On Baltimore and Book Launches

On Baltimore and Book Launches

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Yes, it happened, and I am delighted and humbled. Echoes of the Alum Chine, officially launched in the city of its setting, if not the period. Baltimore in the early 20th Century. Not a time without problems, without societal ills, to be sure, yet a time that I view through a sepia lens.

Aware of that as I drove through the neighborhoods cited in the book – Hollins Street, Union Square – well past its prime, though struggling to maintain some semblance of urban pioneer moments. I read that the local market and adjacent properties had been bought by a relative of Under Armour’s CEO, but, to my untrained eye, I could see no evidence to transformation – yet, at least.

And I ponder my reaction to any such transformation – when I big spender comes in to “revitalize” an area – to my mind, significantly different than the grass roots struggles of individuals who come to save a neighborhood from a sense of loyalty and love, rather than as an investment. I was part of such a merry band many years ago, when the area of Seton Hill began to take shape. A labor of love and money, to be sure – and I am hoping for a resurgence for this lovely area of alley houses.

And now, back to me!  It was such an enchantment to read passages of both Echoes from the Alum Chine and Another Sunday to groups who understood the historical context, who understood exactly what it meant when Celeste, the heroine of Another Sunday, ends her days at the Congress Hotel, a Baltimore landmark that at one time signified the height of sophistication and prosperity, but, by the time Celeste lived there, had devolved into what could only be called a flea-bag hotel for transients. I felt their tears and sadness for her. And they came right along with me as I recounted her 1967 cab ride through Mt. Vernon Place, North Avenue, Baltimore Cemetery and Green Mount Cemetery, with a final stop at Stewart’s Department Store at Howard and Lexington Streets. A visit remembering what had been, and the sadness of facing what was and is.

Going back to Baltimore always fills me with mixed emotions – I love seeing old friends, this time from high school and from my Roland Park days. But I am always struck by a sense of sadness, for the tone of the city has changed, so many of the landmarks that were and remain meaningful to me derelict and forgotten. I’m not so impressed with the tarted-up, pseudo-chic, multi-million-dollar condos that have replaced those earthy, drunken sailors on Pratt Street.

I know I’m in the minority – it doesn’t bother me. Someone asked me if I remembered the movie Avalon. I sure do – and salute Barry Levinson – another Baltimorean who remembers the substance of Baltimore. I think there are a lot of us out there.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

On a Book Launch, Baltimore, and Echoes from the Alum Chine —

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On a Book Launch, Baltimore, and the Alum Chine –

I’m heading to Baltimore this week to formally launch my second historical novel, Echoes from the Alum Chine. It’s another journey back in time for me –to my favorite era, the 1910s. It’s where I live when I’m writing, or thinking about writing. This period calls to me, resonates in a way that I must heed. I’m not sure why; perhaps I had another life then. And if I did, it was definitely in Baltimore. This was the time of a city that was real – complete with watermelon rinds floating in the Pratt Street harbor, and Norwegian sailors, arm in arm, drunkenly wending their way back to their ships after a night carousing. A time before multi-million dollar condos and pretentious restaurants and bars catering to the pseudo-glamourous.

Okay, rant over – and who can stop progress, and it is tax-base, after all, and all those factory jobs and work at Bethlehem Steel are not going to return. I get that – but still, one can remember, even if those memories are tinted sepia.

Now for the commercial – The Baltimore launch of Echoes from the Alum Chine will be held on Saturday, April 22, at 1:00 p.m. at the Irish Railroad Workers’ Museum, 918 Lemmon Street. The museum is in the heart of SoWeBo, just south of Hollins Street and Union Square, an area, I might add, that has kept its authenticity without succumbing to pretention. If you are nearby, I do hope that you will consider attending.

Echoes from the Alum Chine draws on Baltimore history – specifically, the aftermath of the 1913 explosion of the steamer ship Alum Chine in Baltimore harbor – to share the tale of three families who persevere to transform tragedy into triumph during the early 1900s. The novel explores the complexities of class and race that have challenged Baltimore for centuries, as well as the intricacies of family dynamics.

I’ll also be presenting “Writing the Historical Novel:  Fact, Fancy, and Research” at the Irish Railroad Workers’ Museum on Lemmon Street at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 22, and again at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 23 at the Baltimore County Historical Society, 9811 Van Buren Lane, Cockeysville.

Dear readers, thank you for allowing this bit of blatant self-promotion, and I do hope that you will read, and enjoy, the book.

www.cynthiastrauff.com Echoes from the Alum Chine

 

On Getaway Trips for the Long-Married…

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On Getaway Trips for the Long-Married

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, oh, the places we will go….

At least that was what we told each other when the time finally arrived that we were both free from the Monday through Friday of the work world. Yes, we’d just wake up in the morning, put out extra cat food and litter, and take off wherever and whenever the muse sang to us. And in the beginning, we did – the mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the ocean, sometimes just a day trip to a town we had never explored. And then…and then, life, and routine, and a new rhythm entered our days. I wrote, and wrote, and thought about writing. He labored long and hard on a discography of Glenn Miller. Our interests, our hobbies turned not exactly inward, but more to what needed to be done at a desk, inside. And somehow, we became as busy, as committed, as we had been in that world of work we were so delighted to leave.

But this week we decided no. We were due a break. So, Wednesday morning, cat food bowls overflowing, we left for a few days east – Edenton NC to be exact, a small historic town on the Albemarle Sound that was once the capital of the Province of North Carolina. It is still small, still historic, with just enough inviting, and still unpretentious, restaurants and coffee houses. The town has many historic B&Bs, but we decided that for this trip we valued privacy over history and sociable hosts, so we opted for a comfortable, anonymous hotel.

And though we’ve been married lo these many years, it still felt like an adventure – a bit like playing hooky. We found that we still like each other – we’ve always traveled well together – and I’ve kept my most-of-the-time gift for finding restaurants that provide a bit of funk with the food. He continues to perfect his most-of-the-time gift for finding out of the way places to explore – this time with the help of Google maps we found the Scuppernong River Walk in Columbia NC.

We were only gone a few  days, though long enough to be glad to get back home. Waiting for me were copies of the new book, Echoes from the Alum Chine. Yes, it’s here – and available on Amazon. The e-version should be up in a week or so. And you will be hearing more about that.

But, for this week, I’m still remembering a getaway trip for the long-married. Not a bad way to spend one’s time.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

Almost here — Echoes from the Alum Chine….

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Oh, yes. It’s almost here, and I am so in love with this book. Excuse the hubris, but what mother doesn’t love her child?

Echoes from the Alum Chine is not available quite yet, but meanwhile I had to share this wonderful cover. Photograph by the iconic photographer of Baltimore, A. Aubrey Bodine. I think that it conveys the melancholy overtone of the story that follows three families in the aftermath of the 1913  explosion in the Baltimore Harbor of 300 tons of dynamite being loaded onto the steamer Alum Chine:  the Aylesforths, who live in the big house on Hollins Street; the Corporals, in the alley behind, and the Sherwoods, whose company insures the cargo.The story is told by the shy, forgotten Lillian Gish Corporal, who stands by and observes.

The Baltimore book launch is set for Saturday, April 22, at the Irish Railroad Workers’ Museum, 920 Lemmon Street in the heart of Hollins Street and Union Square (SoWeBo to those hipster Baltimoreans in the know).  I’ll be speaking to the group on “The Historical Novel: Fact, Fancy and Research,” at 11:30 a.m. The launch and book-signing will follow at 1 p.m.

I do hope that my Baltimore friends will be able to attend – as well as anyone (isn’t that a bit overconfident?) interested in Baltimore history.

The Greensboro launch will be later this spring.

So, it’s here – or almost here. And, after such a winter of political dread, I am ecstatic.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com Author of Another Sunday and Echoes from the Alum Chine

 

 

Despair is Not an Option, Part II

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I wanted this week’s post to be about my new book — almost ready to be born, almost ready to come into the world. I wanted this week’s post to be about joy, about creativity, about seeing one’s work come into being. And I am happy, almost joyful about it. Echoes from the Alum Chine, almost here, really.

But this week’s news has just been too disheartening. Tax cuts for the rich, a massacre of the EPA, destruction of arts’ advocacy groups. I won’t go on – I’m sure you know more than I what is at stake. What a statement of values from our elected-by-the-electoral-college president.

