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A Snippet of History for this "Holiday Weekend"
No More Spring Cleaning. It's Time for Books!
Kindle Versus Starbucks
Laura Towne: Answer to a Slave's Prayer
Laura Towne: Misfit


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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

A Snippet of History for this "Holiday Weekend"

The tradition of honoring our war dead probably pre-dates the Civil War, and we know that families cleared winter debris from family graveyards long before governments became involved in creating a special day for doing so. Still, most accounts give credit for the first “Memorial Day” to the African-American events carried out in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. There, ceremonies honored 257 Union soldiers who died while being held as prisoners of war at the Hampton Park Race Course.  Freedmen, Union troops, black ministers and northern missionaries gathered to clean up their unmarked graves, to remember those who had lost their lives during the Civil War, and to offer thanks for the end of slavery in the United States.

In the North, the first Decoration Day came at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868, at the direction of General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. He announced that the day should be "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land." Gradually the custom spread across both the North and the South. At the same time, the two names — Memorial Day and Decoration Day — gradually merged, until a federal law passed in 1967 officially designated the term Memorial Day. 

Almost immediately thereafter, Congress began to work on a proposal that would change the fixed dates of four holidays to  designated Mondays, so as to create four three-day holiday weekends for the convenience and pleasure of American voters. The four included George Washington’s Birthday, Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. The change became effective in 1971. 

By 1975 protests forced the date of Veteran’s Day to be restored to November 11th, but efforts to do the same for Memorial Day were less successful. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii began offering resolutions to restore the May 30 date in 1987 and continued to do so every year until his death in 2012. The VFW picked up the effort in 2002, declaring that the 3-day weekend trivialized the meaning of the day.  So far all such efforts have failed.

Today, the same protest is echoing across Facebook. If you are among those who cringe at “Memorial Day sales,” picnic recipes, ads for beach get-aways, and well-meaning but oblivious folks who wish you a “Happy Memorial Day,” you already understand. This “holiday” was never meant to be National Barbecue Day. It’s not even a day to say “Thank You” to living veterans who gave of their service. They’ll get their day on November 11th. Today, May 30, we are meant to remember and honor those who have given their very lives in the service of their country, both those who died on a far-off battlefield and those who later died of their war-related injuries.

As one whose husband died of combat-related injuries, my heart aches on this day. I’m not having a nice holiday. I’m not happy. I won’t be cooking out. But I will remember.

No More Spring Cleaning. It's Time for Books!

Things have been quiet around Katzenhaus Books lately, because the boss (that’s me!) has been insanely engaged in the “Spring Cleaning” impulse that arises every year when the weather warms up. When i was a kid, we knew it was finally spring in Ohio when the fire in the furnace was banked and put to rest until fall. But that event brought on the next. Every room in the house was now coated with a fine layer of black coal dust after the winter’s heating. The bathroom and kitchen were not a problem because the walls were painted and could quickly be scrubbed. But the other rooms all had wallpaper, and it was real paper, not vinyl, so we couldn’t apply water to it.

The solution was complicated. All furniture was moved to the center of the room and draped with old sheets. Then we opened the yearly supply of Kutol. This was a nasty mixture resembling putty and smelling like a chemical factory. Actually, it was little more than salt, flour, water, and cleaning substances, kept moist in a can until we took out handfuls, wadded them into ball and started wiping down the walls. As it picked up the soot, the clay turned from pink to gray, which called for further kneading until the dirty surface was replaced with cleaner particles. The process worked, but it was messy, and took days. I can still smell those chemicals.  The advent of the gas furnace was a major turning point in my young life, but by the time we converted the old coal furnace,  I had absorbed a need to clean somewhere deep into my genes. It rears its ugly head every year.

