Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Undercover Librarian, Part Deux

Yes, I have one chapter more in the group novel. This one probably reflects the massive amount of Tess Gerritsen that I read in 2011. It's not as good, mind you, but consider it a loving homage to one of my favorite suspense writers.

Anyhoo, you can find my chapter here. If you'd like to start at the beginning, go here. There are all kinds of $5 Amazon prizes up for grabs, and the odds are in your favor because so many folks are out of town or out of pocket this time of year. There's a grand prize of a $25 Amazon card or a Petit Fours cookbook for one lucky winner who has commented on all of the above.

Did I mention that this group novel is a FREE read?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Undercover Librarian

Over at the Petit Fours, we like to write group novels from time to time. This year's offering is about a librarian who gets psychic imprints from the books she handles. It's a cozy mystery for those who like whodunnits, and I had the good fortune of writing Chapter 4. You can find it here.

Be sure to stop by and leave comments on all of the days before and, of course, today. Then keep right on going if you'd like to win an Amazon gift card. Well, and you'll win my eternal gratitude if you hop on over and read the chapter I wrote. I had a lot of fun writing that one.

Monday, December 19, 2011

C'mon, Let Us Adore Him

Each Christmas we discover something new. Considering how many songs are repeated, how many ornaments are the same, and how many traditions are reenacted, finding the new is nothing short of miraculous. This year? We've found the Lou Rawls Christmas album which, I promise you, is unlike any Christmas album you've heard before. Check it out. Put his version of O Come All Ye Faithful into Pandora. You will get into the Christmas spirit.

Also, we have a new Nativity tradition. Ryan and I have always included some interesting characters who've come to see the baby Jesus. Our scene has often looked like this:

This year, however, we've added a second Nativity scene, a creation of Her Majesty:

That's right! We now have a Nativity/Disney debutante ball.

Oh, well. As long as we all remember who's in the center of the scene, I suppose.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fun with Cemeteries, Part II

This gorgeous view of Shiloh Military Cemetery came from Wikipedia.
I have at least one relative buried here. Chances are, you do, too.
When last we left the American cemeteries, rural ones were all the rage. Now many of those rural cemeteries are getting overcrowded and facing many of the same problems their urban counterparts did. Where monuments used to be nestled in picturesque landscaping, monuments have now taken over the landscaping. Enter Adolph Strauch. He made plans to transition these cemeteries to more of an organized lawn plan. He placed limitations on marker size and took out many of the trees and shrubs in order to give cemeteries a more open feel.

Aside from the changes to the cemetery landscape, the entire business of death was becoming more commercialized. Here are some interesting points about death and cemeteries from Sloane's book The Last Great Necessity. These have been gleaned from his chapters on the years 1855-1917:

  • Cemetery management at this time passed from a sexton or a caretaker to a superintendent. Superintendents had more authority than sextons or caretakers, having the ability to limit monument size and alter landscape--this marks a change from when families decided the where, when, and how of burial.
  • Strauch's changes meant that more and more cemeteries would require horticulturalists and engineers rather than relying on amateurs. (Note from moi: none of these changes necessarily apply to rural church cemeteries. Strauch is writing almost exclusively about larger metropolitan areas at this point.)
  • "By the end of the 1870s, all cemeteries used annual-care fees, bequests, and perpetual-care payments as means of increasing their income." This change is going to pave the way for cemeteries as businesses run for profit and, of course, the abuses that come from greed.
  • Did you know that the mechanical lawn mower was patented in England in 1830? You can imagine how much easier that made cemetery maintenance, and it also raised the standards of what was expected from cemeteries.
  • The movement from rural cemetery to lawn cemetery mirrored the reform movement of the late 1800s when Americans were also trying to put order to the urban explosion of their cities. There was also a generalized movement toward specialization which, in the case of death and dying, meant that "nurses and doctors cared for the living, morticians handled the dead, and cemetery superintendents beautified the grave." Interestingly enough, many immigrants resisted these changes, still feeling that death was to be handled within the family.
  • The Civil War impacted death and dying in many ways. One, embalming became popular as a way of getting deceased soldiers back to their families. Also, large numbers of dead required national cemeteries, cemeteries that reinforced America's sense of democracy as well as Strauch's vision of an uncluttered landscape by having uniform tombstones in neat rows with little landscape to intercede.
  • At the same time, urban reforms meant more parks. Understandably, Americans started to frolic in these urban parks rather than in the rural cemeteries they had used before.
  • And a side note from Jeanne Holder, she came across "tiered lots" whereby Victorians priced lots in a manner similar to which theater seats were sold. The most expensive ones were high on a hill facing east so the deceased would be able to better witness the coming of God. The cheap seats, if you will, were at the bottom of a hill facing west. (Side note: one of the Memorial Parks on Whitlock has almost all of its graves on a hill facing east. Coincidence? I think not.)
And I'm going to stop there. The next section is on the "Professionalism of the Process of Death," which is at the heart of my next novel. We'll spend some quality time there. In the meantime, I'm glossing over a lot of work so if you want to find out more, check out The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History by David Sloane

