Friday, May 23, 2014

The Cursed – and Key West Florida!

                Having grown up in Miami, the Florida Keys were always a getaway for my family and I’ve loved heading down to the entire chain of islands all my life – especially Key West!

                First, of course, for anyone from the city area, you find yourself cheerful just because you’re driving south. Yes, they are basically catching the same fish off the coast of Miami as they are off the coast of Key Largo—first stop on the chain. They somehow just taste better as soon as you’re off the mainland. And somehow, we’re all just instantly in better moods. Perhaps it’s the concept of the sea and the breeze and the fact that our natural landscape is just so darned beautiful. I don’t know. But I am happy to head down at the drop of a hat.

                Key Largo offers a number of fun establishments and, to me most importantly, John Pennekamp State Park. It’s a great place to go snorkeling, diving, picnicking, or just relaxing. Our reefs are sensational, and no matter how you go, it’s a day of nature—natural nature, if you will! We haven’t managed to manicure too much on our reefs yet and I hope they never do. They offer such amazing relaxation. I’m a diver, and there’s nothing like being down there—as of yet!—with no cell phones or distractions.

                Near Pennekamp you’ll find Captain Slate’s. Now, if you are a diver, this is something you must try to do—Captain Slate’s Creature Feature. Check out his schedule—he offers a dive with large nurse sharks and rays the Captain has been feeding for years. They are like his pets. They are gentle and play with the divers. (Not as food—they are naturally gentle unless you step on them or pull or tug at them.) It is truly an experience like no other.

                This is a blog so I’m not going to get too carried away because I can extol the virtues of every island in the chain. But I will tell you that all along the 120 (approx) miles to the 0 mark in Key West from the mainland, you will find excellent restaurants, charming and rustic bed and breakfast inns and more glamorous resorts. Fishing, boating, para-sailing, you name it. There’s camping, too. You can drop by Theater of the Sea for lots of sea mammal fun.

                Speaking of which . . . .

                In Marathon, at Grassy Key, there’s Dolphin Research Center. Once the home of Flipper, the founders and trainers there work with these marvelous mammals in many ways; they have become the home for many rescue animals who would have died in the wild. I have my favorite friends there, and I swear, my boy Tanner knows me when I come and chat with him or take a swim. I’ve been there for their Wounded Warrior Day—and I can’t say enough!

                If you wish a swim or play time with a sea lion, make sure you check schedules and availability at either venue.

                Heading on down, you’ll cross the famous Seven Mile Bridge, pass through areas where our little key deer are protected, and many nature preserves. 

                Indian Key is where Doctor Henry Perrine was massacred with others when the Seminole Indians—harassed and massacred themselves—took revenge on the wrong man, a man who had never harmed anyone. Perrine had been looking for a land grant; at his death, his widow had the land relocated and we now have the community of Perrine, Florida, in his honor.

                Next you come to Stock Island and then Key West. Now part of what you see of Key West is the “new area.” Land filled in out of marsh and bogs as time went by. Old Town Key West is naturally my favorite area. That’s where you’ll find a huge conglomeration of Victorian houses—during the years of salvage, Key West was the highest per capita income area of the states. You can tour Hemingway’s house and get to know some six-toed cats. You can visit the Mel Fisher Museum and find out about modern salvage. Visit the East Martello Museum and see a Victorian hearse among other artifacts—and learn about the days of pirates and Key West during the Civil War. The cemetery is mid island on the highest land with many interred in above ground vaults—bodies did indeed wash down Duval Street after a major hurricane. 

                And good Lord, go on a ghost tour!

                Fun, historic, and informative.

                As many times as I’ve been, I still hop on the Conch tour train. A “conch,” of course, is a native. A “fresh water conch” is someone who has been there at least seven years. (Yes, it’s also a large sea snail as well.) The Conch Republic refers to the fact that Key West, to protest at blockade at the mainland, seceded from the Union. The “secession” lasted a few hours—the point of everyone going broke with no tourism dollars was quickly made and thankfully, all came to a satisfactory conclusion without the beautiful and historic island leaving the states.

