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Friday, September 22, 2017

Power versus Justice

Book Cover for Henrietta's JournalI saw a quote on Facebook yesterday that has resonated in my head ever since. It went something like this:

“The law depends on power; ethics rely on justice. We need to teach our children to value justice over power.”

It occurred to me in the middle of the night that the statement could well be used to describe the theme of my new book, Henrietta’s Journal. Henrietta Ainesworth grew up in the rarified academic enclaves of Oxford in the early 1830s, where historians and philosophers studied, quoted, and tried to emulate the ethical and intellectual inheritance of the ancient world. Her new husband, Julien Beauchene, came from Charleston, South Carolina, where buildings, institutions, and social strata took their models from the empire-building policies of the Greeks and Romans.

Beneath the glamorous and romantic “Gone with the Wind” images of the antebellum South lay some uncomfortable truths. The impressive classical architecture of Charleston’s public buildings was meant to illustrate the power of the state. Southern society revolved around a small enclave of “Old Aristocracy,” who were, in fact, upstart immigrants disguised in fancy dress. They prided themselves on the enduring nature of their laws, newly designed to justify otherwise indefensible beliefs. They defended the “peculiar institution” of slavery by calling it the natural order of things—not recognizing the inherent contradictions in that statement. And they seemed to believe sincerely that a slave was only three-fifths of a person because the law said so and that they could stop the spread of knowledge by making it illegal to teach a slave to read.

Henrietta came into this strange alien world with her innocence intact, but the realities of Southern society soon opened her eyes. She was surrounded by slaves, whether she approved of slavery or not. Her every act was scrutinized by disapproving family members and neighbors whose suspicions were based on the fact that she wasn’t “from here”. She was shocked to discover that South Carolina law denied women the basic rights of personhood she had always taken for granted—things like the right to hold property, to express her opinions, and to make independent decisions. For the first time, she was learning the real meaning of a commonplace rule: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” She had always respected the law because she assumed it valued justice; now she was living in a land where laws had the power to overrule justice—and did so without remorse.

Could this young couple ever find a common ground on which to build a marriage? To what lengths would Henrietta go to “Do as the Romans do?” And where would she draw the line? To read her story, click here.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Interesting Writers' Conferences

I am now working my way through my book, The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: How To Avoid the Traps of Self-Publishing.  Most of the material there is now five years old (or more) and in serious need of revisions and updates. I'm hoping to have a new edition ready by the end of the year.

As part of the chapter I am currently revising, I need an updated list of "Recommended Writers' Conferences." The following list is preliminary. it contains recommendations from other writers and Facebook friends. I would welcome your input as well. Which really good conferences are missing from this list? Are there problems with any of the choices I have gathered so far? All genres and all regions are welcome. I do NOT want to include any meetings whose main purpose is getting you to sign up for some sort of publishing deal. Leave your comment below.

Some Writers’ Conferences to Consider

I have not included specific dates or website URLs because these vary from one year to the next. However, you can find any one of these organizations through a simple search engine.

In the Spring:

·      San Francisco Writers Conference in February
·      SleuthFest in Boca Raton, FL in February.
·      South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX in March. 
·      Northern Colorado Writers Conference in Fort Collins in the Spring. In the Spring:

During the Summer:

·      Historical Novel Society, alternating years between North  America and England in June.
·      Philadelphia Writers Conference (PWC), held in the Historic District of Philadelphia, in June.
·      Midwest Writers Workshop, Muncie, Indiana, in July. 

·     Sewanee (TN) Writers’ Conference in July.
·      Romance Writers of America Annual Conference, somewhere in USA in July. 
·      Women and the Civil War, somewhere east of the Mississippi in July.

·      Thrillerfest in New York City in July.
·      Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City in August.

·      Killer Nashville (TN) in August.
In the Fall:
·      Historical Writers of America in New Mexico in September.
·      Military Writers Society of America, somewhere in USA in September.
·      Lost Lake Writers’ Retreat, in Lincoln, Michigan, in October.

·      James River Writers Conference (www.jamesriverwriters.org) in Richmond, VA, in October.

·     BookBaby Independent Authors Conference, Philadelphia in November.



