Friday, June 29, 2012

Moving Right Along with the Marienstadt Stories!

Yesterday I finished the first draft of the final story in my cycle of Marienstadt stories. This is very exciting to me. The current plan is to release the 11 stories in 3 volumes, the first one will be available in July. There will also be a paperback book with all 11 stories in it sometime this fall. I love, love, love these stories. Now it is time to refine and revise but these are three more story divider pages:

Story #5 - Drugs, Alcohol, Bacon, Firearms: A black bear has taken up residence in Fischer's Mill, an old grist mill that was once a notorious moonshine operation during Prohibition. While checking on the bear Henry Werner and Oliver Eberstark begin to suspect someone is running a meth lab and using the mill for drug deals. Both the drug dealer and the bear have got to be found and dealt with.

Story #7 - Of Beautiful Strangers, Woodchucks, and Bearded Ladies: Crazy things are going on in Marienstadt! A writer from a NY City magazine is in town interviewing the local food businesses for an article, a group of people are trying to raise money to buy back a 17-foot tall fiberglass woodchuck, a portfolio of photographs of a mysterious bearded lady is discovered in Marshall's Stationary Store's basement, and heart-throb Henry Werner has finally met his match.

Story #9 - The Reluctant Belsnikel of Opelt's Wood: When Father Nicholas Bauer tries to revive Marienstadt's ancient Belsnickel tradition he recruits his two friends from childhood, Oliver Eberstark and Gretchen Fritz. Oliver, once a handsome and popular athlete, is now a recluse who rarely leaves Opelt's Wood. Father Nick is determined to learn what happened to change him and Gretchen rediscovers why all the girls in high school had crushes on him.

Thanks for reading!!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sweet Surrender? This is downright astonishing....

I'll never look at a piece of gingerbread in the same way again. In the last few days the subject of molasses has come up in three very different ways. Melisssa Smith Abbot did a series of videos on how to bake her famous Anadama bread and she shows how to properly prepare the molasses to be used in her bread. Then I was doing some research for the eleventh story in my Marienstadt collection which is about Prohibition and how a bunch of moonshiners got caught because a railroad car full of molasses that leaked and gave away their operation. Finally, last night a friend recommended the book Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 which tells an astonishing story!

In 1919 the North End of Boston was flooded with over 2 million gallons of dark, sweet, sticky molasses when a storage tank burst. Twenty-one people and twenty horses died, buried in a sea of molasses. Somehow this is hard for me to comprehend. 
 I know this neighborhood in Boston well and it is beautiful. It has always been an Italian neighborhood and is on the waterfront with lots of wharves and docking space. Back in the early part of the 20th century, molasses was shipped in from Cuba and the West Indies to be made into alcohol for munitions manufacturing plants.
 The molasses was unloaded from ships into a storage tank in the North End. From there it was loaded into the tank cars of trains and sent off to distilleries to be made into industrial alcohol.
For months before the seams of the tank had been seeping molasses and neighborhood children had been scooping it up and licking their fingers. Then something happened, the molasses began to rumble and boil and BOOM! You can read all about it on Wikipedia or here in this article in Wired:

1919: A giant molasses tank blows up, sending a wall of thick, sticky syrup through the streets of a Boston neighborhood. The blast and the molasses flood kill 21 people and injure 150.
The Purity Distilling Company built the tank in 1915 on the waterfront of Boston's North End, a populous neighborhood of Italian immigrants just a few blocks from the city's financial and downtown shopping districts. With a diameter of 90 feet and 50 feet high, the iron tank could hold about 2½ million gallons of molasses, ready to be distilled into rum or industrial alcohol.
At least, it could hold the molasses until shortly after noon on Jan. 15, 1919. No one is sure what caused the disaster. Workers and neighbors had complained about the tank leaking for years, so the owner painted it brown to hide the leaks. But the disaster was likely not due to overfilling, because the tank didn't merely give way — it exploded.
The local temperature had risen from 2 degrees above zero to the 40s in a couple of days. It's possible that the rapid heating started a fermentation process, or that newly added warm molasses somehow reacted with colder molasses lower in the tank.
Whatever caused the explosion, the tank gave out a dull roar, and then its two sides flew outward with a mighty blast. One huge piece knocked out the support of an elevated railway, buckling the tracks. An engineer stopped his train just in time to avoid an even worse disaster. Fragments of metal landed 200 feet away.
Besides sending shrapnel whizzing through the air, the explosion flattened people, horses and buildings with a huge shockwave. As some tried to get to their feet, the sudden vacuum where the tank once was created a reverse shockwave, sucking air in and knocking people, animals and vehicles around once more, and shaking homes off their foundations.
That was just the first few seconds. The real terror was about to begin. Read the rest here.
I'm definitely learning a lot which I know will work its way into my story! I love research!!! Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Three More Marienstadt Stories

I think I am enjoying designing these chapter page images as much as I am writing these stories. Some are easy to come up with a concept for. Some are more of a challenge:
 Story #8 - The Legend of Father Cuneo's Grave: When attorney Matthew Schreiber receives news that Delilah Lonigan has died in Texas and left her entire estate to her brother he is shocked. Delilah was rumored to have been murdered decades ago by a priest now buried in a haunted grave. Skidder Hoffman, her brother, is an old wood hick who lives alone in the forest. It is up to Fred Sarginger, the owner of The Snuff Box Tavern, and Candy Dippold to break the news to him.

