My Heart is in Eastern North Carolina

Due to Hurricane Florence, I’m a few hours later than usual getting my Monday blog post out. I live 200 inland in North Carolina. I’m happy to report that we came through unscathed although we had nearly 8 inches of rain in 48 hours. My prayers are for relatives, friends, and strangers who live closer to the coast and received upwards of 30 inches of rain. I lived in the eastern part of the state for a few years when I was a young adult, and my heart breaks to see the pictures of the current historic flooding there.

The photo below is a non-copyrighted photograph I downloaded from the internet. It is a typical picture of the current flooding in eastern North Carolina.

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Flooding in eastern North Carolina due to Hurricane Florence, September 2018.

It seemed frivolous this weekend for me to write a blog post about my planned idea of highlighting a line I like from a novel. This afternoon I still feel guilty for being able to sit in the comfort of my home, with electricity and no danger of flooding, to write such a post. Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead as planned.

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

I wrote about this novel and another book I read in August in my September 3, 2018 blog post (Two Thought-Provoking Books in August.)

In case you haven’t read this novel, it revolves around Count Rostov, who is under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. Over the decades, he befriends a variety of people in the hotel. Among those is the hotel’s maintenance man. They sat on the roof of the hotel all night drinking coffee, eating rye bread with lilac honey, and sharing memories from their younger years. Although from very different economic backgrounds, they found common ground in their memories of Moscow.

A quote from the novel

“So the summer sun began to rise, the fire began to die, and the bees began to circle overhead, the two men spoke of days from their childhoods when the wagon wheels rattled in the road, and the dragonflies skimmed the grass, and the apple trees blossomed for as far as the eye could see.” ~ From A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

That sentence is a beautiful piece of prose. The author not only puts the reader in the present but also in the past – all seamlessly in just 55 words.

Since my last blog post

It seems like all my sister and I did last week was anticipate Hurricane Florence and make preparations for its arrival.

We stocked up on batteries and bottled water. (When you live out in the country an depend on your own well for water, you have to think of those things.)

We put photo albums and other prized possessions in lidded plastic boxes to try to protect them rain in case a tree crashed through the house.

We checked on the southwest corner of the basement to make sure it was ready for us with quilts, etc. in case of a tornado warning. We made sure all drains in the yard were free of leaves.

We gathered important papers and secured them in Ziploc bags along with photocopies of the backs and fronts of our identification, insurance cards, and credit cards.

We bought ice so we could keep a few perishable foods in a little ice chest in the event we lost electricity. We ate some of the food we had in our freezer for later use.

We made sure we had bread, crackers, and peanut butter on hand to see us through a possible week or so without electricity. (It’s happened before.)

When a natural disaster knocks on your door, you realize what’s important. First on that list was our personal safety and the safety of those people nearer the coast. Most “things” can be replaced, or you might realize they weren’t really important after all.

We’ve begun to put photo albums back in the bookshelves. We’ve started drinking the water we collected in all pitchers and canning jars. We’ve tried to let the people who were concerned about our safety know that we are all right.

Until my next blog post

I will continue to put items back in place and perhaps decide there are things I should part with. I will be able to get back to my usual routine of life. I will eventually take for granted water, food, and electricity. However, my thoughts and prayers will be with my relatives, friends, and fellow North Carolinians who are still today in a state of emergency with disaster all around them.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m having trouble concentrating on a book right now.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Janet

GPS for an Enameled Toaster

Three of my last four blog posts have been sort of “heavy” in content, so we’re going to have a change of pace today. For those of you who prefer shorter and not-so-serious blog posts, this one’s for you.

I don’t have GPS for my vehicle. To give you an idea how old my vehicle is let me just saw the cassette tape deck works great.

After hearing a few stories from friends who’ve had less than stellar experiences with the device, I’m not sure I want a GPS.

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Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

The following quote from Less, by Andrew Sean Greer makes me think the author has had some memorable adventures while using a GPS. This quote comes from the part of the book when the hapless Arthur Less is visiting Japan:

“. . . he takes the wheel of what basically feels like an enameled toaster and follows the clear, perfect signs out of Kyoto, toward the hill country. Less is grateful the signs are clear because the GPS, after giving crisp, stern directions to the highway, becomes drunk on its own power outside the city limits, then gives out completely and places Arthur Less in the Sea of Japan.” ~ from Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

The author paints a couple of vivid pictures with these words. Instead of saying, “a small car” or “a sub-compact car,” he gives a humorous image of a car that “feels like an enameled toaster.”

