This is not an April Fool’s Day Joke

This is not an April Fool’s Day joke. I read six books in March. Six. I set the bar high for myself by reading ten books in February, but I could only manage to read six in March. Today’s blog post is about three of those books. All three are newly-released historical novels.

Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew

I eagerly awaited this second novel by Anna Jean Mayhew, and it was well worth the wait! Tomorrow’s Bread was released on Tuesday.

Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew

I love the main characters! Ms. Mayhew weaves the stories of several families together in Tomorrow’s Bread. She puts names and faces on the destructive aspect of Urban Renewal, which was a program funded by the U.S. Government in the 1960s to remove “blight” from inner cities

Although I was only eight years old in 1961 when the removal of the Brooklyn neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina began, I remember the segregated era on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement.

I know the main streets referenced in Tomorrow’s Bread. I have traveled them all my life and, as a young adult, was employed in several offices that were built as a result of Urban Renewal. I remember separate water fountains for “white” and “colored” in department stores and the so-called “separate but equal” segregated schools.

I remember riding on racially-segregated Charlotte city buses. I clearly remember the time my mother and I got on a bus for me to go to the doctor. All the seats for whites were taken and I didn’t understand why we couldn’t sit in the back of the bus where there were vacant seats. The reverse must have been equally confusing for little black children.

In 1961 I was too young to understand segregation or Urban Renewal and, being white, I didn’t have to understand it.

Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew, is a must read for anyone living in the Charlotte area – especially the young people and those new to the area. To understand some events of today, it’s beneficial to know the history of the city.

Although only someone who lived in the Brooklyn section of Charlotte’s inner city could state this with authority, but as an outsider, I think Ms. Mayhew captured the essence of a place and time not so long ago in our history – yet a place that is gone forever.

Tomorrow’s Bread made me stop and think – like I never had before – about the people who were displaced by Urban Renewal as real flesh and blood individuals. They went from living in a sustainable neighborhood with grocery stores, a doctor, a library, and a church all in walking distance to having to look for affordable housing in neighborhoods that offered none of those things. Loraylee, Hawk, Rev. Eben Polk, Bibi, Uncle Ray, and Jonny No Age will stay with me for a long time.

Thank you, Anna Jean, for writing this novel and for prompting me to give serious thought to a time and federal program in the 1960s that – in the name of giving people a better life – demolished their homes, businesses, and churches and split up families that had been neighbors and friends for generations. It’s not a pleasant read, but it’s a story built around fictional characters you will love and pull for.

Now, I want to know what happened to Loraylee, Hawk, and Archie. Is there a third book in the works, Anna Jean?

Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan

This is a historical novel about “the hello girls” – the women who served as military switchboard operators in France and Germany during World War I. The service these women provided was an integral part of the Allies’ ability to defeat Germany in the War. It was something I was not aware of, although I’ve studied history and minored in history in college. It just goes to show how women’s contributions have often been ignored or minimized.

Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan

I listened to this audio book and found myself listening to “just one more chapter” (and then a couple more) before going to bed at night. I hated to see the book end. It followed Ruby, an experienced telephone switchboard operator, and the six women she supervised in France. Ruby’s brother had been killed in the War and joining the US Army Signal Corps was her way of honoring his memory.

The book tells how the military switchboard operators had to go through rigorous training and had to memorize new codes daily in order to do their jobs. They worked long hours and were always under stress as it was their duty to make sure they correctly and efficiently connected phone calls between generals and other officers.

These women were denied military benefits by the US Army until 1979 – 60 years after their service. Sadly, only 28 of the 228 US Army female switchboard operators lived to see that day.

The story line of the book includes Ruby’s being torn between her less-than-exciting fiancé and the Army medic she met and fell in love with in France. Some of the dialogue between Ruby and Andrew, her new love, is a little sappy but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber

I had the pleasure of hearing Ann Weisgarber speak several years ago at Main Street Books in Davidson, North Carolina. Her novel, The Promise, had just been released. I purchased a copy, but time got away and too many library books kept coming into my house. Long story, short:  I haven’t read The Promise yet. In fact, The Glovemaker is the first of Ms. Weisgarber’s novels that I’ve read. I want to read all of them.

The Glovemaker, by Ann Weisgarber

Having visited Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, I could really picture in my mind the setting for “The Glovemaker.”, Fruita, (formerly, Junction) Utah is a stark place As I recall from my visit there in 2002, there’s nothing there today but an orchard, an old schoolhouse, and a picnic table – along with sheer rock cliffs, interesting rock formations, dry creek beds, and no trees to speak of aside from the orchard.

I learned some things about Mormons that I hadn’t known before — that there was an underground railroad-type network that assisted Latter Day Saints to a place of safety when they were being tracked down for prosecution for polygamy. I love it when I learn something about history when reading a novel!

The book paints a picture of the hard life the early settlers in that part of Utah had in the 1880s. My heart broke for Deborah Tyler and her brother-in-law, Nels. Deborah watches each day for her husband’s return from his traveling wheelwright work in southern Utah, but the weeks turn into months. Nels loves Deborah but cannot have her because she is married.

There is suspense when a stranger appears at Deborah’s door seeking directions to the safe place and when the US Marshal comes looking for that stranger. Deborah and Nels are forced to lie and keep secrets due to the conflict between Mormons and non-Mormons and the law.

There is also tension among the eight households in Junction due to the secrets being kept and due to differences of opinion about polygamy and other The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints doctrines and practices. Add to that the bitterly cold weather and snow and you have a recipe for good historical fiction.

Since my last blog post

The word count for my The Doubloon manuscript stands just shy of 22,000. That’s a net gain of nearly 8,000 words since last Monday.  I had a good writing week last week.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer, I have you have quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.

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

Have you read any of the books I talked about today? If so, please share your thoughts with me. Have I piqued your interest in reading any of these books?

What are you reading, and would you recommend it?

Janet

Another Look at Racism & Bigotry

Today I’m repeating a blog post I wrote two years ago not long after the racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. In light of Friday’s white supremacists’ terrorism and murder spree at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, I think it’s worth repeating. My August 21, 2017 blog post addressed racism in the United States, but racism and religious intolerance exists around the world.

Christchurch, New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the last places we thought would see racial and religious hatred on the scale it saw on March 15, 2019. Ironically, that’s the very reason the perpetrators chose it as their target.

I’m reposting my August 21, 2017 blog post:  https://janetswritingblog.com/2017/08/21/race-in-america-and-the-dry-grass-of-august/ :

“Today’s blog post highlights the first paragraph of The Dry Grass of August, Anna Jean Mayhew’s debut novel. That paragraph is a great hook, for it draws you in and conveys that there’s bound to be a good story in the coming pages. Here it is:

“In August of 1954, we took our first trip without Daddy, and Stell got to use the driver’s license she’d had such a fit about. It was just a little card saying she was Estelle Annette Watts, that she was white, with hazel eyes and brown hair. But her having a license made that trip different from any others, because if she hadn’t had it, we never would have been stuck in Sally’s Motel Park in Claxton, Georgia, where we went to buy fruitcakes and had a wreck instead. And Mary would still be with us.” ~ Anna Jean Mayhew in The Dry Grass of August

The Dry Grass of August, by Anna Jean Mayhew

“The Dry Grass of August is a novel that takes you to the American South in the days of lawfully-mandated racial segregation. It is written from the point-of-view of a 13-year-old white girl from Charlotte, North Carolina. It sheds light on how it was in the 1950s for a black maid, Mary Luther, traveling from North Carolina to Florida with her white employer, Mrs. Watts, and the four Watts children. Mary couldn’t eat in restaurants, couldn’t sleep in motels, and couldn’t use public bathrooms because they were the legal domain of white people.

