“Not a rope . . . if drowning”

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Prayers the Devil Answers, A novel by Sharyn McCrumb

My blog post today takes a look at a line I like from a novel, Prayers the Devil Answers, by Sharyn McCrumb. Ms. McCrumb has mastered the art of capturing the independent spirit of the people of the southern Appalachian Mountains in the following sentence:

“Not a one of the folks from up there would ask for anything – not food if they were hungry, not a rope if they were drowning.”  From Prayers the Devil Answers, by Sharyn McCrumb.

How succinctly Ms. McCrumb gets to the core character of the people who live in those mountains and whose ancestors have lived there for up to 250 years! As a writer, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to state it any better.

What do you think?

Have a go at it. Try to write one sentence that sums up that southern Appalachian independent spirit.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth and Fredrik Backman’s novella, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer.

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

Janet

6 Things Learned about Google+

In my January 20, 2017 blog post My 2017 Writing Plan of Action, I said that I needed to give Google+ a fair chance. I thought it was one more platform I could use to establish my brand as a writer.

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Photo credit: Andrew Neel via unsplash.com

When I did the research for my April 22, 2017 blog post S is for Social Media, I learned that being active on Google+ will help people find me on the Google search engine. Actually, I did not learn that. I stated it in my blog post but promptly forgot it. When I remember to, I put my blog posts on Google+.

With today’s blog post in mind, on May 18, 2017 and several times since then, I took another look at my account on Google+ and learned some things:

(1)  Lo and behold, I hadn’t put links to my blog, my website, or my Twitter name in my profile. Duh! That was an easy fix.

(2)  I learned that when my novel gets published, I can only give it one plug on Google+.

(3)  I explored the “communities” on Google+ and joined several: Writers’ Blogs, Read Banned Books,  Writers’ Coffeehouse, and Self-Publishing Your Book. In addition, I’m following WordPress.

  • Writers’ Blogs should be a place where I can post my blogs about writing or reading, and I can find and connect with other writers with blogs. So far, I haven’t made any connections with other writing bloggers through this Google+ community. I’ve seen pictures of cats and a number of blogs about the TV sitcom “Big Bang Theory.” I’m having to look too hard and long to find posts about writing blogs.
  • The WordPress community should be a place where I can learn how to better use my blog and the features of WordPress.com. So far, I haven’t found what I need.
  • Banned Books is where I should be able to discuss banned books with other readers; however, from what I’ve seen so far, most posts are about anything but books – banned or otherwise.
  • Writers’ Coffeehouse is where I should be able to ask questions about the writing process or specific problems I’m having as I rewrite my novel, and join in conversations started by other writers. There seem to be more poetry posts on there than fiction writing, so I’m still not sure this is the place for me.

(4)  There are communities for just about any interest you can think of. If you don’t find one you’re looking for, create it!

(5)  I hate to be negative, but I think Google+ communities are going to be more work for me than they’re worth. It’s just not my cup of tea. (Maybe I shouldn’t post that on Google+.)

(6)  On the positive side, I am following “Writing Tips” by Rob Bignell, Editor on Google+. He seems to put a lot of helpful articles on there to help writers.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Things We Keep, by Sally Hepworth.

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

Janet

“Like a Throwback to Dracula”

I’ve been reading about describing characters. There are two schools of thought regarding that. Since writers write for readers, some readers were asked what they thought about character descriptions in novels.

Some readers want every last detail about the physical appearance of a character to be spelled out, but it seems that most readers don’t want a lot of physical details. They prefer to take what the author gives them and take it from there. They like to imagine in their minds what each character looks like.

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Damaged, by Lisa Scottoline

In Damaged, by Lisa Scottoline, protagonist Mary DiNunzio managed in the following quote to give just enough description of fellow lawyer Nick Machiavelli:

“He wore his hair slicked back, like a throwback to Dracula, and his eyes were narrow slits, with dark brown irises that were the exact color of baking chocolate, and Mary would know.” – from Damaged, by Lisa Scottoline.

Ms. Scottoline could have written, “Nick Machiavelli was greasy” or “Nick Machiavelli was a greaser” and I would have conjured a picture in my mind; however, the phrase “like a throwback to Dracula” and his eyes that were narrow slits paints a more vivid picture of him in my mind.

“the exact color of baking chocolate”

Ms. Scottoline also cleverly threw in that Machiavelli’s irises “were the exact color of baking chocolate, and Mary would know.” That is more accurate than her just saying that he had brown eyes, and I love the phrase “and Mary would know.”

If that’s all we knew about Mary, we’d know that she either likes to bake with chocolate or she likes to eat things made with baking chocolate. Maybe both. Any chocolate-loving reader will immediately identify with Mary!

As I start to rewrite my novel, The Spanish Coin, and flesh out all the characters, I’m learning from writers and from readers what readers prefer. Therefore, I will minimize physical details and concentrate on describing them through their words and actions.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Stars Are Fire, by Anita Shreve. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

You Need to Read These Books!

I had another good month of reading in May. I’m on a roll for 2017! If I were a faster reader, I could devour more books. In the meantime, though, I’ll enjoy as many as I can.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

I’m running out of superlatives for the books I’ve read this year. I kept hearing about A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, so I got on the waitlist for it at the public library. It’s a popular book, so it took a while for my name to gravitate to the top of the list.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At times outrageously funny and at times heartwarming and touching, it held my interest from start to finish. Ove is a 59-year-old man. I could see my father, my brother, and even myself in him. I could see myself in his late wife when he recalled how it drove him up the wall because she delighted in planning the details of a trip to the extreme. That’s me! Thank goodness I have a sense of humor! Poor Ove is at odds with the world and having trouble keeping up with the modern world. For the most part, he’s not even trying to keep up.

The author, Fredrik Backman, is from Sweden, where his books have gained much acclaim. I am amazed at how well the humor in this book translated so well from Swedish into English. Although I don’t speak or read Swedish, I don’t believe the book lost anything in the translation. I look forward to reading Mr. Backman’s other books.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

Maybe it’s because Mother’s Day was approaching when I was reading this book, or maybe the sentence would have struck me like a ton of bricks any time of the year. Ms. Picoult has an uncommon gift when it comes to writing. Her books tackle some of the most heart-wrenching issues of our day, and she has a wonderful way with words.

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I featured the following sentence in my Being the Balloon blog post on May 5, 2017:

“What it’s like to be the balloon, when someone lets go of the string.”   – from Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

The context of that sentence is that Ruth, the protagonist who is a seasoned labor and delivery nurse, a mother, and the widow of an American soldier killed in Afghanistan, reacts to the death of her mother with, “What it’s like to be the balloon, when someone lets go of the string.”

I highly recommend Small Great Things. In it, Ms. Picoult takes on the issue of race in America, and she has an uncanny talent for getting inside the skin of individuals from one end of that spectrum to the other in Small Great Things. The line that I focused on from the book in my blog on May 5 speaks to the humanity of us all.

In a nutshell, Small Great Things is about an African-American nurse in Connecticut who is barred from caring for the newborn infant of a white supremacist couple. Author Jodi Picoult masterfully writes from the point-of-view of the nurse, the white-supremacist father, and the white lawyer who defends the nurse. There is an explosive trial during which all kinds of raw emotions erupt. I think we all can learn some life lessons by reading and pondering Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult!

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

I kept hearing good things about this book, which had been translated into English from its original German. I finally got it from the public library, but with too many other books to read and a lot I was trying to learn about the craft or writing. Therefore, I only got 40% of the book read before I had to return it to the library for the next person on the wait list. I will definitely check it out again so I can finish it.

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The Hidden Life of Trees:  How They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World might not appeal to everyone, but I thought it was very interesting. That might be because I grew up and again live out in the country. My parents instilled an appreciation and respect for trees in us. We have a variety of trees in our yard – dogwood, pine, ash, poplar, cedar, several varieties of oak, mulberry, sycamore, black walnut, sweet gum, holly, persimmon, and maple.

I thought I knew a lot about trees until I started reading Peter Wohlleben’s book. I now know that there’s a whole world out there I can’t see or hear. The book explains how certain tree species work together and how other tree species work against one another. It talks about how trees pump water out of the ground. It talks a lot about fungi and how fungal networks underground help trees in numerous ways. It really is quite fascinating!

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

I highly recommend The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. It is a historical novel about two sisters in France during the German occupation in World War II. The sisters cope with the occupation and resulting cruelties of war very differently.

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One sister joins the French Resistance and risks her life helping shot down Allied airmen across the Pyrennes and into Spain. The other sister’s nerves and wits are pushed to the limits as two German officers are billeted in her home. The book was inspired by a 19-year-old Belgian woman, Andrée De Jongh, who created an escape route out of Nazi-occupied France.

This book will pull on all your emotions. When the characters are cold and hungry – which was most of the time – you will feel cold and hungry, although I’m certain that I truly can’t imagine the level of hunger or fear the people who lived through the ordeal actually endured.

When we study World War II or hear stories about it, the emphasis is almost always on the battles. The Nightingale gives a paints a picture of life on the home front in France. It was this month’s book for discussion by Rocky River Readers Book Club. Everyone at our meeting had only praise for the book – how much it taught us and how well-written it was.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

This historical novel is Yaa Gyasi’s debut as a fiction writer. It is different from any novel I’ve ever read. It is set in Africa. As part of my 2017 Reading Challenge I wanted to read a book set on each of the continents this year, so I was drawn to this novel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish reading it before it was due at the public library.

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Each chapter is about a different member of this family. It is about family ties and the horrible conditions in the slave trade. It puts a human face on slavery – a subject we tend to think of in terms of numbers and not the families that were torn apart in Africa. If I get a chance, I’d like to check this book out again.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See

Like Homegoing and The Hidden Life of Trees, I didn’t get to finish reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane before it had to be returned to the library. I couldn’t renew any of the three books because there were people on the wait list. The part of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane that I got read was fascinating in how it shed light on some of the superstitions held by the Chinese. I had no idea!

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The novel follows a young Chinese girl who is painfully aware from birth that she is not valued because she is female. Her family has to walk for hours to pick tea leaves for a meager amount of income. It is a difficult life. Her mother is the local midwife and she tells her daughter that she must follow in her footsteps in that occupation.

There is a ray of hope, though, because the girl’s teacher tells her that she can leave the harsh mountain environment and make something of herself. I look forward to checking the book out again in order to see how her life turns out!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I have come to the conclusion this week that I am trying to read too many books and not spending enough time on my writing. My goal in June is to strike a happy medium.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. I’m writing bios of my characters in the “new and improved” The Spanish Coin.

Janet

The Spanish Coin, Rescued?

In my H is for Historical Fiction blog post on April 10, 2017, I announced that I needed to make some major plot changes and rewrite my novel manuscript titled The Spanish Coin. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do that. All is not lost, though!

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I’ve brainstormed and come up with an idea for rescuing the book! I hope to start the actual rewrite by the end of the summer. I plan to retain the working title – The Spanish Coin. It won’t be the same story as the original idea, but it will still take place in the Carolinas in the years just prior to the American Revolution. This weekend I started doing deep character work on my protagonist.

I’m getting help!

Barbara Kyle’s “Your Path to a Page-Turner” program [https://www.barbarakyle.com] has been a tremendous help to me as I start creating the people who live in my novel. Andrea Lundgren, my writing coach, [https://andrealundgren.com] cheers me on and gives constructive feedback. I am also encouraged by the comments my blog posts receive on the blog itself and on my Facebook pages.

You have all been very patient with me on my journey as a writer. I hope we will all be rewarded someday with The Spanish Coin held together by a spine and two book covers!

Liebster and Versatile Blogger Awards

A few weeks ago, Andrea Lundgren nominated me for the Liebster Award and blogger YellowFuzzyDuck nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. While I was honored by both nominations, I had to decline due to my health.

I thought it only fair that I acknowledge the nominations in this blog post and explain why I couldn’t fulfill the requirements. I thought that telling this personal story might also serve as an explanation for anyone thinking that I’m taking too long to write a book.

CFS/ME

One requirement of both those blogging awards is that the nominee must tell some things about themselves that their readers probably do not know. Something that most of my readers don’t know is that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. That’s its lame name in the United States. In most of the rest of the world it is called Myalgic Encephalopathy or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I was diagnosed in 1987. My energy level remained essentially the same throughout the first 29 years except for a very gradual decline.

Shingles

Having shingles (May 2016 until recently) has taken an additional toll on me, and I have been unable to regain the energy level I had prior to that illness. My right cornea is still not happy!

Energy slumps

I’ve had slumps before. I choose to believe that this is just a longer-than-usual slump. I choose to expect to improve any day now. That positive attitude has gotten me through the last 30 years. I am, by no means, an invalid. I don’t want to leave that impression!

My life at the present time

I am pretty much at home, though, because getting out and about is draining. For instance, a trip to the grocery store can land me in bed or on the couch for a day or two. I’m fortunate that writing is, for the most part, a sedentary occupation.

Having to rewrite The Spanish Coin is daunting. I love to write and I enjoy doing the research required in order to write historical fiction; however, that doesn’t mean it isn’t work. I refuse to give up, though!

Call to Action!

Please visit Andrea Lundgren’s blog, https://andrealundgren.com. Andrea writes insightful and informative blog posts about various aspects of writing. As my writing coach, she has her work cut out for her!

Also, please visit YellowFuzzyDuck’s Turtledesk blog, https://turtledesk.wordpress.com. This blog takes on a variety of topics and contains beautiful photographs.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. My blog post on Friday will be about the books I read during the month of May. I read some good ones!

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. If you are still learning the craft of writing, you might want to visit https://www.barbarakyle.com and check out Barbara’s “Your Path to a Page-Turner” program.

Janet

A Different Perspective on Storytelling

I read a guest blog post by storyteller E.M. Welsh on May 8, 2017. It was posted on Kristen Kieffer’s Well-Storied.com blog [https://www.well-storied.com] and addressed writer’s ego. I was interested in the topic, so I read the entire blog post. The post prompted me to go to Ms. Welsh’s website. I signed up for her weekly e-mails because what she had written gave me a different perspective on storytelling.

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Quoting from an e-mail I received from E.M. Welsh a few minutes later:

“You might think you know what a “storyteller” is, but over at emwelsh.com we have a different idea about the definition, and that idea is the core of my website.

“A storyteller is someone who loves storytelling in all forms. This means not just novel writing, like what Kristen [Kieffer] teaches, but screenwriting, playwriting, and even video game writing as well.

Ms. Welsh continued, “Because of this love of all mediums, the storyteller always thinks in terms of what they can do to tell the best story possible, not to do what is considered comfortable. So, if that means writing a screenplay instead of a novel, even though they’re more familiar with prose, they’ll do it if it means telling a better story.”

I must admit that, although I wrote two historical plays for my church’s 250th anniversary in 2001, since then I have thought of myself as an aspiring novelist. Ms. Welsh’s e-mail statements and additional information on her website and in her free downloadables made me stop and consider how limiting that mindset (the “aspiring novelist” one) can be.

In a nutshell

Ms. Welsh’s theory is that the story dictates the format. I had never looked at it that way, so it is interesting and enlightening to consider. What this boils down to is the fact that the story is the important thing. Not the writer, but the story.

The story tells the writer whether it is a novel, a screenplay, a play, or a video game.

Looking at a story from this perspective is both challenging and freeing for a writer.

Am I writing because I want to be a writer, or am I writing because I am a writer?

In other words, am I in love with the dream of what it would be like to see my name as author of a book, or am I compelled to write because that is what I am driven to do?

Kristen Kieffer and E.M. Welsh warn us not to let ego get in the way of writing.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I finished reading The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah (excellent!) and am currently reading Homegoing, by Yaa  Gyasi.

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

Janet

No Place for Preacher’s Son?

Today’s blog post is an edited local history newspaper column I wrote for the August 23, 2006 edition of Harrisburg Horizons newspaper, Harrisburg, North Carolina. Appearing in the newspaper as “Pioneer Mills:  No Place for a Preacher’s Son,” it paints a picture of the Rocky River and Pioneer Mills communities in Cabarrus County in the 1870s.

Manse wasn’t ready!

The Rev. Joseph B. Mack came from Charleston, South Carolina in 1871 to be the pastor of Rocky River Presbyterian Church. When he and his family arrived, the manse the congregation was building for his family to live in was not completed.

Church members Robert Harvey Morrison and his wife, the former Mary Ann Stuart, moved their family into a tenant house and gave the new minister’s family their home in the Pioneer Mills community. This was no small sacrifice because the manse was not completed until 1873! The Morrisons’s two youngest children, an 18-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son were still in the household, and Mr. and Mrs. Morrison were in their 50s.

Robert Harvey Morrison House
Robert Harvey Morrison Home, built circa 1846. (Photograph taken by Janet Morrison, May 3, 2008.)

The Robert Harvey Morrison home was built as early as 1846 when he inherited the land from his father. The house and its numerous out-buildings have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1990.

In case you’re wondering

Robert Harvey Morrison was a relative of mine but not a direct ancestor. In the 1800s my part of the family didn’t live in grand houses like the one pictured. Gold was never found on the property my part of the family owned. There was a gold mine on the land that Robert Harvey Morrison inherited from his father.

Pioneer Mills was a gold-mining boom town in the early- to mid-19th century. It was apparently still a rip-roarin’ place in 1871.

Dr. William Mack’s memories in 1912

A special homecoming was held at the church on August 12, 1912. Rev. Mack’s son, Dr. William Mack, was unable to attend. He sent his regrets from New York and put some of his childhood memories on paper. Fortunately for us, his letter to homecoming master of ceremonies Mr. Morrison Caldwell was printed in the Concord newspapers the following week.

Dr. Mack wrote, “My first Rocky River recollection is of getting off the train at Harris Depot [now, Harrisburg, NC] and going in the dark to the home of Uncle Solomon Harris.” I don’t believe Dr. Mack was related to Mr. Harris. This was probably a term of endearment and respect.

He continued, “There we met Ed and ‘Little Jim’ (to distinguish him from ‘Big Jim,’ the son of Mr. McKamie Harris.) Uncle Solomon had the biggest fire-place I ever saw; it seemed as big as a barn door.

“Shortly afterwards we went to Pioneer Mills….  There… was the old Gold mine, Barnhardt’s store and McAnulty’s shoemaker shop…. While there I decided to become either a merchant or shoemaker, for Barnhardt’s store and McAnulty’s shop kindled young ambitions; better to ‘keep store’ or ‘mend shoes,’ than as a preacher’s son to be moving around from place to place.

“But Pioneer Mills was ‘no place for a preacher’s son.’ Soon we moved again; this time to the brand new brick parsonage, close by the church. We used to go to church in a big closed carriage drawn by two mules; now, every Sunday, we walked to church, going down a steep hill, across a branch, and through the grove to the famous old house of worship.”

Dr. Mack’s letter also read, “Those were happy years; happy in springtime with its apple blossoms, song birds, morning-glories and Tish McKinley’s Sassafras tea; happy in the summertime, with its blackberries and plums, its bob-whites in the wheat fields, its lightning and thunder storms, its bare-footed boys and girls, and its bitter quinine to keep off third-day chills; happy in the autumn time, with its white fields of unpicked cotton and its beautiful trees with leaves of myriad hues; and happy in the wintertime, with its snows, its big hickory back-logs, its boys in boots red-topped and toes brass-tipped, its red-cheeked girls in wraps and ‘choke rags,’ and its Christmas Holidays and turkeys.”

Dr. Mack’s colorful memories paint an idyllic picture of life in Township One in Cabarrus County in the early 1870s. I hope the children growing up here in the 21st century will have equally-as-fond memories of this place.

My sources

My sources for this blog post were the following:  The Presbyterian Congregation on Rocky River, by Thomas Hugh Spence, Jr, 1954; The Concord Daily Tribune, August 16, 1912; The Concord Times, August 19, 1912; http://www.hpo.ncdcr.gov/nr/CA0498.pdf (photocopy of the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Robert Harvey Morrison Farm and Pioneer Mills Gold Mine); and Descendants of James & Jennet Morrison of Rocky River, by Alice Marie Morrison and Janet Sue Morrison.

Until my next blog post

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I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet