Whatever became of Will and Amanda Spencer?

Petzi asked a question I had been expecting to hear sooner or later. She wonders about Elizabeth’s cousin Amanda Spencer and her husband, William Spencer, Viscount Durbeyfield and what happened to them. The last time you saw the Spencers was in Lake in the Clouds; they lived in Manhattan with their son, Peter.

Handbill_advertising_a_petition_to_the_House_of_Commons_for_Parliamentary_ReformAmanda is the daughter of Elizabeth’s indefatigable Aunt Merriweather. She and Will relocated to New York city from England in large part because Will was implicated in the London Corresponding Society, a group that advocated reform on the French model.   If he had stayed in England he could have been arrested by the Crown on charges of high treason. Of course, that wasn’t quite threatening enough to keep Will out of England when his cousin needed him (Fire Along the Sky).

The Spencers lived just opposite Battery Park when the area was was home to the rich and fashionable.  Will was a couple years older than Elizabeth, and Amanda a few years younger.

Will and Amanda are, of course, long gone by 1883. Peter was born in 1795, and is no longer in Manhattan, if he’s alive at all.

 Sometimes I work out a full story line for a character, and sometimes I don’t. By not setting down a firm storyline I leave some room for plot development. So the answer to Petzi’s question is: I dunno. Not yet, at any rate.



Saturday 6. February 2016|*my work, wilderness|3 Comments

Gilded Hour, New York & Your Family History

I have heard from more than a few Gilded Hour readers who wonder about their own family history and how to find out more. For example:

…Our great-grandmother, [name], was a doctor in NYC at around this time, so it was truly interesting, and sobering, to read about some of the things she may have endured as she pursued her chosen path. We do not know much about her during this time in her life, and I would like to learn more. Any suggestions as to the best places for me to look to track her down?

Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1892. “In diaries and letter from the late nineteenth century, women medical students sometimes wrote of their resolve to prove that they could engage in all aspects of medical study and practice without compromising dignity or sacrificing the appearance of femininity. The choice of dress for the dissecting room was one common subject in such reflections.” Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1892. “In diaries and letter from the late nineteenth century, women medical students sometimes wrote of their resolve to prove that they could engage in all aspects of medical study and practice without compromising dignity or sacrificing the appearance of femininity. The choice of dress for the dissecting room was one common subject in such reflections.”

This is a big question, and the answer depends on how much time, energy, and money you want to invest in the search for information about your relative. There are hundreds of online resources for genealogical inquiries, of course. Dozens of them provide good tutorials on how to get started.  For someone without any research experience who has a fairly limited […]

Sunday 31. January 2016|research / resources|6 Comments

I’m Teaching at the Chuckanut Writers Conference

The annual Chuckanut Writers Conference takes place this year from Thursday to Saturday, June 23-25.  And I’m teaching. Or actually, Sara’s teaching. But I’ll be there too. I don’t do much teaching these days and I miss it, so I’m looking forward to this.

What I’m teaching

Ventriloquism on the Page

Master Class with Sara Donati
Thursday 1:00-4:00 pm

In the late eighteenth century a performer appearing on a London stage advertised his act as a curious discussion between himself and Little Tommy, an invisible friend.  The performer was Joseph Askins, who was to become one of the earliest popular stage ventriloquists. Askins didn’t have a puppet called Tommy sitting on his knee. Instead he convinced his audience that he was having a conversation with a personality separate and distinct from his own, sitting just out of sight. He did this by throwing his voice.

In creating characters, the writer must throw her voice.  If she does her job well enough the reader suspends disbelief and accepts the many voices on the page as distinct beings separate from each other and the author herself.  In this master class for intermediate to advanced writers, we will look at what goes into our kind of ventriloquism. Before you can throw a character’s voice, you have to be able to hear the character, and characters are not always forthcoming. We’ll be considering a couple ways to make reluctant or shy characters speak up, and we’ll experiment with throwing them.

Tell Me Who You Are: From Photo to Backstory

Friday 2:30 – 4:00 | Breakout Session 2

Some writers will tell you that everything begins with character. If you have built strong characters, this theory goes, you can set them free to interact on the page and a story will construct […]

Thursday 28. January 2016|writing prompts, workshops|2 Comments

Why Anna and Sophie? On Creative Process.

I had an email from a reader not so long ago with an interesting question. Of all the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren descended from Nathaniel Bonner, why did I chose to focus on Anna and Sophie? The reader wasn’t upset about this, as I read it. Just curious. Curiosity is catching, in my experience and the question got me to thinking. Except there’s no easy answer: creative process is a complicated thing.

The result is that I am about tell the story of 2010-2013.  This is summarized and truncated to the extreme, but it is necessary to answering the actual question.

Back Backstory

The Mathematician’s job disappeared about a year after the 2008 crash — or at least, he was reduced to less than 50 percent, so all our benefits disappeared. And we have some chronic conditions in the family, so this was a big deal.  At the same time publishing was in free-fall, and two novel proposals were turned down flat by publishers who had been really happy with my work to that point.

The logical conclusion was that I should go on the job market and so for the next three years I focused on writing not fiction, but job applications (pretty much a full time occupation in itself). Now, I didn’t think it would be easy, and I knew that I had to be ready to do things I wouldn’t have considered ten years earlier, but health insurance was so important (we were paying a huge amount in monthly premiums for just average coverage at this point, on much reduced income), I went ahead and started applying for jobs. In the first year I applied only for jobs within driving distance of where we are now. I’ve got all of this […]

Tuesday 26. January 2016|academia / higher education, cosa nostra, Gilded Hour|21 Comments

On Turning 60

About this birthday

see this.


What follows is a list of things, good and bad, I have learned or come to accept about myself or life more generally.

I put this together primarily for posterity (that is, my daughter), but I decided to post it here, too. Tucked under James Taylor, so you might miss it altogether, and that’s fine, too.


  • Above all things I admire and respect generosity of spirit, thoughtfulness, and integrity.
  • Things I will never learn to appreciate and have given up on (note that these are not things I hate. That would be a different listing altogether): lima beans, kale, oysters, marshmallows, beets, chess, the mystery genre, Monopoly, William Faulkner,  South Park, Family Guy, football.
  • I am impatient with the incompetent, and intolerant of the willfully ignorant. Delusional people and magical thinkers bring out my misanthropy. The other way to look at this is that I have completed my training to be a cranky old woman. With honors.
  • Hypocrisy, moral cowardice, arrogant and prideful ignorance make me retreat in disgust. This often makes me look insensitive, superior and condescending when what I am, primarily, is frustrated. With the less fortunate I can and will gladly curb both impatience and intolerance.
  • I have no talent for music.
  • OCD runs my life, much of the time.
  • The older I get, the more I avoid meeting new people.  I am uncomfortable at parties, even when I know and love everyone there.
  • I would like to believe in karma. However, I see no evidence for this actually being the way things work in the world.
  • Paisley is too ugly to tolerate. 
  • I am convinced that Cheney faked needing a wheelchair so he wouldn’t be obliged to stand when President Obama was sworn into office. 
  • The quickest way to offend and possibly make an enemy of […]
Wednesday 13. January 2016|cosa nostra|24 Comments