Long long ago in a faraway land (that I’ve visited and love) lived a minor knight in the service of the Habsburgs who lived not far away. The Habsburgs were not yet that jaw-jutting mega-ruling family they became, but a little conclave of Austrian immigrants who had a castle (see photo above) on a hill looking over the Reuss river valley in what is now the Canton of Aare. In a few hundred years, they’d be chased out of Switzerland, but for now they were busy protecting their interests.

The castle-fortress belonging to the (very minor) knight, Heinrich von Lunkhofen, was on a hillside, somewhat south and east from the Habsburg’s headquarters. It was a tower with a few attached buildings and a courtyard. Its main jobs were to house the minor knight’s family, provide protection to anyone who needed it in times of attack, and protect the Habsburg’s interests. Heinrich’s brother, Hugo, had a similar castle between the Habsburg’s fortress and Heinrich’s. Near the town named for the family, Unter-Lunkhofen, are ruins of Hugo’s castle-fortress, but nothing remains of Heinrich’s.

Of course, the minor knight’s family had a flag which was carried into the crusades (presumably) and whenever there was a battle locally (it was the feudal period, key word, FEUD), and a kind of address marker for mail delivery (You made that up, Martha). Years and years later, a tiny bit of Heinrich’s DNA made it’s way to Monte Vista, Colorado.

So, without further ado (what’s ado?) here’s my family’s flag (crest). It is also the “wappen” for the village of Zwillikon in the area of Affoltern am Albis.

Lunkhofen Wappen


My family has another crest, too, for the other side, the Schneebelis. Their name started out as “Schnew” (snow) and then “Snewli” and then (no one knows why) Schneebeli (little snowballs). German evolved just like English so spellings changed and stuff like that, but “beli”? It’s a red background with three snowballs on it. There’s a lot of dispute (well a “lot” is relative…) over why the Lunkhofen name vanished and the family became Schneebeli. My theory is that it got very inconvenient at a certain point to be connected to the Habsburgs.

My other theory is that there is a genetic predisposition to love snow.


Retroactive DNA Specificity (What?)

A few years ago I wanted to know my pedigree. When Groupon offered a discount on a fly-by-night-marginally-accurate DNA test, I jumped at the chance.

I learned from it that I am 18% Native American. Because I’m a research kind of person, I had to figure that out. It seemed that the similarity between Northern, Northern, Northern Scandinavian DNA and Native American DNA sometimes yielded this result. Reindeer or Wapiti? I’m good with chasing ungulates across ANY region of the frozen north.

Left with more questions than answers about my pedigree, I forked out MORE money, this time to Ancestry, to get a clearer picture. Why? Because, at the time, it seemed to matter. Now?

Well there are just those times in life you want that $100 back.

Having invested the money in order to get pretty maps and charts explaining what I already knew, it has been kind of fun watching the whole DNA/ancestry thing evolve. Since I went into this looking for Swiss ancestry in particular (because of my novels) I was a little disappointed when, originally, all I got was a vague gesture toward Southern Europe. Ancestry keeps updating its ancestry stuff as they learn more. Today (in my relentless search for a compelling featured photo) I saw the latest changes and they pleased me. Switzerland is now on the map as is the migration of the Schneebelis which is, ultimately, all that matters. 😉

Hip Replacement Update: Doc ordered muscle relaxer for spasms, but the pharmacy didn’t get the prescription yesterday. Still, last night went much better thanks to Percocet. There is a lot of swelling with this surgery, mostly on the operated leg, but all over. It has been slowing diminishing. The best thing is that every single day, something is better than the day before. I think I might actually be able to drive to my staple-removing doc appt. next week.


I’m White

I finally got the results of my spit test and it comes as a huge surprise to me that I’m white. Who knew? Apparently the “indigenous American” reading on a different test came from Finnish DNA, the Sami people…

And, when it comes to being white, with the multiple and continuous migrations throughout Europe, nationality is pretty irrelevant. None of this is anything I did not already know.

I just wanted to be a Native American, but at least somewhere in the background, in the 19th century, reindeer herders landed in Canada.

Green Like Me

St. Patrick’s Day was always a big deal for me and my other Irish friends. One year at the college where we both taught my friend and colleague, Denis Joseph Francis Callahan made a special presentation on the white slavery of the Irish. He had an ulterior, political motive at that college in which most of the students were Hispanic, Filipino or Black, and that was the un-PC point of, “Shut yer gob. We’ve all had a rough go.” America’s tradition of white slavery is  a bit of history that many white nationalities have experienced coming to the new world and which is never — OK, very very seldom — taught in history classes. Many people were shocked. I do not think the lesson stuck, but at least it was out there.

