Category Archives: Writing

Ursula K. Le Guin. Go in Peace.

Ursula K. Le Guin

 “The speaking of her name and of her words goes on, and will go on, today and tomorrow and for a very long time now. As it should. She was the mother of so many of us, and you should take time to mourn your mother.”

-John Scalzi

 Like so many others, I felt a true loss upon learning of Ursula K. Le Guin’s death. And I feel a strong pull to “speak of her name and of her words.” I’m not a famous writer. I never met Ms. Le Guin, so I have no special stories to share. I only want to speak her name and talk for a minute about her words.

I first read her words when I was too young to truly understand them. Perhaps junior high or early high school. But while I missed much of the depth of her wonderful stories, I did appreciate them. Not just the poetry of them, though that wonder was there. No, what I felt in those words was power and recognition.

Her power was that of a mother, as John Scalzi so appropriately said. Here was a woman writing about nurture and honesty and respect. She wrote stories that fed us and opened us and shamed us. She showed us how to be True People, and she did it in the firmest, gentlest way. She was not a mother you could ignore, or talk back to, or argue with. She spoke with the authority of wisdom.

She was one of the first female writers I read who did that.

And I recognized myself in her words. Her stories were worlds I knew in my soul. I never knew her, and she certainly never knew me, but we were kindred spirits. Her worlds showed me how we could live honest lives, and that it was possible for a society to respect the Earth.

More recently, her words – in countless blog posts and articles – often gave me hope as she wrote about the nightmares of our world today. She had a way of laying a perspective on things we couldn’t control. If she was angry, she said so. If she despaired, she showed us why. If she had a solution, she described it. She reminded us that women were strong and good, and that we had a job to do in this world. She insisted that men were good, too, but not better than women. Equal. She never lost sight of the fact that we are all in this together.

And she never gave up on us.

I will miss her.





Keeping Busy and Out of Trouble

I just finished a busy and interesting year as president of my writers club – the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club. I’ve been with this group for 7 or 8 years, and for the first few, I kept my head down. Not volunteering, not me, nope. I know what happens when you volunteer…

But my lovely and talented critique partners (you know who you are) were all members of the Tri-Valley branch, and they all held positions on the board. At various times one or the another of them was secretary or president, program chair or membership chair, etc. It was interesting listening to stories of their activities and I admit to feeling the odd twinge of guilt now and then. My branch was always asking for volunteers. I was mostly retired. Surely I could do something. 

Eventually I gave in and took over the membership chair position. I found I really enjoyed it, too. I liked being retired and I loved spending days with my husband, but I did miss the challenges and camaraderie of work. It certainly helps that everyone else on the board are nice, interesting, and amusing people. Like any volunteer organization, people come and go, but we all work together very well, I think.

After two or three years of handling the membership work, the board asked if I’d take on the presidency. It was rather abrupt – usually the vice-president steps into that job, but we were short-handed and they promised to babysit me as I learned the ropes. It took some learning, too. I’d never chaired a meeting before, or made an agenda, or facilitated between co-workers. Mostly though, it felt natural to take it all on, including running the general meetings once a month. There’s a bit of me that’s a natural ham, and public speaking is just downright fun.

I trip up now and then, especially on the details. I’m a big picture person and I often need a reminder about the little things to do. Thank goodness for my digital calendar and pop-up notifications! I’m also STILL not any good with faces and names, and being president gives me ample opportunity to embarrass myself and the poor person who’s name I can’t remember. I do recognize all the board members by now, though! In fact, here we are at our recent planning meeting for the next fiscal year:

2017 2018 CWC Board of Directors They are Judith O., Kimberley Ingalls, Lucy H., David G., Andrew B., Elisabeth T., Judith Marshall, Judith Ingram, Danard E., and Al Garrotto. Missing are Lyn R., Jill H., and Ann D. The statue is not on the board!

You probably figured out that I’m president for the upcoming year, too. I blame it all on my critique group.

