Mae Clair: Old Cemeteries & Princess White Feather

I picked up several habits from my parents, including my love of reading and writing, and a rather strange one from my father. He liked to explore old cemeteries and make etchings of tombstones. I thought that was an odd habit to have, but as early as my tween years, I was poking around the local cemetery in the town where I grew up.

My father had traveled all over the country when he was younger, leading a nomadic existence even before joining the army at the start of WWII. Family genealogy says he hoboed around on trains, went to art college, and taught at an Army War Barracks. I know the last two are true, I’m not so sure about the first. My father’s life, prior to meeting my mother, is a bit of a mystery — one he never made any great effort to clarify. Although he died when I was a child, I inherited his love of words, history, and that strange passion for old cemeteries and churches.

As a kid, I remember an old white church on a hill with a cemetery dating back to the 1700s. It was sheltered by trees and wrapped in a hush that felt positively ancient. A friend and I used to ride our bikes there to look at tombstones. Many had birthdates that pre-dated the American Revolutionary War, including that of Thomas Lingle, born in 1742. Lingle was a private with the Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Revolution, and eventually founded the town of St. Thomas.

Yet the gravestone that stayed in the forefront of my memory throughout the years belonged to an Indian Princess named White Feather. It was a small, wind-pitted stone, tucked at the back of the cemetery beneath a row of trees. As an adult I searched for it again, many years ago. It was still where I remembered, but the inscription had faded with time, barely legible.

I did a little research on Princess White Feather and learned she was a Sioux, only a baby when her People were killed in an army massacre. Her uncle was Chief Iron Tail whose likeness appeared on the U.S. nickel, her second cousin Sitting Bull. She had other names later in life — Mary Greene, Mary Redd, Mary Taylor – but to me she’ll always be Princess White Feather. According to one obituary, more than 500 people, including many Native Americans, attended her funeral services.

I was spinning stories long before I stumbled over her tombstone with my friend, but I will never forget the feeling I had standing in that cemetery as a child, looking down at her grave. It made me wonder who she was, what her life had been like, and how she’d come to be buried there. It was the first time I felt a strong affinity for the past and, although my friend and I rode our bikes home without knowing the answers, I was already writing versions in my head.

Just for the record, I still like to scope out old cemeteries. Although some may view it a morbid hobby, it makes me value the lives of those who came before me, including the obstacles they faced and the wisdom they shared.

What about you? Would you poke around an old cemetery or does the idea of reading tombstones make you uneasy?

For more on Princess White Feather, you can find two obituaries celebrating her remarkable life here.

Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Ship Spirits

In the days of yore when master craftsmen turned their hands to the construction of ships, they not only built vessels that effortlessly rode an undulating sea, but imbued their creation with a life of its own. At one time, sailing ships were the most complicated crafts to grace the ocean. Constructed from natural elements like wood and canvas, these sleek creations were as untamed as the raw components used to give them life.

Legend tells us that when a sailing ship caught the wind for the first time, her spirit was released. Depending on mood, she might be frivolous, sulky, fearless or mercurial. Her temperament was often influenced by the disposition of her creator.

From the first primitive rafts made of wood, to the mighty clipper ships of the 19th century and the steel giants of today, every craft is imbued with a life essence. Some are angry by nature, others protective and serene.  There are masculine spirits, fierce phantoms that inhabit behemoth destroyers. Others are immature and child-like, enjoying the frivolity inherent in something as tiny as a skiff or as carefree as a windjammer.

The romantic in me has always imagined the winsome spirit of a ship as a lovely, ethereal woman who falls in love with the captain. One is human, one is not. Star-crossed lovers. That’s so my kind of tale.

Of course I’ve played around with it. so for today’s Mythical Monday, I offer a snippet from yet another WIP involving the spirit of a sailing ship and her captain. They’ve been together before, made love, then separated. During a savage nor’easter, my captain, Nathaniel Clay, is tossed overboard and blacks out. When he regains consciousness, he’s on land, storm and sea a distant memory as if he’d dreamed both.


