Friday, December 31, 2010

The Legend of Kate Shelley

Earlier this week, Rebekah and I read The Legend of Kate Shelley by Freeman H. Hubbard and were much inspired by it.

In 1881, this courageous fifteen year old Irish, Victorian girl, and the head of a household of a widowed, invalid mother and five children, alone braved a severe rainstorm with a lifesaving mission.

Kate and her mother had heard the sickening crash of flooded Honey Creek Bridge when it collapsed under the weight of a helper train that crossed it. Despite her mother’s heartfelt pleas to stay home, Kate took a lantern and walked to the C&NW depot to warn the employees there about the situation. For part of the way, Kate crawled across a railroad bridge. She thus saved the lives of the entire occupants of the C&NW train, just as they were about to cross the bridge. Shelley also found the helper train’s engineer and brakeman and led their rescue.

Although I could not find the Hubbard version online, here is a concise retelling of the Kate Shelley legend.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Most Convenient Kitchen Utensils...

...according to Miss Beecher's domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy.

Certainly, Simons Mansion boasted no microwaves or slow cookers. So, in addition to the ice box, what other items might Melissa have seen inside the kitchen? Note: The comments in parentheses are mine.

1) Tin Baker or Reflector: for baking breads, cakes apples, as well as an oven (I had to read this twice. Who would bake an oven?)

2) Footman: made with brass or sheet iron to heat irons.

3: Balances: for weighing cakes (What else?).

4) Dustpan: so one doesn't have to sweep the crumbs across the carpet (Obviously invented by someone whose kids did the sweeping. We have two dustpans, but I'm always finding the bulk of kitchen debris underneath the garbage can).

5) Saw Knife: a saw on one side and a knife on the other. Useful for cutting meats.

6) Lemon Squeezer

7) Case for Lamplighters: to receive the remnants of extinguished matches.

8) Meat Mallet

9) Egg Beater

10: Apple Corer: In 1860, this cost only a dime.

11) Gridiron Scraper

12) Rolling Pin

13: Fish Kettle

14) Preserving Kettle With a Cover: a cover best preserves the flavor of the fruit.

15) Preserving Kettle Without a Cover: shallow, so as not to crowd the fruit.The best are copper or bell metal. Porcelain ones are apt to crack.

16) Cast-iron Sauce-pan with Lid: (I only cook with cast iron. I'm still using a set that cost $28 in 1982 when my oldest son was born).

17) Tin Sauce-pan

18) Copper Sauce-pan. Every household needs at least four different sizes of saucpans. The copper ones are best and most durable. The iron lined with tin are next best. The tin are the poorest.

9) Trivet: for heating articles over coals without burning. Three or four of different sizes are needed with an open fire. Food cooked for the sick demands them.

20) Tin Bonnet: very useful to keep articles warm, to roast apples, and to warm plates.

21: A brush made of bristles twisted into wire to clean bottles.

22) Tin Safe: To preserve food in hot weather and to protect it also from mice.

23) Refrigerators: to keep meat, milk, butter, and cream during hot weather. Instructions are provided for making an inexpensive one. (Something to remember next time I need to replace a refrigerator).

A note from Miss Beecher's domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplment to her Treatise on domestic economy: "A housekeeper who choses to do without some of these conveniences, and spend the money saved in parlor adornments, has a right to do so, and others a the right to think she in this shows herself deficient in good sense."


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Other Stuff I Write

Although I rise at midnight and pen amusing vampire stories, I actually spend very little time writing fiction, compared to the rest of my work.

In addition to delivering newspapers at night, homeschooling two children, hosting a small mission church in my home, and overseeing an "in theory" daily family Bible study with three of my children, I fill my days with a bevy of writing assignments.

Most of my work is for the Herald News ( where I have written on just about every topic imaginable, except for hard news and sports. For many years, I had three "regular features" I filled every week, two of which are still going strong.

One of them, long since phased out for space, was Local Flavor, a spotlight on what area people liked to cook, along with a couple of their recipes. Artworks, which I have been writing since 1998, profiles local artists and their work. An Extraordinary Life spotlights recently deceased individuals who have led unusually interesting and inspirational lives. I've been writing this column for almost ten years.

For the last two years, I have also written press releases and web content for Adventist Midwest Health ( The work has no byline, but the topics are versatile and very interesting. That, to me, is more important than a byline.

In addition, I have had two stories published in Chicago Parent (, one in Frankfort Patch (, and one in The Handmaiden (

My other "funsie" writing was several years ago when I wrote three feature stories and one Local Flavor spoof for The Clarion & Globe, the newsletter of the Goodies Rule-OK! fan club (

Come to think of it, I haven't wandered over to the GROK website in a while. I think I'll do that now.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

So You've Travelled Back in Time

By Sir Frederick Chook (
First published in Po'Boy magazine. (
Used with permission of both the author and the publisher.

There comes a time in your life when – much as you’d love to avoid it – you just have to admit to yourself “Yep, I’ve gone back in time.” Now, ideally, all our time travelling would be prefaced with cybernetic learning implants, extensive briefings, and all the preparation a shadowy technocratic conclave can provide. Sometimes, though, life deals us an anomaly of physics which rudely plucks us from our daily grind and deposits us in the late nineteenth century, and you just have to play those cards as they fall.

Now, having suddenly become wise beyond your peers’ years, you may be tempted to revolutionise medicine, make a killing in electronics, be credited with a dance sensation, or some other joyride on your era’s coattails. Consider, though, the classic conundrum of time travel: if your actions can effect change on the past as we know it, you risk preventing your own having time-travelled in the first place; in short, a most peculiar paradox. Any attempt to alter history must, logically, be doomed to fail, and to pursue it is to ensure your own waylayment, destruction, or kidnapping by a flock of unusually vicious moths.

Thus, the lesson with which I wish to furnish you today is the simple necessity of blending in; of concocting a cover identity which might, within the bounds of reasonable eccentricity, explain away the oddities which come of being a chronological refugee. Sadly, this means resisting the temptation of an Austenian fantasy of socialising with the rich and beautiful. If you can’t recite in Greek and Latin, manage a dozen farms and dance a Viennese waltz – in short, enjoy all the ridiculous benefits of a classical education – the aristocracy will sniff you out and scandalise you so thoroughly, you’ll struggle to find a rubber duck that would be seen with you in the bath.
(I must admit, I’m being rather unfair to Austen there. So often, her comparatively humble heroes – self-made lineages, moderately successful gentry, impoverished military families, and so on – prove that at an open mind and a kind heart trump the best advantages of wealth and status. This only furthers my point, though: if you don’t have an Eton-and-Oxbridge-style education, there’s no shame in seeking out modest but good-natured company. If you do have an Eton-and-Oxbridge-style education, you’re the proud inheritor of a mindset which has resisted change for centuries, and this guide will be of little use to you anyway.)

Speaking of wealth, a pertinent issue if you wish to acquire any diggings more fashionable than a disused barn and a contemporary wardrobe without someone else’s nametags, you’ll need to determine if any of your saleable skills are backwards compatible. Thankfully, many professions change much less than they stay the same. Actors, journalists, waiters – anyone whose raw materials are human nature – will find there’s been little development in their field. Those whose training is of a more technical bent may struggle, though – computer programmers, aerospace engineers, photocopier repairers and what have you. If you’re a handy typist – and, face it, we all are, these days – you might find a job there, though it’s typically young ladies’ work. If you get desperate, chaps, remember that there’s be work for a sturdy pair of hands before mechanisation takes over, and a reliable fellow can get by without questions being asked as a hauler or lumper (like a hauler, but with fish.)

Now, even if you can fill some comfortable niche in the humdrum-but-welcoming ranks of the upper-working/lower-middle classes, you will need a backstory which accounts for any gaps in your knowledge of notable public figures, landmarks, pre-decimal currency, and how to maintain your toilet with hot irons and unscented sea creature extract. Being from a foreign country is always handy, and incidentally allows you to weave subtle Socratic critiques of your hosts’ social mores into your conversation, a la Voltaire. The danger there is that some wally will pop up and say “Hulloa! I’m from Persia too! آیا شما در تهران زندگی می کنند؟” A safer bet is to pass as a reclusive type from your own area – someone who might know the old houses and the church, but not the residents or the vicar.

Safest of all is probably to be an amnesiac; a shipwrecked colonist, a survivor of a factory explosion, anyone who might be forgiven for remembering how to ride a bicycle but not how to hold a nib-pen, and who’s Queen but not who’s First Lord of the Treasury. Don’t worry about the medicine behind it – the Victorians certainly didn’t. Nineteenth-century fictional characters suffer bouts of brain fever at the drop of a hat-pin (something both spontaneous and difficult to hear.) Complain of nervous flutters, fainting fits, and hysterical palpitations and/or moustache tremors, and you’ll probably manage a prescription for laudanum and perhaps one of those clinical vibrators. If you enjoy the attention, you might even become a cause célèbre – and, so long as no-one actually tries too hard to reunite you with your lost family and friends, a decent little source of discreet donations.

Whether you fly under the radar or above it, so long as you keep your actual origins out of the public light, causality dictates you should be able to live in frugal independence until a wandering temporal waterspout, dusty old relic or wild-eyed inventor with a shock of white hair manages to return you to your original point of departure. Until that point – or until a lonely grave decades before your own birth, if it never comes – remember, the past isn’t so bad! It’s another country; practically a holiday! There’s really nothing new under the sun; texts are called telegrams, but no less vapid for being composed by hand by a bespectacled clerk in sleeve-garters. Students are still students, with surprisingly vicious pranks, and portraits of revolutionary generals on their walls. Slang has always been ridiculous, but the better examples accumulate rather than expire, so you can’t go too far wrong. Incidentally, ‘gay’ has had double meanings of one kind or another far longer than anyone who complains about it has been alive. Otherwise, have fun, avoid crinolines (notorious firetraps, deadlier than any corset,) and if you happen to wander into 1888 Whitechapel, tell me who did it, won’t you?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Branding Logos and Taglines, Grrr....

Coming up with ideas for a logo was easy, thanks to the previous creative efforts of Bryony's illustrator Kathleen Rose Van Pelt ( and Christine A. Lindenberg, president and founder of CAL Graphics, Inc. (

An effective, snappy tagline, however, is eluding us.

Just when the majority of us like a particular verse, someone else comes along and slams it, either for the phrasing, the cadence, a solitary word, of all of the above. Sarah Stegall, Bryony's web administrator, has had fun creating really awful taglines and randomly posting them on Bryony's Facebook page (

Yesterday afteroon, Sarah had a brainstorm of an idea. As I wavered between skepticism and cluelessness about certain concepts, Sarah very carefully explained how the process could work to me until I had sufficient understanding to be able run Sarah's idea past my publicist.

I don't want to say any further unless we go with it, at which point I'll fill in the blanks (once I grasp them enough to explain them). I never realized creating an image for a book was so complicated. I wonder how long it took McDonald's to do it.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Munsonville, 1893

Very early yesterday morning, way before dawn, when we were driving in the falling snow and throwing newsapers (I say newspaper carriers are modern shepherds), my mind stepped back in time to December 25, 1893, in make-believe Munsonville, Michigan.

The view spread before me certainly had much to do with it. We deliver a wooded area near the I & M Canal, where we do occasionally see mist rising off the water before the sun rises, so that, mixed with the snowfall, the colored lights adorning old-fashioned homes, and James Onohan's "John Simons sounding" piano music breaking the stillness stirred my imagination, and I savored it.

Because while Bryony absolutely contains scenes from Christmas Eve, Christmas DAY is still locked away in my mind, waiting its turn to become part of the story in Bryony's yet-to-be-written prequel.

Someday, others--one, five, ten-whoever has an interest--will read that prequel. Yesterday morning, however, the enchantment was all mine. Cool, cool, cool.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Five Minutes on Christmas Eve

As I'm writing this, I get a phone call from my nearly seventeen year old daughter Rebekah. She and her fifteeen year old brother Daniel and my husband Ron are done rolling newspapers and are heading home. Communion bread for this morning's Divine Liturgy is rising in the oven, and soon I'll be out in the van throwing newspapers.

This is not how we used to spend our Christmases.

Years ago, when my six children were very young, Christmas Eve meant gettting together with my first husband's side of the family and enjoying a special Christmas Eve dinner of twelve traditional dishes, that represented the twelve apostles. We continued that tradition up until this year when the timing of Christmas as per the newspaper schedule and everyone's work committments made such a gathering impossible.

Then the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder as I was getting ready for bed last night, at the ungodly hour of seven o'clock (It's ungodly when you rise at midnight). I hollered down the stairrs for Daniel, but he had left with my oldest son Christopher to pick up my daughter-in-law Cassie from work. So, I phoned my twenty-year-old son Timothy who was still stuffing Sunday inserts for their customers with Rebekah.

After making sure they were near each other, I asked Timothy to put me on speaker phone. He did, and I read from the Gospel of Luke, beginning with Gabriel's appearance to Mary and ending with the shepherds. When I finished, there was a chorus of excited voices. My kids were not alone in the warehouse.

A number of other carriers were spending their Christmas Eve there, too, preparing for Sunday so they could spend Christmas Day with their families and had been touched by the reading. Timothy said, "Now it feels like Christmas. Thank you for reminding us of the reason for the season."

Whatever the reason for YOUR celebration this day, have a blessed and merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

Since this was first published in 1902, it's not exactly Victorian, but close enough to Bryony's time to be worth checking out.

Baum offeres a back story for the Santa Claus legend that has nothing to do with St. Nicholas. As a baby, Santa appears in the Forest of Burzee where a wood nymph raises him. There, Santa becomes well-acquainted with a variety of magical creatures including fairies, gnomes, nooks, ryls, sleep fays. light elves, sound imps, wind demons, and water spirits.

Eventually Santa encounters other humans and is dismayed at the evil they do, but discovers he has a knack for toymaking. Because the invisible Awgwas steal from children, Santa must perform his gift-giving at night and through the chimney, since he cannot pass through locked doors.

The story contains explanations for other Christmas traditions and a battle by the forces of good and evil. It's a full-length book, but if you're looking for unusual, Christmas-themed reading, this is it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Submissions Closed, Except for Fish

THANK YOU very much to everyone that submitted one or more recipes for the Bryony cookbook. I received a nice variety of dishes and had a lot of fun swapping out certain foods in the novel and substituting them with the ones I received.

I will still accept a few fish recipes, however, because of page limitations with the publishing package I am planning to use, all other submissions are now closed.

Quick recap about the project: The Bryony cookbook contains recipes to the foods mentioned in the story, the ones Melissa eats in 1975 at family meals etc. and the unfamiliar ones she encounters in the Victorian era.

The recipes are arranged topically, by events as they occur in the story, rather than by food type, as most cookbooks do. A few summary lines are included at the beginning of each section to orient readers, whether or not they have read Bryony, into the story. To further set the mood, each section will feature an original pen and ink drawing by Bryony's illustrator, Kathleen Rose Van Pelt.

No one involved in this project is getting paid or will make any money. All profits from the cookbook will be donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties (

That's because, in Bryony, Melissa and her younger brother Brian are, for a short time, raised only by their mother, but also have the advantage of a friendly mentor. The cookbook, in short, honors the fictional Steve Barnes and all the other men and women who have stepped up to make a difference in a young person's life.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Branding for Dummies

That would be me.

I ran downstairs to get the morning chores done (what better time than two a.m.?) and returned to find an email from my publicist to the Bryony team about an upcoming a trailer meeting. Confirming a date was the easy part. Then, I read the rest of the message.

Attached to that email were some concepts to ponder-in question format, of course--regarding branding, promotions, marketing, and communications. It was like walking into a pop quiz and quickly remembering you had forgotten to read that chapter.

I had figured once a publicist was on board, I just had to agree with her ideas and show up. She, however, is not letting me off that easy. I guess this means I'm supposed to be part of the process. She even suggested I write a blog post on branding. (Accomplished).

Actually, I see this as a series of blog posts that will give updates on my adventures into the world of marketing, sort of like ye olde school progress reports.

I have two weeks to formulate answers to her questions. Time to dig a new furrow in the aging brain cells, because this is definitely, for me, the untraveled road.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

All I Want for Christmas 2011 is a Ticket to California

Since it's too late to go this year, I figure this gives my family plenty of time to save.

Earlier this month, Nevada City, a historic gold rush town, featured its 31st Victorian Christmas, For three nights and two afternoons, Nevada City closes its streets to all motorized traffic and costumed characters straight from Bryony's time recreate a time long past. Offerings include carriage rides, minstrels, street entertainment, period food and speciality gifts straight from the city's nineteenth century shops. Photos at the site below.

This one has a video:

Monday, December 20, 2010


Yesterday afternoon, our family received a delightful nineteenth century Christmas treat from WHAM.

Five members of the Wheeling High Alumni Men's Chorus (They were Wham long before WHAM! with George Michael) in top hats, scarves and canes (they've outgrown the rest of their official lamplighter costumes) stopped by our deck and entertained us with their rendition of traditional carols, including Joy to the World, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, The First Noel, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

One of WHAM's members was participating in a fundraising event at the Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park in Joliet, and WHAM was singing in between performances. Our house just so happened to be on the way, and boy, were we glad!

Now it just so happened that our small mission church (so small we haven't told anyone about it yet--one of our goals for 2011) was celebrating old calendar St. Nicholas and the repose of St. John of Kronstadt (our mission's patron saint), so the chorus was the crowning point of an upbeat afternoon.

What began as a bit of Christmas fun back in 1975 (Bryony zig zags between 1975 and the late Victorian era; yes I had to get that in) with a dozen newbie high school graduates has morphed into a holiday celebration of spreading good cheer. With the remaining members scattered across the country, those who still live in the area also use WHAM as a reason to see each other once a year.

I'm hoping singing at the Unland house can become part of their annual tradition.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pure Magic

We often joke about being part vampire because we rise in the middle of the night to deliver newspapers, about twelve hundred of them between two vans. People feel sorry for us because it's a seven-day a week a job, which bites when we're sick or tired or both, but overall, we feel pretty blessed to have it.

Conversation between parent and child is looser (and so are the quips) under the cover of darkness. We have inside jokes and secret codes no one else has. We can decipher a WS, WSF, WTFS, FSS, SS, and NOMT. We've witnessed awesome sunrises against the backdrop of praise music and thrown more papers to the sounds of Petra than any other band, YEAH!

Then there are mornings, like today, when the day is cold and the air is crisp, when the only sounds are that of the heater blasting and James Onohan ( piano music. The combination is pure magic.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Denise Unland's Alternate Geneology Part 11

By Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara

The most mysterious person in all of Denise’s gene pool is her grandmother. Unfortunately, most of the information about her is still highly classified by several governments. I managed to escape with my life and some pretty juicy stories about this remarkable woman. Now, taking the chance that the nations of the world are too focused on another source of leaks across the internet, I’m prepared to tell the story of a woman whose true name is not even known.

Our story begins in a library some where in China during the communist revolution. Agent 0007 had just taken out a book "The Art of War" by Tung Sun just before the communists had taken it. A week later she noticed the same book with one phrase deleted. Curiously, she also noticed the library’s map of Ireland had a city blocked out.

Through her correspondences with the CIA, she noticed the deleted phase appearing in free world text, but mistranslated and falsely attributed to a Confuses. Agent 0007 became convinced that these three bits of misinformation were being used to cover weaknesses in the communist mind set.

