Monday, December 28, 2009

The Glassblower by Laurie Alice Eakes

The Glassblower combines the enchanting story-telling of a historical aficionado and wordsmith, with layered characters and a suspenseful plot full of lovely imagery and romantic interludes which take the reader to another time and place. The second half of the book leaps from a brisk trot to a gallop in pace, and I stayed up all night to finish it once the momentum took hold of me.

Meg Jordan is the only daughter of Isaac Jordan, a widower and owner of a large farm and glassworks in early 19th century New Jersey. Her sweet, assertive nature wins her father’s favor in everything from adopting stray kittens to preparing a school for the children of Salem County—everything, that is, except the husband of her choosing. Her father has informed her that she must marry Joseph Pyle, the wealthy, young land-owner whose smile doesn’t reach his eyes when he looks at Meg.

A new man—Colin Grassick—arrives in town, a master glassblower from Scotland whom her father has brought over to turn the finances of the glassworks around. His emerald eyes and warm, courtly ways captivate Meg as he helps her rescue a kitten in peril. But a girl of her station must not associate with a working man. Colin could lose his job, or worse, if caught consorting to the master’s daughter, especially when a series of events points to sabotage of Meg’s school and an accident at the glassworks.

Particular highlights for me were the wedding scene of Meg’s friend Sarah, with its rich descriptions of period apparel and the contrast between Joseph’s and Colin’s characters. The Christmas party made a nice touch to bring the romance to a satisfying conclusion. The theme of trusting God to work in seemingly impossible circumstances imparted inspiration without feeling extraneous or false. The hero and heroine exemplified the character and choices that made the happily-ever-after not only believable, but well-deserved.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Elmira Prison Camp, part II

Last time we discussed the infamous role that Elmira, New York played in the Civil War as the host of a prison camp with the highest death rate. A full 24% of all Confederates incarcerated as political prisoners in Camp Chemung lost their lives to a plethora of causes from smallpox, to dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, gaillardia, cholera, malnutrition and exposure. As gruesome a picture as this paints, the locals seemed to have little idea of the deprivation and inhumanity that lay within their city limits.

In a particularly maudlin account, it appears that two different entrepreneurs capitalized on the morbid curiosity of Elmira citizens concerning the camp. In late July, the same month in which the camp opened, an observation tower was constructed outside the eight-foot-high stockade and catwalk surrounding the camp. For a nickel apiece, customers could climb the crows’ nest and peer down on the prison population. Shortly after, a second tower rose for the same purpose. By all accounts, these early reality shows made brisk business until the military commandeered both towers in August, slating one for demolition and sanctioning the other for official purposes.

Around the same time, sutlers who had been given access to the camp to sell their wares to prisoners were cut off. For many who received money from home, the sutlers’ fruits and vegetables had been the thin line between them and scurvy or starvation, and their blankets and clothing, the last bastion of protection from the elements. In October, a snowstorm hit, early for Elmira. The cold is described that year of 1864-65 as being particularly bitter and unrelenting. The Chemung River flooded its banks more than once, as well, as if nature conspired ill-will against the hapless rebels.

Some respite was provided in the form of early release to the sickest among the population. Starting in October, trains bound for Baltimore carried away those whose severe illness made their reenlistment unlikely, but who were nonetheless able to travel.

The rails brought prisoners to Elmira from the front, and transported troops from the military rendezvous and training in Elmira back down to the front. In July while the camp was still brand new, a rail accident occurred in a town called Shohola, Pennsylvania. A head-on collision occurred on a single track due to a drunken telegraph operator who failed to report an oncoming coal train. According to Joseph C. Boyd, a noted historian speaking on the incident 100 years later, "...the wooden coaches telescoped into one another, some splitting open and strewing their human contents onto the berm...where flying glass, splintered wood, and jagged metal killed or injured them as they rolled. Other occupants were hurled through windows or pitched to the track as the car floors buckled and opened.” 51 Confederate and 17 Union casualties were reported. All are buried at the Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira.

For further reading, see: for a first-person account


Monday, December 7, 2009

Review of Autumn Rains by Myra Johnson

I love Heartsong Presents. For a few bucks, you get a small book, but a big story. Likewise, Autumn Rains was no lightweight fluff piece. Despite the slim size, Myra Johnson had a great deal to say, and said it in a way that flowed with a genuinely good story and three dimensional, flawed but endearing characters. And the result is deeply satisfying.
I am usually a historical fiction reader, but Johnson hooked me and kept reeling me in with the hero, Healy, a man who served time for manslaughter and found a deeper walk with the Lord during his sentence. His character was so humble and endearing that I was rooting for him from his first scene.
The heroine, Valerie, with her emotional trauma surrounding the night her husband was killed, brought me to several moments where I blinked back tears, feeling her fear and struggle to trust again. I felt connected to each of the main characters in their believable journey toward wholeness and romance. The epilogue was a highlight for me, as the story came full circle and showed the difference a person can make, no matter his or her past. A beautiful and inspiring story.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chrstmas Letter from a local Civil War soldier

My son had a wonderful opportunity to transcribe hand-written letters for the Chemung Valley Historical Society. This one in particular is from a young Civil War infantryman from Elmira named Charles Personius. In this letter, he writes to his mother at Christmastime. His anticipation for his visit is so evident.
Also, his grammar and spelling choices are as accurately depicted as possible. I wish you could see his beautiful script, as well.

