Sunday, December 26, 2021

A Christmas Gift and Seasons Greetings


A Christmas Gift

By Mary R. Davidsaver


I wake in the hours before dawn

Three days shy of Christmas.

This day holds plans for a car trip,

A mission to deliver a gift. 

A gentle soul made a request

That’s going to be answered

With a present from his past: toys.

Building blocks brought down from a shelf

Beginning a new life,

Or continuing an old one

That was waylaid for many years.

My being here is its own gift.

To have lived long enough to see

How this story completes a loop—

Beginning, middle, ending—

With the same toys.



Seasons Greetings

By Mary R. Davidsaver


Christmas cards lay on the table.

Fewer this year.

They arrived unbidden.

My half-hearted quest for cards

Found nothing satisfying.

I came away empty handed.

So many voids in my mailing list:

Dear friends, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles.

Last year a brother suddenly gone.

I expected no notice of my lapse.

Wrong again.  


One name drew my attention

It didn’t register. Who’s this Helen?

Inside, a view from a high vantage point

Overlooking a scenic river

Dressed in seasonal greens and golds.

Only one answer to the question.

Only one couple climbed river bluffs

For pictures, poetry, and purpose:

To honor the Driftless magic

Of the river in our own backyard,

Too often overlooked and bypassed in haste.

I found my copy of BLUFFING by Dick Stahl,

Eminent emissary of the Mississippi River.

I read it again with fresh eyes

And discovered its spirit anew.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Review: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano


This read for Bettendorf Public Library's Mystery Book Club presented me with two obstacles right from the beginning. Chapter one starts with an italicized summary of what to expect within the first eighteen pages. It’s pertinent information, but was it necessary? I’ve only run across this technique once before and was not impressed with it at the time. And what is it called? Certainly not an epigram, where a pithy saying or a snippet of poetry can entice a certain mood. I looked up definitions of foreshadowing and that came closer, I think, to how the author used the plot device to build anticipation. It must have worked on me because I didn’t quit reading.


My second obstacle, the nephew’s role as narrator. It was annoying at times to have Poldi’s dialog, her seemingly smooth narration of important events, interrupted by the junior novelist whining over his unstructured story and incomplete life. I felt it as an intrusion and not helpful for the present story. It was more of an aid for delivering historical background on Poldi and the family.


I did not take the time to look up all the food and beverages mentioned. That’s my loss. However, I can appreciate how the author portrayed and developed the local character of the place and the people.


I was not able to guess the villain, too many worthy suspects. And just when the ending felt like it was being overly drawn out, it was saved in a most unexpected way. At least for this tourist who hasn’t been to Sicily, yet.


It was a good choice for the Mystery Book Club. I might look for the next installment of Auntie Poldi.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Whatever Holiday Gift Guide 2021


I discovered John Scalzi’s books first and his blog, Whatever Scalzi, much later. I don’t know when he started giving his blog over to other writers, publishers, and artists for a Whatever Holiday Gift Guide, but it has been a great opportunity and a nice gift all on its own.

I’ve submitted posts the past two years. It’s a late start for me, but sometimes that’s just how it goes. Last year, I went with Charities. I directed readers to the Bishop Hill Colony Store and the Bishop Hill Heritage Association. They both work to preserve the history & culture of the 1846 Swedish communal society.

This year I read and followed his rules for posting and came up with this entry for Non-Traditionally Published Books. Park Square Crafts Press definitely qualifies.



 Thank you for this opportunity, John.


“Shadows Over Bishop” Hill has recent Knox college graduate and amateur sleuth Shelley Anderson back in action. She must deal with arson, kidnapping, and a wild nighttime chase along Henry County, IL backroads as she follows a trail of shady money deals to find out who killed her best friend’s fiancĂ©. It’s a cozy mystery with humor and an attitude.





