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Guest Blogger: Polly Hall

Posted by on Apr 9th, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Since I am on vacation this week, I invited author Polly Hall to guest blog. Polly’s novel, The Taxidermist’s Lover, is the most unusual book I’ve read so far this year. The center of the novel is the relationship between Scarlett and Henry. And their relationship is deeply entwined in Henry’s profession of taxidermy. But Henry isn’t an ordinary taxidermist who’ll memorialize your eight-point buck with a nice mounting. With Scarlett’s encouragement, Henry begins to create bizarre hybrid creatures .

. The relationship between Scarlett and Henry felt sinister to me. The couple first meets and bonds over a dead creature washed ashore on the beach. Scarlett felt to me like she was attracted to darkness and – dare I say – monsters. I was curious about how Polly saw the love relationship when she was writing the book. If you like gothic romance, you will love The Taxidermist’s Lover. And if you’re curious about an author’s thought process as she creates this kind of chilling romance, read on. .

A brief analysis of Scarlett and Henry’s relationship by Polly Hall

In The Taxidermist’s Lover, Scarlett, looks back over the past year, from Christmas Day, to try and make sense of the spooky goings on and her ill-fated love affair with Henry Royston Pepper, the taxidermist. As the reader enters into Scarlett’s head, they are drawn eerily into her thoughts and hear her addressing Henry and effectively speaking directly off the page as if a one-sided conversation or monologue.

The novel is written in second person narrative to reflect the intensity and closeness of their relationship. From the first line, ‘You are a wonderful, complex f**ked up mess,’ you once said to me.’ [p.3] the reader should be aware that this is not a flowery romance. It’s edgy and slippery. ‘It was the silence within you that viciously penetrated me.’

The age difference between the two becomes apparent with their physical descriptions – ‘you with your steady hands, me with the flighty grace of a starling’ and their behaviour, ‘you clasped me about my waist and lifted me effortlessly as if I were a child.’ Even the interaction with the modern world attempts to show the age gap – ‘I suggested a website for your business, but you looked at me as if I were suggesting you sell your soul to the devil.’ p.12 Henry is not interested in the internet and has traditional approaches to his work, yet Scarlett is the one who encourages him to diversify into making hybrid creatures. She sees the market leaning towards the contemporary art of Felix, the rival taxidermist, and feels Henry could also do this, and better.

Scarlett and Henry meet on a beach looking down at a dead creature washed ashore. This is not a normal meet-cute and if you believe in love at first sight this could be construed as already ill-fated, with death in the foreground of their ensuing relationship.

The petty jealousies and rivalry play out in the flooded, atmospheric landscape which becomes a character also vying for attention and on the periphery, there are other contenders: Penny, Felix, and even Scarlett’s pseudo-incestuous relationship with twin brother, Rhett. The weather affects both Scarlett and Henry, the changing landscape isolating and freezing them down as the end of the year approaches. 

Secrets and other family relationships e.g. Rhett and Scarlett’s childhood are reflected upon and Henry shifts into a shadowy background role watching or making himself scarce by going to his workshop. Yet they are compelled back towards each other with an intense physical, almost animal attraction that is private yet exposed to conjecture by their choice to hide away on the moor. p.115 ‘There was not an inch of you I did not know, and I know you had mapped all of me too.’

And at the crux of the story the hybrid animals are there, silent witnesses to the unravelling with their cold, fake eyes staring out from the taxidermy mounts. Even in their intimate moments they are present.

‘When we made love, I’d somehow taste the essence of the creatures you’d been handling – the quick, acrid bite of a fox, the feathery scratch of an owl, the smooth perfume of someone’s beloved pet cat.’

Love is such a huge, indefinable subject but there is definitely warped obsession at play between Scarlett and Henry. All love stories have their dark, dirty secrets but THE TAXIDERMIST’S LOVER takes it to the extreme. I have been asked if Scarlett is suffering from mental health issues or were the supernatural elements ghosts of guilt? I’d like to let the reader decide here. The second person narrative lends itself to the unreliable narrator and seemed to fit the whole solipsistic viewpoint of Scarlett speaking to Henry from inside her head.

About the Author

Polly Hall is a published author and experienced adult education tutor. Her debut novel, The Taxidermist’s Lover, was #1 New Release in Amazon’s British & Irish Horror and Bram Stoker Award 2020 Finalist for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. She has been published in various anthologies and commissioned as part of interdisciplinary arts projects. She holds an MA in Creative Writing and a PGCE in Lifelong Learning. She lives next to a cider factory with her cat, Vishnu.

Twitter: @PollyHallWriter
Facebook: #PollyHallWriter
Instagram: @Polly_Hall_Writer

The Taxidermist’s Lover (published by CamCat Books) is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound and all good book stores.

The Origins of the National Road

Posted by on Mar 26th, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

In today’s post, we go back in time, to before Albert Gallatin conceived our nation’s first publicly-funded road, to a time before we were even a nation.

In the 1750’s, the British, the French and the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy disputed the ownership of today’s American Upper Midwest. French traders and trappers pressed down on the area from Canada. The Iroquois hunted and farmed. And the British moved relentlessly westward from the Atlantic Coast, seeking land that could be settled and farmed. The three nations lived in a tense state between war and peace. The Iroquois Confederacy played off the two European powers against each other.

All three powers knew the location of the key to the Midwest. Southwestern Pennsylvania, where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers flow together to form the west-flowing Ohio. The vicinity of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was about to be soaked with blood.

Monuments to the battle for the Midwest lie all along the National Road (present-day Route 40) between Uniontown and Farmington. If you want to see the important sites in chronological order, it’s best to see them travelling southeast from Pittsburgh on Route 40. Traveling in that direction, your first stop should be Jumonville Glen. This is where a young lieutenant colonel in the British colonial militia tipped the tense three-power balance into out-and-out war. His name was George Washington.

Jumonville Glen

On April 18, 1754, a British crew building a small fort at the site of present-day Pittsburgh was driven off by a larger French force. Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie sent Washington from Virginia to Pittsburgh with a small contingent of troops to protect the site. British and French accounts differ about how the skirmish of May 28, 1854 began.

We do know for sure that Washington’s forces ambushed the French who were camped at Jumonville Glen, about forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. In the brief skirmish, Washington’s troops killed the leader of the French forces, Sir Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville.

The future Father of our Country won that battle – sort of. Imprecise accounts indicate that as many as a dozen Frenchmen were killed and thirty taken prisoner, against only one Virginian killed and a handful wounded. But Washington was forced to withdraw, and he had not heard the last of the Villiers family.

