Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quin O'Toole

by Kim Van Sickler

[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: MuleskinnerHere's the pitch: An extraordinary canal dog gives twelve-year-old mule driver, Clay, the conviction to fight against a highly suspect Indenture agreement his pa supposedly signed...right before Pa was found swinging from a tree above Lonesome Lock.]

Quin O'Toole. Nickname: Goose
Quin is already dead when Muleskinner starts. He was a canaler married to the prettiest woman on the Ohio Canal before she died birthing their second child: Aidan. A happy go-lucky fellow by nature, his fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse when he got ensnared in Slice Fermer's gambling enterprise. Before his body was found hanging over Lonesome Lock, an indentured servitude agreement had been signed, promising his son Aidan would work for Slice as his muleskinner when the boy turned ten years old.

Quin's unfortunate past haunts Clay. It's up to Clay to straighten out what his father fell victim to and set himself free. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for PROVIDENCE SPRING

by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

(Kathy’s A to Z posts are tidbits of fact gleaned from her research for her historical-fiction novel LIKE A RIVER.)

When Andersonville prison camp was first constructed, it contained a branch of Sweetwater Creek. That creek was to be used by the prisoners for their every need: drinking, bathing, washing clothes and cooking utensils—and waste.

Wood “sinks” were built along one edge of the creek for men to empty their bowels directly into what was also the source of their drinking water. Before long, the stream became a contaminated, foul-smelling swamp that attracted flies by day and mosquitoes at night. The diseases spread throughout the camp from this creek were innumerable.

In August, 1864, a torrential downpour flooded the creek, which made matters worse—for a time.

When the flood water receded, it revealed a spring which bubbled from an underground aquifer too deep to have been contaminated by the stream. The prisoners proclaimed the water was clean and tasted sweeter than any water they had tasted in a long time.

But the spring sat on the wrong side of the dead line (see post for D). After contriving ways to reach the water with buckets tied to poles, some prisoners felt clean water was worth risking their lives for. Eventually, they were allowed to dig a reservoir for the spring to flow into, and men could drink clean water without fear of being shot.


The spring, which many attributed to a divine hand, was named Providence Spring. It still flows at the site of the prison. However the water is no longer safe to drink.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Ohio Canal

by Kim Van Sickler

[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: MuleskinnerHere's the pitch: An extraordinary canal dog gives twelve-year-old mule driver, Clay, the conviction to fight against a highly suspect Indenture agreement his pa supposedly signed...right before Pa was found swinging from a tree above Lonesome Lock.]

In 1825 the Ohio legislature authorized the construction of the Ohio Canal (now known as the Ohio & Erie Canal). The idea originated from the new and prospering Erie Canal running through NY and PA. Goods would arrive via Lake Erie to Cleveland and get shipped south through the length of Ohio to Portsmouth, a distance of a little over 300 miles. Raw materials like coal, quarry stone, and crops would be shipped back north. Thanks to the canal, Cleveland and Akron, little nothing towns, blossomed. The Canal era petered out in 1913 with the Great Flood, the nail in the coffin of a dying transportation industry, thanks to the faster, more efficient railroads.

The earliest known photo of the Ohio Canal, taken circa 1859 in the East Flats section of Cleveland.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nicknames

by Kim Van Sickler

[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: MuleskinnerHere's the pitch: An extraordinary canal dog gives twelve-year-old mule driver, Clay, the conviction to fight against a highly suspect Indenture agreement his pa supposedly signed...right before Pa was found swinging from a tree above Lonesome Lock.]

Canalers and places on the Ohio Canal frequently developed nicknames. For instance Captain Pearl Nye, a canaler who later wrote and performed stories and songs about life on The Silver Ribbon (nickname for the Ohio Canal), was known as Skinny. The locks the canal boats passed through developed their own colorful nicknames as well. Some of my favorites that I worked into Muleskinner are: Lonesome Lock, Black Dog Crossing, Johnny Cake Lock, and Whiskey Lock.
A dapper man standing near a waterfront.
Captain Pearl Nye, nicknamed Skinny
Lonesome Lock circa 1892
Many of my Muleskinner characters have nicknames as well. Clay, my muleskinner (slang for a mule driver) is Bird, a name he was given that he hopes refers to how he sings rather than, as he suspects, his scrawny build. Gloomy and dark Cap'n Loomis Sheridan was nicknamed Mossy by his younger brother, Owen. The name derives from a shortening of the slang term moss-backed, which meant drunk. Owen never calls Cap'n Mossy to his face, however. And Cap'n Sheridan refers to his bushy-haired younger brother Owen, the bowman, as Whiskers, when he's irritated with him. 