Sunday, November 14, 2021

Last Thoughts on Radio Time

I’m amazed at how used to video I’ve become during the pandemic. At one point in my RADIO interview with Don Wooten for WVIK, he asked a question about the cover of Shadows Over Bishop Hill and I held up the book cover. It was a head-slapping dumb moment. He was asking about the blood. Again, I should have my regained my composure and used the moment to say the blood was more symbolic than an actual representation of action within the novel. Cozy mysteries don’t deal with huge amounts of violence and, therefore, what bloody scenes there are, tend to be described in minimal detail, they are not dwelt upon.

If holding up a book that couldn’t be seen by the audience wasn’t bad enough, then I had to go on and mention the background with the obsolete currency of Bishop Hill that my cover artist, Kaitlea Toohie, had partially obscured and toned down. But I must excuse myself because I was so happy with how close the cover art came to meeting all my expectations. I wanted to use the blood-red trail on the book cover to draw attention, make it eye-catching.

This radio-time faux pas made me think about my relationship with audio books. When I’m listening to an audio book, I often find myself wishing I could see the words. I’d like to read along and take in how the author crafted the sentence. Linger over the experience for longer than the mere moment of each spoken word.

I think that goes to the difference between a “magazine read” and “reading like a writer” as explained to me in a past novel writing workshop I took back when the Midwest Writing Center had its office in the Bucktown Center for the Arts in Davenport. Our instructor, Amy Parker from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, told us you do the first type of reading for pleasure, while the second helped build an awareness for the craft of writing. Studying how other writers solve the problems of constructing sentences and such will build confidence and strength in refining one’s own skills.

Something I continue to pursue daily. 

*Scribble is a weekly radio feature hosted by Don Wooten and Rebecca Wee at noon Saturdays on WVIK 90.3 FM Quad Cities and 95.9 Dubuque. The hosts “muse about writing, poetry and the craft.” All books are fair game for lively commentary. Book reviews are welcome. Contact information:

*Midwest Writing Center is “the only organization in the Quad Cities dedicated solely to the literary arts.” Writing is often a solitary task, it’s good to find kindred spirits and help along the way. For more information go to:

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Radio Time for Bishop Hill (Part 2)


Now that I’ve recorded my second Scribble* interview at WVIK in Rock Island, I have had time to think, and ask, what do I wish I would have included? My answer: Stories. I wish I’d talked about my use of stories within the story.

When I laid out the basic plan for the second novel, Shadows Over Bishop Hill, I knew I wanted to include some invented stories to develop the background and to move the plot along. I just hadn’t a clue about how readily they would proliferate and evolve.

First up was a depression era saga of bootlegging types loosely based on John Looney of Rock Island fame. I ended up using more than one version of this tale, since a story can change after it gets passed along from person to person, generation to generation, before settling in with a self-serving type of opportunist.

Then I included a spooky yarn my husband crafted for our children when they were youngsters. It was left rather incomplete as I tried to remember more of it and failed. However, what I had still paired nicely with my story of a shadowy figure looking for buried treasure on moonlit nights. That one formed a nice link to a central theme about money.

Crafting an all-new story around Bishop Hill’s obsolete currency took time, but it came together nicely with some other plot points involving money-making schemes within the time frame of the book. (Being a less than perfect planner, or a pantser in NaNoWriMo terms, isn’t all bad.)

Of course, I had to continue the colony-era love story I put together for the first book, Clouds Over Bishop Hill. This time it involved a major shifting about in character roles, as in who would become a victim and to what degree.

I wasn’t sure if I should have used all these stories, that maybe I was over doing it. Then I read The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. After that, I was pretty sure I was on the right track.

I wish I’d seized the opportunity to discuss all this with Rebecca Wee, a teacher of creative non-fiction at Augustana College. She might have found it interesting. Or not. But that would be in the nature of a having a conversation and joining an ongoing discussion.


