RSS Feed

Category Archives: Writing

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

Posted on
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

Posted on

 

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

Posted on

 

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]

 

 

 

Finding a Map for THE SCATTERING OF STONES

Margaret Carter's map

Margaret Carter’s map of the travels of her mother, Mary Carter. Original art by Linda Zupcic. copyright DCWright

My upcoming book, The Scattering of Stones, is the story of a Mary Hutton Carter’s migration from fear into courage and from Western Pennsylvania to the Ohio frontier, with stops and trials along the way. Descendant, Maggie Carter Smith, doggedly follows the heroine by examining obscure documents, clue by clue.

Any genealogist, amateur or professional, knows how essential historical maps are to researching an ancestor. As Mary’s story unfolded, it became clear to me (and my pal’s at The Writing Gym) that I needed a map.

As I perused map after map from the period, one thing became clear—maps are products of the times. The cartographers relied on current knowledge, the instruments of the time, guesstimates of distance, and a wealth of creative spellings. In fact, one dilemma I faced in writing my book was whether to spell Pittsburgh as it is spelled today or as it was often spelled in the 18th century (Pittsburg). I used today’s spelling in order to avoid seemed ill informed. The same issue arose for Allegany/Allegheny/Alleghany.

I came up with my best version of a map covering the territory in my story by grabbing from a variety of sources. But I do not draw worth a hill o’ beans. I would need something better. That is where Linda Zupcic came in. A fabulous artist in her own right, she agreed to turn my childish renderings into something better—much better. But first she wanted a sense of what I envisioned. So, what did I envision? I wanted a hand-drawn map; one Maggie the genealogist might have discovered long after the story ended. But what did that look like?

Harriet E. Baker, 1819 Windsor, Vermont

This example drawn by schoolgirl Harriet E. Baker of Windsor, Vermont, in 1819 courtesy of The David Rumsey Map Collection

True to 21st century human sesibilities, I googled “Hand-drawn 19th century maps” and discovered an amazing world of very special maps. During the turn from the 18th to 19th century, school children, particularly young women attending “finishing schools,” learned geography and penmanship by drawing maps. These beautiful renditions included maps of the stars, earth, continents, countries, states, and counties. Some were meticulously rendered and others displayed an artful flair. There are a number of articles on-line about them. One is by National Geographic and another is by David Ramsey. You can see a slide show of his collection here.

These maps, made by teenagers, mostly girls, were my inspiration. In my imagination I saw a daughter creating a map of her mother’s travels. Not perfect, a product of time and circumstance, she tucked it away, for Maggie to find long after my story is ends. Linda captured it perfectly. It appears in black and white, in The Scattering of Stones. I offer it in its true beauty here, with thanks to a talent far surpassing mine.

Oh, one tiny tease—the map has a bleed through. You might wonder why.

 

A Scattering of Songs: Playlist for THE SCATTERING OF STONES

The Scattering of Stones Playlist JPEG

A story, at its best, pulls your feeling-self along on a journey, plucking at your heartstrings—like a song. That said, I never listen to music while I write. It is my time for silence and words on a page. But before, between, and after—it transports me to the story’s world. The present day heroine of my story, Maggie Carter Smith, is an amateur genealogist searching the 18th century frontier for a female ancestor, not an easy task in a world where women count for so little that official records, other than church and probate, rarely named them.

If Maggie listened to music that carried her into Mary Hutton’s story, the following would be her playlist. Anyway, it’s my playlist, and I want to share it. I hope you search out these artists, buy their songs, and enter what, for me, was the feeling-world of The Scattering of Stones. Better yet, buy their albums, because each album holds may more heartfelt songs. All are available on i-tunes, Amazon, or where ever you purchase your music. And PLEASE, don’t just listen to stations like Pandora. I’m not knocking them. I discover artists by listening on those sites, but they skip over so much these artists have to offer. I believe in supporting artistry with my pocketbook.

Song Bird by Eva Cassidy Eva Cassidy is an old soul. She left our world a long time ago, but her songs and gorgeous voice live on. I find the feeling of love, especially the innocence of a first love, unscathed by time, difficult to capture. The songs come off as saccharine and silly. Not Song Bird. It expresses beautifully the belief that one person can transform your world—though that belief may be short lived.

Second Chances by Gregory Alan Isakov My favorite, favorite new songwriter! He infuses words with the feeling of place. The Scattering of Stones speaks to the crossroad between place and feeling. Second Chances speaks to the forgiveness we find there.

Storm Comin’ by The Wailin’ Jennys The Jennys are harmony at its best, like being transported to a church in the wildwoods long ago. Storm Comin’ sings to facing the storms in your life straight on and finding the gifts therein.

Ghosts That We Knew by Mumford & Sons One of the more popular bands on my list and I love them. Every album contains a wealth of songs with words spun like silk. Ghosts informs what real love is about, beyond first blush, when the ache of living intervenes.

The Stable Song by Gregory Alan Isakov (different album) This songwriter weaves words into worlds. The Stable Song sings of the pull of Ohio and what it holds. I feel it, Maggie feels it, and so did Mary. Beautiful lyrics, and I do so love soft-spoken banjo pickin’ with feeling.

Sand and Water by Beth Nielsen Chapman No words come when I think of this song. I discovered it long after the book was written. Anything I say would be a spoiler. Chapman’s voice and the words create an atmosphere that… Like I said, no words. Listen, and if you don’t cry—what’s wrong with you?

Long Time Traveller by The Wailin’ Jennys (different album) A cappella harmony—I want it played at my wake. Oops, is that a spoiler?

Build a Levee by Natalie Merchant I lean toward alternative, blue grassy, folk-style music with transformational lyrics. This comes from my husband’s blues-rock leanings, and it is perfect. Ever needed a song to keep you strong against a seduction? This is a woman’s song. And the instrumental is great.

Take Me Back by Sarah Jarosz My most contemporary find, her new album came out after my book was written. This song is an anthem for my book.

Transcendental Reunion by Mary Chapin Carpenter Mary’s words are always gorgeous. I recommend her everything. She has been a long time favorite of mine, and this song captures perfectly the intersect between Maggie and Mary’s worlds.

The Things I’ve Gone and Done by Carrie Newcomer A message spoken through song is Carrie Newcomer’s thing. Her messages are hopeful, spiritual, and instructive. I ran across this song after the book was finished, though I’d listened to it many times in the past. If I could point to one song that was the theme of my book it would be this one and…

String of Pearls by Rhiannon Gidden A song of life—what struck me was that I found this song and a science special about string theory’s definition of time within the same week. My left brain/right brain absorbed them, twisted the two representations around and became a manifesto that morphed, and morphed again, into the first pages of my book.

The Scattering of Stones is at the publisher now. I had to let go, and letting go is like pushing a child from the nest. You know you could have done better if you knew then what you know now, but you love her. You think she’s pretty damn special, and she will do just fine out there. Besides, other children need your attention now. You have pictures (or a playlist) to visit whenever you like, a place to relive that world, so long ago.

“It had never occurred to me before that music and thinking are so much alike. In fact you could say music is another way of thinking, or maybe thinking is another kind of music.”  in honor of Ursula K. Le Guin—a pearl resting in peace

Which songs and artists make you think?

 

 

 

The Scattering of Stones: Treaty after Indian Treaty

 

hist_map_nwoh_1817

Showing the Lewistown, Hog Creek, and Wapakoneta Reservations of Shawnee: much more on their history, as well as current information at the Shawnee Tribe Official Website

During the eighteenth century, America’s indigenous tribes lived on Pennsylvania’s western frontier—no debate. But when I began writing my novel, The Scattering of Stones, I made every attempt to ignore them. It was denial at the highest level—born of respect and a profound sense of inadequacy to the task of representing them. But how can you write the story of a man and woman who settled on that frontier in the 1770’s and migrated into Ohio in the 1800’s without addressing a simple fact: western migration happened because of treaties the US government made with tribes. Expressed more accurately, the treaties happened because settlers wanted (and squatted) on the desired land.

I live in a community with three reservations. In California we call them Rancherias. As an elementary school principal, I was intimately involved in the lives of people living on those Rancherias. I unearthed the old mascot t-shirts featuring a bigheaded, big-nosed cartoon “warrior” wielding a tomahawk. I made my little version of progress by replacing the image with a feather as the graphic (though the warrior mascot remained and returned, in more acceptable ways, as soon as I retired). I made trips to the Rancheria with a teacher whose family came from the Rancheria. And I’ll admit, I was nervous—even with her standing by.

I regret my fears. I met a wealth of wonderful people whose history had created some serious problems and who deservedly mistrusted people like me. So who was I to give voice to these original settlers in a fiction based on my infiltrating ancestors?

Historical fiction is a version of a world that once lived, with a nod to the worldview of the time. I needed to understand that world. My research spoke to the flashpoint between two competing cultures—scalpings on both sides, pleas for protection and records of attacks on both sides, one-sided trials, and treaties, lots and lots of treaties.

My story gave notice—these peoples, particularly the Shawnee, would not be ignored. They became a thread in my story line, integral to the plot.

Of all my research, the records of treaties made provided the most unbiased evidence of—no polite way to say this—abuse. Check out this site, aptly called the Indian Land Cessions in the United States, 1784-1894. As they explain, the schedule “comprises 709 entries with links to the related map or maps for each entry.” (My bolding.) The records do not include any treaties negotiated before the United States formed, of which the number is substantial.

So, treaty after treaty we moved west. How could I in good faith ignore that? And how could I NOT wash my story with my own perspective?

Speaking of perspectives, the Washington Post reviewed an exhibit of the National Museum of the American Indian exhibit. It addresses the lies and romance surrounding the image of the Indian, a perspective of which we should all be aware. Check it out here.

  • The Scattering of Stones , available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, comes out February 15, 2018.
  • A Bookbarn located in Clovis, CA, a business supporting all things books, new and used, is hosting a signing celebration February 28th from 6 to 9.