Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author Elinor DeWire

Egmont Key Light
Egmont Key Light: https://www.visitflorida.com/en-us/things-to-do/outdoors-nature/lighthouse-egmont-key-st-petersburg-fla.html
St. Augustine Light
St. Augustine Light https://www.staugustinelighthouse.org/

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I am absolutely thrilled about this week’s interview! I had the amazing opportunity to chat with Author (and Lighthouse Historian Extraordinaire!) Elinor DeWire!

Her book that I’ve had forever (I have the first paperback edition of Guardians of the Lights: Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers for you book nerds out there!) was luckily not among the books damaged/lost in a flood. And it was the first book of my maritime history collection, and which eventually led to me getting a Master’s degree in history. While I’ve moved into other academic areas of interest (very recently!), I still love lighthouses, and have used them as settings for a couple of my (unpublished) short stories. And I love to read about lighthouses in fiction, too! (https://willowcroft.blog/2020/12/16/journeys-in-the-round/)

Willow Croft: So, we’ll get this out of the way, straight off. What’s your favourite light you’ve visited and/or lighthouse/light station you’ve stayed over at? What was the best part of your experience?

Elinor DeWire: I usually tell people my favorite lighthouse is the most recent one I’ve visited. That would be Cape Frehel in Brittany, France. Beautiful place and architecturally fascinating tower. That said, I must confess I REALLY love Nauset Beach Lighthouse on Cape Cod. (https://www.nps.gov/caco/planyourvisit/nauset-light-beach.htm) It was the first lighthouse where I did extensive research and even assisted–ever so little–the NPS with saving the Three Sisters lighthouses that preceded the red and white tower currently at Nauset Beach. I’m still hoping they will fabricate lanterns for the two capless Sisters. Nauset has a storied history and is pretty. I am a sucker for a pretty lighthouse!

Willow Croft: I always find a way to work in a mention of food, of course! Could you tell us about some common dishes and/or foodstuffs the lightkeeper and/or their family would eat while in residence?

Elinor DeWire: Keepers at remote or offshore light stations were given a standard supply of nonperishable staple foodstuff from the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment–dried beans, rice, sugar, flour, potatoes, turnips, molasses, salt, etc. I think a lot of fish was eaten, as it was handy nearby in the sea. Soups were served to stretch meat and have something hot on hand on cold days. The late Barbara Beebe gave me her mother’s rose hip jelly recipe, made from the beach roses growing at Old North Lighthouse on Block Island, RI. (https://lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=40) Her family also ate blanc mange, made from seaweed. The late Connie Small gave me her apple pie recipe. There were apple trees on St. Croix Island where her husband was assigned in the 1930s. Of course, chowders were popular too, and coffee was always at the ready.

Willow Croft: As I gathered from your blog, you have a novel in the works. What has been the challenges (and benefits?) in conducting research in regards to the pandemic? Also, I understand that you’re on the board of directors for the United States Lighthouse Society. Were there any challenges with continuing work on lighthouse preservation, continued conservation of existing sites, and fundraising within the former political climate and with the pandemic shutdown and precautions? How have you tackled these challenges?

Elinor DeWire: I have written so many lighthouse books, I am growing a bit jaded with that…not that I have any less love for lighthouses; it’s just a bit of writer’s weariness and the fact that the lighthouse genre is saturated at the moment. I have three novels in print now, all set in late Regency and early Victorian England. I write under a pen name–J.J. Scott–as I feel “Elinor DeWire” should remain dedicated to lighthouses. My novels are heavy on history with a serving of romance and intrigue. My first one, Saving Lord M, was and remains quite popular, a romantic and even a bit supernatural story of William Lamb, Viscount Lord Melbourne, prime minister of England in the 1830s. I was inspired to write about him by the PBS series Victoria, which inaccurately portrayed him. The popularity of the novel surprised me, though I should have remembered that I won short fiction prizes years ago. I’m at work on a 4th novel at present, set in Cumbria, England in 1830. Fiction has recharged my researcher and scribe battery!

U.S. Lighthouse Society–I was brought onto the Board a few years ago to develop the society’s education initiative and bring kids and families into our fold. (Also, the board had been composed of all men for decades, so a woman’s touch was needed!) So far, my education efforts have been well received, and we’re bringing youth into the fold. We expect to offer a kids’ membership soon and do some events expressly for kids. The pandemic has been tough financially. Lighthouse tours are the backbone of USLHS’s income, and of course we haven’t been able to do any tours for over a year. I think the last one was in the southeast USA about 14 months ago. The society has been solvent in the last decade; we have been able to trudge through the pandemic. Tours will resume late summer 2021. The Board will have its first face-to-face meeting this late June in Florida. As for fundraising, we relied on our loyal membership to tide us through the previous administration’s lack of humanities funding (and lack of sanity, period!) and through the pandemic. We are solvent, and we are even in the process of awarding $30K in increments of $1000 to needy lighthouse groups hit hard by lack of tourism. We will slowly resume our normal ops this year.

