“Tell me how you lost.”

imagesI’m taking Silvia to gymnastics. She scrambles into her car seat and demands a story.
“About what?” I have in mind the continuing saga of the Tudor family: warring cousins, blood, crowns, The Tower. Far away fantasy.
But she wants something else. “Tell me about how you lost somebody!”
“I lost my father.”
“No, not lost by being dead. I mean, you loved somebody, but they didn’t love you enough and left you and you lost.” Silvia is a kind and loving child, but also wild for stores. She rubs her hands with glee. “That would be interesting. Tell me how you lost.”
So here we are at the threshold of literature: “Tell me how you lost.” I tell her my story, my first broken heart. She is satisfied. “Now you can talk about the Tudors.”

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Posted in Writing

Dialect and the hamster/grandfather issue

imagesMy novel in progress is set here in Appalachia a century ago, when dialect was strong. Which raises a constant writer’s dilemma: verisimilitude and historical accuracy versus out-of-area comprehension. One doesn’t want to replicate my grandfather/hamster confusion.

I grew up in the Northeast and had never lived in the South when I moved to Knoxville, TN and got work teaching college. The class was in developmental reading and my task, among others, was to develop study, academic discipline, and time management skills. So in the first week, when a young woman stayed after to say she couldn’t do the assignment because her “pepaw” was sick and they were really close, I was ready.

Now, locally, “pepaw” or “papaw” is grandfather, but I didn’t know that. I heard “paw” and thought, well, some pet with little, wee paws. Like a hamster, maybe. I’d had one; we were sort of close, but I did my homework anyway. This girl needs to buck up. It didn’t help that I’d just moved from Italy, where the state pays university tuition with the message: “We admitted you, but we don’t have to keep you, and we sure don’t have to make nice.”

Then there was Memaw,* also troubled.  A little hamster family with cutsie-pie names? So the conversation lurched along, me getting annoyed by the litany of woe, worried that if word got out that a sick hamster gets you out of homework, the semester was doomed. She thinking I’m an ice queen, or worse.

An aunt was coming in . . . diabetes, and I’m still thinking: Rodents recognize aunts? They get diabetes? Maybe it was at “intensive care” and “my dad’s really broken up” that I considered an alternate construct: “Ashley, your pepaw—”

“He’s on my dad’s side.”

Scrambling a bit: “Your . . . grandfather’s still in the hospital?”

“Yes.” Things went better from there. Pepaw improved; Ashley passed; I learned something.

Writer’s moral: Provide context to avoid confusion.

  • Memaw is grandmother, but I’m sure you figured that.
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Posted in Writing

Cheese straws and lies

imagesIn my novel in progress, set in Tennessee, 1919, the cook makes cheese straws for a garden party that never happens. Too bad. They’re easy, addictive, and very southern. The recipe follows, adapted from Nathalie Dupree’s New Southern Cooking.

I got her book years ago through work desperation. I was offered a job writing a video script on New Southern Cooking. Needing a job, I assured the producer that nothing passed my lips that wasn’t New Southern Cooking. Then I hurried out to get Ms Dupree’s excellent book and study up on Southern cooking, new and old. I didn’t know much.

Funny, because my mother grew up on a poor Texas farm, which she fled at age 18 for the sophistication of New York. To her dismay, as a young parent, all she could afford were down home dishes. When our finances improved, she dropped her culinary roots like a hot potato.

A family story has me at age 3, being served roast beef by my relatively (to my parents) wealthy German-American grandmother. Noting my curiosity, she asked slyly if I had ever eaten roast beef. I must have seen my parents cringe, so I helped them out by earnestly assuring my grandmother that, oh, we ate roast beef at home “all the time, every day. We just call it different things: rice and beans, pancakes, bacon and eggs, creamed corn . . . ”

Anyway, here are Cheese Straws, from Nathalie Dupree and my Texas grandmother.

