Musa Blog Hop- An Interview with Frank Conley

My first novel, Love Lies Bleeding, will be released in the spring. As a little taste, here is a little glimpse into my main character, Frank Conley, a member of the  New York State Police, and a small excerpt.

Story

It was a story that had haunted Ithaca for decades. Libbie Morgan disappeared on a stormy night back in 1916, never to be seen again. In 1986, a hiker stumbles across an old skeleton at Buttermilk Falls State Park, buried with a rusty buttonhook and a locket full of pictures. Frank Conley of the New York State Police realizes that the woman was his aunt, who vanished all those years ago.

Aided by the town historian and one of Libbie’s childhood friends, Frank starts peeling away layers of history and confronting family demons. Finally, he pieces together Ithaca’s seventy-year-old secret as flashbacks unfold.

Frank

Now, you have to know, we tried to get Frank to tell us more, but he’s a pretty quiet guy, and it was almost like pulling teeth getting him to talk. Besides, he was still trying to get some paperwork cleared up for a murder the previous week, so he begged off early. That’s just the kind of guy Frank is. But here’s what we were able to get out of him before he excused himself.

Thank you for coming to chat with us today. Why do you think Laini chose you to represent her?

Don’t know much about that. She needed a stand-up guy who could put all the pieces together, I suppose. The fact that the skeleton happened to be related to me might have had something to do with it. And the fact that I’m a cop.

Tell us a little about yourself?

Do I have to? I’m a pretty quiet guy. Don’t like to talk about myself much. I work for the New York State Police. Divorced. I have a teenage daughter who, while being the light of my life, can also be a giant pain in the ass at times.

What is your birth date? 

Why? You want to know my sign? Bake me a cake? What?

Where do you live? What is it about that area that drew you there?

Ithaca, New York. I was born here, so just ended up staying. I love it here. Lots of nature and beautiful scenery, state parks, great camping, hunting and fishing. Couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, I suppose.

What do you wish people would know about you?

Nothing. Look up the word private in the dictionary and it’s got my picture next to it. I do like chocolate chip cookies though. Any readers want to send me some chocolate chip cookies, then feel free. The moist kind. Not those hardtack ones.

What music do you listen to?

Stuff my daughter’s embarrassed by. You know, the classics. Neil Young, Dylan, Joe Cocker.

Will we be seeing more of you or are you stepping out of the limelight?

Not sure. Gonna have to ask the boss lady that. I don’t think she’s decided yet.

What is your perfect evening?

Evening at Nonna’s with a glass of red wine and a good plate of pasta, I guess. Maybe a pretty lady with me. Linda fits the bill.

Is there anything you wish Laini had kept her mouth shut about?

I don’t think everybody needed to know about my drinking. I mean, geez. It was something I kept pretty much under control. Didn’t let it affect my work. But I’ve got a handle on it now. Hope my boss doesn’t read this book.

Do you feel you were portrayed fairly?

Yeah, I guess so. She seemed to get right to the meat of me. We’ve had some family dysfunction, I know. But I think all families have a little bit of that, don’t they?

What really pushes your buttons?

I hate the little creeps that mess up our area—selling drugs, driving drunk, and destroying old cemeteries just because they’re bored and want something to do.

What’s your favorite sports team?

The Jets, of course.

Why should the readers be interested in your story?

It’s got a little bit of history, a little bit of modern day content (well sorta modern-day), some romance, some sex, some violence. Isn’t that what everyone wants in a story?

***************************

Blog Rules

Don’t forget– for each blog you visit and comment on, you earn a chance to win the Kindle Fire (in  the U.S. and Canada). For international folks, you can win a $50 Musa gift certificate. Two swag bags are also up for grabs full of all kinds of Musa goodies!

Here on sepiastories, I’ll be giving away either your choice of a book in the Melpomene imprint or a copy of Love Lies Bleeding when it is released (I’m kind of partial to that second choice). If you think any of this sounds interesting, you can follow me on Twitter (@4gottenflapper) or like me on Facebook (lainigiles). Leave a comment to be entered in my giveaway.

