Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas to all!

It has been a busy Advent. The older I get, the faster December seems to go, but I guess that's true for everyone. I have had very little time to continue working on the line edits for Eddie's Wake, which is very frustrating. I miss my connection to Karl Stern and his mother, Maggie; Jacob Denver and his brother, Will! Since it will take about 90 days from final submission to the time I have a real, honest to goodness book in my hands, I doubt that I'll have the book available until after Easter. (I hope Lent will be a bit more sane than Advent has been.)

But I do want to thank everyone who reads this blog, especially my seven "followers." Thanks for checking in, and for your supportive comments; they mean a lot. Let me know what you'd like to see on the blog, and I'll be happy to see what I can do.

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a Blessed New Year. Enjoy the holidays! May God grant you warmth, kind people around you, peace of mind, good health and happy reading.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blue Christmas

Hello again. I've been feeling guilty about the last post - it just seems too depressing for this time of year. So--I apologize for throwing out such a downer.Here's one of my early attempts at writing something that wasn't a paper for school or a sermon or some other important thing like that.

Angel Word

Three ate with Abraham and one fed Elijah in the wilderness. Gabriel interpreted the unthinkable for Daniel, Zechariah and Mary. And now we knew that someone was to go again, for we had felt the undertones of Their deliberations. The whole of Heaven lay still with the deep anticipatory calm before...we knew not what.

All the other times we were as children underfoot, begging to be made privy to the secrets of the universe, hoping in our hearts to be the one honored as bearer of His message. For you see, this Great One, this One in Three is our Beloved, the One whom we are pleased to serve.

This time, every one of us was well behaved. Rank upon rank, we hosts of heaven begged only in our hearts and stood at solemn attention, each ready to be chosen. Then came the Three of Them, linked arm in arm, the Word flanked on either side. We saw then that the choice had already been made. For an instant, sun and moon and stars and all the cosmos failed in their ordered paths, so tender was the embrace, so longing was the farewell. This time, the Message was too great for us to bear. He went to you Himself.

The Door of Heaven, always so tightly guarded, was flung widely open as He left. As we clamored around the Door to see Him off, He turned and said, "You come, too; come and see!" And the distance became nothing, the eons became now, and the Word became flesh before our eyes. The young girl wrapped her new son in blankets and cradled him with a mother's love. Then we comprehended all that we had seen and understood all the messages that we had carried.

O you foolish, rebellious people!
Why would you not listen to His messengers and prophets?
O you favored, fortunate people!
Do you not realize how greatly you are loved?

For not only did He Himself come to you; He became one of you.

O the awesome wonder of it!
How could we help but sing you to your senses?
O the awesome wonder of it!
How can you help but sing?

For the distance has become nothing, the eons have become now,
the Word has become flesh, and the Door is still open...

Advent 1993 Hebrews 2:14-17

The photo is from a bonfire last summer -- keep warm!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wild Advent (Warning: She Waxes Theological!)

Advent--the four week long season of the Church Year that rolls around every year before Christmas--is supposed to be the time to prepare for Christ's coming; meaning, on the most obvious level, that we're getting ready for Christmas. Great. Kids in churches are getting ready for Sunday School programs while they also are waiting like crazy for Santa. We set up our Christmas trees, either by dragging the big box up from the basement or by bringing home a natural, formerly live tree tied to the roof of the car. Christmas music is everywhere, from the aisles of Walmart to risers set up in school cafeterias, where the events are called Holiday Concerts.

But there's a more interior level, for those who pay attention to the lessons from Scripture we read in church on any of the four Sundays before Christmas, and most people aren't very comfortable with it. We're preparing for Christ's coming, yes indeed, but not as a baby in Bethlehem. We're supposed to be preparing for Christ's second coming at the end of time. And if we think we're off the hook on that one, since none of us really expects to be around at the end of time, we're sadly mistaken. Sure, we're supposed to be ready for that second coming; but I think the coming of Christ we're supposed to be prepared for is much more intimate than that. This "second coming" is your own personal death and mine, when the Lord closes our eyes for the last time, when our hearts still, when the blood coursing through our veins no longer carries life to every reach of our bodies. When Jesus comes to take us "home" at the end of our days.
"Oh, that second coming!"

The thing is, working in the Church, I'm torn and I'm really tired. It's ever so much more fun to say that Advent is about decorating the church building, practicing music for Christmas Eve, or having tea with the Women's Group with a smile on my face. But the reality is that I am spending way more time planning special things than I am sitting with those whose own personal end times are immanent. The reality is that it's the time of year I walk around with a lump in my throat, I don't sleep well, and I don't feel well much of the time, either. Oh, and then there's my own family's Christmas to think about. (When was I going to do that?)

Working on the last phase of Eddie's Wake is a rare thing during Advent, as is writing in this blog. But I woke up before 5:30 this morning, so I wrapped up in my bathrobe and blanket and am sitting next to icy windows to tell you I haven't forgotten about you. Next time I'll share a poem I wrote nearly twenty years ago and maybe bit more of the novel. May your preparations for Christmas be meaningful and filled with peace. Thanks for reading!
P.S. The photo above was taken from the window by my desk yesterday morning, after an all night snowstorm.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

There are apples in the fridge waiting for me to put them into a pie this morning... But first a few thoughts on the day.

There are two ways to celebrate Thanksgiving. One is a festival of gluttony, followed by gluttony of a different kind out in the malls and big box stores tomorrow. When you finally get to read Eddie's Wake, you'll meet the king of self-centered gluttony, Uncle Melvin, who, on Thanksgiving, shovels in the food even as it's being passed around the table; who is the only one talking for most of the meal, but the one who eats the most. His gluttony goes beyond food to include his other self indulgent appetites.

The other way to celebrate Thanksgiving is not just to feast on traditional foods after a great prayer of thanks to God (although you wouldn't want to miss out on that!); but it is to take on a permanent attitude of thanks. It is to make gratitude a part of who we are, to live our thanks in our actions and words.

AA and Alanon talk a lot about being thankful and saying thanks... Could it be that there is a kind of deliverance in giving thanks? Could it be that there is some kind of amazing transformation in saying thank you? Could it be that giving thanks is as good for the “thanker” as it is praise to God? Maybe we could say that Thanksgiving Day is a great time to practice giving thanks, for in the thanking there is healing, and in the healing true gratitude comes to life.

So --
For the color of blue spruce against turning oak leaves...
That mosquitoes and houseflies have gone dormant for another season (at least in Wisconsin)...
For sunshine and blue sky on any day of the year...
For buzzing smoke alarms to let you know the turkey's done...
For dishwashers of every brand and every gender...
For the mute button on your remote control...
For friends and family...
For hearts overflowing with gratitude... Let us give thanks to God.

In Eddie's Wake, Thanksgiving Day brings a glimmer of hope and possibility to both Maggie Stern and for Will Denver. May your Thanksgiving bring the same to you. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2008

A hard, cold, autumn day

It's been nearly two weeks since I posted last. Between some travel and returning to work to attend to all the tasks that come with the busiest weeks of the year, I have had little chance to think about Eddie's Wake and Karl, Maggie, Jacob, Will and Bernie.

When I awoke this morning, I had kicked off all the covers. I was too warm; had put too many blankets on the bed and the furnace was running, toasting up the house. I checked the indoor/outdoor thermometer, which read 67 degrees inside; 10 degrees outside. The absence of our four cats waiting for breakfast on the deck indicated that they were still hunkered down in their cat "houses." The water in their outside bowl was frozen solid. Why would they want to come out, even if the sun was shining?

I think about the people who don't have a warm place to sleep, and I think about people who have no idea what it would be like to have a thermostat that can be programmed to start the furnace before they get out of bed in the morning. Even though I like it cool in the bedroom for sleeping, and even though I was too warm when I woke up this morning, I am thankful for the roof over my head and a new furnace with a programmable thermostat.

In Eddie's Wake "feeding the furnace" was the first thing Karl was expected to do every morning. From the coal pile in the basement, he shoveled in enough to warm the house at least through breakfast. When his mother, Maggie, needed to save money, she didn't feed the furnace on school days until it was almost time for Karl, Lizzie and Anna to come home. Having coal in the basement was almost important as having food on the table.

The Salvation Army operates a shelter and food pantry in the community where I work. Whenever a man, woman, boy or girl leaves, they are given their own blanket and their own pillow, warmth and comfort for a new life. I think I will go through closets today and find the blankets we're not using and maybe give them away.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


A few weeks ago, we had our first hard freeze overnight. The hosta plants in the garden looked like cooked spinach the next morning, and so did the one potted plant that I'd decided not to try hold on to for another year. Early in the morning, a few yellow leaves began to fall from the ash trees, and the higher the sun climbed into the sky, the faster the leaves fell. It was like someone had flipped a switch. By the end of the day, the trees were mostly bare.

