Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Makes us the Writers We Are?

It was a combination of things that led to my storytelling. There weren't many books available in our house. There was no library or bookstore in town, except the small school libraries that were available once every other week for about thirty minutes. I read through the section of our school library within the first month of my school year, about three times by Christmas break, and had nothing left for the spring session. My family was too poor for magazines or outside entertainments. The best I could manage to feed my imagination after the holidays was to spend my evenings with an old set of the World Book Encyclopedia. All these obstacles and others came together to make me look inside for an escape from the ordinary.

I suppose I owe a debt to World Book for the flights of imagination it inspired. Far away places, historic events, and interesting people populated those pages. From those books, and the stories I read, I created adventures in my head. Long before I ever started writing, I told stories to my sister. A little boy who lived in a coconut shell entertained my little sister as she fell asleep at night. Princesses and spaceships, generals and giants wandered through our bedroom until she fell asleep and I crawled under the covers with a flashlight and the next volume.

A lot of things have changed since I moved away from that small town in Eastern Kentucky. I've traveled half-way around the world, and seen most of the places I read about. The stars above Tobago inspired poetry as did the school children of Nicaragua who studied in an open field while we built them a new school. I don't know if those nights of reading the encyclopedia by flashlight sparked my interest in poetry, or history, or the wanderlust that took me far from home. I do know that poetry inspired other writing.

Flash stories were my first love. They are lean, full of imagery, and as close to poetry as stories can be. Later I tried short stories, and then a novel. I don't know if I would have been a different sort of writer if I had come from another background. Maybe... but maybe the blend of history and mystery would have called to me from whatever path I followed.

We mystery writers are a strange group. We eavesdrop on other people's conversations. We visit places with an eye toward hiding a body or committing a murder there. I'm not sure what makes us who we are, but I would love to hear your opinion.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Writers on Vacation

Sarah and I left our house in the care of a friend and are on vacation in Tarpon Springs, Florida until January 5. The trouble with writers on vacation is that there isn't really a vacation from writing. Ideas crop up when they crop up. Our Sisters in Crime chapter is putting together an anthology of stories about the bourbon industry in Kentucky. After each of us had finished a story on our own, the group suggested we try writing together. Now here we are discussing setting a novel in Florida that involves the characters we came up with for our short story.

No, the characters are not vampires. What we write is very different. For us to write together, she had to step back in time and do an historical mystery. The characters fit with my historical mystery writing, but were far enough removed from the time I usually set stories in to be comfortable for her to contribute equally to the research. The story was discussed for some time before we came up with writing a short story involving a couple of World War I nurses. She had a great aunt who was a World War I nurse, and we drew from her experiences in France to develop the idea. It worked so well that we are planning to visit the North Carolina archives, where here great-aunt's papers are kept, to do more research on what it was like to be a nurse at that time.

Does this mean either of us are giving up the characters we write?

No. Each of us will continue to work on the novels we have in progress. We each have short story ideas, on of which is an idea we may work together on.

Fortunately we work with the same publisher. We are hoping that when the book we are planning together is finished, Pill Hill Press will consider publishing it. If not, we will look for someone who is interested.

What matters is that ideas come from all sorts of places. Vacation or not, we are writers. Our minds are always asking: what if this happened. and this person got involved because...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

All This and Family Too

For those readers who don't know, ALL THIS AND FAMILY TOO is the title of my wife's first novel. It will be coming out next year from Pill Hill Press. It is a very funny story of what can happen to a nice lesbian vampire who has to uproot her family from their home in North Carolina and move into a gated community in California to escape a vampire hunter.

Life after death isn't easy for a vampire with a heroic streak, but Cynthia wouldn't have been a vampire if she had been able to resist the urge to rescue women in trouble. Undeath hasn't taught her much. On the way west she impulsively rescues a teen and ends up saddled with taking care of the lovelorn baby dyke through the rest of the novel.

By now you are probably asking yourself why I am writing about this book in my blog. It is not my story, it is not a mystery and it is not historical. Aside from the fact my spouse wrote it, there is not much about ALL THIS AND FAMILY TOO that connects it to me.

Well, that's not exactly true. Professor Leach started out as a character I invented for a vampire role playing game my wife and I played with several other friends. The game ended years ago, but Sarah found the idea of a vampire uptight enough to have a stick up her butt outrageously funny. So, I turned Cynthia over to her. The result is an over-the-top romp through Irvine, CA mixed with the terror of bureaucrats protecting their turf.

What would a vampire story be without a little horror? Professor Cynthia Leach, the vampire, discovers the true meaning of horror when she has to deal with the president of the neighborhood association,  maneuver through the university bureaucracy, and manage to survive her unlife in a world where she no longer belongs. It isn't easy being an undead hero, but Cynthia does it with her own special style.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Historical Holiday Dishes for the 1879 Table

Through Circle of Dishonor, beaten biscuits, maple fudge, stack cakes, and country ham are just a few of the dishes consumed by Nessa and her friends. We are coming into the holiday season and I thought it would be fun  to talk about the differences in today's holiday menus and those popular in Nessa's time. The popular choices for opening dishes were oysters on the half shell or fried oysters. This was followed by the soup: green turtle, burgoo, gumbo, or rabbit stew were popular choices.

Next up was the Christmas bird. Chicken was a little too ordinary to be selected for Christmas feasting, but there would be some sort of fowl on the menu. Roasted wild turkey with cranberry sauce might show up on Nessa's table, but it is just as likely the holiday bird would be duck, goose, quail, dove or pheasant. Oysters, giblets, sausages, and sometimes all of the above made their way into the dressing. Serve it up with mashed potatoes and gravy and you are not so far removed from our time.

Of course, the holiday table cannot just have one kind of meat. Bring on the bear? Yes, a nice roasted leg of bear with sauce poivrade or, if that doesn't strike your fancy, Beulah could serve up a saddle of venison with red currant jelly.  Either would go nicely with a roasted blend of squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, and onions. Does that make you hungry? How about a nice coon with devil's sauce? A side of sweet potatoes baked with butter and brown sugar would set it off nicely. In Nessa's house, a tablespoon of bourbon might find its way into the baking dish with those sweet potatoes along with a sprinkle of orange zest. Yum!

I hope you've left room for dessert: there's molasses stack cake with dried apple filling, pumpkin and apple pie, bread pudding with bourbon sauce, and homemade fudge on the sideboard.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Not Winning Nanowrimo

I'm not sure it is possible to lose Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), but I'm not one of the thousands of people who managed to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I started doing Nanowrimo in 2005. I have never won the event. My best effort was slightly over 27,000 words. This time, I started out the month behind the pack and struggled with each day. By the end of the first week things looked bleak. My word count hardly made a tiny little blue speck at the tip of the long empty bar marking my progress. I had to fight the urge to give the pep talks the finger (I was reading them at the office and it doesn't look good to flip off the computer there.)