Nathaniel watched the lazy glint of sunlight reflect off the bay, the surrounding shoreline a blend of marsh and sand. Sea oats, pondweed and slivers of eelgrass bent gracefully in a light easterly breeze. The air smelled of marsh and brine, nutrient rich with loam and sand. It wasn’t unpleasant as much as pungent, a reminder of the vast sea he loved dearly. The breeze on his face was warm, scented with the tang of saltwater.

I’m dreaming, I must be.

But it was a pleasant dream, full of sunlight and water.

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

He turned at the sound of the woman’s voice. She looked exactly as he remembered, that excessively pale hair almost silver-white, her eyes the electric blue of sun-kissed water. He held out his hand, uncaring how she came to be there, only that she was.  Her fingers twined with his, and she stepped nearer, close enough that he could smell the exotic mix of sea and wind in her hair.

He knew her as the spirit of his clipper, Maiden of the Dawn. 

“Why did you leave?”

“I couldn’t stay.” She slid her hands onto his shoulders, one finger lightly skimming the edge of his collar. “I want to help you, Nathaniel, but I’m limited in what I can do. The sea has laid claim to you.”

He shook his head, not sure he followed. “Am I dreaming?”

“Of a sort.”  She smiled, sapphire and moonstone dancing in her eyes. “But it’s a pleasant dream, is it not?”

He gripped her waist. “Aye.” He’d forgotten how slender she was, how perfectly her body fit when melded to his. She leaned into him, and he ducked his head, pressing his mouth to hers. She tasted of sunlight, cool ocean and wind-streaked skies, impossible things that made his head spin. He fisted a hand in her hair, holding her in place, deepening the kiss until he left them both breathless. When he drew back, he saw her eyes had changed again, smoky and dark like the North Sea at dawn.Trembling, she rested her head on his shoulder.

“Do you think it’s possible to love someone so strongly in such a short time?” she whispered.

He kissed her brow. “Anything is possible.”

She was wearing some kind of slinky sundress held together by two delicate straps and a few buttons. He could have it puddled at her feet in seconds. He wanted to feel her beneath him, her passion twining with his to join bodies and hearts together. He traced his fingertips over her lips, watching the bow of her mouth quiver beneath his touch.  His smile was fast and blinding.“You’ve bewitched me.”

Her eyes dipped, her mood abruptly solemn. “That’s not permitted.” She shook her head, and her hair tumbled over her shoulders, veiling her face. “I’m not real, Nathaniel. I’m a spirit.”

“Don’t talk like that.” But even as he made the protest, something inexplicable twinged deep in his gut. He could touch her, hold her in his arms and kiss her. He’d made love to her, emptied himself inside of her, then held her as they’d slept nestled together.

And he’d fallen in love with her.

He took her hand and led closer to the water where the bay was hemmed by beds of sun-warmed grass and soft sand. The breeze frolicked around them, bending spindly stalks of sea oats to the shoreline and kindling threads of white on the water.  Nathaniel drew her down on the grass and wrapped her in his arms.

It wasn’t real, it was a dream. But he no longer cared who or what she was, only that they were together.

She gazed up at him, her arms wrapped around his neck, her hair a wild white veil on the bottle-green grass. “Do you know who I am, Nathaniel?”

He kissed her cheek, her brow. “The woman I’ve fallen in love with.” Raised above her, he bent and brushed his lips against hers. It took only a second for her to respond, a second more for her to grow yielding and eager in his arms.

Somewhere overhead he heard the piercing cry of a gull. And then he heard nothing . . . only the beat of his heart joined with hers in perfect harmony.

The way it had always been.


Okay, so if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a romantic sap. And I’m of the opinion sailing vessels and romance belong together. What better combination than a sexy captain and a supernatural spirit of uncommon grace?

I spent a good twenty years of my life on boats, from creeks and rivers to bays and a bit on the ocean. I composed numerous stories watching the setting sun bleed over marshland and coves, or turn a river to lavender milk. My husband and I no longer have a boat, but I have many memories and amazing tales of the years we let the spirits of those small crafts lead us into adventure. Trust me, there were plenty.

