Book Reviews: The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks & Tinker Lindsay and Barnstorming by Laura Crum

The First Rule of TenThe First Rule of Ten
A Tenzing Norbu Mystery #1
Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay
Hay House, January 2012
ISBN 978-1-4019-3776-8
Trade Paperback

What happens when a former monk turned homicide detective decides to quit the force and become a private investigator? How does he cope without a steady paycheck? Or with his worries over disappointing his Tibetan father? Or with a new girlfriend who can cook up fabulous meals? And will his cat continue to respect him? This is the story of Tenzing Norbu and his venture into private practice. Get your Zen on with the first in a new series, sure to be popular.

After dodging a serious gunshot injury, L.A. Homicide investigator and former monk Tenzing Norbu, turns in his badge to go private. The next day an ex-wife of Ten’s former landlord, an ex-musician named Zimmy, shows up and gives an enigmatic warning. The next day, she’s found dead. Ten calls Zimmy to find out he’s been harassed by an individual wanting to ‘help’ Zimmy collect past due royalties. Zimmy, however, is not the first and Ten has to make the connection between a hustler, a pig farm, and a enigmatic cult.

The inclusion of various monk training regimens was well done and kept the story a little different from the normal PI mystery. Likeable characters (including the cat) and a complex plot keep the story interesting. Don’t expect too much noir style bullets flying but rather a steadily flowing story, rather like the peaceful hoeing of a sand garden, moving you toward a satisfying conclusion full of inner calm and…huh? Too much Zen? Don’t worry, The First Rule of Ten will satisfy your mystery craving.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, October 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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BarnstormingBarnstorming
Laura Crum
Perseverance Press, April 2012
ISBN 978-1-56474-508-8
Trade Paperback

In Crum‘s latest novel, Gail McCarthy once again horses around with murder. With plenty of suspects from which to choose, this novel kept me guessing until the end. It’s a tale filled with nature and animals, and of course a main character with a lot of horse sense.

After ten years of raising her child, Gail McCarthy is considering returning to her former profession as a horse vet. She’s enjoying retirement, however, and the freedom to ride her horse around the countryside. Her life is disrupted when she comes upon a corpse of a fellow horse rider. Enter Detective Jeri Ward, an old friend of Gail’s to act as lead investigator. There is a plethora of suspects with a variety of motives from jealousy to a marijuana farm and even a nearby housing development with folks who are anti-horse. As the evidence is collected and tensions heighten, Gail discovers a second corpse.

I mention the heightened tension, but I didn’t get a sense of urgency. Gail does a good job of amateur sleuth but I didn’t feel a good connection with her. I did enjoy the excellent knowledge displayed by the author. She knows her horses and any story with animals gets a second look from me. This is a fine continuation in a long series of novels and shows how life catches up with us all and our reflections of those changes.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, August 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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Book Review: The Alpine Xanadu by Mary Daheim

The Alpine XanaduThe Alpine Xanadu
An Emma Lord Mystery
Mary Daheim
Ballantine Books, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-345-53531-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Winter in the small mountain aerie of Alpine should be as quiet as new-fallen snow on the Cascades, but from the Grocery Basket to the Venison Inn, the town is humming. At the Alpine Advocate, editor Emma Lord and her staff are on deadline with a feature about the opening of RestHaven, a new rehab and mental health facility. Front Street is buzzing with gossip about Emma’s recent engagement to Sheriff Milo Dodge. And now that fool Wayne Eriks has climbed an electric pole in the middle of a storm and got himself electrocuted.
 
Sheriff Dodge doesn’t buy the idea that Wayne’s death is an accident. But how—and, more important, why—he died is only one of the conundrums that keep the sheriff and Emma working overtime. Why is RestHaven giving Alpine so many restless nights? What to make of allegations that someone’s trying to kill the richest man in town . . . or whispers of a rash of indecent behavior at the local high school? After Vida Runkel, the Advocate’s stalwart House & Home editor, disappears into thin air, Milo and Emma suddenly have too many loose ends to solve before they can even think about tying the knot.

It’s February 2005 and small town newspaper publisher Emma Lord is engaged to the local sheriff Milo Dodge but life keeps getting in the way of their finally getting married. Murder, assault, mental patients who go missing, porn in the local high school, former husbands and wives who apparently can’t stay away from each other, convicts released on bond, the wrath of a miffed Vida Runkel, a reporter who thinks he’s still in a big city, endless rain that would dampen the spirits of anybody who’s not used to such weather…sounds like a depressing soap opera, doesn’t it?

