Women in History

Emily Miree

Emily Miree was born at Fort Snelling in 1836. At that time, the fort was part of Michigan Territory. Today it is part of Minnesota. Within a couple of years surrounding her birth, dozens of famous people passed through the fort. Abraham Lincoln was a spy in the Black Hawk war in 1832. Jefferson Davis eloped with Zachary Taylor’s daughter in 1835–both men were also at the fort. Eliza Hamilton, widow of Alexander Hamilton, visited her son in 1837. He was a lead miner in nearby Galena, and took her to see the falls of St. Anthony above Fort Snelling. Dred Scott met and married his wife at Fort Snelling during this time. John Jacob Astor owned American Fur Company, which was a huge presence in the area around the fort. William Clark, of Lewis and Clark, was Indian Agent for the territory.

Baby Emily, of course, was unaware of history unfolding around her. Her father, Alexander Miree, was the postmaster at Fort Snelling. Her mother, Samantha (Lockwood) Miree, was the sister of James Henry Lockwood, a prominent leader in the territory. Lockwood owned a store in Prairie du Chien, near Fort Crawford, a few miles down the Mississippi from Fort Snelling. He was a judge, lawyer, merchant, and postmaster in Prairie du Chien. Emily lived with her uncle and his family when she was fifteen while her mother went on a honeymoon trip with her second husband, James Churchman.

Churchman went to Valparaiso, Chile, as an ambassador for President Lincoln, a personal friend. Afterwards, he took his family to California. Samantha and James’s daughter, Nina, was an actress and dancing instructor. She was also one of Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad. Emily married Edward Williams and became my great-great grandmother. I am currently researching and outlining my next book about Emily and her family.


San Francisco Writer’s Conference

Over President’s Day weekend I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference. I love conferences, especially those for writers. I enlarged my circle of writer friends with authors and editors, and I pitched Aloha Spirit to agents. I attended sessions on perfecting a pitch, marketing books, and creating a brand for an author name.

My favorite panel talked about creating a million-copy bestseller and featured author Kerry Lonsdale, her agent Gordon Warnock from Fuse Literary, and Danielle Marshall from Lake Union Publishing. The three of them worked together to make Kerry’s books successful. The possibility of finding such a team for myself is inspiring.

At other conferences I’ve heard about the importance of building a brand. Your name has to stand for something. I write historical fiction, stories based on real women from my family’s past. So here’s my brand: telling the stories of history’s unknown women. Like it? Explore my newly renovated website. It features a picture of my grandmother, featured in Under the Almond Trees, reading under a tree. Leave a comment and tell me what you think!


Join me at LocalLit 2018!


This is a wonderful opportunity to meet 21 local Bay Area authors and get some Christmas shopping done, too! These authors of fiction and nonfiction will share their work, their processes, and their inspirations. Come support our talented neighbors and find out what’s happening in the local literary community!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San Jose, California

Second Floor – Room 225
150 E. San Fernando Street, San Jose, CA 95112

December 16, 2018 from 2:00-5:00 pm

I love meeting people and talking to them about their reading and writing experiences. Events like these are inspiring and will no doubt push me to begin writing novel #6!


Parent Teacher Conferences

conferenceFor 22 years, November has meant report cards and parent conferences. Since this is my last year of teaching sixth grade, I feel a bit nostalgic and want to offer some observations and advice for parents.

  1. Don’t ask for extra credit on the day grades close. Students build a grade over many weeks. It’s not going to be fixed by one more assignment, especially if the parent asks instead of the child. Instead, be proactive throughout the semester and make sure your student does their best and hands in all the work all the time.
  2. Honor the conference time. An appointment with a teacher reserves her time. Be courteous and be on time. Don’t ask to cancel or change the conference time at the last minute (unless it’s an emergency). It’s hard to schedule 31 conferences into a single day (or even two), and it really annoys me when parents don’t show up and don’t call.
  3. Be prepared. In my classroom, parents have access to graded assignments online 24 hours a day. Look over those grades and talk to your child. Ask them first about why that assignment is missing or why this one is a zero.
  4. Include your older student in the conference. I ask my students to attend conferences with their parents. Real education involves the teacher, the parent, and the student working together. If the parent and I together decide on a course of action and the student doesn’t buy in, nothing changes.
  5. Listen actively, even if you’ve heard it before. By the time a student reaches sixth grade, parents have heard it all. I’ve never had a parent say, “What? He’s not turning in work?” or “What? She talks in class?” Parents know. So how do we, a team of parent, teacher, and child, improve the behavior? If something is going to change, someone needs to change. The student already has a new teacher. What are you willing or able to change at home?
  6. Most importantly, believe the teacher has your child’s best interests in mind.  The teacher may not be perfect, but he/she is with your child for the entire school day. They know what students need to succeed in today’s educational environment. I’ve had parents argue with me about the value of homework, about using chromebooks in class, and about formatting essays, among other things. Trust that the teacher wants your child to succeed.