The short, wooded walk from the parking area to Jumonville Glen is very pretty, even in the early spring when the trees are still bare. Bright-green moss lines the path, and when you reach the overlook it is very easy to see how Washington could have taken the French by surprise here.

Fort Necessity

Driving southeast on Route 40, the next monument is Braddock’s Grave (see below). But, if you want to see the sights chronologically, your next stop should be Fort Necessity.

While Washington was skirmishing with Jumonville’s troops, a larger force of the French kept busy replacing the fort that the evicted British had started. They called their new fort Fort Duquesne. From there Louis Coulon de Villiers – Sir Jumonville’s brother – led six hundred troops southeast to avenge his brother’s death.

Washington expected the French to strike back and he made preparations. But he didn’t do a great job. He ordered his troops to rapidly erect a defensive fort at a site called Great Meadows. The location of the fort was a dream come true for the attacking French. It was flat and open, surrounded by trees that provided cover for attackers.

The ground was also swampy, and, as it happened, the coming battle would be fought in a driving rain. By the time Villiers offered surrender negotiations, thirty of Washington’s men had died in the flooded trenches, and seventy more were wounded.

Because he wasn’t sure when the British might be sending reinforcements, Villiers was surprisingly generous in his terms. The remaining Virginians, including Washington, were permitted to return to Virginia. But the light was poor, and the surrender document was written in French and poorly translated to Washington. So, he was unaware that he had just signed an admission to having assassinated Sir Jumonville.

Washington’s troops abandoned the fort on July 4, 1854.

The French had won – for the moment.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield Park

The national park at Fort Necessity has vastly improved since our first visit there. When we first visited in 1984, the park consisted of a reconstruction of the fort and a few signboards. Since then, the National Park Service has constructed a large new museum building with an ample parking lot, a movie theater, a fort-themed outdoor playground for children, and a gift shop. Excellent displays describe the history of the National Road and the fort. The grounds of the park also include Mount Washington Tavern. From the museum building, it is an easy walk to the fort reconstruction and a rather more strenuous walk to the nearby tavern (see below). You can also reach the tavern directly from Route 40. The grounds are lovely, dominated by stately pines, and knit together by well-shaded paths.

Despite its location just a few hundred feet from Route 40, the site of the fort was very hushed when we visited. It felt almost haunted to me in the stillness. I felt like if I stepped off the path onto the grass, I would step back in time and face the fort as it looked on that dismal July day in 1754, smell the wet gunpowder, and hear the cries of the wounded.

During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps made some improvements to the Fort Necessity site. They built an especially handsome, sturdy bridge, which still stands.

Mount Washington Tavern

The tavern standing on the grounds of Fort Necessity National Battlefield dates to the heyday of the National Road. Built in the 1830s, it served travelers on the Good Intent stagecoach line. It was closed when we visited, but is normally open May – October from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The Braddock Expedition

Backtracking northwest a little on Route 40, we come to the last chronological stop on our tour of the French & Indian War section of the National Road.

The battles at Jumonville Glen and Fort Necessity triggered the world’s first true world war. Western Pennsylvania was the starting point and epicenter of the nine-year conflagration known as the Seven Years War or the French & Indian War. But the war ultimately pulled in Prussia, Spain, Austria and other allies of both the French and the British.

In the summer of 1755, early in the war, the British made another attempt to capture the all-important site of present-day Pittsburgh. General Edward Braddock set out from Cumberland, Maryland, with 2100 troops. How do you move that many men, along with their cannons, provisions and other equipment, through a heavily forested Appalachian wilderness? You build a 110-mile road, of course. And the road that you build becomes part of the route of the National Road six decades later.

The Braddock expedition included such future luminaries as Daniel Boone, Horatio Gates, and the 23-year-old bumbler who started the whole mess – none other than Lt. Col. George Washington. The presence of so many soon-to-be-famous men didn’t help Braddock much, though.

On July 9. 1755, soon after they had crossed the Monongahela about ten miles south of Pittsburgh, Braddock’s force was surprised by a much smaller force of French and their Indian allies. The terrain favored the French and Indians. After several hours of combat, Braddock was shot off his horse and killed, and the British began to withdraw. Only firm action by Washington prevented the withdrawal from collapsing into panic.

British victory at the forks of the Ohio would have to wait for the Forbes expedition, three years later.

Braddock’s Grave

The British originally buried Braddock on the road they had so laboriously built. In 1804, workers repairing the road discovered the body. They reburied it on a rise above the road, where it remains today under a granite monument.

A stop at the very-visible monument also gave us the opportunity to see a couple of hidden gems nearby: the original Braddock gravesite and some preserved remains of Braddock’s original road – mere feet from today’s Route 40.

Coda

In 1771, George Washington bought the land on which Fort Necessity had stood. He saw that the grounds lay along what would eventually be a well-travelled route west, and thought it would be a good investment. He visited the property in 1784, but sold it before his death in 1799.

The British won the Seven Year’s War and gained an empire. Ironically, their empire nearly bankrupted them just a couple of decades later, and it has since faded into history like all empires.

But the road that Braddock and his men started has survived, first as the National Road and now as Route 40. A traveler named Aldara Welby, quoted on one of the museum signboards, said it best in 1819. “The National Road is a work truly worthy of a great nation, both in its idea and construction.”

Next Up: I will be on vacation in early April, so Polly Hall will be my guest blogger. Polly is the author of The Taxidermist’s Lover, the most unique and imaginative book I’ve read so far this year.

And, finally, just for fun, here’s a picture of me on our first visit to Fort Necessity, in March of 1984. I was 8 months’ pregnant!

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Years%27_War

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braddock_Expedition

Vivian, Cassandra; The National Road in Pennsylvania; Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC, 2003.

Also: the Pittsburgh Public School System. When I was student in the 1960s and 1970s, every Pittsburgh school child was taught this history and it is as familiar to me as a family story. I only needed my sources for exact names and dates.

The National Road in Uniontown

Posted by on Mar 12th, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

I wrote a little about Uniontown’ history in my last post about the National Road. This week, I continue with some detail about Uniontown’s architecture and its historic heroes.

Uniontown’s Architectural Gems

Uniontown’s loveliest building is the Beaux-Arts State Theater Center for the Arts. Designed in 1921 by prominent theater architect Thomas Lamb, it opened on October 30, 1922 to acclaim as the “largest, finest and most beautiful playhouse in Pennsylvania.”

