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Reinventing Myself: a Second-career Author

desk

The Cave: a creation corner

M.K. Tod, in her excellent blog, A Writer of History, recently posed a series of questions for those who “…think of yourself as being a second-career author…” Well, that is undoubtedly me. With my first book, The Scattering of Stones, debuting, along with a few more wrinkles, in early February 2018, I most certainly qualify. While Ms. Tod solicited guest posts, I decided to answer her questions here on my own blog. She’s welcome to use anything I have to say. I love her site and would be honored. So, here we go.

  • Question 1: “What sort of career did you have before becoming a writer?”

My life has been a series of reinventions. First, in my twenties, I was a dancer and artist. Next, in my thirties, I was a mother (still am). Then, in my forties and fifties I was an elementary school teacher and principal. When I retired, everyone asked me what I was going to do next, and I always replied, “I’m going to reinvent myself.” I did.

  • Question 2: “Was there a triggering event that prompted you to begin writing.”

The usual answer to this question is: “I’ve always written.” It’s not so different for me. As a preteen I wrote Little House on the Prairie knockoffs. A book of names that my parents owned is underlined in ink, a testament to my name research for the characters in my stories. I wrote in my Anais Nin style diaries incessantly during the college angst years. As a curriculum specialist, language arts and history were my specialties, and my career as an educator required extensive writing. But while reinventing myself in retirement, I delved deep into genealogy and wrote a history for my family. I kept wondering about the emotion behind the lives I discovered, beyond birth and death dates on a page. So I included my imaginings in the book, using italics to separate them from fact. When my son told me he liked those imaginings and thought I should write a book, I did. Then I wrote another and am writing another.

  • Question 3: “Do you now write full time or part time?”

I’m obsessive. With research, blog, fiction, and non-fiction, I “work” about 35 hours a week. My husband demands an equitable amount of attention.

  • Question 4: “What parts of the writing career do you enjoy the most/the least?”

Taking a few factoids about everyday humans, pulling them up from the reaches of the past, and depositing them in the world of my imagination? That fills me with joy. Having these characters take over my being and write their stories? How exciting is that! Researching a time and a place? Traveling to that place, and meeting people who have the same passion? I love learning. (I haven’t figured out the time travel thing yet, except in my mind.)

I’ve even come to appreciate the tedious: blocking out the story, editing, editing again, waiting for publication, editing again, and waiting some more. While “appreciate” might be too strong a word, I see the importance of these tasks. However, because I started writing late in life, waiting for query replies, editor timelines, and publishing opportunities is, well, frustrating.

The hardest thing, though, is promotion—selling both my book and myself. I was the mom who bought all the See’s Candy my child had to sell, a version of task avoidance. I just don’t have the hard-sell gene.

  • Question 5: “What parts of your former career do you miss/not miss?”

Which former career? Life is a journey. I love the place I hang my hat.

  • Question 6: “Do you have any regrets?”

Of course, but they have nothing to do with my various renditions of myself.

  • Question 7: “What advice would you offer other second career writers?”

Beyond watching out for too many ellipses and the corralling of commas, get feedback, listen to it, prepare yourself to be hurt by it, don’t take it too seriously (yeh, right), and then digest it and learn from it. If you are doing what you love, as with any reinvention of your life, you will grow into your dream.

(By the way, besides surveys such as these, M. K. Tod’s blog site includes historical fiction book reviews and writing tips. Check her out here.)

A New Book and an Old Postcard

xmas postcard 1frontMy own special Christmas gift just arrived! My historical fiction book, The Scattering of Stones, comes out in early February, 2018. I confess, working on this book, along with one in the wings and one in the works, has curtailed my genealogy investigations a bit. I’ll get back to that addiction soon.

Until then, and in honor of the season, I am posting some wonderful postcards my mother, Hattie Beatrice Schulz Croy, gave to me. Her mother, Susannah Johanna Meyer, saved them as a teenager[i] in the early 20th century when postcards were the equivalent of Facebook.

