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:

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:; 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.