Not in the least—this is just life in the small mountain town of Alpine, WA, and its citizens would hardly know what to do with themselves if there wasn’t so much scandalous and criminal behavior going on. Think of it as the West Coast version of Cabot Cove where there’s a body on every corner. Weekly newspaper publisher Emma Lord and Sheriff Milo Dodge might be the only really sane people in town but life is certainly never dull. The big question might be what is Vida up to and why is she in such a snit?

This is (obviously) the 24th in Ms. Daheim‘s series and is a return for me to a series I have loved in the past but had drifted away from. The Alpine Xanadu is every bit as entertaining as the earlier books I’ve read and reminds me of why I loved Alpine and its denizens at the time. Now I think I’ll have to go back and catch up on the ones I’ve missed while I await #25, The Alpine Y…?. I’m also very happy to note that the author hints on her website that the series will continue beyond the completion of the alphabet.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2013.

Free Ice Water

James R. CallanAfter a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in “Who’s Who in Computer Science” and “Two Thousand Notable Americans”, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mysteries, with his fourth book released this year.

On a recent road trip, we passed through Wall, South Dakota, and visited Wall Drugs.  That’s almost all there is in the small town.  But, it is something to see.  It now fills a square block, and claims to be the largest drug store in the country.  I have no doubt it is. It has many, many rooms for various items that might tempt a tourist to part with some dollars, play areas for kids, some excellent art, and a restaurant that can handle 500 people at a time.  Oh yes, there is a pharmacy, but it is almost lost among the opportunities to buy just about anything.

You have no trouble finding Wall Drugs. For a hundred miles east and west you will see signs along the highway for Wall Drug Store.  Many of them simply say, “Free Ice Water.  Wall Drug Store.”

Today, with our air conditioned cars and fast food places every ten minutes, free ice water doesn’t seem to be much of a draw.  But back in 1931, things were different.

In 1931, the owners of Wall Drugs, a young pharmacist and his wife, were about to go under that hot summer.  They had agreed they would give it five years and if they couldn’t make it in that period, they’d pull up stakes and move to a big city. Their five years were almost up.

A Ton of GoldOne hot day, the pharmacist’s wife came in and said she had an idea that might get some of the people driving down the highway to stop and come into the store. What did people really want on a hot summer day driving in a hot car through a dusty area?  Ice water. She suggested putting up signs on the highway that said, “Free Ice Water.”

The pharmacist and a high school boy drove out and put up the signs. Before they got back, cars were stopping and people were asking for free ice water.  Some of them decided to get an ice cream. And some bought other things. Business began to grow. By the next summer, they had to hire eight girls to handle the sales.

In 2012, a good day will see 20,000 people come through the Wall Drug Store. The highway signs advertise many items sold at Wall Drugs. But many of the signs still read, “Free Ice Water.  Wall Drug Store.”  And “5 Ȼ Coffee,  Wall Drug Store.”  Yes, when you get there, you can get free ice water and you can still get a cup of coffee for 5 Ȼ.  But the customers spend much more than a nickel.  The same family still owns the store, although it has passed on to the children and grandchildren of the original couple who found a way to bring business into their store.

How did they do it?  They found what people really wanted and provided it.  But, it was the simple signs that brought the people in.  As writers, we need to decide what it is that people really want in a book. We must then provide it.  But the big step is to advertise it. Let people know that what they want is available.  The difference is that today, we will put our signs on the Internet highway.  People cruise down it every day, twenty-four hours a day.  We must get our signs out there.  Simple, to the point signs, that offer the public what they want.  Maybe we give something away.  It might be a first chapter.  It might be a drawing for a free book.  (You can’t afford to give a book to everybody.)  Maybe it only needs to be a very short blurb that entices the passerby to stop for a moment, read a bit more, maybe decide to sample it.

The key is to provide what the public wants, and tell them about it so they can pass the word around.

One last thing. You’ll notice I didn’t say “readers.”  We might as well aim for a larger group.  Write a book that will bring more people into the reading community.  Expand our fan base. Find today’s “Free Ice Water” and put out those signs on the highway.

James R. Callan Free Ice Water Sign 2

 

Book Review: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

The Last DragonslayerThe Last Dragonslayer
The Chronicles of Kazam Book One

Jasper Fforde
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-547-73847-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic.