So what can we learn from a postcard? Let’s take a look.xmas card 1 back

  • Susie was thirteen years old.
  • She lived in Millston, Wisconsin as of November 15, 1909
  • Postage was one cent for a postcard
  • It had rained in early November 1909
  • Susie’s friend was Hattie S. (Check out my mother’s name!)

[i] Susie was born on July 12, 1896 in Shelby, La Crosse, Wisconsin to John Meyer and Mary Herman Ancestry.com. Wisconsin, Births and Christenings Index, 1801-1928 [accessed December 2017]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

 

A Bennington, Vermont Thank You

 

jonah

Jonah Spivak, happy promoter of Bennington and its history, standing at the Tory Redoubt.

Finally I am at my computer, having crawled out from books thick with facts and rich with wonder … my escape from a bone-deep writing inertia. So, first: a tribute to the highlight of my New England excursion, visiting the home sites of my ancestor Samuel Payne.

 

I saw the typical and less typical sites—traveled the road from Lexington to Concord where the American Revolution began; sat on the banks of Walden Pond with my new copy of Walden; walked the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Hubbardton in Vermont; and wandered around the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. (Haven’t been? Go … very tourista, but oh so interesting!)

The highlight of my trip, though, was meeting Jonah Spivak who honored me with an all-encompassing tour of the sites of the Battle of Bennington. The battle took place in New York just over the border from Vermont near Bennington.

First, I commend and thank Jonah for his generosity. He gave his time to someone he didn’t know who arrived from across the nation, California no less, claiming an interest in Bennington’s history. He and his friends were expert in the area’s history; I was a novice at best. He took a chance.

We met for lunch at the delicious Tap House at Catamount Glass where he answered my every question. He loves the human stories and he is an entertaining storyteller. The stories he told highlighted the local nuance of the Revolutionary War conflict—the animosity between “Yorkers” and settlers on the Grants (the New Hampshire Grants which would become Vermont); the brother against brother divide created by the conflict; the strategic importance of each actor and setting in the story.

 

Bennington Monument

Colonel Seth Warner’s Statue at the Bennington Battle Monument in Bennington, VT

And then there was the physical tour. My husband and I had already spent a lovely afternoon walking around the Bennington Battle Monument and its environs, so he drove me first to the Tory Redoubt, pointing out important places along the way. Next we climbed a little knoll to where the British opposition forces had (likely) first placed their three-pounder cannons. We walked the Hessian Hill, and he took time to orient me to north and south. The original map of the battle drawn Desmaretz Durnford places north not at the top of the page, but to the right side of the page. (include map here)

Dunford Battle of Bennington

Position of the Detachment under Lieut. Col. Baum and attacks of the Enemy on the 16th August at Walmscock near Bennington courtesy of Library of Congress, Map Division (with north oriented to the right on the map)

I got it! Then we traveled to the site of the second battle where he pointed out the rocky ledge mentioned in original accounts. The knowledge I gained, in combination with the physical sense of place, enhanced everything I knew and would learn about the battle and the times.

 

It was a good lesson for me—for all of us—in the importance of taking a chance on a stranger and sharing what we know. Besides, it was just plain fun meeting someone with a common enthusiasm. And because of it my understanding of this unique time in our Nation’s history increased exponentially.

Here is a list of books he recommended (or I discovered) that bring the important (and often overlooked) history of the New Hampshire Grants and their role in the Revolutionary War to life.

