Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Brett's Buck & How It Got Me Into Trouble

A funny thing happened today. I got into a little tiff on Facebook with Garnet Rogers over Brett Keisel. This is particularly amusing to me because both men have inspired characters in my books. In the Acknowledgments at the end of The OldMermaid's Tale I thank the singer-songwriters who inspired the creation of Baptiste in that story and mention that I always imagined Garnet Rogers' voice when Baptiste performed. In my recently released The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood the hero, Oliver Eberstark, is a big man with a beard and one of the characters refers to him as looking like Brett Keisel – which he did in my mind.

This morning Brett Keisel posted a photo of himself with the buck he shot during hunting season in Pennsylvania on his fan page. Because I grew up in an area where most men (and some women) went hunting every year, I reposted the picture to my Facebook page for my fellow Pennsylvanians to see. Garnet Rogers, who is not only a brilliant performer but an outspoken advocate against domestic violence and the mistreatment of women, children and animals, saw it and posted an objection. We had a little discussion about it and it ended well but it did make me think. I personally doubt I could ever shoot a deer but I have never questioned the values of men like my father, brothers and nephews who did hunt and still do.

I grew up in a house full of guns. My Dad not only collected them but built them and my brother Jack made some of the most beautiful gun stocks you will ever see. Guns were tools that we were all taught to respect and use properly. They were a part of my life and I've always had a healthy respect for them. When the men in our family hunted their kill was brought home, properly dressed and provided much valued food for our family throughout the winter. I think there is something primal in hunting for a lot of men that satisfies a need that, if denied, might turn into something less productive. I don't know – that's just something I've thought about.

Recently, when I gave my Singer Featherweight sewing machine to my sister (who lives in Potter County, PA, a huge area for hunting), she told me that she was telling a couple guy friends about how much she loved the sewing machine and she said they both made analogies between her sewing machine and guns they owned. I had to laugh when she told me this because the same thing once happened with Mark when I first met him. I was telling him about something that involved one of my sewing machines and he did the same thing, told a story that involved one of his guns. I think there might be something inherent in women and their sewing machines that is analogous to men and their guns – some ancient, pioneering kind of thing that we can't rationally explain.

I've had other discussions with people who get upset about hunting and often those very same people have no comparable issue with fishing. I live in a fishing port – men here make a living by fishing. Recently, when someone posted a picture on Facebook of a 700 lb. bear that was shot in Pennsylvania, a local guy made a snide comment about it but that same guy would have had a completely different reaction if it was a 700 lb. tuna.

It is very true that the natural world is way out of balance and to those of us who live in densely populated areas the notion of hunting may seem barbaric. But for people who live where there are a lot more deer and bears than humans and looking out of your window and seeing the wildlife gobbling up your garden is common, hunting seems like a good way of maintaining the balance. Especially if what is hunted is then used for food.

I liked Brett Keisel's picture and I love Garnet Rogers' music so for me it was all good. Here. Enjoy:

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing About Gloucester While In Gloucester

Hemingway always said that he could not write about a place while he was in that place. He had to go to Paris to write about Michigan and he had to go to Cuba to write about Paris. Yesterday I finished what I hope is the final draft of Depraved Heart and, since much of it is set in Gloucester, I am now wondering how that will hold up as the story is read by people who know Gloucester. Editing is on-going and, once the book goes out to the beta-readers, there will no-doubt be revisions and edits that will need to be made but I am very happy with it at the moment.
Hammond Castle

The background of the story involves a fabulous art collection compiled by a rich old guy in the early part of the 20th century. He built an estate that rivals the Hammond estates here in Gloucester on a mythical island between Gloucester and Salem which is populated only by fishing families. Consequently much of the story involves the arts culture here in Gloucester as well as the fishing culture. The story itself is a complete fiction and the characters bear no resemblance to anyone I know but, of course, people will see characters they think are based on individuals.

This has been a long, hard haul on this story because it deals with some tough subject matter and yet creating the world of Hathor, the grand estate, has been delicious. I love most of the characters. I always fall in love with my male protagonist and this one is no different. Syd Jupiter is a 6'6” former NFL fullback who grew up in New Orleans (when he was with his mother) and Galveston (when he was with his father). When the story opens he has just been paroled after fifteen years in prison where he was serving a twenty-five year sentence for the “depraved heart” murder of his brother-in-law. He is returning to Hathor to administer the sale of the estate and much of the art collection which his 15 year old daughter inherited upon the death of her great-grandfather a few months earlier. I loved creating Syd. He is a very mysterious and impenetrable character with lots of secrets and lots of fire.

The female protagonist, Tempest Hobbs, is an art curator from Salem, Massachusetts who is also a “sensitive”. She has the dubious “gift” of being empathic toward the people around her and, in the past, this has caused her such psychological trauma that she needed to be confined to a psychiatric hospital in order to deal with the emotions assailing her. Syd hires her to evaluate and curate the Ravenscroft art collection as they determine what to do with all that art. She will be living at Hathor with Syd and his daughter Anjelica for the summer as they do this.