*Scribble is a weekly radio feature hosted by Don Wooten and Rebecca Wee at noon Saturdays on WVIK 90.3 FM Quad Cities and 95.9 Dubuque. The hosts “muse about writing, poetry and the craft.” All books are fair game for lively commentary. Book reviews are welcome. Contact information:

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Radio Time for Bishop Hill


I recently recorded my second Scribble* interview at WVIK in Rock Island, IL. It has not aired yet. However, my memory of it tells me I need to fill in some holes, those few blank spaces where I didn’t offer enough explanation.  

For instance, my answer to the fundamental question: Where can readers find my new book, Shadows Over Bishop Hill?

I can’t recall exactly what I said, and I do know I got “” in at one point near the end of my answer, but I think I missed the opportunity to elaborate on the importance of mentioning my website.

Earlier this year I decided, for better or worse, I would not mail out my books on my own. Amazon was my primary book source for online orders. But I wanted a more personal touch for my region of eastern Iowa and western Illinois. I wanted to make use of local independent booksellers and in doing so I would support them, promote them; therefore, we could help each other. I spent months making the rounds and placing my books. I posted those businesses on my website.

They are:

The Artsy Bookworm, 1319 30th St., Rock Island, IL, is a new business that’s found a home in a lovely house near the Augustana campus. It features used and new books, art, toys, gifts, yarn, and community events. It has a gallery atmosphere with creative inspiration on every wall and around every corner. Be sure to ask for their local authors’ section.

Wordsmith Bookshoppe, 235 East Main St., Galesburg, IL, is another new business with a renovated space near the Knox campus. It’s bright, airy, and well stocked with reading material, gifts for all tastes, and is very welcoming to local authors. They can even accommodate online shoppers at:

Prairie Arts Center, 203 Bishop Hill St., Bishop Hill, IL, located in the Colony Blacksmith Shop is situated across from the centrally located state park. The large brick building is an old standby for me, practically a second home at one time. It’s renovated upper floor contains antiques and collectables, while the spacious first floor is filled with arts, crafts, and a book nook set aside for local authors. I’m honored that my books have a place on the shelves.

The Colony Store, 101 West Main St., Bishop Hill, IL, is a venerable colony-era brick building that, like others, has seen many uses over its long life. It’s the “candy store” to many children. Other folks can appreciate the old-fashioned feel of a general store with a serious Swedish flavor. Where else could my Bishop Hill based mysteries share shelf space with Stieg Larson’s crime novels?

The Brewed Book, 1524 N. Harrison, Davenport, IA, is in a building finishing up an ambitious expansion project. Visitors will find friendly faces and shelves filled with new and used books. The espresso machine is waiting to make everyone feel welcome and energized. My books share space with other local authors near the front door, over the piano.

River Lights, 1098 Main St., Dubuque, IA, is another bookstore in a vintage brick building. This one is on an easy-to-find corner overlooking the Mississippi River’s collection of casinos and museums. It offers an intimate shopping experience and a wonderful showcase for my books.

Prairie Lights, 15 South Dubuque St., Iowa City, IA, is an iconic landmark for the Iowa campus and for me. I’ve come for readings from favorite authors, such as John Scalzi; and on interesting topics, such as the history of Buxton, Iowa. I’ve stopped by for lunch and latte. Now I can drop in to check on my Bishop Hill books, and perhaps meet some friends and relatives.

As I worked on this project, placing my books next to those of other local authors, I became aware of how often I recognized names of people I knew, had met, or worked with through the Midwest Writing Center*. It’s a testament to how vital that non-profit organization has become to our region. A resource, in fact, to so many of us who embrace the written word as authors; writers, at all levels of engagement; and readers, of all manner of genres.


