Nominated for Fix Her Crown Award

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

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

The rules are simple:

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

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

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

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

Link to the blogs of the seven nominees.

Here are three photos of me:

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

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

Kally: https://middleme.net/

Alison: https://piermanparis.com/

Janet: https://janetgivens.com/

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

Terri: https://reclaiminghopecoaching.com/

Beverley: https://becomingtheoilandwine.com/

Jennifer: https://jennifertarheelreader.com/

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

Until my blog post tomorrow

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

Janet

#OnThisDay: Freedom of Information Day

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

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

Why March 16th?

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

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

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

History of the Freedom of Information Act

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

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

Subsequent amendments

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

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

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

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

The future of the Freedom of Information Act

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

Since my last blog post

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

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

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

Until my next blog post

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

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

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog.

Let’s continue the conversation

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

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

Janet

#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 2

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

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

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

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


Book coach Andrea Lundgren’s take on happiness in novels

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

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

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

Ms. Lundgren continued:

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

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


Editor and author David Griffin Brown’s take on character

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

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

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

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

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


Chris Andrews’ take on character and structure

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

Character & Structure: An Unholy Alliance, by Chris Andrews

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some new thoughts from Janice Hardy

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

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


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

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

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

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


Biographical sketches

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary

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

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

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


Until my next blog post

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

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. If you like my blog, please tell you real friends and your social media friends about it.


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


Let’s continue the conversation

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Think back over the books you’ve read.

Which characters stand out in your mind and why?

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

Janet

Three Historical Novels I Read in February 2020

For me, the month of February can be summed up in three words. Best laid plans.

What actually happened

I thought I’d get a lot of reading done in February while being confined to my home with a fractured leg. I discovered it was hard to concentrate. I only completed three books in February. When given the opportunity to read 24/7, it loses its appeal – or at least it did for me. Added to my concentration problems was a hospitalization due to a pulmonary embolism. It was quite a month!

Since I didn’t get anything posted on my blog last Monday, I’ll try to get back on my weekly posting track now. I’ll try to finish writing “FixYourNovel #4 – Characterization, Part 2” for next Monday.


Moving on to today’s topic

Some readers look for a blog post the first Monday of the month about the books I read the previous month, so that’s what I’m doing today. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you might like one or more of these three books.


The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

As usual, I can’t remember how I heard about this historical novel. I’m glad I did, though.

The rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany
The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton did extensive research and wrote this book over a 12-year period. She takes you to Germany in 1938. Through several real people, she weaves a suspenseful story of the Kindertransport effort through which 10,000 Jewish children were saved from certain death in Nazi Germany. Those 10,000 children were taken by train from Germany to The Netherlands and from there to England.

The references to closed borders and Hitler’s accusations about “the lying press” sent chills up and down my spine as an American. The parallels with the policies of the current United States president are striking and frightening to those of us who value our democracy.

There are gut-wrenching scenes of parents putting their children on trains with admonitions to make the most out of the museums and educational opportunities they’ll have in England. The children are entrusted to strangers with promises from their parents to somehow get to England and reunite with them.

No child under four or older than 17 years old was allowed to go. Each child was assigned a number. When they arrived in England, they were reviewed by prospective adoptive parents on Sundays.

As is stated in the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, “Although fiction, this novel is based on the read Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933. She was, to the children, Tante Truus.”

I regret to quote the following from near the end of the book:

“Efforts to effect similar transports to the United States, through the Wagner-Rogers Bill introduced into Congress in February of 1939, met anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic opposition. A June 2, 1939, memo seeking President Roosevelt’s support for the effort is marked in his handwriting ‘File no action. FDR.’”

I hope you get a chance to read this excellent historical novel.


The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The ophthalmologist who treated me for shingles in my right eye several years ago was an avid reader. During my frequent appointments, we often discussed our favorite novels and authors. He introduced me to the novels of Stuart Nevillle and Adrian McKinty. I finally got around to reading my first novel by Mr. McKinty last month.

Police suspense novel set in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland
The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The Cold, Cold Ground was Mr. McKinty’s twelfth novel, but it introduced a new character, Sean Duffy, a Roman Catholic police officer in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. At least one of my immigrant ancestors came to America from Carrickfergus, so I was immediately drawn into the story. My ancestor was a Presbyterian, though, which has always intrigued me in light of “The Troubles” between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. I just don’t understand Christians hating other Christians, but that a topic for another day.

Back to the novel… Duffy is often put in awkward situations since he is one of only a few Roman Catholic police officers in Carrickfergus.

