Therefore I Exist

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A dying barn …

Yesterday was the beginning of Lent for Christians.

This was the first time in years (or maybe ever) that I was excited to get the ashes smeared on my forehead. Going back to Confession was a big step for me since for the longest time I hated the idea of a priesthood set apart. I wanted to be on equal footing with everyone and liked the idea of having “accountability partners” who basically were just as flawed and untrained as me.

It’s a rare friend who tells you the truth about your missteps.

The priest I went to see was pretty hardcore (in a nice way). He didn’t downplay my tendency to jump into family gossip and self-righteous back-stabbing of my adult siblings. After all everyone in the family does it. The priest shook his head. “No, that’s a bad sin.” Of course he was far more eloquent about it.

Friends tend to help you find excuses for your bad behavior. After a while all of my “accountability partners” became suspect. It started to bother me when they soft-pedaled around things. I’ve done the same, thinking to myself this person is a train wreck but not saying it. I mean, calling someone a train wreck isn’t helpful anyway, but you know what I mean. I didn’t have the faith that the friendship could survive an honest appraisal of the person’s behavior.

A priest at Mass recently talked about how draining  it was in this time of priest shortages and bad-apple priests to carry the weight of parishioners’ sins. Until I “got” the sacredness of the priests’ position I would not have understood what he was saying. He intercedes for us! Now that is a burden for sure!

Last night I took my puppy to her PUPPY CLASS. You can follow her on INSTAGRAM here: Comfychi_golden

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Down … stay … good Comfy!

I was tempted to wipe the ashes from my head. I was torn because some teach that wearing your faith on your sleeve (or forehead) is offensive to the sensibilities of others, and I so enjoy being liked. Some say you should proclaim your faith in actions and behavior. In the end, since I’ve decided to fully embrace traditional Catholic culture I went ahead and wore the ashes to class.

Totally by coincidence, the judge who was involved in the adoption of our daughter was taking the same class with his tiny pug-like dog Wolfgang (which is the cutest name ever). It’s always funny to see people outside of where you put them in your head. Obviously the judge doesn’t wear his robes to class (and he doesn’t command the same authority with his dog that he does in the courtroom).

He smiled when he saw the ashes (by now I had forgotten them). “Oh, I forgot today was Ash Wednesday,” he said, “but I went to a Fat Tuesday pancake dinner last night. It was really good.” He sheepishly laughed again. How could he have forgotten after a full night of pancakes? I laughed too.

We all care so much about what people think. 🙂 As a writer I care about every last review and fret when people on Amazon find the few negative reviews from when I first published MY NOVEL “helpful” because this lands those reviews as Top Reviews. I tried to explain to an Amazon rep that it would be better to set the default on reviews to Most Recent (since my book has been thoroughly re-edited and getting good reviews for a while now) but to no avail.

I found this this helpful:

“To realize how desperately we depend on the ‘existence’ that recognition by others gives us, and how hopeless we are without it until God gives us feet to stand alone on. I have those feet sometimes, but once again, let me realize that there is no absolute ‘standing alone’ — only awful poverty and insecurity and clinging to God in one’s need of others, and greater appreciation of the smallest and most insignificant of communal verities.” THOMAS MERTON

Going to puppy school has been a good thing for me. The tendency to keep in my hermitage actually makes me more desirous of outside praise and notoriety. I don’t want to be that bitter person who compares likes on Instagram and lives for new followers, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. At puppy class everyone goes without their authoritative robes. We are all at least partially dependent on the whims of the puppies. Learning to let your guard down and take your lickings and laugh when you can’t make puppies stay is the best kind of humbling experience. And in this most insignificant of communal experiences I find, as I already know but forget, that we are all the same and live in this mystery of loneliness and friendship.

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$.99 Sale Today!

Weary of running series

Captivating saga of betrayal, revenge and redemption in Gilded Age America!

Cadet Buck Crenshaw’s integrity is tested when West Point Military Academy opens its doors to black cadets. Will Buck keep his place in the yearling pecking order or throw it away taking a stand for Cadet Milford Streeter?

Escaping west to Fort Grant, Arizona, Buck confronts his demons while witnessing the downward spiral of his sister Thankful’s romance with a dashing army lieutenant.