Willow Croft: In your book, Guardians of the Lights: Stories of U.S. Lighthouse Keepers, you include stories and photos about the keepers and their animal companions, and you have also included them in your The Lightkeepers’ Menagerie: Stories of Animals at Lighthouses. What’s the most memorable companion story you remember from your research? Also, please tell us about your own animal menagerie!

Elinor DeWire: I grew up on a small farm in Maryland; thus, I LOVE animals. My two kids had every kind of pet imaginable as they grew up, though my one requirement was “legs.” No pets without legs! (I am not fond of snakes.) I wrote Lightkeepers’ Menagerie because I had SO MANY little anecdotes about animals in my research files. They seemed so important in lighthouse history. I suppose I am biased toward the stories of cats at lighthouses, as I love kitties and have had many in my lifetime, Currently, I have a tabby and a Maine Coon. In the book, there is a story about Jiggs the cat, who was born at Pigeon Point, moved with the Henderson family to Point Sur, and then died there. He was exhumed when the family moved to Point Pinos and reburied there. I included a picture of his little grave in Lightkeepers’ Menagerie. I think this is my favorite animal story because Jiggs reminds me so much of one of our cats, ignobly named Warhead by my husband, a retired Navy ordnance officer. The mention of Jiggs climbing a woman’s legs under the dinner table is priceless. Warhead did the same thing to an insurance salesman who weaseled his way into our house many years ago. Warhead somehow realized we didn’t care for this man and had no intention of buying insurance, so he did his best to make the man leave. Success!

Willow Croft: I’ve visited a few lighthouses in Florida and up into in Georgia, but I haven’t experienced anything paranormal or supernatural at the ones that I’ve visited. Not even during the St. Augustine nighttime tour that included a visit to the grounds of the St. Augustine Light. (I say I haven’t, even though I did see big, glowing blue “orbs” bouncing around the base of an old oak tree, because it doesn’t really feel like it counts.) Have you witnessed anything paranormal at any of the lights, lighthouses, or light stations you’ve visited? If you haven’t, do you have a favourite ghostly tale to share about a lighthouse you’ve researched?

Elinor DeWire: No ghosts have allowed me to meet them at lighthouses. I am not particularly receptive, though I think the ghost tales and supernatural stuff is fun to write about, and it definitely has an audience. I did several lighthouse ghost tv shows years ago. I wish there was more interest in the real history of lighthouses, but people DO like the scary stuff! Knowing all that I know about lighthouses, I can usually explain away ghosts and supernatural events at lighthouses. A couple of years ago I visited St. Simons Lighthouse in Georgia, famous for its stairway ghost and a dog named Jinx that responded negatively to the poltergeist. (https://www.coastalgeorgiahistory.org/visit/st-simons-lighthouse/) I climbed the stairs alone after hours and heard the clanking and creaking sounds attributed to the ghost. It was just the iron stairway cooling down from a hot summer day. Metal expands in heat and contracts when cool. Bang, screech, groan!!! My favorite lighthouse ghost is a little gray kitty that haunts the upstairs of the keepers’ house at Fairport Lighthouse in Ohio. (http://www.fairportharborlighthouse.org/)  It’s a long story. You’ll find it in Lightkeepers’ Menagerie. I interviewed the woman who lived in the upstairs apartment in the 1980s, a curator at the museum. She was truly convinced the feline ghost was real, especially after repairmen came to the quarters and found the mummified body of a small cat in a wall. Ooooooh! Who am I to say…

ElinorDeWire

Elinor DeWire Links

Find her on Facebook as “Elinor DeWire, Author” and here: https://www.facebook.com/J.J.Scottnovelist/
Find @ElinorDeWire on Twitter
Visit her Author Blog on Blogspot: http://elinordewire.blogspot.com/
Find her Author Website here: https://www.elinordewire.com/
View her lighthouse videos on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoDc9cP-B8oKTF05jg9t3Iw
Visit her “Lighthouse” Pinterest Boards: https://www.pinterest.com/fineshine/
Find her on Amazon here https://www.amazon.com/Elinor-DeWire/e/B000APJJ0M and here https://www.amazon.com/J-J-Scott/e/B07QQ36XBT
View her education page at U.S. Lighthouse Society (full of resources for teachers and kids): https://uslhs.org/education/educational-materials

Winter Solstice and Ice Dreams…

I hope you all are enjoying this winter solstice and have hot chocolate and blankets ready for the conjunction viewing tonight. Alas, there is so much light pollution here, and my new locale is lit up so brightly I’m surprised you can’t see it from outer space.

