Tag Archives: The Last of the Blacksmiths

Delighted

Spread the word! I’m delighted to announce that for the entire month of February the ebook of my historical novel The Last of the Blacksmiths is just $.99. Purchase through Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, or Amazon.

Coffeetown Press is also featuring an interview with me on their website here.
meet the author

It’s also a pleasure to note that I continue to receive invitations to speak about writing, German genealogy, and more. For a list of my talk topics, click here. These presentations are a time for me to share the wealth of tips and info I picked up while writing my novel, and I love hearing your stories as well.

All the best in your writing and family history adventures.

The Five Points slum

When I first learned my German immigrant ancestor Michael Harm arrived in New York on June 30, 1857, I thought I’d have trouble digging up some newsworthy event to write about. Au contraire. Or rather, ganz im Gegenteil!

five pointsIn the 19th century, New York City had a seriously grungy neighborhood, a notorious slum called the “Five Points.” Conditions in the Five Points –so named because five streets met at one intersection–were so overcrowded it became an “international attraction, drawing such notables as  Charles Dickens, a Russian grand duke, Davy Crockett, and Abraham Lincoln. … In its heyday, Five Points was very likely the most thoroughly studied neighborhood in the world. Journalists chronicled its rampant crime, squalid tenements, and raucous politics.” –Tyler Anbinder, Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World’s Most Notorious Slum, New York: The Free Press, 2001.

The opening scene of my novel The Last of the Blacksmiths is set in Manhattan during the weekend of the Five Points Gang and Police Riots of 1857, because, as fate would have it, my great-great-grandfather Michael Harm actually did arrive in New York City that July 4th weekend, just in time to witness those frightening, deadly events.

“Oh, you mean like that movie, ‘Gangs of New York’?” People ask me at book talks.

nyc five points mid-19th centuryWell, yes and no. The Five Points was the scene of 1857 gang and police riots, and also of 1863 Civil War draft riots. From what I can tell, the ‘Gangs of New York’ movie is a make-believe, mixed up jumble of those two historic events.

I won’t go into all the facts, as we know them, since others have already done so, at web sites like Urbanography, and the History Box. Here’s a succinct summation of that time from Gregory Christiano.

The year 1857 in New York City was a memorable one, or rather, a harrowing one.  It was a terrible time for the City and the nation.  A year best forgotten because of its painful consequences.  Not only were the two police forces battling each other, gang warfare broke out in July. Police battled police, police battled gangs, gangs battled gangs, and gangs attacked pedestrians, shopkeepers and residents. It was an incredible scene of mayhem and unrest.

Tis the season

Tis the season, right? The season of shorter days, candlelight, “peace on earth” ringing out in choral harmonies.

Lois Brandt launches her book "Maddie's Fridge" at Bellevue Bookstore in September.

Lois Brandt launches her book “Maddie’s Fridge” at Bellevue Bookstore in September.

And, tis the season of holiday shopping madness. This year, I’m jumping in with both feet to support local independent book stores. On Saturday, November 29, it’s my privilege to join authors Janet Lee Carey, Robert Dugoni, Dana Sullivan, Samantha Vamos, Dan Richards, Kazu Kibuishi Justina Chen, Christina Dudley, and William Dietrich at Bellevue University Book Store, 990 102nd Ave NE, Bellevue, WA 98004. Local authors and illustrators will be at the book store at various times all day, from 10 a.m to 5 p.m., for Indies First Small Business Saturday. We each pull an hour shift. I’ll be there from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

I’m a loyal shopper at Bellevue University Book Store — I love their great selection of books, and also their art products and unique, clever toys and gifts. Come by and see us — we’ll be there ready to assist, to answer what questions you might have about books, offering ideas for excellent reads and gifts.

Wherever your shopping list takes you this season, please remember your independent book stores. These days, in addition to books, most have expanded their inventories to include all manner of cool sundries. Below are a few of my favorite local book stores:

In Washington —
Island Books on Mercer Island
Village Books in Bellingham
Edmonds Book Shop in Edmonds
Third Place Books in two Seattle locations — Lake Forest Park and Ravenna
A Book For All Seasons in Leavenworth
and of course, the University of Washington Book Stores, found in many locations, including Bellevue, Mill Creek, and Tacoma,

Loved my visit to Loganberry Books in Cleveland last spring

Loved my visit to Loganberry Books in Cleveland last spring

For my followers in Ohio, here are just a few inspiring, terrific stores —
Loganberry Books in the Larchmere neighborhood of Cleveland
Mac’s Backs–Books on Coventry, Cleveland
Fireside Book Shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio
The Book Loft of German Village, Columbus, Ohio

Mysterious forces at work

imageMany wonderful things occurred during my recent visit to Germany. For instance, this interview published in Die Rheinpfalz newspaper.

Look, Mom, I speak perfect German! (not) The interviewer spoke English, naturally. She recorded our talk, then translated it into German.

