Friday, December 30, 2011

A Very Nice Mention on seARTS's ArtBytes...

seARTS does a lot for its artist members and has started a new service called ArtBytes which features write up on the accomplishments and successes of its members. These eblasts are distributed to seARTS' vast email list. This is part of the ArtBytes eblast today! 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Three Lovely New Reviews and Two Freebies!

The Old Mermaid's Tale has been selling very, very well lately which makes me so happy because it is dearer to my heart than almost anything else I've written. Along with The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood and my cookbook/memoir, Fry Bacon. Add Onions, it is the work I poured the most of myself into. So I was thrilled to see 3 new 5-star reviews today.

5.0 out of 5 stars A tale that captures the heartDecember 29, 2011
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Old Mermaid's Tale (Kindle Edition)
The Old Mermaid's Tale by Kathleen Valentine is more than just a beautiful story that continues to capture my heart and imagination. After the first reading on Kindle, I was completely drawn into the characters, their time and the locale. I have read it again and again and finally jotted down dates, people's ages to know and understand them better, place names and the names of lost ships as told by the seamen in their tales about the Great Lakes to start web searches. Clair is of my era and could relate to her wanting `more than this' out of life. It is Baptiste though who is truly the unforgettable man but alas he is a fiction - I would still dearly like to know though who his book cover and video images are modeled on! As an aside, I am pretty sure I caught a reference in Each Angel Burns to Baptiste and his mother a scultor often called Madame L'perdue because her son ran away to sea and she never heard from him again. Anyway, the end result was hours spent reading about the Great Lakes, the waterfront towns, the cultural and economic changes over the past fifty-two years, Native American legends, and the very real shipwrecks. Web images of the 1960's through old photos and postcards were a delight to `visit' Lake Erie of a time now past. It is a unique book that generates that much follow-up interest in me. I have `worn out' my Kindle version from re-reading the story so many times and frequently play Ms. Valentine's video on her blog for The Old Mermaid's Tale featuring the song `Parlez-moi d'Amour' sung by Charlelie Couture. I now understand what other reviewers to include authors mean by the many layers to Ms. Valentine's writing. In fact, I have just ordered a printed copy to keep with my very favorite books because this tale has so enthralled me.

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, compelling writingDecember 28, 2011
D. E. Taylor (Walnut Creek, CA United States)

This review is from: The Old Mermaid's Tale (Kindle Edition)
There are two outstanding elements of this novel. The one that makes it most worth your time is the writing. This writer has managed to capture the essence of those quiet moments we all have, the compelling ones when you are sitting somewhere and what feels like a life-altering truth in all its simplicity explodes inside your being so profoundly you suddenly feel as if you have grasped the whole purpose of our existence if only for a moment. There are several of these in this novel, poetically written, and they alone are worth reading it for. The second reason to read this novel is the depth of the human characters which she has drawn so realistically you feel as if you can almost smell their scent in the air around you. One particular character has stayed with me long after reading- that of Baptiste. He is the man Clair falls in love with, the first great love of her life, perhaps the greatest as we don't get to see her whole life here (and something more is alluded to at the end.) Baptiste is a tortured soul, and as such he is compassionate and sensitive- and wise beyond his 42 years. He is generous and respectful, and wants more for Clair than she wants for herself. I was thrilled with how the author dealt with "twenty years later" because I can competely relate to where Clair was and believe I would've wanted the same. The men in this book- every last one- are portrayed with more heart and sensitivity than novels or the media typically portray men, which is a refreshing change. Clair does come across naive and annoying at times but she is young and can be forgiven her ignorance. Really, this book is excellent and anyone looking for a novel with heart should pick it up. It will surprise you! As a writer I read constantly and I only review the books that intrigue me. This one is worth your time.

5.0 out of 5 stars You will not want to put this book downDecember 28, 2011
This review is from: The Old Mermaid's Tale (Kindle Edition)
Having received a gift card for my Kindle as a Christmas gift, I was looking for a good sized novel, not just a short story, that would intrigue me so that I would want to finish the book during my Christmas break. By doing that, the story I read would be part of my Christmas 2011 memories. "The Old Mermaids Tale" exactly fits the bill. Even though I am only half way through the story, I am so engrossed in the story and the characters that I had to write my review while still in suspense of the ending. Due to her youth (the story begins when Clair is finishing high school and leaving home to go to college) there is much that Clair does not understand about herself and the world beyond the Ohio farmland where she was raised. Clair is different from her peers in that she wants to make life choices based on an inner need to explore the unknown rather than make the same choices of her contemporaries;following the expected path of marrying someone from her home area and living the same lives as those around her in the farmlands. She is strangely compelled to experience the lives of those whose lives depend on the sea, and chooses to attend a college located near the northern edge of Lake Erie. Although the college has rules about coeds staying away from the lake front, Clair finds a tourist area coin-operated telescope that allows her to begin her exploration of this forbidden area. One day, during one her telescope travels of the lake front area, she discovers a painted mermaid with an inviting smile on the side of a building. Just as mermaids or lore drive sailors to explore the seas, Clair follows the lure of this painted mermaid and begins her exploration of the people who live under the watchful eye of the mermaid. Reading about Clair's experiences as she begins to to enter this unknown world is fascinating. The book is so well written and the author has the descriptive ability to enable the reader to envision the characters in the story and see them through Clair's eyes. Since my journey through the first half of this book has kept me so intrigued that I wanted to write a review before even finishing, the remainder of this story holds a promise that Clair's experiences as she discoveries hidden mysteries of the people she meets will keep me fascinated until the end, and will be a book that will leave a lasting impression.

