Archive for the ‘harpers ferry national historical park’ Category

Writer-In-Residence, Week 2

October 19, 2021

My time at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is flying by, and I’m enjoying every minute.

My second week here focused primarily on research. The park library is in a great old brick building near the confluence.

Although I have identified a specific era and themes to explore, I’m also leaving lots of room for discovery. I’m grateful to curator Mike Hoskings for helping me access materials.

(Am I the only person who wanders about libraries idly scanning the shelves? I think not.)

Some park collections are only available on microfilm. The old reader is noisy and creaky but gets the job done.

Among other things, I’ve been scanning old newspapers. They provide a helpful snapshot of everything from local gossip…

to public announcements…

to advertisements. Tiny details are very helpful for creating a sense of place and period in stories.

As always, the process of exploring new story topics and events is sometimes meandering. If a historical event intrigues me, I think about how it might work in a novel.

Early on, I got excited about two past events that overlapped. They would mesh perfectly in a novel. I was excited.

A few days later, while digging deeper, I discovered that the two events didn’t overlap quite as neatly as sources had initially suggested. Back to the drawing board.

One wonderful thing about being right here is the ability to balance my research hours. When my eyes get too squinty, I go out to a peaceful spot to spend more quality time with my project journal.

What will the next week bring? I’ll report back!

Writer-In-Residence, Week 1

October 11, 2021

I’m all settled in at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park for the month.

Wondering what a writer-in-residence actually does? Curious about the park? Let me provide a peek!

The park encompasses 4,000 acres at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia.

This photo was taken from Jefferson’s Rock in WV. The Shenandoah flows on the right, with Virginia on the far shore. It meets the Potomac River, which flows from the left and on under the bridge.

The Harpers Ferry historic district has been beautifully preserved.

Some old buildings have been restored inside to provide a glimpse of earlier days…

…and some house formal museum exhibits.

Although the park is perhaps best known for John Brown’s 1859 raid and Civil War events, there are layers and layers of fascinating history here. Park historians, educators, and volunteers have been developing new programs to share additional stories. I’ll be helping with research into a lesser-known period while I’m here.

My residency is supported by the Harpers Ferry Park Association and the park itself. The HFPA helps the park in many ways, including funding educational programs, managing the park shop, and occasionally publishing books about the park and its history. The HFPA has been very supportive of me since my first book, The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry, was published.

The National Park Service curator and rangers have also been generous with their time and knowledge. Highlights of my first week included a lantern tour of the Lower Town (historic district)…

…and a three-hour tour with a certified guide.

Guide Chris Craig did a superb job of sharing the area’s broad-ranging history. We’re on Bolivar Heights, considering how the landscape shaped events.
Cathy Baldeau, Executive Director of the Harpers Ferry Park Association, also joined the tour. Why yes, we did have a great time!

I’ve been coming to Harpers Ferry for over 50 years, but the overview tour made my realize how piecemeal my approach has been. I’m excited to get a better sense of the whole.

I’m soaking everything in as I learn from experts, walk the ground, and scribble in my journal. I’ll provide an update next week!

Virtual Historical Fiction Workshop

October 4, 2021

I am happily settled in as Writer In Residence at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park!

Although I won’t be doing any in-person events during my four-week stay, I am providing an online workshop: Writing Into The Past: Crafting Historical Fiction on Wednesday, October 20 or 27, 2021, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m Eastern Time Zone.

Storytelling is one of the most rewarding ways to explore history. Workshop participants will begin creating (or further develop) a piece of historical fiction set in Harpers Ferry or another location of choice.  They will engage in a variety of short, guided writing activities to explore the genre’s unique rewards and challenges regarding setting, character development, and plot. Students will also consider a variety of approaches for conducting research and finding inspiration. Both beginning and more experienced writers are welcome!

Space is limited, and pre-registration is required. These workshops are hosted by the Harpers Ferry Park Association, a fabulous organization that has supported this special place for 50 years!