Weary of Running, the second book in The Tenafly Road Series, highlights the dangers of moral ambivalence and the redeeming power of love and friendship in an imperfect world of mixed emotions and foolish decisions.

Fall in love with the members of the Crenshaw and Weldon families and buy The Tenafly Road Series today!

Books in the historical family saga:

The House on Tenafly Road

Weary of Running

The Dew That Goes Early Away

Forget Me Not

The One My Heart Loves

The Grand Union

 

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

5 Facts About Opioid Addiction After the Civil War

How many soldiers come home with secrets? How many with scars? Morphine, opium and laudanum, despite being blamed for much heartache, were in the 19th Century seen as miracle drugs. The medical calamity of the Civil War was made  more bearable by the massive use of painkillers.

OPIATE USE DURING CIVIL WAR:

 

1.White Southerners were far more likely to become addicted to MORPHINE and LAUDANUM than their Northern counterparts. [1]

After the Civil War southern men returned home to a ravaged world. Defeat, poverty and the loss of 1 in five men made for lonely, miserable times. Did some of these men seek solace in addiction? Of course.

 

2. The Union Army used approximately 10 million opium pills and nearly 3 million ounces of opium powder and tinctures to treat almost every illness from uneasiness to causalgia (a painful syndrome that sometimes occurs after amputation — and there were approximately 60,000 of them!) [2]

60,000 amputations?! At a time when manual labor was what most veterans had to look forward to, the loss of a limb made them “invalid.”

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3. Old Soldier’s Disease was the euphemism given to veterans addicted to narcotics.

Did you know that veterans, if found to be addicts, were denied pensions? This is one of the reasons my character, JOHN WELDON, hides his addiction. After the war he stays in the military and is terrified that his addiction will shame and destroy his young family.

 

4. The late 19th century opiate epidemic was probably not caused by careless doctors over-prescribing miracle drugs. [3]

While it would be in the soldier’s best interest to hide an addiction for the reasons stated above, there is little evidence that the opiate epidemic of the Gilded Age was caused directly by the Civil War. It wasn’t until the 1880’s that the US saw a rise in opium importation. Citizens could easily purchase over-the-counter opium-laced curatives.

 

5. More women were addicted than men. [4]

After the war women were more likely to be addicted to opiates than men by a ratio of 3:2 as opium was used to alleviate painful “female complaints.”

 

 Was the Civil War a ready excuse for the opiate epidemic of the late 19th century? Maybe so, but war’s pain lingers for generations. Gone men, broken men, some still plagued with incurable venereal disease and anxiety … these wounds bleed out into all of society.

 

House on Tenafly series

When you write about post-Civil War America it’s impossible not to bump up against war wounds. John Weldon in THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD is addicted to morphine, given his first dose in a Civil War hospital by well-meaning doctors trying to keep him comfortable before his eventual death–which never happens. He escapes in his best friend’s new boots with a stash of morphine, laudanum and some new British-made syringes.

 

How do we view opiate addiction today? With compassion? With disgust? How do we deal with pain? These are questions running through my mind. What do you think?

LINKS:

CIVIL WAR VETERANS AND OPIATE ADDICTION

THE OPIUM HABIT 1869 by HORACE B DAY

US MILITARY STRUGGLE WITH OPIOID ADDICTION

BOOKS I’VE KNOWN AND LOVED

Featured Image: The Malingerer by Winslow Homer

Novel Inspiration (1):The Addict

CHARACTER: Morphine addict Lieutenant John Weldon

INSPIRATION: Katherine McCullough needed a husband in the military. I was listening to a lot of Americana music and crushing on a young Robbie Robertson from The Band while collecting Civil War era prosthetic limbs and morphine kits. Having just recovered from a life threatening blood clot and feeling  wistful about the painkillers I was given in the hospital, I suddenly understood the draw of self-medicating.

A heroin addict friend told me a story about having to kill a bunch of puppies as a child living on a reservation.

JOHN WELDON WAS BORN:

“Doctor Dudley, you in?”

A sudden panic in the pit of Dudley’s stomach caused him to hesitate before opening the door to let Weldon in. They stood together uncomfortably in the center of the room.

Weldon scanned the room, searching for a place to rest his eyes. “Dudley…I have a problem, a concern really…”

“Yes?”

