We’re all going to die someday.

This is why I woke up rage-inducingly early on my day off – a SATURDAY, and also SAINT PATRICK’S DAY. Why I defrosted my car and drove an hour through the dark from New Kensington to Ligonier today.

Today I attended “Writing With History,” presented jointly by Fort Ligonier and the Ligonier Valley Writers.

I woke up stupidly early and sat through this workshop because I am going to die someday.

You see, I grew up on stories from my dad about how the British army under General Braddock camped in 1755 near what became my great-grandparents’ and my grandparents’ house. About how Braddock died during the retreat and George Washington found himself in charge. How the British payroll got lost in this horror and the myth of Braddock’s Gold emerged.

I wrote historical fiction on my dad’s “work” computer when I was a teenager. Later, after I got married and moved to New Kensington, I wrote several chapters about a young girl abandoned on Braddock’s retreat who ends up living in Parnassus. Then I began a story about treasure hunters who search for Braddock’s Gold.

When my youngest sister, O. S. G., was about twelve years old, she found out about all of the historical fiction that I tried to write. So, O.S.G. handed me her binder of her completed history class assignments. Her portfolio of her own “historical ” writing. Twelve-year-old O.S.G. reasoned that her own writing would inspire me to keep at it.

O.S.G. turns 19 next week, and I still need to finish the tales that I started when she was 12.

We’re all going to die. First I need to finish all of these historical writing projects that I started.

So, I signed up for today’s writing workshop at Fort Ligonier.

First, here’s my prior experience with the two presenting organizations:

Fort Ligonier:

My fourth grade class travelled an hour and a half to Fort Ligonier for our spring field trip. We got to eat our packed lunches on the school bus because it had just rained and the picnic tables were wet or something. A bunch of the boys in our class made fun of our classmate “Dan” because he wore a pink polo shirt that day. Dan said, “Hey, my mom bought me that shirt!”

Then we got to tour the actual fort. This was the first fort that I ever toured, and I enjoyed it so much that I talked about it for years afterward. (We got to tour Fort Bedford in fifth grade.) I also bought a miniature teepee in the gift shop.

I frequently drive past Fort Ligonier on Route 30, and each time I think about how much fun I had there in the fourth grade. However, I haven’t stopped to visit since then.

Ligonier Valley Writers (LVW):

This was my first LVW workshop. I follow LVV on Facebook, but I don’t belong to LVW because I live too far away from their meeting place (in the Greater Ligonier Area) and my schedule prevents me from attending almost all of their events. Based on what I read online, though, they have some decent programming. LVW holds a Halloween flash fiction contest that I enter almost every year. Here’s their website.

(I recognized several of the faces at this LVV workshop from that time that I attended the 2013 In Your Write Mind Workshop at Seton Hill. Also, one of the LVW officers noted that some of the LVW members attended Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction MFA program.)

Writing With History:

The presenters were Audrey Iacone, Jim Busch, and Marge Burke. I will need to review my notes later when I am not tired in order to digest all of the useful tips that they provided.

We had a break for lunch. I packed my lunch, so I spent this time eating and socializing with several people that I just met. It’s always fun at these types of things to learn about and listen to strangers.  I meet so many people who are much further along on their writing journeys than I am on my own. However, I just keep reminding myself I am going to die someday regardless of what I accomplish, so I have nothing to lose by trying and failing.

Finally, the Fort Ligonier staff gave us a personal tour of the fort museum. Here are some of the items pointed out to us:

1.) George Washington’s handwritten “Remarks” to his biographer about the French and Indian War. So, in a way, I saw George Washington’s “memoirs.”

2.) The remains of a woman’s shoe. Since I previously started writing about a young woman traveling with the British army during the French and Indian War, I can imagine that this shoe belonged to this character that I previously created.

Thanks to Fort Ligonier and the Ligonier Valley Writers for the hard work that they put into today’s workshop! I will most likely attend future LVW workshops.


So I few years ago, I read an article in one of the Pittsburgh newspapers about The Girl Factory” by Karen Dietrich.

This is a young woman’s memoir about growing up in Connellsville, Pennsylvania in the aftermath of a multi-fatality factory shooting that made its way into the national news cycle.  Both of the author’s parents worked for that same factory at the time of the shooting. Also, the author explores her own experiences with sexual abuse and mental abuse.

So this book examines heavy subject material.

