And independent authors make really great books!


(Edited:  We still make great books, but unfortunately the site’s closed.)


As a not-cook, I’m sometimes boggled by the number of cookbooks out there:  who uses that many?  As someone interested in American social history, I’m fascinated by what cookbooks tell us about what people ate in earlier time periods:  what was available?  How was it prepared?  It’s a given that cookbooks can tell us about the tastes and concerns of the time period.

More entertaining, though, are the recipes that drop out of the culture.  The fondues of my youth turned out not to be the wave of the future.  (I never knew anyone who fondued, anyway.)  And few turtle soups appear in 21st-century cookbooks.  Looking at earlier American cookbooks, I do wonder at some recipes:  did anybody make this?  Did anybody eat it?  Did they like it?

One of those recipes is for oyster ice cream, in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife (1860). Simple recipe:  “Make a rich soup, (see directions for oyster soup,) strain it from the oysters, and freeze it.” *   Did anybody ever do this?  Why?

My favorite what-were-they-thinking? recipe, though, comes from A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, a work by two home-economics teachers that usually is mocked for its title.  It’s a charming book following newlyweds through their first year and offering recipes and advice on frugality.  (It also features the early-20th-century version of the crockpot.)

I enjoy reading the book; it’s like watching someone play house.  But—ouch—the recipes!  “White sauce” on practically everything; vegetables cooked until they surrender.  And the strangest recipe for peanut butter sandwiches:

Peanut Butter Sandwiches
(Twelve sandwiches)

4 T-peanut butter
1/8 t-salt
1 t-butter
1 T-salad dressing
12 slices of bread
12 uniform pieces of lettuce

Cream the peanut butter, add the butter. Cream again, add the salt and salad dressing, mixing well. Cut the bread evenly. Butter one side of the bread very thinly with the peanut butter mixture. Place the lettuce leaf on one slice and place another slice upon it, buttered side down. Press firmly and neatly together. Cut in two crosswise. Arrange attractively in a wicker basket.

And, yes, that “salad dressing” is pretty much mayonnaise. Now, I wonder:  did anybody ever eat one of these things?  Did they enjoy it?  Do you tart up peanut butter with mayonnaise and lettuce to make it palatable for adults?  Was peanut butter a new food that people weren’t sure how to use?  I’d love to know.

And I’d also love to know what recipes we rely on that will drop out or will strike later generations with glee.  Cupcakes?  Something with kale (an extremely dull vegetable)?  Anybody got a time machine?

* Randolph’s oyster soup recipe is wonderfully profligate with the oysters; you need three quarts:  “Wash and drain two quarts of oysters, put them on with three quarts of water, three onions chopped up, two or three slices of lean ham, pepper and salt; boil it till reduced one-half, strain it through a sieve, return the liquid into the pot, put in one quart of fresh oysters, boil it till they are sufficiently done, and thicken the soup with four spoonsful of flour, two gills of rich cream, and the yolks of six new laid eggs beaten well; boil it a few minutes after the thickening is put in. Take care it does not curdle, and that the flour is not in lumps; serve it up with the last oysters that were put in. If the flavour of thyme be agreeable, you may put in a little, but take care that it does not boil in it long enough to discolour the soup.”

Still don’t want to come across it unexpectedly as ice cream.

The cover takes a bow

August 22, 2016

cover_smallestAs a newly self-published writer, I hoped not to embarrass myself with my self-designed cover for The House at the Edge of Time. And I knew I was letting myself in for some on-target criticism by submitting the cover to Joel Friedlander‘s monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards. So it was with trepidation that I took a look today at his site; and …

He liked it! Not gold-star worthy, but he liked it! Proof: “Nice job. The restraint shown in the imagery and typesetting really helps create a cover with the promise of an exciting story. In other words, with a good concept you can stand out without a big colorful photo.” (link. It’s waaaay down the page, and you get to see some terrific covers.)

So, several decades of looking at book covers and a little money for some excellent clipart can work together right well!