Time was still on my side. I wasn't going to let a little thing like being further behind than I had ever been stop me. No excuses. Never mind that my month began at Magna Cum Murder where I was promoting my novel. That wasn't an excuse. I could catch up, really. It was early November and I could write on the weekend...who needs clean laundry, groceries, or clean dishes. We ordered take-out and kept working. That blue bar didn't budge much, but it budged. I was feeling better about myself when I went back to work on Monday.

Then came the weekend of the 12th and 13th and the Kentucky Book Fair. I'm not a good multitasker. I've never come up with a way to talk to large numbers of people about my book and work on the next one at the same time. Never mind that my phone sat on the table beside the stack of books as I waited for the call telling me my dear friend Dr. Haydon was gone. Never mind that I was at the hospital every evening in those final days. In this situation, what did it matter that it was the middle of the month and I was about 20,000 words behind? The long Thanksgiving weekend was ahead, and I would write.

Now it is December. Nanowrimo for 2010 is a memory. Mixed with that memory is the loss of a dear friend. His funeral was the day before Thanksgiving. I didn't write a lot the last two weeks of November. There were days when I didn't write at all, and others where I managed to eke out 200-400 words. Through it all I continued to write. I gave it my best shot, and kept writing right up to 11:59 PM on November 30th. I didn't win Nanowrimo, but day by day I will win the battle to finish this book. In the end it doesn't matter if I finish it next month or the one after. It matters that I keep writing, editing, and working to make it better than the last book.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Doc Haydon and the Fayette County Medical Examiner of 1879

The Fayette County Medical Examiner's Office no longer exists as an independent agency, but in 1877, when the office was founded, the medical examiner did not fall under the county coroner's office and there was no state medical examiner's office.

All we know about the office of medical examiner is that the county set aside the sum of $1000 as an annual payment for his services. The records of the board of commissioners states that the position would be filled by a trained physician who was a resident of the city of Lexington. The medical examiner was to investigate all unexplained deaths in the county and report his findings to the county coroner.

To me, the most interesting part of the commissioners' record was the authority given to the medical examiner. In the investigation of death the medical examiner was afforded the same dignity, respect, and immunity from suit given any judge in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In essence, the county created a position that was free to investigate without fear of legal reprisals.

I have no idea of who held the job, nor do I know whether the actual medical examiner was as forward thinking as Dr. Haydon. When I started writing the Fayette County Medical Examiner I didn't even call him Dr. Haydon. The fictional Dr. Haydon was created because my boss and dear friend Dr. Richard Haydon wanted to be the doctor in my book. Even explaining that the character I was writing drank heavily, loved to gamble, and was going to cut someone's throat before the end of the book did not deter him from wanting to be a part of my fictional world.

Gradually, the fictional character took on some of the traits of the real Dr. Richard Haydon. He is a man of science, someone who is pushing the city of Lexington toward the future. Like his 21st century counterpart, Doc Haydon loves the latest technology. Although there is no computer or electricity in his office, the modern fountain pens, typewriters, and cameras are his technological wonders.

Doc Haydon subscribes to the American Journal of Forensic Medicine, and most of the other top journals of his day. His office is a mess, but his mind is organized and focused on his work. He is fascinated by advances in science and engineering, and strives to incorporate the latest skills into his work. Doc Haydon doesn't assign blame, but chafes at the corruption in town, particularly the graft inside the police department. He yearns to see Lexington get the telephone and lobbies for a water company. Most of all, Doc Haydon delights in sharing his passion for learning with others. In this way he is most like his namesake.

The real Dr. Haydon lost his long battle with cancer on Sunday. In a few minutes I am going to be leaving to say good-bye to my dear friend. In the last few months of his life, he got a great deal of pleasure in showing Circle of Dishonor to his friends. I don't think he ever read the book. It didn't really matter. He was just happy to live on in my imagination. I am just happy to have had the chance to know him and work with him for more than a decade. Dr. Haydon was a wonderful teacher, a brilliant doctor, and a great friend. I miss him more than I say.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Writing about Worry

Today on my Facebook page I mentioned that I was having trouble working on my new novel because there were too many other worries getting in the way.

One of my friends suggested that I write about worry and see if that got me past my writer's block.

I am not sure that what I have is writer's block, so I didn't take him up on the suggestion at the time. What I have is an inability to keep my mind in my book.

Today, I was determined to keep plugging away at my manuscript until the story came alive in my head and characters started to cooperate. The characters simply are not going with what I had in mind for them. I need to hear their voices, see what they are feeling. Instead, like me, they are just going through the motions of life.

It is late here in Kentucky. I only managed to hammer out about 800 words today. It is time to try something different. So here are my worries.

The number one worry no amount of writing will make less difficult. A very dear friend is in the final stages of cancer. Most of the time he is heavily drugged. In the moments when he is awake, he may or may not know who I am. I worry about him, his family, our mutual friends and colleagues. I agonize with him, and for him. Sometimes I just stand at his bedside and worry about the gaping hole his passing is going to leave in my life...the hole it is already making in my life.

I worry that I am not spending enough time with my own family. My mother is pushing eighty and recovering from knee surgery. I took a few days off when she most needed help, but I am sure she could do with more of my time. I worry that the grandchildren are growing up too fast. My daughter is so busy taking care of them that she doesn't take enough care of herself. Then there is my spouse, who is doing a lot of my work around the house so I can go out and promote my current book.

Yes, family is a huge worry. My guilt works overtime on that one. There aren't enough hours in the day to do the things I need to do at home. I don't mean chores. Housework is never really done. I am missing some of the important stuff, the smiles and hugs, the special family moments that I can't ever get back.

On the rare second when the bundle of worry about the people I love is not occupying my mind, I worry about the painfully slow rate at which this book is coming together. I slog through the middle and wonder if the first draft will ever get done. Then I start thinking that it will not be any good, and worry about that.

I don't know if saying any of this is going to help me get past the stuff that has my brain tied in knots. I can't do anything about most of it except worry.

I am giving it up for tonight or this morning (it is past midnight here). I'm going to bed. Perhaps, when it is daylight again, I will find that writing about all the stuff that drives me to distraction has made it somehow less difficult. Now that I have put it into words on this electronic page, just maybe, I can turn this page and be back in my work instead of just worrying about finishing it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Notes on an All Day Event

1. Arrive early. The check-in lines are shorter. Half an hour after this photo was taken authors were standing eight deep at check-in.

2. Knitting does not sell books, but it does attract other knitters.

I shared a table with an author who was knitting a scarf during the book fair. While she knitted she missed lots of people who would probably have bought her book if she had shown more interest in them. Other knitters stopped by and talked to her about what she was knitting but I never once saw her use that attention to talk about the book she came to promote.

3. Keep water, mints, and anything else handy that will help your throat when you do an all day event. Eight hours of continuous talking is hard on your voice. I must have spoken to at least a thousand people about my book. Only a handful bought a copy, but a lot of readers were interested in learning more about me and my writing. I answered every question, passed out cards, and talked until I sounded more like a frog than a person. Most of all, I enjoyed every minute of the time I spent with readers.