I embraced the nickname culture when writing Muleskinner. I couldn't resist!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Muleskinner

by Kim Van Sickler

[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: MuleskinnerHere's the pitch: An extraordinary canal dog gives twelve-year-old mule driver, Clay, the conviction to fight against a highly suspect Indenture agreement his pa supposedly signed...right before Pa was found swinging from a tree above Lonesome Lock.]

A muleskinner is a person who drives mules. Back in the Ohio Canal era (1825-1913) a team of 2-3 mules were hitched in tandem (one behind the other) to pull canal boats (freighters) filled with supplies from any combination of distances between Portsmouth (south) to Cleveland (north), about 310 miles. 

Muleskinner walking beside his mules
 In my book Muleskinner, Clay has been helping drive mules for the freighter Bonnie Lass for six years already. At twelve years old, he is now a seasoned mule driver. He spends all day on his feet tending to the mules or walking with them. His biggest concerns are the condition of the mules, the weather, and the waits to lock through at the areas where the water level has to be either raised or lowered so boats can proceed either upstream or downstream. It's a physically grueling, frequently boring, oftentimes dangerous life. 

Did you know that President James Garfield worked as a muleskinner on the Ohio Canal? After he fell in the water for the 14th time, he developed a malaria-like sickness (referred to as the ague) that forced him to retire from the canals. His quality of life drastically improved once he did!

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for LIKE A RIVER

by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

LIKE A RIVER is the title of my Civil War novel (due out in Spring, 2015, from Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights). The theme of water threads through the story, and four rivers are mentioned in it by name (Ohio, Coosa, Kanawha, and Mississippi), but it is not really about rivers.

Mississippi River near Memphis.
Though the rivers play a necessary, but minor, role in my novel, the title comes from that aspect of rivers to be ever-changing. And a river’s ability to change the lives of those around it.

The Mississippi becomes a watery grave for a large number of people in the story. (Check back in for the “S” post for more details on that.) But when searching for a title, I thought about the lives of my characters throughout the novel. In dialogue toward the end of the book, someone talks about how much the war changed Leander.

Another character’s response is, “Like a river.”

The publisher may decide on a different title for the book before publication. Something they feel is more marketable perhaps. That is their right. After all, things change—like a river.



Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Keel

by Kim Van Sickler

[Kim's posts will all relate to her MG historical fiction novel with a paranormal twist: MuleskinnerHere's the pitch: An extraordinary canal dog gives twelve-year-old mule driver, Clay, the conviction to fight against a highly suspect Indenture agreement his pa supposedly signed...right before Pa was found swinging from a tree above Lonesome Lock.]
The dry dock at Worcester Marina on the Worcester Birmingham canal.
The keel is the structural member running lengthwise on a boat that attaches to the frame. Think of it as the boat's spine. It strengthens the boat's hull.
The keel converts sideways force into forward force. Diagram courtesy of Wikipedia.

The word might be the first English word ever written. A 6th Century British historian and cleric named Gildas used the word in his Latin sermon "De Exidio et Conquestu Britanniae". However he spelled keel "cyulae", and was referring to early Saxon ships.

In more fun with words, the Latin word for keel is "carina", and is where we get the term careen for the act of cleaning a keel and the hull, oftentimes by rolling the boat on its side.

From Jack Gieck's A Photo Album of Ohio's Canal Era 1825-1913 (describing the State of Ohio's first foray into the Ohio Canal in 1827.)
"With a grinding scudding cry from its keel, Ohio's first canal boat slid sideways down the slanting ways and splashed broadside into the canal--inundating the opposite bank with a small tidal wave."