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” sign 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

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

19 Blue Ridge Mountains Trivia Questions

August 25, 2019 will mark the fifth anniversary of the publication of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. To mark this milestone, I’m testing your knowledge of some of the interesting facts I included in the book.

#BlueRidgeMtnsOfNC #PostcardBook
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina by Janet Morrison

The book covers the 23 westernmost counties in North Carolina and the three counties in eastern Tennessee in which a portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located. If you have the book, you have my permission to cheat. That’s only fair to those of you who purchased my book. I’ll ask a few questions. You’ll find the answers in my blog post on August 19, 2019.

Although most of the original postcards are in color, they appear in black and white in both of the book’s formats. I tried to include pictures of several of the postcards in today’s blog post, but due to technical problems I was only able to post one vintage postcard image.

Here are the questions:

1.  Why was Grandfather Mountain named a member of the international network of Biosphere Reserves in 1992?

#GrandfatherMtn #GrandfatherMountain
Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

2. What does Linville Falls in North Carolina have in common with Niagara Falls?

3.  How did Edwin Wiley Grove make his fortune which enabled him to build the Grove Park Inn in Ashevile, North Carolina?

4.  What part did the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) play in the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway during The Great Depression?

5.  When George W. Vanderbilt purchased Mt. Pisgah in 1897, what grand plan did the mountain become part of temporarily? 

6.  What groups of people were housed at Assembly Inn in Montreat, North Carolina in 1942?

7.  Jerome Freeman bought 400 acres of land in Rutherford County, North Carolina that included the Chimney Rock around 1870 for $25. How much did the State of North Carolina pay for Chimney Rock Park in 2007?

8.  What new breed of hunting dog was developed by a German pioneer family in the late 1700’s in the Plott Balsams subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains?

9.  What is an early 20th century feat of engineering on the Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?

10.  How fast can a black bear run?  

11.  It is illegal in Great Smoky Mountains National Park to willfully get within how many feet of a black bear?

12.  What is the name of the 57,000 acres of land purchased by the Cherokee in the 1800s and held in trust by the United States Government?

13.  Is Qualla Boundary technically a reservation?

14.  Did the Cherokee people lived in tipis?

15.  What forest contains one of the largest groves of old-growth trees in the Eastern United States? 

16.  What hydroelectric dam was used in the 1993 Harrison Ford movie, The Fugitive?

17.  What is the tallest dam east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States?

18.  One of the oldest postcards in my book is of Cullowhee Normal School in the mid- to late-1920s. What is the name of that school today?

19.  Started in 1935, the Blue Ridge Parkway’s “missing link” was completed in 1987. What is the connecting one-fourth-mile long piece that filled the “missing link” called?

In case you’d like to take the easy way out and find the answers to all these questions in one book, you may order The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, by Janet Morrison, in paperback or e-book from Amazon.com, request it at your local bookstore, or order it directly from https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/. Time is short. I’ll supply the answers in my blog post next Monday, August 19.

The contract I signed with Arcadia Publishing was for five years, so you’d better get a copy of the book while it’s still being published.

Since my last blog post

I discovered that the links that I had on my blog to my presence on several social media networks were not working properly, except for the one to my Pinterest account. Therefore, I removed the links to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’ll announce in a future blog post when those links are up and running again.

Until my next blog post

If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, @janetmorrisonbk. If you’d like to follow my business page on Facebook, it’s Janet Morrison, Writer. If you’d like to follow me on LinkedIn, go to https://www.linkedin.com/in/janet-morrison-writer.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Searching for Sylvie, by Jean Kwok.

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

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

Please don’t include any of the trivia answers in your comments. If you want to indicate how many of them you think you know the answers to, you may indicate that number or the numbers of the questions you think you can answer.

Read my book or read my blog post next Monday for all the answers.

