Replay of the WINTER SNIPER book trailer

In case you missed it, here is the WINTER SNIPER book trailer.

 

Posted in On Writing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Takeaways from the Bay to Ocean Writers’ Conference

Bay to Ocean imageOn a crisp winter’s day, writers from across the region gathered at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills for the 18th annual Bay to Ocean Writers Conference, organized by the Eastern Shore Writers Associaton. Days and weeks after the end of the conference, I am still looking back at my notes and processing what I learned and what thoughts came to mind. This is an attempt to sum up some of the key takeaways from the conference, based on the sessions I attended with notebook in hand.

• The conference was a great way to connect with other writers. Some might call this networking, but I would call it reassuring. Isn’t it nice to know that there are so many others who wrestle with words and stories? It helps to have affirmation that you are not the only crazy one! Connecting with other writers on social media is a good start, but you can’t split a giant chocolate chip cookie with someone on Facebook.

• Laura Oliver is a teacher of writers at St. Johns College in Annapolis, and she conducted a wonderful workshop based around her craft book, “The Story Within.” One of the fascinating points she made was that as human beings we are “wired for story” in that we crave stories not only for entertainment, but as a way to learn. It is also a way to experience and learn vicariously, or even to experience the intimacy we crave as humans. She quoted Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Of course, I picked up a copy of her book, which is now being read and marked up with notes in the margins.

• Author Kathryn Johnson is known for her historical novels and thrillers, some of which are set on the Delmarva Peninsula. Although she is a veteran author whose books have been in print for many years, it is clear she still has a sense of wonder about writing. Not that she is a soft touch. “Write down everything that will make your characters miserable,” she advised with a glint in her eye that made you feel concerned for her main characters.

For her, plot comes down to what happens next. “Make up something that’s really important to the character that can carry the story.”

These approaches helped her write one of her more recent novels, “The Gentleman Poet,” a story centered around the real-life shipwreck that inspired Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” There is now a copy on my trusty Kindle, waiting for some time to be read.

As a writer of historical novels, she said that good ideas are sometimes a tough sell to younger editors who don’t know their history. It was an observation about the realities of publishing rather than a complaint. Maybe this is why we need historical novels, to bring to life the people and events that have shaped our own times?

• Robert Bidinotto is an accomplished thriller writer, but it’s his own story of success with independent publishing that many writers find thrilling. Having lost his job as a magazine editor, and entering his sixties, things were looking bleak financially. That’s when, with the encouragement of his wife, he finally wrote a novel. The result was “Hunter,” a self-published Amazon bestseller. The author has been a tireless supporter of other writers with his “how to” advice on his popular website http://www.bidinotto.com/.

For self-published writers, Bidinotto stressed the importance of writing the best books possible by using advance readers, volunteer editors to stop every typo in its tracks, and great cover design.

At the conference, Bidinotto focused on tips for thriller writers, starting with classic examples of great thrillers, including Peter Benchley’s “Jaws” and “Where Eagles Dare” by Alistair MacLean and Wilbur Smith’s “Hungry as the Sea.”  He also noted the thriller elements of classic films like “High Noon.”

Thrillers come in all shapes and settings, but they have a common thread of often larger-than-life characters who overcome impossible odds, whether it is stopping a killer shark or the gang of killers due to arrive in town on the 12 o’clock train.

“Your job is to keep the reader riveted in that world,” Bidinotto said. He quoted Lee Child: “Write the slow stuff fast and the fast stuff slow.”

• What’s a conference without the swag? At BTO the literal takeaways included a green tote bag that my wife called “kind of girlie” (which meant she had her eye on it), copies of Writers Digest, Poets & Writers, and the Eastern Shore Writers Association’s own anthology, “The Delmarva Review.” Plus, there was a blank membership form to the ESWA.

And did I mention the extra chocolate chip cookie I smuggled home? It was just the right accompaniment to a mug of tea and my trusty Mac laptop as I got reinspired with my own writing.

See you next year at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference!

The above post first appeared over at the Words Between Bays blog, published by the Eastern Shore Writers’ Association.

Posted in On Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

New look for Winter Sniper cover

coverOn the publishing front, it’s worth noting that Winter Sniper has a new cover that shows a German soldier in winter camouflage taking aim with his rifle at an unseen target. The title in red type really pops off the page and matches the look of another World War II story, Ghost Sniper.