Jennifer Strange, who will be 16 years old in two weeks, is an indentured servant till 18 and, as such, runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management. Jennifer has a knack for handling fractious practitioners of magic and is always accompanied by a loveable critter, Quarkbeast. Quark is 1/10 Labrador and 9/10 velociraptor and kitchen blender and absolutely adores Jennifer for taking him home when she found him at Starbucks.

Then, one day, Jennifer meets a fellow named Brian Spalding who lives at the Dragonstation and drives an armored Rolls-Royce he calls the Slayermobile. Brian is  the outgoing dragonslayer and he is intent upon making Jennifer his apprentice. Apprentice for what? Well, it seems an old dragon, Maltcassion, lives in a sanctuary/wilderness known as the Dragonlands and he is supposed to die next Sunday at noon at the hands of a Dragonslayer wielding a sword named Exhorbitus. Unfortunately, Brian disappears rather precipitously before Jennifer feels quite prepared so she hires her own apprentice Dragonslayer, Gordon van Gordon Gordonson ap Gordon-Gordon of Gordon.

So why does Maltcassion have to die next Sunday at noon? Come to find out there have been three Dragonattacks and that voids the Dragonpact that has protected him. One minor detail—by ancient decree, a dragon’s land belongs to whoever claims it when he dies and that brings out the worst of greed in an awful lot of people. In this world, commerce is mightier than kings and celebrities and The Consolidated Useful Stuff Land Development Corporation is ready to take advantage of the decree.

Jasper Fforde is one of my favorite authors and I so wanted to love this book but I just can’t quite say that I do. There’s not much joy in this story even though there is a lot of humor. Heavyhanded agendas like greed, environmentalism, trashy media and product endorsements got in the way of the pure enjoyment I usually get when reading a Fforde tale and I also felt there were far too many characters, making it difficult to care a lot about most of them. Have I been permanently turned off? Of course not—the author may not have been at the top of his game with this one, his first young adult novel, but it’s just as possible that I read it in the wrong mood. The second in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is already out in the UK so it should be showing up here in the US next fall and I’ll definitely be reading it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2013.

The Day After the End of the World

0061-eWomenNetworkIce ForgedGail Z. Martin’s newest book, Ice Forged: Book One in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books), launched in January 2013.  Gail is also the author of the Chronicles of the Necromancer series (Solaris Books) and The Fallen Kings Cycle (Orbit Books).  For more about Gail’s books and short stories, visit www.AscendantKingdoms.com. Be sure to “like” Gail’s Winter Kingdoms Facebook page, follow her on Twitter @GailZMartin, and join her for frequent discussions on Goodreads.

Read an excerpt from Ice Forged here: http://a.pgtb.me/JvGzTt

What happens on the day after the world ends?

As in most apocalyptic scenarios, the “end of the world” doesn’t necessarily mean the planet has been blown into smithereens.  More likely, something has radically altered the climate, destroyed the power and communication grids, and sent governments careening into anarchy.  Whatever the cataclysm, it’s likely that large numbers of people are dead, medicine and medical facilities are scarce or non-existent, and social roles have completely broken down.  Transportation is dangerous or not possible.  Survivors are on their own to figure out how to get by.

In my new novel, Ice Forged, my characters face a post-apocalyptic medieval world where war has not only devastated the physical landscape and destroyed the social structure, it has made magic unusable.  That’s bad news for a culture that depended on magic in much the same way our culture relies on technology.

I’m fascinated by the people left alive to clean up the mess.  How do they pick up the pieces and go on? What decisions do they make regarding how to protect themselves, how to find food and shelter, and how to band together for support?  What elements of the culture do they try to preserve, and which do they allow to die?  What becomes of a culture’s art, religion and collected knowledge?

As I’ve worked through these questions in Ice Forged (and the manuscript for its sequel), it’s been an interesting journey to strip civilization down to its most basic essentials and then put myself in the boots of the survivors to determine what gets rebuilt—and what is allowed to remain rubbish.

When you’re free to re-make yourself once the strictures of class, family history and social convention are removed, who would you choose to be?  And if the only thing that matters is your ability to survive and protect your friends, would your past mistakes (or criminal record) still haunt you?

These questions are especially significant for my Ice Forged main characters, who have been exiled to a prison colony in the far north.  When Blaine McFadden, exiled for murder, comes to realize that he might be the only one who can put magic right again, he faces a series of decisions that go to the core of his being.  I’ve enjoyed putting him to that test, and finding out what drives my characters, what matters to them when they’ve lost everything, what keeps them moving forward.

You learn a lot about someone when you go through the apocalypse together.  And you learn even more when you have to decide what kind of civilization you’ll rebuild.  I hope you’ll join me for the adventure!

Writing a Legacy-Memoir, Part 2

Robert D. SutherlandRobert D. Sutherland‘s published books include two novels and a scholarly work, Language and Lewis Carroll (1970), a definitive study ascertaining the degree to which the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, The Hunting of the Snark, and Symbolic Logic was self-consciously a nineteenth-century philologist exploring linguistic concerns in his fictions for humorous effect.

The first novel, Sticklewort and Feverfew (1980), was written for children, adolescents, and adults. It works simultaneousy on multiple levels, and was pilot-tested with all age groups at every stage of its nine-year composition. Robert illustrated it with 74 fully rendered pencil drawings, teaching himself to draw in the process. The book received the 1981 Friends of American Writers Juvenile Book Merit Award for author/illustrator.

The second novel, The Farringford Cadenza (2007), explores the consequences of illusion and self-delusion, the many faces of deceit, and people’s ethical responsibilities with regard to art and cultural values. As a vehicle for accomplishing these aims, the book takes the form of a suspenseful, humorous literary mystery which subtly skews generic conventions to continually surprise readers with reversals of their assumptions and expectations.

In addition to his books, Robert has published poetry, short fiction, articles on literature, education, and small-press publishing, and essays on political issues.

Continuing from yesterday’s post…

I decided to frame my legacy-memoir as a direct address to my descendants, a communication to the future from the past. This was a rhetorical choice. Anyone who undertakes to write such a memoir has to decide what to tell, how much to tell, and how to tell it. I decided to present mine as a cross-referenced mosaic, organized around general topics. I am not writing a conventional autobiography beginning as David Copperfield did in Chapter One with “I am Born”, and proceeding from there. The topics I’ve tentatively chosen (which may change as I progress) are as follows:

FOREWORD (direct address: introducing myself to my descendants and explaining my hopes and intentions)

CHRONOLOGY (timeline of significant life-events with historical context)

FAMILY (brief genealogical summary; description of my immediate family)

EDUCATION

READING

PHILOSOPHY

WORKING (jobs, training)

TEACHING (professional career)

WRITING

EDITING AND PUBLISHING

ARTWORK

MUSIC

CONCERNS

SOCIAL ACTIVISM

POLITICS

AMUSING INCIDENTS

PEOPLE

TRAVEL

SUCCESSES AND FAILURES

HOBBIES

PARENTING

THOUGHTS ON AGING

CONCLUSION (a summing up and wishing my descendants well)

Each of these topics will be treated in its own section, and each section will be free-standing, able to be read for itself. I conceive people reading in the memoir, not through it from beginning to end: picking, choosing, dipping at will. I’ll cross-reference between sections where appropriate.

So far, I have drafted the FOREWORD and am currently halfway through the sections on EDUCATION and WORKING; in both of these I am proceeding chronologically since both are developmental, earlier experiences providing a foundation for later. But not all sections will follow this model: I can see PARENTING, READING, PHILOSOPHY, CONCERNS, and SOCIAL ACTIVISM having their own topical subcategories.  Some sections of the legacy-memoir will be relatively long, some relatively short. Part of the fun is figuring out how to structure the sections. All persons who write legacy-memoirs must determine what they wish to say (choosing what to include, what to omit), how they wish to say it, and how to structure their presentation. There is not a single way to write a legacy-memoir.

However, there are certain things one should consider and keep in mind. Paramount is knowing what needs to be included.

Since you are writing to be read in the indefinite future, you must anticipate what your descendants might not know or realize about the time in which you lived, and supply the background, context, and factual information they need in order to understand what you are saying. Facts regarding culture, politics, the natural environment, law and governmental process, means of transportation (cars and highways, trains, airplanes), the energy supply, communications (newspapers, radio, TV, DVD’s, e-mail), etc. that are self-evident to you and taken for granted, may The Farringford Cadenzanot be at all self-evident to people living two hundred years from now; may be only vaguely understood, or altogether unknown. You must second-guess what those readers might need to have explained or described, and supply that information. (For example, whenever I cite a measurement of length, or weight, or volume, I use the English system (foot, pound, etc.), but always include as a parenthetical a conversion to metric (centimeter, meter, gram, etc.): the English system may still be used a hundred and fifty years from now—but that’s not something one should assume.)

