Taking Stock of Historical Fiction

I changed my topic for today’s blog post several times. In fact, I had it pretty much written and ready to go last Monday. Everything changed on Tuesday morning, when I checked for comments on my blog.

Last Tuesday, one of my blog readers who is Jewish left a heartfelt comment about what I had written about Pam Jenoff’s historical novel, The Woman with the Blue Star, in my July 12, 2021 blog post, 4 Other Books I Read in June 2021.

That reader has more intimate knowledge of the Holocaust than I have and, through an acquaintance who lived in the Krakow sewers, says that the premise of Ms. Jenoff’s book is impossible. I read Ms. Jenoff’s novel as a work of fiction, knowing the story was not true. I didn’t think about the possibility that some readers would be offended by the premise of the book. Prior to reading the novel, I wasn’t aware that some of the Jews in Poland had to hide for their lives in the nasty city sewers. For Ms. Jenoff’s bringing that fact to my attention, I am grateful.

This comment and my response to it served is a reminder about historical fiction – and it’s important to me as a fan of the genre and also a writer of it.

The Woman with the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff

In fairness to Pam Jenoff, I heard her interviewed about her process in writing this novel. She did extensive research. It is a fact that some Jews took refuge in the sewers in Poland. There were many anti-Semitic people in Poland, but there were also sympathetic Poles who risked their lives to try to save Jews.

I heard Ms. Jenoff interviewed about this novel some weeks ago. I wish I’d taken some notes, so I could share them with you and with the reader who contacted me last week.


Admitting my own bias

I have lived my entire life in North Carolina. Two older ladies were friends of my family. By older, I mean older. Sisters, they were born in 1883 and 1888. Their father fought for the South in the American Civil War. Those sisters drilled it into me that it was “the War Between the States” and not “the Civil War.” That statement was always followed quickly with, “There was nothin’ civil about it.”

That really made an impression on me and even recently I’ve referred to the American Civil War as “the War Between the States.” I’ve written it that way in various things I’ve written and self-published.

I now see my bias. In the future, I will refer to it as “the American Civil War” or “the US Civil War.” It was a war between the Confederate States of America and the United States of America. For me to call it anything else is to twist history and reveal my bias.

I think it was Oprah Winfrey who said, “When you know better, you do better.” Those are words I try to live by. I hope I never get too old to learn new things and new ways to look at things.


The unwritten pact between fiction author and reader

A reader of historical fiction should always keep in mind that they’re reading fiction. Fiction is made up. It’s a story created in the author’s mind; however, there is an unwritten pact between the author and the reader. There should be enough factual information – whether in event or time and place – that the reader can trust that the story is plausible.

It is incumbent upon the writer of historical fiction to do due diligence in research. I heard author Sharyn McCrumb speak a few years ago about her research and writing methodology. As an aspiring historical fiction writer, I was impressed with all she said.

One thing Ms. McCrumb said, though, stood out and remains in the back of my head. I think about it as I’m doing my research, and I think about it every time I hear someone say they don’t read historical fiction. They often go on to say they only read history books.

Ms. McCrumb’s statement that stood out to me that evening was that (and I paraphrase) some historical fiction is better researched than some history books.


History books and their bias

We only need to stop and think about some of the history textbooks we had 50 or 60 years ago. (I can’t speak for the content of current school curriculum history textbooks.) Aside from the recitation of dates of birth and death of persons of alleged import and the dates of battles and the like, much of the way history was presented to students depended upon the author’s point-of-view. Textbooks are usually written from the winner’s perception.

For example, the textbooks I had as a student presented the white settlers’ “conquering” of the frontier as a positive thing. No time was spent trying to view the 1600s to the present through the eyes of a Native American. If the Cherokee Trail of Tears was even mentioned, it was only in passing.

Some Southerners still maintain that the American Civil War was fought over “states’ rights.” (Many of those same people still refer to that war as “the War of Northern Aggression.”)  I have relatives who still maintain that as the truth and will argue me down that it had nothing to do with slavery. Some people learned certain things about the Civil War and no facts today will change their minds.

If we are to be true students of history, I believe we should read both sides of the story. Both sides are tainted by the personal experience of the writer but, by the same token, both sides of the story probably contain some truth.

The antebellum American South has been romanticized to the hilt by such novels as Gone With the Wind. Confederate generals have been portrayed as dashing and religious Southern gentleman who fought for the honor of hearth and home. In some cases, that’s who they were. But they were basically fighting to maintain the status quo. Even if they didn’t own slaves, they didn’t have any quarrel with the institution of slavery. The economy was built upon it. What would happen if there were no slaves? They couldn’t imagine such a world.

Renowned historical novelist James Alexander Thom wrote a book called The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction. In it, he wrote the following: “History contains many errors because each person sees the same incident differently or remembers it differently. History textbooks are biased depending on the agenda of the writer, the publisher, the state, the school board.”


What James Alexander Thom wrote about historical fiction

The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, by James Alexander Thom

Here are four quotes from The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, by James Alexander Thom:

But fiction is not the opposite of truth. Fiction means ‘created by imagination.’ And there is plenty of evidence everywhere in literature and art that imagination can get as close to truth as studious fact-finding can.”

