Nominated for Fix Her Crown Award

Thank you, Laleh Chini, for nominating me for the Fix Your Crown Award on her wonderful blog, A Voice from Iran. Here’s the link to her blog: https://lalehchini.com. Here’s a link to the blog post in which she nominated me, in case you’d like to see what she’s all about: https://lalehchini.com/2020/03/21/nominated-for-fix-her-crown/.

Fix Her Crown Award
Fix Her Crown Award. http://www.cindygoesbeyond.com

The rules are simple:

Thank the person who nominated you and link to her blog.

Copy and paste these rules to your post and please include a link to the Fix Her Crown Award post: https://kimsdiytribe.com/fix-her-crown-award/.

Post three photos of just yourself and write a short caption beneath each about why you chose that photo.

Nominate seven women for the Fix Her Crown Award, women who lend a helping hand to the woman whose crown seems too heavy, who appreciate the sister who dares to be her own glorious self, who raise strong young women, who smile at the sister journeying alone and walk alongside her for a time, who stand with the sister whose crown has been knocked off her head time after time and women who shine as their own beautifully unique selves.

Link to the blogs of the seven nominees.

Here are three photos of me:

Silas and Janet were equally excited the day “their” vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, arrived in July, 2014.
Janet with Penny Padgett, owner of The Book Shelf in Tryon, North Carolina. Penny and The Book Shelf bookstore hold a special place in my heart. Penny was the first (and only) book store owner who invited me to have a book signing after my vintage postcard book was published. That was in happier days for Penny and for me. Sadly, she has had to sell off her inventory and close the bookstore this year after not being able to find a buyer for her business in the wonderful small mountain town of Tryon.
This is a photo of my first local history column in 2005 in the now defunct weekly newspaper, Harrisburg Horizons in Harrisburg, North Carolina. I wrote a different local history article every other week for more than six years. It was the most enjoyable “job” I’ve ever had. Maybe someday I’ll be able to publish all those newspaper columns in a book!

That’s enough about me. Here are the women, in random order, I nominate for the Fix Her Crown Award:

Kally: https://middleme.net/

Alison: https://piermanparis.com/

Janet: https://janetgivens.com/

Diane: https://indianeskitchen.com/home/

Terri: https://reclaiminghopecoaching.com/

Beverley: https://becomingtheoilandwine.com/

Jennifer: https://jennifertarheelreader.com/

This award nomination came as a complete surprise to me! Thank you again, Laleh Chini, for nominating me!

Until my blog post tomorrow

Everyone out there stay safe and well during this coronavirus 19 pandemic.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Freedom of Information Day

Occasionally, I blog about an event associated with that particular day. Did you know that March 16 is Freedom of Information Day in the United States? Neither did I; however, I believe it should be a national holiday.

In light of the current political climate in America, I want to shout from the rooftops about freedom of information today!

Why March 16th?

James Madison was mentioned repeatedly during the recent presidential impeachment hearings held by the U.S. Senate. James Madison is revered as the “Father of the U.S. Constitution.” He advocated for openness in government. He insisted the government must have no secrets from the people. How radical was that? He drafted the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights.

U.S. Freedom of Information Day
Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

James Madison was born on March 16, 1751. Hence, March 16 was chosen in 1966 to be celebrated as Freedom of Information Day. It’s unfortunate that the day itself gets no attention. We seldom hear anything about the Freedom of Information Act except when its implementation is being questioned by a news agency.

History of the Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act was enacted on July 4, 1966 and went into effect a year later. This law declares that every person has the right to access all federal agency (Executive Branch) records not protected from disclosure by on of nine exemptions or exclusions. Those exemptions include things like national security, personnel records, trade secrets, and geological and geophysical information (including maps) related to wells. Although President Lyndon B. Johnson had misgivings about the Act, he signed it into law.

It is interesting to note that the original act was replaced just one month before it’s 1967 effective date. Also, it was amended in 1974. Those amendments strengthened an individual’s right to see federal records about himself and provided a path by which the individual can get their personal records corrected. Furthermore, the 1974 amendments give an individual the right to sue the government for violating the Freedom of Information Act.

Subsequent amendments

Amendments to the Government in the Sunshine Act in 1976 spelled out Freedom of Information Act exemptions in greater detail. President Ronald Reagan issued an Executive Order in 1982 that permitted broader interpretation of the exemption regarding national security.

Between 1995 and 1999, President Bill Clinton issued executive directives that allowed the release of classified national security records that are more than 25 years old.

The Electronic Freedom of Information Act amendments in 1996 made adjustments to the way in which electronic records are kept by the federal government.

The Freedom of Information Act has continued to be a political football in the 21st century. By an Executive Order issued by President George W. Bush, the records of former U.S. presidents were protected in 2002. The 2202 Order was revoked by President Barack Obama on the day after his inauguration in 2009.

The future of the Freedom of Information Act

And so it goes. The Freedom of Information Act continues to be amended through new Acts and Executive Orders. It will, no doubt, remain a fluid law that will be amended and re-interpreted for the remainder of the years the United States of America exists as a country. Its scope will continue to be challenged in U.S. Supreme Court cases and by lawmakers and presidents.

Since my last blog post

Since my blog last Monday, the corona virus COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic. Sadly, the United States has fallen far behind in preparing for and testing for the virus. This is due to the negligence of the Trump Administration, but now is not the time for finger pointing. Now is the time to start playing catch-up and learn from the current president’s mistakes.

My thoughts are with people around the world who have been infected by COVID-19 and their caregivers.