Three of the most interesting characters in the story are already dead when the story begins. Wyatt Ravenscroft, the grandfather of Syd's wife, has just died at the age of 94 leaving the estate to Anjelica and appointing Syd, the man who killed his grandson, as executor. Something no one can believe. Rachel, Syd's wife, was a beautiful but mysterious ballerina who died shortly after the birth of their daughter and the incarceration of her husband. And then there is Raven, the passionate, wild, dionysian twin brother, a distinguished dancer and infamous Lothario, who was hot to death in his grandfather's garden during a drunken party.

Other characters include Marie-Isobel, Syd's beautiful mother who runs a Santeria shop in New Orleans; Miles Wainwright, a local fisherman and Syd's devoted friend; and Anjelica Jupiter, the sweet, poor-little-rich girl whose only desire in life is to have a family.

It always happens, whenever I complete the main body of work in a book, that I get sad because it means my characters have gone as far as they can go and I miss spending time with them. Once the story is written those characters are like friends that have died and, no matter how much I rewrite, it is rather like looking for photographs that I have never seen of them but nothing can bring them back.

And then there is Gloucester. It is, of course, still here for me. I wrote about Rocky Neck Art Colony and the sculptors' quarries in Lanesville and Fiesta and The Crow's Nest. Those places will stay alive for me and I hope that they will come alive for readers. That remains to be seen.

Thanks for reading.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Magic Stored in Places I've Known

Yesterday, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I found out something interesting – the father of one of my friends served as the model for the Fallen Soldier in sculptor Walker Hancock's magnificent Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial in Philadelphia's 30th Street Train Station. I've known Suzanne for a long time and I've been in love with that statue for even longer so you can imagine my amazement to learn that Hancock used her father as the model. I'd love to know who was the model for the angel as well.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Hancock in Gloucester's City Hall during the Sculpture show there just a few months before his death in 1998. He was a lovely, kind man. Then in 2006 when I was struggling to complete my novel, The OldMermaid's Tale, I was telling a friend that I needed a week of peace, quiet and seclusion in order to focus. She had been living in Hancock's Lanesville studio but had recently moved out and still had the keys so she offered me the opportunity to stay there for a week over the Christmas holidays so I could work in peace. It was a wonderful experience.

In the pictures posted here you can see Hancock working on the statue in his studio. It is in that very same room that I got to work on my book. It was a beautiful experience – there was a light dusting of soft snow in the morning and I would make coffee and walk down to the quarry to watch the ducks and the geese before coming back to the studio to write. If it is possible that the spirit of great artists can linger in a place where they did some of their best work then I genuinely benefited from my time there. At night, when I was re-reading the work I had done during the day, I always felt so contented and at peace with what I was doing. I don't think I've ever experienced that before – or since.

Recently, while I was working on TheReluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood, I spent a lot of time thinking about being a child in St. Mary's, Pennsylvania, where we lived across the street from a woods we knew as Mary Opelt's Wood – hence the name in the story. Once a woman named Opelt had lived there and there was a cellar hole, the remains of her gardens and stone walls in part of those woods. All of the years I spent there – exploring, playing with my friends, acting out movies we had just seen, and, later, finding a quiet corner to read a book or just day-dream, came back to me as I wrote.

There is some magic in places that gets inside of you. If you are a writer it is a good thing to be able to go to those places when you write. The challenge is to bring the magic forward into your story. This weekend I have sequestered myself at home to work on Depraved Heart. The only way I can get any serious writing done is to lay in supplies, put on music, turn off the phone and commit to the page. I take breaks to sit with knitting or sewing for awhile because when I knit and sew my mind can fill itself back up after the draining experience of writing.

The challenge in Depraved Heart is creating Hathor, the astonishing island estate built by Wyatt Ravenscroft and his wife Lisette. As I work on this story I let my mind wander to magical places I've experienced in the past – old gardens, a dilapidated greenhouse discovered deep in the woods a long time ago. That was a remarkable experience because, though the glass was broken and the walls collapsing, among the smashed pots and broken pipes there were flowers run riot – old roses and lilies, camellia bushes and orchids. It was an experience I have always hoped to find room for in a story.

So I am staying home, brewing coffee, taking knitting breaks, and working – grateful for memories of old abandoned buildings, Mary Opelt's Woods, Walker Hancock's studio and quarry. There is magic in these things and it my obligation as a story-teller to find a way to set it loose.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Belsnickel Confirmation from Northern Germany

A woman named Cora who lives in the northern part of Germany near the coast read about my new novelette, The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood, and sent me the following:


We don't call him Belsnickel, but I certainly know the character and got presents from him as a child. December 6th is St. Nicholas Day, dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra, a bishop who lived in what is now Turkey in the 4th century.


In the Netherlands and Germany, St. Nicholas has long been associated with gift-giving. I live in North Germany, where the children put out an empty plate or their shoes on the eve of St. Nicholas Day and find that St. Nicholas had brought them treats (tangerines and nuts are traditional, though other candy and bigger presents are given as well) overnight. On the evening of December 6th, there is also the so-called Nikolauslaufen, which is a sort of trick-or-treating with the kids dressing up as St. Nicholas.


The Dutch variation of the tradition is called Sinterklaas. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is bigger than Christmas. The American Santa Claus is obviously a variation on St. Nicholas.