Wishing you a happy – and spirited – Mythical Monday. 🙂

Mae Clair: A Lifetime’s Journey

I recently discovered Google Alerts. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s a pretty cool system that allows you to type in a string or reference phrase. Any time those words appear in web content you receive an email alert. Because I’m anxious to learn when WEATHERING ROCK is going to appear on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and a few other sites, I set up alerts for the book title plus Mae Clair.

Yesterday I received a death notice for Ola Mae Clair. At first I had that sad creepy sensation that always overcomes me when I learn of someone’s passing. Then I started thinking about Ola’s life. She was 93 when she died. Can you imagine the sweeping changes she saw in her lifetime?

In 1919 when Ola was born, Woodrow Wilson was president, prohibition was one year away and the jazz age was just beginning. Ten years later, the Great Depression turned life on end and sent the country into a plummeting downward spiral.  By 1941, she would have had to face the horror of Pearl Harbor and the long dark hours of WWII.

By 1950, life had settled into recovery and production. In 1968, the Summer of Love, a 49 year old Ola might have looked askance at the events taking place in Haight Ashbury, California, and been grieved by the turmoil of the Civil Rights movement; the tragedy of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination.

She would have seen the introduction of the floppy disk in the 1970s, the premiere of M*A*S*H, Patty Hearst’s kidnapping , disco, pet rocks and platform shoes. By 1989, a 70 year old Ola would have witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the passing of Lucille Ball, the birth of moonwalking and parachute pants—a far cry from the homespun clothing of 1919.

The 1990s brought the horrific standoff in Waco, Texas, the birth of the World Wide Web going public, Oprah Winfrey’s book club and Tickle-Me-Elmo dolls. In 1999 we hit the staggering turn of a century. Remember Y2K? My husband and I started a new tradition—lobster tail for New Year’s Eve dinner. It’s something we’ve kept up every year since.  I wonder what Ola did. She would have been 80 years old.

The last decade brought the tragedy of 9/11, ipods, Geocaching and speed dating. I wonder what Ola would have thought of the latter. All in all, I like to think she had an amazing life and a happy one. Certainly it was a long one. It makes me realize I have so much learning and growing yet to do…including this new venture of writing!

Be at peace, Ola. You have a new journey ahead of you and I’m sure you won’t walk it alone.

Mae Clair: Writing and Recipes

Welcome to Thursday (hey—wow–that could be a weekly thing, LOL!). I wrote this post for my book publisher’s blog several months ago and thought I’d splatter it over here for those of you who may have missed its riveting debut.

In case you’re wondering how writing and recipes are related, allow me to connect the dots. I have a passion for writing, something I’ve loved since childhood. I write constantly. If I go longer than a week without keying some form of creative idea, characterization or story line into my computer, I suffer withdrawal.  It isn’t pretty. I’m addicted.

I can’t say the same about cooking.  Recipes are the bane of my existence. *shudder*

Somewhere along the line, the food gene completely passed me by. My husband says it’s because I have no passion for cooking (probably because I believe kitchens should be decorative, not functional).  I guess I spent too much time making Creepy Crawlers as a kid instead of learning how to use an Easy Bake Oven.

I don’t lie awake at night mourning my lack of culinary skills, but it does create a problem when I’m invited to party and feel the need to show up with something edible.  Family and friends know my expertise doesn’t go beyond tossing a salad or purchasing some gooey concoction from a bakery and plopping it onto a plate.  My co-workers ultimately realized this when they asked me to participate in a luncheon that included a recipe exchange. While others contributed Apple Almond Squares, Stuffed Pepper Soup, Feta Bruschetta, and Curry Coconut Chicken, I arrived with Tortellini Salad and copies of the following recipe:

Mae Clair’s Tortellini Salad

  1. Mix a healthy dose of delusions with 1 cup of vigorous pep-talk.
  2. Remind yourself you’ve created complex characters and plots. How difficult can an oven/stove thingie be?
  3. Ignore husband who begins reminiscing about the “infamous cake fiasco” that resulted in one overly large, hockey puck-like biscotti. Apparently there’s a legitimate reason a box cake mix calls for water. Who knew?
  4. Settle for making a simple appetizer and breathe a sigh of relief.
  5. Ignore husband when he snickers and suggests the last appetizer you made should have been killed before it multiplied. Glare when he says you have yet to outgrow the adult supervision stage.
  6. Blow dust off cookbooks and search for appetizer recipe.
  7. Ignore husband (who looking over your shoulder) realizes that – – God-be-praised! – – there really is variety in the culinary world and – – *gasp!* – – even something called red meat! Ssssh!  Who knew?
  8. Decide you’d rather spend your time writing than crushing tortilla chips and slicing up fat black olives. Celebrate with a glass of wine.
  9. The day of luncheon, head for your nearest gourmet deli and clean them out of tortellini salad. Panic when they state you should have called ahead before placing a large order.  Plan?  Um . . . what exactly is that?
  10. Ooze charm or desperation, whichever works best.  Leave with tortellini salad, mentally high-fiving yourself for being clever.
  11. Finally, for the highly skilled (I wouldn’t suggest something this complicated on the first try): place said tortellini salad in a festive bowl and pass off as your own. Blank expressions and stammering rarely work when someone asks for the recipe. The best you can hope for is a diversion. Fainting does the trick.

Well, there you have it – – my famous (or is it infamous?) recipe for tortellini salad. My
co-workers enjoyed it though, strangely, I am no longer asked to participate in recipe exchanges.  Hmmm . . .

Will I ever develop the same passion for cooking that I have for writing?  Probably not. Maybe I can’t whip up a meal that will leave you walking away from the table clamoring to tell all of your friends about it, but, hopefully, the ingredients I’ve sprinkled throughout my upcoming release from Lyrical press will do just that.

I hope you’ll join me October 8th for the release of WEATHERING ROCK, a time-travel / paranormal romance. I promise a smattering of Civil War history, werewolves, hot romance, a friendship turned to rivalry, and several complex character relationships.

Oh, and just for the record, I’ll take a Creepy Crawler over a baking sheet any day! 😀

Mae Clair: When the Sky Had a Tail

Last week I read a great blog post by Stephanie Ingram called Aliens Have Landed.  She relayed how as children, she and her brother searched for aliens in the fields behind her house. Imaginative fun!

Stephanie pointed out that much of what we experience as kids makes its way into our writing as adults. Some of it is conscious, some not so conscious. I love the frivolity of childhood and the stories I used to invent with friends. I was always dreaming up something, or imagining a secretive place tucked under the horizon of a far-off land.

If you scroll down the sidebar of my blog you’ll see “12 Weird Facts About Me.”  Note number three. Minus any eye-rolling, please! 😉  The story is this:

It’s a warm summer night, almost dark, and I’m sitting on the front porch with my father. He didn’t realize The Spooky House was two doors down, (for some unfathomable reason he thought it was a simple office building), but I was conscious of it even then. He and I often sat together at dusk, especially if there was a thunderstorm brewing.

He must have worked a long shift, because he drifted off to sleep. Shortly afterward, a large green object trolled across the sky. I remember it as a semi-cloud, the color of algae-enriched seawater. Light spilled from the bottom, drenching the street, front lawn, and half of the porch in an eerie green glow. The light swept over me but didn’t touch my father who remained seated in the shadows.

I don’t know why I didn’t wake him. When you’re a kid you accept the unusual. The ‘cloud’ moved past, and soon people were walking up the street, jabbering excitedly. My dad woke up and I followed him down to the sidewalk where a woman stopped to chat. She’d come from the below The Spooky House, and told my father “the sky looked like it had a tail.” I remember those words clearly.

Had I seen a UFO?

Maybe not of the alien variety but, even now, with the hindsight of an adult, I can’t say what it was.

Hot air balloon?  Weather anomaly?

Given the woman confirmed something strange had happened that night, it will live forever as a goose-bump ‘what-if’ memory in my mind. At some point in the future that strange dirigible will most certainly worm its way into a story.

Are there childhood events, mysterious or common, you see yourself using in fiction?  Maybe you already have. Do tell! Inquiring minds (er…that would be me), want to know! 😉

The Spooky House

There’s one in every neighborhood. When I was six, the spooky house was two doors down from my home on an urban tree-lined street. A brooding three-story structure of gray stone with a sprawling covered front porch, white columns, and side bump-outs, it oozed mystery. The adults might have been clueless, but the neighborhood kids knew it was haunted.

