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Monday, September 25, 2017

Award Winning Poet's First Fiction Novel Set During The St. Louis World's Fair of 1904 . .

Chris Rice Cooper 


 Chris Rice Cooper’s Analysis on the historical/fiction/suspense novel Finding the Raven
by Poet Patty Dickson Pieczka

“My main focus of writing has been poetry, but with Finding the Raven, I've branched out into fiction using the skills I learned studying poetic imagery. I was inspired by my grandparents' era, and most particularly by my great uncle Charlie (uncle charlie above with Patty's grandfather John right in 1900), who was a hobo and wrote of his travels to the St. Louis World's Fair and across the country to live with Native Americans. I imagined what he might have seen in St. Louis and what he might have done, though he didn't appear as a main character in the book. Researching the times was fascinating, and at the SIU Library I found newspapers from April 1904. I wondered what it would be like to have answered ads from the classifieds at that time. So in my story I used actual excerpts from the old newspapers and went in search of "what if."
--Patty Dickson Pieczka on the writing of Finding the Raven



Finding the Raven, published by White Stagg an imprint of Ravenswood Publishing http://ravenswoodpublishing.
com/bookpages/findingtheraven.html is about many things – history, murder, suspense, domestic violence, love, but more compellingly it is about authentic friendship between two women -  poor Julia Dulac and wealthy Rose Hillman.


Julia and her father are enjoying their last night working for William Piquette’s traveling theater troupe in 1904 St. Louis.  For the first time Julia is in the audience watching her father give his last performance, only to watch him being crushed to death by a metal weight on stage. Photo left Starr husband and wife team in the Traveling Troupe production of Mahatman Mysteries in St. Louis.

After his quick burial at Calvary Cemetery (right) Julia learns from her father’s attorney that she is penniless due to her father’s so called debts.  Everything must be sold – the house and all of its contents - to go toward the so-called debt.  Julia immediately goes back to their house to pack what little she is able to take - clothes, candles, comb, brush, a few books, her father’s four-leaf clover in wax paper, and the 4-inch ceramic pink Buddha her father always said would bring good luck.  With her last $10 she rents a room from Mrs. McKinney’s boarding house . . .

Rose Hillman is from a wealthy family but is not ashamed of the love she has for poor bank-teller Eric Swenson.  Despite her parent’s disapproval she wants to marry him, especially when she discovers she is pregnant with his child.  Her father is furious and kicks her out of the home and community of St. Paul, Minnesota and onto a ship that is sailing for St. Louis where he accompanies his daughter to Mrs. McKinney’s boarding house and leaves her there with only $60 and a warning – he will return exactly one year from today and he will only take her back if she’s married with someone of an equal or higher standing or if she is single and childless. Above image is of the St. Louis World's Fair in Festival Hall 1904 public domain.

The two young women become the best of friends sharing each others secrets, dreams and fears.  Rose answers a matrimonial ad and Julie finds a job as a seamstress. Image right from an advertisement in The St. Louis Republic May 8, 1905.  Public Domain. 

Then Julia’s boss makes a sexual advance that she resists.  As a result she has no job and returns to her room in the boarding house and in anger hurls the pink ceramic Buddha against the wall.  With regret she picks up the shards and discovers black crystal.  


She takes the black crystal to a reputable and honest jeweler to have it appraised and learns it is a very rare and highly valuable tourmaline black crystal.  The jeweler tells her it has a rainbow of colors and is used by sorcerers and soothsayers.  He recommends that she keep the black crystal in a bank box in her own name.

That very night Julia returns home and before she goes to bed she looks into the black crystal and sees a black raven flying, its beak holding colorful ribbons.

Then Julia learns from a fortune-teller that the black crystal is more than tourmaline but a spirit called the Raven that knows all things – and slowly the Raven reveals secrets and visions to Julia. . things that could lead to her own happiness or her own demise. 




*Raised in Evanston, Illinois as a writer's daughter, Patty Dickson Pieczka found a strong appreciation of poetry. She graduated from the Creative Writing Program at Southern Illinois University in 2006 and, while there, spent two summers as an editorial intern at Crab Orchard Review
She fell in love with the area and moved to Carbondale, where she and her husband John own and manage a small rental business. They spend their free time exploring the lakes, trails, and bluffs of southern Illinois, from which Patty draws inspiration for her writing. She also enjoys music and played cello with the SIU symphony for more than ten years.

Her first book, Lacing Through Time, was published by Bellowing Ark Press in 2011, and her chapbook Word Paintings (Snark Publishing) was published in 2002. One of her poems was nominated for an Illinois Arts Council Award, and she was the recipient of the 2010 Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award.




Her second book of poetry Painting the Egret’s Echo won the Library of Poetry Book Award for 2012 from the Bitter Oleander Press, and she was the featured poet in their Spring 2014 issue.  

Her short play won first prize from the Paradise Alley Players and she received first place in the fiction contest at John A Logan College.  Other awards include the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest in the Best Sonnet category, the ISPS poetry contest for 2012.

Readers can contact Patty via her web page http://www.
patty writes.net  or her Face-
book page at https://

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