Monday, June 24, 2013

A Light Look at Print vs Ebook

Which do you prefer? Print or ebooks? I get that question a lot. You might too. My answer is both, and I absolutely do enjoy reading both ways. I was thinking...what are the pros and cons? So I decided to make a list. Tell me what you think.

But, before I get to the list, I want to make sure you know I can sign ebooks. Did you know? Just go to this link:
You'll see all of my books listed. All you do is click on one, send me a message and I'll respond and you'll get my autograph along with a personalized message sent to your device. Pretty cool! I've requested a few from authors I've read. Have you done this yet? It's absolutely FREE! :)

Okay, my list:

Print Books

  • People will actually see what you're reading and you'll look pretty cool with that copy of the latest bestseller or academic tome under your arm.

the girl reading on train
Click on photo for photo credit.
  • You'll build muscles while reading Harry Potter.

Reading the new Harry Potter! (21/365)
Click on photo for photo credit.
  • You'll have something to fill all those book bags you get from every convention and trade show you go to.

Book bag
Click on photo for photo credit.
  • Bookshelves look better in your home than a nearly empty shelf with a Kindle on it.
  • Even when you're napping you'll look smarter holding a book.
  • A real book smells so much better than an ebook.
  • For me, it's easier to thumb through and find something.


  • People can't see what you're reading, so whether you're reading Menopause for Dummies or Fifty Shades of Gray, no one will judge you.

Read Me!
Click on photo for photo credit.

  • You'll save room on your bookshelves for the souvenirs you picked up on your last vacation.

Click on photo for credit.
Asleep on the Beach
Click photo for credit.
  • If you fall asleep reading you won't drop a heavy book on your toes.
  • You can instantly look up words you aren't familiar with. (One of my favorite things!)
  • If you change your mind about highlighting something, it's much easier to erase it.
  • You can get your author's favorite book instantly on the first day it's available.

So, what about you? Ebook or print book?

In fairness to all, my new book, Grace's Pictures, is available both in print and ebook formats. :)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What Police Corruption?

History of Police Corruption

In Grace's Pictures I write about police corruption in New York City at the turn of the 20th century. If you know history, you probably know Teddy Roosevelt headed the police commission from 1895-1897 and brought wide sweeping changes. Together with a photographer named Jacob Riis (who makes an appearance in my novel) they traipse through Lower Manhattan neighborhoods in the middle of night, waking up sleeping patrolmen and taking flash photographs of the horrid living conditions.

Roosevelt was familiar with Riis previous to taking the position on the commission, having read his book, How the Other Half Lives. Roosevelt was a reformer, but his primary interest was wider in politics, so he only served in this role for two years. Perhaps if he'd been there longer, more changes might have been made sooner. He did bring attention to the corruption and insisted the police department act more professionally. He required firearm training for the force, for one thing, authorizing the purchase of Colt revolvers for his men. Yes, believe it or not, before that not every policeman was armed, and those that were did not necessarily know how to shoot a gun.

Roosevelt Did Not Clean up the Police

Tammany Hall, the political force that influenced elections in the city, was strong, and with Roosevelt and Mayor Strong (who supposedly supported a bipartisan agenda) gone, the police department continued to be an "every man for himself" kind of operation. Not to say there weren't good men, and their work wasn't effective. Some steps were made in the right direction, but at the time of my story gangs still ruled the streets, and shopkeepers not only had to make them happy, but also the local patrolman who collected "protection" money.

One thing they seemed to excel at: parading. Here is a Thomas Edison film from 1899.

It's a myth that Teddy Roosevelt cleaned up the New York Police Department, but with Jacob Riis's help he certain cast light on the problems.

Below is a good summary from The History Channel. The part about Roosevelt's role in the New York City Police lasts until about the 3:00 mark.

Our Ancestors Endured

This part of history is another facet in the story of our immigrant ancestors. How they managed to not only get through it, but to thrive enough to raise their families is nothing short of courageous.

Unfortunately police corruption still exists in places, but nothing in this country compares to that time in history. If you couldn't trust the police, who could you trust? This is the question foremost in Grace McCaffery's mind in Grace's Pictures.