In The Cold, Cold Ground, a serial killer is making a statement, and Duffy is determined to solve the case and see the murderer brought to justice. There have been two murders. No one else suspects a connection except for Duffy.

I look forward to reading other Adrian McKinty novels.


A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

I was really on a roll last month with good historical novels! I wish I had remembered more details from the Latin American history courses I took in college. Some of that information would have been a helpful backdrop while reading this novel about the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.

You may wonder what Latin America had to do with a late-1930s civil war in Spain. I wondered the same thing, so I was in for an education.

A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens fled across the mountainous French border when General Franco and his Fascist followers overthrew the Spanish government.

In A Long Petal of the Sea, you follow a pregnant young widow, Roser, and her army doctor brother-in-law, Victor Dalmau, as they join 2,000 other refugees on the SS Winnipeg, a chartered ship to Chile. The voyage is chartered by poet Pablo Neruda. He described Chile as “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” Hence, the name of the novel.

The day they arrive in Chile just happens to be the day World War II erupts in Europe – September 2, 1939. The novel spans decades and four generations as these refugees make the most of their new lives in Chile while always yearning to return to their beloved Spain.

Isabel Allende, the author, was born in Peru and grew up in Chile. Since she was the first author to donate an autographed book for the autographed books auction held by the Friends of the Harrisburg (NC) Library some years ago, Ms. Allende holds a special place in my heart.

The novel was beautifully-translated into English by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading a memoir, Inheritance:  A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro and listening to Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett.

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

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any good books lately? Share your thoughts with us.

Janet

#FixYourNovel #4: Characterization, Part 1

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

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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


Author Kristin Lamb’s take on characters

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

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

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

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

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


Proofreader Louise Harnby’s take on characters

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Back to Louise Harnby

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


Author and Writing Instructor Janice Hardy’s take on characters

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

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

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


Until my next blog post

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

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

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

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


Let’s continue the conversation

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

Janet

Three More Books I Read in January 2020

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


The Sins of the Father, by Jeffrey Archer

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

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

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

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

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


Keeping Lucy, by T. Greenwood

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

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

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

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

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


Twisted Twenty-Six, by Janet Evanovich

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


The Broker, by John Grisham

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

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

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

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


Since my last blog post

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


Until my next blog post

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

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

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

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

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

Janet

Three Books I Read in January 2020

The first Monday of the month seems to come around faster and faster, and it’s time for me to blog about the books I read the previous month. As usually happens, I have to divide the books I read the month before into two blog posts. No one wants to read a 2,000-word blog post.

I read approximately 6.5 books in January. Today’s blog post is about three of them. I’ll write about the other 3.5 books next Monday.

The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson

This book pleasantly surprised me. From the title, I wasn’t sure I’d like the book, but it’s an excellent piece of creative nonfiction.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson

I didn’t know the history of the World’s Fair:  Columbian Exposition except that it was held in Chicago to mark the 400th anniversary of the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus’s.

Chicago was a rough-and-tumble place at that time, known primarily for the slaughterhouses located there. The city was in competition with Washington, DC as the site of the fair.

When Chicago was selected, the depth of the bedrock immediately became a source of concern for the fair’s planners, architects, and construction engineers. The weight of the fair’s proposed buildings and the poor soil were difficult to overcome with the construction equipment of the day. I found that aspect of the book to be fascinating.

The fair was planned, built, and held with a backdrop of mysterious disappearances and murders in Chicago. As the title suggests, that comes into play. The murderer is a physician.

The mandate the Chicago fair had was to “out-Eiffel Eiffel.” The grand Eiffel Tower was built as part of the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, so the Chicago fair authorities were under a lot of pressure to construct something more amazing at their fair. That turned out to be the Ferris wheel, although that first Ferris wheel was made up of “cars” that could hold 20 passengers. The construction details about the Ferris wheel were interesting to me. Being the daughter of a structural steel draftsman, I grew up being exposed to discussions and an appreciation of such things.

Mingled in with the details of the construction and operation of the fair itself are tidbits of the personal lives of the people involved such as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who was also working on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina at the same time.

Reference is also made to some of the new inventions that were introduced to the public at the Chicago fair, including zippers, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Cracker Jacks snack, moving pictures, the vertical file, shredded wheat cereal, and Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix in a box.


A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci

A Minute to Midnight is David Baldacci’s latest novel and the second book in his Atlee Pine thriller series. I’ve only read five of Mr. Baldacci’s books, so I’ve missed a lot of his work. I missed the first book in this series, Long Road to Mercy. I’ll definitely read it before the third book in the series is published.

