Finkelstein Memorial Library

On Sunday, March 31, I spoke about the Shakers, The Shaker Murders, and other topics at the Library. This is the library I was Director of for 14 years. A large library, it serves a diverse population. Working here was life-changing for me in so many ways. And, even though I left over ten years ago, they continue to be supportive.

The Shaker Murders

Eating clay or pica boo!

One of the cultural activities brought over from Africa was eating clay. A puzzle to medical practitioners, it was labeled pica and has always carried a stigma. Pica is eating non-nutritive materials like earth or, in some cases, laundry starch.

Well, despite the stigma, it turns out that eating clay has been around a long time, since Greek and Roman times. Holy clay tablets were widely distributed and traded throughout the Mediterranean and Western Europe as cures for poison and the plague. According to one source (EnviroMedica), the tablets were blessed by the Roman Catholic Church as late as 1848. Studies have shown that clay eating is highest where calcium and iron intake are low.

Although not confined to pregnant women, a high percentage of pregnant women ate – and eat – clay. The current thinking is now that since the nutritional demands during pregnancy are so high – and pregnant women in the past couldn’t take the pregnancy vitamins, they ate mineral rich clay to support the baby. The clay also helps with nausea and vomiting and, as clay goes through the digestive tract, absorbs toxins. One of the preferred clays is kaolin, a white clay that is used as a base in Kaopectate. So anyone who has taken Kaopectate has ingested clay for stomach upset.

Eating clay has been used by cultures world-wide, In Bolivia and Peru, wild potatoes (which are toxic and bitter) are cooked in clay dishes. The clay leaches away the glychoalkaloids found in the wild potatoes and makes them edible.

The United States has deposits of kaolin. One of the largest is in Georgia. No less than a personage as Josiah Wedgewood ordered from the mine for his fine china.

A final note: kaolin is available from Amazon.

Who knew?

 

Murderous March

Spent a wonderful weekend participating in the Mavens of Mayhem Mystery convention. I am currently president here (for my second time.) The Mavens are a chapter of Sisters in Crime and this was their second annual mystery convention.

 

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Setting up.

 

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Vickie Delaney

carol

In order: Raffle table, Bob Knightley, Carol Pouliot, Edwin Hill and Kate Laity, the panel speaking and me, moderating the panel.

Wonderful, fun and exhausting.

 

 

The Banjo

There is an interesting article in the latest issue of the Smithsonian. I found it interesting anyway since it detailed the history of the banjo. We take this instrument totally for granted but it is actually very interesting.

Originally an African instrument, it came to this country with the slaves, It underwent a number of changes (the addition of an extra string for example). Banjo, the name, is relatively new, evolving from a variety of names: Banjar, banshee and more. One of the popularizers of the banjo in modern times? Pete Seeger.

The funny thing is that I was already researching musical instruments from that time. I am already working on my ninth Will Rees. Stay tuned for more information.

Granny Cradles

In The Shaker Murders I used a granny cradle to comfort one of my ill characters. I saw one of these large cradles at a display of Shaker materials at the New York State Museum.

These cradles look like baby cradles although they are much larger. No one is quite sure what these items were used for but it is assumed they were used for people who were ill or at the end of life and in need of comfort.

I chose to use the cradle this way.

Upcoming events

The Shaker Murders

With the release of The Shaker Murders a few weeks ago, I have a busy schedule ahead.

On Tuesday, February 19, I have a radio interview with No Limits at 6 EST. Saturday,

February 23, I am reading an excerpt from The Shaker Murders – and speaking about the Shakers – at the Port Jervis Library at 2 pm. Love doing these kind of events where I meet readers and answer questions. They always make me think. Open to the public.

March 16, I am participating in a conference arranged by my Sisters in Crime Chapter The Mavens of Mayhem. It is a full day affair held at the Greenbush Library in East Greenbush, New York. There will be two panels in the morning and two in the afternoon followed by book signings for all the participating authors. Our featured guests: Vickie Delaney and Edwin Hill. Free and open to the public but registration is required.

Two weeks later on March 30, 11 am at Linda’s in Goshen, I will be signing copies of my new book, The Shaker Murders. Open to all,

The following day, Sunday, March 31, I will be speaking at the Finkelstein Memorial Library in Spring Valley, New York. Open to the public – of course.

Reviews

Today was a banner day for me. I received two wonderful reviews of The Shaker Murders, one included in Library Journal.

