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“One Stick at a Time” A Family Fable

one stick

Work to come

I sat in the driver’s seat of the car parked in our garage. A piece of a story unfolded—a movie—but one not in my head. It danced in that in-between place where the mind’s eye plays. As it receded, my shoulders relaxed; my knotted gut began to untie. The story was not lost; it was there.

The launch of both Scattering and Forging were successful. Not like rock star successful but respectable and, well, at least accomplished. The draft of my third book is ready for beta-readers—almost. I still need to give it one last edit.

But the next book lingered in a twist of apprehension, a sensation I suppressed. Vulnerability was not, I thought, a desirable attribute. When in doubt, pretend strength.

But lately I’ve been thinking of a family fable. We call it “One Stick at a Time. The story goes like this.

In the long ago time, when a man and woman first came to this land, an enormous mound of dirt and tree limbs and trunks and bramble, all in a muddle, loomed over them. The pile rose taller than one person standing on the shoulders of the other. It stretched wider than three cars, bumper to bumper…well, maybe two trucks. Say it however you will, it was a mountain; it was big. And overwhelming.

Then a Wise One visited the woman, this time in the visage of an old man. Grey of hair and beard, he hovered before the mound, balanced on a crooked cane. His eyes scanned the mass, his mind considered. He turned to the woman and smiled. “There is nothing,” he said, “that cannot be tackled one stick at a time.”

The woman told her partner what the Wise One had said, and he nodded. They stepped to the mound and each picked up a stick, then a shovel. Sometimes they worked together, sometimes alone.

At night the woman determined her next step. She imagined the new stick or limb she would lift.  When dawn came, her imagination moved her, so she pulled and she dragged, until what she had imagined in the night stood before her, as real as light of day.

Then, one night at a time, the pile diminished and the greater vision unfolded: of a land cleared of debris, flourishing where confusion and doubt once reigned. And, while the work took place, birds flit through the bramble, the man and woman’s bodies grew strong, and they discovered how to clear a space where ideas could grow.

So it is with any story. At first, it seems a jumble, disconnected and unclear. No matter how much you plan its structure or talk through your ideas, you must step forward. You must pick up the first stick.

Every story I’ve written began with doubt. Then the story blew in, one scene at a time, its Wise-One presence appearing sometimes in a car, sometimes before an impossible obstacle, and always just in time. So I will trust that place where my mind’s eye plays, and I will carry on, as I hope you will—one stick at a time.

at a time

It does get done—one stick at a time.

 

A Second Edition and a Plea for Help

 

Scattering

Purchase or write a review HERE.

It’s up! The second edition of The Scattering of Stones is now available on Amazon. I am very proud of it. (I don’t easily admit such things.) It corrects a few minor errors, has a clean, very readable interior, and sports a fabulous new cover created by Pam Mullins. The cover design visually links the upcoming books in the series, which I have dubbed THE MAGGIE CHRONICLES.

When I first wrote The Scattering of Stones, I had no idea that Maggie Smith, the “present day” researcher in my historical novel, would decide that she was not done! Her fictional research (combined with my real research) unearthed more stories, and she insisted I tell them. Maggie is a very persistent woman.

To those who read Scattering when it first came out, enjoyed it, and then wrote great reviews and sent heartwarming notes, I thank you.

Now I need your help!

If you read my first book and enjoyed it, please write a review for the version showing the cover above. Just click here, scroll down to where it says, “Write a customer review,” click again, and write away. Or you could just cut and paste your old review to the page—or simply give the book a star rating with no comment. I would appreciate it so much.

Here is why!

My previous publisher and I are having trouble pulling the old version of Scattering from Amazon’s on-line sales. Because that edition has more reviews attached to it, and because Amazon does not transfer reviews to second editions, the old version comes up first in a search.  That version is no longer under my copyright, so until it is pulled (except, of course, for used versions), I’d like to bury it under my new, fabulous, edition.

OH—and if you haven’t read Scattering, it has been very well received. If you like historical fiction, in particular American historical fiction, I’d love for you to give it a read. Find a blurb, along with a colored map and short story to compliment the book, on the Moonset Books page above.

