May 22, 2016

Living in the Bay State with Kristin A. Oakley




For five years, I’d ride a commuter train from Woburn, Massachusetts to North Station in Boston. On rainy or rare snowy days, I’d hop on the Orange Line (the “T” or subway system) to Downtown Crossing then walk the few blocks to 160 Federal Street. In the polished lobby of this skyscraper, I’d stop at Au Bon Pain for a flaky croissant then take the elevator to the 29th floor where I worked as a law librarian in the law offices of Rackemann, Sawyer & Brewster. Biting into the buttery roll, I’d admire the damp view of Boston Harbor while trying to ignore the sway of the building.  

On clear days, I’d walk that mile from North Station past the fish aromas and sweet fruit smells of Haymarket Square (http://www.boston-discovery-guide.com/haymarket-boston.html). Vendors with Boston accents who’d drop their “r’s” and then put them where they didn’t belong would haggle prices with thick-accented Portuguese and Italian customers. 

Just around the corner I’d glance in the windows of the Union Oyster House (http://www.unionoysterhouse.com/) with its “Established in 1826” sign advertising its “raw bar” making me image naked people sitting on bar stools while enjoying frosty mugs of Sam Adams.
Further down on my right would be Boston’s sterile, concrete City Hall obviously and unimaginatively built in 1968. Not too far from city hall on the left, I’d pass the beautiful brick Faneuil Hall (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faneuil_Hall) built more than 200 years before. I’d admire the bouquets of roses and Gerber daisies, multi-colored kites, and green Boston Celtic t-shirts on display outside the bustling marketplace. 

When I wasn’t working in downtown Boston, my husband and I would visit Good Harbor Beach on Cape Ann where the low tide would reveal pools of crabs and give us a chance to walk out to the rocky island. We’d visit the nearby fishing city of Gloucester (http://gloucester-ma.gov/index.aspx?nid=299) where the events depicted in Sebastian Junger’s nonfiction book A Perfect Storm took place and where the “Man at the Wheel” statue stands in memorial to the men and women lost at sea. 

On weekends we’d head up to my favorite town of Rockport and eat rich lobster meat from paper trays while shopping in art galleries. Or we’d bring a bottle of Chardonnay to this dry town and toast the sunset while enjoying the catch of the day at My Place by the Sea on Bearskin Neck (http://www.myplacebythesea.com/). 

Once we vacationed on Nantucket Island (http://nantucket.net/) and slept in the Jared Coffin House, the
historic, three-story brick home of a sea captain from the 1800s. We easily understood why Herman Melville based “Moby Dick” upon the island’s whaling tradition. Later we stayed on Martha’s Vineyard (http://mvol.com/), toured the lighthouses, hiked along Gay Head Cliffs, and ate quahog chowder and fish and chips at the Black Dog Tavern.

Back on the mainland, we’d head to Salem to tour Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables (http://www.7gables.org/) or travel to Concord for a peaceful, technology-free walk in the woods around Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond (https://waldenpondstatereservation.wordpress.com/). There we’d place a stone on the cairn where Thoreau’s cabin once stood.

After my first child was born at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in downtown Boston, we moved back to the Midwest. Many years later, my mother and I returned to Boston for the 20th anniversary of Growing Without Schooling magazine founded by John Holt, the father of the unschooling movement (http://www.johnholtgws.com/). Because of Mr. Holt, I homeschooled both my daughters and wrote the award-winning novel Carpe Diem, Illinois about political intrigue surrounding a small unschooling town.
So the Bay State is the place of my first professional job, my first house, the birth of my first daughter, and the inspiration for life-long learning. And because of this, Massachusetts will always have a special place in my heart.

Kristin A. Oakley’s debut novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, is the winner of the 2014 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction and a finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year. The sequel, God on Mayhem Street, will be released in 2016. 

Kristin is the president and a co-founder of the professional writers’ organization In Print, a board member of the Chicago Writers Association, and editor of The Write City Magazine. As a writing instructor at the UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies, Kristin critiques manuscripts and offers an online course on cliffhangers. She has a B.A. in psychology and a J.D., both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You can find out more about Kristin Oakley here: http://www.kristinoakley.net

Kristin will give one lucky winner a signed copy of her award-winning novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois. Remember to leave your contact information with your comment so Kristin can award your prize if you’re picked!

May 15, 2016

Flashback to Maryland-2012 with Margaret Carter

My husband’s Navy career brought us to settle down in Maryland. This relatively small state spans geographical and cultural regions ranging from the rural areas of the Eastern Shore, famed for seafood harvested from the Chesapeake Bay, to the mountains of the state’s far western counties, with the urban centers of Baltimore and the Washington, D.C. suburbs in the middle. As celebrated in James Michener’s novel CHESAPEAKE, set largely on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Bay provides crabs, oysters, and rockfish as well as perennial controversy over environmental and economic issues.
 
Historically, Maryland claims distinction as the birthplace of our national anthem, written during the War of 1812 by Francis Scott Key at the battle of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore. Earlier, during the Revolutionary era, the Maryland State House, the oldest continuously used state capitol building in the country, served as the new nation’s capitol. There, in the Old Senate Chamber, George Washington resigned his commission as a commander-in-chief of the Continental army. In the same room, the Treaty of Paris was ratified, ending the American Revolution. The Maryland Inn on Main Street, a short walk from the State House, houses a restaurant named the Treaty of Paris after this event. 
Annapolis, has claims to fame besides being the seat of three levels of government. It’s a major boating center, with annual sailboat and power boat shows downtown at the City Dock. Annapolis is the home of the United States Naval Academy, established in 1845. Across the street from the Academy stands the campus of St. John’s College, known for its unique Great Books program, in which all students study the same curriculum based on the foundational texts of Western civilization.
In Annapolis, walk through its eighteenth-century historic district, filled with phenomenal restaurants and tour the Naval Academy. The Academy’s magnificent chapel holding the tomb of John Paul Jones is a must see.
I’ve set several works of fiction in Annapolis, notably two vampire novels, Dark Changeling and its sequel, Child of Twilight, and a werewolf novel, Shadow of the Beast. My werewolf heroine works for the Maryland General Assembly in the same department where I do--fictionalized to protect the innocent, of course.

I’m also a member of several groups and you can find me at any of them:
Explore love among the monsters! www.margaretlcarter.com
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For more info on Maryland, visit http://www.maryland.gov/Pages/default.aspx

May 8, 2016

Sh-Boom, Boom, Boom: A Maine Memory by Kenneth Weene



I was too young; no question, way too young. Only fourteen. I’m sure it was against the law — it certainly was against convention — but there we were in a strip club, and me with a whiskey sour to boot. How to make a teenager’s night perfect.
The stench of the Androscoggin River, which flowed though downtown Lewiston, wafted through the dimly lit room. Fighting against it was the artificial sweetness of cheap perfume and the smell of male anticipation.
A trio provided music: an upright piano, a drum, and a guitar. They were out of tune, but I’m sure no one cared. The hard, callused fingers of loggers, road workers, paper mill laborers tapped along with the shaky rhythm. Beer flowed, but hard drinks were the standard.
The group I was with stood out for its youth, the smoothness of our skin, and the city look of our clothes. Camp counselors on a night out before the kids were due. All of us college students or older except for me; as the camp owner’s son I was a tag-along. Why had they allowed it? Perhaps it was Al’s guilt from the summer before. He hadn’t listened to me, hadn’t understood the real antipathy my father directed towards me in bursts of rage. Al had insisted I deliver the message the old man had required, and I had been greeted by yet another paternal lambasting — one sufficiently vitriolic that a few parents took their kids home that visiting day.
Al had never said anything, but a year later when he was organizing that last before-the-kids-get-here night out, I’d been included. “What if they won’t let him in?” One of the others asked. Al laughed and said, “Hey, we’re talking Lewiston, Maine. Nobody will care.”
They didn’t. The bouncer—yes, there was one—asked if I was old enough. “Sure he is,” somebody answered; “he just looks young.” “Ayup, that cain happen.” And in I went.
And out she came. The first act of the night. Full-figured might be the right word for Miss Sue all the way from New Orleans. Fat-assed was the word from one of the counselors. No matter, there were whistles and applause as she ground her way around the stage to cacophony that was supposed to sound like Sh-Boom. 
My two heads reacted at once. One with adolescent lust and arousal; the other with empathic sorrow. I looked into Miss Sue’s lime-green eyes and saw the sorrow of her soul. I have no idea where she had come from and what life-slope she had slid down to arrive at this bottom, but the pain in her eyes stabbed at my heart.                         Bump, grind, grind bump — a top thrown here, a short skirt dropped there, a bra, panties: she danced on until only a g-string and pasties remained. Tucked in her g-string was a bill—an invitation and reminder to the audience. She moved to the edge of the stage and turned her large derriere to the small crowd. She shimmied and shook. Nobody responded. Not a single hand tucked another bill.
Funny what a guy will do when the situation is right. I had to. I nudged Ed on my left, held out my hand, and mouthed the words, “Can I borrow a buck.” He laughed and shook his head. I tried Pat on my right. He took out his wallet and pulled out a two-dollar bill. “Go ahead, kid” he said with a laugh in that baritone voice he used to call “Buddies 1-2-3” at general swim. 
Everyone heard him, and every pair of eyes turned towards us—every pair including the musicians and including Miss Sue all the way from New Orleans. 
I wanted to shrink into the chair, but there was no turning back. With another sip of that whiskey sour, I stood up, walked to the apron of the stage, and tucked that bill into her g-string. At that moment, Sue’s eyes changed from sadness to smile. Her mouth, lipsticked into a pout, rose at the corners. The transformation lasted only for seconds, but it was there, it was real, and it touched me.

Many years later, when I was writing “Times to Try the Soul of Man,” I remembered Miss Sue; I found her in the archives of my life and created a character. That’s what writers do; we archive life for later use.
As for that little strip joint in Lewiston, Maine. The block has been razed and a modern hotel built. The Androscoggin has been cleaned up and paper mill sulfur no longer permeates the town. Al died about a year ago. I have no idea about Ed or Pat. As for my father: well, I have to admit that I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without having weathered his rages.  

Ken Weene styles himself as a “Broody New Englander.” His novels, including “Times to Try the Soul of Man,” are available on Amazon. You can learn more about him at http://www.kennethweene.com



My giveaway will be two copies of Times to Try the Soul of Man. Comment leaving contact info to win. 
Good luck!


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