Sunday, July 16, 2017

Reviving This Blog with a Bit of Good News

Some of you have been listening to me complain this past week about two ongoing problems. One of my old cats has absolutely refused to eat, and she has been visibly losing weight, particularly in the hips, her haunches, and even, believe it or not, her tail.

At the same time, the blog-hosting service I use through Vistaprint has been wonky. The website and old blog posts appear, but I can make no changes, nor can I add a blog post. This morning, however, both problems seem to be nearing a solution.

 First, the cat. Nutmeg has been refusing to eat for the last two weeks. I've spent hours going back and forth to the grocery to buy new gourmet cat pate, only to have her turn up her nose and hobble away. The most I could get her to do was to lick the gravy from a spoonful of "gourmet tuna bits and gravy." But she refused to try to chew anything. I have been reluctant to subject her to the dangers of the complete wellness panel the vet wants to run since it involves long anesthesia, and she is both weak and old -- going on 16.

 Then this morning, she yowled loudly to get me out of bed and then leaped onto the bathroom counter. She head-butted me away to have a long drink at the faucet while I was trying to wash my face. Then she proceeded me to the kitchen, mumbling under her breath the whole while about the slowness of the service in this joint. And she muscled all the other cats away to be first in line at the first food bowl when I poured out the usual portions of dry kibble. The last I saw of her, she was happily munching away as if nothing had ever been wrong.

 Vistaprint hasn't solved their problem--one technician I talked to was amazed to discover that when she tried to access my blog she encountered exactly the same problem I was describing. Hello? So they are working on it, and the good news--they've given me a free month's service (?) to make up for the inconvenience.

 Better news? I worked on the Blogger interface yesterday and discovered all sorts of improvements I could make. So for the next few weeks, we'll be back here, deciding if the change should be permanent. Let me hear from you if you have an opinion about which blog service works better.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Yankee Daughters--Recipes

Pennsylvania Dutch Scrapple

Ingredients will vary with what is left after everyone else has claimed the parts of the pig for butchered meat, sausage with casings, or such delicacies as pickled pig’s feet. Similarly, every cook has her own favorite seasonings and cereal choices.
  • The meat involved is Pork head (chopped into four pieces), meat, feet, heart, and tongue, or other pork trimmings, if desired, including liver. You may discard the eyeballs if they make you squeamish. 
  • Boil meat in water in a covered container until the soft tissue separates readily from the bone. Separate tissue from bone and grind with a fine grinder. Return the ground meat to the strained soup container and boil. Cereal is then added. A common cereal mixture is seven parts cornmeal and three parts of either buckwheat, white, or rye flour.
  • Approximately 4 lbs of the ground meat combined with 3 lbs of soup (liquid) plus 1 lb of cereal is sometimes used. Gradually moisten the cereal with a cool liquid (water or the cooled soup) to prevent lumping. Add this premoistened cereal to the ground meat-soup mixture slowly then boil for 30 minutes.
  • Prior to finishing boiling, add seasoning.
  • A suggested seasoning combination for 8 lbs of finished scrapple would include 3 oz salt, 1/4 oz black pepper, 1/4 oz sweetened marjoram, 1/4 oz nutmeg, 1/4 oz sage or thyme, and 2-1/2 oz onions. Some prefer to add a pinch of mace and a pinch of red pepper also.
  • After the seasoning is mixed thoroughly and the onions cooked, pour the scrapple into pans (not bowls) and refrigerate to 30 - 32F degrees immediately.
  • Note this is usually made in large batches and saved throughout the year until the next butchering. It uses every part of the pig so nothing is wasted. 
To serve, slice, fry in hot lard until crispy on the outside, and serve for breakfast with eggs or in sandwiches.


Apple Pan Dowdy:

Ingredients: 
6 tart apples
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
biscuit dough

Peel and slice apples and arrange in a cast iron skillet. 
Sprinkle with cinnamon (or other spices

); drizzle with molasses; dot with butter.
Cover with biscuit dough rolled to 1/2 inch, leaving gashes to let steam escape, or dropped at random.
Bake at about 375 degrees for 30 minutes. A few minutes before baking is finished, push pieces of the crust down into the juices. 
Serve hot, with cream flavored with nutmeg.