This is the third cover design for Winter Sniper since it was published back in 2010. It’s not that the other designs were “bad,” but this iteration really seems to capture the atmosphere of the story.

This is a story, after all, about a crack German sniper sent on a secret mission to assassinate General Eisenhower as World War II enters its end game. The sniper embarks on a bleak mission against impossible odds, and the white winter landscape reflects that. He is also a cold and calculating assassin, and frankly something of an SOB, so the wintry background reflects his personality.

While the main character is a real tough guy, one of the secondary characters is a German who learns most of his English from watching movies and reading Westerns by Zane Grey. He can’t wait for the war to be over so that he can live his dream of traveling to the American West and meeting actual cowboys.

Along with the new cover, some revisions were also made to the text of the ebook to improve the overall formatting.

Winter Sniper is available in ebook format only at this time, but with any luck there will be a print version someday soon.

Posted in ebooks, Ghost Sniper | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrate St. Patrick’s day with history

Glendalough in County Wicklough. Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

Glendalough in County Wicklough. Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday known for green beer and corned beef, “Kiss me I’m Irish” buttons and ties with shamrocks. In bars the patrons will toast all things Irish and you won’t have to go far on the radio dial to hear “Danny Boy” or maybe something by The Chieftains.

What, then, is the best way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?   The answer to that question lies with another, harder one: what does it mean to be Irish-American?

Let’s face it, the Irish have a tough time with their identity, considering their most famous characteristic as an ethnic group is a fondness for drink and a gift for blarney.   That said, St. Patrick’s Day shouldn’t be all about drinking, although the beer merchants and bars might have us believe otherwise.   It should be a celebration of Irish heritage and of a triumph over terrible adversity.

The Irish never have had it easy. Invaded first by Vikings and then conquered by the English hundreds of years ago, the Irish always have been underdogs.

Being Irish-American in the 1800s and early 1900s often meant being poor and living on the margins of society. It meant suffering the small indignities of poverty, such as walking to save the bus fare or a family living on top of one another in a cramped tenement or never having quite enough to eat. That hard life has fallen to a new wave of immigrants.

Even so, the Irish and Irish-Americans are only now getting over their impoverished past.   As best-selling Irish novelist Maeve Binchy put it, “We don’t have to write about deprivation and loss anymore.   Ireland is a country that has come out into the sunshine.”

The past wasn’t always so sunny.   The bleakest chapter in Irish history may have been The Great Hunger, or An Gorta Mor, as it’s called in Gaelic. It was also The Great Hunger that launched the huge wave of Irish emigration to America.

In 1845, an event of cataclysmic magnitude struck Ireland, and that was the failure of the potato crop.   At that time, rural Irish families subsisted almost entirely on potatoes grown in tiny plots. When a disease called blight rotted the potatoes in the ground and in storage, entire villages literally starved to death. Ironically, there was plenty of food to go around in the form of grain, but English landlords chose to export those crops instead of feeding the peasants. Through what some historians now claim was a conscious act of genocide on the part of the English, one million Irish died of starvation and disease and another million were forced to emigrate between 1845 and 1852.   My own great-great-grandfather, Matthew Healey, was among those who crowded aboard the “coffin ships” to survive the cruel voyage as best they could.

The emigration didn’t stop with the famine.   People became Ireland’s leading export.   (How times have changed: Ireland is now a world leader in the export of computer software, second only to the United States.)   By 1900, Ireland’s population had dropped from 8 million before the famine to 4.5 million.

Millions of those Irish came to America.   In fact, roughly one-fifth of today’s United States population can claim Irish descent.   That percentage soars in areas like Boston, of course.

Recently, a memorial to The Great Hunger was unveiled in Boston. Another memorial to Irish immigration and the “potato famine” should be completed at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia this spring.

St. Patrick’s Day is an appropriate time for those of Irish heritage to remember the suffering their ancestors endured.   However, what we should celebrate isn’t tragedy but triumph. Millions of Irish came to America with nothing and made a name — and a holiday — for themselves.

In our family, for just this reason, we want St. Patrick’s Day to have special meaning, to be a reminder of where we come from.   We are creating traditions of our own that have nothing to do with a bar stool.

Growing up, St. Patrick’s Day was always a major event.   There was green beer in quantity, of course, for the grownups and green ginger ale for the kids.   Irish music spun on the record player all day.   Everyone had to wear something green or risk being pinched.   Dinner was corned beef and cabbage with plenty of potatoes on the side.

We’re changing the rules a bit in our own house.   Maybe we’ll read aloud a poem by William Butler Yeats or Seamus Heaney, the Irish Nobel Prize winner. There will be time, too, for family stories — some funny, some sad.

Then bring on some music and Guinness stout and corned beef with colcannon on the side. A meal is always a fine tradition and what better way to celebrate than to transform St. Patrick’s Day into an Irish-American Thanksgiving? We all have many things to be thankful for, thanks to the hardiness of our immigrant ancestors.

Posted in Regional History | Tagged | Leave a comment

Chesapeake Bay’s last War of 1812 battle

Battle of the Ice Mound was last War of 1812 battle on Chesapeake Bay

for david's siteHere is a chapter from Delmarva Legends & Lore to mark the anniversary of the last War of 1812 battle in Maryland, which took place at Taylor’s Island, Maryland

When American and British forces clashed at Parson’s Creek near Cambridge, they didn’t realize that the War of 1812 had been over for several weeks.
Peace commissioners had signed the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve, 1814. The British, weary of their long war in Europe against Napoleon, were eager to end hostilities. And the young United States had found it wasn’t so easy to achieve a clear victory. Both nations were glad to put the conflict aside. Unfortunately, it would take weeks for word of the treaty to reach North America, considering that news only traveled as swiftly as the swiftest ship.

The news came too late to prevent the Battle of New Orleans on January 15. Thousands of British would be killed or wounded in a battle that cost fewer than one hundred American lives. This victory would eventually propel Andrew Jackson to the White House.

For the British and Americans still fighting on Delmarva, news of the peace would also come to late to stop a battle — although one on a much smaller scale than at New Orleans.

The winter had been a hard one on Chesapeake Bay, with ice clogging the creeks and rivers. On February 7, 1815, that ice proved to be the undoing of a British vessel and its young commander.

Lt. Matthew Phipps was probably foraging for supplies or else on a scouting expedition to keep an eye on American activities. The two vessels under his command were “tenders” or ship’s launches from the HMS Dauntless. But these were no mere rowboats. Phipps’ launch was equipped with a twelve-pound cannon and a smaller swivel gun. Accompanying Lt. Phipps were a midshipman, twelve sailors, three Royal Marines, and an African-American cook named Becky.

At some point, this British expedition ran into trouble when it became stranded in ice that had been built up by the wind and tide to form the “Ice Mound” that gave the battle its name. Watching from shore, Americans saw that the British were ensnared. Quickly, they assembled the 48th Regiment of Maryland militia, commanded by Lt. Col. John Jones.

Trapped in the ice, the British must have made an easy target for the Americans firing from shore. The British fought back, but Lt. Phipps must have realized the futility of his position, exposed in open boats while the Americans picked them off. He surrendered to save the lives of his men.

It must have felt like a tremendous victory to beleaguered American forces. The captured British were marched victoriously to Easton, with the cannon dragged along as a trophy of war. Seven days later, word finally arrived that the War of 1812 was over.

The British were released, but the Americans kept the cannon. It was nicknamed “Becky” for the cook and “Phipps” for the hapless Royal Navy lieutenant who had been captured. The “Becky Phipps” cannon was fired on special occasions over the years, until it finally exploded when too much powder was loaded at the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson (or possibly Grover Cleveland). A local family retrieved the shattered pieces and reconstructed the cannon, where it can be seen today under a pavilion at Taylor’s Bridge. These days, the cannon isn’t fired anymore, but it serves as a reminder of that final War of 1812 battle on Chesapeake Bay.

Posted in Regional History | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The good kind of writer’s block

Thank you to Harford Heart magazine and writer Vonnie Winslow Crist for the wonderful article! You can read it at the link here: https://flipflashpages.uniflip.com/3/16985/345494/p

Harford Heart article pic

Posted in News and Events, On Writing | Leave a comment

Eastern Shore Writers to offer $1,000 book prize

State of DelmarvapageThe Eastern Shore Writers Association announces that it will award a $1000 prize for the best book written by a Delmarva writer in 2015. The award is open to all categories and genre of books including fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Two Honorable Mention Awards will also be cited. Participants must be full-time or seasonal residents of the peninsula.

The organization’s president Gerald Sweeney says, “The Delmarva Book Award has been designed to honor and encourage local authors. That aligns with the mission of the Eastern Shore Writers Association to enhance the quality of writing from the bay to the ocean. The prize should spur new works of art.”

The contest’s judge is a lifetime resident of the Eastern Shore, David Harper Jr. who grew up on a small family farm near Preston, where he is grateful to be raising two children with his wife, Christy.  Educated at The University of Richmond and at Washington College, for the past ten years David has taught English literature and composition at Chesapeake College. In addition to directing the Honors Program, he serves as Co-Advisor for The Beacon, a student-published literary magazine that celebrates the artistic expressions of local students. In choosing a winner he will be assisted by a group of readers

Enduring themes in David’s teaching include encouraging students to draw inspiration for writing from Shore life, while also challenging students to engage with divers texts in order to better understand their unique personal histories and perspectives.

“Subject matter will not be limited to works about Delmarva,” Sweeney said. “Our Shore is home to an astonishing array of people and global influences, yet I suspect the winning entry might contain a salty flavor.”

The contest will open on January 1, 2015 and close on November 15. Awards will be made in December of next year.

Posted in News and Events | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Remembering the Spanish flu epidemic in Cecil County

Nurses in Elkton in 1919.

Nurses in Elkton in 1919. Image courtesy Historical Society of Cecil County.

This is the time of year when everyone seems to be coming down with something and flu season is in full swing. From the files, I came across some research about the Spanish flu epidemic in Cecil County, Md., nearly 100 years ago. This was going to be a chapter in “Delmarva Legends and Lore” but it never quite came together.

The Spanish flu that struck worldwide in 1918-19 is often cited as the deadliest outbreak of the disease in modern times. An estimated 20 million to 50 million people died of the flu or complications such as pneumonia.

Even rural Cecil County was affected, with Spanish flu hitting hardest in the fall of 1918 into early 1919. All told, the Spanish flu or the pneumonia that was a secondary infection killed 157 Cecil County residents.

According to an article by Greg Birney in the Fall 2003 Cecil Historical Journal, Spanish flu became so rampant that the Cecil County Board of Health ordered all public gatherings suspended. Schools around the county, including West Nottingham Academy, were closed. Nearby Delaware College (now the University of Delaware) was turned into a hospital, according to Birney, with 135 cases of flu among the 425 students. (Interestingly, several cases of the most recent flu were reported at UD.)

The flu struck at the height of World War I, but the draft was canceled in Cecil County rather than send local sons to be among the 24,000 young men who died of Spanish flu in military camps nationwide.

In Philadelphia, the city experienced its deadliest day on record, with 289 people dying of the flu on Oct. 6, 1918.

The death rate from Spanish flu and pneumonia here in Cecil County was smaller, but no less tragic for the community. All through October 1918, the front page of the Cecil Democrat newspaper was filled with the obituaries of local people claimed by the epidemic.

The Cecil County Board of Health reported: “… a number of patients critically ill, with our list of physicians greatly reduced by war service, and several of those left in the county themselves suffering from influenza, the situation is exceedingly grave …”

From the death reports in the Cecil Democrat, it is clear that the disease did not just attack the old and frail. Most of the death notices were for Cecil County residents in their teens, 20s and 30s. For example, the Cecil Democrat of Oct. 5, 1918 carried an obituary for William P. Rowan, 36, of Elkton, a former farmer and lately employed “at the new Government plant at Perryville.”

The flu victims included Miss Maud S. Winchester, 34, of Frenchtown, and John Dawson of Perryville, 42. Many of the working men who died left behind wives and children, which meant a devastating loss on an emotional and financial level. Without a strong family support system, poverty might loom after the death of the breadwinner.

News also filtered home of local men who died of flu while serving in the military. The Cecil Democrat reported the fate of one soldier from Elkton, Sgt. Frank C. Groetzinger, age 25, who succumbed at Camp Greenleaf in Georgia.

The epidemic in Cecil County ended by late February 1919, with the Spanish flu virus disappearing as mysteriously as it had arrived.

(Thanks to the Historical Society of Cecil County for help with researching this article. The Cecil Democrat from 1918 is available there on microfilm.)