THE MAGGIE CHRONICLES, Book Two, The Forging of Frost, set in 17thcentury New Haven Colony, comes out in early January. Book Three, The Legacy of Payne,which takes place in Bennington County, Vermont at the time of the Revolutionary War, is in draft stage, and Maggie’s been whispering two more stories to me, as well. Okay, I wouldn’t call it whispering, but she’ll have to wait.

The Value of DNA Testing Revealed

 

birth and adoptive mother

A birth and adoptive mother, and a connection across time

DNA testing—not much more use than a parlor game—fun factoids (barely) but…That was my conclusion after testing my family with 23andMe, including my brother, children, grandchild, and husband.

Not that I don’t believe in the power of the genetic link.It’s a theme in my novels, a conduit across time. “She knows them, deeper than words or dates or research; they exist in her DNA; they are a soul truth to her.”[1]Science points the way, as well, with conflicting evidence as to the existence of genetic memory and whether experiences change a body’s DNA.

But I just don’t buy it as genealogical proof.I hoped to use the information as a springboard to more historic and record-based research. Maybe I could break down a few brick walls on my side of the family. And, as an aside, the results might give my children some insight into their adopted father’s ancestral background. On a whim, I also decided to push the button to compare my husband’s 23andMe results to other “DNA relatives.”

Before I get to the punch line in all this, let me mention that I have this thing about the intersect between free will and grace(or serendipity, or synchronicity in Jungian terms). In my book (literally in my books…it’s a theme) nothing just happens—without work.

I had already gone through the long-winded process of unlocking my husband’s original birth certificate, including petitioning our congressman to open the records.(I am grateful that he made it happen, and I recommend doing so if you ever run into roadblocks as an adoptee.) Because of this work, we had my husband’s original name, the names of his birth mother and father, and their places of birth. Not all of it was exact. But that’s always the assumption as a genealogist. Even facts are suspect. Anyway…

Matches came in—but highly unlikely ones.Less than 1% matches; matches that, upon closer analysis, weren’t matches. I didn’t expect much. What are the chances, with so many companies out there, that some relative to an adoptee would: 1. Decide to do a test, 2. Decide to do it with 23andMe, 3. Push the “DNA relative” button, and 4. After all that, keep tabs on the whole thing? Well—highly unlikely.

Still, you do the work; so I kept tabs on the results. Then one match came in significantly higher than my version of random, near to 25%.So, what the heck, a brief email seemed in order. “I’m sending this for my husband… Anything strike a chord?” Honestly, I forgot that I’d sent it—until I got a Thanksgiving reply.

My husband’s half-sister found—everything confirmed by birth records and common family stories. (Remember the work?) So, regarding DNA testing, is it a parlor game? Sure. But, sometimes, those kits are a genetic link, a healing of regrets, a righting of mistaken beliefs, and the discovery of a birth mother, long gone, but passing on her love through memories left behind.

Grace, and the will to pursue the improbable; there is, indeed, a lesson in everything.

[1]From Book Two of The Maggie Chronicles, The Forging of Frost, coming out next month…more on all that in a couple weeks.

Off Line for a While

sling

Due to impingement and tendon repair, I’m taking a typing break for 5-6 weeks. Hunt and peck is not my thing. But before I go, got to love how nerdy excited I am to get this old book. It’s research for the next book in my head and I couldn’t find it on line.

climate book

When I return I’ll be getting ready for the Surrey International Writing Conference in Canada where I’m scheduled for a Blue Pencil Cafe session (a critique of my writing) with Diana Gabaldon! She can tell me anything…it’s 15 minutes one-on-one with Diana Gabaldon.

This short missive took all my concentration. How do hunt-and-peckers do it?

 

Researching New Haven—and a few general hints, as well

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Inside Map with scrolling

Early sketch of New Haven. Repository Yale University

My upcoming novel, The Forging of Frost, is set in 17thcentury New Haven Colony so I decided to look back at the catalyst for that novel, the family research I did on my New Haven ancestors.I am, after all, the real life version of the fictional Maggie found in my books.

I was surprised to find only one postWhy?

Well, there just aren’t many resources available, but they are extraordinarily comprehensive.Here’s what I discovered, and along the way I’ve added some hints, whether you’re doing New Haven research or not.

Hint #1: Always determine where the person(s) you are researching lived and go to FamilySearch.org.

Input the place name to search their research wiki for an overview of all available resources and the catalog to discover their library’s digital resources. I didn’t always do this and would go on random search adventures. But why?