A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci

Atlee Pine is an FBI Special Agent. In A Minute to Midnight, she returns to her small hometown in Georgia to try to find answers to some nagging questions about her family. In the process of finding out some startling information about her parents, she is drawn into the investigation of several local murders. Who is the murderer? Are these murders – which are rare in this small town – somehow connected to Pine’s presence in the community?

Mr. Baldacci takes us on an eerie journey as he ties in the morbid history of the infamous Andersonville prisoner-of-war prison of American Civil War days. The prison’s cemetery plays a part in this novel, as that is where the murderer likes to leave his victims.


The Lies We Told, by Diane Chamberlain

In this novel, Diane Chamberlain takes us into a devastating hurricane on the North Carolina coast. There is massive flooding in the southeastern portion of the state, and we’re soon caught up in the lives of two sisters who just happen to be doctors. Each sister tries to do her part to help in the aftermath of the hurricane. Their duties take them to different directions and a breakdown of telephone communications results of their not being able to communicate for two long weeks.

The Lies We Told, by Diane Chamberlain

The sisters have a history of secrets that date back to the day their parents were murdered. One sister desperately wants children, while the other one is wrapped up in her career and doesn’t let herself have dreams of a family of her own.

There is a helicopter crash and one of the sisters cannot be located at the crash scene. She’s found by a local citizen and taken to his home for recovery. There are undertones of trouble within that home, though. Tensions rise because the small rural community is cut off from the mainland by the flooding, and the wife’s baby is due at any time.

I got a little weary of the part of the book that gave details of rescue efforts, but I’m glad a stuck with it. The ending was worth the wait.


Since my last blog post

Since my blog post last Monday, I had a freak accident and broke my right tibia. Therefore, you won’t see me as much on social media as usual.


Until my next blog post

I’ll be seeing an orthopedic surgeon to see what the plan of treatment will be for the next months. I hope I’ll get to blog about the other books I read in January next Monday.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty, a novel set in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.

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

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today.

Janet

#ColonialAmerica: What’s a High and Dry?

If you look up “high and dry” in the dictionary, you’re likely to find a definition something like this:  being out of reach of the current or tide; being in a helpless position. My dictionary only identifies “high and dry” as an adjective that first came into common use in 1786. It’s first known use was in 1727.

You can find this and additional information about that use of “high and dry” by going to https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/high%20and%20dry. (I hope that’s clickable. I’m having some problems posting this today.)


That’s not the “high and dry” I’m talking about in today’s blog post.

My introduction to the noun “high and dry” came from a docent at the Hezekiah Alexander House in Charlotte, North Carolina. I learned that it was the name of an enclosed tiny cupboard on the mantle of a fireplace. If memory serves me correctly from the tour I took 15 or more years ago, that particular high and dry was approximately eight inches wide and perhaps ten inches tall. It was made of wood and had a secure door. It was where the Alexander family would have kept their cone of sugar in the 1700s.

In the backcountry of the Carolinas, sugar was a precious commodity. In order to be of use, it had to be kept dry. It stands to reason, that a homemaker who had spent precious family resources to purchase a cone of sugar would have taken measures to keep the sugar protected from moisture and the high humidity associated with The South.

One of my handiest reference books as a writer of historical fiction is English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh. It has saved me more than once when I was going to use a word in a short story or my work-in-progress novel, only to find out from Mr. Brohaugh’s book that the word I wanted to use was not yet in use in the time period of my story or novel.

Mr. Brohaugh’s book says the “high and dry” was in use as a noun “by 1825.” I had hoped for proof of its use in the 1700s, but seeing it in the Hezekiah Alexander House is proof enough for me. I wish I had a photo of the Alexanders’ high and dry to illustrate my blog post today.


An illustrative blog by Stephanie Ann Farra:  World Turn’d Upside Down

I was pleased to find the following blog post from 2013 that illustrates the form of sugar that was used in colonial America:  https://www.worldturndupsidedown.com/2013/05/how-to-make-colonial-era-sugar-cone-or.html. If you aren’t familiar with a cone of sugar, please look at the photographs Ms. Farra included in her blog post.

Just for fun, I decided last Wednesday to follow Ms. Farra’s instructions and try to make my own sugar cone. How did that go? Here’s a picture of my sugar cone. With the assistance of gravity for several hours and hot water, the cone was eventually released from the vase that served as my mold. I now have more of an appreciation for the making of sugar cones in colonial times.

Sugar cone made with water, sugar, and a vase as a mold.
My attempt at making a sugar cone.