Authors Reading Aloud

July 18, 2020

I’m excited to announce my first Facebook Live presentation! It’s scheduled for Sunday, July 19, 2020 at 6 PM Central Time, 7 PM Eastern.

I’ll be chatting and reading aloud from my first published novel, The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry. I’ll also do my best to answer your questions.

It’s easy to connect. You can learn more, and access the program, by clicking HERE.

Although I have lived in Wisconsin for many years, I spent a lot of time roaming Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and the surrounding area when I was young.

Taken on Maryland Heights, late 1970s.

Those explorations helped me understand how story and place are entwined. That foundation has guided my writing ever since.

I hope you can join me!

I’m grateful to program hosts Writers Reading Aloud and Harpers Ferry Park Association.

The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry

April 24, 2013

NightRidersHarpersFerryCover200w

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY

When I was a kid, I attended a summer camp perched on a cliff above the Potomac River and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, and a short hike away from Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

As soon as I was old enough, I became an employee at the camp. During those years I walked hundreds of miles on the canal towpath, canoed the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, and visited Harpers Ferry many, many times. While I was in college, my friend Ruth and I decided to bike the entire C & O Canal Towpath.

C&O Canal Bike Trip 1981

We started at the western terminus in Cumberland, Maryland.

It rained so much that spring that many parts of the towpath were flooded.

C&O Canal Bike Trip 1981

That’s me, trying to figure out how to get around one of the flooded areas.

We had some challenges, but we finally made it to Washington D.C., after pedaling 183 miles!

After I moved to Wisconsin in 1982, I revisited in my imagination the area I loved so much. As I worked on The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry I may have been sitting in a Wisconsin farmhouse on a wintry night, but in my mind I was back roaming through western Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Lots of historic structures—and some ruins—still stand along the towpath. I’d always enjoyed imagining the lives of people who lived, worked, and traveled along the C & O Canal. I created the character of Mahalia, a young woman responsible for tending a lock, so I could share some of that fascinating history.

Here you can get a good idea of what canal boats looked like. Notice the towline? The mules pulling the boat are out of sight.

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(C&O Canal National Historical Park Photo)

In The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry, Mahalia tended a lock like this one.

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The photograph below, taken from Harpers Ferry during the Civil War, shows the Potomac River and Maryland Heights. The Salty Dog Tavern mentioned in The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry is among the buildings left of center, at the foot of the cliff.

HarpersFerry1LOC446w

(Library of Congress Photo LC – USZ62-71342)

The photo below was taken on the hill behind Harpers Ferry. The town is in the center of the photograph. The Shenandoah River (right) and the Potomac River (left) converge below the town and flow on south. Maryland Heights is on the left.

LC - B817-7133

(Library of Congress Photo LC – B817-7133)

I also wanted to include some of the drama that unfolded at Harpers Ferry during the Civil War, so I created a young Yankee cavalryman named Solomon. In 1862, Confederates took the high ground around Harpers Ferry, trapping the Yankee force stationed there. What happened next was one of the most daring adventures of the war.  As so often is the case in my books, real events inspired the plot.

This photo was taken from the cliffs of Maryland Heights, looking down at Harpers Ferry. It clearly shows some of the destruction caused by the Civil War.

HarpersFerry3LOC446w

(Library of Congress Photo LC – B817-7649)

This photo was also taken from Maryland Heights, just from a slightly different angle—and over a century later! That’s me, sometime in the late 1970s. The Shenandoah River and Loudon Heights are in the left side of the picture.

KAE-MarylandHeights446w

The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry was not the first novel I wrote, but it was the first novel I ever had published, so it will always be special to me! You can see more historic photos in the book itself, and on an earlier blog post about the canal.

Nothing beats exploring in person, though. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to visit Harpers Ferry and take a stroll on the C & O Canal!

***

PS – In 2012, I was invited to speak at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park as part of the commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War’s 1862 campaign.  It was a joy to be back in in the park, and one of the proudest moments of my life.

KAE2012HarpersFerry448w