Janet

The 3.5 Books I Read in July 2019

Too many books, too little time! I got more reading done in July than I did in June, although a couple of the books I finished last month were actually started a month or more before. The best part was that I got to read 3.5 historical novels. Although not based in my favorite time period – America’s colonial and revolutionary eras – I was pleased with the novels, and even learned some things from the one I didn’t finish.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

#HistoricalNovel set in #EasternKentucky during the #GreatDepression with #HorsebackLibrarians.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

This historical novel taught me about two aspects of American history with which I was unfamiliar:

            1.    Due to an extremely rare genetic disease, Methemoglobinemia, some people in eastern Kentucky had blue skin; and

             2. Part of the WPA program during The Great Depression paid people (mostly women) to deliver library books and other reading material to isolated individuals in Kentucky.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a fictionalized story of one such “Book Woman.” Cussy had blue skin and was, therefore, an outcast. She loved her job of delivering reading materials to her regular patrons. She rode a mule to do her work.

Cussy faced many dangers at home and on her book route, and this novel takes you along with her as she continually shows courage in the face of extreme poverty and personal vulnerability as a blue-skinned woman.

The first third or half of the book got a little tedious, as it seemed like most of Cussy’s days were pretty much like all her other days with the occasion father-arranged male visitors who came her way. As I recall, to a man, she found her gentlemen (and I use the term loosely) callers to be disgusting. Her father was desperate to marry her off because he’s promised Cussy’s mother he would.

Spoiler alert:  Her father finally marries her off and it doesn’t begin or end well.

I’m glad I read the book because the story of those Kentucky WPA horseback and mule-riding librarians was something I hadn’t known about. I also didn’t know about Methemoglobinemia. I like books that teach me something. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson, is a prime example of how we can learn from good historical fiction.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan Elia MacNeal

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is the first book in the Maggie Hope Mystery Series by Susan Elia MacNeal. I read the fifth book in the series, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante three years ago. I enjoyed it and have had Ms. MacNeal’s other Maggie Hope novels on my To Be Read List ever since. I wanted to go back and begin with the first book in the series. Now I look forward to reading the second book in the series, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy.

You might recall that Mr. Churchill’s Secretary was one of the books I was reading when I wrote my June 17, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/06/17/delving-deeper-into-dialects-and-accents-in-fiction/. I was trying to read too many books at the same time, and I didn’t finish this Susan Elia MacNeal novel until July. That’s not a reflection on the book. It’s merely proof that I try to read more books than I can finish in a reasonable length of time.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary takes place in London in 1940. Graduating at the top of her class, Maggie is highly-qualified to be a spy for the British government; however, being female, at first she is relegated to being a typist at No. 10 Downing Street for Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Part of the time Maggie Hope is assigned to decoding at Bletchley Park. Here’s a link to a great four-minute interview with Betty Webb and Joy Aylard who actually worked there during World War II:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07dgj2k. The program was part of the BBC’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. (I’m now getting a message saying I can’t watch the clip at my location, but maybe you can where you are. A friend in Belgium sent it to me on Facebook.) If the BBC link doesn’t work, perhaps you can still find it on https://www.facebook.com/JanetMorrisonWriter/. I posted the video there on July 29, 2019. While you’re there, I invite you to “like” my writer’s Facebook page.

The copy of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary that I read included several pages of author’s notes at the end. It was interesting to learn how Ms. MacNeal wove real people and fictional people into this cohesive story. She also gave some research facts she discovered and what inspired her to write the novel.

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan

This is an engaging historical novel set in London during World War II. Many novels have been published over the last several years in conjunction with the 75th anniversaries of various events of that war. I’ve read a number of them, but The Spies of Shilling Lane, by Jennifer Ryan stands out in my mind.

You might be surprised at who the spies in the story are. You’ll be surprised when some very unlikely people find themselves spying on the British Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. Woven throughout is a story of the estrangement between an adult daughter and her mother. There are family secrets that are eventually revealed.

If you follow my blog, you know I’m generally not a fan of listening to a novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this one.

I can’t wait to see what Jennifer Ryan has in store for us in her next novel. Perhaps you’ve read her debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. I also gave it five stars. If you want to see what I said about that book, here’s a link to my April 1, 2017 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/. ­­­­­­­­­­­­

The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander

#HistoricalNovel set in #Ireland during the #PotatoFamine
The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander

I’ve mentioned The Irishman’s Daughter, by V.S. Alexander in several of my blog posts including https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/04/08/three-other-books-i-read-in-march-2019/ on April 8, 2019. I’ve become a fan of V.S. Alexander’s historical novels. It’s just personal preference, but The Irishman’s Daughter didn’t hold my attention like Alexander’s first two novels, The Magdalen Girls (2017) and The Taster (2018.)