St. Nicholas or Sinterklaas also knows if you've been good or bad. If you've been bad, you don't get any presents or treats. Instead you get a bundle of twigs. Originally, St Nicholas probably used the bundle of twigs to spank naughty children - in more politically correct times he just left the twigs behind for naughty children. Sometimes St. Nicholas has a helper who deals with the naughty children instead. In Germany, this helper is called Knecht Ruprecht, in the Netherlands it's the rather politically incorrect figure called Zwaarte Piet (black Peter).


I strongly suspect that your Belsnickel is a regional variation on the St. Nicholas tradition, particularly since Pennsylvania had a lot of German and Dutch settlers.


We have since exchanged a few emails and she said it pleased her to know that people in Pennsylvania were continuing to carry on the tradition. I sent her a copy of the story and she said the explanation of the origin of the name that I put in the story – that “Belsnickel” derived from “Pelz-Nicholas” which is German for “Nicholas in pelts” from the Rhine River Valley – sounded entirely plausible to her because wearing fur in the Rhine Valley would be a very good idea in Winter. I also took note of  “Knecht Ruprecht” because “Ruprecht” is a common name where I come from. 


I'm very happy to have had this correspondence and confirmation. I've also done a little more research and found out some interesting things. “Belsnickel” far pre-dates Santa Claus. Santa Claus only  evolved after the American Civil War but Belsnickel has been around since the eighth century. There is a good article about him on AntiquesJournal.com.


I also found this curious article on a blog called Appalachian Lifestyles. In this area Belsnickeling is a sort of Christmas time trick-or-treat with grown men dressed up as clowns and going from house-to-house with increasing merriment.


It is rather exciting to hear from people who read the story and have stories of their own to add. There are already 2 5-star reviews on Amazon and a few sales. I hope more people will discover this little story and read more about Belsnickel. It makes me happy to know that the tradition may survive.


Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Some Nice Words from People Who Know!

I've written before about how much I enjoy a Facebook page about my home town of St. Marys, Pennsylvania. The tradition of Belsnickel that was the background for my holiday novelette, The Reluctant Belsnickel of Oplet's Wood has been much discussed on a thread there and some of the comments influenced me as I was writing it. Today, another thread began about my story and there have been some awfully ice comments. I value these because they come from people who really know about Belsnickel so they are that much more treasured. I am posting some of them here:


 Wendy Wickett
I just read Kathleen Valentine's short story that will bring back lots of fond memories for those of us who grew up in St. Marys. Its a beautiful story!!
http://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Belsnickel-Opelts-Wood-ebook/dp/B0069A25CG/

www.amazon.com
Novelette (23k words) – YA / General Adult / Romance – When Father Nicholas Bauer becomes the pastor of St. Walburga's in a rural Pennsylvania Dutch community he make it his mission to revive some of the Old World Traditions including Belsnickel. According to the local legend, Belsn..

Jim Arnold Kathleen the book was great! It brought back many memories. It was a interesting and fulfilling read. Finished it one sitting! Thank you!

Kathy Werneth Clausen Loved the book the foods of the area the family names made it all the more interesting and of course the love story too.

Karen Rigard Larsen Love, love the story. Just finished reading it, recognized quite a few people and landmarks. Thanks Kathleen, keep it coming.


Rose Anne Ehrensberger I couldn't put it down until I finished. It really brought back some memories. Thank You.
What makes me especially happy is that these are people who know about the Belsnickel tradition from rowing up with it. However, I may have to add a stronger disclaimer pointing out that it IS a work of fiction.


The ebook business is going well for me right now which thrills me. I read that Amazon has orders for 4 million of their newest ereader so with 4 million new readers flooding the market between now and Christmas I'm hoping they keep selling. October was a very good month -- over 3,000 books sold -- and November has passed that figure already.


Kathleen Valentine's Books now has its own Facebook page, too, so come by and "like" it to keep up with the latest news, releases, giveaways, etc.


I had such a wonderful time writing that story that I'm thinking about doing a few more "Marienstadt" stories -- each would be a stand alone story but they would share a common setting and atmosphere with reappearing characters. Frankly, Oliver is just too dishy to just have one small story about him. Father Nick is also a good strong character and every town like Marienstadt needs a quilting store like the Calico Cuckoo.


So I have my work cut out for me and, at the moment, I'm pretty thrilled by my readers' reactions, too.


Thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Most Beautiful of Love Stories

Red Room, an online community for writers, has asked writers to blog this week about our favorite love stories, why we loved them and what we learned from them. This was tough for me because I had too many to choose from. My first instinct was to go with Lady Chatterley's Lover because I fell completely in love with Oliver Mellors when I first read it. However, I realized that, while I loved him, I really didn't like Constance very much and I did get a little annoyed with him for getting involved with such a ninny. So, after much consideration, I decided that the first novel I ever fell totally in love with was also the most enduring of love stories in my mind, Jane Eyre.

I think was about 12 or 13 the first time I read it and I read it half a dozen times during high school. It was my go-to book when I needed to escape the world. A large part of this was because I loved Rochester and a large part of the reason I loved Rochester was because he was so thoroughly imperfect. Plus I admired Jane. She was plucky and strong despite what she had endured as a child-- or perhaps because of it. But mostly I loved Rochester for loving her – because she was plain and little and had nothing.