My fractured tibial plateau continues to heal, and I continue treatment for a pulmonary embolism.

Until my next blog post

Above all, try to stay well. Take reasonable precautions to guard yourself and those around you from the flu and COVID-19.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve suspended the requests for a dozen or more books from the public library to try to keep germs from other library patrons out of my house. This is when e-books can really be a blessing — and perhaps a lifesaver, so take advantage of those free e-books from your local public library system.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time. My mind is a little scattered just now due to health concerns, but when I can concentrate I’m trying to work on future blog posts and historical short stories.

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

Did you know there was a Freedom of Information Act in the United States? Have you had any personal experience with the Freedom of Information Act?

What about in your country? Does it have such an act to protect an individual’s information held by the government?

Janet

#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 2

When I wrote my #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization, Part 1 blog post for February 17, 2020, I planned to post Part 2 the following Monday. Life happened, though, and some medical issues forced me to hold off on Part 2 until today. Here’s the link to Part 1, in case you missed it or wish to refresh your memory: https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/02/17/fixyournovel-4-characterization-part-1/.

If you are bored stiff by the subject, just scroll down to the end of today’s post to find out what I’m currently reading.

As I did in Part 1, today I’ll share what two or three writers, writing coaches, or editors have to say about characterization. I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in my two characterization blog posts.

I’ve read a lot about how to develop memorable characters when writing fiction. As I read what other writers, or book coaches and editors have to say about characterization, I try to determine what the best advice is so I can put it into practice as I work on my historical novel.


Book coach Andrea Lundgren’s take on happiness in novels

In her October 7, 2019 guest post on A Writer’s Path, https://ryanlanz.com/2019/10/07/what-does-it-mean-to-write-about-happiness/, book coach Andrea Lundgren observed that novels rarely show characters in a state of happiness. Maybe there’s a flashback to a time they were happy, but the reader doesn’t see the character having a happy moment.

Ms. Lundgren suggests something that goes against the grain of accepted fiction writing advice. She stated the following in that guest post:

“Do we dare take time out, for them and us, to just enjoy life as it flows by, without making the scene “keep things moving forward”?

Ms. Lundgren continued:

“And does happiness only occur in little moments, in the troughs between peaks of activity when no one is doing or demanding or announcing anything? Maybe we need to start plotting for filler scenes, where nothing happens but that exchange of dialogue and silence that is a normal, happy moment of life.”

That resonated with me. Writing experts put a lot of pressure on authors to evaluate every scene and, if it doesn’t move the story forward, delete it. In connection with Ms. Lundgren’s post, it seems to me that having an occasional scene in which your character is just relaxing with a friend or enjoying an event might help that character seem more human and more likeable. And in that way, does that scene not in some small way move the story forward?


Editor and author David Griffin Brown’s take on character

Writing as a creative guest on The Creative Penn website on August 2, 2019, https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2019/08/02/writing-tips-creating-memorable-characters/, David Griffin Brown gives tips on writing memorable and compelling characters.

Mr. Brown opens his article with this:  “Fiction editors encounter manuscripts at all stages of development. A typical issue we see in early drafts is where one narrative element is given more attention than another.

“For example, with works of historical fiction, it’s common for writers to showcase their research at the expense of plot and character. On the other hand, with a character piece, the plot often drags in the second act. And in high-paced, sharply plotted thrillers, characterization can lag behind plot development.

“That being said, most manuscripts will benefit from close attention to character conflict, motivation, and relationships. But first and foremost, it’s important to let your characters act, react, and interact.”

Mr. Brown goes on to talk about emotions, conflict, and personal relationships between characters. He talks about the king of all fiction-writing rules:  Show, don’t tell.


Chris Andrews’ take on character and structure

In his book, Character and Structure:  An Unholy Alliance, Australian fantasy quthor Chris Andrews writes about the importance of (or possibly, necessity of) getting your reader emotionally invested in your story or novel. He writes that you must make the reader care.

Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance, by Chris Andrews

Mr. Andrews’ book says, “Applying character to structure is an unholy alliance as far as many writers are concerned. Doing it well is the foundation of creating a long and successful career.”  He says if a writer gives in to his or her preference – character vs. structure – one will dominate and the other will suffer. A character must have a logical structure to work within.

Mr. Andrews writes, “You have to be able to develop, write and evaluate a story from both sides of your brain:  logic and emotion…. Combining story (what happens to your characters) and structure (how it happens) means finding the answers emotionally engage your audience.”

I like the following short paragraph in Mr. Andrews’ book: 

“Characters are about people, not events. Structure is how you tailor events so your audience can engage with your characters.”

Mr. Andrews’ book is one of the best books I’ve read about the craft of writing. He takes you step-by-step through the structure of a novel and how your protagonist should grow and change within that structure in order for your novel to engage your readers and be memorable for them.

I read Chris Andrews’ book last September and I wrote about it in my September 30, 2019 blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/09/30/character-and-structure-by-chris-andrews/. His website is https://www.chrisandrews.me/.


Some new thoughts from Janice Hardy

In #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization, Part I, I referenced Janice Hardy. Her blog post on February 26, 2020 was titled, “Oh, Woe Is Me:  Strengthening Character Goals.” Here the link to it, so you can read the entire blog post: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2010/05/oh-woe-is-me.html.

It’s about how a writer can make a novel’s protagonist’s life as difficult as possible. She gives lots of suggestions.


That was my inner response when I first encountered the term. In Part 1 of #FixYourNovel #4, I referred to character arc but didn’t address it.