Weldon rolled up his sleeve.

“Lieutenant Weldon, what happened here?”

“Well, it’s a burn, I think…” Weldon said.

“You THINK it’s a burn? You would know if it was. You would remember it, I’m sure. This is no burn.”

“Well,” Weldon stuttered, “I d-don’t know…”

“Lieutenant Weldon, this is badly inflamed. What have you been doing to yourself?”

Weldon scratched the sore skin behind his ear.

“Weldon, are you listening?” Dudley asked, thinking of Katherine and how she would feel if her husband died of blood poisoning.

“Yes, I’m listening…it’s not a burn. No, it’s not a burn at all…I’ve never told anyone…I don’t know why I’m telling you…”

Dudley looked Weldon in the eye. “Lieutenant Weldon, how long have you been doing this to yourself?”

“On and off…I hoped you might know a cure…I trust you won’t tell my wife…my career, my family….” Weldon drifted a moment, but came back. “I want to stop…I tried…”

“Well, good luck,” Dudley said dismissively trying to collect his thoughts while sifting aimlessly through stray papers.

“What? Is that all you have to say?” Weldon asked, the hopelessness in his voice reminding Dudley of his vocational duties.

Dudley reluctantly looked at the sore again and roughly let go of the arm. “There’s been missing stores of morphine. I assume you’ve been stealing them.”

“NO! I haven’t… a laundress gets…I haven’t taken anything from you, Dudley!”

“For Mrs. Weldon’s sake, I won’t seek charges against you. I can’t believe you fooled me. I even felt some sympathy for you when you left.”

“I’ve come to you for help. I’d never steal from you,” Weldon said in a surprisingly indignant tone. “I figured you might have experience with other veterans.”

Dudley sighed. “Weldon, I can put a little carbolic acid on your arm. It might help prevent further inflammation.” When his voice shook Dudley wondered at his inability to stay neutral and professional. “I’m so disappointed for you…for Katherine…there’s no cure for what you have. I’ve heard of people like you who’ve freed themselves from it, but I’ve never met them. Most just got sent home to be taken care of by their families.” Dudley was cold in relating the facts. He had been taught how at school. “This is your life, lieutenant. Get used to it. Most don’t live long—their teeth go bad, they lose their hair…and you’re already using it through a syringe and probably not diluting it that much…am I right?”

Weldon shook all over. He searched the doctor for some little hope or sympathy even, but didn’t expect it.

“Weldon, your wife should be prepared. Mrs. Weldon should be told so she can plan for the future. Soon enough you’ll be too much a mess to care for yourself. You both should leave here before that happens.”

“I—I can’t leave the army! What would I do? There’s NO cure at all then?”

“No, lieutenant.” Dudley looked for his carbolic acid, sprayed it onto the swollen, sore skin and wrapped a bandage around it. “I’ve never seen someone stop the habit once they use the needles.”

“I’ve tried to tell Katherine.”

“Well, trying and doing are two different things, lieutenant. Listen, you wouldn’t want to embarrass your wife. Mrs. Weldon isn’t looking well. I see she’ll have another child, and you’re no help to her anymore. Katherine should be with someone stronger,” Dudley said, regretting his spitefulness.

Weldon nodded. He pulled his sleeve down and walked out into the bright twilight.

ENTER THE GOODREADS GIVEAWAY! (The winner gets the much prettier new cover)

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

The House on Tenafly Road by Adrienne  Morris

The House on Tenafly Road

by Adrienne Morris

Giveaway ends December 06, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

COVER DESIGN: Interview With Samantha Hennessy (part one)

One of the joys of independent publishing is finding a cover designer who “gets” your work. Samantha Hennessy at SAMANTHA HENNESSY DESIGN is the IT GIRL for me. Her  cover for my latest novel THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY is a lush, velvety dream (I’ve had people at book fairs gush over it).

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A designer who listens to your vague ideas and improves upon them to create works of art is a rare find. By the third novel I really had no idea what I wanted. I gave Sam the title (and maybe a brief synopsis of the manuscript) and before long the cover arrived in my inbox. I didn’t make a single change to it (it helped that she’d designed my other two books and had a great feel for the series).