Christmas Morning
Dear Mother
I will try
finish up the sheet which
Ella commenced to write on
though I have nothing of
importance to write about
except to inform you that
we are well and enjoying
christmas finely and expect
to have a nice dinner of
your own cooking which
I am sure will relish first
rate for I allways liked
home victuals better than
any other When Pa and Ella
came down here their trunks
got delayed at Baltimore
and they did not forward them
on so Walker telegraphed
there and they will be in
on the express train about
noon so if we wait untill
one or two oclock I think
we will have a fine time

Pa and Ella came quite
unexpected but I was
awful to see them I am
afraid we wont be able to
keep Pa here a great while
for he is getting uneasy
and thinks that he must
go back home He cant
stand it to stay from home
like the Captain and myself
for we don’t think of such
things I must close for it
is time for the mail to leave
so good bye for this time

This from Charlie

Friday, November 13, 2009

Review for A Slow Burn by Mary DeMuth

I have not had the benefit of reading Daisy Chain, the first book in the Defiance, Texas trilogy, but even so, the unique story of Emory Chance and her lost daughter captivated me. DeMuth’s prose sang with a casual ease that was so easy to plunge into, evoking the conflicted world of a drug addicted woman full of regrets. Emory’s worst mistakes and secrets unfold in a sympathetic glimpse into generational dysfunction, somehow escaping the tendency of some self-indulgent tales from the sordid. What emerges is a survivor—a resourceful and cagey woman—who trusts naught but hard work and harder play to get through life’s relentless pain and loneliness.

Emory is set on a collision course with redemption. God directs Hixon Jones, a handyman and modern-day Hosea, to repeatedly intervene between her and disaster. Reminiscent of Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, this story of a man’s commitment to a troubled soul inspires the very best of both human nature and divine. Hixon’s devotion likens to Christ’s sacrifice for a world polluted by sin and its consequences, triumphing in a poignant and surprising conclusion.

Human fallibility, back-lit by a gentle, pursuing light, guides this utterly honest tale. Stark and beautiful at once, the imagery and the emotion of A Slow Burn will leave a lasting impression.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Elmira, Civil War Death Camp

Late in the Civil War, prisoner-of-war camp populations had burgeoned to overcrowding on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Rather than engage in prisoner exchange, US Secretary of War Edwin Stanton approved a new camp for construction. Elmira, New York was chosen as the site both for its rail connections and abundance of food and lumber. Some argue that its loyal republican constituency made it a prime location to conduct a retaliation for Andersonville.

Barracks No. 3 of the US military training rendezvous already located in Elmira was cleared and reinforced in the summer of 1864. Thirty acres along the Chemung River were enclosed with eight-foot stockade, several forty-foot-long wooden barracks were added, plus a mess hall and bakery. By July, the camp opened its double doors on Water Street near Hoffman and Foster Streets to accommodate 5,000 captured Confederates, most of whom were Point Lookout transfers.

Within mere weeks, the camp swelled to nearly 10,000 men. The overcrowding was dealt with by adding another couple of barracks, and a tent village along the eastern end of camp near the river. Food supplies were cut, the most blatantly deliberate act being perfectly good beef being deemed ‘inferior’, and then sold at a profit to Elmira citizens, rather than nourishing the enemy. Rations consisted of watery broth with a bean or two, and a crust of bread, twice a day for each prisoner.

As the poor sanitation caught up to the sheer numbers, the drinking water became polluted. Water wells were ridiculously close to the latrines, and the engineers’ shoddy efforts to fix the situation came months after outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, pneumonia, small pox and typhoid launched the death rates to 24%, the highest of any camp in the Civil War.

The men relegated in tents were exposed to one of the harshest winters in decades. With meager supplies such as a lack of blankets and new clothes, no new undergarments, and thin canvas walls to house four to six soldiers, it seems miraculous that more didn’t freeze to the ground. Even those in the barracks had little reprieve. Limited coal and wood for the stoves meant frigid air temperatures even under a roof. Green wood used in the construction of the barracks led to gaps and warps where the drafts would blow in unabated.

For these miseries and many untold, the prisoners took to calling the camp Hellmira. Over three thousand soldiers succumbed to the deplorable conditions, most buried at Woodlawn National Cemetery by a former slave named John W. Jones.

For further reading, see:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Review for A Blue and Gray Christmas

Four novellas, one seriously cool book. Okay, I admit I am a Civil War buff, BIG TIME, but that can actually play against a CW book if the research is sketchy or the characters not authentic or the plots, implausible. I was thrilled to see none of these pitfalls stuck me in this collection. In fact, I learned a few things, and enjoyed every moment of class.

