Friday, February 22, 2013

Lexington's Phoenix Hotel

In 1806 Colonel Aaron Burr visited Lexington, Kentucky and stayed at a little place named Wilson's Tavern. This is one of the earliest famous national figures to rent accommodations at the address that would become the Phoenix Hotel.  In the late eighteenth century, Lexington was building a reputation among travelers as the "Athens of the West." Postlethwaite's Tavern opened in 1800 to provide comfortable lodging for visitors to the city. Over the next twenty years the tavern changed names many times. The Wilson's Tavern Aaron Burr visited was just one of the names for Lexington's finest lodgings before it burned in 1820. One of the Lexington newspapers printed a story about the mythical Phoenix being reborn from the ashes. The popularity of the story inspired the property owners to build a grander hotel on the site.

Out of the ashes, the Phoenix Hotel rose. Perhaps the owners should have considered the relationship between the myth and the hotel. The Phoenix lived up to the name. In 1833 the three story hotel burned to the ground. There are no known likenesses of the original Phoenix Hotel, but the hotel that replaced it was photographed in 1860.

One of the interesting things about this picture is that both the rooftop of General Leslie Combs' house and the steeple of the old Main Street Christian Church are visible beyond the hotel.  The church hosted the  1843 Campbell-Rice debate presided over by Henry Clay. General Combs home was considered one of the architectural jewels of the city. It was lost on May 14, 1879, when the Phoenix was again consumed by fire.

The history of the Phoenix doesn't end here, but this is the incarnation of the Phoenix Hotel that is part of my fictional world. Several scenes in Circle of Dishonor were set in or around the hotel. Concealed in Ash opens on the evening of May 14, 1879, and takes us into the grand ballroom on the fateful night the flames took her.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Opening to the Future

My in-laws were an active retired couple for more than twenty years. Nine of those years were spent in the Philippines working as missionaries at Silliman University. When they returned to the United States, the two of them purchased the house next door to us. But the ice storms in the winter of 2003 were too much for them. They moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida. We went back to seeing them only on vacations.

Pulmonary hypertension changed our relationship very little. Sarah's father managed the disease very well for many years, but he did ask one thing of us. He wanted to be sure his wife was taken care of when the time came. Being a manly man from the era when American men were expected to be stoic about life and death, there was no mention of his needing care. He would let us know when he was no longer able to "take care of her" himself.

Last February, he passed out at his computer and spent the next month in the hospital.  Things in Florida were falling apart while we were going on with our lives in Kentucky.

We were in Indiana doing research on a story when the call came. Sarah's mother panicked, almost incoherent, our cell phone breaking up because we were miles from the nearest tower, we lost the connection twice before we found a place where we could pull over and get reception. They needed us, NOW!

We dropped everything, took vacation time, and came to Florida to deal with the crisis. For fifty years he had managed all the bills, bank accounts, retirement planning. Now he couldn't remember how to use his computer. It didn't take us long to realize that the crisis was going to be life changing. In his case, it was fatal, for the rest of us it put life on hold. 

Sarah struggled through the immediate crisis of paying monthly bills, talking to the doctors about his prognosis, and arranging for her brother to come down until we could wrap up our lives in Kentucky. Joel took over things in Florida. We gave notice to our bosses, sold the house, packed up and moved.

From April to September of last year, life as I knew it ground to a halt. Each day centered around keeping my father-in-law alive and as comfortable as we could make him for one more day. Toward the end the focus was one more hour, one more minute... Hospice was great, his friends and my family were wonderful, but Sarah, her mother, and I were on watch twenty-four hours a day. There were close calls, and moments that broke our hearts. There was laughter at things other people couldn't understand and times when we were downright silly.

When it was over, there was nothing. The three of us got through the days, but we had all given so much that it was hard to even think. Little by little, the numbness is fading. Only now are we starting to think  about the future, opening our minds to life after Frank.

I've finished my novel, just in time to learn my publisher is closing.  One more door to the past is closed. I guess we will just have to keep opening doors to the future.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Writing is hard work. There are days when I feel like the entire day was spent stomping on my brain. So why would I want to compound the agony by dealing with a group of writers who have all suffered the same way? First and foremost the reason is to make money. Anyone who tells you they have taken on the headaches of running a small business for any other reason is either lying or crazy. Don't trust them.

Don't get me wrong. I love short fiction, drabbles, flash fiction, short shorts, and short stories are the popcorn of reading. Give me a tub full of little stories and I am set for the day.
As a writer, there is nothing more satisfying than crafting one of these little gems.  I have experimented with everything from 25 word stories for the Guppies contribution for the Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary to the novella. Tight, clean, writing in a limited number of words is harder than you might think. Some of my novelist friends quake at the thought of trying to tell a story in under 5000 words.

I believe the short story needs as much respect and support as a novel. Last year I took on the challenge of coordinating the Derringer Award entries because a great short story deserves to be recognized. I have also volunteered to help young writers and critique the work of others. All these things are part of belonging to a writing community.

It is that community of writers that kept me going when life was roughest. They have encouraged and advised me, commiserated with me when I struggled, and helped me celebrate my successes. As I step into the publishing side of this business, my writing friends have given me advice and support. Now it is time to take my first steps into publishing. Today drawing up a marketing plan for our first anthology Strangely Funny is on the agenda.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

To Publish or Not

Since the announcement that Pill Hill Press was closing, Sarah and I have been giving serious thought to starting a small press. The discussions have been centered around the kind of books Pill Hill loved most, anthology publishing. Yes, the two of us write novels, but our first love was short fiction. Our first publishing credits were in anthologies. Since then, we have both been in a number of anthologies. We love the form and are keenly aware of the declining number of short story markets.

The loss of short story markets is a personal loss for us. Our next publishing credit will be for a short story we wrote together. I'll write more about that closer to the time that book is released. In the meantime, we are thinking of what to do about another press that mentored and published short fiction writers closing its doors.

Do we stand by and watch the short fiction market continue to contract, or do we step in and try our hand at filling the gap? Is there enough of a market for short fiction to make a living publishing? Do we have the combined skills to run a small press? These are some of the questions we are exploring.

We are also looking at the issue of how much of our time will be eaten up on other people's writing. Will the demands of running a press stop us from working on our own writing? I have just finished my second novel. Sarah and I are a third of the way through a novel we are writing together. She also has a work in progress of her own to consider.

We've spoken to friends who self-publish their own novels and/or run a small press, read articles on the subject, looked at the costs of publishing a book, and judged enough writing competitions to trust our judgment of writing skills.

Half of the process is completed. Last year, Sarah and I asked our attorney to help us set up a Limited Liability Company to protect our interest in each other's work. The structure of our company allows us the ability to extend into publishing. Should we publish or not?