Mother’s Appeal

This is one of the rarer items I’ve managed to acquire, an issue of Mother’s Appeal. This one dates from January and February of 1932, and it offers a good insight into how somebody might be taken with Mrs. Baker’s sales pitch.

There isn’t much of anything a decent person could object to in the magazine. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to make a case against charity, especially one involving children.

If you didn’t know about Mrs. Baker’s past or her intentions, you might be won over easily. Many were.









Anniversary Notes

There have been some notable anniversaries this past week.

The first of these was Jan. 31. That is the birthday of Julia Anna Baker, or as she was listed in the oldest available records, Juliana Walter. She was born in 1867 in Alma, Wis. She was married at least four times and had two children.

The second anniversary was Feb. 5. On that day in 1911, the incorporation papers for the Joseph Walter Home were signed in Kansas City, Mo. The Home had been in existence for at least five years in that city, and would exist for another four.

Despite the closure of the Home, Mrs. Baker’s career never ended. She published a magazine and continued to raise funds in the name of home conserving, probably none of which ever went toward helping people.

As I was writing the book I wondered if it was too depressing. It’s a question I often have when I’m writing, but the difference between my other books and A Marble Heart is that this one isn’t just a story that I made up.

The narrative is repetitious: A woman comes to town, claims to help children, is found actually to be exploiting them, then leaves town and moves to a new one, where she does the same thing. It’s bleak.

However, in all the time that Mrs. Baker was operating her homes, raising money and taking advantage of children and families, there were people who were trying to stop her. Some of them were city authorities and charity workers, but most of them were ordinary people who saw something bad and reported it. They informed the police, they talked to reporters, they told each other their stories. They appear throughout the book, and I found many, many more over the course of my research.

Positive change does not happen overnight. It can take months, or even years, and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. This does not matter in the end.

The effort is what matters. Make an effort.

Events For February

I’ve got a few things coming up the pike for this Web site, and will post them soon, but today I wanted to share the times and places for a couple of meet-and-greets I’ll be having next month.

The first of these events will be held from 5:30-7 p.m. on Feb. 21 at the Vermillion Public Library in Vermillion, S.D.

The second will take place two days later, from 6:30-8 p.m. on Feb. 23, at the Yankton Community Library, in Yankton, S.D.

(I thank both of these libraries for the opportunity.)

At each of these events I will read a passage from A Marble Heart, talk about the writing and research process, answer audience questions and (hopefully) sell a few copies.

If you’re in the area, please try to come to one of them. If you aren’t in the area, I have a different request.

Do you have a library, book club or other venue that might have an audience with an interest in A Marble Heart? Please contact me and tell me about it. I would enjoy paying you a visit. I want to tell as many people as I can about this book, and if you are willing to give me the opportunity, I am more than willing to take it.

A Playlist

I almost always listen to music when I write. I do not want absolute quiet when I’m working. If there isn’t some background noise I can lose focus on what I’m doing. When there is something playing, I concentrate more. Not sure why, but that’s how it works for me.

While I know there are musicians and bands whose music has influenced my writing, I can’t say that any of the music I listened to while writing A Marble Heart influenced its final shape.

What I can say while looking over the following list is that these albums served as a distraction in more ways than one. It’s no fun to write about child abuse, and I guess I needed some music that I really enjoy to keep my spirits up.

So, here is an informal collection of albums I listened to throughout the writing of A Marble Heart (with tracks from those albums):

“Safe As Milk” by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

“Lazaretto” by Jack White

“Life After Death” by the Notorious BIG

“Loaded” by The Velvet Underground

What’s In A Title?


“Where did you get the title?”

Quite often, I have no answer to this question. Or, more likely, I have no desire to answer this question.

In the case of A Marble Heart, however, I do have an answer and I have no problem giving it. The title came from a short news item from the Bemidji Pioneer in 1902. As soon as I saw the sentence, “Get your marble heart ready,” I knew I had my title.

For a while I was pretty proud of myself for having a title that good. Then, about a year ago, I was reading a book that had a list of all the comedies Mack Sennett produced. One of those released in 1915 (I think) jumped out at me: “Her Marble Heart.”

Guess I wasn’t so original after all.