4. Attract attention. Stephen Zimmer has this one down. His presentation featured a huge banner, postcards, bookmarks, and lots of books. Books were stacked on every inch of his table. Readers could find him easily in the crowd and spent some time with him.

5. It is great to have friends. Several of mine from the Ohio River Valley sisters in crime stopped by to wish me well. Some of them met up at my table and posed for a picture, before going off to lunch together.

6. Speaking of lunch, don't expect to have time to eat. My pals may have lingered over lunch, but I was taught that it is rude to talk and eat at the same time. The staff of the Kentucky Book Fair brought lunches to our tables. Mine sat there while I continued to talk with readers. The moral of this story is that if you are going to do an all day event, make sure you eat breakfast.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Kentucky Book Fair

Next weekend is the Kentucky Book Fair. On Friday afternoon, November 12, librarians from all over Kentucky will be choosing books by Kentuckians or about Kentucky to place on their shelves. On Saturday, November 13, the Fair opens to the public and authors will be there signing copies of their latest book. The organizers of the event refer to the fair as the premier book event in Kentucky. Authors from all over the state will be gathering in Frankfort to participate in this year's fair. For the authors, it is an opportunity to get their books into state libraries, and a great place to meet fans.

What I was surprised to learn is that many fans think the Book Fair is a great place for writers to make money. It is not. Proceeds from book sales at the Kentucky Book Fair go to support the fair and to provide grants to state libraries. Authors are donating their time, traveling at their own expense, and working hard to make this event a success.

I am proud to be a part of the Kentucky Book Fair. Last year the fair had more than 5000 visitors. More than $150,000 was spent on books. All proceeds of the fair went to pay the expenses of running the event and fund such worthy projects as increasing student literacy, providing social science books to an elementary school library, buying high interest books for reluctant readers, and adding a biography section to a rural library.

The organizers of the Kentucky Book Fair must choose between dozens of needy libraries to award a hand full of grants. Last year, only seven grants were issued for the kind of projects listed above. Those seven libraries are the lucky ones. In my hometown the public library is a new addition. It is not large, well funded, or likely to survive without support from the reading public.

If you are in Kentucky, come out, buy a book or two from your favorite Kentucky author and help us keep Kentucky reading.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A First Novel at Magna cum Murder XVI

Magna cum Murder XVI is behind us. I have had a solid night's sleep to clear my head. It is time to put down a few thoughts about what it was like to be at Magna with a first novel. The fans were awesome. They packed the room for the First Novel panel and asked great questions about the plot, characters, and the history behind Circle of Dishonor. Some of them sought me out to ask more questions later in the day. A few even came to the next panel with me just to hear more about my writing. It was a great way to start the day.

After lunch I did my first TV interview. That's an interesting experience. I had never sat down with a talk show host and answered questions before. It went very fast. Nancy Carlson, the host of "Voices in Mystery," is very good at putting her guests at ease. I am looking forward to seeing the results of my interview when the show airs in February.

One of the things I liked best about attending Magna is that the conference is intimate enough to allow authors and fans to have excellent conversations. It is wonderful to sit and talk to writers that understand the problems in the industry and the ins and outs of promoting a new book. It was also great to meet authors that I hadn't seen before and talk about books, writing, publishing, and anything else that came up.

Saturday night's costume party was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed dressing as Baby Face Nelson, and Sarah was outstanding as Gangster Moll Darla. It could have turned to gangster war when the two of us were beat out for best costume by Bonnie and Clyde. We was robbed! I contend that the real Bonnie never wore skirts that be fair, I don't think the original Bonnie had legs as good as her 21st Century fan. I could be wrong though. Bonnie wasn't in the habit of showing her legs to everyone in the room.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Haunting Historic Lexington

In the spirit of the season, so to speak, I thought I would pass on a few Lexington, Kentucky ghost stories. Since this blog only deals with Lexington History of the Nineteenth Century, I’m going to skip the modern tales and spend some time this week talking about ghost in old Lexington.

Let’s begin with First Hill, and the pioneer graveyard, where many of the city’s founders were buried. The gravestones are gone, and most of the bodies have been moved to Lexington Cemetery. Not all of them were found. What remains of the cemetery lies under the foundation of the First Baptist Church. The ghosts those pioneers are reported to be upset at having their final resting place disturbed and their loved ones moved. They haunt the area and have been seen walking around the grounds, one even wanders into the bell tower to cause mischief.

Of course, there is Lexington Cemetery to consider. There is a sinister force supposedly lingering in one of the mausoleums. Visitors claim to have seen a dark spot hovering near the back of one particular tomb in the old section. I have made many trips to the cemetery and set part of a story in one of the tombs, but have never encountered the ghost. I really don't want to meet up with this lost soul. Witnesses who have come close to the sinister shadow claim he gives you an odd, prickling, feeling followed by an overwhelming feeling of dread, some claim that all they could feel was anger radiating from the black blob. What ever vibe he gives off it is powerful. One grave robber had to be committed to Eastern State Hospital after picking the wrong tomb to raid.

Speaking of Eastern State, the mental hospital, which was founded in 1817, has lots of ghost in residence. There are scattered patient records before the twentieth century to tell us how many people died there, but an archeological report in 2005 estimated over 10,000 bodies buried on the grounds. I have heard that the insane and small children are more likely to be attuned to the supernatural. Maybe that's why the asylum has more than its fair share of ghost stories. Ghost of almost every sort are reported to haunt the hospital, my favorite is the little girl who comes knocking at the director’s door.

Ghostly encounters have also been reported from some of the city’s historic homes. Loudoun House has a pair of ghostly Victorian women and a black cat in residence. People who visit the house often claim to smell the ladies flowery perfume in the hallways. The Don Young Farmhouse has the ghost of an old man who died in there in the 1800’s raising a fuss when visitors stay too long. The former owners of the Hunt-Morgan House still linger around and occasionally give a fright to visitors. My personal favorite is the founder’s cabin at Transylvania University. The story is that the founder cursed the cabin and the school. Some people claim that upper classmen invented the story to scare the freshmen, but others swear that they won’t go near the cabin.

There are lots of other ghost from our past still hanging around town. Maybe I will find time to talk about those in the historic buildings downtown at a later date.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What's Wrong with Short Stories?

Magna cum Murder is just over a week away. I am looking forward to attending and being involved as an author. Among the things I have been assigned is a panel titled "What's Wrong with Short Stories?" This panel will be moderated by my friend and Sister in Crime Brenda Stewart. The panel will be discussing the strength of short mystery stories from the writer's and reader's standpoint and the venues where you can find them.

Anyone who reads short mystery can tell you there aren't as many places to submit short mystery as there were when Lawrence Block, winner of the 2010 Golden Derringer Award, began writing short mysteries. Some would argue that it is because they don't sell. I disagree. I don't think the audience for short mystery is shrinking. I do think the number of places that publish short mystery has shrunk.

