It’s funny how life is--and Not because I was turned into a newt and got better. I’m getting ready to publish the 4th book in my Kate Warne Civil War Spy series, Iron Widow, when I get this offer to write a novel based on the life of Helen Duncan titled The Last Witch. Huh, you say? How’s that funny? (I can hear you with my Mom Super Powers.) Well, it’s like this….
Helen Duncan was the last woman convicted for witchcraft in England, long, long ago in 1944. Wait a minute! That’s not long, long ago. That’s barely ‘ago.’ It’s a pretty weird story. Apparently she knew about a couple of ship sinkings before the British public, and she said it was because of her powers as a Spiritualist and Medium. OK. Well, yea sure, but no one really believes in that stuff, do they? I mean no one without a serious drug habit, right?
Turns out Spiritualism, the religion that believed the dead could be contacted, had two big historical moments. The first was the first half of the nineteenth-century and the second was between World War I and World War II. So Helen Duncan was this poor woman with too many kids and a slacker husband (what were the chances?) and after The Great War she quit her job and became a medium. She earned her money pretending to talk dead relatives (or really talking to them if you want to believe that), many of whom had died in the first World War.
Then in 1941 she knew about the sinking of the HMS Barham when she shouldn’t have and she said it was because she saw it in a vision. The thing was, the Barham was sunk by a German U-boat and the Germans didn’t know they’d sunk it so Churchill wanted the sinking kept secret. EXCEPT, he let the war department tell the families of the 830 dead sailors. So that’s never very secret, right? NOPE! Helen probably knew because a family member told her—unless you believe some people can talk to the dead, then you go with that theory.
So come early 1944 and the English govt. is all worked up cause they’ve got D-Day planned, but they need to keep it secret from the Axis and some dumb ass gets it in his head that Helen Duncan, famous spirit medium, might spill the beans. Really dude? So they put her on trial, can’t convict her of treason, cause there’s no real proof, so they convict her of witchcraft and put her in jail until after D-Day. You know, so it’ll be secret. The things men do to women….
So I’m doing that research this week, while at the same time doing final proofing and formatting for Iron Widow, which oddly enough is a book about 1860s Spiritualism. See? Funny how life is…. This latest Kate novel is based on a real case Allan Pinkerton had in the 1870s and wrote about in the 1880s, but I made it a Kate case and turned the
“Black Widow” Allan wrote about into a not-so-black widow, or Iron Widow--iron being a color of grey. Clever, huh? I certainly like to think so.
I think it's a pretty good book, so you know, you should read it. People always ask me where they can find my books? Where do you find everything? Amazon. Iron Widow will be out as a print book and an ebook (kindle book) Monday, July 15th. Look for it at an Amazon link near you.
As I’m sure you know, you can learn all sorts of things if you’ve got an Internet connection (and find all sorts of Monty Python stuff). Four years ago I learned to write novels, three years ago learned how to publish my own books, two years ago I decided to teach myself to play the ukulele and now I’m been learning to make cheese. I'm like a crack addict, but with milk.
I made a cow’s milk feta to start and then took what I learned from that experience to make it again with my daughter Emma in Bozeman. The Bozeman cheese turned out so good one day for lunch we shared it with the girl farmers where Emma works (the Montana State University farm, Towne Harvest).
I’ve got made a Colby, a beer infused Gouda, 4 small aged goat cheeses (one of which we at and wow, was it good), 4 double crème brie and another batch of feta (cause we at ours). Oh, and a cheddar, a Parm and a Gruyere and some other stuff…. I’m obsessed and the people at Sprouts think I’ve got a milk addiction. And I needed a cheese press and they’re expensive, but guess what? There are videos on how to make your own—or how to get your husband to make you one. How great is that?
What’s my point? It’s possible to keep learning stuff, even when we’re OLD. In fact, it’s not just possible, it’s essential to a quality life. Not calculus maybe (at least not for me), but stuff that makes your heart go pitter pat. I’m gonna be honest, I think there’s a LOT wrong with our country right now and I think a lot of it can be marked down to people who decided they were done learning new things, done expanding their worlds, done thinking about their values in an honest, evaluative way. It’s why we live in a ‘facts don’t matter’ world. Except that we don’t. Facts do matter because it’s in facts we find ideas and ideas are the only real thing we have. The rest is bullshit that distracts us from meaningful lives. Of course, if you’re reading this you already know all this stuff (cause readers are the smartest people in the world), but do you know where to by milk that’s not Ultra-High pasteurized?
On a related note, my 4th Kate Warne book, Iron Widow (the one with the black widow on the cover!) has been delayed. Don’t blame it on the cheese. I’m perfecting my editing process, which is easier said than done, but it will be out this month. I’m also writing about a late Renaissance woman painter and I just finished the first draft. You know what I like about writing about her? I didn’t know anything about late Renaissance painting and I learned a lot.
So I gotta ask, what are you learning these days? And if the answer is nothing—WTF? What could you give yourself permission to learn and do? And how much greater would you be if you did?