Saturday, May 30, 2020

Chocolate Potato Cake with “Irish Potato Candy” Frosting

Last weekend, Rebekah baked a 19th-century style Irish chocolate cake that featured an ingredient not often found in chocolate cake: riced potatoes!

The result was a very soft cake (even though she hadn't used cake flour) with a nice, dense crumb.

Here is a picture she took and the recipe if you'd like to try it - which includes a very brief history of Irish Potato Candy (which contains no potatoes) and it's very vintage American history.


Friday, May 29, 2020

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, May 23 through May 29

Good morning!

Today is the start of a very busy four work days, especially with the opening of Phase 3 here in Illinois.

So most of my writing will most likely consist of features writing (although I hope to take some tiny peeks at the novels in progress, too).

I did finish the "novel within a novel" with Lycanthropic Summer yesterday, although it needs quite a bit of editing.

And I played around with some ideas for a special short story project (more on this later).

However, a few pebbles in the road kept me away from The Phoenix. But more time will "arise" in a few days...

Stay safe, happy, and blessed!

Non-bylined features:

Search by topic (people, pets, A and E, faith, health, and food) at

Once a week, I do combine a week's worth into a single blog post.

Social media:

Daily updates: I do post the briefs and calendars on Twitter during the week, so you're welcome to follow me at @Denise_Unland61.

BryonySeries stuff: I post curated content relating to the BryonySeries at @BryonySeries. And assorted related content at

And of course, please follow the adventures of Bertrand the Mouse on Instagram at bertrand_bryonyseries.

If you're a writer anywhere in the world, you're welcome to join WriteOn Joliet's Facebook page at We're based in Joliet, Illinois, but we love to meet and interact with writers outside our area, too.

Upcoming BryonySeries events:

A full month of virtual events can be found at

Books and Such

Information on my books (including where to buy) along with upcoming events is at


Sign up for the Will County Go Guide

Sign up for the LocalLit Short Story Newsletter

Sign up for The Munsonville Times


Email me at

Thank you for reading The Herald-News. And for reading this blog. And if you've read (or plan to read) any of my books. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Meet 3 people who quarantined with clients in group homes
Some Trinity Services employees have sheltered in place more than 50 days

LocalLit spotlight: former Joliet resident Bob Brink

LocalLit book review: 'Return to Ganagar' by Colleen Robbins of Joliet

With aid from PPP loans, church leaders say they're doing OK despite continued shutdowns

Pace says 'thank you' to Joliet health care workers with a bus salute

5 reasons why COVID-19 is very different from the flu

COVID pandemic safety measures pose unique challenges for hearing impaired
Masks social distancing, guards reduce sound quality for hearing impaired Joliet expert says


The first story ran in my section (features) and the second has a number of photos I took during last weekend's story.

Following that are some of my videos.

Maurie's Table in Joliet offers more than great pizza

Storm causes damage in Joliet, Shorewood

VIDEO: Hail and rain hit Joliet on Saturday

VIDEO: Heavy rain Saturday floods Joliet's west side

VIDEO: Heavy rain hampers driving

Illustration by Matt Coundiff for "Visage."

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Cats, Werewolves, The Phoenix and Other True Tails of My Long Weekend

That's  a quick summary of my Memorial Day weekend, which extended into yesterday since I'm working this weekend.

It was productive, relaxing, and family-connected. Here are quick details on each one:

Cats: Or more specifically, Frances. She is no longer anemic (we feel the slight anemia was caused by the blood draw at her checkup), and I think the weight loss came partly from the lack of appetite she and Faith both had after their shots.

For Frances, this resulted in some weakness made a condition we had not noticed noticeable: a degenerative spinal issue. The weight loss showed some of the muscle mass that is occurring with it.

So we kept her food bowl always full, took her for weekly weight checks, and then finally an X-ray that diagnosed the problem.

She has gained weight (almost back to normal), is on a supplement to lubricate her joints, and has nearly resumed her normal level of activity - for a 15-year-old active cat. Hurray! One problem solved.

Work, Zoom, Storms: Finished up some work Saturday morning and then attended a virtual graduation party for my two nieces (one graduated from high school, the other college), and then some really dramatic storms hit, which pulled me back into work.

You can see three of the videos I uploaded here.

And you can see some of my photos here.

But I did get some fiction done that night, a good thing because I worked Sunday afternoon, too.

In the meantime, Timothy spent part of the weekend working on the website. For one, he's made progress on the site map.

You can check out some of the changes here.

The Phoenix: A new book in the BryonySeries and the first in the Limbo trilogy. Completed a substantial amount of three chapters.

Lycanthropic Summer: Two strong outlines for the last two chapters of a book within a book. This took most of yesterday to accomplish, far longer than the three chapters in The Phoenix did. But it will also substantially affect the rest of the story, so the extra effort and research will pay off, I think.

Exercise: Walked (not as much as usual but more than 10,000 and less than 23,000 steps per day) and did some yoga last night. Weights went to the back of the schedule in favor of other projects this past weekend.

Reading: I also read half of Snow Flower and the Secret fan.

Below, you can see what working and working out looks like when cats share you living space. Francis is on the yoga mat, Faith is on my desk chair. She lets me have less than half, and so I perch for most work days.

Have a great day! :)

Monday, May 25, 2020

"Decoration Day" By Henry Wadworth Longfellow

Two of the characters in the fourth installment of Before The Blood and one in Bryony are fond of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poetry and, from time to time, quote from it.

Longfellow was a founder of the U.S. magazine The Atlantic. He wrote "Decoration Day" in 1882 about the holiday, which held its first national on May 5, 1868 to honor those who had died in the Civil War.

Decoration Day later expanded to Memorial Day and included anyone who died in the service of the U.S. Until 1970, Memorial Day was held on May 30.

In 1971, Memorial Day became a federal holiday and is now observed on the last Monday of May. 

Many people don't know this, but Americans, wherever they are and whatever they are doing, are supposed to take a minute of silence at 3 p.m. and remember those who died in military service to the U.S.

"Decoration Day"
By Henry Wadworth Longfellow

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
  On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
  Nor sentry's shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
  And started to your feet
At the cannon's sudden roar,
  Or the drum's redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
  No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
  No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
  Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
  It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
  The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
  Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
  We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory will be ours.

Photo by Timothy Baran

Friday, May 22, 2020

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, May 16 through May 22

Good morning! Everyone ready for a long weekend?

Please remember the reason why we have it - and since the weekend will feature no parades due to the COVID-19 pandemic, here's one from 1932 for you to enjoy:

You'll find two sets of information here.

One is all the different places I hang out on social media.

The other is a list of where to find my feature stories and news releases I briefed from this past week.

I hope this information provides knowledge, entertainment, or inspiration.

Stay safe, happy, and blessed!

Non-bylined features:

Search by topic (people, pets, A and E, faith, health, and food) at

Once a week, I do combine a week's worth into a single blog post.

Social media:

Daily updates: I do post the briefs and calendars on Twitter during the week, so you're welcome to follow me at @Denise_Unland61.

BryonySeries stuff: I post curated content relating to the BryonySeries at @BryonySeries. And assorted related content at

And of course, please follow the adventures of Bertrand the Mouse on Instagram at bertrand_bryonyseries.

If you're a writer anywhere in the world, you're welcome to join WriteOn Joliet's Facebook page at We're based in Joliet, Illinois, but we love to meet and interact with writers outside our area, too.

Upcoming BryonySeries events:

A full month of virtual events can be found at

Books and Such

Information on my books (including where to buy) along with upcoming events is at


Sign up for the Will County Go Guide

Sign up for the LocalLit Short Story Newsletter

Sign up for The Munsonville Times


Email me at

Thank you for reading The Herald-News. And for reading this blog. And if you've read (or plan to read) any of my books. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Fred C. Dames in Joliet offers no contact, drive-thru visitations

'A perfect storm' of COVID-19 misinformation spread frustrates local public health officials

LocalLit book spotlight: 'Return to Ganagar' by Colleen Robbins of Joliet

Silver Cross CEO, CMO discuss the hospital's experience with COVID19
New Lenox hospital has stressed 1 aspect above all

An Extraordinary Life: A friend with priorities in place

More than COVID toes: skin manifestations of coronavirus may be wide and varied

Tips for easing separation anxiety in pets when the humans go back to work

Fundraiser for employees at Plainfield restaurant runs out of food

This clinic transitioned to telehealth - and half its clients don't have smart devices
Here's how the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic is meeting needs of low-income patients

VIDEO: Pace honors Joliet health care workers

Thursday, May 21, 2020

To Uplift and Entertain You

Good morning!

Chasing after myself a little bit this morning - and that was after waking up at 2:30 a.m. with a GREAT line I couldn't wait to use in a story.

Except I couldn't wake up enough to write it down. So I just kept repeating it to myself until I was certain I had it. And then I woke up a couple more times, still repeating it, to make sure I didn't forget it.