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Fun with Cemeteries, Part I

I borrowed this picture of Mount Auburn from here. A talented photographer named Svadilfari took it--check out his photostream here
I feel like a real writer now. I'm querying one book, writing another, and researching a third. I've always loved research, so this is a great deal of fun. Of course, it remains to be seen if anyone other than me finds my current topic as fascinating as I do.

Here are a couple of gems I've gleaned from The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History by David Charles Sloane:

  • Early American funerals were communal events. Family members prepared the body, dug the grave, informed the neighbors, put together a small service--the whole bit. At that point clergy usually attended the funeral as a mourner rather than "officiating." Usually, the wake ended up being akin to a big party complete with food, drink, and gossip. (Not all that different from my Southern funeral home experience aside from the drink. Come to think of it, a little nip might have been in order...)
  • In cities, the deceased were usually buried in a church graveyard or a potter's field. On the frontier, families had to create their own graveyards--usually on a high hill.
  • In the late 18th century, the old Colonial graveyards fell into disfavor. For one thing, they were becoming overcrowded AND continually being moved as cities grew. Also, people began to fear that diseases from the dead. Finally, there were vandalism and upkeep issues--two things that plague cemeteries today.
  • Because these in-town graveyards were falling out of favor, the rural cemetery, a pastoral place on the outskirts of town, was born. Mount Auburn Cemetery (estb. 1831) was "on strikingly beautiful terrain...[and] promised to provide a pleasant botanical tour, a local and national historical museum, and an arboretum, all on grounds that provided space for the burial of generations of area residents." (If you haven't been there, it's quite lovely)
  •  Mount Auburn, the first of its kind was a pattern for several national cemeteries including Oakland in Atlanta. (I haven't been, and they have walking tours! Field trip, anyone?)
Photo of Oakland taken from their official site
  • Part of this change in burying habits seeped into the nomenclature itself. The word cemetery comes from the Greek for "sleeping chamber." As Sloane says, "rural cemeteries were different than previous burial places, and their founders believed that they deserved a distinct name. Cemetery contained the suggestion of death as sleep, a transition from life to eternal life, which was more in keeping with America's emerging optimistic religion and exuberant nationalism."
  • The best part? These rural cemeteries were incredibly popular. People gathered there not just for graveside services or for quietly remembering the dead but also for relaxing, taking a walk, family gatherings, and just about everything else. After all, these rural cemeteries were some of the first "planned landscapes" open to the public. 
  • These first cemeteries were a place to remember community and to BE a community. As Sloane says so eloquently, "the rural cemetery became the American resting place for the living as well as the dead."
Stay tuned for part two in the evolution of American cemeteries...

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Myth of the Glamorous Writer

Most people think writers look like this

But, in my experience, on any given day, a writer actually looks like this