The Independent Extols The Catskills, But….

….in its “quest” for “Catskills style,” the U.K. newspaper in my humble opinion omits some very “stylish” places:

Searching for style in the Catskills

I understand it seems to be a narrowly focused piece that showcases certain businesses. Still, it gives an unbalanced impression of the region. There is lots of “style” out there beyond hugging Route 28 towards Roxbury.

Places that Indy article plugs, such as Woodstock and Phoenicia, are definitely worth visiting. Head north as well. Windham and adjoining towns – Hunter, Jewett, Ashland and Prattsville* – should not be missed.

Windham has the prettiest Main Street in the Catskills. It also boasts a large ski resort. (There’s also another in Hunter.) It has the wonderful Bistro Brie & Bordeaux. (One wouldn’t have thought the Independent could’ve possibly overlooked something like, uh, that.) There’s also the well-regarded Windham Vineyards and Winery. And you haven’t eaten in a diner until you’ve tried (cash only) Michael’s. (My English brother-in-law – who visited last summer – still talks about how much he enjoyed it.) I could go on….

Next door Ashland – one of the smallest towns in New York state – even has a replica Partridge Family bus. (It’s on private property.) Does anything get more “stylish” than that?

The area has state forests and fantastic hiking trails. It’s also somewhere you can drive for tens of miles before bumping into a traffic light. (The hamlet of Tannersville – there’s “style” there too – in the town of Hunter, has the STOP light.) The vistas and serenity are second to none for the Catskills.

Rainbow over the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2012.]

Rainbow over the Catskills, looking toward Hunter Mountain. (Notice the deer accidentally in frame.) [Photo by me, 2012.]

Yes, I’m biased. Our house is outside of Windham. However, if you drive up from New York City and confine yourself only to what’s along Route 28 and don’t continue up from Phoenicia to Route 23, you haven’t really seen the Catskills.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Writing, writing, writing. Woodstock isn’t the only place in the Catskills with authors. ;-)

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….

NOTE: *For me, one of the few “lighthearted” moments of Tropical Storm Irene and the lousy late summer of 2011 was hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper repeatedly say “Prattsville” to an audience of global viewers. The town and area have rebounded from the flooding. Prattsville still has a few ruined private dwellings marked for demolition, but most business locations have recovered, rebuilt, and, indeed, often been refurbished.

Soooouper Geeeeenius

We’ve had three mice infestations during the last year. They love the inside of our boiler, which is down in our crawl space. Typical Catskills. Typically rural.

They slip inside it through the outside fresh air intake, which is about 12 inches off the ground and only a few inches above a naked pipe, from which we suspect they can easily reach up to get to the intake. After the first time, I put a window screen mesh over the intake; but they nibbled through that. After the second, I jammed steel mesh into the intake opening; and they wiggled around that.

After the third, the other day, the propane company technician who cleared them out suggested dryly, “Ya need a cat.”

The in-laws' cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

The in-laws’ cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

Now there’s a high-tech solution for you. Except we can’t have a cat. We are in the U.K. a lot, and my mother detests cats and would never visit us.

“Maybe we should get a cat,” my wife joked.

The mice have done no major damage thus far, but we suspect it’s only a matter of time. So I’ve finally had enough. No mice are going outsmart Wile E. Nello.

I’ve constructed a multilayer defensive system. Please don’t call it my personal Maginot Line. Just don’t:

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Its basis is two layers of 1/4 inch gap steel mesh tacked to the house around the entire intake/out vent. (The opening you see is the out vent; the fresh air intake opens on the reverse side.) I jammed layers of gorilla tape into all gaps (no matter how small) between the mesh and the house siding (which is not flat of course). A board below blocks a horizontal pipe that the critters may use as a “step up.” I even placed a blocking piece of metal next to another pipe, to the left, from which they might be able to jump across.

When my wife saw the finished product – which took me a couple of hours to construct – she declared, “You’re wasted writing books!”

“Oh, yeh,” I replied, “and at some point an anvil will probably come down on my head.” 😏

My Day

Friday was a relatively ordinary day. I started early, at the PC after 6am re-reading Thursday’s writing output. I then had a read of what’s going on in the world, messed around on Twitter a bit, and put up a post here. Actually getting dressed and eating breakfast followed. I then tackled a few things around the house as well.

Around 9am, the new writing began. Here, I use a large-screen, desktop PC that sits on a glass-topped desk positioned on our loft office space. I have a comfortable office chair (which has wheels). If I sit back for a think, I can see Windham Mountain through a window.

The desk is large, and I’ve got reference materials scattered all over it and stuffed in hanging files sitting off to the side. For a background history refresher, on the desk right now is also a book I’m re-reading on the Algerian conflict (1954-1962). Reference material like that usually ends up supporting only a paragraph or two, or a few sentences in a conversation; but I firmly believe that, for this tale, reality has to support the fiction believably. (Think, in a similar sense, of the likes of, say, The Winds of War, but on a much more intimate scale…. and with no character becoming close to a U.S. president or a Soviet dictator.)

I had sat down with a detailed part of a chapter already firmly in mind. (I have the sequel outlined, but “the guts” are what need filling in.) I also had had a brainstorm about an unplanned, new chapter for the second half of the book, and which I felt I had to sketch out at least. I don’t really want to add to “part 2” just now; but when an idea hits, I have to write it down so I don’t forget it.

When I get going, I “zone out.” I put in earphones and play music (often older stuff from the 1990s as inspiration). My wife jokes that she knows not to talk to me when I’m writing. (“Your brain is elsewhere, thinking I don’t know what, about I don’t want to know who, and I can see that.”) As I tap, tap, tap, she leaves me alone, and goes off to do whatever she has to do.


Hours disappear. If you want to see your life vanish, write a novel. Nine o’clock yesterday morning was suddenly 1pm. Four hours gone in a flash. After a bite to eat, and a quick shower, it was back to “the grind.” Four o’clock rolled around faster than I could yell “Patchogue!” – hint: that’s an obscure reference to the first book:

“No, I’m definitely not English,” James made clear. Trying to play it cool, he looked down again at his notebook for a moment, unsure what to say next. Finally, he voiced what seemed obvious. “And you aren’t from Patchogue?”

Uh, to be clear, I’m not asserting there that “Patchogue” is obscure. I don’t want to get into trouble! Rather I’m noting only that the reference to it in the book might be. ;-)

Aside from a sandwich and the shower, in all those hours I had barely gotten far from the desk. The result was worth it. I had pages and pages of (what seems decent) material.

At some point, I checked Twitter. I could see tweeting pals either exulting or bemoaning Spain’s being kicked all the way to Amsterdam in the World Cup. I was back in “the real world” again. :-)

Happy Saturday!

In Kinderhook

In “I Love NY” TV ads, Hyde Park gets mentioned regularly. FDR, FDR, FDR. Always, FDR….

President Martin Van Buren's home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

President Martin Van Buren’s home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Tourist board at President Martin Van Buren's home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Tourist board at President Martin Van Buren’s home, in Kinderhook. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Yesterday, we visited the estate of the first, and thus far only, U.S. president not to have spoken English as his first language. (His was Dutch.)

About an hour and a half north of Hyde Park, President Martin Van Buren’s home, Lindenwald, on Route 9H in Kinderhook, is a relaxed place – and a pleasant learning experience. It’s also inexpensive. The extensive grounds are free (and there are also walking trails), and it’s only $5 for a 50 minute National Park Service guided tour of his beautiful home.

Yes, we all know FDR is a huge deal. So of course his Hyde Park home is a “must see.” But, hey, let’s not totally overlook the 8th president…. who was also the first president born as a U.S. citizen (in 1782), as well as the first to come from New York! ;-)

Afternoon In The Catskills

A view of Windham Mountain, in upstate New York, just after 3:30pm Thursday, local time:


You know that bit on Euronews where they do that video offered with “No Comment” thing?


Uh, sorta. :-)

I’ve suffered from occasionally absolutely cracking headaches since I was a teen. I’ve never really understood why: they have no “obvious” trigger. Today had been “one of those days.” Terrific pain hit this morning and has been with me all day.

I gave James my headaches in the books. Nice of me, eh? As writers we have control literally over everything our characters do… and endure!

Finally feeling a little better, I ventured outside. Hence, the photo.

“I Love New York”

I tweeted a Catskills post and photo the other day. I Love New York’s official Twitter account found it, “favorited” it, and tweeted @ me:

I Love New York on Twitter.

I Love New York on Twitter.

Hilarious. Always remember, you never 100% know who’s going to stumble on what you have uploaded to the web. ;-)

Morning Mist

Happy Saturday! How about an “uplifting” photo?:

Morning mist below Windham Mountain (left) and Hunter Mountain (distant, right), in the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Morning mist below Windham Mountain (left) and Hunter Mountain (distant, right), in the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2014.]

I grabbed that about 45 minutes ago. I’m a “morning person,” as you may know. Even on the weekends!

There’s still plenty of snow visible on the ski runs on both Windham (left) and Hunter, but brown patches are increasingly obvious. Spring has arrived. Skiing is finished until November.

Have a good weekend, wherever you are. :-)

An Authoring Anniversary

How time flies, doesn’t it? I don’t remember the exact date off-hand. (I’d have to search through my emails.) But last April was the first time anyone other than myself (and my wife) saw the draft of my novel.

I had begun writing in secret – telling no one, not even my wife – a few months earlier to prove to myself I could do it. After decades of reading what others produced (mostly non-fiction, but some fiction too), and thinking often that I could do it at least as well, and maybe better, I had decided now was the time to try it to prove it. I figured as well that, yeh, if I finished it I would put on Kindle and make it available via print-on-demand. Some people I know would buy it for a laugh, and that would be that.

James Fenimore Cooper wrote his first novel on a dare from his wife. She challenged him that he couldn’t write something better than the book she happened then to be reading. Uh, he did. And as we know, eventually he accomplished a bit more than that….

* * *

When I finally had a full draft, and after also revealing to my wife what I had been doing, suddenly reality hit: I now had to share it with someone else. After she had read it (“Have you known a French au pair?”), she pronounced it excellent. (“But you’ll never believe me because I’m your wife!”) When I asked her who she thought might be the best initial person to show it to, she blurted out a certain friend’s name immediately: she loves fiction, would read it critically, and knew how to give “negative” feedback without causing offense.

We were then here in the Catskills (as we are now). I gulped, wrote that friend and emailed the manuscript to her in England. Suddenly, this was no longer about just me. I told her I wanted total candor. If she thought it was not publishable, I wanted her to tell me that. I desperately needed “the truth.”

She came flying back at me within just minutes, writing she was stunned to hear what I had done, and that she’d love to read it. About a week later, she wrote again, this time in detail. One word in that second email will stay with me forever: she called my book – my book! – “brilliant.”

It had some “flaws,” she added; but she also wrote that nothing’s perfect, and that she was dying to help me out. She said she loved the story and the characters. She joked also that she was keen to find out who all of these people – especially the young women – were or are? I wrote her back with a ;-) that maybe someday I’d fill her in. (Tragedy caused me a couple of months ago to reveal here who is partly an inspiration for one of them.)

I was thrilled at her overall positive reaction. Her take gave me the guts to pass it around more widely. Others’ responses were similar. I received yet more useful suggestions. I couldn’t believe it. One person told me she had printed out the entire file and bound it herself in order to be able to relax on her sofa with a glass of wine and read it like a proper book!

When you are trapped in your authoring bubble, unsure of yourself, hoping what you are tapping, tapping, tapping on the keyboard is at best “passable?” To have others eventually tell you it is better than you had thought? Learning that latter is a relief of the highest order.


