Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Five Days and Counting

"Yankee Reconstructed" will launch in all electronic formats on January third. There are several reasons to pre-order your copy now.

1. You win! Order now and you pay just $3.99.  Wait until Sunday morning and you'll pay $5.99. And it doesn't matter whether you go to Kindle, Kobo, B&N or Apple iBooks. They are all offering the same deal.

2. You win! When the last ornament has been packed away and the last pine needle vacuumed into oblivion, you will deserve a break. If you order now, your copy will be waiting for you on Sunday when you hit the couch.

3. I win! No pre-order is counted until Sunday. Then all those numbers go together to help determine the book's relative starting rank in each best-seller list. Pre-order now, and the rank goes up.  Order next week and you won't make a dent in the rankings. Seriously, this has been proven to make a huge difference in total sales. The higher the rank, the more people buy the book. I appreciate your support.

Here are the links you'll need.

Friday, December 25, 2015

That Was the Christmas Without . . .

This has been a difficult month for me. I expected that. It's been eleven months since Floyd died, and between Thanksgiving and January come too many special occasions to count -- memories of trips taken and planned, his birthday, our wedding anniversary, holidays, the "heart attack" day, the hospital stays, the hopes built up, and the hopes dashed and trampled into dust. I'm trying to survive each day, one at a time.

Today is Christmas, although there's not much here to remind me except for the wreath on the door and the reindeer antlers on the car. Still, I awoke this morning with a dozen memories struggling for recognition -- each one from a "Christmas Without . . ."

1958 -- the first Christmas after my father died. I'm home from college, my mother is barely speaking to me because I dared to pay my own way to go back to school, and the empty, undecorated house is a stark reminder that she feels she has been left with nothing.

1962 -- Christmas far from home. I'm married, and my new Air Force Lieutenant husband has just been assigned to his first posting, a radar installation in Moses Lake, Washington. We are living in a single room in the BOQ on base, waiting for housing to open up. No tree, no gifts, no family, not even a cat.

1963 -- Housing taken care of,  I have a teaching job, but Floyd has been whisked off to a remote mountain top in Alaska for a year, leaving me alone here in the middle of the desert.  My mother is unsympathetic. "You chose to get married," she says.

1969 -- I'm in Panama City, Florida; Floyd is in Pleiku, Vietnam. My mother tries to be more sympathetic since its wartime, so she has arrived to celebrate the holidays with me. I've put up an artificial tree and tied Christmas bows around the cats' necks, but we spend most of the time watching TV reruns while I wait for the phone to ring.

1977 -- The first Christmas since my mother died -- still trying to explain to my six-year-old why Grandma Peggy is not around any more (and why it matters that we keep remembering her.)

1980 -- I'm in Colorado Springs; Floyd is in King Salmon, Alaska. He's the base commander now, and I'm finishing up a master's degree, but the sense of "Christmas without . . ." is no less sharp. I'm trying to assemble a cat climbing post that uses a tension pole to hold it upright. Next door is a shiny new bike waitng for me to assemble without help, once Doug is asleep.

1982 -- The first Christmas without Grandpa Schriber. We go back to Cleveland for Christmas, but my mother-in-law is in no mood to celebrate anything.

1985 -- The first Christmas without Grandma Schriber. Doug asks, "We don't have to go back there again, do we?" and is relieved to be told that there is no longer any "there" to be returned to. I feel oddly bereft -- Floyd and I both orphans now, both only children, so adrift without family.

2000 -- The first Christmas since Doug's shocking death from cancer. We can't bear to be home, so we fly to London for the holidays. We're in a cold hotel room, huddled around a little space heater,  a spindly poinsettia on the end table and a packet of mince pies for our Christmas. But outside there are the makings of beautiful memories: carolers in Trafalgar Square, "The Messiah" at St. Martin's in the Fields, midnight services on Christmas Eve in Westminster Abbey, and Christmas snow falling on Old Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

2015  -- And now Christmas without Floyd. The first of however many I have left, and I pause to wonder what the last half century has taught me. What I see this morning, as I look backward, is that I have few memories of the carefree years, the holidays full of decorations and cookies and fruitcakes, Christmas cards and Secret Santa packages, parties and turkey dinners. They were happy times, I know, but I let them pass without fully savoring the moments. And those memories fade from lack of notice. It's the "Christmases Without . . ." that fill my mind and my heart.

We've all been reminded to "count our blessings," and I'm totally in favor of that, but I don't think it goes far enough. We also need to stay aware of our losses. The losses, the Christmases Without . . .. the things we grieve for . . .these are the most important moments of our lives. There's no hiding from them. They are part of our core. So I'll count my losses, too, and be grateful that I've known them.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Two Weeks and Counting

In two more weeks (just 14 days) it will all be over: the last cookie crumbs eaten, the fruitcake moved from table to doorstop, the pine needles transferred from tree to carpet, packages unwrapped, ribbon stolen by the cat, a pile of tinsel coughed up by the dog, last turkey leg gnawed, silly hats, confetti, and noisemakers put away for another year, resolutions made and already broken. The holidays come and go so fast that we hardly have time to sit and enjoy them.

But this year, when Sunday, January 3, rolls around, there will be one last shiny box under that scraggly tree  — a new box, just arrived. And inside? A whole new world to explore: the ragged destruction of the Civil War framed by new camellia blossoms, a forbidden inter-racial love affair, visits from the Ku Klux Klan, governmental corruption, prostitutes in the state house, the first impeachment of a president, economic collapse, street riots, midnight lynching parties,  wild horses, successful business partnerships, and dreams washed away by a tidal surge.

Make sure your copy of Yankee Reconstructed arrives safely on January 3rd to brighten your post-holiday gloom.  Pre-order it now, and save $2.00 over the Launch Day price.  Find it at:

Monday, December 14, 2015

Nineteen Days to Launch of "Yankee Reconstructed"

I finished reading #15 today, without once wanting to throw the book across the room.  I spotted no errors and discovered that a couple of places near the end brought tears to my eyes.  That's good, I think.  I'm pleased with this story.