Female Protagonists, Part the Second

Okay, then. I promised a post on this. If you didn’t read the linked article from Friday’s post, you can go do that now. Or, not. It’s not a surprise to anybody that well-rounded, non-stereotypical female characters are mostly absent in the starring role, whether we’re talking about books, movies, TV, or whatever.

As a kid, I read lots of books with female protags. I don’t remember thinking these characters were inferior to their male counterparts. I also never questioned if they “should” be doing or saying the things they were doing and saying, or if those things were more appropriate for men. I sort of took the world as it appeared to me and didn’t try to read nefarious meanings into things.

Well then, of course, I grew up. What a shock that was.

Written for Their Time

But let’s talk about a hero of my innocent youth: Nancy Drew. She had all kinds of smarts, was a strong leader, fair, and good. I don’t remember her ever asking for permission for anything. It’s true, she WAS dependent on a man (her father) for her support, but hey, she was only 18 years old. She had a boyfriend who occasionally helped out with mystery solving, along with her two girlfriends and their boyfriends. But Nancy ran the show. The guys never showed up and took over for the ladies. They were strictly sidekicks. I don’t think they were even in every book.

It’s true, no one actually dated, and everyone was unfailingly polite. There was never a mention (that I remember) of anyone going to college or having a job. The books were sort of unrealistic in that way, or maybe my memory is hazy. Everyone was also white, good looking, and wealthy. This was the early 60’s and written with 60’s sensibilities. I believe the series continued to be written for many years. Maybe they improved.

Anyway, as a hero, Nancy rocked. She saw what needed to be done, and she did it. Or delegated. She understood the strengths of her people and she let them use those strengths. She never apologized for being a woman or even for being young. For me, this was very empowering. I internalized that, whether I realized it or not. So I grew up confident in my abilities. Sadly, I didn’t have a script to follow, and neither did the people around me. Especially the people around me. If they’d only known their lines, things would have gone a lot better for me back then.

Writing Female Protagonists

Of course, in thinking about all of this, I decided to go back and look at my own writing. Now, I do have female protags and I think they’re pretty strong characters. It’s important to me that I write women who live full lives and have equal status in the world. But each character is different and has to come to this in her own way.

Casey  – The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder

Casey was my first female character and she’s part of an ensemble cast. But she has  a real battle to wage for equality. We don’t meet her before the accident that takes her back in time to 1906, but she makes it very clear who she was and who she expected to be. Born in California in the late 20th century, she had no doubt of her equal status with men. It was in her blood and bones, and there was nothing Edwardian Ireland could do to convince her otherwise.

Shipbuilder was mostly about Thomas Andrews, and Casey’s story is wrapped up in his. The book ends  at the resolution of the Titanic sinking. But if I had a chance to write about the rest of Casey’s life in the early 20th century, we would see that she never backed down. Women were fighting for equality, dying and imprisoned in that battle, and our Casey would be right at the front, not just leading the charge, but with knowledge of how to make the fight better and more inclusive of ALL women, of any race, nationality, or sexual orientation. She would have confronted the Church and the government about the Magdalene Laundries, and insisted that women’s equality included the right to say NO to forced sex, and even the right to choose whether to bear a child. She would join the fight for better wages and working conditions for men and insist it applied to women too.

Oh, our Casey had red hair for a reason. She was a firecracker. If I ever get around to finishing the third book in this series, you just may get to see some of this.

Moira and Sarah – The Time Travel Journals: Bridgebuilder

Sarah is one of my favorite characters. She’s Casey’s granddaughter, born in an alternate  universe changed by the presence of time travelers. In 1980, Sarah is an engineer like her grandfather was, except she builds spaceships rather than ocean vessels. Thanks to her grandmother, Sarah never had to fight to get a science education or a job just like a man with her degree would have. It’s just the way the world is.

Sarah is happiest when she’s tinkering in the lab, figuring out how to create working machines. She’s MacGyver with overies, a hacker of chemicals, computers, machines, and neutrons. More than her male co-characters, Sam and Andy, Sarah is the real “bridgebuilder” in this book, the person who builds the machines that do what Sam or Andy want them to do.