So, thanks to Amazon's Kindle Select Program 2 of my books will be free this weekend. Starting tomorrow Fry Bacon, Add Onions will be free for Friday and Saturday and Arthur's Story: A Love Story will be free Saturday and Sunday. I hope that people will download and enjoy them.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

With 11 million e-readers for Christmas...

UPDATE: I am experimenting with Amazon's KDP Select Program to offer free books. On Friday & Saturday (Dec. 30-31), Fry Bacon. Add Onions will be free and on Saturday & Sunday (Dec. 31-Jan.1) Arthur's Story: A Love Story will be free. Click the link and snag a copy and let me know what you think!!!

...a huge new market for digital books has opened and if my sales for digital books between yesterday and today are anything to go by those new e-reader owners are having a ball. Not counting the free books I had on offer, I've had 6,500 book sales so far in December and close to 2,000 free downloads. The free downloads were for The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood and Arthur's Story: A Love Story, both of which used to be slow sellers but not any more! On Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, over 500 of my books zoomed off the paid shelves, and Tuesday was close to 500. These are the rankings as of last night:

Arthur's Story: A Love Story
#51 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Short Stories
#67 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Short Stories

The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic
#8 in Books > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Psychological Thrillers
#17 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror
#18 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror

Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter
#16 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Horror > Ghosts

Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook
#2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Cooking, Food & Wine > Regional & International > U.S. Regional > Middle Atlantic
#5 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Cooking, Food & Wine > Regional & International > European > German
#15 in Books > Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Regional & International > European > German

Seaman's Scarves: Sculptural Stitches
#18 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Lifestyle & Home > Home & Garden > Crafts & Hobbies > Lace & Tatting

The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons & Wraps
#11 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Lifestyle & Home > Home & Garden > Crafts & Hobbies > Lace & Tatting

Sumptuous Silk Bags: Learn Entrelac & More
#67 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Nonfiction > Lifestyle & Home > Home & Garden > Crafts & Hobbies > Knitting

So anyone who thinks e-books aren't the same as "real" books is kidding themselves. Thanks so much to all the wonderful new e-readers out there -- both the cool gizmos and their owners!!!

Another update: Sales continue to be brisk -- an average of 500 a day -- and several great new reviews have been posted. This is an exciting experience. The Old Mermaid's Tale has gotten some outstanding reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. Thank you!!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Last Year At This Time: And the Neighbors are Nestled All Snug in Their Beds..

This is my blog post from Dec. 25, 2010! What a difference a year makes!

It was a wild and windy night but the lights stayed on so no complaints. This is the backyard this morning:

Stay warm and dry wherever you are and thanks for reading.

The lobster trap tree, post blizzard from Joe's Good Morning Gloucester LIVE Storm Coverage!!!

Monday, December 26, 2011

KYTO Vol. 4: The Mermaid's Garden Shawl is Coming

I've spent the entire day working on the latest knitting pattern in my Knit Your Tail Off series of patterns for Kindle. This is my Mermaid's Garden Shawl which is a beautiful, very fine lace shawl that consists of three lace patterns. The center is knit in a long rectangle and then I picked up around the edges and knit the border in-the-round. It is knit from Knit Pick's Gloss which is  blend of merino wool and silk. It is lovely to work with. 

The shawl takes four skeins of Gloss or any other laceweight fiber. It's a wonderful project for Spring and Summer, too.

 This is the new cover. I have been procrastinating with this because the three patterns are charted on paper but I need to chart them in CorelDraw and that takes time. They are fairly complicated patterns but once you learn them they go fast.

These are the covers in the series so far. The first three are available through Amazon or at The other two are coming soon!

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Best Christmas Gift Any Writer Could Receive

Last night I got the most incredible Christmas gift. It came in an email from a woman I do not know. I can't stop crying. I've edited this to eliminate personal information but this is what she wrote:

"This is going to sound sad, but don't be sad for me because you actually gave me my Christmas back. My Mom loved Christmas and always made it so special for us. My dad had passed away in 1975 and there was just Mom and her three children. Me, my sister and brother. My brother passed very suddenly in 2001 with Mom following in 2004. Only my sister and myself left and she doesn't care for holidays so Christmas pretty much died with my Mom.

