because I’m trying to promote My Last Romance and other passions and it ain’t easy. The first thing everyone asks is “what kind of book is it?” or, because it has the word “romance” in the title (the title actually comes from the name of a record the protagonist of the first story buys) they automatically assume it is a romance. Basically I don’t have a problem with that it’s just that, like any genre literature, it gets categorized and that means a big chunk of your audience disappears. Actually, I’d just be happy to have an audience to lose a big chunk of.

So I’ve been reading about the origins of the world romance. Originally, back in the 12th century, when the prose form developed, the novel itself was a romance. At that time it mean “adventure” mostly because of the popularity of the first novels which were based on Arthurian legends. There was this hero who had a quest and, while on his journey, he encountered many obstacles and also a woman he would fall in love with. It was only by meeting the challenges presented to him that he grew as a person and was able to win the girl. The classic Hero’s Journey as defined by Joseph Campbell. All these centuries later it is still a pretty good formula. The best current examples of the Hero’s Journey I can think of are the Star Wars movies and, of course, Harry Potter. Joseph Campbell would have loved Harry Potter. I sometimes wonder if Campbell isn’t sitting on a cloud somewhere whispering in J.K. Rawling’s ear.

Some of the greatest novels of the classic romantic form came from America. Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans springs immediately to mind. Writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and James Fenimore Cooper inspired later novelists like James Oliver Curwood who was one of the writers I read voraciously as a girl. The thing about all their novles was that much of the romance of their tales sprang from the terrible beauty of the worlds in which they lived — beauty was concurrent with challenge and danger and it was the environment in which the lovers lived that shaped the story and the course of their romance. I loved that.

Hemingway was good at that, too. I read For Whom the Bell Tolls when I was fifteen and my love of Hemingway began. I still think his A Moveable Feast is possibly one of the best and most romantic books ever written though it doesn’t count as a novel because it is all true.

So I keep trying to figure out what I write. Classic sensual romance? That sounds pretentious. I don’t know. I love both the concepts or romance and eros in their classic forms but the words have gotten too perverted today. Well, perhaps if I am lucky, readers will define it for me and that would be the best thing I could ask for.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Moving On

I read yesterday that early in the morning heavy equipment rolled in and razed the little white one room schoolhouse in Pennsylvania where ten Amish girls were shot by a madman last week. It was a decision on the part of the community that the building should be torn down and, within hours, it was razed and the remains carried away and now the community will not have that daily reminder of the horror that happened there.

I have spent so much time thinking about this entire situation because it is one of those instances where there is no resolution and there never will be. A man whom no one suspected of being capable of such a deed went into a schoolroom filled with the very most innocent of victims and assassinated five and left five more in critical condition then killed himself. He left a few notes that don’t provide much information — bitterness over a lost child, memories of abusing other children who, as adults, don’t know what he was talking about. This is the sort of situation where no one knows what the hell happened. No one could have stopped it and no one can stop it from happening again. It is a complete mystery.

And the Amish, in their stoic, practical, quiet Christianity have behaved so admirably in every sense that it humbles us all. They have extended forgiveness to the killer. I read that at his funeral half of the attendees were Amish people in traditional dress. They went to pray for the soul of the man who murdered five of their own and to offer comfort and support to his wife and children. What a display of Christian goodness!

I read about a group of knitters and spinners who have undertaken a project to spin the yarn and knit it into shawls for the mothers, sisters, and grandmothers of the lost girls and also for the wife of the killer. It is part of the Shawl Ministry which I think is such a warm and tender movement. I wrote about this beautiful gesture in another forum and was barraged with comments mocking the idea that someone would spin and knit for Amish women. Carrying coals to Newcastle one woman called it. I was thunderstruck.

It turned into quite an unpleasant little cyber-war and I finally had to back out. That level of mean-spiritedness is not something I can fathom nor choose to have in my life. But I have been thinking about it and thinking about how the Amish whose community was violated could quietly and in Christian goodness forgive and move on while others who have no connection to the situation would mock and deride women offering a beautiful gesture of comfort. An opportunity to publically advertise their charity, one person said. An unneeded gesture another said. How can people be so black-hearted? Yet, the Amish would counsel forgiveness here too. People often cannot help their unlovingness. We cannot look into the heart of another and know what is there, they remind us.