As a lover of short mystery, I am at a loss to explain why they don't sell. So what is wrong with short stories? Why don't anthologies and collections sell as well as novels? Why have so many magazines stopped carrying short fiction? I would love to hear your opinions this week.

I am also looking for suggestions of short fiction markets and information about new stories coming out. Where do we find good short mystery today? Magna is giving me a forum for short stories and I would love to do anything I can to promote them. Suggestions anyone?

Friday, October 15, 2010

A World of Secrets

When I talk about the Nessa Donnelly mysteries as a "World of Secrets" it is partly because secrets were such a strong undercurrent to the Victorian Era. Technology, industry, immigration, economic inequity and social upheaval created an atmosphere ripe for the rise of Secret Societies.

The Knights of the Golden Circle were estimated to have over 400,000 members in Kentucky. I would like to think that nobody in my family belonged, but the odds are that someone somewhere in my family tree was a loyal member of the KGC. If not, there were the Regulators, the Klan, or some other secret society to besmirch the family tree (at least by our standards today.

The ground between the public and private worlds of men and women became unstable in the aftermath of the Civil War. Middle and upper-class men turned to secret Societies, fraternal orders, and private clubs as a way of holding on to some semblance of the social order they understood. This didn't exempt the lower classes: the Klan was particularly popular with working class white men who deeply resented newly freed men competing with them for jobs and housing. Through the secret societies, they hoped to regain the social position the war had taken from them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rolling on the River: Reposted from Dr. Grumpy's Blog

The following is reposted for the history buffs out there and for me, because I hate to lose a good Civil War tale:

It was the American Civil War.

In February, 1862, the city of Nashville, Tennessee, was captured by Union forces. This began one of the strangest episodes in North American military history.

Overnight, Nashville was converted into a supply depot for the Union's southward moving forces. The amount of locomotive and riverboat traffic increased dramatically, as did the population of Union soldiers. Some were stationed there, others were passing through on their way to different fronts.

And prostitutes, the eternal ancillary business to military campaigns, became prevalent. An area of town called Smokey Row (named after the opium dens) featured over 70 brothels. Aside from thousands of soldiers, rumored clientele included Lincoln's future assassin John Wilkes Booth, and Lincoln's successor to the Presidency, Andrew Johnson (no link aside from coincidence has ever been uncovered).

Syphilis and gonorrhea were rampant. Soldiers and prostitutes equally became ill from diseases spread in Smokey Row.

Pvt. Franklin Bailey wrote his mother that he'd need a dictionary "to find words enough, and then I could not find them bad enough, to express my hatred of those beings calling themselves women" in Smokey Row. Later in the same letter, however, he tried his best (perhaps he borrowed a thesaurus) and wrote that they were "abominable, low, vile, mean, lewd, wanton, dissolute, licentious, vicious, immoral, and wicked."

Pvt. Bailey, however, was an exception. The general feeling of most troops was that "No man can be a soldier unless he has gone through Smokey Row"

The Union commanders were less concerned with morals than they were with military capabilities. With many of their troops hospitalized from sexually transmitted diseases, the ability to launch further military campaigns was impaired.

Punishing soldiers didn't help. Nor did medical lectures. And antibiotics were in their infancy.

Something had to be done. Since the soldiers were needed to fight the war, they couldn't leave.

And so, on July 6, 1863, General James Morgan issued "Special Order No. 29".

This order basically said that prostitutes in Nashville were to be rounded up and sent somewhere else. How and where weren't specified.

And so into the picture entered a plain 3-month-old steamboat named Idahoe and her captain/owner, John Newcomb.

Idahoe was one of many steamboats at the waterfront under charter to the army. History has not recorded why she was chosen out of the many available.

Union forces rounded up hundreds of women from Smokey Row, storming buildings and catching women who tried to jump out of windows to escape. Non-prostitutes were also inadvertently nabbed in the confusion, just from being too close to that part of town during the operation, and required family to free them.

On the morning of July 8, Capt. Newcomb was finishing his breakfast coffee on board the Idahoe, when he was assaulted by noise. As he walked to the gangplank he was met by Colonel George Spalding, who handed him an order that read, "You are hereby directed to Louisville, Kentucky with 100 passengers put on board your steamer today, allowing none to leave your boat before reaching Louisville."

Even as Newcomb read this, the ladies were being driven on board. He was given no money to buy food for them, nor guards to enforce discipline.

How many women were put on board the Idahoe is unknown. The ship was built for 100 passengers. No reliable count was taken, and the best estimate is 150-200.

The journey to Louisville was a nightmare for Newcomb. His unwanted passengers destroyed the boat's once luxurious furnishing. He had to buy ice (for fevers) and food, at his own expense. Places where he stopped for supplies put guards at the dock to keep the women from disembarking.

The prostitutes continued to ply their trade, waving at men as they went upriver, and raising their dresses to advertise. Customers rowed themselves on board for brief stays as the Idahoe chugged slowly along.

By the time he got to Louisville on July 14, word of his unusual cargo had preceded him, and local authorities refused to allow him to disembark the ladies. Instead, he was ordered to proceed to Cincinnati. Kentucky's military governor assigned several soldiers to the Idahoe to serve as guards to help enforce discipline. This quickly failed, as the men given this coveted assignment received free services from the passengers.

By the time he got to Cincinnati, of course, the local government also refused to let him unload his passengers. Newport, Kentucky, on the other side of the river, didn't want the "frail sisterhood" (as the local newspaper called them), either.

So with nowhere to go, the Idahoe anchored off Cincinnati for several days, and turned a brisk business as a floating brothel while Captain Newcomb aged rapidly. Somehow he managed to persuade the army to telegraph Washington D.C. for a decision, and the question went all the way to U.S. Secretary of War (now called Secretary of Defense) Edwin Stanton.

Stanton was managing the complex issues of a war covering half a continent and an ocean, and was likely stunned by the unusual decision that showed up on his desk that day. He came up with a direct solution: Take them back to Nashville, and deal with it.

So on August 3rd the Idahoe returned to Nashville, and it's passengers resumed their usual lifestyle. This gave the headache back to the Union commander (now General Robert Granger) who spent a few days trying to find a solution, and finally came to a very pragmatic one: he legalized prostitution.

Under the new rules, each "public woman" had to have a license ($5) but needed to pass a medical examination first. She was then required to have another exam every 10 days in order to keep her license.

The solution was a success. Suddenly the "wayward women" had a legal profession. Disease control (by the standards of the time) improved. The prostitutes now had access to medical care that they didn't have previously. The Union doctors assigned to the "Hospital for the Reception of Valetudinarian Females from the Unhealthy Purlieus of Smokey" (yes, that really is what they called it) began taking notes, and wrote some of the first detailed reports on the sociology of prostitution.

The program was such a success that physicians from other cities came to study it.

Captain Newcomb spent the next 2 years trying to get reimbursed, meeting with military officials and eventually pleading his case in Washington. Finally, on October 19, 1865, he received payment of $5316.04. This was the amount he'd been asking for from the beginning for damages, new furniture, fuel, food and medicines purchased, etc.