There’s a little teeny part of me that’s expecting something momentous to happen, even though I fall more on the skeptic’s side of things. But I’ll settle for the veil between worlds to thin so that I can spend some time with my ghost cats of season’s past. I miss them.

I don’t even know about the veil-thinning thing, but I have been thinking a lot about the past. Many of my poems have elements taken from experiences I’ve had in the past, and turned into what-might-have-been second chances, or alternate dimensions.

The spec fic story (“The Ice Dream of the Crow”) I wrote for Excalibur’s Books’ Phantom Games: Dimensions Unknown 2020 was inspired by my grandmother’s boyfriend Ernie (he died some time ago). As the story goes, he was an excellent skater, and worked at the Lake Placid Olympics. From the family’s written record of the story, he laid the flag under the ice, and escorted Sonja Henie onto the ice. He was gifted an ice skater ornament for his work on the Olympics, which is still in the family.

So, if you’re looking to escape into an alternate reality and want to experience a fictional journey to the Games, and can’t wait for them to start next year, check out the anthology by clicking on the link here: Phantom Games: Dimensions Unknown 2020 or here https://www.amazon.com/Phantom-Games-Dimensions-2020/dp/B08KQP53X2/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Thanks, and enjoy the rare conjunction tonight! Merry solstice!

Heartbreak Upon Heartbreak: Willow Croft’s Review of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (Spoilers? Maybe…)

Oh, how I hated this book.
I hated it so much I loved it.
I hated it because it had drama and heartbreak and gut-wrenching sorrow.
I loved it because the writing was phenomenal and I wanted to stay up all night reading until the end and the ending was just as heartbreaking but in a beautiful way that made all the pain and nail-biting irresolution so very worth all the agony.

I hate drama because I always want to make things better for people, and I don’t want people to have pain and hurt and sorrow.

But this was so well done in that the story was combined a mystery novel that I hung onto the rollercoaster ride anyway.

Plus, the writing. This was one of those books that always make me wonder ‘how do they do that’ like when I muse over little bits in J.K. Rowling’s book and think ‘did she have every little detail outlined from start to finish with all seven books’ which always evokes my admiration, because I struggle so much with outlining and plotting. And then I just tell myself it’s a writer’s magical serendipity at work and I plow on through with my own panster-based writing.

But back to writer Kate Atkinson. Wow, I just ate up the words like frosting on a cake.

And one, or more, of the women characters, yes, yes, yes, because who hasn’t felt like that in a relationship?

But then came the twists, which were also yes, yes, yes, still but were also “holy f**k”…

So, I’d just wrap this book by saying read it. Read it now. Even if you think you hate it.

(I received a copy of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson from a Goodreads giveaway, compliments of Hachette Book Group, with no request for a review.)

Under a “Hunter’s Moon” with Philip Caputo

Book Review: Hunter’s Moon by Philip Caputo

Well, of course, I read his A Rumor of War in history graduate school. So, I was excited to receive a copy of Hunter’s Moon: A Novel in Stories in a giveaway hosted via Goodreads.

Not to stereotype, but I’m pretty sure I’m not Caputo’s target audience. A) I’m vegetarian B) If it were the zombie apocalypse, I’m pretty sure I would starve to death rather than hunt (and eat) one of my beloved animal friends.

But who knows what you would do in that scenario to survive? Maybe I’d be a pretty good hunter and gatherer. Which is why these stories surprised me, in much the same way as if I would become the Darryl (from Walking Dead fame) with his hunting acumen. But, even in my writerly let’s-get-a-story-from-them daydreams, I still can’t imagine shooting an animal.

Because of that, I wanted not to like this story collection.

I’m not even really a fan of general fiction. I’m a genre reader, pretty much these days.

So that’s at least two strikes. The third being that I’m getting more and more women-centric these days–way above and beyond my usual feminist beliefs. Men have had the limelight for long enough in this world.

But the writing won me over. The good old turn-of-the-phrase. Haunting, sparse, compelling me to read on.

And, because, as I’m entering into the confusing swamp of middle age, these stories all had a theme I could relate to.

I don’t know what to call it, really. A loneliness that feels like an old friend. A poignant seeking for something that will not be able to be resolved as long as we’re still sitting in the box called the human condition. A quality that reminds me of the kid that so wanted to be a child of the forest and the wild, instead of living among people, and yet was drawn indoors by the lure of sustenance, or the fear of punishment.

Of being alone, still, among all the other seven billion and counting people on this planet, taking up more and more space. And that it is, in fact, even more lonely for people like me.

It’s a transition that I haven’t come out the other side of yet. But the stories captured in Hunter’s Moon tell me that maybe I don’t have to know, yet. I can just sit with it a while, under the hunter’s moon, until the sun rises on the next part of my life. Or that the moon keeps an eternal watch on this, the end times (sans zombies).

(I received this book via a giveaway hosted by the book’s publisher/author via Goodreads.)