There were other celebrations, too, particularly the reading of Irish literature at D. G. Wills bookstore in La Jolla where Irish books took prominence on the shelves.

In my family, too, Kennedy, dontcha’ know, there was the eating of the corned beef and cabbage, the buying of soda bread at the store, whatever else there was Irish that we could do. Sad to say, the parents weren’t whiskey drinkers. Me mum drank Bourbon and me da was after a finger or two of Scotch. The beer in my house was Schlitz. For meself, my favorite poet is an Irishman, William Butler Yeats, and ’tis of no importance that he was a Northern Irishman, he was Irish, still.

As for me, I’ve passed for Irish so well that in an Irish pub in San Diego, accompanied by a friend from Ireland, a pub patronized by ex-pats (see what I did there?) a foine young man, a few sheets to the wind, asked me when I’d last been “home.”

And now? All my research has shown me that in me blood, I have but a drop of the ould sod.

The British Celtic races from which I’m descended came from the Scottish highlands (see picture above). Looks like I’m more Indigenous American than Irish. So here I am this St. Patrick’s Day, feeling nostalgia not for me ancestral homelands of the Green Isle, but feeling nostalgia for the time when I believed I was Irish.

The truth can be a hard thing.


Erin go Bragh!  anyway and here’s my favorite Yeats’ poem, the “Song of the Happy Shepherd.”

The woods of Arcady are dead,
And over is their antique joy;
Of old the world on dreaming fed;
Grey Truth is now her painted toy;
Yet still she turns her restless head:
But O, sick children of the world,
Of all the many changing things
In dreary dancing past us whirled,
To the cracked tune that Chronos sings,
Words alone are certain good.
Where are now the warring kings,
Word be-mockers? — By the Rood
Where are now the warring kings?
An idle word is now their glory,
By the stammering schoolboy said,
Reading some entangled story:
The kings of the old time are dead;
The wandering earth herself may be
Only a sudden flaming word,
In clanging space a moment heard,
Troubling the endless reverie.
Then nowise worship dusty deeds,
Nor seek, for this is also sooth,
To hunger fiercely after truth,
Lest all thy toiling only breeds
New dreams, new dreams; there is no truth
Saving in thine own heart. Seek, then,
No learning from the starry men,
Who follow with the optic glass
The whirling ways of stars that pass —
Seek, then, for this is also sooth,
No word of theirs — the cold star-bane
Has cloven and rent their hearts in twain,
And dead is all their human truth.
Go gather by the humming sea
Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell,
And to its lips thy story tell,
And they thy comforters will be,
Rewarding in melodious guile
Thy fretful words a little while,
Till they shall singing fade in ruth
And die a pearly brotherhood;
For words alone are certain good:
Sing, then, for this is also sooth.
I must be gone: there is a grave
Where daffodil and lily wave,
And I would please the hapless faun,
Buried under the sleepy ground,
With mirthful songs before the dawn.
His shouting days with mirth were crowned;
And still I dream he treads the lawn,
Walking ghostly in the dew,
Pierced by my glad singing through,
My songs of old earth’s dreamy youth:
But ah! she dreams not now; dream thou!
For fair are poppies on the brow:
Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.





Blind Dates

Many people are very interested in their ancestral connections. I’m interested, but not with the consuming passion that would lead me to list “genealogy” as an interest. But  weird blips in my experience as a writer made me very curious. Who were those people, why was I writing about them, and what do the connections MEAN? I’ve been very interested in the question of ancestral memory since writing Savior.

Last fall I got a good deal on DNA testing through AncestrybyDNA.com. Nope. That’s NOT Ancestry.com. The information I got from that good deal was pretty useless (“Dude, you’re, like, White and stuff”) except for the revelation that I have nearly 20% native American ancestry. That made me extremely curious. I knew it could only have come from my dad’s side of the family since I had a pretty solid sense of who my maternal ancestors are. That sent me searching.

I learned that occasionally Sami DNA reads as native American DNA — that seemed very possible as my dad’s maternal grandparents came from Sweden — but southern Sweden, not reindeer land. AND there is no trace of them before Minnesota. Carl Berggren is a common Swedish name. Late nineteenth century ships were full of Carl Berggrens.

I looked around on my dad’s father’s side (formerly terra incognita) and discovered that the family we have always thought was Irish isn’t, much.  The mysterious woman — my dad’s grandmother, the woman with my eyes — was not French Canadian of Irish descent. Her father was a Scot and her mother descended from Finns who had landed in Quebec. Aye but ’tis true. The man she married was an Irishman.