  1. War over Walloomscoick by Phillip Lord, Jr., New York State Museum Bulletin No. 473 (The University of the State of New York, State Education Department) This is an amazing book on many levels. It details the Durnford map and uses it to explain cultural details of the times as well as key aspects of the battle. I was fascinated! If you have an interest in the 1700’s in general the detail in it is worth the price. BUT, it isn’t easy to find. I finally entered the bulletin number and it popped up on Amazon through a used-book vendor.
  2. No Turning Point: The Saratoga Campaign in Perspective by Theodore Corbett (part of the Campaigns and Commanders Series through University of Oklahoma Press: Norman) Note: He calls it a “perspective” and it is definitely written from his perspective. His choice of adjectives and verbs carries editorial weight. Colonial militiamen are called “rebels” and the Green Mountain Boys, he says, instituted a “reign of terror.” Still, the viewpoint is a valuable juxtaposition to the usually localized populist bent of our histories. I particularly found the British efforts at “pacification” of the Vermonters interesting, as well as the conflicting loyalties found town by town, and the skirmishes within the region preceeding the Battle of Bennington.
  3. The Battle of Bennington: Soldiers and Civilians by Michael P. Gabriel (The History Press, Charleston, SC) I love this kind of book! Gabriel took artifacts of the period, including letters, pension applications, first-person accounts and interview, to paint a picture of the conflict—before, during, and after the battle. The accounts are laid out with short introductory narrative. The human reveals the confusion, assumptions, and excuses interwoven into the factual accounting. A great way to illuminate history.
  4. The Revolutionary War in Bennington County: A History and Guide by Richard B. Smith (The History Press, Charleston, SC) Based on the number of book tags, this book ranked high in usefulness. Smith divides the book into a history of the area during the revolution, an excellent overview for a novice like me, and a tour of the key landmarks. Again I found the commentary accompanying the “tours” insightful. But as a tourist in Bennington, driving its roads, I was pretty lost, and opportunities to turn out and really see the places he mentions was near to impossible. Luckily, he gives tours. Unluckily, I wasn’t able to attend one. (And, luckily, I met Jonah on line!)
  5. Honorable mentions and books still to be read: Chipman and Sparks Memoir of Colonel Seth Warner/The Life of Colonel Ethan Allen, Ethan Allen’s Reason, and Moses Robinson and The Founding of Vermont by Robert A Mello (hard to find). And Jonah says, “Richard Ketchum’s Saratoga is suggested reading … it covers the whole of the 1777 campaign, but contains a really excellent chapter on the Battle of Bennington and one of the best descriptions of the battle. I’d also be remiss to not mention the book by Phil Holland, The Battle of Bennington and the Bennington Battle Monument which is a very nice short book and included one gem of information regarding the existence of a cannon on the American side!”

IF you love history, and IF you are unfamiliar with the unique history of Vermont, the Canadian “invasion,” or the Battle of Bennington, I urge you to investigate. How little I knew about this fascinating period and place, and how thankful I am to Jonah Spivak for being my “boots on the ground.”

 

The Ghosts in Place

 

firey sky

Claiming our land by its view

I walked through my garden and then to the top of our hill. The autumn tinged world blanketed me, holding me close. And I disappeared—a ghost in place—a place that’s enveloped me for 45 years.

 

In this way, I was reminded.

I go seeking my ancestors often, mostly in my mind and on the computer. But every once in a long while, I seek them out by place. Not their place on Google Earth or a historic map (though they help in my echo-location). I seek them out on land.

So far no house has marked their lifeline—no barn, no mill, no crumbled remains.

 

bedford

On Gladen Run in Londonderry Township, Bedford County, PA

I’ve met their ghosts on the edge of Gladen Run, amongst a host of autumn saplings; was introduced to them as I bumped along on a quad with someone who knew the land—there on that rise is where I think they built their sawmill.

 

I’ve felt them, knew they worked a mill above that dip in a road in Rose Township, so I took a picture. Sure enough, the woman at the historical center confirmed it. She lived nearby.

They pointed me toward them, by either serendipity or otherworldly intervention, to Tick Ridge Road. I drove the hill, drawn by its magnificent view. Did the Croy family settle in that place because of the view, same as us when we claimed our land?