Enjoy part one of this interview with the very talented SAMANTHA HENNESSY:

Tell us about your book cover design process. What inspires you?          

With the cover designs for THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES, I borrowed inspiration from Adrienne’s blog header and created designs where past meets present. I wanted the covers to feel modern while still keeping with the spirit of historical fiction.

2-weary_final_edit-pdf-4-27-15-page-0With WEARY OF RUNNING,  the first cover I worked on, I started with the torn and old photograph of the cadets.  At first I considered cleanly cropping the edges but realized  those rough edges I had first thought of as a nuisance could be used as a charming design element!  The torn edges added texture and brought in a little of the bright teal color to break up the sepia tones of the front cover. It also acted as a transitional element to connect the spine and the front cover through color.

Design work is problem solving. As a designer I make incongruous bits and pieces or ideas fit together, often times by reconsidering those bit and pieces that at first seemed a problem.

tenafly10With the second cover I designed, THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD, I started out with a scan of a photograph of the actual house on Tenafly Road. The scan’s quality wasn’t great, so I knew I would have to modify it in some way to make it workable. After playing around for a bit with the photo, I finally settled on a halftone filter for the scan.

Halftone is a printing process originally used in newspapers – think of the little dots you see that make up comic strips or newsprint letters. It’s a rudimentary way to print, and applying the halftone filter maintained the photo’s vintage sensibilities, while the bright magenta and contrasting pastel yellow color added a bit of freshness that the original scan needed. Color relationships are what I focus on the most in my designs, and I love trying to figure out how I can use color to create mood, interest and movement.

cover-dewTHE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY cover is special to me because I used my own photograph for the art. The photo was inspired by Alexa Meade’s work. Her paintings are unusual because Meade paints right on top of a real person, sitting at a real table, and applies exaggerated shadows and highlights straight onto these unique “canvases.” It’s very meta. And everyone knows that anything can be art as long as its meta!

One of her paintings – or to be exact – a photograph of a person she painted on top of, was a woman half-submerged in opaque, white liquid. The photo was captured just as the woman’s painted face met the water and started to run.

I was brainstorming ideas for cover art for the third novel in my apartment, looking at a bouquet of flowers in a vase. I knew the title of the third novel (The Dew That Goes Early Away) and that it was a story about lost innocence. That conjured in my mind images of dew drops on flowers and the transience of nature and life.

Alexa Meade popped into my head. I quickly filled a plastic bin with water, added a cup of milk, dropped in some daubs of red and blue paint, swirled everything around, and floated the now beheaded flowers on top. My favorite part of the photograph is the white flower on the top right corner of the cover that has a couple red-paint dew drops on its petals.

What is your favorite part of book cover design? Your least favorite part?

I mentioned that the third book was special to me because I used my own art, but my least favorite part of cover design is choosing the right art. Looking at those flowers and trying to figure out what to do with them – for a couple of moments there – felt torturous. Choosing the right art is stressful, but once I settle on it manipulating things like fonts and layout feels meditative in comparison. I’ve spent what might be considered an obsessive amount of time getting the kerning just right (kerning is the spacing between letters). I’m fascinated by typography and experimenting with different fonts to best represent the personality of the design.

You work independently. Have you ever considered working in traditional publishing or do you prefer the indie world? What would be your dream set-up artistically?

I do enjoy working on projects independently but definitely want the direction that an agency provides. While studying art in college, I always found that the projects I became most invested in and enjoyed the most where the projects I was forced to do, that initially seemed completely incompatible with my artistic style and voice. The assignments I started off dreading were the ones I often had such fondness for in the end.

Having complete artistic control without the intervention of mentors and colleagues can feel narcissistic if I’m not self-evaluating my work properly. And that’s a hard thing to do! Sometimes when I look back on old projects I wish I had someone there at the time to tell me that the work wasn’t fully “there” yet. I love having that dialogue between artists. Hearing criticism in the moment can make me feel defensive, red-faced, and like my identity as an artist is just a huge sham! But then I get over my pride, and I’m a better artist for it.

Do you listen to music while working? Does it influence your designs?

I don’t listen to music much while working but I do listen to podcasts. Music can be distracting for me because stopping to skip a song or to choose a new artist breaks my concentration. Podcasts on the other hand, especially long-form narratives, are so immersive and wonderful in their storytelling.  Audio as a medium, I think, is superior to visual media in a lot of different ways. That might sound strange coming from a visual artist! I just really respect the art. In another world where I was a talented writer, that would be my dream job. Audio allows the listener to build their own visuals and fill in the story using memories and personal experiences. It’s magical. Two shows I will recommend are 99% Invisible and Criminal. The former is a show about design, but it’s not just for designers. Give it a chance. The latter is a riveting true-crime-esque podcast that I love even more for the illustrations made for each episode by Julienne Alexander. Visuals complimenting audio is up there in my list of things I love.

Do you come from a creative family?

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Greetings by Barbara Meise

My grandmother is a STAINED GLASS ARTIST and owns a studio in Jersey City. She’s done stain glass work for a number of churches and synagogues around the area, and she restores glass as well. My childhood home is decorated with her stained glass projects and I grew up admiring her work.

YOU CAN FIND MORE OF SAMANTHA’S WORK AT SAMANTHA HENNESSY DESIGN

 

Can You Write Stories for These Pictures?

Under the Lilacs book illustration.

Under the Lilacs book illustration.

I’d never heard the term domestic genre stories but I LOVE it. These are the great stories of the late 19th century that spoke to the trials and travails of ordinary life and often with beautiful illustrations. I assume they’re the works that some people deem “of no literary merit” but I disagree. Any book with illustrations like these I know I will enjoy.

If the stories are a bit sentimental who cares? Why is that any worse than the ones about monsters or post- apocalypse? Who gets to decide literary merit? If a book sells then a bunch of people find merit in it.

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Back to domestic genre stories. The average person is not in love with a vampire or on a desert road strewn with radioactive debris from World War Three. Why are we so interested in the weird? Are there domestic genre stories out there today? My books are about families. I’m not sure how sentimental they are but I certainly wouldn’t mind having Alice Barber Stephens illustrate them!

Alice Barber Stephens

http://www.plasticclub.org/index.shtml

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Books I’ve Known and Loved

All men should have his hat and his dog when trying to attract women.

All men should have his hat and his dog when trying to attract women.

Can we all agree that men polish up quite nicely in uniform? Why else would we have cop groupies? My father had a charming charisma, but the uniform brought the groupies. Anyway, men look good in uniform–especially late 19th century military uniform–I happened to notice this at all the Civil war re-enactments–when the weekend was over and some of the men came into camp dressed in modern jeans and dorky t-shirts commemorating a Gettysburg anniversary and white sneakers.

So here’s the sort of book/eye-candy I feast upon when I’m too damned tired to figure out what’s happening in Saratoga 1888 and in finance in my latest rough draft. If you like cute guys, or like uniforms or like military history or like illustration–okay, you know what I like.

Even the horse looks proud to be seen with men in uniform.

Even the horse looks proud to be seen with men in uniform.

I’d probably have to steal the trousers with the yellow stripe down the side. I don’t want to be a soldier but the tailoring of the clothes–to die for. Many women felt the same way and so even though women loved their skirts the fashion world, then as now, always threw out a few military-style garments for the ladies–no camo please.

Bad-boy punishment.

Bad-boy punishment.

We like the bad-boys with the good hearts hidden beneath the uniform–though when Richard Gere started sobbing like a baby in An Officer and a Gentleman I got kinda repulsed–but then I’m no Richard fan so . . .

Pretty colors, many flavors . . .

Pretty colors, many flavors . . .

And a bonus Sound the Charge picture of my hero General George Crook who helps save John Weldon’s ass a few times in  The House on Tenafly Road:

Frienemy of the Indians.

Frienemy of the Indians.

 

Books I’ve Known and Loved

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Okay, don’t be disturbed by the man’s weird stare and ugly hat. While On the Border with Crook is about the Indian fighter General Crook it’s more about the erudite and humorous John Gregory Bourke— the dashing military man and entertaining writer. Invariably the military men of the late 19th century had such enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity and good humor under sometimes very harsh conditions you’d have to admire them–but Bourke and Crook were unique in their sincere respect for the Indian.

I make Bourke have a brief flirtation with Katherine Weldon and Crook command and admire John Weldon as a good soldier in The House on Tenafly Road.

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