This year the impulse began with a search through the garage for a nail to rehang a picture. My hunt turned up 15 containers of used nails, most of them bent, rusty, or tinged with paint. It also revealed several cartons of household goods that had not been unpacked when we moved here twelve years ago, along with box after box of unsorted photographs. Those discoveries, along with a neighbor’s sidelong glance and offer to help me clean up “this horrible mess,”  were enough to trigger the whole “Spring Cleaning” drive.  I’ve been at it ever since. And once I got started with the garage, it carried over into several closets and my husband’s old office furniture. I’m happy to report that I now have a clean garage with room to park an extra car if I should ever need to, as well as a cozy new “girl cave.”  I still have my writing office, full of books, papers, and computers, all of them telling me to get back to work. But this new room is a place where I can curl up in a comfortable rocker and read or daydream or listen to music without feeling guilty.

All those changes fall into the category of “good news.” The bad news is that I haven’t done any writing, and that includes both the new book manuscript and the usual blog posts. Ugh!  I would firmly resolve to get back to work, except that I’m going to be tied up all next week with a writers’ conference.  So to carry us all over until I can be more productive, I’ve scheduled another book promotion. Many of you have read “Damned Yankee” and wondered what happened to the Grenvilles after the Civil War. Now’s your chance to follow them through the turmoil and challenges of the Reconstruction era. I promise it will be more fun than spring house cleaning!

 Here are the details:

On Saturday, May 21, starting at 8:00 AM (Pacific Time), the Kindle edition of “Yankee Reconstructed” will be available for just ninety-nine cents. That’s a price reduction of something like 80%.  Grab it quickly, because at 8:00 AM on Sunday, May 22, the price will jump to $2.99. That’s still a bargain at half-price, of course. But don’t delay further, because at 8:00 AM on Monday, May 23, the price reverts to the list cost of $5.99. This is a once-a-year bargain countdown deal. The clock will be ticking, and the remaining time will show up on the book’s Kindle page, for those of you who need to convert to other time zones. Click here to grab your copy:

Kindle Versus Starbucks


In March and April I experimented with Amazon's "KDP Select" program. One of the main advantages, they say, is that an author can plan several "Free Days" promotions. The concept seems clear, and it follows a well-known advertising pattern. When a new Starbucks opens, they offer free samples, hoping that one taste will bring customers back again. In the same way, offering some of one's books for free promotes more readership, and the effect carries over when the promotion is finished. Readers who sample one book are expected to be more willing to purchase other volumes by the same author.

Did it work? To a certain extent, it did, but I have a few doubts. Enthusiasm ran high for the books I offered for free. A few readers chose to download "The Dilemma of Arnulf of Lisieux" during the free promotion. Sales for that particular title doubled over the next six weeks, although the total for that 20-year-old book was not exactly overwhelming.

The larger effect, however, had to do with the next promotion, where downloads of "A Scratch with the Rebels" were ten times as numerous. And after that, the promotion of "Beyond All Price" took off for the stratosphere. Downloads mounted into the hundreds, a multiple of 100 books downloaded for every one of the "Dilemma" downloads. So it works, right?

Maybe not! The enthusiast did not last. By the time I opened the give-away offer for "The Road to Frogmore," readers appeared to be tired. Give-away numbers fell off again, down to about 25% of the previous offer. But what was worse, regular sales started to fall off, too.

Now I understand that there are readers out there with good intentions but poor follow-through. They snatch up a free book, planning to read it, but somehow, it just never gets opened. I've done that myself. So the reader who has now downloaded three books but not started any of them may be disinclined to add a fourth to the "good-intentions" pile. OK, fair enough. You probably lose interest in a cup of coffee that has been allowed to get cold, too.

But I wonder if there isn't something else going on.  I recently reviewed my own reading patterns in my Kindle library and I find that the more I pay for a book, the more inclined I am to read it, regardless of content -- something about belonging to a generation that was taught that you get what you pay for, perhaps. (Which is why, perhaps, people are still willing to pay more for a Starbucks coffee than they are for a similar beverage at McDonalds.)