Posted in Regional History | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Upcoming events for 2015

IMG_5772Upcoming events in 2015

This list will be updated throughout the year, but here is what’s coming up so far. Hope to see you there!

January 24—Book signing at CCEA Gala, Schaefer’s Canal House

February 28—Bay to Ocean Writers’ Conference, Chesapeake College

April 14—Workshop for teen writers, Chesapeake City Library

April 21 6:30 pm—Keepers of the Light talk, North East Library

May 12 6:30 pm—Civil War Legends & Lore, Rising Sun Library

Posted in News and Events | Tagged | Leave a comment

More mystery in historic Chesapeake City

House FBIn case you missed it, the Cecil Whig newspaper and website published another Chesapeake City mystery featuring the characters from “Delmarva Renovators.” Tom and Mac first appeared in “The House that Went Down with the Ship,” which is an old house renovation mystery novel set in Canal Town.

What follows is the opening from the “mini-mystery” that appeared in the Whig’s pages. At the end of the excerpt is a link that takes you to the entire story. Enjoy!

 

The House that Got a Lump of Coal for Christmas

Forget the reindeer and sleigh—in Chesapeake City, Santa Claus is comin’ to town by boat.

And not just any boat, but a 1958 Chris Craft with a gleaming mahogany hull. In the Chesapeake Bay region, an antique boat is a lot easier to find than reindeer.

But even with a pretty sweet ride, Santa was late.

“Where the heck is he?” asked Mac, stamping his large feet to say warm. Mac and I had joined the crowd in Pell Gardens for the arrival of Santa and the lighting of the town Christmas tree—which wasn’t a tree at all but a giant pyramid of crab pots decorated with green lights.

I was on my second cup of hot cider, but it wasn’t doing much to fend off the December chill blowing in from the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and town harbor. “Let’s take a walk and check out some of the houses,” I suggested, eager to escape the cold.

Santa’s arrival in Canal Town coincided with the annual Holiday House Tour, when many homes in the historical district were open to the public. The town had grown up around the canal back in the 19th century. Some of the more modest homes had been built for canal workers using planks salvaged from barges and boats. Grander homes had risen along with the fortunes of those who had businesses connected to the canal. In its heyday, the canal had almost been like an intracoastal version of the internet, connecting people and commerce. With so much rich history, each old house had a story to tell.

For our online home improvement show, “Delmarva Renovators,” we had been in and out of a few of those wonderful old houses. My name is Tom Martell, and I’m the producer of the show. Mac is our master carpenter. The rest of the crew was off for the holidays.

We were just passing the Metz House (built in 1854 as the home of Jacob and Sarah Metz) when we heard a very un-Christmas-like scream.

“What was that?”

“I’m no Santa, but it sounds like someone is being naughty!”

We ran inside, only to be met by another scream. A shriek, in point of fact. And no wonder. There on the parlor floor was our Santa, right down to his bright red suit and gleaming boots. His fake beard was askew. His hat had come off, revealing a balding pate. Clutched in his hand was a cookie. One thing was clear—Santa was dead as Christmas tree lot on December twenty-fourth.

I’ve always been a detail person. You don’t fix up old houses and produce a home improvement show without sweating the small stuff. There was nothing peaceful or pretty about Santa’s death. Even his fingers seemed twisted in a final rictus of pain. A bit of foaming spittle spilled from the corner of his open mouth. On a table nearby stood a glass of milk and a plate of cookies. Snickerdoodles, to be exact. A hand-lettered card beside the plate said, “For Santa.”

Mac tends to eat in stressful situations. He started to reach for the cookies. “Don’t,” I said.

“I don’t think Santa will be needing any of these,” Mac said.

“That’s not the point,” I said, looking down at the Jolly Dead Elf. He still clutched a half-eaten snickerdoodle in his hand. “What if the cookies are poisoned?”

“Who would want to poison Santa?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” I asked.

Mac rolled his eyes. This wasn’t the first time we had gotten caught up in solving a murder in Canal Town. These old houses looked quaint, but there had turned out to be a few skeletons in the closets—and in the walls.

You can read the entire story by following the link below:

http://www.cecildaily.com/features/misc_features/article_3b221e53-7178-5cea-a8f8-2a181950f4eb.html

Posted in The House That Went Down With The Ship | Tagged , | Leave a comment