I have submitted this version as final and also downloaded the cover design.  Provided that there is no awful sizing error in the cover, all is now ready for publication.  I'll be holding my breath for a day or so, until they send me the final OK, but I have great faith in my cover designer.  All should be perfect.

What happens next? Well, I'll get one more proof copy, this time with cover in place.  And when I accept it, we'll finish the final set of instructions -- which sales channels will handle the book, what the price breakdown will be, and other formalities.  Then comes the final ACCEPT button, and copies will start to flow from the presses.

With luck, I see the proof acceptance happening during Christmas week, and the flow of books to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Ingram, and other outlets, including those overseas markets, happening in the week between Christmas and New Years Day -- right on schedule!

QUICK UPDATE: Cover approved; final proof copy ordered. All is well.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

22 Days Left -- Proofreading, updated

Yep, my eyes are crossed, but I've finished another 125 pages.  And along the way I've put up five containers of spaghetti sauce and a gallon of beef and barley soup. Not a bad record for the day.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Twenty-Four and Counting

How many times have I read this book?  I can only guess.

While I'm writing a new book, I go back to the beginning frequently to make sure I'm not running off the track. There's a drawback to that practice, of course. The early chapters get a much more thorough going-over than the end of the book. But keeping the whole picture in my head is important for continuity. So I'm guessing that I read the whole book at least six times in the writing of it.

Next it goes to my wonderful editor, Gabriella.  I check carefully before I send it off because I don't want her to think I'm an idiot. -- so reading # 7.  She goes over the pages with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, and like lice, she turns up any number of small errors. Then back it comes for me to check and approve/disapprove the corrections. Reading #8. Back it goes for final editing. Reading #9.

Once the manuscript has been edited, the next step is preparing the final document for electronic publishing. The whole text receives a close examination for spelling errors, backwards quotation marks, extra spaces, and miscellaneous characters added when a cat walked across the keyboard.  Now the versions begin to multiply. There's one format for Smashwords and another for Amazon Kindle. The two versions must match, so Reading #10 and #11.

Next stop: Beta Readers! These are people I trust to tell me the truth as they see it. I want to know how my readers are going to react. If there's something "off" that I can fix, this is the time. Now, not all of them do a nit-picky job, but in this go-around, at least two of them gave me detailed critiques. Reading # 12 to incorporate any of those changes.

Ready at last for submission to CreateSpace, the company that will produce the trade paper editions for Amazon, bookstore sales, and my own sales mechanisms.  That's the hardest step, and I compulsively re-read before shipping it off. Reading # 13.

A printed proof comes back.  In this case, it arrived the week before Thanksgiving, and it was that copy that drove me into the ground. There were multiple problems with the layout design, and I was determined to catch every imperfection before I asked for a do-over. I finished that reading on December 1 -- Reading #14.

Yesterday, a new printed proof arrived. When I approve this version, it will trigger the presses to roll, so Reading #15 awaits me.

So go my days!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Launch, Day 25 and Counting

So where do things stand at the moment? I've actually accomplished a lot.

1. We finished the trailer for "Yankee Reconstructed." Despite continuing problems with Vistaprint that prevent me from playing the video on my website or on my Vistaprint blog, I've been able to add it to my Amazon Author's page and to show it on Facebook.  Here it is if you have not seen it:

2. Pre-orders for electronic editions are set up and available at Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes&Noble, and Kobo.

3. I completed the close reading of the first master proof on December 1 and mailed detailed instructions for a new layout to the publisher.  The second master proof arrived today by overnight air, and so far, I am entirely satisfied with what I am seeing. Margins are correct, page numbers have been moved, font has been changed. I will still need to read through the whole thing to make sure that nothing has been left out, but I am cautiously optimistic that we are going to meet the deadlines.

4. I was able to extrapolate the number of pages (486) from the digital proof.  My cover designer had been waiting for that number to set the spine measurement.  So now we have an entire cover layout -- front, back, and spine. Since readers who use electronic devices only see the front cover, I thought I would include the whole spread here, so that everyone can see the endorsement/promotional text.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

How To Blow A Hole in Your Book Launch

Step 1. Set up a firm schedule of steps to be taken and vow not to deviate from it.
Step 2. Obsess over the first proof your publisher sends back to you. Once you've spotted major errors, decide you must examine every single word separately. Why not? There are only 105,000 of them.
Step 3. Spend three days with nose buried in computer screen, barely looking up long enough to take a sip of water or run to the bathroom.
Step 4. Ignore the fact that you are feeling really strange.
Step 5. Finish your proofing exercises and send scathing message back to publisher. "Let's start over, shall we?"
Step 6. BLAM! Major health crisis erupts, making all other items on schedule irrelevant.

All of which is meant to let you know where I've been for the past eleven days--fighting bronchitis, a stomach bug, dehydration, and dangerously low electrolyte levels. I'm much better now, feeling almost normal and ready to get back to work. I'm a bit wiser, I hope, so I'll be taking things at a slower pace.  After all, we still have 24 days before launch day.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

New Rule: She Who Makes the Rules Gets To Change the Rules

I can't decide whether this counts as a reasonable decision or a cop-out, so I'll let you decide.  Counting today (Thanksgiving) there are five days left in NaNoWriMo and I have just passed the 40,000 word limit.  2,000 words each day (approx. five more chapters) would make me a winner. However, when I look at the book in progress, I see a real problem in continuing to hammer out chapters at this point.

When I stopped writing this morning I had put the finishing touches on Chapter 15, which I had envisioned as the mid-point of the novel. And it was a gut-wrenching chapter, painfully difficult for me to write and undoubtedly difficult for some readers to read, because it involves a painfully slow and agonizing death. (Can I say that without giving the plot away? I guess so.) Everything comes crashing to a halt with that chapter.