At any rate, I'm not going to be offering any more free promotions in the next few months. My experiment distributed a grand total of 985 free Kindle editions, which is about as much as I can afford to do. That should be quite enough to keep those readers busy for a while. Now we'll test the rest of the theory--the part that says, "The more books people read, the more they will want." (Books, like coffee, can be addictive.) I'll be keeping fingers crossed for improving sales figures on my newest books.

My two recent publications, "Damned Yankee" and "Yankee Reconstructed" are obviously connected to one another. They are the first two volumes of a series based on the fictional Grenville family of South Carolina. Volume one is set in the Civil War; volume two covers the years immediately after the war. (And yes, volume three is already in the works. I've finished one draft of the first sixty-percent of "Yankee Sisters." ) Faithful readers can expect  the third part of the series to appear sometime in early 2017. And if you haven't met the Grenvilles yet, now is the time to start reading.

One final reminder: the jury is still out on Amazon's "Kindle Owner's Lending Library" program. My books have been enrolled for the past six weeks, and I am pleasantly surprised to see how many people have joined the paid-subscription plan that allows them to read as many books as they like. The reports that come to me show only the number of pages read, not the number of readers, but the page totals are higher than I expected. The benefit there, from my point of view, is that I get paid something for each page read.  It amounts to only a fraction of a cent per page, but it's still an income generator.

So I encourage you to keep reading, in whatever fashion suits you best. If you are a "Prime" member, you can download one Kindle volume for free every month. If you join the KOLL subscription plan, you can get as many books free as you want. And if  you are not the joining type, please remember that most books on Kindle cost less than a large drink from Starbucks. That $3.99 to $5.99 book will last longer than your Starbucks double latte, and without all the calories!

Laura Towne: Answer to a Slave's Prayer

So how did a woman who refused to fit in manage to leave a legacy of changing her world?  Well,  let’s look at her personal quirks from a different angle.  While Laura Towne was not ever going to find a real home in Philadelphia, the Low Country of South Carolina became her natural habitat.
The teachers and abolitionists who took part in what was called the Port Royal Experiment were forced into some very strange living arrangements as they settled into abandoned plantations.  There were a few married couples among them, and a couple of brother-sister groups, but for the most part, they were all single and needed to share accommodations, both for safety and in order to provide all the varied services they wanted to offer to the newly freed slaves.  So no one regarded Laura and her life-long companion, Ellen Murray, as anything other than natural housemates.  As time went by Laura and Ellen were able to purchase a small house they could call their own, and they lived together as a family with combined resources without raising a single eyebrow.
Laura’s brand of homeopathic medicine was exactly what the freed slaves needed.  They often had their own remedies for illnesses, but like most people, they wanted to be cared for, and Laura offered that.  One slave woman remarked that Laura could make you feel better just by walking into a room. Her experiments with homeopathic remedies also made her more open to considering alternate forms of medicine. She was shocked the first time she found a slave’s  leg wound covered in honey.  But when she realized that it was healing with no sign of infection, she was willing to adopt the use of honey as one of her remedies. Because she was caring and non-critical, the slaves accepted her ministrations but rejected traditional doctors.
Similarly, Laura’s Unitarian faith made her more accepting of the slave traditions.  She delighted in the Shout, a quasi-religious celebration that gave slaves a chance to express the feelings they had to keep hidden most of the time. She did not demand that her patients and students follow her own brand of religion, as so many of the missionaries did.  She urged open worship services and actively worked to get rid of any pastor who arrived with notions of converting the slaves to his own peculiar brand of religion.
It was only natural that people who had been slaves all their lives would welcome an abolitionist who demanded getting rid of all forms of slavery.  But Laura went further than that.  She strongly believed what others only preached.  Every abolitionist praised freedom and equality, but all too often, they meant that slaves had freedom to do as they were told and that they were equal to each other but not to their betters. Laura had a strong belief that if a black child received the same education as a white child, they would be equal in every way.  Others wanted to teach the former slaves how to be cleaner, how to raise more cotton, or how to run a small shop or create crafts.  Laura offered them Latin, composition, algebra, history, and geography, and the children flocked to her schools.
In short, the very qualities that had kept Laura from fitting into Philadelphia’s high society were the qualities that former slaves could value.  And that, perhaps, is what allows such a woman to become a world-changer.  She remained true to her core beliefs and used them for the betterment of those around her.