It’s also important for you to try to guess what kinds of things your descendants might want to know or would find informative and interesting about you, your world, your life, your values and opinions, your activities, and your socio/political environment and be sure to supply that information. You have to guess what questions they might like to ask you, and then provide answers to those questions.

You’ve got to remember that you are reporting an “eyewitness” account from what, for them, is a time long past. It’s important to be honest, accurate, clear. (Opaqueness, vagueness, and ambiguity should be avoided, and remedied in your editing.)

Your personal history can be told anecdotally, as vignettes (humorous or grave) and short-short stories within the larger text. Everyone’s style is different. But it’s crucial that your account of what you’ve done, and where you’ve been, and what you’ve thought about it be interesting, informative, and fun to read.

Writing a legacy-memoir entails a lot of work. In the process, you’ll learn much about yourself, recall a great deal that you’ve “forgotten”, and gain new perspectives on what you’ve seen and done.

How many copies of the memoir should you make? A good question. At least one copy for each of your children, at least one copy for each of your grandchildren (present and projected)—and probably at least three each in addition that they can pass on to their children. Potentially burdening your offspring with multiple copies to supply to their offspring argues the need for an alternative plan of storing text through electronic means (continually updated to keep pace with evolving technology). Electronic storage will allow additional copies to be made by each generation as needed.

Also, you might wish to send a copy to the historical society or societies of the region(s) in which you did the bulk of your living. The archivists there might be happy to have your memoir in their collections.

Some of your descendants may be grateful to you for having thought of them, happy to have made your acquaintance, glad to have an accurate and coherent account of what preceded them. Hopefully they will be empowered by your gift to better understand their own experiences and to better manage their own thoughts, actions, and relations to the world. You can be sure that some of them, at least, will be carrying your genes!

Writing a Legacy-Memoir, Part 1

Robert D. SutherlandRobert D. Sutherland‘s published books include two novels and a scholarly work, Language and Lewis Carroll (1970), a definitive study ascertaining the degree to which the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, The Hunting of the Snark, and Symbolic Logic was self-consciously a nineteenth-century philologist exploring linguistic concerns in his fictions for humorous effect.

The first novel, Sticklewort and Feverfew (1980), was written for children, adolescents, and adults. It works simultaneousy on multiple levels, and was pilot-tested with all age groups at every stage of its nine-year composition. Robert illustrated it with 74 fully rendered pencil drawings, teaching himself to draw in the process. The book received the 1981 Friends of American Writers Juvenile Book Merit Award for author/illustrator.

The second novel, The Farringford Cadenza (2007), explores the consequences of illusion and self-delusion, the many faces of deceit, and people’s ethical responsibilities with regard to art and cultural values. As a vehicle for accomplishing these aims, the book takes the form of a suspenseful, humorous literary mystery which subtly skews generic conventions to continually surprise readers with reversals of their assumptions and expectations.

In addition to his books, Robert has published poetry, short fiction, articles on literature, education, and small-press publishing, and essays on political issues.

A legacy-memoir is an autobiographical record that one writes for one’s descendants. Other types of personal memoir are usually written for publication, with potentially the entire reading public as their audience. Typically, they’re designed to describe or demonstrate one’s importance as a player in major events, or to provide humorous or titillating anecdote, or to explain oneself, or justify one’s actions (to “have the last word”), or (in the case of celebrities) to please one’s fans and make money. In contrast to this, the purpose of legacy-memoirs is to provide to the niche audience of the author’s descendants reference materials regarding family history, and, in so doing, acquaint subsequent generations with the life, thoughts, and experiences of a far-sighted forebear.

The value in writing such a work (besides supplying family reference material) is to give your descendants an awareness of who you were as their ancestor, an understanding of how life was lived when you were living it, information regarding what you found to be important, interpretations of major events you lived through (which they may know of only through their study of history), and reasons why they should find all of this worth knowing.

