Pat Wahler, Author

Penning stories to savor.

The Celestial Show

There’s nothing like August for celestial events.  It brings us the annual Perseid meteor shower, which peaks in my area August 12-13. Viewing the fun requires staying up past midnight, and is best enjoyed in an area where no “light pollution” dilutes the darkness. But seeing meteors whiz through the sky is worth it.

Perseid meteor August, 2016 in West Virginia. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

As a matter of fact, many days there are interesting things happening above our heads. Keeping track of it all isn’t easy. Luckily, NASA has a Sky Events Calendar that can give you the information you need for what’s happening. Click HERE for the link to the sky show in your area.

Speaking of a show, you may have heard a word or two about the Big Kahuna event of the summer – a total solar eclipse. We haven’t had a contiguous solar eclipse in the United States since 1979 (I remember using the nail hole in a shoe box method to view it) but one is coming on August 21. People are flocking to places where the eclipse will last the longest, and one of those places is my home town. Nothing like fun in your own back yard for watching a major event, right?

But hey, don’t forget those solar glasses. I worried a bit about the flimsy-looking cardboard devices I’ve seen. After all, I don’t want my eyesballs fried like a couple of eggs in a pan. So what’s a person to do?

Make sure your glasses are NASA approved! (Carbondale Tourism photo)

Well, for one thing, make sure your glasses are NASA approved. Click HERE for a list of solar glasses that will keep your vision intact. Oh, and don’t forget, if you want to take pictures of the eclipse, additional safety precautions are also required for your camera or the lens will cook.

I know. There’s so much to remember. For a nice concise roundup of dates, times, places, and procedures, NASA has set up a solar eclipse site to answer all your questions. Click HERE to learn from the professionals how to safely enjoy this sure-to-be-amazing experience.

In my digging for solar eclipse information, I ran across an interesting image (and story). On July 28, 1851, Johann F. Berkowski became the first person to successfully photograph a solar eclipse. Berkowski, considered one of Prussia’s most skilled daguerreotypists, was commissioned by the Royal Prussian Observatory. He captured an image of the sun by attaching a telescope to a heliometer, and making an eighty-four second exposure. His exacting efforts (no second chances when making a daguerreotype of a total solar eclipse) got him an amazing shot, and a place in history.

July, 1851-Pretty cool, huh? (J. Berkowski/Wikipedia Commons)

No matter your plans for the upcoming eclipse, I’m sure it will be an event to remember. I’ve even heard animal behavior could be affected by the “black-out”. Personally, I plan to keep an eagle eye on my critters. If they act any weirder than they normally do, I’ll let you know.

A final note: There’s a new recipe posted, courtesy of friend and fellow-writer, Lynn Obermoeller. You’ll have plenty of time to prepare for the Big Kahuna Event and still eat well with an easy-peasy plate of Crock Pot Chicken.

Books, Books, Books

Its summertime, and people are scrabbling to find the perfect book to read while on vacation. If you choose books the way I do, this isn’t an easy process. I’ve got to look at the cover, review the blurb on the back, and read the first page. Something has to grab me, or its back on the shelf and I pull out the next one.

My tastes are pretty eclectic. Historical fiction, romantic comedy, and biography usually top the list for me. If any of these appeal to you, you’re in luck. I’m going to share some of my favorites from over the last few months. Favorites as in they kept me up late at night. Maybe you’ll find your perfect summer (or fall, or winter) read among them.

Are you in the mood for a book that makes you smile? On Second Thought, by Kristan Higgins will fit the bill nicely. Two sisters tell their stories in alternating chapters. One sister is ever-hopeful her long time wedding-reluctant boyfriend will finally pop the question. She envies her sister who’s already married the “perfect” man. But after the perfect man dies in a freak accident, secrets are bound to be uncovered. You might wonder how Ms. Higgins can add humor to such a story line. Don’t fret, she delivers. In fact, this book hooked me so thoroughly, I’ve read six of her other books.