I like the cover, too. I liked it for the four months between creating the cover and publishing the book. I liked it every time I opened the image to see if it still looked good to me. Which may be a good idea: get the cover done well in advance and keep looking at it, to see if it still works.

(I’m getting a professional to do the next one, though; I’m really no artist.)

If you’re self-publishing, you might enjoy Friedlander’s site.  I’ve gotten a lot of good information there.

You can buy a copy of The House at the Edge of Time at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords; also Kobo, Intera, Scribd, and amazon.  And on iBooks and Overdrive, though I have no links for those.  (And—really—please buy it.  Really.)

I publish a thing

July 8, 2016

cover_smallestYears ago, I had a (very brief) career writing for children. Now I’ve self-published a novel on the same subject as a computer game I created. As a computer game, The House at the Edge of Time is a text adventure in which you assemble a time machine. As a novel for children, The House at the Edge of time is an adventure in which two boys use the time machine to find a treasure-hunter lost somewhere in time.

The novel was written almost 25 years ago and failed to find a publisher. While I had great relationships with my publishers, I realized that I don’t want to play in that sandbox any more and decided to be my own publisher. It was surprisingly fun to revise this: I rearranged and reworked and rewrote and just had an amazingly good time. It was fun to create the cover and to decide how the book would look.

The book is widely available: you can get it via iBooks and Overdrive; and it’s available from
Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo | Amazon | Inktera | Scribd

I hope readers have as much fun reading the book as I had writing and rewriting it. Below is the first chapter, for a little taste. Read the rest of this entry »

Because it’s December, it’s time to dredge up the most complete version of an old favorite:

One of the most popular poems in American culture is/was/possibly always will be “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Its popularity began when it was first penned by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822: a relative/a friend of the family liked it so well that she or he made a copy. That copy (or a copy of that copy) was sent to the editor of the Troy Sentinel, who published it in 1823. And then it spread: at least 135 reprintings between 1823 and the end of 1872. During the Civil War, it appeared in newspapers north and south.

Reprinters were … creative. Proofreading was spotty—or non-existent. Some editors/typesetters seem to have copied the poem from faulty memory. Some appear to have tried to improve the poem.

My favorite huh? version comes from Historic Tales of Olden Time, Concerning the Early Settlement and Progress of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, by John F. Watson (1833)—a version which probably should be titled “Highlights from ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ ”:

It was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
When what in the air, to my eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer;
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment, it must be Saint Nick!
Soon, on to the house top, his coursers, they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys and Saint Nicholas too;
As I roll’d on my bed and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound!
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
The stump of a pipe he held fast in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl-full of jelly.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work:
Soon filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk;
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Moore provided three versions: the anonymous 1823 Sentinel version; an 1837 version when his name was first attached to the poem; and the version in his 1844 collection of poetry. The variations in text lie chiefly in the names of the reindeer and seem to indicate to some readers that Moore didn’t write the poem, since he apparently didn’t know what he’d originally written, but kept changing it. The logic of that argument is tenuous, and the argument that someone else wrote the poem is unconvincing. It may be that Moore simply reworked a poem he’d dashed off so many years earlier.

How did the poem originally read? Good question. The 1822 manuscript appears not to exist. Neither does the copy made by the visitor. Or the copy of the copy made by the visitor; even the 1823 Sentinel version is two or three steps removed from what Moore originally wrote. It may be that one of the later versions is the 1822 version.

When you see the variations glued together in a strange Frankenpoem, it’s easy to understand that this was never a staid and stuffy set of words to be printed only in a certain order, but a living bit of culture that from the beginning existed in sometimes-accidental variations. What seems to have mattered to 19th-century readers wasn’t the wording, but the story and the mental images: the cosy sleeping family, the jolly gift-bringer, the lyrically named reindeer.

Below, I’ve glued together most of the variations. I started with the 1823 version, adding the changed words/lines. Almost all the variations appear in more than one reprint, as a change or mistake in one reprint was repeated by other editors. I’ve ignored variations in punctuation (except for the sugar plums and bowls full of jelly). Some lines are struck through because they vanish in a few versions.