Rochester himself is not a handsome man but he is very rich. He is gruff and cranky and irritable – and sometimes not very nice. He is hard to understand at times. He is rude and dismissive toward Adele, his little ward that Jane is hired to care for, and yet he brings her pretty dresses and the sweets and sparkly things she adores. He, of course, has a very crazy wife who lives in the tower and, though it seems he is cruel to keep her locked up, when we realize how very crazy she is the fact that he keeps her at home and not in some godawful asylum redeems him. And he toys with Jane's feelings but we finally realize that is because he is so unsure of his own feelings and, though he is ardently desired by local beauties, it is Jane he really loves.

Jane, of course, is, in her own words “little, plain and poor” but is filled with passion and a personal dignity that sweeps Rochester away.

Naturally, because this is a romantic novel, the two lovers have to go through a lot before they finally come together. And by the time that happens, Jane is, if not rich, at least well to do. Rochester is a broken man – blind and has lost one hand. But Jane doesn't care. She could have had the young, handsome St. John but it is Rochester she loves and she cannot settle for less.

Now, as a writer, I can see how much Rochester has influenced many of the male characters I write about – strong men who have been wounded by life, either physically or emotionally or both.

I think Jane and Rochester are an admirable couple. Though their circumstances could not be more different, life has handed both of them some significant challenges. They deal with them in their own ways and, though both of them have the option to marry someone more suitable to their station in life, having once felt real love for someone – each other – they cannot settle for less. Mostly I learned that real love is blind to physical imperfections. Rochester looks at Jane and does not see that she is “little, plain and poor”, he sees her character and her dignity. Jane looks at Rochester and doesn't see him as gruff and brutish, she sees the wounded man inside. They are, by any standards, a beautiful couple.

It seems every few years a new film is made based on the novel Jane Eyre and I've seen a lot of them. Of course the performers in these films are rarely true to the descriptions in the book. Zelah Clarke in the BBC serialized version is probably closest to my idea of what Jane looked like though Timothy Dalton was far too handsome for Rochester. Carian Hinds was probably the most ideal Rochester. Of course, I love William Hurt so that version was wonderful just because I love William Hurt.

But no screen can match the movie in my head when I read and the Rochester there – as well as the Jane there – is perfect and has formed much of what I think of as the ideal lover.

So, Red Room, I pick Jane Eyre. I think it is a good choice.

Thanks for reading.    

Thursday, November 17, 2011

We Are Penn State...

Old Main
I graduated from Penn State a long time ago. I was a student there in the Franco Harris/Jack Ham/Lydell Mitchell era and, though I couldn't afford to go to a lot of football games, I loved it when I did. I saw Joe Paterno around campus sometimes and, though he had not at that time attained the legendary stature he did later, we were all in awe of him. I received a great education at Penn State that has served me well throughout the decades of my life since leaving Penn State. I loved Penn State and it has figured in much of my writing. I would not be who I am without Penn State.

It is like a knife in the gut to listen to the news reports about the “Penn State scandal” and to see news reporters I've always appreciated, like Michael Isikoff, standing in front of Old Main to report news that is utterly heartbreaking. One horrible, awful, dreadful monster who did unimaginable things to innocent children who never deserved to know the things that animal taught them has created this situation. He, and the people who enabled him whether knowingly or unknowingly, have created incredible pain for hundreds of thousands of people like me who love Penn State and have always been proud to write “Pennsylvania State University” on applications next to “College Graduated From:”. I'm so frustrated and angry I can'teven gain perspective on this awful situation.

First of all, the situation with Joe Paterno just boggles my mind. On the one hand I think “he should have done more” and yet, as someone who worked in the mental health field for years I know that anyone who has done the work I have – or who has taught or who has been in any situation where the welfare of children is a consideration – is equally vulnerable to having someone come to us, years after the fact, and say those words “you should have done more.” I am making no excuses for Joe Pa because I have no idea how much he actually knew. He obviously did not know who the child was because the child from that particular incident has still not been identified. And he did the reporting he was required to do and trusted those people to do their jobs, which they didn't. Maybe he should have done more. I don't know.

Visual Arts Building
As for the campus police and the local police and the other Penn State officials or employees involved they are all guilty of not doing enough, not doing the right thing, not stopping this monster from preying on innocent children. I know there are reasons for that – to protect the reputation of the institution, fear of retaliation, fear for their jobs, ignorance of the nature of child molesters, the inability to believe that such monstrous acts are possible. But reasons are not excuses.

And then there is the fact that, while football is a huge part of Penn State to so many people, the young men playing football there now are completely innocent of wrong-doing. They bear the stigma of having been a part of a program that is now overwhelmed by scandal and yet they do not deserve one tiny bit of it.

And I think of the hundreds of thousands of teachers and students who never had any connection to the football program other than hearing about it and maybe watching a game or two. I remember my own years there and football was such a tiny part of the experience. I think of my endless hours spent in the Visual Arts Building where I took drawing and painting classes. I remember the evenings that I went there for a Life Drawing Class or just to paint and there would be dozens of other fellow art students around, listening to music, talking, working on projects. I think of one of my favorite places on campus, the Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum where I would sit for hours drawing fascinating rock formations and crystals. I remember concerts on Old Main's lawn and the years I spent at Behrend in Erie where I first got involved in theater and learned to act. I remember the summer I got to take a special series of workshops with women artists where I was privileged to classes with the likes of Alice Neel, Lee Krasner and Ellen “LaMaMa” Stewart – one of the most remarkable women I've ever met. These experiences shaped me and made me who I am as a designer and a writer and a person.