Story #6 - The Day the Viaduct Blew Down: While sorting through boxes of old photographs donated to the Marienstadt Historical Society Candy Dippold makes a strange discovery, a photograph from the 1930s of a barnstorming pilot flying a biplane under the famous Kinzua Viaduct. He is determined to find out who the mystery flyer is and how he did this stunt. Meanwhile Chief of Police Henry Werner has his hands full with complaints about the guillotine Candy just built and a bunch of kids who have turned an old washing machine into a tank.
Story #5 - The Confession of Genny Franck: When Father Nicholas Bauer is called to hear the Confession of 103-year old Genny Franck she tells him she first wants him to hear her story. She tells him about her family's escape from the Old Country, about meeting her beautiful husband, the musician Daniel Franck, and how his death at a young age left her with terrible choices to make.

That's six finished and five more to go. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Two Books on Working with Balloons by Tammie Gibbs

My guest today is Tammie Gibbs with two great books on working with balloons: 

Do It Like A Pro: 
Easy Balloon Decorating for the Non-Professional
Do It Like A Pro: 
Easy Balloon Arrangements for the Non-Professional
 by Tammie Gibbs

The Do It Like A Pro Series of books was born from over 20 years of professional party planning and balloon decor experience. When my life took a new direction I couldn't help but think how much easier parties, proms and special events could be for ordinary people if they only knew a few very simple techniques that party professionals don't want them to know. These are both very short and to the point. They are written so that even the least creative can learn the techniques and decorate for their own parties or events a inexpensively as a bag of balloons. The first book "Do It Like A Pro: Easy Balloon Decorating for the Non-Professional" gives the basic techniques for balloon swags, columns and a few other sculptures. It is fantastic for prom committees and civic club event chairs. For less than a soft drink you can learn how to do-it-yourself and save hundreds of dollars on your next event. The second book "Do It Like A Pro: Easy Balloon Arrangements for the Non-Professional" is all about creating balloon arrangements that last approximately a month. 

With just a few supplies you keep on hand that will fit in a drawer you can be prepared for unexpected "get well" and "birthdays" by creating your own arrangements and delivering them yourself.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The First Three "Secrets of Marienstadt" Stories....

The first three are "pritneer" ready! The book's title will be "The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Secrets of Marienstadt." I intend for it to be available in paperback when it is complete but some people in my writer's group are suggesting that I release the first three stories as "Volume 1" in e-format as a teaser. I'm not sure how I feel about this but I'm open to suggestions. I am creating graphics for the beginning of each chapter and this is what I've got at the moment:
Story #1 - Peeper Baumgratz and the Sister's Snowplow: When Peeper Baumgratz wrecks his truck into the side of the Bucktail Inn and then goes on the lam, Chief of Police Henry Werner recruits woodsman Oliver Eberstark to hunt him down. Because Henry does not want to see Peeper go to prison he concocts a scheme for him to do community service by working for the nuns at the local convent who are trying to start a snowplowing business.

Story #2 - The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Titus Winter is the great-grandson of Jubal Winter, the giant logger and fisherman who came out of the north woods and helped found Marienstadt but, while doing research on his ancestry, Titus made a discovery that has left him ashamed of his illustrious ancestor. During renovations on Town Hall an old whiskey bottle is found between the walls with a manuscript in it that tells a very different story.

 Story #3 - The Great Dumpling War and Dance Competition: In an effort to promote Marienstadt's history of traditional cuisine, Father Nick Bauer wants to compile a cookbook but runs into trouble when some of the local ladies don't want to share recipes. He calls on Mulligan Wolfe, local pig farmer and former dance champion, for help. With Lola Eckert's assistance a recipe contest begins. Meanwhile Gretchen Fritz gets hoodwinked into entering Mulligan's dance competition with Patrolman Dean Ginther.

So that is where we are at the moment. This is, without a doubt, the most fun I have ever had writing a book. Can't wait to share it!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guest Blog by Stuart Heaslet: Right Care, Right Now - How to Be a Powerful Patient Advocate for a Loved One

This very useful book is an important guide for anyone dealing with a family member in the healthcare system:

Right Care, Right Now - How to Be a Powerful Patient Advocate for a Loved One 
Stuart Heaslet

“Right Care, Right Now” was researched and written for those who have little, if any, experience managing the medical affairs of a family member. It is an easy-to-read reference that will help a patient advocate improve the odds of a patient's recovery in one of the most complex medical bureaucracies on the planet.
Every year more than 200,000 deaths in the United States result from doctor and hospital errors. They happen because of distractions, shift changes, miscommunication, or natural human mistakes. Every day there are hundreds or thousands of examples of misdiagnosis, wrong prescriptions and dosages, unnecessary surgery, and hospital infections, nearly all of which could be prevented with quality and procedural control measures.

This is why patient advocates are so important. They may be a spouse or a relative or a friend, and they have the patient's best interests at heart.

