dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author
home office

My home office in the basement.

To everyone who weighed in on my “Ending” dilemma last week, thank you! I decided my character had to be herself (and she is certainly not perfect). I think she discovered her own worth over the course of the story, but she also made a crucial mistake that prevented her from getting what she wanted. I found a way to give her the help she needs going forward, without making it seem like they “saved her.” She decides what she has to do. The two people closest to her throw in their support. I hit the dreaded “send” button on that manuscript yesterday.

In other news, the Delaware County Community College invited me back to teach the course I did in the fall, Writing for the Children’s Market. I start tomorrow night! They’ve also contracted me to teach a writing course for 10-12 year olds on Saturdays in April, so it will be fun to work with kids again.

I’ve had a home office space in my basement for months, but I’ve had trouble forcing myself to work down there instead of on the family room sofa or at the kitchen table. This month, I’ve been a little better at disciplining myself to “go to the office.” The only problem is my “office assistant.” Usually, she spends her time upstairs, but when she gets into a super-ornery mood, the family tosses her in the basement with me and shuts the door. Yeah, thanks a bunch, family.

Luna in the bookshelves

Luna rearranges the books on my shelf.

In final news that’s kind of cool, I was contacted via Pinterest by a woman from the Netherlands whose research on Ancestry.com revealed that Asenath Thomas – one of the women buried in the caged graves – was her husband’s great-great-aunt. We exchanged some information, and then she posted about it on Facebook and linked me. One of her FB friends then chimed in to say, “Hey, that author was the teacher of two of my kids!” That’s right. A parent of some former students is friends with someone who lives in the Netherlands who is married to someone related to someone whose grave I wrote about. I’m pretty sure Kevin Bacon is in there, too.

Asenath

Asenath Thomas grave

 

 

Ransloe,Annie Eliza, Sarah Frances Boone (ca1860

Ransloe, Annie Eliza, and Sarah Frances Boone (ca1860)

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I was recently contacted by a gentleman named Charles Rodenbough from North Carolina who told me he was the great-grandson of Ransloe Boone.

That would be the same Ransloe Boone whose name is on the headstone outside one of the caged graves in Catawissa, Pennsylvania. Ransloe is not the one in the grave. That would be his wife, Sarah Ann. The caged graves of Sarah Ann Boone and her sister-in-law, Asenath Thomas, are the subject of my historical novel, The Caged Graves. My story is fictional, but I kept the real names listed on the headstones, the name of the town, and some of the town’s history.

I was happy to hear that Mr. Rodenbough enjoyed my novel. He, like my fictional protagonist Verity Boone, came across the caged graves of Sarah Ann and Asenath Thomas by accident. He was on a family research expedition with his brother twenty years ago, and after visiting the graves of his Boone ancestors in a Quaker cemetery in Catawissa, they stopped at a farmer’s market outside town (Rohrbach’s) and then spotted a strange sight in a nearby, abandoned cemetery. When the Rodenbough brothers got out of the car to investigate the two caged graves, they were just as surprised as Verity to see their great-grandfather’s name on one of the headstones. (Although perhaps not as upset as Verity …)

Mr. Rodenbough knew his great-grandfather had a first wife who died shortly after giving birth to a daughter. He did not know her grave had been caged. With a little research, he eventually reached the same conclusion as the local historians regarding the purpose of the cages. I will not give the explanation here, although I will say I partly used this explanation in my book – with several fictional twists.

Boone Store-St. Clair

Boone Store, St. Clair, PA

I had already noticed that Ransloe Boone’s own grave did not appear to be located near his wife’s, and so I asked Mr. Rodenbough what became of his great-grandfather. He very kindly shared with me the true story of Ransloe Boone…

Two years after the death of his wife, Sarah Ann, Ransloe remarried a woman from Catawissa named Annie Eliza Hughes. They had two sons before moving to St. Clair, Pennsylvania along with Ransloe’s daughter by Sarah Ann, whose name was Sarah Frances. In St. Clair, he and Annie had three daughters, followed by three more sons. (Wow.) At first, Ransloe worked as a clerk, but eventually he established his own dry goods store, which was very successful. Along with his eldest sons, he helped charter the St. Clair Power and Light and build the St. Clair Grain Elevator. He died in 1896 after being thrown from his carriage when his horse spooked and ran down an embankment.

Ransloe

George Lippard (my model for Ransloe)

When writing historical fiction, I like to pick out old photographs of people and places to inspire me. For my fictional Ransloe Boone, I used this picture. (It’s really the 19th century author George Lippard.) Did I come close to the real man? Ehhh, not a lot.

But I’m grateful to Charles Rodenbough for sharing these precious Boone family photographs with me and allowing me to share them with you!

