The History of the American Pledge of Allegiance

Sandi Krawchenko Altner:

Happy 4th of July! There are many beautiful traditions in this country. Some, like the “Pledge of Allegiance”, have a surprising history.

Originally posted on Ravenscraig:

I feel very fortunate to be able to celebrate both Canada Day as well as Independence Day in America as I am a citizen of both countries.   I started my day by happening across a wonderful  version of “The Pledge of Allegiance” by Red Skelton which was first televised in 1969.  It was so moving that I had to share it in this blog.

And in case you were wondering how this custom originated, here is little about the history of the Pledge.

It all began in 1892 as a campaign to inspire patriotism and encourage schools to display the American flag.  It was the brainchild of James B. Upham, a marketer for a popular children’s magazine, who thought it would be a grand idea to involve school children in a special celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The plan was to have a…

View original 425 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Battle with Perfectionism


A Writer’s Log

Amazingly, I am hitting some kind of a stride in my novel about art forgery in 1914.  I am traipsing around in the world of Monet’s garden, Paris art supply shops, New York Auction Galleries and the Manhattan homes of some very rich people who have more money than taste. Finally the writing is flowing. It is a most satisfying feeling, and I will only take a minute to post this, then indulge in another 8 minutes on social media distraction before I get down to work again.

Writing fiction is freeing when it is not torture. Writing is easier when one resists the siren pull of all things around writing that are not writing: research, building an author platform, and reading great books.  It is so easy to justify getting lost, especially in social media. And then, once a writer musters the necessary commitment to advance the manuscript, there is the ever looming fear of looking like a fool.

Perfectionism lurks over our heads, polluting the landscape, filling us with doubt and driving us back to the time wasters, or the fridge. If you think too much about the quality of what is being written, your confidence withers and your writing session crumbles away.  What is a writer to do? In my case help came from trolling Twitter where I found a link to the inspiring and wise words of Anne Lamott, a writer who has much to say about writing and life in her book Bird by Bird.  Lamott advises us to remember that you can’t get to the third and fourth drafts until that first lousy one is down, and the first one is just for you.

So just write.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” Anne Lamott

Now back to writing.  I am having lunch with Claude Monet today. Can’t wait.


p.s.  A note about the picture: This is Flora Miller at her typewriter, taken in 1919, and found in the online collection of the Library of Congress.

Posted in Sequel, Storytellers, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing tips | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), Artist Who Inspires

Sandi Krawchenko Altner:

In searching to learn more about Claude Monet and especially his personality, I happened to find this lovely blog Oil Pastels by Mary. There is much to see and work to admire in this blog. I am happy to share Mary’s insights on Monet here, and encourage you to check out her blog and see the paintings she is sharing.
Thank you, Mary.

Originally posted on Oil Pastels by Mary:

Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), Artist Who Inspires

Claude. Monet. Claude Monet.  Doesn’t really matter, when people hear Claude or just Monet most everyone knows it’s Claude Monet, one of the greatest Artists of all time!  Claude Monet has been a source of inspiration for thousands of Artists around the world (past and present); for me my respect for the Artist began when I first traveled to France after high school.

Growing up in farm country I never heard of Claude Monet, art in that sense wasn’t a part of my life as a child.  The nearest museum was miles from where we lived and there was no internet. I first became aware of Monet and his work during trips to France in 1975 and 1983; the great European museums broaden my horizons in ways I never dreamed possible.

Monet’s work captivated me from the moment I first stood…

View original 870 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Angell, on telephone exchanges

Sandi Krawchenko Altner:

I thoroughly enjoy research and it is my intent to share the gems I find along the way to completing my novel on art forgery in 1914. Today, in searching for information on telephone exchanges in New York, and specifically Butterfield, I came across this delightful memory piece written by Roger Angell for The New Yorker magazine. My thanks to the author and to the blog the WASP Manifesto for posting the story so that I could find it.