Moira, on the other hand, has to fight for every step she takes. She’s a 17-year old school girl in the first universe, living on an unstable Earth in 2080. Much of the planet has become uninhabitable for humans. Governments have fallen apart, puppets of religious leaders and war lords. As the step-daughter of a politically powerful and violent preacher, Moira is destined for early marriage and a lifetime of beatings and bearing children. It doesn’t matter that a teacher called her “the next Einstein or Hawking.” On this Earth, women do what men tell them.

I know that seems excessive and perhaps it makes the story sound cliché-ish. But I’m only extrapolating from the rumblings of many of today’s religious extremists. Hey, I’ve been a religious extremist. I know the kind of world they want to see, and it’s a writer’s job to explore what life can look like if we follow certain paths.

Moira needs a lot of help to escape her prison, so she is not your usual, strong, kick-ass heroine. But this is what happens in real life. Moira doesn’t have super strength or a top-notch talent with deadly weapons, or even great courage. She does have a brilliant mind, intense curiosity, big dreams, and tenacity. And she has people who love her and see her potential. Some of those people put their lives on the line to help her, but here’s the thing: she doesn’t let them down. Even with help, the only way to escape a prison is to make the effort, and take the chances you get. And the best way to stay out of a prison is to build a new life, and Moira shines at that. She’s got her eyes on the stars and she’s not stopping until she gets there.

Oy, look at the time, and I’ve only covered two books! This is longish, too, so I’m going to publish it and give you a part 3.

Who are your favorite heroines? What do you look for in a good female protagonist?



I’ve always been disturbed by this business model. Sounds like it’s time to do something about it. I’ve never been “famous” enough to write for Huffington, but I do read the occasional article.

Stopping that NOW. I really do wish the writing world would stand up and laugh in Arianna’s face. I can’t stop people from writing for her. I can only refuse to be a consumer.

Go ahead… link back to the original article and see what you think.



Telling Stories

Here’s a fascinating bit of news about fairy tales. I love the possibility that our familiar tales are far older than we thought. I think that story-telling is as old as human intelligence. Our ancestors were probably telling stories even before language was fully developed, using gestures, sounds, and what words they had. The ancients used stories to teach proper behavior to their children, to explain the unknown (including creation myths), to entertain, and to unite the community.

This new discovery shows that some of those stories survived through many ages of human history and are still with us today. Red Riding Hood, Jack and Beanstalk, Rumpelstiltskin, and others started life many thousands of years ago, and incredibly, they started in more than one location. They evolved with the times of each period and place. Even after being written down, and then compiled by the Grimm Brothers, the stories continued to evolve. Our interpretations continue today. Most of us are familiar with the Mother Goose variations and certainly with Disney’s versions. But many, many fantasy authors have delved into these stories and created entire worlds around them.

I love stories that rewrite the old fairy tales and can almost always be hooked into reading a story that promises to be a retelling of one of them. I still love the TV series Once Upon a Time, despite Disney’s heavy and sometimes ridiculous hand in the story. (I’ll never forgive them for the walking broom).

What about you? Do you like retellings of fairy tales or do they piss you off? What stories get your attention? Do you like the idea that these stories were probably told 6,000 years ago?




Blogging 101, aka, Back to School

Every New Year, WordPress sends out a report about how your blog did during the previous year. It’s always a lot of fun, with statistics like if everyone who read your blog got on a cable car, it would take 60 cable cars to hold them all. Really, it’s a hoot.

It’s always nice to know that I’m not just talking to myself over here. I know I tend to wander around like I’m lost in Topic Land, but I really am interested in a lot of things and I like the idea of throwing out an idea or a current issue, or something and see what happens with it.

More often than not, nothing happens. One or two people might “like” the post, and sometimes you dear regulars will say something, but in general I get back a big resounding NADA. Now, that’s not your fault. I know you’re busy. I read a LOT of blogs and I don’t leave comments very often myself.

But I do hope to have interesting conversations with my readers. Better yet, I’d like to see them having interesting conversations with each other in my comment section. It’s not happening and I’d like to learn how to fix it.

Hence: Blogging 101, an online course offered by WordPress to help lonely bloggers improve their presence. Everyday, we’ll get an assignment to do something with our blogs and somehow this will all coalesce into real wisdom. Or something like that.

Today’s assignment is to post what my blog is for, what I want to accomplish with it, and what its purpose is.

To wit:
My blog’s main purpose is to let the world know about my books and where they can purchased. I gotta make a living you know.

Visitors to my blog can learn pretty quickly about my books. They’re all right there on the first page. But I want you to stay and chat. So I talk about a lot of other things. They are things I’m interested in, because it is MY blog after all.

So on my blog, we’ll talk about, in no particular order of importance and certainly not limited to only these topics:

Pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding
Raising kids
Travel (especially my travels)
Holistic Living
And oh yeah, writing, publishing, and when am I gonna finally finish another book????

What I want to see happening this year on my blog: conversations with my readers.

So go ahead. Drop me a line.

In Which the Author Waves the White Flag

I’ve been writing almost ten years. I never thought about that until right now, when I wrote that sentence. It sort of takes my breath away. Of course, we all know I haven’t been writing for the entire ten years. Based on recent performance, I have to lose the past year or two when I’ve only come up with a few hundred words. Barely qualifies.

During this time, I’ve belonged to various writing groups, such as OWW (Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror), CWC (California Writers Club), and of course, my own dear critique group with three other CWCers who also write SF&F.

Also during this time, I have stayed firmly outside of NaNoWriMo, which everyone knows is National Novel Writing Month. In November. When I have cooking to do and autumn decorations to deal with (after I put away the Samhain decorations), and hopefully visiting family. I have stood on the sidelines and cheered on many of my writing buddies as they dived daily into those thousands of words they needed to write to meet the goal of fifty thousand words in one month. But I refused to try it myself.

You’ve probably already figured out that I’m jumping into the pool this year. This was partly brought on by NaNoWriMo creator Grant Faulkner, who spoke at our CWC meeting last month. You can’t say “no” to that man, he’s too darn happy. And I’m also desperate. I really want to finish and publish more novels and I need help to get those words on paper.

So this is my ANNOUNCEMENT.  I have just signed up for NaNoWriMo and entered my novel, Verdandi, into the fray of NaNoWriMo, pumpkin pies be damned. I’m going to find a group or partner to write with, because I know I need the accountability. And every day during November, I will write.

Those words are terrifying. But if I do it, will someone make me a pumpkin pie?

The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Epilogue


August 1972, Belfast

Avoiding the busy pedestrian traffic, 26-year-old Sam Altair parked in front of the house known as Dunallon, and waited a moment to gather his nerve, reflecting back over the strange invitation he’d received. He knew who Casey Andrews was, of course. Everyone in Ireland did. The widow of Thomas Andrews, the man who brought Harland & Wolff through the twentieth century with increasingly modern sailing ships, airplanes, and eventually space shuttles. He made Ireland a force in modern industry and gave her a real presence in space. Along with her husband, Casey Andrews had been tireless advocates for a peaceful Ireland, and instrumental in bringing the warring factions together, even if they couldn’t always keep them together. They were heroes a hundred times over. But he could not imagine what her interest was in him.

Only one way to find out. He locked the car and approached the house, looking around him at the famous garden. At the door, he was greeted by a middle-aged woman who shook his hand, informing him she was Mrs. Andrews’ secretary. She guided him through the parlor and into a library at the back of the house, pausing in the doorway. “Dr. Altair is here, Ma’am.”

An old woman balanced on a cane in the center of the room, contemplating a box of books. When she saw him, her face crinkled into what could only be described as a huge grin. She limped toward him, taking his hand and studying his face intently. Sam took the time to study her in return.

He’d seen pictures of her as he was growing up, and had even seen her on a television talk show once, but he wasn’t prepared for how small she was. Her hair was white, the eyes a vivid green. She was pale and wrinkled, but dressed impeccably, and stood straight, supporting herself with the cane. He knew she was nearly ninety, and he was impressed with her bearing. He gripped her hand with care, afraid of hurting her, and bowed briefly. “Mrs. Andrews. How do you do?”