And never think your done. While testing this article, I reviewed the resources in their catalogand found this in the Abstracts of the early probate records of New Haven compiled by Winifred S. Alcorn. Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 1.40.00 PM

Typical of New England colonies in general, most of the New Haven information comes from copious records kept by documentation-conscious church leadership. Later, the minutes of town and colony, as well as church vital records, were unified into book form by early historians (before those three to four-hundred year old records turned to dust or were ruined by constant exposure). So what’s available?

Colonial Records: in this case the online and searchable archive.org versions.

I love these records—my book, after all, fictionalizes a handful of trials found inside. The volumes unveil New Haven’s development, dilemmas, and ultimate demise in a moment by moment manner. Included in the meeting notes are a host of family names. Some parts of the transcribed volumes are redacted due to what the editor sensitivity to what he deemed offensive content. The unredacted originals are housed in the Connecticut State Library archives.

Hint: archive.org books (digitalized by numerous contributors) are searchable.

Just make sure you use the format that looks like a book and click the magnifier to the right. (When hovered over, it says “search inside.”) Use all the possible spellings. In my case, “Payne” and “Paine” provided results, as did “Payen” in other works.

Town Records:I’ve found these extremely useful, but you usually have to work for them. FamilySearch.org has a range of them on line, but they aren’t usually searchable. Except by you—one page at a time. Luckily, a transcript of New Haven’s town records is available through archives.org.

Hint: A good sense of the time frame in which your ancestor inhabited the town helps narrow your search.

Town records include tidbits not available in the colonial records, and if your ancestors moved within the colony, research every town.

Local Town Genealogies:I’m speaking of the genealogies compiled from town vitals and other records not easily accessed, not books produced by descendants or gathered from residents for town histories that include biographies based on recollection. They are less reliable. Regardless:

New Haven has an excellent and comprehensive eight-volume set of early family records.

  • Families of Ancient New Haven, Volumes 1-8,compiled by Donald Lines Jacobus, C.D. Smith, Rome, New York, 1923. While some of the volumes are available through archives.org, the most comprehensive and searchable version is through Ancestry.com $$

Hint: Always, always, check the front pages of compiled records for ABBREVIATIONS.

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 9.29.09 AM

Sample of abbreviations found at beginning of Ancient Families of New Haven

Don’t just guess at them. Some useful information might be over looked if you don’t know their meanings. Note the example. All of the records in Volume 6 of Families of Ancient New Haven for Samuel Payne, my 4x great grandfather, have an F by them, indicating the author drew the information from family records. (Refer to the hint below!)

Local Histories:Two examples I read on New Haven included the following searchable books found at archives.org.

Hint: Be very careful with town, county, and descendant genealogy/history books, for while they may contain information that sends you down fruitful paths, you must verify through other sources.

Historical Societies and Museums:Some are excellent repositories; some aren’t repositories at all. Some provide their resources on-line; some require a visit.

Hint: If you plan a visit, check out when they’re open.

I did, but no rearranging of my travel schedule got me to New Haven on the right day. Still, a place like the one below is wonderful about returning e-mails and helping with research, so ASK. New Haven’s best bet?

So, whether you’re searching for ancient ancestors in New Haven, New England or further afield—or just want to know more about the history of a place—check FamilySearch.org resources, use the magic of archive.org digitalized books, go deep, and keep looking.

Do you have other hints or ideas for research? Let me know in comments!

A Place on Wills Creek: A Short Story Prequel to The Scattering of Stones

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The second book in what I now dub The Maggie Chronicles will soon be ready for publication. So, to express my delight, here’s a gift to all who’ve read the first book, The Scattering of Stones, (or who might want to).

It’s a free (longish) short story about how Jacob Carter arrived up on Wills Creek.

The cover designed by Pam Mullins gives you a sneak peak at the cover style for the series. I’m so excited about it. The cover to the new book, The Forging of Frost, will have a similar look, and The Scattering of Stone’s cover gets a facelift to match! THANK YOU, PAM!

Select the link below to view the prequel!
http://online.fliphtml5.com/kmkq/nvaf/index.html

The Questions I Didn’t Ask

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The questions I didn't ask.

I almost could not use this photo. It spoke so clearly to the questions I didn’t ask. 