*Scribble is a weekly radio feature hosted by Don Wooten and Rebecca Wee at noon Saturdays on WVIK 90.3 FM Quad Cities and 95.9 Dubuque. The hosts “muse about writing, poetry and the craft.” All books are fair game for lively commentary. Book reviews are welcome. Contact information:

*Midwest Writing Center is “the only organization in the Quad Cities dedicated solely to the literary arts.” Writing is often a solitary task, it’s good to find kindred spirits and help along the way. For more information go to:

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Preservation Petition 2021


I’ve written many blog posts about preservation. I can’t help but come back to the theme whenever I can. Blame it on 24 years living under the shadow of the Steeple Building, working in the Blacksmith Shop, or managing a post-colony house.


In all those years, I’ve seen a lot of progress made with repairing and strengthening the old colony buildings. But weather and the inevitable decline from entropy always manages to take their toll if maintenance is ignored.  


That is why Courtney Stone’s petition campaign is so worthwhile. Find out more about his petition and where to write your letters to by following this link:

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Banned Books 2021


Banned Books Week 2021 began on Sunday, September 26 and went to Saturday, October 2. The Rock Island Public Library and the Midwest Writing Center again sponsored readings from once banned books. I and the other readers participated this year via a Zoom connection. The book I chose to read from was Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. It’s the story of an eleven-year-old boy who was the first child born free in Buxton, a Canadian utopian society for escaped African American slaves founded by Rev. William King, a Scots-Irish/American Presbyterian minister and abolitionist. The Elgin Association bought 9,000 acres for the resettlement of American refugees. This work became important to me because of a possible family connection to Buxton, Iowa.


The history of the Canadian Buxton spanned the years from 1849 to 1871. The new settlers bought and cleared land, built homes and businesses, established schools and churches. The community was thriving before the American Civil War.


The Iowa Buxton was a coal mining town near Albia and the subject of Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa by Rachelle Chase. She described that community with the following quote:

“Some have called Buxton a Black Utopia. In the town of five thousand residents, established in 1900, African Americans and Caucasians lived, worked and attended school together. It was a thriving, one-of-a-kind coal mining town created by the Consolidation Coal Company. This inclusive approach provided opportunity for its residents. Dr. E. A. Carter was the first African American to get a medical degree from the University of Iowa in 1907. He returned to Buxton and was hired by the coal company, where he treated both black and white patients. …”


Most of those residents, 55%, were African American, leaving the Caucasian population comprised of many nationalities of European immigrants, with Swedes forming the largest segment. That is how my Swedish American mother-in-law came to have “No. 19 Buxton” written on her birth certificate. No. 19 signified the mine/mining shaft where her father worked.


I read both books hoping for a common thread linking the Buxtons and was disappointed. Canadian Buxton probably owes its name to a nearby town, while the Iowa Buxton reflected the family name of mine managers originally from Vermont. Still, the culture and atmosphere of both had remarkable similarities e.g., people being treated fairly and allowed to prosper. The decline of those communities did not come about by riots and violence. Without having more details, I like to think of them as good examples of what might have been.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Preservation, Timely and Timeless

I’ve walked Bishop Hill’s brick and board sidewalks as an owner of a craft business; as a resident, a new pioneer of sorts; and as a parent raising children in an environment that showcased immigrant history yet provided access to new-age technology. I began my writing career under the tutelage of the editor of the Galva News just as the slow decline of newspapers became apparent. When I turned to writing fiction, I stood in front of the Steeple Building and decided that whatever I wrote would have two main goals. First, to make Bishop Hill a character as developed and alive as any other. Second, to use preservation as an overall theme, because at that time the stately structure needed restorative help. When my fictional woodworker said “This too can be saved” he was using the real mantra of Ron Nelson, a colony descendant and one of the driving forces behind the wave of preservation and restoration work begun in the 1960s. Add in the life’s work of the Swedish-born folk artist Olof Krans and you have the basic elements of my first novel, Clouds Over Bishop Hill.