So the schoolhouse is gone and the fields will be plowed and corn will grow and the living will heal and move on. Some of us will never forget what happened in Pennsylvania and it will live in us as a reminder that we cannot know what is going on inside another. We must trust that to a power greater than ourselves and, for our own sanity, we must forgive and release attachment. Hopefully as a better person for having let go. Evil can beget evil. Forgiveness is the antidote to that. Someday people driving down that road through rows of corn will say how pretty that place is and someone else will say that something horrible once happened around there somewhere but they forget what. And life goes on.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

When Writers Get Together

Last night was the first Hovey House Writer’s Group meeting of the season and I forgot how much fun we are — and how helpful. Most of the faces were familiar from last year and there were a few new ones which is always encouraging. The many changes in the world of publishing has turned this group into a sort of dual purpose one — writer/publishers, people who have tried the New York publishing trade and found it too frustrating, too limiting, too hostile, or just plain too annoying and have decided to form their own presses or publish through small, local presses.

Last night Mark was one of two planned guests and, since the other planned guest was unable to make it at the last minute, Mark wound up being the solo guest which proved to be a good thing. Everyone was so interested in F/V Black Sheep and in asking questions about his book that it took up much of the evening. Mark, who speaks quietly anyway, is not comfortable with reading before a group of people and so another member of the group, who had read his book and was enthusiastic about it, read a section for him.

That was a particularly good experience for me. Having read the book as many times as I did while working with him on it, I’ve lost all objectivity of my own. And, because he and I have spent endless hours talking about it, I’ve also lost objectivity with his view of it. So hearing the book read by someone whose intelligence I hold in high regard and whose taste in books is impeccable was exciting. It was clear she enjoyed the stuff she was reading — in fact she chose to read the very exciting rescue scene in the final chapter. It made me realize anew that he has written a very fine book which most people will love.

There was a new member present and I hope he returns. He was a Boston newspaper man for his entire career and worked on one of the biggest stories to come out of Boston in the sixties but, because events took a different turn, he never got to write the big story of his career. For years he has kept the manuscript and worked on it and now he wants to turn it into a book. His story has a completely different perspective and I think he may have a winner. I hope he keeps coming back. If I sound like I am being mysterious about this, well, I guess I am. But it is his story and I don’t want to get ahead of him with it.

Another group member, Mike Maranhas, brought his new book Re’enev, to show us. The book is due out in early December and has received some good reviews by Amazon readers so far. I have a copy of it and am very much looking forward to reading it. Mike’s an interesting guy full of intensity and integrity — I am betting his writing will be the same and I look forward to finding out.

Marc Levy, who was a presenter at a meeting last year, was also present. Marc recently filmed John Ronan’s The Writer’s Block which will be airing October 12 and 19 at 8 on Channel 12. Marc, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, has written essays, short stories, and poems some of which have recently been published, was one of the original vets writing for Silent Men Speaking. Marc, another soft-spoken man, and Mark got into a good dialogue about the after effects of trauma — for Marc in Vietnam, and for Mark, when he was dragged overboard on from his boat. These are things writers need to share.

So it was a good evening and I look forward to more. Our next scheduled meeting will be November 16 and Mike Maranhas will be talking more about Re’enev. The second part of the evening will be spent talking about book promotion. Hope all the writers out there can make it!

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why Good Catholic Girls Should Never Try To Be Famous

...or even recognized. Okay, that’s an exaggeration and I’m not really that good anymore... or Catholic. Or even a girl. But the point is, if you were a good Catholic girl raised in the fifties like I was you were taught to be modest and self-sacrificing and to do for others and put your own needs last. Well, I was never particularly good at that last one. I always knew what I wanted, even if it changed month to month.

The reason I’m thinking about this is because I am trying to think of ways to promote my book, my business, my publishing company, etc. and it is really difficult without sounding like I am being too pushy and self-involved. I know it needs to be done and, if I was working with a publicist as many writers do, I’d be embarrassed by the amount of “self” I’d have to put out there.

Over the long weekend I had set myself two goals — to get some press releases written and sent off and to think of ways to attract more people to my web sites. It took me two and a half days to get the press releases written for the simple reason I was having trouble telling the world why they should want to buy my book (well-written, good characters, lush settings, blah-blah-blah). It all sounded so self-aggrandizing. No matter how many times I read Marianne Williamson’s poem that I keep in the sidebar of this blog, I still felt like I was being pushy to try to shine that much.

But I got them done. Whew.