Included in “Right Care, Right Now” is information that can help an advocate assist doctors, nurses and hospitals so that they can do a better job:
  • How to avoid the top ten mistakes made by most health advocates.
  • How to research medical treatment options (and why you shouldn't rely on Google).
  • How to find the best doctors, surgeons and hospitals, and which questions you should ask before you hire them.
  • How to do background checks on doctors and hospitals.
  • Learn when teaching hospitals tend to make the most mistakes.
  • When and how to fire a doctor.
  • Why second and third opinions matter.
  • How to get get the best second and third medical opinions, and why it is often best NOT to get them from colleagues of the primary care physician.
  • How to research and source the best and most economical medications.
  • How to work with Medicare and private insurance companies, and deal with excessive charges and billings.
  • How to appeal insurance denials of insurance coverage.
  • How to establish your legal and practical role as a patient advocate, or outsource to a professional or volunteer advocate.
“Right Care, Right Now” is heavily linked to essential research, physician, hospital, drug and government insurance websites.

Title: Right Care, Right Now - How to Be a Powerful Patient Advocate for a Loved One
236 pages (paperback)
Copyright ©2012 by Stuart D. Heaslet
ISBN 978-1-938148-02-6 (Paperback)
ISBN 978-1-938148-04-0 (eBook)
ISBN 978-1-938148-05-7 (eBook)

From the author:
My father’s hospital experiences, and his death, are the two reasons I wrote this book. At the time of my father's illness I was a businessman and project manager working mostly overseas.

But 10 years ago at 2:09 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, my bedside phone blasted me into half-consciousness. It was from a man who said he was a neurosurgeon, and that he was trying to treat my father who had just had a stroke.

By the time the call was over I had given a man I didn't know the authority to perform emergency surgery to relieve a severe buildup of fluid in my my father's skull.

I had no idea what I was going to do, but four hours later I found myself beginning a series of flights to Los Angeles to be with the one man, an artist and a craftsman, who had loved me since the day I was born.

I wish I had read a book like this back then, when my father needed me the most. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Good Writing vs. Good Story-Telling?

In a few author's forums that I participate in the question “which is more important good writing or good story-telling?” seems to pop up periodically. It always generates a lively discussion and it drives me crazy. Yes, there are writers who tell good stories but are not good writers. It is true and a lot of those books sell very well and become popular. The Twilight books come to mind and those 50 Shades of Grey books and blockbusters like The DaVinci Code and The Bridges of Madison County. Actually, I have not read the 50 Shades books and I only read the first Twilight book – skimmed is more accurate. A lot of people love them and that is fine.

The problem with these discussions is that a lot of people defend their preference for good story-telling by asserting that good writing is “flowery” or “overly-descriptive” or “pulls them out of the story.” If writing is flowery or overly descriptive or pulls you out of the story IT'S NOT GOOD WRITING! It's bad writing. I get so frustrated by these discussions. It seems certain readers feel the need to defend their taste for mediocre writing by finding excuses for why good writing is bad. It makes no sense to me.

Granted there are writers who are superb writers but do not tell particularly interesting stories but the best writers do both – they tell a good story and tell it so beautifully and so elegantly that their writing draws you deeper and deeper into the story. That's what good writing does.

I realize that different readers bring different expectations to their reading time. For me it's all about the characters. As Sol Stein says, “I want to fall in love.” If I am going to invest as many hours as it takes to read a contemporary novel, I want to care deeply about at least one of the characters. Recently I started Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and found myself absolutely mesmerized by Oskar, the 9year old boy at the heart of the story. As I was reading I had one of those Profound Revelations that make me wonder why I never thought of this before: The story is interesting because Oskar is interesting. I care about what is going to happen because I care about Oskar. That's good writing.

There seems to be a pervasive notion that “good writing” is hard. I don't buy that but I've seen that sentiment expressed. Much of what a reader brings to the page relies on the level of “intellectual muscle” (as an old teacher friend terms it) the reader has acquired over the years. I'm of the opinion that most any reading is good for young people than no reading. But as a reader matures in their reading material it is a good thing to continually expand your reading skill levels. That's why teachers assign “hard” books – your brain is no different than your body, it needs to be strengthened, too.

I started reading “grown-up” books pretty early. I don't know how old I was when I read Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca but I was pretty young. But I remember that when I picked up For Whom the Bell Tolls something happened in my head. I loved the book but I was also aware that this was writing on a level I had never experienced before. It was wonderful and it made me want more. It was the beginning of my lifelong love of Hemingway's writing which I am grateful for.

So whenever this good writing vs. good storytelling question arises I say “both, please!” But I know that the truth is if the writing is good, the story-telling will be good because the writing will make me care about the story and its characters. That's something poor writing does not have the power to do.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Pudding Hollow Cookbook by Tinky Weisblatt

My guest today is Tinky Weisblat, auhor of the Pudding Hollow Cookbook and a wonderful food blog, In Our Grandmother's Kitchens:

I began writing my Pudding Hollow Cookbook by accident. I finished writing it with love.

Years ago I participated in the bicentennial pageant here in Hawley, Massachusetts.

Folk artist Judith Russell created a painting of a seminal scene in that pageant, the reenactment of a pudding contest that took place in the town when it was first settled. The winner was forever after known as Pudding Head, and her home area of town was called Pudding Hollow.

Appropriately, the winner’s name was Mrs. Baker. I hammed it up no end playing her.

Judy loved her painting. (So did I.) And she knew that I had begun writing food journalism.

“Let’s put together a cookbook,” she suggested. “You’ll do the art, and I’ll do the writing. We can name it after Pudding Hollow.”

What the heck, thought I. How hard could it be to write a cookbook?

Well … it turned out that writing one wasn’t exactly easy. I encountered a number of obstacles along the way, among them Judy’s untimely death of leukemia when we had barely begun the project. Happily, her family wanted the cookbook project to continue in her memory. Her daughter helped me track down paintings and sketches to use as illustrations.

Copyright 2004 by the Estate of Judith Russell
Our cookbook shares recipes and stories from my heart’s home, the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. It’s not just about my own stomping grounds, however. Thanks to Judy’s gorgeous illustrations—and to the area’s old-fashioned, rural character—the book speaks to country cooking in general.

It also conjures up the feeling of community that still permeates rural America through agricultural fairs, minor festivals, and church suppers.

Working on it reminded me of something I had long known but didn’t always remember: food is one of the strongest connections we have to our neighbors, our friends, our relatives, and our culture.

The book follows the seasons from January through December, starting out with warm winter meals, greeting the spring with a chapter on May baskets, and continuing through glorious summer to the harvest and year-end holidays.
Copyright 2004 by the Estate of Judith Russell

One of my favorite chapters is in full season right now. “Learning from Rhubarb” talks about the ways in which the astringent, assertive rhubarb plant reminds me of strong women who helped raise me. Here is a recipe from that chapter.

Rhubarb Bars
3 generous cups chopped rhubarb stalks (try for 1-inch pieces)
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1/4 cup water
1-1/2 cups uncooked oatmeal
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla. Add the cornstarch paste and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the rhubarb is tender and thick. Set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients and cut the butter into the mixture. Add the nuts, if desired. Pat 3/4 of this crumb mixture into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add the cooled rhubarb mixture. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs on top.
Bake for 40 minutes. Makes up to 32 bars, depending on your slicing skills.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Bearded Lady Revisited

Back in August of 2010 I wrote a blog about some antique photos of the so-called “Bearded Lady of Elk County.” I found a number of pictures of her and various information, I've since discovered a book titled “Madame Viola, the Bearded Lady of Elk County: Age 24, Born in Elk County, Pennsylvania, June 6, 1854.” Of course there are no known copies of the book available but this web site says that the book was written and stereotyped by “Damon & Peets.”

This is the third name I have found for her. She has also been identified as Mrs. A. Myers or Meyers and one site claims she was also known as Annie Jones when she appeared with Barnum & Bailey Circus. But, she remains as mysterious as ever. Because I have been so fascinated by her I decided to use these photos as inspiration for a new story in my Marienstadt collection I finished it today and am pretty please with it. I call it “Of Beautiful Strangers, Woodchucks, and Bearded Ladies” and it is really three inter-woven stories: a beautiful journalist comes from New York and gives heart-throb Henry Werner a run for his money, a former resident of Marienstadt is trying to raise funds to buy back a 17-foot fiberglass woodchuck that was once popular in town, and the two women who own Bearded Lad Hometown treats find out that their logo is more than just a random image from long ago.

It's such fun to work on these stories. Because they are created within a familiar setting I can rely on past experiences to get me through rough spots but, because they are fiction, I can let my imagination go crazy.

While working on this one I did some research on the lives of some of the sideshow performers from Barnum & Bailey and it is rather unsettling now to think of people who were victims of bad genetics as only being able to find respectability by being exhibited and gawked at as “freaks.” I suppose I will always wonder about Mrs. A. Meyers but, in my story, the background I concocted for her, is a hopeful one. It would be nice to think it had some basis in fact.

I have one more Marienstadt story to go based on an old mill that stood behind the grade school I attended when I was little. It has been torn down since but it was once a grist mill and then later, during Prohibition, it became quite famous for the rum-running business it housed. My imagination is churning away.

So it is a beautiful day and I have errands to run. But while I am about them I will be thinking about stories and, hopefully, be full of ideas by the time I return home.

Thanks for reading.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Mystery in Pennsylvania?

I have been working on a new story for my collection of "Marienstadt" stories that involves the East Branch dam of the Clarion River. The dam was built in 1952 and my Dad worked on it. When I was growing up it was a frequent destination for picnics and recreation. As I worked on the story I decided I wanted to see it from the air so, as I always do, I went to Google Earth and had a fine time flying over the reservoir there. I'm a fan of Google Earth and frequently entertain myself by zooming over interesting places -- which is how I found this:

This is an aerial view of land north of Emporium, PA and south of Smethport and Port Allegheny. It is a heavily wooded area and if you go to the regular map there is nothing marked there - nothing, not even roads. There are some forestry service roads but that is all. I added the yellow squiggly lines to emphasize the contours of the area.

