Sunday, August 4, 2019

On the State of Abigail Beson

A few people have asked what the plans are for a follow up to The Siege of Abigail Beson, so I decided to write this status update.

Scope and Schedule

Abigail Beson is a fictional teenage girl born in 1852 and living in rural Virginia outside a small (also fictional) town named Nottowell, about 15 miles from Appomattox.

I published The Siege of Abigail Beson in 2016 via KickStarter. The published book consists of two novellas, The Siege and The Excursion. The former tells of the the surprise attack on Abby's family home and the latter describes her journey to meet her older brothers they returns home following the conclusion of the war.

I have since written drafts of two further novellas, The Subversion, which centers around her relationship with her brother Jackson and his struggle to move on following the cessation of hostilities;  and The Forging, in which Abby finds herself at war with Rose Greenhow, a notorious (real) civil war spy. 

Sketches of Cover Art for The Subversion of Abigail Beson by Emily Krueger

All four novellas touch on historical themes and events. Siege and Subversion are heavily influenced by the boots-on-the-ground perspective of individual soldiers as described in Bruce Catton's Reflections on the Civil War. Excursion and Forging touch on Civil War era cryptography, as I describe here. In telling the story from the perspective of low ranking, non-slave holding people in the south (as a writer living in the north), I hoped to humanize the individuals who were caught up in the war regardless of which side they were on.

My objective has been to complete Subversion and Forging in 2019. However, after reading through the drafts my brother observed that the story is rather whitewashed. Slavery was the driving political issue that led to the American Civil War, and telling a story about the war without touching on the topic of slavery would undercut an issue that is still pertinent today. The goal then is a challenging one. In the first two novellas I strove to humanize soldiers of the confederacy, in the following stories I want to address the legacy of the Civil War.

This is no small challenge, and it's one I am not yet equipped to properly address. My goal for 2019 has thus shifted from completing the book to improving my understanding of the nuances of the Civil War era, particularly what life was like for newly freed slaves in the postwar American south. I will not, of course, be able to address every issue associated with the legacy of the civil war, but I hope to at least touch on two points:

The overall goal of humanization remains the same; a story that simply casts all confederates as evil will only foster division. I hope instead to cast both the citizens of the north and of the south as people while simultaneously denouncing the practice of slavery and the systemic racism it begat as abhorrent and evil.  At this time I cannot commit to a completion date because I want to be confident that it respectfully and appropriately addresses these issues. 

I will update you as I read and learn more. 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

How to Build a Simple Treasure Chest

My five year old had been asking for a treasure hunt and I finally found time to make a proper treasure chest for him to find. I wanted it to be weather resistant, durable, and to look like a "real" treasure chest.

The finished product


  • 3/4" oak boards (about two board feet)
  • An old leather belt
  • Brass hinges
  • Wood screws
  • Titebond II wood glue
  • Boiled linseed oil


  • Mitre saw or table saw
  • Drill
  • Pocket screw jig (optional, Titebond glue is probably sufficient on its own)
  • Clamps
  • Rachet straps
  • Heavy duty scissors


I built the base first. The base consists of five rectangles of 3/4" thick oak, shown in the diagrams below. 

Base, top view

When building the base, I use Titebond glue on all joints. Before applying glue, I drill lots of small (1/16" deep, 1/16" diameter) holes in the contact surface to help glue adhesion. 

Base, end view

I used pocket screws and Titebond II glue to attach the upright "walls" of the base to the bottom. If you do not have a pocket screw jig, you can either drill pilot holes up through the bottom, or you can just do glue. 

The top was trickier to construct because I wanted an arched appearance.

Angled cuts in the top

To close the ends of the top, I made the arched section 6 1/2" inches long, then capped it on either end with a solid piece. 

End view with top

I sanded the whole exterior, then coated the whole thing with boiled linseed oil and let it dry overnight (remember, be careful with linseed-soaked rags, they can spontaneously combust). 

I attached the top with small brass hinges, and added some metal corner hardware. I cut small strips of leather from the belt and attached them to the sides with wood screws. 

Then I buried it in the dirt, drew its location on a map, and watched the adventure unfold. 

Let the hunt begin!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Good Friday Poem: Mark 14:26

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about Mark 14. Jesus and his disciples go to a house together to eat the Passover dinner. Jesus announces that one of them will betray him, performs the first communion, and then in verse 26

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

I want to know what hymn they sang. A little Googling told me it was likely a psalm, so I tried imagining that I was at the dinner table with Jesus after he had just announced the betrayal. I wouldn’t know what was coming, or even the meaning of what I just heard. Communion would be a totally new concept. What would we sing? Who would choose the hymn? I started paging through Psalms and opened to Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. 2 There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

There’s so much anger in this psalm. I imagine the disciples had anger - their beloved would be betrayed.


Betrayed that’s what he said to us this wine he said he bled for us this bread his body broken he spoke and then he looked to me like I was the only one with a burning coal in the pit of my sole voice arose and said ”no Lord.”

A chorus of denials joined the pile saying no Lord it couldn’t be never me or decrying that he felt that one he had chosen of man said to drop our net sum is nothing if these these prophecies end with he’s going to die.

You were supposed to be a king you were so close so why’d you bring us to this city we’re promised a chance to own with you up on a thrown centurions down bent fury it's ground in my teeth like hooves on a palm branch betrayed psalms answers enslaved brothers with a word not a sword in my hand make a stand Lord!

