Where do you stand on cursive writing?

As promised last week, today my blog is about the third book I read in March. It’s about the history of handwriting and the debate over whether children today should be taught cursive writing. I say, “Yes!” and I’ll explain why later.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden on unsplash.com

The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, by Anne Trubek

“Put your John Hancock here.” How many times have we of a certain age heard that? We, of course, immediately know that is a euphemism for our signature. But does a child of the 21st century know that? I understand that children today don’t have a clue what “clockwise” or “counterclockwise” mean. Yikes!

I discovered The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, by Anne Trubek while looking for a different book. I found this 154-page book fascinating and thought-provoking.

Trubek meticulously takes the reader on a journey through history. She shares facts about cuneiform and hieroglyphics. (Did you know that most cuneiform clay tablets can fit in your hand? In photographs, they look huge.) She explains how tedious and time-consuming it was for Sumerians to learn how to write and the hours people in ancient oral-based civilizations spent on memorization.

Egyptians invented writing on papyrus. When the Greeks adopted that practice, though, their papyrus was inferior and their scrolls were smaller. (Did you know that the size of ancient Greek scrolls has a bearing on literature today? For instance, the size of a scroll dictated the length of a play. Who knew?)

Socrates was anti-writing. He maintained that if people learned how to write, they’d lose their skill for remembering the spoken word. There’s probably some truth to that.

People in oral civilizations couldn’t look things up like we can today, so they developed elaborate mnemonics and also used additive structure (and… and… and) to help them remember important things. An example of this can be found in the Book of Genesis in The Bible: “In the beginning God created… and… and….”

It was the Romans who stopped using papyrus and started using parchment. Parchment made it easier to make books. Trubek says that bookstores had been established in Rome by the first century B.C.E. Take a moment to visualize that. It makes me smile.

Trubek talks about the development of the various scripts and the high-esteem held for scribes back in the day. She points out that the invention of the printing press put scribes out of business; however, the ones with good penmanship reinvented themselves and traveled around offering handwriting schools.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading handwritten documents from the 1700s and 1800s. I admire the elaborate and visually beautiful handwriting of the 1800s; however, it is sometimes difficult to decipher. One of the most interesting parts of Trubek’s book was about the evolution of handwriting in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although I’ve admired the lovely handwriting of the 1800s, I’d never researched why and how it was replaced with our contemporary handwriting.

Briefly, Platt Rogers Spencer developed that flowing, fancy script we associate with the 1800s. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, think about the Coca-Cola logo. That’s an example of Spencerian script.) Spencer proclaimed that having good penmanship was a sign that you were a Christian, educated, and a proper person. His students were advised to practice their penmanship six to twelve hours a day. (I’m sorry, Mr. Spencer, but life’s too short!)

Part of a page from my great-grandfather’s 1912 daybook

I’m reminded that in my great-grandfather’s daybooks from the 1890s and first decade of the 1900s, he occasionally mentioned that his children or grandchildren had gone to writing school that evening. That writing school was conducted at night in the Pine Hill one-room schoolhouse in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Notice the curly-ques Great-Grandpa made in his capital F and capital W. Also, he randomly capitalized words. I learned from Trubek’s book that such practice was part of the Spencerian script.

A.N. Palmer came along and made modifications to Spencerian script after he went to work for the Iowa Railroad and saw how time-consuming it was for the employees to record all the details required by industrialization. He removed all the curly-ques required by Spencerian script and made handwriting much easier after 1920.

Trubek’s book also covers such things as the collecting of autographs, which started in the mid-1800s, and graphology, which was started by a French priest in the 1800s.

The science of analyzing handwriting for evidentiary purposes in a court of law has had to evolve over the years. One used to be able to use the force one’s fingers used to press typewriter keys to prove who typed a document. The wear and tear on the parts of a typewriter could prove on which typewriter a document was created.

Photo credit: Csabi Elter

Consider that for a moment. I’m showing my age, but I learned to type on a manual typewriter. Now, the justice system is faced with determining the true identity of a person who electronically “signs” his or her name. How things have changed in the last 50 years!

When I think about handwriting and how people rarely hand write letters today, it makes me sad. Last year, my sister and I assisted a 97-year-old friend who wanted to preserve the letters he and his wife wrote to one another during the Korean War. What a treasure those letters are! We organized the letters in chronological order and placed them in archival binders. Hopefully, some of his descendants will see the value in those letters. When people go off to war now, they can telephone and text their loved ones. Few of those communications are saved for posterity.

In her book, Trubek points out that if a child isn’t taught cursive writing by the fourth grade, an important window of opportunity will close. She says that it is by that age that a typical child needs to master cursive in order for him or her to achieve cognitive automaticity.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Trubeck says if cursive isn’t mastered by then, the child will continue to struggle with handwriting. It will forever be a skill the person has trouble with because they didn’t learn it early enough for it to become something they can do without thinking about it. She says the “up” side of this is that this child might be able to type faster than someone who is better at handwriting.

To that, I would say it’s a big price to pay. This person might be able to get a higher-paying job later on, but what if he or she grows up and wants to do historical research for pay or for fun?

Photo credit: Alessio Fiorentino

Not being able to read handwritten primary sources will definitely be a drawback. There’s no substitute for primary sources in historical or genealogical research. In my own genealogical research I’ve found many instances where names in census and other records have been misread when they’ve been converted to typed records. When the typed copies are taken for fact, misinformation is perpetuated.

In the arena of the debate over teaching cursive or not, I still come down on the side of teaching it for the very reason I just gave.

Do you think children should be taught cursive?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and why you come down on one side or the other. Or, perhaps you don’t have an opinion.

For my readers in other English-speaking countries

Is there a debate about continuing to teach children cursive writing in other English-speaking countries aside from the United States?

Since my last blog post

I borrowed another book about handwriting from the public library. Power Penmanship: An Illustrated Guide to Enhancing Your Image Through the Art of Handwriting Style, by Janet Ernst, helped me address several (well, actually, six letters I’d gotten a bit sloppy in writing.)

I blame taking shorthand in high school for ruining my handwriting. Since that was 50 years ago, I decided it was time to stop making excuses and start making corrections. After spending just 10 minutes a day for six consecutive days, I was able to see some improvement. I think we never get too old to try to improve something about ourselves.

After much brainstorming about the opening scenes in the historical novel I’m writing, The Heirloom (working title), I have started working on a new plot angle. I’d hoped to switch gears from brainstorming to rewriting those opening scenes last week, but my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in the UK) relapse continued to drastically limit my work. When my energy level is this low, it’s tempting to stop trying to write; however, I was feeling a little better by the time the weekend rolled around. I’m back to work on The Heirloom as of Saturday. My journey as a writer surely is bumpy!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have the energy to do all the things you need or want to do.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet

Two Books Read in March 2022

I finished reading three books last month. Each of them gave me a lot to think about, and I hope my comments will prompt you to read one of them.

I had so much I wanted to write about two of the books, that I thought everyone would get tired reading about them; therefore, I’ll save one of them for next week’s blog post.


