Monday, April 27, 2015


I usually only post a blog once a week, but here it is Monday and I’m doing it again. Reason? I think there’s a Murphy’s (or somebody’s) law that governs situations like this. Perhaps it’s, “If something can go wrong, it will.”

As you know, I wanted to put my memoir THE GREEN BOUGH in Amazon’s Countdown, lowering the price from $2.99 to $.99. And it was to start today, April 27. Didn’t happen. Sorry.

Not just one thing went wrong, and not just one person is to blame, but I am one of the culprits who was too trusting (or too inexperienced) to forsee the problems and avoid them.

Maybe next week it will work as planned, although I will no longer make deadline promises. If you want to buy a digital copy of THE GREEN BOUGH, you should go to its Amazon page and check the price first. Don’t order it until you see Amazon shows the price at $.99.

Thanks for the thought anyway.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Yes, time flies. It was January 14 that I promised a lower price for one of my most popular books. I also said it would be only a few weeks, but here it is almost May, and between then and now, I blogged about several other things. One was my six weeks’ tribute to the memory of the Titanic, which sank on April 15, 1912.

As you may remember from my January blog post, THE GREEN BOUGH is a memoir as told to me by my husband’s Aunt Gladys, who was a schoolteacher in a logging camp in Oregon in 1913. I also got some information about the time and location from the Oregon History Society. The picture on the cover is from a snapshot of her one-room schoolhouse that Gladys’s brother, Fred, took, and the black-and-white photos inside are from her own photo album. Gladys lived to be 101 and knew about my book before she died.

As also mentioned before, the paperback version of THE GREEN BOUGH is my most popular seller at the two or three book fairs and signings I do every year. Readers have also asked for extra copies to send to friends and relatives in other parts of the country or to give as gifts. I think Gladys would have been pleased to know that.

The Countdown begins on Monday, April 27, and lasts for seven days, during which time the digital version of THE GREEN BOUGH will drop from $2.99 to 0.99. This will be a good time to get your copy, follow Gladys’s adventures and learn a little history from a hundred years ago.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Today is April 15, 2015, 103 years since Titanic sank. So this will be my last Titanic blog post. At least for this year.

On April 25, 1912, firemen from Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, refused to work on the ship because of insufficient lifeboats, and they went on strike. The firemen were accused of mutiny, but the magistrates refused to fine or imprison them. When enough usable lifeboats were replaced, the strikers returned and the ship sailed on May 15.

On learning of the Titanic sinking, a U.S. Senator called for an inquiry which was held in New York. Another inquiry was held in London, and the result of those was a reform of the laws governing ocean travel. In addition to enough lifeboats for everyone on board, other safety measures were adopted. More ships were outfitted with double hulls, and watertight compartments had complete bulkheads. Crews were required to be proficient in handling lifeboats, and passengers had to attend a boat drill to learn how to don a life vest and which lifeboat to board. Cruise ships still do that today.

North Atlantic shipping lanes were moved forty miles south during winter if there was any danger of ice, and ice patrols were formed to keep ships out of the path of icebergs. This became our present day Coast Guard.

One of the most important changes in England came about gradually but the Titanic disaster is often cited as the beginning of the end of the worst excesses of the British class system. The lower classes began to insist on respect, changed their attitude and took control of their lives. The U.K. still has a queen, princes and Lords and Ladies, yet immigrants continue to come here because of our declaration, “...that all men are created equal.”

Cameron’s TITANIC is the most accurate, but not perfect. The ship was found before Cameron made his film, so he knew it broke apart before sinking. Yet he shows people sliding down steep decks, not described by survivors, just as there were no locked gates. He also shows the lookouts in the crow’s nest shivering in their heavy coats because the temperature had dropped below freezing. At the same time Jack and Rose are dancing on the deck and she wears a short-sleeved party dress. He also shows all women wearing bright red lipstick, which was unlikely in 1912. I wrote a memoir about my husband’s aunt in 1913 and she assured me only actresses and other “fast women” wore lip-rouge at the time.

Earlier, black and white films got a few things wrong, the worst being 1953's TITANIC, depicting a wealthy man, played by Clifton Webb, buying steerage tickets from an immigrant because there were no more first-class cabins. Not true. Titanic left Southhampton with many empty ones.

When I gave a talk about Titanic at a local library, I answered many questions about the things I discovered during my research. One was about bathtubs. Third-class, or Steerage, on board the ship was much grander than the homes many passengers came from. Titanic had heat, electric lights and running water, which were luxuries to some. There were two bathtubs for the 700, one for men and one for women, and the water was changed between uses. Today that sounds inadequate, but the voyage was to take only seven days and in 1912 many people only bathed once a week, probably in a tub on the kitchen floor. Some people probably didn’t bathe that often, believing it was unhealthy.

I take up a new topic next week, one you’ll like because it involves a new low price on one of my books. See you then.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


More than twice as many people perished in the Titanic sinking compared to those who survived, but it needn’t have been as bad as it was. My research turned up a few things that may have contributed to the death toll.

First, everyone agrees there weren’t enough lifeboats. That was obviously the fault of the White Star Line which should have provided more. However, Titanic actually held more than were required by law. Unfortunately, the law was written before shipping companies built  ever larger vessels to accommodate the surge of immigrants to the new world, as well as the desire of wealthy people to travel back and forth to Europe. Titanic had davits installed for forty-eight lifeboats to be stored on the Boat Deck, but providing that many actual boats was vetoed by J. Bruce Ismay, among others, who felt they would “clutter up the deck” and obscure passengers’ views.

Besides, with the newspapers calling the ship “virtually unsinkable” (The White Star line advertising never said that.), more seemed unnecessary. The sixteen required standard lifeboats, plus the four collapsibles could have saved 1178 lives if they’d all been filled to capacity. But many--especially the earliest ones to be launched from Titanic--were not. For instance, Boat Number One left the ship with twelve people instead of forty.

Why the reluctance of passengers to get into the lifeboats and save themselves? There are several reasons. Due to the sound of the impact and the stopping of the engines, most passengers knew fairly soon that something had happened. Parties had been held that Sunday evening, so many partygoers were still dressed in their finery. They took to the decks to see whatever they could and to discuss the situation with one another. Participants at two tables of Bridge in the smoking room barely looked up from their game.

Some stewards, not wanting people to panic, made light of the problem. Many passengers were told it was merely a drill and they could soon return to their staterooms. The band was encouraged to keep playing (the new ragtime music), and lights blazed all over the ship. Furthermore, it was so cold on deck that many chose to retreat to warm rooms instead of get into a relatively tiny lifeboat which , in the beginning at least, would lower them some sixty-five feet into the icy, black Atlantic.
Since more third class than first class passengers perished, many believed at the time that it was deliberate discrimination. True, it wasn’t easy to get from third class to the boat deck, but that was a requirement of the U.S. Immigration Act of 1907. (see Sparks’s Titanic FAQs for details). Not only were there several ways up, stewards were supposed to help passengers find those routes. However, it was a new ship, many stewards were just as new, and--with the sudden necessity of lowering and manning lifeboats-- those extra duties were easily overlooked.

Even Cameron’s film shows locked gates that kept steerage passengers below. But everything I’ve read disputes that. The London Independent, in an article published April 11, 1998, states that the Public Records Office carries a report that “third class passengers were not prevented from getting to upper decks by locked doors or anything else.”

There are at least two other reasons for third class passengers’ higher death rate. Many immigrants did not speak or understand English. Then, when finally convinced they must abandon the ship, they wanted to carry all their possessions (literally all their worldly goods) with them. Some narrow stairways leading to upper decks couldn’t accommodate the luggage and, in other cases, the material created bottlenecks.

When it became obvious there weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone, the call went out for “women and children first.” Many wealthy men, including John Jacob Astor, watched their wives leave the ship and stood resolutely at the railing assuring them they’d meet up with them “later.” Mrs. Ida Strauss, however, wife of Macy’s department store owner, deliberately stayed behind with her husband.

Those were the scenes--while writing COLD APRIL--that always brought tears to my eyes. I had to ask a man in our critique group to read that chapter aloud, because I couldn’t trust myself to do so without breaking down.. At least one reviewer admitted she shed tears while reading the book.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Although those on board the Titanic didn’t realize how badly the ship was damaged, was there anything they could have done to prevent the disaster that unfolded? Was it inevitable that over 1500 lives would be lost that night? Just as there were a combination of reasons for striking the iceberg in the first place, several more contributed to the horrendous loss of life.

After Titanic was found some seventy years later, inspections revealed the steel used in ship construction those days did not deform, but fractured. Especially under extremely cold conditions. And the water temperature that night was 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

Furthermore, the sixteen watertight compartments were actually not watertight. The bulkheads dividing them rose only partway up, like partitions separating cubicles in office buildings. Some bulkheads rose to “D” Deck, others to “E” Deck, barely fifteen feet above the waterline. As sea water filled a compartment, it flowed over the top of the bulkhead and entered the next compartment. And so on.

The Captain ordered lifeboats to be lowered, and the Marconi operators sent out the distress signal, CQD. That old Morse code was sent at first, but later they used the “new” code - SOS - which was easier and faster to transmit. The Titanic’s use was the first in history. The Cunard liner, Carpathia, 58 miles away, responded and began its four-hour journey to the site.

In addition, white rockets were fired from the ship at regular intervals between 12:45 and 1:30. No response. During the official inquiry afterward, surviving passengers reported seeing lights from what they assumed was another ship between 11 to 20 miles away and expected it to rescue them, but it never moved.

However, there was a ship, Californian, at about that position, which stopped because of ice. Later, their officers testified they had seen the rockets, but their captain gave no orders to do anything. Years later, there was still controversy about the ship not going to Titanic’s aid.

Before Titanic struck the iceberg, wireless operator Phillips had been catching up on sending messages accumulated while his equipment was down. These were forwarded through the relay station at Cape Race on Newfoundland. Though the officers were also required to (and did) send messages to the bridge, they worked for the Marconi Company, not the ship. Passengers paid to send messages, so those were a priority.

At 11:30 p.m. Phillips was interrupted by the Californian’s wireless operator. “Say, old man, we are surrounded by ice and stopped.”

It was considered rude to interrupt another ship’s messages without asking permission first, and Phillips - who had been working for almost twelve hours straight, much of that time repairing his system, snapped back, “Shut up! Shut up! I’m busy. I am working Cape Race.”

The Californian’s operator shut down his equipment and retired for the night. Did this confrontation have anything to do with the refusal of the ship to come to Titanic’s rescue?