The smile widened. She shook her head as if amazed. “Incredible,” she murmured, then gestured to the divan. “Please, have a seat. Would you like some tea?”

He acquiesced, as the tea service was already in place. She poured, her hand shaking a bit. As he took his cup, she sat back in her chair and looked at him. “This will all be very strange to you, Sam,” she said, then blinked. “Excuse me, may I call you Sam? I know it seems forward, but it will make sense, shortly.”

He smiled at the old world formality and nodded, not without some confusion. “I have no objections, ma’am. I’m honored to meet you, but I don’t understand what I can do for you.”

Her eyes were bright, as if tears had formed in them. “I read your Ph.D. thesis.”

He nearly choked on the tea. “My thesis? It’s not even published, yet.”

Her smile was enigmatic. “I have connections. I understand your hypothesis predicts time travel.”

He put the cup down. “Mrs. Andrews, my work is extremely esoteric, even among physicists. What is your interest in it?”

Still that smile. “I’m going to do the same thing to you, that I did to my husband over sixty years ago. I’m going to tell you the bottom line, then we’ll go back to fill in the details. I practically had to tackle Tom to keep him in the room after I told him. I’ll beg a little more forbearance from you. I’m afraid my tackling days are over.”

He couldn’t help returning her smile, deciding she was senile and harmless. He spread his hands in submission. “Consider me glued to the chair, ma’am.”

She laughed. “I’ll remind you of your promise. You see, Sam, in the year 2006, you create an experiment in time travel, with unforeseen results. You end up moving yourself backwards through time to the year 1906. Along with a not very appreciative twenty-year-old American girl who had been attending school at Queens.”

He thought of his hypothesis and stared at her. “I know what my hypothesis predicts, but even I don’t think that’s possible, Mrs. Andrews.”

Her lips tightened and she gestured toward the boxes on the floor. “These journals are yours, Sam.” She seemed to sense his alarm and smiled briefly. “I don’t mean they were all written by you. Some of them were. Some were written by my husband, some by me. But they will be given to you, Sam. For your work.”

He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”

She picked up the loose-leaf notebook on the table in front of her. It was very old, the binding cracked and torn, its pages yellow and crumbling. She made no effort to hand it to him.

“This is the first one. I had my backpack with me when we went through time, and Sam and I started keeping our notes on these pages. It was all an accident, you see. He couldn’t get us back.” She rubbed the binder, her expression sad. She looked up at him earnestly. “You must try to accept it, Sam. Try to understand. Read the journals. Sam and I kept a section for memories of our time. We wanted a record of what had happened in our history and of what our world was like in 2006. For comparison, you see.”

He shook his head again. “Comparison with what?”

“We changed things, Sam. Some changes were inevitable, just because we existed in 1906. Some things, we changed deliberately. Other changes occurred as a result of the first changes, a domino effect. You realize we had almost no control.”

“I don’t believe this.”

She didn’t respond and he continued. “We don’t know what travel backwards through time would do. Are there parallel time streams? Tangential time streams? I don’t see how we can go back to the same time stream and create a loop, but maybe that’s what happens. We just don’t know!”

She held out a hand. “You didn’t know when it happened, either. We’re pretty sure we started a tangential time stream. But we don’t know. That’s one of things you’ll have to work on. But you see,” she handed him the book; he wouldn’t have taken it, but it was too heavy for her and he didn’t want her to hurt herself, “your older self did not want you to waste time redoing his work. He wanted you to have this information so you could begin where he left off.”

He closed his eyes, hoping it would all be gone when he opened them. That didn’t work, of course. When he opened his eyes, she was watching him. “Your husband was not from the future. I know about the Andrews family. Everyone does.”

Her smile was soft. “No, he wasn’t. Tom Andrews was born in 1873. I met him in 1906. I loved him almost at once. I didn’t know who he was, but Sam did.” Her gaze was direct. “I could not have just let him die, Sam. I had to warn him about his future and Sam agreed. It’s the first time we deliberately tried to change something.”