But the oak trees on our property are completely different. The oaks never seem to want to let their leaves go. Some of them hang on through rain and snow, blizzards and ice storms, all winter long, until they get pushed off by the new buds in spring. As if the old, brown, dead leaves were somehow still feeding the tree!

Here in the north, November is a time of transition in the world around us; a time when what was once green and growing has become brown and dormant. Winter hasn't quite arrived and the beauty of autumn is past. Being in the pulpit every Sunday, where the scripture readings for the weeks before Advent all deal with the End Times, I'm thinking about the ash trees a lot. What symbols of faith they can be for us! At the right time, they let go of the foliage that nourishes them, trusting that when spring comes there will be new growth and new life. It doesn't seem to bother them that ice storms could break them and the winter kill them. Gracefully, they just let go.

I would like to be like an ash tree, trusting that God will give all I need through the storms of life, and that when all is said and done, I'll be with God. But I'm afraid I'm more like the oak that clings so tenaciously to the glory of the past, scrambling to find ways to assure myself that I'll always have what I need. Like the oak, we all hang on to things that we think make us secure, but time after time, God pushes all that away--like the new oak leaves push off the old ones come spring-- and gives us new life.

Thinking about this reminded me of a short scene from Eddie' Wake where in early spring Karl notices an old oak leaf flying away in the wind.

Chapter 27 A Reckoning
Karl turned up the collar of his jacket as he waited for his sisters outside Holy Angels School. The wind blew from the east, gathering cold air from the ice caked shores of Lake Superior and spewing it over the town. He remembered his father saying that a wind from the east meant they’d have bad weather in a day or so. Even though there’d already been a few days of sunshine and warmth, Karl knew winter wasn’t finished with them yet. The overcast skies made the day downright gloomy.
As he crouched beside the gnarly old oak tree trying to keep warm, a car pulled up in front of the church. He got up, thinking Mr. D had come to give him and his sisters a ride home, but he stopped short, stunned, when he saw Melvin Straus get out. All hunched over in the wind and holding onto his brown fedora, Melvin scurried across the church yard, and went in the side door, the door where you were least likely to run into another person...
Karl’s clenched jaw began to ache. He took a deep breath. Although he didn’t know what he was going to do, he knew he couldn’t just go home and do his homework like any other day.
Lizzie and Anna came running toward him, the edges of their coats flapping in the wind. At almost the same moment, Mr. D arrived. Karl helped his sisters get into the car, and said, “I think I’ll walk, Mr. D.” He tried to act normal despite his anger.
“In this wind?”
“Yeah, don’t worry. I need to talk to somebody. I’ll be along in a little while.”
“Everything all right?”
Karl smiled, knowing it looked phony. “Yep.”
“When should I start to worry?”
“Nothin’ to worry about. I’ll be home before supper, for sure.”
Mr. D looked Karl in the eye without saying anything for moment. “Breathe deep, boy.”
“Yessir, I remember.”
Karl watched the car pull away. Soon his mother would be well again and Mr. D would go home. He realized he’d miss him, then thought of his father and felt guilty.
He leaned against the tree, shivering. He watched a few leftover oak leaves break free of their branches and sail away like little brown boats in the air...

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Down the road a bit from our house is a small, very old cemetery. In all the years I have driven by, I have never seen a new grave being dug, or a group of mourners standing around saying their good-byes. I'd call it a lonely place if it wasn't at the intersection of a busy county road and a state highway. But last summer, I noticed a bit more activity going on there. One day folks were there doing some tree trimming, a few days later, a couple of port-a-potties showed up, then one Sunday morning a party tent was there, along with a few garbage cans. I'd like to think someone had a family reunion at the cemetery.

Today is "All Saints' Day" and tomorrow is "All Soul's Day;" the two days together making up the Day of the Dead festival. I don't know much about it, except for what I Googled - in Mexico, the dead are remembered; families gather in cemeteries, sometimes having parties, sometimes decorating the graves of loved ones. I've always thought having a picnic near Grandma and Grandpa's graves would be a really great thing to do; telling stories, remembering, eating Grandma's famous hot dish and the meringue cookies she liked to make. It would be a time to remember and honor our dead without necessarily being in the throes of grief.

