Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Along the Susquehanna River

There is something enticing about water. People flock to it, whether it's a river, a lake or the ocean. In Central Pennsylvania, the small town of Clearfield lies along the west banks of the Susquehanna River. Flowing 228 miles from Cherry Tree to Sunbury, the West Branch forms the lifeblood linking what is now known as the Lumber Heritage region.

It is also the setting for the book I’m currently writing. My heroine and her father own a large logging operation in the area in the 1800s. And the hero? Well, of course, he’s a ship captain who owns the clipper ships in the Chesapeake Bay and who sells the Pennsylvania lumber.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, virgin timber—among it the celebrated great white pine—was harvested to supply to supply lumber for shipbuilding, construction and coal mine props. Much of this lumber was rafted down the West Branch to markets on or near the Chesapeake Bay. Today, the West Branch flows through a northern hardwood forest of oak, cherry, maple and remnants of white pine and hemlock forests of early settlers' times.

The West Branch of the Susquehanna is actually part of the main “North Branch” of Susquehanna River which is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States. At 444 miles long, it drains into the Atlantic Ocean via the Chesapeake Bay and is the 16th largest river as well. The headwaters start in Cooperstown, New York, and join the “West Branch” near Northumberland in Central Pennsylvania.

Before European conquest, the Susquehannock, an Iroquoian tribe lived along the river and gave the Susquehanna its name. In the 17th century, it was inhabited largely by the Lenape. In the 18th century, William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania Colony, negotiated with the Lenape to allow white settlements in the colony between the Delaware River and the Susquehanna.

Local legend claims that the name of the river comes from an Indian phrase meaning "mile wide, foot deep," referring to the Susquehanna's unusual dimensions, but while the word is Algonquian, it simply means "muddy current" or "winding current". Additionally, hanna is an Algonquin word that means stream or river, and that Susquehanna is up for interpretation as meaning long reach river to long crooked river. It has also been said that the Susquehanna River was also called “Oyster River” by the Lenape because of the numerous oyster beds at the mouth of the river where historians found mounds of oyster shells.

Although there are mysteries surrounding the river and how its name originated, there is one constant. The Susquehanna is the main life-sustaining river of the state of Pennsylvania. Its waters allowed settlements to spring up along its banks and businesses and farms to survive and thrive—and Pennsylvania to become the 9th most densely populated of our fifty states.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Someone said not to sweat the small stuff. But as a writer, I think we have an obligation to sweat the small stuff. I believe all the little things we do—from editing a chapter for the fifteenth time to standing at the kitchen sink and thinking to ourselves that a conversation we’ve already created won’t work for a particular character—is part of our desire to strive for excellence and perfection in our work. We owe it to our audience.
Hello October!

Everyone is aware the ease of self-publishing has caused an explosion of poorly written fiction being dumped into the marketplace. We’ve all downloaded a digital book to our Kindle, Nook, phone, or tablet that was filled with bad grammar, misspellings, incorrect punctuation, and was horrendously embarrassing and painful to read.  And we’ve all hit the “remove from device” link and sent these books to a junkyard in cyberspace far, far away.

But recently, I’ve been amazed with the amount of poorly written copy coming from not only fiction writers, but also writers in newspapers and magazines and (oh, my) writers on the internet. Put aside the fact that they are not checking facts, more and more people are just content to spit out their opinion or construct lazy gibberish on websites and in comment boxes with little regard to how they are shredding the English language.

“So what?” you ask. “Everyone makes mistakes, right?”
Do you want your accountant to make a mistake by a few decimal points or a few hundred dollars? How about if your doctor wrote (heaven forbid) a prescription for the wrong drug—or maybe the right drug, but the wrong dosage? Or what if your lawyer sent out a letter on your behalf filled with spelling errors? Even better yet, your plumber decided the joint he connected and sealed in one of your drain pipes is just good enough. Would you be pleased with any of these behaviors?

I believe writers have the same obligation as any other worker in any other occupation. It’s time we take the time to strive for excellence as we string words together for our readers. It’s time we take the time to find the correct word, use a thesaurus and dictionary, double check punctuation, remove wordy dialogue, rewrite poorly constructed descriptions, remove anything that doesn’t propel the plot forward, and enlist the help of beta readers and good editors. My list could go on and on, but you get the idea.

James Michener said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” And that’s the secret of good writing. So, I am going to sweat the small stuff. I’m going to take the time to do the best job I can even if it I have to write and rewrite, and rewrite again and again—even if it takes longer than I planned or hoped. 

Now tell me, what bugs you as a writer reading the written word in print or digital? 
 A new month- a new contest- and another chance to win a kindle fire