So it was on to getting more traffic on the sites. Some years back I had toyed with the idea of having photography offered as part of Valentine-Design. I’ve never considered myself a photographer — I just take pictures. I know too many good photographers to call myself one (are you reading, Ray?) But I’m a pretty good picture-taker and people often asked for copies of my photographs. So, since I had a half-begun photography section on my site, I decided to change it into an e-postcard service where people could come to my site, look at the photos and send them as e-postcards to their friends.

I took the idea further by deciding to add snippets of text from my book and from Mark’s to enhance the photos (and also promote our books.) I talked it over with Mark and he thought the idea was great. So the next challenge was to find a good e-postcard script and install it. HA! Easier said than done.

I found an attractive and customizable script from Postcard-Direct but getting installed was another matter. Major confrontation with my own inability to follow directions. Fortunately, being a good Catholic girl, I also learned to be persistent — or stubborn, take your pick. Well, it took half the night and I have lots more to do to add more postcards but it is working. Whew, again.

The thing is, Marianne Williamson is right, who are we not to shine? Or at least glow. I have the temerity to think I have something to say in this blog. I have the courage to write a book and start a business so I must think I have something to offer the world. Why is it so hard to promote it? My friend Susan Fader of Ditto Editions in Marblehead has a business called My Art Marketing Coach. She teaches artists how to promote themselves. She knows better than anyone what difficulty creative people go through.

So, anyway, I’ll be adding new postcards soon! In the meantime, take a look and send a postcard to someone you like: Parlez-Moi Postcards

Thanks for reading!!!

Friday, October 06, 2006


This has been a hard week. I find myself going to the news websites more than I normally do just to see if there is anything new about the shootings of those dear little Amish girls in Paradise, Pennsylvania. It’s not that I want to intrude on the grief and anguish their families are going through but because there is this longing to know why? Why did this have to happen?

I talked to a friend who lives back there yesterday and she said the grief in the entire area is palpable. She didn’t know the shooter but she knows people who knew him and she said the thing that everyone says over and over is how could he do this? How could no one have known? She said that to those who live in other parts of the country it is easy to say he was a monster but to the people of that area he was one of them, he was someone who worked in their community, that they chatted with, whose children played with their children, whose wife they chatted with in the grocery store. Who could have guessed? Who could have known?

In a way, she said, this is worse than Sept. 11, 2001. The loss of life is not as great and there was no destruction of property. But as information came to light after 9/11/2001 we understood the purpose behind it, however wrong. And, most of all, the men who did it were “them” — others. People we don’t know and whose ways are different from our own. But this, this was done by one of us and for no clear reason that anyone can comprehend. He said he molested people but the people he molested don’t even remember him. What could have happened? The need to know is so powerful and raw and, ultimately hopeless. He shot himself last and now we will never know.

And then there is the response of the Amish, those deeply devout, quiet, peace-loving people that live quietly among the people of my friends area. The grandfather of one of the dead girls said, “We must not think evil of this man.” He said that God asks much of us and that sometimes things happen that are a test of Faith. He said we must pray.

That kind of faith in God just leaves me speechless and amazed. What courage to be able to say such words while aching to the bone with grief for a lost child. And what total faith in the Divine. It is the flower that blossoms through the broken glass. It is the tiny birthday cake candle that is lit in the darkest, darkest night.

I am a person of Faith even though I’m pretty bad at it at times. This past year has been a challenge for a variety of reason most of all because I truly wonder what I am doing with my life at times. But then something like this happens and I feel so devastated that something so horrible and senseless can occur. Then a man like this Amish grandfather steps forth and says “we must not think evil of this man”. I wish there was a way to say to him, in the midst of all he must be going through, what a blessing he is — what a blessing his words are. If there is any sense to be made of all this tragedy it is that these people to whom this horror was done are showing the rest of us what it means to be real Christians.

The word “Christian” gets tossed around a lot these days by the ultra-conservatives. They flaunt Christianity as an excuse to behave in the most unchristian of ways. We are a Christian country, they say, except all that stuff about feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless—forget that. It’s all about personal responsibility, Jesus left that part out on the Sermon on the Mount. It’s made me question whether I wanted to be associated with their ilk.

But an Amish grandfather in a small town outside of Paradise, Pennsylvania has reminded me of what real faith is. I amgratefulto him for that.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Filming The Writer’s Block

I don’t do TV. I don’t watch it — haven’t had cable in 15 years and only use the television as a monitor for the DVD player — and I really don’t want to be on it. So when John Ronan called and invited me to be on his show The Writer’s Block I said, no, thanks, I don’t do TV. But John persisted.

