Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Songs of Old: "The Blue Juniata"

One of the things I love about delving into history is the music. There are so many hidden gems among the old folk songs and the popular songs of past centuries. I enjoy learning the words and melodies, hunting out sheet music and discovering the stories behind them—especially if it's a song that has worked its way into my mind through being quoted or playing a part in a book. It's always fun to "meet" an old song in real life after you've become familiar with it on the page. And I've discovered the pleasure of perpetuating this cycle too. I am, after all, the one who titled The Parting Glass after a folk song and had so much fun weaving "After the Ball" into Corral Nocturne.

If you've been following my blog for any length of time, you might remember that I actually wrote a column for the Vintage Reader, called "Memorable Melodies," which explored the historical context of songs featured in the books republished by Legacy Vintage. Those were some of my favorite articles to write. I got thinking lately that I'd like to revive the concept on my own blog, and spotlight a few of the songs that are memorable to me not only because of their own music and lyrics, but because I first encountered them employed memorably in a book. So I give you the first entry in Songs of Old:

Ma's voice and the fiddle's music softly died away. And Laura asked, "Where did the voice of Alfarata go, Ma?"

"Goodness!" said Ma. "Aren't you asleep yet?"

"I'm going to sleep," Laura said. "But please tell me where the voice of Alfarata went?"

~ from Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Little House series is just full of quotes from songs, many of which I've "met" and happily recognized since reading the books. "The Blue Juniata" has always lingered in my memory, but I didn't "meet" it until a year or two ago. I was in the car one evening, with the radio tuned to a Sirius country station that occasionally plays old Western music, and a song came on by Andy Parker and the Plainsmen, a Western group that performed between 1944 and 1956. I recognized it by the lyrics—I was delighted to hear it, because I'd never heard the melody before.

The Sons of the Pioneers also recorded a nice version in 1937, but (wonder of wonders) this version by the Plainsmen that I heard first is my favorite.

"The Blue Juniata," by Marion Dix Sullivan, was first published in 1844, and is often referred to as the first popular "hit" song in American music written by a woman. Little seems to be known of Sullivan's life in general, although she wrote a number of other songs throughout the 1840s and '50s. The only detailed item I came across was a brief biographical sketch published in 1888 in a music anthology, The Franklin Square Song Collection:

"The Blue Juniata" was composed by Mrs. Marion Dix Sullivan, of Boston, who was born in 1802, in Boscawan, New Hampshire, and who died in 1860. She was the daughter of Col. Timothy Dix, and the sister of the late General John A. Dix, of New York. Some years before the song was published, Mrs. Sullivan traveled with her children and a party of friends from Massachusetts, by way of the Juniata valley in Pennsylvania to Ohio, which was then the Far West. The journey was made by packet boat and stage coach. It was on this trip, amid the wild and beautiful mountain scenery of Pennsylvania, that she found the inspiration for her best known song. After a few years in Ohio, her husband's health having failed, she supported herself and her family by teaching music and language, keeping her children at the best schools in the neighborhood. She wrote a number of songs which she sang, with sweet voice and much feeling, to her own accompaniment on the guitar, an instrument she greatly enjoyed. She had a kind, beautiful face, with most genial manner, and her home was always the welcome resort of the friends whom she found everywhere.

You can read the full lyrics to "The Blue Juniata" and view the original 1844 sheet music here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chatterbox: The Snapshot

The theme for this month's Chatterbox is resurrection. And as with a number of recent Chatterboxes, I have the feeling one could write a hundred scenes spinning off this topic and still come up with something different every time. And I must say that until I began participating in this feature, I didn't realize how much I enjoyed writing prompts. Even when they don't get me any "forrader" on my works-in-progress, I think it's a good exercise—it keeps the creative side of my mind in training, especially helpful when I've been doing nothing but fine-tuning editing for a long time.

