Friday, August 31, 2012

A Great Compliment Posted in Tips For Becoming a Successful Writer

What an amazing and heart-warming surprise! My friend Kiana Davenport, author of the recently released novel about the Civil War, The Spy Lover, was interviewed on AllParenting.com. In an article titled "Tips for Becoming a Successful Writer" she gave me a tremendous compliment “When I entered the digital world two years ago, I was like a virgin, I wanted to upload my short stories electronically, but had not a clue how to do this. Through different blogs I met other writers willing to help me, in other words to 'pay it forward.' One of them became a dear friend, Kathleen Valentine, a brilliant writer of novels and short stories (and bestselling cookbooks and knitting books!) She also designed the amazing covers for my books. Now we swap work back and forth. I edit her books and stories, she designs my covers, and helps me stumble through the maze of Facebooking and tweeting. Without the miracle of the blogging, we might never have met!"

What an incredible and touching surprise. You can read the full article at AllParenting.com.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lost in the Dunes


One of the most magical things about Gloucester is that there are so many different “landscapes” it it possible to feel as though you are doing a lot of traveling without going very far. This morning the air is cool and dry and I can smell the saltwater and apples and hints of autumn all around. Gloucester's beaches are filled with summer people but that will be changing soon and the locals will once again carry thermoses of coffee to the beach and walk their dogs and savor the beauty of beaches now deserted.

We have the wild, forested beauty of Dogtown at the center of the island, a protected trust held in perpetuity. It is filled with trees and meadows, the famous Babson Boulders, legends of witchcraft and whore houses, deep quarries from which the marble for Boston mansions were taken and are now filled with water for swimming. There are the headlands overrun with beach plums and wild roses overlooking islands with lighthouses. But one of the areas not a lot of people see are the huge, rolling dunes lining Wingaersheek Road along Ipswich Bay. Seen from the air they are absolutely beautiful and the cottages and mansions nestled in the dunes could as easily be on Nantucket of Cape Cod.

On Sunday I drove out to Marshall's Farmstand which is just near the entrance to Wingaersheek. The native peaches are so delicious this year I've been buying more every few days. I have to put one in a bowl and eat it with spoon to avoid taking a bath afterward. Then I drove out Wingaersheek Road and spent a little time wandering around in the dunes.
 A sandy road leads off into the dunes.
 The big dunes are now covered in scrub pine and beach grass but the sandy paths lead the way.
 This garden at the end of the road looks almost tropical.
 I love this mailbox.
 The path past this blue door leads down to the beach.
 It's beginning to look like Nantucket.
 Or Cape Cod.
Tucked in the dunes you can hear the surf not far beyond.

I felt like I'd had a vacation but was only gone a couple of hours. Thanks for reading. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

From the Pacific Islands to Cape Cod: FREE Literary Fiction

From best-selling Hawaiian author, Kiana Davenport, comes HOUSE OF SKIN, her first collection of prize-winning stories, including The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize, and The Best American Short Stories of 2000 (selected by E.L.Doctorow.) 

These are provocative, often shocking, tales of obsession, love, racism, addiction, betrayal, even murder, but told in such sensuous, richly-textured prose each story is rendered magical and timeless. 

A young girl obsessed with her tattooed, Yakuza uncle witnesses his horrific ending. A woman is condemned to death for loving a man outside her culture. Two cousins learn the terrible toll of drug addiction. A boy with amputated legs is introduced to love by an older woman. 

A girl of mixed-race heritage discovers her white father's racist background, and spends her life trying to 'run her genes off, like fat.' Two beautiful sisters, professional taxi-dancers, abandon their daughters, leaving them with no clues or codes on how to survive. A house of dysfunctional and wounded people are finally redeemed by the strength of love.

The stories are set in islands across the Pacific where the author has lived and traveled extensively - Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Fiji, Vanuatu - parts of of the world only barely ex-plored in contemporary literature. Davenport offers her readers not just mesmerizing writing, but also brings them bulletins from an ancient, yet seemingly brave, new world.

__________________
From Kathleen Valentine, My Last Romance and other passions (Amazon rank #2 in Short Stories and #4 in Literary Fiction):
 Eight stories with a common theme---the wonder of finding love---sweep the reader into sensuous worlds where ordinary people discover, or rediscover, love. Foolish love, forbidden love, married love---even murderous love, each story is a seductive jewel populated with characters that seem like someone we could know---or someone we could be. Each of the stories in this collection is an exquisitely rendered portrait of people from a broad range of ages each proving that passion and love are eternal, regardless of life's far-ranging challenges. 
  • My Last Romance - Back in the day Silvio Santini was the hottest dance band leader in the South and Ruby was the voice that drove the men wild. It's a lot of years later when Ruby chances upon a vintage copy of their biggest hit. Memories come flooding out and with them comes a stunning revelation.
  • Asa - When you are over eighty and have loved the same man all your life it doesn't do to dwell over-much on the measures you had to take to keep him yours.
  • Damian - She was an artist, he was a fisherman. Together they were magic, regardless of the cost.
  • Danse Avec Moi - She loves her sophisticated husband for his elegance and charm. Then he takes her back to his bayou home and teaches her how to dance.
  • The Haven - She never planned to fall in love with her husband's childhood hero. She could never have believed how loving him would alter all of their lives.
  • Waiting for Lindy - On a rainy, wind-swept Cape Cod night, a shopkeeper waits for his lover spending the time talking with his son about life, loss, and the mysteries of love.
  • Flynnie and Babe - Whenever Babe needed a shoulder to cry on Flynnie's was right there. It took her long enough to realized that Flynnie was right there, too.
  • Treat Yourself To The Best - Fifi just doesn't get it. She spent her entire life running away from home and now her adorable young husband just can't get enough of going back there.
 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Yakuza & The House of Skin

Many years ago I read Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man and it haunted me for a very long time. Though I have never desired to have a tattoo I have loved seeing them on the bodies of men I loved and find them mesmerizing and, yes, tantalizing. My beloved Uncle Buddy, my godfather to whom The Old Mermaid's Tale is dedicated, had tattoos on his arms and I thought they were just great even though he often wished he had never gotten them. Some years back I had a romance with a man named Theo who had quite a lot of them and I found them quite irresistible.

Consequently when I read Kiana Davenport's House of Skin: Pacific Island Stories, I was more than a little enchanted by the title story. It is about a beautiful Hawaiian woman who marries a Yakuza, a member of the Japanese mafia, who is tattooed from head to foot. It is a powerful and frightening story with a shocking ending. Kindle owners can get the entire collection free as part of a KDP Select Promotion starting tomorrow and running until the 29th.

It is said that the Yakuza do not live long lives. Partly this is because they live in a dangerous world but also because, being fully tattooed, their skin does not breathe as it should and many complications can result. I do not know if this is medically sound but that's what they say.

So what is is about tattoos. Well, of course, much of it has to do with the body under the tattoo. If that body is particularly beautiful the tattoo just serves to enhance the beauty. The hunk below is John Quinlan from Boston who I cyber-met through a forum for writers. He is breaking into the romance novel cover model field and, in my opinion, has far more appeal than a lot of the romance cover models I've seen.

Also there is just something so mysterious and exotic about tattoos. In my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale there is a scene in which a tattoo contest is held inside the Mermaid Inn and Clair, the heroine is flabbergasted. She has never seen full body tattoos – especially on women. I admit to being a bit prejudiced in that I don't find tattoos on women as appealing as on men but that may have a lot to do with my rampant heterosexuality.

I remember reading a story some years ago about a beautiful woman who married a tattoo artist who persuaded her to let him give her first one tattoo and then another and then another until finally she was covered in tattoos. For years she was somewhat embarrassed by them but then, when he died suddenly and unexpectedly, she began to show her tattoos wearing short skirts and camisoles to show them off. Finally a man who studied the art of tattoos came to see her and said he wanted permission to document her tattoos. He said that she was a walking museum of her husband's genius. I'll never forget the last line of that story even though I can't remember its title. She said, “I'm not a walking museum, I'm a love letter.”

So, regardless of how you feel about tattoos I'm betting you will love Kiana Davenpot's House of Skin. Get it while it is free. The stories are mesmerizing, dark, and unforgettable.

Thanks for reading.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

More Erotica than Ever – But Is It Exciting?

There is a discussion forum on Amazon's web site in the Romance section where readers have been discussing phrases and descriptions they hate in romance novels for over a year now. In recent months it has migrated from romance novels to erotica and I check in periodically to see what is being discussed because it is so doggone funny. Though porn and erotica have always been around--these days there is a fine fine line between the two-- in the past couple of years it has exploded. This is largely thanks to the popularity of ereaders. Now readers can downloaded as much of this stuff as they want without the embarrassment of checkout clerks and read it on the subway or bus or beach or anywhere without a brown-paper wrapper.

Ever since the explosion of the 50 Shades books (which I have not read and do not plan to read), I've been intrigued as to why this stuff is so popular. Especially the BDSM stuff. I've read all the justifications: women are tired of having to be in control of relationships all the time, etc. I've come to the conclusion that most people just want to get their fancies tickled and they don't think much beyond that. So, ever-willing to be enlightened, I recently downloaded a bunch of ebooks from the free erotica section of Amazon. Yes, I'm being a tightwad. I also downloaded a lot of samples from the pricier ones convinced that if I found a really juicy one I would pay the full price for the whole book. I never found one.

I've spent a couple of evenings sitting on the back porch with my ereader and these stories. At first I felt some of the stuff I was reading was fairly titillating but I have to admit within half an hour I was mostly skimming. Skimming erotica is sort of weird, at first you are just looking for the “good parts” but before long even the good parts are the sale-old/same-old. Maybe I'm just not a good candidate for this stuff. What amazes me is the appetite of the public for these ebooks though. One of the author forums I participate in has a number of erotica authors who are cranking out these sorts of books at a tremendous rate and selling them by the tens of thousands. While I envy their royalties I don't think this is something I could ever do. I've read a few of their books (or skimmed them) and it's the same stuff just with different characters in different settings wearing (or not wearing) different clothes. Maybe it's me.
Alec Baldwin as Dave Robicheaux

I've ranted and raved before about the popularity of rape-erotica and non-consensual-erotica. Recently someone made a blog post differentiating between rape and ravishment which I thought was a good point and one I could appreciate. But now I just keep wondering how books like these 50 Shades of Grey books manage to hold the readers' attention for three volumes. I couldn't get through the sample. Anne Rice has been benefiting from the BDSM boom for the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy and has openly marveled that they are now being sold at Costco and Walmart when formerly they were considered too risque. Rape-porn at Walmart? It reminds me of a line from a Woody Allen movie: Do you think sex is dirty? Yeah, if it's done right.

And yet, at the same time, we see a frightening political movement in the opposite direction – a US Congressman who thinks women can prevent themselves from conceiving if they are “legitimately” raped, lawmakers who want to deny women contraception and basic health services. It's a crazy world out there. It makes me wonder which came first, the repression or the porn boom? I think they go hand in hand.
Daniel Silva, author of the
Gabriel Allon books.
 I've always pictured him as Gabriel.

I've always disliked the expression “getting laid.” It is so passive and dispassionate – like getting a haircut or getting a mamogram. It seems the trend in erotica is sort of like that, it's all very suggestive and euphemistic (no matter how graphic it is) but ultimately unsatisfying so its fans need more and more and more of it. I'm sort of glad I tried to understand it and failed. Now I can go back to James Lee Burke and Daniel Silva and not feel like I'm missing anything. I'll take a Dave Robicheaux or a Gabriel Allon over 50 Christian Greys – those guys are exciting.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Guest Blog: Michael Parker on the Frustrations of Being an Author + Giveaway!