John’s an interesting guy. I first met him at a SeARTS-sponsored performance at the West End Theater. We talked about the Hovey House Writer’s Group and he asked for my phone number. He called me about doing his show and I said no. Then he called me about working on his web site and I said yes. Then he called again about the show. By that time I knew My Last Romance and other passions was going to happen so I figured I better do it. Sigh.

Like a lot of writers I have mixed feelings about talking too much. I write — I don’t talk, I write. It’s safer. But if you get the right subject going then I can talk your ear off and John Ronan, who has hosted The Writer’s Block on Cape Ann’s Cable Channel 12 for seventeen years now, is great at directing the conversation.

I was a nervous wreck all day yesterday. I finally knocked off a thoroughly non-productive work day at 3 and just read trying not to think about the taping at 7. I do that — I take a lot of pleasure in torturing myself. It’s that old thing that if I heap enough stress and agony on myself that will act as preventive medicine and nothing bad will happen. Yes, I know it’s stupid. But it’s a tradition I don’t care to mess with.

So I get to the station and John is his usual charming, smiling self. It is a tiny production room with 3 cameras, 2 chairs, one director and lots of lights. John briefs me on how it will work and then it is SHOW TIME!

The twenty-five minutes went really fast. John’s such a pro that he knows how to keep the dialogue going and when to take control and what to ask. We talked a little about my background — he said I was too modest. I know a lot of people who will laugh at that. Then we got talking about books and writing and WHAM! I’m talking and I can’t shut up! Specifically we got talking about the difference between romance novels in a contemporary sense and the traditional romance novel which I am passionately in love with and what to reclaim. We talked about Hawthorne and Melville and James Fenimore Cooper, the ultimate romance novelist, and why we need writers like that in this world. He said that one of the things that impressed him when he read My Last Romance and other passions was that the characters were all ultimately likeable, that even the bad people were not that bad.

We talked about the sensuality in the book and the tradition in romance writing that the place a story exists in is as integral to the story as the characters. That it is the writer’s responsibility to create an environment that informs the action of the characters and the story itself. Then he asked the hard question, Where is the line between sensuality and eroticism and did you cross it? That’s such a hard question because it is a thing I struggled with. I teetered on the edge of eroticism several times but I kept pulling back simply because we live in an era where erotica has a stigma not unlike the stigma of contemporary romance. They may seem like fine distinctions but to me, in my writing, they are very, very important. I did my best not to cross that line. I want readers to experience the beauty, the passion and the energy of love without slipping into mere sensation. That’s my goal.

Well, it was fun. I didn’t faint. I talked to much. The show airs October 26 and November 2nd. Catch it if you like. I won’t be watching.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Five Children Dead in Paradise

I’ve been sitting here all morning trying to get to work and I can’t. I keep thinking about that little white schoolhouse outside of Paradise, Pennsylvania, a few hours drive from where I grew up, where eleven little girls were shot yesterday and where five are now dead. I get teary every time I try to write about it. There have been a lot of school shootings recently and they are all horrible but this one is tearing me apart — maybe because it is so close to my home but more probably because of the victims, little Amish girls whose families and communities have lived for over a century apart from the rest of the world.

The Amish believe in the Biblical dictate “go ye out from among them and keep ye separate”. They believe that is the only way to lead humble, godly lives in a world that is sinking deeper and deeper into depravity all the time. But even leading their plain lives, the Amish have always known that violence and evil is right there beside them. They chose to believe that their humility and their faith will ultimately serve them and, in a spiritual sense, I am sure it does. But that just makes yesterday’s horrors all the more horrible.

Nothing could have prevented it. That’s the sad truth. I don’t even want to think about what might have happened in the life of Charles Roberts, the executioner of those little girls. People are calling him a monster and, clearly, there was a monster inside o him. But he was a husband and father of many years. I can’t get those two ideas to co-exist in my mind. He had three children that he had just taken to school before he went to another school and started shooting little girls. How can a normal mind wrap around that?

I think about his children and what he has done to them. They have lost their father by his own hand which is terrible enough but they will have to live the rest of their lives with the stigma of being the children of a man who one day murdered five children and shot six more. How will they ever get over that? Didn’t he think of that before he did what he did? No. He couldn’t have.