  • Katerina describes Apple pan dowdy: "A pandowdy is like an apple pie, except you cook the apples in an iron skillet with just a top crust. And then about halfway through the baking time, you break up the crust and shove the pieces down into the bubbling apple juice so they soak up all that sweet goodness. It looks a mess, but add a dollop of cream on top, and you’ll beg for mercy!”
Be sure to get your Kindle version of Yankee Daughters while we're offering it for only $0.99 at:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Yankee Daughters — Excerpt

Yankee Daughters — Excerpt from Chapter 22, “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round




As promised, Mr. Jernigan brought the proof copies of his photos out to the house in mid-afternoon. Katerina pinned them to the wall so that everyone could study them. The formal pose showed the nine women lined up like spoons, their left sides to the camera. In a more casual shot, they clustered on the front steps, three sitting in front and the others facing forward behind them. Katerina and Becca were the first to study the results of the photo session.
“I think I hate photographs,” Katerina declared. “Cameras don’t lie, but it would often be better if they did.” 
“The pictures really came out quite well, Kat. You will cherish these for years.”
“No, don’t try to be diplomatic. I’m looking at all of us here and seeing our personalities on display as clearly as if we were wearing big signs around our necks.”
“I admit, I don’t like the formal line-up as well as the other one. I know convention says one should not smile in a photograph, but I’ve never understood why. You wanted these pictures to show that the long months of mourning were over, but everyone still looks too serious.”
“It’s more than looking serious. We all look like we’ve been sucking on lemons. I suppose those sour expressions are the result of my blow-up at Ruby for showing up in that horrible dress. But there are other things wrong with the pictures, too. I deliberately made Fiona and Sally’s dresses shorter, to show that they are the youngest. But captured this way in a photograph, it just looks like they are sprouting so fast that they’ve outgrown their own skirts.”
“They are growing up fast, I give you that. Look at them. They are easily the tallest. I suppose Mr. Jernigan did the arranging deliberately to put the two shortest girls on the ends and the tallest in the middle. But I see what you mean about the skirt lengths.”
“And the facial expressions! Take us one at a time: Martha is a complete blank. She neither knows nor cares what’s going on around her. I, on the other hand, am clearly biting my tongue to keep from screaming at someone. Nora? Nora looks tired. I think she is tired most of the time, and that makes me worry about her health. Then there’s Lillian—the unhappy, confused, browbeaten wife of a miserable prig!”
“Kat! Really!”
“Well, she is. At best she looks stupid. Then there’s Sally, she of the perpetual pout, and Fiona, she who is so smug about her own charms that she sometimes makes me want to slap her. Millie’s the sweetest of the lot, but here, even she appears to be wondering how she ended up in this group. Gloria is serene. I suppose having a rich man in love with you will do that, although I wouldn’t know from experience. And, of course, Ruby, the perennial bone in my craw, doing whatever she can to upset things and then thoroughly enjoying the show.”
“All right. I admit the line-up looks like it could be added to the post office wall, where they show mug shots of miscreants. But the informal grouping is much more pleasant.”
“Only because some of us are laughing at the rest of us. Something else in that picture bothers me, too. Ruby has her head cocked in that smart-alecky way she has of sneering at us. And if you look on the other side, you’ll see that Sally is doing the same thing. Heaven help us if Sally turns out to be as troublesome as Ruby has been!”
“They are still your daughters, Katerina, and I know you love each one of them.”
Ich liebe dich immer. Love them? Yes. I can’t help that. Aber ich weiß nicht immer Sie mögen. But nobody says I have to like them. And this has been a weekend when I really don’t like any of them. Too bad this was the moment I picked to preserve their images.”


Be sure to get your Kindle version of Yankee Daughters while we're offering it for only $0.99 at:

https://www.amazon.com/Yankee-Daughters-Grenville-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B01M1LPY2H

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Harriet Tubman and the Raid on the Combahee

[On June 2, 1863, Harriet Tubman led 150 black Union soldiers on a raid to free slaves from plantations along the Combahee River in South Carolina. The following is a description of that raid taken from my "Left by the Side of the Road."]