Most recently I traveled New England—wet, wonderful New England—the place where the Payne part of me began. I zipped into the little park on the Green River where Samuel Payne built his first family home. I knew it had been there, but where? It didn’t matter. The specter of him and Abby Graham Payne danced there.

green river

At the little park on the Green River in Williamstown, MA

 

 

riparian sunderland

A riparian jungle on the Batten Kill in Sunderland, VT

In Vermont, they hid in the riparian scrub that conceals the little Batten Kill and its tributary, Mill Brook. I tried to find their spirit. But, after three times driving back and forth along the railroad, stopping and going to the workmen’s demands, head jerking back and forth (there? No there?), after crossing the river and sloshing through the grass for a picture, not of river but of the overgrowth hiding it, I nodded to their stealth and said goodbye.

 

 

new haven

A shot of New Haven Harbor from East Rock

Down in New Haven, Connecticut, I wandered the future their world had wrought. An industrial malaise—the smell, the poverty, the sprawl—crowned by East Rock Park. The ghosts who walked the harbor in the 1600’s had retreated there—out of self-preservation, I think, if such a think exists in phantom beings.

 

Mostly my ancestor’s human efforts, their marks on the land, are gone: no house, no fence, no garden rose. Repossessed by nature, the reseeding of any human claim to ownership. At times their efforts were erased by progress: railroads, drainage basins, and industrial zones.

Only their ghosts remain.

This week we poured cement to make our aging easier: less weeding, hoeing, back-bending effort. We’ve spent most of our lives improving our land. And yet—in two hundred, three hundred years—what will exist? The ghost of me, imagining the crush of acorns under foot as I walk an autumn road, taking in the crisp air, the buckeye bulbs hanging from the trees, smiling to a human form (a descendent perhaps?) in a place without a trace of me.

Ohio Genealogical Society Thank You

My article—The Croy Boys:Seven Sons Serving in the Civil War—is in the just-published OGSQ. Have ancestors from Ohio? Join the Ohio Genealogical Society! It is a fabulous organization, and you get access to so much—including all the Quarterly publications. Go to “Civil War” in blog categories in the right-hand column and find out more about these boys.

On Research, Vermont, and a Vacation Announcement

 

vermontgovrecords01waltrich_0009

Find the details of people’s lives, including specific ancestors, in records of the time.

 

Pinch time! After this posting, I retire for one month to work on the upcoming publication of The Scattering of Stone. Taking a book to publication takes time, and the time is near (exact date not yet known). I just received the completed edits for Scattering, my multi-period American historical fiction novel set in Pennsylvania and Ohio at the end of the eighteenth century. Editing takes careful, line-by-line, word-by-word attention, so I’ll be (happily) busy for a while.

Included in the month hiatus is a trip to New England to research my third book set in 1775-1778, Bennington, Vermont. (And, yes, it’s a pleasure trip, too.) I’ll write about my adventures when I return.

But, for now, let’s talk research! Namely, out-of-print books on line! Genealogy, history, or historical fiction researchers alike, this is an amazing tool. If you’ve read my blog, you’ve heard it me say it before, but REALLY—.

Here’s one more example: the details of the ill will, distrust, fear, and chaos in the midst of war. The document? The Records of the Council of Safety and Governor and Council of the State of Vermont, Vol. I edited by E.P. Walton, Montpelier: Steam Press, 1873. (The bold in these quotes is mine.)

Ill will? Or what do you do with a strong-willed woman?