My wonderful German-American cousin sent me this poem, a blessing, in these days when we need a blessing, or whatever word we’d use for help in not despairing. John O’Donohue says it better than I ever could, for in poetry lies our soul. Would that our leaders realized that.

Beannacht (“Blessing”)

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

~ John O’Donohue ~

And next week will be better.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

 

Despair is Not an Option

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Despair is NOT an Option

Oh how I wish I had the luxury to be uninvolved, to return to my pre-November 9th days of writing, reading, and thinking that sense and dignity and intelligence would certainly prevail. My life was upended that early morning – and while I long to return to the rhythm of my days, while I long to believe that my calls, emails to our elected representatives will be at least heard if not accepted, I admit to more than one episode of near-despair.

On a state and national level, it feels like events are moving in a helter-skelter, out-of-control battle, Republican officials racing to undo progress made in moving our country toward a forward-looking, accepting society, to institute laws, regulations that they think will make the country “great again,” to accept baseless tweets and opinions as facts. Environmental protections, consumer safeguards, rational gun control laws, healthcare coverage – the rush to decimate, to unravel anything done or espoused by the former President. Yes, hard not to despair of an administration that wants to bring back coal, restrict the rights and privileges of our citizens, build a wall, ban Muslims.  I must ask for what purpose?

Yes, down the list of 45’s platforms are limits of congressional terms and lobbying jobs. I’d like to see some progress on those issues. Instead, he seems to be working hard to take us back to the 1950s, a time that his supporters seem to view through sepia lenses. As far as I know, time-travel only exists in novels.

Preaching to the choir I am most likely. And I promise that this will be my last dirge for a while. My second historic novel, Echoes from the Alum Chine, is close to being born. You’ll hear more-than-you-want-to-hear about that over the next months.

Meanwhile, I won’t despair, and I wish the same for you.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

Gratitude and Joy: Compare and Contrast

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Gratitude and Joy:  Compare and Contrast

Gratitude – who in this life could not, should not, be grateful – even in the horrendous political climate we are enduring. The suggestions, admonitions, about gratitude, about keeping a gratitude journal, about simplicity, well, who would not agree with them? So much to be grateful for – and I honestly do spend most of my hours in a state of gratitude – for (some of) my family, my friends, my health, for having “enough,” and most of all, for the freedom of my days.

Freedom – to do what I want, when I want, to set my own schedule and be responsible for following or not following it. It has been years since I left the world of paid employment – and there has not been a day since when I have not breathed a deep sigh and paean of “thank you, universe, for this sovereignty.” It was not until I experienced it that I realized how fettered I had been for way-too-many years. It was a bondage that I had freely accepted, indeed, had sought out and believed was what I wanted, a way to prove myself, mainly to myself.

And then the veil was lifted, the clouds parted, and I found this life – late, but not too late. Gratitude, you bet. And a sense of enough – enough money, enough time, and (almost) enough love. Gratitude – absolutely.

Which brings me to joy, a quality that had not been my strong suit.

Ah, joy – to experience that unrestrained, free, soaring spell (for to me it is a spell – a good one) if only we open ourselves to it. Joy in its purest form, without the Puritan/Catholic/Jewish shackles of “you’d better be grateful for this and if you’re not, you’ll pay the price.” Just plain joy, without gratitude.

Whoa…. surely some severe consequence will befall me – this sunrise, can I just experience it, let it touch my heart, without a voice inside, sometimes quiet, sometimes more insistent, that declares – “this is a gift, be grateful, remember this for your entry to your gratitude journal”?

I know that joy is a gift, which I exuberantly receive with no chains or laces. And the more I open my eyes to it, the more it seems to appear. And do I ever love that no-strings-attached thing-y.

The universe conspired to send me back to an old friend, Abigail DeWitt, a wondrous writer and teacher who has been a muse and inspiration to me for several years. It is she, via her Write to Heal course, who opened my eyes and heart to joy. Even more thanks to you, Abigail.

I’ll end with a joyous commercial for her – learn about her and her programs on her website: abigaildewitt.com. You may wind up entering that into your gratitude journal….

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com