Husband asks, “How was your day?”

In my imagination it's summer in William Merritt Chase's Prospect Park

In my imagination it’s summer in William Merritt Chase’s Prospect Park

Before you get all jealous because you didn’t get to spend your day living in a dead painter’s New York, let me explain that this wonderful vacation will probably come to an end soon. After raising five kids in a blended family situation, my husband and I are considering adoption. Yeah, we miss the emotional chaos.

But for now as I come close to finishing the rough draft of the fifth novel in The Tenafly Road series, I get to linger in Prospect Park.

Chase explored everyday life in urban landscapes.

Chase explored everyday life in urban landscapes.

After my husband, who is an itinerant engineer for his company as he learns the tools, happily talked about one of the nice guys he works with in Albany, he asked, “And how was your day?”

I was really happy that he’d had a good day because I didn’t want him to be too jealous of my day inside the paintings. “I had a GREAT day!” I burst out.

“So what happened to Buck today?” he asked. (Buck is my lead character)

I leaned in. “Okay, so, you know how I was wondering how Buck would be in Brooklyn at the same time as his sister Thankful when something bad would happen?” My husband doesn’t want details since he’s gotten really into the series and doesn’t want any spoilers)


“Well, I was thinking about Fred coming back to town.”

“Oh, no,” my husband said with a smile. “You really do love chaos.”

“I love Fred! Well, I hate him, but I LOVE writing about him. And he comes to town to buy art and Buck knows a dealer in Brooklyn. So they have lunch at Delmonico’s. Fred is disgusting and rude. I had so much fun with them at the restaurant. Buck was disgusted.  And then they went to Prospect Park–in Brooklyn.”


“You know how I was gonna make Buck buy Tiffany stained glass and the factory was in Brooklyn?” 

“No,” my husband replied. “I don’t think you told me that.”

“Yes, well, I spent the day in William Merritt Chase’s paintings and it changed everything. I mean having Fred return is such a blessing. The BEST is that on the trip he tells Buck that’s he’s bought the plot of land in Englewood across the street from Buck’s!”

My husband laughs. “They’re going to have a building war, aren’t they?”


So there you go. My husband builds things in the real world that I hardly understand and I build worlds in paintings.


“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.” Edgar Allan Poe


“In some Asian societies dating back to ancient times, and in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, fair skin was considered very attractive because it was thought to indicate wealth and high social status, as being tanned meant that one was obligated to work in the fields for one’s livelihood. Similarly, the powdered white wig worn by American colonial era illuminati reflected the wearer’s ability to afford luxury items and identified him as one of the educated elite.

courtesy pinterest

courtesy pinterest

“Nevertheless, in nineteenth-century America, albinism was considered such a bizarre trait that people with this condition were exhibited in circus sideshows. Furthermore, with the advent of the camera, these individuals were featured on postcards which were widely distributed and collected from the 1870s-’90s.”

19th century musical albinos

Albinism in popular culture

19th century albino hair

Books I’ve Known And Loved

Female Explorer Extraordinaire

Female Explorer Extraordinaire

Who says women couldn’t do anything in the 19th century? Not Isabella L. Bird. Ladies and gents, listen up. Here’s a story full of spirit. Dear Miss Bird was a sickly soul, but despite her weakness, she charged ahead endeavoring to see the world and write about it. And so she did.

As simple as that. She made choices. Didn’t expect others to treat her in a particular way, but noted when people treated her kindly. First she went to Australia, then China and finally to Colorado where she gifted future generations a marvelous look into one woman’s fearlessness and heroic curiosity.


How many of us modern girls would throw our cares to the wind, travel alone or with strange men into deep mountain ravines and sleep in insect infested hovels for fun? How many of us would climb such treacherous mountains on horseback and suffer being thrown and tumbled over by said horse?

Isabella refused to ride side-saddle, yet threatened to sue a newspaper when a writer said she dressed like a man (which she most definitely DID NOT!). She fell for a famous handsome bad boy “Rocky Mountain Jim” who just recently lost his eye to a grizzly and despite his bad reputation quoted poetry and seemed bewitched by this strange English lady who found him tucked in a little valley of the mountains.

Their romance was ill-fated and only a year after she left him in his frosty mountain solitude he was shot dead.


Do you like sunsets? Do you like trying to describe them? I get about as far as saying, “It was a pink sunset . . .”  But not Isabella. Some people are born to write about natural things in such a way that the reader feels nearly as in awe as the writer (and without photographs!).

When we bemoan our boring lives or how fate has made us women or how life keeps throwing us curve balls we need heroines like Miss Bird. She shows us from her far distant time that we hold the key to our adventurous lives. God gives us the mountains and the sunsets, the tumbling horses and the people we come across on our travels, but He lets us decide how we’re going to handle it all. Isabella made do and then some. She didn’t hate men for being men and didn’t hate being a woman. She was who she was and that was all she needed.

So let’s be happy in our skins today. Men and women alike–I love you. Now off you go! Have an adventure or read this book.

About the Writing Process

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Luanne Castle of Writer Site and The Family Kalamazoo  tagged me to share how and why I write what I do. I thought it might be a fun thing to think about (and to avoid finishing  my series which I don’t want to end).

Luanne wrote about her writing process here

Not only does she run two blogs, but her bio is pretty impressive:

Luanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside.  She studied English and creative writing at the University of California, Riverside (PhD); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. She taught English for fifteen years at California State University, San Bernardino.

Her first collection of poetry, Doll God, is forthcoming from Aldrich Press imprint of Kelsay Books.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

What am I working on at the moment?

008It’s a long story. No, it actually is a long story—four novels long. When I wrote my first novel, The House on Tenafly Road, a set of twins threw William Weldon out of a hayloft on Christmas and broke his arm. I suddenly wondered what would happen to this obnoxious pair of young boys—Fred and Buck Crenshaw.I fell in love with them.

I knew this would be Thankful Crenshaw's look.

I knew this would be Thankful Crenshaw’s look.

Instantly I realized that Fred would be the physically stronger and more evil of the two.  I sent them off to West Point in the 1880’s where Buck gets into trouble with one of the first (fictional) black cadets and must decide what sort of man he wants to become. Saddled with a family from hell and his own sometimes reckless and faulty reasoning Buck has  plenty of misadventures. His sister Thankful is usually along for the ride in one way or another and quite possibly makes every bad decision a girl can make.

I never planned a series, but Buck’s life story hasn’t stopped exciting me yet. I’m currently in the final stages of what will probably (maybe) be the last book of the series where all of my characters’ lives explode in a final crescendo of guilt, hate, love and redemption.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My great grandfather and his twin sparked my interest in twins.

My great grandfather and his twin sparked my interest in twins.

I will confess that I don’t read much current historical fiction. If someone asked me to write a novel set in 2014 I probably couldn’t do it. I feel no connection to the present and never have. My stories are about family and the crazy love/hate things that happen when people are together under one roof or in the same small town. I feel I was given these characters who just happened to live in my favorite time period. Gilded Age America was so full of hope and hypocrisy. Christianity was losing sway as science upended the way people viewed their lives. Despite what we were taught in school there were no perfect heroes or perfect villains. In many ways people were just like we are today—only with fantastic hats. So much of what we think we know is myth generated to uphold agendas. I love uncovering the complexity of the past.

Why do I write what I do?

I can’t stop myself. As soon as I first dipped my pen in the blue-black ink a friend gave me I was transported to the 1860’s. I have an intense love for digging up things in libraries and an equally intense love and compassion for flawed people (being one myself). I write the books I want to read.

I grew up with a mother who read David Copperfield and Middlemarch to us. We all bawled our eyes out when Charlie in Rose in Bloom died. I was destined to write LONG books about people I want desperately to believe are real. My father was a cop who brought home sometimes funny, sometimes sick stories and shared them around the dinner table (my weird fascination with morphine started here).

At first I wrote for myself, but then I wrote for my characters. I don’t want them to be a private thing. My joy comes from the process and the sharing. When someone tells me they are really angry with one of my characters I’m on cloud nine. When they tell me they cried I’m on cloud eleven(?).

How does my writing process work?

Ideas float into my head and I go with them. Outlining would kill me inside. I get attracted to people first. I look at old photographs and paintings. Since I’m always reading non-fiction books about my time period and I have a crazy family of drama kings and queens, it’s pretty easy coming up with conflict. Books drop into my hands at the perfect time (sometimes I have to wait for a seed to germinate but sometimes it’s immediate gratification). I knew as soon as Buck spoke to a girl for a second in book one that he would marry her eventually—books later.

My goal is to write three hand-written pages, five days a week (at least). I never judge the first draft and I accept that I may write tons more than I need to figure things out. Back story that never makes it into the final manuscript is like having a box of old photos that don’t make it into frames but you still love looking at them.

My writing buddies--except when it's snowing.

My writing buddies–except when it’s snowing.

I used to run around with ink jars and nibs in wooden holders, but now sitting in a field with a bunch of curious goats makes that impossible. Yes, I write most  of the year outdoors in a field. Yes, I’m damned lucky. But it hasn’t always been that way. I can and do write anywhere.