This scene has no relation to any of my current or planned projects. I have a feeling certain relations of mine are going to be mad at me for once again giving them a taste rather than a meal (come to think of it, they'd probably be upset if I did that at suppertime too)...I had a rather hard time with it, and I don't know how good it is, but it was one of those ideas that gets hold of your mind and won't let go until you've at least tried writing it.

So far I've tried to stick to the original intent of Chatterbox, a scene focusing on dialogue, but this one bends that premise a little bit. This idea seemed to need something more, and Rachel told me to go ahead and do it anyway, so I did. You can call the first half internal dialogue, if you like.

It was strangely ironic that on the second day I stayed with the girls Joanie hauled out the family album again for some reason. She left it on the ottoman in the living-room when she was done with it, where I was sharply aware of its presence every time I went through the room, though I couldn’t bring myself to go near it or pick it up. 
That snapshot haunted me; it stayed in my mind no matter what part of the house I was in. I knew it by heart, even though I’d only seen it once; even to the shape of the trees behind us and the double power line draped across one corner of the sky in the background. Mike in the foreground, looking like—well, just Mike, as I’d known him so well; and a little behind him, me, with an uncertain expression that seemed to say that I wasn’t sure about being there, and perhaps wasn’t sure about anything at all, but really just meant that the camera had caught me when I wasn’t expecting it. 
I remembered thinking when I had first looked at it, sitting on the edge of Alice’s bed with the album in my lap, how it would have become just an awkward footnote to the family history if Mike had lived through the war, after he’d met some other girl and married her—maybe even removed from the album eventually to make room for more relevant pictures. I’d have been something hard to categorize, a piece of a puzzle that had been cut out but didn’t end up fitting anywhere after all. 
All that had changed, of course, when Mike was shot down over Germany. The snapshot wasn’t part of an ongoing story anymore; it came from a closed chapter. Like all the family pictures in the album from before Mrs. Ryland died, which before had been just common everyday do-you-remember snapshots, but were now precious relics haloed with all the happy memories her husband and children had of her. That picture of us would mellow with years and memories, all its associations softened and forgotten until the girl in the picture didn’t really matter anymore. To Alice and Joanie’s children she would merely be an unknown face beside the strangely young-looking uncle they had never known. 
But now—what was it now? What would it mean now? 
I didn’t know what anything meant now; I didn’t know where I fit or what I would be now. I wanted to get away—a little panicky feeling came over me sometimes when I stepped into the hall alone, in this house where I’d learned to belong and yet couldn’t really belong now. 
It was Friday night when the girls were helping me set the table that we heard the front door open and shut. I knew it was Robert, and so did they—both of them dropped what they were doing and rushed into the hall to meet him. I put down the silverware, the knives sliding with a cold little chinking from my hand onto the tablecloth; listening to their muffled squeals and laughter. I followed them slowly, approached the doorway and stopped there, inside, watching. I was only a babysitter, a sometime housekeeper, a sympathetic neighbor. I wasn’t a part of this family, no matter how close to them I’d become. 
The girls were each under one of their father’s arms, wrinkling his coat and crushing the bows in their hair, little Joanie half hidden by the raincoat draped over his left arm. I didn’t hear what they said at first; my hearing seemed to have gone blank for that first moment while I was coming from the table. 
“But where did you go, anyway, Daddy?” said Alice, trying to straighten her hair-ribbon without letting go of him. “You never told us.” 
“Well,” said Robert, “I’ll tell you. I’ve been in Washington.” 
He was still in the hall—hadn’t even put his raincoat down yet. I had thought he might wait to tell them a little later, sat them down in the living-room perhaps, in the methodical way he usually did things. But I saw now he wouldn’t. He couldn’t wait with something like this. 
“That call I had at the office last week,” he said, “was from the War Department, and that’s what I had to go to Washington about.” 
Alice pulled back, the color blanched from her face and her eyes large. “Daddy, you’re not going in the army?” 
“No! No, no,” he said. “It’s something entirely different. It’s—” 
He paused a minute, searching for the words. And I suddenly had a small, funny ache in my throat, that grew tighter as I tried to fight it. I didn’t have any reason to cry, but the ache came anyway. 
“It doesn’t always happen this way,” said Robert. “It—hardly ever happens at all. But it turns out, we were some of the lucky ones.” He smiled, a strange, bright-eyed smile that looked like something he had forgotten how to do. 
“What doesn’t happen?” said Alice. She still looked half fearful; Joanie only looked puzzled. 
“That a soldier reported missing in action turns out to be alive after all.” 
He looked from one of them to the other. “Your brother Mike is alive, and he’s coming home.” 
I turned my head and looked down at the dining-room carpet. Somehow I felt I couldn’t look at any of their faces just then; the joy of that moment was too precious for an outsider to see. Or maybe I felt it would hurt me somehow, the way the girls’ first incoherent chorus of cries and exclamations did. 
“Dad, are you—sure?” said Alice with a little hysterical sound in her voice. “Absolutely sure? I mean—” 
“Absolutely. I saw him in the hospital in Washington, and talked to him—he said to tell you two he loves you and can’t wait to see you again.” 
“Why is he in the hospital?” Joanie’s small round face was uncertain, as if her first excitement had received a chill. 
“Well, he was hurt, Joanie, when his plane crashed. He—he won’t be able to walk without crutches…probably for a long time. But he’s getting better.” 
“When will he be home? Can we see him?” Alice’s words flashed rapidly. 
“Not for a few weeks still, but you can write to him, and we can telephone long-distance the day after tomorrow.” 
Over the clamor of their next hundred questions, Robert looked over at me for the first time, and smiled; that happy, slightly strained smile—a younger smile than any he had used in the past six months, but it marked more strongly how much older he had grown since the last time he had cause to use it. And I had to smile, too, no matter how lost and strange and knotted-up I felt inside. 
“Supper will be ready in a few minutes,” I said.

Read previous Chatterboxes here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What Have We Learned?

With indie publishing, the process of launching each new book into the world is a learning experience in itself. This can sometimes be slightly harrowing, when you discover in mid-publication things that you ought to have known and must master on the run. But it's also very satisfying, if you like learning new things and how to apply them. In my own modest career as an indie publisher, I have been both harrowed and made happy on each go-round, but I can always say for sure that there will be more for me to learn next time.

So what have we learned from our latest adventure in publishing?
  • We have unfortunately confirmed our tendency to do things in the wrong order. In the future we shall have our cover and interior files finished and tested long before we even begin to consider possible release dates.

  • We love Rafflecopter. The site is so fun and easy to use and it makes giveaways a breeze.

  • We must write longer books, if only to avoid issues with design for thin book spines.

  • Running headers give us headaches, but after wrestling with them on two books, we think we may have got the hang of it and will be able to handle them more assuredly next time.

  • We have an extremely patient and resourceful cover designer, as well as patient and supportive blogging friends who kindly put up with our publicity skills being a work in progress—for all of whom we are deeply thankful.

  • And if you're not tired of multiple first-person by this time, we recommend P.G. Wodehouse's Uncle Fred in the Springtime, which contains the hilarious scene that inspired us to write in it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Giveaway Winners!

A big thank-you to everyone who visited, commented and entered the giveaway! Thank you for helping to make the Mrs. Meade Mysteries blog party a success (and a lot of fun). Now it's time to announce the giveaway winners. The signed paperback copy of The Mrs. Meade Mysteries, Vol. I goes to...

Katie Lynn Daniels

and the set of limited-edition Mrs. Meade bookmarks goes to...


Congratulations to you both! I'll get in touch with you about sending your prizes straightaway.

And if you missed any of the blog party, incidentally, you can find links to all the posts at the bottom of this page.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Authors are Human

There are times in this indie author's life when I feel quite professional—usually when I'm doing professional things like formatting an ebook or creating an Amazon listing or designing my own business cards. But there are other times—such as when I'm sitting on a piano bench in a dining room full of bedroom furniture, wearing paint-splotched old clothes and a dollar-store baseball cap and trying to do book marketing on my laptop—when I suddenly look around me and feel like a monstrous imposter.

Me, a professional author? Oh, no. I'm just some starry-eyed little girl who makes up stories and thinks they're good enough to be called Fiction, who is kindly humored by retailers that allow her to offer her books for sale on their websites.

And then I begin to remember. Authors are human. Authors, with a capital A, even those who have the emblem of some prestigious publishing company on the spines of their books, actually exist in real life, beyond the glossy covers and literary journal reviews. Authors paint their houses, and presumably look like frights while doing it. Authors have to take their dogs out to play, and cook dinners, and probably wonder while they're doing it why anybody in their right mind would want to buy a book written by someone as ordinary as them.

And then I don't feel quite such an imposter anymore.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Mrs. Meade Mysteries: Release Blog Party

This post has been updated with links to the other guest posts on the blog tour, so be sure to scroll down!

At long last, the day has arrived. The Mrs. Meade Mysteries, Volume I is now available in paperback from CreateSpace, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, and should soon be available through other retailers such as the Book Depository as well.

Now for the fun! I'll be appearing on several wonderful blogs this week, with guest posts on Mrs. Meade and all things mystery-related. I'm going to simply add the links to this post as they appear, so check back throughout the week!

~ To start things off, I'm visiting Tea and Bree with a post on how it all started—exactly where and how did the Mrs. Meade Mysteries begin?

~ At Living on Literary Lane, I talk about how I chose the setting for the series, and why I love it.

~ Next up, I'm at The Inkpen Authoress to share some favorite rare or obscure mystery novels and short story collections!

~ Meanwhile, I'm also being interviewed at The Destiny of One.

~ At J. Grace Pennington's blog, I've got a post on the role of the lawman in classic mystery fiction (and a certain Sheriff Andrew Royal).

~ On a visit to Scribbles and Inkstains, I discuss why I think historical mystery and classic mystery are closely related.

~ And finally, I stop by Aubrey Hansen's blog to share a sneak peek at revisions to The Parting Glass.
    And last but not least, there's a giveaway for you to enter, with a pair of prizes. The first is a signed paperback copy of The Mrs. Meade Mysteries, Vol. I, and the second is this set of three special limited-edition Mrs. Meade bookmarks. Enter via the Rafflecopter below the picture:

    Friday, April 4, 2014

    A Little Larger

    Since it's been a while since I shared any puppy pictures, and since Bär has grown quite a bit since then, and since my mom took a few new snapshots of her with her new toy today...

    She has grown some, hasn't she?

    This is the only kind of chew toy that will stand up to our pup's industrial-strength chewing—an eight-inch piece of elk antler. Bär has already gone through about half a dozen of these since we brought her home in September. You do not want an elk antler landing on your foot, let me tell you. It sounds like a cannonball when she drops it on the floor.

    This picture doesn't even really do her justice. Part of the reason is that Bär is currently hard to catch on film. She doesn't pose like Buster does; she has to come up to you and investigate the camera and see if it's something good to eat. She may be fifty pounds of whalebone and steel springs, but she is such a baby—she has to get her nose into absolutely everything.

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

    Red Ink and Plaster Dust

    First, publishing news. The Mrs. Meade Mysteries paperback release and the beginning of the release blog party is now definitely set for Monday, April 7th. This is not an April Fools' joke, I promise. (If you happen to be a member of the Outread Aubrey reading challenge group on Goodreads, you can get a head start on a chance to win a copy by participating in a mystery-reading sprint! Go here for details.)

    I am so glad to have this finally finished and out of my way. The publishing process can be fun, yes, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I'm ready to move on to the next project.

    For quite a while I wasn't sure what the next project was going to be. You see, we're painting our whole house this month. Painting in the intensive form—taking off old wall borders, plastering, sanding and painting. My brother and sister and I did the sanding part on the first room today, and let me tell you, that produces dust. Fine white dust that smears your hands like chalk and puffs out of your clothes in clouds when you beat them out afterwards—I felt like Barney Fife after a mishap with his fingerprinting powder. But I must admit plastering and sanding is fun. Everybody relishes a chance to play with something squishy once in a while.

    Anyway, with the whole family busy most of the day and the house in some disarray (I'm going to be camping out in the dining-room with all my bedroom furniture and possessions next week while my room is being done, for one thing), I knew I wouldn't have very large amounts of time to devote to writing, so I needed something I could do in bite-size pieces. So I'm now doing what I hope is the final round of edits on my Western novella Left-Hand Kelly, which I would very much like to see published by the end of summer. I printed myself a nice, clean, wide-spaced copy, and I'm marking it up with my red pen at the rate of a chapter a day, which works out nicely. The chapters are fairly short and give me just the right amount of material to concentrate on at a time. I'm liking it a lot better than I did last time I read it over (absence makes the heart grow fonder of manuscripts), and it needs less work than I thought it would, which is encouraging. Very encouraging.

    If you're not familiar with Left-Hand Kelly, incidentally, you can now read a short description on the My Books page of this blog. (And you can see my Pinterest board for it here.)

    Sunday, March 30, 2014

    Rain Check: Mrs. Meade blog party

    “I know there's a proverb which says 'To err is human,' but a human error is nothing to what a computer can do if it tries.”  
    ~ Agatha Christie

    If you have arrived here looking for the Mrs. Meade Mysteries blog party, originally scheduled to start Monday, March 31st...there has been a slight delay. The Mrs. Meade blog party will take place, but for the moment it has been rescheduled to begin on Monday, April 7th. Some baffling technical issues with the book's cover at made it impossible for me to put the book on sale in time for the original release date. I've been in contact with the printer and am currently waiting for their response. (Just my luck it'll be some strange glitch that has never occurred before in the whole history of the company...)

    I am heartily sorry for the delay! I've been looking forward to this release and blog party, and can't wait to share the guest posts that will be going up at some of my favorite writing blogs. But don't worry; it will happen sooner or later!

    Wednesday, March 26, 2014

    An Old Friend of a Book

    “It’s good to have an old friend of a book we can always go back to for entertainment and cheer, and to remind ourselves who we really are—because the books we love say more about us than anything else.”
    ~ Some Christmas Camouflage by yours truly

    The latest non-tag—meaning, the latest good idea which we bloggers all borrow freely from each other—is a comfortable one, literally and figuratively. Rachel began it by musing about the books we always seem to go back to in quiet or lazy moments, or times when we're just in the mood for something familiar and soothing and cheering. Not just favorites, which could easily be stirring or difficult or heavy books, but cozy favorites.

    I'm sure I've left some out, but here are the first few that came to mind:

    Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther
    As a matter of fact, I was browsing through this one again just the other day. Every chapter of this book is brimming with quotable phrases and keen observation of the treasures in life's little moments; managing to be thoughtful and serene at the same time.

    Chip of the Flying U by B.M. Bower
    I've sung the praises of this one plenty of times before. I had it off the shelf re-reading my favorite parts just the other day as well, so I think it qualifies for this list. I don't think you have to be a Western fan to enjoy it, either—it's funny and romantic and just plain enjoyable. Give it a try.

    Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
    I can never quite figure Kipling out. Some of his stories are a delight, others I simply can't make head or tail of. Captains Courageous, though, falls squarely in the "delight" category. It always makes me laugh, and every character is unforgettable.

    Hans Brinker, Or, the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
    Our old paperback copy of this (I couldn't find a picture of the cover anywhere!) has been read nearly to pieces, and my siblings and I can all quote from it and laugh over our favorite scenes. Between this and Captains Courageous, were there ever so many memorable characters collected between the covers of two books?

    Poor, Dear Margaret Kirby and Other Stories by Kathleen Norris
    Probably the most recent discovery on my "cozy" list—these stories are just so lovely. Some are funny, others always good for a good cry, if that's what you're in the mood for, and just about all of them simply charming.

