In September, I will be leading two history cruises with Captain DJ … the talk will touch on some of the facts and history of the canal and include a few stories from the amazing past of the waterway and Chesapeake City. Looking forward to it! Please click on the image above or click here to sign up.
This is my first collection of previously published stories and essays (along with a few new pieces) mostly focused around the Chesapeake Bay region.
The essays here touch on everything from the origins of the unique dialect known as Delmarvese to running a trapline. In the fiction pages, ride along with Confederate cavalry gone astray on the way to Gettysburg and root for a widowed lightkeeper who makes a desperate stand against a German U-boat attack. Encounter Captain Kidd during a confrontation with pirates on the Delaware shore. In “The Wheatfield War,” discover the tragic fate of Lord Byron’s cousin-in-law during the War of 1812.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, there is no shortage of stories wherever the past meets the present.
David Healey is a storyteller extraordinaire. His writing entices readers into David’s world. Pirate Moon: Collected Stories and Essays is a perfect way to escape to the wonderful Chesapeake.”
— Bruce E. Mowday, author of Stealing Wyeth and Jailing the Johnston Gang: Bringing Serial Murderers to Justice.
This is not a book, it’s a tiara. A crowning achievement. Each story with its unique setting highlights the facets, glitter and beauty of prose dusted with poesy.”
— Walter F. Curran, author of the Young Mariner trilogy.
Pirate Moon & Other Stories is a true gift. Open it, and you’ll enjoy hours of delightful and thoughtful reading. The stories vary from historical to contemporary, and you’ll feel as if the characters are people you know or want to know. The essays bring a tear or a smile and always give more to ponder.
— Gail Priest, author of Eastern Shore Shorts and the Annie Crow Knoll trilogy
David Healey is lucky to make his home in a one-of-a-kind place steeped in character and thick with culture. That place is blessed, too—to have a storyteller with the gifts and gumption to capture its magic.
— Jim Duffy, author of Secrets of the Eastern Shore
Read the Preface for Pirate Moon & Other Stories
We are all storytellers in some way, aren’t we? Some of us just happen to write them down as we go along. Compiling this book has made me realize how lucky I am to have grown up in a family that liked to tell stories and to have been around a lot of natural storytellers.
My father still spins a good story and my mother was a keen observer who also came from a long line of storytellers. Sometimes, I don’t know whether to blame them or thank them for passing that along. Some more practical skills in, say, mechanical engineering, might have led to a more lucrative career. Mostly, though, I think I’d thank them for sharing that love for a good story.
The great writing coach James N. Frey has said that kids who grow up to be writers are usually the ones who had their imagination prodded in some way. He gives the example of a kid who comes across a banana peel on the ground and asks where it came from. An adult from a no-nonsense kind of family would respond that someone dropped it there, obviously. End of story. But in a storytelling family, one of the adults will point up at the trees and say, “The monkey who lives in that tree must have dropped it.”
Naturally, the next question is, “What monkey?”
And thus begins a spontaneous story of one kind or another. Frey says those kids who are invited to imagine are the ones who grow up to write novels because they’re always trying to tell the story of the monkey in the tree.
You won’t find a monkey in any of these stories, although there are pirates, German commandos, killer lawyers, and even a wily fox. Along with that monkey business, I’ve also been fortunate to live my life in an area rich with stories—if you know where to look for them and if you are willing to listen.
I can still remember some of the old-timers telling me about how their grandparents hid the horses in the woods when the Union troops marched by. For them, the Civil War was still within living memory. It was something that had touched the lives of their families in very real ways. Again and again, if you’re willing to listen, you will hear stories like that across the region. I also have a theory that old places and old houses soak up history and radiate it back in the same way that a stone wall gives off warmth at night after absorbing sunshine all day. You just have to be willing to open your senses and feel it.