“Are you saying he died earlier in your history? Before 1961?” Sam struggled to keep up with the changing tenses and her confusing way of calling both him and this older self she said she knew, by the same name.

She thought about it, looking at her hands for a moment, as they rested in her lap, before looking back up at him. “Read the journals. I’m not willing to actually give them to you, yet. I’d like to request that you leave them here for now, but you are welcome to spend as much time here as you wish. You can even move in, if that would help you.” She stood, her gaze piercing. “There is a foundation established to provide you with funds for this work, should you decide to pursue it. There will be rules, particularly regarding my children and their descendants. I’m not willing for them to be hurt by this. I’ll give you some time, now. Please, look them over.”

He stared at the notebook as she made her slow way to the door. His hypothesis predicted this, but it made no conjecture about the consequences. Nothing was in there about the people and the lives affected by time travel. Perhaps it was fitting that his own life was disrupted by this. He looked up to ask her a question, but she was gone, the door closed. His own hand shook a bit, as he reached to turn the cover of the book.


Thank you so much for reading SHIPBUILDER! I truly hope you enjoyed it. Let me know! I’d love to hear what you think. If you have a blog or Facebook page, please consider leaving a review. Every bit helps a struggling author.

If you liked SHIPBUILDER, please continue the adventure in BRIDGEBUILDERS, the second Time Travel Journals book.

Marlene Dotterer_TTJ bk2_BRIDGEBUILDERS smallest

The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 44

Thomas Andrews, Managing Director, Harland & Wolff Shipyards
Thomas Andrews, Managing Director, Harland & Wolff Shipyards

Chapter 44

May 1915

Tom watched as George signed off on the final paper turning the Britannic over to White Star Line. She was every bit as beautiful as her sisters had been. George was confident she would perform well. Despite the Titanic tragedy, he said he was looking forward to heading the guarantee group on this voyage. Handing Tom copies of the reports, he raised an eyebrow at his friend. “Sure you don’t want to come along?” he asked, only half joking. “We could use your expertise.”

Tom laughed a little, holding up both hands as if to ward him off. “Now you know my wife would have my head if I left on that ship. Not only that, I honestly don’t want to go.” He reached over to shake George’s hand. “She’s as safe as we can make her, George. The workers are confident, but even more, I think the world is confident about that. No other ship has been watched as closely as this one has been during her construction, yet she’s going off with nearly every berth full.”

“They must think we did something right,” George agreed, “thanks to all the rule changes since the inquiry. Listen, I appreciate you looking in on Susan while I’m gone. I know you and Casey can understand her nervousness.”

“Indeed we do. We’ll have her and the children over as often as they want to come. We’ll keep her occupied.”

The “all ashore!” whistle blew and Tom gathered his papers. “Good voyage, George.”

“Thanks, mate. See you soon.”

Tom walked down the gangway, meeting Ham at the bottom and handing off the reports. Saxon joined them, as they watched the Britannic make her slow way to the river and on to Southampton, before the three of them went back to their duties. Tom sent off a telegram to Lord Pirrie, informing him the ship was off without a hitch.

Back in his office, he pulled out his time travel journal and entered the information, staring thoughtfully at the page as he finished. After a few minutes, he continued writing.

So many changes. Fourteen hundred people that died in another timeline still walk the earth, still building their dreams, because Sam and Casey chose to act. We now have shipping rules in place that reflect both the reality of the ships we build, and the dangers that nature can throw at us. World War I, as Sam and Casey call it, has been vicious, but is already contained. Sam insists the differences there are enormous. Was it because of someone on Titanic who lived instead of died?

Sam’s ‘inventions’ have begun to appear everywhere, even among the poor. His work to harness the sun’s energy is remarkable. I’m going to talk to Uncle Will about using his solar sails in the next ships we build. Sam thinks we’re ready to try that. He says if this is the primary energy source for the world, the changes from his future will be astronomical. He’s convinced it’s a good thing, and I believe him.