The photo she used was taken in the market square in the heart of the old town of Freinsheim. We sat on a bench just to the right for the interview.

Freinsheim town market place

2014-10-06 06.59.40 (1)

Still in Freinsheim a week later, I gave a book presentation on The Last of the Blacksmiths at the Altes Spital Cultural Center in Freinsheim to a full house — about 60 people (probably half of whom were relatives). My cousin Matthias Weber, sitting beside me here, had translated my talk into German in advance, which I read to the best of my ability. Afterward, I heard several times that my American accent was “charming.”

A special celebrity appeared that evening — Michael Harm — a man who lives in Freinsheim today, with the same name as the protagonist in my novel. This Michael Harm has curly brown hair, just like Michael Harm in the book. As we talked, Michael confided to me that he is named after Johann Michael Harm, the first Harm ever to come to Freinsheim. Which means he and I are related — albeit some eight generations back.

Michael HarmOf course I gave him a copy of my book and couldn’t resist asking if I might take his photo, to which he readily agreed. And look how it came out …

Isn’t that weird? My camera was working perfectly the entire trip, except for this one instance.

At first glance, it’s disappointing. But just maybe, mysterious forces were at work. This way, Michael Harm can still live in each of our imaginations, just as we like to picture him.

Rauch & Lang electric cars

At my launch event for The Last of the Blacksmiths, during the question and answer period my friend Larry raised his hand.

“Was Rauch a real person in history?” he asked.

Yes! Charles Rauch was a real person, a contemporary of Michael Harm in Cleveland in the 19th century who built fine carriages, ice wagons and buggies. Of course, my book being historical fiction, I surmised his personality, likes and dislikes, but the real historic Charles Rauch, son of Jacob, did gravitate toward factory-style manufacture of carriage-making. The Rauch & Lang factory took up several blocks on Pearl Road on Cleveland’s west side. At the start of the 20th century, he stayed on the cutting edge of vehicle manufacture with the production of a state-of-the-art electric automobile. Like the fine carriages, the Rauch & Lang electric cars were popular with Cleveland’s wealthier, Millionaire’s Row set.

Rauch & Lang electric carAt a recent visit to the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Crawford Auto Aviation Collection, I was delighted to find this example, circa 1916, of a Rauch & Lang electric car.

It’s a privilege

The Carriage Association of America is a terrific organization that puts out glossy, full-color publications, e-newsletters and more, keeping its membership informed and inspired by carriage history and restoration. It’s a privilege to be included in the March 2014 issue of The Carriage Journal alongside Dr. Thomas Kinney, author of The Carriage Trade. I’m doubly pleased to announce both books are carried in the CAA store along with a lot of other terrific, unique offerings. Purchases from their gift shop benefit this worthy organization. Special thanks to Jennifer Singleton for this great review.LOB Carriage Journal Review

Gallery

What a party!

This gallery contains 28 photos.

Now that I realize how fun a book launch party can be, I’ll be writing an entire shelf of novels. Thanks to all of my dear family, friends, colleagues, supporters, volunteers, and readers who turned out for this wonderful celebration.

The trailer

My nephew Nicholas Gebben put together an awesome book trailer for me. I hope you like it:

The Last of the Blacksmiths trailer

It’s here!

My novel The Last of the Blacksmiths has made it into the world, available at bookstores and online, in print and e-book. Right now there’s also a book give-away going on at Booktrib.com, plus recipes for Pfalz good eating. Check it out!

Thanks to everyone who has encouraged and cheered me on this past four years. This feels wonderful.

Novel-writing grit

The Last of the Blacksmiths (Coffeetown Press, 2014)My book is out in stores and online. Reviews are starting to come in on GoodReads, at Morganti Writes and on Amazon.

My friend Jo said the nicest things on Facebook: “If you aren’t reading The Last of the Blacksmiths by new author, Claire Gebben, please put it on your must-read list. First of all, she takes care of the reader, offering that seated-by-the-fire-in-a-favorite-tattered-sweater kind of comfort. Second, the story is so beautifully crafted and descriptive, it reminds me of the days when families eagerly gathered in the living room around the radio on Sunday night, waiting for the next installment of a beloved program. Simply put, this is storytelling at its best. Bravo, Claire!”

Thanks, Jo! And Charlotte, and Kim! Last week, I wrote an article called Blacksmith Basics for the Sharing Stories segment of Northwest Prime Time. Writing the article, I recalled those demanding days of blacksmithing, the hammering and red-hot glowing metal, the grit and sore muscles. It occurred to me how the path to publication, the patience and endurance and faith required, is not such a far cry from the sweat and grit and discipline required to craft a useful, beautiful object out of metal.

When I think about it, that’s no doubt the case for all creative endeavors–if it’s not a challenge, it probably isn’t worth doing. And oh how grand it is to finally hold the book in my hands.