    A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
    Okay, this one's a seasonal cozy book. But I re-read it nearly every Christmas, and love every word of it just the same every time.

    The Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
    Any time one of these books happens to be lying around, I can easily pick it up and be immersed in it within minutes. Every character and incident is instantly recognizable and just as much of a pleasure to meet all over again. The first, last and second books are my favorites, but it pretty much applies to all.

    There you are—a mix of children's and "grown-up" books here, although I'm sure I could easily make a whole list twice this length of strictly childhood favorites! I mean, this doesn't include Heidi or Little Women or The Secret Garden or Understood Betsy...you get the idea. Anyway—what are some of your "cozy" sentimental favorites?

    Sunday, March 23, 2014

    Giveaway Sneak Peek!

    Okay, mark your calendars: Assuming no errors in the third (!) proof copy, which I'm expecting to arrive tomorrow, The Mrs. Meade Mysteries, Volume I will be officially released on Monday, March 31st. I've actually had nightmares about breaking down in tears over a terrible proof that turned out deep forest-green, so for the sake of my sanity, pray there's no errors.

    In the meantime, here's a little look ahead to the week-long blog party that will accompany the release! I'm going to be visiting some wonderful blogs with a series of mystery-related guest posts and interviews, and there's going to be an accompanying giveaway. And this is what I've been working on all weekend—one of the prizes which will be up for grabs:

    A set of special home-crafted, limited-edition Mrs. Meade bookmarks! There's one to match each of the three stories, decorated with a quote from the book; with a hand-applied matte finish and decorative tassel.

    So be sure and stop by next week! I think this party's going to be a lot of fun.

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    I Cannot Live Without Books

    Thomas Jefferson put it most bluntly: "I cannot live without books." We've all been accustomed to regard that as a charming bit of hyperbole. But I'm beginning to think he was onto something there.

    I did very little reading over the last couple weeks. On the one hand was the general busyness of preparations for my book launch, birthdays, et cetera; and on the other, physical exhaustion. (Daylight Savings Time in early March is just inhuman.) Neither my eyesight nor my mind felt up to the task of taking in more printed words simply for the purpose of relaxation. Yet after enough days of this reading drought, my mind was feeling zapped in another sense. I was tired of not reading. By the weekend I'd decided I really had to do something about this. So both mornings, while the whole household was still in bed sleeping off the effects of Daylight Savings, I got my Kindle, curled up under the covers and started reading. I had all sorts of things stored up on the Kindle which I'd downloaded but never had time to read yet, which came in handy. And it felt so good simply to be engaging in the process of reading again. My interest in things in general felt sharpened; my mind was no longer just a heavy useless weight I'd been dragging around.

    Daylight Savings Time plays havoc with your schedule—not just the schedule of what you do with your day, but the unconscious rhythm of mind and body, sleeping and waking, that you've grown accustomed to over months of living. But did you ever consider this: when you've made the intake of literature a daily part of your life for twenty-odd years (or more), almost as regular a part as eating, sleeping and breathing, what happens when you miss out on that for a week or two? It's like being thrown out of rhythm, the same way losing an hour of time jerks all your sleeping and waking out of joint. You feel mentally disjointed and disgruntled; the wheels of your mind seem to be stuck and spinning in the mud.

    We know that reading stimulates your brain and your creativity. We know it's been scientifically proven; we know it from experience. So what about the reverse? What happens to your mind when you don't read anything for a good chunk of time? I don't think it's a stretch of the imagination to say that your wits can become slightly dulled from that lack of sharpening. I've felt that or something very like it this month. I know when you're physically tired, it's sometimes just not possible to read—I've been experiencing that, too. But the mental dullness that results can make you lazy; it can make you put off the effort to get back into reading. I did that for a while. And having come out on the other side, I can say this: do make the effort, do pick up a book and get your mental rhythm swinging again. It'll make you feel better in many respects, besides the creative.

    image: 'Thoughtful Reader' by Franz Dvorak