War of 1812 — Kent Island

In August, 1813, Cap­tain Charles Gor­don, U.S.N. said, “MARYLAND INVADED…it appears the enemy have taken pos­ses­sion of Kent Island, and that the inhab­i­tants of every descrip­tion have removed to the main land…From the cir­cum­stance of land­ing can­non on Kent Island, it appears to be the inten­tion of the enemy to keep pos­ses­sion of it for some time; and cer­tainly a more eli­gi­ble sit­u­a­tion could not have been selected for their own safety and con­ve­nience or from which to annoy us.”

Burning in Kent County

Burn­ing in Kent County

Indeed, on August 5, the British, with two thou­sand men and sev­en­teen ships, took over the island. British Admi­ral John Bor­lase described Kent Island as a “valu­able & beauty Island which is half as large as the Isle of Wright…a cen­tral Point between Annapo­lis, Bal­ti­more, Wash­ing­ton and the East­ern Ports of the State of Mary­land.” After they pre­pared the island, they launched raids on St. Michaels and Queen­stown. How­ever, they left on August 27 to sail to their win­ter quarters.

One rea­son they left so soon was because of the heavy storms they had encoun­tered in the pre­vi­ous September.

This bit of his­tory and oth­ers that I’ve shared added to the reen­act­ment of the for­got­ten War of 1812 in my upcom­ing mys­tery—For­got­ten Body. In fact, some I’ve read today means I have to change a few things in that upcom­ing man­u­script. Saved me from a major his­tor­i­cal boo-boo. Of course, since all the char­ac­ters live in the twenty-first cen­tury, any mis­state­ments they make could be blamed on igno­rance. But Jo (my amateur/reluctant sleuth) is smarter than that.

I just said that, didn’t I? My char­ac­ter is a person—not an exten­sion or imag­i­na­tion of my brain. As a writer, does that hap­pen to you too? As a reader, do you think of the char­ac­ters as paper dolls or real peo­ple? As a reader, when I enjoy a book, I’m firmly in the “real peo­ple” mind set.

 

New Writers’ New Book

5-25-5th grade coverI’m one of the retirees who have been help­ing ten fifth graders who want to write. (When other kids see us pass­ing through the school halls, they ask, “Are you the grand­mas?” Yep, that would be us.) This week we will deliver their fin­ished book. They will each get two copies—one to keep and one to give away to a favorite per­son. (Or, two to keep—their choice.)

All of the chil­dren wrote one, or more sto­ries, we edited them, made sug­ges­tions, they learned that writ­ing is also rewrit­ing. Some illus­trated their sto­ries. One cre­ated the cover. One boy was def­i­nitely writ­ing a book, but he man­aged to make a story out of the first two chap­ters. One of the girls seems des­tined to take Steven King’s place, but since she was also pro­lific, we encour­aged one of her sweet stories.

They accom­plished quite a bit in a half hour a week, espe­cially since 5-25 5th grade kidsthere were sev­eral late days for snow that seemed to always hap­pen on our Tues­day morn­ing at the school. They did their writ­ing on a com­puter eas­ily using a hunt-and-peck sys­tem they had each worked out for them­selves. (Although it was easy to trans­fer their work, I really do think it might be bet­ter to teach typ­ing skills before using the key­board. But I’m def­i­nitely of the old school—learned how to type in high school on a man­ual typewriter.)

But, enough of that. I enjoyed work­ing with the kids. I’ve got to say, at least one inner city school is giv­ing the chil­dren lots of choice in their edu­ca­tion, for we could not have done this with­out some coop­er­a­tion from the over­worked teachers.

A War of 1812 Prank

One of my favorite sou­venirs from our years sail­ing Chesa­peake Bay waters was a small book from St. Michaels, Mary­land, The Town That Fooled The British. Besides detail­ing day-to-day activ­i­ties and prepa­ra­tions for war and telling the story of sav­ing the ship-building com­mu­nity from British attack, it told about Jacob Gibson’s Prank.

In April 1813, Mr. Gib­son farmed Sharp’s Island (now mostly sunken). The British sized the island, impris­oned Mr. Gib­son, and con­fis­cated his cat­tle and sheep. How­ever, they shortly released him and even paid him for the animals.

A few days later, Jacob Gib­son, who was well known for his prac­ti­cal jokes, must have been feel­ing his oats. He and some of his slaves rowed and sailed a barge up Broad Creek toward St. Michaels, about fif­teen miles away. He tied a red ban­dana to the mast, and when they neared St. Michaels, he ordered one of the sailors to beat on an empty rain bar­rel. (It might have been on a bright, moon­lit night.) The videttes (mounted sen­tries) rode to alert the town. The res­i­dents grabbed their stores of food and ani­mals and vacated the town while the St. Michaels Patri­otic Blues (the local mili­tia) stood ready to fight the enemy. For­tu­nately, they rec­og­nized his boat, and since Jacob was a quick talker as well as a big joker, he escaped with­out bod­ily injury. How­ever, he did give the town two six-pounder can­nons as a peace offering.

And, those can­nons may (or may not—let’s not for­get these sto­ries were passed down by word of mouth before they were writ­ten down) have been help­ful in the later defense of St. Michaels.

 

A Five Star Read-Under Any Title

Original Cover

Orig­i­nal Cover

The book is the first of the Perse­phone Cole Vin­tage Mys­tery Series tak­ing place in the early 1940s. The author is Heather Haven. I read this mys­tery a cou­ple of years ago. Was it called Perse­phone Cole and the Hal­loween Curse (the orig­i­nal title) or The Dag­ger Before Me? I don’t remem­ber. Was the cover the orig­i­nal one (pic­tured left) or the new one? Think it was the orig­i­nal, but, I read the book on my Kin­dle, so I’m not sure.

As I remem­ber the story, I like the first cover the best. Perse­phone (Percy for short) is big and beautiful—extra large size. She’s a sin­gle mother, liv­ing with the extended fam­ily (space was a prob­lem) and help­ing her father in his detec­tive busi­ness. She’s deter­mined to suc­ceed at her first solo case. It’s in the the­ater, which is an added complication—since she doesn’t know that much about the­ater. But, she’s a good faker (she hopes). And so does the reader—pulling for Percy with every page.

There are so many great reviews of this title, I’d like to quote from a cou­ple of them:

Second Cover

Sec­ond Cover

Percy is cer­tainly not the stereo­typ­i­cal mother of the 1940s. She’s a tough woman with an atti­tude big enough to match her 5’11” frame. She pos­sesses a sharp mind and an even sharper tongue. I love the way she han­dles peo­ple, men in par­tic­u­lar, who doubt her abil­i­ties as a detec­tive. Though she can be brash at times, Percy also knows how to turn on the charm when she needs to. I can just as eas­ily pic­ture her but­ter­ing up a poten­tial wit­ness with free food or rough­ing up a hos­tile one.

Here’s what another reviewer had to say:

I found Percy engag­ing. I liked her moxie. Not exactly fem­i­nine, peo­ple “often remarked that between her wild hair, thin body, and daffy per­son­al­ity, she reminded them of a Dan­de­lion caught in a wind­storm.” (I like that word-picture.) Percy does things like: “she popped a nut into her mouth and sep­a­rated the meat from the shell with her teeth.” Haven offers delight­ful and “punny” prose: “What color the inte­rior was sup­posed to be was dif­fi­cult to say. I’m going with drab.” Or how about this one—when Percy looks up at a man, we read: “It was novel, look­ing up to some­one not stand­ing on a stepladder.”

And here’s my review:  Perse­phone Cole (Percy for short) is a female detec­tive in early 1940s New York dur­ing World War II. There’s great his­toric atmos­phere (sweaty because it’s a non-air-conditioned heat spell) deal­ing with strange acci­dents in the the­ater dis­trict. She detects under­cover as a man­ager who doesn’t really know that much about man­ag­ing, but she’s right up there with detect­ing, includ­ing gun-handling. The nicely con­vo­luted plot kept me guess­ing, and the end­ing was wholly sat­is­fy­ing. Def­i­nitely rec­om­mended for read­ers of his­toric mys­tery (with sassy women).

I’m won­der­ing, why the title and cover change? I under­stand an author wish­ing to present the best face to her read­ers. And, since I do love this series, I hope it was a good choice. But I have to ask, which cover and which title do you like?

 

Does My Book Need a Vocabulary List?

5-14 Paper and penOkay, that’s a ques­tion I sel­dom ask myself. I write mys­tery (mostly) tak­ing place in the cur­rent time, and in the coun­try where my books are sold. I don’t have any char­ac­ters speak­ing a for­eign language.

Other books, often ones I read, are set in past cen­turies or other coun­tries. They might have a list of names, or words that are unfa­mil­iar. That’s handy. There are other instances that neces­si­tate word lists—often involv­ing unusual occu­pa­tions, or even hob­bies. But cozy, or almost cozy mys­ter­ies? Most read­ers know enough of the words used to describe recipes, needle­work, antiques, pets, and the var­i­ous occu­pa­tions of our favorite ama­teur sleuths.

Now, back to my ques­tion. One of my mys­ter­ies involves boat­ing. The fol­low­ing is a para­graph that may have non-boaters think­ing I must have missed a few gram­mar lessons in ele­men­tary school.

The coiled anchor rode smelled musty, even though it was 5-14 anchorcom­pletely dry. Lit­tle col­ored plas­tic tags lay, woven into the fiber to mea­sure off the feet as the line payed out. Would I have to remove all that line to see if there was any­thing under­neath? Not tonight. Too much trou­ble. I flashed around the inte­rior one last time. There was a small piece of paper stuck low, under a few coils of the rope. I pulled it out.”

Did I mis­spell some­thing? I checked a boat­ing site from the Great Lakes. This is a sen­tence describ­ing how to anchor a boat. “When all the rode has been payed out, gen­tly back down on the anchor to set it in the bottom.”

RODE — anchor chain or line (rope) that attaches the anchor to the boat

TO PAY OUT, or PAYED OUT — to allow the rode to uncoil and leave the anchor locker so the anchor is lowered

Or, is that just too much? Per­son­ally, I think so. I don’t mind read­ing a book with a few things I have to infer from con­text. What do you think?

Book Party for THE CLIENT’S WIFE

cover-The Clients Wife2Yes, I went to a book party last week, and I tell you—Thomas Wig­gin knows how to party. Big room with chairs set up—check. A show­ing of a full movie—check. Cook­ies and popcorn—check. Adult beverages—yeah! Cof­fee and tea, sure—but choice of wine as well as mar­ti­nis, both gin and vodka—check! And, icing on the cake—the read­ing of a scene by the author who made it come alive. (After all, he had a long stint as a star­ring actor of both day­time and night­time TV—not to men­tion writ­ing episodes of the day­time drama, then per­form­ing a one-man show he wrote.)

Of course, that’s beside the point. The impor­tant part of a book party author signing 2is the book. And, get­ting a new slant on the where, why, and how of the author’s inspi­ra­tion and carry-through of that book.

Thomas Wig­gin was inspired by his par­ents, the Gersh­win music they loved, and the Nick and Nora Charles movies of the 1930s. So how did those things all come together?

Mr. Wig­gin had an answer for that. In those old movies, Nick and Nora had a son, Nick, Jr. What we didn’t know is that Nick, Jr. was not into the detec­tive scene, but his daugh­ter Emma was. Yes, Emma Charles spent time with her grand­par­ents. She learned to love Gersh­win, inves­ti­ga­tions, and mar­ti­nis. As the book, The Client’s Wife begins, Emma has left her job with the police depart­ment and has begun her own detec­tive agency. All she needs is to find a man who appre­ci­ates the finer things of life. Gersh­win, good Eng­lish, and the kind of rela­tion­ship her grand­par­ents had. (All this, of course, while solv­ing crime cases.)

I’ve only started read­ing my new, signed copy of The Client’s Wife. It’s head­ing toward my five-star category.

 

Battle of St. Leonard Creek — 1814

St Leonards Creek MD mapWhen I think of war in the days of sail­ing ships, I envi­sion bat­tles on the ocean. For the War of 1812, I must include the large estu­ary of Chesa­peake Bay and even deep rivers. But a bat­tle on a creek? Espe­cially a creek that fam­ily sail­boats and cruis­ers might anchor in for an overnight ren­dezvous? (More espe­cially, one where my hus­band and I met with other boaters for a friendly week­end.) But in June of 1814, it did happen.

The British con­trolled Chesa­peake Bay, allow­ing lit­tle trade with St Leonards battleother coun­tries. In an attempt to open the bay, for­mer pri­va­teer, Com­modore Joshua Bar­ney took his fleet of eigh­teen small gun boats, barges, and sloops down the bay. He was able to harass the British ships, then escape into smaller trib­u­taries. Barney’s Chesa­peake Flotilla clashed with the British from June sixth to the twenty-sixth, end­ing that day where the Patux­ent River meets the mouth of St. Leonard Creek. (Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Museum, the unnamed green sec­tion in the cen­ter of the map above. is located at the site and com­mem­o­rates the battle.)

Dur­ing the ensu­ing bat­tle Bar­ney, with 360 sailors and 120 marines held off an over­whelm­ing force that bet­tered him ten to one. One source says that Pres­i­dent Madi­son, him­self, took con­trol of the land forces when Bar­ney was severely injured. After four hours, beaten, they retreated. Had they won, they might have pre­vented the burn­ing of Washington.