Fast forward to this year’s June Midsommar Music Festival. I drove into Bishop Hill from Davenport to deliver posters for my latest book, Shadows Over Bishop Hill. At my first stop I was dismayed to find a petition asking for signatures to save historic colony-era buildings. Again, preservation and restoration were the main issues at hand. I was reminded of the time, years ago, I was stopped on the street by a distressed visitor who asked how I, as a resident, would let such a thing happen. I needed more information and was told about the roof of the Colony Church. I went to investigate and witnessed firsthand the dismal sight of blue sky showing through a gaping hole in the roof. I was shocked at what I saw and how I’d missed knowing about it before then. Thankfully, the roof got fixed along with other major repairs.

That was then, today’s Colony Church and the tarp-covered Olson barn stand in sharp contrast to the Steeple Building, which has been through several rounds of repairs and improvements completed far more recently than most of the state-owned property. No matter who owns an historic structure, care and maintenance must be ongoing and timely. Old wood exposed to nature’s elements cannot wait forever.

I have found the more I write about Bishop Hill, the more my thoughts about the meaning of preservation have expanded. Preservation doesn’t begin or end at just the upkeep of buildings; it encompasses individual lives, families, and communities—past, present, and future. I must commend Courtney Stone for his efforts to bring these issues to light with his petitions. We have a lot of work to do to make sure this part of American immigrant history and culture endures and never fades away.  

Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Art of Editing


There is a reason the number one rule for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is to silence your internal editor and get going with your first draft. The primary rationale being—editing is time consuming.


It is a time-consuming task for the editor you’ve hired, whether for content editing or line editing. And doubly time consuming when you are sitting in front of a marked-up manuscript wondering How am I going to handle all this? Because if you have a good editor, in the top of his or her form, you’re going to be faced with a lot of decisions. That’s the mark of a good editor. They ultimately leave it for you to interpret what will best serve your story.


Your editor will nudge you here and there with questions such as: Is this needed? Comments like: I’m confused. How do we know this is supposed to happen here? Some of my favorites start with a simple: Why? Then there are suggestions for punctuation, especially, in my case, with dialog tags. Which leads into the ever-popular passive verb usage issues of limp sentences. Easy things to blow past on a first draft when you’re trying to get a daily word count in. Or, if you’re a pantser, like me, you start with a concept and figure things out as you go. The result is the same, more work later on. (Dangling prepositions: check.)


Misty Urban did my content editing this time around, and I have to admit I was initially stunned with her attention to detail. I didn’t harbor any allusions about my manuscript being perfect, far from it, but that first impression was Wow! It gave me pause. I had to come up with a system to manage it all. I settled into marking all her balloon symbols with a XX in the text. XXs are easy markers for edit searches to find. I’d mark up a chapter then go back to the beginning and read through until the XXs came up, evaluate her comment, then decide how to implement it to my advantage. Sometimes it was something easy like spelling. The more compelling comments involved going back to previous chapters to make the story’s continuity flow better; make a subplot clearer, cleaner; or a character trait more detailed. The head-thumping moments came with the catches that saved me from certain embarrassment. (Bless you, Misty.) Rarely came the ones that I could classify and dismiss with an easy: Yes, I meant to do that. I was, after all, paying for her expert advice.


Then there was my ending.


I purposely avoided reading Misty’s comments of the last two chapters until I had written, or rather, rewritten, my text. Waiting until I knew my manuscript in its new and improved *74,400-word entirety was paramount. In the terms of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, I had to refine my Final Image. I ended up deleting a huge chunk of the last chapter and tacking on what remained to the previous one. I enhanced sections with dialog from the principle cast of characters, losing lesser ones. I tied up loose ends. I added support for my major themes: preservation, family, forgiveness, and the legacy of Pippi Longstockings.


Will that be enough? That judgement will have to wait for the next phase of manuscript editing—reading the whole thing out loud. One can catch a lot of problems with that trick.


Is editing ever done? No. Must there be an end? Yes.


A special THANK YOU to Misty Urban.


*68,700 words at beginning of content editing.


(P.S. Present errors are all mine.)