Alice Neel
I am so sad about the stories coming out of my college – just as I have been so sad about the stories coming out of my Catholic Church. I am angry that the atrocities done by the very few, and covered up by a few more, have tainted the hundreds of thousands whose lives have been transformed by the wonderful parts of those institutions. It is so wrong that a small percentage of evil can harm the huge percentage of good. But I am Penn State and always will be.

Thanks for reading.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Post-partum Blues for Belsnickel

A couple weeks ago I got the idea to write a story about my family's tradition of Belsnickel, a custom practiced among the Pennsylvania Dutch folks I grew up among. Every year on December 6th we would enthusiastically await the arrival of Belsnickel, an old man who lived in the woods and arrived on our doorstep that evening carrying a sack. He would ask us to say our prayers and then he would give us treats – nuts and tangerines and popcorn balls and little presents. Once I started work on the story I posted a comment on a Facebook forum for people from my home town of St. Marys, Pennsylvania, asking who remembered Belsnickel. I was overwhelmed by the response! So many people added comments telling their Belsnickel stories. I loved it.

For two weeks now I have been getting up 2 hours early to write. Once the story formed it just poured out! The characters sprung up seemingly full-formed, like Minerva from the head of Zeus, and the more I wrote the more memories came tumbling through. A lot of sense memories of the food and the landscape and the manner of conversation and the people. I wrote and rote and wrote.

All weekend I was hammering away on this and by Sunday evening I was exhausted and done. I called it The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood. Yesterday I went through the manuscript and proofed, corrected, adjusted, added and subtracted and, when I couldn't find anything left to adjust, I sent off copies to my four most trusted beta-readers. Now I am sitting here with my “post-partum” blues – this happens every single time I write something and then send it out to be read by my trusted first-read friends. I await their judgment.

I love the story, it is a mixture of humor, quaint characters, pathos, redemption and, of course, love – my favorite subjects. Even a teensy hint of a mystery and – well – Belsnickel. In brief the tale is this: In a rural Pennsylvania town on the edge of the Allegheny National Forest, there is a Catholic Church, whose pastor, Father Nicholas Bauer, wants to revive many of the old Pennsylvania Dutch customs he grew up with as a boy. He is assisted in his efforts by the younger sister of a boyhood friend, Gretchen Fritz, who owns a little quilting and fabric store in town called the Calico Cuckoo. In an effort to revive the Belsnickel custom, Father Nick persuades his old friend Oliver Eberstark to play Belsnickel for the children. But Oliver is a strange person. He was raised by his grandfather in an old mill house deep in Opelt's Wood and as a boy he was handsome, popular, fun and a local heartthrob. He went off to college like most of their friends and was gone for fifteen years but a few years ago, he moved back to Opelt's Wood and has turned into a misanthropic recluse who wants nothing to do with anyone. Nobody knows why.

Naturally, Father Nick, being something of a busybody, wants to enlist Oliver's participation in reviving old customs but also wants to know what happened to his friend. He is ably assisted in this endeavor by Gretchen who remembers all too well what a dreamboat Oliver used to be.

So the story is out being read and I'll know in a few days what people think.... So I sit here on pins and needles. There is this strange emptiness that occurs once a story is written. I'll have to go back and do more editing and cleaning up and tightening up but my characters are on their own now and I don't get to be alone with them any more. It's a strange feeling.

I want to have this story ready by Thanksgiving weekend and I just might make it – if all goes well and I get good feedback. In the meantime I'm reminding myself to be patient and also not to be sad. My baby is born, now I just have to hope he will be a good baby and thrive.

Thanks for reading.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

#SampleSunday: A Love Scene from "Each Angel Burns"

Update: Kathleen Valentine's prose is like warm chocolate drizzled slowly over a still warm cake... it first warms the brain and then pours itself gently over the heart where it can then saturate into the soul. Suddenly without realizing it you are addicted, begging for more sensual sweetness. - posted to Facebook by author Maureen McDermott Gill, January Moon


This tender love scene comes late in the story when two of the main characters, both mature, fall in love. The setting is an old convent on the coast in Maine that is being converted to a sculpture studio. From Each Angel Burns:


 Silver light from a full Snow Moon rising out of the Atlantic just beyond Owl’s Head sweeps across the frigid black waters like a trail of angel’s wings and shimmers through the frozen night. On a Maine night in February when the snow glistens like shattered diamonds, red foxes in their plush winter coats gather under the brittle raspberry bushes tumbling over granite outcrops and watch the sky. Snowy owls soar between towering spikes of Douglas fir and swoop down through the moonlight to snatch a wayward mouse. Clumps of dusty blue juniper berries chatter against each other in the harsh night breeze. Timber wolves, lean and hard, in the deepest part of winter, trail up hillsides through stands of blue spruce in search of big-eyed white-tailed deer stripping away the bark of birch and silver maple trees. The deer scent the wolves and stand silent and watchful then turn and leap off like ballerinas, their plume-like tails raised in alarm.
And if the solar winds have stirred far off in the velvety night then showers of light—gold and violet, rose and green—paint the sky. But on an icy February night in Maine few brave the cold to see them as they dance and flicker over the waves below, over the scattered stones of a crumbling garden wall, over the bent frozen stems of lilies called Persian Priests in an old garden. The quiet thunder of the aurora lends music to the pristine night as moonlight sweeps through a window of antique glass diamond panes set in lead. In that room those priests charged with the care of the souls of virgin nuns pledged to silence and constant prayer took their rest away from the burdensome responsibility of so much virtue.
But this Snow Moon bears witness to a sacrament of a different kind. For on this night the room is graced with two lovers entwined. No longer young, these lovers drift in grateful awe that life has not forgotten them but brought them together at this time when they had thought such possibility long gone—a gift for the young, not for two who have traveled this far down life’s road.
They rarely speak when melted into one another. Words have lost meaning. He covers her and warms her and shelters her from everything that is not his love for her. She takes him in and creates safe harbor from all he braves in the world. Her desire for him takes his breath away. His cherishing of her comforts her heart. She places her hands on his face and lifts it just enough so he can see hers and see how they glitter with the gratitude she feels for him. He kisses her and sinks into her like warm silvery rain on pungent earth. They are long past the age of creating a new life. Instead they have created renewed life, each for the other.
The night deepens and grows ever more silent as they flow together in that most ancient form of worship. Oh God, they breathe, over and over. Oh God.
And God smiles and answers, yes.
__________________________
Available in paperback and also for Kindle...

Guest Blog from Ray: A Veteran Dies on Veteran's Day

Yesterday I received the news that Jim Auman passed away at the age of 91. Jim was married to my mother's first-cousin Snooky who had died just a few days earlier. They were a wonderful couple who had four daughters, Peggy, Kathie, Barbie and Patty. When I was a kid Kathie was a close friend and I spent a lot of time at their house. It is also where I met Ray for the first time. He lived down the street. I think we were about ten at the time. I was going to write something about Jim's passing but then I received this email from Ray Beimel. It was so beautiful that I thought I'd post it. He said it far better than I ever could:



    My old friend Jim Auman passed away today. He was 91. Jim enlisted in the Army Air Corps before Pearl Harbor, flew in B-24's in the 2nd Air Division of the 8th Air Force. He was seriously wounded by flak. He owned the grocery store at the other end of the street I grew up on. We were involved in the Historical Society for many years. I probably spent as much time talking to him as I have anyone.
    He was terribly ill, a mere shell of the person I knew most of my life. His passing was expected and anticipated but it still leaves a hole in me.
    When I started writing historical articles back in 1975, the old guy who ran the Historical Society didn't much trust me. Jim would lend me his key so I could sneak in after hours to copy photographs and do research. He was about the kindest, gentlest man I ever knew.
    We drank more than a few beers together over the years. One such night, we were talking about flying over Germany. I don't know what I asked about but he suddenly was overcome with tears and he said some unintelligible things that seemed to mean that in the heat of battle, he fired his machine gun into another American plane and killed or wounded fellow airmen. He only alluded to this one time but I was very much struck by it. He carried this guilt with him, deeply buried for his whole life.
    He was the guy who was in charge of our Bicentennial Air Show back in 1976. And that was a most wonderful event. Jim was mayor of St. Marys in the 1960's. He was part of the Sesquicentennial committee in 1992. No one was a more staunch supporter of St. Marys Church. He was fascinated by wood carving, was a pretty fair painter, and could tell a joke with the best of us. He took me with him on errands when I was young. That's how I became acquainted with Bert Schauer the hermit, how I met Joe Williams the most feared short guy in Elk County, George Erich the last farmer in Pennsylvania who could legally sell raw milk and a host of other characters.
    His store was right across the street from my elementary school and a short distance from my high school. Every afternoon when school was out and after every basketball game his store was flooded with kids. I never saw him lose his good nature not matter how many were in there.
    He took thousands of photographs of St. Marys people. They were artless portraits, technically good, and every one of them was identified usually with date of birth. They are a valuable addition to our collection. It was my privilege to digitize and annotate them. Years from now people will come across those photos in their search for ancestors and I hope they will read the line I put on every one of them; photo by Jim Auman.
    It was his wish to be cremated immediately. There will be a Memorial Mass sometime later. Of course it was his desire but I really wish there would be a wake so his old friends could talk and reminisce and tell the stories and feel close to him one last time.
    I learned many things from him. He encouraged me in my business, in my history work, and in my time as a public servant. He always had time to talk to me, whether I was 10 years old or 50 years old. He sold me a lot of ice cream, pop, and candy over the years. I used to help him unload the truck that brought his orders from the wholesaler. Once I dropped a watermelon. He didn't yell at me, just admonished me to never make a living with my hands, and gave me the cracked melon.
    We disagreed about a lot of things. He was a Republican in his registration and loyalty but he had a kind word for anyone who went into the arena. And of course, at book club which we both attended for many many years, we were often dueling in our views and yet there was never rancor or anger or discord between us.
    Joni Mitchell sang "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.." but in Jim's case, I always knew that my friend was a very special person.
    I am always struck by the irony of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who are in the midst of the worst life has to offer, survive it all, and live gentle peaceful long lives. Now that Jim is gone, there are only two of the old 8th Air Force people left here, Acky Herr who owned the most wonderful sports store for many years, paradise for the 10 year old with $3 of birthday money in his pocket. Plastic models, photo equipment, art supplies, books, tools, toys, lead soldier molds, everything imaginable to delight a baby boomer boy, now alas in a nursing home fighting his last battle, and Doctor Sharkey, a pathologist who came here from Tyrone and is one of the most respected auslanders ever to settle here. It was a privilege to know these men. And most of all to know Jim.
    I have to tell this one on him. He would laugh along with me. Jim dropped out of school to join the Army. He didn't get much in the way of science education and his spelling remained "creative" but he read voraciously and was always curious about any new thing and how it worked. Once he posited that Valencia and Navel Oranges came from the same tree but at different times of the year. Of course he was wrong but he challenged us to prove it. And of course, nowhere is such a thing written and I like to think he might have smiled in his last moments knowing that he put one over on us for good.
    I don't know where his ashes will rest. I hope they will be in someplace I know and can get to. Like my father and my old Scoutmaster, I would like to visit again if only for a moment and think to myself, "Remember the time we..." It was in late summer the last time I saw him. He was losing touch then and forgetting people's names but when he saw me he said "Ray!" with a warmth that I can still feel now. I never went back. I don't feel bad about that. My last memory of him is his smiling at me, happy to see me. That memory will never go away.
    As Sergeant Harper would say, "every cripple has his own way of limping." Writing stuff like this is how I grieve and I am grateful for the audience who understands. I wish you could have met him. He would have liked you guys and would have listened to your tales with genuine interest. Thanks,  Ray