If I ever feel stuck I go to any historical library I can find and read something, anything. Or I go to a yard sale. Rarely do I use actual events from my own life on purpose. The creative process blinds me to the fact that writing is all about me. About two years after I’ve written something I see where I was as a person, but that’s secondary to just enjoying reading something you almost can’t believe you came up with.

I transcribe into a WORD document and add whatever comes to mind. If I need to do more research I note it then in red. After that it’s reading and re-reading, adjusting and just plain enjoying getting the rough spots to shine.

I would like to introduce my two nominees who will post their responses to these four writing process questions on their blogs.

a47e89ab92dfbf28f838705c73601209Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular “Building a Midshipman”, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.Whew, this girl is busy. I’m really excited to find out how she gets it all done! It says on her blog WordDreams that she doesn’t  have time to eat much. I love her blog because she always offers up great advice and encouragement–her descriptive lists are a lot of FUN!

me29Mikial Kenneth Millard of An Ever Changing Writer  is a writer, poet, visual artist and novelist who is working for the betterment of not only his family  but all of humanity. He exercises compassion but also discernment in hopes that the wisdom that he shares in poems, novels and interactions will help others to live better lives.

I love Mikial’s spirit! Not only does he write passionate poetry he also paints and on one occasion, out of the blue, he sent me a lovely painting of his for my computer. What generosity! I’m equally excited to hear about how he organizes his very productive life without getting grumpy! :)

So please be sure to check out their blogs for inspiration!

Thanks, Luanne!

Ding Dong: Door Bell History


When my mother's family pressed this my father told us to hide.

When my mother’s family pressed this my father told us to hide.

Do you always answer the door bell?

When my kids were young they took piano lessons at home. Their teacher was always late and never used the door bell. He’d just bound up the stairs, throw open our door and yell, “Honey, I’m home!” My husband wasn’t too fond of him.

Joseph Henry is largely forgotten in US history, but he not only was the first head of the Smithsonian Institution he also invented the precursor to the electric door bell. As with many great men of past times he grew up poor, but not mentally impoverished. His father died at a young age and so young Joe spent his childhood years with his dear old grandmother just outside of Albany, New York working in a general store.

He thought of becoming an actor in the theater but did so well at his studies at the Albany Academy (on scholarship) that even his teachers asked for help. Joe was “patient, kindly, self-controlled, and gently humorous.”

And who doesn’t love a man responsible for that excited feeling you get when your date rings the door bell? Or the dread you experience when the great warning note announces the arrival of your weird cousins and their unicycle-clad mobile home come for an unexpected visit?

Door bell history

Pretty twist bells


Setting the Fatherhood Bar High

What a Real Man Looks Like

What a Real Man Looks Like

“I was fortunate enough in having a father whom I have always been able to regard as an ideal man. It sounds a little like cant to say what I am going to say, but he really did combine the strength and courage and will and energy of the strongest man with the tenderness, cleanness and purity of a woman. I was a sickly and timid boy. He not only took great and untiring care of me—some of my earliest remembrances are of nights when he would walk up and down with me for an hour at a time in his arms when I was a wretched mite suffering acutely with asthma— but he also most wisely refused to coddle me, and made me feel that I must force myself to hold my own with other boys and prepare to do the rough work of the world. I cannot say that he ever put it into words, but he certainly gave me the feeling that I was always to be both decent and manly, and that if I were manly nobody would laugh at my being decent. In all my childhood he never laid hand on me but once, but I always knew perfectly well that in case it became necessary he would not have the slightest hesitancy in doing so again, and alike from my love and respect, and in a certain sense, my fear of him, I would have hated and dreaded beyond measure to have him know that I had been guilty of a lie, or of cruelty, or of bullying, or of uncleanness or of cowardice. Gradually I grew to have the feeling on my own account, and not merely on his.” Theodore Roosevelt and His Time Shown in His Own Letters Joseph Bucklin Bishop

TR’s father helped found: Orthopaedic Dispensary ( Orthopaedic Department of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center), the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Children’s Aid Society.  He contributed large sums to the Newsboys’ Lodging-house and the YMCA.

“My father, Theodore Roosevelt [Senior], was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness. As we grew older he made us understand that the same standard of clean living was demanded for the boys as for the girls; that what was wrong in a woman could not be right in a man. With great love and patience, and the most understanding sympathy and consideration, he combined insistence on discipline. He never physically punished me but once, but he was the only man of whom I was ever really afraid. I do not mean that it was a wrong fear, for he was entirely just, and we children adored him.” The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt

What was your father like?