A character arc is how a character changes over the course of a story or novel, but there’s so much more to it than that! People have written entire books on the topic of character arc. I read one in October:  Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development, by K.M. Weiland.

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

I highly recommend her book to others who, like me, are trying to master the art of writing fiction. The book addresses plot points, when your character arcs, minor character arcs, impact characters, and how to write a character arc in a series.


Biographical sketches

Throughout the writing process I’ve tried to keep in mind to make my characters distinguishable, but it’s time to revisit the question, “Are my characters distinguishable?”

By writing a biographical sketch for each character as I developed the basic bones of the plot for my novel in progress, tentatively titled The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon, I had a computer file containing details about each character. This was the place I made note of all distinguishable characteristics – everything from appearance, clothing, mannerisms, smell, occupation, world view, beliefs, background, family, and manner of speaking.

My hunch is that it is easier to write character biographical sketches before and as you write your novel, but it can be done after the fact. However you choose to do it, it’s a good idea to work through this step before hitting the “publish” button or submitting your manuscript to an editor, literary agent, or publisher.

I read that J.K. Rawlings spent five years writing the biographies of each of her characters before she started writing her Harry Potter series. Wow!

As you evaluate your novel’s manuscript, re-read each of your characters’ biographical sketches, every reference to them in your book, and all their dialogue. It’s time to beef-up those character traits and to check for consistency.

  • Have you made your characters’ motives clear so their actions are logical?
  • Did you reveal backstory a little at a time and sufficiently without doing an information dump?
  • You don’t have a character telling another character something they already know, do you?
  • Does your character have an arc and is it in the right place?

In summary

At this point, you might be saying, “It’s not enough for writers to invent characters? They must make each one distinguishable in appearance, actions, and speech; make them likable but not perfect; and make them memorable and compelling. Is that all?

No. A writer must also balance character, and plot, and setting. Characters must interact with one another. Characters must be believable. Characters must react to the circumstances in which they find themselves. They must have emotions. They must be motivated. Relationships and conflict are necessary; otherwise, there’s no story.

You see, there’s more to writing a novel than typing.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative 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. If you like my blog, please tell you real friends and your social media friends about it.


Links to my #FixYourNovel blog posts #1, #2, #3, and #4 Part 1:


Let’s continue the conversation

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Think back over the books you’ve read.

Which characters stand out in your mind and why?

Feel free to share as much or little as you want to in the comments below or on the social media I share this blog post on.

Janet

#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 1

Are the characters distinguishable, what are their motives, and are their arcs in the right places?

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to publish today’s blog post for months. Who am I to have the audacity to attack such a topic? I haven’t even published my first novel.

Perhaps I should have left #FixYourNovel #4:  Characterization on the back burner until I had more writing experience. However, to be perfectly honest with you, I got tired kicking the can down the road. I got tired revamping my blog’s editorial calendar and shifting this topic further into the future.

I hope readers and writers will find something of interest in today’s post.

In my journey as a fiction writer, I’ve read about all aspects of the craft of writing. New articles and how-to books are published every day. It’s impossible to keep up.

Today’s blog post is a combination of the things I’ve read about characterization by people who know more about that skill than I do. It’s my job as an aspiring fiction author to wade through all the advice, discern what’s worth keeping, and try to put those gems into practice.


Author Kristin Lamb’s take on characters

I read a September 23, 2019 article by author Kristin Lamb several weeks ago and immediately added it to my resources list for today’s blog post. I love the title of Ms. Lamb’s article: “Characters: Audiences Read Stories, but Great Stories Read the Audience.” It pulled me right in. Her article can be found at https://authorkristenlamb.com/2019/09/characters-story-audience/.

Of course, I had to keep reading to find out what she meant. In a nutshell, Ms. Lamb said that every reader reads a book through their unique perspective. The character in a novel has “baggage,” but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her but so does the reader. The reader brings her “baggage” with her into the story and that completes how an individual reader sees a character.

If there are three main characters in a novel and three people read it, it’s possible that each reader will identify with a different character due to the readers’ backgrounds and life experiences.

Photo by Frank Holleman on Unsplash.com.
Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash.com.
Photo by Pablo Rebolledo on Unsplash.com.

Also, I think “Great Stories Read the Audience” is an excellent way of saying a writer must know her target audience. I could try to write a novel that would appeal to everyone, but the finished product would probably appeal to no one.


Proofreader Louise Harnby’s take on characters

In https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/unveiling-your-characters-physical-description-with-style­­­­, Louise Harnby addresses how a writer needs to make her characters distinguishable. Some writers tell the reader what a character looks like or gives hints.

One method is to do what Ms. Harnby suggests:  let the viewpoint character describe another character, but don’t let it sound like a description in a police report. The reader doesn’t need to know every detail of how a character looks. Tell what is different about a character. Give each character a distinguishing physical or personality trait.


Author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland’s take on characters

Something Lori Freeland says in her June 3, 2019 blog post, https://writersinthestormblog.com/2019/06/down-with-the-rules/, also addresses a method a writer can use when describing their characters. It’s a twist on bending or breaking the writing “rule” that says a character shouldn’t describe herself or himself.

Ms. Freeland writes, “Main characters can describe themselves if they do it right…. Go ahead. Put your character in front of a mirror. But make it a funhouse mirror that emphasizes her faults and grows them larger than life.”

In this blog post, Ms. Freeland also comments about motivation. A writer needs to tell the reader what motivates a character. This clarifies the story.

To quote Ms. Freeland, “The internal journey of your character is as crucial as the external journey.”