We are making real progress in keeping the various factions of Ireland talking to each other. Despite the effort it takes, Sam and I both want to concentrate on bringing our Ireland in this timeline to a peaceful existence, without all the bloodshed that occurred before. There are no guarantees, but ever since that letter, people have been insisting we live together in peace, and they’re voting like they mean it. I suspect we won’t be part of the UK much longer, but once again, Sam has helped with that. Ireland is the world’s technological leader, and we can deal with England from a position of strength, so breaking off will not beggar us. We can make it worthwhile for England, too.

From my point of view, these things are amazing, but I don’t see the future as changed. I am just living, with life going along as it always has, except for outside knowledge from a couple of future time travelers.

Tom smiled slightly, at the joy he always felt when thinking of one particular time traveler. His pen continued to move.

I am willing to just let life be. It’s good this way.

The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 43

Statue in Cobh, Ireland, representing the many Irish who left for America through Cobh port.
Statue in Cobh, Ireland, representing the many Irish who left for America through Cobh port.

Chapter 43

April–May, 1912

Subpoenas awaited the crew and guarantee group at Liverpool, and that meant traveling to London rather than the homes they had been longing for. Many passengers were suing, and the Americans had already begun an inquiry; Britain dared not lag behind. Although the ship was owned by an American company, most of the crew was British. The Wreck Commission was convened immediately, and presided over by Lord Mersey, whose first order of business was to obtain witnesses.

Captain Smith, bridge crew, Bruce Ismay, and the guarantee group, were required immediately. Lord Pirrie, already in London and still in poor health, would no doubt be required to testify at some point.

 I cannot tell you what it means to have the pictures you sent with Ham, Tom wrote to Casey, as he rode the train to London. He gave me your package right away and I have devoured it, feeling as if I am starving. The photograph is my constant companion; I must look at it a hundred times a day. To see your precious smiles, the three of you blowing kisses–Casey, how do you think of these things? How do you understand so clearly what my heart needs?

I worry that my little Terry will not remember me, that when I come home, I’ll be a stranger to her. If I am, then I will simply try every day to help her remember. When you write that she sleeps with my shirt and my picture held in her arms, I sit in wonder. How can she understand? But you say it helps her and I know you remind her always how much I love her. Do you know that you are the glue that makes the whole world stay together?

I have Jamie’s drawing in my pocket. I am a father drifting loose, but these gifts are like an anchor. I hold them and look at them often, hearing their voices and seeing them in my mind. I can picture Jamie sitting at his desk, drawing his picture, his tongue poking out as he concentrates. He is always so intense when he draws, so careful. I can tell that he actually wrote the message. I’m sure you helped him spell it, but to see the letters in his own hand makes me nearly burst. You see how silly I am? All children learn this, yet I am overcome.  

Casey, I feel so furious, so bitter. All I want is be with you, to hold you and hold our children, and to just be home. I feel that I have reached some limit, that duty no longer holds me under its sway. I am not myself, dear, and that worries me. Have I lost that part of me that holds honor as precious? Have I become selfish and shallow, feeling that I have given all I can, and having it refused, I have nothing more to offer?

I know they need answers. People died. Others lost money and valuables. Some of them lost everything they had. And I remind myself that we have accomplished only half of our goal. It is not enough that we saved most of the lives. The rules must change. People must change and learn that all our lives are precious. These hearings are a necessary part of that, and until I have finished all my part, I cannot rest. So I will set myself to get through this, to get it done and then return to Dunallon, and my heart’s desire as quickly as possible.

I beg you, continue to write. Send me all the little things you can think of. Hold me to the earth a little longer, Casey, and then I will be home and can hold you myself.

I love you,



He was in London for two weeks, and had to testify for five days. His first session lasted nearly all day, with questions about the ship’s design and construction. He had to explain nomenclature, how to read a blueprint, nautical measurements. It went on and on. And then he’d have to explain it again when someone else stepped up to question him. Tom had always been told he was a patient man, but this was beyond his capacity. Before the first day was over, he was convinced they weren’t looking for true answers. Rather, they wanted a particular answer to support their own agendas.

