A renewed urgency to write

I have a renewed urgency to write, to get my historical novel manuscript for The Spanish Coin in the best shape possible, and secure the services of a literary agent to help me get the book published. Just three days after Christmas, one of my first cousins died after a 48-hour illness. Another one died this week. Three have died in the last 10 months. Life is short.

What made my cousin’s death in December different is that he was only five months older than I. Wally’s death was a wake-up call for me. I believe I will value each day in 2016 more than I did in 2015.

Carpe diem!

Some books I read in February

On February 21 I posted a blog about some of the books I read in January. I think in the future I will blog about the books I’ve read in a given month at the end of that month or first couple of days in the following month. I have good intentions, but you know what they say about those!

“Exploring North Carolina” is one of my favorite shows on UNC-TV. The host, Tom Earnhardt, never fails to educate and entertain as he explores the varied and rich geography, geology, flora, and fauna of the state. Although the vast majority of my books come from the public library, Mr. Earnhardt’s book, Crossroads of the Natural World: Exploring North Carolina with Tom Earnhardt was a book I knew I wanted to own. It’s the kind of book from which one can learn something new every time it is read. As if I needed any encouragement to visit every nook and cranny of North Carolina, this book makes me wish I could spend all my time doing just that.

Now that Sue Grafton is nearing the end of the alphabet, I decided to start reading her books. I read A is for Alibi in January and plan to continue reading my way through her popular alpha series. I couldn’t help but notice how telephone communications have changed since A is for Alibi was published in 1982. It almost places the book in the historical fiction genre.

Another case that falls into the “so many books, so little time” category is John Grisham and his books. I finally got around to reading Gray Mountain. (Yes, Sycamore Row is still on my “want to read” list — which is growing far faster than I’ll ever be able to keep up with.) I thoroughly enjoyed Gray Mountain. I love the way Mr. Grisham gets his points across regarding social justice issues without beating us over the head. In Gray Mountain, he puts a human face on how surface mining has scarred so much of our nation’s coal-producing region.

I was delighted to win a copy of The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II with Johnathan Wilson Hartgrove. I participated in the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina in the summer of 2014, so I was eager to read Dr. Barber’s book. Even though I pride myself for staying informed about local, state, and national politics, Dr. Barber’s book opened my eyes to some historical connections that I had not made. This book shines a light on dirty politics in North Carolina but gives strong hope that this current grassroots movement will persist.

The Dark Road to Mercy, a novel by my fellow North Carolinian Wiley Cash, is primarily set in Gastonia, North Carolina and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It is the sad tale of two young sisters abandoned by their father and then left in a children’s home when their mother died. Long lost Dad shows up and wants his daughters. Thus begins a tale that will keep you wondering what’s going to happen next and what the final outcome will be. If you want to read what inspired Mr. Cash’s book, read his author page on Amazon.com. I’ll be on the lookout for his next book.

David Baldacci’s The Guilty was the next book I read in February. Mr. Baldacci did not fail to give the numerous twists and turns for which he is known. This whodunit is a true page turner. As a Southerner, I think the accents were at times overdone, and I was surprised he made the mistake of having a character ask another character, “What do y’all want” when obviously speaking to one lone individual. Also, I’ve never heard a Southerner use the term, “Yous.” On a positive note, he did spell “y’all” correctly, which is something some Southerners don’t do. The deeper I got into the fascinating story, the less I noticed the vernacular. Not sure how I’d feel, though, if I were from Mississippi.

Perhaps I am just sensitive about the accents because use of accents and brogues in dialogue is something I’m struggling with in my fiction writing. I’m dealing with Carolina backcountry settlers from Scotland, Ireland, and France and slaves from Africa in my historical novel manuscript titled The Spanish Coin. Since I’m a novice writer, who am I to criticize someone like David Baldacci? I’m striving to strike a balance between giving characters authentic voices and overdoing vernacular to the point that it distracts the reader from the story. It is a writing skill I must master.

Now I’m afraid this post is too long. Do I need to blog about what I’m reading more often than monthly?

I love getting back into the process!

I love getting back into the process of writing my historical novel, tentatively titled The Spanish Coin! Having a computer again and making time to get reacquainted with my 97,000-word manuscript has been fun and reassuring.

A few days ago I started with the first chapter and went to work tweaking words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. I have changed the layout of the house that Nancy Craighead Richardson lives in based on some things I saw in October in a house at Hart Square in Catawba County, North Carolina. That necessitates making consistent changes in the book as people move from room-to-room or can or cannot hear conversations taking place in another room. As I work my way through the manuscript for the umpteenth time, I still search for more precise words, more vivid descriptions, and tidbits to add in order to make my characters come alive.

The first hurdle I had to jump before plunging back into my manuscript was to once again come to grips with the fact that I am writing historical fiction. The historian in me was faced (once again) with a conundrum. When I write a history article or nonfiction book, I am a stickler for making sure every fact to checked and double-checked. Writing historical fiction based on a person who actually lived 250 years ago is a challenge for me. My fear is that someone will read The Spanish Coin and fall into the trap of thinking it is all based on fact.

