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