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

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