In Lauralee Bliss’s Till Death Do Us Part, Seth Madison and Leah Woods must survive the invasion and ensuing battle of Fredericksburg before they can pursue their plans to wed on the New Year. Bliss does a superb job of showing a first-hand look at the disruption and chaos of civilian life under enemy assault. Her descriptions were rich and three-dimensional. Her characters’ emotions put me there, hiding from the Yankees, or complying with them under duress. She kept me reading to find out how this couple overcomes. Great kick-off to the collection.

Courage of the Heart, by Tamela Hancock Murray, switched sides of the war, with a Union-sympathizing West Virginia couple, Arabella Lambert and Barry Birch. Their betrothal is curtailed by her father, since Barry refuses to fight the Confederates for the cause. Arabella’s loyalty in faith in him resonated with me. Barry’s pacifist principles set him apart as a truly unique character. Sweet romance prevails.

Nestled like a gem in the middle of the collection was my personal favorite, Shelter in the Storm by Carrie Turansky. I am a sucker for wounded-soldier-meets-nurse plots. I wrote one myself. But this had several qualities that set it apart from the average Florence Nightingale tale. James Galloway hails from Bristol, England, a sketch artist for Harper’s Weekly. The refined heroine, Rachel Thornton, has this wonderfully real relationship with her vivacious and impulsive younger sister who thinks nothing of blurting questions of the wounded stranger. Turansky’s prose is lovely, her characters are of real flesh and blood, and her setting captivated me--Nashville 1864. A great little love story.

Finally, Vickie McDonough brings the collection to a wonderful finale with Beloved Enemy. It is hard to decide favorites, since this was as powerful in story and prose as the previous selection. In many ways, this hero was my favorite for his complexity and conflicted emotions. This novella offers a big story in a little package—Chris Haley’s recovery from the physical and spiritual wounds of war kept me turning pages. A tender man at heart, shown with interactions with the heroine’s baby boy, he must learn forgiveness before his budding romance can bloom with sweet and faithful southern-born Hannah McIntosh. Delicious internal conflict and chemistry, from start to finish.

A Blue and Gray Christmas has more vibrant color than its title suggests. This collection is sure to add a swag of red romance and golden ambiance to your holiday reading.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wild West Christmas

Lena Nelson Dooley starts off this collection of Christmas romances with the story of Charlsey, the youngest daughter of Frank Ames , Texas rancher. This little blonde cattle-roping bombshell resists the appeal of Harold Miller whom she disparagingly refers to as “Boston” for his cold Northern upbringing. Can Harold warm up to ranching and Texas ways to sweep her off her feet in time for a Christmas wedding?

Next, Darlene Franklin brings us the tale of older sister Lucy, gifted with a keen sight with a rifle. Lucy finds more gifts than she thought she possessed as she tours in a Wild West show. Can her unique talents win the heart of the show proprietor’s son, Gordon? Will Gordon’s calling from God whisk him from the arms of this humble beauty? A special gift awaits them on Christmas.

Vickie McDonough ropes heartstrings with her yarn about Sarah Ames, the daughter who believes she should have been born a son. Sarah finds more ease among the horses than she does in the kitchen. When her father hires a new hand with her beloved horses, will her rivalry and suspicion of him prevent her from yielding to attraction to this gentle horse trainer? Will Carson Romero put his brand on her heart under the mistletoe?

Finally, the oldest Ames girl, Bess, emerges in the voice of story weaver Kathleen Y’Barbo. Bess struggles with a self-image hurt by an unflattering childhood rhyme that Joe Mueller made up about her. “Bessie Mae, plain as day.” Will her grudge against this man, now a handsome Texas ranger, harden her stubborn heart? Her father courts a neighbor widow, and she fears she will intrude upon their newlywed home if she stays an old maid forever. Can Joe win her confidence and rescue her from a fearful fate? Christmas holds the biggest surprise of all for Bess, with a new rhyme and a new life.

Wild West Christmas provides an authentic flavor of Texas ranching life at the end of the 19th Century. Each character captured the rugged independence of the lone star state, and each tale depicted a unique romance sure to capture the heart. I especially enjoyed the three dimensional characters, like Lucy’s humility despite rising to acclaim, and Sarah’s conflicting desire to make her father proud when he demands that she give up the one thing that stirs her passion—horses. Each story weaves a redemptive thread through to a satisfying conclusion.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Interview with Scotti Cohn

Featured Book for October:
It Happened in Chicago by Scotti Cohn
Author bio for Scotti Cohn:

I was born and raised in Springfield, Illinois. I have been writing poetry and fiction almost since I learned the alphabet.

My first major opus was a joint project with my best friend in fourth grade. We wrote a sequel to 101 Dalmatians and sent it to Walt Disney Studios. They accepted it and we became famous child prodigies, and. . . oops. There I go, writing fiction again.

Anyhow, although I was bitter at the rejection by Disney, I continued to pursue my calling. I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, graduating from the latter with a double major in English and Russian. I lived in North Carolina for 25 years. I have two adult children.

I have worked as a technical editor for a bank holding company, an educational software purchasing agent, a legal secretary, an advertising executive, and a public relations and communication specialist for a health care system.

My first nonfiction adult book was published by The Globe Pequot Press in 2000, and I have since written five other books for Globe. My first picture book was published in 2009 by Sylvan Dell Publishing.