Australian Fantasy Author Douglas W.T. Smith’s take on characters

Douglas W.T. Smith wrote about characters, voice, and dialogue in his April 9, 2019 blog post, https://dwtsmith.wordpress.com/2019/04/09/five-ways-to-improve-your-characters-voice-and-dialogue/.  He states something important about characters and dialogue:  “Remember, if the dialogue doesn’t advance the plot, give insight into characters, or show relationships between characters, it should be deleted.”

Mr. Smith goes on to talk about how a writer can make characters distinguishable by giving each one a unique speech pattern or word choice. From there he reminds the aspiring writer that all dialogue in a novel should be necessary and should move the story forward; otherwise, it is unnecessary.

Some things are better told through narrative. Mr. Smith writes, “Use dialogue when it’s needed – when it will show relationships or reveal character or plot the way no other tool will.”


Back to Louise Harnby

Related to that last quote from Douglas W.T. Smith, is this comment Louise Harnby made in https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog/writing-dialogue-and-thoughts-8-problems-and-how-to-fix-them­­­­­:  “Dialogue should be purposeful. If you’re using it to introduce information, have the characters seek answers to questions they don’t know the answers to. Unveil backstory that’s known to the speakers through the narrator, not the speech.”


Author and Writing Instructor Janice Hardy’s take on characters

Janice Hardy’s April 30, 2014 blog post, http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/04/five-ways-to-create-likable-characters.html, is titled “Five Ways to Create Likable Characters.”  This brings up a whole other aspect of characterization. As if making each character look and sound different from every other character weren’t enough, a novelist needs to make most of their characters likeable.

Ms. Hardy prefaces her list of five ways to create likable characters by cautioning writers not make the characters perfect. She says, “There’s a fine–and often moving–line between likable and perfect, which can make it difficult to create a well-balanced likable character.”

Ms. Hardy’s blog post goes into detail about how to make a character likable and how to make each character distinguishable, so please click on the link above and read her entire post if you want to learn more.


Until my next blog post

At my own risk, I’m announcing that my blog post next Monday will be a continuation of today’s. If the topic doesn’t interest you, please check in again in two weeks when I’ll write about some of the books I’ve read in February.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende while I’m partially-incapacitated with my fractured leg.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. I hope you’ll visit it every week to see what I’m up to.


Let’s continue the conversation

Do you prefer to read plot-driven novels or character-driven novels? If you’re a writer, which do you prefer to write?

Janet

Three More Books I Read in January 2020

Today’s blog post is a follow up to last Monday’s. I read six books in January and I’ve split them up between last week’s blog and today’s. I hope you’ll find a book among the six that piques your interest.


The Sins of the Father, by Jeffrey Archer

Book Two in Jeffrey Archer's Clifton Series, The Sins of the Father.

I only have myself to blame. Why I thought it was a good idea to read the second book in Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles Series before reading the first book, Only Time Will Tell, is a mystery. The Sins of the Father ended with a cliff hanger that compels me to read the third book in the series, Best Kept Secret; however, I feel even more compelled to read Only Time Will Tell next.

The Sins of the Father is based on the premise that Harry Clifton assumes the identity of another sailor during World War II. He lands in an American jail for this offense. Meanwhile, Giles Barrington is assumed to be the heir to the Barrington estate. Harry’s love, Emma Barrington, gives birth to a son whose parentage is a mystery. Harry’s parentage is also in question. Who will inherit the Barrington estate? Will the real Harry Clifton please stand up? Not in The Sins of the Father. The case of which man is the lawful inheritor of the estate goes to court, but court is adjourned in the last sentence of The Sins of the Father, without a verdict declared.

This was an enjoyable read for me. Working through my to-be-read list, I’ll eventually get to Only Time Will Tell and then to the remaining five books in the Clifton Chronicles.

Let this be a lesson for me:  Always start reading a fiction series by reading the first book in the series!


Keeping Lucy, by T. Greenwood

I must admit that I didn’t finish reading Keeping Lucy. It held much promise. The scenario is a woman gives birth in 1969 to a Down’s Syndrome infant girl. While she is recovering from a hard delivery, her husband and father-in-law secretly have the days old infant moved to a institution that “cares” for such children.

That secret arrangement goes over with the mother like a lead balloon. I enjoyed the book to that point and was eager to see what happened. Unfortunately, I stopped liking the mother. For starters, she didn’t try to see her daughter for two years. What mother would let her husband dictate that?

Spoiler alert:  when the mother finally goes to see the two-year-old daughter without telling her husband, she finds the toddler is a victim of horrendous neglect. I won’t go into the gory details, but things were really bad. The mother checks Lucy out of the institution for a long weekend but vows she will never take her back to the facility.

I was trying to forgive the mother for not visiting her daughter for two years, but instead of taking Lucy to a pediatrician or an emergency room and reporting the abuse to the authorities, she tries a home remedy to purge Lucy of the parasites with which she is infected. This is a mother who is financially very comfortable. She doesn’t take the action I think any mother would take because Lucy isn’t on the family’s health insurance policy.

That’s when I had to close the book. I was disappointed. I liked an earlier novel by T. Greenwood, Where I Lost Her. I wrote favorably about it in my May 2, 2017 blog post, “What I Read in April.” (I can’t seem to make a clickable link to that post today.) Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I read the first 14 chapters of Keeping Lucy. I really wanted to like it.


Twisted Twenty-Six, by Janet Evanovich

Years ago, I enjoyed reading the first 15 to 20 books of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Either I’ve aged out or just become bored with Stephanie Plum’s escapades. The latest books in this series just haven’t made me chuckle, much less laugh out loud like her earlier books did. I’ll probably not read the 27th book in this series.