Originally posted on The WASP Manifesto:


Dial Again

by Roger Angell
February 10, 2003

Verizon has applied the branding iron, and starting this week everybody in Manhattan must punch in a 1 and then a 212 (or a 646 or 917) in front of the old local number before talking to his or her office or bookie or life companion or dog-walker or newspaper-delivery service (where was our Post yesterday?). It’s not such a big deal—I already knew I was a 212—but eleven numbers instead of seven are now required to bring about a conversation, which means a further lowering of the gray digit cloud that hangs over each of us, Pig Pen-like, from the moment we get up in the morning to the time we brush our teeth at night. The added numbers also signal the end of my hopes that the phone company might someday see the error of its integer…

View original 702 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Titanic Survivor Esther Bloomfield Hart Recalls Tragic Sinking

Originally posted on Ravenscraig:

Esther Hart was never very keen on the idea of going to Winnipeg.  When her husband Benjamin announced his decision to leave Ilford, England and strike out for a new life in Canada,  she was immediately apprehensive.   But times were hard in the building industry and her husband’s business was suffering.   One fateful day, an old friend stopped in to visit.  He was an enthusiastic resident of Winnipeg, who had much to say about the booming economy in the Manitoba capital.  Benjamin was instantly taken with the idea that emigration would be the answer to his troubles and would give him the potential of a prosperous future.  Winnipeg it would be.

Esther and Benjamin along with their young daughter, Eva Hart, were given a festive send off by their friends in Ilford.

Eva and her mother survived the sinking, having spent a harrowing night in the lifeboats

View original 4,094 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Titanic: Interview with Eva Hart on the 75th Anniversary of the Sinking

Sandi Krawchenko Altner:

As we approach the anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, many researchers are looking for sources that help tell the stories of the survivors. Eva Hart and her parents were on their way to Winnipeg, Canada from Ilford, England. Reposted by request from followers.

Originally posted on Ravenscraig:

“Over to You”, was the name of this program that must have been on cable television.  The segment was called “Titanic:  a Survivor’s Tale.”

A  school teacher in England, whose name was not recorded, conducts an interview with Eva Hart on the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic in 1987. His skills are limited and she is annoyed by his handling of questions, but the information is riveting for Titanic enthusiasts.

Eva Hart was a seven-year-old child when she was traveling on the Titanic with her parents, Benjamin and Esther Hart.  They were a Jewish family from Ilford, England, and were on their way to a future in Winnipeg, Canada.  Her father, Benjamin, had a trusted friend who had returned to Ilford on vacation in 1911.  He was full of stories of his wonderful life in Winnipeg.  In this interview, Eva recalls that her father immediately seized…

View original 218 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ravenscraig February Sale


Click to buy

Need a heart tugging saga to brighten your February?

Ravenscraig is in the Kindle Countdown Sale. Catch it today at $3.99 and save 60% off the regular price.

  Rupert Willows buries the truth of his identity and schemes his way to wealth and power. Brilliant, rich and handsome, a new world opens when he buys the mansion Ravenscraig. Zev Zigman, a devout Jew, mounts a desperate struggle to bring his family out of czarist Russia. At the center is the feisty Maisie, who hides her Jewish roots to enter the world of “The English”  as a well-paid maid at Ravenscraig. Love, anger and determination fuel the treacherous journey ahead.


Posted in Ravenscraig the novel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ravenscraig Book Sale to Honor Book Clubs

One of the greatest pleasures I find in being a writer is talking with readers and especially book clubs to share thoughts about characters and stories.  I have been very fortunate that Ravenscraig seems to have taken hold with  book clubs in both Canada and in the US. Skype has been a real boon in bringing readers and authors together, and I am always happy to arrange a visit or video chat when possible.

As a small thank you to the readers and reviewers who have been so kind in their enthusiasm for Ravenscraig,  I am celebrating with a Book Club sale on Amazon.  This is the new Kindle Count Down Sale and what that means is that the book will start off at $1.99 and every day or so the price will climb until the end of the sale. Please pass it on. The sale starts tomorrow, February 20, 2014.

And if your book club would like to arrange a chat with the author, please do contact me at :)

Thank you!


Posted in Books, Jewish Book Council Authors Tour, Ravenscraig Reviews, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Club Questions for the Author of Ravenscraig

Book Club questionsOne of the greatest pleasures of being a writer is the chance to meet with readers who want to talk about the story you invented.

I am fortunate to be  invited both in person and on Skype to talk with book clubs, service organizations, synagogues and history buffs about the story and to give presentations on the research I did to create Ravenscraig.

It is just a lot of fun to talk with readers who become deeply involved in the story.

The following questions came to me from a book club in Florida.  I couldn’t attend this event due to an ill-timed appendectomy and wrote out the answers to these questions while I was recovering.

Here then, is a little background on the writing of Ravenscraig.  Please do write to me if you have any other questions!


Why did you decide to title your novel Ravenscraig? What other options did you consider? 

Finding the title was challenging. My first working title was the incredibly blandWillows on the Crescent.  After that there were a number of titles that related to the Titanic.  Finally I settled on Ravenscraig because it was the name of Rupert’s home (Rupert Willows is the lead character) and because it just seemed to work better than any of the other titles I had on my list.

Ravenscraig Hall (a fictional home) is located in the real neighbourhood of Armstrong’s Point which has a charming history and truly remains a sought-after residential neighbourhood to this day.  On the location that I placed Ravenscraig Hall there originally sat a mammoth home known as Bannatyne’s Castle.  How unfortunate that only the gates of that home are still in existence today.  I took the name Ravenscraig from Ravenscraig Castle in Scotland, which is big, ugly and was among the first built to withstand cannon fire.  Once I tripped across that, I knew it was perfect for the mansion.  Coming to the conclusion that it was the right name for the book took much longer.

Naming characters was a similar problem.  I learned all of the baby name sites on the net in my search for names that I felt would be most appropriate. I also did extensive searching through archival materials from Ellis Island, the Canadian Census reports of 1901 and 1911, the Jewish Genealogy website and City of Winnipeg archives.

What is your greatest pleasure – researching the historical underpinnings of the plot or creating the characters and dialog to communicate the historical elements?

I love the research.  The idea of writing a novel first came from stumbling across a great story about the scandals involved in building the Manitoba Legislative building a century ago.  Great story.  The more I learned the further back I needed to go.  What I learned about the conflicts between rich and poor, and English and everyone foreign during the height of the immigration boom (1896-1914) became so interesting that the focus of my story naturally shifted to the stories of that time.

There was such extreme poverty and so little political will to do anything about it that it just seemed unbelievable.  I read stories of 40 or more people living in boarding houses of 800 sq ft or less and thought it impossible that this had happened. Moreover it made me wonder that if it indeed had happened, how had I never heard of that before?  The1911 census is an amazing document that lays out the truth.  Then, knowing the extent the overcrowding existed set a different colour to the many essays and memoires that I had read and new materials that I sought out.  What I had seen as perhaps exaggerated through a nostalgic memory suddenly came into focus as an undertold story of suffering. I wanted to bring that story to life.

This led to learning about the Typhoid epidemic in 1904-1905 when Winnipeg had the highest rate of typhoid per capita in the western world.  I first learned of it in a book by Dr. Alan Artibise, titled: A Social History of Winnipeg, 1874-1914.  There truly was a Dr. Jordan called in from Chicago to investigate the health crisis. I ordered a full copy of his report from the Manitoba Archives and was shocked to learn that he did not condemn the use of dirty river water being brought into the water mains for use in fire control.  He did say the water should be used “as little as possible”.  Equally interesting was that the Winnipeg newspapers produced no screaming headlines demanding to know the source of the typhoid.  It appears the city leaders just didn’t want the shame on a national scale.

Did Rupert Willows ever get on your nerves?  

Yes. But as awful as his behavior is at times, I admit to a deep affection for him. I enjoy his complexity.

Which is easier for you, description or dialog?  

Dialogue is much easier for me.  There comes a point where you spend enough time with your characters that you understand their morals, failings, strengths and misery.  I don’t mean to sound nutty, but I got to like a lot of them, especially the ones I spent a lot of time with.  So then, with the kind of research I did in Ravenscraig, you have a real story that you need them to react to.  You create a circumstance, place the people in it and then listen…and type.   There was one night I remember where I had had a particularly productive day.  I work outside on the patio most of the time when the weather allows.  I was working away and was quite overcome by what unfolded.  It was dark. The pool light was on, as was a lamp on the patio table. Katiana, my daughter, came out to ask a question and caught me as I wiped the tears from my eyes.  “ARE YOU OKAY, MUM?”

I think that when we think that these are not just stories, but that each of us has someone in our own ancestry who suffered, who fled, who persevered so that future generations would have a good life, it becomes something worth learning.  Each of us has a history worth knowing. Sacrifice is a big word and it counts for a lot.  It enriches your life when you contemplate the suffering that was done on your behalf.

Who do you imagine as your ideal readers?

Wow.  To be totally honest, this was a selfish endeavor. I wrote something I had searched out to read and couldn’t find. I thought if my mum read the book I wrote I would be happy. It pleases me to no end that the story has touched others and that it has sparked interest among some readers to learn more about their own histories. Historical fiction is not one of those BIG genres publishers are clamouring to publish.

As an author are you more interested in portraying the history of a period/place or in drawing “life lessons” from historical events and suggesting parallels to present issues?

I think there are life lessons in every circumstance and I wanted to tell a story that was historically correct.  I was very concerned about reflecting the attitudes of the day, particularly in the impact on women and the underclass. I like the idea that readers might learn something new that makes them think about the immigrant experience, whether it be a hundred years ago or in modern times.

