Great Smoky Mountains, Revisited (Part 1 of 2)

Sign on US-441/Newfound Gap Road to alert visitors that they are entering the national park.

Several weeks ago I took a vacation from blogging, writing, and all social media. It was wonderful! I hope you can try it sometime.

My sister and I spent a week in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

For seven days, I didn’t check my blog for comments. I didn’t text. I didn’t call anyone. I didn’t Tweet. It was fabulous!



“The Great Smoky Mountains lay in the middle of the Cherokee Indians’ territory in the mid-1600s when Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto arrived.”

page 69, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, by Janet Morrison.
“Welcome to Cherokee Indian Reservation” sing in Cherokee and in English

The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, by Janet Morrison

Since the park was included in my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I enjoy visiting the park to see what has changed and what has remained the same since my childhood and since my book’s publication in 2014.

Today and next Monday, I’ll share some highlights from my trip, including a few of the pictures I took. I’ll also include photographs of some of the vintage postcards from my book, which is pictured to the right.


Elk!

Elk were reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains in 2001 and 2002. I’d never seen an elk until this recent trip! What a thrill it was to see a herd of elk, including this buck, in the river that runs behind the Oconoluftee Visitor Center near the main North Carolina entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park just north of Cherokee, NC! This bull was a jaw-dropping sight as he surveyed his herd of female elk (cows) cooling off in this cool mountains stream. (It was late afternoon and in the mid-90s F.)

An elk bull in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It is illegal to willingly get within 150 feet of an elk or black bear in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Don’t worry, I was behind a fence that was guarded by a park ranger, and I used the zoom feature on my cell phone camera.

Sign reminding visitors that elk are back in the park.

For more information about the reintroduction of elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the safeguards people should take when seeing them, go to https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/elk.htm.


The Loop/Helix

One of the most famous construction features on US-441/Newfound Gap Road, which traverses Great Smoky Mountains National Park from one side to the other is “The Loop.” The highway tunnels under itself to form a helix.

Here are pictures of two of the three postcards of “The Loop” in my vintage postcard book.

This is a photo of a 1936 “real photograph postcard” of “The Loop” on Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This is a photo of another 1936 “real photograph postcard” of “The Loop” on Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The next two paragraphs are quotes from the captions I wrote for the three postcards on pages 80-81 of my book:

“Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park tunnels under itself, forming a helix. The design replaced two dangerous switchbacks on the old Tennessee Highway 71, which was built in the 1920.”

Signage to alert drivers that they are approaching “The Loop” on Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

“These black-and-white glossy real-photo postcards were made in 1936. The Great Smoky National Park Roads & Bridges portion of the Historic American Engineering Record of the National Park Service gives many details about the Loop. Probably designed by Charles Peterson, the Loop was constructed in 1935 by C.Y. Thomason Company of Greenwood, South Carolina, at a cost of $77,644. Stone quarried nearby and reinforced concrete were used in the construction of the bridge portion, which is 95 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 21 feet high in the center of the arch.”

Since its construction in 1935, trees and other natural vegetation has been allowed to grow and flourish. I appreciate that; however, it makes it almost impossible now to fully see and admire this engineering feat. It might still be possible to see the entire Loop from Chimney Tops Mountain nearby, but it’s impossible to get a satisfactory photograph of it from ground level due to the trees. Therefore, I had to settle for the above picture of The Loop signage.

The first time I rode through The Loop was at the age of nine. It’s still a thrill, 57 years later!


Babbling Brooks

A stream in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One of my favorite features in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is all the babbling brooks. Little River Road runs parallel to the Little River for many miles in the park between Sugarlands Visitor Center and Cades Cove. Little River and the other streams in the park are full of bounders and rocks of all sizes, indicating the history of these mountains from the Ice Age.

Another stream in Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Since my last blog post

It took much patience and persistence (and some grinding of my teeth), but I eventually worked out a new way of inserting photographs in my blog posts last Tuesday. What a relief, to be able to present today’s post and next Monday’s the way I had envisioned! I hope you enjoy the photographs today.

I had the opportunity to watch and listen to another free webinar about the craft of writing on Monday. It was about Author Accelerator’s “Inside Outline” tool. It piqued my interest. Of course, to use the tool I’d have to pay a fee, so I haven’t made that commitment. If you, like I, are learning to write a book, you might want to look into this tool at https://www.authoraccelerator.com/. The tool was developed by Jennie Nash.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Watch for my blog post next Monday. It is a continuation of today’s post and will feature black bears, the double-peaked mountain called Chimney Tops, damage from the late November 2016 wildfires, babbling brooks, white clouds down in a valley one morning, and why the Great Smoky Mountains have that moniker.


A few words about my book

I hate to “blow my own horn.” I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t take this opportunity to tell you how you can have your own copy of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, published by Arcadia Publishing in 2014.

Don’t let the name of the book fool you, it covers all the mountainous counties in western North Carolina and the three counties in eastern Tennessee that are partially in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Electronic and paperback copies are available from Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com. Paperback copies are available from the publisher at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/, at quality bookstores, or from me personally.


Let’s continue the conversation

Have you visited the Great Smoky Mountains? If so, what were your impressions of it? What was the highlight of your trip? Did you see any black bears? Did you see elk? Did you hike? Did you go camping? The recreational opportunities in the Great Smoky Mountains are unlimited! I’d love to hear about your experiences there.

Also, please let me know how you usually view my blog. Do you look at it on your desktop computer, on a tablet, or on your phone?

I’m trying to be more cognizant of the fact that a growing number of people are reading blogs on their phones. The layout of the blog translates differently on the various formats.

For instance, what looks good on a cell phone, doesn’t look quite as good on a desktop computer. Today’s blog post falls into that category. I’ve spent a lot of time on it, trying out “spacers” and “separators.” I’ve never used those tools before. Your patience is appreciated as I learn and experiment with some new blogging techniques.

Remember, I’m a writer — not a computer whiz. This is all part of my journey as a writer, which is what my blog is about.

Thank you for sharing my blog with your friends — in person and on social media!

Janet

#FixYourNovel #3: Reading, Listening, or Watching a Novel?

Personal experience tells me it is a rare novel that will hold my attention well enough to be listened to instead of being read in printed form. I came to that conclusion as I wrote my September 2, 2019 blog post. In case you missed it, I wrote about two books I read in August and the audio book I stopped listening to at the halfway point. Here’s a link to that post:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/02/3-5-of-the-5-5-books-i-read-in-august-2019/.

Since then, I’ve had several good experiences with audible books. I enjoyed listening to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer and The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross in September (https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/10/07/thrillers-and-a-dark-novel-i-read-last-month/) and The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali this month.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, second to the quality of the writing itself, the verbal delivery of the audio book professional reader is of utmost importance. If I start to listen to a book but find the voice of the reader to be irritating or the volume of the reader’s voice is all over the place, I can’t continue to listen. I’m hearing-impaired, so I appreciate a steady volume on TV, the radio, music, and audio books.

We all learn in different ways, and I think my own non-scientific experiment in reading vs. listening demonstrates that fact. Taking that train of thought another step tells me that the same is surely true for children and how they learn. For children who have trouble reading, what if their textbooks could be available in audio? It seems to me this is worth a try.

Today’s blog post is the third in a series of posts I’ve written or plan to write about specific steps a novelist should take in the process of taking a manuscript on the journey from rough draft to publication.

Here are the links to the earlier blog posts in my #FixYourNovel series:

https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/07/15/fixyournovel-2-scene-outline/

https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/27/fixyournovel-1-read-it-aloud/

What’s the “listenability” of this novel?

In case you’re wondering, yes, “listenability” is a real word. I thought I’d coined a new word, but then I found it in the dictionary. What I mean by “listenability” is this:  Does this book give the same depth of reading experience in audio form as it does in printed format?

With what I recently learned about the difference in reading a book and listening to a book, I need to look at the hook and scene and chapter beginnings in the novel I’m writing to see if they work well for the book listener. This prompted me to do a little research.

Writing advice from Jules Horn

I first brought up this issue in my May 13, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/05/13/how-listening-to-a-book-and-reading-a-book-differ/. In that blog post I referenced a piece Jules Horn wrote about attunement. Ms. Horn is an expert on method writing. Her website is https://www.method-writing.com/.

She read my May 13 blog post and took time to respond to my invitation for my blog readers to give me feedback on the opening line of my novel manuscript. I was thrilled to hear from her, as she graciously gave me specific advice about the sentence I’d written.

Ms. Horn recommended that, with audio in mind, I consider breaking up the sentence. She pointed out that breaking up the sentence into two or more sentences would help the reader to “see” each part of it. To refresh your memory, here’s the way I had written the opening of my manuscript as referenced in my May 13, 2019 blog post:

“Sarah McCorkle dropped her sewing basket at the sight of her husband lying face down between the stone hearth and his desk, sending thread, needles, and thimbles crashing and scattering on the wide planks of the pine floor.”

Ms. Horn told me that it would be easier for the reader to “see” each part of that sentence if I broke it down as if in camera shots. She also gave me a link to another post on her website to reinforce this recommendation: https://www.method-writing.com/camera-shots-advanced-fiction-technique/. She even suggested I try performing the opening of my manuscript. (Watch out, Hollywood, here I come!)

Research statistics

Sandra Beckwith’s August 21, 2019 blog post, “5 Way to Make Your Book Relevant to the Media” on the Build Book Buzz website (https://buildbookbuzz.com/5-ways-to-make-your-book-relevant-to-the-media/) included a link to an April 24, 2019 press release by Michele Cobb, Executive Director of Audio Publishers Association.

That press release reported that a 2019 survey conducted by Audio Publishers Association and The Infinite Dial Survey by Edison Research and Triton Digital found that 50% of Americans 12 years old or older have listened to an audiobook.

This growing trend is partially due to the advances in technology which have enabled publishers to distribute books in numerous formats. We’ve gone from the founding of the company Books on Tape in 1975 to people in 2019 being able to listen to books wirelessly on various electronic devices. (That probably sounds like a long time to you, but those 44 years have flown by for me. I graduated from college in 1975.)

Chad R. Allen’s writing advice

In an email named “My Top Piece of Writing Advice” on August 7, 2019, Chad R. Allen stated that his top piece of advice for writing is to “be concrete.” The email focused on a third way to look at a novel’s manuscript:  “Is it filmable? If a piece of writing is filmable, you can be sure it’s concrete.”

Mr. Allen is a writer, editor, speaker, and writing coach. He compared types of writing to a pyramid. Abstract writing (writing that “doesn’t show or engage the imagination”) is at the top. He wrote, “The bottom of the pyramid is concrete writing. It shows or illustrates. It does engage the imagination; it helps me to see (or hear or smell or taste or touch) something.”

My favorite of the points Mr. Allen made in his email are the following:

“The best communicators (I think this is probably true of speakers and writers) push as much of their content to the bottom of the pyramid as possible.”

“But more often than not the way to engage readers and hold their interest is to invite them into a scene.”

“Your job as a writer is to create an experience the reader doesn’t want to quit. Often the best way to do that is with concrete writing.”

Mr. Allen gives the following examples of concrete writing:  stories, metaphors, illustrations, dialogue, images, and sensory writing (writing that engages the five senses.)

That brings us back to Mr. Allen’s statement, “Is it filmable? If a piece of writing is filmable, you can be sure it’s concrete.”

I don’t want to steal all Mr. Allen’s thunder, but he made numerous good points in his email that I want to hold onto.

He related an example from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones in which she wrote about enjoying a story someone told her. When she repeated the story to her friends, they found it boring. She later realized that the difference was that she was telling the story from the outside. Her friend had told her the story from the inside out.

Mr. Allen wrote in his email, “In other words, get into the narrative. Write it from the inside so that others can experience it with you. Don’t just convey information. Get into it and invite readers to get into it with you.”

Chad Allen offered incredible advice in his August 7, 2019 email to me, including the following:  “Do a story/image audit of a given chapter. Note the places where you go on for a while without a story or image or sound, and try to find ways to add them in. Even better: replace the non-narrative material with narrative material.

“If you’re writing history, instead of recounting facts, try imagining a scene and bringing us into it. David McCullough and Jeff Shaara have made a career of this.

“Ask yourself, ‘Is there a way to unpack this principle with a story or metaphor or illustration?’ A metaphor or image can do a lot of work for you.

“As you shape your content to be more and more concrete, you’ll be creating an experience that readers relish.”  

As I continue to evaluate every scene in my manuscript for The Doubloon, I think about how each one would come across on the written page and how it would sound if in an audio recording.

Mr. Allen’s website is https://www.chadrallen.com/.

What about a podcast?

Here’s another possibility: podcast your blog or your book. I haven’t ventured into the world of podcasting, but here’s an interesting and encouraging article presented by Nina Amir and written by Jay Artale about using a podcast as a way to market your book or get your blog out to people who prefer audio content to the written word: https://howtoblogabook.com/free-podcast-share-book-blog-content/. There is much to consider, but Ms. Artale makes it sound like it’s not as difficult as I thought. There are free software programs to get you started. It’s something for bloggers to consider.

Since my last blog post

Last week I had the good fortune of listening to a virtual summit for authors. It was hosted by Tara R. Alemany of Emerald Lake Books (https://emeraldlakebooks.com/) and Mark Gerber of Emerald Lake Books. It was free! All I had to do was sign in on my computer, listen, and take notes. Each weekday there were four sessions on a wide range of topics of interest to writers.

In addition, on Tuesday, I listened to a free webinar hosted by Author Accelerator (https://www.authoraccelerator.com/.) It highlighted OneStopForWriters.com’s “Character Development Tool.” (A subscription is required in order to access OneStopForWriters.com’s resources.)

Many of the features of the “Character Development Tool” duplicate some of the processes I’ve already gone through on the historical novel I’m writing, but I can see it could potentially help me make sure my protagonist has an arc. Look for more on that in my blog post about Characterization, tentatively scheduled for November 11, 2019.

After five consecutive days of listening to and watching the virtual summit and Tuesday’s webinar, I thought my brain might explode. That didn’t happen until Saturday, when my computer refused to let me download photographs from my hard drive to my blog.

A blogger should always have a “Plan B,” and that’s where I had to go this weekend. Today’s blog post was partially written and planned for a few weeks from now. I pulled it out and prepared it for today. As I write this, I’m unable to insert photo from my hard drive into my WordPress.com blog post. I’ve read that a blog should have at least one image, but this one will not. It’s not from my lack of trying.

The reason I had to go with “Plan B” is that today’s scheduled blog post was “Great Smoky Mountains, Revisited – Part 1,” and it was going to include numerous photographs. I hope to use it next Monday, if I can get the bugs worked out of my computer.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

Would you rather listen to or read a book? Would you rather listen to a podcast of a blog or read the blog?

Janet

Thrillers and a Dark Novel I Read Last Month

In my first blog post each month I usually write about the books I read the previous month. This month is no different. I’ve read and enjoyed many historical novels this year. My second favorite genre is thrillers. In September I got to read two newly released historical thrillers. I hope you’ll find at least one book in the following list that you’d like to read.

One Good Deed, by David Baldacci

2019 #thriller by #Baldacci
One Good Deed, by David Baldacci

I decided to read David Baldacci’s latest thriller, One Good Deed, because it’s been quite a while since I read one of his books. This was a good one for me to choose, because Baldacci introduces a new protagonist in this novel. Aloysius Archer is a World War II veteran and has just been released from prison after serving a term for a crime he did not comment.

Archer is a good-hearted man who, for various reasons, continues to make bad decisions throughout the book. His heart is always in the right place, though, so the reader forgives him for those poor choices and pulls for him to come out on top and not end up in prison again. He befriends a detective, Irving Shaw, who immediately sees the traits in Archer that would make him a good detective.

There are a few murders and a couple of people disappear along the way, but Archer never gives up on finding the truth – even when it means he must accept the fact that he is easily suckered in by a pretty face. It’s a real page-turner that I read in one weekend. Those of you who know it sometimes takes me two months to read a book will appreciate what a high compliment that is for One Good Deed.

Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer

Two sisters. One baby. An impossible choice.
Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer

I listened to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer on CD. It was a dark story about how one sister dealt with her sister’s drug addiction. It is a timely subject, and the book demonstrates how very difficult tough love is.

For me, the book repeatedly brought to mind a case of drug addiction in my family and how one lethal overdose can leave a family in a dark pit that is perhaps impossible to climb out of. The subject matter wasn’t pleasant to read, but the bonds of family were well demonstrated.

The storyline of this novel includes the birth of an innocent baby. The infant has to go through painful withdrawal before it can become healthy enough to thrive.

Someone Knows, by Lisa Scottoline

A secret kept by #teens.
Someone Knows, by Lisa Scottoline

I really wanted to like this novel, but it was just too much work for me. The story is told from 10 points-of-view. I couldn’t keep that many main characters straight in my mind.

The plot line might appeal more to a young adult audience because it revolves around some mistakes made by a group of teens and the secret they have to live with.

The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross

A #thriller about #NaziSympathizers in the US in #1939.
The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross

The Fifth Column is Andrew Gross’ latest thriller. The name of the novel comes from “the fifth column” meaning a group inside a larger group that supports an outside group or country. In this instance, the Fifth Column was the Nazi-sympathizers in the United States as World War II raged in Europe.

Mr. Gross takes you back to February of 1939 when more than 20,000 Nazis and Nazi sympathizers in khaki uniforms and waving Nazi flags gathered for a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I hadn’t known about that, so I learned something right off the bat from the book’s introduction.

This novel tells the story of America’s hesitancy to get involved in World War II. Memories of “The Great War”/”The War to End All Wars”/World War I were still fresh from just a decade before. Some saw President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs as socialism. The much-celebrated American pilot Charles Lindbergh voiced pro-Nazi opinions. Germany was bombing London and stories of the abuse and murder of Jews in Europe were spreading across the Atlantic. Jews in New York City were being harassed. Families could go to Nazi-sponsored camps in New Jersey and on Long Island where children were taught the Nazi salute and Nazi doctrine. It was a time when people increasingly didn’t know whom they could trust.

The Fifth Column, by Andrew Gross rests on that background. It is a story brought to life by the author. The protagonist, Charlie Mossman, gets in over his head when he stands up for a Jewish bar owner when a group of Nazi thugs come into his establishment to make fun of him. Someone is killed and Charlie goes to prison.

When Charlie comes home from prison, his wife has created a new life for herself. Charlie soon becomes suspicious that his wife and young daughter’s neighbors in the apartment building are German spies. He goes to great lengths to find evidence to support his hunch.

The plot thickens after Charlie has a chance meeting with Noelle, a graduate student from France. Noelle says she knows people who can help Charlie. This seems too good to be true. Is it?

Although the plot unfolds in a predictable way, I enjoyed the book. The CD edition is read by Edoardo Ballerini. I continue to surprise myself by enjoying some audio books.

Since my last blog post

Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of attending a birthday party for a man celebrating his 100th birthday. He is a mild-mannered man who fought in World War II and has been active in his church his entire life. He has inspired countless people to get involved in Habitat for Humanity by the example he has set for the last 40 years. It’s not often I am invited to a “Happy 100th Birthday” party! Happy 100th Birthday, Mr. William King McCachren, Sr.!

I continue to work my way through Chris Andrews’ writing “how-to” book, Character and Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. To read about that book, read my last blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/30/character-and-structure-by-chris-andrews/ and/or visit Mr. Andrews’ website, https://www.chrisandrews.me/.

Late in August, I purchased an online writing course by C.S. Lakin, “Emotional Mastery for Fiction Writers.” The link to that course sat on the back burner until several days ago. I think the course and Mr. Andrews’ book will dovetail nicely and help me to be a better fiction writer. I hope to finally start the C.S. Lakin course this week.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali and Layover, by David Bell.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What are you reading? What have you read recently that you’d recommend to others?

Janet

Character and Structure, by Chris Andrews

Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance, by Chris Andrews

I ditched my original plan for today’s blog post yesterday afternoon after reading the first seven chapters of Chris Andrews’ new writing “how-to” book, Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. The book was released on Friday. Since I’d preordered it for my tablet, it downloaded at 12:01 a.m.

Chris Andrews is an Australian fantasy author. He has much more experience than I have in writing fiction. He has helped me a lot on my journey as a writer.

This book is aimed at writers, but I can imagine a fan of fiction also reading it and getting a better understanding of what goes into writing a novel. Clue:  There’s more to it than typing.

In Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance, Mr. Andrews writes about how important it is for a novelist to reach his or her readers by getting them emotionally invested. You can write a book with perfect punctuation about a perfect person with a perfect life but, if you don’t write it in a way that prompts your reader to care what happens to this character, your novel will fail. Your character must face challenges and problems. Otherwise, no one will care.

The following are two quotes from Mr. Andrews’ book:

“Mastering the mechanics of writing doesn’t automatically provide the entertainment factor.”

“You’re the architect, so unless you’re building your story purely for yourself, you need to consider your audience.”

Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance reminds writers that readers come to a novel with certain expectations regarding structure. If a writer is going to deviate from the expected structure of a novel, he or she better be an outstanding writer to pull it off. Different genres adhere to set patterns or sequences of plot. Readers are uncomfortable with any deviation and book sales and reviews will reflect that.

As Mr. Andrews states early in the book, “This book will help you balance your story so the beginning, middle and end work to your advantage [and] create the emotional high and low points your audience expects.”

He addresses how authors approach the writing of a novel in different ways. Some writers are outliners, while others are “pantsters.” (Outliners map out their story before they write it. Pantsters write by the seat of their pants.)

Mr. Andrews writes, “One process favours emotion while the other is all about logic. You need to be a master of both and that means doing the things you don’t want to do.”

I’m an outliner. That doesn’t mean I adhere to the rigid way I was taught in elementary school to outline. When I’m plotting a story or novel, I outline with sentences and paragraphs, scene-by-scene. That’s what works for me, so my bigger challenge is mastering emotion.

Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance is the first writing “how-to)” book I’ve read that focuses on this important aspect of creative writing. I wish Mr. Andrews had written it a few years ago! As I continue to edit and polish the manuscript for what I hope will be my first novel, The Doubloon OR The Spanish Coin, I will keep the lessons learned from this book in mind as I work to put more emotion in my writing. If my readers don’t care about my characters, my book won’t be successful on any level.

Mr. Andrews states, “It depends on your own strengths and weaknesses, but whichever path you take the end game encompass character, conflict and a coherent and emotionally engaging structure that makes your audience feel what you want them to feel.”

Also, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.”

Mr. Andrews’ book has helped me have a greater understanding of and appreciation for the necessity of a marriage between character and plot in a work of fiction.

In his book, Mr. Andrews gives questions that fiction writers should ask about their manuscripts in order to get insight into the stories they’re writing.

Here’s one last quote from Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance“Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers that will help you emotionally engage your audience.”

Can you believe all that came just from reading the first two chapters of the book?

The book goes on to say a writer needs to put himself or herself in the place of a character and in the place of the reader. How will your story come across? What will make your reader care about your character(s)? Will your reader be satisfied with how the core problem your character faces is resolved? What’s at stake for your character?

In addition to giving us questions to ask about our manuscripts, he provides entertaining exercises for writers to do in order to consider how character and structure are presented in a variety of well-known novels. He challenges the writer to back off from their story’s details and to look at the whole story as the Norse God Loki could.

If you look at your story or manuscript as a whole and see a perfect world, you’re looking at a world that will bore your reader. That’s the last thing you want! Mr. Andrews then offers a list of things you need to answer or address regarding your book in order to – as we would say in a baseball analogy in the United States – “cover all the bases.”

That brings us to the end of the sixth of 32 chapters in Character & Structure:  An Unholy Alliance. I can’t wait to see how much I learn from the remaining 26 chapters! But don’t expect me to summarize the rest of the book for you. You need to buy it for yourself. It’s available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon.com.

If you’re a fiction writer, I recommend that you purchase it and slowly and thoughtfully work your way through it. That’s what I’ll be doing in the coming weeks. I trust my novel in progress will benefit greatly from the pointers in this book.

Since my last blog post

I enjoyed some wonderful time with three precious family members who live 300 miles away, so I don’t get to see them often.

Before and after their visit, I did a lot of reading.

Until my next blog post

If you’re interested in learning more about Chris Andrews and his novels, visit his website at https://www.chrisandrews.me/.

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Fifth Column, a historical thrilled by Andrew Gross and have started listening to The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Next Monday’s blog post will be about the other books I read in September.

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’re a writer, are you an outliner or a pantster? Do you find it easier to get the mechanics of a story right or do you prefer writing the emotion?

If you’re a fiction reader, does it upset you when an author deviates too much from the expected? For instance, if you like to read romance, does it upset you if a romance novel doesn’t have a happy ending? That’s what is meant by deviating from reader expectations.

Janet

No one is going to tell me what I can’t read!

I recently read a startling article about the government authorities in Turkey ordering the destruction of more than 300,000 books because they contained the name of a Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, with whom the leaders of Turkey disagreed.

Turkey maintains that Gulen instigated a failed coup attempt in 2016. He now lives in the state of Pennsylvania in the United States of America. This widespread destruction of books even went so far as to include any book in which the word “Pennsylvania” appeared.

I gasped!

This is Banned Books Week in the United States.

The last week in September is a time set aside for us to give thought to the dangers of the banning and destruction of books. Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association to bring attention to what is at risk if books are censored. The association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom publishes a list of the top 10 books that are challenged each year.

According to the http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10 website, “The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 347 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2018.” The site says that 483 books were challenged or banned in 2018.

Examples of banned or challenged books

Here are just a few books that have either been banned or were threatened with censorship since 2009, along with the reasons given on the ALA website:

Captain Underpants series written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: series was challenged because it was perceived as encouraging disruptive behavior, while Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot was challenged for including a same-sex couple;

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons: banned, challenged, and restricted for addressing teen suicide;

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam”;

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word;

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”);

The Holy Bible
Reasons: religious viewpoint;

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”;

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group;

The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit;

Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence;

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity, nudity, racism, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit;

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group;

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence; and

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Which book on the list surprised you the most?

I was most surprised to find My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult on the list. I’ve read eight of her novels. My Sister’s Keeper deals with organ donation. Jodi Picoult’s novels make the reader think. The protagonist usually faces a moral dilemma.

I’ve read most of the books on the above list. It’s frightening to see a list like this – to know that someone thought a particular book was so offensive to them that they thought NO ONE should have the opportunity to read it.

It’s human nature to do what one is told not to do. I understand that when a parent or other community member asks for a book to be removed from a middle school or high school library, the fuss usually brings so much attention to the book that the students will go to great lengths to read it.

If you live in a free society, you may read anything you want to read. That is a precious gift your government protects for you, so never take it for granted.

Since my last blog post

I took a week off from writing, blogging, and all forms of social media and went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was unseasonably warm and dry, which doesn’t bode well for the coming “fire season.”

It was great to get away to a place where development is outlawed – to drive for miles and miles and see nothing but mountains and trees. To be in a place that was so quiet you could hear a babbling brook. I’ll blog more about my trip at a later date and share some photos.

Until my next blog post

Do a Google or other search engine search for “banned books.” Select one you’ve never read, and read it. Or reread one you’ve read and try to identify what someone else found offensive about it. Celebrate your right to read!

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Bookshop at Water’s End, by Patti Callahan Henry. It’s the book for discussion tonight at Rocky River Readers Book Club. If you’re local, feel free to join us at 7pm at Rocky River Presbyterian Church, 7940 Rocky River Road, Concord, NC.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. After a week of vacation, I need to get back to my writing this week.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What’s your favorite banned book? Do you remember the first banned book you read? Were you aware that it had been banned on some level, and was that the reason you read it?

Janet

#BringBackOurGirls

Do you remember back when we all used the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on social media in 2014 after 276 school girls in Chibok, Nigeria were kidnapped by Boko Haram?

Do you know that 112 of those young women are still held by Boko Haram?

Today’s blog post is longer than usual, but please take a few minutes out of your busy day to sit quietly and read it.

Beneath the Tamarind Tree:  A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Girls of Boko Haram, by Isha Sesay

The story of the 276 Nigerian school girls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014.
The Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and The Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram, by Isha Sesay

Beneath the Tamarind Tree:  A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Girls of Boko Haram is not a pleasant or easy book to read, but I feel compelled to read books like that in order to better understand the world around me. You will, no doubt, recognize the name of the author, Isha Sesay, as a veteran journalist on CNN.

To refresh your memory, on April 14, 2014, 276 teenage school girls were kidnapped from their Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram. Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group based in Nigeria. The group’s goal is to institute Sharia or Islamic law. Translated from the local Hausa dialect, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram adherents mainly live in the northern states in Nigeria.

In this book, Isha Sesay reconstructs the events surrounding that 2014 mass abduction, but also offers some brief historical backdrop which must be known in order to understand how and why such a thing happened.

Ms. Sesay explained the history as follows:  “Nigeria’s largely Muslim north and its predominantly Yoruba and Igbo Christian south” were combined to form the country of Nigeria by Great Britain in 1914. After numerous coups, it was decided after every two terms the presidency would alternate between the north and the south. However, political problems continued and Boko Haram was founded by Mohamed Yusuf in the early years of the 21st century. Unrest grew in 2014 when the two-term Christian president from the southern part of the country, Goodluck Jonathan, hinted that he was going to run for a third term.