In my manuscript I took a 1771 Carolina backcountry event and the lore that grew out of that event to weave a “what if?” story. In fact, I visited the Lancaster County SC Public Library in Lancaster on Friday just to make sure I had not overlooked something in my initial research for The Spanish Coin.

If I am fortunate enough to get my manuscript published, I must trust the readers to read it and appreciate for what it is — a work of fiction.

A Change in Course

As of yesterday afternoon, I’m making a change in course. I mentioned in my last blog post that I had submitted a nonfiction book proposal to a publisher. It was a long shot — which I knew going in. The editor notified me yesterday that my proposed project was not a good fit for the company. Again, I knew that going in but figured I had nothing to lose by trying.

If the publisher had wanted to pursue my book proposal, that is what I would have devoted my time to over the next months or year. I will continue to write, but I plan to turn my attention back to my historical novel manuscript. There are some sewing and quilting projects calling my name, too, so I look forward to writing and sewing as winter approaches.

I share the positives as well as the negatives that I experience in my journey as a writer. Perhaps someone else who is struggling to get published will read one of my posts and find encouragement. At the least, he or she will discover that they are not alone.

It is a thrill to see one’s name on the cover of a book as the author. I was the co-compiler of three genealogy books, and Arcadia Publishing published my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, in 2014. I hope to someday see my name on the spine of a novel published by a book publisher, but I know it won’t be easy.

One blog that I follow is Random Jottings by Richard L. Mabry, MD. He is a physician and a writer. I copied the following from one of his recent posts and have it taped to the bottom of my computer screen so I can read it every day: “Remember, it’s all a matter of timing — not yours, but God’s. And, as I’ve said before, if no one but you ever reads the words you’re putting on the page, you’ve at least reached one person. And maybe that’s the plan.” — Richard L. Mabry, MD.

Some things you just have to do for your own enjoyment and edification.

On the Same Page Literary Festival

Ashe Co. Book Fair 003

I attended the On the Same Page Literary Festival in West Jefferson, North Carolina last Friday. In my last post I blogged about getting to hear author Angela Davis-Gardner speak.

Ashe Co. Book Fair 015

When I visit a town to participate in an event to sell or publicize my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I try to patronize the local businesses. I always look for a locally-owned and -operated restaurant. On Friday I enjoyed lunch at the historic Tavern Hotel Restaurant in West Jefferson. The former hotel is pictured above.

Ashe Co. Book Fair 001

Later that afternoon I participated in the festival’s book fair. A dozen authors and Natalie Foreman, Associate Editor with McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, took part in the fair. I got to speak briefly with Ms. Foreman about an idea I have for a nonfiction book. More on that later, if it materializes. I had copies of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, available for  sale.

Ashe Co. Book Fair 007

I shared a table at the fair with author Maryrose Carroll. We had interesting conversation about writing, the benefits of being in a local writers group, self-publishing, and politics. Ms. Carroll was selling and signing her book, Beats Me: Love, Poetry, Censorship from Chicago to Appalachia. That’s Maryrose Carroll and me chatting at our table in the photo below.

Ashe Co. Book Fair 023

I sent a query letter to a publishing house today. I’ll keep you posted.

A review of my book!

Imagine my surprise when I quite by accident found an online review of my book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina! To see the review, visit the website of Smoky Mountain Living Magazine. Go to http://www.smliv.com. Click on “Departments,” and then click on “Book Reviews.” The page of book reviews titled, “Western Carolina In Our Minds” will pop up. Click on “more” and then scroll down to the second book review by Jeff Minick titled “For the History Buff.”

This is just the second review of my book of which I’m aware. I knew about the one on Amazon.com in advance, but the one at http://www.smliv.com was a pleasant surprise.

Feel free to write a review of my book on your local public library website, for your local newspaper, or for a magazine. I love free publicity!

McDowell County Historical Society

Last night I had the privilege of speaking at the May meeting of the McDowell County Historical Society in Marion, North Carolina. It was my first opportunity to talk about my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to a county historical society. The audience seemed very interested in my presentation, asked great questions, and their comments added much to the presentation. After the program, I invited everyone to look at my book and enjoy some of the actual postcards from the book.

People looking at my display of postcards
People looking at my display of postcards

Several people in attendance were postcard collectors. I enjoyed “comparing notes” with them. The Mayor of Marion, Steve Little, was there. He brought some of his postcards to show me. He had many that I had not seen before, so I enjoyed looking at his cards.

Last week I created my first PowerPoint presentation and used it for the first time last night. I think it was an improvement over my earlier programs. I took a free class about PowerPoint at the Harrisburg Branch of the Cabarrus County Public Library. With what I learned in that class of just an hour or so, I was able to put together a 40-minute program for last night.

Last page of Janet's PowerPoint presentation
Last page of Janet’s PowerPoint presentation

I don’t have any more speaking engagements scheduled. I will continue to contact public libraries and civic organizations to get some programs on my calendar for late summer and next fall.