At Eddie Stern's burial, Karl's mother takes him "visiting" his dead Grandma Stern and Grandpa O'Keefe. It's a sad time for them to begin with, but the remembering is good, and does bring smiles in the midst of tears. Here's a little of that chapter:

“Karl, come here,” called Maggie. “See, this is your Grandma Stern’s grave.” It wasn’t far from where they were standing. "Eleanor Burktold Stern, 1859 –1918" Uncle George followed. “Do you remember her?” “I think so, I think I remember playing with her on her bed. She called me little bear or something.” Maggie laughed a little. “No, you were her little berry boy. She had a basket full of strawberries once, and she cut some of them into tiny pieces so you could have a taste. Well, you gobbled them up and surprised everyone by saying clear as day, ‘More, more!’ She got so excited about you talking that she gave you more than anyone else. You couldn’t get enough berries and your Grandma Stern couldn’t get enough of you.” Karl noticed tears in his mother’s eyes. “She was a wonderful lady.” “Yes, indeed,” said Uncle George. “I still miss her.” Maggie bent over and touched her gravestone. Karl looked around. “Where’s Grandpa Stern?” “They buried him at the asylum before they wrote to say he was dead. That always bothered your father.” Uncle George crossed himself. “What happened to him? Did you know him, Mama?” “Before he got sick everyone knew him. He owned the newspaper, edited and wrote for it. A good man, but no one wanted him around after...” Maggie looked across the cemetery. “Come here, I want to show you where my father is buried.” Karl didn’t protest when his mother took his hand as if he were still a little boy, although he hoped none of his classmates could see him from the school. Uncle George stayed behind at his mother’s grave; Will went back to Eddie’s. Karl and Maggie stopped at a stone marked with the words "Michael Liam O’Keefe 1861-1917." “Do you remember your Grandpa O’Keefe?” “He smelled like peppermint.” Maggie smiled. “He always had candy for the children. He was one of the town constables, but he loved to have fun, too.”

That's all for now. Remember your dear departed this weekend, and say a prayer of thanks for their lives.

(Above photo of fern growing in rock was taken on the north shore of Lake Superior.)

Friday, October 24, 2008

The serpent

Ever since I picked up a rock when I was five or six years old and found a snake coiled up underneath it, I have had an aversion to snakes. Up at the cabin, whenever we went on a hike, I had to walk in the middle of the line or right next to one of my parents. I was afraid of even seeing a snake. Needing to go to the outhouse meant someone had to come with me because once I saw a Blue Racer all stretched out on a sunny stretch of the dirt road, and who knows, he might come back.

I have to admit, I still don't like snakes. As part of my kids' birthday party one year, we had a friend who was an expert on reptiles and snakes bring a few of his "pets" over in pillowcases. (My husband "bought" his service at a church auction.) I reluctantly agreed, but said "show and tell" had to stay on the porch. The party guests seemed to have a great time while my skin crawled.

Sometimes when I am writing, I have to wonder where my ideas come from. Poor Karl Stern is sentenced to scrub the church floor on a Saturday for a misdeed that was not of his doing, and what do you think he sees carved into the floor right next to the altar? A snake of course. It's a reference to Genesis 3:15, where the Lord is coming down hard on those first sinners, Adam and Eve; coming down even harder on that serpent who got them to eat the wrong fruit. The Lord says to the snake, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her offspring and yours; he will strike your head, and you shall strike his heel.

I knew that I'd heard of a church somewhere that had a serpent carved into a stone floor, then realized I had family connections to the congregation. I took the photo above when I was there for a conference over a year ago.

Months after he sees the serpent carved into his church floor, Karl finds himself battling snakes in a horrible nightmare. I guess most dreams have their origins someplace in reality. I find that to be true for writing fiction, as well.
Until next time...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Life and Death

For someone who loved English class, even way back in grade school, I am certainly having a hard time writing a decent synopsis of Eddie's Wake. How does a person condense a five year project down to one paragraph, one page, even three pages?

Perhaps it's because I do a better job spreading my sights out broadly than I do pulling something in to look at the bare essentials of it. And it's not just in writing fiction that I find this difficult. It's taken me my whole life to learn to look at a situation or set or problems, wrestle with them, figure out what the core issue is, then consider possible solutions. Being able to step outside the situation and realize that it's not necessarily my problem has been helpful; still, the truth is, I'm not too good at it. I get too involved with people.