Originally hosting vaudeville shows and silent films, the theater also showcased nationally-popular big bands like Paul Whiteman, Glen Gray, and the Dorsey Brothers in the 1940s. Like so many grand theaters, it lost much of its audience in the declining mill town and closed in 1973. The theater was purchase in 1988 by the Greater Uniontown Heritage Consortium. Today it presents everything from classic films to local dance recitals.

Here’s a gallery of some of the other little gems that we discovered on our walk through downtown Uniontown.

But, to my surprise, what impressed me the most about Uniontown was its history of heroism, and its commendable civic habit or honoring heroes.

Uniontown hero: General George Marshall

Uniontown’s best known local hero is General George Marshall. Marshall was born on December 31, 1880 and raised in Uniontown, where he was known by the nickname “Flicker.” Marshall’s father was a well-to-do coal magnate, who sold his mining business to invest in real estate. He lost enough of his money that the family begged food from a local hotel for a while.

Although he was a notoriously poor student, young George somehow managed to be admitted to Virginia Military Institute. There, his poor academic performance continued. But he thrived under the military discipline and a moral culture dedicated to service, chivalric courtesy, self-control and integrity. The young cadets were taught to emulate great men like George Washington and Pericles.

Marshall took his moral lessons to heart. He became so tough and self-disciplined that he once was injured early in a football game and nevertheless played the entire game.

Under the discipline at VMI, Marshall became fanatical about neatness, organization and attention to detail. This stood him in good stead in his military career, as he gained a reputation as an ace at logistics, planning and administration. These organization skills made him so valuable to his superiors that in World War One he never saw the combat that he deeply desired, although he was often at the front lines observing and reporting.

Marshall had a strong commitment to the Army, but he wasn’t necessarily a traditionalist. One the eve of World War Two, Roosevelt placed him in charge of Infantry School at Fort Benning. There, Marshall shook up the old-fashioned methods of training officers to lead troops in battle. Many of the most important officers to serve in WWII were trained under Marshall’s revised methods. He trained his officers to think or their feet and taught the maxim that a mediocre decision taken in time is better than a perfect decision that comes too late.

The Marshall Plan

Marshall was FDR’s Chief of Staff during most of WWII, and served as ambassador to Chine from 1945-47. But he is best known for the war recovery plan that he developed for Europe in 1947, known to history as The Marshall Plan. Between 1948 and 1952, the United States allocated over $17 billion ($130B in today’s dollars) to the economic recovery of war-devastated Western Europe. The Plan saved thousands of Europeans from starvation, allowed the end of rationing and reduced the influence of Communist parties in Western Europe. It was a precursor to NATO, the European Economic Community, the Bretton-Woods international monetary agreement and the European Union.

The Marshall Plan offered help to the USSR and the eastern bloc countries, too, but they turned it down. Seems like a bad decision. When the Marshall Plan began, per capita Gross Domestic Product in both the east and the west was $2000. By 1990, Western Europe boasted a per capita GDP of $20,000. The comparable figure in the East was only $9000.

A fine statue of Marshall stands in a little square in downtown Uniontown, honoring a man who started as a poor student in Uniontown and ended up changing the world.

Uniontown heroes: The 1894 coal mine strikers

I wrote in my previous post that coal mining was one of Uniontown’s main industries in the 1890s. In 1889, 65,723,110 tons of bituminous coal were mined in the United States, employing 300,000 miners and other workers. Nearly half of all naval ships in the world burned for fuel bituminous coal mined in the Appalachian region.

Back in the days before the Federal Reserve and floating currencies, Panics used to periodically hit the financial sector. These Panics then reverberated across the whole economy, and the Panic of 1893 hit coal mining especially hard. Factories reduced or ceased production and fewer trains criss-crossed the country, which reduced demand for coal. The mining companies reduced wages in 1893 and again in 1894. Miners who earned 79 cents per ton of coal in early 1893 were earning between 38 and 60 cents a ton by April of 1894.

For this paltry wage, the miners worked in dangerous conditions. Mines weren’t mechanized until the early twentieth century, so in the 1890s, the men were still working with pick-axes, hand drills and dynamite. They were susceptible to frequent fatal or crippling accidents and to “miner’s asthma,” what we call today black lung disease. Boys as young as twelve, called breakers, worked sorting coal from rocks, laboring outdoors in all weather. When they turned eighteen, they could go into the mines.

Coal miners were barely making ends meet even before the wage cuts. And, in many coal-mining settlements, they were captive to company stores and company rental property.

One anonymous Pennsylvania miner, telling his story in 1902, reported that he earned $33.52 per month in 1891. His rent was $10 per month, his average monthly bill at the company store was $20, and coal for his furnace cost $4 per month. So, the average miner was constantly in debt. When his wife was sick for eleven weeks in 1896, the doctor’s bill was $20 and medicine cost $18. He didn’t say where he conjured up the money from. One imagines the passing of a hat, the 1890s version of Go Fund Me.

The 1894 Strike

So, the wage reductions left the miners truly desperate. The United Mine Workers was a new organization at the time. They had only thirteen thousand members and only $2600 in their treasury. Nevertheless, they called a strike, demanding a return to the wages that prevailed on May 1, 1893.

More than 180,000 miners in Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania went on strike on April 21, 1894. Most of them weren’t dues-paying members of the UMW; they were just desperate men.

On May 23 in Uniontown, the strike turned violent. Fifteen guards with carbines and machine guns opened fire to hold off an attack by 1500 striking miners killing five and wounding eight.

Meanwhile, the mine owners, squeezed between their workers, their freight costs, their bankers and their own desire for profit, refused to budge.

Five families buried a husband, father or son, and the miners went back to work in late June at the 1894 wage level. But more strikes followed, with another major one in 1933. Today, coal mining is still a dangerous job, but it is much safer than it was in the 1890s, and much better renumerated, thanks to a union movement that was born of desperation and courage in the 1890s.

And Other Local Heroes

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bituminous_coal_miners%27_strike_of_1894

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coal_miners#Coal_mining_in_the_19th_century

https://ehistory.osu.edu/exhibitions/gildedage/content/MinersStory

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Plan

Brooks, David. The Road to Character. New York; Random House, 2015.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Plan

https://fee.org/articles/comparing-the-economic-growth-of-east-germany-to-west-germany-a-history-lesson/

http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~beeson/genealogy/utown.html

https://www.nemacolin.net/places/uniontown.html

National Road part two

Posted by on Feb 26th, 2021 in Blog | 2 comments

On January 22, I published the first of a planned series of blog posts about the National Road. I never dreamed that it would be more than a month before I would publish the next one. Hasn’t this been a winter? Cold, snow, snow, snow – and black ice, on which I

slipped and broke my wrist. It felt amazing to get back out on the road again this week.  Warm breeze, melting snow, sunshine – and the sky! After a month of looking at the same four walls, the sky looked so BIG!

Wharton Furnace

Al and I focused on the Uniontown area on this week’s drive. First, we stopped at the Wharton Iron Furnace, one of the many furnaces that operated in the area during its iron and coal heyday.  One of twenty iron furnaces in Fayette County in the mid-nineteenth century, the furnace operated from 1839 to 1873, and produced cannonballs for the Civil War in the 1860s.

The Fayette County iron industry went into decline in the later nineteenth century. Pittsburgh steelmakers built bigger, more modern furnaces, and their mills were closer to railroads and cheap river transportation. The drive to the furnace, along Wharton Furnace Road, right off Route 40 near the Summit Inn, was beautiful on a sunny day in late winter. Bare trees cast tangled purple shadows on the pure white blanket of snow, and a little black creek meanders in parallel to the road for a couple of miles.

Left: Wharton Iron Furnace. Right: Pretty stream near the Furnace in Forbes State Forest

Searights Tollhouse

Next, we visited another National Road tollhouse, the Searights Tollhouse.  Its design is very similar to the Addison Tollhouse that we saw on our last drive, but this one is built of brick instead of stone. The tollhouse was built near the tavern of William Searights, who just happened to be the state commissioner in charge of the roadway. Searights earned $730 a year for his job as commissioner. Between that and operating a tavern conveniently located to the tollhouse, he became one of the wealthiest men in Fayette County in the 1830s. Addison and Searights are the only remaining of the original six tollhouses along the Pennsylvania section of the National Road. The Searights Tollhouse now operates as a museum, open Tue-Sat 10-4 and Sun 2-6, mid-May through mid-October.

Left: The Searights Tavern, early 20th century. Right: Searights Tollhouse

Thanks to the rates still posted on the tollhouse, we know what this guy would have paid to transport his sheep: six cents for every 20 sheep.

The National Road in Uniontown

Our next stop was the Fayette County seat, Uniontown. At the Historic National Road Headquarters in Uniontown, we learned more about commerce along the National Road. Many stage companies competed for the fastest times between cities, and the ride wasn’t comfortable for any passengers. The road was rough, muddy and poorly graded in many places. In spite of the rough road, stage coaches sometimes covered as many as sixty-five miles in a day, changing horses about every fifteen miles in the mountains.  Drivers earned about $12 a month plus room and board at inns contracted to their stage line.

In those early days of our national postal service, the government often contracted with private coach operators to deliver mail over long distances. In 1836, L. W. Stockton’s National Stage Company got a four-year contract. The contract was worth $63,000 per year, a huge sum on money at that time, but only on the condition that he could carry the mail from Wheeling at a speed of four miles per hour or faster.

A Little Uniontown History

This was our first stop in Uniontown in many years, so we had a lot to explore and a lot to learn.

Founded on the historic date of July 4, 1776, Uniontown was originally named Beesontown, after its founder, Henry Beeson.  Beeson purchased the land from the Six Nations in 1768 and built the town’s first log house at the approximate site of present-day Mount Vernon Towers apartment building. Beeson built a grist mill along Redstone Creek and started selling lots.

Another early settler, Thomas Gaddis, built the area’s second log building in 1769. Gaddis served in the American Revolution and later took charge of defense for the Uniontown area. His home was also known as Fort Gaddis because it was a site for meetings and shelter in time of emergency.

Settlement increased after the end of the American Revolution, and the growing town soon boasted a cabinet maker, cobbler, blacksmith, tailor and doctor, as well as two small log churches: Baptist and Methodist.

Uniontown blossomed with the coming of the National Road, and grew further when the railroad from Connellsville and Pittsburgh came through in 1860. But the real boom started when a seam of coking coal was discovered nearby in the 1860s. By 1906, 40,0000 Fayette County men worked the coal mines.

The H.C. Frick Company alone mined over 19 million ton of coal that year, and Uniontown was the home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States.

 Like so many other Pennsylvania towns, Uniontown declined along with the decline of coal and steel. Its 2010 population was 10,372, about half of its 1940 peak.

When Al and I started our stroll through Uniontown’s historic downtown, it seemed unimpressive at first. Just another dreary old industrial town long past its glory days, lined with unused streetcar tracks and rows of sad, grimy nineteenth-century buildings. But, if you are patient, Uniontown slowly opens your eyes, not just to its architectural gems, but to its heroes.

Coming soon: Uniontown’s hidden charms and heroes

Sources

New Meadow Run School; Mountain Pike; Farmington, PA: Bruderhof Foundation, Inc., 1990.

https://littlebitsofhistory.blogspot.com/2012/11/searight-tollhouse.html

http://menallen.org/historical-sites/searight-tollhouse-museum-information-center/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Searights_Tollhouse%2C_National_Road#:~:text=Designated%20PHMC.%20n%2Fa.%20The%20Searights%20Tollhouse%20of%20the,the%20historic%20National%20Road%2C

http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~beeson/genealogy/utown.html

https://www.nemacolin.net/places/uniontown.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniontown,_Pennsylvania

https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=1115#:~:text=This%20historical%20marker%20is%20listed%20in%20this%20topic,right%20when%20traveling%20west%20on%20East%20Main%20Street.

https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.pa1916.photos/?sp=9

The National Road – part one

Posted by on Jan 22nd, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

Have you ever driven between Pittsburgh and Ohiopyle State Park? Then you’ve travelled one of the oldest roads in the United States and our nation’s first federally-funded highway.

Today’s US 40 was, in the early nineteenth century, The National Road, an important route for traders and settlers. Conceived by Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin and built between 1811 and 1818, the 600-mile National Road started in Cumberland, Maryland. It then crossed present-day Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana, before arriving at its terminus in East St. Louis, Illinois.

You can still drive the whole length of the road today. We may do that someday, but, for now, Al and I decided to drive just the Pennsylvania section. Today’s blog post covers the eastern section of the road between Addison and Confluence. Future posts will cover other sections of the road.

