Three Books Read in June 2020

A variety of events threw my blog off schedule this month. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that on the first or sometimes first and second Mondays of the month I write about the books I read the previous month. In July, I had to split my “Books Read in June 2020” blog posts into two installments. The first installment is posted today. The second installment will follow next Monday, if my computer cooperates.

June came with a host of good books to read. After being closed for nearly three months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the public libraries in our area reopened for patrons to pick up books they had on reserve. I got on the waitlists specifically for MP3 books I could download to my tablet and for newly-released books “on order,” so I could be assured of checking out new books that had not yet been in circulation.

Of course, when the library system reopened for pick-up service only, I had six books to pick up immediately. Some months are overloaded with good reads, and June was definitely in that category. It was a wonderful “problem” to have!

I hope my remarks about these books will pique your interest. Perhaps you’ll discover an author you’ve never read before – or a new book by an author you like. I don’t consider myself a book reviewer. I think true book reviewers have some rules to follow. I just enjoy sharing what I think and what I learn from some of the books I read.


The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate

#LisaWingate #TheBookOfLostFriends
The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate showed us in Before We Were Yours that she has a talent for taking a little-known fact from history, thoroughly researching it, and writing a novel that educates and entertains. The Book of Lost Friends is another such book.

In the years following the American Civil War, former slaves tried to reconnect with their relatives and friends. The slavery culture often tore families apart by parents and their children and brothers and sisters often being sold to different masters. Ms. Wingate discovered that the Methodist denomination offered a place in one of its newspaper-like publications where people could post information about a relative or friend they wanted to reconnect with. Those published notices adopted the name, “Lost Friends.”

The Book of Lost Friends follows two plot lines. One is in Louisiana in 1875 and introduces us to Hannie, a former slave; Juneau Jane, her illegitimate Creole half-sister, and Lavinia, the heir to a plantation now in shambles. The three women head for Texas. Along the way, Hannie becomes hopeful that she will find her long lost mother and eight siblings.

The other plot line is in Louisiana in 1987 and introduces us to a teacher, Benedetta Silva, who is trying to make history and literature come alive for her high school students. Seen as “an outsider,” “Benny” works to make her way in a small town on the Mississippi River. She is appalled at the poverty many of her students live in. Warned to stay away from a certain abandoned plantation house, curiosity gets the best of Benny. What she finds hidden in that house could change her life and the lives of her students forever.

One of the things I liked in the book was the “Negativity Rule” “Benny” enforced in her classroom. Under that rule, if a student spoke negatively about another student, the student in the wrong had to say three positive things about the other student. The author’s use of this rule to illustrate that it takes three times the work to undo the damage done by a negative is a lesson we could all learn.


The Man from Spirit Creek, by Barbara Kyle

#BarbaraKyle #TheManFromSpiritCreek
The Man from Spirit Creek, by Barbara Kyle

I never win anything, so I was shocked when I received an email from book coach and author Barbara Kyle telling me I had won a copy of her new novel, The Man from Spirit Creek on Audible! I had just picked up six library books that afternoon that had been held for me – some since a couple of days before the libraries had to close on March 15 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I had just started listening to The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate, but I was tempted to go ahead and start listening to Barbara Kyle’s book.

I took an online writing course taught by Barbara Kyle a couple of years ago, and I’d meant ever since then to read one of her novels. She lives in Canada and The Man from Spirit Springs is set in Alberta.

Ms. Kyle’s novel puts the reader smack-dab in this western Canadian province. She weaves the geography and geology (oil) of this prairie land into the story so well that you can taste the dust in your mouth and smell the rotten eggs smell of “sour” gas. This present-day story gets into the nitty-gritty of the clash between ranchers and big oil. It’s full of suspense, betrayal, revenge, family ties, the love between two sisters, and the romantic loves of both of them.

Liv Gardner is the attorney for Falcon Oil, the oil and gas company she and her fiancé, Mickey Havelock, own in Houston, Texas. Someone is sabotaging their rigs in Alberta. Liv goes to Spirit Creek, Alberta under the guise of having a temporary job with a lawyer there as she tries to figure out how to get the saboteur to give up his tactics and sell out to them.

The saboteur is sheep farmer Tom Wainwright. His beef with Falcon Oil? He blames Falcon’s “sour” gas, which is released 24/7, for his wife’s miscarriages and eventual death and for the miscarriages and deaths of many of his sheep.

Even as Liv and Mickey plan their wedding, Liv gets personally involved with Wainwright in spite of the fact that she went to Alberta to stop his efforts to ruin Falcon Oil. She discovers his human-side and lets her heart overtake her good sense. There’s a murder. Wainwright is arrested. But is he the killer? And will Liv and Mickey get back together?

You’ll love all the twists and turns in this contemporary Canadian western novel of suspense. It transported me all the way to Alberta for several days. What better way to “get away” during this pandemic than to curl up with a very engaging book?


How to Be An Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

#Antiracist #HowToBeAnAntiracist #IramXKendi
How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

There are many eye-opening things to take from Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be An Antiracist, but the most important lesson I learned from reading it is the difference being “not racist” and “antiracist.” I’ve been guilty of saying, “I’m not a racist.” It’s possible I’ve even said, although I hope I haven’t, “I’m not a racist, but….” “But” says, “Oh yes you are!”

In the words of Mr. Kendi in his book, “What’s the problem with being ‘not racist?’ It is a claim that signifies neutrality…. The opposite of racist isn’t not racist it is antiracist.”

Mr. Kendi anticipates the reader asking, “What’s the difference?” That’s what I wanted to know. In the introductory pages of his book, he eloquently answers that question. In fact, if you don’t want to or don’t have time to read the entire book, I recommend you read the introduction. You might not agree with it. It might not change your mind but, if you’ll read it with an open and curious mind, it will definitely give you something to think about.

What’s the difference between “not racist” and “anti-racist?” Mr. Kendi explains it as follows:  “One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people as a racist or locates the roots of problems in power and policies as in antiracist. One either allows racial inequalities to persevere as a racist or confronts racial inequities as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of not racist. The claim of not racist neutrality is a mask for racism.”

He goes on to say that “color-blindness” and “not a racist” means you fail to see race and you fail to see racism. Something I got from the book was to claim you don’t see race is disrespectful of people of another race. We need to recognize race and not pretend it doesn’t exist or that we don’t notice it. We need to celebrate it for what it is.

Mr. Kendi addresses his own racism in the book and how people of any race can be racist. As he states in the book’s introduction: “This book is ultimately about the basic struggle we’re all in: The Struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.” He describes antiracism as “an unlit dirt road.” It’s not easy to find one’s way on an unlit dirt road. He calls on all of us to look at power and policy. He says, “We know how to be racist. We know how to pretend to be not racist. Now let’s know how to be anti-racist.”

The big picture that made a lasting impression on me was that to be anti-racist is to stand up and speak out when you see injustice. To sit idly by, is to be complicit. As long as you see yourself as “not a racist,” you give yourself permission to sit idly by and ignore evil because you think it doesn’t affect you.

People of various religion and no religion read my blog around the world. I’m a Christian.  I think Jesus Christ is calling on Christians to call out injustice when we see it. I’m pointing to myself. I’ve been guilty of sitting idly by, turning the other way, keeping my mouth shut because I didn’t want to cause an argument or hurt someone’s feelings. I am, by nature, a quiet person. My voice often gets drowned out by louder voices and more assertive people. It is my challenge now to stop being “not racist” and start being “anti-racist” as I feel I’m being called to be.

(Since I listened to the audio edition of the book, I hope I got all the quotes right. My apologies to Mr. Kendi if I made any errors.)


Until my next blog post

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

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

I hope you stay safe and well. I hope you wear a mask to protect others.

Janet

Things I Miss and Things I Don’t

I am fortunate to once again live where I grew up. Literally. I live in the house that my parents built when I was six years old. The site is not as rural as it was in 1959, but it’s still considered “country.” I can see two other houses from my house, but I don’t exactly live in a neighborhood as most people define that today. The local landscape is rapidly changing, and there are things from my growing up years that I miss.

I invite you to come with me as I take a walk down memory lane. All the photographs in today’s blog post were taken by me.

Cars

I used to know almost everyone who passed by the house. There was less traffic then, and each make and model of car was more distinctive than today. It was easy to tell a Ford from a Chevrolet.

Bobwhites

For a good part of my life, a covey of quail (also known as Bobwhites because that was their wonderfully-distinctive call:  Bob-White!) nested on the ground near a bed of daffodils and a pale pink rose bush in the front yard. I haven’t seen or heard a quail in probably 10 years. Those daffodils still bloom around the first week in February. The climbing rose bush is no longer there, but my brain can still call up the delicious scent of those roses!

Woodpeckers and Flying Squirrels

I haven’t seen a Red-Headed Woodpecker since I was a teenager. We have Downy Woodpeckers but no Red-Headed ones. I miss them.

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Male Downy Woodpecker on a suet feeder

We’ve seen flying squirrels in the huge old red cedar tree at the south end of the house some years, but not in a long time. I’m afraid they are no longer in our area. One summer our nightly entertainment was sitting on the porch and watching the flying squirrels fly in and out of the feeder in the cedar tree where we put dried ears of corn.

Eastern Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebirds almost became extinct due to chemicals that were being used for agricultural purposes. After the problem was figured out and stopped, the bluebirds made a comeback. They nest in bluebird boxes in our yard every spring and are a joy to see!

Crimson Clover, Daisies, and Queen Anne’s Lace

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Wild Daisy on May 9, 2015.

My uncle used to plant red clover in the field across the road from our house to enrich the soil for other crops planted other years. I loved the way a breeze would gently blow through the crimson clover blossoms in waves. That memory calls to mind “amber waves of grain” from the song, “America the Beautiful.” That field is beautiful today with wild daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace. No doubt, someday, the wild flowers will be replaced with houses.

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Queen Anne’s Lace blossom

Tractors and Cattle

There are several farmers on the road I live on who still grow crops such as winter wheat. They raise beef cattle and goats. Some of the cattle have won blue ribbons at the North Caroline State Fair. These are serious farmers. I like that their tractors pulling various farm implements pass my house daily. I dread the day that I will have to add farm tractors to the list of things I miss.

Air-Conditioning

Lest I become too nostalgic about the 1950s and 1960s, I will also admit that I do not miss the days before air-conditioning. I do not miss those nights when it was so hot, humid, and still that I just lay in bed watching the clock because it was too hot to sleep.

Hoppy Toads and Mollypops

 

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Passion Flower in our garden

I enjoyed having a vegetable garden for many years. Along with a lot of hard (and hot!) work, came brown and bumpy toads we called “hoppy toads,” box turtles, writing spiders, gossamer-winged dragonflies, and wild passion flowers that produced a fruit we call “mollypops.”

August 2005 167
A “Hoppy Toad”

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Eastern Box Turtle in our yard

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A writing spider in our garden

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Dragonfly in our garden

Not having a garden any more means I rarely see a toad, a box turtle, or a writing spider. I haven’t seen a passion flower since the last year I had a garden, but now we’re overrun with white-tailed deer, raccoons, skunks, gray squirrels, and rabbits. As their habitats get bulldozed down to make way for more and more houses, animals such as deer are being pushed into our yard.

A raccoon in our yard April 28, 2014.
Raccoon in our yard

Hungry White-Tailed Deer

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Gray Squirrel (with a slightly red tail)

 

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White-Tailed Deer Fawn

One interesting bit of information is that I never saw a deer in our area until I was an adult. Now it’s common to see several grazing in the yard. The deer were the reason we stopped planting a vegetable garden a few years ago. We planted tomatoes, green beans, summer squash, corn, bell peppers, okra, and radishes. The deer ate everything. Well, almost everything. We did get six radishes for all our hard work! Needless to say, that was the last year we tried to have a vegetable garden.

I have truly been blessed to have lived here as a child and now again as an adult. I can’t imagine growing up in a better place! A part of me bemoans the fact that this area’s population is growing so fast, but I’d rather live in a vibrant, growing area than in one that is losing people and becoming a ghost town.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peelle and Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.

I’m still working my way through Barbara Kyle’s “Your Path to a Page-Turner Program.” I’ve learned a lot about the art and craft of writing from the first 16 videos and look forward to the remaining seven lessons.

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

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!

The-Spanish-Coin-Rescued

 

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

My Writing Plan of Action Update

I blogged about my writing plan of action on January 18, 2015. It’s time to give you an update.

You may recall that my plan in January included goals for my anticipated book of vintage postcards from the piedmont of North Carolina. That book did not come to fruition, so my plan was revised. This is what it looks like today:

(1) Schedule book signings/author events (on-going);
(2) Continue to blog every 5 days or so;
(3) Continue to search for writing contests to enter or magazine articles to write (on-going);
(4) Set aside one day each week to edit my historical novel manuscript, tentatively titled, The Spanish Coin, (until I get it polished as much as I can); and
(5) Start in earnest to find a literary agent to represent me and my novel.

I continue to try to schedule book signings and other author events. The only one I have on my calendar this summer is at the J. Hoyt Hayes Memorial Troutman (NC) Branch Library on August 27. With our house being remodeled during the next several weeks, I did not want to schedule any events until later this summer. It’s not like people are beating a path to my door begging me to come speak about my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina! I did not want to schedule any events in June or early July. I didn’t have any requests for that time period, so it worked out fine.

Originally, I thought I needed to blog daily. I came to realize that no one wanted to hear from me every day. My writing life is not that compelling. I adjusted my plan to blog every five days or so, but I will not blog just for the sake of blogging.

I continue to work on stories to submit to writing contests, although I haven’t produced any winners yet in 2015. I wrote a creative nonfiction piece about my 4th and 5th great-grandmothers for the GENEii writing contest sponsored by the Southern California Genealogy Society. I entered a contest in which the prize was to have an entire manuscript evaluated by Barbara Kyle, but I didn’t win that one either. I entered “The Other Woman,” a 1,000-word short story in the Bevel Summers Short Story Prize competition sponsored by Shenandoah Literary Review, but I learned a couple of weeks ago that it did not make the final round of judging. Such is the life of a writer, but at what point does it become counter-productive to keep entering writing contests and not winning or placing? There were more than 1,000 entries in the Bevel Summers competition. My story was eliminated going into the third round of judging. No time spent writing is wasted; however, I must be selective because most contests have an entry fee. Getting no constructive feedback from writing contests is a drawback. My money might be better spent in getting my novel manuscript evaluated by a professional.

We’re down to number four on my plan. This is where the wheels begin to fall off my wagon. I thought it would be easy to set aside one day each week to edit and revise the manuscript of my historical novel, The Spanish Coin. I have failed to discipline myself to accomplish that. I have worked on it for a few minutes here and there, but that is a terrible way to approach such work. I must block out at least an hour or more on a regular basis to do it justice. Being surrounded by the noise of a remodeling project is not conducive to any form of writing, especially something as important as a novel. Until I get number four under control, I can’t move on to number five.

A written plan for my writing makes me accountable. I’m a discouraged at the moment, but I will keep writing. It’s what I love to do!