What makes an author? And why so many? When I look at other writers, they always seem to be successful, cool, best sellers, prolific. They have that confidence about them that says how easy it is for them to turn out novel after novel; no sweat. But the reality is so different, and you can only get to understand this by experience, by sitting down and suffering writer’s block, knowing that you need another three or four thousand words for that day, and then just another seventy or eighty thousand to finish the book. How many times have I heard someone say they are writing a book and have written about ten thousand words? And you know that they are never going to finish it because of the hard work involved. All writers suffer this problem to some degree, although there are others who manage to find a way round it. Ian Fleming once said that it takes about six weeks to write a thriller; the editing and grammar corrections can be left to the professionals. Jack Higgins admitted that he wrote a thriller in the space of one weekend. He went into his room on the Friday and came out on the Monday with a best seller. Hard work though. Rejections are as familiar to most writers as sunrise and sunset, and I suspect that almost all writers have suffered this to some degree. I used to find my cynicism creeping in when I read of an author who was surprised that his/her first novel had been accepted with no problem at all, and then you learn that he/she was already connected in some way to the publishing world. It’s all about the market and what sells. Some of the most prolific best sellers over the years have been pure dross, but they served the market’s hunger for depravity, celebrity or whatever else had nothing to do with talent.
I asked the question; what makes an author? I believe they are born with the talent. They are like musicians, artists, surgeons, scientists etc. They have something that cannot be manufactured; the ability to do something that comes almost naturally. I was described as a “gifted narrator” in the Financial Times (London, 1980). What happened with my gift? What happened with my talent? It didn’t go away, it’s still there, but probably too late now for me to become that runaway, best-selling, globe-trotting writer of blockbuster novels. Now I’m getting carried away (but it’s good to dream). I know how to write, but I probably have no idea how to market myself. And that’s the rub; not knowing how to market your work, or not being able to afford the services of a professional publicist. So now I can say, thank goodness for Amazon and Kindle.
I launched myself on Kindle when the feeding frenzy happened earlier this year and managed to sell over 6000 eBooks. 40,000 of my books were downloaded during the ‘free’ promotion. I was up there with the best-selling talent and I enjoyed every minute of it. Now the dust has settled and the frenzy is over. My book sales have slowed to a low level, but I am at least selling more than I was this time last year. But let me give you a kind of snapshot of my writing career, which is a hobby by the way. I had my first book (NORTH SLOPE) published by Macmillan in 1980. I thought that was it: I’d made it with a top publishing house. They rejected my next book (HELL’S GATE) and it was four years before SHADOW OF THE WOLF was published by Robert Hale of London. From that moment I was floundering, trying to get my work published but no-one was interested. I gave up, left manuscripts gathering dust on the shelf, became inspired and continued to write. Got fed up and let it all drift. Then in 2006, Robert Hale, who I had had no contact with for years, agreed to publish HELL’S GATE. This was 23 years after it had been rejected by Macmillan. Hale then published four more of my novels. Suddenly I was on a roll and now I have eight novels to my credit, the latest of which, THE BOY FROM BERLIN (December 2011) has been taken up by Harlequin for publication, in paperback in North America and Canada. They have also agreed to publish another of my Hale books, THE EAGLE’S COVENANT.
So finally things are looking up. But getting back to the subject of marketing; what is it I’m doing wrong, or not doing? I was advised to use Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google, Stumble, Goodreads and all those web sites that are supposed to be a gift for writers to get advancement. Oh yes, and I needed a blog. So I blog on my website and copy it to all those places. In two years of blogging I have had no more than about four contacts. My statistics are pretty sad. I know people are looking in, but I never get the kind of reaction I see when looking in on other writers’ sites. I suspect that it is probably the same for most of us.
So here’s the deal: I will send a copy of my latest, Amazon paperback, HELL’S GATE (due for release about the end of August) to the first four people to contact me through my blog. It can be found at www.michaeljparker.com (don’t forget the ‘j’). All I ask in return is a review on Amazon. The book will be sent via Amazon, so it will not be a signed copy. You can learn more about me and my books and my life on my website. Even if you aren’t interested in contacting me for the book, why not have a look in? And thank you for reading this!
-Michael Parker

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bucksgahuda & Western and Teaberry & Southern: Narrow-gauge Railroads

It was only after I returned from a recent visit to Pennsylvania that I was reminded of an old expression my dad used, “Going to Bucksgahuda where the geese wear pants!” I never knew what he meant by it but I've been doing a little research and came across a couple things I did not know about, namely the existence of two “living history” museums, if you will, in praise of the narrow-gauge railroads that once criss-crossed Pennsylvania. These were worker railroads, not meant for passengers. They hauled coal from the mines and lumber from the forests and were an integral part of Pennsylvania's growth and prosperity.

I've been trying to find out where the word “Bucksgahuda” comes from and all I've found is an old Bavarian legend told to children to get them to do their chores. Apparently the kids were told that there was a land called Bucksgahuda and little boys (and presumably little girls, too) who failed to do their chores, would be swooped up by a giant gander and carried off to Bucksgahuda. There they would be transformed into baby geese while still wearing their overalls, thus the expression where the geese wear pants. Why that name was chosen for the Bucksgahuda & Western Railroad, I don't know but I like it.