What part of this history, if anything, surprises you? Our history classes did not teach it all, I don't think.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Author Alton Ganksy Interviews Me!

It was an extreme honor to be interviewed this week by novelist Alton Ganksy. Alton has a YouTube channel filled with interviews with authors and industry professionals. Be sure to check out his other videos.

Here is my interview. I hope you enjoy hearing a little bit about why I wrote Grace's Pictures and why I think baseball is important to my writing. ;-)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How Readers Can Help Writers

Ever wonder what you can do to help your favorite writer be successful? Doubt that anything you can do will make a difference? Hardly. Read this blog post:

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To You, From Me

I wanted to share a bit about why I wrote Grace's Pictures, and do it personally, so here's my message. Please share it with your friends!

When Father's Day Hurts

Father's Day did not become a national holiday in the U.S. until 1972. It's not that it wasn't suggested and even recognized before, it's probably because fathers didn't get behind it. Men, as we know, are not as sentimental about such things as women are.

But now you cannot watch television without being reminded to remember your father this Father's Day. And if you don't have one, or have a dysfunctional father-child relationship, you probably don't appreciate these reminders.

If my father were still alive this Father's Day, I would bring him licorice, bake him a chocolate cake, pour him a lemonade or a hot cup of tea. And we would talk about everything, and know that if only the world would operate the way we KNOW it should, all life's problems would be solved.

See what I mean? That's one example of not wanting to think about Father's Day and what you've lost. Of course, the best way to look at is to remember your dad and the good times, and be thankful.

But if your experience was unpleasant, that's another matter all together. In my novel Grace's Pictures, Grace McCaffery had an abusive father who used to tell her she was worthless, not smart, and just someone others wouldn't want to be around. He said she was lucky he had her to take care of her. And then she didn't. He died, and she wasn't so lucky and was physically thrown out of her home and into a workhouse. Her father's messages never completely left her, despite her mother's attempts to speak words of worth to her. Grace tries to hold on to those words, but she is separated from her mother. Perhaps coming to America will help her to start anew. If she can just overcome those negative messages.

Families can be difficult, and even good ones are far from perfect. Grace finds a way to overcome her past, but it's a difficult journey for anyone. There is hope, however, and if this describes you, my prayer for you is that you will find that hope.

I found this song inspiring. I hope you do too.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Do You Know Coral Bells?

I actually did discover on an Internet search there is a person with that name, but I'm talking about the flowers. In my book, Grace's Pictures, the woman Grace works for, Alice Parker, adores coral bells. She is an avid gardner, but she doesn't have these flowers in her garden, and she plans to plant them.

Later Grace and the Parker children she cares for, all named for trees, plan to plant these flowers for their mother.

When I wrote the book, I had never had any coral bells in my garden. What about you?

Of course, I had to plant some this year. Mine are a variety with purple foliage, probably not what was available in 1901 Manhattan. Here is my plant. You can't tell much by the photograph, but they seem to be doing well, and in the closeup you can see that it's about to bloom!

I planted it among some vinca vines (or creeping myrtle). I hope that's okay!

A bloom!

What about you? Do you have any perennials folks would have had in the early 20th century? Perhaps something your grandmother or great grandmother would have had? Or even a start from her plants??

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Win an Autographed Copy of Grace's Pictures

Experience the Ellis Island Museum Right Here!

This is an excellent video for anyone wishing to experience Ellis Island but can't get there. It may just make you schedule a trip, though! Did you know over half of Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island?

These kinds of stories inspired my Ellis Island Series.
Grace McCaffery hopes that the bustling streets of New York hold all the promise that the lush hills of Ireland did not. As her efforts to earn enough money to bring her mother to America fail, she wonders if her new Brownie camera could be the answer. But a casual stroll through a beautiful New York City park turns into a hostile run-in with local gangsters, who are convinced her camera holds the first and only photos of their elusive leader. A policeman with a personal commitment to help those less fortunate finds Grace attractive and longs to help her, but Grace believes such men cannot be trusted. Spread thin between her quest to rescue her mother, do well in a new nanny job, and avoid the gang intent on intimidating her, Grace must put her faith in unlikely sources to learn the true meaning of courage and forgiveness.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Growing Up Climbing the Family Tree

This is an awkward post for me to write, but I'm doing it because I want people to understand me better...or more likely, I want to understand myself better. When you read it, you'll probably wonder what the big deal was. I'm not uncovering skeletons or confessing a sin. It will seem that way to you because you're not me, so don't feel bad.

Well, you might know that families are complicated. You might relate to that concept. And a disclaimer first: my family loves me, and I love them. Okay. Here goes...

Technically I was not an only child. I had three older sisters. (I say had because the oldest has passed away.)

Since there are nearly seven years between me and my closest sister, I've heard it said (by Dr. Kevin Leman and others) that puts me in the only child category. And quite honestly, it's a lonely place to grow up.

Don't get me wrong, I love my sisters, but truly they grew up without me there and that changes how a relationship develops.
My mother and sisters long before me.

Why am I telling you this? Because while I was attending a writing seminar a few years ago, the leader kept asking me why writing these family legacy type stories was so important to me.
No siblings in several of my growing up pictures.

"Because," I said, "we can all learn so much from history and the sacrifices made for us."

"Why?" she asked.

"Because it's important to know who you are."

"Why is it important?"

"Uh, because then we will know where our place in the world is."

"Why, why, why?"

Hmm...She made me search my heart and it came down to the loneliness. I need to feel connected to family because so often growing up, I did not.

There you have it.

That's kind of a hard thing to admit, frankly.

So I started wondering...
Where is my place? How do I know I belong? What is the family legacy I need to pass on? Where does it start?

I imagine adopted people feel this even more strongly than I did, not to mention children raised in foster care. Everyone has to find that connection somehow. For some it comes through mentorship or close friends. Family gets redefined, and I think that's the absolute right thing for some people.

For me, I had a family. They were just older than me, and different, and involved in activities I was not ready for. I was on a journey to find my place.

It started here:
I think I was about 13 or 14. My oldest sister (middle, in the big-legged pants and halter top) visited from California and we had a reunion with my mom's side of the family. Always being the youngest (and most bored) I started collecting my relatives' stories and recollections. Something you MUST do. Right now! All of you!
Agee Family Reunion
Then several years later my parents bought me a book to record my family history. And I just took off from there.

This was taken in 1984 after we were all grown up.  Technically. :)
There are advantages to being the youngest by many years. If I can't think of any, my sisters will. But as for genealogy, my situation drove me to study the branches on the tree, and therefore I learned a lot. And when I have time to keep looking, I will certainly uncover much more. Anyone who does family research knows it's never ending and addictive.

Just a few of my discoveries:

  • My grandfather did well during the Great Depression because he was the only manager of the only Kroger grocery in a fair-sized city.
  • My grandmother's paternal side lived for many years in Ohio (something I only recently learned) and one was a part of an antislavery movement near Cincinnati. I am pretty certain she never knew this.
  • One ancestor died at home during the Civil War. He was brought home by his brother and because he died at home, his widow had a difficult time getting her pension.
  • My Scots-Irish ancestors left Ireland not only to escape poverty but also because they didn't believe in paying tithes to a church they didn't belong to.
  • One ancestor, when only a young boy, freed a slave he had been given as payment on a debt.
  • Another ancestor after becoming a widow, moved her children to the wilds of Indiana where Indians were still a threat. She bought land (not usual for a woman in the early 1800s.) And they prospered there.
Family history will continue to inspire my writing, from novels, to short stories, to non-fiction articles. I think our experiences meld us into who we are and what we feel compelled do. And as a Christian I believe God directs our paths.

So, to rephrase another writer, "I write to know I'm not alone."

If you're a genealogy buff, what experiences formed your passion for researching your roots?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Five Things About Irish Poorhouses You Might Not Know

Workhouse southeast of Cahirciveen
Ruin of a workhouse in County Kerry, photo by terryballard
1. Forty years before the Great Potato Famine, Ireland was so impoverished that more than a third of her population were starving. Before the government got involved all they could do was beg and ask for charity. The workhouse system had been set up in England in 1834 but in Ireland there was no work to be had. The idea of an Irish Poor Law Union was not favored by Catholics nor Protestants nor landlords nor tenants, but it came nonetheless.

2. The system was set up to be miserable, so as not to encourage people to give up work to come there. The idea was that the life of the poorhouse tenant should be at a lower level than the lowest of able bodied workers outside the poorhouse. The only problem was that was pretty low. For instance, establishing a diet that was less tolerable than what the folks on the outside ate was difficult to imagine. So no one wanted it but when the Potato Famine hit in 1846, the poorhouse became the fate of many. Even so, the Irish clung to their land and during the height of the famine, the poorhouses were only half full.

3. The workhouses (or poorhouses) were opened in the eighteenth century and did not close until Irish Independence in 1919 when an order came to abolish the "odious, degrading and foreign workhouse system of poor relief." (The Workhouses of Ireland, The Fate of Ireland's Poor by John O'Connor)

4. There were no toilets, no running water, little ventilation. Some were overcrowded and sometimes the dead were found among the living. Watery Indian meal was cooked in a cauldron, the butter was rancid and the bread stale. The workhouse master enforced a strict law that included long periods of silence, that is, if he was successful in controlling the crowd at all.

Family being evicted in 1879. Wikipedia photo.
5. Most went unwillingly. Landlords increased rents on poor tenant farmers, and when they could not pay, the police forced them off their lands. To ensure that they would never be able to go back, their cottages were burned.

I was inspired by this episode of Who Do You Think You Are when I wrote about Grace McCaffery leaving a poorhouse in Ireland to come to America.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What's An Irish Biddy?

In Grace's Pictures Grace McCaffery goes to work as a domestic servant. A vast many young Irish immigrant women were employed in the households of middle class families, like the Parkers in my story.

This was the era of the Industrial Revolution, and it came to housewives as well. Once a family could afford to hire a servant, they did so because although technology was advancing at a fast pace at the turn of the twentieth century, household chores were still difficult and time consuming. And the woman of this era sought to spend her time at more edifying endeavors such as gardening, working for social reform, and of course, the suffrage movement. (You see Grace on the cover with her Brownie camera and you might be tempted to think she had a lot of leisure time on her hands, but if you read the story you'll see that her leisure time was scarce and precious.)

Grace's mistress was not a pleasant lady. She referred to Grace as her "Irish Biddy." It was a bit of a derogatory term aimed at Irish immigrant women who commonly had the name Brigid or Bridget or Biddy for short. St. Brigid is one of the Irish patron saints, so like the name Patrick for boys, it was widely used.

When I was researching Grace's role as a domestic servant, I found a fascinating book called The Irish Bridget, Irish Immigrant Women in Domestic Service in America, 1840-1930 by Margaret Lynch-Brennan. The author uses the cases of real women and sometimes even their own words to describe what their lives were like.

What did an Irish Bridget do? She was cook, maid, waitress, child nurse, and laundress (according to the book.) Not always did they do all those things, but often that was the case.

A description of the typical girl who became an Irish Biddy is given in the book.

"For the most part, they were quite young girls...the median age of emigrant Irish females was about twenty-one. These girls were generally unmarried Roman Catholics who hailed from rural Ireland, and as the nineteenth century progressed into the twentieth, increasingly they came from the rural west of Ireland, where traditional Gaelic Irish culture persisted longer than it did elsewhere in Ireland. They were the daughters of people of limited means, rather than the children of either wealthy or extremely poor parents." 

In other words, they were poor and had little other choice for a future than to come to America. They had to learn their chores, however, as much of the housework done in North America was not typical in Ireland. They were hard working and determined women, however, and earned their place in the American economy.

I have great respect for them, and for Grace's character who is my representation of these women. I have found some young Irish servants in the census when researching my husband's family. Not mine, though. My ancestors were a little less than middle class. What about yours? Any Irish Biddys in your family? I'd love to hear stories!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Ellis Island Photographer

Italian immigrant photographed by A. Sherman, NYPL file.
From the NYPL file, photograph of Scottish boys taken by Augustus Sherman
It wasn't an official duty, but Augustus F. Sherman, Ellis Island Registry Clerk in the early part of the 20th century was responsible for many of the iconic photographs of immigrants you've seen on web sites and on the covers of books.

Who Was Augustus F. Sherman?

National Park Service photograph.
American-born himself, Augustus F. Sherman was born in Lynn, PA, just as the Civil War was concluding. Most of the information I found online about Augustus Sherman said not much is known about him. But by using, I found out a little bit more than what appears in most of his biographies.

He was never married and was the second surviving son born to Estella T. and Henry Sherman. He had an older brother named Henry. We know Augustus had a niece who donated his photos to Ellis Island in 1960 and her name was Mary W. Sherman Peters. In 1880 he was living with his parents in Pennsylvania along with some boarders and servants. But by 1900 Estella was a widow and she and Augustus were living in New York City with one boarder. By 1910 Estella and Augustus were boarders in someone else's home. Augustus's occupation is given in the census as chief clerk at Immigration Service.

On Ancestry I found a Sons of the American Revolution application that gives Estella's death date as Jan. 23, 1912, and Henry's as Nov. 24, 1887. There is a short obituary on Estella quoted from a newspaper on Rootsweb that supports the 1912 date.

The Ellis Island website states that both Augustus and his older brother were clerks at Ellis Island. His brother quit to become a lawyer.

Sherman's Photographs

Dutch Woman photographed by A. Sherman on Ellis Island,  from the NYPL file.
At any rate, we know immigrants in their native garb fascinated Sherman. His photography was not part of his job, but thankfully he took all those photographs because they are a tremendous historical record of the ancestors of the majority of Americans today.
This little Swedish girl doesn't look too pleased. Photographed by A. Sherman on Ellis Island, from the NYPL file.

It's enthralling to see the expressions on these people's faces. Often they were being detained, that's why he was able to catch up with them, and sometimes they were even deported after these photographs were taken. The vast majority of immigrants were registered and moved along, but we've all heard stories of those who were deported for reasons of illness, mental problems, or because they were deemed likely to become a public charge.
Serbians photographed on Ellis Island by A. Sherman, from the NYPL file.

Sherman took over 200 photographs of immigrants. Once the newcomers got to Battery Park to begin their new lives in America, they shed their native garb, so these photographs might have been the last time they wore these costumes.

Algerian immigrant photographed on Ellis Island by A. Sherman, NYPL file.

They wanted to fit in with Americans. Funny, isn't it, how now people come together for festivals and celebrations and work hard to recreate those historical outfits.
Russian immigrants on Ellis Island photographed by A. Sherman, from the NYPL file.

Medieval Festival in Virginia
Photo by  Clickr Bee

Augustus Sherman in Grace's Pictures

In my novel, Grace's Pictures, Grace McCaffery has her photograph taken on Ellis Island by Augustus Sherman. The photograph captures her fear and discomfort at that moment. Later, when she sees that photograph, she is not pleased to see that in her own face.

Author's paternal grandparents, Margaret and Lloyd Peters
I cherish the photographs I have of my ancestors. There is one of my grandparents holding up a dollar bill. My father told me it was the first dollar they made in their new store. It was a special moment for them captured in time before I was born. I'm glad I got to see it. What about you? Any special photographs of your ancestors?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

That Puzzling Brownie Camera

French Brownie ad showing a child using the camera.
While the Brownie's operation was made to be pretty simple, today there are things about them that are not so intuitive. After all, what's more simple than what we have today? We don't even mess with film!

There are many Brownie's out there for sale on eBay, Etsy, and flea markets. Most are pretty inexpensive, so collecting Brownies is an attractive hobby. But there are different models that operate differently and take different film.

Fortunately, the Brownie Camera Guy is here to help! If you're at all interested in Brownies, you should visit his web page, The Brownie Camera Page. His name is Chuck and he has some helpful videos, like this one showing you how to open a Brownie box camera (something I struggled with at first.)

Are you a collector? Did you have a Brownie as a kid?