March 16th, 2011

Chesapeake City: A Sense of Place

CHE HistoricWhy do some towns have a strong sense of place?  Chesapeake City is just such a town – a quaint, beautiful water community with so much personality that it beckons locals and tourists alike. Much of Chesapeake City’s charm comes from its intriguing history, with origins dating back to the late 1600s when it was a trading place on Back Creek and known as Bohemia Village. Then a major development came:  the canal opened in 1829 to connect the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware Bay with Chesapeake City as the ‘lock’ entry on the western end.

Not surprisingly, the canal brought significant growth and the town thrived. Chesapeake City was a service center for the surrounding area and the canal enabled distant connections for outgoing products and incoming goods. Yet the years brought even more changes, and some of them negative: the locks were taken out in the early 1900s. A tragic bridge accident in 1942 drastically altered the town. Then the overhead bridge opened in 1949, diverting automobile traffic away from the commerce. The town suffered and by the 1970s fell into despair – economically and physically. The town was losing its sense of place. It was becoming a place that people wanted to be away from.

Yet thanks to the bold vision of a few friends and town residents, Chesapeake City’s sense of place was rediscovered through a major restoration campaign. One of the early, and most significant, steps was an inventory completed by the National Register of Historic Places. Today there are over forty houses, buildings and churches that are included in the historic district of South Chesapeake City, preserving the town’s historic charm.

Learn more about Chesapeake City’s wonderful history on March 28th at 6:30pm at the Bohemia Manor Middle School Auditorium.  Local scholar Robert Hazel will speak and present photos.  This presentation is open to the public and you can register by calling 410-996-1134.

Additionally, many local residents have lovingly documented Chesapeake City’s history and Cecil County Public Library has copies of the following resources:

Books about Chesapeake City and Vicinity
– At the Head of the Bay: A Cultural and Architectural History of Cecil County, Maryland
by Pamela James Blumgart
– Cecil County – A Personal Portrait
by Steve Gottlieb
– Cecil County, Maryland: A Study in Local History
by Alice Miller
– Cecil County
by Milt Diggins – “Photographic images that have survived over the years provide anchors to the county’s past.”
– Chesapeake City: The Canal Town through the Years
by Karen T. Morgan and J. Kevin Titter
– The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal: Chronicles of Early Life in Towns along the Historic Waterway
by Robert Hazel
– The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal: Gateway to Paradise
by Edward J. Ludwig
– The National Waterway: A History of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, 1769-1985
by Ralph D. Gray
– Riding the Ferry and Other Adventures: Chesapeake City, Maryland, 1942-1949, A Collection of Memories
by Robert Hazel
– You can also visit Lee Collins’ website for more info about the history of Chesapeake City.

We hope to see you at this wonderful program.  What are your favorite memories of Chesapeake City?

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March 9th, 2011

First Lines: How to get started writing your story (and publishing your work)


In this upcoming talk on March 16 at the Elkton Central Library, I’ll be sharing some tips on the writing process and the “how-to” part of the publishing business. Everyone generally has questions about finding an agent or how big of an advance check you should expect for that first novel. (Hint: unless your name is Stephanie Meyer, don’t quit your day job!) But as a writer, what interests me more and more these days is the creative process. Where do our stories come from, and how do we put them into words?

Let’s face it, being a writer requires more than a little inspiration. Even professional writers need a healthy dose of the I-word now and then to keep their creativity on track.   When it comes to success, we know all about that 99 percent of perspiration. It’s the 1 percent of inspiration that needs constant renewing.

These days, in these times, it’s not always easy to find the hours off or the money for workshops, conferences or graduate programs that are the best source of inspiration for writers. Yet there are other ways of getting the creative juices flowing.

Inspiration doesn’t have to cost much and you won’t have to go farther than your favorite chair — or maybe your library or your bookstore. To give your creative writing a jolt, you just need to be, well, creative.

What you need is a “Writer’s Stay-cation.”

Can’t afford that writer’s workshop in Maui? Then set aside a weekend, a day—or even a single afternoon—for the writer’s version of the “stay-cation.” Call in sick, get mom or the hubby to take the kids off your hands, and whatever you do, for God’s sake stay away from Facebook!

And don’t forget snacks.  Snacks are very important! Hungry people can’t be expected to think straight. Get a pot of coffee or tea going while you’re at it. Caffeine clears the mind.

Use this hard-won time to reconnect with your reasons for writing. How? Follow this three-step process. Let’s get started …

Read. I know, I know. You’re supposed to be writing! But this writer’s stay-cation is about inspiration, not production. So head to your bookshelves, or the ones at the library.

I’ve recently heard this called “booking,” and it’s something I’ve been doing for years. Here’s how it works. We all have shelves filled with our favorite books. We saved them for a reason, but we don’t always have time to revisit them. In booking, you make time. First, pour coffee. Then poke around your bookshelves. Take down that volume of poetry or that mystery novel, and “dip” into it. No, that doesn’t mean reading the whole book from the very first page. No time for that! But revisit that scene you loved, or that bit of description, or just flip open the book and start reading at any point. You’ll soon remember why you saved this book, and why it’s so easy to get reacquainted, as if with an old friend.

Think. I don’t know about you, but I always seem to think best when my hands (or feet) are busy doing something else. Ideas like to simmer, like soup on the back burner. So go for a run or walk, stain the deck, weed the garden, fish, bake cookies. Do something that is the opposite of mentally stimulating. But don’t spend that time plugged into an iPod or strategizing your next shopping trip to Wal-Mart or worrying about how you’re going to get your daughter to eat broccoli. Think about your novel, your poem … the story you want to tell. In other words, give your hands and/or feet something to do, and your brain tends to do a good job of simmering all on its own.

Write. You’ve been reading. You’ve been thinking. It’s all good. Now get out a pen and paper—not your MacBook, lovely machine that it is—and write something. Come up with 10 first lines for a short story/novel/memoir. Write a rhyming couplet in iambic pentameter. Sketch a character. Write down your thoughts on your son’s birth or your first kiss. What did the joy of holding little Joey that first time feel like? How did Susie Hunter’s lips taste? Describe that experience as best you can.

Congratulations. You are putting words on paper. You are writing. It’s not always easy, but sometimes the hardest part is simply getting started, and that’s what an inspirational “Writer’s Stay-cation” is all about.

What do you do to get inspired?

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