Thursday, February 26, 2009

Remember those blister pearls? Well....

Some months back I made a post about my foray into jewelry making using shells and stones. I had acquired (I don't remember how) five pieces of something called “blister pearls” and I didn't know what to do with them. Well, with some help from my wonderful goldsmith-friend Leslie Wind, they have been transformed into a stunning necklace (below). I think it will look great against a tan this summer --- assuming I get out of the house long enough to get a tan! I have a lot of writing to do this year and that is not something I can do at the beach.

But, in between knitting and writing and working, I have been fooling around with necklace making. Last summer after Mark died when I was still in that stunned, automaton phase I, for some reason, bought an awful lot of beads --- mostly aquamarine, abalone, pearls, and shells of various kinds. My friend Terry, the Stone Lady, told me what those stones represent and it all had to do with the sea and the emotions I was going through and clinging to him through the tiny bits of the ocean that was so much his home. Now I have all those beads and I have been trying to do a few things with them.

Below is a necklace made of rainbow moonstone --- chunky, rectangular beads and tiny round ones --- and small, blue crystals. I need to get Leslie to show me how to do a better job on the clasps but I think it is gorgeous. It really shimmers in sunlight.

And this third piece is made from three mysterious stones that my friend Lois sent me. I have no idea what they are but they sure sparkle and glitter. I strung them with crystals of different sizes and I m finding this to be a nice everyday piece of jewelry.

I think there is little bit of magic in stones and I think wearing them can help us through phases that may be hard to deal with. I feel like I have so much going on these days that focusing has become an issue so maybe the stones are trying to help me. And, even if that is whimsy on my part, they sure are pretty.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 23, 2009


The title of this blog entry refers to two things, actually, what I feel for all the wonderful knitters who have purchased my e-book in the past three days, and the primary compliment my shawls have received from them.

It snowed last night here in Gloucester and the wind was howling --- still is. As I was answering emails about the shawl book I was happy to be wrapped up in the original aqua mermaid shawl. And, as I read emails, I was happy to see how many knitters said, "I love your shawls because they look so warm. Fine lace shawls are pretty but I want a warm shawl." That pleased me because, of course, that's what shawls were originally all about. Fine lace is lovely and glamorous to wear but nothing beats good warm shawl in weather like this.

At left is a picture of my friend Rebecca wearing her shawl which is also in the book. It is made of a viscose/angora blend and is plenty warm. The day we took that photo --- out on Briar Neck with the Thacher Island lighthouses on the horizon --- it was a cold day and she looks so warm wrapped up in it.

So, anyway, the e-Book of The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties is doing very well! I have received some wonderful emails and comments in forums. Margaret O. in Canada wrote, "I just bought your book, after looking at the inside. It is just what I have been looking for. Your illustrations and commentary have eased my fear of starting a shawl." Our good friend MMario wrote on Knitter's Review, "Worth every cent, in my opinion. This is one I will read and re-read." And in a Ravelry forum Susi in OK wrote: "What I like about it (the book) is that it’s more of a shawl knitting tutorial than a book of straight patterns. It guides you through knitting any of the shawls pictured but also has many discussions on how to customize it. Also the shawls shown in the book are HUGE. My idea of a shawl is to wrap up in it on the sofa, rather than something dainty to wear out during the evening....I have to say that for $14 (twice the price of a normal pattern) that this book is a bargain. I am going to make one of those huge shawls."

I'm just so happy that people are buying it, reading it, and eager to start on it.

As for me, I am going to get to work on a smaller book on learning and using entrelac. Then my next project, which is a year away anyhow, will be on the many lace bed jackets and shrugs I've designed. Probably that will include a section of on Dainties --- cowls, ruffs, smoke rings, and lace gloves.

So, I have my work cut out for me! Thanks again to all who purchased the book and I'll get the paperbck copy into production soon!

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

For Sale: Mermaids with a Bonus Offer

Last month when I taught the knitting class at the Sawyer Free Library I had NO IDEA that forty knitters (plus 2 husbands) would show up to learn to knit entrelac! I am still working on the instruction book which I will post soon but, what I learned that night, is that knitters are amazing. As if I didn't already know that. Three weeks ago I launched the PDF version of The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps and in less than 24 hours it has sold 16 copies --- and I haven't even started promoting it yet!

The feedback has been gratifying so far. Kathy O in Washington state, a follower of this blog, wrote: Just got my hands on your e-book "Mermaid Shawls", and am absolutely delighted! Thanks for all the tips, suggestions ~ and heart ~ that are in the book. It is wonderful! And MMario, who some of you may remember from the February KAL 2 years ago, posted the information that it was available to his Yahoo group! Thank you! P.S. MMario is a fabulous knitwear designer. His lace shawls are breathtaking!

So, The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps is available for instant download (well, nearly instant --- the file is 7.5MB so it depends on how fast your connection speed it) by clicking the link at left. And it comes with a special offer. My dear friend Leslie Wind is offering a 20% discount on any one of her gorgeous shawl pins to anyone who purchases the book. We still haven't figured out the logistics of how this will work but we will. I have kept the emails of all who have ordered so far and they will get their discount offer.

These are a few of Leslie's pins, some of which are featured in the book:

At left is Leslie's Spiral Pin in bronze. It is shown here on the Silk Chenille Wrap from the book but I wear mine all the time with the aqua Mermaid Shawl that began this whole adventure --- I have it on right now as I am writing this. Of all Leslie's designs this one is my favorite.

At right is her Circle Pin. It is shown in this picture on the Rose Boucle Cocoon from the book. I sent one to my sister when I sent her the shawl called "Beth's Shawl" in the book. This is an ingenious little piece and is excellent with cocoons and shrugs.

And at left is her "C" Pin shown on Emily's Shawl. This is another of her very clever designs.

So, I hope everyone who buys a copy of the book will be pleased with is and I know you will be pleased with Leslie's pins! I am still planning on a print version of the book but that is a little ways off. In the mean time, happy knitting and please, if you have any questions or if you have finished garments you wish to share, please send the images!!! I'd love to see them and maybe post them, too.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Writing in Gloucester

It never ceases to amaze me how many writers are in this community. In the past couple of years I've gotten more and more requests from writers to read their work and give them a critique. Recently I was contacted by a man who lives here who is working on mystery novel and I finished reading his manuscript this week and sent his critique off to him. He took the critique well and was positive in his reply to it so I am hopeful that his next draft will be even better than this one was.

I'm not quite sure why people want my opinion on their work but, if they write in a genre I feel comfortable commenting on, I do what I can to help. It is sort of interesting that almost every fledgling fiction writer seems to make the same three faux pas in their first draft. I think I give the same three pieces of advice to all of them:

  1. Rewrite the “speeches”. People don't talk that way (unless you are writing about politicians). Break up the flow of information and write dialog, not monologue.

  2. Listen to how people talk. They don't use each others' names with every sentence. In fact they rarely use each others' names at all. And they often do not speak in whole sentences. Train your ear to hear.

  3. Always advance the story. You may find it interesting that Fred the Car Mechanic once climbed Mount Kilimanjaro but if it is not germane to the story, why bring it up?

If a writer can accept those pieces of advice and take them to heart, he will be off to a better start than most beginning fiction writers. But even if they don't it is hard to live in Gloucester and not succumb to the urge to create. This community has long been famous for its art community but if anyone took the time to count up the writers who have emerged from this town I am betting there would be as many. T.S. Eliot and Rudyard Kipling came to Gloucester for inspiration. You can't get much better than that.

For several years we had a writer's group that met monthly at Hovey House. It was a good group but eventually it disbanded for the simple reason that most of us didn't have enough time to write as it was and meeting was just one more time in which we were not writing. Lately I have been thinking about trying to get another writing group together but this time I want to focus on fiction writing. I have respect for all kinds of writing but it is my belief that fiction writers have their own unique needs and imperatives and benefit best from meeting with others struggling with the same things.

In the Hovey House Group we had everything: poets, how-to manuals, memoirists, political writers, playwrites.... it was an interesting group. I don't know how many of those people have actually produced a complete manuscript at this stage. I know Jane Daniel's Bestseller! Is now on Amazon but that is the only one I know of for sure.

I have this growing suspicion that if you live in Gloucester for any length of time you have to eventually write about Gloucester. I know Gloucester has served as the setting for a few of my stories lately. Sailor's Valentine, which is available as an e-story through Heart Throb Books, is one of these. It is the story of a woman who comes to a small fishing town and falls in love with a cranky, difficult but irresistible fisherman. And when I was invited to write a bit of romantica to Ravenous Romance's Green Anthology I couldn't resist writing Gone Fishing about a Gloucester fisherman and his contentious and ultimately erotic encounter with a journalist writing for an environmental magazine. So far the feedback on that one has been fun.

So writing in Gloucester seems unavoidable. Writing well is, of course, the goal and one that many here obviously attain. One of my Writing Rules is “Respect the reader's intelligence.” When you write about Gloucester you have a lot to work with there.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without...

That was sort of my grandmother's mantra. She was big into making use of things. I thought about this a lot yesterday because I spent a good part of the day in my sewing room fixing, blocking, steaming, stitching --- all with the ultimate aim of making use of stuff that was being unused for want of a little attention.

I have been knitting a lot this winter and I have been focusing on small projects because I have been trying to use up odds and ends of yarn. These are a few of the results.

In a previous blog entry I posted pictures of the two tote bags I knit out of Blue Heron's Silk/Rayon Twist. I was very pleased with the finished bags but was uncertain about the long-term sturdiness of the I-cord handles so I got the bright idea to thread a length of drapery cord I had left over from another project through the center of the I-cord. By undoing a few stitches of the lining, tucking the ends in, and then tacking them down I think I'll have much more reliable handles on these two bags.

There was a fair amount of yarn left over from these projects so I decided to knit some "Cozies" with the left-overs. The two below turned out really well. I think they are the right size for a digital camera and a cell phone. The one is closed with an abalone button that was left-over from a sewing project. The other has a flap that tucks into an I-cord strap.
This shoulder bag is knit from a pretty and very sturdy rayon yarn with a good deal of lustre that doesn't show in the photograph. I used it for awhile but found that it really needed some lining. By searching through my fabric stash I found a nice piece of purple crushed velvet left-over from a robe I made last year. It looks beautiful and very "royal" with the gold yarn.
The yarn for this project is Himalayan Sari Silk left-over from the Gypsy Shawl. I lined it with more of that green embossed velvet left from lining the Blue Heron tote-bags. I had knit a loop closure but wasn't sure what I would use for the "button". Then I found an old brooch among the stuff that once belonged to my grandmother. It is pewter set with one large dark green rhinestone and two small olive stones that exactly match the lining. I used the pin back to pin through the fabric and the lining. Then with a pair of needle-nose pliers I crushed the little gizmo that locks the pin into place so that it cannot be undone. I love the look of this little bag.
The origin of the hand-painted mohair used for this scarf is a complete mystery to me. Every now and then I come across something that I cannot remember acquiring and have no idea how it got where it was --- elves maybe. I came across three balls of beautiful mohair tucked in an old sewing basket I haven't used in a few years. One was shades of deep rose and the other two were shades of teal. So, because I had been reading about moebius scarves I decided to give that a whirl. I decided to knit it in my old favorite pattern, Old Shale. Well, it's beautiful but I made a mistake, I over-twisted the "circle" so it has 2 twists instaed of one. I could rip it out but I actually kind of like it so I am keeping it, for the time being anyway, as a Moebius Mistake...

And finally, below is the beginning of a pair of gloves knit from a hand-painted wool/silk purchased from an eBay vendor called Yarntopia Treasures in a colorway they call Wild Flowers. My original plan was to use the fiber for socks but when I saw the lustre and shimmer of this yarn I couldn't bear to use it for something that would be stuffed in a boot and covered with trousers. So, since I am currently in love with gloves, I decided to use it for that. I intend to knit full fingers. The back of the glove is knit in Horseshoe Lace and the cuff is a very pretty edge I found in Nancy Bush's Estonian Lace book.

So that is it from here. Lots of pretties. Now I have to get back to work on writing instructions.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day & Introducing HeartThrobBooks!

I never thought there was anything particularly special about Valentine's Day until I realized that most people did not have a day with their name attached to it. Valentine's Day, the legend says it was named for St. Valentine who carried love notes to prisoners from their sweethearts, is a day to celebrate love and romance. Over the years I have had my doubts about the psychology of that but, in recent years, it has become sweeter and more precious to me.

I've always had a deep affection for the romantic. I suppose it is my nature. For me the original meaning of romance --- heroic adventure, courtly love, chivalry, constancy, and a little bit of magic --- is the most attractive. My fiction writing has often been classified as romance which disturbs me a little because what qualifies as contemporary romance has never seemed particularly romantic to me. But that's just me.

So on this Valentine's Day I am introducing a new adventure. Because of the popularity of ePublishing, I have decided to start Heart Throb Books --- It is brand new and has a long way to go but at present there are four short stories of mine, all of them romantic in the traditional sense of the word, and all available in PDF format for printing out or HTML format for downloading to e-Readers, iPods, etc. Eventually my novel, The Old Mermaid's Tale, and my short story collection, My Last Romance and other passions, will also be available there in both e-formats.

As an added treat the cover art for some of the works has been designed by Carla Rey Lankford whose digital art took my breath away from the first time that I saw it. I hope you will visit her site and her Etsy shop for more of her lovely work.

So I wish all of you a beautiful Valentine's Day filled with love and the romantic. One thing I have learned is that romance is not something that happens when a perticular person either does or does not show up. Romance is a way of life. I will end this entry with the text of a newspaper column I wrote for Valentine's Day in 2000. In it I mention my brother Jack, a most romantic guy, who, like two other beautiful men, is no longer here. I thank him for serving as something of an ideal for me of what a man should be. I thank my father who gave me my romantic name. And I thank Mark whose presence in my life taught me romance on a level I never expected to know. All three are gone now and I miss them. But they left me a legacy of romance that I hope will come through in my writing, as it does in my dreams. Happy Valentine's Day.

Cultivating Romance

I was born with the name Valentine and have always been glad of that. When I was in college and first read James Joyce I, like Stephen Daedelus, began to wonder at the meaning of my name. Was there an epiphany in it for me as there was for him? I've been wondering for quite a few years now and every year as Valentine's Day approaches my quest seems renewed. Valentine's Day, like most things deemed anyway significant in this country, has become a commercial bonanza. Every store is filled with flaming red hearts, cherubs, and glaring reminders of how spending even more will truly declare ones love. All of this designed to make those in love feel guilty for not doing enough and to make those not in love feel like crawling under a rock. I keep reminding myself - this is not about love, this is about commerce.

But what about love, most especially romantic love, for that is what Valentine's Day reminds us of. Life, I believe, holds infinite potential for romance - in every minute, in every action. We have this notion that to be romantic we have to find that special someone and then make all the right moves, say the right words. But I believe that true romance is how we live our lives. It is not about finding the right person, it is about being the right person. It is about opening your soul and your mind and your senses to all the pleasures possible in every moment.

I stop by Bill's house on a rainy afternoon. Mario Lanza's glorious voice fills the house. Bill is in the kitchen chopping tomatoes and garlic, tearing up basil leaves, making meatballs. The smells are succulent. "Taste this," he says lifting a spoon to my lips, his sky blue eyes aglow. "Luscious", I say. "I love to spend rainy afternoons cooking," he tells me.