Author Eleanor Kuhns Weaves A Mystery

Traveling weaver, Will Rees arrives in Zion, Maine, a Shaker community, amidst a series of bizarre accidents. As Rees investigates, he begins to experience nightmares where his family is in jeopardy. In this sixth book in the Will Rees series, author Eleanor Kuhns has readers racing along to learn if Rees can uncover the truth before those haunting dreams become a reality.

Lifelong librarian and award-winning author Eleanor Kuhns’s latest novel in her Will Rees series, The Shaker Murders (Severn House), was inspired in part by a fortuitous trip to Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, a tiny religious community that was established in Maine in 1783.

If Kuhns hadn’t created this popular series when she did, there’s a fair chance there would be no Shakers left to share their traditions firsthand. Due to the sect’s adherence to celibacy, the practice of marrying out, and expulsion from the community for violating rules like refusing to shave one’s beard, today Sabbathday Lake is home to only three remaining Shakers.

“All I knew about the Shakers was that they made furniture,” Kuhns tells Library Journal. “In the tour, I learned they were celibate, and they took in orphans.”

Kuhns was so intrigued by what she saw, she bought every book in the gift shop and embarked on a period of research that yielded more than a few surprises.

“Who knew that their herbal business was so successful that in today’s money, it would be a billion dollar industry or that they were accomplished inventors with hundreds of patent applications?” Kuhns says enthusiastically.

The more research Kuhns conducted, the more she wondered about the people who joined the Shaker community. Kuhns learned that some converts were driven by faith, others saw it as an escape from societal conventions like marriage, and then there were those who used the sect to hide out – fertile motivation for an author of mysteries.

Returning readers of Kuhns’s mystery fiction have come to expect to learn a few things along with seeing a murder get solved. “Every book features at least one job that was important to the times. In Death of a Dyer I describe dyeing, in Cradle to Grave it is barrel making, and in Death in Salem I focus on sail and rope making,” Kuhns says.

In The Shaker Murders, Kuhns introduces the reader to the art and cultural history of weaving. “One of my hobbies is weaving, so I made my main character a weaver,” Kuhns says, adding, “I knew how to thread and set up the treadles and follow a pattern, but after I started working with Rees, I studied the history of weaving, an unbroken line from the Bronze Age to the Industrial Revolution.”

In The Shaker Murders, the craft of weaving offered her protagonist, Will Rees, some connective material to move the story along. “Weaving gives Rees the chance to interact with women as well as men. That would have been much more difficult if I’d made him a bricklayer,” Kuhns adds.

Kuhns explains that in the Shaker community, women wove in the home, but some male weavers were itinerant, which enables Kuhn’s murder-solving protagonist to have a reason to leave the small town in Maine. To further aid in this, Kuhns made him a traveler, so he has more than one motivation to hit the road.

In her earlier works like Cradle to Grave, Rees solves a murder just north of Albany that involves the Shaker community there. In Death in Salem, Rees visits Salem, Mass that was, at that time, the sixth largest city in the U.S. as well as the wealthiest due to trade with India and China.

For Kuhns, one character remains with her above the others. Kuhns created Calvin, a mentally challenged man whose untimely end hit her the hardest. “I don’t think the developmental disabilities are new in modern times, so his murder is even more heinous and emotional wrenching because he is an innocent.”

When Kuhns originally sought inspiration for Rees, she found it in her late father, himself an adept craftsman. “Part of Will Rees is completely my father: his sense of justice, his honesty and his ability to work with his hands. He was also a big red-headed fellow with anger issues,” Kuhns says.

For Kuhns, the process of drawing upon her father has been educational. “Since writing about Rees and doing such intensive research into earlier times, I feel I understand my father a lot better. I hope he would be flattered.”

Traditionally, when Kuhns casts that role in her mind, she’s thought of Damien Lewis (from Homeland) and David Wenham (Faramir in the Lord of the Rings), but she jokes she may need to find someone younger as they’re getting on. With such leading men as inspiration for a character based on her father, how could he not be?

The second review came from the Historical Novel Society.

The Shaker Murders (A Will Rees Mystery)

WRITTEN BY ELEANOR KUHNS
REVIEW BY BRYAN DUMAS

Will Rees and his family are hiding in Zion, a Shaker community in Maine, and hoping to find safety, but what Will discovers is a secretive sect and two murders that threaten the security of his family in Kuhns’ sixth Will Rees Murder series. Will, his pregnant wife, Lydia, and their children fled their hometown of Dugard and are in Zion because of an accusation of witchcraft against Lydia, and Will’s own murder charges—from which he cleared his own name (The Devil’s Cold Dish, 2016). Shortly after arriving in Zion, Brother Jabez is found dead in the laundry. Will is certain it was murder, but Elders Solomon and Jonathan push it off as an accident. After Will finds the murder weapon, and a second Shaker—a simple-minded young man—is killed Will is certain that the murderer is one of the Shakers themselves. Complicating matters is the matter of Lydia’s former farm, which the Shaker community believes belongs to them but Will hopes to take for his family.