                Check out Artist House Bed and Breakfast – famed for being the home of Robert the Doll. And make sure you learn the story of Maria de Hoyos and Carl Tanzler. If not the greatest love story of all time—it’s got to be darned close to the creepiest. Seriously—where else could a man marry a corpse and live with her for seven years without really being noticed?

                Only in Key West. 

                I hope some of the crazy and incredible beauty and wonder—along with history, the good, the bad, and the ugly—are all within the pages of The Cursed. And, of course, I hope that one day, if you haven’t yet, you will come on down!


Friday, March 07, 2014

Mini Ice-Age and Waking the Dead

            In theory, the mini ice-age might be the reason St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated far and wide.
By the mid-eighteen-hundreds, the potato—a New World crop—had become big in Ireland. It th. Imagine life without the parades—and green beer, of course. (My mom was born in Dublin so it’s all pretty cool to me!)
had become so big, in fact, that the country was dependent on in. By 1849—tail end of the mini ice-age, since most scientists agree it ended about 1850—the land was so ravaged and decimated that the potatoes were growing black and inedible. In starving droves, the Irish were forced to immigrate to survive. As we know, the Irish came to the United States in massive numbers. And thank the Lord! While they went through a pretty wretched period at first (read Gangs of New York—yes, read the book, though I was a fan of the movie, quite different!) they began to settle in quite nicely as the decades rolled by and we began to pick on whatever new immigrants from different countries began to flock in and it was their turn to be ostracized. Yes, bring us your poor and wretched . . . we’ll bitch about them and forget we’re a nation of immigrants, but hey! Back on track here. So the Irish came and we have delightful celebrations every March 17
So maybe another reason to party in this country isn’t so important. But many or our leaders are of Irish descent, um, hm—like Kennedy! And Obama apparently can go back as well. Maybe Congress could actually agree on something if they were just to figure out that many of them were of Irish descent!
Oh, well. Still digressing here!
And on that note, the first President of the Republic of Ireland was an American. Yup. An Irishman (via his mom,) but born in the US of A, which meant, that when he was caught with a number of men who were hanged for their rebellion, he was spared the noose—no one wanted the Americans getting up in arms against what was going on. So Eamon de Valera lived to be the first pres. Lots of connection here—and maybe because of the weather.
Who knows just what else might have had to do with the extreme cold? Not that the shift was that big—just big enough to ruin crops and keep snow on the ground. Enough to make people really, really hungry.
But here’s to the point of the story—and we’re going to backtrack a little. On April of 1815 the volcano at Mt. Tambora on the little island of Sambawa erupted. The eruption was by far the worst of the nineteenth century although it’s presumed that it wasn’t noted as much as the later eruption of Krakatoa because by the time that top was blown, the telegraph was shooting news all over the place—the Facebook of the age.
But Mt. Tambora was about 12,000 feet high—the eruption knocked off 4,000 feet to bring it down to 8,000. That’s a lot of footage to lose—and a lot of dirt and ash and matter flying around in the air. It’s hard to estimate the deaths with the tsunamis created-much less being there at the initial impact.
The volcanic sky began to travel, right around the globe.
The year 1816 was not a good one in the states. It wasn’t that they were having the coldest days ever—it was that the cold wouldn’t go away. (Kind of like this year, 2014. I just left Chicago. Damn!) Spring hinted of an arrival—and then just went away.
The sky was eternally overcast. Add the fallout into the air and you had one cold year without much sun penetrating down to earth.
But, good things came of it.
Writers at the time could be a Bohemian lot. Take Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and John Polidori. They were hanging around Geneva, Switzerland and were known to take lovely holidays. Now on these holidays the group usually did fun things—outside. They loved to boat on the lake, take hikes, and, in general, play games and enjoy the great outdoors! But when they arrived, it was cold. It was dark. It was the year without a summer.  
And sitting around by the fire one cold wretched night at the Villa Diodati, they began to tell ghost stories. And as they told ghost stories, they decided that writing was something that could be done indoors. Since it was eternally gloomy, day often turned to night with little being different. There were eternal shadows surrounding them. Gray hung over the lake like a miasma of death and waiting.
Lord Byron proposed they all write a ghost story.
Well, couple that with Mary’s upbringing—a feminist mother, a father who liked to entertain the brightest minds of his day—and the fact that she was very up on recent experiments with electricity and the concept of “galvanism” and “re-animating” corpses, and you have a story.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was born, no pun intended.
Without the mini ice-age, this wonder of the literary world might not exist. Hundreds of actors, film-makers, producers, and what have you might not have had jobs over the decades upon decades since. And writers playing upon the first chills they felt while reading it might not have created their new works of fiction. If you want to get down to it—people might not have been frightened into the backseats at drive-ins and who knows? Some of us might not have even existed!
While it’s fanciful to take it too far, it is amazing what the weather can cause and create and how it has influenced history. A story is a small part of it, of course.
But, apparently, that mini ice-age influenced me. Waking the Dead begins in Geneva, Switzerland, with Mary and her crew—and an ardent admirer of them all who painted with colors rather than a pen. But his creation of that summer makes it present day New Orleans and into the lives of Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn. I hope you’ll enjoy my take on the year without a summer!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Mini Ice Age (With eventual reference to Waking the Dead!)

