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Category Archives: Writing

The Legacy of Serendipity

250px-Catamount2

The photo from my first blog, posted September 7, 2013. Catamount Tavern in Bennington, Vermont, the setting for book The Legacy of Payne, just published on Amazon. Serendipity in action.

Four months since my last post, a long time for me. As I reflected on how much I had left to say, I wondered: How long have I been writing this blog anyway? So I looked. My first post was September 7, 2013—almost eight and a half years ago! That is a long time for a blog to stay alive.

I’ve pretty much exhausted what can be researched and written about my paternal family history. I keep looking but, really, take a look back. Undiscovered records and side roads likely exist, but they’re deep-buried. I’ve yet to post anything definitive on my mother’s family. I will this year, but the story is short since they all immigrated to Wisconsin in the late 1800s, and what happened before then has been hard to decipher. A couple of research trips might still be in the works, the Civil War sites and places in Virginia, where all my paternal grandmother’s family originated. But other than that—my posts will be few.

Writing still engages me, but blogs regarding the skill/art of writing are many. Never able to label myself, period, and certainly never as an expert, I feel no need to add to the plethora. There are excellent writing blogs available. Just search. What engages me right now is writing a story too wonderful not to share. That act, and my garden, consumes me.

I’m working on a fourth book in The Maggie Chronicles, which I’m very excited about set in Ohio in the mid-eighteen hundreds. It will bring the two families, Payne and Carter (i.e., Croy), together and end the series.

Through the course of what will be four books, Maggie, the family historian who is a constant in the series, is book-by-book pulled deeper into a time-melding world that toys with what is real and imagined, coincidental and serendipitous. And I half to say, I believe!

Too much has happened in my ten-year journey into genealogy not to believe that serendipity is far more mysterious than random chance. Otherwise, how is it that, on the day I publish the third in my series, titled The Legacy of Payne, I looked back to my first ever blog post, so simple, so short, a first attempt to add to and correct a genealogy book I gave to my family, and find:

  • a picture of Catamount Tavern in Bennington, Vermont, an essential setting for my fictional accounting of Sam and Abby Payne of Sunderland, Vermont
  • a last sentence, referring to information crucial to the arc of the Legacy story!

    Still, a new story emerged about Christopher and Abigail who lost all but one child, Abigail Grimes, in an epidemic, and so named their next child Comfort. 

Interested in learning more about the Payne family that inspired Legacy? Search the sidebar. Vermont? Same place. Purchase my books (shameless plug)? See the tab above. Until the next time, find joy where you find it—and consider finding it in the history surrounding you, and a good book.

Cover Reveal: The Legacy of Payne—Publication? A Long Way Off

 

Legacy of Payne Front Cover_

Check out the cover for The Legacy of Payne, the third book of The Maggie Chronicles. Pretty darn exciting!

One week and two hundred forty-two years ago, Gen. John Stark and Col. Seth Warner thwarted Lt. Col. Friedrich Baum‘s attempt, under orders of Gen. John Burgoyne, to abscond with supplies housed in Bennington, Vermont. The Battle of Bennington, fought just inside New York’s borders, was a pivotal moment in the American Revolution AND my upcoming book.

Fittingly, my fantastic cover designer, Pam Mullins, and I finalized the cover within days (and 242 years) of that momentous date in history. I’ve gone into great depth on this battle, my trip to Vermont for research, and the book’s featured Payne family heroes and heroines on my blog. Just go to the search square in the upper right corner and type in Vermont to learn more.

Here is the back cover featuring a painting called The Old Mill by George Inness, 1849. The blurb tells you more about the story. Back CoverNeither the date of the work nor the setting, likely upstate New York, match the time frame or the exact setting of The Legacy of Payne, but it certainly evokes the feel of a Vermont country mill in the 1780s.

But hold your horses, so to speak. In the hopes of avoiding some of the pitfalls of a rush to publication (slowly learning), I’m taking my time bringing this book to publication. Anticipated Amazon debut: April 2020!

Ugh! What?

Until, if you haven’t yet, there are always books one and two.

Find them here and here.

In Transition

Posted on

 

open door

Transitions: An open door

Recently, the leader of my writing group, Pam Smedley, gave us an interesting assignment. She put slips of paper with writing topics written on them and asked us to draw one and reflect on it for the month. I drew the word: transitions.

 

I’m going through numerous personal life transitions—the self-publishing gauntlet scaled and two books[i]completed; the first draft of my third book in the beta-reader/editing stage; the angst-driven analysis of my accomplishments and mistakes; and coming to terms with aging, time, and…well, you get it.

I’m also beginning to write the fourth book in The Maggie Chronicles. If you are familiar with my books, you know they hop from present to past, requiring reader and writer to transition often. Well, my fourth book transitions between two pasts and one present. Ambitious? Nuts? Who knows? Clearly, TRANSITIONS was an apt and serendipitous pick.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned in a month.

Transition defined:

  • the process of change (noun) like[ii]between passages, musical keys, phases, focus
  • cause to change (transitive verb) as in position, perspective, orientation, viewpoint

You just can’t avoid transitions—or transitioning. Noun or verb, the word implies change. Some changes are easy; the leap isn’t far, or critical, or traumatic; it requires little adjustment—for example, between corn and bran flakes, or sentences. Then again, some changes are hard; they require a huge leap—between established home and homeless, between life and death, or between scenes. (So, okay, taking the leap from one scene to the next isn’t as harrowing as the chasm between life and death, but, if not done well, both can be painful.)

In any case, by addressing all the complexities of change, so as to ground yourself (or the reader) in new territory, you might avoid the stumbles and falls (to stick with the metaphor) or confusions change presents(metaphorical stretch…mid-air collision?).

With this in mind, consider the following as you soar, or flail:

  • Where are you? Have you been here before? Then you likely don’t need an in-depth tour. If the place is new, if you’re out of your comfort zone, then a quick orientation is in order. Is the weather different? The same? Is it safer or less so? Who populates this place…assuming they matter? Get settled, or help the reader do so.
  • When are you? Two days later, a week? Life, and story, does that sometimes; time flies without you paying attention. Jumps like that are easy. Just state the fact and move on. “My writing group meets in an hour. Better hustle.” But…did you time hop from D. 2020 to 500 B.C.? Some head-spinning explanation is required. Were you eighteen and suddenly eighty? Perspectives and concerns differ significantly with age. Don’t ignore it.
  • Who are you? Very important. Hopefully, there’s some consistency. Too much head hopping and you come off as schizophrenic. Sure, you may feel unbalanced but keep moving—forward—as you. Take it all in, from your (or your character’s) perspective. And accept that you (and your character’s) viewpoints aren’t perfect…or necessarily grounded. It’s normal and makes for an interesting story, or life.
  • What are you? Is a label important? Add it. (But it makes me nervous.)
  • And, finally, why? Why are you where, when, who, and what you are? Why do you feel, need, want, care? Why are you afraid, excited, wary, overjoyed? Why don’t you think you’re good enough, smart enough, whatever enough—or why do you?

Put it all down; ground your reader—or yourself—into the next step, next scene, or next stage of your story.  It might be exhilarating or frightening or incongruous, but nothing stays the same and everything’s connected. That’s the point of transitions: somehow, via miniature steppingstones or huge leaps of faith, they move you forward. How exciting and scary is that?

Photo credit: Franzfoto: wikimedia.org
[i]Find links to them here: Book 1 The Scattering of Stones and Book 2 The Forging of Frost
[ii]I’ve bolded a few transition words between sentences in black as examples.

“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?