No one actually lived there. It had been converted for business offices with a huge parking lot in the rear that butted against an alley. The lot was sectioned off with lengths of heavy chain strung between squat cement posts. We’d see people come and go, swallowed up inside, but there were never many cars in the lot and that made us suspicious.

My friends and I were convinced a coven of witches met there, and that if you ventured too close to the sides where the shadows were thickest, you’d get sucked up into a coffin tucked under the eaves. No one would ever know since an evil twin, capable of fooling everyone, would take your place.

The house also had a ghost who lived on the second floor. We knew this because the south facing room had a trio of beautiful stained glass windows and that was the perfect place for a ghost to languish.  Our phantom was female. She was a melancholy soul who’d been separated from her true love and imprisoned by the witches because they were jealous. She spent her time listening to an old-fashioned music box, weeping for her lost love, and looking romantically tragic in a flowing white dress. It’s amazing what six-year-olds can envision when inspired by Dark Shadows and Quentin Collins.

Once when we were swinging on the metal chains in the parking lot (kids do dumb things when adults aren’t around), one of the neighborhood boys fell and cracked his head on the asphalt. It was a traumatic experience with a lot of screaming, crying and blood splatter. I remember following the trail of blood down the alley and across a connecting street to his house a day later. The evidence stayed there a long time before the rain washed away the grisly reminder.  Although Chester recovered, we were sure the witches had caused his fall, angry that we’d discovered their secrets. I don’t think he ever swung on the chains again. I’m not sure I did either.

Not long after that, my family moved to the suburbs where I made new friends and found a new house to invent stories about. Why is it that old homes twine so ideally with the paranormal?  Perhaps writing about WEATHERING ROCK, a nineteenth century home in my novel of the same name, has me thinking about those fanciful haunts from of my childhood.

What about you?  Was there a spooky house in your neighborhood that still resonates in your memory? I’d love to hear about it!

Who is John Lehman?

I wish I knew. I think about him sometimes and wonder what he was like.  I know he lived in 1823 but I have no idea how old he was that year.  How do I know John?  He left a message for me, which I discovered 188 years later.

If you didn’t know, my day job is real estate marketing. That means I get to visit a variety of homes. Over the years, I’ve toured an equine surgery center, several B&B’s, multiple million dollar+ homes and a string of historic properties among others.  Old homes are my favorite.  They resonate with the echoes of yesteryear and the lifeblood of faded memories. “Weathering Rock,” the title of my time-travel/paranormal romance coming in October, refers to a fictitious home built in 1832 that is central to the story.

But let me jump back to John Lehman. Last year, I had the pleasure of visiting a property built in 1783. Think about that. It was the year the American Revolution ended. Am I the only one who finds that mind-boggling? To think of the people who walked through the halls of that home…the joys and concerns they must have had as our newly forged nation took its first tenative steps.

I fell in love with the property. Chestnut plank floors, massive moldings, a center hall with turned staircase, multiple fireplaces and four bedrooms each with its own “keeping cupboard.” That was where Mr. Lehman left his mark–in the rear bedroom on the inside of a cupboard door. He burned his name into the wood, along with the date “John Lehman, 1823.” Surely, he couldn’t have known I’d stumble upon it 188 years later, but it gave me chills.

Was he a young man, just starting out with a wife and family, anxious to embrace life in a nation that had proved iself 40 years after winning a revolution?  Or was he older, reaching the sunset of his life, wanting to leave his mark before he passed from this world?

He made sure he did. I think about him. And I’m sure every homeowner who has ever lived in that historic 18th century property has thought about him too. It was his home and he made sure we knew it. Some of that property went into Weathering Rock when I created it, along with bits and pieces of most of the historical estates I’ve toured. They all left a mark on me in one way or another, each teeming with the phantoms of forgotten years.

Do old homes inspire you?  Are there any you’ve toured, lived in, or visited that stand out in your mind?  I’d love to know about them! Aside from a professional interest, I have a passion for old properties.