general wackiness, Hiccups in History, history, humor, reblogged, Uncategorized, US history

Hiccups in History, the Drunken Cow Edition

Behold, gentle reader! Here you witness the start of an intermittent series of blog posts designed to feature those subjects that are dear to my writerly heart. Namely, the quirks of history, which is called, descriptively enough, Hiccups in History.

Hiccups in History

The very first of such posts is a reblog by TwistedSifter. It’s just too good to pass up. More hiccups to come soon!

Photograph via Library of Congress In this old law enforcement photo from 1924, we see a police officer trying on a ‘cow shoe’ used by moonshiners to disguise their footprints. In the United States alcohol was banned from 1920-1933 in an era known as Prohibition. Moonshine (a type of strong, homemade whiskey) was often…

via Cow Shoes Used by Moonshiners During Prohibition to Disguise Their Footprints — TwistedSifter

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books, general wackiness, historical romance, history, literature, romance, Uncategorized, women, writing

Dun Dun Dun. New Release Day!

At last, the day has come! What, you say? The Second Coming is upon us? Nay! My romantic historical wackadoodle novelette is here! Surely that’s of equal import … ? Err. Let’s just forget I wrote that.

Anyhow, this novelette is 10,000 words of icebergs and explosions, potions and provocations. Don’t wait to get it! Seriously. The end might be nigh.

Humor romance Antarctica historical

Whiter Pastures
Xina Marie Uhl
Genres: Adult, Historical, Romance, Humor

A romantic novelette in the Icebound series, an ongoing collection of polar delights.

Behold dogsleds and penguins. Howling winds and cold, pitiless wastes. This is Antarctica, where the intrepid inhabitants of the frozen ends of the earth battle the terrain, and each other, to find love—in a past much like that of the early 1900s.

Reluctant spinster Florance Barton fled to the British Antarctic base to escape a scandalous love affair, among other things. Amidst the handful of other women there, Florance is the perfect chambermaid, meek, mild, and forgettable. No one has a clue that she’s also a novice spy.

When handsome young Handy McHanagan arrives at the base, he sets everyone agog. He’s charming, artistic, and … an accomplished gardener. His arrival may just be a mistake on the part of naval command. Or is it something more sinister?

Killer seals and subzero ice storms and aren’t the only danger in Antarctica: a enemy spy is on the loose. Florance has been ordered to choose between queen and country and her heart. Because penguin is off the menu now–and murder is its replacement.

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books, Cover reveal, general wackiness, historical romance, history, humor, romance, travel, Uncategorized, writing

Cover Reveal is Here! Woo hooooooo

Today is the day for the cover reveal of my novelette! I’m flailing around like Kermit the Frog. What do you think? Does it look like the best thing in all of creation, everywhere, at all times? (Errr, okay, maybe I got a little carried away there). My cover designer is Yoly from Cormar Covers, who is not only talented, but also reasonably priced.

Please share it on your blog, Facebook, Twitter Instagram, what have you. Links are below! The story’s release is one week from today, July 5th.

 

Whiter Pastures
Xina Marie Uhl
Publication date: July 5th 2017
Genres: Adult, Historical, Romance

A romantic novelette in the Icebound series, an ongoing collection of polar delights.

Behold dogsleds and penguins. Howling winds and cold, pitiless wastes. This is Antarctica, where the intrepid inhabitants of the frozen ends of the earth battle the terrain, and each other, to find love—in a past much like that of the early 1900s.

Reluctant spinster Florance Barton fled to the British Antarctic base to escape a scandalous love affair, among other things. Amidst the handful of other women there, Florance is the perfect chambermaid, meek, mild, and forgettable. No one has a clue that she’s also a novice spy.

When handsome young Handy McHanagan arrives at the base, he sets everyone agog. He’s charming, artistic, and … an accomplished gardener. His arrival may just be a mistake on the part of naval command. Or is it something more sinister?

Because killer seals and subzero ice storms and aren’t the only danger in Antarctica: a enemy spy is on the loose. Florance has been ordered to choose between queen and country and her heart. Because penguin is off the menu now–and murder is its replacement.

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Author Bio:

Author Xina Marie Uhl lives in sunny Southern California with her husband and assorted furry and scaly pets. The setting of her first novel, NECROPOLIS, has been heavily influenced by her interest in ancient history. She holds both a BA and an MA in history. In addition to fiction writing, she teaches college history courses and writes educational materials. When she isn’t reading and writing, she enjoys hiking, photography, and planning new travel adventures.