While this is a murder mystery, what really sets this book apart are the descriptions of daily life and expectations for 18th-century Shakers and their community—including guests that they welcome with open arms, if only because they hope these people will sign the Covenant and join. As in any whodunit, there are plenty of shady characters, from hired farm boys to newcomers to the community up through the elders themselves, all lending to throw Will, and the reader, off course. Though there are many references to previous books, first-time readers to this series will have no trouble jumping in. Ultimately, Kuhns uses the Shaker beliefs to craft an interesting and suspenseful ending to this delightful story.

The flu

I am one of those who does not get the flu shots. Oh, I got one of two through the years but, until this year, I haven’t gotten the flu since I was eight.

Well, my charmed flu-free life is over. And let me tell you, the flu is a nasty disease. Although none of the outbreaks have caused as much death as the Spanish Flu in 1918, even in these modern times a million or more die.

It is viral and changes every year. Even the shot only protects against a few of the strains – and there might be a few early strains in October and November and a few entirely different ones the following spring. Isn’t that good news? That even with the shot a person can be susceptible to a different strain of the virus.

I think most people know by now that the flu can affect birds and pigs and the avian and swine strains can infect humans. Frequently, the strains that have mutated among the animal vectors are the most virulent of all.

Some of the symptoms: cough, runny nose, fever, headache are the same as with the common cold but the flu lasts one to two weeks. And after all the other symptoms pass, I have found that the fatigue continues. I have just felt limp for a month.The other symptom I experienced is disruption of taste. Everything tasted both bitter and metallic – even water. Yuck.

So will I get the shot in future? Definitely! I want to maximize my chances of not going through this again.

The Shakers

With the upcoming release of The Shaker Murders in two weeks, I thought I’d review some of the facts about the Shakers.The Shaker Murders

First, they are still in existence, but there are very few. Although there were eleven when I began my research, there are only three now. These three live in Sabbathday Lake in Maine, near Alfred. They live as the Shakers have always lived, although the schoolhouse is now a library/repository of Shaker history.

Begun by Mother Ann Lee in the 1700’s, they are in effect an evangelical offshoot of the Quakers. (The name Shakers means Shaking Quakers). Ann Lee brought her small band to the new country from Great Britain in 1774. They set up their first colony just outside of Albany, calling it Niskayuna. The remnants of it are still there although the fields are now under the Albany airport.

The Shakers were celibate and men and women were separated. It was a top down organization and each ‘Family’ was run by two Elders and two Eldresses who were themselves under the main headquarters. (Later on that was New Lebanon in New York.)

Perhaps because their spiritual inspiration came from a woman, from the first, men and women were of equal importance. Eldresses were of equal clout in running the community. (This in a time when women could not inherit from their husbands unless he specifically named her in his will. Otherwise, she was in the care of her eldest son.) To keep their numbers up, they took in apprentices as well as orphans. Boys were taught to read, write and ‘figure’ in the winter while girls were educated in the summer. (Another difference from the outside world. Illiteracy was epidemic and girls especially were not taught to read.) By the time the children grew up, they knew how to run a farm as well.

The work was divided along gender lines, with the Brothers working outside and the Sisters doing the cooking, cleaning and so on. They also made whips and brooms (the Shakers had the patents on a number of items including the round broom and the humble clothespin), sold seeds and had a very profitable business in herbs, primarily medicinal. As anyone who has priced Shaker furniture knows, it is very costly.  But it is perfect. The Shakers soon developed a reputation for perfection. They had a saying: ” Hands to work, hearts to God”. Work was valued and good work served to honor God. An imperfect job could not be offered to Him.

 

Goodreads Giveaway

I am happy to announce I am running a giveaway on Goodreads for the newest Will Rees. The Shaker Murders begins with Rees joining Lydia and his family at Zion the Shaker community. The next morning he is awakened by a scream. His roommate has been assaulted: hit in the head and then dropped in the laundry tub to drown.

The Elders and Eldresses prefer to believe it is first an accident, and then with the death of a disabled boy, the work of someone from the World. But Rees begins to believe there are secrets within the community itself that has lead to the murders.

The Shaker Murders is officially released February 1. Be one of the first to get your copy.

The Shaker Murders