When The Scattering of Stones first came out, I got a phone call from an old friend offering congratulations. After some pretense at small talk—not my specialty—I asked him how he was. This was not small talk, not with this man. Joe (not his real name) is a Vietnam vet. He is also a victim of our indiscriminant use of Agent Orange. He managed a supply depot in Vietnam and handled the chemical everyday.

 

So I asked him how his heart was doing. Agent Orange, the verified culprit in his heart battles, has earned him regular disability checks. After numerous operations, too many for me to hold on my plate, he assured me he was doing “pretty well.”

Then I asked him about his throat cancer, not officially Agent Orange related. With his permanently graveled voiced, he told me that, while the disease dragged him down, things were going “pretty well.”

Joe, as you have likely perceived, is a stoic man, not one for self-pity wallows. But he had more to say. Talk turned to the cancer center where he was receiving treatment, and the intensive interview they required for admission.

They weren’t the usual questions, Joe informed me, “They were hard.”

They asked him about Vietnam. Not just the surface stuff—everything. What he did, where he went, who he met, how he felt. They wanted details. So he wrote, and a closeted world opened wide. The memories he captured were more than recollections. They documented a time that changed who he was, and retrieving them, writing them down, helped. Someone asked. And he answered. But what if no one asks?

Between my high school boy crush and the man I wisely married, two men stand out. The first was the love of my life. Yes, it sounds trite, but he is, and ever will be, exactly that. Dopamine and serotonin flowed through my veins and I was deeply (foolishly) in love.

We met soon after he returned from Vietnam. He was a medic there. I don’t recall how I know this. I don’t think I asked. I don’t know where he served; I don’t know for how long; I don’t know what happened while he was there. I never asked him. I almost asked. I considered it, briefly.

We had driven to San Francisco to visit a friend from his time in Vietnam. They stayed up late talking. and, when he crawled into his sleeping bag next to me, I tried to get close. “Not tonight,” he said. I could feel his angst. It was palpable. But “not tonight” seemed to me like “don’t ask.” So I never did.

Now, let me get honest. Looking back, I realize that for all my love of him, it was really about me. I was twenty-one, and, like Joe, the soldier battling Agent Orange, said—the questions were hard.

I was looking for fairytales. I wanted to be loved. What I didn’t get, what eluded me, was that love (not the dopamine-high version of it) comes of understanding. And to understand, you need to ask. I regret never asking. I regret never asking him many things. It kills me to realize that I burned for love of him but never really knew him. So how can I call that love?

Anyway, I said there were two men. The second came of my imperfect, broken attempt to rid my heart of the first. Leaving the first, which I somehow construed as being left, tore me apart. I was an emotional basket case pretending to be free. The second man was my maybe.

He had also recently returned from Vietnam. An artist, talented beyond measure, he showed me his sketches from overseas. They were heart-wrenching depictions. Personal. One lives forever inside me—a young Vietnamese girl, only her face, looking up with haunted eyes. It was a perfect time to talk about his time there. I let it slip away.

Recently, I reconnected. I hinted that I’d love to have coffee some time, but fell back into some old silliness and never explained why. Besides, how do you explain that you want to ask hard questions—by e-mail? And why? To close a chapter in MY life? To finish something left undone? To do it right?

Admittedly, my questions might have been (and might now be) sidestepped, evaded, or rejected as too intimate. I might have been told “not now.” I may be the wrong person to even ask. Someone with more courage—a friend, a loved one, a practitioner at a cancer center—may have posed the questions and they might have answered. I hope so. Their stories are important.

Near the end of Scattering the heroine says,

“…for the things I did not do, out of fear or ignorance or both, for all those lost opportunities, I do hope time forgives me.”

Those words didn’t come out of nowhere. So…

Tell me about the time you served. Where did you go? What did you do? What was it like? How did you feel? And how did it change you? (Not “Did it change you?” It changed you. So, how?)

I’m finally asking, now, and I’m sorry I waited.

Photo acknowledgement: Twentieth Century “Angel of Mercy” — D. R. Howe (Glencoe, MN) treats the wounds of Private First Class D. A. Crum (New Brighton, PA), “H” Company, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, during Operation Hue City. National Archives #532484 Marine Corp photo [wikimedia.org]