2 C white flour (soft wheat if possible)
2 C grated sharp Cheddar
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp paprika
1/2 C butter
2 well-beaten eggs
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce

Mix flour, salt, paprika, & cheese. Cut in butter very well, but without mashing. Mix beaten eggs and W sauce. Add to other ingredients, mixing lightly, as for biscuits. Turn on floured board, kneading sightly, adding a bit of water if needed. Roll out about 1/2 inch. Cut into finger-size strips and put on greased cookie sheet. They don’t spread much. Cook at 425 until slightly brown. This should be about 8 min but watch carefully. Remove from oven. Push around slightly on the sheet so they don’t stick. Let cool. Store air-tight, freeze, or eat right away. Makes about 4 dozen.


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Posted in WWWS

Glockenspiels, not Glocks!

imagesA billboard near me (Knoxville, TN) proposes December 3 as Glock Day. As in: Celebrate this season of joy by gifting your loved ones a major handgun. I do not believe that this is a solution on any micro or macro level of society.
However, what about Glockenspiels? Easy to play, blends well with many voices and musical traditions, cheerful, portable, relatively inexpensive, uplifting, and enduring.
Go ahead, make our day. Give your loved ones a Glockenspiel . . . or listen to fine music with someone you love.
And now, looking at what I can do that won’t hurt anybody, I’ll turn to the task at hand . . .outlining the next chapter of my next book, with some classical guitar music in the background since I don’t have a Glockenspiel CD (yet).

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Posted in Just life

Where invention comes from, maybe

04e2f70ac58235b253a7e3a69dbc6accThis the Palazzo Donn’Anna, in Naples, the memory of which launched my second historical novel, Swimming in the Moon (2013). My Italian teacher grew up in the vast apartment on the second floor, full of marble, Venetian glass, and monumental 18th C oils. The enormous dining room window was rimmed by a gilt frame that looked out on the Bay of Naples, with Capri floating in the blue distance.

It’s often said that scientific invention does not begin with “Eureka!” as often as with “Hum, that’s odd.” Maybe it’s similar with fiction. I was living in Tennessee when I had an image of the Palazzo Donn’Anna and wondered what it would be like a century ago to be a servant there, so it was you who cleaned that great window and dusted the gilt. How about a servant pair, a mother gifted with a magnificent voice (but who cares?) but shackled by mental instability, and a daughter who loves her but wants something more in life (but how?) and then they are both cast out from all they know, lovely as it is. Hum, that’s odd. What then?

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Those we welcomed

EllisIsland1My first three books recounted the European immigrant experience. These photographs taken by an Ellis Island clerk show the incredible diversity of people who braved the journey and the soul of the country that received them.

You will be stopped by various ads when you scroll through, but persist. It’s an astonishing voyage.


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Rome airport, behind security

Some years ago, when I was living in Naples, I drove to the aiport in Rome to pick up my father, who had come for a visit. Parkinsons had already dimished his strength and he walked with a cane, but he was determined to travel as long as possible. I’d told him to present his passport, get his bags, and follow the crowd through the security doors. I’d see him there. Seemed foolproof.

But I  waited and waited, long after the last Philadelphia flight people had come out and we were deep into Stockholm, Paris, and Cairo flights. This was before cell phones. Had he missed a flight? Some incident? Gotten sick? Worse? It was nearly an hour since his flight had landed. Now in a panic, I decided to slip through the security doors when the airport security guy with a submachine gun wasn’t looking.

And was immediately nabbed. “Signora, what are you doing? You can’t go back there.” I explained about my father. I should be patient, he said, and wait with the others. I said I had been patient, and now I was worrried. “This is a security gate,” he repeated more firmly. “Entry is forbidden.” Glance down at his serious weapon.

I played my last card. “Sir, if you had an old father, who was sick, and alone in a strange country, tired after a long flight, and not speaking the language, what would YOU do?”

He looked at me as if I were an idiot, or more accurately, one of those Americans with no sense of family. “I’d go find him,” he said.

“Will you take me back there?”

“Certainly, signora. Come with me. And don’t worry. We’ll find him.” And we did. He’d presented his passport, gotten his bag, and sat down at the first available seat.

The policeman politely wished my father a pleasant stay and went back to work. Viva Italia!

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Posted in Just life

Swimming in the Moon published in German. November, 2015

Blind Date with a Book, Barnes & Noble, Knoxville, February 13

Medical Humanities Lecture Series, University of Tennessee Hospital, February 18.

For more events and specifics, please click on Events.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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