Addison

We started on a snowy January day in Addison, PA, near the Maryland border. Long before the arrival of white people, Indians hunted along the nearby Youghiogheny and Casselman Rivers. Signs of Indian encampment and burial ground exist on Fort Hill, but there is no evidence that a fort ever stood there. The earliest white settlers named their little town Turkeyfoot. Later town leaders renamed it Peterburg after Peter Augustine, who laid out the town.

Six thousand Federal troops camped out on Augustine’s farm in Addison in 1794, on their way to stop the Whiskey Rebellion. Augustine himself was Whiskey rebel, so the troops apparently didn’t feel much remorse about eating his produce and trampling his fences. The Augustine family sent the government a $500 invoice for damages. It was never paid.

 The town’s name changed one more time, in 1831 when it was renamed Addison, after Judge Alexander Addison. Ironically, Judge Addison had defended the law during the 1791-4 Whiskey Rebellion. So, the renaming of the town was another, posthumous defeat for the Whiskey rebels.

The Addison Tollhouse

the tollhouse

Addison is a tiny town, with a pretty little park across the street from its main claim to fame: the Addison Tollhouse. The toll house dates to 1835, when tolls were first collected on this part of the road. It has been rebuilt and repaired to reflect its 1835 appearance.

A sign hung on the tollhouse wall shows the 1835 toll rates: twelve cents for a chariot or stage coach, four cents for a horse and rider, six cents for every fifteen hogs, and so on.

The town is also known for its National Chainsaw Festival every year in June.

Nearby Pumers Pub looked to have a good menu, and we hoped to get some lunch, but it was closed – apparently due to the pandemic – and we were freezing, so we got back into our car.

Somerfield

Our next stop on the old National Road was the Somerfield Dam and Bridge, a few miles west of Addison on Route 40. 

The drowned town of Somerfield had an interesting history. Like most of Western Pennsylvania, the area was originally inhabited by the Monongahela people. Later, the Shawnee, Seneca, Delaware and Erie camped and hunted there.

In 1753, George Washington and Christopher Gist crossed the Youghiogheny about half a mile upriver from the future site of Somerfield. Washington was on his way to warn the French to vacate southwestern Pennsylvania. The ignored warning led to the French & Indian War, and in 1755 General Braddock also forded nearby on his march to Fort Duquesne.

White settlers started to arrive after the Fort Stanwix treaty of 1768. One of the first settlers in what became Somerfield was Jacob Spears. Spears bought a piece of riverfront land on the east side of the Youghiogheny in 1789 and named his homestead Nobbley Nowl (or Knobby Knoll).

The National Road Comes to Somerfield

The construction of the National Road brought the first bridge to Somerfield. Great Crossings Bridge, a three-arch stone bridge, commemorated Washington’s and Braddock’s crossings. The bridge was dedicated on July 4, 1818, with President James Monroe in attendance.

Also present at the dedication of the bridge was Philip Smyth, who had bought out Jacob Spears and renamed the town Smythfield. The name of this town also changed later. In 1830, the town applied for a post office and discovered that there was already a Smithfield post office elsewhere in Pennsylvania. They renamed the town Somerfield in honor of a local reverend.

Relay station houses still dot the National Road, in various states of repair

The National Road brought prosperity to the little river town. Drivers needed to change horses every 10-12 miles when travelling over the mountains, and we saw the remains of many relay stations along Route 40. Somerfield was home to one of these: a stone tavern with an inn and stables,

built by the bridge contractor, Kinkead. A Virginia tavern keeper named Thomas Endsley bought the tavern from Kinkead in 1823, and apparently ran it with the help of eight enslaved people he brought with him from Virginia.  

The National Pike declined with the coming of railroads, and Somerfield declined along with it. By the 1880s, only 80 people lived in the town.

The Drowning of Somerfield

Mabel McKinley

But, as the railroads take, so they also give. By the early 20th century, a rail line came through and Somerfield began to grown again. The town transformed itself into a resort area for sportsmen: fishermen, hunters, boaters. President William McKinley spent six weeks in Somerfield each summer. He had relatives in the area, including a niece, Mabel Mckinley, who later became a renowned singer and composer.

Somerfield’s next change of fortune was less lucky. In the 1930s, local governments and the Army Corps of Engineers became concerned about flood control along the Youghiogheny. The Corps determined that the river should be dammed. Somerfield would be drowned by the river that had first given the town its life.

Somerfield in the 1930s

The dam and bridge project started in 1939, halted temporarily during World War II, and finished in 1946. By then, Somerfield had been torn down and all 142 (some sources say as many as 176) residents relocated.

A new bridge spans the lake today, and new marinas, camp grounds and inns house our century’s sportmen and their boats.

But in dry years, when the Youghiogheny Lake is especially low, the foundations of Somerfield’s houses and the remains of the old three-arch stone bridge re-emerge like ghosts.

The remains of the three-arch stone Great Crossings Bridge, uncovered during a drought

My 5-Star Books of 2020

Posted by on Jan 16th, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments

I review every single book I read on Goodreads, and review occasionally on Amazon and Book Bub as well. And I’m very stingy with 5-star reviews. I’m an old-fashioned reader. I love skilled use of the English language, but I don’t enjoy books that use language so creatively that it feels show-offy, and beautiful language isn’t enough for me. To earn five stars from me, a book must have a disciplined, well-paced plot, fascinating or relatable characters, and an overarching theme that I find inspiring or at least very interesting. I read over fifty books this year. Here are the five that warranted 5-star reviews.

THE EVENING AND THE MORNING by Ken Follett

Well-plotted historical novel

England, in the year 997. Edgar is a young boatbuilder who barely escapes death when the Vikings raid his harbor town. His family loses all that they have in the raid, and they migrate further inland, to scratch out a living farming in a town dominated by a lazy ferryman and a corrupt priest. 

Normandy, the same year. Ragna is a smart, headstrong, beautiful noblewoman. She could marry the wealthy French baron chosen for her by her doting parents, but chooses instead a dashing Englishman nobleman, Wilwulf, who visits her father to seek a treaty that will protect the English coast from the Vikings.  Ragna finds friends, enemies and danger in her new life in England.

I’ve often found that prequels are disappointing. But this prequel to Follett’s masterful The Pillars of the Earth is very worthy. Ragna, Edgar, the principled monk Aldred, Wilwulf’s wicked brothers, the slave girl Blod, and others, are all vivid characters with passions and motivations of their own. Their conflicts are expertly developed, and keep the reader turning pages.

As in Pillars of the Earth, Follett takes the side of the people who are builders and dreamers, lawmakers and rule-followers, people who help others and make the world a better place. They often are punished by men who want power for the sake of power, and who thrive on chaos and disorder. But, at least in the world Follett creates, they prevail in the end. A comforting tale for our times – and a warning of what a lawless world can be like.

A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving

A classic worth the time investment

Owen Meany has a birth defect that left him with unusually small stature and a grating falsetto voice. His story is narrated by his best friend, Johnny Wheelwright.

Johnny and Owen grow up in New Hampshire in the 1950s and 60s. The story opens with a tragedy: Owen’s one good hit in Little League strikes Johnny’s mother in the head and kills her. This sets Owen and Johnny on a years-long quest to discover the identity of Johnny’s father, which his mother never revealed. Meanwhile, Johnny is raised by his grandmother and his loving step-father.

Owen’s family is odd, and Owen has an odd aversion to them, so Owen is also taken under the wing of Johnny’s grandmother and step-father. His height and voice aren’t the only strange things about Owen. He is exceptionally smart, self-confident, and bossy – and he is eerily prescient and wise. Fairly early in the book, he starts insisting that he has foreknowledge of the date of his death and he has a recurring dream that he believes foretells how he will die. And it develops that his father has a startling notion about how Owen was conceived.

This story takes some patience. First, it’s a long book, so it is a commitment. Second, it isn’t told quite chronologically. It bears careful reading, to keep track of what happened when. Third, it is just odd. It was hard for me to tell what it was even about until half-way through. I thought maybe it was a coming-of-age story, but it is so much more than that. My patience was well-rewarded. I absolutely loved this book by the end.

A truly great novel is either timeless or perfectly of its time. This one was a little of both. Taking placing in the 50s and 60s, and written in 1989, it also uncannily foresees our own time.

FOR THE LOVE OF IRELAND edited by Susan Cahill

A tribute to Ireland

A friend in my Irish dancing group lent this book to me.  It’s a literary travel guide to Ireland, highlighting Irish authors from pre-history through current day, from each of the nation’s provinces and counties.   Cahill prefaces each piece with some background on the author, and follows each with a small travelogue to places of significance either to the author or in their work 

As with any anthology, I didn’t like every single work that was included.  For example, I will just never be a James Joyce fan.  But the pieces I did like, I really, really loved, which is why the book rates 5 stars from me.  Although I love the English language, I don’t generally read for beauty of language, which is probably why I’m not a big poetry reader, even though I am the mother of a poet.  I like story; I read mostly for character and plot.  But the language in some of the pieces in this book literally took my breath away:  how Roddy Doyle just nails the lilt, cadence and quirks of Dublin’s dialect, the crystal beauty Seamus Heaney brings to the simple memory of his father digging peat, Joyce Cary’s dreamlike description of the landscape of his childhood. 

I added several books to my reading list, thanks to this sampling, and feel inspired to return to Ireland to see some of the wonders that we missed on our first trip there in 2014. 

THE GIRL WITH THE LOUDING VOICE by Abi Dare

Very appealing heroine

Adunni is a 14-year-old girl growing up in a village in Nigeria.  Before she died, her mother gave her a strong sense of her value and a passion for education.  But let’s just say that her father is not quite as energetic and devoted to his children as her mother was.  When the family’s finances deteriorate, Adunni’s father ends her education and sells her in marriage to a much older man, Mofufu, who already has two wives.

The senior wife, Labake, treats Adunni cruelly, but she finds a friend in the second wife, Khadija.  When tragedy befalls Khadija, Adunni is involved and must flee both Mofufu’s house and her home village.  An unscrupulous broker sells her into domestic servitude in Lagos in the house of successful businesswoman Big Madam and her useless alcoholic husband, Big Daddy. 

Adunni is a true heroine.  She never loses her strong sense of self-worth.  Her work ethic and her cheerful, friendly disposition win her friends who can help her in spite of her seemingly hopeless circumstances.  

Adunni’s magnificent voice is the heart of the novel.  Dare made the risky choice to write in the sort of pidgin English that a Yoruba teenager like Adunni might actually speak, and it was a brilliant choice.  Her unique use of language both strengthens the reader’s sense of entry into a different culture and supports Adunni’s vibrant personality. 

The disgraceful treatment of women in a Nigerian culture transforming from traditional to modern is unsparingly portrayed.  Even Big Madam and Adunni’s mentor, Ms. Tia, are not immune to its blows. It is a testament to Adunni’s inner strength and goodness that she recognizes this, has compassion for it, and wants to dedicate her life to changing it. 

A wonderful book, with one of the most unique, likable and admirable heroines I’ve read in a while.

THE GLITTERING HOUR by Iona Grey

Heartbreaker!

London in 1925.  Britain is still stunned and reeling from the catastrophic loss of life in WWI, and a new generation of Bright Young Things is determined to cast off the failed conventions of the past and heedlessly live for the moment. Selina Lennox is among the Brightest.  Her life is changed one spring night by a chance meeting with a poor young artist.

Fast-forward to 1936.  Selina’s shy daughter Alice has been left with her cold grandparents and Nazi governess in her mother’s ancestral house while her parents travel to Burma on business.  Her only friends are the family’s gardener Patterson and Selina’s former maid Polly.  Alice lives for the occasional letter from her beloved mother.  Selina has sent her on a treasure hunt, and each letter contains a clue.  But her mother has kept some secrets that don’t fit in boxes or jewelry cases.

The story is told on alternating timelines, between 1925 and 1936, with occasional perspective changes.  The shifts of perspective and timeline are very well-handled, and the secrets slowly and expertly revealed.  We are always just a few steps ahead of young Alice and at each step we are allowed the sad pleasure of watching her discover what we have already figured out.

An absorbing and heartbreaking read. 

Here’s to great reading in 2021! Here are some links to books that almost made my cut with 4-start reviews:

The Testaments

Why The Dutch Are Different

News of the World

Lady of the Rivers

American Dirt

My Interview With Author Armen Pogharian

Posted by on Jan 8th, 2021 in Blog | 1 comment

My Interview With Author Armen Pogharian

Armen Pogharian is the author of the Warder and Misaligned young-adult fantasy series, originally published by SynergEbooks. The first book in the Misaligned series, Penny Preston and the Raven’s Talisman, was recently reissued by CamCat Publishing.  It’s a delightful book (see my Amazon review). Here is my recent interview with Armen.

KATHY: Did you always want to be a writer, Armen? What got you interested in writing?

ARMEN: I never considered becoming a writer. In college I did my best to avoid classes with heavy writing loads. I even took Medieval Times as pass fail because it was a ‘paper-based’ class. FWIW, I got an A in the class, even though it shows up as a P. Having kids who were bigtime readers changed things for me.

KATHY: Penny Preston and the Raven’s Talisman is a fantasy that includes multiverse theory and Welsh mythology. Where did you get the idea for this combination?

ARMEN: I wanted to do something Arthurian, but I wanted it to be original. I knew that Tintagel was often cited as a possible location for Camelot. After some research, I found that the King Arthur story has its roots in Welsh mythology. As for the multiverse, well, I’m a bit of a nerd and I thought it would be a neat way to ground the ‘magic’ of the myth in science.

KATHY. I thought your uses of the multiverse was very original. Is the notion of misalignment based on science at all, or did you completely make it up?

ARMEN: Very loosely, in the sense that string theory posits 11 dimensions that interact with each other through complex math. As for evidence that interacting with those dimensions offers solutions to paranormal activity, well let’s just say there’s not a lot peer-reviewed work on the subject.

KATHY: Both of your series, Misaligned and the Warder series are fantasy. What attracted you to this genre?

ARMEN: The Hobbit was the first book that really grabbed my attention. It kindled my imagination and I quickly devoured similar books in the genre. My children also enjoyed fantasy. Since they were the inspiration for my writing, it was a natural place to start.

KATHY: Do you have a favorite character in the story? Can you tell us what it is about that character that speaks to you?

ARMEN: I don’t mean to be a weenie here, but I really don’t have a favorite. There are aspects to each character that I really enjoy. As a writer, I enjoy the relationships between the characters. The Penny/Duncan relationship was a lot of fun to write, especially since it’s primarily from Penny’s perspective. I also really enjoy the Mr. Myrdin/Master Poe dynamic because it allows me to appeal to adult readers.

KATHY: I liked the relationship between Penny and Duncan, too. It seemed very authentic for a couple of 13-years-olds. Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about writing a fantasy/sci fi novel?

ARMEN: Nothing that hasn’t been said better by others. Although if pressed, I’d say the biggest pitfall is writing yourself into a corner and then inventing a magical trapdoor. Avoid that by outlining your story and leaving hints and clues to sharp turns.

KATHY: Which authors do you like to read? How did they impact you as a writer?

ARMEN: Obviously, I enjoyed Tolkien, but I also liked Raymond Feist, David Eddings, and Piers Anthony. Of the more ‘modern’ authors in the genre, I like everything I’ve read by Jonathan Stroud.

KATHY: I was a Tolkien fan, too, when I was young. Could you describe your writing process? Do you outline? Do you always know how the book is going to end?

ARMEN: I always begin with a 1-2 page outline. The points can refer to characters, plot, or even world-building, so they typically don’t conform to chapters. Then I start to write. I tend to write linearly from start to finish, but in almost every book I will do a little bouncing around. As for the ending, I have an idea, but the details are not set in stone.

KATHY: What have you done to market your books? Have you found any marketing strategies to be particularly effective?

ARMEN: Effective marketing is the hardest part of the writing business. For me interacting with readers works well, unfortunately, most YA and middle grade readers are not the buyers. It’s also hard, as a middle-aged man, to interact with that age group over the internet. I’ve had the best success with book signing or meet the author types of events. Of course, those aren’t really happening right now. If by chance you’re a librarian or teacher and interested in booking an in person or virtual visit, please let me know. My rates can’t be beat.

KATHY: Yes, this has been a hard year for writers who depend a lot on personal appearances for book sales. I hear you on that. Did you learn anything about yourself from writing Penny Preston and the Raven’s Talisman?

ARMEN: More than I care to share. I will say that sleep is an incredibly powerful creative tool. Apparently, my conscious mind throttles my creativity. My go to tool for a creative issue or writer’s block is a 10-15 minute nap. The key is to begin writing as soon as I wake up.

KATHY: More than you can share? Now I’m intrigued! Tell me something that your readers would be surprised to hear about you.

ARMEN: I’ve never watched the movies Titanic or Ghost.

KATHY: Wow, even I saw those movies, and I was knee-deep in raising children in the nineties and hardly ever saw a non-Disney movie! I know that the next two books in the Misaligned series will be published by CamCat in the near future.  Are you working on another series now? Can you tell us a little about it?

ARMEN: I’ve got a sixth Warders book, The Pyramid’s Puzzle, that got caught up in CamCat’s acquisition of my old publisher. After lengthy discussion with the publisher, we both agreed that the Warders wasn’t a good fit for them. So, I’ll be self-publishing the entire series, including the never released Pyramid’s Puzzle. Beyond that, I have several loose ideas for a seventh Warders book and a few completely new concepts, too. Basically, once I get through these launches and relaunches, I’ll hunker down and sort through things.

KATHY: Where can we find out about you and your writing?

ARMEN: The best place would be my website http://www.armenpogharian.com/ which also includes my blog, interviews with other authors, and book reviews. I also maintain a Facebook author page https://www.facebook.com/AuthorArmenPogharian. I have a Goodreads page, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56160609-penny-preston-and-the-raven-s-talisman, which I sadly do not spend enough time on right now.

KATHY: Thanks, Armen. I enjoyed talking to you. Good luck with your projects!

ARMEN: Thank you, Kathy.

Christian Themes in The Saint’s Mistress

Posted by on Dec 1st, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

Saint Augustine of Hippo in old age

Readers sometimes ask me about the religious themes in The Saint’s Mistress.  I admit that I struggled with this aspect of the book.

I’m a Christian, but I didn’t write the book to evangelize for Christianity.  I wrote it to tell a story that I thought was interesting.

Augustine and Christianity

Of course, when you’re writing about Saint Augustine, you can’t avoid the topic of religion!  And one of the things that made me want to tell this story was that it takes place in at an interesting period in Church history, and one that is little-explored in fiction:  that turning point right after Christianity became the state religion, as the early Church established orthodoxy and battled the last vestiges of paganism, that hinge between the ancient and medieval worlds.

I took Augustine at his word in portraying his spiritual journey.  He well described in the Confessions how he was entranced first by the pagan philosophers, then by Manicheism, then by neo-Platonism, before accepting Christianity.  I portray him as a young man of enthusiasms, a passionate seeker of truth. He ultimately became the great leader he longed to be only when he attached himself to something larger than himself.  I’ll put it out there:  my position, as a Christian, is that God made use of him.  But you could also read my portrayal of him as a man who came into his own as he matured and subsumed his ego in a larger cause.  Again, I was not trying to evangelize.  I was trying to portray my character in a way that was true to my understanding of him.

My writing and Christianity

I could take Leona in any direction I wanted, since she left no record of herself.  And, as with Augustine, I tried to write her true to how I imagined her.

Inevitably, though, my Christian bias probably comes through, and I don’t apologize for that.  One of the things I’m interested in doing in my writing is to explore questions of faith.  Plenty of books portray Christianity in a cynical light.  And plenty of Christian fiction portrays Christianity completely uncritically:  Jesus fixes everything, The End. I plan a future post on my objections to Christian fiction.  What I try to do is write from the questions, not from either cynical or uncritical answers.

See previous blog posts on why I wrote my book:

Interview with the author of The Immortal Twin

Posted by on Nov 14th, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

D. B. Woodling is the author of seven books, including historical fiction, mysteries, YA, and now her latest, The Immortal Twin, a paranormal romance about a mortal twin brother and sister adopted by vampires. (See my Amazon review here).

I like to help other authors by promoting their books, so I recently interviewed Deb over email, to learn more about her books and her writing process.

 Did you always want to be a writer? What got you interested in writing?

 At a young age, I often wrote poetry. Later, while in high school, despite the encouragement of   several English teachers to tap into my ‘talent’ for creative writing, I set my sights on a theatrical career instead. Twenty years and a thousand or so performances later, my passion for the theater waned. Soon discovering that I needed a creative outlet, my attention turned to writing. Like many writers have often confessed, this doesn’t seem to be a vocation one chooses, but rather one that chooses us.

Where do you get your ideas?

All seven of my novels began with a single opening line that came to me out of nowhere.

Describe your writing process. Do you outline? Do you always know how the book is going to end?

In the beginning, I never outlined. When I began the sequel to my detective series, I found it prevented glaring errors when transitioning from the first book to the second. After that, although having fought the idea of anything so regimented in the past, I found it extremely helpful. That said, despite the best of intentions and a meticulously detailed synopsis, the ending doesn’t always follow the prescribed course, the characters often taking the story in an entirely different direction.

How long does a first draft take you to write? How many edits do you usually do before you feel your book is ready to be submitted?

The timeline varies. I work best under pressure, so I tend to procrastinate until forced to comply with a deadline, which usually constitutes a two-to-three month period. I never submit a work until I’ve dissected and examined it four to five times. I’m an obsessive perfectionist, so I never truly feel the book is perfect.

You have written several books. Which is your favorite and why?

I have a soft spot for Shannon’s Revenge: Broken Promises—a contender for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for literary fiction and recognized by The Copperfield Review, a renowned literary journal. A fictional account of the circumstances that led to the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the battle itself, I hope I’ve successfully captured the story as told from both sides.

Name your favorite books by other authors.

There are so many. If pressed, I’d have to say Howard’s End by E. M. Forster and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, works that dive deep into the human spirit and, to some extent, reveal something of the authors themselves. My guilty pleasures are anything written by Janet Evanovich and several titles by Stephen King, Michael Connelly, and Karin Slaughter.

One thing I wondered about The Immortal Twin is why the Toroks adopted Celeste and Nick. Can you explain that?

Guilt. Despite repercussions from the Omniscients, they could have given their parents immortality and chose not to.

Is The Turning of Nick Torok a sequel to The Immortal Twin? Will CamCat be publishing it in the future? Will there be additional books in the series?

The Immortal Twin is a revised, longer version of The Turning of Nick Torok. I am hard at work on the sequel to The Immortal Twin, with the hope it will find a home with CamCat Books later next year with a series to follow.

Tell me something that your readers would be surprised to hear about you.

During hunting season, I persuade countless deer within the safe confines of our property, enticing them with bags of corn and oats.

D B Woodling, author of The Immortal Twin

Purchase The Immortal Twin

Learn more about D B Woodling

Reflections on The Saint’s Mistress (part two)

Posted by on Nov 3rd, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments

Part two of a story wherein a very amateur writer who is already too busy feels compelled to write a novel about Saint Augustine and his mistress…. (Read part one HERE)

The Writing Process for The Saint’s Mistress

I had an opening scene in a pear orchard, based on an experience Augustine describes in the Confessions. Other than that, all I had was an irrational passion to tell this ghost-woman’s story.  I borrowed more books from the library, and stayed up late doing internet research.  In our crowded household, there was no quiet place to write. So, I got up at 5 a.m., was in Bruegger’s or Au Bon Pain with my laptop the minute they opened, and wrote for an hour in coffee shops before work.  Every day.  For two years. I did eventually tackle the Confessions, and had to read it twice to understand it.  My husband and I travelled to Milan, where Augustine and Leona lived for several years, and to Ostia, where his mother, Saint Monnica, died.

Then came a year of editing, rewriting, and harsh-but-loving criticism from my two beloved writing groups.  I slashed whole chapters that led nowhere, and changed confusing character names.  Hundreds of dead-weight adverbs and adjectives lost their lives.  Characters disappeared.

The Search for a Publisher for The Saint’s Mistress

And that was easy compared to the five years that it took to find an agent or publisher. 

Try being a first-time novelist with zero contacts, trying to sell a novel in the middle of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and while the publishing industry is in the process of the biggest transformation since the printing press.  Or, on second thought, don’t try it.  It isn’t fun.

The Saint’s Mistress was finally accepted by a very small publisher, SynergeBooks. It came out in 2014 as an e-book, and then in print in 2016. When your publisher is small, you do most of your own marketing, similar to self-publishing. I bought Goodreads ads, and offered author talks at local libraries. I ended up making a little money on the book, but not much. In 2019, Synerge was bought by CamCat, larger publisher with more resources. They asked me to revise my first chapter, gave the book a re-edit and a new cover, and re-released it in September 2020. The staff and other authors at CamCat have been helpful and generous, and I’m very excited about the re-release.

Worth It?

My book project has certainly been a long journey, and a hard, discouraging one at times. But, overall, I have loved it.  With every page I wrote, both Saint Augustine, whom the world knows, and Leona, a mere ghost, felt more real to me.  Sometimes I forgot that I was making it all up, and felt like I was telling the story the way I knew, absolutely knew somehow, that it had really happened.  I loved them.  I still do. A trail of books led me to them, and I hope that my own finished book accurately expresses their time, their love and their spirits.

Copyright 2014 Kathryn Bashaar | Design by | Adapted from PureType