The Irish city deleted for Chinese maps was Limerick. The phase deleted, the deliberately mistranslated from “The Art of War” was, ‘”sticks and stones can only break bones but poems write names in infamy.”

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Tree Ships

In the post-Civil War Victorian era, if you didn't tramp into the woods and cut down a Christmas tree, you could buy one, thanks to schooners that carried the cut trees into the Great Lakes region. Transporting them was no small task, since the sailers often encountered ice and blustery winter storms.

One of those ships, the Rousse Simmons, is now legendary among Christmas Tree Ships. It is considered to be the only such ship not damaged in an 1889 storm, but it wasn't impervious to the elements. It met an unfortunte fate on Nov. 27, 1912.

Read about it here:

For some quick reading on Christmas Tree Ships, go here:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Recipe for Homemade Mincemeat

This is my favorite recipe for mincemeat. It may not be authentically Victorian (that one is included in the Bryony cookbook), but it is authentically good! Oh, oh, it makes the house smell like Christmas!

1 1/2 pounds lean beef
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound butter
2 cups dark raisins
2 cups peeled and chopped apples
2 cups canned, chunk pineapple with juice
2 cups cherries
1/4 cup minced orange peel
1/4 cup minced lemon peel
1 lemon, juice only
2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 cups apple cider
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon mace
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup brandy or apple juice

Place meat in pot, add water to cover, and boil about an hour or until meat is easily shredded. Discard water; shred meat. Place in a large pot with all ingredients except spices, walnuts, and brandy or juice. Simmer for 30 minutes, and stir often. Add spices and continue simmering until mixture thickens. Add nuts. Turn into a covered container and add brandy or juice. Refrigerate until use. Yield: Four quarts

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Day I Wished I Was a Vampire

By Cassie Baran

Ever have one of those days in which you wished you could turn into a vampire? So do I...One happened just recently, in fact! I work at a gas station near 2 inter-modal centers and lots of warehouses. One day, when all of our pumps were occupied, someone came in to prepay on a (broken) pump. I'll call him Dreads.The conversation went something like this:

"Sir, pump 2 is broken. I can prepay you on pump 5 if you like, or you can wait for another pump to open up."
"No, just give me 5."

Now, upon prepaying Dreads, I noticed that there was a car parked at pump 5. Needless to say, Dreads couldn't get his car close enough to the pump for the hose to reach his tank! As I scanned the line, trying to figure out what to do next, someone else whom I'll call Beard, stepped up to my register. He says to me, "I want 20 on 5," at which point I attempt to shut down the pump. Well, since I had already prepaid Dreads on that pump, I had to cancel the prepay. Can you see my eyes turning red yet?

As Beard was running back out to his car, Dreads came in rather irate, as was I! He half -asked, half-yelled at me, "Oh, so you're gonna take care of this guy first, or what?" Trying to hide my fangs, I informed Dreads that I had canceled his prepay since he hadn't picked up the pump yet. I told him that he would have to wait until the first car was out of his way, or move to another pump and I could set him up there. In the midst of this, I noticed that we were out of coffee. When it rains.....ya know?

Trying to muddle my way through the last 8 customers, I noticed that Beard was due some change. So, I hollered to my maker; I mean manager; that I was running it out to him. Now, I'm no dummy when it comes to a hustle, so I poured on the power and got him his change as he was finishing pumping his gas. Guess who was still waiting? Yep...Dreads! Leaning his head out of his window, he barks at me, "Hey, yo! Should I just pull into 5 now?" Barely feeling the 30 degree chill, I tell him that's fine, I'll go inside and set him up again. Again, pouring on the speed, I race back in to get Dreads set up before he gets to the pump. So much hassle, I thought to myself, over one broken pump. It would have been so much easier if I could have just sucked him dry.... and so much less aggravating, too!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Croquet's Outrageous History, Part Two

At Simons Mansion’s garden party, Melissa is relieved to learn that croquet is one of the planned amusements, since she had previously played it with her family at a picnic.

Of course, the annoying presence of Henry Matthews considerably diminishes her fun, especially after he sarcastically compares her playing style to Mrs. Joad, winner of the first women’s croquet championship, held in 1869 in England.

However, despite the Victorian fondness for croquet (which Boston banned in 1890 for moral reasons because young people might disappear into shrubbery together to look for balls), the game has a long, interesting, and somewhat amusing history. It has been utilized as medicinal exercise, deemed character-building and a substitute for warfare, banned for threatening civilization, and been the catalyst for full-dress balls.

Thank you Maui Croquet Club ( for sharing the croquet facts on the game’s early years. Visit the site for additional croquet history and information. See also the November 2, 2010 BryonySeries blog post, Croquet's Outrageous History, Part One.

1894: Frederick Douglass builds a croquet court at his Anacosta, Virginia, USA, home named Cedar Hill, overlooking the capital of the United States. An article in The Washington Post on 18 September 2005 entitled Restoration Will Let Visitors See How Frederick Douglass Lived said, "As if completing the image of the proper Victorian-era gentleman that Douglass sought to project, a croquet court spread across his expansive lawn just outside his library window, near the grape arbor and the peach trees. The former slave loved croquet. If there's some dissonance in that fact, well, that's Douglass."

1899: A new set of rules was standardized (perhaps in Norwich, Connecticut, USA) for the American version, which was given a new name: roque, formed by clipping the first and last letters from croquet. It was played on a court of hard-packed dirt, with hard rubber balls, very narrow wickets, and short mallets. The court was enclosed by a wooden barricade to keep the lively balls on the field of play.

1901: Lily Gower wins the English gold metal, beating England's best male players, including G.H. Woolston. The game was only slightly marred by a dispute concerning a tactical manoeuvre called double tapping about which Woolston complained. Ladies, and even men, had been known to double tap before and, anyway, it was felt that Mr. Woolston was not a gentleman for mentioning it.

1902: Judge Barlaine Deane in the London Divorce Court adjudicated a case of cruelty brought by the wife of the Reverend Fearnley-Whittingstall. He heard the lady explain that during a game of croquet her husband became so infuriated because she claimed that his ball had not properly passed through the hoop that he refused to speak to her for a week. "I do not think," said Judge Deane, "that there is a game so liable to put one out of humour as croquet."

1907: Lily Gower wins the Men's Open! The rules had been very loosely drafted by the Hurlingham Club, and Lily had taken advantage of a tactical loophole which enabled her to enter. The rules were immediately tightened up.

1934: [The Draw and Process tournament format] was given a trial in [Australia] at the Camberley Heath tournament, but it was not popular with the players nor the managers whom it was intended to assist, the latter complaining "You never get rid of anyone." [History of Croquet by David Prichard]

1940's: Holywood stars Harpo Marx, Louis Jordan, Darryl Zanuck, Tyrone Power, George Sanders, Gig Young, Prince Romanoff, and Samuel Goldwyn popularized nine-wicket croquet on the West coast of America. Bets of $10,000 were made. The level of play was high: at the start of a game, Louis Jourdan would light a cigarette, take a deep puff, and place it on the stake; then he would do an all-round run in time to pickup his cigarette for one last puff.

Monday, December 13, 2010


An artist friend once showed me a piece he called, “Waiting.” It was a series of overlapping, elongated images that stretched from one end of the canvas to the other.

The painting fascinated me, and I couldn’t stop looking at it. “Oh, that’s just how it feels,” I had said.

With six kids, you’d think I’d be used to waiting. It takes nine months for a baby to be born, a couple years (give or take) to wean, potty train, etc. I’m still waiting for some of them to clean their rooms (I’m not naming names).

Publishing a book, if you’re going to do it right, is an awful lot of waiting.

Yes, I know some vanity presses guarantee a published book in eight weeks or less, but I think skipping a comprehensive editing cheapens any story. In Bryony’s case, significant molding and shaping of a six hundred page manuscript doesn’t happen overnight.

Each round of editing has taken approximately sixteen weeks: eight weeks on my editor’s end and eight weeks on mine. In between, we wait. We are busy with other projects, but nevertheless, we wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

One day the wait will end, and I’ll be holding the official, published book. Further changes will not be possible. Haste makes waste, they say. It also makes a ruined story.

So, Im okay with waiting. Sort of.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bryony's First "Meet and Greet"

Yesterday, I had lunch with some amazing individuals.

Eight people (four could not attend) with little in common with each other met for the first time because of a mutual interest: Bryony.

It happened bcause Bryony web administrator Sarah Stegall, who lives nine hundred miles away, was in town for a few days visiting family and friends. We decided it was a perfect opportunity for those associated with Bryony, since we are somewhat geographically scattered, to lay eyes on each other, shake hands, and say, "Howdy."

As each person arrived, they were introduced by name, but also by position: publicist, event planner, composer and pianist, film student, web administrator, employee of a company that selects books for chain stores, and author. Four additional people: Bryony's illustrator, owners of a local theatre company, and a book store employee who's been promoting Bryony since July, were unavailable.

Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara, arrived last, wearing a red Santa hat and a green a T-shirt with a a jolly Santa face. He distributed candy canes to all and thoroughly discussed why his birthday should be pronounced a national holiday and celebrated with a parade. Everyone brainstormed tag lines, video trailers, and when to release the Bryony theme song; we conned a waitress into snapping a few group pictures.

At one point, someone at the table praised me for creating a story that was more than just a book, that it contained these additional and wonderfully creative elements. While her comments were flattering, in reality there had been no clever foresight and planning. I merely wrote the story living inside my head for twenty-six years, and others came onboard. Some were asked; some offered, but one thing is certain.

There were more people sitting at that table yesterday than I ever dreamed would read the book when I wrote its first drafts. It was incredibly humbling to witness people chatting away about something that once existed only in my imagination.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Who's Minding Tara?

While chatting earlier this week with Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara, he informed me his ruthless dictator personality goes on vacation this time of year and is replaced with the spirit of Santa Claus.

Now distributing candy canes, reindeer hats, and listening with an empathic ear to children's Christmas wants are good and laudable activities, but I have two real concerns.

One: When will he finish my geneology? This is extremely important since Ed Calkins is the only source for this valuable information.

Two: Will additional development infiltrate the Hill of Tara now that the steward has neglected his post?

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Christmas Victorian Story

Averyl's Attic, which offers a variety of Victorian clipart, posted a very short 1901 Ladies Home Journal story ( about a little girl's Christmas wish for a real doll.

She was living in the Colorado mines with her father, where recources were scarce. Yet, the men at the mining camp made an interesting sacrifice to create an unforgettable bit of Christmas magic.

Check it out. Definitely worth the five minutes of reading.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Daily Bread

I used to consider myself one of those people who lived in the moment, back when I could afford to live in the moment.

When the recession first hit, we pulled up our socks, tightened our belts, and dragged the cobwebby resources we used during other money-poor times in our lives, confident we could batten the hatches and weather the storm.

Ahem! Enough cliches. :)

Unfortunately, challenges hit us so fast, I felt like crouching in a corner and letting them drown us. In one twenty-four period in October, we had so many troubles, my twenty-year-old son audibly wondered what seventeenth century witch had cursed us.

Although I was still praying, "Give us this day our daily bread," I really meant, "Give me back security, financial, medical, and otherwise, a week or more at a time." I wanted to know a future on my terms was promised us.

In the meantime, some interesting things happened. With each new dilemna, someone or something stepped up to fill the gap. It's been two months since my husband lost his job and our health insurance. No one has gotten sick (yet, despite the fact I still need thyroid surgery), we're not behind in bills, and we're still eating. I have more writing assignments than I ever have. Even Bryony is moving along the virtual assembly editing line toward publication.

Earlier this week, a telephone call brought a financial blessing. The next day, another job threat occured, and we reeled under that blow. Yesterday, relief for that crisis came from a highly unlikely source. Saturday, nine people are planning to attend Bryony's first "meet and greet," an opportunity for those involved in the project to say, "Howdy" and shake hands.

I'm not feeling completely ready to "Let go and let God," but, like it or not, He's certainly inching me along in that direction.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Best Publishing Fit for Bryony

In the beginning, I did query several agents regarding Bryony, but after receiving my first batch of rejections, I read and thought some more about my options and goals for the novel and pulled back from the query process.

While many new authors do find agent representation quite early, I learned an average of eleven years and several novels pass before some writers attain it. Although freelance writing is a business for me, I wasn't trying to launch a commercial fiction writing career. In short, at nearly fifty, I had no desire to wait eleven years only to see another novel in print while Bryony languished inside my computer.

I had simply written a story I found entertaining and felt others might enjoy it, too. I also wanted to create an illustrated book format for Bryony and to present the story in its best shape. If possible, I wanted the editing process to have a friendly, collaborative feel, similiar to my other writing experiences.

So, I queried several new, small presses and received a request for Bryony's first four chapters. Then, I learned about WriteLife LLC. So when the press with the four chapters fell behind in production, I queried WriteLife LLC. I'm glad I did.

In the past year, Bryony has undergone three rounds of editing. I have been pleased with each result. A week ago, the publisher emailed me and said when my editor is finished reviewing my changes, she will have a better idea where Bryony fits into the company's publishing schedule.

For Bryony, so far, WriteLife has been a good option. The story has received a thorough editing, yet my story and characters are intact. My husband can't understand why I won't save the previous drafts. Yes, I will keep my editorial notes for future reference, but for me, there is only one authentic draft, and that is the published one.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Navigating Publishing Options

I had scant knowledge of the book publishing industry when I wrote Bryony. Until then, I figured you either mailed a manuscript to a publisher and crossed your fingers or paid a vanity press thousands of dollars for a badly edited and bound book.

So, before I became part of the mix, I consulted an updated Writer's Digest and took a ride on the web to find out exactly what that mix was. Along the way, I found other useful resources: Writer Beware, Absolute Write Water Cooler and Preditors and Editors. I learned the difference among then unfamiliar terms: self-publishing, POD, independent press, and vanity press. I studied how "traditional" publishing worked, how to recognize those sites that billed themselves as traditional publishers when they really were fee-paying sites in disguise.

These were my choices:

* Find agent representation who would then try to sell the manuscript to a publishing house, hopefully a large one. Most major publishing houses refuse to look at a manuscript unless submitted by an agent.

* Submit to a small, independent press.

* Pay a company to edit and pubish the book and (possibly) buy the company's add-on marketing services (although I had seen few successful titles with these companies, leading me those marketing services were not valuable).

* Truly self-publish, which meant overseeing the entire project from start to finish (from formatting to design, to editing, to locating a printer, and playing marketer, etc.), a daunting prospect for me.

* Use a cooperative press (the publisher pays some; I pay some).

Tomorrow: The pros and cons of the above for Bryony.

Monday, December 6, 2010

How a Fulltime Homeschooling Mom of Six Kids Became a Freelance Features Writer

When people ask me how I became a freelance writer, I tell them, "By staying home and raising my children." The long answer goes like this.

My mother worked at a chain bookstore that presented min-seminars. The community outreach person wanted to offer one on homeschooling. Because I had nearly a decade of experience, my mother volunteered me. It went well; and I was asked to do several more, at different locations. The opinion page editor of the local newspaper heard about the events and invited me to discuss homeschooling on his weekly radio show. After that, too, went well, he invited me back twice and soon asked me to write two columns a month for him.

At first I declined for lack of time (I had six kids, eighteen months though age fifteen) and was homeschooling the oldest four. Then I decided it wouldn't hurt to reharpen my rusty writing skills (I had been a journalism major when I decided I couldn't wait to get married and have lots of kids). Nine months later, I was a single parent and delivering newspapers, so I quit writing the columns.

However, the distribution center manager had liked and remembered those columns, so she sent me packing, with her recommendation, to the features editor. I had no resume, only a fistful of old clippings, but she and another editor took a chance on me anyway. I worked really hard, continued to learn, and additional jobs came my way.

Still, like many new authors, when I wrote a book, I had little knowledge of the publication process. Thank heavens for the internet. Before I submitted Bryony anywhere, I thoroughly researched my options. Tomorrow, I'll share what I learned.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


I'm sitting in the office of the distribution center, waiting for a newspaper truck to arrive and writing a piece for tomorrow, when one of the supervisors walks in for flat bags and asks if I'm working on the book.

I laugh and say, "No," then add that the publisher e-mailed me this week and said she might have a better idea of a publication date after this round of edits. Actually, three o'clock in the morning is the perfect time to write vampire stories, but I have newspaper deadlines to meet, so fiction can wait.

As a working, homeschooling mother who's husband just lost his job (along with the medical insurance), it can be dificult to carve the time for the fun writing: i.e. those pieces no one assigned and that, sometimes, no one reads, but me. Also, if I waited until the decks were completely cleared of all duties, well, I wouldn't even be writing this blog.

Of course, I occasionally long for a month-long writing vacation where I can completely focus on a project, with no interuptions. Yet, the older I become, the more I see how being faithful in a certain area actually facilitates another, even one that is unrelated.

More on this tomorrow.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


The Christmas season is a busy time for Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara, since dons a read suit, lugs a pack of presents, and replaces limericks with a steady stream of "ho, ho, hos!" while making the circuit of children's Christmas parties. The beard, however, is real.

Spreading joy and good cheer is simply part of Ed's personality. For two years, Ed was a supervisor for one of two agents for which my family and me delivered newspapers. He bought and distributed Santa Claus and reindeer hats for all and initiated a Queen of Christmas contest amongst the carriers (the women were automatically contests; one year, I even got a vote). The winner delivered presents to families who had children under age twelve, all purchased and wrapped by Ed and his wife.

In the month of December, no carrier left on the route without a supply of candy canes. Ed now works at another distribution center, but throwing newspapers in December isn't the same without candy canes. Luckily, my children are keeping me well-supplied.

Check out and click on the link for The Steward of Tara. Do you think Ed Calkins resembles Santa Claus?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Four Wooden Stakes by Victor Roman

A man receives an urgent dispatch from an old college friend to immediately come to his remote estate. Here, the man learns how, within five years, his friend’s entire family—grandfather, father, and two brothers—died of a mysterious malady. Even worse, the friend is growing weaker, despite consuming voracious amounts of food, and fears the same fate. The family crypt holds the secret. First published in 1925 and available for free reading online.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How Victorian Cooks Judged Oven Temperature

Yesterday, my son replaced the electric starter on my fifteeen-year-old gas stove. The oven had been broken several days, so going without it was a real trial, especially since I'm so accustomed to baking anything with the push of a button. If I had been a cook in Bryony's time, I would have followed these instructions:

From Miss Beecher's domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy.

The book states the cook must first prepare the oven for properly conducting heat.

* After the arch is formed, four or five bushels of ashes are spread over it, and then a covering of charcoal over that, then another layer of bricks over all.
* Have oven wood prepared of sticks of equal size and length.
* The fire made be made the back side of the oven.
* The oven must be heated so hot as to allow it to be used cosed fifteen minutes after clearing, before the heat is reduced enough to close it. This is called soaking.
* If it is burnt down entirely to ashes, the oven may be used as soon as cleared.

An experienced cook, the book states, can determine the right heat without guidelines. The novice, however, needs a few tips:

* If the black spots in the oven are not burnt off, it is not hot, as the bricks must all look red.
* If you sprinkle flour on the bottom and it burns off quickly, it is too hot.
* If you cannot hold your hand in longer than to count to twenty moderately, it is hot enough.
* If you can count to thirty moderatly, it is not hot enough for bread.

Whew! Bring on the microwave!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Storytelling and Storehouses of Memories

Yesterday my oldest daughter recounted a past incident and then remarked how amazed her friends are because her childhood memories extend deeply into her past. I think that's because we are a family of storytellers, and my love of writing only partially explains it.

For instance, both my father-in-law and my grandmother-in-law loved to tell stories about family history. When my oldest children were very young, I didn't have a car, so my father-in-law drove us everywhere we needed to go. As he drove, he talked about his childhood, his military service, his first jobs, and I shared those stories with my children.

My grandmother-in-law didn't drive, so after she retired, she'd sometimes call several times a day just to talk. I'd sit on the floor and nurse the baby, play puzzles with the toddler and listen. I'd share those stories with my children too, and I'm glad I did, for many of these conversations are fading from my memory. I wish I'd written them down, but I had heard them so many times, I never realized I might forget them.

The twelve years our family has delivered newspapers by night has been a rich opportunity for conversation. We talk about the past; we talk about concerns; we talk about future hopes and dreams. Of course, some days are challenging and others just plain silly, but we talk about those things, too.

Naturally, time and perceptions do alter those memories, and these are concepts I wove into Bryony's plotline.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting to Know Dr. Victor Ravensmark Part 3

The vague and mysterious Dr. Victor Ravensmark is as vague and mysterious as his pseudonym. Dr. Ravensmark is a fan of the Victorian era, especially post-1870s American Victorian. Since part of Bryony takes place in upper Michigan in the early 1890s, Dr. Ravensmark kindly agreed to occasionally share some of his knowledge of the time period.

This is the last of a three-post interview where Dr. Ravensmark shared how and why his Victorian interest began and grew: with Victorian furniture.

1) What makes late nineteenth century American furniture significant?

“This was when the U.S. began to industrialize in a major way, and the styles of the time reflect this. Yes, clothes and furniture were being machine made, but they still cared about craftsmanship and quality. I also like their imitation of nature in the styles of the times.”

2) Is that better than modern craftsmanship?

“That’s part of its charm to us, in the modern era of streamlined sameness, cold stainless steel and boxy buildings. When you see an old Victorian house that is nicely preserved, you can’t help but smile and admire the fussiness in the detail and craftsmanship that went into it. That goes for furniture, too.”

3) How does that relate to Victorian furniture?

“The carpenters of the time use machines to carve lines and curves into wood, but they used sold, high quality wood and, importantly, they put style and detail into what they made. The results are beautiful and lasting. Some of the walnut Victorian furniture has lasted over 120 years and, with care, will last hundreds of years more.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Social Media and Books Sales

This is not a "How to Market Your Book Using Social Media" post.

Hear ye! Hear ye! The Bryony Facebook page does not exist for the purpose of persuading people to buy my book.


It’s a place to let people know when it will be out there and that, before and after the book’s release, we can have fun peeking at the illustrations, reading book quotes, submitting recipes for the Bryony cookbook, and engaging in light banter through the quirky posts.

Of course, there will be updates about Bryony's progress and information on how to get the book once it's published, but I will not bug you about buying it.

Heck, I didn't even create the page.

Yes, I do mention Bryony on my personal Facebook page, but only because the process of creating this book is part of me and what I do. My postings, however, don't obsess on the book because there is more happening in my life than Bryony (If only life could be that simple). My posts vary, depending on the day's events and what I find interesting (sad, funny, annoying, exhilarating) that day.

Now, I DO find Bryony interesting, and the Bryony site is one of the first pages I visit in the morning while eating breakfast. However, since I’m not the one posting on that page, I click onto it as a “fan,” too, wondering what I will find there today.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In the Throes of the Writing Desert

Most days, except Sundays when I'm too busy rolling newspapers for delivery, the daily Bryony is written and posted by two a.m. Today, however, I am coming up dry.

I've talked to friends, read some material, perused the internet, and listened to music, but inspiration is far away.

Now, I'm not completely dry. While waiting for the trucks, I wrote a piece on bull mastiffs for the newspaper and a press release about doulas for a hospital. However, there's a world of difference between an assigned piece and one I dream up as I go.

While sitting here staring at the blank "new post" when I should be grocery shopping, my publicist unexpectedly calls, and she's very excited about some ideas she's been developing. "I have sticky notes everywhere," she said.

We talk for half an hour or so, but I'm still dry. Nevertheless, I'm cheered by her excitement over the Bryony project and the possiblities it is creating for me and other artists. Tomorrow, I probably won't be dry, but for today, I take heart that my past creativity is opening up opportunities and remain confident that my muse is simply taking a nap and will rejoin me later.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Denise Unland's Alternative Geneology Part 10

In the ever-continuing saga of my make-believe ancestry, Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara, reveals the history-changing outcome from overpaying a bill.

Number Six woke the next day to discover that the check for three days drinking, a large fortune by dark age standards, seven dollars and 47.3 cents by today’s money, had been paid twice. Fearing Divine retribution, Number Six knew she had to return the halves to the appropriate party. It is certain that the Orthodox Church got its refund but that was because it was down the block from the winery.

If we are to contend that Number Six, who is an ancestor of Denise, went to Ireland and settled there, what proof could we find? Firstly, we know that Ireland was not experiencing a shortage of beer at the time, so if she ever made it there, she would have no reason to leave, but how do we even know that she realized the monks were from Ireland?

However there is the fact that two years latter the Irish GDP had raised to an unprecedented seven dollars and 47 cents. (.3 cents might have been the tip) The percentage of the rise was uncalulateable seeing that for the last ten years the GDP was zero. (Years before it was negative.)

Clearly both Brother Clover and Number Six spent the rest of their days in Ireland.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Vampire by Jan Neruda

A very short story, first published in 1920, about an excusion steamship and its passengers. This little party included the narrator, a Polish family (father, mother, daugher, and her bridegroom) and one mysterious Greek artist with an evil nickname and macabre talent.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

An 1850 Recipe for Pumpkin Pie

First published in "Miss Beecher's domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy."

One quart of strained pumpkin, or squash
Two quarts of milk, and a pint of cream
One teaspoon of salt, and four of ginger
Two teaspoons of pounded cinnamon
Two teaspoons of nutmeg, and two of mace
Ten well-beaten eggs, and sugar to your taste

Bake with a bottom crust and rim, till it is solid in the centre.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jack the Cleaning Man

Years ago, when my father owned an architectural firm, he hired a man named Jack, who had a janitorial service, to clean the building my father owned. Occasionally, Jack brought his school-age sons to help him.

Now, I never met Jack, but my imagination worked overtime. I loved the concept of how Jack might have mentored those boys while they worked side by side with their father. The type of work performed was irrelevant. I believe those boys, even while emptying garbage cans and pushing a vacuum cleaner, assimilated their father’s work ethic and learned the value of a job done well.

Those impressions went into the character of Steve Barnes. As a plain maintenance man in the backwards fishing village of Munsonville, Steve lacked the sophistication that Melissa and Brian’s cosmopolitan father, Frank Marchellis, once had. Steve does not try to compete with Frank, but neither is that necessary.

His consistent presence, interest in the children’s lives, and sharing of interests, brings a certain stability to the children’s live which, perhaps, even Brian never fully realized.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Getting to Know Dr. Victor Ravensmark Part 2

The vague and mysterious Dr. Victor Ravensmark is as vague and mysterious as his pseudonym. Dr. Ravensmark is a fan of the Victorian era, especially post-1870s American Victorian. Since part of Bryony takes place in upper Michigan in the early 1890s, Dr. Ravensmark kindly agreed to occasionally share some of his knowledge of the time period.

Today, continuing the interview begun last week, Dr. Ravensmark shares his beginning interest in Victorian furniture.

4) Did you buy or simply admire?

“I was a graduate student with a young family, so it was out of my price range, but it was still fun to look. But since I was studying economics and working on my PhD, the open-air flea markets fascinated me in another way, too, with the raw bargaining that was going on all around. Tragically, we would also see furniture that was damaged or worn and, worst of all, painted! The horror!”

5) So you never collected the pieces?

“Later, we would buy a simple piece here and there and more after we moved to Ohio, where it seemed like everything was on sale because prices were much lower than Chicago (law of supply and demand in action—again, an economist thing). Our interest waned as our children got older, and we didn’t have the time or money to buy things. But once in while, like on a business trip, I’ll duck into an antique store and just look. I risk falling in love with something, but I may be a thousand miles from home, so that imposes some discipline.”

6) Why do you lean toward American Victorian?

“Nothing against the Queen herself, but it was a fascinating time in American history, particularly the later years of her reign, after the 1870s.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Serving Up Amusement: Hold the Lofty; Keep the Change

“What is your goal for this book?” my publicist asked me.

What would other authors have answered? Fame? Money? Best-selling status? Social change? In the right time, place, and attitude, there is nothing wrong with these things, but none of them were the goals for Bryony.

Because of the recession, many people are finding life hard (including me), which makes entertaining distraction attractive. What a perfect time to yank a two-decades old story from my head and copy it on paper (okay, a computer screen).

“I want to have fun,” I said, “and I’d like to sell enough copies to make publishing the next one worthwhile.”

I think my publicist is glad I'm not expecting her to create a blockbuster. Although her marketing background includes corporate and not-for-profit work, she does accept selective creative projects. She has an interesting “artsy” side to her and a natural ability to think outside the oh-so-proverbial box. It makes her a good match for Bryony.

So why do I eschew traditional goals? My "regular" freelance features writing provides the reader information and, at times, inspiration. And yes, I thoroughly enjoy the work. With Bryony, no one assigned it, so there's really no way of perfectly knowing how large or small a market exists for it until it's released.

Of course, I do hope some people buy it, read it, and like it, but I know individual tastes run rampant, and the storyline, characters, or my writing style will not appeal to everyone. Besides, when I first sat down at the keyboard, I wrote to please myself, a very different experience for me.

Still, as we move through the editing and publicity planning stages, more people are reading and enjoying Bryony than I had ever dreamed might. The feedback, good and bad, is delightful to hear. I didn't write for an audience of one, after all.

For me, as a writer, to capture another’s imagination with a story I composed is rather breathtaking. However does one top it?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

James Onohan, Bryony's Composer

By Sarah Stegall, Bryony web administrator.

Since I've immersed myself in what I think of as The Bryony Book Project, I've done quite a bit of researching. The latest was listening to LOTS of classical piano. In Bryony, John Simons is a famous classical piano player, and Melissa stumbles across an old record of his (The Best-Loved Compositions of John Simons) at the library. John's signature closing song, rightfully titled, Bryony, plays on Melissa's music box. We thought it would be so fun for readers to listen to the song, just like Melissa.

And so the hunt began. I sat for hours on YouTube and various websites listening to out of copyright classical piano that we could use for Bryony. Nothing fit. Then I stumbled on James Onohan's One Last Time. I had been listening to Debussy clicking randomly on the side links. I almost clicked out when I realized, "Oh wow, he's what we are looking for!" The enchanting sounds James was plinking out were so captivating, I could see why Melissa played her music box over and over. I immediately found his website and listened over and over. He became my John Simons that night.

However, I had quite a few problems. The biggest? He wasn't out of copyright. I sent him a brief email wondering if maybe, just maybe, he would let us market his songs under the book. It was a long shot, so imagine my surprise when he emailed back within minutes sounding interested. More than interested. He volunteered to compose the Bryony song and several others for The Best Loved Compositions of John Simons. Wow!

A few months later and everything smoothed out legally, I'm happy to announce James Onohan as our composer! Even if you don't believe you would like classical piano, his songs will leave you spellbound. He makes the magic of Bryony and I encourage you to check out his website at You can read his full biography there.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Denise Unland's Alternative Geneology Part 9

By Ed Calkins, The Steward of Tara

Now, as luck would have it, the winery down the block was owned by a descendant of Uly of too many children. This is clear because her name was Number Six. Predictably, as in any drinking contest between Irishmen and Greeks, the contest lasted for three days.

Number Six and her staff struggled valiantly to refill the tankers of wine that the holy men consumed with bravo. After three days, however, priests and brothers alike began to collapse in drunken stupors. It’s unclear who won. The last man drinking was probably too drunk to know he was alone. Nor could Number Six and her staff be sure, for after the straight days without sleep, they collapsed too (not everyone has the stuff of a news carrier).

What is known is that in the hangover that followed, the monks assumed that they had endured enough misery to claim some derivative of martyrdom, paid the check, and left for Ireland. On the trip back, they began rethinking the retreat from the vows they had taken. Clearly silence and poverty were overrated and, while chastity was a great way to stay single, it wasn't getting anyone any grandchildren.

Unknown to history is whether or not Orthodox priests had the same post hangover during their rethinking, but it is known that they paid the check.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dracula's Guest by Bram Stoker

On Walpurgis Night, an unnamed Englishman, possibly Jonathon Harker, on his way to Transylvania, seeks shelter from a blizzard in the opening of a tomb. A crash of thunder, the tomb is destroyed, and a wolf appears on his chest. An interesting telegram arrives at the end.

Some scholars believe this was the original first chapter to Dracula, edited out of the manuscript for brevity. Dracula’s Guest was first published as a short story in 1914, two years after Stoker’s death. It is quick reading and available for free online.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Know Your Pot; Watch Your Flame

By Timothy M. Baran

When cooking, know your pot. That can make a big difference in your cooking. If the pot is too big or too small for your job, you could undercook, overcook, or even burn the food.

Once, while making béchamel sauce in my course finals, I burnt the onion and curdled the milk because the pot was too big and I had the flame too high. So I had to pull out the burned onions and scrape off the burnt bits. Then, I grabbed a very fine metal mesh device, and I poured the sauce through it to get rid of the curds. Then I had to pour the sauce into another pot. It came out just fine, but think of the time and aggravation I would have saved myself, if only I used the right tools in the first place.

If you’re making soup you do not need a huge cauldron size pot; a small sauce pan will often work nicely. If you are doubling or have never made a certain dish before, eyeball how much material you have. If you’re not sure, go a little larger on the pot size. If it’s a little too big you’ll still be able to manage it, but if it’s too small, then you will have to change pots in the middle of cooking and could possibly mess up the dish. (I still do my fair share of switching pots).

Finally, watch your flame on the stove; you will only occasionally need a bonfire size flame. Sometimes, depending on the dish, the flame will need to be adjusted from time to time, or maybe set at low to keep whatever is being cooked simmering.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

From Whimsical to Gothic

Why would a children's illustrator take on a vampire story? Read the last of a three-part interview with Bryony's illustrator Kathleen Rose Van Pelt ( and find out.

7) So, why did you accept an assignment about vampires?

"The author! Denise is very convincing, and a wonderful writer! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Bryony story."

8) What did you particularly enjoy about the novel?

"I liked the way it jumps between time periods and intermingles the characters within them. The Bryony story stays true to vampire legend, yet it feels fresh and current, too. I actually thought I needed a vampire in my life when I was reading it! It's not to get swept up in Denise's enthusiasm about Bryony, and I believe justifiability so!"

9) Where did you find your inspiration for the illustrations?

"A lot of the images are symbolic of what is going on in the chapter. I mixed up different images to help people visualize where they are visiting. Being a visual person, I like having images in a book. I hope I'm not the only one that still likes picture books.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Getting to Know Dr. Victor Ravensmark Part 1

The vague and mysterious Dr. Victor Ravensmark is as vague and mysterious as his pseudonym. Dr. Ravensmark is a fan of the Victorian era, especially post-1870s American Victorian. Since part of Bryony takes place in upper Michigan in the early 1890s, Dr. Ravensmark kindly agreed to occasionally share some of his knowledge of the time period.

For the next three Tuesdays, Dr. Ravensmark will share how and why his Victorian interest began and grew.

1) Were you always drawn to the Victorian age?

“Our interest (my wife and I) started back in the early 1980s in Chicago where some friends of ours were antique dealers. They were a brother and sister team that collected and sold glassware and pottery made in the early to mid 20th century, along with anything else that caught their attention. They were very resourceful on their hunts.”

2) How did that affect you?

“We would go with them on occasion to garage sales, flea markets, auctions, and antique malls—anywhere that might have what they collected for sale at bargain prices (something like ‘American Pickers’ TV program on the History channel—see—but in and around the city of Chicago). I was only mildly interested in the things they collected, but I began to develop an interest in the Victorian furniture we would often see.”

3) Why furniture?

“Some of it was beautiful—solid walnut dressers with machined lines and carvings and ornamentations on top panels that made the piece over eight feet high, marble table tops with curved molded aprons and applied rosettes, balloon backed chairs with carved floral crests—where did this stuff come from? Who made it? With a little research, I found a lot of what I was seeing was made in the 1870s through about 1910. The walnut furniture that I liked was mostly from the 1870s and 1880s.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pathetic First Attempts at Writing Dialogue

As a features writer, I love incorporating quotes from sources into my stories. I rarely ask people for a “quote,” because I think the best quotes come from spontaneous conversation during the course of the interview. People say the most amazing things when they aren’t paying strict attention to their words.

So how does this relate to Bryony?

Believe it or not, the fact that I would have to supply all that terrific dialogue didn’t immediately occur to me. When I began writing Bryony as a novella, I started the story on page one and kept going (and not very far, either). Once I realized I had a novel, I changed tactics and started composing scenes, not necessarily in order. I soon ran into trouble.

Speaking for Melissa and her family and friends was easy; the vampires were much harder, even though their lines had tumbled about my head for years. How exactly did John Simons, cold and reserved, sound on paper? How would the shrewd Kellen Wechsler choose his words?

I decided to practice on a conversation between Melissa and the ever so charming and charismatic Henry Matthews. I figured it would be easy because Henry was so outgoing. I wrote and rewrote their encounter until it sounded right to me and then, heart pounding, read it aloud.

Oh the horror of really bad dialogue!

Good thing I didn’t read it loud enough for anyone to hear. If it was twenty years earlier and I was less motivated, that moment would have buried any further fiction writing attempts. However, at nearly age fifty, time is not on my side, so a couple antacids later, I set my jaw and was back at it.

Eventually, I wrote something that resembled what I heard inside me. In fact, this particular scene is a favorite of those who have read the book. Buoyed by this initial success, I wrote all of Henry’s dialogue before moving onto another character. Of course, Henry would have preferred I eliminate John altogether, but that is a different story.

I still love great dialogue, and now I’m awed that, with plenty of hard work, I can sometimes write it, too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cat Mews (News)

The cats received their first piece of official mail yesterday. The vet's yearly reminder notices for annual exams. bloodwork, and rabies injections don't count. It happened like this.

Last week, I interviewed a woman whose rescue dog is now a certifed therapy dog. Afterwards, we chatted about struggling rescue groups in general, how the economy is forcing people to abandon their pets, and my family's own financial struggles, which includes how we care for the cats we previously rescued.

She was quite impressed that the children budget food, litter, collars, tags, toys etc. from their own pockets, while my husband and I pay for medical care. So, this very generous woman sent a $25 grocery store gift card, with the stipulation it be spent on the cats. The felines of the house were pretty nonchalant about their windfall, but the kids rejoiced.

In Bryony, Brian Marchellis keeps a stray cat over his mother's objections because someone nice fronts all the necessities, including the shots and the vet's bill, but especially the blue collar with the silver jingle bell Brian coveted.

Of course, we'll take our cats over Brian's Snowbell any day and not just because we're attached to them, but that's another story (in progress, too, mind you, but that's also another post).

At the same time, we're very grateful to all people, real and imaginary, who not only understand attachment between owners and their pets, but are kind enough to offer tangible relief. Thank you.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Denise Unland's Alternative Geneology Part 8

By Ed Calkins, The Steward of Tara

Luckily, help was to come from Rome. There, a certain visionary ability for predicting future trends was not matched with basic knowledge of geography or common sense. Cardinal Bush realized that a new religion was gaining converts in the spiritual vacuum in North Africa.

He knew if something wasn't done, this new religion would spread to rival that of the church. Missionaries had to be deployed! Existing orders had to be reinvented. To this end, he sent Brother Clover and his monks a new mandate. 'Go to Greece and convert any potential Turks.' Shrugging his shoulders, Brother Clover deployed his monks, leaving the island of Iceland to be discovered and settled latter in history.

Once in Greece, the flaw of sending a pack of monks, who knew not a word of Greek and taking a vow of silence anyway, became clear. The monks did their best they to pantomime the gossip but the populous, who were already Christian, thought the Catholic guys in ropes were suffering some kind of spastic disorder possible caused by a misplaced devotion to a pope. Doing what they did back then when anyone had spastic fits, they called the priests for help.

Perhaps this could have been the first Christian vs. Christian religious war as the priests and brothers eyed each other hostilely. Surely bad words would have slipped if the monks could talk. Fists might have flown if they weren't men of the cloth. Angry gestures were directed at the priests and were countered by words in Greek, but both sides quickly realized the futility of this confrontation. Quickly it was decided that a drinking contest was the only way to settle it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Good Lady Ducayne

This story by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, first published in 1896 (around Bryony's time) is about
a young, healthy girl, Bella, with a strong desire to help her poverty-stricken mother.

Bella is determined to eek a living as a companion to an elderly woman. She applies for a position with Lady Ducayne, who, withered and gaunt, is more interested in Bella’s overall physical stamina than in her skills.

You see, all of Lady Ducayne’s other employees always get sick and die, so she is constantly seeking a rosy, vigorous replacement. Of course, once in her service, a mysterious illness befalls Bella. But you knew that would happen, didn’t you?

Read it online.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Four Basic Knives

By Timothy M. Baran

Steve’s third cooking lesson with Brian might have sounded like this:

“By now, Brian, you know how to sharpen a knife, and you know about some of the materials that make a knife. Here is a little information about some knives.”

Not all knives, of course, but the ones that might have been important for Steve.

Chef knife: This knife is your “work horse.” It will be your best friend in the kitchen. Almost all of your chopping and cutting will be done with this knife. So find one that is easy and comfortable to your hand for you to use.

Boning knife: This knife along with the chef knife will help you fabricate meat. It is smaller and can get in areas that the chef knife cannot. This knife will help you get precise cuts (some skill is needed, but a good knife helps) and will help get all the meat off of the bone.

Filet knife: This knife is useful to fabricate a fish. You can use your boning knife, but it might not always be flexible enough. This knife will bend, not in half, but definitely enough to help you get up close to the bones of the fish to get all the meat off of them.

Paring knife: This knife will help with cuts that are in a small area that other knives would not be able to reach safely. Like paring an apple, to do that with a chef knife is not smart, or safe. If you are skilled enough, you can use it to peel away the skin of fruits and vegetables. A peeler works well, too.

Remember, keep your knives SHARP.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mr. C.J. Mouse

Mr. C.J. Mouse was the inspiration for many of Kathleen Rose Van Pelt's art pieces ( In this second of a three-part interview with Bryony's illustrator, Van Pelt shares the story behind the creature she immortalized with her fantasy lines.

1) Many of your drawings feature an adorable little mouse. Who is he?

"Oh, Sweet little Mr. Mouse. Guess mouse and little is rather redundant. Mr. C. J. Mouse has gone on to mouse heaven now, but well remembered and loved.

"I found Mr. Mouse one fall afternoon when I was raking up the fall leaves in the back of the house. I found a mouse that was dead and stopped to bury the mouse. When I came back, I found another very tiny mouse, and thought I would be digging another little hole, but the tiny mouse stirred when I placed him in my hand. My hand must have warmed him up enough to move a bit. He had himself tightly wrapped around a small white oak acorn.

"Wasn't sure what to do with him; at first I placed him in the garage, so he would be out of the wind, put some birdseed and water next to him. Checked on him a few time, then realized he was not a tiny field mouse, but a baby that had not even opened his eyes yet.

"Having a house full of cats, bringing the mouse inside was not my first thought, but went looking for and old aquarium I know I had put away from when my husband had a pet garter snake. Well, to make a long story short. The baby mouse did very well being nursed back to good health. He lived a long and happy deer mouse life. Since he thought I was his mom, we enjoyed each other's company. C. J. Mouse was a very sweet cute brave little mouse."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Rowboat Scene in Bryony

Last year, after reading a draft of Bryony, my father telephoned me and said, in amazement, "I didn't know you had rowed a boat!"

Well, I never had.

My father was even more amazed, because he had. He was referring a part in the story where Melissa learns to row a boat. My father was impressed with the details of that scene. "I felt I was actually in that boat," he said.

I've only ridden in a rowboat once--back in 1995 when I visited my uncle in Round Park, New York--but I was seven months pregant with my youngest son, and my uncle did all the rowing. No, that rowboat scene was created from, other than my imagination, Internet research on how boat rowing, steering, and safety; my memory of that day at Round Pond; and talking to people who have rowed and ridden in rowboats.

Much research went into creating a believeable setting for Bryony. The challenge with relying on research is making the details in a pretend world ring true, especially when I have not personally experienced them. My father's comments were quite reaffirming that I did something right.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Early Deletions

Early Deletions:

Nearly every story goes through some changes during the editing process, a good thing, too. I shudder to think what elements might have remained had I written Bryony twenty years ago.

* Snowbell would have been Melissa’s cat.
* Melissa would have wandered the grounds at Simons Mansion searching for the cat while her mother and Brian had left her home alone in favor of the movies (There are no movie theaters in Munsonville. Besides, what parent would leave her fourteen year old home alone at night in the middle of the woods)?
* Henry Matthews would have resembled Sebastian Cabot’s Mr. French fromthe 1960’s television show, A Family Affair. He would have been sagely, not charming (GACK!).
* John Simons would have been dark and slender, sort of the way Melissa dreams him in the Grover’s Park house (You’ll have to wait for the book to read that part).
* Fr. Alexis would have vampire slaying powers.
* Melissa would have first met John near Lake Munson, not realizing he was a vampire.
* Simons Mansion would have existed only in Melissa’s dreams.
* Melissa would have become a critically ill, unwed mother.

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Still of the Night

Many people feel sorry for me when they learn I rise at midnight (or thereabouts). Although the routine is consistent with our family occupation as newspaper carriers, it's also a marvelously creative time for composition and not just vampire stories.

Feature stories and press releases quickly spring from my fingers without the interuption of phone calls, e-mails, requests for homework help, and the little emergencies of daily life in a full household.

As I'm writing this and sipping coffee, my home is quiet (not a creature is stirring, not even cat, wait, the swinging door creaks, okay one cat). Some of my family is at the distribution center rolling papers; others, are sleeping and won't stir for a few hours. The garage light is the only beacon from my attic office window. So, who's the lucky one?

Peace and quiet. Ahhhh!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Denise Unland's Alternative Geneology Part 7

By Ed Calkins, The Steward of Tara

To such an end, Brother Clover and his fellow monks discovered a unpopulated shore of ice somewhere in the northwestern Atlantic and pledged to eke out a living there. Lest that prove too easy, they also took vows of chastity, poverty, and silence.

Not long afterwards, boats appeared on the horizon. More brothers wanted in on this. Unwilling to horde their spiritual riches, they brothers accepted the new recruits but added more prayer and longer work days to the docket.

As years went by, more monks came to join, to the point where the island, harsh as it was, became quite populated, some would say crowded, so vegetarianism was added. (More evidence that Clover was related to Leo the comic.) This did stop the less committed from becoming monks, but it didn't stop them from wanting to serve God, through helping the monks.

It started innocently enough, an occasional cake baked from someone’s mother but it rapidly expanded. Soon, mothers fought over the right to cook for the monks, while gardeners competed to work in the gardens. Dishes got washed. Clothes were pressed. Furniture was dusted. Even people without time to help this way insisted on getting a piece of the Martyr racket by tossing coins on the shore. Monks became so fat and lazy they could hardly walk.

Brother Clover could take no more. In a combination of miming, finger gesturing, and mouthing words he laid down the law. No servants for the monks! They all had to leave and take their meals, clothes, furniture, perfumes, footbaths, fine art, pinball machines, jewels, fineries, and money with them! Well, the monks understood perfectly but their mothers refused to get the hint.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Tomb of Sarah

When remodeling a church, the narrator is forced to move a tomb belonging to a murdered recluse rumored to have been either a witch or werewoman. Naturally, the tomb comes with a warning not to disturb it.

Upon examining its contents, the narrator is disturbed at the freshness of the corpse, considering it's centuries old. A later inspection reveals a ruddy appearance, and the battle of wits against a live vampire begins.

The Tomb of Sarah by F.G. Loring has all the satisfying elements of a good vampire story: wakeful watchfulness, midnight pursuit, and the ultimate staking. For good measure and salvation's sake, the narrator reads a few prayers over the remains, too.

Short, sweet, and online.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What's In a Knife?

Because high carbon stainless steel was probably not around in the 1970s, when Bryony takes places, I'm guessing when Steve Barnes taught Brian Marchellis how to cook, he used either carbon steel or stainless steel knives.

Here are the type of materials used for kitchen knives and their benefits and disadvantages:

The best kind of knife is one that is forged and tempered from one piece of metal, although it can also be cut or stamped from the metal. There are different kinds of metal that a knife can be made from. They can be made from: Carbon steel, Stainless steel, High-carbon stainless steel, and Ceramic.

Carbon steel is very easy to sharpen and is the traditional metal used in making knifes, but watch out when used with acidic foods the metal will without a doubt discolor and corrode.

Stainless steel is a durable material. It is rust-proof and resists discoloring and corroding. The blade remains sharper than a carbon steel blade, but the stainless steel knife is harder to sharpen than the carbon steel knife.

High-carbon stainless steel is the most used metal for knives today. It takes the best of both worlds from the carbon steel and from the stainless steel. This metal is almost as easy to sharpen as the knife made from carbon steel. This metal will not discolor or corrode.

Ceramic is very expensive and is now made from a ceramic called zirconium oxide. This makes the knife very sharp and easy to clean, it also will not rust and it is also nonreactive. The ceramic knife will stay sharp for a long time, possibly years, if the knife is taken care of. This knife, though, after it becomes dull will need to be sharpened by a professional. This ceramic is durable, but is not flexible like metal.

Timothy M. Baran

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Drawing Board

Magical things happens with Kathleen Rose Van Pelt of Imaginary Lines Studio ( picks up a pen. She created gorgeous cover and interior art for Bryony with the extraordinary talent she developed many years ago. Below is the first of a three-part interview with this gifted artist.

1) How did you start drawing?

"I don't remember ever not drawing! I was one of those kids that doodled all the time. One of the first things I remember drawing was in first grade, we were given a plain piece of white paper and told we could draw anything!!! That didn't happen very often, normally it was just a run off sheet from a coloring book with a religious image on it to color in......I was always corrected by the nun that I colored too lightly.. Sorry I wandered.....(but I do have nun stories). The first image I remember drawing was Snoopy on top of his dog house, laying on his back with one long ear hanging over the side, and drawing his round belly and filling in his black nose. I also added his food bowl next to his house. Classic Snoopy! I like to think I did Charles Schultz proud. I was very much a Snoopy fan back then. Still like Snoopy."

2) What inspired you to draw?

"I really don't remember ever not liking or not wanting to draw. If there was paper and pencil, I was drawing something. In the third grade it got me a nice space in the corner. I was drawing a big owl and a little owl on a branch at the time and the nun wasn't into the art I guess, so I was told to go to the corner and stand..... that was only time I was ever told to go stand in the corner....Maybe the nun wasn't into art, can please every critic."

3) Why pen and ink?

"I started with pen and ink for a few reasons. It's very direct to work with, and unlike painting medium, no real dry time is needed. Plus, if you don't have a lot of work space or can't paint in a space because size or other reasons, ink is very quick, convenient, and cost efficient. If you are on a tight budget, ink is very affordable and goes a long way. For me, working with the ink just kept me drawing, especially during times I may not have because of lack of space or money or time, when working what many call a "real job". It is just a very portable way to keep working. My first love (medium) is oil, but because of some of the above fore mentioned, I started to work mostly with ink then adding spot color with water colors. Working with oils and ink are so different and I really enjoy both for what they are."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Croquet's Outrageous History, Part One

At Simons Mansion’s garden party, Melissa is relieved to learn croquet is one of the planned amusements, since she had previously played it with her family at a picnic.

Of course, the annoying presence of Henry Matthews considerably diminishes her fun, especially after he sarcastically compares her playing style to Mrs. Joad, winner of the first women’s croquet championship, held in 1869 in England.

However, despite the Victorian fondness for croquet (which Boston banned in 1890 for moral reasons because young people might disappear into shrubbery together to look for balls), the game has a long, interesting, and somewhat amusing history. It has been utilized as medicinal exercise, deemed character-building and a substitute for warfare, banned for threatening civilization, and been the catalyst for full-dress balls.

Thank you Maui Croquet Club ( for sharing the croquet facts on the game’s early years.

· BC: Romans play Paganica where they walked across fields and hit a small, leather ball with a curved stick and aimed to strike certain trees. The winner was the person who hit all the trees in the fewest possible strokes.
· 1300s: Peasants in Languedoc (southern France) played a game where they hit balls with shepherd crooks through bent willow branches.
· 1830: A French doctor developed a new version of the sport, named it croquet (French for “crooked stick”), and used it as a form of outdoor exercise for his patients.
· 1851: John Jacques II, famous toy and game manufacturer, introduces croquet at the Great Exhibition in England. The game quickly becomes the vogue throughout Europe and the entire British Empire.
· 1859: First record of a croquet court in the USA, at Nahant, MA.
· 1863: Captain Thomas Mayne Reid wrote, Croquet: A Treatise and a Commentary, in which he argued that croquet was a character building alternative to actual warfare.
· 1864: John Jacques brought the rights to the rules of croquet and printed 25,000 copies of Croquet: Its Laws and Regulations. Mysteriously, the first edition of this work is described as “thoroughly revised.” That same year, the Park Place Croquet Club of Brooklyn organizes with 25 members with the quote, “Croquet is probably the first game played by both men and women in America.”
· 1867: French dictionary, for the first time, defines croquet as a game.
· 1870: The city father of Boston banned croquet as a dangerous occupation conducive to moral corruption, if not a threat, to the very structure of civilization. A councilor commented, “The lady, placing her foot upon one of two closely juxtaposed balls and administering a sharp thwack with her mallet, gives a thinly disguised symbol of female aggression against male society. Where will it all end?”
· 1871: The National Croquet Club held an extravagant tournament, in which 17,000 troups paraded around the courts, spectators were packed five deep, and there was a full-dress ball.
· 1872: Lewis Carroll invented Arithmetical Croquet.
· 1878: President Rutherford B. Hayes spent $6 of American taxpayer money on a set of fancy, boxwood, croquet balls.
· 1891: McLoughlin Brothers copyrighted the rules for Tiddledy Wink Croquet, and E.I. Horsman came out with Lo Lo the New Parlor Game Croquet where colored discs represent the (croquet) balls, and the “mallet discs” are used to snap them in positions or through the arches.

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Monday, November 1, 2010

Meet Bryony's Illustrator, Kathleen Rose Van Pelt

Last summer, an acquaintance of mine called me one day and asked if I would write a story for the newspaper on her cousin and her amazing art.

“Is she local?” I asked. She was not.

“Has she ever lived in our readership area?” Again, no, so I politely explained the newspaper would not allow me to write a story about the artist if she had no local connection. My acquaintance insisted otherwise. “Just look at her art,” she said.

Reluctantly, since a story was impossible, I clicked onto and was instantly enchanted by her line style and carefully placed spots of color. It was perfect for Bryony. Might Kathleen be interested in creating the cover art for the book, if and when I had a publisher and if the publisher agreed?

My acquaintance assured me it was possible and then suggested I contact Kathleen. I did, and she was open to the idea. We began working together in earnest when WriteLife accepted Bryony for publication.

Our collaboration was simple and unstructured. Basically, Kathleen read Bryony, loved it (although she’s not a fan of vampire stories), and worked from her inspirations. It was her idea to add the interior black and white drawings.

Kathleen made everyday seem like Christmas. I’ve never had so much fun signing onto my computer! Every morning, I couldn’t wait to see if she had sent an image. I’ve adored watching my story come alive under her hand.

Samples of Bryony’s artwork are posted on the Facebook page underphotos:

Check out Kathleen’s interview Wednesday.

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Touch Someone's Life

I’ve made some new friends during the course of writing Bryony, but never fully realized the level some of those friendships have reached until a couple of weeks ago, when a rather unusual “get well” card arrived in the mail for me.

The words contained therein are irrelevant. What mattered to me was the love behind the gift. A few months ago, my fifteen year old son Daniel remarked that Bryony has brought the family together, since everyone appears to have enjoyed and are united for it. Those ties, it appears, are not limited to blood (yes, pun intended).

I’m humbled that, by going about my business in my bumbling way, I’ve brightened someone’s life enough that someone wanted to brighten it back. Whatever you’re called to do, please do it with all your might and to the best of your abilities. It just might be the vehicle for connecting with another human being.

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Denise Unland's Alternative Geneology Part 6

By Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara

This chapter of Denise's ancestors has the chance meeting of two people who never knew they were related. To understand this meeting, one must partake in a little Irish history. We must go to the seventh century where a young Bishop, who REALLY didn't like snakes, waited in a vestibule from the Vatican for permission for his proposed trip back to the island that enslaved him years before. Finally the answer came to Patrick, still in the vestibule but now twenty years older, that he could go. (These things take time.) Many of you know this story. In a few years, not only was Patrick’s mission accomplished, (killing all the snakes), but the Irish people converted as well.

Not long afterwards, the Vatican wished they had stayed pagan. You see, even though the church grew, abbeys were formed, and priests were consecrated, swelling the number of followers under its power, two traits of the Irish clergy began to emerge. First, the Irish took to writing in Latin with passion and a brogue. Very quickly papers on church doctrine flowed southeast at alarming rates, making monasteries around the world wondering if the printing press had been invented early. But more damaging, the Irish tended to make things up.

Of course, Rome had dealt with heresies before, but the stuff coming from the Irish had a certain charm, making theologians wish they had come up with it themselves. Besides that, they couldn't match the volume of myths and superstitions enough to call them out, such as the doctrine of "White Martyrdom", (a concept that sounds suspiciously like Leo the Comic's situation.)

The idea went like this. Since Ireland was outside of the Roman Empire during the 300 years of Christian persecutions, other nationalities had an unfair advantage of going to heaven. Surely God wanted more Irishmen up there with him. So, as a spiritual 'affirmative action program' aimed at an ethically diverse heaven; the 'White Martyrdom' program recognized that it’s hard to die for one’s faith if no one will kill you. Instead, one could abandon civilization, go off to some wilderness, practice the common religious extremities, and enjoy a full martyrdom state without the blood or death. Sensing the bargain, Irish everywhere began searching for harsh, uninhabitable places and building communities there. I should state here that it is completely untrue that New York and Chicago were founded this way.