The Bucksgahuda & Western Railroad got its start in 1966 when the Bauer brothers from St. Mary's purchased a narrow-gauge steam locomotive from Germany. They named it Otto and Otto was the beginning of an outdoor, living history museum. They started out by laying 15 feet of narrow-gauge track (two feet wide) and gradually, through the years, added to the museums collection. Among the additions area second steam engine named Henry, a gasoline-powered engine named “Norman,” a Shay that was rebuilt, a 10-ton deisel-hydraulic Plymouth locomotive, and so the collection grew.

The entire Bucksgahuda & Western Railroad collection is in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, and is occasionally open to the public. You can find out more about it at their web site: www.bnwrr.com.

The Teaberry & Southern Railroad was started in 1972 by Paul and Bill Krellner, also of St. Marys, and is listed as a “hobby railroad.” It runs along Route 120, the Bucktail Trail. The Teaberry & Southern operates on no particular schedule that I could find but it looks like fun. This video was posted on YouTube.


So, in my home town of St. Mary's, Pennsylvania, the love of narrow-gauge steam locomotives seems to be thriving. It makes me happy to know that these bits of our history are still loved and appreciated and preserved for future generations.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 17, 2012

East Branch Dam: Romance by Moonlight


In Story #7 of the Marienstadt stories which will be in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 2, due out shortly after Labor Day, there is a very sexy scene at the East Branch Dam. Henry Werner, the ridiculously handsome and somewhat womanizing Chief of Police in Marienstadt, is given the job of escorting a lifestyle magazine journalist from New York City up to a cabin at the dam where she will be staying. It is a warm, lovely, moonlit night and the young journalist, who has been told how alluring Henry is, becomes enchanted by the beautiful lake and invites Henry to go skinny-dipping with her. Things progress accordingly.

This was a fun story to write and one with which I have a bit of experience. Many years ago I had a friend who had a cabin in the woods at the far end of the lake formed by East Branch Dam and we had a good time there. In my story, Brianna, the journalist, has no experience of the natural world and she is dazzled by the abundance of stars in a sky where there is no ambient light and the call of loons that hide in remote coves away from humans. These are things I remember, too.

The dam was built in 1952 when the eastern branch of the Clarion River was dammed as part of the Flood Control Act of 1944. The water surface area is over eleven hundred acres and the surface elevation is over sixteen hundred feet. It is all part of Elk State Park and there are picnic areas, boat launches, hiking trails, campgrounds, and private cabins all around the lake. When I was a kid we often went there for picnics and my dad had a friend who had a cabin there that we sometimes visited.

One of the most beautiful things about the area is the woods surrounding the dam. Trees are tall and the terrain is rugged with meandering creeks, tiny waterfalls, beds of ferns and moss, and massive boulders left behind by centuries of erosion. Unlike the Rocky Mountains, which are relatively “new,” the Allegheny Highlands, which are part of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, are very, very old, worn down and eroded over many millenia. Technically speaking the Allegheny Highlands are a temperate broadleaf and mixed forest ecoregion covering most of northern Pennsylvania and southern New York state.

In the late 19th and early 20th century much of this region was cleared for timber and for the tannin in hemlock bark which was used in tanneries for making leather. It was said that in those early years, when the first loggers came that the trees here were so thick that the first tree chopped down had nowhere to fall. But that didn't stop the loggers and, over the decades, most of the trees fell. Now the forests have regrown and most of the individual species have survived, though not as densely as two centuries ago.

These woods are home to black bear, bobcats, coyotes, white-tail deer, and, especially in Elk County, elk. On Monday when I was driving down into Glen Hazel on my way to the dam I saw a huge buck with a six-point rack on the side of the road. He looked at me rather imperiously and then bounded across the road and elegantly trotted off into the woods. I was so amazed I couldn't find my camera in time.

So it was a good thing for me to spend a little time in the area and remember how deep and lush those woods are. I did my share of camping, hiking, and, yes, skinny-dipping there some 40 or so years ago. It was beautiful then and it is beautiful now. A perfect setting for a skinny-dip and some moonlit romance – for Henry and Brianna, or anyone.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Grandmother's Kitchen Chair

I've mentioned that I spent the past week in Pennsylvania and, as is always the case, there is a bitter-sweetness to a visit to the town in which one grew up. There is both the joy of reconnecting with family and friends and the sadness of missing those who are no longer with us. One afternoon I just drove around town revisiting houses and parks and places that were meaningful to me when I was young. My Grandmother Valentine's house, where I lived for the first six years of my life, has recently been sold and is being renovated. My Grandmother Werner's house has been refurbished and looks wonderful. My parent's house, where one of my brothers now lives, needs a lot of work. These are all things that make me wonder about how the past and the present exist in tandem.

I stayed for a couple days at my sister Anne's house which is lovely and perfect and meticulously cared for. She and her husband Andy hosted the family party that was held on Sunday. There were thirty people – most of them relatives – and it was a great day. But something very evocative happened early in that day. I was sitting in Anne's dining room with my Aunt Rosie who is in her 80s and looks terrific when I noticed a chair sitting in the corner. It wasn't a modern chair like most of those in Anne's house but an old wooden kitchen chair. There was carving on the back of it that is so well-worn as to almost be invisible and the chair was painted a soft green.

“Is that Gram's kitchen chair,” I asked Anne and she said that it was. Oh, the memories that came pouring out!

Gram's kitchen was the center of her house – everything revolved around it. It was a big room, usually painted a light aqua color with white trim. It was split in half by a divider on which she always had lots of house plants. On one side was the dining table and chairs and on the other side was a tiny kitchen with hardly any counter-space at all. But set against the wall in the passage way formed by the divider was a small table with two collapsible surfaces. The center of the table had drawers and then two surfaces could fold out from there. One of the drawers was our favorite because she always kept it full of cookies and crackers. Other grandmothers had cookie jars but ours had a cookie drawer which always contained Oreos and Fig Newtons among other things.