I could probably continue this list, but I’ll stop there. Please enjoy meeting with your child’s teacher this fall as much as I enjoy meeting with you! Happy Conferences!


Hawaiian Superstitions

no-banans-on-board-1024x902-300x264Every culture has superstitious beliefs. As a child, I was encouraged not to step on sidewalk cracks lest I break my mother’s back, to throw spilled salt over my shoulder, and not let black cats cross my path. While researching my book Aloha Spirit, I learned about Hawaiian superstitions because one of my characters is very superstitious. Her precautions against spirits and for luck are a combination of Catholic, Hawaiian, Chinese, and European since that is the culture of Honolulu, where she lives.

Several Hawaiian superstitions revolve around Pele, goddess of volcanoes. Pele often goes about disguised as a beautiful woman, or an older woman with long white hair. You can receive good luck if you greet her with aloha and offer your help. In the past, Pele had a rough relationship breakup with Kamapua’a, a demigod who is half man and half pig. To this day, Pele becomes angry if you take pork across the Pali Highway. Your journey will be interrupted by a woman with a dog. You must feed the pork to the dog in order to continue unless, of course, you happen to have a ti leaf to protect you. Pele’s Curse prohibits anyone from removing rocks, sand, or lava chunks from Hawaii. If you do, you will have bad luck. This superstition is a modern legend rather than an ancient one, but shows the powerful hold Pele still has on her island.

Another group of Hawaiian superstitions center on the night marchers, the huakai po. These spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors travel from the mountain to the ocean each night, accompanied by drums and marching. If you are outside at night, don’t whistle because this will summon the marchers. If you do hear them, go inside and lie on your stomach in order to avoid eye contact. Ti leaves once again are protection. Plant them around  your house to deter night marchers. Finally, don’t sleep with your feet toward the door or the night marchers can drag you out.

Like these legends? I don’t have enough room here for more! Check out the menehune, the Green Lady of Wahiawa, the red lehua blossom, and the naupaka flower.

Like the examples I gave above from my own past, some Hawaiian superstitions may seem silly. Here is a list of my favorites:

To prevent bad luck:

  • Don’t leave chopsticks standing straight up in a bowl of rice.
  • Don’t bring bananas on a boat.
  • Don’t cut  your nails at night.
  • Don’t wear shoes in the house.
  • Don’t wear a lei if you’re pregnant.

Dealing with death:

  • If something in your home falls suddenly, someone just died.
  • Signing someone’s name in red ink means you want that person dead.
  • Stepping over a sleeping person means you want them dead.
  • If you point at a graveyard, the spirits will latch on and not let go. If you drive by with open car windows, the spirit of a child will come along for the ride.
  • Don’t kill a large black moth because it’s a recently deceased loved one visiting. Same reason if you smell unusually fragrant flowers.

Many of these superstitions will be included in Aloha Spirit. What superstitions do you know of or believe in?







Professional Development

Small-Final-CoverOver my lifetime so far, I’ve had careers in retail management, human resources, teaching, and now writing. I’ve attended, and presented at, many conferences and staff development seminars. I always come away from these experiences energized and motivated, ready to take on the world and succeed!

Recently, I took an online Continuing Studies class at Stanford University called “Publishing Options in Today’s Book Publishing Industry: What’s Right for You?” The required text was Jane Friedman’s book pictured here, and the instructor was Martha Conway. Prior to this course, all my development courses in writing focused on dialogue or character development or story arc–all about craft rather than the business. This class assumed students had a finished manuscript and were ready to explore publishing. I’ve already self-published four books, and I’m ready to explore other avenues for my next book. This class was perfect for that. (Thanks, Martha!)