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history, research, Uncategorized, US history

The Old West’s Most Interesting Woman

People are sometimes surprised to find out that I never studied writing formally. Instead, I majored in history – both for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. Why? Because history is nothing but stories. And you know the saying: truth is stranger than fiction.

So it is that while researching mountain men for one of my freelance projects I came upon the story of an amazing woman in the Old West: Stagecoach Mary. This 6 foot tall, 200-lb woman picked up and moved into Montana at the age of 52 years. There, she first worked for the Jesuits and next for a convent, where she chopped wood, dug holes, tended as many as 400 chickens, and grew vegetables for the nuns. Though she was devoted to the nuns and their Indian students at the mission, she was well known to have “the temperament of a grizzly bear.” She smoked, swore, and engaged in rounds of fisticuffs with her fellow hired hands. These behaviors got her banned from the mission in 1884 despite the protestations of the nuns.

mary_fields

Yes, indeed, Stagecoach Mary could kick ass and take names with the best of them. She smoked homemade cigars and was once attacked by wolves while alone on the prairie. I guess you know who got the bad end of that deal. After the nun debacle she tried to run a couple of restaurants, but because she kept giving meals to the down and out, she couldn’t make a go of it. In 1895, at the age of 63, she got a job delivering mail for the post office. As a job interview she and a dozen young cowboys had to hitch a team of six horses to a stagecoach as quickly as possible. She won to become the second woman – and the first black person – to manage a mail route. For eight years she carried mail back and forth to Montana pioneers. With the help of her mule, Moses, she braved icy blizzards and heat waves in the remote land.

Stagecoach Mary, also known as Black Mary, was christened Mary Fields when she was born into slavery in 1832, in Hickman County, Tennessee. After the Civil War guaranteed her freedom, she worked for a time as a chambermaid on a steamboat named the Robert E. Lee.  She witnessed the steamer’s race against Steamboat Bill’s Natchez in 1870. During the race, the men tossed anything they could get their hands on into the boiler – from barrels of resin to slabs of ham and bacon. Other men sat on the relief valves in order to increase the steam pressure.

At 71, she gave up her postal route to run a laundry – and famously punched out a customer who hadn’t paid up the $2 he owed her. Reportedly, she spent more time drinking whiskey and smoking cigars than washing clothes. So she took up babysitting the local kids. One of those local kids was actor Gary Cooper, who visited her hometown of Cascade, Montana from nearby Dearborn. He wrote a story about her for Ebony magazine in 1959.

baseball1

The only black resident of Cascade, she had plenty of friends in the townfolk. One was Kirk Huntley, who, when he sold his hotel in 1910, stipulated that she was to be offered all the meals she wanted free of charge. Her house burned down in 1912 and the town pitched in to build her a new one. She was also a baseball fan who sponsored the Cascade baseball team and made sure that each player had buttonhole bouquets of flowers from her garden.

At the age of 82 she grew ill, and stole away to die in the tall grass near her home. But children who she had babysat found her and she was spirited off to the hospital in Great Falls, where she died a few days later, in 1914.

dogs, history, research, Uncategorized, US history, writing

Animals in History, Oh My!

If I had unlimited time, I would probably spend several hours a day, every day, learning Latin and perusing old newspaper articles. Alas, I do not have unlimited time, but in my research for various fiction and nonfiction projects I do come across some interesting bits now and again. You may recall my rampaging monkey post. This is another post in the same vein.

First we will start with the wild. Bears! I do believe this has the makings of an American nursery tale.

bears history
Thursday, November 2, 1894. Sturgeon Bay, WI, Vol XXII, The Democrat.

Goodness gracious, great balls of fire! Hyenas can be pretty dangerous, too.

Chicago cemeteries hyena

Dogs in danger always pulls at the heartstrings! It seems that Jack London’s Call of the Wild may have inspired some unsavory people:

Dog slavers
June 18, 1910, v. 26 n.25, Sausalito News.

And last, but not least, apparently dogs have been accompanying folks on car rides for quite some time.

dog automobile
March 19, 1905, Omaha Daily Bee.

You will notice that these articles are from around the turn of the 20th century. That’s the setting of my latest project, a quirky romance between a dog musher/postman and a bicycle-riding pastor in 1911 Alaska. Check out my newsletter to keep apprised of its progress and to read free flash fiction while you are at it.

history, research, travel, Uncategorized, US history

1920’s Postcard America

My mom passed away last February, old and full of years, as the Bible says. With her passed a bygone era, at least for me: farm life in rural Pennsylvania. From a family of Mennonites, frugality, simplicity, and family were the paramount values. She carried these with her whole life, as well as other things.

Mainly, junk.

Yes, I said it. I love my mother dearly (I can’t use the past tense because I still love her even though she’s gone) but she did tend to keep things way too long. Going through her stuff is a lengthy process that involves much head-shaking. Why did you keep this 1980’s era badge from when you worked in a convenience store, mom? Why did you keep every piece of crappy jewelry I had as a teenager – even when it was broken or missing pieces (one earring)? Just … why?

I think the answer lies in the “frugality” I mentioned above. Born in the late ’30s, she came into an America still in the grips of the Great Depression, when jobs were as scarce as consumer goods. Her frugality would be considered poverty today. And as anyone who has struggled with it knows, it leaves scars. And also thrifty habits. Believe me, I am grateful for learning how to get a dollar’s worth at the store. I’m also grateful for the memories of button boxes, homemade clothes, and the do-it-yourself ethos. Reusing the old green toilet cover as landscaping did seem to be taking it a bit too far, though.

Anyhow, along with the junk she also kept lots and lots of pictures, slides, and cards. I came across these lovely 1920s postcards during my search, some which were sent by my grandfather, who passed away in the ’70s. We live in a much different world today when it comes to travel. I’ve crisscrossed the country several times and flown all over the world. But up until the interstate system came into being in 1956 (and not completed for 35 years) it was a royal pain to go any distance. And of course the vehicles were not so comfortable and quick-moving. You can get a good sense of the difficulties and challenges involved in Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck’s cross-country travel memoir.

It was a real thrill to go somewhere different. Like Virginia:

virginia

Where you could see all manner of things, which fold out accordion-style, like this image of Monticello:

monticello

Or the Hudson River:

hudson-river

Photos within this package (look close for the old-timey cars):

hudsonriver2

And, a world away from small-town Pennsylvania, Chicago:

chicago

So many sights to see, there! Why, sailboats, even:

chicago2There’s more, but these are the most fascinating to me, history-lover that I am. My latest fiction project takes place in 1911 America, so finding these was particularly relevant.

Thanks, mom.

freelance, history, nonfiction, research, travel, Uncategorized, writing

The Worst Trip Ever: Francisco Vázquez de Coronado

Like most fiction writers, I have a day job. Mine happens to be as a writer. Of nonfiction for kids. What can be better than to research, write, and edit nonfiction for kids? Especially when my writing projects are historical. Let me tell you, it beats my past jobs with a stick: project manager, administrative analyst, administrative coordinator, accounts payable clerk, and some others that have faded into the past like a rancid odor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the ability to support myself and my family at past jobs, but they’ve all been stepping stones to where I am today. Which is in my home office with my dogs all around me, my hair in disarray, dressed in yoga pants and sweatshirts, and wearing away at the paint on my computer keyboard.

It’s glamorous, all right.

I’m a freelancer and happy with the independence it brings me. Sure, there are downsides, too, but I can’t see myself headed back into an office environment any time soon. Or any time at all.

Last year I wrote a fun historical book on Francisco Vázquez de Coronado (2017 publication date). He’s that failure of a 16th century explorer who set off to find the Seven Cities of Gold. That didn’t exist. But at least he had fun along the way, leading a motley crew of soldiers and missionaries across the broiling hot deserts of northern Mexico and southern Arizona. They stumped across rocky defiles and cactus-choked deer paths in their heavy plate metal armor (which they evidently scattered here and there, to the delight of archaeologists), and abused American Indians at every opportunity. You see, if Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro could overtake gold-rich Central and South American civilizations, then certainly Coronado could too. When he heard the “credible” tales of the Seven Cities of Gold that lay north of Mexico from a wily and perhaps demented friar, Marcos de Niza, he seized upon them.

Francisco Vazquez de Coronado conquistador explorer 16the century

Perhaps Coronado should have fact-checked de Niza’s reports a little closer. Because he and his men traveled hundreds of miles north, then east, then north again, following rumors and pipe dreams. They crossed from Arizona to New Mexico, into Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle, and finally central Kansas. Poor Indian villages were all they found, no wealth other than the clear air and endless grasslands.

The revelation that de Niza lied about these gold and jewel-bedecked cities deterred the group only temporarily. The hints and lies of another man, an Indian slave nicknamed The Turk, kept them traveling on into Kansas. The Turk hoped that a local tribe would slaughter them. Alas, The Turk ended up being the one slaughtered when his deception was uncovered. At last, Coronado determined to turn back, but he would have gone on if his men and the Spanish government would have given him more support. He and his men slunk back to Mexico in disgrace. He did not receive the riches and fame he sought, but he did penetrate a previously unknown land and pave the way for later explorers and settlers.

Coronado Expedition Conquistador Explorer
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=146759

The Spanish left behind horses, which the Indians bred and used to legendary utility. Before the coming of the Spanish, Indians only had dogs as pack animals. They also left behind diseases that the biologically separate Americans had no natural immunity to. Such began the Indian’s long decline and eventual near-extinction.

You can still hear echoes of long-ago drumbeats and see the crumbled remains of Indian dwelling places on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, a stretch of narrow, winding highway in eastern Arizona. This section of US Route 191 is said to have 460 curves, which make it “exciting” or “terrifying” depending on your perspective. Perhaps you, like me, find yourself drawn to remote historical adventures, though, and if so you may enjoy the 120-mile drive.

I just hope that my own life’s adventures do not end in infamy like Coronado’s.

history, research, travel, Uncategorized

Peeling Back History’s Layers

Recently, I had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. A transcendent, awe-inspiring, utterly magnificent experience.

An orgy.

No, not that kind of orgy, you naughty thing. Rather, an orgy of artistic and historic wonder. A plethora of beauty and splendor as can only be seen in Italy. Rome, in particular. My husband and I celebrated a significant anniversary in La Bella Italia. We’d been a number of years ago, but it is Italy – one could spend years discovering its treasures. More than 2,000 years of history leaves lots of remnants behind. During this trip we concentrated on places and experiences we had missed during the last one. So we visited innumerable churches, cathedrals, quaint hilltop villages, and packed-to-the-gills museums.

One church in Rome stands out among the others. It lacks the gold- and jewel-bedecked opulence of others such as St. John Lateran or St. Peter’s Basilica, but has something in abundance that the others lack: mystery.

Here it is, the Basilica of San Clemente, a rather non-descript spot, though quintessential what with the cigarette-smoking Italian out front. It sits near the Colosseum.

Front of the Basilica of San Clemente, Rome, Italy Roma
By Berthold Werner via (Wikimedia Commons)

Inside this 12th century church you will find incredible mosaics well worth a visit. The Official Site provides a virtual tour.This drawing gives you an idea of its insides.

Basilica of St. Clemente 12th century Rome Roma Italy

In 392 AD, St. Jerome spoke of a church in Rome that preserved St. Clemente’s memory, and this was thought to be that church. In 1857, Father Joseph Mullooly decided to see whether that was true. Down he dug, and was rewarded greatly for his efforts. He discovered the original basilica underneath the current church.

stclementsallthree052-4

Statues, marble columns, Roman brickwork, fantastic frescoes, and a bubbling spring were all revealed to him.

But. What if? What if there was something beneath this lovely original basilica? The digging began again. And again, the effort was rewarded. This time with a 1st century sanctuary to Mithras, a mystery cult, about which little is known.

1st century building underneath Basilica of San Clemente Rome Roma Italy

Here you will find a plainer, more ancient structure, with close hallways and small rooms, arches, and concrete. And that spring, bubbling and cascading, refreshing. Before it was a sanctuary, the structure is thought to have been a private home, or perhaps a mint.

Down, down, down. Modern-day Rome bustles on the surface of the city, and rises into the blue Italian sky. But, oh, what lies underneath it all. Much more just waiting to be discovered.

~

This post lacks images, I know, partly due to a lack on my part to find decent ones of the magnificent mosaics, and part of which because the church prohibits photography in the lower reaches. But there is one remedy for that, dear reader.

Visit Rome yourself. The Eternal City beckons. Will you heed the call? I have done so long before actually physically going there, through reading and writing. Such influences saturate my fiction, in some pieces more than others.

inspiration, photography, travel, Uncategorized

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I loathe taking people to the airport. Not because I find it an inconvenience – I’m happy to do favors for friends and family. The reason I dislike it so intensely is because they are going somewhere and I am not. Jealousy, you green-eyed monster, you!

A lot of travelers hate flights in general. My husband is one of these. The cramped conditions, the noise, the germs from crying babies and coughing adults, all of it combines to make flying a thing of dread. I don’t mind it, though. I always load my mp3 player up with audiobooks and music, and make sure to bring paper and pen for uninterrupted writing time. I enjoy charting my flight progress on the interactive maps some airlines have. Looking out the window at the earth below is a favorite activity as well. Sometimes I’ll even snap a picture or two. This one was taken on a trip to Europe, as we flew over the Arctic lands. How beautiful and mysterious it looks from above.

airplane

Recently, I took a work trip to Jackson, Mississippi. I was only there for one night and was so busy that I had absolutely no time to see anything other than the (admittedly beautiful) hotel. On the trip there, though, I saw this out the window.

crop circles1

I think we were flying over Texas at the time, although I can’t be sure. The circles looked somewhat eerie. I assumed that they were farming plots, but now I’m not so sure. Do you know? Here’s a better shot:

cropcircles2

The lights of Dallas Fort Worth, on a connecting flight home, glittered like jewels on a sea of black velvet. The low lighted conditions and the shuddering of the plane didn’t make for ideal photography, but nevertheless, here is a shot:

night flight

The next time you are on a plane heading out into the great unknown, spend a few moments enjoying the beauty and mystery of the world beneath. You might just come away with wonderful memories from that alone.

challenge, hiking, history, photography, travel, travel memories, Uncategorized, writing

A Walk on the Wild Side … of Spain – 217-229/300 Camino Photos

It was early May, and I continued to walk the Santiago de Compostela, bloodied but unbowed. Well, all right. Not bloodied. And only slightly bowed. My feet, however, hurt. When I would sit for a rest I was all right – until it was time to get up again. That’s when the grunting and groaning began. I wasn’t the only one with such afflictions, and commiserating with fellow pilgrims helped somewhat. So did views like this:

Galicia Spain panorama

Galicia Spain panorama

Galicia Spain panorama

Before I left on the Camino, I daydreamed about how wonderful it would be to have a donkey as a companion on the road. Not only would he keep me company, but he could tote my cumbersome backpack as well. It soon became clear that such an endeavor would take more logistical energy than I had – where would the animal sleep, how would I feet it, where would I get it, what would I do with it when I finished my journey. I decided to let that dream go. Instead, I felt certain that God would bring a donkey into my Camino in some way. Sure enough, he did. I passed this duo on the way:

The donkey, perhaps, had much to eat along the way.

Camino 1613 (Copy)

Camino 1614 (Copy)

It was, doubtlessly, a blessing not to have to tug the poor creature away from such treats hour after hour.

Mileposts like these showed that my journey would soon be at an end.

Camino 1616 (Copy)

Reminders of a simpler life cropped up unexpectedly. I halted on the trail as a married couple herded their cattle past. They were old, and wearing ragged clothing and mud-slick boots. I spied a wound on one of the cattle, and a broken down dog wore a giant goiter around his neck. How awful it would be to eke out an existence in such poverty, with old age slowing your steps. What if I could not afford to take my animals to the vet when they needed it? I thanked God for the goodness I take for granted so often – my easy suburban life in sunny southern California.

Camino 1618 (Copy)

Between the little villages are peaceful places where nature reigns supreme.

Soon enough human habitations arise, made from stone, slick and mossy.

Camino 1623 (Copy)

Camino 1625 (Copy)

Little churches dot the wayside, like this one, Iglesia de Santa Maria de Leboreiro, built in the 14th century. It is simple and humble.

Camino 1632 (Copy)

And the torments of past terrors, such as the ones suffered by Saint Sebastian, are ever near.

Camino 1634 (Copy)

The Renaissance costumes betray a 16th century origin. Old to us. So old. Like the urge to walk onward, an instinct encoded in our genes from our days as nomads, wandering day by day.

My pilgrimage continues on in future pictures. Subscribe to see them, or backtrack, if it suits you, to other images in my 100 Spanish Photos series.