Even in the most seemingly objective narrations of history, the historian has a point of view, a bias, a cautionary message.  As an author working in the genre of historical fiction, how would you characterize your moral slant or philosophical position.

I think it is very humbling to look at all of the difficulties that were borne by our ancestors.  I have little interest in anyone who might whine about not having the latest Smart Phone. Freedoms are too easily characterized as entitlements. I look back at that time a century ago, and imagine who or what I might have done or been. My heart goes out to the unfed children, the women who gave birth with their hair frozen to a wall in an unheated shack, and to all of the men that drove themselves to find any way possible to provide for their families. All of those who faced the tremendous challenge of putting down roots in a country where so many people were against them, simple because of a  name, a religion, or an ethnic background.  I think if I were to have lived in that time I would have thrown all my might behind Nellie McLung and the group of women who saw to it that Manitoba would be the first province in Canada to gain the right for women to vote in 1916.  Can you imagine we haven’t had the right to vote for a hundred years yet?

Why did you choose to conclude the book the way you did? Did you consider other options?

The ending came at the very end.  I had an earlier version that I was not happy with. I have a deep affection for certain characters and it was very troublesome to learn what happened.  I was quite shocked, I must say, when I finally learned.

How does the ending reflect on or influence the themes of your novel. Family, Loyalty, Education, Integrity, Politics, Gender Issues (changing role of women, suffrage, etc.), Responsibility, Community, Work Ethic, Luck, Chance, Identity… personal versus social, ethnic, religious, economic, gender, family connections and expectations.-

Because the ending was the last of the book to be written, I cannot say it influenced the themes. It does influence thoughts of a sequel.  I am interested in the Great War and its impact on the city.  I am greatly interested in the work and strength of the women particularly through the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, and the suffrage movement.  Sam Bronfman became Canada’s best known Jewish leader after he became known for Seagram.  He and his family started out in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in a variety of jobs which ultimately led to the the hotel business. He became the owner of the Bell Hotel in Winnipeg when he was in his early twenties and ultimately became Canada’s most famous bootlegger. Lots to research in this area.  And then there is the matter of the 1915 scandal of the building of the Legislative Building.

Who are your favorite authors, particularly in the historical fiction genre?

Most of what I read is non-fiction, but I very much admire and enjoy: Chaim Potok, Ken Follett, James Michener, Allan Levine, Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, Carol Shields, Irwin Shaw, Alice Munro among others I have forgotten to mention.

Posted in Ravenscraig the novel, Rupert Willows, Uncategorized, Winnipeg, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspired by Tallulah Bankhead

0001aZInspiration for a writer comes from many places. For me, pictures and videos of real places and people are  primary triggers to inspire the plot lines and help color the characters who are dominating the development of the story.  So when I happened across this utterly fantastic photo of Tallulah Bankhead decked out in a feather headdress in the 1920s, I had no choice but to learn more about this fascinating person.

Tallulah-Bankhead-3Bankable Tallulah

Tallulah Bankhead, born in 1902 in Alabama, was an actress and wild child with a husky voice and a tremendous presence on stage and off. She partied hard, smoked marijuana and used cocaine.  She was a regular at the Algonquin Hotel in NY, and a participant in the Algonquin Round Table where writer Dorothy Parker sharpened her tongue.

Tallulah was said to be wonderfully outrageous and uninhibited, known to peel her clothes off to sit down and have a chat. Tallulah was a huge celebrity both here in the US as well as on the London stage and was known for calling everyone “Dahling”. She said it was because she never could remember names.

Tallulah Trivia

She tested for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, but at the age of 36 she was considered too old for the part. Scarlett is 16 at the opening of the story.

Tallulah, witty and charming, is also an influence on a one of my characters. For now her name is CC, and she is an American heiress who marries a penniless count.

Now back to work…writing that is…

Research is such an appealing type of work avoidance. I really do have to be more disciplined about settling down to continue on with my novel, so please excuse my hasty exit. I’m writing about art forgery in 1914, (a novel yet to be named) and naturally that leads to the need to learn not just about art, the art market, the fabulous world of art collectors in New York society, but also the larger than life people of that era.  My story centers on a fantastically talented artist, Arthur Bryant of Paris, who makes fake Claude Monet paintings.  He cons one Mr. R. J. Wilkesbury into being his dealer in New York.  The material lends itself to an endless trail of delicious distractions in research. The novel is a sequel to Ravenscraig.

Posted in Ravenscraig Sequel, Sequel, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment