Monday, August 31, 2015

A DIRECT Kiss From Lafayette

So, in additional to getting a kiss from General Lafayette that was handed down through several generations, I also managed to get a buss from General Lafayette himself (sort of)!

Check out My video blog #4

A Somewhat Indirect Kiss from Lafayette!

I thought I'd talk a little about how I got the idea for my new historical novel for young readers, A Buss from Lafayette, which will be released on April 22, 2016 by BQB Publishing.

I hope you enjoy it!

Video Blog 3

Lars's Mom: As Cool as a (Military) Engineer??

I have been having a lot of fun writing "author insights" on Bublish.  I'm finding that re-reading my historical novel for middle graders about the American Revolution, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, is bringing lots of buried memories to the surface. (I wrote this book in the 1980s.)

 For instance, in the first chapter, this is what I wrote:

But before I’d taken more than a few steps, an eerie sound stopped me in my tracks. A spooky stream of notes, wheezy and piercing, was coming from the house.
“What’s that?” I said in a hoarse whisper.
Without missing a beat, Mom answered matter-of-factly, “Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, unless I miss my guess.”

When I read this, I remembered what incident made me write it this way.  It was based, believe it or not, on a performance of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture in a college fieldhouse in the 1950s!

To find out what happened, check out my Bubble!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Deedy Dawdle Lives!

So I was trying to make a cool new cover picture featuring all my books to use on my various websites. Unfortunately, when I uploaded it, I found that the picture of me that always appears in the left hand corner covers up the current cover for The Riddle of Penncroft Farm.  Can't have that.

 Therefore, I decided to post it instead on both my blogs (this one and the one that the Izzy Elves write, see web address to the right).

No particular reason.

I know I said that this blog was only for my writing that does NOT include anyone with pointy ears.  I'm afraid that if you look closely at my new picture, you might just be able to see a few pointy ears.

Sorry about that.

Mostly I'm just messing around with pictures because I don't feel like working on A Scalp on the Moon today. Sometimes it is just plain necessary to procrastinate.

In fact, my late mother used to call me Deedy Dawdle.

Oh well. Nobody's perfect.


Dorothea (AKA Deedy Dawdle)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Military Cockades: Not Just Pretty Ornaments!

In both my historical novels for young readers, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm and A Buss from Lafayette, I have references to cockades. 

In Riddle, the present day protagonist, Lars, finds a black leather flower in his room at Penncroft Farm.  Here is the reference in Riddle:

I threw myself down on the window seat. My rear came down hard on something knobby. “Ouch!” I said loudly, discovering a metal hinge. Curving my fingers around the edge of the seat, I gave a hard pull. The top flew up, slamming into my nose, which started to bleed. Pinching my nostrils with one hand, I stuck my other inside the hollow base and felt a box—a box big enough to hold a will. My heart thumping, I lifted out the box and gingerly opened it. There was nothing inside but a black leather flower. Disappointment made me throw it down and growl, “Looks like I got a bloody nose for nothing.”

“Nothing, Lars? That’s the cockade of my brother, Will!” It was Geordie, lounging on my bed, buckled shoes and all. “He wore it on his hat. The color showed he sided with Washington. Why, that cockade was Will’s only uniform for a good long while.”

Here is the reference to a cockade in A Buss from Lafayette (that will be released in April, 2016):

Among the familiar characters, I saw a tall, skinny stranger who looked to be nearly eighty years of age. He was wearing a rather moth-eaten old uniform of buff and blue. His pure white hair was also in a bygone style, long—if a bit sparse in front—pulled back and tied behind with a black ribbon. He held a black tricorne decorated with a red, white and blue cockade. Even through my irritation, however, I could see that the most interesting thing about the stranger was not his antiquated clothes, his overly long hair, or his three-cornered hat with its leather flower, but his excitement.

So what is a cockade and why aren't these two cockades the same color?

Apparently the black cockade was used early in the Revolution as a way of demonstrating allegiance to the Patriot side.  As most of the American soldiers did not have uniforms, at least until later in the war,  this was sometimes the only way to identify which side they were on.  (Strangely enough, black was actually the color denoting the Hanoverian monarchy, but even if the British soldiers might have worn cockades of this color in battle, it was clear that they were British because of their real uniforms.)

The French army used white cockades on their hats, and after the French Alliance, many American soldiers added a white cockade to their black ones. This was called a "union cockade". (The French did the opposite, placing the black American cockade on their white ones.)

Here is a picture of Mark Schneider, who expertly portrays Lafayette at Williamsburg and Yorktown, wearing such a "union cockade".

Will was invalided out of the Patriot forces because of an injury at Brandywine. Therefore, by the time the French Alliance was announced, he was no longer fighting for George Washington.  (Of course, he was fighting in another way by then.) Therefore, his cockade was black.

So why would an elderly Revolutionary War veteran wear a red, white, and blue cockade?  Well, he had just attended a huge celebration in Boston honoring Lafayette.

Apparently, Lafayette himself devised this red, white, and blue cockade during the French Revolution.

Here is what Heather Sheen had to say in her blog,

"Red, white and blue were the patriotic colors of both France and America by 1825. So this was a perfect fashion choice for an American patriot to wear in honor of a heroic Frenchman!"

The Riddle Song: A Musical Blog??

One of our family's favorite folk songs when I was growing up was "The Riddle Song".  Naturally, when I wrote my first historical novel about the American Revolution, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, I put it into the story. I simply could not resist.

After I started doing video blogs about my writing, it occurred to me that I could also do a kind of musical blog.  I thought that it would be fun to record this song so that young readers unfamiliar with the melody could see what it sounded like.

So I did.  Here is the link:

The Riddle Song "Musical Blog"

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Thanks, Geronimo and Maybelle!

Yesterday I posted my second video blog.  This one is a bit more serious about my inspiration in writing, especially historical fiction. Oddly enough, it wasn't until I started telling this story that I realized the impact it had had on my imagination when I was twelve and the influence it had on my life as a writer.

I really was planning to tell this story for an entirely different reason. 

Oh well.  Life is full of surprises!


Thursday, August 20, 2015

My Very FIRST Video Blog

I decided to start doing video blogs, mostly to amuse myself.  I set up a sort of "back drop" of covers etc. of my books, turned on my laptop, and started talking.

So here it is!  I hope you like it.

My Very First Video Blog, about inspiration. Sort of.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why I am NOT a member of the D.A.R.

I have written two historical novels for young readers that focus on the American Revolution, The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, and A Buss from Lafayette.  Here are their covers:

Lest you think I have some kind of vested interested in writing about the War of Independence (glorifying my own ancestors and such) I would like to tell you what they actually did in that conflict.

Not that much.

On my father's side, the only direct ancestor I could find involved in the Revolution lived about fifty miles from Boston.  He was supposedly a Minute Man who responded to the call when the British marched on Lexington and Concord.  Unlike most of the Minute Men, it seems that my ancestor took several days to actually get anywhere near Boston (he was far too late for Lexington or Concord).  He did apparently make it to the encampment of militia etc. that was "besieging" the city.  It is my understanding that he only stayed a few weeks, however, then went back home again. That was it.

The Revolutionary War record on my late mother's side of the family is even less admirable from the American point of view. My mother always thought her grandmother, whose maiden name was Yerxa, was of Welsh descent. My sister living in Australia, however, made it her business to ask everyone she met there who was Welsh about the name Yerxa.  "Not Welsh!" they all said. My sister told me about this, and we turned to the internet, only to learn that 1) our Yerxas were from Holland and lived in New Amsterdam in the 1600s; and 2) as soon as America declared its independence, they sided with England and moved to New Brunswick, Canada.  They were TORIES!

Well, well.

Now perhaps someday I will find someone else in my family tree who played a more active role in this significant event in our country's history. (We are supposedly connected with General Nathaniel Greene, but not directly.  The same goes for Artemas Ward, the head of the Massachusetts militia who was displaced as leader of the American forces by George Washington. I won't even talk about the family story that he later mooned the Father of Our Country.)

Meanwhile, I am writing a new, non-Revolutionary War historical novel for kids.  This one is about King Philip's War, in 1675 New England.  In this case, I actually know that some of my direct ancestors, William and John Salisbury, played a significant role in that conflict: not only did they personally start it, but they were the first two settlers killed, in Swansea, Massachusetts in June, 1675.

I doubt I'll be glorifying them, either.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Noh More!

Here's a bit more of the original script and the final verse I wrote for the 1983 production of the experimental Noh play, "Hoichi" at the Walker Art center in Minneapolis, directed by
Akira Matsui (pictured above).

The original version:

And my version (with some added background information for the American audience):

Seven centuries ago, at Dan no ura
Where tides flow back and forth between the seas
Shimonoséki Straits proved desperate
Dispiriting the mighty Heiké clan.
For many years, they’d battled with the Genji
And now, at last, the Heiké were at bay.
Upon that day they launched their dwindling fleet
With blood-red banners floating in the wind
And sailéd forth to meet their deadly foe.

The Genji forces, led by Yoshitsune
(Whose brooding brilliance brought his bitter fate)
Joined them in fiercest battle on the waves.
Until at last, those of the Heiké clan
Who managed to escape the savagery
Themselves chose death by leaping in the sea.
And so was lost each woman, man, and child
Who had ‘til then so haughtily held sway.
And chief among the tragic suicides:
The boy Antoku, infant emperor,
Who found his death amidst his scarlet flags
Adrift on fickle tides like fallen leaves.

And one final bit, spoken by the priest who decides to paint sutra verses all over Hoichi's body to protect him from the evil spirits of the Heiké.

This sacred sutra will be Hoichi’s shield.
To spirits now he’ll be invisible.
Each word inscribed will form a sacred link
Like lacquered segments of a warrior’s garb.
So thus with this impenetrable charm.
We’ll keep him safe from injury and harm.

Although, the kicker, as some of you might know, is that no one remembered to put verses on Hoichi's ears!

That's why the name of the folk tale, as re-told in English by Lafcadio Hearn, is "Hoichi No-Ears"!

"Hoichi" © Dorothea Jensen 1983

Noh Blast From the Past!

Many years ago, I wrote an English adaptation of an experimental Japanese play that was performed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. It was directed by a master Noh actor, Akira Matsui, who brought authentic Noh costumes from Japan for the production.  Akira wrote a draft of the play in Japanese, then it was translated into English. This rough translation was what I was to adapt into the play.

Before I started writing, I did a lot of reading about the poetry of Noh plays so that I could make the tone of the language appropriate. It seemed to me that writing in blank verse would be a good way to convey the poetic quality of the Noh. Another thing I learned was that there are many plays on words in Noh, no matter how "elevated" or serious the story.

That seemed to be right up my alley.  Anyway, here is a bit of the original rough translation:

Here is my version:

And so you see, my son, most all of us
Are by our natures realists or romantics
And those who dream by day as well as night
Are fated to perception by the latter light.

Romantics go in search of the eccentric
We seek out life's extraordinary scenes
And, should life prove to be less than resplendent
Take refuge and delight in tales and dreams.

Child: And do you know such tales, to tell to me?

I do, indeed, a web of countless tales
My mother told to me when I was young
And hers to her, and so on, back through time
A chain of tales, unearthly and sublime.

Whenever I'd be put to bed alone,
I used to give myself an awful fright
Descrying ghostly shapes above my bed
And weaving ghastly pictures in my head.

But as I said, these stories told to me
Were not recounted just to terrify.
They also served to underscore the part
That spirits play within the human heart.

"Hoichi" © Dorothea Jensen 1983

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Help, help! I'm drowning in notes!

I am writing a term paper.  An enormously daunting term paper for someone who is a pitilessly strict grader. That’s what it feels like sometime. What I’m really doing is research for a new historical novel for young readers set in Puritan Massachusetts in 1675. I plan to call it A Scalp on the Moon. Now that I am in possession of an oldish brain, however, (instead of the newish brain that wrote term papers in high school over 50 years ago) I have to find some new methods of keeping track of old information.

My problem is that I absolutely require myself to write the history part of my story  as accurately as possible.  Apparently, I have been pretty successful at this in my two previous books of this type.  One Amazon reviewer said of The Riddle of Penncroft Farm: “As an author of 6 books on the Rev War, including 2 for young adults, I was very pleased to find that this book by Dorothea Jensen did not have any historical inaccuracies.” A previewer of A Buss from Lafayette (coming out in April, 2016) wrote: “Jensen…paints what appears to be an authentic portrait of life in 1825 New Hampshire as well as the Nation’s response to Lafayette’s final visit to his adoptive land.”

So I have established a standard of accuracy for myself in writing historical fiction. Now I have to live up to it.

Anyone who reads many different sources about historical events or eras, however, knows that just about every single source says something different from every other source.  In order to decide which seems to be the most accurate account of the past, and thus would be the best to use in my story, I REALLY need to keep track of what I read and where I read it. You see the problem.

Somehow, the thought of writing notes on index cardsmany many notes on index cardsby hand does not appeal to me. (Besides, then I’d have to keep track of hundreds of index cards and I’ve always been Organizationally Challenged.) On the other hand, my brain (oldish as I mentioned before) simply will not store hundreds and hundreds of facts about the 17th century.

One avenue I have been using is reading historical accounts etc. online or as e-books. I can select bits to copy, place them in a “notes” document, and the source information is automatically included with the copied bit. However, not all sources are available in digital form. (Although it is amazing what can be found online.)

If anyone out there (especially someone with 21st century savvy galore) has any suggestions for me, please comment below. 

I'm sinking fast.

Monday, August 10, 2015


 Ever since I wrote the blog post about revisiting The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I've been thinking about another book that was a favorite of mine when I was a young reader, The Sherwood Ring, by Elizabeth Marie Pope. My historical novel for young readers, The Riddle of Penncroft, is an homage to this wonderful story. Of course, I started writing Riddle in the early 80s and it was published in 1989 - a long time ago. I have been re-reading it lately because I have been writing "author insights" about Riddle at

Just for fun, I also recently read  The Sherwood Ring again looking for story elements that I consciously and unconsciously echoed or transmogrified in Riddle, over a quarter century ago.

Of course there are some obvious differences between these two stories: the main character in The Sherwood Ring is a girl of 17, Peggy Grahame; the main character in The Riddle of Penncroft Farm is a boy of 12 named Lars Olafson. Peggy goes to her ancestral home in upper New York State as an orphan; Lars is with his mother and father when they go to their ancestral home in Pennsylvania. The Sherwood Ring tells a fictional story about Tory guerrilla activity in New York state led by a fictional character, the amazingly competent British officer, Peaceable Sherwood. The Riddle of Penncroft Farm focuses on true events of the American Revolution in and around Philadelphia (the Battle of Brandywine, the occupation of Philadelphia by the British, Whitemarsh, and Valley Forge, etc.) as experienced by the fictional character, Geordie Hargreaves.
There are still plenty of "reverberations" that link these two stories, however.

1.  Both Peggy and Lars are told by a parent that the ancestral family home (Rest-and-be-Thankful in SR and Penncroft Farm in RPF) might be haunted.  Neither Peggy's father nor Lars's mother claims to have seen any ghosts, but each reports that others in the family have claimed that they have. (Peggy's father says his aunt and sister both said they had met ghosts at Rest-and-be-Thankful; Lars's mother says her late brother had said that he had done so.)

2. Peggy is lonely and unhappy going to Rest-and-be-Thankful. She misses her father who has died and she does not know anyone in New York State.  Lars is lonely and unhappy because he misses his friends and his brother and does not want  to move to Pennsylvania.

3. Peggy meets her first ghost in the woods on the way to Rest-and-be-Thankful.  Lars sees his first ghost in the window of the house as he is arriving at Penncroft Farm.  He then meets Geordie on the road home from school, where he has managed to alienate most of the students in his new classroom.

4. When Peggy first sees Rest-and-be-Thankful, it is surrounded by blossoming apple trees. Aunt Cass tells Lars that Penncroft Farm was originally a fruit orchard, and describes how beautiful it is when the apple trees bloom.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


I am now working on my next historical novel for young readers, to be called A Scalp on the Moon.  It is set in 1675 in Massachusetts, and it is a kind of homage to one of my favorite childhood books, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare.

My main character will be a young man from London, however, rather than a young lady from Barbados.  (Of course, a young lady will be part of the story, too.) He has a particular background that makes him just as objectionable to Puritan colonists as anything in Kit Tyler's colorful past.

Anyway, after a trip to New York City for a family wedding celebration, I decided to make a stop in Old Wethersfield, CT, on the way back to New Hampshire, in order to visit the setting for The Witch of Blackbird Pond. There is an antique colonial home there, the Buttolph-Williams house, which Elizabeth George Speare may have used as the "home" for Kit Tyler and the Wood family in the story.  As it is roughly the same era as the setting for my new story, I thought it might be fun to explore its interior for inspiration in writing A Scalp on the Moon.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the 17th century house was closed to visitors because of a very 21st century problem: an alarm that kept going off every time anyone went inside, so all tours were cancelled.

Therefore, we were only able to walk around the outside, but that was inspiring enough.

Here is the back of the house. Notice that there are no windows.  It is theorized that the actual man who originally built the house planned to add on at the back, or that glass, which had to be imported from England, was just too expensive to put windows on the back. William Ashby, the young man who courted Kit Tyler in The Witch of Blackbird Pond, was building a house with sixteen diamond-paned windows, which was a clear indication that he was quite wealthy.

 You can clearly see such diamond-paned windows on the next picture showing the side of the house.

Here is the front.  I enjoyed picturing Kit Tyler arriving here (although it was very early spring  and misty and muddy when she did so) with her seven trunks of clothes and possessions.

Speare described it in her story like this:

"She relaxed slightly at the first glimpse of her uncle's house. At least it looked solid and respectable, compared to the cabins they had passed. Two and a half stories it stood, gracefully proportioned, with leaded glass windows and clapboards weathered to a silvery gray."

Here is the front door. When Kit Tyler arrives at this door, Speare describes what happens like this:

"The captain lifted the iron knocker and let it fall with a thud that echoed in the pit of the girl's stomach. For a moment she could not breathe at all." 

Note the "door nails".  These just might have been the origin of the expression "dead as a door nail". Here is one possible explanation of this from

Finally, I had to include this picture of the other side of the house because the sun hitting the lens gave it an "otherworldly" aura suitable for the house of a purported witch!

It was a thrill for me to make this visit to the past (including my own past as a young reader).

I will be writing more about A Scalp on the Moon as I get further into the story.

Meanwhile, I will go back to writing about A Buss from Lafayette, in anticipation of its release in April, 2016!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Another Riddle Tidbit: the "Stake-and-Rider" Fence

Soon after modern-day Lars meets the mysterious Geordie, in The Riddle of Penncroft Farm, the two of them end up sitting together on what Geordie calls a "stake-and-rider" fence.  Here's what one of these split rail fences looked like: