A Blast From the Past

One of the details I researched for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was the weapon used by American soldiers during World War II.  Per my brother, a World War II history buff, the M1 Garand was the gun I needed to look up.

There is so much information on the M1 Garand, simply and affectionately called Garand in honor of its inventor, I didn’t believe I could do it justice by writing my own article.  So, I choose two that I found to be the most interesting, and I’d like to share them with you.

The first, Garand Name Pronunciation: Who’s Right?, is actually somewhat humorous.  There seems to be a longstanding debate on this issue.  It’s probably not the first time a name has been mispronounced by an American, and it certainly won’t be the last.  We do that sometimes, but I’m in agreement with writer Mark Keefe when he says, “… I am not going to tell anyone, especially those that used the rifle in combat, that they were wrong.  Call it what you like, and thank you for your service.”

The second article, The Iconic M1 Garand, details the gun in all its glory.  I’ve had the opportunity to hold an M1 as well as see them employed in the re-enactment of the D-day landings.  It’s an impressive weapon, and I’m glad our soldiers had it to use against a formidable enemy.

Sobering Thought

In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, one of my characters struggled with alcoholism. He was normally a social drinker but turned to alcohol when negative situations began to dominate his life. He made the mistake of believing he could control the circumstances and then buried the results deep within rather than revealing them and seeking help from those who loved him.

This was one of several delicate subjects I addressed in my novel, and I took care with how I presented it. My knowledge of how alcoholism affects the lives of others is secondhand, and I didn’t want to come across as preaching. Still, I’m all about giving back and helping when and where it’s necessary. Even though this isn’t about writing, if I can direct someone toward the help they may need, I will.

The obvious place to begin my research was with Alcoholics Anonymous, the international, mutual aid fellowship founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. The AA website answers many questions about alcoholism and helps one locate a nearby meeting. The beauty of looking them up online is the added layer of privacy one may need when taking the first step in dealing with a crippling addiction.

As I writer, I had the final say in my character’s outcome, the details of which I’ll keep hidden until the publication of my book. For anyone struggling with alcoholism, you have the final say in how drinking will affect your life. Write a happy ending.

Wholesome Homecoming

August of 1945 should have been a time of celebration for Dr. John Welles. The Second World War was over in Europe and swiftly coming to an end in the Pacific. However, John’s homecoming wasn’t what it appeared to be, and the secret surrounding the circumstances were known only to him and his Aunt Prudence. While she was instrumental in helping her nephew make the transition from his experiences as an Army doctor back to civilian life, there was one painful secret of which even Prudence was not aware.

John’s family was seated in the kitchen eating when he arrived. He stood outside the row house and watched from a distance as they ate a simple breakfast that included oatmeal. I chose oatmeal because it is humble and solid just like the Welleses, and this basic breakfast food was representational of the support John’s family would provide during his first, difficult days home.

Long before experts started touting oats for the health benefits, oats have been used as a food source for people and animals. According to one source, only five percent of the oats grown in America are used for human consumption as breakfast food or oat flour. They are believed to be Asiatic in origin and appeared on the scene later than wheat with the earliest uses being for medicinal purposes. Then there is the debate on steel cut versus rolled oats, the explanation on the different types of oats, and the history on the most famous brand I know, Quaker.

The preparation of oats appears on the container, so I’ll focus on the toppings. This is where one has endless possibilities to explore. A favorite at the Gibson household is Zante currents, maple syrup, toasted, chopped pecans, a pat of butter, and cream that has been warmed. Some people keep it as simple as a pinch of salt while others go crazy with chocolate chips and a dollop of peanut butter.

When cooking oats, opt for water over milk as cooking in milk will make for stickier, thicker oatmeal. Save the dairy for a topping. Spices can be added during the cooking process and should be ground; picking out whole cloves and cinnamon sticks afterward is unpleasant. Don’t forget to add a pinch of salt to the water because that’s where seasoning begins.

Bringing the oats and water to a boil together makes for a creamy cereal whereas bringing the water to a boil and then adding the oats results in a chewier meal. I wouldn’t suggest trying this with steel cuts, however, as they are already springy in texture to begin with. Serve oatmeal in a deep bowl to keep it smooth and hot. A shallow dish will cool your breakfast treat too quickly, and you’ll end up with a gluey, unpalatable mess.

If you’ve never enjoyed oats, don’t curl your lip, raise an eyebrow, and pass up oats and oatmeal. They are delicious beyond their nutritional value and neutral appearance. Also, consider them for lunch or dinner, and if you really want to impress, offer them as a side dish to dinner guests with the inclusion of caramelized shallots and uncured turkey bacon or as a dessert made with saffron and cardamom.

“Oats.” Oats. Purdue University – Center for New Crops & Plants Products, Feb. 1999. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Walsh, Danielle, and Kimberley Hasselbrink. “9 Ways to Totally Screw Up Your Oatmeal.” Bon Appetit. Bon Appétit, 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

**Read Easy Peasy to learn how to quickly generate citations.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

One of the most interesting and disturbing eras I researched for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was the Great Depression.  Of all the details I studied, I found those affecting farmers to be the most heartbreaking.  This is probably because my protagonist, Dr. John Welles, came from a farming family.  The Welleses survived, but they did not come out unscathed.

Before the stock market crash in October of 1929, farmers were already experiencing hard times.  One contributing factor was the forty percent drop in prices between 1920 and 1921 as the overseas market disappeared.  World War I had led to a time of prosperity for farmers as war-torn European nations needed produce grown in America.  This need led to a remarkable increase in agricultural production, income, and purchasing power.  The profits farmers made were reinvested in more land and machinery.

Once the war ended and the European markets no longer needed American food products, prices and profits plummeted.  The price crop supports that existed at the beginning of World War I guaranteeing farmers minimum prices on certain crops disappeared in 1921 when President Harding announced their end.  Further exacerbating the problem was President Coolidge’s increase in taxes on imports, which decreased foreign trade for America and removed more of the farmers’ markets.  Many farmers lost their new land investments to foreclosure and/or experienced bankruptcy.

The construction of new homes, usually an indicator of economic strength, declined from 1926 to 1929.  It is not surprising that no one paid attention to this warning sign especially since the crisis in the farming community, the truest measure of economic success or failure, was already in trouble.  When added to the faith people placed in the stock market and the endless purchases made on credit, it is no wonder America experienced the Great Depression.

As I watched videos of farmers dumping milk into ditches on the side of the road and apples into piles left to rot, I knew in my heart that even if it meant their downfall, John’s stepmother, Collie Mercer Welles, wouldn’t let anyone go hungry.  The character I created in Collie wouldn’t and couldn’t justify throwing food away when people around her were starving.  Greed in that form simply did not exist in her.  She may not have had the means to transport food, but anyone who made his or her way to the Welles farm would not be turned away empty-handed.

Farm protestors attempt to block roads leading to markets.

Unfortunately, many in the farming communities did not share the opinions and morals of my fictional character, Collie.  The withholding and destruction of food was one of the most hideous consequences of the Great Depression.  Desperation hit farmers when the expense of producing crops exceeded what they could make selling them.  Groups known as Farm Holiday Associations were formed to stop selling crops until prices were forced higher.  They operated under the motto, “Neither buy nor sell and let taxes go to hell.”

While in my heart I believe the Welles family would have risen above such actions, I wonder if they would have found resistance in their own community to helping those who were starving.  It wasn’t uncommon for farmers who bucked these types of associations to find their efforts met with violence from a pitchfork in the tires of their vehicles to standoffs between deputies meant to protect food convoys and farmers armed with guns.

The stock market crash of 1929 will probably always be the most well-known contributing factor to the Great Depression.  Billions of dollars were lost literally overnight by 1.5 million Americans who were involved with the market enough to actually have a broker.  However, 40 million people living on farms had already been enduring hardships since 1919, and it is these people who would be hit the hardest again, particularly on the Great Plains, during the aftermath of the crash.  The farmers knew what those living in the cities and banking on the stock market had yet to learn:  the Great Depression was already upon them.