Have you ever been curious about the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda? If so, I suggest reading Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. As a young girl, Zelda marries Scott and the two soon become the golden couple of the Jazz Age – until they’re each forced to confront their own demons. I devoured this book because I love imagining the stories wives could tell about their famous husbands. It feels a little bit like reading a diary. 🙂

The last book I’ll mention today is the one I’m currently reading and loving enough to have contracted a bad case of insomnia over it. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn has destroyed my normal bedtime routine because I keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. It’s a split story – half of it takes place in 1947 and the other half in 1915, featuring the tales of two very different women that intertwine in an unforgettable way. I don’t know the ending yet, but if its like the rest of the book – well, I suggest you read it for yourself and find out.

I share more of my favorite books on Goodreads. If you’re on Goodreads too, I’d love it if we can connect. Click here to find me.

BREAKING NEWS: Maybe you noticed I’ve tweaked my website pages. Please check them out and let me know what you think. I’m especially excited about my Easy-Peasy Recipes for Reluctant Cooks (like me). I’ll be adding to this page on a regular basis and hope you enjoy trying out something yummy that doesn’t require hours (or even very many minutes) of slaving in the kitchen. I’d rather be reading, wouldn’t you?

By the way, if you have an easy-peasy recipe you’d like to share, feel free to send it via my Contact Me page and I can add your contribution to the collection.

I’m also planning some cool giveaways in the near future for subscribers, so please sign up if you haven’t already done so (the form is located on the sidebar). I don’t want you to miss out on the fun.

Until next time, happy reading!

A Six-Scoop Summer

Bears may hibernate during the winter, but I hibernate when the temperature (or heat index) climbs into triple digits.  Lately, my air-conditioned house has been my sanctuary since we’re deep in the heavy, mucky air of summer.  I’m grateful to close the blinds, turn off lights, and sit in front of my computer, pretending its not 100 degrees outside. This situation lends itself to all sorts of woolgathering.

When I’m not dreaming about the crisp cool air of fall, I find myself hunting useless pieces of trivia. For example, what’s the hottest day on record?

Turns out that “honor” goes to Furnace Creek in California’s Death Valley. (The names alone are enough to make me sweat.) On July 10, 1913, Furnace Creek heated up to 134 degrees. But I’m sure it was a dry heat, so no worries. Furnace Creek isn’t a stranger to fiery temperatures, so the area is closed to visitors during the hottest times of the year. Heat lovers rejoice! There is a nearby golf course that holds an annual tournament called the Heatstroke Open. I won’t be attending.

Furnace Creek, circa 1871. Looks delightful, right? (U.S. National Archives & Records Administration)

The old picture I found of Furnace Creek led me to think about how people handled extreme heat in the past. No air-conditioner or even an electric fan. The men wore long sleeves, long pants, and boots. And the women, well, in my opinion, the women had it worst of all. Layers of clothing, dresses that hung to the floor, and on a Saturday-night-out, a lady would add a corset. Then there’s the fun of standing over a fire to cook while your face turns the color of a ripe tomato.

About the best way they had to cope (short of a vacation to a cooler climate) would be to build the homestead in shade trees with a porch for sitting and sleeping. Someone might even sneak to the pond for a swim when no one was looking, and a paper fan would help to swish the hot air around if there wasn’t a breeze.

When you consider remedies like that, I really shouldn’t whine about the heat.  In today’s world, I’ve got it pretty darn good wearing my shorts and sitting near the A/C vent.  The entire summer-thing looks even better when you consider the other frosty and delicious way I keep cool.

This is definitely a six-scoop summer.

How about you? Are you hibernating too?

 

 

Why Am I Already Covering My Ears?

It’s true I’ve gotten older, slightly neurotic, and more than a little cranky, but in my opinion, some Fourth of July festivities have gotten out of control.  Count me in for parties and eating and watching parades, but other things are better observed from afar. Loud explosions and fiery particles landing on trees, grass, and rooftops do not fill me with joy.

Unfortunately, many of my neighbors don’t share this opinion. Fireworks have been exploding for several days now, and if history is any indication, the hoop-la-la will continue (with varying degrees of intensity) well beyond the Fourth. The noise terrorizes pets who run away to flee the scary sounds, burning embers are a fire hazard, and people sometimes lose a few fingers when they forget to run after lighting a fuse.