Note: Jef­fer­son Pat­ter­son Park and Museum coop­er­ated with a mid­dle school in a UTube video of a pre­sen­ta­tion of Com­modore Barney’s tale of the battle.

Agatha Winners

Hank Phillippi Ryan

Hank Phillippi Ryan

For writ­ers of cozy, or almost cozy mys­ter­ies (think Agatha Christie), Mal­ice Domes­tic is the con­fer­ence to inter­act with their read­ers. Of course, the Agatha award—a teapot—is cov­eted. I was there in spirit only. Nat­u­rally, I awaited the final word from Sat­ur­day night’s award ban­quet. And, I wanted to see how my picks fared.

Since I men­tioned all short story authors, I can claim a vic­tory for that! (Art Tay­lor won.) I scored again with my write-up of Writes of Pas­sage. It won for best non-fiction. I’m won­der­ing, since I was one of those who con­tributed an essay, can I claim one six­ti­eth of an Agatha? (Good ques­tion.) The edi­tor who did claim the teapot, Hank Phillippi Ryan, also won for best con­tem­po­rary novel. Another of my favorite authors, Rhys Bowen, won for best his­tor­i­cal novel.

This is the offi­cial line-up of Agatha winners:

Best children’s / YA: Code Buster’s Club, Cast #4 by Penny Warner
Best short story: The Odds Are Against Us, by Art Tay­lor
Best non­fic­tion: Writes of Pas­sage, edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan with Elaine Will Spar­ber
Best first novel: Well Read, Then Dead by Ter­rie Far­ley Moran
Best his­tor­i­cal novel: Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen
Best con­tem­po­rary novel: Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan
In addi­tion, Cyn­thia Kuhn won the Mal­ice Domes­tic Grant for Unpub­lished Writers.

War of 1812 in St. Michaels

cover-St Michaels bookSt. Michaels, Md. calls itself “The Town That Fooled The British.” Dur­ing the War of 1812, there were as many as six ship­builders in and near St. Michaels. One ship they pro­duced was a fast schooner (later known as the Bal­ti­more clip­per). These ves­sels were well suited for out­run­ning pirates or for­eign naval ves­sels at sea. A mil­i­tary bat­tery was sta­tioned at St. Michaels to pro­tect the town and the ship­yards. On August 10, 1813, the British attacked. How­ever, the res­i­dents had turned off any lights in their homes and hung lanterns high in the trees. As a result, most of the can­non balls sailed over and beyond the vil­lage. One house  was hit by a can­non­ball. It went through the roof, and bounced down the stairs next to a child sit­ting there. (She told all about it in later years.) There are other sto­ries of that time in the book—about the women sewing an Amer­i­can flag, about the bat­tle against the mil­i­tary bat­tery, about get­ting infor­ma­tion from a British deserter, and about a farmer on a nearby island who tried to fool St. Michaels.

Sev­eral years ago, when my hus­band and I were sail­ing on Chesapeak Bay Maritime museum2Chesa­peake Bay, we often stopped at St. Michaels and tied up in a slip next to the Chesa­peake Bay Mar­itime Museum (shown here). Of course, I shopped for sou­venirs. I pur­chased the book­let shown above. The story is engross­ing. I vowed to write about the War of 1812 some­day. That day arrived in 2013, and my mys­tery is now fin­ished. It is in the process of cover design and man­u­script for­mat­ting, to be pub­lished this sum­mer. So, I haven’t hit exactly 200 years from 1813, when the St. Michaels inci­dent occurred, but the war offi­cially ended in 2015. Shortly, For­got­ten Body, the sec­ond in the Jo Durbin Mys­ter­ies, will be pub­lished. It isn’t exactly about the war, but it does involve a reen­act­ment of the For­got­ten War of 1812.

 

New Anthology-Fish or Cut Bait

cover-Fish or cut baitFISH OR CUT BAIT was pub­lished this April by Wild­side Press. It’s a col­lec­tion of 22 short sto­ries, each one with a crime and a major deci­sion that affects the out­come. (That’s the fish or cut bait line.) All 22 authors are mem­bers of the Guppy chap­ter of Sis­ters in Crime. I under­stand this book (the third Guppy anthol­ogy) will be avail­able at Mal­ice Domes­tic in May.

I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m sure it will rate five stars. Okay, maybe I’m biased, since my short story, Herbs To You, is included. Should I add a teaser here? Umm—why not?

After twenty years of mar­riage, the retired shrimper tells his wife a story that illus­trates his love—a love that will last ’til he dies.

Fish Or Cut Bait is avail­able at Wild­side Books, Ama­zon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million.