Mary brings me a velvety rose the color of ripe Tuscan figs split open by the sun. "I was cleaning out a corner of the old garden last summer and I found the remains of this withered rose bush", she tells me, "I dug it up and nursed it all winter. I know it sounds crazy but I wanted so much to bring it back to life and now look…." Its perfume rises like a lark on a summer morning.

My brother Jack sends me a bottle of homemade wine. Every summer he tramps the woods of the Allegheny Mountains where he lives filling his pack with wild grapes. He distills them in to wine the color of liquid rubies with a taste like mountain laurel glowing in the sunlight and the songs of robins just before a summer rain.

Betty Lou forgets to come to lunch. "I was outside painting," she explains later , "and the clouds were so incredible I couldn't leave. I had to paint them while they were there."

Charlie works late in to the night in his woodshop in back of the house. He has a perfect piece of golden walnut he is shaping in to a jewelry box for his daughter's birthday. He sings along to old Frank Sinatra records as he works. I can hear his husky baritone while I stir a pot of rice pudding fragrant with saffron and cardamom in my kitchen. Trudi lights lilac scented candles and stitches tiny pink seashells to golden ribbons decorating the baskets she fills with magical gifts. Sharon fills her bird feeders and grooms her cats. Robin plants night-blooming jasmine under her bedroom window. Michael climbs the stone wall at Lane's Cove and plays his flute as the sun sets over the water.

This, I believe, is romance. This is life well and truly lived with a taste for the indescribable pleasure of beauty. This is the touch of the Lover. My father once told me that I was lucky because God had given me the gift of eyes which see beauty everywhere. I believe him but I also believe I inherited those eyes from my father - along with my romantic last name.

The wallpaper on my computer screen is a close up of the faces of the lovers in Ruben's painting "The Union of Earth and Water" - my favorite painting. I love it partly because the lovers Ruben's shows are mature lovers - his beard gray, her body softened and relaxed by life. But mostly I love it for the looks in their eyes - not fiery passion, not sentimental longing, but the most enduring of romantic love - love of beauty and open appreciation. When we cultivate appreciation and learn to look with love our days are filled with romance and every gesture is a Valentine to life.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Forest of Ferns Shrug

A little while ago I purchased some of the most beautiful yarn I have ever owned from an eBay vendor. She uses the name Spindlecrafts on eBay and her yarns are scrumptious. I bought 2 hanks of 90% angora/10% nylon from France --- one in white the other in raspberry --- and a huge cone of cashmere/silk chenille in baby blue. I have not thought of a use for that one yet but the white angora has kept me busy for a month now.

I decided to knit a shrug --- my new favorite garment --- and I decided on two lace patterns. The insertionlace is one I call Trellis Lace and I use it in everything because it is so lacy and light. It also qualifies as true knitted lace because the pattern is knit on both sides. There is more about it in my knitting book, The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties, which I hope to have available before this month is over.

The other lace used is the fern lace that was one of the laces used in the beautiful Forest Path Stole. I photographed it here over a rose-colored turtleneck to show off the pattern. It is not quite finished. I have to finish knitting the bottom ribbing and then I plan to crochet a fine picot edge around the front opening allowing loops for buttons. I just spent the last half hour cruising eBay in hopes of finding a set of pure white Czech glass or milk glass buttons and have narrowed it down to a few options.

I remember seeing a beautiful lacy shrug in some old crafts magazine that had very deep ribbing at the cuffs and at the bottom so that is what I decided to do with this garment. I had to write to Josie at Spindlecrafts to obtain a bit more yarn and she was very gracious about sending it right out. So, as you can see, this is turning into a very pretty piece --- not to mention very soft and warm. I'll post another picture when it is done but I'm so crazy about it I had to post today.

I have 2 more rather lovely shrug-type garments that I haven't photographed yet. Maybe I'll get that done this weekend. One is an "arm-warmer" shrug knit is a slinky, silver yarn from France and the other is similar in design to this shrug. It is knit from a lovely yellow cashmere/silk yarn and the lace pattern has "nupps" similar to those described in Nancy Bush's book on Eastonian Lace Knitting. I recently bought that book and it is wonderful. I highly reccommend it.

So, I better get to work but I just wanted to share my latest adventure in knitting lace.

It is two years today that my father left this world. Miss you, Dad (Wild Hearts: A Tribute). Thank you for everything.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What A Turnout!!!

Well, if I thought the cold weather is what is keeping people home I was wrong about that. Last night was the Introduction to Entrelac knitting class at the Sawyer Free Library and, much to my astonishment, FORTY knitters showed up. Two even brought their husbands! I was absolutely overwhelmed. I thought if 10 people came I would be overwhelmed. (At left, a cocoon I knit using the entrelac technique in wool from

It was an amazing experience but it was also humbling because I just didn't have the time or the focus to spend time with every knitter. And I learned really fast that, though I was prepared in terms knowing the technique. I needed much better handouts. My thinking was that I'd show the technique, pass out a handout with a list of online resources for entrelac knitting and then we'd all just knit and gab as usual. But it soon became apparent that I should have written everything out in specific detail so people could work from directions.

Consequently I am going to work on detailed directions which I can post here on my blog and send out to the knitters who attended last night and then we will plan a second class in a couple months. Leslie said we should call it Remedial Entrelac.

However, despite the crowd and despite feeling inadequate to the task, I was amazed at how many women caught on to the technique and had a fair amount of knitting done by the end of th evening. Several women had just come from Coveted Yarns on East Main Street where they went to purchase a ball of hand-painted yarn (gorgeous stuff it was, too) and they said Rob Porter, who owns Coveted Yarn, may also host a class at his shop. That would be great and we could have smaller groups so I could give more personal attention.

I've decided that what I have to do in order to write the directions is break the technique down into six parts: Base Triangle (BT), Left-side Triangle (LT), Right-side Triangle (RT), Left-slanting Rectangle (LR), Right-slanting Rectangle (RR), and Finishing Triangle (FT). Plus I'll add a section on knitting backwards. I demonstrated that technique last night and a few people at least loved it and were really excited by it.

So it was an extremely exciting night and we will do it again. Thanks to Leslie Wind for organizing it, to Sheila for compiling the email list, and to all the ladies who came out on a raw, cold night to learn this fascinating technique. The wonderful knitter Rose Ann Hunter drove down from Newburyport with a couple friends to attend. I was so flattered. Rose Ann and Leslie will be at the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival this weekend. If you happen to be in the Pittsburgh area. Go see them demonstrate!

So, I have to get my Mermaid Shawl book online this weekend and then it is on to entrelac instruction. Knitters! What a wild and crazy bunch!

To be added to the email list for the Mermaid Shawl book online notification and future entrelac information, please email:

Thanks for reading and for attending.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

St. Marys in Literature

A few weeks ago, much to my delight, I received an email from a man from my home town who had written book based on the history of St. Marys. We exchanged a few emails and I am looking forward to receiving his book as soon as it is available on Amazon. This is from my hometown newspaper, The Daily Press (we used to call it the Daily Distress....). Congratulations PJ!

His blog site is Heartwood Discussion

St. Marys area showcased in the work of local writer
Written by Publisher
Monday, 02 February 2009

Author, PJ Piccirillo is shown here discussing his new novel ‘Heartland’ with a group of ECCHS students.

Seven years ago, PJ Piccirillo abandoned a job in industrial marketing and set out to become a fiction writer.

For his subject matter, he drew on the people and places that spoke to him, and that led to an historical novel set in and around Elk County. His book, “Heartwood,” is a story of intrigue, love and betrayal that is not only set here, but traces and interprets our logging and carbon heritage. Scenes take place in a Cameron County logging camp, the sooty innards of a carbon factory, in the homes of lumber tycoons, a drafty company house in a tannery town, during a bear hunt, even in 1913's finest New York hotel.

Piccirillo spent three years pitching the novel, and in January, it was commercially published by Middleton Books. “Heartwood” is now receiving strong reviews.

Piccirillo was born in St. Marys, and now lives in Horton Township with his wife, Laurie, and their three sons: JP, 5 years; Michelangelo, 4 years; and Antonio, 6 months. Piccirillo's mother, Mary Ann (Herzing) Piccirillo, is from St. Marys, and his father, Mike, is a native of Ridgway. His grandfather, Fish Herzing, was a neighborhood butcher in St. Marys, well known for his sausage, soltz and scrapple. His grandmother, Helen Neubert Herzing, was a nurse in central supply at Andrew Kaul Memorial Hospital for many years.

Piccirillo is a graduate of St. Francis College in Loretto where he majored in English.

“While at St. Francis,” Piccirillo said, “I was fortunate to work with a 72 year old Franciscan priest, Fr. Bede Hines, in one-on-one novel writing and short story classes. I discovered there that, yes, I can do the impossible task of putting 100,000 words into some sensible form. But I still questioned whether I could make those words into relevant literature.”

After college, practical considerations overshadowed artistic dreams, and PJ landed on a career track, eventually doing other kinds of writing--technical and promotional--while working in industrial marketing for Invensys in DuBois.

For those thirteen years, it had remained important to him to stay in the area.

“In my work today, as I teach creative writing in schools and prisons as a state artist-in-residence,” Piccirillo said, “I look back on those years, and tell students that the little voice inside your head is rarely wrong, whether it's telling you that a turn of phrase on your page just isn't good enough, or that you're not doing in life what you're meant to do.”

At 35, PJ listened to his own voice, and went back to what he'd felt most alive doing--writing fiction. Thanks to his wife's encouragement and sacrifices, he enrolled in graduate school at the University of Southern Maine and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. He decided he'd move ahead, win or lose, and has never looked back.

Since then, Piccirillo has been publishing short fiction in literary journals, freelancing magazine articles and op-ed pieces, and working for the PA Council on the Arts as a resident artist, as well as for the PA Humanities Council (PHC) as a commonwealth speaker. His PHC program, “Missing Pages: the Neglected Literature of the Alleghenies,” makes a case for a literary canon of Pennsylvania's Allegheny literature. He also teaches creative writing at arts agencies, including ECCOTA, and conducts seminars on craft at writers conferences.

“I tell students that no skill will better serve them and the people they help in this world than the ability to write clearly, actively, and with revelation. Writing is doing its duty when it makes readers see things in new ways or when they ask of themselves or their world new questions. Sometimes you have to make readers very uncomfortable to do that,” he said. “And if students ever ask for general advice,’ he added, “I tell them to live up to their own expectations, no one else's.”

Piccirillo's writing draws from the storied landscapes and rich heritage of the forestland and industrial burgs of Elk and surrounding counties, which, unlike so many other regions rich in history, are uncharted in American literature.

One of his goals as a writer is to change that.

Inspiration comes as well, he says, from his grandfathers' stories about life in northern Pennsylvania working in tanneries, mines and shops, on farms, and in the woods.

Between semesters at St. Francis, Piccirillo worked five years in a powdered metal plant.

“I drew upon the characters, the sounds and smells, the heat and anxieties of that setting for my factory scenes in 'Heartwood, ” he said.

He also relied on interviews with old time carbon people and the stories he grew up hearing from a great aunt who worked at the Stackpole Lodge. He studied the archives at the St. Marys Historical society, and the carbon company histories collected at the St. Marys Public Library. Piccirillo spent five years researching railroad era logging and historical sites, as well.

An avid outdoorsman and proponent of our area's natural beauty, Piccirillo’s work praises our breathtaking vistas, rare solitude and wild places. But it also has undertones of warning, cautioning that the modern threats to our recovering landscapes are the dishonest ones--politicians and bureaucrats in thinly veiled disguises, telling us what's best for us.

“The artists here know something that I hope people in positions of influence heed. St. Marys has a cultural, industrial and environmental heritage as rich as any in this nation. The city is exceptional in that until recently, it retained that heritage. But it did so unconsciously, as the people of a unique and, fortunately, self-sufficient community went about their business,” he states.

A goal of Piccirillo's work as a resident artist is getting students to cherish and preserve through literary art their heritage.

“The world has at last encroached upon St. Marys,” Piccirillo said. “If younger generations are going to retain what's left of their heritage, and people from afar are going to appreciate what's here, they need to be made aware of what others knew in their hearts. 'Heartwood' attempts to do just that; it's an authentically researched story of stalwart Bavarian settlers, industrial barons, woodhicks and lumbermen.”

“It always amazes me that the average Pennsylvanian knows more about failed refugee settlements like Ole Bull's New Norway Colony than about than the living, breathing, successful one of St. Marys. I think we all know, though, that there's something distinctive about St. Marys and its people, and I try to catch that “something” in the book,” he noted.

During his literary career, Piccirillo has twice won the Appalachian Writers Association Award for Short Fiction, he was winner of the Gunard Carlson Memorial Writing Contest and his novel, “Heartwood,” has been hailed by Pulitzer nominee Clint McCown, as "Smooth and Lyrical, a pleasure to read."

What's next for PJ?

“I'm revising some of my short stories and compiling them into a collection. I'm also gathering thoughts and doing research for another project that my publisher is interested in.” But don't ask for specifics on that. “Many writers are superstitious,” he said. “We think that if we let it out, we'll jinx it.”

“The obligation of the literary artist is to make sense of the human experience,” Piccirillo said. “Part of that duty for me is to tell the important but unsung story of our region.”

For those who may be interested, “Heartwood” is available at, the ECCOTA gallery in Ridgway, and at bookstores everywhere.

Public discussions of “Heartwood” will take place at the St. Marys Senior Center on April 15, and at the St. Marys Public Library on July 1.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 February 2009

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

February is for Valentines

A seARTS e-Blast.....

On Monday, February 9, 2009 Kathleen Valentine, author of The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps, will teach a class in Beginning Entrelac at the Sawyer Free Library as part of Leslie Wind's Know Your Knitting (K)neighbor series. The class is free and open to the public but you should be able to knit and purl in order to participate in the class. Bring with you a skein of worsted weight yarn (preferably variegated or hand-painted), and a pair of size 7 or 8 needles. Handouts will be provided.

Kathleen, a seARTS member, is a novelist and author of short stories.

Or give yourself a romantic treat with her newest venture: Heart Throb Books, literary romance in e-format.

seARTS is a coalition of artists, art lovers, cultural institutions, businesses, and municipal organizations, all working together to improve the economic base for the arts and the larger Cape Ann community. seARTS is funded through grants from the Mass Cultural Council, Essex County Community Foundation, Bruce J. Anderson Foundation, its membership, and sponsors.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Steelers Win - Phil Sees Shadow - It's A Beautiful Day in Pennsylvania

I have long been of the opinion that you can't help but be a little crazy if you grew up in Pennsylvania --- but that's the joy of it. I remember talk show host Phil Donahue once remarked, "Have you ever noticed people from Pennsylvania are always smiling?" Well, why not?

So the Steelers won their 6th Super Bowl in one helluva great game. James Harrison's 100 yard interception return is the longest in Super Bowl history. The Boss, though not exactly from PA but right next-door, put on a terrific show ("back away from the guacamole!") Punxutawney Phil saw his shadow so we can count on six more weeks of cold, and I bought a great pork roast yesterday to slow cook with sauerkraut.

What's not to like?

Thanks for reading.