And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella, by Fredrik Backman

Most people will think of A Man Called Ove, when they hear the name Fredrik Backman. The novella by him that I read in March is quite different from that full-length novel.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, by Fredrik Backman

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer takes you on a journey with a boy and his grandfather. The grandfather has dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, and he knows he’s losing his memories. The older man and the boy have an appreciation of math in common. They go out in a boat for fun and the boy knows his grandfather is depending on him to figure out how to get them home.

The book shows how memories get passed down from generation to generation and a boy becomes a man with children of his own. When the book ends, you’re not sure whose mind you’re in because the memories of one generation become the stories of the next generation, and so on.

Something I took away from this novella is the importance of sharing one’s memories with the people close to them and the importance of those people close to them taking the time to listen and remember. The day will come when you’ll wish you had paid attention and asked questions.

Most of us have been touched by Alzheimer’s Disease within our families and circle of friends. It’s a sad disease with no known cure. It’s a disease that ravages the caregivers as much as it does the person who actually has the disease.


The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History, by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman

Volcanoes have always fascinated me, so this book was “right down my alley.” I first heard about 1816 being called “the year without a summer” about 20 years ago. The premise of it stuck with me all these years, so I was pleased to discover William and Nicholas Klingaman’s book at the public library a few weeks ago.

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano the Darkened the World and Changed History, by William K Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman

On April 5, 1815, Mount Tambora – thought to be an extinct volcano — on the island of Sumbawa in the Indonesian archipelago erupted. The blast was heard more than 800 miles away on Java. It’s subsequent eruption on April 10 was even more violent.

That second eruption was heard on Sumatra, which is more than 1,000 miles from Mount Tambora. The top 3,000 feet of the volcano was blown off, leaving a three-mile-wide crater one-half mile deep. It is thought that ash rose 25 miles high where the wind spread it in all directions. A tsunami reached eastern Java around midnight and earth tremors were felt there 18 hours after the eruption.

It is thought that Mount Tambora was the largest volcanic eruption in the last 2,000 years. Volcanoes are measured by the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), which works much like the Richter Scale we’re all familiar with for measuring earthquakes. Each step on the VEI equals 10 times the magnitude of the preceding step. Tambora gets a 7 on the VEI, making it 100 times stronger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

As one might suspect from the name of the book, the eruption of Mount Tambora affected weather worldwide, although contemporary documentation is more readily available from North America and Europe than other continents.

Not only were record snowfalls reported in Europe, but the snow was red and yellow. Imagine how unsettling that was! Brilliant red, purple, and orange sunsets were much written about in London.

Quoting from the book: “In fact, scientists have taken advantage of this effect by using the amount of red in contemporary paintings of sunsets to estimate the intensity of volcanic eruptions. Several Greek scientists, led by C.S. Zerefos, digitally measured the amount of red – relative to the other primary colors – in more than 550 samples of landscape art by 181 artists from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries to produce estimates of the amount of volcanic ash in the air at various times. Paintings from the years following the Tambora eruption used the most red paint; those after Krakatoa came in a close second.” (Krakatoa in Indonesia erupted in 1883.)

I’ll share a few specific examples from the book to illustrate how the weather was affected by Tambora.

May 1816: 6 inches of snow in parts of New York; frost in Tennessee and Richmond, VA. Snow in Vermont in late May.

June 6-9, 1816: Snow in Quebec, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts; Arctic air plunged into the Carolinas. Snow in Lancashire in England. Erratic temperatures in New England, with snow one week, 100 degrees F. the next, and frost the following week.

July 6, 1816: Snow in Montreal. Frost from Maine to Virginia on July 8.

August 29, 1816: Heavy frost in South Carolina. A man in Danville, North Carolina wrote that his fields were white with frost and he had recently visited Mecklenburg County, NC and the cold and drought had left fields from there to the Savannah River bare.

Feb. 14, 1817: It was 30 degrees F. below zero at Dartmouth College and ice was 25 inches thick on the Potomac River at Alexandria, Virginia.

As one would expect, crops failed in Canada, the United States, and throughout Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people starved to death in Europe. Prices for food and grain for human and livestock consumption skyrocketed.

Various theories arose as people tried to figure out the cause of the cold weather. Self-appointed prophets predicted that the world would end on July 18, 1816.

Many families moved from New England to Ohio and Indiana in hopes of better farming conditions. Joseph Smith, father of Joseph Smith, Jr. who founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, moved his family from Vermont to Palmyra, New York. It was there that Joseph Smith, Jr. had his visions. An interesting aside to the story is that after referencing the Messrs. Klingaman’s book in passing in my blog post two or three weeks ago, I was contacted by a descendant of Mr. Smith who inquired if the Smiths were mentioned in the book. Indeed, they are, on pages 119 and again in some detail on page 280.

In addition to the way global weather was affected by the eruption of Mount Tambora, the thing that really caught my attention was how the eruption was heard hundreds of miles away. In the Epilogue, Messrs. Klingaman say that when Krakatoa erupted in 1883, the explosion was heard in Perth in southwest Australia, which is more than 2,200 miles away!

By the way, Tambora is still active. It has erupted several times since 1815 – and as recently as 1967.

I wish I’d been told about Mount Tambora in history class.


Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading and also watching a lot of basketball. The North Carolina State University women’s basketball team gave the University of Connecticut a run for their money on Monday night in a game that went into double overtime. UCONN came out of top in the end and advanced to the “Final Four.”

And only in a North Carolinian’s dreams could the men’s “Final Four” pit the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill against Duke University. That much-anticipated game was played on Saturday night. It was a typical UNC-Duke game, and it was a shame that one of the teams had to lose.

If you aren’t a college basketball fan, please overlook my going on and on about this, but I’m a North Carolinian and we take our college basketball very seriously.

I continue to work my way through Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out, by Jennie Nash as I tweak the plot for The Heirloom.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. At the recommendation of author A.J. Mayhew, I’m reading Writing the Blockbuster Novel, by Albert Zuckerman, and at the recommendation of Mr. Zuckerman, I’m reading The Man from St. Petersburg, by Ken Follett.

Make time to enjoy a hobby.

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine.

Janet

Three Books Read in February 2022

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you know February was not an easy month for me. Various events cut into my reading time, but today I’m writing about the books I read during that short month of 28 days. They represent three different genres. That’s appropriate because my reading interests are all over the place.


Violeta, by Isabel Allende

Violeta, by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is becoming one of my favorite novelists. I listened to her latest novels, Violeta, on CD and thoroughly enjoyed it. I listened to the English translation of the Spanish original.

Violeta is written in the form of a letter to Violeta’s adult grandson and follows Violeta from her birth in 1920 during the Influenza Pandemic to the end of her life during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Born into a wealthy family, her father loses everything in the Great Depression which hits South America a little later than in the United States and Europe. The family loses their house and must move out into the hinterlands where they must adapt to life without luxuries such as electricity.

Woven into this story is a character who comes into Violeta’s life at an early age to serve as her English governess; however, it turns out the woman isn’t from England and isn’t at all what Violeta’s parents are expecting.