Another issue is my own dog, Winston, who would rather sneak a pee on the floor than go outside in the middle of World War III. No way, no how is he leaving the house when it sounds like the world is coming to an end.

Do you hear what I hear?

Bogey is less fireworks-challenged than Winston, although he does resent losing the entertainment value provided by watching birds and squirrels in the yard. I’ve often wondered what the woodland creatures must be thinking as they pack their nests and skedaddle from the area huffing, “There go those humans again, ruining the neighborhood. They sure know how to make property values decrease.”

When did Americans enter this love affair with blowing things up?

According to an article in Smithsonian.com, one year after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Philadelphia threw an enormous party.

One of the most elaborate celebrations in 1777, and the first organized celebration of its kind occurred in Philadelphia. This event had all of the elements of typical future celebrations-the discharge of cannon, one round for each state of the union, the ringing of bells, a dinner, the use of music, the drinking of toasts (it would subsequently be traditional to have one toast for each state of the union), “loud huzzas”, a parade, fireworks, the use of the nation’s colors, in this case the dressing up of “armed ships and gallies” in the harbor. 

Although my neighbors aren’t shooting cannons (at least not yet), my house is shaking from firecrackers and cherry bombs. However, reading about the first celebration did give me an idea on how to cope. If I drink a toast to each state of the union – all fifty of them! – most likely I won’t care what’s happening around me or puddling on my floor.

Bang! Sizzle! Kapow!

It’s true that we each must develop our own methods of getting by. From what Winston is showing me, it looks like one of mine will include a bottle of professional strength Resolve and a great big sponge.

Sharpshooter, Chameleon, and Rival

Years ago, I wrote a short story featuring Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank. I had a great time reading about her and the life she led, and it was fun imagining and penning a tale where Annie’s shooting skills dazzled a crowd of onlookers.

Annie Oakley preparing for an over-the-shoulder shot. I’m betting she didn’t miss her target. (Bettmann/Corbis)

In the course of gathering information, I ran across a young woman who was a major competitor of Annie’s named Lillian Frances Smith. With my focus on Annie, I didn’t pursue any in-depth facts on Lillian. I finished my story and moved on to other things, forgetting all about Annie’s rival.

Until a few months ago.

I discovered a new biography – in fact, the only biography – on Lillian Frances Smith, America’s Best Female Sharpshooter, written by Julia Bricklin. I couldn’t resist it, and ordered the book.

Lillian turns out to be a fascinating character in her own right.

Known as “The California Girl”, Smith amazed crowds at the age of fourteen, performing in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. As time changed circumstances, she was shrewd enough to reinvent herself in the public eye, becoming “Princess Wenona”. Chameleon-like, she used dark makeup and wore Native American dress, to bill herself as a Sioux sharpshooter. While she invented her Sioux heritage, her sharpshooting skills were real. Records credited to Lillian by the time of her death included such accomplishments as: breaking 71 of 72 glass balls thrown in the air while on the back of a running horse, hitting 300 swinging glass balls in 14 minutes and 33 seconds, and making 24 of 25 8-inch bull’s-eyes at 200 yards. Not shabby shooting at all.

A publicity shot of “Princess Wenona”. (Library of Congress via Smithsonian.com)

This biography not only brings Lillian Smith to life, but discusses the rivalry between Smith and Oakley in a way that helps us understand the differences and similarities between these two women. A look at how the Old West shows were operated by Buffalo Bill and other such entrepreneurs is a bonus.

Julia Bricklin is certainly qualified to tell Lillian’s story. She’s written for Wild West, Civil War Times, Financial History, True West, Smithsonian.com, and History.net. She edits California History.

If you’re looking for a well-researched biography about a strong woman from America’s past, I’d suggest picking up a copy.

Attention historical novelists! Wouldn’t “Princess Wenona” make a fabulous heroine for your next book?

The Naked Truth

There’s nothing like the deliciousness of really good chocolate. Yesterday, I threw away any notion of the diet I ought to be on, and indulged in a chocolate covered caramel made by Godiva. Heavenly! Yet after I examined the packaging, something occurred to me that I never thought about before – probably since I’m primarily focused on, well, chocolate.

A visit to the Godiva website told me that Godiva, a business with roots in Brussels, named their company after Lady Godiva, for “values associated with her of boldness, generosity, and a pioneering spirit”. The company logo features a naked woman with long flowing tresses (strategically placed) and riding a horse.

As most people know, the story of Lady Godiva (968-1057) is that she took pity on the people, begging her husband to reduce his oppressive taxes on them. Figuring he’d found the perfect way to keep her quiet, he said he’d reduce taxes when she rode naked through their town of Coventry. Godiva, after sending out a strongly worded proclamation for people to stay indoors and not peek, called her husband’s bluff.

Surprisingly, not a person in Coventry failed to follow her order except for one man named Tom, who couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak a look. He was immediately either struck blind or dead (depending on which version you read) through swift heavenly judgement. Meanwhile, Godiva’s ride convinced her husband to reduce taxes and everyone joyously celebrated, except, of course, for Peeping Tom.

It’s all a very pretty story indeed, despite the fact that it never happened. There are no accounts by Godiva’s contemporaries of such an event occurring, and gossip being what it is, most likely her acquaintances would have at least mentioned it. (“Did you hear what Lady Godiva did last week? I’m telling you, I could have died!”)

The oldest form of the story doesn’t appear until the 1200’s, and “Peeping Tom” doesn’t show up until the 1700’s – not exactly the most reliable sources of information. As time went on, little details were added to shape the current legend of Lady Godiva.

Statue of Lady Godiva in Coventry, England – scene of the infamous ride. (Tripadvisor photo)

Coventry, England remains quite proud of Lady Godiva and no one is willing to let her story disappear. The Godiva Procession, part of the Coventry Fair, has been held for many years with “Godiva” typically wearing a body suit and cloak (in case any Peeping Toms are curious). The event has changed over time, and is now called the Coventry Godiva Festival, with a decidedly rock concert leaning. If you’re planning a trip to Coventry around July 7-9, click HERE for the current lineup. Sadly, I didn’t see any mention of an appearance by Lady Godiva on the schedule.

At least there’s one thing of which we can be sure. A story might be only a legend, but Godiva chocolate? That, my friends, is real.

Humor and History is a Perfect Combination

I love to laugh and equally enjoy learning quirky little tidbits from the past. If you do, too, I have the perfect book to recommend. Launching Sheep & Other Stories from the Intersection of History & Nonsense is a collection of eighty-six blog posts written by Sarah Angleton – friend and fellow writer – selected from five years blogging as the Practical Historian.  As the title suggests, readers will not be bored by dry history lectures. The stories are witty and clever; drawing parallels between events from the past and the daily life of the author’s own family in an entertaining and decidedly tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Sarah Angleton signing at North Cafe.

Because all pieces in the collection are short, the book is easy to pick up and read whenever you have a spare moment. The only problem might be in putting it down.  While humor abounds, it so happens one of my favorite stories is a bit more poignant.  We learn about the author’s niece looking for the perfect wedding gown, and how Queen Victoria started a trend. Trust me, if you’ve bought a wedding dress, you’ll love the story, On the Shelf of Rarely Used Things.

Yesterday, Sarah had her first book signing at North Cafe in Wentzville, Missouri. I stopped in to congratulate her, and get an autograph on my copy. Do yourself a favor and buy this book on Amazon, or request it at your local bookstore. If you’d like to meet Sarah, you can visit her next signing at Our Town Books in Jacksonville, Illinois on June 2.

Congratulations to Sarah on a fabulous accomplishment!

Support your local authors. They need you!

Attending her signing moves me to mention the hard work involved in letting people know about a book. In the old days, authors like Edgar Allen Poe or Ernest Hemingway would arrange a tour to read from their work and (hopefully) sell some books. Some authors are reported to have bribed  paid editors and critics for recognition. Others who had a little extra coin in their pockets  might hire people to wear sandwich boards and walk through town (history’s version of social media).

Any way you look at it, getting out the word is tough.

That’s where you, dear readers, are so crucial. Pictured is a chart of ways you can help your favorite author. I can promise she (or he) will appreciate it more than you know.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing a Novel is Like a Giraffe Having a Calf

A few months ago, and with fingers crossed, I submitted a manuscript to a publisher in hopes they might consider taking it. I’d been playing with the story since 2010 – nearly seven years. Don’t misunderstand me, I love doing research and writing. But at some point, you have to finish what you start – and once a story is finished, wouldn’t it be nice if someone (other than your patient critique group) reads it? Even so, when I finally got the nerve to press the “send” button, I felt a little like a newbie actor must when trying out for the lead role in a play. Could they possibly pick me?

After waiting and sweating and chewing my fingernails to nubs, last week I heard from Amphorae Publishing Group. I’m thrilled to say, they offered me a contract for my novel, tentatively titled I Am Mrs. Jesse James.

Me putting my signature on the (undotted) line.

As soon as the terms were finalized, I jumped straight to social media. Publishing one little book isn’t such a big deal for the Stephen Kings among us. For me, it felt like an Academy Award nomination. So, I posted an announcement and said I’d write a blog post after the news had time to sink in.

Truth is, I’m not sure it’s sunk in even yet.

Maybe this has to do with the time and effort it takes to write a book. I’m not a speed-writer, especially when it comes to a work of historical fiction. To prepare for I Am Mrs. Jesse James, I’ve read more books, articles, newspaper clippings, maps, census reports, and opinion pieces on the James family and their nineteenth century world than I can count.

One may think, what’s the big deal? Review the research and get on with the story. Let me tell you what happens. After crafting a lovely little line about – for example – a ceramic bowl, fingers poise. Wait a minute? Did they have ceramic bowls in  1873? Then hours are lost to fact-checking ceramic bowls because there are tons of fascinating articles (with pictures!) on the history of ceramic bowls.  Then there’s the date you aren’t quite sure about, and need to verify, whereupon a brand new piece of information is discovered, requiring a previous chapter to be rewritten.

This is called chasing down a rabbit hole, and is a very effective way to lose time. I’ve really mastered the art of chasing down rabbit holes.

Here’s some of my material for this book. Sometimes locating a detail can be a tad challenging.

Further complicating matters, some sources were contradictory, and many pieces to the puzzle of Jesse James and his wife, Zee, were just plain missing. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. People who are on the run tend not to leave behind a helpful record of where they went, who they talked to, or what they did. So, I waded through the available material and brought to life Zee’s story based on what I learned about her.

After writing the first draft and revising it a bazillion times, off it went to my editor for her eagle eye to find any mistakes. Then I pored over the whole thing again. When I finally believed it to be ready, I sent the manuscript to the Amphorae Publishing Group – and here we are.

The contract is now complete, but guess what? I’m still revising, because there is one true statement about writing. Any work can always be made better.

You might say April the giraffe’s recent mind-numbing experience is similar to the work of a writer. It takes a long time to birth a book.

Watch for my book baby to be “born” sometime in mid-2018.  I hope you’re looking forward to the ride as much as I am.

Picture Books – The Memory Makers

A few months ago, I wrote about a picture book that my dear friend, Sheree Nielsen, and I co-authored. Now tentatively titled, Midnight and Starlight, A Tale of Courage, the book has been scheduled for publication in Fall, 2018 by Amphorae Publishing. Sheree and I are beyond excited, because there’s a new announcement. (Drum roll, please.)

Our illustrator for the picture book will be Janelle Dimmett! The minute Sheree and I saw her work, we fell in love with it. Do yourself a favor. Click on Janelle’s name to visit her website and see what this very talented lady can do. I know Midnight and Starlight will be amazing–and well worth the wait.

This journey started me thinking about picture books. They’ve actually been around for quite a while.

From the first time ancient man painted a bison on the dark and damp walls of a cave, pictures told a story.  And as we evolved, so did storytelling.

Books, especially those written for children, almost always came with illustrations. Orbis Pictus, an early encyclopedia for children, was published in 1658 in Nuremberg.  It’s whopping one-hundred-fifty chapters were divided by intricate woodcut prints. However, it wasn’t until 1744, when John Newbery published A Little Pretty Pocket-book, that pictures were married with words not as a textbook, but as pleasure reading for children.

The nineteenth century saw this concept greatly expanded with the publication of illustrated fairy tale collections, and whimsical drawings appearing in such well-loved books as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But the world of picture books, designed for the youngest children (and pretty much enjoyed by anyone who’s likes art), got its first blockbuster in Beatrix Potter’s book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Original edition. Wish I had one of these in my bookcase. (Wikipedia Commons)

When Ms. Potter’s friends read her scribbles, telling the story of a naughty little rabbit named Peter – and saw her drawings – they suggested she publish it. Ms. Potter obligingly sent the story to several companies, and alas, promptly received several rejection letters.  The process frustrated her so much, she decided to self-publish, intending to distribute the books only to her family and friends.

Shortly thereafter, Warne and Company came to their senses and reconsidered their original rejection. After more than a year of negotiations (Ms. Potter was nobody’s fool), The Tale of Peter Rabbit released officially in 1902.

The book hit it big. To date it’s sold more than forty-five million copies worldwide and created an empire. Not too shabby for a tale Ms. Potter originally penned (just for fun) for the children of her former governess.

When I think about the books of my own childhood, a lot of them include bright and colorful images. I owned a huge collection of Little Golden Books. Believe it or not, my favorite one, The Poky Little Puppy, is considered among the top selling picture books of all time. If memory serves, each Little Golden Book cost my parents a whopping twenty-nine cents.  The books are still in print today, although the price tag has changed – to somewhere around three dollars.

But here’s the best part for me. It’s so thrilling to see books I once loved now in the hands of my one-year-old grandson.

Before his birth, I bought him a copy of another favorite of mine – Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. This is a sweet story with bright and vivid illustrations.  The book, published in 1947, still sells around 800,000 copies per year and has been translated into practically every language.  Talk about an enduring legacy! Can you think of a better book to soothe a little one to sleep?

The perfect bedtime story. (Wikipedia Commons)

I’m proud to report my grandson is more inclined to pick up one of his many books, than any other toy he owns. I sit with him on my lap and he turns the book’s pages, pointing his tiny adorable finger to each image, which I’m then expected to identify for him. No matter how often, it never gets old for either one of us.

As children grow up, reading becomes a solitary pursuit. They don’t need mom or dad (or grandma) to read to them anymore. I’ve learned to grab my moments now, because reading together is one of the best memory makers you can find.

Who knows? It’s incredible to consider, but someday Midnight and Starlight may be on somebody’s list of favorites.  That’s a thought guaranteed to prickle me with goose bumps.

Take yourself back in time. What’s your most beloved picture book? Is there a special reason why?

Yes-I’m a Romantic Fool

Unless you live under a rock, you know this weekend is the premiere of Disney’s live action film, Beauty and the Beast. Although this particular version is new, the story is definitely not.

Beauty and the Beast, print circa 1875. This beast has a distinctly walrus look. (Pook Press)

Beauty and the Beast may have sprung from the classic myth of Cupid and Psyche, where the beautiful Psyche is offered as a sacrifice to a monster. French author, Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villenueve, is credited with turning the myth into a story and publishing it in 1740. Over one hundred pages long, and containing a very savage beast, the story had plots and sub-plots and action galore.

In 1756, Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont, shortened the story and pared down the number of characters. This version is closer to the one most of us know today, where a simple working girl tames the beast, saving him with her love. Having a working-class girl as the heroine of a story with trouble brewing in the time before the French Revolution, must have made reading it a dangerous pleasure.

Beauty and the Beast, print circa 1885. This beast has evolved to the appearance of a wild boar. (Pook Press)

Over the years, the story of Beauty and the Beast has undergone many incarnations, but each of them seem to boil down to the same notion. Belle discovers the true nature of a man is found in his heart and soul, not in his appearance.

There are probably a hundred variations on this theme found in literature, movies, and plays. And why not? Who doesn’t love a story where good triumphs over evil, where what you are inside matters more than your imperfect exterior, and where true love triumphs over all.

Beauty and the Beast, print circa 1923. (Pook Press)

Will I be heading out to see this movie? You bet. I admit to being a romantic fool.

How about you?

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