The title for my blog post came from a Depression Era song, the details of which you can read about here:  “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and listen to the Bing Crosby version here:  “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Enjoy other interesting Depression Era history on Prohibition (I’ll Drink to That), speakeasies (Welcome to the Apple Crate), and moonshine (By the Light of the Silvery Moon).

Dark, Rich Secrets

Twice in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, I featured chocolate pie. The first time was in December of 1925 when John and his Aunt Prudence discussed the painful details surrounding his father’s death. Prudence kept trying to turn the conversation away from the truth of the situation even going so far as to use the pie as a diversion. The delicious dessert popped up again in a scene between John and his best friend’s wife, Babby, in June of 1964, as they worked through the awkwardness of not seeing each other for sixteen years.

As many of my followers already know, my food choices actually play a peripheral roll in my writing. In this case, chocolate pie is dark, not unlike the secrets about to be revealed in the above-mentioned scenes. In both cases, John’s past was dredged up for him to face yet again, and someone would try to smooth over the situation. Keep in mind that chocolate pie is exceptionally smooth. It is also rich and sweet which matched the outcome for John in his conversation with his Aunt Prudence as a young man and again with Babby as an adult.

The recipe I had in mind for the chocolate pie is simple yet elegant. It is a favorite at church bakeoffs and picnics as well as a top off to any family dinner. I hope you will enjoy it as much as my characters did.

Lucia’s Chocolate Pie

Single Crust:

1 c flour

¼ t salt

1 stick unsalted butter, cold and diced into ¼-inch pieces

½ c cold water with an ice cube

To make a bottom crust, combine the flour, salt, and butter. Work with your hands until the flour and butter combine to make pea-sized pieces. Add the water a tablespoon at a time and work through until you can form a ball. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and chill for twenty minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 425°. Roll the dough on a floured surface to fit a nine-inch pie plate. Crimp the edges and prick the bottom and sides of the shell with a fork. Line the pie shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or baking beans. Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, remove the baking weights and continue cooking for 10 minute in 5 minute increments or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

Pie Filling:

½ c cocoa

¼ c cornstarch

3 egg yolks, beaten

1½ c sugar (I used raw)

¼ t salt

2 c half and half

1 t vanilla

3 T unsalted butter

Sift the cocoa, cornstarch, and salt directly into a saucepan. Add the sugar** and half and half, and stir carefully to mix. Bring to a boil over a medium high heat, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute. Remove from the heat and spoon a small amount of the mixture into the egg yolks to warm them. Pour the warmed yolks in a thin stream into the saucepan taking care to stir them in thoroughly.

Return the pan to the heat and boil for two more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the baked pie shell and allow it to cool for a few minutes before topping with a piece of waxed paper to prevent a skin from forming. Bring the pie to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator to cool completely. Whipped cream is the perfect topping for a chilled pie.

**If using granulated white sugar, sift it as well. The large crystals of raw sugar will not pass through a sifter. Simply break up any lumps before adding to the mixture.

~OR~

You can top it with meringue using the following recipe. Make the meringue while the pie is cooling on the countertop. Once topped with meringue set in the oven, you can continue cooling in the refrigerator.

Meringue:

4 egg whites

6 T sugar (I used granulated white as the raw is too coarse for this step)

Pinch of cream of tartar

Whip the egg whites on a high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar, and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue over the pie and seal at the edges of the crust. Set the meringue in a 425° oven for eight minutes or until it is golden brown. Cool the pie on a wire rack until you can handle the edges of the pie plate and serve warm, or chill the pie in the refrigerator for a couple hours and serve cold.

Tips for success:

Chill the beaters and bowl in which you will beat the egg whites for meringue

That pinch of cream of tartar is what will keep your egg whites from breaking down and becoming watery.

Enjoy!

Mazel Tov!

In my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, Samuel Feldman married the love of his life, Abigail Cohen, in May of 1935. His two best friends, John Welles and Claude Willoughby, stood for Sam as his best men. The occasion brought the three friends together after a long separation due to emotional trauma Claude had endured during their college years. John and Claude had enjoyed Sam’s Jewish heritage during Chanukkah, but their participation in Sam and Babby’s wedding would draw them in even closer. It was unlike anything John and Claude had ever experienced.

Historical Ketubah

The signing of the ketubah was the first ritual to involve John and Claude. An ancient document, the ketubah is a marriage contract of sorts that specifies the groom’s commitments to the bride. It is signed by two appointed Jewish witnesses who must not be family members related to the bride and groom by blood. Scandal of scandals: neither John nor Sam was Jewish. As readers will find upon publication of my novel, the lovely Abigail Cohen was one for breaking tradition. She knew how much Sam’s two best friends meant to him. In the eyes of the bride and groom, they were family, and therefore they had the honor of signing the marriage contract. This small detail would make the newlyweds ketubah, a work of art in itself to be framed and hung in their new home, that much more meaningful.

The second ritual, called the badeken, happens right after the witnesses sign the ketubah. The badeken is when the groom covers the bride’s face with her veil. Different sources cite different accounts in the Bible as the reason for this with one explanation claiming it had to do with Rivkah (Rebecca) veiling herself when she first saw Yitzchak (Isaac), another said it was in reference to the heavily veiled Leah during her marriage to Yaakov (Jacob), and another said it was a combination of both incidents. The badeken ceremony can be quite emotional as the bride and groom may not have seen each other for twenty-four hours or as long as one week until this moment.

At this point, the wedding party enters the main ceremony where all the guests are seated. They proceed toward the focal point of the ceremony: the chuppah. I’ll direct you to The Hoopla About Chuppahs to find out how they figure in the Jewish wedding ceremony.

While beneath the chuppah, the bride circles the groom seven times. This beautiful ritual is reminiscent of the Israelites seven trips around the walls of Jericho. On completing the seventh lap, a miracle occurred when the walls of the city tumbled down, and the Israelites were able to capture the city. Every man is like the city of Jericho with a wall built around his heart. Men are often taught to hide their feelings, portray an exterior of impenetrability, and appear as if they have it all figured out. These elaborate defenses hide any sign of weakness or vulnerability as well as guard their deepest secret: they are sensitive and humble, simple and soft inside.

Along comes the wise woman who can pierce this defensive wall by surrounding her husband with the protective atmosphere of her love. She envelops him with affection, reassures him that he is her anchor, her center, and the focal point of her life. By doing so, he feels safe and comfortable, and the walls protecting his heart tumble down for her.

Two cups of wine are used during the wedding ceremony. The first cup accompanies the betrothal blessings and is recited by the rabbi. Afterward the reciting, the couple drinks from the cup. The betrothal blessings express the resolve of the groom and bride to create a Jewish home dedicated to Adonai and the wellbeing of all humanity.

A Jewish marriage becomes official when the groom gives an object of value to the bride. Traditionally, this is done with a ring that is totally plain without stones or marks. It is hoped that the marriage will be one of simple beauty the same as the ring. This is another place where I had my characters break with tradition ever so slightly. Sam’s father, Ezra, was a jeweler of unparalleled skill, and for the wedding of his youngest son, he created a wedding band with his blessing hand carved into the gold.

Upon exchanging of the rings, the couple declares their betrothal to each other. The words “by this ring you are consecrated to me according to the Law of Moses and Israel” form the essence of the marriage service. The ring, an unbroken circle, symbolizes the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. Then the ketubah is read and given to the groom to hand to his bride. She holds on to it for all the days of their marriage as it is her property and has the standing of a legally binding agreement.

The Sheva Brachot, or Seven Blessings, are then recited over the second cup of wine by the rabbi, cantor, or other people wishing to honor the happy couple. These ancient blessings place the bride and groom into a wider social and sacred setting. After these blessings, the bride and groom share a second cup of wine.

The most familiar tradition in a Jewish wedding is the breaking of a glass by the groom. This act concludes the ceremony and signals the guests to shout Mazel Tov, cheer, dance, and start partying. Some of the explanations behind the smashing of the glass include:

  1. To show that life holds sorrow as well as joy
  2. A reminder that marriage will change your life forever
  3. Symbolizes the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem approximately 2000 years ago
  4. It’s a break with the past, and the marriage will last as long as the glass remains broken
  5. Symbolizes what is broken in society
  6. A superstition that the loud noise will drive away evil spirits
  7. It’s a time to focus prayers and energies on a specific brokenness that needs repaired
  8. A hope that the couple’s happiness will be as plentiful as the shards of glass or their children as numerous as the shards of glass
  9. It’s a representation of the fragility of human relationships

The last part of the service occurs when the newlyweds separate from where the ceremony took place. During the yichud, one of the most intimate and private parts of the day, the bride and groom are required to have time alone away from family and guests to reflect on their marriage. In times past, the marriage would have been consummated during the yichud. Afterward, the new couple would join the party.

Mazel Tov!

Don’t Get Crabby With Me

dont-get-crabby-with-meI’m very excited to present today’s post for Edible Fiction in regards to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Although I won’t be making this recipe because the main ingredient has yet to come in season, I couldn’t resist sharing. My research on blue crabs yielded a wealth of knowledge and an enthusiasm for the dish, so I decided to post for two reasons: 1) You’ll want to be prepared for the blue crab season, and 2) Depending on where you live and/or your finances, you may want to turn this into a vacation.

In June of 1925, John Welles and his Aunt Prudence were planning his high school graduation party. They did so over a dinner of blue crab. When I initially wrote this scene, I assumed because they were on the coast, Maryland specifically, they would have eaten crab legs, and I stated as much. Please forgive my inlander ignorance. I corrected my mistake because I am a stickler for details in writing (Who Is In Your Details?). Research on this subject prompted a quick edit from crab legs to blue crabs and a visit to my local fish market, Klein’s Seafood.

I visited Klein’s to see what a semi-landlocked gal like myself could do.  I say semi because my state borders one of the Great Lakes, but alas, there are no blue crabs coming from this water source.  Fear not, fellow Ohioans, Klein’s receives blue crabs from the coast.  Seafood shops can have the crabs shipped live, but as one shop employee explained, many die during the trip and no one wants to buy the dead crabs.  So, Klein’s orders their blue crabs already cooked and ready to go.  Since I couldn’t purchase blue crabs to prepare for you, I decided to offer the next best thing.  I also dined on a white perch sandwich with lettuce and tartar sauce and six of the tastiest hushpuppies I’ve ever had, but I digress.

I could write an essay on blue crabs and the preparation thereof based on the articles I researched, but it would be easier and more thorough to direct you there. Don’t think me lazy; I simply don’t want to miss a single important detail regarding blue crabs. Once you read the articles, you’ll see why I suggested a vacation to Maryland. Not only is Maryland a wonderful place to visit for the historical aspect, the seafood restaurants featuring blue crabs and other produce from the ocean are worthy of a visit, too.

dont-get-crabby-with-me-2The first article, Maryland Crabs: A Guide to the East Coast’s Essential Summer Feast by Eater DC contributor Jamie Liu from June 5, 2015, provides an in-depth explanation on blue crabs from the how to the where of the blue crab season. I found this one to be easily understood and good for a blue crab novice such as myself. The restaurants mentioned were a combination of old and new establishments and ownership, but all had history with the Maryland crabbing industry.

And because I’m a conscientious writer against the overharvesting of natural resources as well as someone who loves the science behind anything we eat, Brenda and Glenn Davis’s article on the Life History & Management of Blue Crabs is most beneficial.

Also from Eater is this post, Eight Maryland Crab Houses Worth the Drive, by Tim Ebner from August 19, 2016. Complete with restaurant names including a brief description and address, directions, and a map, you can’t go wrong with this tidbit of information for planning your tour of crab houses whether you’re a novice or expert in the knowledge and eating of blue crabs.

Perhaps you’re thinking this is overkill just for one mention of blue crabs in a novel. Maybe, but I’d rather be accurate with my information than make a glaring error. Besides, if it sends people to Maryland for a visit, or even more to my liking, encourages them to buy my novel, so much the better.