***

EngravingAs a side note … Since the publication of We Hear the Dead, I have heard from one reader who can trace her ancestry back to a sister of Maggie and Kate Fox and another who is the descendant of Elisha Kane’s brother. So, this isn’t the first time I’ve been contacted by relatives of my “characters.” It’s startling to be reminded that my novels are based on truth.

***

I’m not expecting anyone related to Jax Aubrey to contact me, but I do think somebody lives in my house on the eighth day.

 

 

Last Friday night, I had the pleasure of signing books at Otto’s Bookstore in Williamsport, PA. I was invited by the owner, Betsy Rider, after she read THE CAGED GRAVES. (Betsy also wrote a review for the local paper and did radio spots on my upcoming visit.) I wish I could say I was responsible for the crowd that came into Otto’s on Friday, but the fact is, First Friday in Williamsport is a community event worth seeing!
On the first Friday of every month, the citizens of Williamsport head downtown to celebrate the arts. Stores stay open late to host local artists, authors, and bands. I was seriously impressed by the amount of foot traffic the store got on a Friday night in November.
Otto’s is an interesting store, too. Although for a long time they believed the business had been around (in multiple locations and under a couple different names) since 1877, Betsy and her son recently discovered ledgers proving that it actually dated back to 1841, making it one of the five oldest book stores in the country. It was actually in business at the time Sarah Ann Boone and Asenath Thomas were buried in those caged graves. My fictional heroine Verity might have shopped there! Catawissa is only 45 miles away, and Williamsport would have been easily accessible by train.
Because Catawissa is fairly local to Williamsport, a number of the people who came into the store on Friday had already visited The Hooded Grave Cemetery, or were planning to visit after they read my book. One lady brought photographs she had recently taken there. A mother and daughter stopped by who used to live right down the road from the graves.
But I’ve got to tell you why I owe an apology to J.D. Salinger. A young man came into the store, walked up to me, and asked where he could find The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby. I explained that I was an author signing books and not a store employee, and pointed out one of the staff members. A little while later, he came back to my table, removed his purchased copy of The Catcher in the Ryefrom his bag, and asked if I would sign it.
I gaped at him. “You want me to sign it J.D. Salinger?”
He shrugged. “You can sign it as yourself.”
I offered to sign one of my bookmarks instead, but he really wanted the book signed. When I admitted I felt strange doing that – and that I’ve never even read The Catcher in the Rye,he offered me The Great Gatsbyinstead. I lowered my voice to a whisper. “I hated The Great Gatsby when I read it in high school,” I admitted.
He lowered his voice too. “Then you should probably sign the other one.”
So I did. What else could I do?

Last week, I signed the contract to publish The Caged Graves with Clarion. With the book on its way to publication, it seemed an appropriate time for a pilgrimage back to the place that inspired the story – Hooded Grave Cemetery in Catawissa, PA.

I knew, going back, that it was going to look different to me this time. I fictionalized the setting when I wrote the story, changing the geography around quite a bit. For almost two years, I’ve been picturing those two graves outside a cemetery wall at the bottom of a long steep road, between Ransloe Boone’s house and the Shades of Death swamp.

In actuality, the tiny cemetery is squeezed between a cornfield and somebody’s house, and across the road from an orchard. The church is long gone. Somebody cuts the grass, but nobody’s been tending the weeds inside the graves. It was quite sad to see. Both graves were damaged. One of the flying eagles was missing from Sarah Ann’s cage, and the wire had been bent and mangled on one side of both graves. It looked as if somebody had been pulling on the wire trying to get their hands in. (Or get their hands out!) In fact, the damage to the cage is eerily similar to an incident in my book, which is kind of creepy.

My first visit, 21 months ago, was on a bitter cold day in January. We didn’t stay long – just took a few pictures and left. This time, we spent time looking around and examining the other graves. I couldn’t find the graves of either of the husbands – Ransloe Boone or John Thomas. In fact, as I looked around, I realized most of the graves belonged to women and children. It started to creep me out, and I wondered why no men were buried here. Eventually, I did find two headstones for adult men – but all the rest were women and children.

There were a lot of open spaces between the graves, so maybe headstones are missing – crumbled and cleared away, or sunk into the ground. And of course, the mortality rate for women and children was higher than for adult men. Nevertheless, their near absence added one more unsettling element to this place.

All old cemeteries are fascinating to me. I love wandering through them, looking at the names on the tombstones and trying to figure out their stories. But Hooded Grave Cemetery seems to have more secrets than most. I could probably write half a dozen more stories inspired by the strange things I noticed in just this one visit.

Rest in peace, Sarah Ann Boone and Asenath Thomas. I hope I made up a good story for you, but I’ll always wonder what really happened.