He had a long career on the river, but never shook off the reputation as the "captain of the floating whorehouse".

He sold the Idahoe a few years later. In 1869 she was lost in the Washita River, cause unknown.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Pod-Cast Radio for Writers

Last Sunday I was a guest on David Ewen's pod-cast radio program Morning Coffee with Authors. I wasn't familiar with and it was an interesting experience. I am including a link to the program in this blog post so that anyone who is interested in hearing a blog talk radio can try a sample.

Listen to internet radio with E.P.N on Blog Talk Radio

David is starting a new season of these blog talk radio and looking for guests (this is a hint to my author friends who are interested in promoting a new book). It is too soon to know if podcast radio will translate into book sales, but it is a way of talking about your book with readers and authors.

I think the real benefit of the show will be for readers. David collects a small group of authors and asks them three or four questions about their book. It is a great way to hear about new books. Most of the podcasts are 15 to 20 minutes long and can be played at your leisure. Stop by and check it out. If you like the show, you can book mark it and return to see who drops in for Coffee with Authors next.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Independent Publishers are Crashing the Gates

The publishing industry is changing. Independent publishers of all sorts are crashing the gates. The range and quality of these publishers are as varied as the books they print. What the independents have in common is their willingness to try something new. Now, before anyone grabs their keyboard and fires back about the value of the current system, let me say that this post is not about getting rid of agents or the big publishing houses. Changes in the industry might eventually create a different model, but that's a long time away. What's more, the future of publishing isn't likely to create a better model for authors.

Most writers would love to have a contract with one of the big houses and a good agent to negotiate that contract. Who in their right mind would turn down a nice advance on their book, or someone to help with the promotion? But the facts are that good books are being produced by writers who have none of these advantages. Many of those books would never see print if the author hadn't crashed the industry gates.

These are difficult times for writers. On the one hand, big houses are consolidating, cutting out mid-list authors, doing less to promote books. Many of them are not willing to take a chance on unknown writers. On the other hand, there are disreputable and unscrupulous vanity presses just waiting for the chance to fleece unsuspecting writers. What's a writer to do? There are writers who have chosen self-publishing or e-publishing their work and done well, but most will never recover their costs. Once they get that book published, the work of promoting alone is amazingly hard.

Somewhere in the middle of all that are the independent publishers, those small presses carving out a place between self-published and the major houses. They are talking directly to authors, reading their own slush piles, and coming out with quality books, and doing what they can to help their writers get noticed. The result is interesting. So far the industry gatekeepers have managed to shut these books out consideration for reviews and awards, but the gates are crumbling. Publisher's Weekly acknowledged that when they recently blinked on reviews. It is only a small crack in the wall of exclusion. For now, PW is only offering to review the top 25 independent books, and they're asking the independent authors to pay for the privilege.

I, for one, won't settle for being invited into PW as a "second class" writer. I will keep working for full and equal inclusion for small press books in the reviews. But I don't underestimate the significance of the gesture. The industry knows we are at the gates and they cannot keep us out forever.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Top 100 Challenged Books

In the twenty-first century it is hard to believe that we are still banning books, but freedom of speech is not as ironclad as we like to believe. Harry Potter and Captain Underpants still raise the hackles of parents, school boards respond by pulling them from the shelves, and they are stolen from library shelves.

You may not agree with the content of all these books. Some take on topics that I wouldn't care to read. As a writer and reader, I want to make that choice for myself. I also want to protect my child and grandchildren from having their right to choose curtailed.

Great books are not bland. I can think of no greater compliment to an author than to have their book challenged because the content touched something profound. Perhaps one day I will be on the list of challenged books. For now, I offer up the 100 titles that have that distinction in this century. Some are great, others I could leave on the shelf. What's do you think?

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Guest Blogging on Mayhem and Magic

My thanks to Pamela James from the Cozy Armchair Group for allowing me to share my thoughts on being a writer on her blog. Please stop by and say hello.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Schedule updated at

Sarah has updated the schedule page on Gwen's site with news on her recent activities and upcoming events. Check it out at:

Friday, September 17, 2010


This week I have resorted to modern technologies to produce an old fashioned chapbook. If you aren't familiar with the chapbook, I'm not surprised. From the 1500's to the late 1800's chapbooks were a popular form of entertainment. They dropped out of favor with the public around the time the dime novel appeared on the scene. Now the dime novel has grown into being a mass market paperback, and the lowly chapbook has all but disappeared.

It is time for a comeback. I have written a short story, formatted, printed and assembled it into a chapbook that I'm using to promote my novel. Tomorrow I am shipping off the first 40 copies of  "Chapbook Number One: Pocketful of Trouble" to an online friend who is putting together goodies for those attending the  MYSTERY ON THE HIGH SEAS; A CRUISE TO DIE FOR convention aboard the Carnival Splendor, November 14-21.

The Kentucky Book Fair is on the same weekend they sail, and I can't be in two places at once. My only presence at the convention will be my chapbook. Inside the front cover is a short blurb about my novel, CIRCLE OF DISHONOR. Inside the back cover is a small author photo and Bio. I could have sent bookmarks or postcards with the same information, but the chapbook is a little piece of history. Besides, there is a chance people who read the short story will like my work enough to buy my book.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Will Short Mystery Fiction Survive?

It might seem a little odd to be talking about short stories when I have a new novel out, but the short story was my first love. Short, short short, flash, and micro fiction stories are all wonderful.  I am a faithful reader of FlashShot, and Story of the Day. They are fun stories to find in my inbox each morning, but are not usually mysteries. Great short mysteries are getting more rare each year, and I mourn the loss of each venue that closes.

Closures are more common than any mystery lover can keep up with. I often click on one of my bookmarked links and find it broken. Some of the short story's survival is tied to the success of Amazon and Apple where authors post their stories for readers to find and purchase.

There are still free downloads, and some great sites for reading short mystery. I  have spent hours cruising the online short fiction sites, sampling what's offered, and bookmarking my favorite places. Who can resist dropping by MysteryNet or looking around for free down-loadable stories on Amazon?   Unfortunately, the free stories are not going to save the form. Quality writing takes support. Many of the best sites for short story writers don't have enough support to survive if they pay their authors.

The periodicals are in bad shape. Spinetingler appears to be the latest victim of the shrinking number of venues for short stories. Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen and The Strand are still hanging on, but without reader support these too will fade into history. 

Yes, I am using that dirty phrase "reader support." We readers, lovers of short stories, have the ultimate power to either save the form or let it die. If we subscribe to the journals, purchase anthologies and collections, download shorts from Amazon and Apple, authors will get paid to write short fiction. When authors are being paid for their work, the quality will remain high and the readership will grow. The choice is ours. Do we love short mystery enough to support its survival?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Circle of Dishonor Included in September Bluegrass Bookshelf

Steve Shive's monthly column about Central Kentucky writers appeared in today's Lexington Herald-Leader I am pleased to see Circle of Dishonor is one of his September selections for the Bluegrass Bookshelf. If you would like to see my book and those of the other Central Kentucky articles you can click the link below:

Friday, September 03, 2010

Guest Blogging on Fling Words Today

Today I am guest blogging on fellow Pill Hill Press writer Mark Taylor's blog Fling Words.