The Road to Frogmore,  a biographical novel by Carolyn P. Schriber, was published in 2012. In 2013, it won a Silver Medal from The Military Writers Society of America. A digital version will be available for free in the Kindle Store from Monday, April 25, 2016, through Wednesday, April 27, 2016. Don’t miss this chance to read the story of a remarkable woman.  

Laura Towne: Misfit

For all of her adult life (and much of her childhood as well), Laura Towne had known that she did not fit in with the society around her.  If someone had told her that in 150 years she would be touted as an example of a woman who made a permanent difference in the world, she would not have believed it.  Nor would she have believed that anyone would ever write a book about her life.  She knew she was different; she just didn’t know that being different was going to make her important. I see her as an example of how women can change their world. 
Laura’s world demanded that women fulfill one of two roles in society.  She could either marry and become a dutiful wife and doting mother, or she could remain in the family home as the caretaker of her parents, the support of her brothers and sisters, the family anchor. Laura wanted no part of either one.  She could not bring herself to be subordinate to a man, especially one who was not as intelligent or capable as she was.  She loved children but wanted to encourage them to flee the nest, not hover over them as protector. Her mother died when she was nine, her father when she was in her early twenties, so there was no need to take on the role of caregiver.  And she had no interest in encouraging her siblings to lean on her any more than they already did. She cherished a close friendship with another woman whom she considered her equal in every way.  She dreamed of sharing their lives, but knew that while Philadelphia society might allow two women to live together, they would never give their relationship the status of family. She thought she would always live a solitary existence, without the bonds of love and affection that sustained other people.
Laura wanted a career, even though she knew that there were few career options open to her.  She petitioned for years to be allowed to attend medical school, and finally found admission in Philadelphia’s first medical school for women.  There she was allowed to attend academic classes and lectures, but barred from any clinical experience on the grounds that women should never see the body of a man other than their husbands or children. Frustrated with the lack of contact with patients, she gave up her pursuit of a medical degree and turned to the study of homeopathic medicine, which put her even further outside the boundaries of acceptable careers. Most trained doctors looked down on homeopathy as quackery, but Laura found much to like.  It allowed her to be in close contact with her patients; treating them as individuals, not  cases; offering comfort and palliative care; and avoiding the harshness of dangerous medicines, quick amputation, or blood-letting.
Laura was a non-conformist when it came to religion, too.  In a city involved with evangelism in all its many forms, as well as a city that had been founded by Quakers, Laura was a Unitarian.  What was that?  The question bothered other people, too.  Unitarians believed in one God.  Only one, not a Trinity, which seemed to make them non-Christians.  They disliked dogma, official church doctrine, and any and creeds.  They believed religion should be a quiet and private affair.  They were ethical and reasonable, believers in free will, and flexible in their religious observances.  They were particularly irritating to traditional Christians because they denied the divinity of Jesus while following his teachings more closely than most Christians did.
Finally, there was the matter of politics.  Women did not have the right to vote and  were not expected to have political opinions.  They certainly were not expected to speak out about their views. But Laura was an abolitionist, and an outspoken one at that.  She was not afraid to express her hatred of slavery and demanded equality for all people, including women.  Abolitionists were usually northerners, but they were no more popular in the north they were in the south.  Workers feared an influx of free blacks would take away their jobs, while the wealthy feared attacks from those who had much less than they did. Laura the abolitionist was one of a very few uppity women who were hated by nearly everyone.

The Road to Frogmore,  a biographical novel by Carolyn P. Schriber, was published in 2012. In 2013, it won a Silver Medal from The Military Writers Society of America. A digital version will be available for free in the Kindle Store from Monday, April 25, 2016, through Wednesday, April 27, 2016. Don’t miss this chance to read the story of a remarkable woman.