And the blob of a title at the top? Editors/printers seem to have taken titling the poem as a personal challenge. The 18 titles below represent most variations I’ve found so far.

So, because someone plotting on a spreadsheet the variations in 135 copies of one poem must find amusement where she can, I present “The Really Complete First Fifty Years of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ ”:
“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas Times: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Christmas Eve: A Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/A Visit from St. Nicholas/Visit from Santa Claus/Christmas Eve: Santa Claus on his Holiday Visit to his Children/Christmas Times/The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from Saint Nicholas/St. Nicholas’ Visit to All Good Little Girls and Boys/Annual Visit of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus/Visit of St. Nicholas, On the Night Before Christmas/The Visit of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus/Santa Claus’ Annual Visit/Santa Claus’ Visit/The Coming of Santa Claus”

’Twas/It was the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes/In hope/In the hope that St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas soon would be there;
The children were nestled/nested/posted all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums/sugar-plums/sugar-plumbs danc’d in/through/round/o’er their heads,
And Mama/Mamma/Ma’ in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap—
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprung from/roll’d on the bed/from my bed/from bed to see what was the matter,/I sprang to the window to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash./To open the shutters and throw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen/hard crusted snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day/of day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering/wandering eyes should appear,/When what in the air, to my eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled/whisper’d, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher/Danter, now! Dancer/Lancer/Pancer, now! Prancer/Dunner, and Vixen/Nixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder/Donder/Dander and Blixem/Blixen/Blitzen/Blizen;
“To the top of the porch/stoop! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves/the leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys—and St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing/The neighing and prancing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,/He was dressed in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks/lips were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll/queer little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round/round little belly/He had a broad face and a little bright eye,
That/They shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full/bowlful of jelly:/That shone on his cheek like a star in the sky.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing/naught to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings/his stockings; then turn’d with a jirk/jerk,
And laying his finger/his fingers aside/astride of his nose
And giving a nod/And flying around, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of/off a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere/as he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas/Merry Christmas/Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night.”

(And an annotation: Why does St. Nick put his finger aside of his nose before disappearing up the chimney? Apparently it’s a traditional gesture expressing that what is happening is a secret [see Desmond Morris, Peoplewatching]; by 1915, the gesture implied that the secret is between friends [see Acting in Opera, by George E. Shea; at google books].)

Bloomer girls

November 22, 2015

As someone who hasn’t even owned a dress for the last 25 years, I tend to be more charmed than amused by 19th-century attempts at “dress reform.” Those loose trousers under yards of drapery look much more comfortable than the skirts sweeping the ground, the mud, and—as Esther puts it in Bleak House—“all the light objects” in the room.

Yes, all that drapery makes the wearer look like a pantalooned armchair. But the alternative was dragging ten or fifteen yards of fabric through your day. (Which, besides being uncomfortable, could be dangerous: one of the Merry Cousins burned to death when her skirt got too close to a fireplace.)

Francis Woodworth had a different reaction. As a former minister, he was culturally conservative. But when it came time to write about the new style of clothing, he seems to have been remarkably sympathetic, pointing out how practical it would be for walking in the woods. Still, he didn’t really approve.

This piece from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet includes a rather wonderful illustration of what may be a variation of Bloomer dress. Other illustrations I’ve seen feature gathered trousers topped by a knee-length dress that makes even a slender young woman look like a ruffled pumpkin. The clothing here is just as drapy, but the calf-length skirt looks pretty graceful.

Still, it didn’t catch on. It was superceded by the hoop skirt, which—as Harriet Beecher Stowe points out in Household Papers—could require twenty yards of fabric.

Blue jeans are just so much simpler.

(And why was it called “Bloomer dress”? The style became associated with Amelia Bloomer after she adopted it and enthusiastically promoted its use. Even though she dropped the style, the name stuck.)