Stop by and read about why I love setting stories in Victorian Kentucky.

While you're there take some time and look around at Mark's work. He has a pretty cool site.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going Home to Grayson

Saturday I went back to my hometown to do a book signing at the Grayson Branch of  the Carter County Public Library. Having a public library in town is a fantastic accomplishment. There were people who tried to get one established when I was a child, but their efforts failed every time it went to a vote. Yes, I  grew up  in a town that didn't have a library or bookstore and became a writer anyway. What few books there were in town were either at the five and dime or in one of the carousels in the grocery store.

The  trouble was I needed stories. I still do, but now there are an unlimited number available.

The selection of books was in Grayson, Kentucky was greatly limited. I quickly exhausted those suitable for a child, and then sneaked a few unsuitable ones. Reading a book or two that the adults didn't want me to read was naughty but not really interesting. I got tired of that game and started making up my own stories.

It was a strange experience to go home to Grayson with a box full of copies of my first novel. There were times last week when I wasn't sure I was going to make it.

I had a meltdown earlier in the week just thinking about all the things that could have gone wrong. Friday night I couldn't sleep. By Saturday morning my worry spread to my spouse who actually turned on to the wrong road leaving Lexington. We had gone about five miles before I realized we were headed west instead of east.

We did find the library, thanks to my son-in-law who found us driving in circles and led the way to the correct location. We did make it to the library, on time.We did have a nice visit with family, meet some great new people, and sell a few books. Best of all, we contributed the profits from book sales to the library for the purchase of new books. I have also donated an autographed copy of CIRCLE OF DISHONOR to the Carter County Library. Perhaps, there is another budding writer somewhere in Carter County who will discover it there and find a little inspiration in knowing someone else from their hometown managed to get published. It could happen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Today I am making another stop on my blog tour. I am guesting on Emma Kathryn's blog, Beware the Vampire Bunny, about murder and mayhem in 19th Century Kentucky. Please stop by and let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Furnishing the Mind

This week I haven't done much work on my novel in progress, but I've been quite busy with what Gurney Norman used to call "furnishing the mind." If you are not familiar with Gurney Norman, he is a Kentucky native and author who has served as one of Kentucky's poet laureates. He was also one of my creative writing professors when I attended the University of Kentucky.

I have never forgotten his lesson on the necessity of furnishing my mind with the materials needed to create a story. Writers must read. Of all the things I have learned about writing, this sticks with me because I find reading broadly essential to the writing process. I can't just read other novels, though I am enjoying Blaize Clement's CAT SITTER ON A HOT TIN ROOF. I can't stick to history, but I have spent several hours with Randolph Hollingsworth's LEXINGTON QUEEN OF THE BLUEGRASS. Along with these, I have thumbed through some reference works and read half a dozen blogs. Today I picked up a copy of a book on American railroads that should prove useful in crafting the chapter I'm currently working on for CONCEALED IN ASH.

No, I haven't made a lot of progress with my novel. What I have done is seed my mind with the kind of detail that will add depth to what I write next. I have also taken the time to listen to the voice of a fellow mystery author making the Florida coast come alive in my mind. It was time well spent.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rediscovering Nineteenth Century Kentucky Artist, Thomas J. Scott

This weekend I visited the opening of THE HORSE IN DECORATIVE AND FINE ART at the Headley-Whitney Museum. It was an interesting and well attended opening. If you haven't visited the exhibit I would highly recommend doing so before it closes on December 23rd.

My interest in the exhibit was sparked by the fact that a friend of mine was heavily involved in the research on Thomas J. Scott that lead to this nineteenth century Kentucky artist reemerging into the art scene. Scott would have been a contemporary of my detective, so I was very pleased to be given copies of some of the historical information about him. Who knows? One day he may show up in one of my stores. However, this post is the story of how a local artist came back into the spotlight in Lexington.

Some years ago, a friend and co-worker of mine, Carolyn Burnette, discovered an old painting discarded for trash pickup. The painting had suffered years of neglect, but she thought it was interesting and began looking into getting it professionally cleaned. Her painting turned out to be an original 1882 Thomas J. Scott painting titled Miss Russell and Foal.

Carolyn's interest in getting the painting cleaned took her to the Henry Clay estate, where a similar painting was discovered. That discovery led to her husband Gordon developing an interest in Thomas Scott which turned into countless hours of research into the artist and his work. Gordon now owns a second Scott painting and has built a website ( ) where his research into the artist's works is documented.

Those of us who love Kentucky history owe Gordon Burnett a debt of thanks for taking on the monumental task of bringing this piece of our past to light. Thanks, Gordon.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nineteenth Century Sporting Houses - What's in a Name?

At various points in Circle of Dishonor, Jenny Hill's house is referred to as a brothel, a bawdyhouse, a house of ill repute, a whore house, and a sporting house. Of the names, "sporting house" was probably the one considered most polite, but not entirely acceptable. No gentleman would talk about his visits to the local madam in front of a lady. However,the term "sporting house" was so commonly used that during Louisville's Civil War reunion pamphlet titled "A Sporting Guide to Louisville" was published, listing all the brothel's in the city and detailing services provided as well as prices.

Lexington was a smaller city, but had more than its fair share of brothels. There were also a number of women living at the edge of acceptable society who slipped in and out of prostitution. Often, on the official arrest records these women listed their occupation as seamstress. Belle Brezing's mother, Mary Belle Cox, was one of these part time prostitutes until she met and married saloon keeper George Brezing.

Belle, on the other hand, didn't care much for the euphemisms of the day. When hauled before the judge she proclaimed her occupation as "prostitute." A joking judge asked "How's business?" to which she announced it was "plumb awful on account of having to compete with all these seamstresses."

By whatever name we call it, the late nineteenth century in Kentucky was a rough and rowdy time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Some Pics from the Launch Party

The launch party at Natasha's went swimmingly. Check out the pictures below!

Gwen busy signing copies of Circle of Dishonor
The party crowd swells!
Gwen reads an excerpt from Circle of Dishonor
Unfortunately, Gwen's boss was unable to attend and hear the exploits of his namesake in the novel. Gwen mentioned him before beginning the reading.

Some happy customers

The pile of books shrank rapidly!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Launch Party Tonight

I'm sorry that I've been neglecting my blog this week. Keeping it up to date is important to me, but with the launch party tonight I have been way to busy with preparations to get much of anything else done. It is already looking like it is going to be a great party.

Tonight it is time for thanking friends and family that have stuck with me through all of work. Getting the book to press has been a long, bumpy ride. There were times when the rejections were heartbreaking. In retrospect the last rejection was probably the best thing that happened with the book.

