Giving God the Right of Way

I plan. I make lists. I find great satisfaction in checking off the items I complete on my to-do list. There are some problems with this.

First, I always think I can accomplish more in a day than I can. This leads to frustration and feelings of guilt.

Second, I don’t allow for “down days.” Even if I didn’t have chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, having a rigid daily to-do list would be foolish.

Third, and most importantly, I tend to leave God out of the process.

If you followed my blog this summer, you know I’ve gone through some upheaval with the novel I’m writing. I started writing it more than a decade ago. I honestly don’t know when I started it. It languished on my computer for the last several years.

In July, I decided it was “no or never.” I hired a professional editor to critique the first 50 pages of my 303-page manuscript. The feedback I got from her was constructive and attention-grabbing. At the same time, it was disheartening yet exactly what I needed to hear.

A failed plan

That detailed critique prompted me to stop procrastinating and start focusing my attention and energy on learning the skills I needed to learn so I could finally finish that novel. I made a plan. I made a daily (Monday through Saturday) to-do list for what to study and what to practice or write each day. I thought by not working on my book on Sundays I was doing the Christian thing. I would give myself Sundays off and, thereby, do what was pleasing to God. That worked fairly well for a couple of weeks.

But guess what happened. I became a slave to my plan. It was my plan. I thought I had been clever to create this plan with its one-day-a-week set aside not to work on my writing. By doing so, I thought I was “keeping the Sabbath.”

It was my plan, but it was wearing me out.

Photo credit: Glenn Carstens Peters on unsplash.com

I fell behind on August 16. I’d assigned myself too much reading, too much writing, and way too much nuts-and-bolts work on my novel regarding details about my characters.

I’d set myself up for failure.

By pushing myself to do everything on my list, I threw myself into a chronic fatigue syndrome relapse for the next three weeks; however, I read something on August 17 that got my attention. It was the third chapter in Seven Things That Steal Your Joy: Overcoming the Obstacles to Your Happiness, by Joyce Meyer.

Led by the Spirit

Ms. Meyer wrote the book in 2004. I’d bought it as a used book many years later and kept meaning to read it. I read the first chapter on August 15 and the second chapter on August 16. It was “on my list” to read the third chapter on August 17.

Little did I know that God had a reason for leading me to Chapter Three on August 17. I don’t believe in happenstance when it comes to such things. The title of that chapter is “Joy Keeper: Be Led of the Spirit.” By “Spirit,” Ms. Meyer is referring to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is our Helper, if we are just open to It. From the first sentence in Chapter Three (“One of the most dynamic ways to keep our joy is to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us in the way we should go.”) to the last sentence in the chapter (“God will write His laws on your heart, then you won’t need reminders to keep your joy.”), that chapter was exactly what I needed to read in the emotional and physical place I was in on August 17.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my six days-a-week reading and writing plan – as detailed and as carefully- and methodically-planned as it was – lacked one thing. It lacked the most important thing. It lacked God. I spent hours working out a plan that I thought would lead me to a point next February when I’d have all this knowledge in my head and be ready to rewrite my novel’s outline and then start rewriting the manuscript.

But aside from setting aside the Sabbath to not work on my novel or my writing skills, I’d left God and the Holy Spirit out of my grandiose plan. I shredded my plan.

What’s next?

Don’t get me wrong – I still believe in having a plan, but what’s new is that I want to start each day by seeking God’s will for me that day. He may want me to tackle the next item on my novel “to-do” list, or He might have a better “to-do” list for me for that day.

I still believe God wants me to write. He might want me to write the novel I’ve had in my head and on paper for 10+ years. He might have an entirely different novel in His plan for me. He might have something else altogether in store for me.

Ms. Meyer wrote in the third chapter of her book, “If you keep your plan before the Lord, you must be ready to let Him change anything at any time. If you do this, your path will always be right and prosperous.”

She also wrote, “… and we will never find joy if we think we have to know everything before we take our first step in the direction He is leading us.”

Today is the last class in the “Eight Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel” online course I started on September 6, so it’s time for me to create a new plan.

This time, though, I’ll try to be reasonable, and I’ll try to remember to seek God’s will every morning and be ready to ditch my plan for His plan.

Since my last blog post

I’ve always been a pack rat. I keep things “because I might need it someday.” I’ve transitioned into, “I’m never going to need this.” Last week I concentrated on my file cabinets. That alone dates me. I’ve purged file folders of all descriptions.

I don’t need the paperwork for the car insurance I had in 1995. I don’t need most of the recipes I kept in the 1980s. I don’t have the energy to do much cooking. Plus, I’m trying to eat healthier in 2021 than I did in 1981. The list goes on.

This is a work in progress, but it feels good to let go of some things.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or productive time if you’re writing one.

Whatever season you’re transitioning into where you live, try to enjoy the gift each day is. This is a challenge for me. You know I don’t like cold weather.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to read my blog post.

I’ll leave you with this short sentence from the third chapter of Joyce Meyer’s book: “To walk in the presence of God, we must give the Holy Spirit the right of way.”  I love that!

Until my next blog post – which I have planned for next Monday – I hope you and I both give the Holy Spirit the right of way.

And wait on tiptoe to see what happens.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Russia Transferred Alaska to US, 1867

The thought of Russia selling Alaska to the United States in 1867 – or any other time – makes my head spin. My first thought was, I bet the Russians are still kicking themselves over this! That led to me look up the origins of the idiom to kick oneself.

According to my handy reference book, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, by Christine Ammer, this idiom, which means to berate or reproach oneself, dates back to the late 1800s. One wonders if the expression was coined by the Russians after selling Alaska to the United States, but I guess not.

Back to Russia Selling Alaska to the US

Back to the topic of today’s blog post… I remember reading about something called “Seward’s Folly” in a lower grades’ history book, but if given only seconds to come up with the answer I’d be hard pressed to recall that it refers to U.S. Secretary of State William Seward negotiating the transaction.

Many Americans thought it foolish to purchase Alaska for the exorbitant price of $7.2 million, or around two cents per acre. That converts to a mere $120 million or so in 2021.

Photo credit: Hari Nandakumar on unsplash.com

Putting the event in historical context, though, it makes sense that people were up in arms over the federal government spending $7.2 million for a place a world away. It was a place virtually no one in the nation expected to visit. To a great extent, that still holds true today.

A four-year civil war had taken a terrible toll on the nation. The Confederate states were being brought back into the fold of the United States, although there were deep-seated hatreds on both sides of that conflict – so deeply ingrained that remnants of those feelings still exist 160 years later.

In 1867, just two years after the end of that war, the federal government pays more than $7 million for a vast wilderness at the top of the world. No wonder it seemed like folly to the average American.

Photo credit: Deon Van Zyl on unsplash.com

All that taken into account, today Alaska seems like a bargain any way you look at it. It’s one of the places I’d like to visit, but that’s highly unlikely now. The photographs of the landscape and the wildlife are breathtaking.

Just think: 663,267 square miles. Denali and other National Parks. National forests. Wildlife refuges. Fishing. Glaciers. Whales. It’s one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States put together.

Alaskan Salmon, for crying out loud! It’s delicious and so nutritious.

Photo credit: Peter Hansen on unsplash.com

Alaska became a US territory on May 11, 1912 and was admitted as the 49th state in the Union on January 3, 1959.

Fifteen percent of Alaska’s population is indigenous. Nearly two dozen native languages are spoken in Alaska. No other US state is so rich in natural beauty, wildlife, natural resources, and human history.

Thank you, William Seward!

Since my last blog post

I continue with the eight-week online writing course. A couple more weeks to go.

We had beautiful days in the mid- and high-80s last week. It was probably summer’s last gasp. I’ll miss the warm weather. The weather last week was perfect for taking care of some yardwork. It’s time to get the yard ready for the coming winter.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. My reading for pleasure lately has been almost nil.

I look forward to getting my Covid-19 Moderna booster shot soon.

Janet

Myths and Legends Day

Myths and Legends Day is an internationally-celebrated day on October 11 every year. Who knew? I’d never heard of it until this year.

I found it on a list of days.

This week seems to have more than its share of such days. Tomorrow wins the special day contest. It’s Cookbook Launch Day, Free Thought Day, and Old Farmers Day. My favorite thing to celebrate tomorrow, though, is International Moment of Frustration Scream Day.

International Moment of Frustration Scream Day

I think most of us could really get into International Moment of Frustration Scream Day during this pandemic. If I were a betting person, I’d bet money that there are some healthcare workers and teachers who could show us how to do it.

I wanted to scream when I learned that the local legend in Lancaster County, South Carolina around which I had written the first draft of a novel was just that. A legend. It makes for a wonderful story, but as with many yarns spun for 250 years, it’s just not true. At least, it’s not provable.

Nevertheless, I took a bit or that legend and something I saw years ago on a segment of the PBS TV series, “History Detectives,” and I’ve spun my own unique story. The working title is The Doubloon or The Spanish Coin and, if you and I live long enough, we’ll get to see it in print. Authors use the abbreviation WIP for Work in Progress. My novel is definitely a WIP.

Back to Myths and Legends Day

That brings me back to Myths and Legends Day. Look online and you can hardly find anything about it. Several websites actually use the same photograph to illustrate the day: children dressed as their favorite characters such as Superman, Robinhood, and several I can’t identify. It does sound like something fun for elementary students to celebrate and might even encourage some of them to read.

Paul Revere

One legend that came to my attention recently is the famous “midnight ride of Paul Revere.” It’s a wonderful story, and it’s true. The problem is, it’s not the whole story.

On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere rode horseback through the northern Boston area to warn the Americans about the movement of British troops. I hate to burst your bubble, but he did not ride through the countryside shouting, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” I know. That’s what I’ve thought all my life, too.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” has been memorized by many a school student. Paul Revere took on a superhuman aura. He did make that ride, and I don’t mean to take anything away from him; however, he’s not the only person to make such a dangerous journey.

William Dawes

William Dawes was also sent to ride that night to Lexington, Massachusetts to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that they were soon to be arrested. Also, his task was to alert the Minutemen that the British troops were on the move. Revere got to Lexington a half hour before Dawes. It’s thought that Revere had the faster horse. Also, Dawes was thrown by his horse as he and Revere headed on to Concord, Massachusetts, his horse escaped, and Dawes had to walk back to Lexington.

Samuel Prescott

Paul Revere recruited Samuel Prescott of Concord to meet him along the way since he was more familiar with the Concord area. He supposedly guided Revere through the darkness. When Revere, Dawes, and Prescott were met by British officers on the way to Concord, they split up and Prescott was the only one that made it all the way to Concord. Revere was captured.

Israel Bissell

Then, there was Israel Bissell. He rode 345 miles on the Old Post Road from Watertown, Massachusetts to Philadelphia to warn militia companies of British troop movements. He covered that amazing feat in four days and six hours. The horse he started out with died near Worchester, Massachusetts.

You think all that’s astounding and possibly news to you? Just wait.

What about Sybil Ludington?

I wish I’d been told about Sybil Ludington when I was in school! Her journey was more than two years after that of the above four men, but she rode 40 miles (twice as far as Paul Revere) to alert the residents of Danbury, Connecticut that the British were approaching. She was all of 16 years old.

She made her roundtrip journey between 9:00 p.m. on April 26, 1777 and dawn the next morning. Unfortunately, the British had already torched Danbury. That doesn’t take anything away from her efforts, though. She was later commended by George Washington and this statue of her atop her horse is in Carmel, New York.

Statue of Sybil Ludington in Carmel, New York

“Remember the ladies” ~ Abigail Adams

I’m reminded of Abigail Adams’ often quoted excerpt from her March 31, 1776 letter to her husband, John Adams, as he was away at a meeting of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia helping to work out the details of the American Revolution:

 “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Yes, indeed. Remember the ladies!

Since my last blog post

My reading list so far this month might raise some eyebrows and get me some attention from the police. In conjunction with the novel I’m writing, this month I’ve read a variety of forensics books.

Until my next blog post

Note: I drew heavily in my post today from the following website: https://www.constitutionfacts.com/us-declaration-of-independence/the-five-riders/. That’s where I also found the photo of the Sybil Ludington statue.

Don’t forget to celebrate International Moment of Frustration Scream Day tomorrow!

Janet

Books Read & Analyzed in September 2021

I dedicated the month of September to read books about the art and craft of writing. It’s slower than reading novels – that’s for sure!

At least, that was my plan. I had it all mapped out, down to how many pages I’d read each day. Then, that online writing course I’m taking began on September 6, and my plans went out the window.

Studying historical novels and historical mystery novels dominated my reading time in September. Weekly online course assignments included analyzing various elements of novels in our chosen genre. My genre is historical fiction, with an element of mystery in my first novel – the manuscript I’m currently working on. At least, I hope this turns out to be my first novel.

Today’s blog post might appeal more to writers than readers but, since it’s definitely part of my journey as a writer, I feel compelled to share it with you.

I evaluated one book I’ve read and five books I haven’t read. I was looking for such things as scene length, chapter length, sensory detail, point-of-view, tense, noun and verb strength, microtension, high moment, amount of narrative, amount of dialogue, and the action-reaction-processing cycle.

Until taking this “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful” online course by C.S. Lakin, I’d never tried to analyze the elements of a novel. I just read for enjoyment. I look forward to reading for enjoyment again someday, for I find analyzing novels a bit of a drag.

Even though today’s blog post takes a much different approach than my usual first blog of a month about the books I read the previous month, I hope you’ll bear with me a few minutes. My remarks about each of the following books might pique your interest, even if you’re not interested in the elements considered in the writing of a novel.

The War Nurse, by Tracey Enerson Wood

The War Nurse, by Tracey Enerson Wood

Published this year, I found The War Nurse to be an excellent example of historical fiction for me to evaluate. I’d read Tracey Enerson Wood’s first novel, The Engineer’s Wife, and liked it. The War Nurse is full of rich prose. She uses strong verbs and vivid adjectives. Writing like that has to be learned. It is hard work. I want to write like that. I wish I’d had time to read the entire book instead of skimming through it to look for specific writing techniques and elements.

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

This book was published in 2010. I read it in 2017. (See what I said about it and other books in my February 3, 2017 blog post, What I read in January 2017.) It was a novel that stayed with me for a long time and it’s one that still clearly comes to mind when I think back on historical novels I’ve especially enjoyed. I checked it out of the library last month just so I could analyze it in relation to my class assignments.

Like in The War Nurse, I found an Author’s Note, Acknowledgments, Book Club Questions, and “A Conversation with Kathleen Grissom” at the end of The Kitchen House. I think these are items that fans of historical fiction like to see – and expect to see.

Historical fiction readers like for Author’s Notes to tell them which characters and events in a novel are real and which ones are a creation of the author’s skill. I find myself reading the Author’s Note at the back of novels before I read the actual novel.

The Historians, by Cecilia Ekbäck

The Historians, by Cecilia Ekback

This is a 2021-published historical mystery. I didn’t get to read much of the book. I made note of how the book was organized and some of the features it included, such as a map of the setting, a preface, and “Cast of Characters.” All these were in the front of the book before the story itself began.

I found the list of 44 characters intimidating. I would never be able to keep up with so many people. The 19 or so introductory pages included sections like “Lapland, January 1943,” “Stockholm, February 1, 1943,” and “Blackäsen Mountain, March 31, 1943.”

The book is 431 pages plus a four-page “Author’s Note and Historical Background,” and a list of nine “Sources” in the back of the book.

Scenes varied from two to eight-and-a-half pages. Some paragraphs were half a page long. The story is told in an unbroken pattern of “Laura” chapters, “Jens” chapters, and “Blackäsen Mountain” chapters and ends with “Lapland, June 1943.”

The settings in this book are a refreshing change from all the World War II novels of recent years that have almost exclusively been set in France, Poland, or Germany.

I regret I didn’t have time to actually read this book; however, I was overwhelmed by the pages and pages of introductory material. One would have to be keenly interested in the settings and time period in order to read those 19 pages before getting to the story.

It was an eye-opening exercise related to the writing course I’m taking to analyze the elements of this historical mystery. This was the first recently-published historical mystery I analyzed.

An Irish Hostage, by Charles Todd

An Irish Hostage, by Charles Todd

Charles Todd is the pen name for a mother-son writing duo. An Irish Hostage is the 12th novel in their Bess Crawford Mysteries. I haven’t read any of them. This is their 2021 novel, so I chose it to analyze.

Like The Historians, this is an historical mystery. Although I didn’t have time to read much of it, this novel appealed to me more than the other book. That’s just personal preference, and not a criticism of Cecilia Ekbäck’s book.

It’s written in first-person past tense and is set in Somerset, June 1919.

The opening narrative paragraphs set a pleasant tone with such phrases as, “the long windows open to a surprisingly mild spring evening, and a bit of a breeze pleasantly lifting the lilac curtains just a little.” But then the mood suddenly turns with, “The only thing that spoiled this charming scene were the expressions on our faces.”

Of course, the novel being categorized as “historical mystery,” the reader should already know the tide is going to turn.

I found the style of writing to be more to my liking than the “heavier” Ekbäck book. Chapters ranged in length from around four or five pages to about 20 pages.

There is a page of acknowledgments and a two-sentence “About the Author” page at the end of the book.

The House on Vesper Sands, by Paraic O’Donnell

The House on Vesper Sands, by Paraic O’Donnell

This is another 2021 historical mystery. It’s set in February through June of 1893. It begins with “I. Requiem Æternam” and the five succeeding sections also have Latin names. That technique in itself gives the reader a hint about the mood of the book.

The opening paragraph introduces Esther Tull feeling “the first gentleness of the snow.” In the second paragraph, Esther extends “a gloved hand to the railing…. The pain was returning, but it was not yet more than she could bear….”

Interesting wording there. The inclusion of the word “yet,” adds a level of intrigue for the reader. Every word matters in a novel – or should.

This novel is mostly narrative, with scenes averaging six or seven pages. There’s an Afterword and Acknowledgments on page 401.

Murder on Black Swan Lane, by Andrea Penrose

Murder on Black Swan Lane, by Andrea Penrose

When I searched for best-selling historical mysteries, I noticed Andrea Penrose’s name coming up repeatedly in the top 50 or top 100. I borrowed her 2017 novel, Murder on Black Swan Lane from the library. It’s set in Regency London, which appears to be Ms. Penrose’s favorite era and location.

I’m not a fan of prologues, but hers was just four pages and I wanted to get a feel for her writing style. Her rich language using strong verbs and spot-on adjectives drew me in. For example, the prologue opened with, “A flicker of weak light skittered over the stone floor, followed by the soft scrapes of steps and the whispered whoosh, whoosh of mist-dampened wool.”

The book’s 27 chapters range from nine to 16 pages in length, based on the seven I counted. They’re followed by a two-page “Author’s Note” and then the prologue and first chapter of her book, Murder at Half Moon Gate.

The biography on the inside of the back cover reveals that “Andrea Penrose is a pseudonym for an author who has also written as Cara Elliott for Grand Central and Andrea Pickens for NAL.” Perhaps you’ve read one of her books under those other names. I haven’t.

I look forward to reading or at least perusing more of Andrea Penrose’s books. The rich language skills she has are something I’d like to emulate.

Since my last blog post

I completed the fourth week of my eight-week writing course, and have been busy editing my novel manuscript. Trying to work in all I’ve learned in the last month isn’t easy. I’m into the third chapter now. There will be many more revisions in my future. I enjoy the process of fiddling with words.

I’ve also worked on the notes from my local history research. I still hope to get those notes in book form eventually.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits, by Joyce Meyer. It was a nice diversion from all the books and scenes I analyzed for my class.

Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits, by Joyce Meyer

Now that the deer have devoured the leaves on the hydrangeas and other plants and shrubs in our yard, this week they started eating the azaleas. Now they’ve gone too far!

It’s officially autumn in North Carolina. There are spots of leaf color here and there here in the southern piedmont. Many leaves seem to just be dying and falling off. Of course, it won’t be peak fall leaf season here for several weeks. There’s a hint of fall in the air at night and in the mornings, but our daytime temperatures are still mainly in the low- to mid-80s.

It’s warmer than it was last week when I mentioned being cold. None of my southern hemisphere readers took the bait last week when I volunteered to go down under and visit for a few months. I guess they’re enjoying spring now. I will be, too, in six months!

Janet

Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.

Banned Books Week began yesterday in the United States. The American Library Association shines a spotlight on challenged books for one week every September. It’s important for us to pause and consider which books have been challenged and the reasons for those challenges.

My sister holds a Master’s degree in Library Science and was a school media specialist for 30 years. Therefore, I’ve had a front row seat to the book challenges she faced during her tenure in middle and high schools. I know her stance against banning books and, now that I’m a writer, I have a clearer view of how I feel about the topic.

Censorship is a dangerous weapon against a free society. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want someone else deciding what I should or shouldn’t read – or more importantly – what I can and cannot read.

What Banned Books Week isn’t

Age appropriateness is one thing, but that’s not what Banned Books Week is about. It’s about various segments of the population thinking they have the right to dictate what the rest of us can and cannot read.

 My April 26, 2021 blog post, Censorship and Reader Sensitivities, relates to today’s topic.

This year’s theme

The theme for this year’s Banned Book Week in the United States is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” What a great theme!

American Library Association’s Theme Announcement for 2021 Banned Books Week

In the above article, Betsy Gomez wrote: “With a central image showing two hands sharing a book, the 2021 theme is intended to be inclusive and emphasizes the ways in which books and information bring people together, help individuals see themselves in the stories of others, and aid the development of empathy and understanding for people from other backgrounds.”

The following books were the most often challenged books this year as of April, including the reasons they were challenged, according to BannedBooksWeek.org:

  1. “George by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism and because it was thought to promote antipolice views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and it included rape and profanity.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of the author.
  • Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story about Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote antipolice views.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes and their negative effect on students.
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
  1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Challenged for profanity, and because it was thought to promote an antipolice message.”

Bringing this right up to two weeks ago

Just a couple of weeks ago there were protests in York, Pennsylvania over a school board’s banned books policy. I believe the policy sets a bad precedent. It’s encouraging that many students and parents protested the policy. Please read the article from the York Daily Record from September 13, 2021: Central York board maintains ban on Black and Hispanic books (ydr.com)

The incident in York, PA begs the question: Do you know what your local school board’s policy is on book challenges/banning?

I went online to see what my local school board’s policy was and didn’t find anything specific about book challenges. Therefore, I believe it falls under the general procedure for any complaints. That protocol is teacher/school personnel, principal, school/parent relations specialist, superintendent, and finally, the board of education.

An interesting dichotomy

There’s an interesting dichotomy about challenging books: Making the list is probably the best free publicity a book can receive. Just tell me I shouldn’t do something, and human nature tells me to do it. The same holds true for challenged books. Just tell people they shouldn’t read a particular book, and then watch it fly off the bookstore and library shelves!

Since my last blog post

Last week’s online class was about writing in deep point-of-view. This is something I’m working on in my novel-in-progress. This week’s class was very informative. I’ve edited the first chapter in my manuscript and employed deep point-of-view.

I learned last week that white-tail deer like to eat hydrangeas, geraniums, lily-of-the-valley, periwinkle, and green poplar leaves. At least they waited until the end of summer to strip the hydrangeas of their blossoms and leaves!

Until my next blog post

Ready or not, October is coming on Friday. October is National Book Month and National Reading Group Month.

There’s a touch of autumn in the air. I’m already all bundled up even indoors. My fingers are like icicles as I type these words. If you have followed my blog for a while, you know it’s not my favorite season. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so it will take extra effort for me to be upbeat in the next five or six months. For my blogger friends in Australia, may I come and visit you for a few months?

Janet

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

I mentioned in my September 6, 2021 blog post, Books Read in August 2021 (a.k.a. What to Do When You Can’t Afford Writing Courses) that I’m taking C.S. Lakin’s “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel” online course. In today’s blog post, I’m excited to tell you about some of the things I’ve learned and accomplished in the last two weeks.

Don’t let the title fool you!

The name of the course doesn’t mean you can write a novel in eight weeks! Ms. Lakin just means the course lasts eight weeks. The course is intense. It covers a year’s worth of material. If I learn as much each of the next six weeks as I learned the last two, week, my head might explode.

The first week’s lesson about scenes and “high moments” was worth the price of the entire course. (No, I’m not getting any type of compensation for saying that!)

Photo credit: Elijah Hiett on Unsplash.com

The structure of popular novels has changed in the last few years due to the influence TV and movies have had on our attention spans. The narrative-rich novels I loved so much by such authors as James Michener aren’t what readers want now. There are exceptions, of course, but this course is about the new norm. Scenes should just cover a capsule of time, yet every scene must serve a purpose and end with some type of change.

The second lesson was about microtension. I didn’t know what that was, so there was plenty to learn.

I’m still trying to grasp the many aspects of microtension. It seems to be just about anything that’s unexpected in a scene or even down to the sentence level. Ms. Lakin’s lecture about microtension was longer than an hour, so you would be correct to assume that I’ve over-simplified it here.

A bit of decluttering

In my recent struggle about what I was supposed to be doing or writing, I sought God’s guidance. One night I dreamed that I was going through a life’s accumulation of stuff and discarding or setting aside items to either donate or recycle. Most items were being discarded. When I woke up, I had clarity and felt like God was telling me to get rid of the clutter in my life. Sometimes you need to get rid of the old to make room for the new.

One bit of clutter I got rid of was a stack of Writer’s Digest magazines. I’d kept them because there were some good articles in them. Years passed and the magazines became a stack and there was no easy way to find a particular article when I needed it.

Photo credit: Bernd Klutsch on Unsplash.com

I’ve gone through 55 of the 58 issues of the magazine that were taking up space on a bookshelf and tore out the articles I wanted to keep. I’ve organized the articles by topic in three 3-ring binders. (You see, I’m old school and I like paper)

A few of the categories in those binders are Character, Setting, Plotting, Structure, Point-of-View, Scene, Author Brand, Author Website, Writing Business, Genre, Editing, Self-Publishing, Pacing, Theme, Publishing Options, and Queries. There are many more categories, but you get the point.

With that project done – except for some articles that haven’t found a home yet among my topics — I’m able to easily find my notes on a particular aspect of writing to reread helpful items. Many other articles are saved on my computer. (See, I’m not completely old school!)

Since my last blog post

I continue to delve more deeply into my chosen genre, historical fiction. The novel I’m writing now could qualify as the blended genre, historical mystery. I’m analyzing recent historical mystery bestsellers, looking for such things as how and when backstory is given, how much microtension I can identify, scene length, and chapter length. All the while, looking to see how each scene builds to a high moment.

However, the ideas I have for two or three additional novels are not mysteries, so I hesitate to label the first book (and myself) in the historical mystery genre. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed and then have readers disappointed (or angry) when my other books aren’t mysteries. I know I’m getting ahead of myself on this, but it’s something I need to be aware of. It’s all part of the process.

Update on Whitney Plantation

This is a follow-up to my August 16, 2021 blog post: How the Word is Passed – Part I.

The Whitney Plantation near Wallace, Louisiana was greatly damaged by Hurricane Ida and is closed indefinitely. If you are inclined to help with the repairs, you can do so by visiting https://www.whitneyplantation.org/.

For online articles about the damage suffered by the plantation, go to Hurricane Ida Damages Whitney Plantation | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine and Descendants Of The Enslaved Sheltered From Ida In A Historic Plantation’s Big House | 88.5 WFDD. Of course, you can also do a search engine search and find additional details.

Until my next blog post

Today starts Week Three of C.S. Lakin’s eight-week course. The topic is point of view, and I can’t wait to see what I learn in the coming days!

I hope you have a good book to read and time to enjoy a relaxing hobby.

Janet

Remembering 9/11 Twenty Years Later

Two days ago, we marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 major terrorist attacks on the United States.

Photo credit: Jack Cohen on unsplash.com

It was on September 11, 2001 that we Americans lost our innocence. It was the day we learned that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans could not protect us. We learned that we were naïve and vulnerable. Our lives changed forever.

There have been numerous shows on TV over the last week in remembrance of 9/11 as it is called in the U.S. It has been gut-wrenching to watch the sights and sounds of that day in New York City, the countryside in Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon in Washington, DC over and over again. Every photograph puts me right back in that day.

The days just before 9/11

We’d had a busy and beautiful weekend. We celebrated the 250th anniversary of the founding of our church with a play and Dinner in the Grove. Descendants of all our former pastors had been invited for the weekend of festivities and had come from several states. I had written the play that was performed on Saturday afternoon.

Our oldest living former pastor, who was in his 90s, came from Virginia to preach the sermon on Sunday morning. Several hundred people enjoyed Dinner in the Grove after the Sunday morning worship service.

Before leaving with his grandson that afternoon, that old pastor insisted on making the trek to the spring between the church and the manse to take one last drink of cool water from the spring he’d last visited more than 60 years before. I held my breath as his grandson held him by his belt as the old man bent down double to get his mouth to the water flowing out of the pipe coming from the springhouse.

It was a glorious weekend!

Our brother and sister-in-law were here from Georgia for the festivities and were staying for a few days. I was tired on Sunday night, so I didn’t set the alarm to get up at any certain time for the morning of 9/11. I planned to sleep until I woke up – whatever the time. I had no plans for that day.

9/11

I was sound asleep when my sister woke me up saying, “The World Trade Center is on fire!” I struggled out of bed and went to the family room where she and my brother and sister-in-law were watching the ABC TV network.

My brother and I stood in the middle of the room, watching in horror as the fire consumed the top floors of one of the twin towers when an airliner came out of nowhere and plunged into the other tower. My brother and I looked at each other, and I said, “That was no accident.”

I knew instantly that life had just changed forever, but I didn’t really know the depths of those changes for a long time.

Within a few minutes, we knew another plane had been hijacked and forced to crash in Pennsylvania. Yet another hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon.

My immediate reactions were digestive problems all that day. My stomach was in knots. What was going to happen next?

The aftermath

All air traffic over the United States was grounded as quickly as possible. Planes were ordered to land at the nearest airport. People ended up not where they had intended to go. Some of the people who had traveled more than 1,000 miles to participate in the celebration at our church had to rent cars and drive home because they didn’t know when they’d be able to get on a plane to fly home. Did they even want to get on another plane with such uncertainty about how and why the hijackings on 9/11 had taken place? I wouldn’t have wanted to.

It was reported on TV that 25,000 body bags had been ordered to recover the bodies of the people killed at the World Trade Center. It was a number I couldn’t get my head around. But what was even more difficult to comprehend as the day went by was that there weren’t going to be many bodies. Nothing remained except dust.

People posted photographs of their loved ones who had been in one of the towers that morning. We saw the pictures on TV. People frantically hoped their relatives and friends had escaped the buildings. Maybe they were injured and had amnesia. Maybe they were unconscious and unidentified in a hospital. People held out hope against all odds. But most of them had to accept that the person they loved so much had not survived.

The remains are still being analyzed 20 years later. In fact, the remains of one of the victims was identified just last week through DNA testing. Many families are still waiting for that official report.

I didn’t personally know anyone who was in the World Trade Center that day, but in the days and weeks after the tragedy we were told the stories of the special lives the victims had led. We learned of their small or unborn children who suddenly became orphans that morning. We learned of the young widows and widowers whose hearts had been torn out with the death of their spouses. Lives that held so much promise. So much intellect and talent wiped out in the blink of an eye.

For weeks after 9/11, we watched on TV as the rubble was removed. One thing I remember is that there was nothing to laugh about for months. The late-night TV talk shows that had depended on making fun of politicians or events in the news no longer had anything to poke fun at. And if they had dared, their disrespect would not have been gladly received by their audiences. It just didn’t seem appropriate to laugh about anything for months following 9/11. That made a lasting impression on me.

Peter Jennings stayed on the air for hours and what turned out to be days on end to inform us about what was happening.

For a long time after that, we knew if regular programming was interrupted for a special report, it probably wasn’t going to be good news. It was something that affected everyone, and it made me hold my breath in anticipation. It was before “breaking news” became something said on cable news every 15 minutes that usually turns out to be something you heard yesterday. And it wasn’t a high-speed chase 3,000 miles away involving a sports celebrity.

There were countless stories of heroism. Not just the first responders, but everyday people. For instance, the people on the plane headed for the White House or US Capitol. Passengers overtook the hijackers and forced the plane down in a field in Pennsylvania to save further devastation and death in Washington, DC. I was prompted to wonder what I would do in such a situation. Would I cower in fear or demonstrate bravery?

It seems quaint now, but in the months and possibly several years following 9/11, all Americans pulled together. All our little differences were forgotten. We were one country. We all rallied under our beautiful flag. We were kind to one another. The exception was that Americans of the Muslim faith were all suspect. They were vilified by some people. That was a sad result of the attack and it has persisted for 20 years.

The entire world came to our aid with moral support and tears. In our “hour of need,” other countries put their arms around us and held us up.

It was a time like no other I experienced before or since.

The mere mention of 9/11 brings to my mind images of those burning buildings, collapsed buildings, dazed survivors running for their lives, first responders rushing toward and into the towers, smoke settling over and shrouding Manhattan, the hole in the ground in Pennsylvania, the ugly hole gouged out of the Pentagon, employees fleeing the White House which was possibly the intended target of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. I can’t erase those images. Maybe I’m not supposed to be able to forget. I should never forget those who died that day – the sacrifices they made and the sacrifices their families made.

I now understand why my parents forever remembered Pearl Harbor on December 7 and why my great-grandfather always noted the anniversary of the Battle of Richmond in his daybooks.

Janet

Books Read in August 2021 (a.k.a. What to Do When You Can’t Afford Writing Courses)

I could be the poster child for how hard it is to learn the art and craft of fiction writing. It requires not only reading good fiction to see how certain things are done well but also lots of study and practice.

My first blog every month is traditionally about some of the books I read the month before. Usually, I’ve read five or more novels and I’m eager to write about them; however, in August I concentrated on reading books about the art and craft of writing fiction.

Not being able to afford to take the best writing courses in August, I prioritized the books I needed to read to bone up on such things as characterization and emotion in fiction. Between the books I had purchased through the years (most of them used books or inexpensive e-books) and the books I could borrow from the public library, I identified 18 books and two workbooks I wanted to work through before I attempt to finish polishing the historical novel I’m writing.

In August, I read the following books about the art and craft of writing:

Making It in Historical Fiction, by Libbie Hawker;

Writing Deep Point of View, by Rayne Hall;

Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View, by Jordan Rosenfeld; and

The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life, by Noah Lukeman (pertinent chapters);

Breathing Life into Your Characters, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

Also, I’m about 50% through Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D. I’m working through a few pages each day and doing the many writing exercises provided. It has helped me immensely in rewriting and expanding my characters’ biographical sketches.

Online Sources

There are also many free resources online. There are bloggers with much more writing experience than I who give wonderful tips and advice. There are free online interviews with authors. Check the websites of independent bookstores for scheduled author events. Some are in person, but most seem to still be virtual.

I hope virtual author events will continue after the pandemic. They’re a wonderful way for readers and aspiring writers to get to hear authors. Many of us wouldn’t get to hear them otherwise. At least one good thing has come out of the pandemic!

Once in a while an excellent opportunity comes along that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Such was the six-hour “Writing from the Heart” free webinar I got to watch several weeks ago. (See my August 9, 2021 blog post, 2 Environment- and History-Related Books to find out some of the topics covered by that webinar.)

Online course: “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel”

In light of the critique the first 50 pages of my novel manuscript received in July (See my July 26, 2021 blog post, How My First 50 Pages Stood up for Critique), I needed to take C.S. Lakin’s online writing course, “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel.” I must have read the course description a dozen times, but I couldn’t afford to take it.

Then, out of the blue, on August 4, Ms. Lakin offered a $200 discount on the course. That discount made all the difference in the world. I registered for the course, which starts today!

I’m excited about the skills I will learn in the next eight weeks. I’ll keep you posted. Today’s lesson is about high moment and character change.

Since my last blog post

In addition to the writing books I listed above, in August I read Seven Things That Steal Your Joy: Overcoming the Obstacles to Your Happiness, by Joyce Meyer. It not only helped me with my personal life, it gave insight into the inner conflicts some of my characters struggle with.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read. Thanks to my cousin, Jerome Williams, I’m reading Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear.

There are many sources of conflict and concern in our world. Let’s all try to find something to be thankful for and joyful about every day.

Janet

Things I Learned from How the Word is Passed – Part II

Last week’s blog post, Things I Learned from How the Word is Passed – Part I  covered some of the things I learned about Monticello Plantation and the Whitney Plantation from How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith. Today I share with you some of the things I learned about Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, and New York City from the book.

There was just too much information in this book to give it appropriate time in one or two blog posts, so I’ll wrap this up next Monday. Needless to say, I highly recommend the book. I’m just hitting the high points in my blog posts.


Angola Prison

The Louisiana State Penitentiary is known by many as Angola Prison. The author was accompanied to the prison by a Black man, Norris, who spent almost 30 years imprisoned there for a crime he didn’t commit. He wants to show people the connection between Whitney Plantation and Angola Prison.

Norris said if we want to end mass incarceration, we must get at the history of it, the reason it still exists, and what that looks like.

Photo credit: Karsten Winegeart on unsplash.com

After the Civil War there was a change in policy in Louisiana not to require unanimous jury convictions. It was meant to funnel Blacks into the convict leasing system. Convict leasing partly replaced the labor force lost when slavery ended. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows involuntary servitude as a punishment for crimes committed. Under the convict leasing program, prisoners (mostly Black) could be rented out to individuals and companies. Railroads, plantations, and businesses took advantage of the program. Due to the program, most Angola inmates leased out lived no more than six years because the leasing assignments were often gruesome.

The book goes into more detail about how the laws governing juries changed over the decades, not always to the good.

The author (and I) found it interesting that the tour of Angola Prison begins in the gift shop. A gift shop at a state penitentiary. Such things as shot glasses, sunglasses, and T-shirts with the name of the prison on them are sold.

There is no mention in the prison museum that the place used to be a plantation.

I visited the prison’s website last week and was struck by how it is presented as a tourist destination. I don’t know about you, but when I go on a vacation it never occurs to me to work an operational prison tour or prison rodeo – I’m not making that up! – into my agenda.


Blandford Cemetery

Blandford Cemetery is in Petersburg, Virginia. It started as the cemetery for Blandford Anglican Church. It was deconsecrated in 1806 when the congregation decided to move to a more central location. After the Civil War a group of southern women were distressed over how their dead soldiers weren’t being honored like the Union soldiers. There was a 15-year effort to dig up Confederate dead and send them home for reburial, but 30,000 of the 32,200 could not be identified and they remain at Blandford.

Historical marker at Blandford Church and Cemetery, Petersburg, Virginia

The City of Petersburg gave the Ladies Memorial Association the abandoned church as a focal point for the cemetery. They commissioned Tiffany Studios to design stained-glass windows but couldn’t afford the usual $1,700 per window price. They couldn’t afford the $300 per window discounted price, so they went to the Confederate and border states and told them to raise the money. Saints are depicted in 11 of the 13 windows. There are state seals and inscriptions tying the Confederate dead to such things as “the Army of Heaven” in the case of South Carolina.

Before leaving Blandford, the author had an opportunity to talk to the woman in charge there. She seemed uncomfortable fielding his questions and appeared to be uncomfortable that a stack of flyers advertising a Memorial Day event hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that was easily visible on the counter.

This chapter also included some facts and theories about Robert E. Lee.

The author closes the chapter by wondering if we’re all “just patchworks of the stories we’ve been told. What would it take – what does it take – for you to confront a false history even if it means shattering the stories you have been told throughout your life? Even if it means having to fundamentally reexamine who you are and who your family has been? Just because something is difficult to accept doesn’t mean you should refuse to accept it. Just because someone tells you a story doesn’t make that story true.”

To me, that is the unspoken theme of the book.


New York City

Like me, you might have wondered why there is a chapter about New York City in How the Word is Passed.

This chapter is a real eye-opener! As with all the other chapters, I learned more from this chapter than I can possibly include in this blog post.

The author went to the National Museum of the American Indian for a walking tour about slavery and the Underground Railroad. The guide began by telling participants that many things she was going to tell them would make them uncomfortable but that would be all right. We learn by having our beliefs and our misinformation questioned. (I loved this woman already and I wasn’t even there!)

The tour included lots of general facts about slavery. The guide explained that slavery in the United States was different from slavery throughout world history. Historically, people were enslaved after taken prisoners of war or in payment of a debt. These enslavements were usually for a limited time and rarely involved the descendants of the enslaved. Slavery in the U.S. was based on racism and the widely-held belief in Europe that Africans were genetically inferior or subhuman. Skin pigmentation was the defining factor

Owning land and things was a European concept. The Dutch brought the first African slaves to the U.S. (present-day New York City). Eventually, some of the slaves were freed and given land. They weren’t gifted land due to the benevolence of the Dutch, though. The Dutch wanted Blacks to serve as a buffer between them and the Indians.

The British took over New York City in 1664. “According to historian David Brion Davis, around 40 percent of households in British Manhattan owned enslaved people. The practice of keeping female slaves in town to care for homes and white children and sending male slaves outside the city for agricultural work resulted in the slaves not having many children. In turn, this made the transatlantic slave trade more necessary for economic purposes.

In 1712, there was a slave uprising in New York. In it, 25 to 50 slaves killed nine white people. The result? “More than seventy Black people were arrested, forty-three brought to trial, and twenty-three executed – some hanged and others burned at the stake.”

Just before the American Revolution, there were 3,000 slaves in New York City and another 20,000 within 50 miles of Manhattan.

The second largest slave market in the United States was on present-day Wall Street between Pearl and Water Streets in Manhattan, New York City. Did you know that? I certainly didn’t! (The largest slave market in the country was at Charleston, South Carolina.)

Photo credit: https://readtheplaque.com/plaque/new-york-s-municipal-slave-market

Thinking about the banks he could see from the site of the slave market, Mr. Smith delved a little deeper. He discovered the predecessors of several of the largest banks in the United States had accepted slaves as collateral for debts.

The author’s tour guide said, “ʻOne of the biggest lies we are still telling in this century – and I know because I’m trying to combat it – [is that] during the Civil War we were the good guys, right? New York City was good. Everybody else in the South, they were bad.’”

I think that’s a good place for me to stop sharing what Mr. Smith had to say about New York City, although I could go on about such things as the Underground Railroad, a huge slave and free Black cemetery that’s been built over, and the predominately Black village that was destroyed so Central Park could be built.


Since my last blog post

I continue to work on biographical sketches of the characters in my novel. I’ve taken a couple of days off from my writing project this week. I tend to get too serious about my self-inflicted to-do lists. I’m trying to lighten up on myself.

Friday night I worked on genealogy, one of my favorite hobbies. I found lots of interesting information on Ancestry.com. Now, all (Ha ha!) I have to do is make sure I can duplicate the research these other people have done before I add it to my family tree. The problem with genealogy is with every new generation you discover, you want to add another one. This hobby is never finished.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

My blog post next Monday with be about Galveston Island, Goree Island, and the Epilogue in How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith.

Janet