Emma Jane (Mackie) Kennedy

With all this random mating among my progenitors (thanks, though, guys) I began to think this ancestry thing is really a joke — especially when I found a very precocious Swiss ancestor who had married and had children AFTER he died at age 12!

But I took another test. This one required me to spit into a tube. That’s supposed to tell me what nationalities comprise the wonder that is me. I will get the results in a month or so.

In my secret heart I’m hoping it will tell me that I’m 20% Reindeer Herder or Elk Chaser or “I will fight nor more, forever” or a Great Builder of Igloos. I’d like a genetic explanation for my love of snow, animals and high country.



Daily Prompt If I Could Turn Back Time If you could return to the past to relive a part of your life, either to experience the wonderful bits again, or to do something over, which part of you life would you return to? Why?

In the process of having my DNA tested, I took a test that I thought would give me percentages of ethnicity. Turns out that is not the test I took. I took a test that tells me my “mitochondrial DNA” or my mom’s ancestry, meaning ancestry in a very literal sense, like 10,000 years ago.

I wasn’t thrilled by this information. I don’t know anything — didn’t know anything — about “haplogroups” or all the arcane numbers that appeared on my report which now, I know, are points in my DNA where certain “mutations” occurred. It’s still not very meaningful to me except for one thing…

I share mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) with Ötzi, the Ice Man.

There are other things — the migration pattern of my mtDNA goes from Turkey to Iceland. Apparently their culture grew and defined itself in the South Tyrol (Hello, Reinhold Messner!) where Ötsi was found. This group of women (this is female DNA) mixed with a group of men (male DNA) and became Celts.

In short, I didn’t learn anything that I hadn’t already surmised from looking at my ancestry back 1000 years. 

Still, Ötzi, I’ve always liked him. Years ago, when his model came to the Museum of Man in San Diego, I was there to see him. If I could turn back time, I’d go see those people who were goat-herding, neolithic mountain dwellers. I don’t think I’d like to live with them, but it would be cool to see them.



If I could relive a moment in my life? Still the same one I’ve written twice already.

An Indian in the Woodpile?

They Found ME

Writing Challenge Digging for Roots In this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge, tell us about what makes you, you.

I cannot imagine anything more “Twilight Zone” than writing a novel set 800+ years ago and discovering you had written accurately about your own family of whom you had known nothing.


While writing Martin of Gfenn, I became fascinated by one of the characters, the Commander. In 2005 I set out to write a prequel that would tell the story of the Commander’s life before he came to Gfenn.

Anyone who’s written a novel knows that characters have lives of their own and at certain point, a writer must allow the characters to tell their own stories. I had no idea where that would lead me when I set out to write this book. I finished a draft in 2005 and put it aside; other (rather dire) circumstances had captured my life and I had to attend to them. In 2010, when I returned to this novel, I was a different person and a different writer.

In what was going to be the “prequel” to Martin of Gfenn, the Commander was going to be the oldest son of a minor noble, a simple knight, who bred horses and lived…where? I decided he would live in Aargau. I put his castle on a hill (small castle, more fort than castle) and using some interesting information about a ruined castle near Solothurn, I built my character’s childhood home.

I gave him a brother named Hugo, a father named Ulrich, a mother named Anna and a fiancée named many different things I can’t now remember, but her name became Gretchen. The protagonist was named Rudolf.

He and his brother happily went to the Crusades — Rudolf to save his soul and Hugo to have an adventure. At a certain point in my writing, their father’s name, Ulrich, no longer seemed “right” so I changed it to Heinrich (bear with me; I know you feel like you’re in a bad dream with this half-assed plot summary and a Tolstoyan list of changing names coming at you). The family became: Father — Heinrich. Mother — Anna. Sons — Rudolf and Hugo. Fiancée— Gretchen.

Meanwhile, Martin of Gfenn came out. I sent copies to four newspapers around Zürich. Three interviewed me and published reviews of the novel. Martin of Gfenn became a big seller in a small part of Switzerland, and I got a email from a Swiss fan asking if I had Swiss ancestry. I believed I did, but I had no proof. I had looked, to no avail (I looked because my grandmother’s cooking was exactly the same as a few “typical Swiss” dishes I’d eaten in Switzerland), so I gave it another shot and I found…

The earliest known of my grandmother’s progenitors came from the Albis region between Zürich and Aargau. Some of them lived in what is now Aargau; some in Zürich. They were a large family of relatively minor knights in the service of the rising Hapsburg family. My grandmother’s — and my — progenitors names were….

Heinrich, married to Anna, with children Rudolf and Conrad. Heinrich’s BROTHER was named Hugo. Rudolf married a girl named Margaretha which is normally shortened to Gretchen. They lived in a castle on a hill looking over the Reuss and the village of Affoltern am Albis in Canton Zürich. There were visible ruins of the castle until the early 20th century; now there is just this wall (see photo). It was a197a3727-01f3-42aa-a472-131462fe9125 small castle, mostly a fort, and, apparently, judging from the supports and old records, it had had a large tower.

Of Heinrich and  Anna’s two sons, one, Rudolf, lived a very long life (well into his 80s) and the other, Conrad, was lost to time. In my novel, Rudolf survives a significant and bloody battle, while his brother is killed.Once I found all this, I changed the name of  my character, Hugo to Conrad. That was one of two important changes I made to adapt my “creations” to historical fact. The other?

The original ending of the novel really didn’t work, but it seemed to me to fit and to be effective and sufficiently mysterious. It left the door open to possibilities. A big fan of French film, I prefer equivocal endings to those that are neat and tidy, but having learned that the REAL Rudolf lived into old age, I felt a responsibility to him to extend his story, to give him one more chance to fight and win over his demons. The “real” Rudolf had also had children (and so I’m here 🙂 ). I loved “my” Rudolf and I didn’t want to shortchange him of his future. As I thought about it, it seemed more and more that equivocal or even sad endings can be as big a cop out as happy ones.

Though it is impossible, it seems that my ancestor was pushing me as a writer to do something new. I will not say what, as you might want to read the book someday! There are two chapters posted on Rudolf’s blog.

I also Lunkhofen Coat of Armsremembered how, in 1994, on my first trip to Europe, I had been taken into some old hall in Zürich and told to look at all the coats of arms up around the wall. I remember not caring one bit. The Twilight Zone aspect is that the coat of arms of my own family is on that wall. Heinrich’s older brothers (Heinrich was the youngest of three) became very powerful. In Aargau there are towns that bear their name. Over time, “my” side of the family changed its name. That name was Anglicized in the 18th century when some of the members emigrated to America. The last person in my family with that name was a woman. Her daughter was my grandmother’s grandmother. All of my grandmother’s female ancestors (and most of the male) were Swiss (Amish!). That explained her cooking.

If It’s Monday, it Must Be WordPress!

Last week Frankie asked if I’d contribute to his Blog Tour. To do this, I had only to answer four question. Here are my answers to the four questions, and though he did not say,  I’m guessing I have to ask two more people. The people I have chosen are Barbara Pyett and Helen Meikle. Both women write fascinating posts, have interesting opinions and write great comments on my posts. I’d like to know more about them as writers (and maybe as people, too, like the two don’t go together?). I hope they say “yes.”

Here are the questions and my responses:

What am I working on at the moment? Last summer I finished Rudolf of Apple Tree Village, a project I actually began in 2004. I learned a lot from writing Martin of Gfenn especially about myself and my weaknesses as a writer. preview

At the moment I’m working on a novel that is very loosely based on the imaginary lives of a six brothers, one of whom is reputedly my ancestor. It’s working title is “The Schneebeli Brothers Go to Church.” It’s set during the Protestant reformation in Switzerland and the brothers are all caught up in the moment. One is a monk who falls in love with one of his brother’s servants and finds himself following Zwingli and bringing the Reformation to his monastery. Another is a reluctant Anabaptist who ends up adopting his younger brother’s daughter and fleeing with her to Strasbourg. Another is a military man who ends up fighting against his own brother at the Battle of Kappel. Another brother dies with Felix Manz in the Limmat at the hand of Zwingli, a death that is a semi-suicide. Another moves his wife out of the family home and back to the ancestral castle where he raises horses as did his great-great-great…grandfather, the protagonist of Rudolf of Apple Tree Village. My direct ancestor doesn’t get involved at all. He runs the family mill and makes children. It’s going to be a big book.

How does my writing differ from others of its genre? I don’t know — at a certain point a serious writer of historical fiction reads in the same manner a tiger hunts; see food => kill. I read to find what I need to know. For the past 15 years, I have read little historical fiction. Once in a while I pick up a historical novel that’s “made it” then cringe and shudder wondering how in the world it got to be a best seller AND a movie when it’s written at a 3rd grade level, is manipulative and inaccurate — wait, maybe I answered my own question. I’m also unsure because I’d like my work to be published in the old-school mainstream way, and I’d like my books to be made into films . I suspect some of my hyper-critical dislike is envy, you know, sour grapes.

Still, I think the historical fiction I write differs from much I’ve looked at/read lately in that I really care about historical accuracy and I’m committed to allowing my characters to live their OWN lives. Also, I’m also NOT interested in famous people or making a political statement about race or gender. I’m interested in so-called ORDINARY (vs. famous) people. I write novels about people like me who attempt to do good things and try to live a good life, but who are also, naturally, caught up in the current of their times. In a query letter a couple years ago to an agent I was sold on, I mentioned this. He replied, “Why would I be interested in reading about ordinary people?” He had not understood my point and disqualified himself; I doubt he cared, however.

Why do I write what I do? I write because I love to write. I don’t have any other reason.  I am interested in — curious about —  the past. I do not think human nature changes much, but the way we approach serious questions (that we can’t resolve, once and for all) does change. Out of our attempts evolve whole worlds.

I spent nearly 20 years in the 12th century. I liked it there a lot, even with its pitfalls. It turned out to be a beautiful place. Now I’m lurking on the edges of the 16th century. It’s a little more difficult because more is known, and I was raised with a bias. I overcame that bias brilliantly in my sojourn in the 12th century, but this is more challenging because of the comparative familiarity of the 16th century world and the prevailing ideas.

How does my writing process work? I sit down and I write. I do a lot of research (which I enjoy as much as writing). Then I read it and I revise it and I read it and I revise it. When it starts getting serious, and finished, I ask random friends if they’d read it. I am dyslexic so proofreading is more-or-less impossible for me. My friends help me a lot (especially one friend from high school) and then I hire a professional editor. After that, I attempt to sell my manuscript to someone looking for Truman Capote meets Victor Hugo rather than for Jennifer Chiaverini OR Henry James (two extremes I find hostile and alien). So far, well, that hasn’t panned out.

My genre is not in the mainstream of American fiction, but it sells pretty well in Europe! Martin of Gfenn has earned a fan base of at least 2 in Paris, 10 in London, and a larger one in Zürich, all-in-all totaling probably 30 or 40 people! In the US, it’s been the book choice of a couple of book clubs. I very badly want it translated into German, but since the German woman who offered said she doesn’t like it because I don’t “write like Henry James” I’m back at square one, looking for a translator who’d work on spec.

I figure that I must simply write as well as I can, write what I want to write and what I believe in. Nothing in this world is less necessary than my writing — except to me. The reality of writing is that if a book of historical fiction is not riding high on the zeitgeist (like Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker) chances are it won’t be a best seller. I don’t have to write a best seller. I have to write my books. 




I think my Aunt Martha always knew where the arrowhead was going, but she never let on. Then, toward the end, when all the aunts had read the will, they knew. One afternoon my Aunt Jo said, “Come here, Martha Ann. I have something for you. Martha left you the arrowhead.”

The will says my Aunt Martha left it to me because my name is Martha, too. I’m not sure that was all, though. I think it was more.

I was only five when my grandfather died, but we’d had one experience together, anyway. When I was one or two, my parents took me to Montana to meet him. He liked me a lot and bundled me up and took me out in the cold to visit all his friends up and down Foster Lane.  Of course, I got pneumonia and ended up in the hospital in Billings, St. V’s, just like Hemingway in the “Gambler, the Nun and the Radio.”

I grew up loving books and thinkers. One of those I loved when I was an undergraduate was Thomas Carlyle. Time passed, my interests grew and diverged, and then I “met” Goethe. I read everything I found, and thought about all of it. I had not “met” a mind like his (was there ever a mind like his?) and felt I’d met a “friend.” One day in the university library I happened on the correspondence between Goethe and Carlyle. Of course I checked it out. I read it from cover to cover that night, very moved. Carlyle was young; Goethe was old. Carlyle had promise, intelligence, talent — but a darkness running through his character. Goethe recognized all of this and wrote the letters Carlyle really needed as a young human being, as a thinker and as a writer. I saw in their friendship a reflection of my “friendship” with Goethe. These were letters he might have written to me. I did not know of my grandfather’s love for Carlyle at that point. I learned of it that Christmas when my cousin Greg handed me a well thumbed, well-loved book of Carlyle’s essays that had belonged to my grandfather.

Perhaps my grandfather and I would have been friends. Maybe we would have had many things in common. Maybe we would have walked the fields north of Hardin and talked about ideas. Genealogy says we all resemble our grandparents more than we do our parents. I see my mother’s mother in my appearance. But what of this unknown man? All I know is this arrowhead and that my beloved Aunt Martha treasured it above everything else she owned.