Meet Max Mallard

Max Mallard is a shy young duck who is afraid to be on his own. When he finds himself all alone, he learns from other animals that he is indeed ready to face the world with courage and confidence.

I have been photographing birds in a county park for a couple of years now. One of my most photographed – and photogenic – species were mallards. When this photo of a paddling young duck showed up on my monitor, I got a bright idea: I would publish a book with a young mallard as a protagonist.

During the past year I photographed a mama mallard with ducklings, ducklings on their own, and as summer progressed, immature male ducks as they frolicked in the fishing pond. Naturally, I also photographed other bird species and some of them made it into my book. The others might show up in future projects.

By the end of summer, I had accumulated enough images to fill a picture book. Then I set out to pick the best ones from the thousands of photos I took. It was no small feat. In the meantime, I hired a designer whose previous creations I admired. Publication is set for April 2023, and I can’t wait to share my book with the world.


Looking Back on 2022

The third year of the pandemic did not differ much from the previous two years. Omicron prevented me from accepting speaking engagements or shows. Still, I kept busy getting a new cover for my novel “Oktober Heat” and working toward my next picture book for early readers.

I continued to participate in art exhibits, most notably a nature photography group exhibit at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.

When the weather cooperated, I had a blast photographing birds in a local park. While my main focus was on mallards, I added some other species to my growing collection, most notably an osprey.

The highlight of our year was an actual vacation. We drove to western North Carolina to enjoy the fall foliage along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was great to travel again after several years of staying close to home in western Pennsylvania.

Shiloh Valley and the Quest for Freedom

Freedom from oppression in its many forms is a quest for humankind that is as old as history itself. Whether it is freedom from an oppressive family, employment, or a foreign occupier, many communities share the common goal of shaking off the shackles of autocratic rulers.

The first stirrings of a democratic movement in Germany occurred in my home province, the Palatinate/Pfalz, on May 27, 1832, at the Hambach Castle. Since political demonstrations were prohibited by the repressive Bavarian government, the organizers disguised the gathering as a festival. Between 20,000 and 30,000 men and women came together to demand a united Germany; freedom of speech, press, assembly. and equality. The government responded with further restrictions, but the seeds of unrest sprouted again during the revolutions of 1848/49.

Stuck in a profession he hated and filled with youthful idealism, Martin Dupree, the protagonist of my novel “Shiloh Valley,” was among the first volunteers to join the revolutionary army. When the Prussian military quelled the unrest within a short time, Martin realized that he would not find freedom in Germany in his lifetime. Indeed, the Federal Republic of Germany would not come into existence for another 100 years.

But when Martin saw the first slave market after arriving in America, he grasped that he had landed in the midst of a much larger conflict than the one he had fled. He joined a community of like-minded refugees of the revolution and attended a speech by Abraham Lincoln. It was therefore no surprise that Martin volunteered to serve in the Union army, despite the pleadings of his wife to stay home with his family. He could not have lived with himself if he had done anything less.

Image of Hambach Castle by U. Wiehler with permission

A Year Without Plans

As it turned out, 2021 was not much better than 2020. The biggest change was that we got vaccinated – three times – and finally ventured out to restaurants again.

My engagement calendar did not get much use after all. In fact, it was to be a year without big plans. The pandemic and the relentless heat put a stop to any sort of a social life or travel. After a hot, humid summer I had hoped to take some day trips in autumn, but it turned out to be the most disappointing fall foliage season in recent memory.

One welcome change happened this fall, though. The writing critique group I attended years ago has been revived online and I am looking forward to our meetings as much as I used to when we met in person. I am sure that my writing input will much improve with their encouragement.

I continued to photograph birds in a local park and am particularly proud of my mallard photos. While they’re not exactly rare, I have decided to highlight mallards in my next children’s book. The little fellow in the above photo certainly looks determined, doesn’t he? Who knows, by this time next year I might have another title under my belt. After all, the end of a year is a great time to set goals for the next one.

A Year of Awards

2021 has been a year of recognition for me, earning me two awards for nature photography and two for writing. My historical novel “Shiloh Valley” was a Finalist Regional Fiction at the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

Last, but not, least, my picture book “Life in a Wetland” won First Place for Best Photography at the 2021 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards.

Looking Back on 2020 – Part 2

I got a new passport in January, hoping to see my family and friends in the Old Country after an absence of three years. It turned out to be the most unnecessary expense of the year. Instead, I did not venture farther from home than 40 miles. Spring brought a pandemic and a lockdown, but also wildflowers and migrating birds. When the weather allowed it, my husband and I hit the trails in our local parks while cautiously avoiding weekends and the busiest paths. During the dry summer we kept busy watering our plants and harvesting homegrown lettuce and tomatoes. Of course, I also continued to photograph the wildlife that frequents our native garden. After the work was done, we reread all seven Harry Potter novels. Keeping with the theme I sewed my latest mask with a Harry Potter fabric.

My social life has been relegated to the Internet since March and will remain there for quite a while longer. WhatsApp has become my lifeline to my friends in Germany, deepening our friendship despite the distance.

Luckily for me I have always avoided crowds, so social distancing seems just one step further for this introvert. But I miss going out to restaurants, visiting a museum, or meeting friends at a café. Time will tell if I will ever feel comfortable in those environments again. Was it just last year that we boarded two planes for our trip to Wyoming? How innocent we were then!

No one knows what the new year will bring, whether more disasters or small steps toward a new normalcy. Will I only use my new appointment calendar to jot down routine doctors’ appointments or will I finally be able to make an appointment for a much-needed haircut? Most importantly, I hope that we all stay safe and healthy in 2021!

Looking Back on 2020 – Part 1

What a year this has been! When I had finally landed some speaking engagements in retirement homes, the pandemic forced me to cancel all in-person events. My social life moved entirely online, just like it did for millions of workers and school students. While I kept busy preparing two books for publication, I was worried about my income prospects for the year without any events that would lead to book sales.

I needn’t have worried. As the lockdown began, sales of my picture book “Common Backyard Birds” suddenly climbed. Apparently, many families began observing the birds in their yards while being shut in. I am glad that my book helped many youngsters to identify their feathered visitors and hope that their interest in nature will not wane once they return to school and other activities.

Not resting on my laurels, I published a new picture book this summer entitled “Life in a Wetland.” It features birds, turtles, frogs, dragonflies, and even an alligator to demonstrate how important wetlands are for our environment.

Once the weather improved, I became a frequent visitor at local parks while carefully avoiding weekends when the trails were crowded. I also continued to photograph the wildlife and native plants in our garden.

My plans for the next year are to continue photographing birds and other wildlife and to put less emphasis on fiction writing. After all, there is always another picture book to plan.

The culture shock of immigrants who came to America during the 19th century

Shiloh Valley eBook Cover Large

When German immigrants settled on midwestern farms during the 19th century, they must have experienced culture shock. After all, they were used to living in close-knit villages with friends and family within walking distance. In America’s farm country, they often did not have neighbors nearby and had to rely on their own resources to maintain social contacts and to keep in touch with the outside world.

I will let Martin, protagonist of my immigrant novel “Shiloh Valley,” tell you how he felt after arriving in the Midwest:


I came to America to find freedom from the oppressive government and my monotonous existence as an office apprentice. But when I parted ways with a young man I met on the ship, I became very lonely. In St. Louis, I had to endure back-breaking work until I found a position at an inn. The owner and patrons were mostly Irish. I could barely understand them, adding to my feeling of alienation. I never expected that I would miss hearing German sounds much, but when two Germans visited the inn, I knew that I wanted to live in a community of German immigrants. I found it first in Belleville and then in Shiloh Valley.

Even though I wanted to be my own master, I often crave the company of others, especially during the long winters. I think my interest in politics grew partly out of my desire to add some excitement to my life. I needed a cause to give my life meaning beyond the demands of my farm.

Katrin doesn’t talk about loneliness often, but she lights up whenever we have guests or chat with a passerby. Pragmatic as she is, she knows that she might have had to work as a maid or hired hand all her life. I’m sure she misses her friends from back home, but she has seldom talked about homesickness, unlike her brother.

Nikolaus is more social than I am and has often been unhappy about living on an isolated farm. That’s why Katrin and I were thrilled when he finally got married. Hopefully, their children and ours will have an easier time adjusting to life on the prairie than we have had. After all, they don’t know any other life.


Germans in America

Shiloh Valley eBook Cover Large

German immigrants have been arriving on America’s shores for hundreds of years, since 1683 to be exact. They even designed and built the Conestoga wagon, making westward expansion possible.

The failed revolutions of 1848-1849 caused thousands of Germans to flee their home country and eventually settle in the United States.

During the 1850s alone, almost one million Germans immigrated to the United States. Their influence was felt in all areas of society. Abraham Lincoln even purchased a German-language newspaper, the Illinois Staatsanzeiger, in 1859 to win the support of Illinois’s large German population.

It is therefore no surprise that Germans were the largest ethnic group that fought for the Union during the U.S. Civil War. More than 200,000 native Germans took part in the conflict. Union soldiers gave them the nickname “Dutchmen,” while Confederate soldiers used the less than flattering term “lopeared Dutch.” Nonetheless, those “Dutchmen” earned a reputation for discipline.

Martin, the protagonist of my novel “Shiloh Valley,” is one of the disillusioned young men who sought freedom in America after the crushed revolution of 1849 shattered all his hopes for a democratic future in his home province, the Palatinate (Pfalz). He settled in St. Clair County, Illinois, among a large German community. Martin’s war experiences are based on histories of actual Illinois regiments.



The Making of a Historical Novel

Writers get their ideas from many sources and I am no exception. The idea for my upcoming novel “Shiloh Valley” came from an article in my hometown German newspaper around 1979/80. The article covered a local figure, Heinrich Didier, who was a member of the State Defense Council during the revolution of 1849, an event I had never heard of before. His role in the short-lived uprising was not very flattering since he botched a weapons transport that deprived the rebels of much needed weapons. All in all, the revolution often resembled one big party and was crushed by Prussian troops after six weeks.

Most interesting for me, though, was the fact that Didier’s youngest son, 19-year-old Martin, immigrated to Belleville, Illinois, in 1849. Why would the son of a wealthy man immigrate to America, I wondered. I concluded that he was perhaps involved in the revolution and therefore feared for his life when it failed. Belleville was significant to me because I had just visited this town on a trip to the U.S. with my folk dance group.

The idea for a novel was born but it would take decades to its publication. After a research trip to St. Clair County, I spent several years writing and typing the first draft in German. My attempts at finding a publisher failed miserably (I was very naïve back then). Life intervened and I did not write again for many years.

Several years after moving to the U.S. I decided to translate my novel into English and revise it. The Civil War section of the novel required extensive research. Thankfully, by then the Internet allowed me to research regimental histories and even letters from soldiers. Still, I could not interest any literary agents in my work. In the meantime, I had written another novel, “Oktober Heat,” which covered the early years of the Cold War in my home county. I published this cozy mystery in 2015 and turned my attention to picture books next.

But in the back of my head I could not let go of “Shiloh Valley.” I had fallen in love with the characters and wanted to share them with the world. I hired a content editor and spent the next year revising the story again. Now I am almost ready to present it to the world. Stay tuned!