But daily, my work takes me into life and death issues: things that can be fixed, issues and conditions that must be lived with, issues and illness that lead to death. Working in the church means that everything--everything-- is about life and death, both for individuals and for the organization.

I'm going through Eddie's Wake with a fine tooth comb--again--looking for typos and punctuation errors, and as I do, I noticing how nearly every character and every scene is about life and death or what is live-giving versus what is death-dealing.

Today I performed a wedding at a former congregation for a woman with whom I worked closely those years ago. The church seemed smaller than I remembered it. There were lots of people I didn't know. I was so happy to be there for this one person; the old connection with her was still there, but I've been away, no longer a part of the life of that place. I've been able to step back and see things a bit differently.

Maybe if I wasn't still so involved with Karl, Maggie, Jacob, Will and all the others, I might be able to step back and boil the novel down into a nice, tidy couple of paragraphs. Maybe I need to remind myself that they are not real (nor are they parishioners!), but figments of my over-active imagination.

Maybe I could do that for an hour, maybe even a day. But not much longer than that. The characters are still too real for me. More later...
P.S. The photo above was taken in northern Michigan, from the front porch of my Dad's first cabin.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Jacob Denver

As I promised you last week, this post is all about Jacob Denver, one of the three point of view characters in Eddie's Wake. Jacob is the brother of Eddie's fishing partner, Will. Like Maggie Stern's character, Jacob is a composite of many men I've known. My grandfather was very interested in history, especially anything having to do with lumbering in Michigan; but I didn't know him as a young man, and I never saw his anger or passion, just his integrity, his love of family, and the stories he told about pranks he played as a youth. You can see some of the lumbering tools he collected over the years in the photo above.
Jacob Denver believes he has a great reason for acting like a jerk--which he does from time to time. Will has the guts to call him on it, taking away his flimsy excuse. The brothers grew up in a family of wealth; Will rejecting it and Jacob becoming the rich boy/man who believed money could solve almost every misfortune he'd hit in life. Yet he learns by the end of the novel that true love can take a person into disagreeable and dangerous situations that money could never fix.
Here's a short passage from the novel all about Jacob Denver:

The long drive north went smoothly, and although patches of snow covered the ground in places, the roads were clear and the sun shone. From Wakelin, Wisconsin, Jacob drove north and west along the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, past lake after lake in what once was a forest thick with white pine. At Carson Village he turned pure north, skirting the state of Michigan at Hurley, and from there drove west into the sun along the south shore of Lake Superior. Tomos Bay clung to the eastern limits of Ashland like a jealous little sister.
Jacob stopped twice along the way to check the white pine seedlings he planted two springs ago, caressing the soft needles of this one or that. He loved the way they felt: supple, tender, pliable enough to survive the heavy snows to come. Jacob’s grandfather had amassed a huge fortune for himself in lumber and Jacob’s father, Henry followed in his footsteps, clear-cutting the land, ignoring the wounds they made in the rapidly dwindling forests. Once they’d finished with it, their generations sold it to unsuspecting immigrants who soon found it unsuitable for farming.
Even before Henry died, Jacob decided it was up to him to atone for the sins of his forebears. He bought up acre upon acre of stump-studded, rocky property and endured his father’s ridicule for making such foolish investments. Jacob paid a fair price to the immigrants, employed some of them and began to restore the great pine forest by planting new trees wherever he could. It would be many years, however, before the land looked anything like a forest again.

Till next time...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

No Window Washing Today

Today is supposed to be window washing day, but the wind has picked up. Great excuse not to go outside and climb a ladder...

I've spent a good amount of time this past week reconsidering my choice of publishers. There are a lot of them out there who would be happy to take my money, but can't really tell me what I would get for it, at least not clearly enough for me to be interested. And comparing them is often like comparing apples and oranges. We've poured over websites, sent away for information, gone back and forth between two companies then settled on the one I'd thought to go with in the first place. Even then, there are so many options to think about. Of course I want an IDSN number, of course I want to be registered in the Library of Congress, of course I want an official copyright. But do I really need 500 business cards for $199? Or postcards? Or bookmarks? I don't think so.

I am eternally grateful to my husband, "TP Dadman," for giving me his time and asking questions that I wouldn't think to ask. He looks at all this through the eyes of a business-techy person which is something I don't do very well at all.

This coming week I hope to finish one more read though of the novel as I have it, looking for typos, words in the wrong places, redundancies, unnecessary dialog, punctuation issues, etc. And yes, I am finding things to correct. It's a painstaking process. To my instructor from Writers Online Workshops, in case you ever read this -- everything you have taught me is still floating around in my head whenever I look at a page of manuscript. I'm eternally grateful to you, as well.

I've included a photo of a White Pine tree that was taken in northern Michigan. The White Pine is lumberman Jacob Denver's favorite tree. The next post will be about him.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Mother's Heart

In the antique room at my mother’s house there are several old family portraits. I love looking at them and trying to imagine what some of these long-gone family members might have been like. My favorite is the portrait of my grandmother’s parents holding Grandma between them when she was just old enough to stand. It was probably taken around 1898.

My Great Grandmother, Katherine, was a beautiful woman. In the picture she’s not grinning or anything outrageous like that, but she has a pleasant, friendly face that seems to welcome you in to whatever she’s doing. I wish I’d been able to knock on her back door and spend time with her over k├╝chen and coffee in her kitchen.
Katherine had plenty of sorrow in her life. Her daughter – her first I think – died in infancy, and my grandmother, Clara, was so scrawny and sickly when she was born that the doctor told Katherine and John (Great Grandpa) to hurry up and get her baptized, because “this one isn’t going to make it.” Actually, Grandma outlived the whole family: parents and all four sisters and four brothers.
Grandma had her share of troubles, too: her own ill health, losing a son to polio, caring for a dying mother in law… But even with her own sadness and challenges, Grandma never stopped being a mother to her five other children, even as they grew older.
And of course, there’s my own mother, Dorothy, hundreds of miles away from me, but still taking care of family members who should be taking care of her. And even though I scold her about it, I understand where her heart is. I’m a mother, too, proud of my sons at times, my heart bleeding for them at others.

What does any of this have to do with Writing Eddie’s Wake? I think Karl’s mother, Maggie, is a mixture of these women and many others I have known and loved. You have only met Maggie for a tiny moment in the first post below, but I think you’ll like her. She’s not perfect, with her hot temper, but then who is? Through all her own heartache, fear and adversity, she is absolutely, completely and undeniably committed to Karl and his sisters, Lizzie and Anna. Moments when any of them are in danger are nearly as devastating to her as… Well, I shouldn’t say too much more here; I sure wouldn’t want to spoil the story for you! Till next time…

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hello, there! It's been almost a month since I decided to try my own blog, and this is only the second post I've made. Just two weeks ago, Tom and I spent four days on the north shore of Lake Superior at our favorite place, Bob's Cabins. A highlight of the visit was our trip to Tofte, MN to visit the commercial fishing museum there. We were able to see some old photos of fishing boats from 60-80 years ago and found one that might be similar to the Maggie O'Keefe -- Eddie and Will's boat. Sizable enough, but small enough for three or four men to operate.

The publishing process is moving along. I have a graphic artist ready to design the cover for Eddie's Wake and I've signed on with Outskirts Press and now have an author's rep. I hope to move forward quickly, although having a printed and bound copy in my hands is still a few months off.

Soon I will post a revised version of Never Alone, the story that started all this. It's about Karl Stern -- the main character of Eddie's Wake -- as an old man. In 2003 I took it to a writers' workshop in Chicago and someone who read it said they wondered what Karl was like as a boy. So began the writing of Finding Home which morphed into Eddie's Wake.

For now I will leave you with the verses from scripture that seem to add a little wisdom to my first attempt at writing something BIG.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one's house, it would be utterly scorned.

Song of Songs 8:6-7

Welcome to "Eddie's Wake"

October 3, 2009

Hello and welcome to Eddie's Wake. This is the first entry I made on my blog ( back in September 2008. Using the archive links in the box on the right, you can read all the posts I've made from this first entry to the very latest. Some entries are personal reflections on times and events in my life, some are about Eddie's Wake characters and some are combinations of the two. Eddies Wake is available from Barnes & and and in a few small bookstores in Wisconsin. As my time permits, I love to visit local book groups, discuss the novel with you and tell how I experienced the writing process. You may post a comment to any entry; or you may contact me directly at

Here are a few pages from Chapter 1. Happy reading!

Chapter 1 Love Strong as Death
October, 1928 Tomos Bay, Wisconsin

The way his flannel pajamas bunched up around his knees that morning as he dozed, the blood-red linoleum of the kitchen floor, the smell of wet wool and fish mingled together, the feeling of cold air on his bare feet as it swept through the house: these were the things that chiseled themselves into his memory as his world tilted and came crashing down around him.
Thirteen years old and a seventh grader at Holy Angels School, Karl Stern had to stay home for the day, sick again. October was only half gone, but he’d already missed three days of school because of the wheezy cough he came down with every fall. His mother, Maggie, blamed it on the damp lake air that settled over Tomos Bay whenever the weather turned colder. Since the kitchen was the warmest place in the house, his father set up the roll away cot between the cupboards and the table before leaving for work that morning. There Karl’s mother could watch over him while she took care of her other housework.
Wrapped up in his blanket with his feet dangling off the end of the cot, Karl dozed and dreamed about the summer just past, when his father, Eddie, had finally given him real work to do on his fishing boat. Karl liked to think he was truly helpful and needed, and in the dream, he was; his young, strong muscles casting and hauling nets, sorting fish and throwing back the ones that were too small, keeping the boat on course when his father had something else to do. But just as his father said Good job, son, Karl heard a ruckus on the boat and someone calling for his mother. When the voices came closer, he awoke to the sound of a frantic commotion on the front porch. Bleary eyed, he got up and stood at the kitchen door in his bare feet and wrinkled pajamas.
Before his mother crossed the living room, the front door burst open and hit the inside wall, cracking the grey plaster behind it. The framed picture of Saint Andrew that hung there bounced once and crashed to the floor, face down, its glass shattering into a thousand pieces. Eddie’s partner, Will Denver, and their crewman Rob Holstrom each tripped on the threshold, nearly dropping Eddie’s limp, wet body. The many layers of waterlogged wool, the long underwear, heavy jacket, sweater, and two shirts underneath it all added to the load Will and Rob had to carry. Panting, they laid Eddie on the worn grey and maroon rug.
Maggie spit out the question Karl wanted to ask.“Is he dead?” His heart began to beat the way it did when he raced his pals around the schoolyard and down the block after school.
“No, but he will be if we don’t get him warm right away.”
His mother took charge. “Rob, get some wood from outside and stoke up the kitchen stove, then go feed the furnace. Will, help me get these wet clothes off him. Karl, move your things off the cot. We have to get him into the kitchen where it’s warm.”
Too stunned to move, Karl watched with dread as his mother and Will fought with swollen, nearly frozen buttons and buttonholes. His pounding heart reached down and clutched at his stomach.
“Karl, go get my sewing scissors, and bring the quilt and the featherbed from our bed. Hurry!”
Karl jumped and did as he was told, grabbing the scissors, racing through the house, nearly tripping on the bedding as he brought it from his parents’ bedroom. He gave the scissors to his mother and took the quilt and featherbed into the kitchen, where he removed his pillow and book, but left his blanket for his father. When he returned to the living room, his mother was cutting every button from Eddie’s sodden, smelly clothing while Will helped peel it off, layer after layer. Finally freed of it all, Eddie Stern looked like a corpse lying there, even though his chest moved up and down ever so slightly.
“We need the quilt out here, Karl.”
Karl ran to get it from the cot.
Rob returned as Maggie and Will wrapped Eddie’s icy body in the quilt. Now the two men carried him easily into the kitchen, where Maggie pushed the table away and pulled the cot close to the wood stove. There they laid him, cocooned in the quilt and featherbed. Karl thought this would certainly revive him.
After Karl’s mother sent Rob for Dr. Lyman, Will told them about the black ice that covered the deck when they arrived that morning; treacherous, invisible ice, slick as all get out. “No one saw what happened, we didn’t even realize he’d fallen in. When we found him, he was already going under.” He turned away from Karl and Maggie, pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose. He didn’t turn around again for a long time.
The fishermen had a saying: if you fall in, swim to the bottom because it’s warmer there. You might as well give up the fight and die quickly. The northernmost and deepest of the five Great Lakes, Lake Superior’s average temperature is 40 degrees, cold enough even in summer to suck the life right out of a body. Yet Will and Rob refused to let Eddie go. Together they outweighed him, but holding on and trying to pull him in stretched their muscles and their determination. Rob slipped and almost fell in himself and Will hit his head hard enough on the railing that he had a goose egg before they got Eddie on deck, drenched, freezing and waxy as death.
When Karl and Will came back from hanging Eddie’s wet clothing in the basement, Maggie lay on the cot with his father, all wrapped up in the featherbed with him. Maybe the warmth of her body next to his would help; for a moment, Karl had the impulse to climb in, too. His mother held his father’s hands close to her heart and kissed his face - something he’d seen her do a hundred times.
“Eddie, can you hear me? Open your eyes; you don’t have to say anything, just open your eyes so I know you’re still here. Please? Can you do that, can you open your eyes for me?”
When his father’s eyes fluttered open, Maggie cried out. “Oh, there you are! I love you, Eddie, I love you...” She kissed his cold, motionless face again and again; she brought his stiff, white fingers to her mouth and kissed each one of them, too. “We’ll get you warmed up, don’t worry...”
She lay still, staring into his blank eyes. “Eddie... Edward... Eddie? Where are you?” Her words wobbled; her voice rose in panic. “You don’t know me, do you? You can’t see me, can you?”
Although he refused to admit it, in the pit of his clutched up stomach, Karl knew how this was going to end.