The last month of that ride was like a runaway train. Pill Hill Press works quickly and produces a quality product. I am very happy with how the book looks. The cover art is great, though not perfect. It would have been cool to have the ladies of the evening look a little more period, particularly the hairstyles. That is not a complaint, simply the opinion of a major history buff. I'm going to be very proud to present the book this evening.

Stay tuned to see how it goes. Tomorrow I'll be posting a few pictures of the event.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Circle of Dishonor is now Available on Kindle

This morning Amazon launched the Kindle version of Circle of Dishonor on their site. It is not quite the same a holding a copy of the book in your hands, but little by little my novel is moving into public view.

The best public view of Circle of Dishonor is going to be at the launch party on August 9th. If you are in the Lexington, KY area come join me at Natasha's Bistro and Bar at 112 Esplanade Alley. The party starts at 6 PM.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Getting Ready to Launch

The "to do" list for the Circle of Dishonor launch party is an ever changing document. Each time one item is removed two more pop up to take its place. There are the standard necessities, guest list, location, invitations, and, of course, books. All those friends who have listened to me endlessly talk about the book, particularly those who have read chapters, advised me on plot, edited my not so perfect prose, sweated with me over query letters, and offered their shoulder to cry on after rejections, want to be there when the book is presented for the first time. It is important to have them there to celebrate this success.

The rest of the to do list is more difficult. There are decisions that must be made about refreshments. Sometimes this isn't as important, bookstores often don't allow food. The expense of providing refreshments can be prohibitive if the guest list is too long. Since the last thing an author wants to do is limit their guest list, food can easily become a major issue.

In my opinion, the launch party is a party. It is about saying thank you to the people who have supported me and letting them know that I appreciate their support. I expect that book sales will not cover the cost of the party and set my budget accordingly. There will be refreshments, and a sound system for reading a portion of the book. I am also planning to talk a little about the history behind the story, answer questions and sign copies of the book.

Now for the other problems: What kind of book poster and how large? What sort of goodies do I give out? Oh, what am I going to wear?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Charged with Impersonating a Man

It is hard to know how many women disguised themselves as men and participated in the American Civil war. Most estimates put the number around 400, but that's just the best guess historians can derive from known discharge records and the records of women who applied for service pensions. Discharge records are unreliable, though, since women discovered and discharged from one company would often reenlist in another. Pension records are more accurate, since those presenting them were required to provide proof or service. However, there was a risk in revealing service when it was a criminal act to impersonate a man.

Of the hundreds who ignored the law, took on male roles in male attire, and stepped onto the battlefields, certain names are remembered better than others. Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman ever awarded the Medal of Honor, is the most famous of these women. Dr. Walker did not pretend to be a man, but was arrested on numerous occasions for "impersonating a man." She fought her way through medical school and believed that she should be allowed to dress as she pleased. The law disagreed, arrested, fined and imprisoned her, but they could not stop her acts of defiance. She was buried in her suit and vest with her medal pinned to her chest.

Dr. Walker was the exception. As a rule, women not only dressed in male clothing, they changed their names, pasted on beards, and did whatever it took to pass as male. Look at the histories of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, Sarah Emma Edmonds, Jennie Hodgers, or Pauline Cushman. Their photographs might make you wonder how they got away with posing as women. But the fact is that some women were never discovered, never drew attention to themselves, and never went back to living as a woman.

These unknown women are the inspiration for Nessa Donnelly. She is not the Irish beauty so often portrayed in the movies. Nessa was a skinny, flat chested girl with wild red curls, big ears, and crooked teeth. If you look at pictures of the Irish immigrants who flooded onto American shores between 1845 and 1852, you will find a lot of girls like Nessa. No one paid them much mind as they worked as maids, nurses, and seamstresses. It is unlikely that one would have drawn much attention if she disappeared in the waning days of the Civil War and was replaced by a skinny Irishman. She wouldn't have been the first or last to have risked being charged with impersonating a man...that is, if she ever gets caught.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Launch Party Date Set

August 9, 2010 at 6:00 PM is the official launch of Circle of Dishonor. Now I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the copies I have ordered will arrive in time for the party. They are supposed to be on their way to me, but until they are safely here I'm not going to rest easy.

The venue for the launch party will be Natasha's Bistro and Bar. I wanted a downtown location because most of the book is set in old Lexington. Natasha's is in the heart of the streets Nessa would have walked. The owners also have a lot of experience in working with authors and other artist. They work hard to make their bistro a unique space where art and music thrive. It should be a great place to hold the launch. If you're in the Lexington area I hope you'll join me in celebrating my debut novel.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Revisiting the Regulators

Writing about post Civil War Kentucky takes me down a lot of different roads. Revisiting the Regulator Uprising of 1879 took me on a road back home to Eastern Kentucky. There were Regulator problems in most Kentucky counties throughout the decades of discord,the decades from the end of the Civil War through the early 1900's. In 1877, a large portion of Martinsburg (Sandy Hook) was burned by Regulators. The uprising had its beginning in Elliott County, but quickly spread to Lewis, Carter, Boyd, and Rowen.

On the night of October 20, 1879, about 200 armed men took two prisoners (John W. Kendall and William "Bill Muck" McMillan) from the Martinsburg jail and hanged them from a tree in the court house square. The hangings started a virtual vigilante takeover of local government. Hundreds of men joined the Regulators and thousands of families lived in fear of their version of law enforcement. During their vigilante governing of Eastern Kentucky, these masked men acted as the legal and moral police of the region. They took it upon themselves to discipline not only lawbreakers but drunkards, abusers, derelicts, loose women, adulterers, etc. Regulators would swoop in on horseback, threatening, beating, and often driving offenders from the community.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Research I Tell You

Yesterday I was getting feedback on my "research" into 19th century fudge recipes for maple fudge. It was research. Really. Next month I am doing a guest blog on Chris Reddings blog on a "Recipe Wednesday" and will be posting the fudge recipe there. It is fun research, particularly when it allows me to discover how many helpful "friends" I have.

It is amazing how many people are willing to sample the fudge and give me their opinion. Some of them are so dedicated to helping me find the right recipe that they insist on sampling and comparing every batch.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Circle of Dishonor Now Available

Today I got the following email from Jessy Marie Roberts at Pill Hill Press:

Just a quick note to let you know that Circle of Dishonor is now available on Amazon:

It takes a little while for all of the information to upload to their server (including the cover image), but it should be on there within the next couple of weeks.


Being the sort that can't resist seeing for myself, I had to go take a look. She was right. My first novel is available to order. The cover doesn't come up yet, and a search of other online bookstores was a little disappointing. Right now, Amazon is the only place you can order Circle of Dishonor. Still, my book is out. The official publication date is July, 4. Now it is time to get the details of that launch party worked out.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

What's Real in Historical Fiction

Now that the cover is here and the publication date is zooming toward me, I've been thinking about what is real when writing historical fiction. The easy answer is "Nothing. I write FICTION." That's true enough, but it isn't the whole truth. Belle Brezing was a real and somewhat famous prostitute, her step-father did run a grocery store in Lexington, KY, and Jenny Hill's whorehouse was in a large Main Street home that was once owned by Mary Todd Lincoln's father.

In historical mystery, there are bits of truth, but the characters are figments of the writer's imagination, even when we writers draw on an actual historical figure. No matter how many biographies, newspaper articles, historical letter or other accounts I read when writing a character, what I write will never be more or less than what I imagine they would be if they had lived in my fictional world. If I am very lucky the bits of truth will shine through and my readers take an interest in the time and place I write about.

Kentucky has a wonderful, colorful, rich history. When readers open the pages of Cricle of Dishonor I hope they step back into that history and enjoy the visit.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Cover for Circle of Dishonor

I got a great 4th of July surprise when Jessy Roberts of Pill Hill Press sent me the cover of my book just before midnight along with the news that Circle of Dishonor has gone to press and will be available sometime in the next week or so. Now it is time to plan that release party. Stay tuned for details.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Update on Cover Art

The cover art for Circle of Dishonor is due from the artist on July 21. The cover should feature the scene from Jenny Hill's front hallway. I am looking forward to seeing how Greg Smallwood, the cover artist, will envision the the murder scene in a nineteenth century brothel. I am also looking forward to what Alva J. Roberts, who is doing the cover design, will do with the design. I have asked for copies of both the art and the cover to be sent to me when they are finished. The cover will be posted to my blog as soon as it is available.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Second Flash Story Accepted

More news about Daily Flash 2011: 365 Days of fantastic Fiction. Sarah and I will each have a second flash story in the Daily Flash anthology. "Dead Wood," my second story will be joining "Happy New Year" in the lineup. Sarah has contributed her flash stories "Co-Pay" and "Sweet Enough to Eat," to the mix.

We are going to be joining the company of a long list of Pill Hill Press regulars, including Chris Bartholomew, John Kelly, Todd Banks, Emma Kathryn and many others. Daily Flash should be a fun read, though I doubt that I can limit myself to only one flash story a day.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Guest Blogging on Chris Redding's Blog

Sarah has added a link to my blog for Chris Redding. Chris belongs to Romance Writers of America. Her books are a blend of romance and mystery. You can check out her site from the link in the side bar on this page.

On August 18 I will be guest blogging on her site for Recipe Wednesday. I have decided to do a recipe for Beulah's Maple Fudge. Her maple fudge is a favorite of Nessa's so it seems the perfect choice for a recipe from Circle of Dishonor. Now all I have to do is come up with a recipe that is authentic to 1879. After all, I can't have Miss Beulah cooking with something that didn't exist in 1879. Meanwhile, folks in my office are looking forward to taste testing different maple fudge recipes and deciding which one Beulah cooks up.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Daily Flash 2011

I found out today that both Sarah and I will have stories in the Pill Hill Press anthology Daily Flash 2011: 365 Days of Fantastic Fiction. I love flash fiction. This is why my writing credits include Flashshot, Drabble, the Phone Book and

Short, odd, little stories are not as easy as they might seem to write. It takes hard work to get a whole story, beginning, middle and end, into 100 to 500 words. There is something special about writing these small stories that makes me come back to them again and again. I will probably always come back to writing flash. It is awesome to have a collection of more than three hundred flash stories in one book, particularly when both Sarah and I will appear in the same collection.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Circle of Dishonor

It has been a wild ride to publication. It seems as if I have been working around the clock to keep up with the flow of information sent to my publisher. Thankfully everything is done and the final edits to Circle of Dishonor have been sent to Pill Hill Press. Jessy Roberts, the editor, tells me that the book should be available in early August, maybe late July, depending on when the cover art is finished.

My part is over now. It is time to sit back and wait to see what my cover looks like. Meantime, plans are in the works for the launch party.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Photo Shoot for Author Photo

This is the author photo I have chosen for the book.

Sarah and I spent the day in Grayson, Kentucky and at Carter Caves State Park for a photo shoot. I have never done a photo shoot before, but that can be said of most of the things I've done in the past two weeks. I have gone from struggling with rejection to the crazy schedule of getting Circle of Dishonor published at an amazing pace. The excitement is fantastic. I didn't know I would feel this way about having the novel published. Most of the time my feet hardly touch the ground.

Circle of Dishonor Nearing Publication

My first novel, Circle of Dishonor, is scheduled for release in July. The final date of release is not set yet, but Pill Hill Press has a preview on their website. If you are interested in seeing the first couple of chapters before the book becomes available this is the link.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What was Meets Could have been

Historical mystery is not history, or even alternate history. It is that fine line of what was running alongside what could have been. Real people from the pages of history walk through a fictional world and sometimes we learn something about who they were.

In the story "Cornfield Crucifixion", Dr. Henshall comes to mind. The doctor was real, from the correct historical time and place, and is renown for his fishing and interest in the fishing industry in Kentucky. I use him here because he should be the physician working with my character at the time of the story. That being said, I also try very hard to make sure the history doesn't hit us over the head. This is about telling a good story. I hope those of you who have a copy of A Whodunit Halloween enjoy this step back into another time and place.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Why Stop in the Middle?

When I was asked why I stopped in the middle of working on my second novel to write s short story, the question surprised me. I hadn't really thought of it as stopping. The story idea was in my head, but it belonged in my character's life many years before the book began. I could have let it remain part of the character's back story, a few details that I knew about her and might never share with anyone.

When I'm working on a story, any story, my brain is puzzling over details all the time. Taking the time to write a novel doesn't mean there isn't another story cooking in the back of my mind at the same time. Sometimes the new ideas that pop up need to be written into their own story. It isn't a break. It is a trip of discovery that makes the character more alive inside my head.

Our minds are wonderfully complex. There's lots of room to explore a panorama of ideas. Sometimes the thoughts are all jumbled together in ways that make it impossible to untangle them and what ends up on the page isn't worthy of sharing with anyone. At the darnedest moments all reason escapes my head. I end up starring at a blank screen unable to write a single word. It is all part of the process.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Amazon Author Pages

The idea of author pages at Amazon is pretty cool. Having only one short story show up on mine is not so cool. If you like my story in the Halloween anthology you might pick up Low Down and Derby, a Kentucky Derby themed anthology from the Ohio River Valley Chapter of Sisters in Crime. It doesn't show up on the page but it is available on Amazon.

There is more to come. Pill Hill Press will be releasing a collection of flash fiction soon with one of my stories, and there is a new collection of stories from the Ohio River Valley Sisters in Crime coming together. This time the theme is Bourbon.

The big disadvantage of only publishing short fiction. It vanishes quickly. The trouble is, I love short fiction. It is like popcorn, and you can see from the photo on my page that I love popcorn. However, popcorn isn't everything. It is time for some meat and potatoes work. I am hoping that sometime soon my first novel will join this collection of Halloween stories. A second novel is in the works so stay tuned.