With that political state of affairs in mind, let’s delve into the story of the abduction of 276 school girls on April 14, 2014. I don’t want to give too much away, in case you want to read Beneath the Tamarind Tree, so I’ll just hit some highlights from the book.

  • 57 of the 276 girls escaped early on and managed to get back home
  • When Ms. Sesay arrived in Nigeria three weeks after the kidnappings, she was shocked to learn that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was spreading the word that the event was a hoax
  • When Jonathan’s successor, Muhammadu Buhari, was elected in 2015, Buhari said it was not a hoax. This gave everyone hope, but then when he was to meet with parents of the kidnapped girls and representatives from Bring Back Our Girls, he refused to meet with them. Eventually forced to meet with them, he took the opportunity to try to distract them with other issues and cast Bring Back Our Girls as the enemy of the government.
  • In October of 2016 – 2.5 years into the girls’ captivity – 21 of the girls were released to the Red Cross and lawyer Zannah Mustapha. Mustapha had taken it upon himself to broker a deal between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram. It is not known what concessions the government made that made the release of 20 girls (plus one as a “bonus) possible, but all along Boko Haram had demanded the release of some of their own who were imprisoned.
  • At the time of the release of the 21 girls, some 50 of the original 276 girls had succumbed to Boko Haram pressure and married Boko Haram men.
  • The 21 released girls were emaciated from more than 900 days of hunger and abuse. They had been uprooted numerous times by Boko Haram as the militants tried to hide them from anyone who was looking for them. One of the buildings they were housed in at one point was bombed by the Nigerian military.
  • On May 7, 2017, 82 more Chibok girls were released.
  • By January 4, 2018, 107 of the Chibok girls had escaped or been released
  • Boko Haram kidnapped 112 school girls and 1 boy from a school in Dapchi on February 19, 2018. All but one of those girls, a Christian who refused to convert to Islam, were released after a couple of week; however, that one girl was still being held by Boko Haram as of the writing of Beneath the Tamarind Tree, which was published July 9, 2019.
  • As of the writing of this book, more than 100 of the Chibok girls are still missing and assumed to still be held by Boko Haram.

I think the overriding thing I learned from reading this book – the thing I will most remember from this book – is the tremendous and abiding faith in God and Jesus Christ held by the vast majority of the Chibok school girls. It was their faith that sustained those who have escaped or been released.

In interviewing the 21 girls released in 2016, Ms. Sesay, a Muslim, was gobsmacked by the fact that the girls had forgiven their captors and even prayed for their captors. It was a reminder for me that Christianity, at its very core, is a religion of forgiveness. Forgiveness is, apparently, an idea that is foreign to other religions or at least some of them.

Update from Reuters new agency, since reading the book:  On June 12, 2019, 300 Boko Haram killed 24 people in an attack on an island in Lake Chad in Cameroon.

The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer

This is the first novel I’ve read by Kelly Rimmer, an Australian author. This book is a combination of today in the life of a woman whose son is on the autism spectrum and years ago when her grandmother was young and in love in Poland in the years just before World War II.

The grandmother is now confined to a nursing home and cannot verbalize her thoughts and desires. One of the interesting aspects of the story early on was how the grandmother was able to learn how to use the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ACC) app on her great-grandson’s i-Pad to communicate her feelings, requests, and answers.

The grandmother’s early history is pretty much a mystery to her granddaughter, but there is something the grandmother persists in trying to communicate. It involves a man named Tomasz and what was so important about him. Will the granddaughter travel to Poland to look for this man in the country of her grandmother’s birth? I don’t want to give the rest of the story away, in case this sounds like a novel you’d like to read. Suffice it to say there are numerous twists, turns, and surprises in this novel.

Although it’s a book of fiction, the plot was inspired by the author’s grandmother’s story. She weaves a story of challenges, desperation, true friendship and devotion, and undying love. I highly recommend this book.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­One Good Deed, by David Baldacci and listening to Before I Let You Go, by Kelly Rimmer.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

I might take a break from blogging next week. If you don’t see a blog post from me on September 16, rest assured I’ll be back online on September 23.

Let’s continue the conversation

Were you aware that more than 100 of the Chibok school girls are still being held by Boko Haram a numbing almost five and one-half years after the April 14, 2014 mass abduction? If my rough calculations are correct, today is Day 1,974 of their captivity.

On Saturday, September 7, 2019, a Nigerian film, “Daughters of Chibok” debuted at the Venice Film Festival and was named Best Virtual Reality Story. The intent of the film is to show how the Chibok community has been affected by the 2014 kidnappings and to remind the world that 112 of the 276 school girls are still held by Boko Haram.

Please share #DaughtersOfChibok, #BringBackOurGirls, #ChibokGirls, and other appropriate social media hashtags to remind the world that this story is ongoing and 112 of the girls are still held by Boko Haram.

For more on that film and the stories it tells, go to http://saharareporters.com/2019/09/08/nigerian-film-chibok-girls-wins-us-award and https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/08/africa/vr-daughters-of-chibok-intl/index.html.

Janet

3.5 of the 5.5 Books I Read in August 2019

Did you have as much fun reading in August as I did? I read some entertaining historical fiction and a couple of books that were not pleasant to read but needed to be read. Today’s blog post is about three-and-a-half of the five-and-a-half books I read last month. I’ll blog about the other two next week.

Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok

I took a break from historical fiction to read Searching for Sylvie, by Jean Kwok. Otherwise, I’ve sort of been swimming in a sea of World War I and World War II novels.

Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok

Searching for Sylvie takes you on a rollercoaster ride through the secrets held within a family. The title comes from the main plot line of one sister leaving the United States to go to The Netherlands to look for her missing sister. One of them was raised in America by her biological parents. The other one is raised in The Netherlands by a loving grandmother and spiteful aunt.

Several characters are introduced who knew one of both of the sisters. Lots of surprises are revealed as the story unfolds and the sister who grew up in America is determined to find her lost sister who was last seen in The Netherlands.

My hat’s off to the author, Jean Kwok, for keeping all the saucers spinning on sticks until all is revealed in the end. (Those of you who grew up watching “The Ed Sullivan Show” on TV on Sunday nights will get my analogy.)

The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen

After reading The Tuscan Child, by Rhys Bowen last year, I was eager to read her next standalone novel, The Victory Garden. This British author, who now lives in the United States, has written a great many books. She has written books in four different series and won numerous awards.

I haven’t read any of her serial books, but I really enjoyed The Tuscan Child (see my March 26, 2018 blog, ­­­https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/03/26/some-march-reading/) and The Victory Garden.

#HistoricalNovel The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen
The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen

A historical mystery set in England during World War I, The Victory Garden takes us into the lives of several young women from various economic backgrounds who join the Women’s Land Army. I wasn’t familiar with it, so I was immediately delighted to learn something new. With virtually all the young men off fighting the war, England was in dire need of able-bodied women to voluntarily join the Women’s Land Army and work on farms. Otherwise, there would be no food.

The book follows several of those young women but focuses on Emily Bryce, who was from an upper class family. Her parents were embarrassed for her to work on farms, but she turned 21 and was determined to do her part for the war effort and find her own way in the world.

Along the way, Emily makes some surprising friendships. You will cheer for her and grieve with her. You won’t soon forget her.

Oh – another thing I learned was how class-conscious the British were in the 1910s.

The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

This is Colson Whitehead’s second novel. I enjoyed reading his debut novel, The Underground Railroad, a couple of years ago. Here’s a link to my March 3, 2017 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/03/03/what-i-read-in-february-2017/, if you want to read what I had to say about that book.

Mr. Whitehead’s inspiration for writing The Nickel Boys was the infamous Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. A The Tampa Bay Times’ investigative reporter blew the lid off that school horrible history in the early 2010s.

#HistoricalFiction The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys is divided into three parts. The first part is about the life of an African American teen named Elwood before he got sent to the reform school for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Elwood worked and studied hard and was on the verge of going to college when his life turned upside down.

The second part of the book gives the somewhat gory details of Elwood’s life at the Nickel Academy. Turner is his best friend there. The white boys were segregated from the black boys. None of the boys were treated well, but the black boys caught the brunt of the beatings, torture, and “disappearances.”

The third part jumps ahead to life after reform school with some backstory of things that happened there. A lot of Part Three seemed disjointed to me but made more sense the longer I read.

Perhaps I was just on horrible reform school details overload by the time I got to Part Three, but it just didn’t hold my attention like the first two parts did. I persevered, though, and the last pages were good. I’m glad I finished reading it. I don’t want to give too much away, but Part Three includes the details of an escape Elwood and Turner made. It did not go well for one of them.

There was a reform (or “training”) school for boys about ten miles from where I lived as a child. It was run by the State of North Carolina, and some of the employees, house parents, and teachers at the school were people I saw every Sunday at church. I couldn’t help but think about the Stonewall Jackson Training School as I read The Nickel.

I hope to goodness it wasn’t operated like The Nickel – or the reform school the book is based on. Many of the boys at Jackson Training School were orphans and not juvenile delinquents. They learned farming, woodworking, and other trades that enabled them to get jobs when they completed their time there.

Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini

Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini, is a historical novel set in 1930s Germany.

#HistoricalNovel Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini
Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini

I listened to half of Resistance Women but didn’t feel motivated to listen to the second half. I have a hunch there would have been a different outcome if I’d been reading the physical book. I wanted to like this book.

The main things I took away from Resistance Women were the numerous examples of the insidious way Adolph Hitler took over Germany in the 1930s. Each one sent off an alarm bell in my head for parallels in the United States of America today.

If not for any other reason, for that alone it was well-worth the ten hours I devoted to listening to the first half of the novel. I’ll give it another chance in printed form.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I look forward to reading more good books this month.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

What have you read recently that you’d recommend to the rest of us?

Janet