“Mary Luther is in constant but often subtle danger. She was, no doubt, apprehensive and in danger even when the members of the white family she was riding with were unaware. That unawareness is today referred to as “white privilege.” When one lives his entire life as a member of the predominant and ruling race, he enjoys privileges and advantages of which he isn’t even conscious.

“The Watts children witness things along the way to Florida that open their eyes to how differently whites and blacks are treated in the United States. They cannot return home to Charlotte unchanged.

“In light of the August 12, 2017 violence

“I chose the opening paragraph of The Dry Grass of August as my blog topic for today many weeks ago. When I selected it and put it on my blog schedule, I had no idea I would be writing it in the aftermath of the tragedy in Virginia of last weekend. I did not anticipate writing a 1,000-word blog post around that paragraph.

“Although published in 2011, The Dry Grass of August speaks to us today as, in light of the murder of Heather Heyer and other violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, Americans are having a conversation like never before about race relations. That conversation is long overdue and painful. It will not and cannot be a short conversation.

“For all the progress that has been made between the races in my 64 years, it is abhorrent and repulsive to me that in 2017 there are Ku Klux Klan members, white supremacists, and Neo-Nazis not only living among us but being emboldened by the words, actions, and inactions of President Donald J. Trump. It is Mr. Trump’s lack of moral leadership that has added fuel to the fire and given bigots a green light to publicly spew their hate.

“I had hoped to keep politics out of my blog, but I cannot remain silent. This is bigger than politics. This is morals and humanity and freedom. Freedom to live without fear. My blog is not a huge platform, but it does give me an avenue through which to speak. My blog has 1,300 followers [update: 1,500+ as of March 18, 2019] from all over the world. I don’t want my blog followers in other countries to think Americans are vicious and at each other’s throats. That is not who we are.

“Whereas the people who doggedly hung onto the myth that white people were a superior race used to cowardly hide their faces and identities under white hoods and robes, they now demonstrate and march with torches in regular street clothes. When they marched in Charlottesville last weekend, some of them were outfitted with helmets and shields, making it difficult for the anti-Nazi protesters to tell the difference between police officers and the white supremacists.

“There is no room in the United States of America for Neo-Nazis and other hate mongers. The good citizens of this country cannot allow the current occupant of the White House to lead us down this destructive road by his lame condemnation of evil and his attempt to equate the people carrying Nazi flags with the people who were there to protest their hateful agenda.

“Three of the founding pillars of the United States are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to assemble. I’m glad I live in a country where people can voice their opinions; however, no American has the constitutional right to threaten, terrorize, or murder other people simply because of the color of their skin or the way they choose to worship God.

“The United States is in a watershed moment. We will come out a better people on the other side of the current self-examination and soul searching because we are a good and decent people. We are not who Mr. Trump would try to make you think we are. We are so much better than that.”

P.S.  Added on March 18, 2019

Still a watershed moment

Nineteen months later, the United States is still in a watershed moment. Racism has a 500-year history here. It started when the first white European explorers and settlers arrived and started pushing the Native Americans off the land. It continued as each wave of immigrants arrived.

Africans, Irish, Italians, Chinese, Hispanics, Middle Easterners – it didn’t matter what color they were, what language they spoke, or what religion they professed. It seems to be human nature for every group of people – particularly, white people — to feel superior to another group or groups of people.

We live in challenging times when certain politicians and social media have emboldened cowards to act on their warped ideologies.

Since my last blog post

I returned to a short story I started writing a few weeks ago. I added 1,750 words to it on Friday and Saturday. It felt good to write historical fiction again.

Until my next blog post

Tomorrow’s Bread, by Anna Jean Mayhew

Be sure and look for Anna Jean Mayhew’s much-anticipated next novel, Tomorrow’s Bread, which will be released March 26, 2019.

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Forgiving Kind, by Donna Everhart.

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

The topic for my #TwoForTuesday blog post tomorrow is “Two Quotes by Inspirational Women.” The #TwoForTuesday writing prompts are supplied by Rae of Rae’s Reads and Reviews Blog found at https://educatednegra.blog.

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

Janet