I’m not gonna lie. I purchased the book and read it because the author graduated from high school the same year as me.

Imagine being my age, and struggling in Pennsylvania from birth to early adulthood, and then publishing a memoir about this!

I never met this author. However, we both grew up in depressed western Pennsylvania towns. We grew up a county apart. I found out later that I actually knew people that went to high school with her. (I went to college with some of the author’s former high school classmates. You know, because we all graduated from high school the same year.)

I wanted to read about the path that brought the author to her writing career. I wanted to read about how the author handled life as a smart, creative girl growing up in a town that didn’t really value her for her brains.

This memoir has the cojones to address meaty topics (as many memories do) and I respect the author for this.

Here’s the thing that I found most interesting about “The Girl Factory:”

On one of the popular book review websites, a poster claimed to be the author’s VERY close family member.  This poster gave the book the lowest possible score, and claimed that this memoir titled “The Girl Factory” hurt their family.

So when you write about your own family and acquaintances, what responsibility do you have to them?

Do you owe your family anything?

Or do you owe your family everything?

Or is whole thing grey, just like most else in life?


I’ve read a LOT of stuff from authors who wrote about their own families.

Sometimes the authors threw their families under the bus.

Sometimes the authors canonized their family members.

(For instance, Laura Ingalls Wilder did both in her “Little House” books.)

I ask myself this when I blog. I also ask myself this when I read stuff that other family members write.

My personal answer to this question will evolve, no doubt.


Colonial Snakebite

by Jenny 25 February 2018 History

Snakes fascinate me. Today I pulled down “The Day Must Dawn,” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. (This is a fiction novel about colonial Westmoreland County and the burning of Hannastown in 1782. The author grew up in New Alexandria.) I re-read the rattlesnake bite scene. A rattlesnake bites Viola, one of the main characters, on page […]

Read the full article →

Mystery Writing

by Jenny 24 February 2018 History

  First, I have many special memories about visits to bookstores. I grew up south of Somerset, PA. Even a trip to the “local” bookstore to buy the newest Baby-Sitters Club book was a special treat and an all-Saturday event. The bookstore was more than an hour’s drive from our house. We didn’t shop online […]

Read the full article →

Hey, Westmoreland County Leaders

by Jenny 13 February 2018 Uncategorized

Trib articles rarely spur me enough to post in the Woytek blog. So this is your lucky night. Tonight I respond to the article Westmoreland County needs more, better branding, leaders say, by Joe Napsha. According to this article, the “Economic Growth Connection of Westmoreland annual luncheon” held today at Saint Vincent College discussed ways […]

Read the full article →

The Parade

by Jenny 2 February 2018 New Kensington

So tonight I went through the photos that I took in New Kensington in 2017. Most came from the parade on the weekend prior to July 4. This was the 2nd year in a row that New Kensington donned a parade on the holiday weekend. The 2016 parade celebrated our city’s 125th anniversary. The 2016 […]

Read the full article →

Snakes on a Plantation

by Jenny 14 January 2018 History

I listened to a few episodes of The Nod last month. The Nod, by Gimlet Media, is a podcast about Black life hosted by Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings. I highly recommend The Nod‘s 2 part series The Hairstons. This focuses on the life journey of Ever Lee Hairston, who grew up picking cotton as a […]

Read the full article →

“A Season with the Witch”

by Jenny 13 January 2018 History

So, I read this book: “A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts,” by J.W. Ocker. J.W. Ocker lived in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife and two young daughters for the full month of October 2015. The author claims an interest in the occult, which is amusing because the […]

Read the full article →

The War On Christmas. Also, Happy Solstice!

by Jenny 20 December 2017 History

People get outraged over how other people celebrate December.  Centuries ago, people got outraged over how other people celebrated December. Here’s an episode from New England Legends Podcast which explains all this: When Boston Banned Christmas See, back in the 1600’s, the Puritans persecuted non-Puritans (and also other Puritans) over religious beliefs. Sound familiar? I’m […]

Read the full article →

This Year’s Tree Adventure

by Jonathan 10 December 2017 House and Home
Thumbnail image for This Year’s Tree Adventure

This year’s tree adventure was a little… different. We have traditionally cut down our own tree, from the same farm my parents went to when we moved back to this area and started to get a live tree again. This particular farm up by Butler had always been a great place to get a tree. […]

Read the full article →