Then, although we’re not meant to take it literally, we see Less in this car the size of a toaster floating on (or sinking in) the Sea of Japan.

Vivid imagery doesn’t just happen in a book. It takes a good writer to carefully choose his or her words.

Since my last blog post

I’ve gotten back into some genealogy work. That’s been a hobby of mine since my father died when I was 24 years old and I realized I had failed to ask him a lot of questions about his family.

My last blog post prompted more comments than I usually get. I enjoyed discussing cultural appropriation; Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright; and A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles with a good number of you.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Paterson. I’ve never read a James Patterson novel before and thought this might be a good one to start with. My political science background keeps showing up in my reading choices lately.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation.

Janet

Two Thought-Provoking Books in August

August was a month for me to finish several books I had checked out earlier but not had time to finish reading before their library due dates. I finished reading two of them. Not a huge number in the scheme of things, but I really enjoyed both of them and was glad to check off a couple of books that have been on my Want to Read list for a long time.

Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

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Fascism: A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

I sort of put myself in a jam by telling my blog readers in May that I was reading Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright. Then, I mentioned again in July that I was reading it. Alas, I didn’t finish reading it in July. It’s not a fast read because it delves into such a serious and timely subject. In July, I described the book as being “chilling.” That’s still the best word I can think of to sum up how the book made me feel.

I wish Madeleine Albright had written my history textbooks. Her command of history coupled with a very readable writing style combine to make this an unsettling read.

If your political leanings are to the far right, you probably won’t want to read this book. I hope that won’t deter you, though. Read it with an open mind and your eyes might be opened to see some indicators in today’s America that will give you pause.

Ms. Albright seamlessly gives the history of Fascists and would-be Fascists throughout the world in the 20th century and up to the present day. The facts just flow through her words. That said, though, it was a slow read for me. The book is packed with history. Many of the details she includes were unknown to me. I read and reread chapters. She addresses the economic and political factors that create an incubator for Fascist movements.

I’ll share four quotes from the book here.

“Consider that, of the people celebrating their sixteenth birthday this year, almost nine in ten will do so in a country with a below-average standard of living.” ~ from Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

“In a true democracy, leaders respect the will of the majority but also the rights of the minority – one without the other is not enough.” ~ from Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

 “Good guys don’t always win, especially when they are divided and less determined than their adversaries. The desire for liberty may be ingrained in every human breast, but so is the potential for complacency, confusion, and cowardice.” ~ from Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

“This generosity of spirit – this caring about others and about the proposition that we are all created equal – is the single most effective antidote to the self-centered moral numbness that allows Fascism to thrive.” ~ from Fascism:  A Warning, by Madeleine Albright

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

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A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles

I started reading A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles last October! It’s a wonderful book, so I’m at a loss to explain why I didn’t finish reading it until last month. I think I indicated in an earlier blog that I just couldn’t “get into it.” That comment brought at least one reply of surprise. It boiled down to, “How can anyone not like this book?”

I agree with that sentiment now. It is a wonderful novel, charmingly-, humorously-, and delightfully-written while giving the flavor of Russia in the years after the Bolshevik Revolution. It is about a Russian Count who is put under house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow and how he makes the best of his situation. He befriends a young girl who shows him all the nooks and crannies in the hotel. He eventually got a job in the hotel’s restaurant after it came to light that he knew wines and could be of use in the restaurant.

The book follows Count Rostov’s life into the 1950s. When he first moved into the attic of the grand Metropol Hotel right after the Bolshevik Revolution, he determined to make the best of his situation. He could not imagine the life he would have or the people who would come into his life there over the next decades.

My description doesn’t begin to do justice to A Gentleman in Moscow, so I recommend that you read it. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Since my last blog post

I’ve received many comments on last Monday’s blog post. Thank you for the conversation! Sadly, I did not get back to work on my historical novel. Too many interests are pulling me in too many directions!

Until my next blog post

I need to increase my time on social media, since I’ve essentially ignored my social media plan for Twitter and Pinterest for several weeks. I also plan to make time to work on genealogy.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m almost through reading The Death of Mrs. Westover, by Ruth Ware, and I’m reading The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson.

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

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments

I invite your comments below. Have you read Fascism: A Warning or A Gentleman in Moscow? Share your thoughts. Have you read any good books lately?

Let’s continue the conversation.