When you zoom in really close there are some wide waterways with churning white water visible:

There is also this misty white area right next to one of the waterways. What are these things?

I asked my friend Ray and he said when he looks on his topographical maps he cannot find anything at all. He suggested it might be a Marcellus shale site which is possible but when I zoom way in I see no buildings or vehicles of any sort.

When I was working on my story about the Kinzua Viaduct I used Google Earth to zoom in on that and, as you can see below, you can see the fallen towers laying on the floor of the valley very clearly.

So what is this mysterious site in central Pennsylvania? Was it built by Martians? Hmmmmm, nothing as interesting as a good mystery. I'm open to suggestions!

Thanks for reading.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Elucidations: For Lovers of the Arts Interview

A few weeks ago I was contacted by Loraine Hunsaker who writes the Elucidations: For Lovers of the Arts blog. She had recently read The Old Mermaid's Tale and was excited about it since she lives in northwestern Pennsylvania. She invited me to do an interview with her and she posted it yesterday. She asked very interesting questions. This is an excerpt. You can find the rest on her blog: Elucidations

Recently I talked with an author on Goodreads on some message forum I don’t remember. I do remember enjoying the conversation and her thoughts, so I picked up one of her books. I’m glad I did. The Old Mermaid’s Tale by Kathleen Valentine is hard to put down. It’s a beautiful coming of age story mixed with romance and recent history, accompanied by lush settings. I suggested it to my Facebook friends and a couple of them have picked it up and are loving it as much as I did.

The story line: Clair is a small town Ohio girl who makes a break from her rural life to attend college in Erie, Pennsylvania, a seaport town. Finding the stories of fisherman in the 1960s terribly romantic, Clair grabs the chance to work at a cafe where they hang out and finds herself right in the midst of their world, so different than her own. She and her friends embark on a true adventure of love, lust, gritty life, and growth. Valentine’s characters are deeply drawn, wonderfully flawed, full of spirit and hope and sadness and strength. Mix in music, mermaids, bits of history, and an enviable romance, and The Old Mermaid’s Tale sets sparks to the craft of storytelling in its finest form.

I also need to point out that this is the first indie novel I rated with 5 stars. I rarely give 5 stars to any novel, indie or traditional.
I was able to catch up with Kathleen Valentine for a quick interview about her debut novel and other artsy interests.

LK: Welcome Kathleen! As you can see, I just loved your first novel. I have to say that we have plenty in common, from a love of water and a Pennsylvania residence to a love of Hemingway, along with both being indie authors with art backgrounds. I look very much forward to chatting with you today!

First, are there any comments you’d like to make about the review of An Old Mermaid’s Taleor anything you’d like to add?

KV: That was a very lovely review that you gave my book. I deeply appreciate it. I suppose every writer more than anything else wants to touch their readers hearts and I really felt like you expressed your reactions well. It is very gratifying to me as the author.

LK: My pleasure! Let’s start with location. You’re originally from north central Pennsylvania and you set The Old Mermaid’s Tale in Erie. Have you spent a lot of time there? What was it that drew you in enough to use it as a novel setting?

KV: When I was little I often spent a few weeks in the summer with my aunt and uncle who lived in Erie. My uncle loved the sea stories and sea legends and sometimes in the evening he'd take me down to the public docks and tell me stories about the ships. All the scenes when Clair goes to the public pier are directly from those visits.

Later I attended college in Erie at Behrend. Chesterton College in the book is my version of Behrend. A few of the other places are also from my memories of that period – Sullivan's Pub, Waldameer Park, the museum on sixth Street – those are all places I remember well. I worked in a diner for a couple of years on the night shift. It was quite an experience for a girl from rural Pennsylvania. One of the most interesting things that happened was when the Ringling Brothers Circus came to town. The performers and workers would come in the diner at night. There was one man who tried to get me to run away with him. He was an animal trainer from Quebec. I didn't go with him but I never forgot him. His name was Baptiste.

LK: Ah, so there’s quite a bit of truth behind this novel. I love knowing you pulled Baptiste’s name from a real character you met.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Humbled, Awed, Stunned and Grateful - A Review to Die For

In 1995 I was living in Marblehead, Massachusetts and, on a brilliant, sunny summer day I was headed for the beach and stopped at The Spirit of '76 Bookstore for something to read. I was looking through books when Bob Hugo, the shop's owner, said, "A lot of people are raving about this book." He handed me a copy of Shark Dialogues by Hawaiian writer Kiana Davenport. I bought it and for the next several days I could do nothing but read this astonishing book. It just took my breath away. I thought she wrote like a Hawaiian Isabel Allende, one of my favorite writers.

Last year, thanks to the wonders of Goodreads, I met Ms. Davenport online and since then we have exchanged many emails and spent hours on the phone. She edited my new novel Depraved Heart and has been so lavish with praise for my books. Tonight she posted the following review to Amazon for my second novel Each Angel Burns. I simply do not have words to express my awe. Thank you so, so much!

5-Stars -
DAVE PORT (HONOLULU, HI.) - See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Each Angel Burns (Kindle Edition)
Somewhere in the heavenly ethers, Daphne DuMaurier, and the Bronte sisters, must be applauding Kathleen Valentine. In EACH ANGEL BURNS she has written an epic, gothic, mystery/ love story that is a glowing tribute to their classic works, replete with chivalric romance, repressed sexuality, a deconsecrated abbey, haunted crypts, missing statues and bodies, and the abiding supernatural.

I am in awe of the task Valentine sets herself with her novels, for each one is a compendium of her knowledge of history, art, music, geography, and the myriad complexities of the human psyche. And she offers these riches to readers in astonishingly elegant and poetic prose. On the flip side, she is also blessed with a bawdy, Shakespearean sense of humor (a local tavern named The Arm Pit) and a genius for depicting the vernacular of priests, sadists, heartbroken women, aging men and especially blue-collar mill town workers. Again, I sit in awe.

Ostensibly, this is a love story, and an allegory. The main characters being the wavering priest, Peter (as in the Rock upon which Christ's church was built), the stalwart but searching Gabe (as in the archangel, Gabriel) and Maggie (as in Magdalene, the most under-rated and maligned woman in the Scriptures. Oh, there is a fourth character. Sinclair (the seething embodiment of Evil).

On the surface, the premise of EACH ANGEL BURNS, seems a relatively simple tale about people in midlife. A priest questions his true passion in life. A woman attempts release from a loveless marriage and sadistic spouse, and a husband faces the grim reality that his wife of thirty years never loved him. But Valentine draws each character (and even secondary characters) with such richness, such depth and dimension, this becomes a novel on a grand scale. A tale of human beings questioning their purpose in this life, their capacity for love, and whether they have the strength and passion to answer their individual callings.

Because the author deals with issues of faith, spirituality, infidelity, friendship, love, murder, and specifically a priest questioning his celibate life, there has been controversy about whether EACH ANGEL BURNS is a 'Catholic Novel.' I say emphatically no. This is not a 'Christian' story where a character finds salvation through Jesus. That would demean the grandeur of the book. For me, this is an epic about Love. About faith and passion on many levels.

Regarding Father Peter, it is a story about the honor and nobility of answering one's calling, and the sacrifices made to adhere to that calling even in times of debilitating doubt. As Valentine so beautifully says, the ability to shoulder "...the burdensome responsibility of virtue..." And it is not a "Catholic Novel' because there is no moralizing on concepts of 'good and bad, right and wrong,' according to the church. When two married people fall in love and commit adultery, Father Peter is less concerned for their 'lost' souls, than for their genuine happiness. In this novel Love, in all its redemptive manifestations, is revered above all else.

If the reader feels a sense of God in many passages, it is because, according to that ancient adage, "God is love." And there is so much love in this book! The touching scenes of love between a reconciling father and his son, between two brothers, between a husband and his paralyzed wife. Between two boyhood friends competing for the same woman. Even between a man and his beloved dog, Zeke.

And then, oh my, there are the incredible scenes of lovemaking between a man and woman. Here Valentine raises the act of sexual love to the highest level, where Gabe and Maggie are transported beyond the mere physical to a higher plane, where the act of love becomes an act of God. In that sense, yes, this is a spiritual novel, for I think most readers are uplifted in these sensual passages.

And there is a sense of uplifting, too, when Valentine praises the hard-scrabble lives of these mill town men and women. The women bearing children year after year, and the ..."bodies of men who have worked hard all their lives. The history of their lives in the contours of their bodies..." This is pure poetry.

What I found so appealing and a CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION is that the main characters in the EACH ANGEL BURNS are MIDDLE-AGED men and women, struggling with real midlife issues: age, weight, dying marriages, their families, their adult children, their jobs. These are not one-dimensional cutouts, ever-young, ever-slim parodies so often found in fiction today. Valentines characters are REAL people with spreading waistlines, and graying hair, but still driven by passion, desire, and downright lust. Mostly they are people still searching for love. People like you and me.

Oh, pity, poor youth who will have to wait several decades to experience this much deeper love that comes from having been humbled by life. The kind of love that makes Gabe and Maggie weep with gratitude for having found each other. And the kind of deliciously slow and thoughtful lovemaking that borders on the spiritual, because it comes after broken marriages and broken dreams, after years striving and seeking, and learning what real love is. What it means.

It's something we all search for, a redemptive love, that, again, may be the closest we come to God. They say a great book changes us, makes us question our way of thinking. Something extraordinary happens at the end of EACH ANGEL BURNS. It can only be described as a miracle. When I finished the novel (for the second time) I realized that, after years of disbelieving, I've changed my mind. I DO believe in miracles. I urge everyone to read this magnificent novel. Thank you, Kathleen Valentine.

KIANA DAVENPORT, Author of House of Skin, and Cannibal Nights.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Guest Blog by Ray: The Great Sausage Cook-off

Our good buddy Ray Beimel in Pennsylvania sends this story about The Great Sausage Cook-off of 1992. Enjoy! 

The Great Sausage Cook-off
I will take credit for the idea. Dave Reuscher and I were camping at the Elbow in 1992 and while sitting around the campfire we got to talking about sausage making. We noted that every family’s secret recipe was different and there was much idle talk about whose was best. I suggested that a contest would be the answer. Dave thought it a good idea so I brought it up to the Sesquicentennial Committee. They were all for it. Jim Auman really got into this and did much of the work to get it organized. He also found time to make a bunch of posters that captured the spirit of the event.

The date was set for the third Sunday in January so it wouldn’t interfere with the Super Bowl. Jim made arrangements to hold it at the Catholic Men’s Fraternal Club, commonly known as the CMF. Fran Frye, the food editor at the Erie Daily Times was recruited by Evelyn Chase to be one of the judges. The other two judges were Georgia Wagner and Lois Shoemaker, both home ec teachers.

Before the cooking started, Fran Frye*  briefed the contestants. The rules were simple. Each contestant would cook three links of his own sausage. There were no restrictions on the type of sausage, what meat was in it, what spices were used, or how heavily it was smoked. The tasting would be blind with each entry identified by number alone. Three prizes would be awarded. Fran is the big guy in the gray sweater explaining the rules.

In addition to the contest, it was also a social event. Jim set the ticket price at $5. For that, the attendee would get a big meal, unlimited beer, and entertainment. It would have been a bargain at five times the price. The paying crowd of 287 filled the upstairs room to capacity, leaving but a small opening for dancing. Several empty tables were lined up for the buffet to be served later. Well known local artist Pete Winklbauer was one of the bartenders and he didn’t get a break the whole afternoon.

In the kitchen, the competition started. It was my job to take the cooked sausages to the judges. Each contestant brought his own pan. We used the big gas ranges so there was half a dozen cooking at once. Most were boiled with times varying from 6 to 20 minutes. A few were baked. There was the curious incident of the guys who came in with six links. Denny McGeehan explained that only three could be entered. So they cut them in half and entered twice.

When the entry was ready, I carried it over to the judges. They cut a half a link off, and cut that in three pieces. They chewed it, tasted, and then spit it out. Then they made some notes and waited for me to bring another. The other 2½ links were dumped into big roasters full of sauerkraut. Tom Wagner the attorney asked me why we did that. I told him it was to muddy up the liability trail if someone should get sick. What with 30 entries, it took a while for the judging to be done. At first the judges were cleansing their palates between tastings with lemon water. But soon enough, Fran Frye told me he wanted some beer so I got a pitcher from Pete. Before the last sausage was tasted, I had fetched three for him. The ladies continued with the lemon water.

Most of the entries looked like the traditional Christmas sausage we are all familiar with. Some were pink, some almost red, others smoked nearly black. Some were small and looked dry. And there were ones bigger than bratwursts and obviously full of fat. No one told us what kind of meat they used and we didn’t ask. Long time ago when I worked at Stackpole Carbon, the old guys said that there were no stray dogs or cats in Vinny Rigard’s neighborhood during sausage making time. I was mostly sure they were joking.

Meanwhile Bill Conrad, Mayor Anne Grosser, Sesquicentennial Chairman Dick Dornisch, and I were cooking up big pots of sausage from Neuberts and Pfaffs**, two of the local meat markets. They also sent over pans of scrapple and trays of sultz**. I am not sure if we bought that or if it was donated. Bill and I sliced up the scrapple and cooked it. We laughed at the irony of the two of us, never having eaten scrapple, cooking up so much of it. And there was sultz to slice as well. This was all for feeding the guests once the judging was done.

After the sausage for the guests was cooked, I removed it from the big pots with tongs. What with not paying attention and not seeing into the steam, I dipped too far and put my hand in the boiling water. I yanked my hand away and launched the tongs to the other side of the kitchen, missing Mayor Grosser’s head by inches. Two inches to the left and she would have had a bad case of tong eye.

While all this was going on, the guests were drinking and listening to an incredibly bad country band. A few were even dancing. It was a jolly easygoing crowd. Another event that was supposed to be going on was a Bloody Mary contest but only one contestant showed up what with the bad weather. This guy (I have no idea where he was from) was making them for anyone who cared to indulge.

Finally, all the entries had been tasted. While the judges made their decisions, the kitchen crew brought out all the food. There were roasters full of sauerkraut** and sausage, (over 100 pounds of the latter), twenty five pounds of German potato salad**, twenty four dozen pickled eggs**, big platters of scrapple and sultz, four gallons of kosher dill pickles, the appropriate condiments including limburger cheese, and thirty loaves of rye bread**. The crowd lined up and filled their plates. And then came back for seconds. When they were done, it was all gone except for two loaves of rye bread. They ate it all. Not one link, not one egg, not one slice of sultz, nothing was left except for that little bit of bread. And they drank five and a half barrels or over 80 gallons of beer.

It was time to announce the winners. First place went to Jack Schlimm. He was too shy to enter it himself so JoAnn Geist entered it for him. She had to leave before the awards ceremony so Sister Jacinta accepted the trophy. No St. Marys event involving heavy eating and drinking is complete without at least one Benedictine nun in attendance. Second place went to Bob Holjencin, one the guys who cut their six links in half. Dave Clyde of Clyde’s Meat Market came in third. No one knows where the other three links of the second place sausage finished. The winners got custom trophies made by Bill Conrad.

The crowd went home feeling good and why wouldn’t they? They had drunk a heap of beer, eaten a bigger heap of food, and had a good time socializing with the profits going to Special Olympics.

It was one of the oddest mixes of folks you could ever gather together in one place here. Some of the town’s best known imbibers were there as well as some of the richest folks, descendants of the old industrial families. Not too many women but the ones who were there never lacked for dance partners.
It was a fitting end to the Sesquicentennial Celebration. There was talk of making it an annual thing but it was never held again. A lot of the characters are gone. The town has changed. Much has changed in 20 years. It was a fine event and I greatly enjoyed being a part of it. I can still see all those empty roasters, trays, and bowls.

Disclaimer: these pictures do not do the event justice. I was actively involved in the kitchen and had few opportunities to properly document the event. And in 1993 I had no idea I would be writing these stories. It was a fine time and probably the most typically St. Marys event during the whole Sesquicentennial celebration. It is hard to believe that nearly 20 years have passed since that snowy Sunday afternoon. Enjoy or delete as you choose, Ray

* Fran Frye was a cooking columnist for the Erie Daily Times who wrote a number of cooking columns about my mother's recipes in the family cookbook. Fran is no longer with us but he contributed one of his recipes to the latest edition of the book.

** The recipes for these dishes can be found in Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Writers on Writing: Morgan Gallagher on "Emily of New Moon"

Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery
I don’t remember how old I was when I first read Anne of Green Gables. Early memories of it being a BBC television series mingle with the thrill of sitting on the couch reading it (wishing I was up a tree, covered in cherry blossom, both the tree and I). I know I read all the way through the entire series, and have read them all frequently throughout my life. From childhood empathy and association with being the chatter-box who was the ‘odd one out’, to the more adult empathy and appreciation of Lucy Maud’s writing; my life journey has always involved Anne, Lucy, and their collective world. In the pages of Lucy Maud, you will find the whole world and all its people; in a lyrical and poetic wonderland of delicate description and understated knowledge of the human condition.

Lucy Maud’s stories for children are not fairy tales and wishing wells and magical enchantment. Whilst they are delicately described they are stories of children who have been bereaved, troubled, dismissed as trash and who walk a troubled path of life. But they walk in that path with decent human beings around them, trying to construct a decent life. Poverty, hard ship and death linger in the stories, in the background, and her Tales of Avonlea reveal all the foibles of all the people in any village in the world. Anne herself is sent to an orphanage in her early weeks, both parents dead of fever. She is raised in a harsh world and sent out as a child worker, to earn her keep in the over populated families in need of a free baby sitter and cleaner. A wild spirit on the verge of being broken, Anne finds at Green Gables, the peace and understanding she needs. Anne and I were soul mates, and I never thought I could hold another of Lucy Maud’s creations with the same passion.

Then, in my mid-thirties, I was handed Emily of New Moon. Emily is five years old in the opening pages, and her beloved father dies and she is sent off to live with relatives that do not understand her strangeness. Her imagination, her love of beauty, and her ‘flashes’. Emily is written in the haunting, evocative prose that Lucy Maud excels at, which I can only look upon with green eyes and longing:

It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that
she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it
and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the
curtain aside--but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered
it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting
realm beyond--only a glimpse--and heard a note of unearthly music.

This moment came rarely--went swiftly, leaving her breathless with
the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it--never
summon it--never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her
for days. It never came twice with the same thing. To-night the
dark boughs against that far-off sky had given it. It had come
with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow wave
over a ripe field, with a greybird lighting on her window-sill in a
storm, with the singing of "Holy, holy, holy" in church, with a
glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn
night, with the spirit-like blue of ice palms on a twilit pane,
with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a "description"
of something. And always when the flash came to her Emily felt that
life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.

Whenever I fight with description or wonder if there is any worth in my writing, I return to Emily and her three books. Emily is a writer born. She struggles to write down the world around her, and fights as a female in a world of restricted, domestic lives, to be a writer. Like me, she goes to sleep at night knowing she has written the best piece of the prose the world has ever seen, and rises in the morning to discover it is dust and trickery. It led me to read Montgomery’s autobiography, a book I recommend to all writers: The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career. Unlike her fiction, her autobiography is sparse and spare, but so very worth reading when one is also trying to climb the alpine path of writing for a living. Emily inspires me, continually: whether I read it as an adult, a reader, a writer. It contains all the magic and wonder of Lucy Maud’s ability to look closely at the small detail in the world (in a garden, in a kitchen, in a sunset) and to see the world through the eyes of those who notice beauty and wonder in everything. It also makes me weep for longing that I could ever write one paragraph of description of a star filled sky looking down on the woods and fields of Prince Edward Island, as she does. Description, I’m not that good at: it does the soul good to read someone who is so brilliant at it.

Emily of New Moon is a book of childhood. But it is not only for children. If you have never read it, I recommend it now. Anne is wonderful, but Montgomery has many more girls to read about than Anne, and Emily is one of the finest.
Morgan Gallagher is a writer of psychological horror in the modern world. Her new book of short stories, Fragments, is just out. Changeling, her first novel, is a brutal tale of a young woman kidnapped by a vampire. She lives in the Scottish Borders with her husband and her young son.