When the next one opens, it will involve the main characters picking up the pieces and discovering how much each of their lives is now going to change. Not one of them will be able to move blithely on without dealing with that death.

The next chapter also starts a new year and, in fact, a new decade of rapid and somewhat mind-boggling developments -- technological growth, social change, three more amendments to the constitution, a world war, an influenza pandemic, political struggles over prohibition and women's suffrage, the Russian Revolution, and even a total eclipse of the sun. And that is not a period of history with which I am totally familiar. It will involve much intese research.

So I have said to myself, "Self, you are not ready to move on from here. This grand tale needs to marinate for a while. When you are ready to tell the rest of the story, you will know it. But this is not the moment.

Where did the idea come from that everyone had to write 50,000 words in the month of November? I have long argued that 50,000 words is not long enough to call the product "a book." A novella, perhaps, or a "good start," but for this story, stopping at 50,000 words would leave me paddling frantically against a current with no destination yet in sight.

When I registered for this year's marathon, I answered the question of "how many words do you plan to write?" with the expected "50,000. "But why? Why not 40,000? So I'm changing the rules.  My goal  was to write 50,000 words or tell the first half of this story, whichever came first. I'm through. I've told the story, and now there are other responsibilities calling to me, the most important of which is a new book launch coming up in five weeks.

Sue me. Tell me I'm a failure. Put down your cheerleading pompoms. And let's move on, shall we?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sure Enough. We're Related within Six Degrees of Everybody!

A quick amendment to my post earlier in the week on "Six Degrees of Separation."  The relationship should read "My mother's niece's husband's second cousin (twice removed), Ida McKinley, wife of President William McKinley."

Since the McKinleys had only two daughters, neither of whom survived past childhood, Ida's cousins were her only living relatives -- thus the tickets to the auction where my mother snatched up that mirror.

Thanks to my cousin Sharyn (first cousin once removed) for the handwritten family records that finally revealed the relationship.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Countdown to January 3, 2016 (only 45 days to go)

The second volume of the Grenville Trilogy --Yankee Reconstructed -- will launch on January 3, 2016.  It picks up the story of the Grenville family after the Civil War and follows them through the turmoil of Reconstruction.I am spending most of my free hours planning the launch and line-by-line proof reading of the first proof copy of the book to come off the press.

Here's the progress I've made so far:

First, we have a final cover. The image is a shot of the ruins of the Old Sheldon Church outside of Beaufort, SC. These ruins play an important recurring role in the story. Who is that shadowy figure? I will leave that to your imagination.

Second, preorders are now available for the electronic editions at Kindle, Smashwords, B&N, and Kobo. Right now, you can order your copy at the introductory price of $3.99. On January 3rd, the price increases to $5.99.

And now, -- the best part --you can get your first look at the book trailer, right here

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Those Six Degrees of Separation

I have reached the beginning of the twentieth century in my first rough draft of the third volume of the Grenville Sagas. The next notable event was the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901. Naturally I had to stop and do some historical research.

McKinley was in his second term of office. On September 6th,  he attended a public reception at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. A young anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, shot him at close range. Czolgosz was an American citizen, a steel worker, and the son of Polish immigrants. The shot was not immediately fatal, but the president died of gangrene eight days later, and was succeeded by his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt.
I was thinking about various current events, and also wondering what my characters, who had also lived through the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, would have thought about another act of violence. But first, I needed to deal with creature comforts. Its a cold, cloudy, damp morning, and although I know it's November, I'm not ready to turn on the furnace and admit that winter is here. So I decided to switch on the gas fireplace for an hour or two to take the chill off. I walked into the living room, as I've done thousands of times in the past eleven years. I glanced at the mirror above the fireplace out of long habit. (Who doesn't sneak a look when they pass a mirror once in a while?)

Then it hit me. The mirror I was looking at once also reflected the image of William McKinley. How did that happen? The story, once again, goes back to those eight McCaskey sisters. The McKinley family was from Canton, Ohio, which you may only know as the location of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But for the McCaskey girls, Canton was a tempting destination. It sits across the state border from North Sewickley. It was a booming metropolis founded by a bunch of wealthy steel magnates, while North Sewickley had remained a backwoods settlement. It was where one went in search of fame and fortune, apparently.  One by one, the McCaskey girls found a way to move there.

Now we fast-forward to the nineteen forties. My mother had managed to marry the boss, and for the first time in her entire life, she had money to spend. She had left many of her friends behind, but there were always family members near by. She was particularly close to her sister Florence's second daughter, Helen, and the two of them enjoyed shopping sprees together. There's a whole story here about Helen that I can't relate because I don't know the details (maybe Helen's daughter will fill them in.). What I do know is that Helen had married someone who was related by another marriage to the McKinley family. And when the McKinley family mansion and its contents were finally put up for auction, Helen and my mother had wrangled tickets to the show.

Now my mother was one of the original "material girls." Because she had grown up in great poverty, she valued THINGS. And at that auction, she fell in love with an antique mirror. And she bought it. I have no idea how much she paid for it, or even how she managed to get the thing home. It's about four feet square and surrounded by a frame of gilded (Naturally! this was the Gilded Age) plaster of Paris roses.

The mirror hung in the living room of my childhood. When my mother died, I inherited it,  and I entrusted it to a whole succession of Air Force movers who shuffled us and our belongings back and forth across the country. The plaster of Paris framework is cracked at all its weakest points, but the cracks are clean and almost invisible unless you happen to grasp the mirror at the wrong point -- in which case a rose will come off in your fingers until you tuck it back in. The silvering on the back has held up remarkably well. And here it still hangs, over a century old, providing a link between me and a historical event I knew almost nothing about until this week.

My mother's niece's husband's cousin's family's  . . .  Six degrees of separation, indeed.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Things They Don't Tell You about NaNoWriMo

I've uncovered two underlying fault lines in that rock-hard theory that a writer can sit down every day for a month and churn out a set number of words -- with the result that a book miraculously appears at the end of thirty days. Oh, there are any number of people who will tell you they've done it (Hell, I've done it!), and there are book publishers out there who are ready to turn those wonderful thoughts into printed pages. Sure there are.