That led into a very interesting and creepy dream about a movie I was semi-watching/ semi living ('cuz that's how dream work) about a husband and wife who think the other is trying to kill them.

It did star Bruce Willis.

Bits of the dream remain. The great line however, is long gone.

Today I'm sharing some of the positive, non-covid news happening around my community, along with some of the blogs (not mine) that I've recently read and enjoyed.

Hope you enjoy them, too.

Stay safe, stay well, be blessed.


D. 202 in Plainfield supports class of 202 with yard signs

Crest Hill teacher receives national educator award

D. 202 students earn top prizes in Plainfield library short story contest

Pets of the Week: May 18

Bolingbrook church opens micro food pantry

Will County announces first two Earth Day Passport winners

Romeoville HS senior named National Merit Scholarship Winner

Funds available to help income-eligible households with utility bills

JCHS Alumni Spotlight: Guadalupe Medina, class of 2019

Teachers at D. 202 in Plainfield show support for graduating senior


WRITERS ARE READERS: "The Romance Writer's Phrase Book"

"Whatever It May Be" by R. Michael Markley

"Thank You, Dr. Whoever You Are" by Kenneth Lee McGee

"Positively Sunrise" by Mauverneen Blevins

"What A Publisher Can Offer (And What They Shouldn't Offer)" by James Pressler

"Placing Yourself In Your Story" by James Pressler

“I Don’t Want a Dead Bird!” By Ken McGee

"Just because something happened doesn't mean it is automatically believed. Non-fiction isn't a stamp of approval."

"Positively Routine" by Mauverneen Blevins

Illustration by Kathleen Rose Van Pelt for "Bryony."

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Covid, Creativity (And One Last Mother's Day Gift)

Before we skip to the covid news I posted over the last week, I want you to know I had one of the quietest, and yet productive on the creative scale, weekends I've had in a very long time.

I wrote one new chapter in The Phoenix and one new chapter in Lycanthropic Summer  (both new titles in the BryonySeriesand reworked several in each over twelve hours on Saturday and part of Sunday, all the while listening to the rain.

Then I spent Sunday afternoon going through a good deal of my work email that has built up to the point I couldn't find anything pertinent anymore, all the while listening to the rain.

Towards evening, Jasmine dropped off one lat Mother's Day gift (an oversize T-shirt tribute to the fact I'm mother to a few four-footed creatures)

and a really dark (mmmmm) dark roast coffee from Brewed Awakening.

I know I'm a long ways from retirement, but... this what retirement is like?

Food drive for Bags of Hope on Monday and Friday in Plainfield

Bags of Hope increases food services during COVID-19 pandemic

Plainfield Park District pool season suspended for summer 2020

The Cancer Support Center in Mokena, Homewood held virtual telethon on Sunday
Reach out to the center to see how you can help cancer patients during the  COVID19 pandemic

Plainfield church helps give food to hundreds

How to protect a vulnerable person in your house from coronavirus

Silver Cross in New Lenox 1st to enroll patients in clinical trial through Mayo Clinic

Plainfield middle school hosts 'remote' cooking class

40th Frankfort Lions Wurst Fest due to coronavirus outbreak

Lincoln-Way marching band to be part of virtual 'Parade of Heroes'

Nearly $700,000 awarded to Will County for food and shelter programs

Electrical Workers Local Union No. 176 Joliet to hosted blood drive May 14

Lewis University in Romeoville partners with Illinois Virtual School on e-learnin

Will County awarded federal funds under the Emergency Food and Shelter program

Will County Forest Preserve’s Stay-at-Home Backyard Nature Photo Contest winners announced

Walmart updates hours, days for drive-thru testing site in Joliet
Testing is available for all ages

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Message to the Class of 2020

When I was having dinner with my pastor and a couple friends a few years, my pastor suddenly turned to me and said, "Do you realize you are one of those rare people who's doing exactly what they wanted to do?"

I was stunned. I had not.

Nor had I ever really thought about if I had. At the time, work was hard, and life was hard, but I also loved my work and my life and never considered if it was supposed to be any easier.

Last week, various great commencement speeches showed up in my news feed. I had never read the one by Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin and Hobbes," which my my kids and I have thoroughly enjoyed.

It reminded me a little of the famous "What if money didn't matter?" And I have referenced this whenever I'm asked to talk to high school students for career days.

But it did inspire me to offer, not words of advice (who needs more of that?) but words of encouragement to a class whose end to an educational milestone and the beginning to another fell quite a bit flatter than it had imagined it at the outset.

I'm not going to say, "Don't give up," because you didn't.

I'm not going to say, "Make the best of the present opportunity," because you did.

I'm not going to say, "Follow your dreams," because unless you, at eighteen or twenty-two, have had those dreams already snuffed out by smart people or life experiences, you are.

But I will say this: Stay true to yourself. And pursue those paths that bring love, joy, and peace to your life.

Note: I didn't say "pursue happiness."

Happiness is transitory, fleeting, and some days (months, years) elusive to the point of frustration and despair.

I can be happy one minute and then receive a call from an upset client and happiness goes out the window.

But joy is like a tiny hidden flame that never goes out. It has the potential to warm not only you but those around you.

Some say love is more about giving than receiving. I disagree. For love to be truly love, it must be both.

A person who loves recognizes love in its many forms - and then knows how to receive it well. A person who doesn't understand love doesn't understand it when it shows up.

Many people can recognize the big expressions of love - and yet, sometimes those big expressions are more about the other person and not you. But even more people fail to recognize the subtle expressions. Be the person who does.

Learn to give love to yourself and receive even that love well. Real love starts there, but it doesn't end there. If it ends there, it's not love.

Peace doesn't mean an absence of trouble in your life. In fact, expect more of it by staying true to yourself. 

Cultivating peace doesn't mean it will show up right away. But you'll recognize it when it buds. Peace is not the same as serenity.

Minor irritations and catastrophes can stamp out serenity. Real peace never goes away. A hint of it always remains even when the rest of your world is chaotic and in flux.

Staying true to yourself doesn't mean trampling on the rights of others. It means respecting yourself enough not to be swayed by another's vision for your life - and respecting the other enough that you'll give that person a respectful listen, and it means knowing where you will draw in and where you will boundary lines.

People (significant others, family members, employers, fellow employees) cannot give you love, joy, and peace. But neither can they take them away, so take comfort in that.

So how do you arrive at those qualities?

Time. And I don't mean, "Wait eight decades."

We may feel as if we live in a time-crunched world, but we really have the same amount of time all people have.

Take time to spend time with yourself.

Take time to listen to yourself.

Take time to pray and meditate.

Take time to play.

Take time to take a breath and give yourself five minutes whenever you feel pressed.

If you feel rushed, slow down.

When deadlines are extremely tight, I find I make more mistakes the faster I try to meet them. By slowing down, I think and act clearly.

People talk about enjoying the journey to the extent it sounds cliche. But it's all really a journey and the next step isn't guaranteed.

Definitely enjoy the exhilaration of the top. Nothing beats the thrill of a free night after a tough work week or a cold glass of water after a rigorous workout or holding the baby and finally seeing the face of that baby after the nth C/section or holding the proof copy to your first book, or making your first million (still waiting to feel this last one; how about you?).

Yet few people give advice for after you make that goal (And they lived happily ever after -riiiiiight).

But if you stay true to yourself and pursue those paths that bring love, joy, and peace to your life, you'll find you've not only enriched your life but you've also enriched the lives of others.

You'll feel few regrets at any stage of your life.

And you'll live a very full life, no matter how or long or short in years that actual life will be.

Class of 2020: Congratulations on your achievements! Happy traveling!

Illustration by Matt Coundiff for "Visage."

Friday, May 15, 2020

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, May 9 through May 15

How did it get to be Friday already???

I'm looking at my to-do list - and it's waaay longer than my ta-da list. And most of the work I needed to do didn't get done yesterday. So some of that will get moved to next week.


However, the rain sounds peaceful from my window, and the coffee is delicious. The birds are tweeting up a storm (get it?), probably telling me to get off this blog and get busy!

Because they're probably already got the worms, ya know?

OK, OK, moving on.

Below my ramblings are where to find me and my writings online if you'd like to stay connected.

Below that, are my feature stories for this week, if you'd like to read them.

Keep safe, stay healthy!

Happy reading and writing.

PS: If you're a fan of Ed Calkins, stop back at this blog tomorrow. His wife Nancy sent something amusing to me, which I'll post tomorrow.

Non-bylined features:

Search by topic (people, pets, A and E, faith, health, and food) at

Once a week, I do combine a week's worth into a single blog post.

Social media:

Daily updates: I do post the briefs and calendars on Twitter during the week, so you're welcome to follow me at @Denise_Unland61.

BryonySeries stuff: I post curated content relating to the BryonySeries at @BryonySeries. And assorted related content at

And of course, please follow the adventures of Bertrand the Mouse on Instagram at bertrand_bryonyseries.

If you're a writer anywhere in the world, you're welcome to join WriteOn Joliet's Facebook page at We're based in Joliet, Illinois, but we love to meet and interact with writers outside our area, too.

Upcoming BryonySeries events:

A full month of virtual events can be found at

Books and Such

Information on my books (including where to buy) along with upcoming events is at


Sign up for the Will County Go Guide

Sign up for the LocalLit Short Story Newsletter

Sign up for The Munsonville Times


Email me at

Thank you for reading The Herald-News. And for reading this blog. And if you've read (or plan to read) any of my books. Your support is greatly appreciated.

LocalLit book spotlight: 'The River Witch' by D. Paul Cooley
Copies available at libraries in Coal City, Wilmington

And the actual review:

An Extraordinary Life: Easygoing Wilmington man was an Army sharpshooter
Bob Wirth earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart

Plainfield restaurant held 'Fat Tuesday Quarantine' fundraiser to benefit its employees

Not all kids with rare inflammatory syndrome are testing positive for COVID-19, expert says

La Mex Joliet donates food to health care workers on Taco Tuesday and Cinco de Mayo

Joliet hospital treats 23 patients with convalescent blood plasma in just 9 days

Joliet hospital to use new 3-drug treatment for coronavirys, can't obtain remdesivir at this time

Employee at OLA in Joliet tests positive for COVID-19, recovering at home

Research team at Northwestern University finds correlation between vitamin D and covid mortality rates

Illustration by Matt Coundiff for "Visage."

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Very Sweet, BryonySeries Mother's Day

A very tiny "throwback" today to Mother's Day this past Sunday.

On Monday, I shared the "bitter" part of the bittersweet. Now let's have the sweet - with most of the spoiling coming from Timothy's girlfriend Jasmine.

And when I say "sweet" I do mean actual items that were very sweet (and very delicious). So, yeah, I did ignore, somewhat, the prediabtes this week.

Also, Daniel's girlfriend Cindy stopped my the house on Friday to drop off A LOT of masks and hand sanitizer. We did a window visit and fake hugs. I haven't seen in her in a couple of months, so that was a wonderful surprise as she rose down from Chicago to do that.

The rest of the items gave a very lovely nod to my BryonySeries. And because we are still in the middle of the pandemic and are still social distancing, the rest of the festivities came in the form of texts, gifs, and snaps.

So here's the roundup. First off, this lovely purple box from Jasmine. And inside it contained...

A stunning "purple rose," very worthy of Henry.

A homemade mask, made with material that hinted at my made-up variation of bryony vines and little purple flowers that we'll pretend are roses - again, from Jasmine.

A variety of homemade treats: banana bread (most of which is gone), something with peanuts (which I shared with the rest of the family as I can't eat peanuts), chocolate-coffee macaroons (delicious!), apple scones (all gone), butter pecan Gloria Jean coffee (which I have not tried yet because I don't like flavored coffee - but it IS Gloria Jean's and it did come from Jasmine, so I will try it), and jelly cream cheese bars (also all gone).

Yes, these were all from Jasmine.

Now you're probably wondering why cleaning supplies are lurking in the background. Well, that's because...

...Jasmine also bought A LOT of cleaning supplies. Not the typical Mother's Day gift but very much appreciated in the middle of a pandemic.

And speaking of appreciation, Rebekah voluntarily assumed all of the cleaning since she was furloughed in mid-March. So she was also very happy to see them.

Speaking of Rebekah, she made these homemade chocolate chip cookies with homemade double chocolate mousse (white and dark), which chilled in the refrigerator on the tray because of the mousse.

As of this morning, only one remained. Even that may be gone now...

The real purple roses (and other roses, for John grew the other varieties at Simons Mansion) came from Timothy.

And finally my own mother texted me some flowers she has in front of her fireplace. She lives in North Carolina. I called her that day and sent her a picture of the flowers from Timothy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Good Community News (Despite COVID-19)

Tough times (including pandemics) can either make or break a community.

Great stuff is happening around and about where I live. Most is a direct response to the novel coronavirus and a refusal to let it have the last word.

Here is a sampling of submitted content I've posted over the last weej.

Pets of the Week: May 11

1099 workers: apply for regular unemployment benefits before PUA program goes live
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) portal to launch on May 11

Troy Middle School symphonic band chosen for SuperState

Plainfield East HS, John F. Kennedy MS take part in poetry competition

Symphony Care Network reaches over 200 successful COVID-19 patient recoveries

United Way of Will County and Spanish Community Center partner to offer translation services

Lewis University in Romeoville recognizes principal with Bishop Kaffer Award

MetLife Foundation donates $50,000 to Northern Illinois Food Bank

Illinois Helpline provides quick answers to questions about available resources during COVID-19 pandemic
Call4Calm service available to residents experiencing stress and other hardships

New Mokena pastor gets a drive-by welcome

Troy students in S.L.A.M. Club packed 36,936 meals in one day

'Betsy' honors first responders in Elwood yard

Joliet West HOSA Future Health Professionals place in top 10 at virtual state conference

Illustration by Kathleen Rose Van Pelt for "Bryony."

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Bittersweet Mother's Day

Before I discuss all the great aspects of this past weekend, I'd like to share the bittersweet ones.

Yesterday a friend from high school lost her battle with lung cancer. We'd reconnected strongly over this past year, but she was given just a couple months to live just as this coronavirus broke out, which meant "no visitors" to those hospital visits and eventual move to nursing home.

However, we did stay in touch via text and phone calls, and I talked to her briefly Friday morning. I could tell, then, that the end was near.

Her name is Sue, if you'd like to remember her with nice thoughts and/or prayers.

Sue's mother died from the same cancer, so I'd like to think that, on Mother's Day, her mother was waiting with open arms on the other side, and they had a lovely reconnection.

Also, our "original" cat Frances is having some health issues. All blood work is perfect, except for a smidgen of anemia, but she's suddenly started losing weight these past couple weeks, nearly a pound, so she's seeing the vet for weight checks.

We're expecting a call today for the next step as she's lost a little more during her weigh-in on Saturday.

She had been a stray at the I and M canal near our former home in Channahon when she appeared at our back door on October afternoon in 2005, and Daniel fed her a can of tuna (all unbeknownst to me) while I was upstairs working.

We've often wondered if she abandoned or if someone lost her, for she was about nine months old at the time and wore a red collar with a jingle bell.

If she was lost and the owner is reading this blog and wondering what happened to her, please know she's loved and she's been having a wonderful life. In fact, we invested in a $3,500 invisible fence just for her.

Since the canal is Frances' favorite place to be, Timothy and Daniel took her down there the day the state parks opened back up.

Tomorrow, I'll be less gloomy since I otherwise had a wonderful weekend. I hope you did, too.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Twenty Questions with Ed Calkins, Steward of Tara (Steward Setback Saturday)

Why would a person allow himself to be legally fictionalized for a book series?

Read on and see. 

But before you do, I'd like to mention the good that's resulted out of this collaboration, and I'm not talking mney. (Nobody's making any serious money here).

One: Ed, who discusses his struggle to write through the years, was given space on this blog to write as the character he created. Yes, that's right. He created his own character for himself, and then I fictionalized it even further for the series. 

Two: Ed realized his dream of seeing some of his works in print when I published a collection of his blogs a couple years ago for Calkins Day that dealt with my Irish genealogy. (I'm not Irish. Ed made it all up).

Three: Ed is now writing is own book for the BryonySeries based on his (and some of mine) characters. And he gets free editing services for this and all of his writings.

Except for using the character in the books, none of these above benefits were stated in print; they've evolved over the years as we've gotten to know each other.

Twenty Questions with Ed Calkins, Steward of Tara

When I first started the BryonySeries blog in 2011, I posted this Q A with the real Ed Calkins in several installments. We did this interview months before the release of the first book, and it has never again been published.

Now for the first time, in living black and purple, is the entire interview with the man that ficionalized himself and allowed me to fictionalize him further for the series.

Just to clarify: Ed Calkins is a real person. He really lives somewhere Chicago-ish and was a supervisor for one of the agents when The Herald-News circulation passed from The Sun Times to the Chicago Tribune. I reported to Ed for my Marycrest route.

Having missed his Ed Calkins parade several years in a row, I offered, as consolation, a one-page monthly newsletter for his imaginary world or a spot in my series as a vampire. His response was, "Immortality, of course."

My attorney drew up the necessary paperwork for Ed to sign off himself. Seriously.

No Ed, is not insane, but wonderfully creative. If you want to know Ed, read the novels, for I dutifully scrawled on brown paper wrapping snatches of conversation overheard in passing at the distribution center while Ed handed out papers or in longer conversations by phone to weave in real dialogue with the imaginary dialogue and overall character arc.

I also spent much time with him, getting to know his "ruthless dictator" persona, as to accurately portray it. In a wonderful and truly humbling act of trust, Ed did not want to read any drafts; rather, he wanted the experience of his fictional self however I chose to write it, a very literary and legally-bound, "Do with me as you will."

It was marvelously empowering.

PS: I did such a good writerly job with Ed that one day, after Timothy had been out of the distribution center for a year attending Joliet Junior College and working at the Renaissance Center, he offered to help us roll papers one night and ran into Ed.

Ed said something to the effect of, "Wow, I haven't see you in a long time." Timothy blinked, yes, literally blinked, in surprise, for he had been reading drafts of Staked! as I had chaptered it off and felt as if he'd seen Ed every day.

Any blog post on this series attributed to Ed was really written by Ed. Just so you know.

And now, the interview:

        1)      Who is the ruthless dictator?

“My son was doing a lot of role playing games, and he was trying to come up with a bard and give him magical powers. I told him there was no need coming up with magical items, because bards are already too powerful, providing they’re not trying to seek notoriety for themselves. Ruthless dictators are not afraid to die. They’re just afraid of how they’ll be remembered. It’s not effective to compose a song or a limerick or an epic poem glorifying yourself. You’ve got to have other people saying it about you. Why not cut the military in half and invent some really good limericks? You can really insult someone into submission.”

2)      Why did you invent him?

“I was bullied as a boy, so it came from the way I would get back at bullies. I would think something negative about them, because verbalizing it wouldn’t go well. In my mind, I called it even. The ruthless dictator really started when I got a ticket running a stop sign when I was delivering newspapers on a really snowy day. If I had stopped, I would never have gotten going again. I really thought the ticket was unfair. As revenge, I picked ten people out f the phone book and thought bad things about them. My wife thought that was pretty corny. Later, I took over the entire town. I didn’t have to conquer a nation. It just had to be a place, at least metaphorically. It had to have its own identity.”

3)      What was your reaction when asked to become part of a vampire novel?

“I was nervous at revealing my ignorance about vampires. I didn’t know a lot about it. I worked quickly to remedy it.”

4)      Why did you accept?

“Immortality, of course. I can’t think about myself in everything. I have to think about 1,000 years from now, and if there’s going to be a three-day holiday in my name or not. There’s a side of me that thinks this could be goofy enough to think this could actually happen.”

5)      Weren’t you afraid of how you might be portrayed?

“No, and a lot of that comes from my survival mechanism as a kid. I learned to play along with the bullies rather than fight them. Part of my comedic outreach is self-deprecating, so it didn’t really seem that anything negative could hurt me. The ruthless dictator would say, ‘Look, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.’ King Midas is much better off than King Midas the Second, even though he was portrayed in a bad light, because nobody remembers King Midas the Second.”

6)      What if fans expect the real Ed Calkins to be similar to the fictional Ed Calkins?

“He is like him. There’s just that side of him. He’s significant in an offbeat way, enough to where he can claim the stewardship of Tara without blushing.”

7)      The Irish have no solid vampire legends. How do you feel about being the first, real Irish vampire?

“I think other people will make more of that than I will. Being known as the Steward of Tara is more of a crowing achievement in my mind.”

8)      Where did your love of Irish lore and history begin?

“It started with my love of history. Then I looked into mythology, and I used to tell my son a lot of tales and legends. When he reached high school and heard the same thing, my credibility rose in his eyes. One thing I had told him that wasn’t really true is that Ireland was always a backwash of European history, unless your interest is war. Then, it is probably true. There were many Irish warriors. It’s just they tended to be fodder; they were never fighting for IrelandIreland is probably the only place where you get a sense of what pre-Christianity was about, so if you want to know Ireland, just study its myth. Even before I was really into being Irish, I had a disdain for the Roman Empire, which, I think, gave me a bias toward the Irish. In all honesty, I’m American, but my heritage is Irish. It only takes going to Ireland to know that.”

9)      How did you research your Irish heritage?

“I’ve read a lot of books. Also, as a college freshman, I got put into an Irish literature course, which I wasn’t very interested in it at the time. I’m not one of those people who have forgotten much of what they learned in college. So it stayed with all these years in a recessive way. The problem is that I’m very bad with names. The proper study of Irish mythology involves heroes, kings, and saints, in that order. They are alive today through the last names. I just don’t know who these people are.”

      10)   When did you begin writing?

“I started with poetry. In the eighth grade I wrote poem that resonated a little bit.        So, throughout high school, I wrote poetry. I was an editor of the literary magazine and the editor in chief the last year. Something bizarre about me is that I can’t finish anything. I have these really organized fantasies, but I’m not a wordsmith. I just lost my hard drive, which means I lost everything I’ve written for the last twenty years. I should be beside myself, but I’m not, because none of the pieces were really finished

       11)   What have you written?

“I actually wrote a historical fiction novel when I was in high school. I had a         fascination for Hannibal, so I put myself on the other side facing Hannibal’s army. I didn’t really know how to handle it, but I did write it.”

        12)   How had you shared your writings in the past?

“I posted them. When I was working on my trilogy, someone would send me an e-mail that said, “Send me your story,” and I’d send them a few chapters. Then I’d get another email saying, ‘That was great. Send me some more.’ So, a lot of it was praise-driven. The problem is that twenty years have passed. The protagonist has become darker and the eroticism is no longer interesting, I hate to admit. In my mind, I’ve reduced the second book to a single, short story. Also, every novel I’ve written was also an idea for a game. I had done a really good job of writing the games, again not finished. The smallest details completely derail a project for me.

13)    How do you overcome writer’s block?

“The truth is I don’t. My writing block is fear. By the time I do write, it’s only because the ideas have been spilling out over and over and over again through my mind, to where it’s enough already. The details have become an irritant, so I just sit down and write.”

14) What motivates you to compose a limerick?

   “I get ticked off, and my mind starts putting lines together. It’s different with limericks because I don’t have to actually write them. A limerick is not fine art. Because of its structure, a kindergartener is just as good as composing limericks as an adult.”

          15)  Why is legacy important to you?

“I think it’s fascinating to me in the same way history is. Think of Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, which lived approximately 25 million years ago and compare that to the 6,000 years of civilization. In the eyes of God, dinosaurs must be a statement of survivability. Humanity is still an experiment in its infancy. When all is said and done, the history of humans is going to be a lot more significant than the bones of a creature, but we’re not there yet. We’re gong to have to start with many things, including being a lot older than 6,000 years. Maybe there won’t be an Ed Calkins parade that 6,000 years old, but maybe there will a 1,000 years old Ed Calkins Day parade, which will create the much larger tradition of there still being parades.”

16) How did the idea for Ed Calkins day parade originate?

“I discovered that my birthday and Valentines Day had a little conflict when I started dating my wife. The first year I was dating her, we went out and celebrated my February 13th birthday. Guess what happened on the fourteenth?  I didn’t have Valentine for her. That offended her at the time. My defense was, ‘Come on, it was my birthday.’ I guess where started. Then I started joking with other people that my birthday should be a national holiday. When you couple that with Lincoln’s birthday and the stars aligned in the sky, you can see it was meant to be.”

17)  You’re famous for cookouts, Queen of Christmas contests, candy canes and Santa hat distribution and palette jack races. Why host these things?

“Have fun, of course. Distribution centers can be so dreary. If everyday is like the last, no one wants to get up.

18)   Do you own a kilt?

“I used to, but I gave it away to my brother. It no longer fit, at the waistline. So, currently, I do not have a kilt. They’re not cheap. They can cost a couple hundred dollars.”

19)  For what occasions did you wear it?

“Initially I wore it St. Paddy’s day. I wore it the whole day. I was I in newspapers and, yeah, I went to work with it. My wife wouldn’t let me do it after I married her. It happened this way. I have a way of not taking care of garments. When I was starting to date her, most of my jeans had holes in them. She takes care of her possessions. That how I knew we were serious when she started washing my clothes. But when a woman starts washing your clothes, she gets to say what get discarded and what gets kept. You know my striped shirts? Those were her idea. My wife now dresses me. I used to dress differently.

20)  What are your plans for this blog?

“I’d like make some myths of my own, but that won’t start until the book comes out. I’m thinking it might be fun to add different side stories of the character into the blog, but maybe, too, I might be able to introduce some of the traditional Irish myths. I’ve been wanting write something about the interplay of state fairs in Ireland. There were laws concerning them, such as you couldn’t arrest anyone during a fair and you could not engage in war. All combat had to be resolved before a fair was scheduled to start. I’d also like to write about the Knights of the Red Branch and maybe some adventure that happens to some of the knights. That’s the neat thing about a blog. Speaking from the character, if something doesn’t fit, or if there is something else I want to say, I can always come back with, ‘I was just joking. Here’s what really happened.’ I’m very excited about this. I feel I’m getting closer to that three-day holiday.”