History: Playboys, Tough Gals, and American Firsts

I’ve written almost 90 entries for the Clio website now. Some of my favorites have been:

  • The James Gordon Bennett Memorial in NYC, in which the founder of the New York Herald and his owl-obsessed, public-indecency-causing playboy son are discussed.
  • The Engineer’s Club building in NYC, where Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison both hung out and, ironically, where Tesla received the Edison Medal in 1917.
  • El Polín Spring of San Francisco, where African American/Latina Juana Briones (1802-1889) gave medical aid to sailors and soldiers before leaving her abusive husband and going on to become one of the area’s most successful farmers and business owners.
  • Matthews Hall at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the first American Indian received a degree from an American university in 1665.
  • Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, the first hospital in America (founded by Dr. Thomas Bond and Benjamin Franklin) and home to the country’s first surgical amphitheatre, first hospital apothecary, and first medical library, as well as being the first hospital to treat psychological illness as a curable illness instead of as a spiritual affliction.
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Elevation drawing of Pennsylvania Hospital by William Strickland, 1755 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

I’ve been working on Philadelphia entries quite a bit lately (did you know it was originally colonized by Swedes??), and having a grand old time with the yellow fever epidemic. Why a person like me, who hates any kind of squishy disease (in either living or dead people) and only likes skeletal remains, should be so interested in outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera, I don’t know. But I am. Yellow fever and cholera have a horrible morbid fascination for me, as do terrible medical ideas of the past (like bleeding patients who are dying of internal bleeding or treating opium addiction with morphine). It’s part of why my undergrad thesis centered on the medical use of mineral springs in Kentucky. Still, I’ll avoid going to the doctor for my own shots as long as is humanly possible. They had to give me Valium to give me my last Tetanus shot. Go figure.

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Author Interview: Jack Wallen’s Suicide Station Kindle Scout Campaign

Would you like to experience the godlike powers of a publisher, to choose whether to make an author’s heart sing or crush an author’s hopes and dreams? Well, Amazon’s Kindle Scout publishing lets you, the reader, do just that! My client and fellow author of genre-bending fiction, Jack Wallen, has submitted his novel Suicide Station to Kindle Scout, and you have until April 7th (if my math is correct) to read the preview excerpt and nominate the book, if you so choose, to be published. Oh, and nominators get a free e-copy if it goes to publication! “What kind of book is Suicide Station?” I hear you ask. Well, I’ve read it (and edited it) and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I can promise you it’s not quite your average romance! Here’s the blurb:

PROJECT_COVER_IMAGE_1._SX800_A romance with a twist of Grim Reaper.
The world of stand up comedy was too much for Foster Donovan. Leaving a note behind for his wife, he wrapped a noose around his neck, and changed his life by embracing death.Turns out, the after life was nothing like he’d expected. Those who’ve taken their own lives find themselves temporary residents of Suicide Station, where they receive counseling, friendship, and (for Foster) the prospect of love. Suicide Station is a paranormal romance with a twist even the Grim Reaper wouldn’t see coming.”
And now, without further ado, I give you an interview with the author himself, Jack Wallen!

 

SM: Suicide Station is pretty different than your other work. What sparked the idea for this book?

JW: Believe it or not, it was a nightmare that sparked the idea. I dreamed that I’d died and, in the dying, realized the worst part about it was that I’d never get to spend another second with my lovely wife. That led me to wonder what happens to love when we pass on. Not knowing if there is an “afterlife” or not, I decided to answer all the questions the nightmare brought up. There’s no better way for a writer to answer the big questions than to write about it. In the end, I realized that death was not the end of love.

SM: You’re a very versatile writer, with quite a few genres/subgenres under your belt. Was there anything about writing this book, branching out into paranormal romance, that was challenging for you? Or was the story just “there” and the genre was secondary?