Inheriting the Trade:  A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History, by Thomas Norman DeWolf

While writing this blog post, I was reminded of a memoir I read in 2008 (yes, I’ve kept a list of the books I’ve read since 1993) that is related to today’s topic about sugar. Inheriting the Trade:  A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History, by Thomas Norman DeWolf, is an eye-opening book about how the trading of slaves, sugar, and rum were intimately entangled in colonial America – the largest such family dynasty being in Rhode Island. I highly recommend this book to anyone who believes only Southerners were guilty of benefiting from the slave trade.

Quoting from the book jacket:  “In 2001, at forty-seven, Thomas DeWolf was astounded to discover that he was related to the most successful slave-trading family in American history, responsible for transporting at least 10,000 Africans to the Americas. His infamous ancestor, U.S. senator James DeWolf of Bristol, Rhode Island, curried favor with President Jefferson to continue in the trade after it was outlawed. When James DeWolf died in 1837, he was the second-richest man in America.”

In researching his family’s history, Thomas Norman DeWolf and nine of his relatives retraced the steps of their ancestors, going to Ghana, Cuba, and New England. I salute their honesty in revealing to us their family history. It puts a face on an important part of United States history that has been swept under the rug for far too long.


What was left out of my history textbooks?

When I was in school, I wasn’t taught much about the slave trade in colonial and early America. I grew up believing that The South bore all the blame for slavery in America. That’s how the history books of the day were written.

My textbooks did not tell me that Africans were enslaved in the northern states at all, much less for more than 200 years. They did not tell me that the majority of slave trading in America was done by people from the northern states.

It has only been in my adult years that I’ve learned more of the truth. It troubles me that I wasn’t taught the whole truth as an elementary and high school student. It troubles me even more that so little time is now allotted to the study of American history in the public schools of North Carolina that today’s students will graduate knowing even less of our nation’s history than I did. I hope conditions are different in the state in which you live.


Since my last blog post

When I select a topic for a blog post, I don’t necessarily know where it will take me. In today’s post, I set out to define a high and dry. Little did I know it would lead me into a reference to the slave/sugar/rum trade in America. The three are interwoven, though, and one cannot truly understand the one while ignoring the others.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Tackling my to-be-read list, I’m listening to The Broker, by John Grisham.

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

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


Let’s continue the conversation

I would love to know what any of my blog readers know about the “high and dry” as I’m writing about it today as a noun. Have you seen such a little cupboard as you’ve toured other colonial homes? Please share anything you’ve seen, read, or heard about this tiny piece of cabinetry.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Camcorder? Not.

Martin Luther King Day is celebrated today in the United States. It is one of our movable holidays, meaning it doesn’t always fall on January 20. It is celebrated on the third Monday of January.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. This holiday in Dr. King’s memory and honor is a day on which Americans are encouraged to make a difference, just as Dr. King demonstrated through his life and example that one person can indeed make a difference.

Countless blog posts will be written today about Martin Luther King Day. Not being an expert on Dr. King, I chose to shine a light today on something well off the beaten path. I came to today’s topic in an unusual way.

Camcorders

I read that it was on January 20, 1982 that five corporations agreed to work together to develop the camcorder. When I planned my blog’s editorial calendar for 2020, I thought I might be able to work something out about that for today’s blog post; however, when it came time to expound on that, I found conflicting information. Since my main interest was the era of 8mm home movies and not the camcorder, it really didn’t matter.

Home Movies

Thinking about the advent of the camcorder brought back some warm and special memories of the days before that piece of photographic equipment arrived on the scene. I’d already committed to write about home movies in conjunction with the camcorder topic, so I’m going with that today.

When I was a child in the 1950s, my father had a movie camera that used 8mm film. The film came in round tin containers. It wasn’t cheap to buy the film and get it developed, so Daddy was extremely frugal in taking movies. It wasn’t unusual for him to start a roll of movie film with the January birthdays of my sister and myself and finish the roll on Christmas Day the following December.

By the time the roll of film was developed and we gathered round at night with all the lights off to watch this new “home movie” on the large and heavy projector which showed the movie on a grainy  screen affixed to a tripod, it was like taking a step back in history because a year had passed since the opening scenes of the movie had been taken. 

Occasionally, something would go awry with the film or the projector. The film would stop moving through its various sprockets and within a couple of seconds the heat of the projector’s light would burn a hole in the film if Daddy didn’t get it turned off fast enough.

Photo by Brandi Ibrao on Unsplash

Daddy isn’t in any of our home movies because he took all the movies. It’s a wonder the rest of us weren’t permanently blinded by the rack of lights he bought in order to make movies inside the house. Like with the flashbulbs on a still camera, we’d see spots for a fminutes after the movie camera lights were turned off.