The Hop starts October 1st at Midnight pst and ends Monday, October 7 at Midnight pst. The winners will be drawn and posted October 9th!

Thanks for visiting, everyone! You can head back to the blog list by clicking this link.

Look kids! It’s a Blog Hop!

Hey everybody! Next week is Musa Publishing’s first anniversary. Musa is publishing my first novel, Love Lies Bleeding, sometime in the spring.

In honor of this, they’re hosting a blog hop. For each comment on all the participating blogs, you’ll be entered to win a Kindle Fire (for example, if you comment on ten blogs, you get ten entries into the drawing)! So, the more blogs you comment on, the more chances you have to win. Plus, each blog has their own contest going on. 

So, Lains, you’re asking, what can I win on your blog? Well, readers, funny you should ask. Since my book isn’t out yet, you’re getting your choice of a title from Musa’s Melpomene line, or my personal favorite, a copy of Love Lies Bleeding when it’s released.

The Blog Tour begins October 1st at Midnight EST and ends October 7th at MIDNIGHT (PST). The winners will be announced October 9th. Good luck, everybody!

Das Schmeckt!

I’d love to tell stories here about my German great grandma preparing all sorts of delicious Teutonic dishes with me at her side, helping her, but the truth is, she died before I was born. The one story I know about her cooking is that she used the same grease to make EVERYTHING. Yes, you heard me right. Think on that for a minute, and then get back to me on how developed a palate my forebears must have had.

This was my great grandma on my mom’s side, a cheerless, intimidating house of a woman who emigrated through Ellis Island in 1903. She had a pinched face and little round glasses, and terrified my mother by shaking a finger in her face and saying “Abba abba!” very threateningly, which can be a little unnerving when you’re small. I once asked my German prof why my grandmother was threatening my mother with Swedish band names, and her reply was that it’s kind of a “Hey kid, watch your step,” kind of thing.

Sadly, very few tales have been passed down to me of my grandma Mariele’s cooking, other than Dough Gobs, the affectionate name for something the family made during the holidays. But I digress.

I have only recently developed a true love of my German heritage. For most of my life, my mother pooh-poohed her German roots. Part of it was Nazi guilt, I guess. The rest was her rejection of a strict father who wanted children to be seen and not heard (and MADE her eat potato pancakes which she loathed), grandparents who were complete authoritarians, and who (I’ve been told) listened to Nazi broadcasts on shortwave before the war. When Hitler first took power, they thought he was a real swell guy. So there’s that.

Anyway, I’d had German food only once in my life, when I was around eight. After a night of mom getting her hair done at JCPenney, for some reason she decided to stop at a place just around the corner from Highland Mall, and we had German food. I was not impressed. I was a picky eater at that age, like many kids, and my impression was of sauerkraut and other sour things. Ick. I was a pasta gal. My parents spent some time in Italy before I was born, and spaghetti was a big thing at our house. German didn’t figure into it.

But I did take two years of German in college, and knew that one day I would travel there to use some of it. I hoped.

It took my beloved to bring me back around to the food. In addition to his Heinz 57 of English/Irish and Metis roots, he also had some Germans in the woodpile, and on a trip to Madison, Wisconsin years ago, he told me he wanted some German food. I was underwhelmed. But agreed to go to humor him. This is what love makes you capable of. We went to a place called the Essen Haus.

Going the safe route, I had sausage and potatoes or somesuch along with a Hefeweissen, but my beloved had me try some of his dish AND his sauerkraut. This was the nice crisp kind with the caraway seed in it, and my eyes were opened! From then on, I was willing to try more Prussian/Swabian/Bavarian goodness, and go at it I did. I’m 3/4 Kraut (from areas as diverse as Schleswig Holstein and Gladbeck, plus a few others), with only a bit of English and French thrown in for good measure. I began embracing those roots like a friend I hadn’t seen in years.

A move to Milwaukee in 2007 didn’t help those cravings one bit. In fact, it intensified them. If you’re German, Milwaukee is one of THE top ten best cities in America to enjoy your genealogy and all that goes with it. The food, the beer, the festivals…I get misty-eyed just thinking about it, and sad that we were only there for two years.