BUT -- there's always a but.

One comes from the assumption that the Muse is always on call. Often, she is. I have those days when the characters grab my story line and start talking to themselves in my head, as fast as I can hit the keys.  And if I'm interrupted--a neighbor drops by, an urgent request arrives in e-mail, or the cat food runs out, I can stop typing and take care of the problem without interrupting my line of thought. I can empty the dishwasher or fix a light bulb or take out the garbage while the characters keep right on talking in my head.

Yes, yes, don't bother telling me. I know that's another one of those bad signs -- like drinking my coffee black or craving radishes -- that proves I'm a psychopath at heart. That's all right. It's those voices that help a writer write.

On other days, the same characters stick their noses in the air, fold their arms across their chests, turn their backs, and refuse to utter a word. And when they do that, there's no real cure. Any attempt to write while the Muse is on strike produces nothing but drivel.

The other fault line is life itself. The creators of NaNoWriMo sometimes seem to have forgotten that Life with a capital L is no respecter of the plans of ordinary mortals. Things happen. Power goes out. The computer crashes. Some clumsy four-footed monster knocks a glass off the kitchen counter and leaves hundreds of sharp splinters underfoot. And sometimes it's something delightful. A friend receives a prestigious award and invites you to attend the award celebration. A long-distance call re-awakens another friendship. Whether they be good or bad, some interruptions put an end to a whole day's production schedule.

All of which is to say, I haven't had a good week so far. Sunday and Monday were OK, but Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday the 13th were a total loss. Fortunately I have a couple of days' worth of extra words to cushion the lapses. And there's one more day this week to do some repair. Nevertheless, NaNoWriMo has taken a hit, and so has blogging. I'm posting this on both sites as a feeble excuse as I disappear and try to regain my momentum.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Sea island Hurricane of 1893

 The following article was reposted with permission from http://eatsleepplaybeaufort.com/the-sea-island-hurricane-of-1893-4th-deadliest-in-us-history/

The date was August 27th, 1893.  A major hurricane which eventually came to be known as the Sea Islands Hurricane struck head-on near Savannah, Georgia. The surprise storm killed an estimated 2,000+ people, mostly from the heavy storm surge that it carried with it. Many of the dead were inhabitants of the Sea Islands of Beaufort, with 20,000 or more left homeless as nearly every building along the barrier islands was damaged beyond repair.  Some estimated it’s storm surge to be a whopping 16 ft.  This caused a great deal of destruction along the coastline and Sea Islands in both South Carolina and Georgia.  Along with much smaller local islands, St. Helena, Hilton Head, Daufuskie, Parris, and Lady’s Islands were all devastated.

With the loss of life involved, mostly by drowning, this hurricane is actually on a level with 2005′s

Hurricane Katrina as the fourth deadliest hurricane in United States history. This estimated death toll may actually be conservative, when you consider the large populations of rural African-Americans on the Sea Islands who at the time had little means of reporting casualties.

Few warnings were ever given about incoming hurricanes in those days.  Even few accurate meteorological records were taken back at that time, but modern science has recreated the patterns that led to the deadliest storm in Beaufort.

By the evening of the 25th of August, the Category 3 storm was approaching the Bahamas. During the approach it began to deviate from its westerly course and arc west-northwest. It is believed that the first effects of the storm were beginning to be felt in the Sea Islands area, with the winds steadily increasing during the night of the 25th.  Some of the inhabitants anticipated the storm and left the islands as quickly as possible.  By now the hurricane was turning more and more towards the north. It moved parallel to the coast for about one hundred miles before making landfall near Savannah, Georgia on August 27th.

Reports from the time say that wind during landfall was around 120 mph making it a Category 3 storm.  The hurricane passed north over South Carolina on August 28th and moved up the U.S. East Coast before becoming extratropical over Atlantic Canada.

Although the hurricane was devastating, the American Red Cross did not arrive until October 1st.  This was the first major hurricane relief operation ever undertaken by the Red Cross.

The city of Beaufort was covered in debris, making movement through the main streets nearly impossible. To add to the chaos, hundreds and maybe thousands of refugees were said to have migrated to Beaufort searching for food, shelter, and clothing.  All storehouses were ordered to close, and distribution was made under a ration system through distribution centers. After the Red Cross arrived, a warehouse of clothing and food was started in Beaufort to provide services to the affected.
Relief efforts were impeded by a second Category 3 hurricane that struck just north of the area, near Charleston, on October 13th. Eventually, the areas submerged by the Sea Islands Hurricane were drained. Clara Barton wrote in her autobiography of the Sea Islands effort: “The submerged lands were drained, 300 miles of ditches made, a million feet of lumber purchased and homes built, fields and gardens planted with the best seed in the United States, and the work all done by the people themselves.”

She said about 20,000 refugees were living in the streets of Beaufort immediately after the storm. In October, she moved the food distribution sites from Beaufort to the islands to lure people back home.  During a massive 10-month relief campaign, success was declared, with the Sea Islands population living in decent houses producing their own food again. Damages from the storm totaled to at least $1 million (1893 dollars).

-Clara Barton And Beaufort’s Hurricane of 1893
-Our 10 Greatest Natural Disasters
-Encyclopedia of Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Light the Bonfire. It's Time to Remember the Fifth of November.

Over 400 years ago, a young Englishman converted to Catholicism, changed his name to Guido, and offered his military services to the Catholic Spanish army against the Dutch Reformers who were spreading Protestantism in northern Europe. When that war ended, he returned to England and became involved with a group of conspirators planning to blow up the government, assassinate James I, and and place the Catholic James II on the throne of England.

They somehow gained access to cellars beneath Westminster Palace and began stockpiling gunpowder directly under the chambers of the House of Lords. As these things have a way of happening, word leaked out and on the night of November 5, 1605, Guy was caught with the gunpowder. He was tortured for several days and then hanged. That was the origin of the holiday English-speaking peoples know as "Guy Fawkes Day."

What a great holiday it is! There is no big meal to be cooked. Stores don't start their sales at 6:00 AM. No gifts to buy. No cards to be mailed to people whose faces you can't recall. No chipmunks singing silly songs. No catalogs filling your mailbox. No gaudy decorations put up three months in advance. No lies to tell your children. And nobody arguing about whether to call it Guy Fawkes Day or Guy Fawkes night.  Just a gentle little bonfire at the end of the day, or a few fireworks to light up the sky.

Best of all, everybody celebrates. If you side with the conspirators and wish they had managed to blow all those bewigged lords and pompous noblemen to kingdom come, then you celebrate the sheer gumption and ingenuity of these simple men who planned to take on their own Goliath. And if you're horrified by the idea of assassination and think this treacherous little bastard got exactly what he deserved, then you celebrate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot as a sign of the power of the English monarchy. It really doesn't matter which side you take. Everyone likes a cozy fire on a chilly November evening.

The only remaining question is why this article is appearing on a blog dedicated to the stories of the McCaskey family. There is a connection, The first book I published after retirement was  "A Scratch with the Rebels," the story of the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment in the Civil War.* My great-uncle James McCaskey was a sergeant in Company C. The regiment was known as the Roundheads because, almost to a man, they were Scotch-Irish immigrants and staunch Calvinists. They believed they were the natural descendants of Oliver Cromwell's Roundheads during the English Civil War and that God had predestined them to be victorious.

Uncle James and the rest of the Roundheads knew all about Guy Fawkes, and they were definitely on the side that said Fawkes got what was coming to him. Did they celebrate the day? Well, on November 5, 1861, the regiment was on board a large ship, so there were no bonfires. But they made up for that two days later by filling the sky with real fireworks as they attacked the Confederate fortifications on Port Royal Sound, South Carolina.  The next year? By then Uncle James was dead, a victim of his own staunch beliefs that sent him walking confidently into a hail of cannon fire.  But that's another story.

Remind me to switch on the fireplace tonight.

*Shameless Plug: The last few copies of this book are available at 75% off on my website: 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Picture of Happiness

Most of you know that I have started writing a new book, the third volume of the Grenville Sagas, as my NaNoWriMo exercise of the year. So far the writing is going well; I'm at 6,382 words since Sunday, with all afternoon ahead of me yet today.

Part of the reason is that this year I'm well-prepared. The stories on my Blogger website have me geared up. But I also attribute it to getting my office set up for maximum efficiency. Several days ago I posted a question about an article I had just read. A Facebook post had recommended five things everyone needs to have in a happy home. I had four of the five: a hobby, a mess, a hand-me-down, and some almost used-up luxuries. I was missing the plant, but since no one came up with a workable solution for a plant that I could not kill and that the cats would not eat, I compromised and found a tiny spot with no easy cat paw access.

So now I have reassessed:
  1. A Hobby: I figure NaNoWriMo counts.
  2. A Mess: Take a look at that stack of books with all sorts of little slips of paper sticking out.  (And don't look in any of the drawers!)
  3. A Hand-Me-Down:  You can't see it very well at the edge of the picture, but I moved a better office chair in here in hopes that it would be more comfortable for the long haul. There's also a tiny decorative thermometer that used to sit on my mother's desk some 50 years ago.
  4. Some Nearly Used-Up Luxuries: Note a jar of Werther's caramels and a partially burned candle that is supposed to smell like Charleston.
  5. A Plant: Upper right reveals a miniature pink anthurium (warm, humid, and out of direct sunlight)
  6. And my own additional requirement: A Cat. That's 14-year-old Nutmeg, resting in luxury on her very own bean-bag pillow in front of the printer, which she thinks purrs at her. 
Those of you with sharp eyesight will also spot some other motivators -- a bottle of nail-glue to fix a broken finger nail, my MWSA medals hanging on the wall, and a lost-coin jar for an end-of-the month splurge.

We've got this!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Night the City Collapsed

Did you know that Charleston, SC, was nearly destroyed by a massive earthquake in the late 19th century? No, neither did I until recently. I was looking through old headlines, trying to find a reason to move the Grenville family out of Charleston permanently. But I didn't expect to find a report of complete devastation.

It was a Tuesday night, August 31, 1886. The air was still, muggy, swelteringly hot -- a typical August night in coastal South Carolina. High tide had just turned, with the sea beginning its twice-a-day retreat from the shore. The sun had set behind a bank of low dark clouds, trailing a blood-red sky as, perhaps, an omen of what was about to happen. Darkness fell quickly, with almost no light from a new moon. At 9:51 PM, people noticed a tremor and heard a low rumble, which quickly turned into an overpowering cacophony of sounds -- a roar that seemed to go on and on. The ground pitched and rocked, and objects began to fall. First it was only small things, a vase sliding off a table, dishes tumbling from a shelf. Then it was whole buildings that tipped, swayed, and seemed to come apart where they stood.

The Remains of the House at 157 Tradd Street.
Estimates of what happened vary widely. Most reports put the magnitude of the quake at somewhere between 7.0 and 7.8.  At least sixty people were killed -- perhaps as many as 100 -- a few swallowed up by cracks in the earth, but more crushed by collapsing buildings and falling chunks of masonry. Nearly every building in the city suffered major damage, many so serious that the structure would have to be demolished. Again, estimates run from $5 million to 23 million dollars in damage (in the currency of the time.)
Damage on a Side Street

When the rocking and roaring stopped, people stood paralyzed by the enormity of what had just happened. And eight minutes later came another strong aftershock, bringing down teetering survivors. Six more aftershocks  came in the next 24 hours, and over the next three years, some three hundred more continued to shake the beleagered city.