These stories and essays go back nearly forty years, to a short story called “The Fox Went Out On A Chilly Night,” published in a local magazine. Back then I was in my full-blown teenage Hemingway mode, working my way through everything—and I mean everything—that the author had ever written. That is definitely the oldest story here and I have tried not to change a word of what my sixteen-year-old self wrote. The most recent story is “The House That Brewed Up Trouble,” completed just a few weeks before publication. Some stories, like “Bullet Baby,” are based on actual events or legends.
Most of the published stories and essays have appeared in regional publications across Maryland and Delaware, which I now realize places me firmly in the category of being a regional writer. Sadly, some of these print publications have fallen by the wayside over the years, notably the wonderful Delmarva Quarterly in which I was lucky to have several essays published.
It’s a strange journey, going back and revisiting these old stories and essays. It’s a bit like looking at old pictures of yourself and wondering why you ever thought that wearing terrycloth wristbands and those tube socks that went up to your knees was a good idea. Revising these stories has also been a lot like time traveling. Almost all of the stories and a few of the essays have been revised in some way, sometimes substantially. The notes at the ends of the pieces recognize that fact. Just to be clear on the difference, a “story” by my definition is pure fiction while an “essay” is more of a commentary or observation on some slice of life, from meeting author William Styron to growing tomatoes to running a trapline. For the purposes of this book, I have tried to include only those essays with some regional focus. There is no narrative order here … feel free to dip in at random and skip around.
These stories and essays have been enjoyable to write over the years and then to revisit here. Most of them have been a labor of love in that unlike most of my newspaper articles or even some of my books, they weren’t written on deadline or for a paycheck. I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading them—just keep an eye out for that monkey in the tree!
Finally, I want to thank the many individuals who have been so supportive in my own journey as a writer. This includes many colleagues and co-workers over the years, as well as understanding family and friends. I also want to thank the editors of the publications named here. I would be remiss not to express appreciation to the region’s many wonderful bookstores for their amazing support of local authors.
It’s hard to single out any one person, but you will notice that the book is dedicated to Don Herring, longtime editor of The Cecil Whig newspaper. Don was a gifted writer and a natural teacher who helped dozens of young reporters over the years realize the importance of accuracy as well as the beauty in a clear and concise sentence.
Writing for The Big Thrill is always a pleasure because it gives me an opportunity to a lot of wonderful authors and discuss writing with them. My latest interview was with Jeffrey Hess, a Florida-based writer. This was actually the second time that I have interviewed Jeff and I really enjoyed his novel, NO SALVATION. If you enjoy good military fiction focused on leadership with great plotting and suspense mixed in, this may be for you. Also, the novel portrays something a bit different, which is the Vietnam-era Navy.
This cover also features one of my favorite authors, John Sandford. I’ve been reading his Lucas Davenport novels for years and his newest novel is Neon Prey. He is the guest of honor at Thrillerfest this year.
NO SALVATION by Jeffery Hess
by David Healey
If there’s such a thing as navy noir, navy veteran and author Jeffery Hess has created just that atmosphere in his taught thriller NO SALVATION, set aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War.
When Commander Robert Porter arrives aboard the USS Salvation, it is clearly a troubled ship. As the executive officer (XO) or second in command of the US Navy aircraft carrier, Porter soon encounters many challenges. First, he must juggle his own racial identity as an African-American officer against a white captain with antiquated ideas about black and white relations.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inspiring “Order of the Day” launched the D Day invasion on June 6, 1944. At the same time, he wrote a second message in case the operation involving 150,000 Allied troops failed. Seventy years later, Eisenhower’s words and his approach to communications management remain a model for public officials.
In the hours before D Day, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower considered his public words carefully. He sought just the right language to launch the Allied invasion of Europe with more than 150,000 troops. The resulting message was his often quoted “Order of the Day,” which stands today as an innovative and inspiring piece of writing. The tone was rousing without understating the grave risk being undertaken: “Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. … I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!”
Some scholars have singled out lines from this document to represent one of Eisenhower’s greatest speeches (Zongker, 2013): “The tide has turned. The free men of the world are marching together to victory!”
At nearly the same time, he also composed a second note in which he accepted blame for failure of the invasion: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
It is interesting to compare the tone of these two messages and to examine them as examples of crisis management. The first message does not focus on Eisenhower’s role so much as the role of the individuals of the invading force. Although it makes use of first person, the language is very “you centered” in reaching and acknowledging his audience—the men bound for the beaches, manning the ships, or making parachute jumps behind enemy lines.
In the second document, which was handwritten and tucked into his billfold (Smith, 2012), Eisenhower takes full blame for the failure of the invasion. In that text, the responsibility for the setback falls squarely on his shoulders so that there can be no doubt that the troops did their part. Although the second message was never needed, it does reflect Eisenhower’s extreme self-doubt in the hours leading up to the attack. At one point after giving the order to launch the invasion, Eisenhower was actually overhead to say, “I hope to God I know what I’m doing” (Wukovits, 2006, p. 118).
D Day invasion news posted in Times Square, June 6, 1944. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS PHOTO.
For a number of reasons, ranging from ego to superstition, a different general might deliberately avoid writing a message acknowledging defeat ahead of a major military operation. But the man who had overseen the planning of Operation Overlord liked to be prepared for all contingencies.
In these messages, it becomes clear that the general understood that the invasion of Europe required more than intense planning and favorable weather, but also effective public announcements to set the stage for success—or to accept the blame for defeat and a devastating number of casualties. The grandiloquent tone and language were not without precedent. After all, World War II was an era of powerful political rhetoric from democratic world leaders such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, both of whom were master orators. The chilling exhortations of fascist leaders had an equally powerful (and perhaps mesmerizing) impact on the populations of the Axis nations. While World War II was fought with planes and ships and guns, it can in many ways be framed as a war of words and ideals between vastly different world views.
Eisenhower took great care in crafting these historic public announcements (though one was held in reserve) and these written statements ultimately contributed to the success of the Normandy invasion, while also taking into account the possibility for failure. It is interesting that Eisenhower’s “Order of the Day” concludes by invoking God’s blessing, which in this case went beyond a bland public invocation to call attention to the fact that the outcome of the invasion was far from decided but would be left in many ways to fate. Certainly, Eisenhower’s formal rhetoric and self-aware language matched the importance of the event.
Years later, Eisenhower’s most famous presidential speech would be his warning against the military-industrial complex. It is a speech made with the luxury of hindsight that victory in World War II enabled. In comparison, his D Day message is freighted with the very real possibility of defeat, and it takes place at a time when the failure of the military would have dire consequences. He is not criticizing the military or warning against it, but placing the hopes of all in the success of the military in defeating Nazi Germany.
As a military and political document, some parallel can be made to a similar pronouncement made by Union President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” during the Civil War, which strikes a similar tone of humility while using grandiloquent language and calling attention to the individual sacrifices made on the battlefield.
Although the invasion of Normandy took place 75 years ago, Eisenhower’s understanding of the need for effective public communication (and his willingness to accept personal blame) set a standard that public figures may still be guided by today.
Smith, J. (2012). Eisenhower in war and peace. New York: Random House.
Wukovits, J. (2006). Eisenhower: A biography. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Zongker, B. (2013, June 7). Ike’s D-Day words draw new notice. Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved from http://www.philly.com
The recently released film, “The Public,” dramatizes an imagined standoff between altruistic staff and patrons of the Cincinnati Public Library on one side and self-interested government officials on the other. The film brings some positive attention to libraries at a time when some might wonder why we need them at all in the age of the internet.
You won’t find Emilio Estevez or Alec Baldwin, two stars of that recent film, stamping due dates at the Cecil County Public Library system. However, you will find a few stories worth sharing. For me, working at the library has been an eye-opener about the way that libraries provide front-line public service to a population that is often vulnerable or unempowered — the unemployed or impoverished, the not-so-tech savvy, the very young or very old, and the homeless.
Landing a job at the library was serendipitous for me as a local author because I had already spent many hours researching there. Even so, there was a learning curve in stamping those due dates, finding the location of the nearest AA meeting, looking up the title of the third book in Laurell K. Hamilton’s new series, or cutting out paper fish for a children’s program — all at the same time. For a librarian, even a part-time one, juggling lots of tasks comes with the territory.
Chesapeake City’s connection with Showboat and the canal’s role in the Civil War
It was a pleasure to have a small part in this amazing documentary on the C&D Canal and Chesapeake City! I was able to talk about the canal’s interesting role in the Civil War. But for me, I really enjoyed the historical overview of the canal as well as learning more about the role it still plays today in commercial shipping as a vital link between Baltimore and points north (particularly Philadelphia and New York).
My own little part involved being filmed while chatting with author Karen Morgan on a waterfront bench in Chesapeake City. Karen is the co-author of Chesapeake City: The Canal Town Through the Years, a book that stands out for being not just an enjoyable read but also so visually engaging.
The skies threatened rain that day, but held out long enough for the film crew, Tim and David, to do their job. Director John Paulson put us through our paces. The sight of a small film crew downtown drew a knot of curious onlookers.
John did a great job of coaxing and coaching what we needed to say out of us and was also quite kind about it. Clearly, these guys love their jobs and are very skilled at documenting the people and places of Maryland. Their other recent effort was a documentary about the Conowingo Dam.
Something that stood out about this film was how the producers sped up the film of ships going through the canal, as well as the loading and unloading of cargo. Some of those massive ships are moving like Donzi speedboats! This technique actually adds some excitement and motion to the film.
Several people have pointed out that my name is misspelled in the film, but hey, I know who I am!
Chesapeake Writers: Literary legends from around the bay
Please join us for a Chesapeake Writers talk on May 7 at 6:30 pm at the North East branch library. Local author David Healey will introduce you to our own literary legends such as George Alfred Townsend, “Chesapeake” author James Michener, “Blue Max” author Jack D. Hunter, and Chesapeake City’s “Showboat” connection. Bring a notebook and pen because you will have an opportunity to explore your own voice as a Chesapeake writer as well as learn some tips and opportunities for local writers. Call 410-996-6269 to reserve your seat!
This is the online home of David Healey, author of thrilling historical fiction and regional histories. Over the years, quite a lot has been added to the site, so this page will help you get started with navigating HealeyInk. Please start by getting your free ebook!
When German sniper Dieter Rohde’s older brother is unjustly shot for desertion by the SS, he will stop at nothing to win the Iron Cross medal and redeem his family’s name by targeting as many Allied troops as possible.
Rohde’s deadly efforts bring him into direct confrontation with American sniper Caje Cole. Rohde may be driven by ambition, but he hasn’t encountered an adversary like Cole, the so-called hillbilly sniper who is as hard as the mountains he calls home and as wily as a backwoods fox.
As the final pitched battle for France takes place around them at the Falaise Pocket, these two snipers declare war on each other.
Red Sniper is the story of a rescue mission for American POWs held captive by the Russians at the end of World War II.
For these American POWs, the war is not over. Abandoned by their country, used as political pawns by Stalin, their last hope for getting home again is backwoods sniper Caje Cole and a team of combat veterans who undertake a daring rescue mission.
After a lovely Russian-American spy helps plot an escape from a Gulag prison, they must face the ruthless Red Sniper, starving wolves, and the snowy Russian taiga in a race for freedom.
December 1944. As German forces launch a massive surprise attack through the frozen Ardennes Forest, two snipers find themselves aiming for a rematch. Caje Cole is a backwoods hunter from the Appalachian Mountains of the American South, while Kurt Von Stenger is the deadly German “Ghost Sniper.”
Having been in each other’s crosshairs before, they fight a final duel during Germany’s desperate attempt to turn the tide of war in what will come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Can the hunter defeat the marksman?
Even in the midst of war, some battles are personal.
This video comes courtesy of the Cecil County Public Library, where the talk was given.
More than 100 years ago, the Spanish flu epidemic struck worldwide, leaving millions dead. Even the small towns of Maryland and Delaware were impacted by deaths and quarantine efforts. This talk provides an overview of the fight against the flu on the homefront during World War I.
High atop the Chesapeake City bridge, a pair of ospreys has returned to its nest, just as the birds have done each spring for the last several years.
These birds of prey have a hawk eye’s view of the town and canal below. Perched more than 200 feet above the water, they seem oblivious to the rush of traffic and boats below.
It’s an unusual place for these fish hawks to nest.Ospreys prefer dead trees along the waterfront, utility poles or even pilings rising the county’s tidal rivers. Their high perch had some onlookers confusing them with their more rare and famous cousins, the peregrine falcon.
More than 10 years ago, when the birds first appeared, I invited local bird expert over to the backyard to help identify the birds.
“Any bird of prey is a good bird,” said Charlie Gant, who had been watching birds and hawks in Cecil County for decades. On that visit, he was able to positively identify the birds as ospreys. The birds have returned each spring since then. We can usually tell because of the noise. They tend to screech a lot, as if they are annoyed. Once the baby birds appear, that screeching multiplies.
Home sweet home at the top of the arch.
He explained that ospreys are not that unusual in the area.At last count, he knew of seven osprey nests within a mile of his home on the Elk River.
Ospreys feed almost entirely on fish, although they might snag the occasional duckling or other small creature. In the canal, that means a steady diet of perch and catfish, perhaps with an eel or rockfish thrown in. The birds will hover over the water and then plunge down to spear fish in their sharp talons. They sometimes get carried away in their fishing, Gant said, latching onto a huge carp or rockfish that literally pulls the light-boned birds underwater.
This steady diet of fish was almost the undoing of the osprey. Not so long ago, these large raptors were a rare sight, much like eagles and falcons.The culprit was DDT, a pesticide that had entered the ecosystem with devastating effect. Once DDT built up in an osprey’s system from eating contaminated fish, the eggs it laid had thin shells that cracked ruinously. The birds were in danger of disappearing from the Chesapeake Bay area. Since the banning of DDT in 1972, ospreys and other raptors have made a steady comeback.
“They’re fairly plentiful here,” Gant said.
But no so plentiful as to be ignored.The ospreys on the bridge make constant hunting trips over the canal. Their nest is barely visible on the bridge’s highest arch as an untidy bundle of driftwood. One day last week, a bald eagle soared far above the bridge, causing the ospreys to swoop around their nest in alarm, making shrill cries.Bald eagles are known for stealing fish that the hard-working osprey have caught. The eagle flew on, leaving the smaller hawks alone. The ospreys then settled back into the nest, their heads just visible above the rim of the bridge arch. Motorists on Route 213 can get a distant glimpse of the nest as they approach the bridge from Elkton. The birds and their home are best seen from the levee road along the canal.
During his early spring visit, there were no young yet in the nest, but Gant expected young hawks by around June 1.The parents would then be busy feeding their young chicks.“They’re going to be looking for fish constantly.”
Neighbors have nicknamed the ospreys Del and CC, a sort of play on their chosen home above the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal in Chesapeake City.
According to Gant, ospreys migrate to Florida or even South America each fall.They return to their nests in Cecil County around St. Patrick’s Day.(The birds have, in fact, returned each year almost on the same day.) Most return to the same nest year after year.
The nest on top of the busy bridge might be an unusual location, but it is a nice bit of real estate for an osprey.
“They want a view of the water where they will hunt,” Gant said. “You couldn’t ask for a better view than that.”