Alexander does a brilliant job of research and has a talent for sharing research without beating the reader over the head with info dumps.

The Irishman’s Daughter takes place in Ireland during The Great Potato Famine. The father in the story oversees an estate for an absentee landlord. He has two daughters. One dreams of marrying the rich landlord, who is oblivious to the poverty and starvation faced by his tenants. The other daughter is emotionally moved by the dire situation and tries to stretch their little bit of food with as many people as she possibly can. She longs to marry a local farmer.

I must admit that I did not finish reading this book. With other books vying for my attention, this one just didn’t grab me. I’ve read good things about the book, though, so I’ll give it another try when I get a chance.

V.S. Alexander’s next novel, The Traitor, is scheduled for publication on February 25, 2020. Although I didn’t like The Irishman’s Daughter as much as Alexander’s earlier books, I’ll get on the waitlist for The Traitor at the public library as soon as it’s ordered.

To see what I said about The Magdalen Girls and The Taster, please click on these two blog post links:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/04/01/the-authors-i-read-in-march/ and https://janetswritingblog.com/2018/03/05/reading-and-writing-in-february-2018/.

Since my last blog post

I finished the online “Building a Writer/Author Platform course taught by Karen Cioffi-Ventrice. Here’s a link to it and other courses, in case you’re interested: https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/.

I had good feedback about last Monday’s blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/07/29/onthisday-uss-indianapolis/. Therefore, I’ll plan additional #OnThisDay blog posts in the future. Thank you to everyone who left comments or liked it here and on other social media networks.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Victory Garden, by Rhys Bowen and listening to Resistance Women, by Jennifer Chiaverini.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive 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

What are you reading? Or what did you read in July that you’d recommend? Do you read historical fiction? If not, you’re missing a great reading and learning experience.

Janet

Change of Scenery Does the Heart Good

I got away this weekend to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It always does my heart good to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and be surrounded by forests and views across miles and miles of mountains.

A change in scenery and a change in altitude can clear the head and breathe new life into a person. A change in altitude can create a change in attitude. That’s what this weekend’s trip to Asheville did for me.

The bride’s bouquet

A special cousin of mine who lives in California got married in Asheville on Saturday. It was my first opportunity to meet her husband, and I feel very good about this match. The wedding was beautiful and the associated festivities were wonderful. It was an honor and privilege to witness Melissa and Marty’s exchanging of vows and their happiness and respect for one another.

Asheville is an eclectic city, rich in history and natural beauty. The change in scenery and altitude, along with the blessing of attending the wedding of two such special people, was just what I needed. Driving south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then taking US-276 by Looking Glass Falls was a perfect way to end the weekend.

I came home with my batteries recharged, ready to plunge back into my writing and playing the dulcimer.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Montauk, by Nicola Harrison.

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

Let’s continue the conversation

What recharges your batteries and refreshes you for the task ahead?

Janet

4 or 5 Books I Read in May 2019

My reading was haphazard in May, to say the least. I read snippets of several books here and there. I read three books, listened to one book, and read 35% of another one before it had to go back to the public library. I’m having some issues with my computer, but here goes.

The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

I love learning things, and it’s amazing how much I don’t know at my age. One thing I learned from this book seems so basic I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know it. In my history studies I didn’t learn that the Continental Congress created the Continental Army in 1775. In my mind, I assumed the Continental Army was formed after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The First Conspiracy:  The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch is almost a day-by-day telling of American Revolutionary history with focus on the little known facts of the things that happened in the shadows – behind the scenes. I minored in history in college, but I didn’t know about the conspiracy to kill George Washington as Commander of the Continental Army.

Most of what I knew about William Tryon was how he robbed the citizens of North Carolina blind to build “Tryon Palace” in New Bern, North Carolina while he served as the colony’s governor. I knew he left that position to take the more lucrative office of governor of the New York colony.

One thing I learned from The First Conspiracy was how Tryon was ruthless in his dealings with the rebels in New York and how he continued on that mission even after taking refuge in a British ship in New York Harbor.