Supported by Friedman’s book, we talked about self-publishing, traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, and crowd-funded publishing–which was new to me. We worked on pitches, book descriptions, synopsis, query letters, and building an author platform. Friedman’s book went on to discuss book launches and actually making money as a writer.

As usual, I finished the class excited and ready to work. I now have a plan to make my writing more successful as a business as well as a direction for my new book, Aloha Spirit. Prepare to see me more often on my author Facebook page, on Twitter, on Goodreads and the ALLI forum, and even on my baby new Instagram account. I even embarked on a monthly newsletter. Do you want to hear the news first about Aloha Spirit and my other books? Read excerpts before everyone else? Join my mailing list! Do it today, and I’ll send you August’s newsletter!

So all this week I’ll work on polishing Aloha Spirit, outlining book #6 (I’m going to have to start calling it something…), blog posts (check), and social media posting. On Monday, I return to school for my last year of teaching before retirement. On Monday, it’s all day professional development for teachers. Somehow, I know I won’t be as motivated by that day as I was by my writing class. Onward!

About Writing

Learning Family Stories

2 MarionsEveryone has stories. As I get older, the stories of my youth become more and more interesting to my sons. They can’t imagine a world without electronics, without cell phones, without CD players. To me, it’s daily life. To them, it’s a family story. The challenge for me is to tell them every wonderful (to them) detail while I still can and they are interested.

My grandmother told me stories as I grew up, so I am blessed with a treasure trove of information about my female ancestors. Three of these women are featured in my novel Under the Almond Trees. Other stories are already being outlined for future novels! My current novel is Aloha Spirit, which is inspired by my husband’s grandmother. In the photograph at the top of this article are Ellen VanValkenburg (fromUnder the Almond Trees), her daughter Marion, and her great-granddaughter, also Marion. Thank goodness Ellen passed on her family stories to her granddaughter Eva, so Eva could pass them on to me.

One of the best things I did for my sons involved a Boy Scout merit badge. Working on the Genealogy badge, they had to interview an older family member. I took them to talk to their great-grandfather, who grew up in Honolulu. He told them about working as a civilian ship fitter during the Pearl Harbor attack. He was on a ship in the harbor, trying to hide from the attacking planes while ripping scaffolding off the ship they were working on so they could try to get it out of the harbor. He also talked about trying to save the men trapped in the Oklahoma. I scribbled notes furiously as my boys listened. I knew he’d lived in Honolulu in 1941, but had never asked about his experience. Thanks to a Boy Scout merit badge, this incredible story has been preserved, and is included in my as-yet-unpublished novel Aloha Spirit.

So whether or not you plan to use your family stories for a novel, talk to your oldest family members. Ask about their lives. I guarantee you will be surprised and pleased by what you find out!


About Writing

Fort Snelling

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 12.25.02 PMFort Snelling is in Minnesota, but I am researching a time when it was part of the Michigan Territory, just after the Black Hawk War ended in 1832. My interest was piqued by an ancestor of mine who was born at the fort in 1836. Her father was the acting sutler at the fort. Her mother, Samantha Lockwood, was the sister of James Henry Lockwood, a prominent citizen in nearby Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. During the middle 1830’s, Zachary Taylor, future president, was a colonel in the regiment at the fort. Jefferson Davis, future Confederate president, served under him. Taylor’s daughter, Sarah, was the maid of honor at Samantha Lockwood’s marriage. Then Sarah fell in love with Jefferson Davis. Her parents disapproved, so they eloped. Sarah died of malaria three months after her marriage. After Samantha’s daughter was born in 1836, her husband disappeared and she married James Churchman, a circuit lawyer who was friends with Abraham Lincoln. Churchman and Lincoln were both on the circuit at this time in this area.

Talk about a time and space rich with stories! I am in the process of detailed research of the fort and its inhabitants for my next novel. Stay tuned for bits of intrigue, famous names, and lots of drama!


Winner Novel Madness 2018!

51dguf1EZ+L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_And the winner is…House of Hades by Rick Riordan! Some students voted for it because Hunger Games, its opponent, had won before and they wanted to see a book win for the first time. In order to showcase the diversity of reading interests for my sixth graders over the years, here is the list of winners for every year I’ve held the contest to choose their favorite novel.



2012: The 39 Clues by Rick Riordan

2013: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

2014: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

2015: Holes by Louis Sachar

2016: The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien

2017: Pie by Sarah Weeks