The imaginings of any story start with a seed. And for me, history always tends to leave a lot of seeds that we can allow to grow into something else—fiction.
                With our current watch on the weather and global warming, I found it fascinating that in relative recent history--in the grand scope of the Earth and humanity--we had a “mini ice age.” And that mini ice age affected the world in many ways.
                Naturally, famine. Crops were destroyed. People starved. Disease went rampant.
                But it’s not just the obvious.
                So, let’s start more or less at the beginning of this story—the real story, or history. The ‘mini’ ice age began in approximately 1350 and ended in 1850, but scientists argue even those dates. At any rate, Rome had long fallen and the dark ages had come and gone. The Catholic Church reigned supreme and people were superstitious, liking to blame the weather on witchcraft and demons and what have you.
                Beyond the known dangers of the periods of fierce cold that popped up during those years—famine, pestilence, etc.—there were tremendous social upheavals and many of those were indirectly influenced by the ice age.
                The French Revolution, for one. Who would imagine that winter weather might have had the revolutionaries yelling, “Off with their heads!” But the fierce cold brought about that famine. And famine brought about hundreds of thousands of starving peasants angrier each day that they were starving and the King and Queen were dining quite nicely. 
                Then, of course, it would be interesting to imagine the world if Napoleon Bonaparte had managed to have his way with the world. But his eyes were actually way bigger than his concept of that Russian winter. Now, we all know that Russian winters can be fierce to begin with. Couple that with a climate in which the Russians themselves had succumbed in vast number, and the force of Napoleon, bogged down with accoutrements of war and running out of food that was not to be found on the bitter cold Russian frontier—and voila. Down with Napoleon—there was an island in his future.
                Some scientists/historians think that the mini ice age helped America to win her Revolution. Let’s face it—we weren’t doing so well. The British were in New York. Washington was on the run—his men were freezing and there was a lot of hunger going on among them, too. So, the weather is wretched—wretched! Beyond wretched. Ice floes are clogging the Delaware River. No one in their right mind would have gone out on that bitter Christmas night in 1776 when Washington decided that he would cross the river with horses, men, boats, and canon. He took a chance—and surprised the hell out of the Hessian troops quartered at and around Trenton. His victory there—and over the next day—allowed for his army to remain undefeated. Hell, yes, it got very bad again, but Washington might well have lost the entire army by the end of the brutal winter if it hadn’t been for his mad dash across the Delaware. And we might have wound up being the United Provinces of Southern Canada. Who knows?
                So the mini ice age might have been responsible for a tremendous amount of bad—hundreds dead of starvation and disease, heads rolling and “witches” and “demons” hanged or burning—but it might have caused a few good things, too. Well, despite our many problems and the fact that we’re now aware we’d best fear the climate—I’m glad to be an American. So, I see it as good!
                There was more good—and bad. Tune in again in the next few days. And, oh, just for the record, this all has to do with the next Cafferty and Quinn book, Waking the Dead (if you happened to have read the first, they’ve apparently slept long enough.) The mini ice age combined with another natural disaster to create the “year with no summer.” And from that seed, came my book.