There is a scene in the movie “Witness”, a movie set in Pennsylvania’s Amish country, in which Harrison Ford, a wounded cop hiding out in an Amish home, sees a bunch of teenage boys humiliating a young Amish man because he is a pacifist and will not fight back. Ford, dressed in Amish clothes, is anything but a pacifist and he steps in and leaves the bullies bloody and beaten. The Amish boy who he defends grinningly tells his friends, “that’s my cousin, that’s my cousin.” Even pacifists have their limits. That schoolhouse in Paradise could have used a movie hero yesterday.

The Amish take pride in caring for one another (though ”pride” is not the word they would use.) They take it as their responsibility to care for one another. Here in Gloucester there is a big controversy going on because a woman died in a fire yesterday because firetrucks did not get to her in time. Budget cuts necessitated the closing of the nearest firestation and by the time the fire department arrived she was dead. In Amish country that would not have happened. Her neighbors would have been there pour buckets of water on her house and pulling her from the fire. The Amish don’t wait for the firetrucks to come to help.

I don’t know. I just don’t know. There is so much sadness here. Five dead children, six more who may not make it, three children who will grow up without a father and, worse, in the shadow of a father who was a murderer. A dead woman in Gloucester. So much anger and outrage. There is something so wrong in all of this. We need to take better care of one another but even when we do we are only a heartbeat away from evil. I have more questions than answers and very little hope of understanding what is going on.

Say a prayer and thanks for reading.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Lost In Place

It was a cold and rainy day here yesterday. Gray and dark, a perfect first of October day but I didn’t really notice it much — I was in Louisiana, New Iberia just outside of Lafayette listening to some great Cajun music and tracking down some real bad guys with Dave Robicheaux. That’s the beauty of really great writing, you get to go places you wouldn’t otherwise have time to go to.

I’ve been to Lafayette, Louisiana and had some of the most fun of my life there. That was over twenty years ago and I’ve heard it has changed. I think I don’t want to go back except like I did yesterday thanks to James Lee Burke and Jolie Blon’s Bounce. I spent the better part of the day on the couch just lapping up every word.

James Lee Burke is an extraordinary writer. He is generally classified as a mystery writer but that’s sort of like calling Diana Gabaldon a romance writer. She is, but so much more. When a friend gave me the first book in the Outlander series I started reading it just to humor my friend. Three months later I emerged from 18th century Scotland into Gloucester to discover summer nearly over and me with a great tan from spending so much time laying on the beach reading. Now THAT’s a good writer!!! Last Thursday I gave Outlander, the first book in her series to my neighbor Eleanor. Yesterday she called me and said,”Where’s the next one?” She read all 896 pages in three days.

James Lee Burke doesn’t write about Scotland but about rural Louisiana and, though his books have none of the contemporary elements of romance in them, they are romantic. You can’t write truthfully about Louisiana and not be romantic. Burke’s books have a mystery att he core of them — lots of mysteries usually — but the greatest mystery is how a place like rural Louisiana ever came to be and what will become of it. He writes with a tenderness and a love of place that is so intense that he can’t prettify anything. It is what it is, warts and scars and stench and all. Because if he told it any other way it wouldn’t be New Iberia and he loves New Iberia.

I first fell in love with his writing when I read Cadillac Jukebox a few years back. It is a stunning novel about the murder of a civil rights leader but what differentiated it in my mind from your average mystery novel was sentences like, Each morning after the sun rose out of the swamp and burned the fog away, the sky would harden to such a deep heart-wrenching blue that you felt you could reach up and fill your hand with it like bolls of stained cotton. The air was dry and cool, too, and the dust along the dirt road by the bayou seemed to rise into golden columns of smoke and light through the canopy of oaks overhead. Having experienced those kinds of mornings in Louisiana, I knew I was in the presence of a lover — a lover of a place.

There are other writers who can do this — Pat Conroy’s descriptions of the Carolina Islands and Dennis Lehane’s Boston come to mind. Hemingway’s Paris. But if you are lucky enough to have loved a place (to paraphrase Hemingway) finding someone who can write about it with such beauty is a gift.

I’m three-quarters through Jolie Blon’s Bounce. I kept putting the book down and getting up to dig out Beausoleil CDs and to cook up a pot of black beans and dirty rice. I’m looking forward to every page to come. It is a great gift to get to spend a rainy Cape Ann Sunday in New Iberia. And it is a great gift to come back to Cape Ann again.

Thanks for reading.