Arlington, 28 May 1778 “Whereas it has been represented to this Council that the wife of Jeremiah French late of Manchester (now in armes with the Enemy) is very turbulent & Troublesome where she now is, & refuses to obey orders…You are hereby Commanded to Take said Woman and her children…& Transport them to Head-quarters at Rutland & there diliver them to the commanding officer who will order a party of the men…[so] she can go to the enemy in order to git to her husband…” Records, pg. 260

Distrust? September 1777 (after the Battle of Bennington) through early 1778 the council recorded entry after entry dealing with local “enemies” who sided with England, imposing deportations to enemy lines, fines, confiscation of property, passes of travel, or oaths of allegiance. These matters so encumbered the docket that a March 1778 council resolution gave the majority of these duties to the captains guarding Tory jails. An example:

Vermont Council of Safety, 3d September 1777 “Francis Breakenridge is permitted to Return home, & Remain on his father’s home farm, and if found off to expect 39 Lashes of the Beach Seal, until further orders from this Council.” Records, pg. 155

Fear and chaos?

Vermont Council of Safety, Bennington, 28 July 1777 “Whereas the inhabitants of the northwesterly part of this State have been necessitated to remove their families by the encroachment of the enemy, and some are removed to the states of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut:…request such men to return and assist in defending this and the United States of America from the ravages of the enemy…” Records, pg. 138

Oh! And an ancestor in the mix!

Bennington, 6 October 1777 “We are informed that Mr. S. Payne of Sunderland has in his Custody one yoke of oxen the Property of this State which we desire youd Take into Custody immediately.” Addressed to Commissioners of Sequestration Records, pg. 186

Go deep! It’s worth the dig!

And look for great blogs like A Writer of History by MK Todd. (Okay, you can include my blog, as well.) I remember reading the Bernard Cornwell quote she used in her most recent post (found here), and I thank her for reminding me of it. I love Bernard Cornwell’s rousing stories! No matter your research, in fiction, the story’s the thing.

“The most important thing, the all important thing, is to get the story right. Write, rewrite, rewrite again, and do not worry about anything except story. It is story, story, story. That is your business. Your job is not to educate readers on the finer points of Elizabethan diplomacy or Napoleonic warfare, your job is to divert and amuse people who have had a hard day at work. What will get you published? Not style, not research, but story. Once the story is right, everything else will follow.” B. Cornwell

Samuel Payne in Sunderland, Vermont

 

 

Sunderland D Ramsey collection

Sunderland, Bennington County, Vermont Map from David Rumsey Map Collection; Beers, Fredrick W., 1869; Atlas of Bennington County, VT.;Beers, Ellis, & Soule, NY.

I am currently obsessed with Bennington County, Vermont—in particular the township of Sunderland. My reasons?

  1. Samuel Payne, my 4 times great-grandfather[i] lived in Sunderland.
  2. My work in progress fictionalizes Samuel’s time in Sunderland during the Revolutionary War.
  3. My husband and I travel to New England in October, and Bennington is one of our stops.

As usual, the deeper I dig into an area the more details I uncover. Consequently, I’m deep into smallpox and early inoculation, the Green Mountain Boys, the impact of the Revolutionary War on the area, and the conflict between New York and New Hampshire Colonies over the Grants. A stickler for original sources, I am devouring (slowly—it’s a huge banquet) the town records for Sunderland, Manchester, and Bennington found via FamilySearch Wiki. If you have ancestors from Bennington County, I highly recommended these resources.

When I started searching the Sunderland records (See my first post and second post.), I got so excited by what I found that I neglected the first commandment of research—thoroughly document sources. In this case, I omitted the image number for my information, making it hard to return to it. So, back I went to the Family History Center, the only place I can access these records.

This time while carefully documenting, I also worked through the documents more systematically. The Sunderland records are not chronological, have multiple page numbering systems, and mix ear marks, town minutes, vital records, and land records. They require a page-by-page skim and scan approach. And PRESTO!

I found the record for Samuel Payne’s land purchase in Sunderland, Vermont. As I’ve said too many times, I LOVE LAND RECORDS. You can discover so much. Here is an annotated version of Samuel’s deed[ii] to highlight what one land deed can reveal. Note: (?)=illegible I omitted a large section of legal verification in the interest of clarity, but you can find the complete transcript here. Samuel Payne_s deed for land purchase in SunderlandAn endnote corresponds to each bolded portion of the deed.