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

If Amazon Won't Give It Away, I Will!!!


A couple weeks ago I posted about my new sampler,  Romance, Crime, Good Food: The Kathleen Valentine Sampler, that I was giving away. Smashwords made it free but so far Amazon and B&N are still charging 99 cents for it. Now, I realize 99 cents isn't a princely sum but I decided to make the book free here, too. You can download it in PDF, MOBI (Kindle), or EPUB (most other e-readers) by clicking the links below:
--- PDF (good for printing out) ---
--- MOBI (for Kindle) ---
--- EPUB (for other e-readers) ---

This book celebrates the sale of my 2000th copy of The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic  and it offers 4 short stories, three chapters from three novels, two essays from my cookbook/memoir and eight traditional Pennsylvania Dutch recipes.

You can download your free copy at Smashwords in your choice of many formats and at  Goodreads in ePub. Currently it is 99 cents on Amazon -- I'll let you know when they make it free. But, seriously, the recipes alone are worth 99 cents. Inside of it you will find:
  • Flynnie and Babe (romantic short story)
  • Danse Avec Moi (romantic short story)
  • Home-made Pie & Sausage (crime/horror short story)
  • Mardi Gras Was Over (love/adventure short story)
  • the chapter from The Old Mermaid's Tale in which Clair meets Pio and Gary
  • the chapter from Each Angel Burns in which Maggie encounters Peter after 30 years
  • the Prologue from my soon-to-be-released novel Depraved Heart
  • two essays: Dandelion Salad and Tell Me a Story from Fry Bacon. Add Onions
  • eight yummy, traditional family recipes from Fry Bacon. Add Onions.
I hope you will enjoy them. Happy reading and Bon Apetit!


Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

How Did A Nice Girl Like Me...

...get to be good at being so creepy??? I'm thrilled by this but it baffles me at the same time!


Many thanks to all who helped and, as always, thanks for reading!

Monday, November 07, 2011

"Momento Mori," Says the Little Voice in My Head

I have a confession to make, it embarrasses me a little bit but I'm a far more superstitious person than I am comfortable admitting to being. What makes me aware of this is the squirmy feelings I get when I start getting carried away talking about book sales lately. I am thrilled that my books have been selling pretty well but, at the same time, every time I get ready to make a post or announcement there is this little voice in my head that says, “Don't jinx yourself.”

I blame this a little bit on my background. I grew up among sensible German Catholics have an aversion to a.) “making too much of yourself”, and b.) optimism. This is something I've long been aware of but didn't realize until I left my home town and moved to other parts of the world. It came as a bit of a shock to me that there were people who had absolutely no problem with talking openly about their accomplishments and letting you know that they would be doing even better in the future. This is a way of thinking that has taken me much of my lifetime to accept, let alone take pride in.

I've been aware for some time now that, as I get more and more attention as a writer and as my books gain a wider audience this can be come uncomfortable. First of all, despite appearances, I'm not a highly social being. In fact I could be an excellent recluse. Secondly, in the past couple of years people that I had long considered good friends have basically told me off and then left my life. The interesting thing about these “tellings-off” is that they invariably make references to me as a writer. One “friend recently gave me what-for about my “attitude” toward her and kept saying “but what do I know, YOU'RE the writer!” What my being a writer has to do with her opinion I do not know. Or do I? I've adopted a no-more-drama approach to life and it is working very well for me. If someone wants to stomp out of my life I'm not going to stop them. I've had enough of drama queens and divas to lat me for my remaining years on earth.