JW: To me, genre is always secondary to telling a good story. If you consider reality, you’ll find the horrific in romance and romance in the horrific. I’ve always found books that set aside the multi-dimensionality of reality to be rather 2 dimensional. With regards to romance, it’s not all about steaming passion, abs, long legs, glistening skin, and the soft moans of seduction.

Pant, pant.

If we’re going to escape, let’s really escape from reality and twist the narrative to better match the landscape of our dreams…not our wishes. Dreams can be gritty, dirty, even ugly. That’s life.

To answer the other part of this question…this story really wrote itself. I think the imagery that so quickly developed (as I wrote) helped this story to flow out of me with incredible ease.

SM: Do you think you’ll write a sequel, or other books set in Suicide Station?

JW: Initially this was going to be a one-off. But shortly after I dove into that other-worldly realm of the Suicide Station, I knew this had to continue. This book barely scratches the surface of possibility for what I’ve created and I’ve no intention of letting it die. I thoroughly enjoyed creating this world as well as the characters within. I want to explore and develop the relationship between Foster and Candy and (especially) visit some of the other Stations.

SM: How did you go about setting up the world and the rules and workings of the afterlife?

JW: One of the best parts about being a writer of fiction is that we can toss aside the constructs of reality and forge our own worlds. Before going into this, I knew one thing and one thing only – that Foster Donovan would have to go through counseling in order to move on to his “Forever Station”. That was the original intent. I had no idea this would turn into a love story. The second I started writing this book, in my mind it quickly evolved into a sort of Tim Burton-esque world where anything was possible. So…I allowed anything to be possible.

I’ve always found it unfair that we writers expect readers to suspend their disbelief, when often we’re hesitant to do the same while writing. I pretty much suspended every ounce of disbelief I had for this one.

SM: As a book set in a sort of purgatory for suicide victims, this could have been a very depressing read, yet it’s actually very hopeful, sweet, and funny. How did you maintain the balance between tastefully addressing depression and suicide and keeping the book upbeat and romantic?

JW: Confession time. I’m a helpless romantic at heart. I truly believe in the human heart and the power of connection.

Suicide has such a stigma attached to it. For some, the challenges of existing are simply too much to bear. There’s always help to be had; and I highly recommend anyone flirting with suicidal thoughts to reach out for help. But being that helpless romantic, what I really wanted to address was that the power of love reaches beyond the veil of death. When we pass, people will remember us fondly; they’ll tell stories about us, smile and weep for the loss. To me, that is the afterlife…those memories. There’s a sweetness in that. I can pass from this mortal coil knowing my wife and my friends will smile when they think of me, that I will continue to bring them some form of joy.

So to me, it wasn’t so much about the act of ending one’s life, but of moving beyond that and dealing with whatever might come next. And underneath it all, it’s about knowing your own truth and that things can always work out.

SM: What was the most fun about writing this book?

JW: The interplay between Foster and Candy was so much fun. Considering what I usually write, I don’t often get the chance to make with the flirtations. This is one of the reasons why I also enjoy writing my steampunk series…because underlying all that heady stuff, there’s a sweetness to power it along.

Also, in this book, I found David David to be so much fun to play with. Not being a stoner, it was pleasure to dive into that skin and see how far I could take it.

SM: What’s next for Suicide Station?

JW: I have entered the book into the Kindle Scout program. Kindle Scout is a new program, started by Amazon, that puts the weight of Amazon promotions behind those books they’ve accepted for publication. What this means is that readers can go visit the Suicide Station campaign page, read the sample, and (if they think the book is worthy) nominate the book. Amazon takes into consideration how many nominations a book gets, how much traffic is directed to the book campaign, as well as the quality of the book and the ability of the author to promote the book.

Should Suicide Station win a contract, everyone that nominated the book will get a free ebook copy! Win-win!

SM: How can we find out more?

JW: I’ll be releasing blogs and videos so you can keep up with the progress of my Suicide Station campaign. Find out more on my website.

 

Now, go forth and READ!

