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areas of interest (very recently!), I still love lighthouses, and have used them as settings for a couple of my (unpublished) short stories.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

Wednesday’s Book Looks: The Four S’s: Supernatural, Sisters, Scotland, and Synchronicity!

*possible book spoilers ahead* (None of these are affiliate links, and weren’t requests for reviews.)

It’s probably something to do with the recent time change here in the United States, but I have been feeling especially discombobulated and spacey this past week or so. I’ve been slogging through my social media at a snail’s pace, and my work and writing schedules are all out of whack. (Plus, I REALLY don’t like eating while it’s still light out!)

So, off into the darkness we descend!

The First S: Supernatural!

Okay, so back A LONG TIME AGO in the 1990s, vampires were all the rage. As much as we goths pretended to be too dark and spooky for the more…romantic?…stylized?…view of vampires, we loved Anne Rice. (But, you know, vampires are MONSTERS.) I didn’t even mind Tom Cruise as Lestat in the movie version, but probably because I only knew him as Jack from the movie Legend previously.

Vampirism, though, had shifted from monstrous (and damned) creatures of the night that we related to as like misfits into something more mystical and otherworldly. The “damned” had evolved into alluring creatures that were admired, not despised, and I reckon maybe we wanted to feel like that for a while.

For a very little while. Because TV cameras and news crews descended onto the clubs, to capture the “depraved” shenanigans of this sub-subculture Vampire movement.

So, it was a real treat to read a collection of vampire stories that didn’t involve sparkly vampires as written for the next generation(s). And it’s a collection of bloody tales that could have been complete moldy vampire cheese, but, luckily for me, wasn’t.

Anyhoo, The Vampire Connoisseur took me right back to those days where I both felt shunned by mainstream society (Oh wait, I still feel like that!), and felt a longing to be immortal and therefore immune to pangs of emotion and the nibblings of a conscience and the ravening bites of aging. (Full title: Todd Sullivan Presents: The Vampire Connoisseurs)

Here, most of the vampires within are unequivocally monsters, either via their own awareness, or through the awareness of the characters that observe them. And sometimes the death at the hands of the monsters is welcomed, as illuminated by the arc of the stories.

And sometimes the vampiric monsters are creatively reimagined, as in Priscilla Bettis’s tale “The Sun Sets Nonetheless” which had the double spook factor of being set in the state where I live. [Earthquakes, tornadoes, and now mysterious blue-skinned “creatures”?!?!?! Maybe Priscilla Bettis will let me camp out in her (completely imaginary and fictional) back yard in Virginia, where they only seem to get the occasional rogue hurricane! *wry laugh*]

Pick up a copy of Todd Sullivan Presents: The Vampire Connoisseur on Amazon https://bookshop.org/books/todd-sullivan-presents-the-vampire-connoisseur/9781649050090 or on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/todd-sullivan-presents-the-vampire-connoisseur/9781649050090.

And, if there’s something I love as much as REALLY GOOD vampire stories, it’s GHOST STORIES! Here in Kansas, we had storms and grey skies and fierce winds wailing outside the window and the only thing lacking to read Ghost Stories for Starless Nights by is a crackling fire! And toasted marshmallows, of course! (But a little ghostie told me that you can find virtual haunted campfires over at Haunt Jaunts. But that may just be a pesky poltergeist starting rumours! https://www.hauntjaunts.net/virtual-haunted-campfires-2021-line-up-and-schedule/#Virtual_Haunted_Campfires_2021_Cost)

Sadly, the starless nights here are not due to the storms or anything else natural or supernatural but to the obscene levels of light pollution here in Wichita, but at least I can escape into the atmospheric and haunting world(s) of Ghost Stories for Starless Nights. Join me around the fire, won’t you? https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Stories-Starless-Nights-Publishing/dp/B088N4WKL5

The Second S: Sisters!

Speaking of romantic notions, I, when I was real young, wanted a sister so badly. Especially a twin sister. I had a pretty lonely and isolating childhood, and I thought that having a twin sister would have given me a ready-made friend. (I blame Trixie Belden, Little Women, and even Anne of Green Gables with all that “kindred spirit” blather.) Once, I dreamed of a girl that lived in the attic and I swore that she was real. So did a psychic who did a reading for a family member once. I at least had an imaginary sister. For a little while, anyway.

However, the sisters in Tochi Onyebuchi’s War Girls are sisters in the most complex, complicated, powerful, and real ways. And the world they navigate–a 2172 Earth ravaged by climate change and military conflicts–provides an equally harrowing setting for the two young women.

War Girls not only captures the bond of sisters but also the heartbreak of that powerful bond.

And it made me want a sister even more, despite all the complications and pain that seems to be involved.

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/War-Girls-Tochi-Onyebuchi/dp/0451481674 and on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/war-girls/9780451481672

The Third and Forth S’s: Scotland and Synchronicity!

I have wanted to live in Scotland ever since the 90s, when I visited. Finances and cats and a lack of more shrewd and focused life planning have complicated the issue, but at least I got to take a tour of the Glasgow School of Art before the terrible fire. (<—loves Mackintosh)

So, when I read The Cracked Spine (Scottish Bookshop Mystery #1) by Paige Shelton I just about died! Essentially a woman who works in a museum in WICHITA, KANSAS gets the job offer of a lifetime to work in a rare BOOKSHOP in EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND and, well, I think there’s a mystery involved somehow. But all I could think about was THAT’S ME!!!!! Well, a me in another life, anyway. And I was torn between loving every word of my alternate universe and being supremely envious of my own alternate self! Mock jealousy aside, it was such a lovely, hopeful, escapist read! In my next life, I’ll be sure to have more clear vision of who I am, and how to build a life and make choices to nurture and preserve that innate self.

The Cracked Spine on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Cracked-Spine-Scottish-Bookshop-Mystery/dp/1250057485/ and on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/the-cracked-spine/9781250118226

On the heels of reading that book, I had a dream where I was hanging out with a soulmate-type person and they liked me exactly how I was. It was a very pleasant dream.

So, to sum up, supernaturally spooky adventures, “kindred spirit” sisters, Scotland and synchronicity, and hope for a “maybe someday” that’s all my own.