Damage at a Black-Owned Builder's Supply Company
14,000 chimneys fell, many of them pulverized at their base, so that the whole column simply sank into the ground, dragging fireplaces with them and leaving gaping holes in houses that stretched from cellar to roof. Water lines and gas lines broke.  Rail lines were twisted and displaced, some of them tossing locamotives into the air as they moved. Others had their rails twisted into s-shapes. Huge cracks in the earth opened up running parallel to the Ashley River.

And most bizarre, the entire city was pockmarked with "sandblows. " These were miniature volcanoes, spewing a mixture of sand and water is geysers that sometimes reached twenty feet in the air. The sand from one of these "blows"  might leave just a small pile or it could cover an area 300 feet in diameter (the length of a modern football field.) The picture below is from New Zealand, but it gives a clear picture of what these small sandblows left behind.
By Cataclasite (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or

This was the largest earthquake ever recorded on the eastern coast of North America. Related damage was reported in central Alabama, central Ohio, eastern Kentucky, southern Virginia, and western West Virginia. People felt some of the shaking in Chicago, Boston, Bermuda, and New Orleans.

Within days the local paper reported some 40,000 people living in tent cities, struggling just to survive. And that struggle would permanently change the face of Charleston.  The whole story is told in a wonderful book:

Upheaval in Charleston: Earthquake and Murder on the Eve of Jim Crow, written by Susan Millar Williams and Stephen G. Hoffius. (University of Georgia Press, 2011).

And here's another link that provides interesting sidelights -- suggested to me by fellow Lion Ken Moffatt:

Ken Moffett This was indeed a catastrophe. Many years ago while in Charleston, Judy and I took a carriage tour and learned about the earthquake bolts that were installed on many of the buildings following the 'quake to straighten and strengthen walls. Here's a link to an article about them, but I also recently read that scientists have no idea whether they will help in a future event. http://www.ccpl.org/content.asp?id=15729&action=detail...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The World of Book Publishing is Not for the Weak-Knee'd

The following points are shared from Clancy Tucker's Blog: http://clancytucker.blogspot.com/2015/10/29-october-2015-things-to-ponder-about.html

Since I'm about to embark on writing the third volume of stories about the Grenville family, I'm posting them here as a reminder to myself.


1. When it comes to fellow writers, don’t buy into the narcissism of small differences. In all their neurotic, competitive, smart, funny glory, other writers are your friends.
2. Unless you’re Stephen King, or you’re standing inside your own publishing house, assume that nobody you meet has ever heard of you or your books. If they have, you can be pleasantly surprised.

3. At a reading, 25 audience members and 20 chairs is better than 200 audience members and 600 chairs.

4. There are very different ways people can ask a published writer for the same favor. Polite, succinct, and preemptively letting you off the hook is most effective.

5. Blurbs achieve almost nothing, everyone in publishing knows it, and everyone in publishing hates them. 

6. But a really good blurb from the right person can, occasionally, make a book take off.

7. When your book is on best-seller lists, people find you more amusing and respond to your emails faster.

 8. When your book isn’t on best-seller lists, your life is calmer and you have more time to write. 
9. The older you are when your first book is published, the less gratuitous resentment will be directed at you. 

10. The goal is not to be a media darling; the goal is to have a career. 

11. The farther you live from New York, the less preoccupied you’ll be with literary gossip. Like cayenne pepper, literary gossip is tastiest in small doses. 

12. Contrary to stereotype, most book publicists aren’t fast-talking, vapid manipulators; they’re usually warm, organized youngish women (yes, they are almost all women) who love to read. 

13. Female writers are asked more frequently about all of the following topics than male writers: whether their work is autobiographical; whether their characters are likable; whether their unlikable characters are unlikable on purpose or the writer didn’t realize what she was doing; how they manage to write after having children.

 14. If you tell readers a book is autobiographical, they will try to find ways it isn’t. If you tell them it’s not autobiographical, they will try to find ways it is.

15. It’s not your responsibility to convince people who don’t like your books that they should. Taste is subjective, and you’re not running for elected office. 

16. By not being active on social media, you’re probably shooting yourself in the foot. That said, faking fluency with or interest in forms of social media that don’t do it for you is much harder than making up dialogue for imaginary characters.

17. If someone asks what you do and you don’t feel like getting into it, insert the word freelance before the word writer, and they will inquire about nothing more. 

18. If you read a truly great new book and feel more excited than jealous, congratulations, you’re a writer.

 19. Fiercely, fiercely, fiercely protect your writing time. 

20. It’s OK to let your book be published if you can see its flaws but don’t know how to fix them. Don’t let your book be published if it still contains flaws that are fixable, even if fixing them is a lot of work.
21. Talking about how brutally difficult it is to write books is unseemly. Unless you’re the kind of writer who’s been imprisoned by the dictatorship where you live and is being advocated for by PEN American Center, give it a rest.

22. Books bring information, provocation, entertainment, and comfort to many people. You’re lucky to be part of that.

 23. Sometimes good books sell well; sometimes good books sell poorly; sometimes bad books sell well; sometimes bad books sell poorly. A lot about publishing is unfair and inscrutable. But… 
24. …you don’t need anyone else’s approval or permission to enjoy the magic of writing — of sitting by yourself, figuring out which words should go together to express whatever it is you’re trying to say.

Monday, October 26, 2015

When a Son Goes to War

There is little evidence that Caroline McCaskey maintained a close relationship with her remaining brother and sister, although both Emma and Henrich lived with their families in Ellwood City during their lifetimes.  My mother, certainly, never mentioned her Schweinsberg cousins.  Why? Who knows? A family falling out? Pressure from her husband to spend any extra time with his side of the family? Or did her younger brother and sister just get busy with their own lives in the city, conveniently forgetting about an older sister, living on a run-down farm and left widowed and responsible for eight daughters at a relatively young age? Whatever the cause,  I may get to play with my own theory if I put them into a novel.