The Broker, by John Grisham

I’ve read only 18 of John Grisham’s novels, so I’m still playing catch-up. The Broker was published in 2005, so many of you read it a long time ago.

In this suspense novel, Joel Backman is “the broker.” He has ended up in prison for hacking into a spy satellite system the US didn’t know about. After six years of incarceration, the government decides he can do them more good on the outside than in prison.

The out-going US president grants Backman a pardon hours before leaving office. Backman is whisked out of the country, where he is to live out his life in something similar to the Witness Protection Program. Notice I said “similar.”

Spoiler alert: In truth, the whole thing is a CIA setup. The bad guys track Backman down. They are supposed to kill him.


Since my last blog post

I’ve spent the last two weeks either in bed or in a chair with my leg in an immobilizer. I’ve tried reading other blogs on my tablet and leaving a few comments, but our internet service isn’t the best. Sometimes it works better than other times. It’s frustrating after being used to using the desktop computer. That’s where I am for a few minutes, so I can finish writing this post and get it scheduled to go out.


Until my next blog post

I’ll have more x-rays and see what the orthopedic doctor has to say about my fractured leg. I’m not in pain, which is an encouraging blessing. I’m growing weary of the immobilizer and not being able to put any weight on that leg. I need some patience, and I need it NOW!

I have a good caregiver, and for the foreseeable future I don’t have to cook or wash dishes. There’s the silver lining! My planned blog posts the next two weeks is about characterization in fiction. I’ve worked on these posts off and on for a while. If I can get the material pulled together and edited to my satisfaction, that’s what I’ll post on February 17 and 24. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll try to come up with something else that won’t bore you to tears.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Diane Chamberlain’s new novel, Big Lies in a Small Town.

If you’re an artist or writer, I hope you have quality work time this week.

Thank you for reading my blog. You have many demands on your time, so I appreciate your taking a few minutes to read my blog. If you like what you see, please share my blog with your friends.

Janet

Contentment and Peace in 2020

Photo by Paul M on Unsplash

I’ve tried to camouflage my New Year’s Resolutions by calling this blog post “A Look Ahead to 2020” or “Physical, Spiritual, and Emotional Balance in 2020,” and finally, “Contentment and Peace in 2020.” I’m sure no one was fooled. 

The title “A Look Ahead to 2020” seemed less daunting, less frightening, less set in concrete than “My New Year’s Resolutions.” “Physical, Spiritual, and Emotional Balance in 2020” sounded too braggadocious.

The more time I spent contemplating and writing today’s blog post, I realized that by addressing four or five areas of my life, perhaps I can find a higher level of peace and contentment 2020. I concluded that is “the bottom line.” That is what I’m trying to attain in the new year.

I live in a peaceful community and a peaceful home. I’m on solid ground in my faith. I don’t yearn to have material riches. As long as I have the basic necessities for life, in that regard, I am content.

What are some things I can address in 2020 in order to find a higher level of contentment and peace?


Get My To Be Read (TBR) List Under Control

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

There are 302 books on my “want to read” list on Goodreads.com. This is ridiculous! Back in October, I read a good blog post about how to attack one’s TBR. We’ve followed each other’s blogs for a year or so. She is black; I am white. She is a young adult college student; I’m 66 years old. What we have in common is a love of books.

On October 14, 2019 she wrote the tenth in a series of blog posts about tackling her TBR. I should have heeded her advice that very day, but I have procrastinated. (No one who knows me well will be surprised by that admission!)

Her October 14 blog, https://educatednegra.blog/2019/10/14/down-the-tbr-hole-10/comment-page-1/#comment-3704, resonated with me. I like her suggestion for purging one’s TBR by reading the Goodreads synopsis of a few books at a time on your TBR. After reading the synopsis, you’re bound to be able to delete some of the books from your list. As I scan down my TBR, there are many books there for which I have no idea now why I ever put them on my list. If I no longer know why a book is on the list, perhaps it’s time to delete it and get rid of the clutter.

If you haven’t discovered the beauty of Goodreads.com, I invite you to check it out the first chance you get. It’s a place where readers and writers cross paths and readers like you and I (not professional book reviewers) rate books on a one- to five-star scale and can leave an optional review. You can keep a list of books you want to read and a list of the books you’ve read.

Conclusion: Zone in on what I want to read.


Find My Niche as a Blogger

Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

The title of my blog is “Janet’s Writing Blog,” but it seems like more and more it has become a blog about my reading to the neglect of my writing. That is a direct reflection of my life this fall as I spent more and more time reading and less and less time writing.

By falling into the habit of blogging about the books I read one or two Mondays each month, my reading for pleasure has almost become my job. I refuse to let that happen! To address this in 2020, I need to reevaluate how I approach my blog. This is not a contest. The one who reads the most books does not win.

I usually challenge myself to read a certain number of books each year. It gives me a good feeling for a few seconds when I reach my goal; however, I’m setting myself up for failure by making a goal of reading an arbitrary number of books. Why do that?

Conclusion: Make a new editorial calendar for my blog for 2020. Would my blog posts be of higher quality if I blogged twice-a-month instead of four- or five-times-a-month?


Get My Novel on the Road to Publication

Those of you who have followed my blog for the last decade have probably given up on ever seeing my novel as a real book you can hold in your hands and read. You aren’t alone. Many days it seems like a “pipe dream” to me.

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

“Get my novel on the road to publication” can mean many things. What that meant to me a year ago was the following:  get my novel manuscript into the hands of a literary agent who will put it in the hands of a publisher. After all, I’m not getting any younger.

Over the last several months I’ve started questioning my motives. Few authors get rich. I don’t aspire to become rich. I’m content to have what I need to live a life free of fear of ending up homeless and free of worry of being a burden to my family.

What I have come to realize recently is that I am equally afraid of failure and success. Does that sound crazy? I fear rejection, which is inevitable. My fear of success, though, is equal to – if not stronger than – my fear of failure.

My fear of success stems from my physical health and limitations. When my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, was published in 2014, I pushed myself to make presentations at libraries and bookstores and to make “cold calls” at bookstores to introduce my book to store management. I traveled throughout the piedmont and mountains of North Carolina doing that. Do I have the energy now to do that again?

What publication of my novel looked like for the last 10 years might not be what it looks like in 2020. I’m working through that.

Conclusion:  Ask myself WHY I want my novel to be published. Figure out what my novel can look like without the pressure of meeting deadlines set by a publisher. I’ve shied away from self-publishing because I wanted the stamp of approval of a “real publisher.” Self-publishing deserves my attention as a viable option. I need to get my novel published or stop talking about it.


Make Time for Hobbies

Photo by Jeff Wade on Unsplash

I have varied interests. Although I’m retired, I still can’t seem to find time to sew, quilt, play the dulcimer, work on genealogy, knit, crochet, do needlepoint, and cross-stitch. This needs to change.

Conclusion:  “Schedule” time for my hobbies instead of leaving them to chance. I’ll be a more interesting person if I do that.


Find Contentment and Peace

I seek contentment and peace. In the above list, one item sort of led to the next one. By the time I got to “Make Time for Hobbies,” I concluded that if I do what I’ve proposed today, I will surely find a higher level of contentment and peace in 2020.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark T. Sullivan. With only two of 14 discs remaining, I hate to see the book end.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and attain your writing goals – however small or large they may be.

Thank you for reading my blog today. You had many things vying for your time, but you took a few minutes to read my blog. Thank you!


Let’s continue the conversation

How do you feel about New Year’s Resolutions?

What brings you contentment and peace?

I wish for each of you to have contentment and peace in 2020.

Janet

#OnThisDay: The Battle of the Bulge began

Today is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes region of Belgium in the European Theatre of World War II.

In my short blog post I will not attempt to give an in-depth analysis of the Battle of the Bulge. That would be ridiculous, impossible, and well beyond my abilities. I will merely highlight a few facts and pay tribute to my Uncle Rozzelle, who participated as a member of the United States Army in that awful winter battle.

Also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, it was the last major offensive campaign by Germany on the Western Front during World War II. Great Britain Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it “the greatest American battle of the war.”

The Boston Globe reported last Wednesday https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/12/11/wwii-veterans-head-belgium-commemorate-anniversary-battle-bulge/LwtvSgw7iBx0jhTAWgJAbI/story.html that 17 World War II veterans from across the United States had flown out of Boston for France that day in order to participate in the 75th anniversary ceremonies. Their itinerary includes the dedication of a monument plate at the Bastogne War Museum in Belgium in memory of those who were killed in the Battle of the Bulge.

Battle of the Bulge Statistics

The Battle of the Bulge was fought along an 80-mile front from southern Belgium, through the Ardennes Forest to the middle of Luxembourg. Some 600,000 Germans, 500,000 American, and 55,000 British troops took part in the battle, which lasted until January 25, 1945.

Casualties were high in the battle. The Allies suffered 20,876 killed, 42, 893 wounded, and 23,554 captured or missing. German losses were equally high, with 15,652 killed, 41,600 wounded, and 27,582 captured or missing.

Environmental Conditions of the Battle

Photo by Viktor Omy on Unsplash

Casualty figures don’t provide the whole picture, though. Conditions on the battlefield were extreme and physically and mentally trying. There was an average of eight inches of snow on the ground and the average temperature was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit/-7 Celsius.

Bad weather grounded US planes at the beginning of the battle, giving Germany an early advantage in addition to the edge the Nazis had due to the surprise launch of the attack in the pre-dawn hours on December 16, 1944.

The Ardennes Forest is a mix of deciduous trees such as oak, poplar, willow, acacia, and birch.

Source of the Battle’s Name

The Germans pushed through the Allies’ defensive line, creating a wedge or “bulge” in the Allied position in the Ardennes forest area.

Most Famous Quote from the Battle

General Anthony Clement McAuliffe was the acting commander of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division troops that were defending the city of Bastogne, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. When the Germans asked if the Americans wanted to surrender, Gen. McAuliffe is quoted as responding, “Nuts!”

Outcome of the Battle

Germany lost men and materiel in numbers from which it was unable to recover.

Significance of the Battle of the Bulge

It is believed that the Battle of the Bulge brought an end to World War II in Europe faster than it would have happened otherwise. It was the last major Nazi offensive of World War II and Germany’s last attempt to push the Allies out of mainland Europe.

A few words about Uncle Rozzelle

After this somewhat sterile statistical description of the Battle of the Bulge, I’ll now attempt to put a human face on it.

I never heard my Uncle Rozzelle talk about his experiences in World War II. My mother recalled that the main thing he ever talked about was being so very cold in a wet foxhole during the Battle of the Bulge. He ended up in a hospital in France and was then transferred to a hospital in England.

When I think about the Battle of the Bulge, the image I have in my head is my 29-year-old Uncle Rozzelle almost freezing to death in a foxhole.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Time Zones, Mickey Mouse, Push-Button Phones, & Daguerrerotype?

Occasionally, I write about little-known facts in history. These sometimes fall on the anniversary of the event. Today’s blog post falls on the 136th anniversary of railroads adopting standard time zones in the United States. It’s Mickey Mouse’s 91st birthday, and it was 56 years ago today that the first push-button telephones went into service for the first time as an alternative to rotary-dial phones. This is the 230th anniversary of the birth of Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre.

Mickey Mouse

Walt Disney’s first animated cartoon talking picture, Steamboat Willie, debuted at the Colony Theatre in New York City on November 18, 1928. It was also Mickey Mouse’s debut. The rest, as they say, is history.

Push-Button Telephones

As stated above, push-button telephone service was introduced on November 18, 1963. There was a catch, though. That service was only available in Carnegie and Greensburg, Pennsylvania in the beginning. “Touch Tone” service was available for a fee.

It took a while for this new-fangled technology to reach rural North Carolina where I lived. In 1963, I think our family was on a 10- or 12-party line and we definitely still had a rotary phone.

Daguerreotype

Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre was born in France on November 18, 1789. He was a “Jack of all trades” or – perhaps more-accurately, a master of all trades. He was a physicist, a tax collector, a scene painter for theaters, and the inventor of the daguerrerotype photographic process.

Standard US Time Zones

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash.com

In an era when time can be measured in nanoseconds, jiffies, zeptoseconds, and yactoseconds, I think the advent of standard time zones deserves a few minutes of our time today. It was on November 18, 1883 that the railroads in the United States put into practice the four time zones of 15 degrees each that Charles Ferdinand Dowd had first proposed.

Can you imagine what it was like before time zones were standardized? Even after the railroads adopted standard time zones in 1883, localities were not required to follow suit. In fact, it wasn’t until 1918 that the Standard Time Act was passed, setting four standard time zones in the United States.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett and The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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.

Janet

A New Favorite Novel?

A New Favorite Novel?

What a great time I had reading books in October! Many books are published in the fall of the year. I’d been on the waitlist for months for some of those books as well as others. Of course, they all became available at the same time. “Too many books, too little time” kicked in big time!

Today’s blog post is about what is possibly my new favorite book and one of the other books I read in October. My blog post next Monday will catch you up on the other books I read last month.

The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali

I can’t say enough about this book! It just may be my new favorite novel. This is a story that will stay with me forever. It is a tragic story in many ways, but oh how lovely! I listened to it on CD. Mozhan Marno did a superb job reading it.

The Stationery Shop, by Marjan Kamali

This historical novel takes us back to 1953 in Tehran, Iran. There is a chance meeting between a young man and a young woman in a stationery shop where books are also sold. Since the young man’s mother has already selected the woman she wants her son to marry, she is none too happy when he announces his plans to marry this woman of lower economic status he met at the stationery shop.

Marjan Kamali includes just enough 20th century Iranian history to set the stage for this story of love, betrayal, and a never-ending love between two people. You will discover connections between different characters as you read. It is a rich book, beautifully written.

I’m eager now to read Marjan Kamali’s debut novel, Together Tea, and I can’t wait to see what she writes for us next!


The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker

This book was a big surprise. I read that Olivia Hawker had a new book, One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, coming out on October 8. I’m on the waitlist at the library for it. One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow sounded interesting, so I looked to see what else she had written.

I listened to her first book, The Ragged Edge of Night, on CD. It was beautifully written, and I learned from the notes at the end of the book that it was based on a true story from Ms. Hawker’s husband’s family. It was beautifully read by Nick Sandys and the author, Olivia Hawker.

The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker

This book contained some of the most moving and beautiful prose of any novel I’ve read. The premise of the book is that Elisabeth Herter, a widow with three children, is looking for a man to help her with the responsibility of raising her three children. Along comes Anton Starzmann, a former Franciscan friar who has been stripped of his occupation and his school by the Nazis in 1942 Germany.

Elisabeth and Anton start corresponding. They meet in person and agree to marry. Anton cannot father children due to an injury, but that suits Elisabeth just fine. They will marry, be companions, and raise her children. These are desperate times.

That’s the plot, and it’s a beautiful story. What struck me about The Ragged Edge of Night was how Olivia Hawker wrote Anton’s gut-wrenching fear that Hitler and the Nazis were entrenched until the end of time so beautifully that I was brought to tears. Through her writing, Ms. Hawker put me in Hitler’s Germany. Even though I knew Hitler was brought down in the end, she put me in 1942 when I had no way of knowing that.

That’s what good historical fiction does. It puts you in the story and in the time and place, so you don’t know what the future holds.

I wish I could quote extensively from the book in order to give you the true flavor of the prose, but I’ll settle for the following few sentences from Anton’s point-of-view as he implores God to help him make sense of what is happening in Germany in 1942. This prose I found so beautiful is in chapter six. Here’s a chopped-up transcript from that chapter:

“The bells will ring, even after The Reich has fallen. Everything that is in me that is sensible, everything that is rational can’t believe it’s true. The Reich will never fall…. But when in moments of quiet, in my stillness of despair, I dare to ask what yet may be…. Christ Jesus, I always believed you were merciful, but this is a monstrous cruelty to make me dream of a time when evil may fall…. I cannot help but know it, against all sense, I believe somewhere beyond the ragged edge of night, light bleeds into this world.”

From Chapter 6, The Ragged Edge of Night, by Olivia Hawker

I hope those six sentences I pulled out of a long prayer I transcribed from the CD entice you to read the book. Writers are advised to put the reader in the scene. This, to me, is a prime example of just that.

My only criticisms of the CD are (1) Every time the children in the story spoke, it was at full blast and (2) Some of the audio segments were longer than 30 minutes. The wide range of volume is an irritating and uncomfortable situation for people who are hearing-impaired. The excessively long audio segments present a problem on some CD players. More than once when I couldn’t listen to the end of a segment, I had to listen to the entire segment a second time in order to get to the end of it.


Since my last blog post

A fibromyalgia flare has knocked the props out from under me as we transition from summer into winter. (I think we often just skip right over fall here in North Carolina.) Eye pain has forced me to listen to books more than read them.

As you know, listening to books is not my reading format of choice. It’s going better than I expected, though. In fact, I believe listening to the CD recording of The Ragged Edge of Night possibly gave me a richer reading experience than I would have had if I’d read the words myself. That astounds me and gives me a new appreciation for audio books.

I want to read The Stationery Shop and The Ragged Edge of Night again. It’s rare that I find a book that I want to read a second time.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Heads You Win, by Jeffrey Archer­­­­­­­­­­­­­­.

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 be shy – share this blog post on social media.


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always interested to know what my blog readers are reading. Please share that in the comments below or on my social media platforms.

Janet

Great Smoky Mountains, Revisited! (Part 2 of 2)

Today’s blog post is a continuation of my blog post last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/10/21/great-smoky-mountains-revisited-part-1-of-2/. It is about my recent trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is illustrated with pictures of several of the postcards included in my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and photographs I took on my trip in September.


Black Bears!

Here’s a picture of one of the many black bear postcards in my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

PHOTO OF LINEN-FINISH POSTCARD OF A BLACK BEAR IN GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

And here are pictures of the bears I saw on this trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. The first picture is of a black bear, probably about two years old, after it crossed the road in front of our car. It completely ignored us, which was fine with us! (All these bear photos were taken from inside our car and using the zoom feature on my cell phone camera. As I stated in last Monday’s blog post, it’s against the law to willingly get within 150 feet of an elk or black bear in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)

#BlackBears in #GSMNP
BLACK BEAR, PERHAPS TWO YEARS OLD, PHOTOGRAPHED IN GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS, 2019
#blackbears in #GSMNP
WELL-CAMOUFLAGED FEMALE BLACK BEAR IN GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK. HER TWO CUBS WERE IN THE BUSHES UP THE MOUNTAINSIDE.

If the car in front of us hadn’t stopped, we might have driven right by this mother bear and her two cubs. The mother was down in a ditch. After a couple of minutes, her two cubs came running down the hill. It was difficult to get good pictures due to the trees and undergrowth.


November 2016 Fire Damage

One of the iconic places in the park is Chimney Tops. I was sad to see that the late November 2016 wildfires had engulfed this double-peaked mountain in Swain County, North Carolina. The “up side” is that today the granite folds and rough edges of Chimney Tops are visible because the trees on the mountain were destroyed in the fires.

Here, I compare the photographs I took in September 2019 with a 1936 real photograph postcard I used in my vintage postcard book:

Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Picture of a 1936 real photograph postcard of “Newfound Gap Highway” and “Chimney Tops.”
#ChimneyTops #Wildfire damage from 2016 as photographed in 2019
Chimney Tops in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in September 2019, still recovering from 2016 wildfires.
Mountainside vegetation burned off this mountain in 2016 #wildfires.
This mountainside, scarred by the 2016 wildfires, now shows off the rough, rocky folds that trees hid before the fires.
Evidence of more 2016 fire damage in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Clouds in a Valley

Valley #cloud in #GSMNP
Cloud in a valley in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on September 15, 2019.

We were in the right place at the right time for this photo of white clouds down in a valley in the park.


Why are they called the Great Smoky Mountains?

As I stated in my book, “The Great Smoky Mountains are called “smoky” due to the fog that rises from the valleys and mountainsides.”

These mountains were suffering under drought conditions when I visited the park in September 2019. August, September, and early October were very dry. My sister and I couldn’t help but notice there was very little of the typical wisps of fog when we were there a month ago. In fact, we only saw a little of it on our last day in the park. Here’s a photograph I took, but it isn’t a good representation of the multitude of wisps of fog that gave this sub-range of the Appalachian Mountains their name.

How the Great Smoky Mountains got their name.
A fair, but not great, example of how the Great Smoky Mountains got their name. Photo taken in September 2019.

Summary

I hope you can hear the babbling brooks and smell the wildflowers of Great Smoky Mountains National Park sometime. It is truly a national treasure. In fact, it is a global treasure. I’m fortunate to live just a few hours from this national park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park was designated a World Heritage Site in 1983.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the men who served in the Civilian Conservation Corps and helped build Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Unlike many national parks in the United States, no admission fees are charged for entrance into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many families were displaced when the park land was purchased. Before agreeing to sell their land to the U.S. Government, those families (most of whom were poor farmers) made the government agree that no admission to the park would ever be charged.


Since my last blog post

Since my last blog post, my sister and I spent several days on the coast of South Carolina. We enjoyed fresh seafood in Calabash, North Carolina.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri.

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

Have you visited the Great Smoky Mountains? If so, what were your impressions of it? What was the highlight of your trip?


The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina on the shelf at Lake Junaluska Bookstore.

As I stated in my blog post last Monday, https://janetswritingblog.com/2019/10/21/great-smoky-mountains-revisited-part-1-of-2/, I hate to “blow my own horn,” but I’d be remiss 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 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. Paperback copies are available from the publisher at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/, at quality bookstores, or from me personally.

Janet