On either side of the table sat a wooden chair with a carved back. There in Anne's house was one of them. I brought it over to the table and sat down on it and it was almost as though something magical happened. I remembered all the times I sat on those chairs through all the years of being at Gram's house. I sat on them while I watched her cook. I sat on them while I helped her peel potatoes for potato pancakes or apples for apple dumplings. I sat on them while she taught me to make mincemeat tarts and while dropping the golden raisins into the tiny tassie tins making pecan tassies.

When I was in high school and worked downtown I'd walk up to Gram's for lunch and sit on one of those chairs while she made me braunschweiger sandwiches on her home-made rye bread with spicy mustard, onion slices, and her home-made refrigerator pickles. I sat there while we talked about her youth and young womanhood, about her parents' journey from the “Old Country,” and the way her father would hang bells on his cart as he pushed it through die Schwarzwald to keep the “haints” away. It was sitting at that little table that I traced the first pattern for her Lady Quilts and where I drew the hands and hair and sash on the blocks for her to embroider.

The party was a wonderful one but I wouldn't let anyone else have that chair all day. My nephew carried it to the garage for me and I moved it from table to table as I visited with people. Somehow the security of that wonderful old chair helped me through my natural jitters and nervousness I go through whenever I am in a crowd, however well loved the people in it are.

The next day Anne asked me if I wanted to take the chair home with me. I said “no.” I wanted to remember it the way it was that day. My Aunt Rosie asked if she could have it and when it was time for her to leave, Anne put it in her car. I'm sure Aunt Rosie's bottom has even more memories of that chair than mine does.

I don't know that there is any more to say about that chair. I wish I'd taken a picture of it. But maybe it is best this way, just remembering all the time I'd spent with it and how it helped me through a day I was nervous about. It was like Gram Werner was there with me making sure I would be alright.

Thanks for reading.  

Monday, August 06, 2012

A Fantastic Review from Novelist Kiana Davenport for "The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall"

This blog and its blogger are taking a brief hiatus from blogging but will return on August 15th. I wish everyone a wonderful week and, in the mean time, here's that great review from Kiana Davenport, one of my favorite writers:

I've said before that I was in love with Kiana Davenport's books before I ever wrote a word. The fact that we have grown to be friends still astonishes me. Her books are, in my opinion, some of the most powerful, astonishing, hard-hitting fiction I've ever read. She, herself, is a good friend of such literary luminaries as Alice Walker and Isabel Allende (another of my literary goddesses.) Kiana's new collection of short stories, Opium Dreams, is loaded with gut-punches and her new novel, coming out in August, The Spy Lover, promises to be epic.


Consequently, it just dazzles me that this extraordinary writer is such a fan of my writing. Throughout the writing of both Depraved Heart and The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall we spent HOURS on the phone (me in Gloucester, her in Hawaii) as she mentored me through these two challenging works. Today she posted a review of The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 1" that just takes my breath away. I am so blessed to have her as a friend and guide:


5.0 out of 5 stars BEAUTIFUL! RICHER THAN "LAKE WOBEGON DAYS" !!!July 29, 2012
By 
DAVE PORT (HONOLULU, HI.) - See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 1 (Secrets of Marienstadt) (Kindle Edition)
In this age of quick-read novels with thin plots, we yearn for bigger, deeper novels we can sink into, a universe we can enter and be part of. Kathleen Valentine has created such a novel in THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL: VOLUME I, SECRETS OF MARIENSTADT. She is publishing the novel in story form, one tantalizing volume at a time. The town of Marienstadt is fictional, but is based on the Pennsylvania Dutch town she grew up in, populated with unique and indelible descendants of German immigrants.

In Volume I, we are introduced to characters named Mulligan Wolfe, Peeper Baumgratz, Wenzeslaus Opelt, and beautiful, lonely ladies who run strudel shops, and fabric shops. There are shops for homemade breads. Shops for homemade sausages and sauerkraut. And a shop with the mysterious name, "The Bearded Lady Hometown Treats." And there are a host of fascinating characters based on the author's memories of her hometown: Nuns who run a snowplow business. A handsome, virile chief-of-police, whom married women fantasize being handcuffed to!

There is Sister Adelaide who loves to speed. It is rumored when her car hits 60MPH "the windows turn to stained glass, and the radio plays Nearer My God To Thee." And there is a three hundred-pound giant who talks to pigs, and loves to waltz and polka, a veritable legend on the dance-floor. How can you not be drawn in by such fabulous characters? And best of all, the author promises that the three volumes comprising WHISKEY BOTTLE... will be a rotating cast of characters, people we grow to care about. It will not be just random, unconnected vignettes that made LAKE WOBEGON DAYS, although a huge bestseller, a somewhat disjointed and disappointing book.

The first story in Vol. I, "Peeper Baumgratz and the Sisters' Snowplow," seems a light-hearted, hilarious, home-spun tale. But after reading Valentine's stand-alone short story, "The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood," which introduced readers to THE WHISKEY BOTTLE...collection, I know her stories will eventually take us to darker, deeper depths. "The Reluctant Belsnickel..." started off light and humorus, and rather erotic, but then quieted down to a deeply sorrowful tale of Oliver, whose two boys were taken from him, and Oliver's years of loneliness and grief. In the end, there is redemption; his boys return to him as young men. The scene where they are reunited left this reader in tears.

I suspect the rest of Valentine's collection, Volumes II and III, will also transport us to the highs and lows, the hilarous and tragic, aspects of human nature, from dumpling contests and polka competitions to - it is rumored - unwanted pregnancies, sexual abuse, adultery, even murder. From her earlier novels she has brilliantly proven she understands the darkest aspects of human nature, as well as the abiding goodness in each of us. The second story, the title story of Vol. I, exemplifies this perfectly. A story within a story, a shocker and a stunner. I will not spoil it for readers.

In the third story in Vol. I, "The Great Dumpling War and Dance Competition," there is a hilarious scene where two competitive women argue with righteous indignation over the proper ingredients for a variety of dumplings - knadles, niflies, spaetzles, semmelknodels, kartoffelklobes. Though I could hardly pronounce the words, I realized that in this scene the author is EULOGIZING THE DUMPLING, which is the most representative food of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.

I quickly understood that this an not just an entertaining collection of stories about a fabulously rich culture. Valentine is MEMORIALIZING her people, and her town. This becomes more than just a novel, but also a fascinating and educational look at a region and culture relatively unsung in American literature. THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL, VOL. I: SECRETS OF MARIENSTADT, promises that the entire collection will be more than just a slice of small-town America. It will be a tribute to a people and a place, the Pennsylvania Dutch, and their contributions to American history.

With compassion and satire, and beautifully detailed writing, Valentine has delicately chiseled out of these seemingly ordinary lives, the unique, profound, and quixotic traits that make each character memorable, even epic. We are offered history as well as comedy and tragedy. So, please read these stories slowly, then read them again, because while we are reading about life, love, and birth and death, we are also learning the rich culture and traditions of one of the most fascinating communities in our United States.

I anticipate that with each volume, Valentine's characters will enlarge and expand. Their personal mysteries will be exposed and eventually resolved, and we will want to follow them, story after story! And, because these are characters with conscience - small-town people who care about their neighbors - I know there will be redemption at the end of each story. The author writes of her people with great PRIDE. She is creating a rich tapestry that will forever reflect Pennsylvania Dutch history, ancestry and legends. Her very heart is in her words. I predict the entire collection of THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL... will become a classic. I can't wait for Volume II! Thank you, Kathleen Valentine

KIANA DAVENPORT, author of OPIUM DREAMS, PACIFIC STORIES

Saturday, August 04, 2012

A Return to Halcyon Beach

For me one of the greatest joys of writing is creating the world in which a story takes place. During the writing of The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall and the creation of Marienstadt I realized that these settings of mine are places I want to live in for awhile. Readers have also been generous in praise for my settings. I've had a lot of people tell me that they loved both the bar, The Arm Pit, and the old abbey in Each Angel Burns. I've had some emails from people who, while reading Depraved Heart, went to Google Earth in an attempt to find the island of Hephzibah Regrets. And lots of readers tell me they dream about Canal Street from The Old Mermaid's Tale.

Of course all of those places exist only in my imagination. When I work on a novel which can take me a couple of years to write, there is a part of me that is always in the setting so, by the time I'm done writing, I know that world well. Now that The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall is finished except for the proofing and the formatting, Marienstadt is receding in my consciousness. I've been thinking about where to go next. It occurred to me that I can't quite get one of my worlds out of my mind and that maybe I need to spend more time there.

Halcyon Beach is the setting for my novella Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter. I wrote it last autumn and created Halcyon Beach from my memories of a number of places including Salisbury Beach, Plum Island, and a number of other beach towns up and down the New England coast. One of the things about living in a beach town – Gloucester included – is that those of us who live here year round are usually pretty happy when summer ends and we get our town all to ourselves again. Many of the motels, bead and breakfasts and other tourist businesses close up and we “get out town back.”

Halcyon Beach is a tourist town. There is a boardwalk, an amusement park, rental cottages in the dunes, restaurants and tourist traps. During the summer the place is a beehive of activity but as soon as summer ends and the tourists go away everything grows quiet and still. Most of the shops are boarded up and most of the people who run them go south for the winter. But there are always a few who stay. Artists and writers come to rent the cottages at discounted rates for the winter. Probably the biggest business is The Snuggle Inn and Pub – especially the Pub where the people staying there come to drink, socialize, and have a meal. The Snuggle Inn and Pub is owned by a shady character named Fitz Connolly who is a “connected” guy from Dorchester. Fitz is old now but he still has money in need of laundering and The Snuggle Inn is perfect for that. Consequently he always finds someone to keep the place open year round.

Among the people who stay through the winter are a bunch of older guys known as the Geezers. Three of them, Clay, Riley and Norb, are retired but Turtle Brewster still keeps his tattoo parlor, Turtle's Tats open year round. They can pretty reliably be found in the Pub most afternoons.

Well, the thing is, I LOVED creating Halcyon Beach and after I finished the novella I wasn't quite ready to let go of that place. Lately I have been thinking about writing a story based on a very strange murder-suicide I read about some years back and, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed possible to switch the setting from an urban area with a tall office building to a coastal area with a lighthouse. I had actually started working on the story but was having a hard time creating yet another coastal town with yet another colorful environment when it occurred to me that the story could work just as well in Halcyon Beach.

So yesterday I started work on it and so far I am thoroughly enjoying it. The Geezers are back and so is Darby, the flamboyant artist who winters in one of the cottages. Dave from Dave's Drive-Thru makes an appearance and who knows what other characters might show up. Layla and her crabby husband Joel are not in it but some interesting new characters are including Fleur, an artist and illustrator who lives in one of the cottages, and Mitch St. Pierre, a hot, horny fisherman from Nahant who comes to Turtle's Tats to get a new one and discovers Fleur.

So this is fun and I'm very happy to be back in Halcyon Beach. This story is showing promise and who knows what else might happen while we are there....

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

St. Marys, Pennsylvania Trumps New York City?

My little old hometown in Pennsylvania, St. Marys, population 13,000 - roughly one third of Gloucester, is way ahead of even New York City. Well, okay, when it comes to Amazon's Best Sellers in Middle Atlantic Cooking anyway. This just blows my mind. This is from Amazon's Best Seller Middle Atlantic Cooking today. Look at all the cookbooks from New York - The Fire Island Cookbook, Clinton St. Bakery, Daniel Boulud, New Brooklyn - and look at what's #1! 
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE

During recent Amazon Select promotions a total of 20,000 copies were downloaded and Fry Bacon. Add Onions continues to sell nicely. Since the last promotion 4 new reviews were posted to Amazon, too, all of them 5-stars:

5.0 out of 5 stars One that belongs in EVERY cook's kitchen!July 17, 2012
By 
Mamabear Cherei (San Antonio, TX USA) - See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook (Kindle Edition)
As one who enjoys reading cookbooks.. this one knocked my socks off! It's one of the better written of all the cookbooks I've read over the years. I can see that I'll need to get a hardbound copy of this book.. as it's so full of SO many recipes.. that I want to make.. that trying to use my kindle in the kitchen around making meals.. is impractical.

I also enjoyed the many little helpful tidbits about the Valentine family and friends! It's nice to read for whom a recipe came from.. and for whom it was made! As a Mom.. we all know that "one" favorite dish that a kid likes.. and we make it for them.. on special occasions!

Not just a cookbook.. it makes you feel like you're an extension of their family!

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful family cookbookJuly 15, 2012
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook (Kindle Edition)
What a charming cookbook! Family memories interwoven with wonderful, homespun recipes. I didn't expect much when buying this as a free Kindle book, but it's a lovely collection. Pick it up -- you will feel like you know the author and her family.


5.0 out of 5 stars
 
A must haveJuly 15, 2012
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook (Kindle Edition)
I *Thoroughy* enjoyed reading this, when I eventually try the recipes I hope they warm the belly as much as the stories warmed my heart. If you enjoy a little history and old family stories do not pass this book up. The recipes are a bonus.



5.0 out of 5 stars
 
Charming stories mixed with lots recipes!July 14, 2012
This review is from: Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook (Kindle Edition)
I recommended this book to someone I know, who probably grew up eating many of these dishes. The rest of us can surely find several keeper recipes we have never had before. Fat Drunk & Happy Cake sounds like a keeper for me. Plus probably up my popularity to boot.



5.0 out of 5 stars
 
outstanding cookbook and a great read.May 21, 2012
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook (Kindle Edition)
I am a amature home foodie and i have made several recipes from this cookbook and each one has been really terrific. The most recent i made this moring was the "Anne`s Apple Puff Pancake" i didnt have apples at the time so i used Bananas and this turned into a Bananas Foster Pancake. I then used the Maple Cream recipe in the same book to top my creation and "OMG" I dare anyone to have breakfast better than this at any 5 star restaurant!!!
Next in the line up is the homemade lemon meringue pie and thanks to Kathleen this coming Christmas i`m making Christmas Stollen!


Thanks so much to all who have purchased it!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Story #1: Peeper Baumgratz and the Sister's Snowplow


Henry Werner knew that being the Chief of Police in Marienstadt, Pennsylvania, was an easy job but any day that started out with a visit from Sister Adelaide, the Prioress of St. Joseph's Convent, and which was followed by a call from the State Police, was off to an unpromising start. Despite the fact that he was close to forty and had been a policeman ever since he left the Marines, one withering stare from Sister Adelaide could reduce him to a single throbbing nerve. The worst part was, she knew it.

“Henry,” she said, looking at him over the top of the half-moon glasses perched on her long, patrician nose, “is it really necessary to ticket the convent's automobiles at every single opportunity? I understand that the sisters need to be more mindful of making sure there is adequate money in the parking meters but, honestly, the time had barely run out when Patrolman Ginther wrote this out.” She waved the bright orange ticket in front of him.

“Give it to me, Sister,” he said. “I'll take care of it.” He knew that by 'taking care of it' he meant that he would pay for it himself but he preferred that she not know that.

“No.” She jerked the ticket back and tucked it into the pocket of the impeccably tailored black wool coat she wore. “We do not expect favors but we would like a small amount of ...” She paused, raised her eyebrows, cleared her throat, and then said, “a small amount of courtesy, shall we say?”

“I'll have a word with Dean, I'm sure he'll be reasonable.” Actually he was quite sure that Dean Ginther would be anything but reasonable. Dean had been a troublemaker through all eight years of his confinement in St. Walburga's Parochial School when Sister Adelaide was the principal there and, even at the age of thirty-three, he took a perverse pride in doing anything he could to aggravate her. Henry knew quite well that Dean kept an eye on any of the convent's vehicles when he spotted them on the street. He couldn't wait to pounce if he noticed the least offense – a burnt-out turn signal, a parking meter about to expire, an inspection sticker one day overdue. Writing out a ticket for one of the sisters was all it took to make Dean's day.

Sister Adelaide sighed. Henry thought she must be close to seventy now. When he had been a student at St. Walburga's and she was principal she always wore the traditional Benedictine black and white habit. She was a tall woman with strong, elegant features. Actually, they were related though Henry had never figured out how all that cousin business worked. Sister Adelaide was the daughter of Henry's grandfather's brother. Once Sister traded her habit for more modern dress and gave up her veil anyone who saw the two of them together might easily mistake them for mother and son. Even without her habit, Sister always wore black and white – tailored suits or a white, mannish shirt with a long, straight skirt. It looked very good on her. Her once-blond hair was snow white and she kept it very short and combed straight back from her face with its high-cheekbones and wide blue eyes. She had never been beautiful but she was striking.

“Do you have a few minutes?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said, standing up, “let me get you a chair.” He pulled one of the heavy wooden arm chairs away from the wall and held it for her as she sat down. Henry Werner was the kind of man who really liked women, young, old, any size, any shape. His manners with women were always old-fashioned and rather courtly, not out of any desire to impress but simply because he loved women.