This is a delightful novel. Violeta would be a good Isabel Allende book for you to start with, if you’ve never read one of her novels. If you’ve read her other books, you know what a treat this one will be.


Our North Carolina Heritage, compiled by Charlotte Ivey Hastings, 1960

This book is well off the beaten path and one you probably can’t find. Just by happenstance, I purchased a copy dirt cheap at a public library used book sale several years ago. I added it to my to-be-read shelves and forgot about it.

I saw it on my bookshelf in February and decided to read it. It isn’t a history book that one can totally rely on for accuracy because it is a compilation of oral history stories. Many of them were written by junior high students.

However… (and that’s a huge HOWEVER), I found lots of little gems of North Carolina history in it that I’ve never seen or heard elsewhere. They are the bits of history that never made it into the history books but offer someone like me a jumping off point to do additional research.

One thing I was particularly glad to find was that the book gave information about a number of women and their bravery and contributions to the patriot cause in the American Revolution. Women have generally been omitted from the history books.

Here’s an example of something I don’t recall hearing or reading elsewhere: By the end of the 18th century, Jewish peddlers in North Carolina traded for eggs since they couldn’t easily come by Kosher meat.

The book reminds me of the series of local history books compiled in the 1960s by Mrs. Mabel Rumple Blume’s North Carolina history students at Harrisburg School in Harrisburg, NC. Every year for five or so years, Mrs. Blume’s students were sent out into the then rural Cabarrus County to interview the oldest residents to capture local history. The students won statewide first-place honors year after year for their books which covered general history, mail delivery and post offices, and grist mills. Much of that history would have been lost forever if not for Mrs. Blume and her students.

With that work in mind, I very much appreciated the contents of Our North Carolina Heritage. It made me sad that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library system had made the decision several years ago to weed the book from its collection and sell it for pennies. Sometimes people are put in positions of decision-making who don’t appreciate the true value of what they have.


The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

This nonfiction book was recommended by Jane Friedman in her January 11, 2022 article, “To Everyone Who Wants Me to Read Their Writing and Tell Them What to Do.” Here’s the link: (To Everyone Who Wants Me to Read Their Writing and Tell Them What to Do | Jane Friedman Ms. Friedman has never steered me wrong, so I checked it out of the public library.

The book is divided into the following three parts: “Resistance ~ Defining the Enemy;” “Combating Resistance ~ Turning Pro;” and “Beyond Resistance ~ The Higher Realm.”

Part One explains that, “Resistance is the enemy within” when we attempt to do something worthwhile. Mr. Pressfield wrote that the rule of thumb for resistance is, “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” We fear that inner resistance, but once we “Master that fear… we conquer resistance.”

Mr. Pressfield wrote that resistance is often manifested in the form of procrastination, which can become a habit.

In Part Two, Mr. Pressfield wrote that an artist must stop thinking of himself as an amateur and start seeing himself as a professional. He wrote, “A professional does not take failure (or success) personally.”

He also wrote, “A professional recognizes her limitations. She gets an agent, she gets a lawyer, she gets an accountant. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing.”

In Part Three, Mr. Pressfield wrote that we just do it. We do it every day. It’s work, and we do it. He also cautions artists from thinking of themselves in a hierarchy. In other words, art of all types is not a competition.


Since my last blog post

Every day has brought horrifying images of the suffering and destruction in Ukraine.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t receive an acknowledgement for some research advice I sought for the writing of my novel, but I won’t let that slow me down any longer. That’s life.

I got back to work on a project that relates to my church. I started it 20 years ago and it’s been on the back burner now for 15 years. I’ve been inventorying my unfinished projects lately. It’s overwhelming. I need to complete some, even if doing so cuts into my writing and reading time.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading an interesting book about 1816 – known as “The Year Without a Summer.”

May the world continue to condemn Vladimir Putin for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

Janet

Books Read in January 2022

I had the pleasure of reading a variety of books in January. Each one was interesting in its own way.

In my December 6, 2021 blog post, Books Read in November 2021, I made less-than-glowing remarks about Wiley Cash’s When Ghosts Come Home. I’m rectifying the situation today.

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

I owed it to myself and Wiley Cash to give this novel a second chance. I checked out the large print edition of the book from the public library in January and started reading it again. I’m so glad I did!

I think part of my problem in November was that I read the first chapter or two and didn’t get back to it for a week or so. Since the third chapter was about a new set of characters with no obvious connection to the characters in the first couple of chapters, the book sort of fell apart for me. I figured out the connection a little later, but by then I’d lost interest in the story.

Getting back to this novel in January was a real treat. I was able to give it enough attention in longer blocks of time to get into the storyline, make the connections, and care what happened to the characters.

I had to find out why Rodney Bellamy was at the airstrip that night. I had to find out what happened to Janelle’s kid brother, Jay. I had to know if Winston’s daughter, Colleen, was going to get her life back together after losing her baby. I had to find out how Winston, the county sheriff on the coast of North Carolina, got all the crimes and problems sorted out. I had to find out what part FBI Agent Tom Gross played in all this.

Determined to tie all the loose ends together, the end of the book kept me reading until 3:00 a.m. I’m back on track now with Wiley Cash and look forward to his next novel.

There is an element of racial tension woven throughout When Ghosts Come Home. The following is a very telling quote from the book. Ed Bellamy is referring to the white Marines he served alongside in Vietnam.

“But I knew something else my white buddies didn’t know: I knew what it meant to be hunted…. I still know what it means to be hunted. All these years later, we’re still being hunted.”

I’ve read all his earlier novels: A Land More Kind Than Home, The Dark Road to Mercy, and The Last Ballad.

I read A Land More Kind Than Home in 2015 before I started commenting other than mentioning the titles on my blog about the books I was reading.

In February 2016, I read The Dark Road to Mercy. Here’s the link to the blog post in which I commented on it: Some books I read in February

I commented on The Last Ballad in my blog post on November 6, 2017: Some Good New Books.


These Precious Days, by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days: Essays, by Ann Patchett

I was surprised when I looked back through my blog posts to find that this is the fifth Ann Patchett book I’ve read. I’ll give you the links to those earlier four blog posts in case you’d like to read what I had to say about her other books.

To refresh my memory and yours about the Ann Patchett books I’ve read, here are my nutshell descriptions and the links to the blog posts in which I wrote about them:

(1) The Getaway Car is a book in which Ms. Patchett humorously tells what she has learned about the craft and art of writing. What I read in February 2017

(2) State of Wonder is a novel set in Brazil. It involves a pharmaceutical firm in Minnesota and the jungle along the Amazon River. Some Great September Reads

(3) The Dutch House is about a dysfunctional family in which the mother leaves and never returns. There are many layers to this story and the house itself is as important as any character. I highly recommend you listen to the CD of this book which is read by Tom Hanks. I stretched my reading horizons in November

(4) Bel Canto is a novel based on the 1996 hostage situation at the home of an ambassador in Peru. Eight Books I Read in March 2020

(5) Commonwealth was a novel that didn’t grab my interest and I didn’t listen to all of it. It involved drunks at a christening party. I couldn’t identify with that. Books Read in May 2020

Ann Patchett is an essayist in addition to being a novelist. These formats take two different writing skills. She’s a master of both. I enjoyed listening to These Precious Days, which is a collection of essays. She reveals some of her past in an entertaining way and with humor. If you’re an Ann Patchett fan, you’ll love this book.

I connected with her on several levels in this book. We’re both writers, although she’s light years ahead of me. We both knit – or do so rarely and not as well as those knitting experts in Scotland. Neither of us have children to dote on or depend upon to help care for us in our dotage.

It is a book about friends and family and those ties that bind us and help us along through life’s ups and downs. It was one of those books that left me wanting more when it ended.


When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut; translated from Spanish into English by Adrian Nathan West

When We Cease to Understand the World, by Benjamin Labatut

My cousin, Jerome Williams, recommended this book. I failed to have it on my to-be-read list, although it was shortlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The author, Benjamin Labatut, is Chilean.

This novel reads like a nonfiction book. In it, Señor Labatut writes about various scientists and mathematicians who have had to wrestle with the moral ramifications of their discoveries. In some cases, their discoveries were meant for good but have been used as weapons of mass destruction and untold suffering. Some of these men lost their minds or were mentally tormented by the ways in which their discoveries were used.

There are unexpected twists and turns as years and decades pass, and we’re left to wonder what great wonders and what horrific demented uses of those great wonders lie in the future.

Thanks for the recommendation, Jerome. You have good taste in literature.


The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan

As I’ve mentioned before, this book isn’t a fast read. It’s a history book and it packs a tremendous amount of information and insight into its more than 600 pages. Trying to read the regular print edition was taxing on my eyes, so I got on the waitlist for the Kindle edition. I rose to the top of the list early in January and was eager to pick up where I’d left off in November.

Other books also reached the top of the library waitlists, though, and I was distracted. The Silk Road isn’t the kind of book you can read in snippets. I’ll keep reading it, probably throughout 2022.



Since my last blog post

I’ve been researching the Great Wagon Road and some of old trails associated with it. In case you’re interested in learning more about the Great Wagon Road, I recommend that you look at the PiedmontTrails.com website (https://piedmonttrails.com/) and look for Piedmont Trails on YouTube. Carol, who spearheads the Great Wagon Road Project, has lots of information that she freely shares. The Great Wagon Road Project is documenting the 800-mile wagon road that went from Pennsylvania to Augusta, Georgia in the 1700s and early 1800s.

I’m doing this research in conjunction with the historical novels I’m attempting to write. I had planned to start writing the rough draft of Book One with the working title The Heirloom, but there’s a technical issue with my computer regarding margins. I hesitate to start the rough draft until I can get my margins set at a reasonable setting. I’ve never had this problem before.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and a hobby to enjoy.

Stay safe and well.

Janet

5 Books I Didn’t Finish Reading in December 2021

I set out to blog about Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, “Common Sense,” which was published on this date in 1776. Common sense seems to be in short supply these days, so I thought the topic was appropriate; however, I opted for another topic.

Last week’s blog post was about the books I read in December. Today I’ll tell you about the books I attempted to read last month but, for various reasons, didn’t finish. The problem was me, so I wanted to share my thoughts about them. You might find a gem among them that you’ll enjoy reading.

Having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I find mental work just as tiring as physical activity. I quite honestly ran out of mental energy by the last week of December and had to face the facts of my circumstances.

I trudged to the public library and returned a tote bag full of books.


A Single Rose, by Muriel Barbery and translated from French by Alison Anderson

A Single Rose, by Muriel Barbery

I have fellow blogger Davida Chazan of Israel to thank for bringing this author and novella to my attention. She reviewed this book in her “The Chocolate Lady” blog post on September 14, 2021.

Ms. Barbery’s exquisite prose immediately immerses the reader in the beauty of Japan. It begins with a field of 1,000 peonies. Since the peony is one of my favorite flowers, I was hooked.

Rose is approaching her fortieth birthday when a lawyer summons her to Kyoto for the reading of her father’s will. She and her father have been estranged for many years, so Rose goes with many feelings of emptiness and foreboding.

However, her father has left an itinerary for his assistant to guide Rose through. The journey laid out by her father leads her to meet various people in his life and Rose comes to capture some of what she has missed out on due to the estrangement.

As Ms. Chazan wrote in her blog post (and I couldn’t have said it better,) the descriptive prose is written in a “sparse, yet extremely evocative style.”

I had to keep reminding myself that this was an English translation of a book originally written in French. I can’t read the original language, but it appears to me that the translator, Alison Anderson, did a meticulous job. The prose is extraordinary.

As with a few other books I wanted to read last month, I didn’t get to finish this one.

If you’d like to read Ms. Chazan’s full blogpost about this novella, here’s the link: https://tcl-bookreviews.com/2021/09/14/among-the-flowers-2/.


The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams

The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams

This historical novel is about the compilation of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and how dictionaries have historically been compiled by men. I don’t mean to throw all men “under the bus,” but it is something to consider. Men determined which words should be included in dictionaries and men determined their meanings.

The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams sheds light on how the Oxford English Dictionary was compiled around the turn of the 20th century by a handful of men who worked in a shed. Esme was a little girl who sat under their work table and gathered slips of paper the men let fall to the floor – sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident. Esme started collecting those slips of paper – those words – in secret and hiding them in a box owned by her household’s bondsmaid.

The book follows Esme from early childhood through early adulthood as she decides to make her own dictionary – a dictionary of lost words.

Spending too much time reading other books meant I didn’t finish reading The Dictionary of Lost Words before it disappeared from my Kindle and went back to that great library in cyberspace.

Reviews I’ve read have pointed out that the first third of the book moves rather slowly. I agree with that, as we follow Esme day in and day out as she goes to the shed – called the Scriptorium – to sit under the table. She eventually is old enough to be trusted with running errands to a library and to the press. She wants to know how books are physically made but finds that this isn’t work girls are supposed to be interested in.

That notion connects directly to the overall message of the novel. It’s the belief by men 100 years ago that women just weren’t cut out to be interested in or have the mental ability to work in many occupations. What a waste over the thousands of years of history! It boggles the mind, and it infuriates me that there are people – both men and women – who still hold to those misguided beliefs.

Don’t get me started!


The Stranger in the Lifeboat, by Mitch Albom

The Stranger in the Lifeboat, by Mitch Albom

I’ve enjoyed several of Mitch Albom’s books, but this one just didn’t make sense to me. Perhaps I’m just dense. I just made it through the first couple of chapters.


Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, by Diana Gabaldon

Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, by Diana Gabaldon

Whether it’s due to my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, my habit of trying to read too many books, the season of the year, or whatever… I just couldn’t read this 900-page novel. I love the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, but I had to throw in the towel after reading the first 200 pages of Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone.

It was me, not the book. I tried listening to it on CD, but my hearing problems made it too difficult to follow the accents. I checked out the book from the public library and started over. I was really drawn in by the continuing story of Jamie and Claire, but my eyes started to rebel. Life is too short.

I guess I’ll have to wait until the TV series catches up with the book.


Call Us What We Carry, by Amanda Gorman

Call Us What We Carry, by Amanda Gorman

I admit I’m not a big poetry reader. I wanted to like this book of poetry by Amanda Gorman after being impressed with her at the Inauguration of President Joe Biden; however, I just couldn’t get into it on the written page.


Since my last blog post

I’ve attempted to organize myself week-by-week to get some projects completed in 2022. I’m a list maker, so doing such a thing gives me a sense of accomplishment. Now, if I can only stick to this plan….

A few months ago, I paid a few dollars for InfoStack 4.0. It includes many online writing classes and writing webinars. Over the weekend, I finally got around to listening to the 3.5-hour webinar about writing a book series. It was fantastic and now I’m brainstorming using my novel-in-progress as the second book in a series. I don’t know if I can pull this off, but I won’t know until I try.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m giving When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash another chance. This time, it’s in large print. Also, I have Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World from the library on my Kindle.

The risk of catching Covid-19 has me more or less hibernating again (or should I say still?) The pandemic seems to never end, but I believe better days lie ahead.

Janet

Books Read in December 2021

December brought me too many books. What a nice problem to have! By the last week of the month, I felt overwhelmed and decided to return several unfinished books to the public library.

Here are my takeaways from the five books I finished reading last month.


Three Sisters, by Heather Morris

Three Sisters, by Heather Morris

Three Sisters is the third in a series of historical novels by Heather Morris, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of them. If you’re a fan of World War II-era historical fiction or, specifically, novels regarding the treatment of people of the Jewish faith during that era, you should try Heather Morris’ books.

In my November 5, 2018 blog post, Many Good Books Read in October!, I wrote about The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I wrote about Cilka’s Journey in my December 2, 2019 blog post, I stretched my reading horizons in November.

Like her first two novels, Three Sisters is about Jews surviving the Holocaust. Cibi, Magda, and Livia survive the horrors of Auschwitz and two of them go on to help build the new Jewish state of Israel after World War II.

Each of Ms. Morris’ books is a story of the indominable human spirit. Knowing they are based on true stories and real people make them all the more compelling. Two of the sisters in Three Sisters are still alive in their late 90s and living in Israel.


The City of Mist, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The City of Mist, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A cousin, Jerome Williams, introduced me to the writings of Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón a couple of years ago.  I read The Shadow of the Wind by Señor Zafón in November 2019 and wrote about it in my December 2, 2019 blog post, I stretched my reading horizons in November. (Sound familiar? That’s also when I read Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris.)

Señor Zafón died June 19, 2020, at the age of 55. He wrote the 11 short stories in The City of Mist for intended publication after his death. The book was published in November 2021.

The stories are, for the most part, set in Barcelona and are set at various times over the last 600 years. They are more macabre than I usually read, but I’d liked The Shadow of the Wind. When I discovered The City of Mist quite by accident while searching the online public library catalog for short stories, I immediately checked it out. I listened to the audiobook on Overdrive. It was excellently read.

If you enjoy short stories and don’t mind if they’re much on the dark side, you’d probably like The City of Mist. Though dark and often dealing with death, Señor Zafón’s sense of humor did come out several times in the collection. An example of his ability to slide a bit of humor into an otherwise serious story is the tenth story in the book, “Gaudi in Manhattan” in which he has a bit of fun with the English language.


Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, by Brené Brown

Atlas of the Heart, by Brene Brown

Brené Brown has a way of getting down to the nitty-gritty and expressing her thoughts and research in a way I think just about everyone can relate. Her latest book, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, helped me personally and helped me with my writing.

This book is about human emotions and behavior. She takes each one on individually, but the book is divided in chapters by groupings of those emotions.

The surprise for me was how the way she addressed certain emotions/behaviors played right into what I’m trying to convey in the novel I’m writing. I love when that happens.

Some of the things she writes about in this book shed light on some things going on in the political arena in the United States. She did this without calling names, but some passages helped me understand the actions of a certain past US President and his diehard followers. It didn’t make me feel any better about the recent past or the future, but it gave me some insight.


How to Write a Series: A Guide to Series Types and Structure Plus Troubleshooting Tips and Marketing Tactics, by Sara Rosett

How to Write a Series, by Sara Rosett

Fairly early on as I started working on my novel (working title either The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon), I started visualizing it as the first book in a series. Reading How to Write a Series…, by Sara Rosettlast month was quite helpful.

The book made me aware of a few things I hadn’t considered. One thing that has concerned me about the protagonist in my manuscript is that she doesn’t have a robust character arc. How to Write a Series made me see that it’s all right for a character to have a flat arc.

There are basically two kinds of series: (1) multi-protagonist and (2) single protagonist. I foresee my series – if I can pull it off – to be a single protagonist series. There are two types of single protagonist series: (1) flat arc protagonist and (2) robust arc protagonist.

One thing I’ve spent time contemplating in the last several weeks is how many books I think I can plot using the protagonist in my current manuscript and how I can make her strong enough to carry multiple books.

Just because I’m sitting, looking off in the distance, doesn’t mean I’m not working!


How to Write Winning Short Stories: A Practical Guide to Writing Stories that Win Contests and Get Selected for Publication, by Nancy Sakaduski

How to Write Winning Short Stories, by Nancy Sakaduski

I’ve written several short stories, two of which have been published. I’m working toward publishing a collection of short stories as soon as I have enough finished to make a good little e-book.

I happened upon this book at the public library and found it beneficial not only in writing short stories but in writing a novel. It’s a good “nuts and bolts” book of basics about writing fiction with an emphasis on short stories, but I found many useful tips and recommendations I can apply to novel writing.

Since my last blog post

I learned something about the celebration of Christmas that necessitated my moving a scene in the novel I’m writing from Christmas Day to New Year’s Day. It has to do with the Protestant Reformation and traditions in Scotland. I really should have known.

I’ve been going through my novel’s manuscript with K.M. Weiland’s writings about novel structure in mind, making adjustments here and there. Finishing that process gave me a sense of accomplishment.

When I checked some of the statistics for my blog on December 31, I was astonished to learn that people in 77 countries visited my blog in 2021. The most surprising was the 27 visits from within China.

Until my next blog pot

I hope you have a good book to read.

I plan to continue editing my novel. It’s been fun to get back to writing about trying to read too many books last month!

In 2022, let’s all seek peace and understanding.

Janet

Books Read in November 2021

It seems impossible that today could be the first Monday in December. That means I’m supposed to tell you about the books I read in November.

I happily spent more time working on my novel manuscript last month than reading, but I’ll fill you in on what I did read.

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash

I’ve enjoyed everything else I’ve read by Wiley Cash. He’s a North Carolina author whose novels are set in North Carolina. They are places I’m familiar with and there’s something special about that. That said – and you may have guessed where I’m going with this – I didn’t like When Ghosts Come Home so much.

It’s set on Oak Island, North Carolina, and I could almost smell the saltwater air while reading the first half of the book. That’s all I can comment on, because I just didn’t have the interest or time to read the second half. I’m curious to know what was on that plane that crashed on page one, but the tremendous amount of backstory in the next chapters became a distraction.

Curious to know if I had the same reaction to the book as others, I read many online reviews. It turns out that many readers have given the novel five-star reviews, but a number have given it one- or two-star reviews for much the same reason I lost interest in the book. As of Saturday afternoon, 1,955 people had reviewed it on Goodreads.com, giving the book an average of 3.77 stars on a five-star scale.

I looked forward to reading this book, and got on the waitlist for it at the public library months ago. It makes me sad not to give it a glowing review. Since it’s received so many five-star reviews, maybe I need to put it on the back burner for a little while and give it another chance later.

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan

The New Silk Road: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan

I’m still making my way through this extraordinary book. Thank you, Chris Andrews, for recommending it to me.

World of Toil and Strife: Community Transformation in Backcountry South Carolina, 1750-1805, by Peter N. Moore

World of Toil and Strife: : Community Transformation in Backcountry South Carolina, 1750-1805, by Peter N. Moore

I’ve read this book before, but I’m getting even more out of it the second time around. It zeros in on the history of the location where my historical novel, The Doubloon (or, The Spanish Coin) is set in 1769. Bits of information in the book are enriching the story I’m writing and also giving me insight into the place in which some of my ancestors lived in the 1760s and 1770s.

If you have an interest in colonial American life in the far-inland portion of South Carolina along the North Carolina border, I believe you would enjoy this book.

The Judge’s List, by John Grisham

The Judge’s List, by John Grisham

John Grisham’s latest novel of legal suspense, The Judge’s List, was a welcome change of pace from the other books I was reading in November. I was on the public library waitlist for the book on CD for months and was able to check it out just a few days ago.

I found myself thinking I’d listen to just one more CD before bedtime but listening to a second or third one instead. It’s that kind of book. It’s Grisham at his best.

The story line is so convincing, it makes me wonder if a judge could actually get away with having such a double life. Also, what this judge is able to do on his computer gives me pause and makes me want to never get on the internet again!

Since my last blog post

I’ve tried to be more organized in reading other blogs. I try to read and comment on at least two or three blogs each weekday. I read more than three, but I try to leave thoughtful comments on at least two or three every day. It means a lot to me to receive comments on my blog, so I want to give some level of encouragement to other bloggers I enjoy following.

I worked on my novel. Making revisions isn’t as much fun as writing the first draft, but it has been easier than I anticipated. I’ve changed some characters’ names and made adjustments in the storyline based on recent research.

I spent some time on one of my hobbies – genealogy. My best “find” was a Revolutionary War Military Pay Voucher for one of my ancestors. Sewing has been another hobby of mine, but I’ve neglected it for several years. I literally blew the dust off my sewing machine cover last week and made a Christmas present for someone.

I also put some thought into the historical short stories I’ve written or plan to write. If I can get myself organized, I want to publish some of them in e-book form in 2022. I’ll keep you posted.

The colder, windy weather and seasonal allergies are keeping me indoors most of the time. I’m fortunate to have the option of staying inside where it’s warm.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read. As in November, I have too many books vying for my attention and time to do them all justice. It’s a wonderful predicament to be in. I’m so blessed to live in a country where I have free access to a world of books through the public library system.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post today.  See you next week.

Janet

What Would Make You Happy?

On the heels of reading seven books in June, I took a step back in July and “only” read five books. I’d let the pressure of reading books so I could blog about them get too much of a hold on my life. That’s why I planned to not read as much in July. That didn’t work out very well, but I did start taking a closer look at the types of books I was reading and wanted or needed to read.

If you read my August blog posts, you know there wasn’t a fluffy beach read in the bunch. In fact, there wasn’t a novel in the five, and they were all about serious and sobering topics.

Photo credit: John Mark Smith on unsplash.com

September and October came along and most of my reading was dictated by the writing course I was taking. For two months, I read what I had to read or needed to read. It didn’t leave any time to read what I wanted to read, although I did start reading The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s not a book that can be read quickly.

Reading is important for a writer; however, writing needs to be more of a focus for me now. I’ve procrastinated and let reading take too much of my time the last couple of years. I don’t regret reading any of the books I read, but I’ll never finish writing my novel at this rate!

What would make me happy?

About six weeks ago, I took time to discern what will make me happy. The things I came up with were (1) to work on my book; (2) to work on my genealogy; and (3) to get back to sewing and quilting. I haven’t sewn in going on two years now. I hope I can remember how to turn on the sewing machine. I have tubs of fabric that need to be turned into gifts or quilts and other household items.

The fourth item on my list is to get back to playing the mountain dulcimer. I should play it every day. I haven’t touched it in months. I hope my muscle memory kicks in when I take it out of its case today. I’m not very good at it. The reasons for that are (1) I’m not musically-talented and (2) I don’t put much time into it.

The Gifts of Imperfection, by Dr. Brene Brown

I recently reread The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown. It reminded me not to be so hard on myself and not to worry about what other people think of me. I listened to her book, Rising Strong, and it inspired me to be brave. That’s what finally prompted me to hire a professional editor to critique the first 50 pages of my novel. (See my July 12, 2021 blog post, 4 Other Books I Read in June 2021 and my July 26, 2021 blog post, How My First 50 Pages Stood up for Critique.)

Rising Strong, by Dr. Brene Brown

I’d been working on today’s blog post early in July, when I read Barbara Strickland’s July 11 blog post: Limit the Limits – Barbara Strickland – Author & Blogger (brstrickland.com. After reading an article in LinkedIn, Barbara blogged about a methodical way to figure out what your dreams are.

Her post sort of dovetailed with what I was writing four months ago that ended up being postponed until today. She looked at her list of dreams from a view of practicality. I didn’t have to consciously do that when I made my list because it’s not my nature to dream about doing or having things I can’t afford or don’t have the health to do.

Taking stock on this milestone year

I graduated from high school 50 years ago. There. I’ve said it. Do the math. Yes, I’m 68 years old.

Photo credit: Zoltan Tasi on unsplash.com

There’s something jolting about admitting I graduated from high school 50 years ago. I don’t know what it is about those anniversary years that end in a zero. I was not prompted to take stock of my life last year, 49 years after my graduation.

Our 50-year high school reunion was planned for last month but had to be postponed until sometime next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

I was in a class of 191. At least 33 of my classmates have died. Talk about a sobering thought! More than one of those were special, lifelong friends of mine.

Assessing my blog topics

Once in a while, I need to take a step back and evaluate my life – how I’m spending my time, what I’m accomplishing, what I’m doing to benefit others, and what I’m doing to improve myself. This is one of those times, so please bear with me.

This is supposed to be my writing blog. My reading is important and integral to my writing; however, since the Covid-19 pandemic started, I haven’t written much about my journey as a writer until this summer when I decided to get the first 50 pages of my novel manuscript critiqued by an editor.

A blog is supposed to serve a purpose. It’s supposed to benefit the reader. I hope my continued journey as a writer will serve as fodder for my future blog posts and those posts will enlighten or entertain you in some way. Otherwise, you don’t have any reason to keep reading my blog.

No pressure there!

Photo credit: Daniel Thomas on unsplash.com

There are many things I enjoy about blogging. Over the years, I’ve developed friendly relationships with a few readers. They live all around the world. Many of them have opened my eyes to things I didn’t know. They’ve helped me understand different perspectives. They have enriched my life. I will never meet them except via the internet.

People in 20 countries visited my blog the last week in October. Since I started my blog, people in 144 countries and territories have looked at it. That is surprising, gratifying, and a bit scary.

I never know what’s going to strike a chord with readers. When I have a reader from China or some countries in Africa, it especially catches my attention and I feel a heightened sense of responsibility.

I appreciate your taking time to read my blog. I’ll try not to let you down.


Since my last blog post

Here in North Carolina, we raced right through autumn last week and jumped into winter. There was snow in the higher mountains in the state and our county had a freeze warning. It just doesn’t seem quite right to have a freeze warning before having a frost warning, but that’s life in North Carolina.

Photo credit: Janet Morrison

I’m still decluttering my home in hopes of making space for more creativity and less stress.


Until my next blog post

Have you assessed your life lately? What would make you happy? What’s missing in your life? What are you waiting for?

I hope you have at least one good book to read.

I hope you’re happy and have everything you need.

Janet

Some Odd Books Read in October 2021

The titles of the books I read in September are way off the beaten path. Since I’m writing a novel that includes a murder, I need to make sure I have certain details as accurate as possible.

Actually, I want to get all the details right, but my research and study in October concentrated on (1) the details about the dead body in the first chapter; (2) the ways in which the murderer tries to present himself as innocent; and (3) writing in deep point-of-view.

Hence, I read the books listed below. They aren’t exactly the kind of books one wants to curl up with on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but they were helpful (or, not-so-helpful) for what I needed them for.

Acting: The First Six Lessons, by Richard Boleslavsky

I checked this book out from the library in hopes that it would give pointers on how an actor “gets into character.” It did not.

In order to write a novel in deep point-of-view, I must get into character. I must write everything through the ears, eyes, and emotions of each of my point-of-view characters.

Badass Acting, by Tice Allison

I had the same hopes for this book. It failed to deliver.

Seven Pillars of Acting, by Sonya Cooke

I thought surely this acting book would include what I was looking for, but it didn’t.

I think I know what I’m doing in writing deep point-of-view. I just thought reading pointers on how an actor gets into character might be helpful. The best way to grasp this element of writing is to read the work of authors who do it well.

All these acting books might be helpful to someone learning the art of acting. They just didn’t cover what I was looking for.

Forensics for Dummies, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

Forensics for Dummies, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

This book contained a bit of technical information I needed to know about the timeline for the body in my novel.

Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers, by D.P.

Lyle, M.D.

Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

Like Forensics for Dummies, this book had bits and pieces of helpful information.

Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers, by D.P. Lyle,

M.D.

Forensics and Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions from Crime Writers, by D.P. Lyle, M.D.

You’ve maybe noticed a pattern here. Dr. D.P. Lyle is the leading expert in the field of forensics in writing books for writers and other laypersons.

What Every BODY is Saying, by Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins, Ph.D.

I wanted to read this book to get pointers on how to tell if a person is lying. I wanted to incorporate “dead giveaways” in the words, body language, and behavior of the murderer in my novel. It was an interesting book. It gave some suggestions, but the bottom line was that you need to read more than one book to become an expert in spotting a lie.

What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People, by Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins, Ph.D.

Spy the Lie, by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant

This book is very much like What Every BODY is Saying, by Joe Navarro. It’s a little more indepth but gives the same admonitions that you need to do more than read a couple of books in order to become an expert at telling when someone is lying. I don’t need to be an expert, so I think I’ll end my research there.

Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception, by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero, with Don Tennant.

I won’t give any examples from the book because you can’t take just one or two hints and make a definitive decision about whether a person is lying to you. I hope most of us rarely are lied to, so it’s not a huge problem for us. On second thought, if we watch certain TV networks, are on Facebook, or hear any political campaign ads, we’re lied to every day.

The Little Red Writing Book, by Brandon Royal

The Little Red Writing Book, by Brandon Royal

The most helpful part of this tiny book is the pages of often-made-mistakes in grammar. For instance, you’d think by now I’d know when to use “who” and when to use “whom,” but I always have to look it up when I’m writing. When I’m talking, I probably get it wrong every time. Now I have a cheat sheet.

Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

You probably recognize the name of this book, since I’ve referred to it a number of times in my blog this summer and fall. I started reading and working my way through it early this summer.

Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth, by Rachel Ballon, Ph.D.

The online writing course I took for eight weeks pulled me away from it, but I did finish it in October. I highly recommend it to anyone writing their first novel.


Since my last blog post

I got my Moderna Covid-19 booster shot on Tuesday. I’m happy to still be fully-vaccinated. I just wish all the people I’d like to be around at church, etc. were vaccinated. That’s not going to happen, since the Covid-19 vaccine has been politicized in the United States. Although I still wore a mask, it was nice to get back to in-person worship yesterday after a long absence.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. At the recommendation of one of my Australian blogger friends, Chris Andrews, I’m finally reading The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s excellent and a nice change of pace after the books I read in October.

Note: November is National Novel Writing Month, National Family Literacy Month, National Memoir Writing Month.

Note: Today is National Family Literacy Day and Author’s Day.

Wherever you are, thank you for reading my blog. Have you read any odd books or good books lately?

Janet

Books Read & Analyzed in September 2021

I dedicated the month of September to read books about the art and craft of writing. It’s slower than reading novels – that’s for sure!

At least, that was my plan. I had it all mapped out, down to how many pages I’d read each day. Then, that online writing course I’m taking began on September 6, and my plans went out the window.

Studying historical novels and historical mystery novels dominated my reading time in September. Weekly online course assignments included analyzing various elements of novels in our chosen genre. My genre is historical fiction, with an element of mystery in my first novel – the manuscript I’m currently working on. At least, I hope this turns out to be my first novel.

Today’s blog post might appeal more to writers than readers but, since it’s definitely part of my journey as a writer, I feel compelled to share it with you.

I evaluated one book I’ve read and five books I haven’t read. I was looking for such things as scene length, chapter length, sensory detail, point-of-view, tense, noun and verb strength, microtension, high moment, amount of narrative, amount of dialogue, and the action-reaction-processing cycle.

Until taking this “8 Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful” online course by C.S. Lakin, I’d never tried to analyze the elements of a novel. I just read for enjoyment. I look forward to reading for enjoyment again someday, for I find analyzing novels a bit of a drag.

Even though today’s blog post takes a much different approach than my usual first blog of a month about the books I read the previous month, I hope you’ll bear with me a few minutes. My remarks about each of the following books might pique your interest, even if you’re not interested in the elements considered in the writing of a novel.

The War Nurse, by Tracey Enerson Wood

The War Nurse, by Tracey Enerson Wood

Published this year, I found The War Nurse to be an excellent example of historical fiction for me to evaluate. I’d read Tracey Enerson Wood’s first novel, The Engineer’s Wife, and liked it. The War Nurse is full of rich prose. She uses strong verbs and vivid adjectives. Writing like that has to be learned. It is hard work. I want to write like that. I wish I’d had time to read the entire book instead of skimming through it to look for specific writing techniques and elements.

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

This book was published in 2010. I read it in 2017. (See what I said about it and other books in my February 3, 2017 blog post, What I read in January 2017.) It was a novel that stayed with me for a long time and it’s one that still clearly comes to mind when I think back on historical novels I’ve especially enjoyed. I checked it out of the library last month just so I could analyze it in relation to my class assignments.

Like in The War Nurse, I found an Author’s Note, Acknowledgments, Book Club Questions, and “A Conversation with Kathleen Grissom” at the end of The Kitchen House. I think these are items that fans of historical fiction like to see – and expect to see.

Historical fiction readers like for Author’s Notes to tell them which characters and events in a novel are real and which ones are a creation of the author’s skill. I find myself reading the Author’s Note at the back of novels before I read the actual novel.

The Historians, by Cecilia Ekbäck

The Historians, by Cecilia Ekback

This is a 2021-published historical mystery. I didn’t get to read much of the book. I made note of how the book was organized and some of the features it included, such as a map of the setting, a preface, and “Cast of Characters.” All these were in the front of the book before the story itself began.

I found the list of 44 characters intimidating. I would never be able to keep up with so many people. The 19 or so introductory pages included sections like “Lapland, January 1943,” “Stockholm, February 1, 1943,” and “Blackäsen Mountain, March 31, 1943.”

The book is 431 pages plus a four-page “Author’s Note and Historical Background,” and a list of nine “Sources” in the back of the book.

Scenes varied from two to eight-and-a-half pages. Some paragraphs were half a page long. The story is told in an unbroken pattern of “Laura” chapters, “Jens” chapters, and “Blackäsen Mountain” chapters and ends with “Lapland, June 1943.”

The settings in this book are a refreshing change from all the World War II novels of recent years that have almost exclusively been set in France, Poland, or Germany.

I regret I didn’t have time to actually read this book; however, I was overwhelmed by the pages and pages of introductory material. One would have to be keenly interested in the settings and time period in order to read those 19 pages before getting to the story.

It was an eye-opening exercise related to the writing course I’m taking to analyze the elements of this historical mystery. This was the first recently-published historical mystery I analyzed.

An Irish Hostage, by Charles Todd

An Irish Hostage, by Charles Todd

Charles Todd is the pen name for a mother-son writing duo. An Irish Hostage is the 12th novel in their Bess Crawford Mysteries. I haven’t read any of them. This is their 2021 novel, so I chose it to analyze.

Like The Historians, this is an historical mystery. Although I didn’t have time to read much of it, this novel appealed to me more than the other book. That’s just personal preference, and not a criticism of Cecilia Ekbäck’s book.

It’s written in first-person past tense and is set in Somerset, June 1919.

The opening narrative paragraphs set a pleasant tone with such phrases as, “the long windows open to a surprisingly mild spring evening, and a bit of a breeze pleasantly lifting the lilac curtains just a little.” But then the mood suddenly turns with, “The only thing that spoiled this charming scene were the expressions on our faces.”

Of course, the novel being categorized as “historical mystery,” the reader should already know the tide is going to turn.

I found the style of writing to be more to my liking than the “heavier” Ekbäck book. Chapters ranged in length from around four or five pages to about 20 pages.

There is a page of acknowledgments and a two-sentence “About the Author” page at the end of the book.

The House on Vesper Sands, by Paraic O’Donnell

The House on Vesper Sands, by Paraic O’Donnell

This is another 2021 historical mystery. It’s set in February through June of 1893. It begins with “I. Requiem Æternam” and the five succeeding sections also have Latin names. That technique in itself gives the reader a hint about the mood of the book.

The opening paragraph introduces Esther Tull feeling “the first gentleness of the snow.” In the second paragraph, Esther extends “a gloved hand to the railing…. The pain was returning, but it was not yet more than she could bear….”

Interesting wording there. The inclusion of the word “yet,” adds a level of intrigue for the reader. Every word matters in a novel – or should.

This novel is mostly narrative, with scenes averaging six or seven pages. There’s an Afterword and Acknowledgments on page 401.

Murder on Black Swan Lane, by Andrea Penrose

Murder on Black Swan Lane, by Andrea Penrose

When I searched for best-selling historical mysteries, I noticed Andrea Penrose’s name coming up repeatedly in the top 50 or top 100. I borrowed her 2017 novel, Murder on Black Swan Lane from the library. It’s set in Regency London, which appears to be Ms. Penrose’s favorite era and location.

I’m not a fan of prologues, but hers was just four pages and I wanted to get a feel for her writing style. Her rich language using strong verbs and spot-on adjectives drew me in. For example, the prologue opened with, “A flicker of weak light skittered over the stone floor, followed by the soft scrapes of steps and the whispered whoosh, whoosh of mist-dampened wool.”

The book’s 27 chapters range from nine to 16 pages in length, based on the seven I counted. They’re followed by a two-page “Author’s Note” and then the prologue and first chapter of her book, Murder at Half Moon Gate.

The biography on the inside of the back cover reveals that “Andrea Penrose is a pseudonym for an author who has also written as Cara Elliott for Grand Central and Andrea Pickens for NAL.” Perhaps you’ve read one of her books under those other names. I haven’t.

I look forward to reading or at least perusing more of Andrea Penrose’s books. The rich language skills she has are something I’d like to emulate.

Since my last blog post

I completed the fourth week of my eight-week writing course, and have been busy editing my novel manuscript. Trying to work in all I’ve learned in the last month isn’t easy. I’m into the third chapter now. There will be many more revisions in my future. I enjoy the process of fiddling with words.

I’ve also worked on the notes from my local history research. I still hope to get those notes in book form eventually.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits, by Joyce Meyer. It was a nice diversion from all the books and scenes I analyzed for my class.

Making Good Habits, Breaking Bad Habits, by Joyce Meyer

Now that the deer have devoured the leaves on the hydrangeas and other plants and shrubs in our yard, this week they started eating the azaleas. Now they’ve gone too far!

It’s officially autumn in North Carolina. There are spots of leaf color here and there here in the southern piedmont. Many leaves seem to just be dying and falling off. Of course, it won’t be peak fall leaf season here for several weeks. There’s a hint of fall in the air at night and in the mornings, but our daytime temperatures are still mainly in the low- to mid-80s.

It’s warmer than it was last week when I mentioned being cold. None of my southern hemisphere readers took the bait last week when I volunteered to go down under and visit for a few months. I guess they’re enjoying spring now. I will be, too, in six months!

Janet