Colonel James Montgomery was the first to disembark at Beaufort. He strode to General Saxton, saluted crisply, and shouted so that all could hear. "Sir, I have the honor to present to you some 750 former slaves, newly liberated from the plantations along the Combahee River through the efforts of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers under the leadership of Miss Harriet Tubman."

A gasp went up from the crowd and then applause and cheers filled the morning air.

The passengers now poured off the boats and for a while, chaos reigned. Saxton had planned well for this moment, however, and his officers soon sorted the newcomers into manageable groups. A hundred or more strong young men had volunteered to join Montgomery's regiment, and a couple of black sergeants soon had them lined up and marching toward a makeshift camp. Miss Tubman bustled about, identifying the elderly and ailing so that Dr. Rogers and his staff could assess their conditions and arrange for their medical needs to be treated in one of the local hospitals. The remaining family units assembled close to the docks. Each group of fifty or so had its own military officer and one of the teacher-missionaries.

General Saxton addressed these groups last. "I have arranged for you to be transferred to St. Helena Island, where your needs will be met. Military rations are already there and will be distributed to each family, along with temporary shelter in the form of tents. As soon as we determine how many houses will be needed, we'll be assigning you to empty dwellings on the island. If we need more room, our Army engineers will provide building materials to help you erect your own new homes. Please tell your leaders about any special skills you may have that can help us build your new community. We'll want to identify the cooks, the carpenters, the farmers, the stable hands, and so forth. Welcome to the United States and freedom!"

At last he turned to Laura Towne. "Sorry to keep you in the dark about all of this, but we wanted to make sure the boats made it back safely before any announcement. I've asked Colonel Montgomery and Miss Tubman to join my staff in the mess tent for a debriefing. Would you and Miss Forten care to join us? I'm sure you must be curious about how all this came about."

Col. James Montgomery opened the meeting by describing Miss Tubman's efforts. "She has been prowling around the interior for the past month with her small band of spies. They infiltrated the plantations, talked to the slaves, and learned where the river had been mined to prevent any invasion. She promised her people that they would be rescued when they heard gunboats blowing their whistles. Yesterday she met my gunboats at the mouth of the Combahee and served as our pilot, guiding us around the Confederate torpedoes and taking us straight to the banks of the richest plantations in the area. But she should describe what happened from there."

Harriet beamed with pride as she stood. She described the scene as slaves dropped whatever they were doing and ran to the banks of the river when they heard the whistles. Some tried to wade out to the boats while others clambered into rowboats. A few overseers tried to hold the slaves back. Others, frightened lest this be a trap, hesitated on the banks.

[The following passage is a direct quote from Miss Tubman's own account, as told to Sarah Bradford and published in "Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman." (1869) ]

"I tol' de soljers to take der caps off an' let de people see der wooly heads," she laughed, "but some uh dem slaves stil dint trust us, even if we was black like dem. So I stood on de prow uh de boat an' I sang to em:

Of all the whole creation in the East or in the West,
The glorious Yankee nation is the greatest and the best.
Come along! Come along! don't be alarmed,
Uncle Sam is rich enough to give you all a farm.

"Dat was a song I jist made up 'cause I don't know de Gullah language an' we had trouble unnerstandin' each udder. But dey unnerstood bout Uncle Sam. Dat did de trick an' dey all come on da boats.


"I nebber see such a sight," said Harriet; "we laughed, an' laughed, an' laughed. Here you'd see a woman wid a pail on her head, rice a smokin' in it jus' as she'd taken it from de fire, young one hangin' on behind, one han' roun' her forehead to hold on, 'tother han' diggin' into de rice-pot, eatin' wid all its might; hold of her dress two or three more; down her back a bag wid a pig in it. One woman brought two pigs, a white one an' a black one; we took 'em all on board; named de white pig Beauregard, and de black pig Jeff Davis. Sometimes de women would come wid twins hangin' roun' der necks; 'pears like I nebber see so many twins in my life; bags on der shoulders, baskets on der heads, and young ones taggin' behin', all loaded; pigs squealin', chickens screamin', young ones squallin'."