More History: Newspapers, Writers, Presidents, and Patriots

Eight new articles I’ve written for http://theclio.com. Did you know The New Yorker was started on winnings from a poker game? I didn’t, until I read up on The Algonquin Hotel!

Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park, Maryland

Weybosset Bridge, Providence, Rhode Island

Shakespeare’s Head (John Carter House), Providence, Rhode Island

Mary Lindley Murray Monument, NYC

Chester Alan Arthur Monument, NYC

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library (Main Branch), NYC

Bryant Park, NYC

Algonquin Hotel, NYC

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Historic and modern facade of the Algonquin (image from taringa.net)

Working for History

I’ve added to the mix of archaeology, editing, research, and writing I’m normally up to by getting a part-time job posting at The Clio, an online non-profit educational resource for historic research. (Read between the lines: it’s FREE to use). I’m writing about five entries a week, and having a blast finding out about historic places and cultural centers all over the country (so far I’ve mainly written about the DC, NYC, and Providence, RI areas). Here are links to some of my posts on The Clio:

New York City

Washington, D.C.

Providence, Rhode Island

Guest Post with Jack Wallen

I’m not updating my own site because I’m busy being  interviewed over on Jack Wallen’s site! Jack writes lots and lots and lots of super-cool books (seriously, like every 2 months, guys!), ranging from steampunk to horror to zombie apocalypse, and sends many of them to me for editing. So go check out my interview, and then go check out the rest of Jack’s site!

(Sort of) Guest Post

For years now, my mom (Marian Allen) and I have been obsessing over Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and specifically over the cat Behemoth (our favorite character in the novel).  My mom is also obsessed with Hello Kitty.  So yesterday, I spontaneously decided to draw Hello Behemoth for Mom.  Today, she posted the picture on her blog for Caturday, and I’m counting that as a guest post because it means I don’t have to write a real post.  Ha!  (By the way, dear Readers, something about all this does relate to the sequel….)

Guest Post at SRAS’ Art in Russia Website

My final article for SRAS’ Summer 2013 program is posted!  You can read it here:

Program Review: Art and Museums in Russia

I’m very excited about everything I learned while I was there, and excited to carry these experiences and this inspiration forward – in my academics, my creative life, and my personal life.  It’s been an amazing summer, and I’ve still got a month to do more awesome stuff with myself before I stuff my brain full of more awesomeness this school year!  Woot!

What I Did on My Summer Vacation….

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View from the roof of St. Isaac’s Cathedral

I spent the last 3 weeks in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Now, if you’re thinking that 3 weeks is not very long for a study abroad semester, you are (a) correct and (b) not aware of how much can be packed into 3 weeks with sufficient effort and enthusiasm.  Ha!  I’m happy to say that, for just about every page of my beautiful DK Guide to St. Petersburg, I can point to at least one listing and say, “I’ve been there!”

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One of my favorite paintings in the Russian Museum

I’ve written a series of articles for SRAS (the School of Russian and Asian Studies, the organization which ran my program) – a pre-departure research article (previously posted on this blog) about Russian artist Aristarkh Lentulov, and the following 2 articles about some of the museum studies experience gained during my trip:

1. Archaeological Collections and Curation at the Hermitage

2. Painting Restoration Methods of the Hermitage

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A stormy day over the Hermitage Museum

My final article, a trip summary, has not yet posted to the SRAS blog.  In the meantime, let me say that I absolutely loved St. Petersburg.  It’s a beautiful city, and going in the summertime (when the sun only goes down for a few hours per night, at most) was fantastic!  The amount of art, architecture, and history you can encounter within one block in St. Petersburg is overwhelming.  My travel journal is around 45 pages (single-spaced!) and right now, I honestly can’t think how to sum up that much experience in one little blog post, so I will leave it at my articles and a few photos for now, and post parts of my travel journal from time to time in the next few weeks.IMG_0887

On the Oreninbaum Estate