While at the bookstore one day, I found an amazing book chock full of old photos and history of Milwaukee, and recipes submitted by local folks (and local restaurants!) of delicious items I should have been eating all those years. Once in a while, hubby is tickled to find out that I’ve gotten a bug up my butt and simply must make some Kraut Cuisine.

Without further ado, I’ll share one of these, because it’s become one of my favorites. This is from a lady named Ingeborg Johnson, for:

Koenigsberger Klopse (Meatballs in Lemon Sauce)

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef (I use extra lean)

1 large white onion, chopped

1 egg

1 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup milk (1% here)

1 t. salt

1/2 t. black pepper

Lemon sauce

8 cups water

3 beef bouillon cubes

5 peppercorns, whole

1 bay leaf

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 T. capers

1/2 cup cornstarch, dissolved in 1/2 cup cold milk

1/2 cup sour cream

1. Combine meatball ingredients in a bowl, mixing by hand.

2. Shape the meat into two inch meatballs and set aside.

3. In a large pot, bring the water, beef bouillon, peppercorns, and bay leaf to a boil. Stir the mixture until bouillon cubes are dissolved.

4. Gently drop the meatballs into the sauce and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the meatballs rise to the top.

5. Remove the meatballs and keep them warm. Remove the peppercorns and the bay leaf and discard. Add the lemon juice, capers, and cornstarch to the pot.

6. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly until it is slightly thickened. Remove 1 cup of the sauce and blend with 1/2 cup of the sour cream, then return it to the mixture.

7. Return the meatballs to the sauce and heat them thoroughly.

8. Serve Koenigsberger Klopse mit boiled potatoes or buttered noodles.

9. Or, if you’re Laini, make an entire bonanza to go with, including Wiener Schnitzel, Kartoffelsalat (that’s potato salad for the rest of y’all), Sauerkraut, Rouladen, Spatzle, and a Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake, and it looked awesome, believe me).

Mader’s. Still the Mecca of German cuisine in Milwaukee

Serendipity

Ever had one of those moments that just took your breath away? Even more so because it may never have happened in the first place but for one tiny blip in the cosmic universe?

Genealogy is a funny thing. You can beat your head into the desk for months…even years before finding a tiny sledgehammer to break down a brick wall. Then everything becomes crystal clear. We genealogists tend to get very passionate about “our strangest brick wall breakthroughs.” Strange little items that led us to a breakthrough. And we try to one-up each other.

Now usually, when I tell people I’m researching Smiths, they tell me I’m nuts. but I had a secret weapon in my quest. That was my uncle Bum, my dad’s brother. In the 1970s, he began this quest, and left me a road map to follow, which he drew out on butcher paper. When I told my aunt Hope that I was getting interested in all this, she gave me his trees, and in particular, an old article from the Beloit, Wisconsin newspaper in the 1930s that a cousin had written detailing the roots of our family, from Wisconsin all the way back to a little hamlet called Newfield, NY, southwest of Ithaca. With those two foundations in place, I went to work, figuratively digging up cousins all over the place.

My great great grandfather, Melchior Smith (that stern looking fellow above) came from NY with his family circa 1856 and settled in northern Illinois, then southern Wisconsin in the state line area around Beloit and Rockford. My great grandfather, Frank Smith, had 9 brothers and sisters. My original quest was to find out what happened to these other nine, see photos of them, and begin putting pieces together. That was it.

One of the first cousins I found was a man named Allen Gates in Colorado (R.I.P. Al). He and his wife Em were also researching. Allen’s grandmother, Effie Giles Gates (the Giles name is just a coincidence…we’re Smith cousins) was born in 1868, and lived to be over 100. She told him many stories of the early family, and one was that my family went west “to be with family, the Lindermans.” Rumor was that Melchior had lost everything in New York, and went west for a new start.