“The Bloomer Dress” (from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, October 1852, pp. 110-113)

two women in Bloomer dress

My readers have all heard of the Bloomer costume, no doubt. But probably very few of them have ever seen a lady with the dress on. Have you ever seen one worn, reader? and if you have, what did you think of it? Was it becoming, or otherwise? Presuming most of the boys and girls who read these pages have never seen one, and knowing that there is a great deal of curiosity afloat about the thing, on the part of those who are unacquainted with it, I must present a picture giving an accurate representation of the dress, as it is worn by some of our western ladies.

Now, my friend, what do you think of it? “It looks odd,” you say. So it does; there’s no disputing that. Every new style of dress looks odd. Do you remember when the ladies wore large bonnets? I suppose not. You are hardly old enough. But I remember the time very well, when my mother wore a bonnet of such a monstrous size, that it was about as much as she could do to go through a door, if the great thing flared out to its full width. Now how do you think your mother would look with one of these great umbrellas on her head? Why, you would laugh outright, to see her or any one else walking the streets with such a bonnet on.

I can remember, too, when the men used to wear a hat, the crown of which was small enough to fit the head at the brim, but which was almost twice as large on the top. What a curious-shaped thing it was, the great bell-crowned hat! If it should make its appearance now, in our streets, don’t you think we should all laugh at it, and call the fashion unbecoming and absurd?

But recollect that when the hat was worn, and was considered in the fashion, there was very little or no complaint about the absurdity of it. Nobody laughed at it then. At least, I never heard of any one’s laughing at it. So of the monstrous bonnet. It was fashionable once, and then it seemed becoming enough. The ladies did not laugh at the thing and make fun of it. And so it is with all fashions. They are not generally regarded as so much out of the way, until some other fashion comes along, and then, after a little while, the old one seems odd and queer. Now, as you say, the Bloomer dress looks odd enough. Well, the reason may be because it is so entirely unlike anything else which the ladies wear or have worn.

“There! Uncle Frank likes the Bloomer dress. How he praises it up.”

No, my little friend. You are too fast. I don’t say that I should like to see our ladies generally dressed in this style. I am not prepared to say that. I am not sure that I should be pleased, if I should see all the women and all the little girls about the streets dressed as Mrs. Bloomer recommends. On the whole, though a man ought to be a little diffident about laying down rules for the regulation of the dress worn by the other sex, on the whole, I think, if the ladies should come to me for my opinion, (a thing, by the way, which I have not vanity enough to expect,) I should most likely go against the general use of the Bloomer dress, while I might recommend some change, for the sake of convenience, in the present style of dress.

I can’t help thinking, and must say, that, aside from the appearance of the thing, the Bloomer costume must be very convenient in the country, if one has to ramble about the fields and forests much, and, it seems to me, that a lady must miss a great many of the luxuries of country life, if she does not take such rambles. I have been out with ladies, before now, on a botanical tour, when I could not avoid noticing that their mode of dress was very inconvenient for that kind of business; and at such a time, I don’t know that it would have struck me as at all unbecoming or improper, if those ladies, instead of the ordinary dress, had worn a genuine, out-and-out Bloomer suit, just like the one you see in the picture. However, we men may think what we will about the Bloomer dress, and say what we will about it, I presume that our mothers, and sisters, and wives, and daughters, will take the matter into their own hands, and decide it for themselves. The great majority of them don’t like it. That is clear enough, and it does not appear now as if it would get to be a common mode of dress very soon. Its origin, if there were nothing more, is unfavorable to its popularity. It did not come from Paris, and we in this country, as all the world knows, have set up the Paris dress-makers and milliners for our guides.

September 27, 2015

WANDERING THOUGHTS.Young Wentworth, after graduating, took a regular course of medicine in Boston, with an average standing. By his uncle’s liberality …

Oh, heck—just read the whole (tedious) thing at merrycoz:  Norwood (with reviews you probably wouldn’t want to get).