Sunday, March 22, 2015

Easy to be soft

         The narrative genealogy I have been working on for the past few months is called Faith of our Fathers. My ancestors were Baptist going all the way back to the 1600s and their religious beliefs had a major impact on their history. It's why they left England and traveled to the unknown colonies at the first opportunity. And when Baptists were not welcome in most of the original 13 colonies, they headed west in search of religious freedom. 
Lewis Craig,  one of my son's ancestors, is probably the most famous. He was arrested numerous times in Virginia for preaching without a license from the Anglican Church. At one such arrest he surprised the jury by gladly accepting his fate:
        "I thank you, gentlemen of the grand jury, for the honor you have done me. While I was wicked and injurious, you took no notice of me, but since I have altered my course of life and endeavored to reform my neighbors, you concern yourselves much about me. I shall take the spoiling of my goods joyfully.”
      A crowd gathered outside the jail, and he preached through the bars. And when he decided to move to Kentucky for more freedom, hundreds followed him.
     As time passed, and religious freedom was guaranteed by the constitution, the Baptist church grew into one of the largest denominations in the country. I have become soft. I expect religious liberty.
     But certainly that is not true everywhere. Twenty Coptic Christians were beheaded last month in Libya. More than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria to avoid "sinful" education.We've become accustomed to such atrocities in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, much the way we've become soft about expecting our own religious freedom in this country.
      I'm a Methodist now -- I have the freedom to choose -- and today my minister read a letter encouraging us to speak out about the persecution of Christians. She also encouraged us to pray about the problem, but she said we need to pray humbly.  All of us are guilty of having prejudices and misconceptions about others' religious beliefs.   We want religious freedom but only for the "right"  religions.
        So I will pray for gratitude for the freedoms I have, tolerance for beliefs I don't like, justice for the oppressed and forgiveness for the oppressors.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Kiss me! Just found out I'm Irish!

For 27 years -- from my wedding in 1971 until I returned to my maiden name in 1998 -- I was Sue Wallace. My son still carries the surname of his father. We never had any doubt his ancestors were Scottish. Ryan has a plaque with the clan coat of arms as well as many pieces made in the distinctive red, black and yellow tartan of the Wallace clan.
         Remember the movie Braveheart about the Scottish hero William Wallace? In the final scene when everyone is chanting "Wallace, Wallace, Wallace" my son turned to me and said, "Makes you proud just to have the name."
          Then last week, working on my genealogy project, I put in the earliest known Wallace ancestor, Joseph, who was born in Virginia in 1762.  Then I checked Seems Joseph had a father of the same name, born in 1730 in IRELAND! I couldn't believe it! I guess it's good for a swig of green beer this week, but what am I going to do with all that Scottish tartan?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Expo Extras!

         Jordan Daily News Mysteries will be featured this weekend at the West Michigan Women's Expo in Grand Rapids. Great Lakes Authors, a group of 32 writers from various genres, will be hosting a booth for the three-day event.
           Although my books will be making an appearance, I won't be there. I'm still enjoying my winter in Florida. I know it is warming up in Michigan, but I'm not ready to leave the Sunshine State. I knew you would understand.
             I'm posting the following FAQ in case you have questions about the series. I hope you'll stop by the expo and pick up one of my mysteries as well as books by other local authors including Charles Honey, Tom Rademacher, Tricia MacDonald, Janet Vormittag and many more.
Jordan Daily News Mysteries
Does this series have recurring characters?
Yes. The mysteries are solved by the staff of a small town daily newspaper. Single-mother city editor Josie Braun leads the staff including investigative reporter Duke Dukakis, smooth talker Nick Davidson and crusader-for-the-underdog Becky Judd.

Where and when does this series take place?
The mysteries are set in the fictional Chicago suburb of Jordan in the pre-internet 1980s.

Is this stuff true crime?
No, this is fiction. The author was inspired, however, by events that happened during her newspaper career. Great News Town, for instance, is inspired by a series of murders that took place in 1983 when Sue Merrell was working for the Joliet Herald-News and One Shoe Off is inspired by the 1957 disappearance of Joliet newspaper editor Molly Zelko.

Do I need to read them in order?
No, each mystery stands alone. But as with any good series the characters and the relationships grow and change from book to book. If you start with the second book, One Shoe Off, you’ll see a city editor who is much more confident than in the first book, Great News Town, and you’ll know the status of her love interest from the first book.

I don’t like too much violence or bad language. Are these books offensive?
Great News Town is about a serial killer with 14 murders in one summer. But the thrust of the story is the lives that were lost and the community’s reaction, not the gory details. Although there are a few deaths in One Shoe Off and one in Full Moon Friday, the stories are more about the anticipation of violence than the actual events. Foul language is kept to a minimum. Part of the humor of the series is that Duke invents a new curse phrase every time he feels like using a four-letter word.

I don’t like graphic sex.
The secret to a sexy scene is in the imagination, not graphic details.

So which one should I buy?
Great News Town introduces the series and the characters with lots of murders to solve. It’s the first in the series and was an honorable mention in Writers’ Digest 2014 Self-Published book awards. One Shoe Off was a finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Awards in 2013. Most readers love Zelda Machinko, an opinionated editor from the past who haunts the newsroom. Full Moon Friday is about all the things that go wrong when a full moon coincides with Friday the 13th. It’s for anyone who’s a little superstitious. This fast-paced tale takes place in 24 hours.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Write on and on and on!


The Great Lakes may be frozen on the surface, but creative energy is bubbling to the top and will be on full display next month at West Michigan Women's Expo.  Great Lakes Authors, a new organization representing 32 Michigan authors, will host its first ever browse-through bookstore at the Expo. .
      Close to 20,000 people are expected to attend the three-day exposition March 13-15 at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. This is the 17th year for the Expo but the first year for Great Lakes Authors.
      I'm tickled to be one of the authors represented. Copies of all three Jordan Daily News Mysteries -- Great News Town, One Shoe Off and Full Moon Friday -- will be available, as well as my 2009 memoir, Laughing for a Living.
       I'll be sharing space with some of my former colleagues at the Grand Rapids Press including Tom Rademacher, Charley Honey, Lawrence Heibel and  Janet Vormittag. Genres range from the job advice of Hudsonville employment counselor Susan Maciak to the humorous antics of Tricia McDonald's beloved white terrier, Sally.
       You can pick up locally written financial advice, young adult romance, urban fantasy, cookbooks, poetry and many more genres. And you'll have a chance to meet many of the authors who are scheduled for book signings.
        I expect Full Moon Friday to be glowing on the shelves since the Expo kicks off on Friday the 13th. How can you resist?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Double Friggatriskaidecaphobia!

Just when you thought you made it through Friday the 13th without a mishap, you realize there are only 28 days in February. That means the March day/date combinations are the same. Another Friday the 13th is on the way!
      It would have been the same in 1987, the setting for my most recent book Full Moon Friday. All the craziness of that book happens in one 24-hour period -- Friday, February 13, 1987-- and a few hours into the early morning of a very romantic Valentine's Day.
       Full Moon Friday and my other books -- Great News Town, One Shoe Off and Laughing for a Living -- will be featured this year in a special booth for Great Lakes Authors at the West Michigan Women's Expo at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. The timing is especially appropriate since the March expo will open on Friday the 13th.
       I decided to celebrate the double Friggatrikaidekaphobia of back-to-back Friday-the-13ths by reducing the list price of Full Moon Friday on Amazon.  So if you can't wait for the Women's Expo, you can order a copy here for just $11.69 for a limited time only. Let the madness begin!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Colonial Write Stuff

We're often told to be careful what we write. A rude email or Facebook post  or a scandalous tweet can come back to haunt you. But I doubt ggggggreat grandpa Ambrose Coleman had any idea that a note he wrote to his cousin in 1801 would be posted for the world to read more than 200 years later.
        Of course, I was delighted to find the letter online to help with my current genealogy research.
         The letter survived because Ambrose's cousin was James Madison who was serving as Thomas Jefferson's  Secretary of State in 1801. The National Archives and University of Virginia Press have posted Madison's papers on the Founders Online website.
          Ambrose apologized for writing, "but necessity will compel a person to do that he is ashamed of."  Ambrose was looking for financial aid. Evidently, before the Revolution, Ambrose ran up a tab at the local British Merchant who escaped to Scotland when the fighting started. Ambrose said he tried to settle the debt a couple of times but there was no way to contact the merchant. Now, suddenly, the sheriff is at the door, wanting to collect the debt plus interest! Ambrose owes 8 pounds and change. "We have had a poor Crop year with us and I am not Able to discharge it without selling something that I can Illey spare," he writes.
         Ambrose's mother was Eleanor Madison, a great aunt to the future president. Ambrose lives on a plantation next door to Madison's home at Montpelier. Ambrose, who was about 64 when the letter was written, mentions all the help he had received in recent years from Madison's father, James Madison Sr., who died at Montpelier about six months before the letter.
        Ambrose doesn't come right out and ask the Secretary of State for money. Instead he asks him to contact Ambrose's brother and let him know of the need. The site suggests that the "brother" might be Daniel Coleman who was serving in the Virginia legislature at the time, but according to the genealogical information available on Daniel, he was a distant cousin to Ambrose. Based on the 1764 will of Ambrose's father, Ambrose had only one brother, James, who died in 1796 according to posted genealogies.
         Yes, the letter raises questions about the mystery brother, and it is a bit embarrassing to have an ancestor begging so, but it makes Ambrose seem human, don't you think?


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Named in the will

         Now that it is Black History month I have a huge confession to make. Some of the ancestors I've uncovered were slaveholders.
          Slager. Rose. James.
          Their names pop up in the wills, to be passed on to the next generation along with land and a favorite sorrel riding horse or a treasured spinning wheel.
           Sarah. Izra. Angelo.
           The names conjure faces. Tired and sweaty. Or wrapped in a bandana and dusted with flour. Frightened. Angry. Resigned to their fate.
          I never really thought my ancestors were part of this great national sin, not because my ancestors were morally superior but because they were dirt poor. At the time of the Civil War all of my ancestors were subsistence farmers in Missouri. They didn't own slaves. They didn't own much of anything.
           But now that I am looking more closely at my earlier ancestors in the 1600s, I see that several of them were caught up in the marketing mania that became slavery. In both Virginia and New Jersey the government offered inducements to attract settlers to tame the wilderness. Settlers received "head rights" -- grants of 50 or 60 acres per person. And if a man bought one of the black workers being unloaded at the dock, then he received an additional 60 acres in the deal.
           It doesn't make it acceptable or right, but it helps me understand how William Merrell, a man of fairly modest means in the northern state of New Jersey, ended up with two slaves to pass along in his will. And in Virginia, the Colemans amassed so much land they needed lots of workers to clear it.
           I'm  embarrassed and ashamed and very sorry to realize my family played a part in this tragedy.
          There's one named Sampson. He must have been big and strong. There's one named Mustapher. Sounds like one of the cats in a Broadway musical. There's even one called Cupid.
          Their names echo through the wills and legal paperwork right along with the names of all my distant cousins of long ago.
           They are part of my history, too.