I now live in Bloomington, Illinois with my high school sweetheart and five cats. I work from home as a writer and copyeditor.

Kathy: Scotti, Thank you for taking the time for this interview. You have just released your book, It Happened in Chicago. In it you highlight some of the major events that took place in Chicago that shaped history.

Okay, first, a couple of fun questions:

Favorite book, favorite movie, favorite TV show?

Scotti: My favorite books in general are fiction, typically fantasy (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle; The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman; The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper). I'm not much of a movie-watcher, but I lean toward movies that are clever, funny, or quirky. In the area of television, I enjoy Animal Planet and Discovery Channel programming, but I also watch Law and Order, NCIS, and CSI with my husband.

Kathy: A Wrinkle in Time is one of my favorites, too. What is your favorite of the books you have written and why?

Scotti: I would have to say that my picture book, One Wolf Howls, is my favorite. That's because I came up with the idea, I wrote it, and I found a publisher -- and because the illustrations (by Susan Detwiler) are gorgeous. The topics for my other books were chosen by the publisher, who then provided me with loose guidelines for content.

Kathy: Granola or hot fudge sundae?

Scotti: Hot fudge sundae -- maybe with some granola sprinkled on it.

Kathy: Jeans or skirt?

Scotti: Jeans mostly.

Kathy: Would you rather go fossil hunting or shopping for shoes?

Scotti: In general, I would rather go shopping -- not necessarily for shoes, however.

Kathy: Pets?

Scotti: Five cats.

Kathy: Tell me, why Chicago? Is it because you are from Bloomington, Illinois, or are there things about the Windy City everyone can appreciate?

Scotti: An editor at the Globe Pequot Press asked me if I wanted to write It Happened in Chicago. I said yes because I was raised in Springfield, I now live in Bloomington, and I have been to Chicago many times. I was interested in the subject and knew I would enjoy doing the research.

Kathy: Why did you choose to cover the historical events that you did?

Scotti: I started with a list of 90 historical events from Chicago history. My publisher wanted no more than 30 in the book. My criteria for inclusion was based on a desire to cover various time periods and various types of events (funny, horrifying, inspiring, sad). I wanted to include famous incidents as well as less-known incidents.

Kathy: What Native American people lived in the Illinois area prior to white settlement? Were they peaceful tribes? What happened to them?

Scotti: My understanding is that there were several different Native American tribes in Illinois and the Chicago area prior to white settlement. There were periods of fighting among tribes and against white trappers and settlers, as well as periods of peaceful coexistence. The Potawatomi were the principal Native American residents of the Chicago area in 1835, when the Treaty of Chicago was signed. Within three years, in accordance with treaty requirements, most of the Potawatomi had left the area. They relocated in Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, and Canada.

Kathy: What role did Chicago play in Abraham Lincoln’s bid for president? What role did it play throughout his life, his funeral and his wife’s later years?

Scotti: Lincoln supporters lobbied tirelessly for the Republican Convention of 1860 to be held in Chicago because they knew that would give the home-field advantage to Lincoln, who was Illinois' "favorite son." As an attorney living in Springfield, Lincoln spent a lot of time in Chicago. His funeral train stopped in Chicago, where an elaborate procession and viewing took place. After his death, Mary Todd Lincoln spent considerable time in Chicago, as did her son Robert.

Kathy: What were the Atrocious Acts of 1886, in a nutshell?

Scotti: I took the chapter title "Atrocious Acts" from a handbill distributed by labor activists in Chicago in May of 1886. At that time, all across the country, American workers were on strike in support of the eight-hour workday. Many "atrocious acts" were committed by labor activists as well as police. The handbill distributed in Chicago decried "the latest atrocious act of the police" -- a reference to a violent police response to strikers who had attacked replacement workers at McCormick's Reaper Works on May 3. On May 4 during a meeting in Haymarket Square, a bomb was thrown, causing the death of several policemen. Four men were later executed for inciting, advising, and encouraging the throwing of the bomb.

Kathy: Tell us about the World’s Fair of 1893. What inventions and innovations were introduced to the world at this event?

Scotti: The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 brought us the Ferris wheel, the moveable sidewalk, the elevated intramural railway, the Kinetograph (an early version of the movie projector), and numerous tasty delights such as Cracker Jacks, Juicy Fruit gum, Pabst beer, and Cream of Wheat.

Kathy: The location of this world-class event stirred jealousy from old, established cities like New York. Why was it significant that Chicago, an up-and-coming city on the world scene, be the host for such an event?

Scotti: New York, in particular, expressed concern that Chicago would embarrass the entire country by hosting a fair that was little more than a cattle show. Prominent Chicagoans like Charles T. Yerkes, Marshall Field, Philip Armour, Potter Palmer, Gustavus Swift, George Pullman, and Cyrus McCormick were determined to prove otherwise. They succeeded, which did wonders for Chicago's image and status on the national and world stage.

Kathy: I was aware of certain events, like the Chicago world’s fair of 1893, and the great fire. But you explore some off-the-beaten-path events and people, like Mary Todd Lincoln’s confinement at a sanitarium toward the end of her life. What did you learn as you researched and wrote this book?

Scotti: Among the things I did not know before researching and writing this book are:
- A Black person is regarded as Chicago's first permanent settler. (Historians don't know for certain where he came from. He may have been from Santo Domingo or Haiti or Canada. He is referred to as a "Negro" in records from the late 1700s).
- The grade of Chicago's streets was raised six to ten feet during the 1850s and 1860s.
- One of the very first "open heart" surgeries was performed by an African-American doctor in Chicago in 1893.
- Charlie Chaplin filmed a movie in Chicago in 1915.
- The term "Windy City" was historically used both literally (as a reference to gusty winds) and figuratively (as a derisive reference to pretentious bragging on the part of Chicagoans).

Kathy: You do speaking engagements on a number of topics. Tell us about that.

Scotti: Currently my presentations center around my two most recently published books: It Happened in Chicago and One Wolf Howls. For It Happened in Chicago, I created a PowerPoint slide for each chapter, using music, visuals, and voice-overs to capture the essence of the chapter. I lead an interactive discussion with the audience about the events depicted in the slides. For One Wolf Howls, I talk to elementary-school children about wolves and their role in nature and/or how I wrote the book and got it published.

Kathy: Scotti, thank you so much for spending time with us and sharing your research and a glimpse into your latest release, It Happened in Chicago. Best wishes on its success.

It Happened in Chicago gives a rich historic overview, useful to history buffs and those who would like a better understanding of one of our country’s great cities. The link to the book trailer is
The website/blog for the book can be reached here:
Scotti’s website is

Other books by Scotti Cohn (all published by The Globe Pequot Press):
More Than Petticoats: Remarkable North Carolina Women (written under the name Scotti Kent) -- Fourteen mini-biographies of extraordinary women from North Carolina's history.
It Happened in North Carolina (first edition written under the name Scotti Kent; second edition - including two new chapters - published under the name Scotti Cohn) -- A collection of narratives about 29 events that shaped the history of the Tarheel State.
Disasters and Heroic Rescues of North Carolina -- A collection of 18 true stories of tragedy and survival that occurred over the course of North Carolina's history.
Beyond Their Years: Stories of 16 Civil War Children -- A collection of mini-biographies of people who were children or teens during the Civil War, displaying courage, devotion, and wisdom beyond their years.
Liberty's Children: Stories of 11 Revolutionary War Children -- A collection of mini-biographies of people who were children or teens during the American Revolution, actively participating in the war or simply enduring as best their interrupted youths allowed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review of A Bride in the Bargain by DeeAnee Gist

Anna Ivey is one of my all-time favorite heroines. Orphaned and utterly alone after the Civil War, she carries a weight of guilt which cripples her from ever allowing love to blossom in her heart. She feels she is responsible for the deaths of those closest to her, and fears she will be the demise of anyone she lets near. Despite her poverty and grief, she is a plucky, hard-working gal, and unafraid to take the risk of joining Asa Mercer’s emigration of single women to the Northwest Territory.

Utterly handsome Joe Denton has worked his Seattle lumber enterprise for eleven years as a single man. He loves his land more than anything, even more than the wife he lost back east before she could join him. Without a wife, however, he will lose half of his land due to the land grant rules. Married men are entitled to 640 acres, but a single man can only have 320. Desperate to retain what he’s developed, he agrees to take one of Mercer’s brides, sight unseen.

What results is a delicious conflict of physical attraction, emotional hang-ups, and a dash of mis-communication, smattered with humor and, ahem, almost-romantic rivalries. Joe believes he has secured a bride, while Anna holds to her contract as stated—to work as a cook. Can Joe muster the charm and love for Anna to win her as his bride before his deadline?

Many twists and unexpected delights awaited on this romantic journey. Full of tangible yearning, this story held me captive to see how the guy gets the girl. In the end, it was deeply satisfying. One of the most beautifully written and deeply characterized books I’ve read in a while. Wonderful secondary characters make this a fun, and at times, laugh-out-loud book. But keep a hanky close—some parts just hit the spot.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review of Spring Creek Bride by Janice Thompson

Ida Mueller has big ideals and high standards, forged by her godly German upbringing in the formerly sleepy town of Spring Creek, Texas. The railroad boom has changed her landscape, but not her heart. She still longs for the innocence of a bygone day, even if that naive era was only two years prior. Since her mother’s death, Ida grows big shoulders to carry heavy yokes, like the cooking, cleaning, helping, and one other thing. She adopts the way her mother championed causes, like a 19th Century Esther. Her latest cause, to clean the town of the ruffians who have invaded it. Her crusade leaves no room for romance in her life . . .

. . . until Mick Bradley arrives on the train from Chicago, with his shiny shoes and handsome attire. Mick has an agenda on his mind, and it isn’t the beautiful, wild-haired young lady who nearly runs him over on the street. He has come to build his empire, one whiskey drink and one slot machine at a time no matter who stands in his way—even a force he hasn’t reckoned with.

Janice Thompson’s story of cultural transition colliding with age-old faith held a particular power in showing how religious prejudice and good intent can miss God’s will. Each character, though flawed, held a unique glory, and showed a lovely portrait of God’s grace. Some surprises unfold with the recurring theme of opening one’s heart to love—some for the first time, and others, for a second chance at true happiness.

Spring Creek Bride has one of the loveliest examples of cover art I’ve ever been drawn to. It was a nice taste of local history, Texas style, along with a sassy love story of two stubborn wills finding common ground through God’s matchmaking. A fun and enlightening read.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Chemung Canal

Elmira, New York has a history in transportation innovations. Before the age of rail, canals delivered goods cheaper than overland travel. The success of the Erie Canal, completed in 1825, spawned a series of lateral canals to connect other communities to its trade. The Chemung Canal was one of the first proposed for State Legislature funding in that same year. Approval was not granted until 1829, and the first shovels were dug on its construction in 1830 by thirteen Revolutionary War veterans. Completed in 1833, The Chemung Canal was open for business. It linked Elmira to the Erie through Seneca Lake via Watkins Glen in a notoriously slow and consistently problematic history which lasted through the Civil War into the late 1870's.

Th system of locks were built of wood, which bowed and rotted. Silt continued to push in on its four-foot-deep bottom, requiring expensive maintenance. And yet, the lucrative trade in lumber, Pennsylvania coal and other regional products generated enough business to make Elmira an up-and-coming town by the time of the Civil War. The Erie Railroad had come to Elmira in 1849, linking the township with New York City and points east, and then by 1854, north to Rochester. By the Civil War, rail had placed its iron foot on the area in a dominant stance, and the age of the canal had well begun to decline.

The route took canal boats, pulled by mule teams, along a 42' wide path from the Chemung River through Elmira, Horseheads, Millport, Havana and finally Watkins Glen. The Horseheads toll station stood where the fire station is today, just past Hanover Square. To this day, traces of the old canal can be seen along Route 14 toward Watkins Glen, near Catherine Creek.

1872 marked the year that a portion of the canal was refilled in downtown Elmira, but parts remained active through October 1878. In Elmira, little remains of the canal's history except for the trust company by the same name. What killed the canal also took the life of the Chemung Canal's first toll taker, Thomas Maxwell. In 1864, Maxwell was struck down by a locomotive in Elmira.

for further reading, see:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

announcing CROWN fiction marketing

Are you a published or aspiring historical novelist who recognizes the need for innovative marketing for your book?
Announcing CROWN:
Civil War,
Reconstruction and
Other historic
CROWN is a network of writers whose focus and passion is creating God-honoring fiction set in 1800’s America, who share marketing opportunities to promote one another.

Our purpose for CROWN is to create a viral network of quid-pro-quo promotion and influence for our genre and individual books. Participants of CROWN enjoy an internet buzz over their new releases via author interviews, blog tours, reader discussion/review campaigns, forum participation, and social networking. In addition, grass-roots campaigning at local bookstores and libraries, speaking engagements, and book signings.

Imagine the power of numbers working for you.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

review of Courting the Doctor's Daughter

Janet Dean has written the historical fiction book of my heart. I love a hero who must fight past his inner wounds to win the girl. In fact, in Courting the Doctor’s Daughter, Dean writes of two people, wounded by life’s harshness and the failure of those they had depended upon, who come together over the fate of a young orphan boy.

Mary Graves, the heroine, raises three sons as a widow, one of which she took in after an orphan-train placement fell through. She assists her aging father’s medical practice, praying and plotting for an assistant to relieve some of her father’s burden.

Enter Luke Jacobs, a peddler of tonics—the bane of Mary’s existence. How dare he bilk her beloved townspeople out of their money for his snake oil? What she learns about him, through the layers of his self-defense, and about his medicine, will not only affect her, but set a chain of redemption in motion for all she cares about: her father, her sons, and the people she loves and serves.

I loved the way this romance covered topics ranging from disability, to alcoholism, lying, forgiveness, trust, and even anxiety. Dean accomplishes this in a realistic and deeply satisfying way through well-fleshed-out characters who journey through their conflicts to find faith in God, faith in themselves, and faith in one another. This story resonated with me, and I know it will stay with me for a long time to come.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Elmira: Cradle of Women's Rights

Elmira: Cradle of Women's rights

In 1855, Elmira opened the first regularly chartered school in the country for women. "The Elmira Collegiate Seminary" had its beginnings in Auburn, NY, (home of William Seward and Harriet Tubmann). Rev. and Mrs. Harry A. Sackett obtained the charter for the school, but moved the plans to Elmira where the idea was welcomed warmly.

Situated in the heart of Elmira's north side amidst newly renovated and beautified grounds, Elmira College campus hearkens to its 19th Century roots with lovely old stone and brick buildings named after influential people in its founding, such as Simeon Hall, honoring its founder Simeon Benjamin, Esquire, and Cowle's Hall, after its first president A.W. Cowles.

Mark Twain's study is a popular attraction, cresting the slope overlooking a fountained pond. The octagon-shaped bricks that compose the walkway meandering about the pond and campus echo the shape of the famous study used by Twain to write portions of Huckleberry Finn.

Also credited with developing the idea for the college is a married couple of physicians who lived on Elmira's East Hill, along Watercure Hill Road. Dr. Gleason and his wife ran "the Elmira Water Cure", a sulphur spring infirmary and resort believed to contain healing properties when it was built in 1852. Because of Mrs. Gleason's remarkable accomplishements for her time as a trained physician, the couple was instrumental in developing and championing the idea of an all-women's college.

The Elmira Water Cure was one of hundreds of facilities at the time espousing hydrotherapy, but was "one of the first and longest lived" of the facilities of its kind, according to K. Patrick Ober's book "Any Mummery Will Cure". Hydrotherapy was espoused by the influential Langdons, whose property Quarry Farms bordered the Water Cure to the North. According to Ober, "Hydrotherapy's doctrines went beyond a focus on the role of water as a therapeutic agent, and its committment to temperance and women's reform made it attractive to socially liberal families such as the Langdons. The prominent clientele of the Elmira Water Cure included the likes of Susan B. Anthony, Vice-President Schuyler Colfax, and the mother of Emily Dickinson."

for further research:'s%20water%20cure&pg=PA104#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A New Direction

I have been trying to decide which direction to take my blog--it's been a bit rambly so far. I have decided to focus on true historic events, people, places, and times, and try to connect them to my locale of the Elmira/Corning/Ithaca/Binghamton, New York area.

For starters, a quick review of Elmira's history. Elmira is the county seat of Chemung County, and was officially recognized a city in 1865. It first became settled prior to the American Revolution, and hosted historic camp sights of General Sullivan in his campaign against the American Indians allied with the British. The Iroquois people, more specifically the Seneca, once called this valley home.

During the Civil War, Elmira hosted one of three recruitment rendezvous in New York state, since two major railways ran through it. It was considered a transprtation hub, and it facilitated the trasport of trained soldiers to the southern front. Three barracks made up the training grounds, the third which became the infamous death camp of the north, "Helmira". The Elmira prison camp housed Confederate POW's from July 1864 through the end of the war.

Many notable historic figures hailed from Elmira, including Jervis Langdon, an abolitionist and reputed patron of the underground railroad, also known as being Mark Twain's father-in-law. John W. Jones resided in Elmira. An escaped slave, he became a conductor on teh underground Railroad to rival Harriett Tubman's involvement, leading over 200 slaves to freedom. Mark Twain himself called Elmira home fro short stretches of time at Quarry Farm on historic East Hill. He penned the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in an octogon-shaped pavilion at the farm. Thomas K. Beecher, a relative of Harriett Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher, a remarkable minister and humanitarian in his own right, took up residence in Elmira. Each of these noted citizens will be featured in articles and interviews with local historians to come.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Clergy/ Laity Unscriptural

Certain accepted prejudices have made a comfortable presence in modern life. Our enlightened culture has come a long way thanks to the dirt pioneers have had to swallow. Our country prides itself in electing a man of African lineage, with a Muslim-sounding name, no less. Yet, in our so-called evolution, distinctions exist both in the culture at large, and among microcosms of society. One in particular sticks in my generously proportioned craw, and that is the distinction between clergy and so-called laity.

These terms are religious in nature. They have their roots in the Christian tradition. The origin has nothing to do with the standard by which Christians judge truth--nowhere in the Bible do these terms appear. Not in Greek, Hebrew, Modern English, or any subsequent translation, even among the click languages of the sub-Sahara. Clergy is a man-made title for the elite, plain and simple. The Cleric evolved from clerk, or one who had the advantage over the commoner with the ability to read. The term Laity is likewise a dismissive gesture at those assigned a following or supportive role for the clergy, very much like serfs and peasants supported fiefdoms for lords, earls and kings.

Biblical power structure looks more like the knights of the round table, where five offices are mutually respected and all contribute. The book of Romans and the two books of Corinthians spell out these as Pastors, Teachers, Prophets, Evangelists and Apostles. Modern interpretation of the office of Pastor has exaggerated its power and role to usurp the other four into relative nonexistence, or else annexed them into one goggle-eyed monster of all-consuming church authority. Literally, pastor means 'to lead to pasture', or to where the food is. The modern church chief executive officer not only leads to the buffet, but provides all five courses single-handedly.

Often, the common believer's contribution is given no more importance in the body than manning the nursery, or wearing a red jacket and greeting new people as they come through the door, or sticking one's arm up a puppet's backside for the entertainment of children. None of these assignments have changed the world, but they have changed the average believer into a hamster-like being, spinning his wheel with feverish devotion and getting nowhere. This systematic neutering of God's people has led to disenfranchisement, irrelevance and the death of vitality in many churches which once thrived with the power of God. No wonder the modern church sees fewer miracles than in the book of Acts. The masses have been reduced to spectatorship for the central dictator.

Jesus may have predicted his own displacement as the central authority of his church when he said, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." (Luke 9:58) How can Jesus squeeze a word in edgewise while the talking heads hold the microphone? In Revelation 3:20, we see Jesus locked outside his own church in Laodicea, saying, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.' Have we locked Jesus outside His church by role distinctions that He never intended? His word expresses a desire to see 'every joint supply,' not just the select few who hold the right degree.

Did Jesus hand out his business card to the Pharisees and boast of his SOG degree? Did he earn his title of Son Of God by a man-made accolade? Obviously not. And neither should his children. Romans 8 speaks of adoption by the Spirit for believers in verses 15-17: ". . . you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father! The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." When the church puts away class distinctions like the clergy/laity abomination, then God's power will once again return to his people, and the world will see a different image of our great God.

Monday, June 8, 2009

400 students defy ACLU and pray at graduation

Go, young people! Way to stand up for what's important.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

My mother is my hero. She raised me and my two brothers and two sisters after my father left her in a strange town ( after a five state move pursuing his dream job) to fend for herself. She never received a penny in child support, but went to work in a maximum-security prison to put a roof over our heads and feed us.
She never missed a concert, a play, a recital, an art exhibit, or an open house. She never left us to go out partying or drinking, but stayed home to make sure we were safe in bed at a decent hour. She never brought men home, because she felt it was our safe haven, not a hotel for clandestine thrills. In short, she is the most selfless, altruistic, self-sacrificing person I have ever met.
She brought us to church every Sunday, even sent us to private school a few years. She took us to the public library every Saturday in preschool and elementary school, and cultivated our love for reading and the arts every opportunity she could. She modeled patience, integrity, and ingenuity. She managed to give us piano lessons, singing lessons, bought my art supplies, took me to living history events, and supported every interest and talent I fancied.
She gave me the best Christmas present have ever received. During our worst financial struggles, we lived in government housing, which discouraged dog ownership, and charged extra security for pets. Knowing my gnawing desire for a dog, she risked the trouble and paid the extra to give me my German Shepherd/Pembroke Welsh Corgi mix, Lady. That was 26 years ago, but it still stands out in my memory as one of the happiest times of my life. If we were poor, we never knew it, because she made us feel rich in the important things.
She showed me that good parenting has nothing to do with money, or compromise, or even personal success. She laid her life down to see her children succeed. She gave me the best example of a life well-lived. and still does. I am blessed to have a mother as wealthy in love and true goodness as I have been given.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thank you for giving me life, even though I was your fifth child, conceived to a marriage that was falling apart. You could have chosen to terminate my pregnancy, but you chose to hope for a purpose and a plan for my life. You had faith.
And to all of you moms out there, keep giving. A proverb says men will praise you when you do well for yourself. But Proverbs 31 says the children of a woman of noble character will rise up and call her blessed. Whose praise do you prefer?

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Rich and Needy

My very dear friend, Payton Belknap wrote a poem I'd like to share with you.

Lettter To The Rich and Needy ( alias, unsolicited food stamp police)
To all the interested people,
who peek in my cart,
to check out my meat,
and stab at my heart.
You may never have been poor,
but you're certainly needy.
If greed were nutritious,
I'd beg you to feed me!
Your pockets are full,
cupboards overflowing,
and if the market keeps crashing,
you'll soon be knowing,
just how we feel,
let's keep this real....
Your babies will cry,
their tummies will ache,
you'll search your accounts,
and pray for mistakes,
but it will all be gone....
and you'll need the help.
And someone like you once were, will police your cart,
and break your heart.
You'll hang your head and silently cry,
and wish that you never had pride in your eyes,
but it will be too late,
for you the rich and needy!!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

History repeats itself--tea parties, a new face

Tea Parties have come a long way from my little girl's nursery with stuffed animals gathered around a low table to sip kool aid from my plastic Barbie tea set. The most recent tea party I attended on Tax Day in Corning, New York traded simple childhood socializing for old republicans decrying socialism while the odor of cigars and pipes wafted over the Chemung River. Thirty years has changed my taste in more ways than trading kool-aid for real tea. Social gatherings have leaned to the disgrutled, and the downright angry. The little girl in me still wishes for the grace and civility of old customs, but the adult concedes that passive agreement won't win the debate. Any more than appeasing Hitler preserved Europe from a second world war.

My young son asked me the other day what made Hitler such a bad person. (He has had a keen grasp of current events since he spoke his first word, "Afghanistan.") I explained that Hitler took power in a destabilized Germany in the wake of military and economic defeats which demoralized its people and made them ripe for any notion of hope, whether sincere or manipulated. In the words of a great singer and lyricist Matthew Ward, "be careful when they say to you, it's all right, its all right. The economic system's coming through, it's all right, its all right." Hitler conviced an entire generation that Germany could recover her great place in history by eliminating the weak, and favoring the strong in a Machiavellian plot of the ends justifiying the means and the epic and catastrophic Darwinian experiment of survival of the fittest, called the Holocaust. He targeted the feeble minded, the physically handicapped, the Jews, the Gypsies, the Catholics, and ultimately anyone who opposed him. My son asked why people did not stop him, and I told him at first, they wanted to beleive in him, because he made them feel good about themselves after a decade of humiliation and poverty. By the time they caught on to his evil tactics, Hitler had large armies and a police state to crush any dissention.

Tea parties certainly have come a long way in my thirty-eight years. The new ones are certainly controversial, and they've gotten more than a few folks mad. But I thank God I still live in a country where political expression, even dissension, is permissible.