He raised his hand for silence stand still l listened as he looked to the core I looked to the floor frozen in a stumble dozen wanting to grumble feet washed but not humble debating and waiting when he said sing.

The angel of death passed over caught breath lambs’ blood on the door marked us holy said the seder is closing the psalms of race out of Egypt sing the psalms of places that we slept sing the psalms of provision of waters division of the earth that trembled twelve nations assembled to trust in the Lord.

Like every year ‘round the table I’ve been here I’ve been able to see the reason for hallelujah see the problem right here isn’t the fear of the sword it’s the year of the sword when the nations surround me I cut them down in the name of the Lord what’s the power of God if not the power to loose these chains to unleash our domain in these songs it’s spoken plain.

I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me.

The Lord is my strength and my defense.

The Lord has chastened me severely, but has not given me over to death.

If the Lord would not give David to death then you must feel safe in your breath why this talk of betrayal we say in this last hymn today is His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God who let the Romans prevail?
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God whose Son is to die?
His love endures forever.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Goodnight Server Room Plushies!

One of the coolest parts of my Goodnight Server Room adventure has been seeing the reactions and creations of readers. One reader, Jenny Laaser, designed and sewed plushie toys based on Goodnight Server Room's "bit" characters. You might have seen one of these plushies on TPT's Almanac.
Jenny has now published the instructions for making your own plushies! You can find them on her web page.

If you're not as deft with the sewing machine as Jenny, you can also order one from my Etsy site!

They are fun to throw

Saturday, August 25, 2018

How to Build A Tree Fort

This summer my sons and I built a pretty awesome tree fort (technically it's just a fort near a tree, as we didn't want to injure the tree). Before building, I read through the tree fort guide in the Black and Decker Complete Guide to Outdoor Building. I love Black and Decker's guide books, especially their Home Wiring guide.


Figure 1: Posts and Rim Joists, Side View from the South
Figure 2: Posts and Rim Joists, Side View from the East
I opted to use concrete "feet" rather than proper footings, as the latter is far more permanent. I used Home Depot's cedar-tone treated lumber for all of the supports. I notched the posts to support the rim joists, as shown in Figure 1.

I wanted the fort to feel "up high" to my kids, so we put the deck about four feet off the ground.


Platform in progress. The temporary diagonals between the joists keep it square.

The deck is a six foot square platform built with a 2x8" rim joist and 2x4" joists. The joists are supported by a perpendicular 2x4" screwed to the rim joist, as shown in Figure 3. I opted to use this method instead of more expensive joist hangers as the span is short and the load is relatively small.

Figure 3: Joist Support, Side View from the South

Figure 4: Platform, Top View, North Up


I stick-built the enclosure from un-treated 2x4" lumber. The enclosure is a four by six foot structure, four feet tall on one side and six feet tall on the other. 

Figure 5: Enclosure Side View (From the South)
Figure 6: Enclosure Side View (From the East)
After erecting the  frame of the enclosure we sheathed it with plywood. For most of the structure I used 15/32 plywood, though for the rock climbing wall I opted for 29/32.

Enclosure with plywood sheathing


I ran 2x4" rafters from the west (lower) side to the east (higher) side, covered that with plywood, and then used tin roofing. 


My parents gave us some extra cedar shingles, enough to cover about half of the enclosure. The only place I could find additional cedar shingles was Fleet Farm. We stained them and stapled them. 


I used cedar boards for decking on the porch and treated cedar tone 2x2" boards for the railing.


I used 1" pine boards to build box windows, then I use a table saw to cut grooves in them for insect screen attachment.

Window with grooves cut for rubber screen attachment

Nuts and Bolts

For most structural connections I used GRK 2.5" star drive self-piloting construction screws. These are more expensive than most other screws, but the cost is absolutely worth it. Note that as the rim joists sit directly on the posts, I did not need to use lag bolts. 

The best screws in the universe

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Writing from Start to Finish

I'm teaching a course called, "Writing from Start to Finish" at Mercy Vineyard Church April 18th and 25th. For anyone in the class, or anyone else interested, here are the slides. I pulled out the references for quick access.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Points Don't Matter, Except When They Do

Update: The game is live at!

Over the last couple of months I've been doing classroom trials of the Goodnight Server Room app. I've tested the app with toddlers, second graders, middle school students, and even a few college students.  What surprised me most was how quickly the second graders caught on to the concepts in the game, but second most was just how much everybody loves getting points.

300 points, but I'm just getting started
The app lets students proceed through the games as quickly as they want - there aren't gates or levels like you might find in traditional video games. I wanted it that way so that my preschooler would not get stuck on the first page.

Usually when I have a room full of students playing the game a few of them race through it in a couple of minutes.

I see hands go up, "I'm done!"

"How many points did you get?" I ask.

"750!" someone shouts.

"900!" comes the challenge from across the room.

With this exchange the timbre of the whole room suddenly shifts. The activity is no longer about just going through the steps to move on to the next thing. Now it's about exploring. I don't tell the students how to get points, I just let them search. It doesn't take long for them to discover that they keep getting more points by solving more binary puzzles.

Students at Sauk Middle School playing Goodnight Server Room

Now they're not just engaged, they're actively seeking out opportunities to learn (though by now they've gotten that part, they're just having fun).