#OnThisDay: Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, 1954

The recent “leak” that the United States Supreme Court is on track to abolish the 1973 landmark decision Roe v Wade should stand as a wake-up call to all Americans.

Even a 49-year-old Supreme Court decision that has stood the test of time and numerous challenges, can be undone by five Supreme Court Associate Justices who claimed under oath before Congress that they had no intention of voting to undo that 1973 Court decision.

This begs the question, “What comes next? What other US Supreme Court decisions will be wiped away by this Court which was “stacked” by our former president and the radical “right” in Congress?

If I just “stepped on your toes,” so be it.

Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, 1954

This brings me to the topic of today’s blog post, which I chose months ago because it is the anniversary of another landmark US Supreme Court decision, Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. It was 68 years ago today that the Court published its unanimous decision on that case, which made it illegal to have separate public school systems based on race.

Photo credit: CDC on unspash.com

Until Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, it was legal for states to have “separate but equal” school systems for the different races. Everyone knew there was nothing equal about them, but they were legal in the eyes of the law.

The Brown v Board of Education of Topeka decision overturned the 1896 US Supreme Court case, Plessy v Ferguson. Plessy v Ferguson is proof that the US Supreme Court can make terrible mistakes. That decision ruled that having “separate but equal” school systems for each racial group was all right, and now it was deemed legal under the U.S. Constitution.

I grew up in the racially-segregated South. Before you get too puffed up about being from one of the other sections of the United States, though, take a moment to consider your childhood. Segregation might not have been mandated where you lived, but were your community and schools racially-integrated prior to the 1960s?

In a recent conversation with a friend from the Midwest, I said that our public schools here in Cabarrus County, NC were integrated when I was in the seventh grade. That was 1965. The person I was talking to made an interesting remark: “I lived in a non-segregated state, but I didn’t go to school with black students until high school. I lived in a farming community and there just weren’t any black people.”

Since I also grew up in a farming community, I found it strange that there weren’t a mix of white people and black people where she grew up. It was interesting to hear her perspective on the issue.

To our more-enlightened 21st century minds, it seems ridiculous that prior to Brown v Board of Education of Topeka it was legal to have racially-segregated public school systems. Since I was born in 1953, 1954 doesn’t seem very long ago. (Please stop rolling your eyes. If you don’t already understand, you will someday.)

The dual school systems didn’t disappear overnight – not by long shot. They continued here in Cabarrus County until the beginning of the 1966-67 school year. The previous school year, students had the option of attending the school not designated for their race. Few students chose to do that. For instance, in the previously all-white school of 1,000 students that I attended, only three black students chose to enroll in 1965. Looking back on it, I can’t imagine the courage it took for them to do so.

The following school year, the previously all-black schools in the county were closed. The buildings weren’t even used! I believe that’s proof in and of itself that the school board members knew that previously all-black schools weren’t on par with the previously all-white schools. Or, perhaps they knew that most white parents wouldn’t want their children assigned to those previously all-black schools. They carried a stigma which was based on racial bias and a deep-seated prejudice.

What a luxury the school board had then to let school buildings sit empty. It was just a couple of years before the county’s population started growing so fast that the school board was never again able to build schools fast enough to keep up.

The mid-1960s were volatile years as school desegregation took place. Southern states were held up by the national media as a backward place where white people resented black people and wanted their schools kept separate. That’s what we were told and we didn’t know any better until race riots broke out in Boston in September 1974 when the public schools there were ordered to desegregate.

In conclusion

In light of this history and what I read last week in Viola Davis’ memoir, Finding Me, I’m left to conclude that people everywhere are prejudiced against people who don’t look like they do.

We see racial profiling and discrimination all over the United States. Housing redlining takes place every day as mortgage lenders find ways to disguise such practices which limits where people of color can purchase homes. Every time I think this no longer takes place, investigative reporters uncover proof that I’m wrong.

I’ve come to realize that the desegregation of public schools didn’t always translate into equal opportunity. Students of all races and economic backgrounds experience different levels of support and nurture at home. Those of us who grew up in happy homes were blissfully unaware that some of our fellow students were subjected to abuse and neglect in their homes. Teachers — knowingly or unknowingly — bring their own prejudices into the classroom. So do students. It’s human nature, and it’s something we all need to be aware of as we interact with one another in our daily lives. You don’t know what the other person might be going through in his or her personal life.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read this week.

Take time for a hobby, family, and friends.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet

6 Books Read in April 2022

In case you checked out my blog post last week expecting it to be about the books I read in March, I’m sorry you were disappointed. I hope you found last Monday’s topic of interest, though. It dealt with my favorite local history story.

Today I’m writing about some of the books I read last month. There was quite a variety, as this is all part of my journey as a writer.

The Man from St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett

The Man from St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never read a Ken Follett book until last month. I don’t really know why. What prompted me to read this particular novel by him was another book I was reading, Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman. The Zuckerman book was recommended by author A.J. Mayhew of The Dry Grass of August and Tomorrow’s Bread fame.

The Man from St. Petersburg was filled with political intrigue during the early years of the 20th century. A Russian anarchist comes to London to assassinate a Russian prince who is in England trying to work out an alliance between Great Britain and Russia against Germany. It is assumed that war is coming, so it’s time for countries to choose sides.

Personal secrets are revealed along the way in this novel that will keep you turning pages. It was written in 1982, but I hope your public library still has a copy in case you haven’t read it.

Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman

Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman

This book, referenced above, has been very helpful to me. It takes The Man from St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett; The Godfather, by Mario Puzo; The Witness, by Nora Roberts; and Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell and examines how they were outlined and written. The main focus is on Ken Follett’s book. It was interesting to see four different outlines of The Man from St. Petersburg to see how even a good writer like Follett went through the process of outlining, making changes, and making more changes before he produced the final product.

The Younger Wife, by Sally Hepworth

The Younger Wife, by Sally Hepworth

I became a fan of Sally Hepworth’s novels when I read her third novel in 2017, The Mother’s Promise. Shortly thereafter, I read her second novel, The Things We Keep. Since then, I’ve read The Family Next Door, The Mother-in-Law, The Good Sister, and last month I read The Younger Wife.

The Younger Wife is Hepworth’s seventh novel. I just realized I’ve never read her first one, The Secrets of Midwives. It’s been on my to-be-read list for years.

The Younger Wife deals with several difficult issues, including Alzheimer’s Disease and how it affects the entire family and not just the person who has the illness. It also deals with physical and psychological abuse. I can see how, if a person is living with those traumas or has lived with them, this might not be a book for them to read.

A History of Rockbridge County, Virginia

I was delighted to find an online copy of this book online because it supplied me with little tidbits of information that I found interesting as I continue to research life along the Great Wagon Road in Virginia for the historical novel I’m writing.

Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out, by Jennie Nash

Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out, by Jennie Nash

If there ever was a bargain “how-to” book for fiction writers, this book is it. I paid $2.99 plus tax for it for Kindle. In it, Ms. Nash spells out how to “outline” a novel. I never have followed the old outline model we had to use in elementary school (and probably high school, too) because it was too confining. I could never write an outline that way for a book.

I usually write my outlines in paragraph form if I’m writing a novel or short story. I’ve taken a number of writing classes and I’ve read more how-to-write-a-novel books than I care to admit. For some reason, some things fell into place as I read Ms. Nash’s book.

The idea that if something happens there has to be a reaction finally fell into place for me. I already knew it, but Ms. Nash’s book drilled it into me that as I’m planning/outlining a novel I have to make a conscious effort to make sure everything happens for a reason and everything that happens has consequences.

I know, you’re probably saying, “Well, duh!” Perhaps it was Ms. Nash’s explanation, but I finally got it! In the past, I concentrated on the actions in my outlines and didn’t always give equal consideration to planning every reaction.

One of the points Ms. Nash makes in the book is that if you’ll use her way of outlining – which she calls “the inside-outline,” your novel won’t fall apart in the middle. If you follow her advice, there will be tension throughout your novel and your reader won’t lose interest.

Power Penmanship: An Illustrated Guide to Enhancing Your Image Through the Art of Handwriting Style, by Janet Ernst

I mentioned this book in passing in an earlier blog post. I checked it out of the public library out of curiosity. I soon found myself doing the writing exercises and enjoying it. My handwriting isn’t terrible, although taking shorthand in high school nearly ruined it. I thought I could probably improve on my penmanship, so it was worth reading the book. It has made me aware of several letters I’ve become sloppy with, so I’m trying to do better.

Since my last blog post

In last Monday’s blog post, I promised to write a little more today about my trip to a bookstore in Concord, North Carolina. Since the big-box bookstore at the shopping mall closed years ago, Concord had been in need of a bookstore. A husband-and-wife team opened Goldberry Books at 12 Union Street, South in downtown Concord in November 2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I hadn’t had the opportunity to visit the store until recently.

It is a beautiful, store that offers both new and top-quality used books. My sister and I browsed for probably an hour. It was very quiet when we arrived, but by mid-afternoon customers were flooding in. The best I could tell, although I couldn’t see all of the children’s section in the back, there were at least 25 people there when we left. The best part was the excitement exhibited by the numerous children. It made my heart sing.

If you’re traveling on Interstate-85 through North Carolina, take a break and drive into Concord. It has a quaint downtown with various restaurants and shops and many Victorian homes on both ends of Union Street have been lovingly restored.

Disclaimer: I wrote this about Goldberry Books and the city of Concord on my own free will just because I thought they both needed an endorsement. Here’s the link to Goldberry Books: https://www.goldberrybooks.com/.

I love public libraries, but I also love independent bookstores! Goldberry Books is an excellent one.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. As usual, I’m reading several at the same time.

Make time for a hobby, friends, and family.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet

#OnThisDay: 251st Anniversary of 1771 Gunpowder Plot

When the first week of May rolls around every year, I’m reminded of a bold, dangerous, and exciting event in our local history in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. It dates back to the early days of the American Revolution. In fact, it predates the American Declaration of Independence by five years. Most Americans have never heard of it.

Gunpowder Shipment

As the Regulator Movement reached the boiling point in Alamance County, North Carolina in April 1771, word came to the Rocky River Community in present-day Cabarrus County (but then part of Mecklenburg County) that a shipment of gunpowder was on its way from Charleston, South Carolina to General Waddell in Salisbury (in Rowan County.)

Knowing that the gunpowder was destined to be used to put down the Regulator Movement in counties north of Mecklenburg, eight or nine youths and young men from the Rocky River Presbyterian congregation put their heads together and designed a plan to make sure the gunpowder never reached General Waddell.

While making plans in secret to intercept the gunpowder shipment, the young men took cover from a late April 1771 thunderstorm in the springhouse on the Andrew Logan farm near where Reedy Creek now passes under Lower Rocky River Road.

Photo credit: Jonas Kaiser on unsplash.com

Not all sources agree on the names or even the number of conspirators, but it is believed they were as follows, based on the sworn testimony of James Ashmore: James White, Jr.; John White, Jr.; William White; Robert (Bob) Caruthers (who was married to a sister of James White, Jr.); Robert Davis; Benjamin Cochran; William White (cousin of the other Whites and son of the “Widow White”); James Ashmore; and Joshua Hadley, a half-brother of James Ashmore.

Photo credit: Mick Haupt on unsplash.com

One source credits Joshua Hadley with producing a New Testament on which each one swore that if anyone should ever divulge their plot that a ball might be shot through his heart and his soul sent to the lowest hell. Furthermore, they swore that if one of them ever revealed the names of the participants, he might die where no one should see him and that he should be denied a Christian burial.

Meanwhile…

Three munitions wagons from Charleston arrived in Charlotte but, upon learning that the gunpowder was destined to be used to put down the Regulators in Alamance and Rowan counties, the teamsters refused to take the munitions any further. It is said that Militia Colonel Moses Alexander had difficulty securing volunteers to take the wagons on to Salisbury.

An informant took word to the conspirators at Rocky River that the wagons were in Charlotte and they would stop for the night at the muster grounds near the present-day intersection of US-29 and Poplar Tent Road in Concord. (Since US-29 essentially follows the route of The Great Wagon Road, that’s the route the wagons would have taken to Salisbury.)

Thursday, May 2, 1771

The conspirators met at the home of James White, Sr. They blackened their faces to disguise themselves and set out for the muster grounds. They cut across the county and sometime on the night of May 2, 1771, converged on Phifer’s old muster grounds.

Can’t you just image those teenage boys and young men nervously waiting from a vantage point near the muster grounds? Can’t you imagine their hearts pounding as they ran down the hill and approached the wagons?

It is thought that James White, Jr. was the ringleader. The signal was given! The band of patriots surprised the guards! One of the teamsters was James Caruthers. He recognized his brother, Bob, as one of the attackers. In a low voice he said, “You’ll rue this, Bob.”

“Hold your tongue, Jim,” came his brother’s reply.

The conspirators moved the guards and teamsters to safety. They emptied the wagons and put the gunpowder and blankets in a pile. A train of powder was laid. James White, Jr., fired his pistol into the train.

Photo credit: Cee on unsplash.com

The resulting explosion was heard nine miles away in the vicinity of Rocky River Presbyterian Church. Some people thought it was thunder, while others mistook it for an earthquake.

Photo credit: Andy Watkins on unsplash.com

It is said that James White, Jr. carried a scar for the rest of his life where a flying stave from one of the gunpowder barrels hit him above his eye and cut to the bone before he could run from the explosion.

Photo credit: Christopher Burns on unsplash.com

The conspirators got home the best way they could in the wee hours of Friday, May 3, cleaned themselves up, and said nothing of their overnight adventure.

The Consequences

The Battle of Alamance took place on May 16, 1771, and the Regulator Movement in North Carolina was effectively put down by the royal government. Gov. William Tryon proclaimed on May 17 that he would pardon the rebels if they would turn themselves in by May 21. Bad weather and other circumstances prompted Tryon to postpone the deadline.

Some of the Regulators were put on trial on May 30. The trial was expected to last three weeks. No doubt, news of all this was moving up and down the Great Wagon Road and the conspirators from Rocky River were anxiously awaiting the outcome.

Photo credit: Jon Toney on unsplash.com

Giving in to exhaustion, at one point some of the gunpowder conspirators set out for Hillsborough to take the governor up on his offer of pardon. Before they reached their destination, they were warned that it was a trick and were told the Governor Tryon intended to hang them. Some returned to the canebrakes of Reedy Creek, while others fled to Georgia and Virginia.

June 11, 1771

Governor Tryon proclaimed that he knew some of the rebels in the colony wanted to turn themselves in, so he extended the deadline by which they could do so to July 10, except for “all the Outlaws, the Prisoners, all those concerned in blowing up General Waddell’s Ammunition in Mecklenburg County” and sixteen named Regulators.

The Governor sensed that he was losing control of North Carolina. He wanted the young men who destroyed his gunpowder brought to justice, but he didn’t know who they were.

In mid- to late-June, the Regulators’ trial came to a close. Twelve Regulators were tried and found guilty of high treason. Six were hanged while the other six waited for the King to decide their fate.

Photo credit: Alireza Jalilian on unsplash.com

Perhaps word of the Regulator trial results reached Rocky River, or maybe James Ashmore and Joshua Hadley simply feared that one of the other conspirators would disclose their identities. For whatever reason, Ashmore and Hadley went independently to tell Colonel Moses Alexander (who lived on a plantation at the present-day site of Charlotte Motor Speedway) what they knew.

Imagine their surprise when they ran into each other on Colonel Alexander’s front porch!

The two half-brothers jockeyed for position. James Ashmore eventually pushed his way into the house and told Col. Alexander that he was ready to talk.

June 22, 1771

James Ashmore was taken to Charlotte, where he gave a sworn deposition before Thomas Polk, a Mecklenburg County Justice of the Peace. That’s when things went from bad to worse for the conspirators.

Photo credit: Alessio Fiorentino

In his deposition, Ashmore told Polk how the conspirators had met at Andrew Logan’s old plantation after James McCaul advertised a sale or something to be held there. It was there that James White, Jr. asked Ashmore if he would be interested in helping to blow up the gunpowder shipment.

Ashmore said in his deposition that he was asked in the planning stages if he thought there was any harm in blowing up the gunpowder. He said he didn’t see any harm in it. He said the next morning between ten and eleven o’clock he stopped working on his plantation and went three-quarters of a mile to look for his horses.

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Ashmore claimed it was there that he met six men on the road “who in appearance resembled Indians.” One was either recognized or identified himself as James White, Jr. White persuaded Ashmore to come back and join them after taking his horses home and recruiting his half-brother, Joshua Hadley.

They joined the men later about a half-mile from the Ashmore home. It was at that point in the deposition that Ashmore named six men with whom he and Hadley assembled.

Ashmore’s deposition goes on to describe the attack on the munitions wagons and how the conspirators had been sworn to secrecy.

In hiding

Once the names were revealed, the search for the men began in earnest. As stated earlier, some escaped to Georgia and Virginia. Others hid the canebrakes of Reedy Creek in the vicinity of the bridge on present-day Lower Rocky River Road where the women of Rocky River Presbyterian Church took them food and clothing.

Photo credit: Gorrin Bel on unsplash.com

When in need of something, one of the young men would pop up in a ravine and whistle. Nearby resident of around 40 years of age, William Spears, would acknowledge the fugitive by removing his hat. He would then walk off in the opposite direction so he would not be seen as aiding the conspirators.

Agnes Spears, William’s wife, would then take them food. For nearly one year the women of Rocky River Presbyterian Church fed and concealed the young men who took refuge along the banks of Reedy Creek. The authorities would never think to question the women because they couldn’t imagine that the women of the community had anything to do with the plot or its aftermath.

Photo credit:

The Rev. Hezekiah James Balch openly prayed for the safety of the young men from the pulpit of Rocky River Presbyterian Church.

The participants in the gunpowder plot were fugitives until independence was declared. After the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was issued on May 20, 1775, all Mecklenburg County citizens were considered to be in rebellion. After the Declaration, the conspirators were finally able to move about as freely as anyone else and prepare to fight in the coming Revolutionary War.

When May 2 and July 4 roll around every year, think about those brave young men from Rocky River who risked their lives to help gain our freedom in America.

Since my last blog post

Is it me, or are the weeks just flying by? I’m hard-pressed to remember what I’ve done since last Monday. I just know I’ve been busy. I visited a bookstore in downtown Concord, North Carolina on Friday. More on that in next week’s blog post. I’ve done some reading and quite a bit of brainstorming over the plot of my novel-in-progress. I work out many of the plot twists and some of the dialog while on my daily walks.

Yesterday we celebrated “May Meeting” at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. The tradition started as early as 1757. On the first Sunday in May, present members of the congregation, others associated with the church throughout its history, and other visitors from the community gather for worship, the Lord’s Supper, and Dinner in the Grove. It’s been a mainstay in my life since 1953.

We had perfect weather for Dinner in the Grove. Everyone brings food and spreads it out on a long four-foot-wide wire “table” that’s put up just for such occasions. It’s fun to try a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Some people bring special dishes they’re known for. There’s always good food and fellowship as we all eat together. After having an abbreviated version during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was exciting this year to get back to the way it used to be.

Until my next blog post

My blog post next Monday will be about some of the books I read in April.

I hope you have at least one good book to read and a hobby to enjoy.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet

You should know who Julian Francis Abele was

Everyone reading my blog has probably heard of Duke University. It’s a world-renowned university located in Durham, North Carolina. You might not know of its meager beginnings, and you might not know that the architect responsible for its magnificent West Campus was a black man.

I’ve lived in North Carolina my entire life, and I only recently learned who Julian Francis Abele was.

First, here’s a very brief early history of the university.

In 1838, a subscription-supported school called Brown’s Schoolhouse was established in the Randolph County community of Trinity. The school’s name changed a couple of times over the years but was settled as Trinity College in 1859.

In 1892, Trinity College moved to Durham, North Carolina. With heavy financial support from Washington Duke and Julian S. Carr – both Methodists – the name was changed to Duke in December 1924. That was then James B. Duke, son of Washington Duke, established The Duke Endowment. It was a $40 million trust fund set up for its interest to be divided between various hospitals, orphanages, the Methodist Church, three colleges, and the university to be built around Trinity College. In today’s dollars, the $40 million endowment would be equivalent to more than $630 million.

But what did Julian Francis Abele have to do with this?

Julian Francis Abele was born April 30, 1881 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – so this Saturday will be the 141st anniversary of his birth. In 1902, Abele was the first black graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. All four years of undergraduate school there, Abele worked in the mornings as a designer at the Louis Hickman Architectural Firm and took afternoon and evening classes at the university.

Horace Trumbauer, a nationally-recognized Philadelphia architect, hired Abele. He sent Abele to study abroad for three years. Upon returning from Europe in 1906, Abele joined Trumbauer’s firm and by 1909 had become the company’s chief designer. When Trumbauer died in 1938, Abele became head of the company.

The company designed numerous buildings in Philadelphia, a number of mansions in Newport and New York, and the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University.

But my interest in writing about Julian Francis Abele today is his contributions to the gorgeous English Gothic and Georgian buildings at Duke University. Over the 30-year period of 1924 to 1954, he was the primary designer of the university’s West Campus.

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If you’ve not had the pleasure of visiting Duke University…

Photographs of the buildings on the Duke University campus don’t do justice to the beauty of the architecture. The centerpiece of the campus and grandest example of Julian Francis Abele’s work is Duke Chapel.

Exterior of Duke Chapel. Photo credit: Chuck Givens on unsplash.com

“Chapel” in this case is an understatement, for the chapel is more of a cathedral than a chapel in the common sense of the word. The chapel interior is 63 feet wide, 291 feet long, and the nave proper is 73 feet tall.

Inside Duke Chapel. Photo credit: Chuck Givens on unsplash.com

Standing on the highest point on the planned campus in 1925, James B. Duke said that it was on that place that the chapel should be built. It would be the highest point and the center of the campus. The cornerstone was laid in 1930, and it is said that students enjoyed watching the stone cutters and the progression of construction of the chapel over the next two years. Little did those white students know that the chief designer of the edifice was a black man.

In fact, it wasn’t until Julian Francis Abele’s granddaughter, Susan Cook, brought to public light in 1986 that a person of color had designed the magnificent focal point of the Duke campus. While students protested apartheid in South Africa, Susan Cook wrote a letter to the student newspaper to make it known that her grandfather had designed their beloved West Campus.

Portraits of Abele now hang in the main administration building on campus and in the Gothic Reading Room in Rubenstein Library alongside those of former Duke presidents and board chairs. In 2016, and the main quadrangle on campus, which stretches from the Clocktower Quad to the Davison Quad – and to the Chapel Quad – was named the Abele Quad.

As quoted from https://today.duke.edu/2016/03/abele, upon the naming of the Abele Quad in 2016, Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead said, “Julian Abele brought the idea of Duke University to life. It is an astonishing face that, in the deepest days of racial segregation, a black architect designed the beauty of this campus. Now, everyone who lives, works, studies and visits the heart of Duke’s campus will be reminded of Abele’s role in its creation.”

Shocking to our 21st century minds, is the fact that the racial prejudices of the early- and mid-20th century deterred Mr. Abele from visiting the Duke University campus to see his designs come to fruition and caused him not to be admitted to the American Institute of Architects until 1942.

Mr. Abele died in Philadelphia on April 23, 1950, which was 72 years ago this past Saturday.

Visit Duke University in person or virtually

If you’re ever zipping along on Interstates 40 or 85 in Durham, take several hours to leave the hustle and bustle behind and visit the Duke University campus. Duke Chapel is open every day from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Stroll around the campus and be sure to visit the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. (Visit https://gardens.duke.edu/ for information about parking and what’s in bloom.)

Visit https://chapel.duke.edu/about-chapel/history-architecture to take a virtual tour of the Duke University campus and to watch a tour of Duke Chapel. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the links to various aspects of the chapel to learn more about the 77 stained-glass windows, the portal, the carillon, and the four pipe organs (including the diminutive 2014 153-wooden pipe positive organ that can be moved about within the chapel for small concerts.

Since my last blog post

I continue not to be at my best, but as energy allows I work on my novel, read, or do online research.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

Remember the people of Ukraine and count your blessings.

Janet

#OnThisDay: San Francisco Earthquake, 1906

Before daylight on Wednesday, April 18, 1906, the northern coast of California, including the city of San Francisco, was rocked by an earthquake of historic proportions. In retrospect, it was estimated to have been on the magnitude of 7.9.

The earthquake and its resulting fires destroyed 500 city blocks – approximately 28,000 buildings. The fires burned for three days and intensified the citizens’ fears and anxiety.

Photo credit: Christopher Burns on unsplash.com

Some 200,000 people – half of the city’s population at the time – were left homeless. Although usually referred to as “the Great San Francisco Earthquake,” it also resulted in widespread damage in northern California, including San Jose and Oakland.

Cooking food inside standing houses was outlawed immediately after the earthquake in the government’s efforts to minimize additional fires. “Bread lines” were established to distribute food to the homeless and whatever food preparation that was possible was done in the streets.

According to the United States Geological Survey website, (https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1906calif/18april/) 296 miles (477 kilometers) of the San Andreas fault ruptured. The quake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and as far east as central Nevada. Much was learned from this earthquake, but it would be a half-century later before plate tectonics as a field of study would shed more light on exactly what processes were at play to produce the event.

The USGS website contains a drop-down menu through which you can access many more details about this earthquake, including comparisons with the October 17, 1989 quake that struck the San Francisco area just 26 minutes before Game 3 of the World Series was set to begin at Candlestick Park. It was measured at 6.9 on the Richter Scale.

Earth tremors and earthquakes of low magnitude are a daily occurrence in San Francisco. That is something I can’t imagine, since I’ve only felt two earthquakes in my life.

While doing the research for today’s blog post, I remembered reading The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner in April 2021. It’s a novel based on the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. You might like to read what I had to say about that book in my May 3, 2021 blog post, 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.

Since my last blog post

Jennie Nash’s book, Blueprint for a Book: Build You Novel from the Inside Out, is helping me outline The Heirloom. Ms. Nash’s “inside outline” helps me remember there must be a reaction to every event and internal reactions are what pull readers into a story.

I continue not to be at my best physically, but I’m constantly thinking about the plotline for The Heirloom and how I can make it better.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet

Where do you stand on cursive writing?

As promised last week, today my blog is about the third book I read in March. It’s about the history of handwriting and the debate over whether children today should be taught cursive writing. I say, “Yes!” and I’ll explain why later.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden on unsplash.com

The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, by Anne Trubek

“Put your John Hancock here.” How many times have we of a certain age heard that? We, of course, immediately know that is a euphemism for our signature. But does a child of the 21st century know that? I understand that children today don’t have a clue what “clockwise” or “counterclockwise” mean. Yikes!

I discovered The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, by Anne Trubek while looking for a different book. I found this 154-page book fascinating and thought-provoking.

Trubek meticulously takes the reader on a journey through history. She shares facts about cuneiform and hieroglyphics. (Did you know that most cuneiform clay tablets can fit in your hand? In photographs, they look huge.) She explains how tedious and time-consuming it was for Sumerians to learn how to write and the hours people in ancient oral-based civilizations spent on memorization.

Egyptians invented writing on papyrus. When the Greeks adopted that practice, though, their papyrus was inferior and their scrolls were smaller. (Did you know that the size of ancient Greek scrolls has a bearing on literature today? For instance, the size of a scroll dictated the length of a play. Who knew?)

Socrates was anti-writing. He maintained that if people learned how to write, they’d lose their skill for remembering the spoken word. There’s probably some truth to that.

People in oral civilizations couldn’t look things up like we can today, so they developed elaborate mnemonics and also used additive structure (and… and… and) to help them remember important things. An example of this can be found in the Book of Genesis in The Bible: “In the beginning God created… and… and….”

It was the Romans who stopped using papyrus and started using parchment. Parchment made it easier to make books. Trubek says that bookstores had been established in Rome by the first century B.C.E. Take a moment to visualize that. It makes me smile.

Trubek talks about the development of the various scripts and the high-esteem held for scribes back in the day. She points out that the invention of the printing press put scribes out of business; however, the ones with good penmanship reinvented themselves and traveled around offering handwriting schools.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading handwritten documents from the 1700s and 1800s. I admire the elaborate and visually beautiful handwriting of the 1800s; however, it is sometimes difficult to decipher. One of the most interesting parts of Trubek’s book was about the evolution of handwriting in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although I’ve admired the lovely handwriting of the 1800s, I’d never researched why and how it was replaced with our contemporary handwriting.

Briefly, Platt Rogers Spencer developed that flowing, fancy script we associate with the 1800s. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, think about the Coca-Cola logo. That’s an example of Spencerian script.) Spencer proclaimed that having good penmanship was a sign that you were a Christian, educated, and a proper person. His students were advised to practice their penmanship six to twelve hours a day. (I’m sorry, Mr. Spencer, but life’s too short!)

Part of a page from my great-grandfather’s 1912 daybook

I’m reminded that in my great-grandfather’s daybooks from the 1890s and first decade of the 1900s, he occasionally mentioned that his children or grandchildren had gone to writing school that evening. That writing school was conducted at night in the Pine Hill one-room schoolhouse in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Notice the curly-ques Great-Grandpa made in his capital F and capital W. Also, he randomly capitalized words. I learned from Trubek’s book that such practice was part of the Spencerian script.

A.N. Palmer came along and made modifications to Spencerian script after he went to work for the Iowa Railroad and saw how time-consuming it was for the employees to record all the details required by industrialization. He removed all the curly-ques required by Spencerian script and made handwriting much easier after 1920.

Trubek’s book also covers such things as the collecting of autographs, which started in the mid-1800s, and graphology, which was started by a French priest in the 1800s.

The science of analyzing handwriting for evidentiary purposes in a court of law has had to evolve over the years. One used to be able to use the force one’s fingers used to press typewriter keys to prove who typed a document. The wear and tear on the parts of a typewriter could prove on which typewriter a document was created.

Photo credit: Csabi Elter

Consider that for a moment. I’m showing my age, but I learned to type on a manual typewriter. Now, the justice system is faced with determining the true identity of a person who electronically “signs” his or her name. How things have changed in the last 50 years!

When I think about handwriting and how people rarely hand write letters today, it makes me sad. Last year, my sister and I assisted a 97-year-old friend who wanted to preserve the letters he and his wife wrote to one another during the Korean War. What a treasure those letters are! We organized the letters in chronological order and placed them in archival binders. Hopefully, some of his descendants will see the value in those letters. When people go off to war now, they can telephone and text their loved ones. Few of those communications are saved for posterity.

In her book, Trubek points out that if a child isn’t taught cursive writing by the fourth grade, an important window of opportunity will close. She says that it is by that age that a typical child needs to master cursive in order for him or her to achieve cognitive automaticity.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Trubeck says if cursive isn’t mastered by then, the child will continue to struggle with handwriting. It will forever be a skill the person has trouble with because they didn’t learn it early enough for it to become something they can do without thinking about it. She says the “up” side of this is that this child might be able to type faster than someone who is better at handwriting.

To that, I would say it’s a big price to pay. This person might be able to get a higher-paying job later on, but what if he or she grows up and wants to do historical research for pay or for fun?

Photo credit: Alessio Fiorentino

Not being able to read handwritten primary sources will definitely be a drawback. There’s no substitute for primary sources in historical or genealogical research. In my own genealogical research I’ve found many instances where names in census and other records have been misread when they’ve been converted to typed records. When the typed copies are taken for fact, misinformation is perpetuated.

In the arena of the debate over teaching cursive or not, I still come down on the side of teaching it for the very reason I just gave.

Do you think children should be taught cursive?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and why you come down on one side or the other. Or, perhaps you don’t have an opinion.

For my readers in other English-speaking countries

Is there a debate about continuing to teach children cursive writing in other English-speaking countries aside from the United States?

Since my last blog post

I borrowed another book about handwriting from the public library. Power Penmanship: An Illustrated Guide to Enhancing Your Image Through the Art of Handwriting Style, by Janet Ernst, helped me address several (well, actually, six letters I’d gotten a bit sloppy in writing.)

I blame taking shorthand in high school for ruining my handwriting. Since that was 50 years ago, I decided it was time to stop making excuses and start making corrections. After spending just 10 minutes a day for six consecutive days, I was able to see some improvement. I think we never get too old to try to improve something about ourselves.

After much brainstorming about the opening scenes in the historical novel I’m writing, The Heirloom (working title), I have started working on a new plot angle. I’d hoped to switch gears from brainstorming to rewriting those opening scenes last week, but my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in the UK) relapse continued to drastically limit my work. When my energy level is this low, it’s tempting to stop trying to write; however, I was feeling a little better by the time the weekend rolled around. I’m back to work on The Heirloom as of Saturday. My journey as a writer surely is bumpy!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have the energy to do all the things you need or want to do.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet

Two Books Read in March 2022

I finished reading three books last month. Each of them gave me a lot to think about, and I hope my comments will prompt you to read one of them.

I had so much I wanted to write about two of the books, that I thought everyone would get tired reading about them; therefore, I’ll save one of them for next week’s blog post.


And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella, by Fredrik Backman

Most people will think of A Man Called Ove, when they hear the name Fredrik Backman. The novella by him that I read in March is quite different from that full-length novel.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, by Fredrik Backman

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer takes you on a journey with a boy and his grandfather. The grandfather has dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, and he knows he’s losing his memories. The older man and the boy have an appreciation of math in common. They go out in a boat for fun and the boy knows his grandfather is depending on him to figure out how to get them home.

The book shows how memories get passed down from generation to generation and a boy becomes a man with children of his own. When the book ends, you’re not sure whose mind you’re in because the memories of one generation become the stories of the next generation, and so on.

Something I took away from this novella is the importance of sharing one’s memories with the people close to them and the importance of those people close to them taking the time to listen and remember. The day will come when you’ll wish you had paid attention and asked questions.

Most of us have been touched by Alzheimer’s Disease within our families and circle of friends. It’s a sad disease with no known cure. It’s a disease that ravages the caregivers as much as it does the person who actually has the disease.


The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History, by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman

Volcanoes have always fascinated me, so this book was “right down my alley.” I first heard about 1816 being called “the year without a summer” about 20 years ago. The premise of it stuck with me all these years, so I was pleased to discover William and Nicholas Klingaman’s book at the public library a few weeks ago.

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano the Darkened the World and Changed History, by William K Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman

On April 5, 1815, Mount Tambora – thought to be an extinct volcano — on the island of Sumbawa in the Indonesian archipelago erupted. The blast was heard more than 800 miles away on Java. It’s subsequent eruption on April 10 was even more violent.

That second eruption was heard on Sumatra, which is more than 1,000 miles from Mount Tambora. The top 3,000 feet of the volcano was blown off, leaving a three-mile-wide crater one-half mile deep. It is thought that ash rose 25 miles high where the wind spread it in all directions. A tsunami reached eastern Java around midnight and earth tremors were felt there 18 hours after the eruption.

It is thought that Mount Tambora was the largest volcanic eruption in the last 2,000 years. Volcanoes are measured by the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), which works much like the Richter Scale we’re all familiar with for measuring earthquakes. Each step on the VEI equals 10 times the magnitude of the preceding step. Tambora gets a 7 on the VEI, making it 100 times stronger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

As one might suspect from the name of the book, the eruption of Mount Tambora affected weather worldwide, although contemporary documentation is more readily available from North America and Europe than other continents.

Not only were record snowfalls reported in Europe, but the snow was red and yellow. Imagine how unsettling that was! Brilliant red, purple, and orange sunsets were much written about in London.

Quoting from the book: “In fact, scientists have taken advantage of this effect by using the amount of red in contemporary paintings of sunsets to estimate the intensity of volcanic eruptions. Several Greek scientists, led by C.S. Zerefos, digitally measured the amount of red – relative to the other primary colors – in more than 550 samples of landscape art by 181 artists from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries to produce estimates of the amount of volcanic ash in the air at various times. Paintings from the years following the Tambora eruption used the most red paint; those after Krakatoa came in a close second.” (Krakatoa in Indonesia erupted in 1883.)

I’ll share a few specific examples from the book to illustrate how the weather was affected by Tambora.

May 1816: 6 inches of snow in parts of New York; frost in Tennessee and Richmond, VA. Snow in Vermont in late May.

June 6-9, 1816: Snow in Quebec, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts; Arctic air plunged into the Carolinas. Snow in Lancashire in England. Erratic temperatures in New England, with snow one week, 100 degrees F. the next, and frost the following week.

July 6, 1816: Snow in Montreal. Frost from Maine to Virginia on July 8.

August 29, 1816: Heavy frost in South Carolina. A man in Danville, North Carolina wrote that his fields were white with frost and he had recently visited Mecklenburg County, NC and the cold and drought had left fields from there to the Savannah River bare.

Feb. 14, 1817: It was 30 degrees F. below zero at Dartmouth College and ice was 25 inches thick on the Potomac River at Alexandria, Virginia.

As one would expect, crops failed in Canada, the United States, and throughout Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people starved to death in Europe. Prices for food and grain for human and livestock consumption skyrocketed.

Various theories arose as people tried to figure out the cause of the cold weather. Self-appointed prophets predicted that the world would end on July 18, 1816.

Many families moved from New England to Ohio and Indiana in hopes of better farming conditions. Joseph Smith, father of Joseph Smith, Jr. who founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, moved his family from Vermont to Palmyra, New York. It was there that Joseph Smith, Jr. had his visions. An interesting aside to the story is that after referencing the Messrs. Klingaman’s book in passing in my blog post two or three weeks ago, I was contacted by a descendant of Mr. Smith who inquired if the Smiths were mentioned in the book. Indeed, they are, on pages 119 and again in some detail on page 280.

In addition to the way global weather was affected by the eruption of Mount Tambora, the thing that really caught my attention was how the eruption was heard hundreds of miles away. In the Epilogue, Messrs. Klingaman say that when Krakatoa erupted in 1883, the explosion was heard in Perth in southwest Australia, which is more than 2,200 miles away!

By the way, Tambora is still active. It has erupted several times since 1815 – and as recently as 1967.

I wish I’d been told about Mount Tambora in history class.


Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading and also watching a lot of basketball. The North Carolina State University women’s basketball team gave the University of Connecticut a run for their money on Monday night in a game that went into double overtime. UCONN came out of top in the end and advanced to the “Final Four.”

And only in a North Carolinian’s dreams could the men’s “Final Four” pit the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill against Duke University. That much-anticipated game was played on Saturday night. It was a typical UNC-Duke game, and it was a shame that one of the teams had to lose.

If you aren’t a college basketball fan, please overlook my going on and on about this, but I’m a North Carolinian and we take our college basketball very seriously.

I continue to work my way through Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out, by Jennie Nash as I tweak the plot for The Heirloom.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. At the recommendation of author A.J. Mayhew, I’m reading Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman, and at the recommendation of Mr. Zuckerman, I’m reading The Man from St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett.

Make time to enjoy a hobby.

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Three Mile Island, 1979

I’ve had two relatively close encounters with Three Mile Island. Both were unexpected.

While on vacation in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country in the early 1980s, my sister and I sought out a unique restaurant, Alfred’s Victorian Restaurant, for dinner one night in Middletown. It was only upon arriving that we realized that Middletown was actually the location of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant. We joked about glowing in the dark later that evening, but I know it’s really not a laughing matter.

On a later trip to work on our family’s genealogy, my sister and I flew into the airport in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. On our approach, the plane banked so close to the cooling towers of the power plant, I swear I could have reached out and touched them if the windows had been open!

In retrospect, it’s astounding that a commercial jet was allowed to fly so close to a nuclear power plant, but that was well before 9/11. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to do that.


What happened at Three Mile Island?

Can it be 43 years since this happened? I’m feeling older by the day!

A pressure valve in the Unit-2 nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island near Middletown, Pennsylvania failed to close at 4:00 a.m., March 28, 1979. The result was the worst nuclear power generating facility disaster up until that time.

This cooling malfunction caused part of the core of Unit-2 to melt. The reactor was destroyed, but there were no injuries. A small amount of radioactive gas was released two days after the accident, but it wasn’t enough to cause any adverse health problems.

Personnel operating the facility were unable to tell where the malfunction was in the beginning, which contributed to the emergency. As a result of what happened at Three Mile Island, a raft of changes were made in operating procedures, training, emergency response planning, and other aspects of nuclear power production required by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

According to the NRC, “A combination of equipment malfunctions, design-related problems and worker errors led to the TMI-2’s partial meltdown and very small off-site releases of radioactivity.”

If you’re too young to remember this accident or desire to know more about it, here’s the link to an NRC report: https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML0402/ML040280573.pdf?msclkid=551c40f7a7cd11ec8bde7e38f7758305.


What’s the status of Three Mile Island?

The other nuclear reactor, Unit 1, was shut down on September 20, 2019. The dismantling of the facility and clean-up is estimated to take 60 years and cost more than $1 billion.


The good news?

Many problems were identified due to the accident at Three Mile Island. The resulting regulatory changes have made nuclear power production in the United States and other countries much safer.


Since my last blog post

I continued to work on that old cemetery project I’ve mentioned in a couple of recent blog posts. It’s troubling how much damage the elements have done to some of the grave stones since I took photographs of them in 2006. I continue to try to decipher some of the inscriptions.

I’ve started working my way through Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out, by Jennie Nash as I continue to work out the plot for The Heirloom.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading parts of several.

Watch and listen to the news and read news articles from reputable sources. Stay informed about current events.

Thank you for spending some time reading my blog.

Janet

How much do you value your public library?

When I planned today’s topic, the war had not begun in Ukraine. When I wrote the rough draft, the people of Ukraine were not fleeing for their lives. What has happened in the last month put the topic of public libraries in a whole new light.

Kyiv, Ukraine before mid-February 2022. Photo credit: hristo sahatchiev on unsplash.com

National Public Radio (NPR) here in the United States reported this week that libraries in Ukraine are doing what libraries do. Just as historic statues are being sand-bagged and stained-glass windows in 13th century churches are being covered in metal shields, the library staffs and volunteers are working around the clock to save what they can. Irreplaceable library items and collections are being taken to other countries for safe keeping.

According to this NPR report, https://www.npr.org/2022/03/09/1085220209/ukraine-libraries-bomb-shelters, libraries there are offering classes on making camouflage and are serving as bomb shelters. It’s what libraries do when push comes to shove.

I can’t image living in such a situation as the Ukrainians are dealing with. A couple of months ago, they were working, playing, going to school, eating in restaurants, going shopping, and enjoying the benefits of libraries. Today they are fighting for their very lives and the survival of their democracy.

Lviv, Ukraine. Photo credit: Nataliia Kvitovska on unsplash.com

My library experience

It’s odd how some months I read quite a few books and some months I read only one or two. I couldn’t afford to purchase most of those books, so how did a I manage to read so much?

I have two free public library systems to thank for all of them. Before you say, “Public libraries aren’t free; I pay for those libraries and their books with my tax dollars,” I agree; however, regardless of your tax status or how much or how little you pay in taxes, you can use those libraries.

Harrisburg Branch of Cabarrus County Public Library System

In the big scheme of things, only a few of your tax dollars are earmarked for public libraries. When you want or need to use the vast resources of your public library, it doesn’t cost you one cent.

I have access to the public library system in the county in which I live. A few years ago, my sister and I paid $100 to have lifetime household access to the library system in the adjacent county in which we used to live. It’s the best $100 we ever spent. Some adjacent counties have reciprocal agreements. You might want to check into that.

If you despair of paying local property tax, just pretend that all your tax dollars go to support the public libraries in your city or county. When local government funds get tight, the library system is usually the first service to bite the dust.

We saw library hours drastically cut during The Great Recession, and it took longer for operations to get back to normal than it did for the doors to be locked almost overnight.

In my county, at least, each branch manager can tell you how many people come through the doors and how many books are checked out every month. The director of the public library system uses those statistics every May and June to prove to the county commissioners how important the library system is. The more the commissioners know how much the system is being used, the harder it will be for them to cut library budgets.

A library card is free. All you need is proof of residency to get one. The public library has computers for the public to use, newspapers for you to read, books in various formats for you to check out, magazines for you to read on-site and sometimes to check out, and music CDs for you to borrow.

Most public library branches offer programs for adults and children and classes you can take. For instance, a few years ago I took a free course about Excel at my local library. The library is also a good, safe, public place for your child to meet with a tutor.

I borrow e-books, borrow books on CD, download books on MP3, borrow large print books, and regular print books. I borrow past issues of magazines. I borrow music CDs. I attend programs and get to hear authors speak (or did before the pandemic.) There are reference books I can use on site. I can do research and read microfilmed records in the local history/genealogy room.

If your hobby is genealogy, but you prefer not to pay for a subscription to a service such as Ancestry.com, inquire about it at your local public library. The one in my town has an Ancestry.com membership that’s free to the public. Through it, you can access all US Census records that have been released as public information.

If you aren’t taking advantage of your local public library, please remedy that immediately! While you’re there, see if it has a copy of my book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, on the shelf. If it doesn’t, ask if it can be added to the collection. Did you know you can do that? You can inquire in person at your local branch or you can probably submit a request through your library’s website. There are no guarantees, but such requests will be given consideration by the library system’s administrators.

Free public libraries help to “level the playing field.” We need more of that in this time when the gap between “the haves” and “the have nots” seems to be widening.

Where else can you get all that and more?

Never, never, never take public libraries for granted!

Since my last blog post

Do you ever have one of those weeks when you feel like you were busy but when Friday rolls around you can’t remember anything you accomplished? That sounds like me last Friday when I sat down to type this paragraph.

I didn’t work on my novel like I should have or planned to do, but I made a lot of progress on the old graveyard photography project I mentioned in last Monday’s blog post.

I’ve also been taking pictures of items my sister and I have that belonged to our parents or grandparents. We’re adding them to a photo album we’ve dedicated to such items in which we write the history of each item so future generations that end up with them will know where they came from. It will be up to future generations to decide what to keep and what to discard, but at least they’ll know why each item held importance to us.

I also did some cross-stitching and college basketball watching. After all, it was the first week of “March Madness” in the United States.

Until my next blog post

Keep checking out library books! I hope you have a good one to read this week.

Find time for a hobby.

Read newspapers, listen to NPR, and watch reputable news broadcasts on TV. Don’t shy away from watching the news because “it’s all bad” or you “don’t want to see that.” You owe it to yourself and your fellow residents of your country and this world to keep up with current events.

I cringe every time someone tells me they don’t watch the news – like someone did last week. Just because you choose not to be aware of what’s happening doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Janet

Using ALL your senses in your writing

One of my favorite quotes about writing is this one from Russian playwright and short story writer, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

I included that quote when I touched on the topic of writing all the senses in my February 14, 2022, blog post, Can Movies Help You Write? Today I’m going a bit deeper into the subject.

As an aspiring novelist, I have a lot to learn. To try to remember all the things a scene needs to include can be overwhelming. It’s not enough to stay in the head of your point-of-view character at all times. It’s not enough to be cognizant of pacing. It’s not enough to remember to throw in a red herring once in a while or to vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs. It’s not enough to include all characters’ body language (but only what the point-of-view character notices.) A writer must also remember to include what the point-of-view character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches.

In addition, a writer today is told to keep in mind that today’s reader has a short attention span. If that’s true, I probably lost most of my audience midway through the previous paragraph.

For those of you still reading this blog post, I’ll continue. I say all this (1) to make fiction readers appreciate some of the work it takes to write a novel you’ll enjoy; and (2) to lead up to a recommended blog series you might benefit from if you’re studying the art and craft of writing.

In 2020, Joan Hall wrote a series of blog posts about using all the senses, including the 6th Sense, in your writing. Here are the links to Ms. Hall’s six blog posts about the senses:

Sight: Photo Credit: Davidson Luna on Unsplash.com

Post number one in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/02/14/using-the-five-senses-sight/.


Smell: Photo Credit: Motunrayo Babtunde on Unsplash.com

Post number two in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/02/26/using-the-five-senses-smell/.

Taste: Photo Credit: Engin Akyurt on Unsplash.com

Post number three in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/03/11/using-the-five-senses-taste/.

Sound: Photo Credit: Marcus Woodbridge on Unsplash.com

Post number four in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/03/27/using-the-five-senses-sound/.

Touch: Photo Credit: Jocelyn Morales on Unsplash.com

Post number five in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/04/13/using-the-five-senses-touch/.

I couldn’t find a photo to represent the Sixth Sense in the way I wanted to here, so use your own imagination for the sense of knowing in advance that something is going to happen. Have you experienced it? I have, and it can be unsettling.

Post number six in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/04/29/the-sixth-sense/.

I might be accused of cheating here by giving you the links to Joan Hall’s blog posts about writing the senses, but she’s far more experienced in writing and more knowledgeable of the subject than I.

The Internet has made it possible for writers to learn from others in ways that weren’t possible before the 1990s. It gives us a marvelous platform on which to share ideas and give each other feedback. I’ve learned a great deal from writers like Joan Hall through blog posts and online articles.

I hope you find Joan Hall’s blog series helpful if, like me, you’re learning to write. I started to say, “write fiction,” but creative nonfiction also entails using all the senses.

I felt vindicated when I read Ms. Hall’s article about the sixth sense, for I was already using it in my The Doubloon novel manuscript. I was pleased that I thought to do that before being told that I should consider it.


Since my last blog post

I took a short break from writing last week to work on a project I started 20 years ago for my church. It involves taking photographs of the grave markers in four of the church’s cemeteries. When a congregation has a 271-years history, it can end up with multiple cemeteries on the different sides of various creeks.

Old Rocky River Graveyard, October 2021

Digital photography allows me to read the inscription on many of the markers that cannot be read in person due to the ravages of time. March and October are the best months to take pictures in these rural cemeteries due to the angle of the sunlight and the number of large trees that surround and have grown up inside them. I’m taking advantage of the month of March to get back to a project I’ve neglected for a few years.

My project might sound morbid to some of you, but I don’t see it like that at all. Some of my immigrant ancestors are buried in each of the four cemeteries, so I feel like I’m honoring them in a small way by making a permanent record of the inscriptions on their grave markers.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read — one that you can’t wait to get back to.

If you’re writing, painting, or endeavoring to do anything creative, I hope you produce some rewarding and satisfying work this week.

Stay safe and well. Please come back next week to see what my next blog post is about.

By the way, on Wednesday, pause to consider that it’s National Book Smuggler Day in Lithuania. Here’s the scoop:

In 1864, Russian authorities outlawed the printing of books using the Latin alphabet in Lithuania and tried to force the Cyrillic alphabet on Lithuanian speakers. A newspaperman, Jurgis Bielinis, created an underground network to get Lithuanian books smuggled into the country. Some who were caught were banished to Siberia or shot in the head. The ban lasted until 1904 but is still remembered on March 16, which is the date of Bielinis’ birth. You can find more about this online. It’s an inspiring bit of history I wasn’t aware of until recently.

There are two lessons we can learn from this: (1) The Russian government never stops being Russia; and (2) Regardless of what a book contains, it’s never a good idea to withhold access to it, for book banning and the banning of knowledge never have positive results.

May the free world continue to support the people of Ukraine.

Janet