That was life in the 1950s and 1960s. Technology gradually progressed so that a rack of four or five blinding lights was no longer necessary to take home movies.

In this day and time, when we can take videos on the spur of the moment with our cell phones, it seems like ancient history to recall the excitement cause by the old home movies and the invention of the camcorder

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I finished listening to The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. It’s about the World’s Fair:  Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. I highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the progression of inventions and the engineering aspect of how things work.

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

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I appreciated the fact that you took time to read my blog today.

Let’s continue the conversation

Did you grow up with the blinding lights of home movies? Don’t tell me I’m the only one!

Janet

The Other Books I Read in December 2019

Today’s blog post is a follow-up to last Monday’s post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/01/06/three-books-i-read-in-december-2019/. I hope within the six books I read in December, I’ve sparked an interest in you to read at least one of them. Reading is one of the joys of my life, and I enjoy sharing the books I read with my blog readers.


A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

A Woman is No Man, by Etaf Rum

Maybe it’s just me, but I found the jumping back and forth from one decade to another confusing.

I hope all Arab families aren’t like this one with the emotional and physical abuse of women being carried on from each generation to the next. The book left me feeling like all Arab men beat their wives and no Arab men want their wives or daughters to be educated or think for themselves. In that respect, it was a very depressing book.

In an interview at the end of the book, Ms. Rum talks about her fear that the book will further the stereotype of Arab men as wife beaters, but she felt compelled to write from her own experience. My brain tells me that all Arab families aren’t like the one she described in her book, but it could easily leave that impression. I don’t want to stereotype Arabs or any other group of people, so I’ll try to take the book at face value as just an example. No ethnic group has a monopoly on domestic abuse.

Aside from the jumping back and forth in time, the writing was excellent and it held my attention once I got into my mind the year in which each chapter took place. The beginning of each chapter pulled me out of the story and I had to stop reading and mentally adjust to the generation being written about. Since nothing changed from one generation to the next, though, I suppose the year and generation didn’t matter.

All that said, though, I do recommend the book.


Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan

Like The Baker’s Secret, I’ve been meaning to read Beneath a Scarlet Sky for more than a year. I was initially drawn to the book by it’s brilliant red cover. I know they say to never judge a book by its cover, but in this case the book did not disappoint.

Based on the lives of real individuals who lived in Italy during World War II, this story gradually drew me in. Once I was “in,” I was “all in.” It is a story of espionage and reminds us that people who are spies aren’t necessarily ones we would readily assume were in that line of work. It is a story of people getting caught up in espionage even against their wills or life plans. It is a story of loyalty among friends and family, and the secrets that had to be kept for the greater good.

This was a book I hated to finish. Fortunately, the author included details at the end of the book that inform us of what happened to each of the characters after the war ended. I really appreciated how the author tied of all the loose ends, since these were real people.

If you’re looking for a World War II-era book to read that delves into the day in and day out lives of regular people, this is the book for you.


When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

Aside from The Guardians and A Woman is No Man, all the books I read in December were ones that had been on my to-be-read list for quite a while. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, received a lot of good publicity when it was published in 2016. I didn’t read it then, but it was one of those book titles that nagged at me.

After bouncing around in several areas of study, Kalanithi is drawn to the field of medicine and neurosurgery in particular. He determines that there is more to medical science than facts. He discovers that relationships matter and that there is an important human aspect to medicine.

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir written by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with cancer in the prime of his life and career. It is a gripping story of his feelings and physical hurdles as he battled stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The book was published after his death.

Although not an entirely upbeat book, it is a touching story of love, dedication, and the human spirit striving to overcome the worst of circumstances.


Since my last blog post

I read a blog post that offered advice about how to have a successful blog. (Success in blogging seems to be having thousands of readers and followers.) As I’ve read many times before, this post said I need to find my niche and blog only about that. It said I shouldn’t blog about this and that. Since I’m not an expert on any subject, though, for the foreseeable future I’ll continue to write about the books I read, history, and the things I learn about the art and craft of writing.

Thank you for sticking with me in spite of the fact that I don’t have a “successful” blog. If I hit on a topic occasionally that a few people find interesting, I’ll consider that my blog is successful. I’ve never been one to go along with the crowd.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I just finished reading A Minute to Midnight, by David Baldacci, and have started listening to The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. The introduction was intriguing. It will be interesting to see how I like the book. That probably depends upon how graphic the murder and madness are!

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

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and your time, so I truly appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today.


Let’s continue the conversation

I’m always eager to know what you are reading. Feel free to share the titles of the books you’ve been reading and your thoughts about them.

Janet