An amusing part of the book was the description of the arrest and questioning of the four men who had decided to print paper currency in secret for the colonies. They hadn’t agreed on an alibi, so each one had a different explanation than the others and, of course, one denied having any knowledge of the printing press in the attic.

I’d read about 70% of the book before it had to be returned to the public library because another patron was waiting for it. I’ll check in out again later in order to read the rest of the story.

The Waxhaws, by Louise Pettus, assisted by Nancy Crockett

The Waxhaws, by Louise Pettus with Nancy Crockett

I wish I’d known in 1983 to purchase a copy of this book when it was published. Now, if you can find a copy to buy, it will likely cost you more than $150. I was delighted to find a circulating library copy in May, and I devoured the content.

This book, more than anything else I’ve read, helped me get a feel for life in The Waxhaws just south of the North Carolina-South Carolina border in colonial times. I hope I’m able to communicate that sense of place and time in my historical novel, The Doubloon, which primarily takes place in that Carolina backcountry settlement in 1769-70.

Anyone interested in day-to-day life in colonial America owes Louise Pettus and Nancy Crockett a debt of gratitude for all the South Carolina history they preserved and shared with each other and their readers.

The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth  

The Mother-in-Law, by Sally Hepworth

I’ve become a fan of Sally Hepworth’s novels, so I got on the wait list for her latest book as soon as it showed up on the “on order” list on the public library’s online catalog. I’ve read all her novels except The Secrets of Midwives.

This novel will keep you guessing “who dunnit.” Everyone seems to have issues with the mother-in-law. Her daughter-in-law tells this story. She has issues with her mother-in-law. So does her husband, his sister, his sister’s husband. It seems like most people who come in contact with the mother-in-law have a hard time dealing with her quirks and aloofness.

There is a totally different side the mother-in-law shows the people she helps through her volunteerism, though. It’s difficult for her family members to understand this part of her life because it seems out-of-character.

As the reader begins to learn the mother-in-law’s backstory, he or she will understand what made her the way she is or was. She’s found dead in her home. Who killed her? You might be surprised.

The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman in association with NPR (National Public Radio)

I listened to this book. It contains “This I Believe” essays written by people from all walks of life. Some are or were famous, others I had not heard of. Among those whose essays are in this current audio collection are Helen Keller, John McCain, Oscar Hammerstein II, William O. Douglas, Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein, Martha Graham, John Updike, Carl Sandburg, Jackie Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, Colin Powell, Helen Hays, and Bill Gates.

The Afterword by Dan Gediman gives the history of This I Believe. The original book contained 100 essays and was done by legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow. The first of the essays was broadcast on radio on Easter Sunday in 1949.

In a nutshell, the This I Believe essays are supposed to be about “the guiding beliefs by which they live their lives.” They are short, being about five minutes long.

One of the goals of the This I Believe organization is “to facilitate a higher standard of public discourse.”

If you wish to know more about this international organization, visit

https://thisibelieve.org/.

Stony the Road:   Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and The Rise of Jim Crow, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

I learned a lot from this book. I knew I would. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is an icon when it comes to history. I only had time to read the first two chapters of Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow, before it disappeared from my Kindle and went back to the public library. (Don’t worry. I immediately got back on the wait list for it so I can continue reading it.)

Look for my blog post next Monday about the important lesson I learned as a writer while reading Stony the Road. It wasn’t a lack of interest that caused me to read only two chapters. It was a case of “too many books, so little time” and the fact that I dedicated most of my time to writing instead of reading in May.

Since my last blog post

Since last Monday’s blog post, we jumped right over spring and went into summer. Last week it was 95 degrees on five days and 94 on the other two. According to the calendar, summer begins in three weeks. We have gone from too much rain to no rain in about three weeks. I’d rather have heat and drought than flooding or tornadoes like they’re having in the central part of the US, so I’m not complaining.

I got some good feedback about last Monday’s blog post. Thank you, Jules Horne and all the others who took the time to comment on here and on my Facebook pages.

Until my next blog post

A couple of weeks ago I read that a blogger should use second person point-of-view instead of first person. There are too many rules. I’ll try to do better in the future.

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.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any of these books? If so, please share your thoughts below. What are you reading?

Janet