"I lead an isolated life... My world keeps getting smaller and smaller day by day. I spent most of the Christmas season this year crying and missing my Mom, who was my best friend. Hearing about Christmas constantly from people who have friends and family and exciting plans, only drove my sadness home. I was very depressed.

"I saw your The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood... I wasn't sure I wanted to read a Christmas story but after just having read The Crazy Old Lady, I knew the writing would be top notch so I grabbed it. I couldn't put it down. From the start I resonated with this man who had isolated himself over pain and trauma. I've had past trauma that keeps me isolated as well and understood him completely.

"But something strange happened as I kept reading about the tradition of Belsnickel. I kept looking at the charming cover, which I loved and I could picture these people so easily. Reading about the excitement of the children over a visit from Belsnickel brought back fond memories of my childhood. I'd never heard of Belsnickel, but it drove home to me how important tradition is. That Christmas traditions exist all over the world so they must be important in making us who we are.

"My heart seemed to lighten up, the further I read into the story. At the end when his heart was healed, I felt like mine healed a bit too. After reading this story, I started looking at Christmas with fresh eyes again. I realized that it didn't die with my Mom. It will never be the same, but I can still find it hiding in my heart when I need it. Thank you, Kathleen. You gave me back my Christmas. I think I was led to this story because I needed it and I am grateful to you for writing it. Your book touched me in a big way and I'll bet it is touching more people as we speak. Have a blessed Christmas."

I think there is no better gift that a writer can receive than knowing you have touched someone. I am so grateful to her for writing. It is also important to remember that Christmas is a mixed blessing for many people. So here are two of my favorite songs -- one for those still serving overseas away from their families and one for those who are lost. Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Three Treats for New Year's Eve Day - and the Reindeer Cam

This has been a very, very good month for my blossoming book business! 

#1. During the night last night we (me and my books) passed the 5,000 sales mark and as of Sunday there will be over 4 million new e-reader owners in the world. At last report Amazon alone had shipped over 4 million e-readers in time for Christmas gifts.

#2. Amazon has made my novelette Arthur's Story: A Love Story free for today and tomorrow and also for next weekend. It is currently ranked #44 in Literary Fiction and #58 in Short Stories on Amazon.

#3. Randomize Me, a blog about books and music, is featuring an article I wrote about writing The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood today.

These are all good things -- and so is this: The Reindeer Cam. Just click on the link to watch Santa getting his reindeer ready for tonight's big job! 

Many thanks, enjoy, and Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Opal, The Old Trapper & An Adventurous Woman: Warm Reads

I've been staying up too late on these dark winter nights reading and have discovered a few old-fashioned books that have captured my heart. If you are looking for some charming nostalgia, you are going to love these:

Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart by Opal Stanley Whiteley
This is one of the most extraordinary books I've ever read. It is the diary of a little girl who was orphaned at the age of five in 1900 and was sent to live in an Oregon logging camp. Her writing is so tender and dear. Her life is hard, and her grammar is her own creation but her words and her perception of the world is exquisite. She tells of being made to spend a day weeding onions by saying that, "My back has hurt feels but the little onions said 'Thank you for giving us more room to grow.'" Gorgeous little book! 

The book is filled with this child's utter wonder and amazement at the natural world. She characterizes people with beautiful descriptive language ("the girl who has no seeing" and "the man with the gray tie who is kind to mice"). In one precious, sweet section Opal becomes very upset because she had been praying to the angels to bring a baby to a recently married couple. However, a neighboring couple have a baby and Opal decides the angels delivered it to the wrong house and she tries to convince the couple with the baby to give it to the other people. Of course they are very amused by this and finally, the man from the first couple, points out to Opal that he and his wife are fair-haired and light-skinned, while the others have black hair and olive-complexions and so does the baby. Opal is not sure she is convinced but decides that at least they "match". 

In some ways it is almost difficult to believe that a child could write this but when you see pictures of the original manuscript (in the edition I had there wee some at the back of the book) it is utterly amazing. They were all printed in big, childish letters on pieces of cardboard and paperbags. The story of how the manuscript was created, destroyed, reconstructed and interpreted is fascinating in itself. 

This is a treasure of a book.

Holiday Tales: Christmas In The Adirondacks by W.H.H. Murray
Written in 1897 this is a wonderful, heart-warming story of an old trapper named John Norton who lives in a cabin in the Adirondacks. There are two stories about the Trapper celebrating Christmas, one in which he brings Christmas to a poor woman and her children abandoned in a cabin in the forest and another in which he decides to make a huge Christmas feast for all the lonely men living alone in his part of the Adirondacks. Colorful, witty and charming. Very nice for this time of year.

Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart
What an absolutely amazing read. In 1909 widowed Elinot Pruitt Stewart took her little daughter west to Wyoming where she filed a land claim and started a ranch. The story is told in a series of letters written home to a woman for whom she worked as a "washer-woman." Her descriptions of the realities of frontier life and the people she encounters are absolutely captivating. In one unforgettable letter she tells of having a "day off" from all her chores so she packs up her daughter and heads off into the mountains, catching fish and shooting squirrels and sage chickens along the way. That night they are surprised by a snowstorm and seek refuge in the cabin of an old mountain man named Zebulon Pike Parker. 

This is just a great, inspiring, astonishing story!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and happy reading!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is Fox News saying its viewers are a bunch of sheep?

This is the Christmas card that Fox News is sending out this year. It's a cute cartoon showing the Fox News fox in a sledding race with NBC, CBS, and ABC. Fox is out in front. Okay, that's fine. But look at who is pulling all four of the sleighs. Not dogs as are usually shown in sledding races but sheep. Fox is being pulled ahead of the pack by sheep (who are also pulling the other station's sleds.) What is the message here?

Fox Business Network also has a card showing the Fox News foxes roasting the NBC peacock on a spit over a fire -- a nice Christmas-y image of goodwill toward others. In that we also see a bunch of sheep with dumb looks on their faces watching.

I'm not going to belabor this... I'll let you draw your own conclusions. But it's pretty obvious that there is a message here. Wonder if any of the sheep are bright enough to get it.

Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays -- take your pick!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Solstice and Bon Hiver!

Tonight at 12:30a.m. the winter solstice will occur and winter officially begins. I love this dark time of year because for me the quiet and stillness is peak creativity time. Some of the best work I have ever done was conceived in this days and grew and flourished through the dark of winter. Bon Hiver, everyone, happy winter -- may it be a time of abundant creativity and stillness for you. And the best part is, starting tomorrow the days grow longer...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

#SampleSunday: Christmas Eve from The Old Mermaid's Tale

#SampleSunday is off to an early start this week. This is my submission. It is from The Old Mermaid's Tale and it takes place on Christmas Eve. Clair is falling in love with Baptiste, an older musician who performs at the Old Mermaid Inn. On Christmas Eve he takes her to a party but they quarrel and he calls a taxi to take her home. She is crushed, embarrassed, and very disappointed.

TEARS SWOLLEN WITH SHAME BURNED MY EYES and all the wrong words clawed at the inside of my throat but I would not cry or speak. He sat as far away from me as possible on the cracked backseat of an old taxi where years of lovers must have wound around each other, eager to be alone. Is it possible to believe that the one you are sure is the incarnation of all your desires cannot be warmed by the heat of your longing? As we turned down Canal Street the colored Christmas lights in the windows of the restaurants and taverns seemed sad and forlorn. We passed The Old Mermaid Inn and I covered my face and sighed.
I’m so sorry, Baptiste.” I spoke as calmly as I could. “I’m sorry I was so forward.”
The door of the Inn opened and a lone, hunched figure stepped out into the street.
I’m so foolish,” I gasped, letting the tears fall. “I dream up these ridiculous mysteries then I try to find people to fit them. I’m a stupid country girl in love with a phantom.”
I pressed my cheek to the cold of the window letting the flush of my humiliation fog the glass.
His hand slid down my back so softly I scarcely felt it. When he reached my waist he curled his arm around me and lifted me backward into his embrace. I turned but his hand cupped my chin and his mouth covered mine before a word could escape.
Snow fell in round, fat puffs as he walked me to my door. The taxi idled at the corner and I clung to him lacking any sense or thought.
Come in.” I pressed myself against him. “Come in and stay tonight.”
He bent and kissed my mouth and let his face rest against mine. “If I do...” he said choosing his words carefully, “what will happen tomorrow?”
Tomorrow is Christmas, Baptiste. Anything can happen on Christmas.”
He lifted his face and stared down into my eyes. And then he nodded.
As he turned back to dismiss the taxi I made a solemn vow that whatever happened would exist only between us without interference from the rest of the world. I would not offer him my passion colored by conditions. If we were to be lovers, even for one night, it would be my gift, as much to myself as to him, and I would not beg heaven for more. As the taxi pulled away the driver’s eyes met mine and he smiled as though in benediction.
Baptiste turned, raised his head and shook it violently sending the snow flying in a white whirlwind. He raised his hand and pointed his finger toward me.
This is your last chance, cher. If I walk down this path your life will never be the same.” But he was smiling.
             I held out my arms and he walked right into them.

                                                          ... from The Old Mermaid's Tale.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Updated: Two Belsnickel Stories from My Home Town

My friend Terry McMackin sent me the following two stories that were sent to him by his cousin. He does not know the origin of the stories but his grandfather is the "George Wagner" mentioned in them. Terry and I lived in the same neighborhood -- our backyards adjoined -- across the street from Mary Opelt's Woods. This appears to be two separate recollections. Thanks, Terry!