I could breathe out: I had done it. Whatever its ultimate fate out there “on the market,” the book exists forever. I’d proved to myself I could write what others considered a good novel. Although what I had written was not mayhem crime drama like he writes of course, I had done what my “publishing house”-contracted novelist uncle had done for years.

I felt I could do it again. I realized I love doing this. Maybe I’m strange, but I love awakening at 5 AM and asking myself as I turn on the PC, “Okay, friends [on these pages], so what’s going to happen to you today?”

* * *

I see as well that the book is being bought by quite a few beyond just friends/ family who’d been “in the know,” and I couldn’t be more pleased by that. (If you happen to be one of them, I hope you’ve liked it.) I also know now what I have to do to get from start to finish. I no longer need to be secretive either. However, because of the book’s (and increasingly “books”) biographical and autobiographical inputs (such as story “inspirations” from the likes of my uncle), my American relations in particular remain completely in the dark about my novelist efforts.

I read other authors who suggest you tell everyone you are writing. Shout it to all around you! they advise. The argument is if everyone knows, that gives you the encouragement to finish.

But my own experience has been different. As word spread about my literary effort, I found myself a bit embarrassed when discussing my “writing a novel.” However, I so wanted to create one I would be proud of and – more importantly – others would enjoy reading. In the end, though, you have to write for yourself. If you can’t motivate yourself to finish, no one else will motivate you.

I plan three books with these characters. If anything, in others knowing now of the first book and the continuing story, I feel not motivation to finish writing the first sequel so much as pressure to produce on the same level. Obviously having done it once, everyone’s sure I can do it again! Ahhhhhhhhhhhh! :-)

Catskills Wildlife

We were doing some tidying up off our driveway earlier today, at the main road. This is the rural Catskills, so “main road” means we saw two cars pass us in over an hour. One of the drivers even waved at us.

That’s common. I had also never found a driveway marker reflector that had been knocked over two winters ago by our snowplowing company and sent flying who knows where. I had long ago given it up for “lost in the woods” someplace.

As I was cutting some small trees to improve visibility from the driveway entrance, I noticed a flicker from across the road. There is no house there, just “wilderness.” I walked across the road – after carefully looking both ways, in case a car appeared, of course – and stepped down off of it, and it turned out I had found our lost reflector. As I spotted that, I also noticed two small piles of rubbish in the woods a few feet farther away, and two shredded black bags.

My first thought was, “Some S.O.B. has dumped!” (Or “fly-tipped,” as the English would say.) Uh, but when we closer investigated the small messes half-buried under leaves and brush, we realized it was rubbish of ours. And, given its contents, we also realized we had put it out for collection sometime in July-September 2013. (It was rubbish unique to when our niece and nephews visited our house here from England last summer.)

Down low off the road in the trees, the rubbish wasn’t visible from a passing car; and we almost never walk that opposite side of the road. (There are no sidewalks/ pavements here. This is the Catskills. We’re lucky there’s a road.) So the stuff had laid under the winter blanket of snow (that’s now just gone), and before that, last autumn, it had been hidden in the trees.


What happened? We believe it’s more than likely that a bear had one night “helped himself” to our wheelie bin (we can’t see the road, let alone the bin, from our house) to ascertain if there were any “goodies” inside. He must’ve pulled out the rubbish (after having likely knocked over the bin to get at its contents; the garbage company probably found a knocked over empty bin that next morning and just set it upright), and dragged the bags across the road to have a “meal.”

Sadly for him, though, he picked the wrong house. We are recyclers and almost never discard food. Obviously he got a “whiff” of something, but he must have been one really disappointed bear when he realized a smell was pretty much about all there was to be had. ;-)


UPDATE: Oh, and also on the subject of local wildlife, I forgot to mention this: This morning, we discovered we had a mouse nest inside our boiler. The engineer doing the service just shook his head and cleared it out: they had gotten in through the air intake.

Second time in three years. They chewed through a mesh covering I had over it. Next up, iron bars, I guess….