In 1860, I found them living with a family of Lindermans, but the man was listed as J.S. That was it. He had a wife, Catherine, and six sons, all born in new York, but i had no other way to identify this family. I even got further than my original ten, once I spent two years in Wisconsin, researching every spare moment I had, and visiting every cemetery and courthouse in the state line area. I visited Ithaca and its environs twice. Still nothing on the Lindermans. I found all Melchior’s brothers and sisters. I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. But still those Lindermans were a sore thumb to me. Melchior’s mother, Nancy Hufford Smith, had claimed in her last census that she’d given birth to NINE total children, and I only had eight. I knew there had to have been another sister who married a Linderman, but could never prove myself right.

I did so much research and found so many photographs, that when I was laid off in 2005, I decided to turn the whole project into a book. And kept pushing forward.

At the end of 2009, we had to leave Wisconsin behind when the economy crashed. But there was more family in Canada, and I wanted to move (in addition to healthcare and possible fresh start) so I could research at the Provincial Archives in Edmonton. I found more jewels there too.

In early 2011, I finally got my permanent residency, so I was allowed to cross the border at last, back into the old U.S. of A. I had air miles getting ready to expire, and some sort of refund on Expedia, so I was tickled. I headed to sunny California to meet with more cousins during the worst Edmonton winter I’d yet seen. My route took me from Sacramento, down through Lancaster, to Sun City outside of Riverside, then down to San Diego. I met loads of new cousins, eager to be part of the project.

One of my last days, I was sitting in the history room of the San Diego Library, idly browsing through anything I thought might help. And for some reason, I picked up a book called History of Allegan and Barry counties, Michigan, with illustrations and biographical sketches of their prominent men and pioneers. These early town histories are a goldmine of information, along with genealogies of various families our Smith family married into.

We had no connection to this county. The only reason I can think of that I might have picked it up was that I was looking through my other notes before I left. I’ve been trying to figure out more on Melchior’s father Henrich Schmidt, identifying his possible brothers, and one of the descendants of those possibles ended up in Barry County. I flipped to the back as I always do, looking for the elusive Lindermans, and this time I was rewarded with one.

“Isaac S. Linderman. Wife Catherine, six sons.”The part that leapt off the page at me was her name. “Catherine Smith of Newfield, New York.” Catherine died only three years after Melchior and his family appeared there. After her death, Isaac moved to Michigan, and he remarried twice more.

I started to shake. My knees didn’t want to hold me up. After over a decade of searching, I’d found my Lindermans.

I love this picture.

These are my dad’s parents on their wedding day. April 19, 1919.

They were married in New Holstein, Wisconsin, at my grandma Mariele’s parents’ home. Isn’t her jacket the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen? The long row of buttons down the bottom, the roses in the lapel, and the jaunty hat all combine to make this a vintage outfit I would love wearing, even now.

My grandma was a nurse at Beloit Hospital during the Great Flu Epidemic in 1918. She had finally convinced her old-fashioned German father to let her go to town and become a nurse during the war effort. He had wanted her to stay nearby, marry and have babies, but the nation needed good nurses, so she was allowed to go.

Before the epidemic, there was a patient she was exceptionally fond of who had a heart condition, my great grandma Zora. Zora’s very attractive son used to come to visit her in the hospital. Mariele took notice. She sent him a valentine from a secret admirer, and he found out who sent it. They began dating, and the rest is history. Grandma Zora died in January of 1918, and they were married the next April.

My grandpa Ford looks like one of those tough guys in the old gangster movies. My husband calls these “Say, Fella” movies. Because the guys all talked like that back then.

My cousin Kurt told me a story about my grandpa once giving a guy an improvised tracheotomy with a pool cue at some pool hall in either Rockford or Beloit, and then taking it on the lam up to Canada when he thought he was a wanted man, but the family pooh poohs this story. He swore that my Uncle Bum (yes, that was his nickname…shut up!) told him this story and that grandpa had told it to him. Turns out he didn’t actually kill the guy, although he thought he had. When his mother was on her deathbed, his father summoned him back to Beloit, and he saw the guy around town, just probably moving a little slower.

I love old wedding pictures. You can see so much light in newlyweds’ eyes; it’s the happiest time in their lives– so much potential, so much hope for the future. This photograph sat on the stereo at my aunt Hope’s house for many years, and I would just sit and stare at it, fascinated by the couple in the picture. Was it any wonder I ended up writing a huge genealogy of this side of the family?

My grandparents began their married life in Beloit, living just down the street from Ford’s widowed father. They later moved to Chicago and its environs. So much hope for the future, and then the Depression hit. My grandfather lost his job and they ended up moving to Winnebago Avenue, which my father called “Cockroach Boulevard.” My aunt Hope always insisted they were poor, but they were happy.

My grandmother had nine children, of which my dad was number eight. He showed up smack in the middle of the worst of the Depression, in 1932, and my aunt Judy followed him two years later. My grandfather later got a job at International Harvester as a die sinker and he retired from there.

My grandma always had an innate sadness to her because she lost her daughter Joan (they pronounced it Jo-Ann) on April 19, her anniversary. From then on, it was never a day to celebrate, only to mourn. Two of her daughters came down with scarlet fever at the same time. My aunt Zora recovered. My aunt Joan was not as lucky. They had to go to a contagious disease hospital because grandma was pregnant with my aunt Loie at the time. But every day, she’d go to the hospital and keep vigil for her girls. The nurse said “Why do you come when you can’t see them?” “Because they’re my daughters!” Grandma would snap, unable to believe anyone else wouldn’t do the same.

I never got to meet my grandfather. He died six years before I was born. My grandmother died when I was five and a half, so I barely remember her. But I remember her old and frail, and wracked with the ravages of the diabetes she contracted during one of her many pregnancies. Not beautiful and hopeful as she looks here.

I want my genealogy to honor their memories, like so many others in our family. No one has ever paid tribute to this family before. My grandfathers, uncles, and other relations were almost all farmers or menial laborers. We were poor, but we were proud. We were Smiths.

Rose-Colored Glasses

I always tell people, “It’s a new place if I haven’t seen it yet!” No one understands my love of old places or the way I view them. When I head out on one of my genealogy trips, it doesn’t matter where I’m going. I try imagining it as it used to be, even if it’s not that great anymore.

Call them rose-colored glasses, but I didn’t dwell on the “rust belt” part of Ohio that I saw. I’d recently discovered that a branch of the family had settled in Seneca and Sandusky Counties, not far from Toledo. The county seat (and the area where they settled) was Tiffin.

The town had obviously seen better days, but it had an easy-to-use courthouse where they allowed me free access to the records, and the library had a card file of important vital events contained in the newspapers, saving me hours and hours of searching. I saw the old Tiffin– the town of glass factories and American Standard, and the folks driving around in Model T’s and the women wearing bustles around the time my family lived there.

I managed to visit two cemeteries outside town, and in Green Springs nearby, getting a ton of photos of all the dead people I was looking for (and the graveyards were small enough that the folks were easy to find). The houses around the entire area where beautiful old rambling farmhouses, and I wish I’d been closer to family nearby to point me in the direction of the old Horton farmhouse. I now have a photo of it, but I would love to have found it in situ while I was there.

I moved on to Fremont, the home of the Rutherford B. Hayes Library. More research, in a few of the papers they hadn’t had in Tiffin, and a gorgeous walk around the grounds of the house they call Spiegel Grove. “Been there, done that, got the mug!” is now my mantra for all new places I visit.

This trip made such an impression on me that Millionaire’s Row in Buffalo and Spiegel Grove both made cameos in my first novel. With my writer’s eyes, everything carried new importance. So next time you find yourself somewhere unfamiliar, and all you can see around you is ugly, try this trick with the glasses, and see if you find something beautiful around you.

Freedom at Midnight- Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre

Image

Recently, on a visit to the thrift store, I found a copy of this book, and decided to educate myself on India in general, but specifically on the partitioning of it.

In the last 20 years or so, working as a technical writer, I’ve made plenty of Indian friends, and become far more interested in the culture and cuisine of the place, so it seemed like a good way to be more aware of my friends’ lives and way of living. If it wasn’t for British friends who introduced me to Indian food back in 1993, it might never happened! So thanks, Jason and Grant (Grahnt, he says).