          I have been writing stories to my Grandchildren about my childhood in the City of St. Marys, Pa. One of the subjects concerned the coming of Der Peltznichol (Nicholas in Furs) on December 6th, the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. We, children, were always looking forward to this day, but always with a great deal of trepidation. Der Peltznichol always had an evil henchman who carried switches and lumps of coal. I remember quite vividly having to kneel down and say prayers so that the evil one would be forced to leave, rattling his bells and chains off into the night. Then we got candy and homemade cookies. If we were especially lucky, there would be a small toy included in the package of goodies.
          We were particularly afraid of one Peltznichol who was able to call voices out of the fireplace or from behind chairs or the couch. Long after I stopped believing in Santa Claus, I got in the habit of hanging around the local brick factory. One summer day I was snooping in a kiln that was being loaded with green brick. Suddenly a voice came out of one of the firing holes right beside me. My mind was transported back to a December 6th many years before. I forced myself not to turn and look at the men in the setting crew, but waited for the voice to come again. When it started, I instantly whirled around, searching their faces for any indication or movement of lips. I perceived the slightest movement of the jaw belonging to Mr. George Wagner. I blurted out in exasperation and triumph, "You're the damn Peltznichol". A general uproar broke out among the setting crew, because they had all been treated to stories about the activities of Der Peltznichol.
          I should explain that St. Marys was a sanctuary from persecution of German Catholics in the middle 19th century, and in fact maintained bilingual teaching of German and English in the Catholic schools until World War I. The F.B.I. and government seemed to think that the associations with the Old Country posed a threat to the security of the United States and so the practice of teaching German was quickly abandoned. Even today, a certain group of the Great-Great Grandchildren of the original settlers continue to preserve the tradition of St. Nicholas, but have pretty much eliminated the evil personage and made it more like an early visit by Santa Claus.
- Bill Hoehn

Margie McKelvy:
          Sr. Maureen has sent an e-mail asking if I could send you some things about Bellsnickle and St. Marys when we were growing up in the still much German St. Marys. I have done some research about this, mostly because of several programs on N.P.R. and the fact that my father played Bellsnickle and Santa for many years.
          My research indicated that the Bavarians and the French along the border between Lorraine and Germany in the Rhine Valley and on into the Black Forest have practiced the tradition for over a thousand years. The belief is that Peltznichol (Nicholas in furs) and his evil henchman, Swart Pater (the devil) were characters in Christmas Plays to illustrate and help convert the masses to Christianity. St. Nicholas was first a Good Samaritan, who provided dowries for destitute maidens so that their poor families might get them married to promising young men. Thus the tradition of gift giving and St. Nicholas. (Good - vs. - Evil)
When my father was growing up, and even in the early years of this playing Bellsnickle, he and his friend "Coxy" Sporner always went as the good Bellsnickle and the evil Swartz Pater. By the 1930's things had changed and sometimes there were just two Bellsnickles. Except at those homes where the old traditions still held like the Crawford house where one of the visitors still wore chains and dragged them through the streets from house to house. This brings me to the collective experience of the Crawford kids. I was always invited to Aunt Irene’s on December the 6th, and so got to have the shit scared out of me along with Freddy, Dotty and Puss. (I still can't believe that she became a nun.) Freddy was so frightened of the Bellsnickle that he would hide when we heard the sleigh bells and chains coming down West Mill Street.
           After the pair entered the front room, we kids were assembled in front of them. We all had to be questioned about our behavior for the past year, and sometimes they knew a little bit more about our activities than we wanted to admit to. Several years we got some real shocks, because the voices accusing you of misbehavior would come out of the fake fireplace or out from behind the couch. We were so scared it is a wonder that we didn't all pee our pants. Then it was time to kneel down and say our prayers. If you prayed really well the Swartz Pater would shake his chains and leave, then we would each get a bag of goodies or maybe a toy.  If we were particularly bad or didn't say our prayers just right, Swartz Pater would stay and hand us a switch or worse, the dreaded lump of coal.
           Many years later, I might have been 14 or 15; I was hanging around the Elk Fire Brick Company, just watching what the setting crew was doing inside the kiln, when a voice spoke out of a firing hole right next to me. Instantly I recognized the voice, but didn't see any of the workers looking at me. I tried to see who it was that was throwing his voice, but I couldn't catch any one moving his lips. I half turned to go out the arched opening in the end of the kiln like I hadn't heard anything. Just before I reached the opening I whirled around right in time to see just the slightest movement of one fellow’s lips. I yelled, "You’re the damn Bellsnickle". There was a burst of laughter from the whole crew. One fellow said, "Finally somebody caught you, George". That's how I learned who the Bellsnickle was at Crawford's house so many years before. Old George Wagner was a super ventriloquist and a really nice old guy.
           Ku Shise (Cow Shit) was my father’s nickname, and Ku played Santa Claus many times. Once he was the Bellsnickle at Crawfords (Before I was born). My father had cut off the end of this thumb splitting wood for a fire. Anyway as he and Uncle George Crawford told the story, John was about 3 or 4 this particular time. After the Bellsnickle left, John turned to his father and said, "Ya know, Pop, dat dare one Sanny Claus had a tum off chust like Uncle Ku." After that my dad always had to wear white gloves with the thumb stuffed full of cotton.
          I started out writing about Coxy Sporner being one of the Santa Clauses. He and my dad went to Coxy's brother's house because Coxy's nephew, Hiddy, was about the right age. The Feast of St. Nicholas comes on December the 6th and is always in the middle of hunting season. This particular year Coxy had shot a buck on the first day of the season. The two Santas stood outside the living room window while Mrs. Sporner questioned Hiddy about what he would do if the Santa Clause should come to visit. Hiddy replied, "I have a great club. I would hit him over the head and drive him away." The two Santas let themselves into the through the kitchen door as quietly as they could. Mrs. Sporner, however heard them and told Hiddy to go into the kitchen and bring her a spool of thread. Be sure to turn on the light, she said.
          Hiddy came around the corner, snapped on the light and froze in his tracks. About half a second later he let out a scream, yelling, "Yiiiii! "Ich mus pee." as he tore out the back door and ran for the outhouse. My dad said it took about 20 minutes to get Hiddy to unlock the outhouse and come out. All the while Mrs. Sporner was trying to get Hiddy to come out, the Santas were laughing under their beards. Finally they were able to get him to talk and say his prayers. Suddenly Coxy growled, "I understand you shot one of Sanny Clauses Reindeer." Hiddy replied, "Oh No! Sanny Clause, Honest to God, that was Uncle Soxy!" The two couldn't keep from laughing and so had to beat a hasty retreat back out into the night.
          Such was the goings-on around St. Marys concerning Bellsnickle, and in some quarters it still continues today, but with a lot less scare and a lot more good things. Maybe it is for the best!

I also discovered a very interesting blog post about Belsnickel at: Conjure Cinema. The pictures here are from this blog:
    Today we turn to one of the strangest Christmas traditions I have come across in my research in a long time (and that's saying something), called belsnickeling. It's a holiday practice that stems from the Appalachian Valley area of Virginia and West Virginia - essentially, think "naughty mummers" for lack of a better term. A group of men would dress in outlandish costumes and go door to door, putting on some form of entertainment and demanding payment for their performance (usually food or drink, most often drink) - if the payment wasn't to their liking, then some mischief was performed at the offending house. The belsnickelers would go from house to house continuing their revelry, getting paid off with more drink at each house, until they were fully in their cups and God knows what their act looked like as the evening progressed. As you can see from the photo at left, the belsnickelers were always masked, so if the mischief got out of hand you didn't know WHO to blame for it the next day (the thought of looking for who was the most hungover in the town must not have occurred to the locals back then). Read the rest here

Thanks for the great stories and thanks for reading. Merry Christmas.
Posted in another forum by German author Cora Buhlert"Belsnickling" sounds very like our custom of "Nikolauslaufen", only that here it's children up to approx. 12 who go from door to door, sing a song or recite a poem and receive a treat in return. Nowadays, it's mostly chocolate and sweets (I always give Kinder Surprise Eggs) and tangerines among the more traditionally minded, but my Mom told me that she often got small household items such as shoelaces or matchboxes when she went "Nikolauslaufen" in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

I got 13 Nikolaus kids this year, which is about average. Though I've also had more than 20 kids in other years. One year, I opened the door to find an entire girls' basketball team standing outside and singing and had to dig into my own stash of chocolate, because the sweets I'd bought weren't enough for them all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More Musings About Family

I wrote a few weeks back about my UncleTommy's death which was followed three weeks later by the death of his wife Aunt Mary Rita. It was sad but they'd had good long lives. This week I found out that Uncle Tommy left his house to his first generation of nieces and nephews of which I am one – one of about twenty or so. It is a lovely thing that he did and I'm sure we're all touched by this. It won't amount to a whole lot of money but that's not the point.
Uncle Tommy's House

I found out about it because of a call from my cousin Michael who helped Uncle Tommy out a lot in his later years. I haven't seen Michael in many years – I remember him as a very cute, dark-haired kid with a sunny personality. He's several years younger than I am. But in our email exchanges over the last few days I got thinking about all the cousins I did know growing up. One of them was Michael's older brother Bobby who was a few years older than me. The truth is I sort of had a crush on Bobby – he was a big guy with dark hair and he was usually happy. I always liked talking to him.

When I was in my late teens/early twenties, Bobby had a very cool car. I can't remember what it was – maybe a Camaro or a Firebird – that was black and he used to cruise around town in it. Whenever he saw me he'd stop and talk and I just remember how great it felt to have this older guy cousin with a cool car who'd always pull over to gab with me for a little while. I actually had quite a lot of cousins and many of them were older boys. I suppose it is perfectly natural for girls to develop crushes on their boy-cousins, especially if they are older and nice to them.

I have this memory though I can't put an absolute time on it but I was probably about 19 when it happened. I was coming out of a downtown drugstore and Bobby and his cool car were in the parking lot and there were a bunch of other boys there. It was at a time in young men's lives when they have more testosterone than brains and a fight was brewing. I heard what was going on and the last thing I heard was one of the guys challenge Bobby to meet them at a place out of town in an hour. Bobby said, “I'll be there” and sped off. It worried me because, of course, though he was a big guy, there was a bunch of the other guys. I went home and my brother Jack was there. He was a big guy too and I told him the story. He just nodded and said he'd be back in a little while.

About an hour later Jack came home looking none the worse for wear and I asked him what happened. He said, “Nothing. We showed up and those other guys left.” He had gone and picked up another cousin of ours (who had a reputation for being kind of nuts) and they went to the appointed meeting place where Bobby had arrived a few minutes earlier. Jack said he and our other cousin got out of the car and walked over to where Bobby was and the would-be tough guys couldn’t get out of there fast enough. End of story.

Later Bobby told me that he never felt better in his life than he did when his two cousins showed up prepared to do whatever needed doing on his behalf.

Not long after that Bobby was in a motorcycle accident and his back was broken. I went to visit him in the hospital and I still remember him laying there with all these machines and pulleys and rods and gizmos. It wasn't good and everybody knew it. He was so happy to see me and we talked for a long while. When it was time for me to leave I leaned down to give him a kiss and he said, “You know, there have been a lot of times I really wished you weren't my cousin.”

I knew what he meant. I felt the same way.

Bobby didn't live long after that. I still miss him. I guess these are the kind of memories that, even after decades, can still put a lump in your throat. Bobby's gone and so is Jack... and I don't know about the other cousin. But Uncle Tommy's gift to us will stir up lots more memories I'm sure. And I will be grateful for them.

Thanks for reading.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

Family Secrets

Years ago – I was just a kid – a cousin that I didn't know very well was visiting us. She was a few years older than I and was actually a second or third cousin. I never could get all that straight. We were in the living room and my cousin was talking to my mother when I heard my mother say, “I can't believe you know about that!” in the sort of shocked tone of voice that makes a kid's ears perk right up. A few days later my grandmother was at our house and I heard her and my mother talking in the sort of low, secretive voices that – well – same thing, make your ears perk up. I tried listening in but I missed most of what they were saying. However I recognized the shocked tones of their voices and I remember my mother saying, “She's too young to hear talk about things like that.”

Now, here's the thing – I have no idea what they were talking about! It's close to half a century later, all the players are dead, and I will go to my own grave never knowing what shocked my mother when she found out my cousin knew about it. Sigh.

Ever since I started writing The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood I have been experiencing a virtual flood of unleashed memories from childhood. Stories told by both my grandmothers and old aunts and uncles, stories about my great-grandparents coming to this country and all that was involved, stories about working in the logging camps, hunting stories. I grew up in a world of stories and story-telling and I have spent much of my life sharing stories. But remembering those whispered voices and stories that I was too young to hear makes me long to know what I missed.

I have to tell you, I really fell in love with the characters and the atmosphere of my Belsnickel story. I have some pretty good fantasies going about Oliver Eberstark and I want to know more about several other people in the story. Recently I started writing a new Marienstadt story which I am calling The Confession of Genny Ritter. It starts out in the present when Father Nick is called to Trish Ritter's home because her 103 year old great-grandmother-in-law wants him to hear her Confession. But first she says she wants to tell him a story and a secret that she has kept for nearly seventy years. The story then shifts back to the turn of the twentieth century when Genny's parents left Germany and came to Marienstadt. Her father went to work for Ollie Eberstark who had just started a sawmill on Pistner's Run and her older brothers eventually go to work for Ollie or for Herman Opelt who has a logging business. Much of what I'm using to shape this story is stuff my Gram Werner told me about her own family and also a few things from Grandma Valentine. Some of it is actually rather painful but I keep typing and I'm stunned at all the stuff that is bubbling to the surface.
The John Woelfel Family, first generation immigrant from Bavaria.
That's my Gram Werner on the far right in the terrible plaid dress.

To tell the truth, I'm not really sure where this is going and if it will be of interest to anyone but me but I keep typing – I need to do this. I'm not sure if there are any family secrets lurking around in the back of my mind that will come out or not. I have this fantasy that deep down inside I really did know what my mother was talking about all those many years ago and, as I type, the story will find its way onto the page.

Start ind Thursday my Belsnickel book will be free for 5 days in the new Kindle Select Bookstore. it will be interesting to see if anyone downloads it. In the meantime I'm writing more. Always writing more.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Free Books Are All The Rage

Since the explosive growth of digital books readers have the potential to read-for-free an almost unlimited number of books. All the major online booksellers offer free books and there are tons of web sites which list free books. They are updated constantly and I hear authors telling fabulous tales of "selling" thousands and thousands of books when theirs "go free." 

The question is, why would an author give away the books they worked so hard to write and there are quite a few different answers. If a writer has a number of books, giving away one may be a good way to introduce readers to their work. Sometimes they give away their books for a limited time period in the hopes of getting reviews or improve their ranking or get their books into the coveted "Also Bought" line on Amazon pages. And a lot of writers say they just want readers to read their work, they don't care if they get paid.

Amazon, always the savvy marketers, have introduced a new way of getting books onto people's Kindles with a new lending library. Kindle owners who subscribe to Amazon Prime can now "borrow" the books enrolled in their lending program and the author gets paid a small fee from a fund Amazon has set up to compensate writers who put their books in the lending library.

So, I thought I'd give it a shot and enrolled one of my books, The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood, in the program. This is how the page looks.

Two more of my books are being offered free on other web sites and I'm pleased they are doing this. My sampler called Romance, Crime, Good Food: The Kathleen Valentine Sampler is free in the Diesel E-Book Store in a lot of different formats and love, murder, etc. is free in the Sony E-Book Store and at Barnes & Noble.

I'll be interested to see if people download them and if I get feedback. Paid sales are still encouraging. The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic is still hanging in the Top Ten Amazon Bestsellers in 3 categories and Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter is bouncing around in the Top Twenty. All of this just blows my mind.

One of the real joys of winter, for me, is snuggling up with a warm blanket, hot tea and a good book. In fact, I'm off to do that now.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Cuteness: Max & Jack

I'm going through one of those periods where I'm too busy to blog. This is a mixed blessing. So I thought today I'd give everybody a dose of super-cuteness -- pictures of my two latest grand nephews Max & Jack Valentine. They are my nephew Mark and his wife Jenny's little boys and they live in Arkansas:

This is Max. Just look at those dimples!!!

And this is Jack last year giving his opinion of the Pittsburgh Steelers. His parents are huge fans but Jack may have a mind of his own in this.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Happy Belsnickel, Everyone! Spread the Belsnickel Love.

In honor of Belsnickel today I am reposting this blog post from last December. I'm on a mission to spread the Belsnickel Love so today I'm asking people to do something nice for someone in secret, don't let them know who their Belsnickel is!

Dec. 6, 2010: Since today is the Feast of St.Nicholas, or Belsnickel as it was known during my childhood, I am reprinting one of the stories in my cookbook/memoir, Fry Bacon, Add Onions. Enjoy. And if you hear a jingling sound outside your door tonight, you better be good and say your prayers!

No book about a Pennsylvania Dutch childhood would be complete without a few words about Belsnickel. Every year on the Eve of St. Nicholas’s Feast Day, December 6th, we looked forward to a visit from Belsnickel. It is a tradition that began among Pennsylvania Dutch people in the early 19th century and was quite popular when I was a kid. My sisters Lisa and Anne have carried on the tradition for their children which I am happy to know.

The name “Belsnickle” is believed to be a derivation of “Pelz Nicholas” or “St. Nicholas in furs”. Pictures of St. Nicholas always show him wearing a long, fur-trimmed cloak and carrying a huge sack as he walks through the forest accompanied by deer, rabbits and other woodland creatures.

Gram Werner told me that when she was a child Belsnickel was quite fearsome. She said when they heard the sleigh bells ringing, that signaled his approach, through the cold and snowy night, her brothers would run outside in the snow and hide in the outhouse. Legend was that Belsnickel knew who had misbehaved and was likely to carry off very naughty children and give them a good thrashing.

By the time I was a kid Belsnickel had mellowed somewhat. He would arrive and we had to be ready, freshly bathed and in our pajamas (though I suspect that was my mother’s contribution to the tradition). He would ask if we had been good and then we would kneel at his feet and say our prayers. After that he would open his huge sack and give us tangerines, nuts, popcorn balls and other treats.

When I was quite young we had real actual Belsnickels in fur-trimmed red outfits that came to the house. I know now that it was usually Sonny Seelye who undertook that job. Sonny and his sweet wife Mary were two of the nicest people in our neighborhood. They had no children of their own but sure were good to the neighborhood kids. Mary was my first 4-H leader and is the person who taught me how to sew, something I’ve never been able to thank her enough for. Sonny had this marvelous train set that all the kids in the neighborhood remember with fondness.

One year it was my Aunt Rosie who played Belsnickel for us. That was the year Belsnickel had laryngitis and couldn’t talk, no doubt because we would have recognized her voice immediately. Actually, I only found this out when she told me a couple weeks ago.

Later, when there were no available Belsnickels, we would leave our shoes outside the door. When we heard the sleigh bells ringing we had to wait and then go outside to find our shoes full of treats. This is the tradition that Lisa and Anne have continued for their children.

Thanks for reading.