“Know all men by these (?) that I Stephen Washburn of Sunderland in the County Albany and Province of New York yoman[iii] for aand in consideration of the sum of Sixty Eight pound[iv] Lawfull money to me is paid By Samuel Payen of Williamstown in the County of Burkshire In the Province of the Massetchuset Bay yoman[v] the Receipt where of I do hereby acknowledge & have given granted Bargained (?) and convey and confirm to him the said Samuel Payen his heirs and assign for Ever all my Right title interest claim and Demand I leave of two Lots of Land lying in Sunderland in County and province of P commonly known by No 14 and 21 and also part of the fifty acre lot No 6[vi] Beginning upon the North end of the Lot No 14 Containing ten acres by the same (?) or side all being of the same Division of fifty acre Lots of Land in P township with a Dwelling House[vii] …THIS SECTION OMITTED.

In witness where of I have here unto set my hand on this Seventeeth Day of September in the year one thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy two[viii] and the twelth year of his Magisty Reign (signed) Stephen Washborn in presence of Gideon Brownson Cornelie Brownson

Sign Sealed and Delivered

The (?) of Fifty acre Lots is (?) between the twenty Seventeeth and Eighteenth Lines

Bennington April 29th 1789 then the within named Stephen Washburn personally appearing acknowledged the within instrument to Be his free act and Deed[ix]

This deed ReceivedMarch 6th 1790 by Abner Hill Town clerk[x]

An analysis of lots (see photos) confirms that Samuel Payne lived at the confluence of Batten Kill and Mill Creek. A town history mentioned that Samuel Payne was the first to run a grist mill near the northwest corner of Sunderland, and I had deduced that he would have lived on Mill Brook. A comparison of the lot map and a map of old Sunderland above shows this well.

Scan 1 copy Sunderland lots

A lot plan of Sunderland found at Vermont Maps and Plans. I have enhanced the numbering and outlined the land lots mentioned in the deed. According to the information found at the site “Sunderland was created by a New Hampshire grant in 1761. Princetown, a New York patent (“paper town”) of 1765, was in the area of present Arlington, Dorset, Sunderland and Manchester.”

One more mystery yet unsolved: when did he sell this land? I was unable to find two deeds referenced in the index in which he sold to an Amos Brownson and an Amos Chipman. I wrote to Sunderland’s clerk for advice and have a few ideas of my own.

Meanwhile, back to the Family History Center—did I say I have a new obsession?

[i] Through my father, Ralph Croy, son of Justus Croy, son of Sarah Angelina Smith Croy, daughter of Sephronia Payne Smith, daughter of Zerah Payne, son of Samuel

[ii] Sunderland Town Records Deeds, Vol 3, 1760-1815; image 323; FamilySearch filmed 8 September 1952 [accessed on-line at Family Research Center, Prather, CA on 24 August 2017]

[iii] The original owner, Stephen Washburn, likely owned the land under New York charter when Sunderland was considered by New York as part of Albany County.

[iv] The land (110 acres) cost 68 pounds in 1772.

[v] Confirms other documents from Williamstown records and town histories putting Samuel Payne in Williamstown before moving to Sunderland.

[vi] Samuel Payen (Payne) purchased lots 14, 21 and part of 6 in Sunderland (and likely because of the dispute the province of the Sunderland land was left with a P, neither New York or New Hampshire.)

[vii] The property he bought already had a dwelling house.

[viii] Samuel bought this land on September 17, 1772.

[ix] Stephen Washburn had to appear when Samuel finally entered his deed in the town records April 29, 1789, likely concerned that his property be acknowledged before Vermont became a state. He also had bought property in Panton, Vermont in 1788 (see this post).

[x] I’ve gotten to know and appreciate Abner Hill quite well as I’ve read the town records including his unique spellings and offhand organization.