A legacy-memoir is a gift to the future, a reaching out to generations of one’s own family yet unborn, sending a message to your great-great-great grandchildren (and beyond) that you care for them, wish to participate in their lives by sharing yours, and hope thereby that they will be able to see how theirs and yours, though different, are yet similar. Your descendants are the ultimate “niche audience”: not much money to be made there! And, as you hopefully launch your gift into the void, you have no certainty that any of those descendants will ever read your words, will want to read your words, or will appreciate or have a response to your feelings if they do. A legacy-memoir is thus both an act of faith and a labor of love.

Legacy-memoirs are edited to accomplish certain specific objectives. In this, they are akin to projects in oral history, which bring skillful interviewers to people “who were there” to glean their memories, impressions, and opinions while they are still present to record them. Everyone has a lifetime of experiences, memories, stories to tell. Everyone, if so inclined, and with the time and leisure to do it, can create a legacy-memoir. If individuals can’t write it themselves, they can dictate it and have it transcribed.

An archival-quality, acid-free, print-on-paper book that can be passed on from generation to generation is a useful, permanent, and portable format to serve as default and backup (who can say what technologies will have evolved by your great-great grandchild’s day?). Magnetic tape is currently obsolescent; here in 2012, digital CD formats, and computer PDF files are available for storage and reading—but what will be the case in 2280? It will be your descendants’ responsibility to continually update the text for retrievability in the technology current to them. Your responsibility—if you wish to leave them a legacy-memoir—is to write it.

I am currently writing a legacy-memoir for my descendants. What gave me the idea to do so, and why I think it’s important to leave a personal record, is the joy and enlightenment I experienced in discovering a group of writings by my great-grandfather, Robert John Sutherland (1838-1921), of which my immediate family was unaware. These writings (a text of over 61,000 words) are currently in the possession of my second cousin, Catherine Muir Butterfield, who inherited them from her grandmother Catherine Sutherland Semple, who was Robert John’s Sticklewort and Feverfewdaughter and my father’s aunt. The writings are contained in a scrapbook as a series of newspaper clippings; I borrowed this scrapbook, transcribed the clippings, and published them in 1999 as The Observations of Ulysses or, Notes by an Occasional Correspondent, being Dispatches Sent to THE EVENING STAR, a Newspaper in Dunedin, New Zealand by Robert John Sutherland, of Keokuk, Iowa from March, 1881 to January, 1883. Robert John was an astute observer, highly opinionated, well-read, and an excellent writer inclined to ironic humor. I learned much history from editing his dispatches and found him to be an interesting and engaging man.

About 1848, Robert John emigrated from Thurso, Scotland and settled in Carleton Place, Ontario, in Canada; from there he moved as a young man to northern Illinois to study; in 1861, he enlisted in the Union army to fight in the Civil War. In 1865, as an aide to Brigadier General Joseph B. West, he was present when the last Confederate generals surrendered in New Orleans. After the war he married and lived in Keokuk, iowa for many years, working for a railroad that ultimately merged with the Rock Island line. He became an American citizen in 1886.

Some years before, his brother had moved to New Zealand in the wake of an Australian gold rush. In 1881, this brother suggested that Robert John write dispatches to the Dunedin newspaper discussing current issues and events in the United States. From 1881 to 1883 Robert John did this, using the pseudonym Ulysses; the brother sent the newspapers to Iowa as they were published, and Robert John’s articles wound up as clippings in his scrapbook.

My great-grandfather reported on a broad range of topics, among them American grain and wool production (with tables of statistics), the latest international trade agreements, the legal controversy over Mormon polygamy, the Chinese Exclusion Act (that terminated Chinese immigration, a law he eloquently opposed), the introduction of refrigeration for shipping meat by sea from New Zealand, the closing of the U. S. government’s program for homesteading on public lands, the assassination of President Garfield (whom he supported), the trial of Garfield’s assassin Guiteau, and his personal opinion that Garfield’s successor Chester Arthur was a political hack. He saw the building of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railroad as a scam perpetrated by big business interests against the Canadian people. Of Oscar Wilde’s visit to America in 1883, he said “The Southern States have Oscar Wilde this summer as a substitute for the yellow fever. He is now in Texas. From either infliction ‘Good Lord deliver us’ say I.”

As I edited the old boy’s dispatches one hundred and sixteen years after he wrote them, I found all of this fascinating. Eye-witness commentary on history unfolding! Getting to know a striking and formidable personality whose genes I carry! It was then I began to see the value of legacy-memoirs for those with interest in the past and eyes to see.

To be continued tomorrow…