Janet

Cultural Appropriation in Writing

Cultural Appropriation was a term I first encountered one day last week while participating in a writers’ group page on Facebook. Although I was not familiar with the term, I’ve had first-hand experience in wrestling with it in my own writing.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A definition

The Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as

“the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”

A raft of articles and video clips

As I started looking for a definition of cultural appropriation, I found a wealth of online references, which proves that I just haven’t been paying attention.

What I discovered is that non-Hispanic individuals were criticized for operating a burrito food cart in Portland, Stella McCartney was criticized for including Ankara prints in her spring fashion collection, a white man was criticized by Koreans for making a Kimchi-making tutorial, in March of this year Bruno Mars was accused of cultural appropriation in his music, and just last week Jamie Oliver was accused of cultural appropriation for calling a dish “punchy jerk rice.”

Author Morgan Jones’ opinion

Author and administrator of the “Writers on the Path to a Page-Turner” Facebook group, Barbara Kyle, started a conversation about cultural appropriation on Facebook on August 20. She shared a link to an October 1, 2016 article in The Guardian ( https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/01/novelists-cultural-appropriation-literature-lionel-shriver ) and in a follow-up comment she quoted author Morgan Jones. Here’s Ms. Kyle’s comment:

“The move to self-censorship for fear of ‘cultural appropriation’ is a sad state of affairs. Author Morgan Jones eloquently champions the opposite position:  ‘Fiction remains the best means we have of finding connection where there seems to be none; and the novel, of all forms, encourages a search that’s deep and sustained. By reading (or writing) one, you’ve travelled somewhere else. You’ve moved, it only slightly, towards others. In a world that finds and increasingly exploits division and difference, this is an invaluable, precious exercise.”

After you’ve finished reading my blog post today, I invite you to read The Guardian article referenced above. That article includes the following novelists’ views on cultural appropriation: Hari Kunzru, Kamila Shamsie, Aminatta Forna, Chris Cleave, AL Kennedy, Stella Duffy, Linda Grant, Naomi Alderman, Philip Hensher, Maggie Gee, and Nikesh Shukla. These are writers of various ethnic backgrounds, which makes their comments especially poignant.

The article’s introduction reads as follows:

“Jonathan Franzen claimed he won’t write about race because of limited ‘firsthand experience’, while Lionel Shriver hopes objection to ‘cultural appropriation is a passing fad’. So should there be boundaries on what a novelist can write about?”

Another writer in the Facebook group

Another person in the writers’ group on Facebook shared that he had given up on publishing his historical novel based on the life of Etienne Annaotaha, a Canadian First Nations hero after seeing how much flack Joseph Boyden caught for his writing, even though Mr. Boyden is 26% Native American. Imagine how a 100% European ancestry writer would be treated for writing about Native Americans if someone like Mr. Boyden is not accepted?

A quote from Walter Mosley

The following quote from Walter Mosley appeared in an email I received from Writer’s Digest last week:

“Write without restraint. It’s important to not censor yourself. People will censor the sh*t out of you… and there’s more truth in fiction than there is in nonfiction. You have to be committed to that truth.” – Walter Mosley

My challenge

In the historical novel I’m writing, set in the Carolinas in the 1760s, I’m attempting to write from several points-of-view, including that of a male slave and that of a free woman of color. My challenge is to be true to history while writing about fictional characters. I might not get it right.

I found a truck-load of encouragement from the Morgan Jones quote highlighted above! I have typed it and taped it to the bottom of my computer screen so I can read it every time I sit down to work on my novel.

So should there be boundaries on what a novelist can write about?

I say, “No, as long as the writer does her best research and uses her best writing skills to convey a story in a work of fiction.”

Cultural appropriation smacks of censorship, and I’m not for censorship in fiction. I don’t want someone else deciding what I should or should not read. Likewise, I don’t want someone else deciding what I should or should not write.

As a Southerner, I have not appreciated the disingenuous portrayal of Southerners in movies and television programs all my life; however, I uphold the creators’ right to produce that work under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Censorship is a slippery slope I don’t want to see us go down.

All that said, I will be mindful of my use of dialect in my novel. There are better ways to get across time, place, and social standing than hitting the reader over the head with dialect.

Since my last blog post

I’ve taken some courage from researching cultural appropriation. Although I was ignorant of the term itself, I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject for the years I’ve been working on my own novel.

I was also inspired by a dream I had last Monday night. As far as I can remember, it was the first time I dreamed that I was writing. I was writing my novel, and the words were flowing faster than I could write them down. The odd part was that I was writing in cursive, although in real life I do all my writing on the computer.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m trying to finish reading A Gentleman in Moscow and I’ve started reading The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time. I plan to get back to work on my historical novel (working title, The Spanish Coin) with a renewed since of dedication since recharging my batteries in the Blue Ridge Mountains a couple of weeks ago and since reading about cultural appropriation last week.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments

I invite your comments below. What are your feelings about cultural appropriation? Have you read any good books lately? What have you been up to? What’s on your mind?

Let’s continue the conversation.

Janet

Another Case of Wondering

A couple of weeks ago my blog post (Sometimes I Have to Wonder ) was about some strange recommendations I got from Pinterest. As a follow-up to that, today’s post is about a similar experience I had on Amazon.com

Occasionally, I do a search for my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina on Amazon to see where it comes up in the search, to see how many copies remain and if Amazon is placing another order, and the fluctuating price.

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My book!

When I did that a few days ago, I was dumbfounded by the books that come up as “Sponsored products related to this item.” In case you haven’t been following my blog for several years, you might not know that in 2014 Arcadia Publishing published a vintage postcard book that I wrote. The title, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, pretty much says what a potential buyer can expect to find:  narrative built around vintage postcards from the mountains in western North Carolina.

The following is a list of the “Sponsored products related to this item” as listed by Amazon.com on December 4, 2017:

How to Mount Aconcagua: A Mostly Serious Guide to Climbing the Tallest Mountain Outside the Himalayas, by Jim Hodgson;

The Journey in Between: A Thru-Hiking Adventure on El Camino de Santiago, by Keith Foskett;

Coloring Books For Adults Volume 6: 40 Stress Relieving and Relaxing Patterns, Adult Coloring Book Series, by Coloring Craze.com;

Farthest North:  Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship “Fram” 1893-96 and of a Fifteen Months’ Sleigh Journey, by Dr. Nansen and Lieut. Johansen (1897);

Vagabonds in France, by Michael A. Barry; and

Adult Coloring Book: 30 Day of the Dead Coloring Pages, Dia De Los Muertos (Anti Stress Coloring Books for Grown-ups, by Coloring Craze.

That was just the first of three pages of “Sponsored products related to” The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, by Janet Morrison.

Klout.com

Klout.com is a website that measures one’s activity on social media. I mentioned Klout.com in my April 13, 2017 blog post, K is for Klout.com.I understand that 50 is considered a good score on Klout.com. My all-time high score so far was attained on April 18, 2017:  45.31. Hmmm. Odd that I hit my all-time high score just five days after I blogged about Klout.com!

My score has now dropped to 42, so my goal of reaching 50 by the end of the end is highly unlikely. It will be interesting to see if my score increases this week after mentioning the website in today’s blog. There might be something fishy going on here.

My point in mentioning Klout.com today is because when I checked my score on December 8, the site reported that I was an expert on languages. I had to laugh.

I am a native speaker of English, and I neither speak nor write it correctly all the time. I studied Spanish 40+ years ago. I can count to three in French, although I doubt my pronunciation is correct and I’d be hard-pressed to spell those numbers correctly.

You get my drift. I am in no way an expert on languages. Several months ago, Klout.com reported that I was also an Excel expert. Thank you, Klout.com, for your vote of confidence, but I am in no way an expert on anything related to computers.

I think such things are determined by the use of algorithms. That’s all I need to know. I never did understand or like math.

Until my next blog post

If I can get my act together, next Monday I’ll blog about an interesting piece of local history.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading at (yes, reading at) A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. I keep checking it out of the public library when I have other books to read. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s just not the right time for me to read the book. It’s interesting, but obviously not holding my attention enough to make me drop everything else and read it. I think it’s me and not the book.

Shameless plug:  If you don’t have a good book to read, may I suggest you order The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, by Janet Morrison. You might be able to arrange delivery before Christmas, if you hurry. You can order the electronic version and get it instantaneously, of course.

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Silas and Janet were equally excited the day “their” book arrived in July, 2014.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and I hope the algorithms used by Amazon.com are kinder to you than they are to me.

Hmmm. I wonder if I did a search for Adult Coloring Book:  30 Day Of The Dead Coloring Pages, would my postcard book would come up as a related item?

Janet

Seasonal Affective Disorder in November

I tried reading several novels in November that just didn’t grab my attention. I will not name them here. It’s disappointing to sit down to read a book and just not get “into it” even after 10 or 20 pages.

Still Life, by Louise Penny

The only book I read in November was Still Life, by Louise Penny. It was the book read by the Rocky River Readers Book Club last month. I really tried to like it, but I just couldn’t stay interested in it. Don’t blame the author or the book. Louise Penny is a popular author. I believe it wasn’t the right time for me to try to read her first book.

One of the items in the Reader’s Bill of Rights (my blog post two weeks ago:  Reader’s Bill of Rights) is the right to skip pages. I did too much of that while reading Still Life, so when I got to the last page I still didn’t know “who dunnit.” I enjoyed the book club discussion of the book last Monday night and found out how much I’d missed by not giving it my full attention.

After reading four to six books every month in 2017, suddenly in November I lost my motivation to read. I wanted to read. At first, I thought I was distracted by my desire to get back to work on my historical novel manuscript. It just didn’t work out very well.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

As I wrote today’s blog post, I concluded that the culprit in my recent inability to concentrate enough to read is Seasonal Affective Disorder. In case you aren’t familiar with this disorder, there is reliable information about it at the Mayo Clinic’s website:  https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651. I think I’ve had it all my life but just got a diagnosis several years ago.

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Photo by Cameron Stow on Unsplash

What I’m reading

As November came to a close, I was halfway through The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius. I’m eager to find out who the “mole” is, but Seasonal Affective Disorder is restricting my reading time and messing with my ability to concentrate.

I’ve checked out A Gentleman in Moscow twice. This time, I hope to finish reading it. Last Christmas in Paris, by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. It is the December book choice for an online book club I joined earlier this fall. It’s a book reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows.

I also continue to listen to The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham, but you know I’m not a fan of books on CD. I’m on the waitlist for the electronic copy of it at the public library. One way or the other, I will finish it.

The Spanish Coin

I’ve worked on my scenic plot outline for the rewrite of The Spanish Coin several days in the last week in an effort to get it off “the back burner.” The outline kept calling my name in November and I was excited to get back to it. I hadn’t worked on it in several months, so I had to reacquaint myself with the new plot line.

My blog is about my journey as a writer, and that includes my reading. That journey was bumpy in November. Better days lie ahead as my Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms abate in the coming months. Too bad I can’t live in the northern hemisphere from April until mid-September and then live in the southern hemisphere for the remainder of the year!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ll try to finish the books I’ve started.

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

Janet

Sometimes I Have to Wonder

Raise your hand if you are addicted to Pinterest. I am guilty.

I have boards on Pinterest about various aspects of writing, cooking, blogging, local history, the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina (which just happens to also be the title of my vintage postcard book published by Arcadia Publishing), the North Carolina coast, quilting, Southernisms, hearing loss, and many of my other hobbies and interests.

If you follow my blog, you know that I generally write about books I’ve read, samples of my writing, or things I’ve learned about the art and craft of writing. I have a board on Pinterest called “Janet’s Writing Blog” where I pin each of my blog posts.

If you participate in Pinterest and have interest boards on the site, you probably get e-mails from Pinterest with suggested pins that might be of interest to you based on your boards. Those e-mails usually make sense; however, one I received a couple of weeks ago fell into the category of “sometimes I have to wonder.”

Considering the content I pin to my “Janet’s Writing Blog” interest board, why did Pinterest send me an e-mail titled, “A few new ideas for your board Janet’s Writing Blog” which included the following pins for me to visit?

“How much space do goats really need?”

“How to make homemade chicken feed – a simple formula.”

“Halloween Pumpkin Wall Clock A9 Nice for gift or home.”

“DIY Garden Fence.”

“Pinned for what they used to hinge the gate.”

“What to wear – frivolous Friday.”

Another one with a photo of a fence was titled, “So simple – inexpensive – would work    for the dogs.”

And last but not least:  “Small chicken coop and fenced area for egg laying.”

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(Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash)

It served a purpose

The Pinterest e-mail served a purpose, although not its intended one. It made me laugh. It loses some of its punch here since I can’t include the photos that accompanied each suggestion.  As I scrolled down through the recommended pins for my Janet’s Writing Blog interest board, I laughed again and again.

I try to find something to laugh about every day. A good laugh, when not at the expense of another person, is good for the soul. Thanks, Pinterest!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have something to laugh about.

If you’d like to visit my Pinterest page and see my various interest boards, go to https://www.pinterest.com/janet5049/.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius; Last Christmas in Paris, by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb; A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles; and The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham. And, yes, sometimes I get the story lines and characters confused.

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

Janet