He wanted nothing to do with a whitewash. He did not expect Harland & Wolff to accept accusations of building an inadequate ship. At most, Lord Pirrie was guilty of short-sightedness for rejecting Tom’s own scenarios for accidents. But that was for Lord Pirrie to answer, and Tom would not let them trick him into accusations. He explained the designs, he explained how construction proceeded from the designs. In this, he had many supporters. The workforce of Harland & Wolff was held in the highest regard by the shipping industry. The commission would not be able to blame the firm for shoddy workmanship.

He was asked to explain the damage to the ship and the reasons for his prognosis. They spent several hours having him explain why he made no effort to repair the damage, but none of them seemed satisfied with his answers. What would they have wanted him to do? He couldn’t understand them by this point–he was tired and depressed with describing the injuries to his ship. Good Lord, did they actually think that he would not have done everything possible to save her? That he uncaringly let her die?

They finally let him go as they adjourned for the day, but then he had to work his way through the reporters. He had been told to not discuss the collision with them, and could only tell them he was very tired and needed to rest. This was the truth, and they let him go after a few minutes.

After Tom had testified for two days, they put Captain Smith on the stand. He testified all that day. He touched on Tom’s actions during the evening of the fourteenth, including their conversation on the boat deck, but he left out any mention of a “premonition.” Tom realized this was probably wise. Another experienced sailor might understand about premonitions and the feeling of pending disaster one could get while at sea, but this commission would not understand, and the reporters would create a sensation with it. They would never live it down.

So when they put him back on the stand and had him describe his actions that night, he also left out that part. He was relieved to do so, since he knew it was no premonition he had, but actual foreknowledge. How could he ever tell them that?

Before letting him go, in the middle of his second week there, they asked him what could have been done differently. He was desperate for good to come of this, and he spoke earnestly.

“Differently? I am on record as asking for a double hull and for higher watertight bulkheads. I fought hard for the number of lifeboats we had, and you all know that number greatly exceeded the requirements in place.

“What do we need to do differently? Sirs, we need to grow up. As industrialists, as traders, as businessmen, we need to act like adults. I have children, sirs, as do many of you. Children do not understand danger. They plunge ahead without regard for their environment because they don’t know any better. But we do know the dangers. We have no right to build bigger and bigger ships that carry more and more people, without also putting in place the protections we know are needed. We need to change the rules. We need safer ships.”

They let him go home then, although they warned him he might have to return for further questioning. The rest of the guarantee group had been allowed to leave after the first week. He booked his passage and sent a telegram to Casey telling her when he would be home. He had stayed with the Pirries of course, and his last evening in London, he shared a meal with his uncle, who was confined to bed. They had talked often during the week, and Lord Pirrie was philosophical about the commission’s possible verdict.

“I’ve no doubt they’ll put some blame on White Star and possibly myself, since we chose not to heed all of your warnings, son,” Lord Pirrie told him. “I expect that poor Captain Smith will take the brunt. But when it comes down to the finish, the real blame will rest with the Board of Trade and the shipping industry as a whole. Your final speech to them was right on mark, Tommy. Already, every line has added more lifeboats to their ships. Bruce plans on sending the Olympic and other ships back to the yard to be fitted with a second skin, and certainly the Britannic will be built with it. You’ll have to handle that, Tommy. It will be a huge job. There are other rules to be changed as well. It will all happen, son. I’m sure of it.”

“It’s a start, Uncle Will.” Tom moved his uncle’s empty tray to the bedside table and stretched the kinks out of his back.

His uncle watched him with concern. Tom seemed to look much older than his thirty-nine years. Lines etched his mouth, the skin around his eyes was puffy and drooping, new gray speckled his hair. He was subdued, somehow, as if the joy he usually carried with him had been misplaced. Perhaps he just needed more time to put this all behind him. It would do him good to get home, too.

Lord Pirrie reached for Tom’s hand and patted it. “There’s a lot to do, lad, but take some time when you get home. I imagine your wife has been through hell these last few weeks. She’s a good girl, Tommy. Take care of her for awhile.”

Tom’s soft smile touched his eyes as he returned the hand pat. “I’ll do that, Uncle Will. You follow your doctor’s orders and get better, all right? I’ll take care of things at the yard.”