“Most early American white men thought women should be seen but not heard. As a historical novelist, you might wish to make your hero ‘politically correct’ by today’s standards, but if you do that, you’ll be lying to your readers.”

To be really good historical novelists, though (and that’s what I want us to be), we have to take our obligation to historical truth just as seriously as the historians do theirs. But we don’t have to bear the burden of being the authority on every factual detail. Our disclaimer is right there on the cover: a novel.”

But here’s the key: Whether your historical story is ancient or recent history, what you want to do is re-create it in full – live, colorful, smelly, noisy, savory, painful, repugnant, scary, all the ways it actually was – and then set the reader down smack in the midst of it.”

I’ve referred to James Alexander Thom in a number of my blog posts over the years. One of them was my February 12, 2019 blog post, Two for Tuesday: Two Books that Helped Me Fall in Love with Reading.


Until my next blog post

Time will tell what my blog will be about next Monday. I hope you’ll come back next week to find out.

I’ll continue to read and write historical fiction. Mr. Thom says good historical novelists are respected by historians. That’s what I aspire to be.

Let me know what you like or don’t like about my blog. I’m especially trying to reach people who like reading historical fiction and have an interest in Early American history. I also enjoy exploring current events and discussing them with people from around the world. It amazes me every week to see that people from around the world have read my blog. In that respect alone, I think blogging and the internet are wondrous avenues for the sharing of ideas.

You never know. A comment you make about one of my blog posts might stop me in my tracks and force me to dig a little deeper into a subject or even admit I’ve been wrong.

Thank you for reading my blog. All comments, opinions, criticisms, and corrections are welcome.

Janet

What’s Juneteenth and Why Did I Just Hear About It?

I had planned to blog about this being the 234th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution today, but some of my #OnThisDay blog posts have not gone over very well. 

U.S. President Joe Biden signed Juneteenth into law as a federal holiday last week. It was celebrated on Saturday, June 19 as an official holiday for the first time. This seemed like a more timely topic than the ratification of the United States Constitution.


When I heard of Juneteenth

I’m not sure, but I think last year was the first I’d heard of Juneteenth. Or maybe it was mentioned on a news broadcast a year or two before that. The first time I heard of it is immaterial. My point is that I was approximately 65 years old when I first heard of the celebration, and that is inexcusable.

In order to understand the significance of Juneteenth, one must know about the Emancipation Proclamation.


What the Emancipation Proclamation Did and Didn’t Do

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. In part, it declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Word of the freeing of the slaves spread slowly. Communication was much different in 1863 than in 2021. Plus, the Confederate States of America did not recognize Abraham Lincoln as their president.

The Emancipation Proclamation was limited in ways that are often glossed over. It only applied to the states that had seceded from the United States. That meant that slavery was still legal in the border states. Southern secessionist states that had come under Northern control by January 1, 1863, were also exempt. Additionally, the freedom of the slaves depended upon the eventual military victory of the United States over the Confederacy.

The Emancipation Proclamation gave the Northern troops and citizens an added incentive for victory over the South. As Northern troops advanced, the freedom of slaves expanded. The Proclamation also made it possible for black men to join the United States Army and Navy.


What is Juneteenth?

I’m ill-equipped to explain Juneteenth, but this is what I’ve learned so far…

Federal troops reached Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, and made it known to slaves there that President Lincoln had declared them free on January 1, 1863 – some two-and-a-half years earlier.

Since June 19, 1866, June 19 has been celebrated as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Juneteenth by black Americans. Most of their white counterparts, though, remained ignorant of the date’s significance until very recent history.

I don’t recall the mention of June 19, 1865 or Juneteenth in any history text book I ever had in elementary school, high school, or college.

Why is that?

The answer is simple. History books have always been written by white men. (I started to say “white people,” but “white men” seemed more accurate. I don’t remember ever having a history textbook written by a woman.)

That’s why the American populous has not been taught about the accomplishments of black Americans. It’s why it is now necessary for us to have Black History Month in February.


Where do we go from here?

Photo credit: Logan Weaver on unsplash.com

As long as black and brown Americans are by in large excluded from the decision-making process (such as voter suppression) and are elected to public office in miniscule numbers compared to their proportion of the population, the entire population will suffer. We’ll continue to just learn the history of white America. We’ll all suffer because the talents and ideas of black and brown Americans will be excluded from the workings of government and business.

It’s not enough not to be a racist. We must strive to be anti-racists. And beyond that, those of us who are white need to take anti-racism a step further. We need to be allies. That means when we’re in a situation where someone says something derogatory about people of another race, it is incumbent upon us to speak up against such talk. We need to have the courage to speak up for our fellow human beings who are being maligned.

Our silence is not only complacency, it signals our agreement, compliance, and acquiescence.

Our silence will convict us.

Instead of making snide remarks or having malevolent thoughts about the new Juneteenth holiday, let’s embrace it and learn from it.