“As I am sure you can imagine,” Sister Adelaide began as he returned to his chair. “Keeping the convent solvent is a full-time job. We have far fewer nuns than we once had and most of them are elderly and retired. A few of the younger nuns – and when I say younger I mean those in their forties and fifties – teach at St. Walburga’s but expenses have increased and income has not.”

“That's happening everywhere, I suspect,” he said. “I remember when there were three priests at St. Walburga’s. Now there's just Father Nick.”

“Yes. Father Bauer's been a godsend to us.”

He noted the subtle correction.

“Anyway,” she resumed, “we may have an opportunity that I am not quite comfortable with but which we might be foolish to pass up and I thought I'd ask your advice.”

Henry spread his hands. “Anything I can do?”

“You know Sister Ursula? She's August Wolfe's sister?”

“Sure, of course, I do. She was a couple years behind me in school. Brenda.”

“Yes.”

“I have to admit I was surprised when she became a nun,” he said recalling Augie's sassy, rambunctious sister. “I thought she'd be a tennis pro or something like that.”

“Sister Ursula has always been quite athletic,” she agreed. “She's done a good job with the girl's softball team. Well, as you know, her father has a snow-plowing business and he has decided he wants to retire.”

“Yeah, Augie mentioned it last time I saw him. He said old Gus has been having quite a time with sciatica.”

“Indeed. We have been praying for him. At any rate, Sister Ursula has suggested that her father give his snowplow to the convent which he is perfectly willing to do. Apparently she knows how to run it and she is of the opinion that the convent might benefit from the added income by taking over his clients.”

Henry couldn't keep the smile from his face. The idea of the sisters running a snow-plowing business was just too entertaining.

Sister Adelaide smiled too. “Yes, I don't blame you for being amused. I can't quite see it myself.”

“I don't know,” he said. “Why not? Brenda... Sister Ursula can do anything any guy I know can do so maybe it's a good opportunity.”

She nodded slowly. “Do you suppose that the city would use our services for plowing?”

He shrugged. “I don't see why not. If you want me to I'll mention it to the mayor.”

“The other thing that concerns me is maintenance. Sister Ursula says the plow is in basically good shape but it does need, as she put it, a 'few tweaks'. I have learned through experience that Sister Ursula's idea of a 'few tweaks' tends to be woefully modest.”

Henry chuckled then thought better of it. “I'm sure I can find someone who could have a look at it.” He smiled. “If there's anything Marienstadt has an abundance of, it's guys who can tweak stuff.”

She sat still for a moment then slowly rose. Henry stood up and rounded the desk to escort her to the door.

“Thank you, Henry,” she said. “You've always been very helpful.”

“Just doing my job.” He held the door for her.

She smiled. “You do far more than your job.” She paused then looked at him. He noticed that they were nearly eye to eye and he was over six feet tall.

“Do you ever hear from Kelly?”

That took him by surprise. “Not really. I think she's made a whole new life for herself in Palm Beach. I doubt she even thinks about me.”

Sister Adelaide sighed. “I had such high hopes for you two.”

He looked down but could think of nothing to say. His ex-wife Kelly had high hopes for him, too, which was why she decided to be his ex-wife. When she married him he was a young, handsome, tantalizing Marine with unlimited potential. Being the Chief of Police of a town the size of Marienstadt was most definitely not what she thought that potential should be.

“Me, too, Sister,” he said. “I'll give you a call about the snowplow.”

She passed in front of him and he followed her out onto the sidewalk. It was a brilliantly sunny, but terrifically cold November day with little sparkles of snow in the air. Her black Toyota was parked directly in front of Town Hall and he noticed that she still had a few minutes left on the meter. He held the car door while she tucked herself neatly inside.

“And have a word with Patrolman Ginther, will you?” she said as she turned the key in the ignition.

“Yes, Sister,” he said and was slightly chagrined at how that sounded like the schoolboy he once was.

He shut the door and before he had backed away she zipped out of the parking space and zoomed down the street. For all her fastidiousness, Sister Adelaide had a reputation for a heavy foot. Back at St. Walburga's the joke was that when her car hit sixty miles per hour the windows turned to stained glass and the radio played “Nearer My God To Thee.” Henry wouldn't be surprised.

“Good morning, Henry.”

He turned.

“Good morning, Mary Katherine. Good morning, Gretchen.” Mary Katherine Dippold and Gretchen Fritz were hurrying down the sidewalk in the direction of Gretchen's shop, The Calico Cuckoo. He glanced at his watch, almost ten. If anyone asked he'd guess that they just had breakfast at Lola's Strudel Shop and were rushing to open Gretchen's store on time. They passed him and, when he looked after them, Mary Katherine glanced back over her shoulder and flashed a wide smile. He smiled back at her. He'd always liked Mary Katherine. Gretchen, too, for that matter, though she was a quite a bit younger than he was.

Henry Werner might be divorced but, despite having no plans to remarry any time soon, he didn't spend much time alone. According to the opinions of most women in Marienstadt Henry Werner was downright gorgeous. What was striking, though harsh, on Sister Adelaide was absolutely stunning on Henry. Tall, lean but muscular, with high cheekbones, a square jaw and a head of thick, wavy, silver-blond hair, Henry had been turning heads since boyhood and that wasn't changing as he faced forty. The truth was there were not a lot of women in Marienstadt who would turn him down and, in point of fact, he'd tested that truth on a regular basis. Henry didn't smoke, didn't swear, rarely drank, and attended Mass and the sacraments regularly but when it came to the sins of the flesh, as they had been called in school, he committed his share and the shares of several others.

“Henry.”

He turned to find their dispatcher, Donna Lynch, poking her head out of the door.

“Yes.”

“Phone.”

“Okay.” He pulled the door open and, as he crossed the lobby to the police department door, she said, “It's Grant Caruso from the State Police.”

Henry groaned. “Now what?” He took the phone from her.

Read the rest of the story at "The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 1".....

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