In the meantime, I did find one small connection.  In the same little box that held my great-uncle James's Civil War letters, two newspaper clippings reveal a cousin who fought in World War I. Wilmer Schweinsberg was Henrich's oldest son, born in February 1895, just about the time that the young son of  Carolina and Joseph was dying of diphtheria. Did Wilmer become something of a replacement for the son the family lost? Maybe so. It's a novelist's privilege to imagine such a connection.

Wilmer Schweinsberg went to war at the end of 1917. By June 1918, he was a sergeant in the Medical Department of the 15th Field Artillery in northern France. The first clipping  contains a letter from him written to his parents on June 7, 1918.  He cannot tell them where he has been or where he is going, but later commendations suggest he was in the Champagne region northeast of Paris -- first at Chateau-Thierry and later at Soissons, which is probably the "very old  French town" he describes.

Most of his letter is concerned with the horrible treatment he sees the Germans handing out to French civilians. He witnessed whole trainloads of old men and women being deported, while other trains carry loads of "young and pretty girls, the favorite prey of the Germans." That whole scene came as something of a surprises to me. Normally I think of trains of deportees being a feature of the roundup of Jews in WWII. In this case, apparently, the reason behind the deportations was not so much religious as it was an attempt to simply get rid of the useless old folks who could not be put to work.

The girls, of course, were another whole story. Later in the same letter, Wilmer tells his parents that he and another chap have rented a room in a farmhouse. The girl whose room it used to be has been sent to Paris on this drive, while her mother is still minding the cow, chickens, and rabbits. The mother seems to be taking good care of the American boys, even providing them with a phonograph and a recording of the "Blue Danube" waltz. In return, he has given her his gas mask in case of attack.

A second small clipping, dated December 12, 1918, reports that Wilmer has been promoted, "becoming the First Sergeant of the Medical Department of one of the most famous regiments in Europe, the 15th Field Artillery."

 I'm happy to report that Wilmer survived the war and returned to Ellwood City, where he continued to work in various medical capacities until he died at the age of 66..  He married a nurse who lived to be 103. They had three sons, two of whom are possibly still alive.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

You've Met the Scotch-Irish; Now Meet the Germans

My grandfather, Joseph Lyle McCaskey, was all Scotch-Irish, but my grandmother, Karolina Schweinsberg, was German. Her parents (who would be my great-grandparents) were Johan F. Schweinsberg, (1831 - 1892) born in Prussia, and Philippine Jung, (1831 - 1906) born in Rheinland-Pfalz. I do not have a marriage date or an immigration date for either of of them, but their first child was born in western Pennsylvania in 1847, when they were both only 16 years old.

I can trace Johan's family back one further generation, and the Jung family for three generations, taking me to some great-great-great-great-grandparents living in Rheinland-Pfalz at the beginning of the eighteenth century. There are no details, however, beyond birthdates. Having found neither any horse-thieves or any relatives that seem closely connected to a great philosopher, I am content to let buried ancestors stay buried.

I was curious, however , about my grandmother's siblings -- wondering why I did not hear more about her brothers and sisters.  A little probing turned up some sad details.
  • John Fredrich was born in 1847 and died in 1886. That was before my mother's birth, so she would not have known that family.
  • Wilhelm J. was born in 1854 and died in 1887.  That makes two brothers who died in their thirties.
  • Johannes was born in 1855, and there is no further record of him, even in census listings.
  • Karolina was born in 1858 and died in 1933.
  • Karl Henrick was born in 1860 and died at age eleven.
  • Maria was born in 1862 and died at age nine.
  • Henrick A. was born in 1864 and was last heard of at the age of ninety-six. (Talk about a changling!)
  • Jacob was born in 1867 and died within his first year.
  • Fredrich was born in 1869 and died at age 3.
  • Emma Margaret was born in 1871 and died in 1942.
Family tally:
  • 10 births
  • 5 died in childhood
  • 2 died in their middle to late thirties
  • only 3 lived to their Biblical three-score and ten or beyond
With that in mind, take another look at the picture at the top of this page. That's Karolina Schweinsberg McCaskey seated on the left, and her mother, Philippina Jung Schweinsberg, on the right. That's Minnie (Wilhelmina) McCaskey Swick standing and holding baby Gladys Swick.

I grew up with an enlargement of that picture on my mother's dressing table, and I always wondered why they were all wearing black on what seemed to be a happy occasion. Now I understand. Poor Great-Grandmother Phillippina must have spend most of her adult life in mourning garments.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The McCaskeys in the 1870s

The 1870 Census for Pennsylvania is as important for what it does not say as for what it does say.  Here’s why. Looking up the McCaskey name in Beaver County reveals nothing.  What happened to that large family?  Where are they?

The first part of the answer lies with the Civil War.  The oldest McCaskey son, James, shown as a 21-year-old farmhand enlisted in the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment in August, 1862, and went off to fight in the Civil War. He was killed in the Battle of Secessionville, on James Island, SC, on June 16, 1862. 

The McCaskey family remained in North Sewickley throughout the war, but when the other members of the 100th Pennsylvania (Roundheads) came home, John McCaskey found the reminders of his son too much to bear. He decided to uproot the family and move to Kansas.  I haven’t been able to find many details of their adventures.  Most of what I know comes from my mother’s stories, which she had heard from her father, who was still a young teenager when the family became pioneers again. So I don’t know when they left Pennsylvania, or what route they took toward Kansas. All I know for sure is that by June 1870, when the census taker came around, the McCaskey farm was empty.

Next door, however, the adjoining farm was now occupied by Simon P. Fisher, the local blacksmith, and his wife, Sarah Jane McCaskey Fisher. When were they married? Well, their oldest daughter Louisa was 16 in 1870, so she was born in 1854. It seems safe to date their marriage to some time around 1853. The Fishers had a large family. By 1870, Louisa had been joined by John C., 13; Eunice E., 10; Wilhelmina, 8; Joseph Grant, 6; Emma J., 3; and a second Louisa, age 1. Also rounding out the household was Eunice McCaskey, Sarah Jane’s sister, age 26.  I know that Eunice never married. Her tombstone in the North Sewickley cemetery puts her death on January 13, 1895. But I don't know why she stayed in Pennsylvania when the rest of the family took off for Kansas. 

And what about those pioneers on their way to Kansas? My mother described the trip in a typical Conestoga wagon, with a crate of chickens for eggs, a cow tied to the back of the wagon, and two old horses pulling the wagon loaded with two adults and three teen-aged sons, John, Theodore, and Joseph. Somewhere along the way, Great-Grandfather John contracted consumption, and his wife and sons persuaded him to turn around and go home. Again, I don't know when they returned, but GGF John died at home in 1875.  It was at that point that Jane McCaskey commissioned three matching tombstones -- one for John, one for herself, and one to mark the empty grave of son James, who had died in the war. In an old notebook I have an unreadable xerox copy of John's will and the appointment of John Jr. and Simon P. Fisher as co-executors of his estate.

That's about all I know of the early McCaskeys.  Of the children of John and Jane, the only one I have found no further trace of is Theodore -- still waiting for a long-lost cousin to turn up.  Or perhaps he never married.  John Jr.'s family just recently contacted me.  He apparently married a woman named Anne Emory, and fathered a son, Joseph Lyle.  Joseph Lyle's grand-daughter is currently working on that family line.  And of course, little Joseph, the baby of the McCaskey family, was my own grandfather and the father of those eight girls with whom we started this family chronicle.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The McCaskey Family in Mid-19th Century

The McCaskeys start turning up again in the 1850 Pennsylvania Census. In Beaver County, Franklin Township (which adjoins Butler County to the east), the family matriarch, Nancy Little McCaskey, is still alive, living on the family farm at age 90. I assume she died sometime thereafter, but there is no record.

In the North Sewickley Cemetery, where I would have expected her to be buried, I found a detached stone, propped up precariously against the back of another family marker.  It contained only one word: NANCY. The cemetery records have no mention of that stone, and it has now disappeared.
GAH! Family graves are beginning to seem very impermanent. In my more romantic views, I think that Nancy was such a force of nature that everyone would have known who  was meant.  No need for dates for this timeless pioneer woman who came across the Atlantic in steerage with eight children in tow to start a new life in the backwoods of western Pennsylvania.

In the household with her were two of her sons -- Andrew, now 55, seems never to have married and is listed as a farmhand. John, age 52, is married to Jane, age 40, and is listed as head of household. He and Jane have four children: Sarah Jane, age 17 and probably already hanging out in Fisher's barn (For the full story behind that phrase, see:  http://www.katzenhausbooks.com/blog/ancestors.aspx); James, 11; Eunice, 8; and John 3.

In 1860, the family roster has changed. Both Nancy and Andrew are gone, and so is Sarah Jane, missing along with Simon P. Fisher, the oldest son of neighbor Conrad Fisher.  I presume they are married but cannot find a record of that.  Balancing out the missing persons, however, are James, 21; Eunice, 18: and John, 13; along with two new sons, Theodore, age 8 and Joseph, age 6.

And then the Civil War changed everything.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The McCaskeys, Fresh off the Boat from Ireland

Records of the early McCaskey family are sketchy at best.  They seem to have emigrated from Northern Ireland, which had been  colonized by Scottish and English Protestants, setting Ulster somewhat apart from the rest of Ireland, which was predominantly Catholic. They were not really escaping religious persecution, however, and they moved out long before the potato famine. The problems seems to have centered on falling flax prices.  Whatever the reason, John and Nancy Little McCaskey packed up their children -- Jane, Joseph, Andrew, Nancy, William, John, James, and little Sarah -- and claimed steerage passage to America at the end of the 18th century.  There are no passenger records in steerage, so we can't be sure when they arrived. 

They soon joined other Scotch Irish immigranats in western Pennsylvania, where land was still easily available for the clearing. Records show that John, William, and Andrew signed on with local militias as soon as they were old enough to do so. John, Andrew, and William made formal petition to become American citizens by renouncing all allegiance to the King of Great Britain in 1824 and 1825.  By some odd quirk of historical preservation, I have those papers.

It did not take the McCaskey sons long to scatter. A letter dated 9 Nov, 1826, came from Smithfield Township in Jefferson County, Ohio. William McCaskey informed his mother, Jane McCaskey, that he was working on the turnpike in Ohio and suggested that his brothers John and Joseph  could make  a lot of money if they wanted to join him the following spring.  Now that weather had halted roadwork for the winter, he was working as a stonecutter.  He reported that brother James has been visiting since October and had been ill, although he was getting better after taking medicine from an Indian doctor.  James was apparently a traveling salesmen, purchasing goods in Pittsburgh and then selling then in the countryside.

Two of the daughters also traveled on to Ohio with their American husbands. A May 30, 1833 letter arrived from Conneaut, Ohio.  Allen Law wrote to his brother-in-law John McCaskey to tell him  that he and his wife Nancy McCaskey were in tolerably good health but would like to return to Pennsylvania.  He wanted the McCaskeys to be on the lookout for a piece of land in their area.  He was willing to pay $600 down, followed by $200 in April, and then $100 a year for the next three or four years.  I have no further evidence about that family, except for a strange 1838 local newspaper with the name Allen Law written at the bottom.

On Aug. 25, 1835, John Dullaghan, Jr. sent worse news from Wooster, Ohio. He reports that his father had died on Aug. 3rd  of consumption.  Junior himself has had fever that settled in his knees, and his mother, Jane McCaskey, had been unable to use her arms for two months.  Nevertheless, they planned to pay a visit to the Pennsylvania family in the next month or two if they could get their old wagon repaired.  I've had a bit of correspondence from a possible cousin showing that the family name of John Dullaghan continued to be passed down from generation to generation, but there are unexplained gaps in our genealogical data.

The onlyother  one of the McCaskey children I can trace further is John Jr., who is my great-grandfather, and he's the one whose very grave has disappeared.