Since my last blog post

Our almost-13-year-old rescue dog is hanging in there. The week before last, he spent four days in the hospital due to erratic glucose levels. He’s a diabetic. We’re starting to understand how sick he can become in just a matter of minutes.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Among other things, I’m reading The Girls in the Stilt House, a debut novel by Kelly Mustian. She really has a talent for painting pictures with words.

Those of you living in the northern hemisphere, I hope you have a pleasant summer. Those of you living in the southern hemisphere, I don’t envy you. You know I’m not fond of cold weather.

Wherever you live, make the most of this week. I intend to get back to work on my historical novel.

Janet

Censorship and Reader Sensitivities

I try to plan my blog topics well in advance so I’ll have time to devote to writing each one. The fancy name for it is “editorial calendar.” Today was a day I had trouble settling on a topic. I’d made a list of possibilities, but none of them really grabbed me.

Another blogger came to my rescue on April 12, 2021. John W. Howell, an author of thriller novels, inspirational fiction, and family life fiction, wrote What to Do With Books That Are Insensitive to Social Norms | Story Empire (wordpress.com) and in it he referred to his March 24, 2021 blog post, Avoiding Insensitivity in Characters or Story | Story Empire (wordpress.com). Viola! I was inspired to write today’s post.

(Here’s a link to Mr. Howell’s Story Empire website and blog: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/.)

An Example of Book Censorship

Reading Mr. Howell’s blog posts got me thinking about book censorship and the closely-related topic of cultural appropriation and reader sensitivities.

The very idea of a book being censored or people demanding that certain books be banned from public libraries, school libraries, and bookstores really gets my ire up. Book censorship is a slippery slope. Images of book burnings in Nazi Germany come to mind.

#bookburning #censorship
Photo credit: Jonny Caspari on unsplash.com

The American Library Association’s (ALA) annual list of the top books requested for banning or restricted reading is fresh on my mind. Here’s the link to the ALA’s website where you can see the list: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee is consistently on that list. It’s on the list the ALA published earlier this month. One reason given for its being requested for banning is that the lawyer who represents the black man in court is white. The story is set in Alabama in the 1930s, so it is true to the time and place that the lawyer and all the jurors would be white. Racial injustice is the core theme of the novel. The book was published in 1960, and little had changed by then.

I believe we can learn the lessons of history by reading good historical fiction. It’s one thing to read a list of laws governing people of color in the United States in the 1930s, but how better to illustrate and shine a bright light on the laws – written and unwritten – prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1965 than to bring them to life on the pages of a novel and the subsequent movie based on that book?

I’d no sooner had that thought than I found Jabari Asim’s article from July 17, 2015 on Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/soapbox/article/67521-rethinking-to-kill-a-mockingbird.html. (Please take time to read his entire piece after reading this blog post.)

Being a black man, Mr. Asim offers a different perspective than the one I can offer. His words made me stop and think. Perhaps I had read To Kill a Mockingbird with naive blue eyes. Mr. Asim is one of the most influential African American literary critics of this generation. If you’re not familiar with his work, please visit his website: https://jabariasim.org/about_jabari_asim/.

Among Mr. Asim’s sentences that made me reconsider my stance are the following: “Mockingbird, like Uncle Tom before it, often strikes me as a form of literary ointment for white guilt, meant to soothe outbreaks of conscience while dispelling perceptions of how pervasive white supremacy is. Its homespun patter and deep-fried homilies enable many readers to overlook its sketchily drawn black characters—little more than archetypes—and bask in the glow of Atticus Finch’s exemplary moral courage.”

Also, this: “Some days I can ignore Mockingbird’s mostly pedestrian prose and regard it as a cleverly subversive send-up of white racism, minus Mark Twain’s stylistic flair but dutifully echoing his irreverent tone.”

And this: “Other days I marvel at Mockingbird’s apparent prescience when, years before Fox News and talk radio, Atticus Finch says to his brother, ‘Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand.'” 

What is To Kill a Mockingbird‘s place, then? It’s likely to be debated for decades to come.

#ToKillaMockingbird #censorship
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Self-censorship, Cultural Appropriation, and Reader Sensitivities

Being a writer can involve self-censorship, and there are degrees of that when it comes to reader sensitivities. I’m not a published novelist, but as I work on my historical novel I’m ever-cognizant of reader sensitivities.

Most of us practice self-censorship in our communications with others. Some people who should self-censor are sadly unaware. As a writer, I feel the need to self-sensor. I don’t use racial slurs in my speaking or thinking, but that doesn’t mean I won’t need to include one in my writing in order to be true to time and place. It doesn’t mean I condone the use of such words. My challenge in writing a novel presented from multiple points-of-view is having the audacity to put myself in the skin of a person of color – especially a person of color who is male and enslaved in the United States in the 18th century.

Doing so is somewhat akin to cultural appropriation, which is a dominant culture adopting a practice that is inherent in or associated with a minority culture. I’m not doing that in my novel, but I am attempting to write thoughts, emotions, and conversations of three people of color. I want to be aware of possible reader sensitivities, but I don’t want that awareness to fundamentally change my writer’s voice.

I’m writing a novel set in the North and South Carolina backcountry in 1769. It includes two black male slaves, one free black woman, a Frenchman, and a number of white Scottish and Irish settlers. I’ve been working on this novel for many years. If I were to look at my first draft, there would be many cringe-worthy words and scenes. I started out really over-doing writing accents phonetically. It was tedious to write, and I’ve since learned that it’s not appropriate. It can be degrading, and it can be exhausting for the reader.

I’ve grown as a person and as a writer since I started the book probably a decade ago. I’m striving to make the final product true to the time and place. I’ve done extensive research – even into the laws on the books in South Carolina in 1769 that governed the fabric of the clothing slaves were permitted to wear.

If and when my novel is published, I hope no one’s sensitivities will be offended, but that’s probably wishful thinking. I’m attempting to write a book that will be entertaining and educational. I hope it will be a book that will cause readers to put themselves in the skin of the various characters and come away with an appreciation of history.

An Earlier Blog Post about Cultural Appropriation in Writing

Author and administrator of the “Writers on the Path to a Page-Turner” Facebook group, Barbara Kyle, wrote the following: “The move to self-censorship for fear of ‘cultural appropriation’ is a sad state of affairs. Author Morgan Jones eloquently champions the opposite position: ‘Fiction remains the best means we have of finding connection where there seems to be none; and the novel, of all forms, encourages a search that’s deep and sustained. By reading (or writing) one, you’ve travelled somewhere else. You’ve moved, if only slightly, towards others. In a world that finds and increasingly exploits division and difference, this in an invaluable, precious exercise.”

I copied the above quote several years ago and taped it to the top of my computer monitor. In trying to find an online link for you, I was reminded that I used it in my August 27, 2018 blog post, Cultural Appropriation in Writing. Ms. Kyle shared (and I included in that 2018 blog post) this link to an October 1, 2016 article in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/01/novelists-cultural-appropriation-literature-lionel-shriver.) Please go back and read my earlier blog post and click on the link to Mr. Shriver’s article in The Guardian.

Where do we go from here?

I think writers would do well to keep in mind the following question asked by John. W. Howell in his March 24, 2021 blog post referenced in my opening paragraph today: “Am I knowingly or unknowingly writing characters or a story which casts aspersions on anyone relative to their race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, religion, disabilities, or age?”

Mr. Howell goes on to say, “The key to the question is we may write something that we didn’t think would discriminate but did that exactly.” He also said, “The caution here is that if you are not part of a group you are writing about, be very diligent in your research. Some would say unless you are a part of a group, don’t write about them. I disagree since I do not want to believe that writers can only write what they know.”

#Censorship #readersensitivities
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

In his follow-up blog post on April 12, 2021 (also referenced above in my opening paragraph), Mr. Howell gave Gone with the Wind as an example of a book that could be criticized on several fronts due to its glorification of the Southern plantation. A little later in his blog post he said the following: “Maybe because I’m an author, I hate to see a book be declared undesirable, but it does seem that we should embrace a discussion of any book that is outside our social norms. Include in the discussion why a text no longer reflects current attitudes. If we were to discuss why certain depictions in a book are wrong, we all would better understand each other. Maybe, more importantly, we could learn more about what actions and depictions are especially hurtful.”

I agree with Mr. Howell on that. Let’s not ban books from our library and bookstore shelves. Let’s read and discuss them and, thereby, learn to do better.

Since my last blog post

I enjoyed all the beautiful azaleas in our yard. I don’t think they’ve ever been prettier. All good things must come to an end – or so “they” say. Wednesday afternoon brought snow 100 miles away in the North Carolina mountains, and Thursday and Friday mornings brought record-breaking below freezing low temperatures to my house. I hope this was winter’s last gasp.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read this week. I have more books checked out from the library than I can possibly read. It’s a nice dilemma to have.

Enjoy a relaxing hobby.

Note: Tomorrow is National Tell a Story Day in the USA. Don’t tell a lie. Tell a story. Tell a young person about one of your good memories. It will give them something to remember you by.

Note: Ironically, Wednesday is the anniversary of author Harper Lee’s birth in 1926. Some literary critics say a person who writes just one novel (such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird) is not a great author. (I know, I know. Her unpublished manuscript for Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015, so she actually wrote two books.) My example is still valid. Ms. Lee died in 2016, and until 2015 she was known as an acclaimed author who wrote “only” one book. I’m not saying the historical novel I’m writing is a great novel, but it gives me hope to know that Harper Lee “only” got one novel published during her lifetime. If I only get one novel published, I’ll be more than happy.

Note: Watch out for May! It arrives on Saturday. May is “Get Caught Reading Month”. Start making your plans for getting caught.

Janet

#OnThisDay: USS Indianapolis

I’m embarrassed to admit that I did not know anything about the USS Indianapolis until about a week ago. In an effort to try something new on my blog, I did a little research to find out what happened on this day in history. I learned that something noteworthy and gut-wrenching happened on this day in 1945. What a story I’ve pieced together for you today!

The incident I’m writing about today actually took place about five minutes after midnight, so the date is July 30, 1945; however, being so close to the midnight hour, the incident is often referred to as happening on July 29. By the time I discovered that detail, I was not about to let go of the story for my usual Monday blog post.

The greatest loss the US Navy has experienced at sea

The USS Indianapolis was a Portland-class heavy cruiser. It carried a crew of 1,196 men. After delivering crucial parts for the atomic bomb to Tinian Island, it was crossing the Philippine Sea en route to Okinawa. Plans were being made for the invasion of Japan by the United States and its Allies.

12:05 a.m., July 30, 1945

Generic photo of sharks. Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash.

At 12:05 a.m. on July 30, 1945, the ship was hit by two Japanese torpedoes. Some 350 crewmen died in the blast. It would be 84 grueling hours before the survivors were located from the air on August 2. By then there were only 318 remaining survivors. The other survivors of the initial attack had either drowned, died from drinking sea water, or been victim to the numerous sharks in the waters. I read that an estimated 50 sailors were killed by sharks every day until rescuers arrived.

What happened to the commanding officer?

In my research I found several follow-up stories about what happened to the commanding officer of the USS Indianapolis, Charles B. McVay. He was accused of putting the ship and crew in danger by not zig-zagging across the sea. He was threatened with a court-maritial, but in the end was given a reprimand. His conviction as being at fault in the attack continues to be fought against, as there are strong opinions that he was wrongly charged.

Annual survivor reunions

Every year since 1960, the survivors of the attack have held a reunion in Indianapolis, Indiana. This year was no exception. There are only 12 survivors alive today. Seven of them got together in Indianapolis last weekend to remember their World War II experiences and, no doubt, to count their blessings.

I found a wonderful account of this year’s reunion, including a video clip, on the website of the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis, WTHR:  https://www.wthr.com/article/uss-indianapolis-few-remaining-survivors-gather-reunion-indy. I hope you’ll take time to look at it.

As is indicated in that WTHR piece, the youngest living survivor is 92 years old, being just 17 at the time of the attack.

Wreckage located in 2017

The wreckage of the USS Indianapolis was found just two years ago in 18,000 feet of water. Andy J. Semotiuk wrote an article about that discovery in the August 21, 2017 edition of Forbes. Here’s a link to that article, https://www.forbes.com/sites/andyjsemotiuk/2017/08/21/the-story-of-the-uss-indianapolis-a-display-of-great-heroism-in-times-of-unimaginable-anguish/#1eea400a6f9e, which contains a link to a video of the discovery.

Additional sources of information about the USS Indianapolis

Another short video about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis can be found at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/history/uss-indianapolis-crew-battled-sharks-and-hal/.

A 90-minute TV program aired here on PBS in January, but I missed it. Here’s a link to a source from which you can order the DVD:  https://www.pbs.org/video/uss-indianapolis-the-final-chapter-aabbsw/.

Additional sources of information about the USS Indianapolis include the following books:

 In Harm’s Way:  The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors, by Doug Stanton;

Abandon Ship!  by Richard F. Newcomb;

Out of the Depths:  An Unforgettable WWII Story of Survival, Courage, and the Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, by Edgar Harrell USMC, with David Harrell;

Fatal Voyage:  The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, by Dan Kurzman; and

 Indianapolis:  The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man, by Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic.

I haven’t read any of them, but they sound like good reading for anyone who wants to know more about this horrific incident during World War II.

Since my last blog post

I’ve completed Karen Cioffi-Ventrice’s online course, “Building an Author/Writer’s Platform.” Part of it really taxed my brain, but I learned a lot. Some of it I won’t be able to put into practice until I’m a little closer to getting my novel published, but a great deal of it I’ve already started working on or doing.

In case you’re interested in taking the course or other courses offered by Karen Cioffi or others through Women on Writing, here’s a link: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/.

I learned a lot of SEO (search engine optimization) and I even learned what black hat SEO and white hat SEO are. If you recall, I mentioned black hat SEO in my blog post on April 29, 2019 (https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/29/what-triggered-last-mondays-rant/) when I didn’t have a clue what it was. White Hat SEO is doing search engine optimization the ethical way. Black hat SEO is doing it unethically.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Tune in next Monday for my blog post about the books I read in July.

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

Thank you for taking the time to read 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

Do you enjoy occasional looks back at what happened on a particular day? If I get good response, I’ll plan other blog posts like this one. A post like this once a month might work for you and me.

Janet

P.S.  A new USS Indianapolis will be commissioned this fall.

FYI, Other WordPress Bloggers

In case you’re having a problem with “Like” button: After two days (or more) of not being able to leave a “Like” on other people’s blogs, I finally asked the kind support staff at WordPress what I was doing wrong.

Someone answered me right away on Chat and said they’re making some changes to the code that governs the “Like” button, so that service has been and will be erratic for a while.

Janet

This blog’s for you!

Sometimes I get carried away and forget my blog is for you. It’s not for me. You have a limited amount of time to read, so I’m flattered that you read my blog posts.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

If my blog doesn’t fill a need of yours, then reading it is a waste of your time. The pressure is on me every week to inspired you, make you laugh, give you something to think about, or at least put a smile on your face.

Although I’ve been blogging for almost nine years, I’m still learning. If there is something on my blog page that isn’t of benefit to my readers, I need to delete it.

Deleted national flags widget

In an effort to declutter my blog on February 4, I deleted the widget that showed the flags of all the countries in which my blog readers reside. I realized that showing those 93 flags was for my own edification, not yours. That widget was providing information that you probably didn’t care about. I’m a geography nerd, so I found it very interesting.

Actually, I found it shocking and a bit frightening to know that people in that many countries had looked at my blog at least once. The biggest surprise was when the flag of the People’s Republic of China first appeared.

My most popular posts

In place of the national flags widget, I added a widget that lists my 10 most popular blog posts. This should help my new reader find some of my best posts, and it will help me see at a glance the topics that garner the most interest.

An unexpected source

I knew my blog was for my readers, but it wasn’t until I started reading Building a StoryBrand:  Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, by Donald Miller that I was prompted to try to view my website and my blog through the eyes of a first-time visitor.

Everywhere Building a StoryBrand says, “customer,” I mentally substitute “reader.” Sometimes it works better than others. Although Mr. Miller’s book targets business owners, it made me ask myself how my website and blog portray me as a writer. I’ll continue to make changes that help first-time visitors become loyal readers.

Mr. Miller says a person should be able to look at my blog or my website and know within five seconds what I’m about.

I’m reminded of Alan Alda’s book

If you read my February 11, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/02/11/the-other-three-books-i-read-in-january-2019/ you know I read Alan Alda’s book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

That book prompted me to ask myself, “What does my reader need?” and “What is my reader hoping to gain by reading my words?” Mr. Miller’s book dovetails into Mr. Alda’s book and reinforces what Mr. Alda said about communication.

The purpose of my website and blog

Mr. Miller’s book prompted me to state the purpose of my website and blog in one sentence. When I got to the heart of what I’m trying to accomplish, this is what I concluded: 

The purpose of my website and blog is to show you that I write with authority and skill and, therefore, you can trust that my writing is worthy of your time.

If it sounds like I’m boasting, that’s not my intent. I’m setting the bar high for myself, and will read that purpose every day when I sit down at the keyboard.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished listening to The Midwife’s Confession, by Diane Chamberlain. (Audio books come in handy when a reader has vertigo.)

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.

Don’t forget to look for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow when I’ll reveal two books that remind me of someone. (Writing prompt provided by “Rae’s Reads and Reviews” blog post on January 8, 2019 (https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646)

Let’s start a conversation

What are you hoping to find in my blog? A smile? Humor? Something to ponder? Inspiration? My take on a book I’ve read? Samples of my fiction writing? A variety of these?

Janet

Two for Tuesday — Two Books that Taught Me Something

In “Rae’s Reads and Reviews blog post on January 8, 2019 (https://educatednegra.blog/2019/01/08/two-for-tuesday-prompts/comment-page-1/#comment-1646), Rae mentioned her idea of starting a “Two for Tuesday” tag.

I thought she was launching the idea, but I found a link (https://educatednegra.blog/2018/07/19/what-is-two-for-tuesday/) to her July 17, 2018 blog post in which she talked about it. She invited other bloggers to participate, and I took the bait. She supplies the writing prompts. All I have to do is share my thoughts. How hard can that be, right?

Today is the first day of this #TwoForTuesday adventure for me. The prompt is:  Two Books that Taught Me Something.” That sounded easy until I tried to narrow it down to two books.

The first 11 books that came to mind

I made a list of books that taught me something. I thought of the following 11 books right off the bat (in no particular order):

Whose Gospel?  A Concise Guide to Progressive Protestantism, by James A. Forbes, Jr.

Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I., by David Grann

Lessons from a Sheep Dog, by Phillip Keller

Unthinkable Choice, by Sampson and Lee Ann Parker

Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ron Cotton

Left to Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza

The Third Reconstruction, by The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

The Story of the Covenant:  Fifty Years of Fighting Faith, by T. Ratcliff Barnett

The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker

Tears We Cannot Stop:  A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson

Then, I narrowed it down to two books

Both books are nonfiction. Both books taught me that, with God’s help, people can withstand much more than seems possible and then come out stronger than they thought they could ever be.

Unthinkable Choice, by Sampson and Lee Ann Parker

Left to Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza

Unthinkable Choice, by Sampson and Lee Ann Parker

I personally know the authors of Unthinkable Choice. If you want to read a book by a couple who overcome the impossible and the unthinkable, this is the book for you. Sampson and Lee Ann take turns by chapter telling their story.

Sampson made an unthinkable choice and had Lee Ann’s support throughout his battle to survive the consequences of that choice. Sampson’s story begins with a horrendous farm accident. Lee Ann’s story begins the moment she is notified of Sampson’s accident. After reading this book, I think you’ll agree that Sampson has the right name.

Please read this book of true courage.

Left to Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza with Steve Erwin

I’ve seen Immaculee Ilibagiza interviewed on television. Hers is another jaw-dropping true story of courage and beating the odds. She survived the 1994 Rwandan Holocaust by hiding with seven others in the tiny bathroom of a Hutu pastor’s house for an astounding 91 days. She lost most of her relatives during the three-month slaughter of nearly 1 million Tutsis.

If you haven’t read Left to Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, I highly recommend that you do so.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. Please consider Unthinkable Choice and Left to Tell. They are both true stories that will stay with you forever and, hopefully, inspire you to get through the hardest times in your life.

If you’re new to my blog, thank you for finding it. I blog on Mondays and, at least through the month of February, also on Tuesdays. Thanks for stopping by for #TwoForTuesday!

Let’s continue the conversation

What are two books that taught you something?

Janet

They’re All Uncertain Times

Events of the last week prompted me to write about uncertain times for today’s blog post. It soon occurred to me that all times are uncertain because we cannot see into the future.

We tend to think the time we’re living in is more unpredictable than any other time, but if you’ll stop and think about it, you might see that life is and always has been full of doubts, worries, and stress. The unknown can do that to you.

I think about the uncertain times my known ancestors lived through:

English-speaking Lowland Scots being taken into the Gaelic-speaking Kintyre Peninsula in the southwest of Scotland to be tenant farmers in the 1600s and being required to attend a church where only Gaelic was spoken;

Scottish immigrants crossing the Atlantic and settling in the Carolina backcountry/wilderness in the 1760s; and

Those Scottish immigrants facing the American Revolution and not knowing what the outcome would be.

On December 23, 1776, in “The Crisis,” Thomas Paine wrote the following:

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

My ancestors lived through those times. The deaths of my Morrison great-great-great-great-grandparents during the American Revolutionary War left my great-great-great-grandfather orphaned at the age of nine. He and his siblings were cared for thereafter by his uncles and their wives, but it must have been more than frightening.

Then came the following trying times:

War of 1812;

American Civil War;

Reconstruction Era in The American South;

My maternal great-grandmother’s death in childbirth in 1881;

My paternal great-grandfather’s accidental death while felling a tree for lumber to build a kitchen in 1886;

Spanish-American War;

World War I;

The Great Depression;

My paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather both dying as young adults;

World War II;

Korean War; and

Illnesses and epidemics.

Living in the age of modern medicine and miracle drugs, it’s difficult for most of us to empathize with our ancestors who lived with the possibility of dying or watching their children die of typhoid fever, tetanus, flux, or polio.

When the Salk polio vaccine became available in the late 1950s, I did not fully appreciate what it meant to my parents. For me, as a child, I just remember our family going to the gymnasium lobby at Harrisburg High School on three Sunday afternoon after church to get an oral vaccine on a sugar cube.

The 1960s and years since have brought the following times of uncertainty:

Vietnam War;

Civil Rights Movement in the United States;

Numerous wars in the Middle East;

Rumors of more wars;

Terrorism; and

Incompetency and recklessness in The White House. (Don’t blame me; I didn’t vote for him!)

All of my ancestors down through my grandparents were farmers. I can’t imagine a life full of more uncertainties than one in which one’s livelihood is at the mercy of the weather.

I believe that God created the world with everything we need to not only survive but thrive. Human beings have brought on many uncertainties by not being good stewards of the world that God has entrusted to us – its animals and natural resources. Come to think of it, we have created most of the uncertainties ourselves – war, poor planning, poor agricultural practices, greed, and envy.

Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, volcanoes, and wildfires happen, but even many floods and wildfires are caused by man’s carelessness.

I attended two funerals in less than 48 hours last week. One was expected after a long battle with cancer, but the other one was quite sudden. Life is full of uncertainties.

Reviewing some of the events and hardships my ancestors faced, and the things I’ve witnessed in my 64 years has helped me put recent events and concerns in perspective.

The sun comes up. The sun goes down. The world keeps spinning around and revolving around the sun. What an amazing world!

simon-hesthaven-216108 (2)
Photo by Simon Hesthaven on Unsplash

 

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann and Among the Living by Jonathan Rabb.

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

Janet

Words That Give Me Trouble

Words-That-Give-Me

Writing keeps me humble. There are words I worry about now in my writing that I used to not be concerned about. Since I’ve claimed aloud to be a writer, I feel the spotlight on all my written words. Sometimes I come up short.

Memory and Age

Memory and age begin to take a toll. Words that I used to spell or remember the definition of without a second thought now fall into the “need to look it up” category. Some words I’ve thought to be synonymous aren’t quite equal when examined. I continually learn of words I have used incorrectly all my life. It happens often enough that I’m losing my confidence.

Mark Nichol’s list

After creating an account on StumbleUpon last week, I stumbled upon Mark Nichol’s article, “50 Problem Words and Phrases” https://www.dailywritingtips.com/50-problem-words-and-phrases/. In today’s blog post, I’ll share a few examples of words that give me trouble.

  1. Compare to / compare with – Compare to implies only similarity; whereas, compare with   implies similarity and contrast.
  2. Each other / one another – Use one another when more than two are involved. (Who knew?)
  3. Jealousy / envy – If I am jealous of you, I resent your having something. If I envy you, I   covet something you have. (I’ve didn’t realize there was a difference until reading Mr. Nichol’s article cited above.)
  4. Since / because – As stated by Mr. Nichol in his article, “Informally, these terms are  interchangeable, but in formal writing, since should be used only to refer to time.” (This one from Mr. Nichol’s article was new to me, too.)
  5. Transcript / transcription – Mr. Nichol stated, “A transcript is a thing; a transcription is the process of creating it.” (I know I’ve been guilty of using “transcription” when I  should have written “transcript.”

I need to keep Mark Nichol’s list of “50 Problem Words and Phrases” handy as I’m writing. The more I read about the sometimes subtle nuances of words, the less confident I am in my writing.

chicago-manual-of-style-008

Self-Editing The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

I’m having flashbacks of the days when I had to follow the 1,000+-page gold standard of American English, The Chicago Manual of Style, as I self-edited the manuscript for my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.* That’s when I began to realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.

Writing-keeps-me-humble

Writing keeps me humble.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (Among other things, I’m reading Camino Island, by John Grisham.)

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and a better memory than I have for spelling and proper word usage.

Janet

*Shameless Plug:  In case you haven’t purchased a copy of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, please look for it at any independent bookstore. If it’s not on the shelf, please request it. If that doesn’t work, you can order it from Amazon.com.

 

Extreme Abbreviation

 

overwhelmed

Today I’m giving you a glimpse of what I deal with on a daily basis while I attempt to be a writer. No one told me I would have days like this back in 2001 when I took that fiction writing course.

Bots

I received an e-mail from LinkedIn. It mentioned “productivity bots.” I Googled that, since I didn’t know what it was. In addition to being the larva of the botfly, a bot can be an app that performs an automated task. I even heard bots mentioned in a recent U.S. Senate hearing. They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere!

ROI

On May 9 I received an e-mail from Hootsuite’s Global Webinar Team. The headline was, “Prove the ROI of Your Social Strategy Tuesday, May 23, 2017 11am PT/2pm ET.” Nowhere did the e-mail explain what ROI is, so I “Googled” it and learned that ROI is Return on Investment.

I suppose anyone who didn’t already know that didn’t need to register for the webinar. Or perhaps I should register. Maybe I would learn how my minimal financial investment in social media is translating into readers and followers. Or maybe not.

Lead Gen Tips

Someone followed me on Twitter. His profile said he offers “lead gen tips.” I had to Google that, too, because I didn’t have clue what it meant. Since my search brought up 10,800,000 results, I must be the last person on Earth to know that “lead gen tips” is short for “lead generation tips.” With that knowledge, I knew a little more than I had before, but not much.

The “lead gen tips” Google results had titles that contained words and phrases such as “The Best,” “A Complete Guide,” “30 Actionable,” and “63 Lead Generation Strategies.”

That last one came from a person or company called Marketing Wizdom. I don’t know about you, but I’m leery of people who deliberately misspell words in a company’s name or elsewhere. I became aware of the dangers in this years ago when my sister was a literacy tutor. It’s inconsiderate to people who are struggling to learn English or who are learning to read to misspell words. But I digress.

Other search results included the following:  “30 … Tips & Tricks,” “32 Clever,” “Best… Tips and Tricks,” “4 Tips,” “5 … Tips,” and “10 Tips.”

That was just on the first screen. I stopped there.

I couldn’t help but notice that all the websites listed above got the memo but the last one. That was the memo saying you’ll get more hits if you don’t put “10” in your blog post title.

When I got to the bottom of the screen, I noticed that one of the “Searches related to lead gen tips” was “lead generation definition.” Now we’re getting somewhere! I clicked on that and the definition that appeared in the little box on the screen stated, “the action or process of identifying and cultivating potential customers for a business’s products or services.” Okay. Now I understand “lead gen tips.”

Extreme Abbreviation

Something else I understand is that I will never be able to keep up with today’s business and computer jargon. I’ll keep trying, though. Just like taking shorthand in high school (yes, I’m that old!) ruined my handwriting, I’m afraid texting has resulted in extreme abbreviation in all forms of communication. (Is “extreme abbreviation” a term, or did I just coin it?)

If you liked today’s blog post, I invite you to read my May 9, 2017 post, What is a Conversion Habit and Do I Need One?

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah, for Monday’s book club meeting while I’m trying to finish reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. I’m also reading World of Toil and Strife, by Peter N. Moore, for research purposes. I’m also still reading The Source, by James A. Michener, when I have time. At this rate, it will take me a year to read the entire book!

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time and don’t have to spend as much time as I do using search engines to translate abbreviations and jargon.

Janet

P.S.  I think all the images I’ve included in my blog posts until today were photographs I had taken. I discovered a free stock photo website, Unsplash.com, a couple of days ago. Today’s image is from that site and was taken by Pim Chu of Thailand.