Enjoy!

 

Getting Out of a Jam With Marmalade

sweet-solution-4The character of Lucia in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, started out as one of peripheral importance. I created her simply to serve in the role of head cook to John’s Aunt Prudence, but she evolved into someone much more important. Just short of handling finances, it was understood that Lucia ran the household. She also ran Prudence with a style somewhere between a tough love guidance counselor and a wise, older mentor. Lucia also came to John’s rescue in the years following his brief service during World War II. John was unable to deal with the horrors he witnessed and most specifically for the one he caused that he kept secret from those he loved.

One day over a breakfast of popovers and orange marmalade, Lucia suggested that John go on a journey taking him away from his family so he could deal with the ghosts haunting him. John’s Aunt Prudence was heartbroken at the suggestion, but Lucia knew John needed time away to heal his mind and body. Besides, she would still be in Baltimore tending Prudence more as a close friend than as an employee. Prudence would only admit if pressed to say, but her relationship with her feisty cook was exactly how she liked it.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. There are some nice orange marmalades on the market in upscale food shops, but nothing quite compares to the flavor of homemade orange marmalade. Not only will your house smell wonderful while it’s cooking, the taste of homemade orange marmalade on toast, vanilla ice cream, or whole grain pancakes defies any description of deliciousness.

Lucia’s Orange Marmalade

6 large oranges with thin skin

1 lemon

6 c water

8 ¼ c of granulated sugar

Approximately 14 – 6 oz. canning jars, lids, rings

Water bath canner with canning rack

Wash the oranges and lemon using a mushroom brush or another type of soft, clean brush. Cut the oranges into 1/8 inch slices. Remove any seeds. Cut the stacked slices of orange into quarters. Trim any thick pieces of rind into slivers to use. Place the oranges in a large cooking pot. Zest the lemon and juice it. Add the zest and juice to the oranges in the pot along with the water. Bring to a boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat and maintain a bubbling simmer. Stir frequently and cook for forty minutes until the rinds of the oranges are tender enough to cut with a spoon.

sweet-solution-3While the orange/lemon mixture cooks, bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the canning jars in the water. Sterilize the jars by boiling for ten minutes. Turn off the heat and add the lids and rings. Let everything sit until the marmalade is ready. You may need to do this in two separate pots due to the quantity of jars.

After the orange/lemon mixture has cooked for forty minutes, add the sugar and return to a full boil. Stir frequently so the sugar doesn’t burn and the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil until the mixture reaches 223° on a candy thermometer. This process should take at least twenty minutes, but depending on your stove and/or cooking pot of choice, it may take longer. Keep a close eye on your thermometer and watch as the mixture darkens, turns glossy, and thickens. Adjust the heat if needed to keep it from boiling over.

To test the readiness of the marmalade, place a saucer in the freezer to chill. A small dollop of the marmalade placed on the chilled plate and allowed to cool should gel and move slightly. Anything runnier and the marmalade isn’t ready. Keep cooking, and watch your thermometer.

When the marmalade is ready, remove the jars from the water and drain on a clean towel. Carefully ladle the marmalade into the jars to just below the threads of the jar. Using a ladle and slotted spoon ensures that you don’t end up with too much peel or too much liquid for the jars at the end. Keep the juice to rind mixture balanced in each jar. Wipe the rims and threads of the jars with a clean, damp cloth and top each with a lid. Add a ring and tighten securely. You may use fewer jars than the recipe called for, but I suggest having fourteen ready just in case.

sweet-solution-2

Cooling Jars of Marmalade

Bring water to a boil in a water bath canner (approximately half full). Using the canning rack, add the jars of marmalade to the boiling water. Add additional hot water to the canner if needed to cover the jars at least one inch. Boil for ten minutes. Carefully remove the rack of jars and set on a clean towel in a cool, dry place to come to room temperature. You should begin to hear the lids pop indicating the jars of marmalade are sealing properly. Do not move for 24 hours. Refrigerate the marmalade once a jar has been opened. Unopened marmalade will last for up to six months.

Enjoy!

sweet-solution

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 20

writers-soul-20I’m two years into my author platform with my third-year anniversary coming up this August. I have a nice quantity of followers on my blog which is the most important part of my platform as far as I’m concerned because it reflects me most personally. I greatly appreciate the people who take the time to view, and hopefully read, my blog.

For this reason, I maintain quality posts that I trust my followers find interesting. These posts include samples of my writing, stories about my family life to give people a feel for who I am, and articles and recipes promoting my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I try to post on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and I revisit these posts based on a follow-up schedule of one week, one month, and two months. Then there is my presence on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

Why do I mention all this? Because once again I find myself questioning the benefit of the author platform. I went in search of articles, statistics, and/or facts that would answer my question, and here is what I found. Keep in mind that I’m interested in finding info as it relates to the fiction writer.

Per Jane Friedman’s July 25, 2016, post, A Definition of Author Platform, in answer to the question Do you need a platform to get published?:

It depends. If you’re a fiction writer, no.  Fiction writers should focus on crafting the best work possible. That’s not to say a platform is unwelcome if you have one, but an agent or publisher will make a decision first based on the quality of your manuscript and its suitability for the current marketplace.

I was quite pleased to know Mrs. Friedman believes the most important part of our careers is to write good fiction. As anyone who writes knows, that doesn’t always come easily. I try to write 1000 words a day, but life has a way of crashing in on my writing that sometimes makes this difficult. Still, I press on without making pathetic excuses, and if I don’t meet my word goal, I hope I come away with at least one brilliantly written sentence for the day.

Here’s the thing, though: writing three quality posts for my blog takes quite a lot of time. True, they vary in word count, and sometimes I can squeeze three posts out of my 1000 words a day goal, sometimes more, sometimes less. I devote Sundays to writing my posts. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling that the blog is taking away valuable time from my other writing.

Coming up with three different blog posts is like having three different battle fronts open on top of the one for my novel, the one for querying, and the one for maintaining the other aspects of my platform. That’s a whole lot of fighting going on which leads to stress and fatigue. It can negatively affect my frame of mind when I approach my novel. In short, there are too many irons in the fire to allow for good writing on one project.

Then I came across statistics for the fiction writer, who is given the grace of shooting for lower stats than the non-fiction writer for whom platform is crucial, on the Writer Unboxed site in the article Building Your Writer Platform — How Much is Enough?, and I almost had a heart attack. These are loosely defined targets that the fiction writer is to aim for:

Blog Page Views Notable: 20,000/month

Twitter Followers Notable: 5,000

Newsletter Subscribers Notable: 5,000

Public Speaking Appearances Notable: Speaking to 1,000 people (total) a year

Sales of Previous Self-Published Books Notable: 2,000+ for fiction

So, now I’m curious to know if my platform is enough. Luckily, a few agents addressed the question of readiness within the same article, and I would direct you to Writer Unboxed to read them as they are quite lengthy. I’m also not sure if the agents are speaking to non-fiction or fiction writers, but in either case, I’m wondering if an author platform is a good and/or just measure of how worthy a fiction writer’s work is for publication.

I don’t want to live in fear of dropping stats on any portion of my platform, and more than that, I don’t want to offend my followers in any way that would result in losing them. And yet, so much of what I read and hear from fellow writers, whether traditionally, self-, or pre-published, is that it all comes down to how much money a writer will make for a publisher. Worse, if sales are poor, the publisher has a tendency to place the blame on the writer. Does that mean I won’t get looked at until I achieve a certain level of stats on my author platform thus guaranteeing big sales for a publisher?

Perhaps the question I should be asking is: what’s being done to make writers’ lives more conducive to writing and less stressful? I found some relief in the latter portion of Mrs. Friedman’s article, and although she was addressing non-fiction writers, I believe the same clarifications apply to fiction writers when she expounds upon What platform is NOT, What activities build author platform?, and Platform building is not one size fits all.

At the heart of this matter in my quest for publication is the desire to make a connection with other writers who may be experiencing the same concerns. I don’t want to feed the misery loves company aspect of this busines. Rather, I would love to hear from people on how they view the issue and how they are positively dealing with it.  But here is another portion of my anxiety regarding my author platform: why don’t followers engage? In a world where people love to give their opinion on anything and everything, writers are asking, begging even, for people to leave feedback and input, reviews and comments.

In closing, I agree yet again with Jane Friedman from her above-mentioned article when she says:

It rips me apart to hear very new writers express confusion and anxiety about their platform, especially when they have not a single book or credit to their name. Well, it’s not a mystery why platform is so confusing when you may not yet know who you are as a writer.  First and foremost, platform grows out of your body of work—or from producing great work. Remember that.  It’s very difficult, next to impossible, to build a platform for work that does not yet exist.

Javaaaah!

Coffee features quite often in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Whether my characters consumed it with dessert, dinner, or by itself, coffee plays an important role in the scenes as much as the food I’ve chosen for them to eat. Rather than bore you with the entire history of coffee or mention trivia such as how many cups are consumed in the world a day, I’ll focus on how coffee was prepared during the years my novel takes place.

By the time my novel opens in 1907, one of the simplest methods of brewing coffee involved placing grounds and water in a heat-proof container and bringing it to a boil over a heat source. It was that inelegant sometimes. Most of the containers were actually metal pots with a handle and spout intended for coffee, however, brewing coffee in a cooking pot wasn’t unheard of.

javaaaah2I imagine Johnny’s stepmother, Collie, might have brewed coffee in a pot without a filter, heated on a wood-burning or coal stove. I envision it looking much like the speckleware version pictured to the right. Careful pouring ensured that most of the grounds stayed in the bottom of the pot. Another name for this simple process is cowboy coffee. Riding the plains and herding animals didn’t lend much time for the more sophisticated methods of brewing, and in Collie’s case, neither did running a farm.

Perhaps Collie was lucky enough to own a percolator. She still would have heated it on the stove because electricity wouldn’t have been available as far out as the Welleses lived on their farm. The advantage to the percolator would have been a separation of the spent grounds from the final product, making a much more palatable beverage.

Percolating coffee pots consist of a chamber at the bottom with a vertical tube leading from the lower chamber to the top of the pot. Resting on the vertical tube is another chamber with a perforated bottom. This is where the ground coffee is placed. The water level should not touch the bottom of the coffee chamber. There was also a lid with a clear knob.

javaaaahThe heat source beneath the percolator heats the water in the lower chamber. Heated water starts to boil, and the boiling makes the water rise up the tube and spill over into the coffee chamber. The heated water seeps through the grounds, out through the perforations at the bottom, and back into the water chamber. This process is repeated until the desired strength of brew is achieved. Those using a percolator would check the clear knob on the lid to see if the brew has reached the right color and strength.

One source credits James Nason of Massachusetts with patenting a percolator design in 1865. Another says on August 16, 1889, Hanson Goodrich, a farmer from Illinois, received his patent for the percolator. Still another gives American-born, British physicist Count Rumford, AKA Sir Benjamin Thompson, the acclaim for the invention of the percolator somewhere between 1810–1814. Regardless of who invented or patented it first, earlier models used glass construction, but percolators made from the 1930s on were made of metal, mostly aluminum and copper.

javaaaa3Only John, his Aunt Prudence, and some of the wealthier characters would have had access to restaurants that served espresso, the result of making coffee with steam pressure, or friends who owned a French press, a pot that brews coffee then separates the final product from the grounds by use of a plunger. The classiest method the others might have encountered would be filter drip brewing invented in 1908 by German housewife, Melitta Benz, in an effort to eliminate the bitter taste produced by boiling loose coffee grounds

After experimenting with various types of filtration, Melitta Benz ended up using blotting papers from her son’s exercise book. The ensuing result was met with enthusiasm, and she patented her invention, started a company, and hired her husband and two sons. Melitta coffee filters and pots are still around today.

So the next time you enjoy a cup of coffee from your favorite establishment, whether it’s a simple cup of joe or a fancy latte, keep in mind coffee’s humble beginnings and that, as of this post, it’s still the world’s favorite hot beverage.

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