books

#Janowrimo Report

It’s time to officially report on my first ever JaNoWriMo challenge! My goal was to write 1000 words (approx 2-3 pgs in Word) every day for month of January. So, how’d I do?

Break it down: On December 31, I had 19k words for my WIP (Forte‘s sequel). It was good to have this head start. The story was already progressing and it didn’t feel like I had to create something from nothing. My average daily log turned out to be 1200 words — a good length for a solid scene or even a chapter. Lowest day = 600s. Highest was over 1800. I wrote *every day* except one toward the end, and even on that day I was plotting out my next scene in my mind. I logged my progress on Twitter, which helped me stay honest and focused. And being able to post my daily success felt like a small reward.

Although I’d recruited some writer friends to join me in JaNoWriMo, I didn’t hear from many throughout the month. With one exception: fellow Xchyler Publishing author R.A. Smith of the Grenshall Manor Chronicles. Russell and I connected via Twitter almost daily, and I believe we inspired each other to keep writing every January day. Thank you, Russell!

So, now it’s February. And my WIP is at . . . drum roll please . . . 53922! Already a legit length for a YA novel, I have at least two or three more chapters to pen before it’s done. It’s so close, I’ve been trying to keep up my daily writing routine until the draft is complete.

There’s one problem with that routine: I’m kind of boring when I’m writing.

Seriously. The days are cold and I’m hibernating with my computer. Even if the writing part only takes an hour or two, the rest of my day is consumed by thinking about it. Momentum is so important, which requires consistency and focus. It’s like an obsession. On a rare lunch out with my bestie, when she wanted to catch up, I had little to offer.

“I’m, like, hyper-focused on my writing. That’s all. I’m doing the mom thing and I’m writing.”

“So, tell me about your writing!”

“No! I’m too superstitious. I have to get the draft done first.”

You can imagine how riveting the rest of our lunch conversation was. My poor husband. I’m sure he’s eager to have me back.

But here’s the thing — the story I’m working on? It’s exciting! But I’m the only one who’s experiencing it. I can’t wait to get the draft out to my beta readers so I can finally talk about it!

Want to know what it’s about? Here’s a draft blurb of Forte’s sequel:

It’s been two years since Sami neutralized toxic Aquamarine on Skene Mountain, the scar on the hill now a stark reminder of what she’d destroyed. Hoping to make amends, she vows to use her magic to rebuild earthly devastation — to heal the world with her music. Problem is, her magic is lost. Her boyfriend Jason is lost too, as he’s left for college. When Sami attends a summer music program in hopes of finding her magic, she finds her childhood crush Miles is also in the program. Caught in a love triangle, Sami begins to have visions of tragic natural disasters close to home. When these visions turn into reality, it seems the superstorms are not random but caused by someone with specific powers — and an evil agenda. It’s up to Sami to figure out how to use her new magic to halt the next superstorm before everyone she loves is destroyed.

writing journal

My brainstorming journal. (Gift from Mom) My loyal writing companion. Its pages would make no sense to anyone but me.

Reclaiming Twitter

Twitter is getting a bad rap. Every news station is splashing Donald Trump’s latest tweets and using it as fodder for news. No one would be surprised to hear that Trump’s tweeting is not exemplary in any way shape or form. He’s not doing himself any favors by creating all this social media noise. Even his wife has said she’s tried to talk him out of tweeting late at night but . . . (fill in the blank on that.)

Twitter does not have to be a channel for wannabe politicians to bully others or spew their offensive propaganda. It can be useful. I’d like to help rebrand it a little. Here are the ways I’ve been able to make it work for me:

1.Find your lane.
For me, it’s writing and publishing. I joined Twitter in March 2013 in preparation for launching my debut novel. It was part of my book launch plan, along with establishing platforms on all social media. I’m sure to some extent I hoped joining Twitter would ultimately result in book sales, but what’s it done for my writing career has brought unexpected benefits.

I don’t follow celebrities. I follow authors, publishers, agents — big and small. It’s provided a community of support and encouragement, but also it’s offered valuable information. I find more articles on writing, the writing process, writing tips than I do through Facebook. I’ve also found really cool contests that exist only on Twitter, like #PitMad or #Pitmas and I really can’t say enough about the awesome and revolutionary #MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist) Their Twitter feed and also their website has redefined the query process.

Other fave writer’s hashtags: #amwriting #writerslife #writingtips

And my most recent faves: #WIPjoy (celebrating our works in progress throughout the month of January) and of course #janowrimo (January Novel Writing Month)

2.Craigslist on crack.
Through Twitter, I’ve found more than one editor to help bring my book(s) to the next level. Recently, Twitter helped me find a great query reviewer — Christy Morgan — who has opened my eyes to what my query was missing. (Guys! find her @xtymorganbooks or her go to her website)

Another awesome content editor I’ve hired TWICE for two different books is the very talented @cassdunn Cassandra Dunn. 

3.Accountability.
Writing a novel is a huge task. It can feel overwhelming. For most of the process, you’re completely alone — living with the story in your head and on your computer. It may be *years* before it gets to beta readers and you can finally talk about it with someone. That’s why we need to set ourselves up with small rewards along the way.

I’ve heard author Jonathan Mayberry‘s keynote speech at more than one writing conference, and one takeaway for me was how he held himself accountable. He would reward himself after reaching his daily word-count goal. Early on, he’d put some money in a jar and when his first draft was done, he’d take his wife out to a nice dinner. Now that he’s a huge success, he moves money into a special account and when the draft is done, his wife gets a nice vacation. (Something to aspire to, gang!)

I’m not putting money in a jar or moving money, but I am using Twitter to keep myself honest. It doesn’t really matter that not many people will see my tweet. The fact that I put it out there to the world, makes it matter somehow. I’ve recorded it, documented it. It makes it official. I’m happy to report that my tweets do seem to be gaining some traction. Other writers are liking. It doesn’t hurt that my publisher is my most avid retweeter. Shout out to Xchyler Publishing.

Which reminds me . . . sometimes the best connections you find on Twitter are those you already have. Just another way to keep in touch, perhaps.

Let’s reclaim Twitter and make it work for us in a positive way.

 

JaNoWriMo — GO!

Okay, folks! Time to declare our New Year’s Resolutions for 2017. Statistically, most resolutions don’t last beyond January, so mine perfectly applies. I’m not giving up sweets or wine. I’m not promising to workout more. I’m going to write.

Perhaps you’ve seen my post about why I won’t ever do NaNoWriMo since the month of November is jam-packed with holiday festivities and preparations. In that post, I suggested January as a better month to focus on a daily writing routine. JaNoWriMo: January Novel Writing Month. I’m starting 2017 with a pledge to do something I love to do most in the world, every day: write.

I plan to work on my first draft of the sequel to ForteWith 15k words under my belt, Sami is back! She uses her music magic for a much different — altruistic — purpose…only to run up against the most surprising adversary. Throw in a love triangle and a new, urban setting, and you have the makings of a future page-turner. I’m so excited to get my first draft done. If you don’t have a WIP, start brainstorming today for your JaNoWriMo project!

JaNoWriMo will work somewhat differently than NaNoWriMo. There isn’t a website for it. There’s no submission form to log your word count. There won’t be badges to celebrate accomplishments. I’m not starting a national, non-profit community. I’m starting small (with, um, me). But I’d love company! Here are the rules:

  1. Comment below if you’d like to participate, declaring your personal daily word-count goal. For Nano, the idea is to complete a 50K-word novel. For Jano, let’s be realistic but also push ourselves a bit. My daily word count goal will be 1000 words.
  2. After you complete your writing goal for the day, tweet about your accomplishment with the hashtag #JaNoWriMo (and use my handle @jdspero). You will receive e-kudos for your hard work. Not on Twitter? Email me!
  3. In February 1, 2017, one “winning” participant will be chosen to guest star on my blog to share a synopsis and a teaser of their project.

At the end of every week, I’ll post some handy writing tips or a funny story about how I managed to squeak out my quota of words while juggling the schedules of three busy little boys. My job will be to offer inspiration, humor, and wine (ahem…or whine).

That’s it. Easy peasy!

Let’s do this. Who’s with me!

Firstborn love

Twice today, I got smiling news from an acquaintance: “I just finished your book!”

Grinning back, I replied, “Which one?”

I know, I know. I am beyond blessed to have to ask that question — which one? — and there was a long, hard, rejection-laden time when I thought I’d never have any book published. No less two.

Catcher’s Keeper.”

Really? Joy ebbed from every pore. Catcher’s Keeper, my firstborn book, still bringing smiles to readers. Through a brief Q&A over our yoga mats, I was transported back to that story. My story. And I was reminded how much I love it.

Since my second release — Forte — in July, my firstborn has been neglected. Gone are the blog tours, the speaking engagements, the interviews… I’ve been busy promoting my newbie. Isn’t that the way it works?

But my passion for my firstborn book hasn’t changed.

We mothers can relate, can’t we?

My first son was almost two when he became a brother. Busy with a new baby, nursing every few hours, swaddling, rocking, burping, changing, pacifying… I had little time to play with my number one. My husband picked up lots of parenting tasks I’d been proud to list as my “Mom” job description. They played games and went out to fun places while I tended to the new baby. I mean, he was brand new! He NEEDED me! And goldarnit if I didn’t love him *just as much* as my firstborn. For the first few weeks and beyond, my husband and I had to “divide and conquer” as they say. But letting go was not an option. I missed my big guy. Our firstborn made us a family. He made me a mother. My life forever changed when he came into the world. He showed me a love I didn’t know I was capable of feeling. After number two was born, after number three was born, and now as he matures into an active young man with a life of his own — a physical distance may grow between us, but my love for him remains steadfast.

A mother’s love for her babies never wanes. It can’t be split or divided. It’s exponential.

Even if our energies are redirected, that bond is always there.

A few weeks ago on a school visit, my host escorted me to a classroom and said, “We ordered 30 copies of your book. So, every class will have a chance to read Catcher’s Keeper.”

“Oh, great!” I replied, hiding my surprise. I’d planned a presentation for Forte that day. Cue the proverbial tap dance in front of the classroom to talk about my firstborn book. Good thing my passion for Catcher’s Keeper is as strong as it was upon publication.

What a gift it was to talk about it again. How I’d missed it!

I’d been so passionate about the concept of Catcher’s Keeper — What if Holden Caulfield were around when John Lennon was shot? — I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep until I had the first draft down. I was obsessed. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story. I couldn’t believe no one had written it yet. I thought agents and publishers would be knocking down my door for a piece of the action. (That last part didn’t happen, BTW). And then, when Forte was in its final stages prior to publishing, that story was all-consuming. I lived and breathed the words. When it was finally out there, I wanted to promote it as well as I could. It deserved that. All books deserve readers. And goldarnit if I didn’t love Forte *just as much* as I loved my firstborn book.

Well, almost.

Catcher’s Keeper will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s what made me an author. It changed my life.

But don’t get me wrong, when it comes to matters of the heart, my family — my boys — have a monopoly on my love.

Kingdom City author on writing

Recently, we saw the exciting cover reveal of KINGDOM CITY: REVOLT — the gripping sequel to the dystopian thriller KINGDOM CITY: RESURRECTION. Don’t you love getting lost in a good series? Don’t you wonder how authors keep us wanting more — book after book? Today we talk with author Ben Ireland and celebrate the release of the second in his series. Be sure to enter the awesome giveaway, too!

First, about REVOLT . . .

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If you missed the first in the sequel, check it out: KINGDOM CITY: RESURRECTION.

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Now, let’s hear from Ben about his writing process:

What is your preferred writing genre?

I lean towards fantasy, especially urban fantasy. I get a rush when someone isn’t only smart enough to solve their problems, but they can also solve them with fire. Lots and lots of magically invoked fire.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved creating. Probably the worst thing that happened to me is when I took a creative writing class in college. The professor told me that my story was the best thing he’d read “in a long time.” I’ve been spiraling since then. That story ended up being a scene of Kissed a Snake, in Xchyler’s A Dash of Madness short story anthology.

Where do you actually write? Do you write on a schedule?

We recently moved and I managed to get an office in the new house. It’s actually a storage closet. But it has a map of Kingdom City on the wall and Slifer the Sky Dragon above my desk, so that’s all I need.

I don’t have a specific time to write. I’m still on the ‘wait until the kids fall to sleep and write until I fall to sleep’ schedule.

What is your writing drive? What keeps you going when writing gets difficult?

My brain is full of story ideas and it hurts when I don’t let them out. Writing isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion.

What is your advice to writers?

Figure out who to listen to and who to ignore. If you don’t have people in your life who challenge your creative work, then you’re handicapping yourself. Peter Jackson and George Lucas stopped listening to people that challenged them, and the result is the Hobbit movies and Star Wars episode 1-3. No matter how successful you get, listen to your trusted critics.

What’s up next for you?

Kingdom City part3. Working title is Retribution. The original working title was Redemption, but that sounded way too optimistic for Kingdom City.  

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Bookminder author on writing

Today we’re talking about writing with author M.K. Wiseman — whose novel BOOKMINDER is fresh off the press. So many readers want to know about the writing process, which is different for every author. I love hearing from authors who not only build a captivating story but also include elements of magic and fantasy. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway — 3 $20 B&N gift cards! Before we get to the Q&A, here’s a bit about the book:

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Let’s hear from the author about her writing process.

How did you come up with the concept of your story?

In 2004 I had a very vivid dream that, afterward, wouldn’t leave me alone. Said dream basically detailed out one scene from the story, something so different and captivating for me that it stuck. Now, it must be noted that I was not writing at that time, nor did I intend to write in any professional capacity. But as this one nugget of an idea would not let me be, I started to form a story around it – Why were these people doing what they were doing? Who were they?

I think that working in the Preservation Dept of the campus library system had bled into my subconscious and that is where the magick system that rules The Bookminder developed.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

That was a sort of slow shift for me. I mean, I started writing pieces of significant length in 2004 but really did so without any specific “I want to be a writer” aim. I was just compelled to try it out, I suppose. At that time, what I really wanted to be (and still do!) was/is an animator. But both are storytellers so it’s not that big a leap. I think I finally knew what I wanted when it came clear to me that my work is actually publishable. Then I found that I had a burning desire to keep going with it, wanting to add to libraries rather than just “worship” them as a reader.

Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?

Before you read this answer, remember this question cites unlimited resources. . . My answer presumes unlimited patience from my family, as well. That said, there are a handful of places that I’ve been that would be really interesting places to write and it’d be lovely to have access to each as the impulse takes me. Ideally, I’d like to take a bit of time and write from Santa Fe, NM, up where even the heady smell of books pales in comparison to the piñon-sweet air. I’d like some time in Boston by the gas light district. I’d like to try to write an entire novel while sailing from Point A to Point B . . . I think keeping things fresh and adventurous is my ideal.

Where do you actually write? Do you write on a schedule?

I actually spend a lot of my writing time in a big, orange, overstuffed armchair. Or, if I need a little more ‘action’ around me, I head off to a coffee shop to immerse myself in a slice of Life. As for any sort of schedule, I don’t have set hours or word counts or anything—that tends to mess with my muse’s office hours. Sometimes there are publishing deadlines to keep but that’s as tangibly schedule-y as I get.

What is your writing drive? The power that keeps you going when your writing gets difficult?

Deadlines. 🙂 More seriously, though, early on I feared that I’d only ever have One Good Idea. I now have a pile of “Work in Progress” manuscripts sitting on my hard drive and they cover a host of different genres and intended audiences. It is now almost impossible for me to hit a wall because of the breadth of those projects. So if I bump up against something in a project that seems unsolvable, I take a step back and work on something else until I lose my frustration at the first roadblock. I do admit that it takes some discipline to keep from bouncing aimlessly between projects. So my power is persistence, even if it involves a writing detour.

How does writing impact other parts of your life?

I tend to get a little lost in my worlds. My work follows me home because it lives there. That’s been a bit of an adjustment, defining borders of when and when not my brain can go to work. If I allowed it, I’d probably just work continuously without sleeping, eating, and whatnot, just because I have the ideas. I have awoken in the middle of the night and hastily hid myself in another room to type out a quick story outline before it flees into that sleepy realm of forgotten ideas.

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School-Wide Read

Some really good energy happening on the Forte front!

Recently, I got word that Forte was the winner of this year’s school-wide read at my alma mater, Lake George Junior/Senior High School. Hooray!

LG School Wide Read Winner

LG School Wide Read Winner 2015

I reached out to the school’s librarian to learn how exactly my book was chosen. Her response:

Every year during our Teen Read celebration at the high school I select 4 books, which fit with our theme for that year’s celebration. This year we celebrated Teen Read Week with Bookopoly, and an exploration of genres, so I selected books from all different genres.  We then share a “voting ballot” with students.  The voting happens during Guideroom, and the ballot includes a “hook question” for each title.  We then tally the votes to decide our “School Wide Read” for the year.  This year it was Forte that students selected, which gives us an ideal platform for your visit.

The fact that *students* picked the book made the news even sweeter. We’re working on a date for an author visit in May.

In the meantime, there are some cool local events coming up.

December 21: Queensbury High School author visit. My mom taught at Queensbury for 25 years and my children go to school in the district, so I’m looking forward to this one. Three sessions are booked for the day, with a holiday luncheon in between.

January 7, 2016: author visit Southern Adirondack Education Center, Hudson Falls, NY. As a follow up to my visit at Myers Center in Saratoga, an attending teacher requested I come to this BOCES facility for another two sessions. Students have expressed interest in both Catcher’s Keeper and Forte, so we will be discussing both.

January 8, 2016: author visit to William H. Barton Intermediate School. I’ll be visiting my son’s classroom, reading a scene of his choice from Forte — the halloween scene.

January 12, 2016: Authors & Artists, Samantha’s Cafe, Glens Falls, NY *open to the public*. In May of 2014, I presented as part of Samantha’s Authors & Artists program for Catcher’s Keeper — to a full house. Now at a new location on the main drag of Glens Falls, Samantha’s Cafe has always been exceptionally supportive of the local arts. Love them for that.

June 1, 2016: guest speaker Academy for Lifelong Learning, SUNY Empire State College. This came through a connection at the Chronicle Book Fair on November 8. I’ll be part of their 8-week spring speaker series, presenting to adults about how life experiences inform fiction writing.

One of my goals for 2016 is to get my latest novel — Paradox Lake — agented and/or contracted for publication. It’s in the beta-reader phase now … and so far all responses have been very positive.

All this is great, but the acknowledgment and support from my alma mater has really made my holiday. It will be neat to walk those familiar halls not as a student or teacher or parent … but as the author of the Winner of the School-Wide Read.

 

 

KINGDOM CITY: REVOLT cover reveal

New release by Xchyler Publishing — the 2nd in the KINGDOM CITY dystopian thriller series.

Kingdom City by Ben Ireland

The gripping sequel to KINGDOM CITY: RESURRECTION

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About Author Ben Ireland

Ben Ireland

Ben churns out his prose from his home in Southeast Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children, and works in IT. When he isn’t writing, he’s either thinking about writing, or he’s driving his wife insane talking about his novel ideas. His work has appeared in two X-anthologies: “Kissed a Snake” in A Dash of Madness: a Thriller Anthology (July 2013), and “Fairykin” in Moments in Millennia: a Fantasy Anthology(January 2014). His first novel, Kingdom City: Resurrection was published in February 2014.

So many books, so little time

Book club ended in the inevitable fashion — everyone chiming in on what to read next. I’ve been part of many book clubs over the years where the policy had been: the host of the next club chooses the next book. I’ve recently joined a club that chooses from a big glass jar containing book titles on slips of paper. Random selection at its best.

But this time the title on the paper triggered a fiery discussion on what they’ve read, what they loved, what they’d recommend. Soon, slips of paper were added to the jar. Some of us (me included) got a personalized list of must-reads.

This is my favorite way to get a book recommendation. From friends. Especially from friends who share my interests and have similar tastes in books. (My mom also happens to be an extremely reliable recommender.)

We all have seen the occasional Facebook post “I need a good book. Any suggestions?” This is the same thing. Lots of bookstores will have “Staff favorite” shelves. People not only rely on but seek out other’s opinions about books.

If you think about it, online book reviews accomplish a similar thing. Apart from word-of-mouth, friend-to-friend recommendations, people rely on reviews, specifically — reviews posted on Amazon or Goodreads. They offer a personal endorsement that readers trust. I have heard that people make decisions on what to read based on ratings and reviews. More than the book’s concept, the back-of-book blurb, awards, discounts, or advertising…

How about you? How do you choose what to read next?

Answer in the comments section for a chance to win a free ebook!

 

Small town, BIG hero

TWILIGHT put Forks on the map. The small town in Washington state had never seen so much attention before being inundated with fictitious vampires and werewolves. Now, a small town in upstate New York is getting its due.

FORTE was featured in in the Arts section of our local paper recently. The focus of the article A Writer’s ‘Forte’ was its small town, local setting of Whitehall, New York (renamed its original Skenesboro in the book).

Why did I choose to set my book in Whitehall?

Whitehall is home of Skene Manor—a beautiful Victorian mansion that sits on the crest of Skene Mountain overlooking the village. As the article says, I admired Skene Manor every time I passed through Whitehall en route from North of Boston to Lake George. In my book, Skene Manor is a character in its own right — and I pull from local folklore to make it shrouded in mystery, with a rumor to be haunted.

Skene Manor, Whitehall, NY

Skene Manor overlooking Whitehall village and Lake Champlain canal

Skene Manor at night

FORTE original cover (& former title) showing Skene Manor at night

As described in FORTE:

As if the mansion magically rose up from the dark trees which surround it. Its turrets give it a medieval feel—like it’s from another world, another time. Its center turret daunting, like Catholic guilt. The floor-to-ceiling windows seem like eyes looking down on the insignificant town. Pointy dormers peek from under the angled roof as if kinking its eyebrows with suspicion. Only the wraparound porch saves it from a sinister feel. Tonight there’s a single light in an upstairs window. It winked out just after a shadow passed over it. Does no one live there? Why only the one light?

Of course, Skene Manor holds just as much intrigue on the inside as it does on the outside. Built by Judge Joseph H. Potter in the late 1800s, much of its gray sandstone was quarried from Skene Mountain. Once privately owned, it then became a bed & breakfast / restaurant, and is now managed by a historic preservation society — and is open to the public for lunches and tours.

Skene Manor foyer and falconry

Skene Manor foyer and falconry

As described in FORTE:

Beyond the grand archway, the main hall is framed with dark wood wainscoting. A wide wallpaper border encircles the room that repeats a scene of horsemen holding a hawk and a pack of dogs.

“Falconry,” Mrs. Potter says. “An old hunting technique. They’d release the falcon and the dogs follow to catch whatever prey the falcon finds. Quite sneaky, don’t you think?”

(Yes, I borrowed the name “Potter” from Skene Manor history, not from a young wizard named Harry.)

Lake Champlain canal (via Lock 12) runs through the center of the village of Whitehall, and also plays a big role in the book. Under this bridge, I placed “canal graffiti” that communicates an ancient feud in the town as well as a prophecy for Sami.

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As described in FORTE:

The canal water is active today, and echoes against the steel of Saunders Bridge. Without this water, the town of Skenesboro wouldn’t be here, Mr. Lachapelle had eagerly told us the first day of history class. These waterways transported supplies during the Revolutionary War, he’d said, but its claim to fame is “birthplace of the US Navy.” Apparently, everything started to crumble when highways and railroads were constructed. And the place kind of became a ghost town. No one uses the canal for trade anymore, really. Just boats coming through the lock for fishing, and then going right back north to Lake Champlain. I’d probably have no luck finding a boat to take me all the way to New York after all.

and

The hush beneath the bridge is calming without my music playing. The cars passing overhead sound like ocean waves. The canal water clucks softly. A dreamy willow tree hangs to the water on the opposite side. There’s an old waterfront building with faded white paint against the brick: Liberty Eatery & Marina.

Founded as “Skenesborough” by British Army Captain Philip Skene at the southern tip of Lake Champlain in 1759, it was renamed Whitehall after the Revolutionary War. Bordering Vermont, Whitehall showed us small-town hospitality when the Town Hall clerk met me and my husband off hours as we traveled in from Massachusetts to give us our marriage license for our New York wedding.

Whitehall, New York holds a special place in my heart.

Whitehall Harbor

Whitehall aka Skenesboro