I always made A’s in geography, but I knew there was plenty about the historical nature of the world I didn’t know. For instance, I knew something about the partitioning of India into Pakistan, but I didn’t realize how much bloodshed and controversy went into it. I didn’t know that the initial concept was to have Pakistan be divided into two completely separate areas– Pakistan and East Pakistan. And that East Pakistan went on to become Bangladesh.

All I really knew about Bangladesh was that it is one of the poorest areas of the entire world, and that George Harrison had written a song about it, and hosted a fundraising concert. But the area east of Calcutta became Bangladesh in 1971. As my excuse, I’ll let you know that I was five years old when this happened.

I was fortunate enough to have a Religion class in 7th grade (in Catholic school, yet!). We covered all the major religions, including the Zoroastrians, which gave me quite a bit of insight while reading this. As far as I knew, India had always been Indian, but the Muslims there were a huge portion of its culture for a long while until partition.

Until the arrival of the Muslims, Hindu dictates instructed the Untouchable caste that they were where they were due to sins in their previous life. The only way to escape from their lot in life was to do good deeds and live good lives so they could be reborn into a higher caste. Not wanting to wait for a caste upgrade in a future life, many Untouchables decided to try the Muslim way of life. The Muslims were accepting, and would take whomever wanted to join them. This was a major reason for hostilities between the two groups– it didn’t matter what religion these Muslims were now. They were Untouchables, and their descendants would always be Untouchables. They were unclean, and Hindus wanted nothing to do with them. That was a huge eye-opener for me.

I’m learning much about Mountbatten, Nehru, Gandhi, and the “Father of Pakistan,” Jinnah. Turned out that Jinnah, who demanded the partition, was actually dying of TB at the time, and no one knew it. If this fact had been known, things might have gone much differently.

Much more to go, but it’s a fascinating read of India in the midst of major upheaval, and a good glimpse at the culture. I tried reading The Far Pavilions in high school, but I didn’t finish it. I’d probably be much more interested now.

Mashawa Soup

So the weather is starting to cool off (for some of us anyway). This is a perfect time to post a recipe for my favorite soup ever. During deep winter weekend afternoons, I cook up a pot of this, and we use it to stay warm after shoveling through a foot of snow out front.

I first tasted it about 2005, when I made my first pilgrimage to Madison, Wisconsin to begin SERIOUSLY researching my dad’s genealogy at the State Historical Society. I tried a lot of restaurants that trip, but Kabul was my absolute favorite, and it remains that way. I have fond memories of researching all day in the stacks or at a microfilm reader then heading to Kabul to read through all my research while enjoying this soup. Cook up a pot this winter and stay cozy.

Ingredients:

1 c dry light kidney beans
1 c dry garbanzo beans
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 lb chopped lamb, fat removed
1 lb chopped chicken
1-15 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 Tbs salt
2 Tbs dried dill
3/4 Tbs cayenne pepper
1/2 Tbs black pepper
1/2 Tbs dried cilantro
1 c chicken stock
1/2 c dried yellow split peas
1/2 c dried green split peas

Yogurt Sauce:
8 oz yogurt
2 crushed cloves garlic
1 tsp ground dried mint (or fresh dill)

1. Soak the beans, garbanzo beans, and split peas in separate bowls overnight.

2. In a large kettle, bring 1 gallon of water to a boil. Add the kidney beans and garbanzo beans and boil them, uncovered, 1 to 1½ hours or until beans are tender. Remove them from heat and drain. Do not rinse. Set beans aside.

3. In a large pan, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook it until it’s translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the lamb and chicken and sauté it, turning, until it is evenly browned.

4. To the lamb/chicken mixture, add the tomatoes, the spices, the  stock and split peas. Add water to cover them by 1 inch. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer it uncovered over low heat 2 hours.

5. Combine the meat mixture with the reserved beans, and heat them through if needed. Pour the soup into individual bowls and top each serving with a tablespoon of the yogurt sauce.