But, while I'm not thrilled by these things, I don't really think they contribute to my superstitions. I think that is much more deeply ingrained. I think of my father who was such a modest man that he wouldn't even paint his name on the side of his work trucks, despite the prestige of his construction company, because he thought it was too grandiose. I can remember him saying “now don't make too much of yourself” – if you did and then things went awry just imagine how embarrassed you'll be. This kind of thinking seems so charmingly old-fashioned in this celebrity-mad world of ours.

I think of this when I talk to some of my family and friends from back home too. I know that they wish me well and are pleased by what I have done but I'm also aware that some of them feel the need to remind me that fame is fleeting and success can change in a second. I know those things – I tell them to myself all the time.

So it makes me wonder is it superstition, modesty, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection, that nags at me when things appear to be going well? I don't know. I just know that there is a little bird that whispers in my ear saying, “Yeah, it looks good now but just wait.” Momento mori.

In September on the last day I was praying for one more book sale in order to hit 1000 sales for the month. It happened and I ended September with 1008 sales. In October I hit the 1000 mark in the middle of the month and ended the month with a little over 3000 sales for that month. Today shortly after noon on the sixth day of November I passed 1000 sales and, when I looked a little while ago, I was close to 1100. Things are looking good and I'm so happy – which is something I need to be careful of because, well, you know. Happiness invites the wrath of the gods – or something like that.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

#SampleSunday: "Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter" - an Amazon Top 20 Seller

My very first ghost story: Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter. This romantic, atmospheric tale has an ending I bet you won't see coming. It was released in the beginning of October and is already an Amazon Top 20 Seller!


I think it is going to be even more tantalizing than The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic, which has been in Amazon's Top 10 Horror & Psychological Horror categories for two months now. Let me know what you think:


Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter
          They're getting the ferris wheel ready for winter today. I've been standing by the sink watching out the window as a gang of men with enormous arms unbolt the carriages and stack them on the flatbed of a truck to take away for storage. The wheel itself will stay in place until Spring looking like a giant skeleton against the gray sky.
          “We're running low on gin and bourbon,” Joel calls from behind the bar.
          “What?”
          He pushes through the swinging doors and frowns at me. “Gin and bourbon, put them on your list and I'll make a run to Stateline Liquor for more. What are you looking at?”
          I nod toward the window. “They're taking all the seats off of the ferris wheel. It looks naked.”
          He peers over my shoulder as two roustabouts with arms the size of hams hoist another carriage onto the truck.
          “They have to,” Joel says, “if they leave them up and we get a bad storm this winter they could do a lot of damage.”
          “I know.” I lower my eyes and continue unloading beer mugs, Pilsner glasses, rock glasses – all kinds of glasses – from the dishwasher. They are scorching hot and my fingers burn as I touch them. “How are we ever going to get through this?”
          Joel takes a deep breath. “Come on, Layla. How many times have we discussed this? It's only for a few months so I can work on my book. You hated living at St. Basil's. I thought you'd like being somewhere quiet and ...”
          He pauses but I know what he is thinking. He is thinking “someplace like where you're used to,” meaning in a bar among people who are the polar opposite of the faculty and their spouses at St. Basil's Preparatory Academy where Joel teaches literature and composition. When I met Joel he was a horny egghead just past thirty and pathetically ignorant of women like me. I wasn't far from thirty myself but I looked ten years younger, which was a good thing. Working in a casino takes its toll on a woman. I knew my looks were getting harder and harder to maintain. The only reason a guy like Joel was even in a place like Mohegan Sun, where I waitressed, was because his cousin was getting married and all the guys had taken him there for a final fling before tying the knot.
          “... low key,” he concludes. He puts his arms around me and turns me to face him. “Stop worrying, Layla, it'll be fun. Just the two of us. No faculty parties. No high teas. No volunteer projects that drive you crazy.” He nuzzles my neck. “Just the two of us and the Geezers, what could be more romantic?”
          The Geezers are a bunch of local guys who hang out at the pub that we – mostly I – will keep open all winter. Halcyon Beach, probably the most ironically named beach town in the world, is a popular tourist spot for people who like a lot of noise and kitsch and who have a strong sense of nostalgia. During the summer it is loud, bright and busy twenty-four hours a day. By the end of September all the tourists leave and most of the business owners board up their ice cream stands, arcades, souvenir shops, and cocktail lounges and head south for the winter. The families who pack themselves into the little bungalows behind the dunes shutter their windows and lock their doors unless they have managed to find a winter renter. Mostly artists and itinerants, the renters are willing to put up with the drafty windows and poor insulation in exchange for cheap rent and proximity to three sandy miles of beach on the other side of the dunes.
          A few of the locals stay around though, which is why the owner of the Snuggle Inn and Pub, where Joel and I will spend our winter, keeps it open. Halcyon Beach is just a few minutes off of Route 95 North in an area where motels rooms are scarce in the off-season and the owner, who also happens to be Joel's Great-uncle Fitz, never one to pass up the opportunity to make a nickle, has kept the place open through the winter both for the locals looking for a place to get a meal and some company, and for the random travelers in need of food and rest. Which is how I got stuck with this job.__________________


Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter

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