When People Get Nice On You

I was just popping in for a few minutes at the library when one of my new favorite librarians hailed me over to see what she’d found at a garage sale?!

Cover ideas for book five bursting forth as we speak!
Cover ideas for book five bursting forth as we speak!

I come from a long line of people who want to trust others, but just don’t. It’s an affliction we wear with humor and secrecy. I’m not a rock or an island. I’m a small time farmer/writer so I don’t get out much, but when I do I’m always surprised at how well I’m treated, especially at the Saratoga Library.

When on an ordinary day you suddenly have all of your questions answered about a little piece of the world you’re creating for your characters handed to you in a single brilliant bit of happenstance you have to wonder about the hidden workings of the universe (or as we old-fashioned Christians might say–God). I believe God hands out talents, but that’s for another day.

This librarian stacked five crumbling out-of-print books on my table before remembering that she’d purchased this hotel booklet. Buck Crenshaw has an eventful stay there in the summer of 1889. I’d been gathering bits and pieces but what great delight I felt when the librarian who hardly knows me said I could borrow from her personal collection this perfect book! (she also gave me the email for the contact person holding a rare house tour at Yaddo  who is looking for volunteers–who will get in for free–and the email for a lady who volunteers her time doing FREE proofreading for local authors!). What a day!


I think God may be telling me to act nicer to others . . .

Loving the Brits and Finding an American Voice

Pinckney Marcius-Simons (1865 – 1909) The Writer
Pinckney Marcius-Simons (1865 – 1909) The Writer



and a beautiful art blog full of 19th century images perfect for research and awe:


Who Owns Time? The Railroads Do.


From http://www.iptv.org/iowapathways/mypath.cfm?ounid=ob_000194

“At present the jewelers of Burlington are using almost exclusively Chicago time but on Sunday will adopt standard time. Among the jewelers visited by an Hawkeye representative yesterday was Mr. G.H. Waldin, who stated he would change his time to conform to the new schedule of time just formulated for the use of the railroads by the railroad time convention recently held in Chicago. He further said: “Burlington time is now fourteen minutes slower than Chicago time. According to the new standard it will be five minutes slower than Chicago time. According to the new standard it will be five minutes faster than present city time. We get the correct time from Chicago every morning at 2 minutes past 10 o’clock and we receive it here in the store, being connected by wire. Next Sunday we will adopt the new time. We have always used railroad time; the public demands it and we must supply the demand. Very few people in Burlington use the city time.

Upon a request for determining the accurate time in Burlington, the following reply came from the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.

Dear Sir – In reply to your letter of June 7, I would state that the longitude of Burlington, Iowa, is 91°07′, and that of Chicago, Illinois is 87°38′; the difference therefore is 3°29′. At 4 minutes to 1°, or 4 seconds to 1′, this gives a time difference of 13 minutes and 56 seconds. It is proper to observe that as 1′ of longitude at this latitude is more than half a mile, different points in the two cities, would differ by several seconds.

Yours very respectfully,
Spencer,W. Baird, Secretary,
Smithsonian Institute

It is very probable the city will adopt the new standard time, as it will be generally used in Burlington anyway. So Sunday at noon, if you have correct Chicago time, set back your clock nine minutes, and you will have standard time.

-The Daily Hawkeye
15 November 1883″





Explore Your City with Bird’s Eye Maps

The big picture!
The big picture!

This map is a dream come true for me. How lucky to have my character Buck Crenshaw visit Saratoga in the very year this map was published! Find your city and explore the way it used to be at the Library of Congress Panoramic Maps Collection! You can zoom in and out and have a whole lot of fun!


Books I’ve Known And Loved

Not just a dull, old history of battles.
Not just a dull, old history of battles.

This is one of my all time favorites. Good old John Billings. Don’t you just love a soldier who gives you the inside dirt with some wit and great illustrations? I do. John enlisted in The Army of the Potomac, but don’t let that remind you of the boring history teacher with coffee breath and endless baseball analogies. While reading this book I was thinking, “Wow, I really have a crush on this guy! He’s giving me everything I need to know about the daily ups and downs of soldiering back in the day–the slang, the food, the music and the complete jerks who could spoil a perfectly good campfire. I’m pretty sure I would have married him if I knew him.”  But that’s how I get when people give me stuff and put illustrations (done by another soldier who lived through the Civil War) in their books.

I got lucky though–I found a veteran of my own who will occasionally throw a salty sailor story my way–but for the rest of you there’s Hardtack and Coffee



Play this first thing in the morning--your family will love you!
Play this first thing in the morning–your family will love you!
How I punish my children.
How I punish my children.

Occupy Wall Street 1886

Today I’m a bit stuck–well, not really–I could write for days about the Crenshaw women undermining Buck’s future wife, but it feels too like dessert before dinner and I’m a traditionalist. Hanging over me like the Sunday after a good vacation is MERCHANT BANKING. I’m being dramatic here. It’s actually exciting to peruse titles of scholarly articles like “Good Intentions and Unintended Evil: The Case Against Selective Credit Allocation” and have no idea what the author is saying. It means I’m on to something juicy. By chance Englewood, New Jersey (where all of my books take place) happens to also be the home of many prominent bankers of the late 19th century. Isn’t that a happy coincidence? I even used some of their names (found on headstones at Brookside Cemetery) before I knew who they were. But I’m off topic. Buck is suddenly successful at a prestigious banking house and I must find out every last thing about it. Of course they smoke and have amazing desks, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than that. Life really is great, don’t you think? Five years ago I read The House of Morgan by Ron Chernow. It came everywhere with me and even got chewed up by goats and drenched in the rain. I just liked the cover when I bought it. Today I’ll sift through the bibliography and furiously underline leads. I’m also re-reading The Screwtape Letters for fun–and furiously underlining good evil stuff. I hope Buck really enjoys his honeymoon because life is about to get bumpy–yet again.