Late that night, after the priest had been there and Grandma O’Keefe, Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Melvin had come and gone; after his sisters, Lizzie and Anna were asleep; after Dr. Lyman had come and gone a second time, Karl woke up and crept through the darkness and down the stairs. A dim light spilled through the kitchen door, a beacon to his father’s sickroom.
His mother sat on the floor next to the cot where his father still lay, his face now flushed with fever. She’d propped up his head with three pillows and covered him with only a light blanket. The familiar smell of Eddie Stern’s sweat filled the kitchen; his tall, sturdy body seemed shrunken from its dousing in the cold lake. Every few minutes he coughed weakly.
Maggie still wore the faded green house dress she had on yesterday, green like a sick, stormy lake. Her long hair fell around her shoulders, its reddish flecks brought to life by the lamplight. Karl thought she looked like a young girl, her arm across his father, her head resting between his upper arm and his chest.
Maggie raised her head. “Karl, what are you doing out of bed? Where are your slippers?” Deep shadows filled the curves beneath her eyes and her puffy eyelids drooped, half open, half closed.
“I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. How’s Daddy?”
“He took in too much lake water. Dr. Lyman said his heart isn’t beating very well.”
“Is he going to die?”
“I think so.”
Karl’s brow wrinkled, his throat suddenly tight. “No!” He wanted it to be yesterday at this time, he wanted to be able to warn his father to watch out for ice on the deck.
“Come here, sit with me.” His mother pulled the blanket he’d left for his father onto the floor, making a place for him to sit between her and the cot. She wrapped him in the blanket and then in her arms, smoothing his curly blond hair away from his face. They sat without talking for a long time as she rocked him and he cried. She had no words or wisdom for him, only the strength of a sorrow shared.
“I wanted to be his partner on the boat. I wanted to work with him. I wanted to be just like him.” Karl pulled away and looked into his mother’s eyes.
Maggie smiled a little. “You two have been squabbling an awful lot lately, so you’d better tell him, Karl, you’d better tell him everything you want him to know before it’s too late.”
“Do you think he can hear us?”
“I don’t know for sure. Just believe he can, and tell him everything.” She stood up and rubbed the back of her neck. “I’m going to change out of these clothes and look in on the girls. You stay here and talk to him.” She kissed the top of Karl’s head and disappeared up the stairs.
All alone with his father, at first Karl felt foolish, like he was talking to himself, but it didn’t take long before he remembered all the things the two of them had done together. He talked about the sunburn they’d both had after the first day on the lake last summer.
“But that didn’t matter, ’cause it was the best summer of my whole life.”
He talked about their wrestling matches and told him how proud he felt when Eddie quit letting him win, laughed and said, “But I still hate losing.” Karl remembered the day they’d gone out to the woods to see the huge sugar maple that Eddie climbed as a boy, and how they’d made plans to tap the tree for syrup next spring. “I can almost taste it, Daddy, you have to get well.”
Karl buried his face in his father’s blankets, crying. He said, “I love you” again and again. He kissed Eddie’s bearded cheek the way he did when he was still small enough to be swooped up in his father’s arms and lifted high into the air. And he whispered over and over again, “Please don’t go, Daddy. God, please, don’t let him die, please. He has to get well. I’ll never be bad or talk back ever again, just let him live. Please!”