“Defeated cultures behave strangely.”

(I set out to blog about a paragraph I liked from The Quantum Spy, a novel by David Ignatius. My thoughts, as usual, took me in some unexpected directions.)

As I write this on Sunday evening, the one-year anniversary of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia is being remembered across the United States and marked by demonstrations in Washington, DC. Heather Heyer was killed while peacefully protesting against the white supremacists who were marching and spewing vile racist chants at the base of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville last year.

Our nation’s president said, “Very fine people on both sides.”

No, Mr. Trump. Nazis and white supremacists are not fine people. Fine people are not Nazis and white supremacists.

A quote from a novel

I have come to understand that fiction can be used to shine a light on reality. Ideally, a history book presents documented facts. A work of fiction allows an author to present differing opinions on an issue in a creative way. In a novel, a character can voice an opinion or a truth in a way we usually don’t find in a history book.

The Quantum Spy
The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius

As I thought about the protests in Washington, DC this weekend, I was reminded of a paragraph from The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius, quoted below. It is written in the point-of-view of a character named Chang. A statue of a Confederate soldier moves Chang to a clearer understanding of the American Civil War.

“There was a curious statue in the middle of the intersection…. It portrayed a Confederate soldier, hat in hand, head down, shoulders slouched as he looked south. It was called ‘Appomattox.’ An inscription under the figure said:  ‘They died in the consciousness of duty faithfully performed.’ It was a monument to defeat. Chang had never admired the Confederacy, but in that moment, he empathized. Defeated cultures behave strangely.” ~ from page 265 of The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius.

Letting go of the US Civil War

It seems like Americans will forever fight the Civil War, which officially ended in 1865 with the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to United States Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.

We as a people need to learn from the Civil War and not repeat the mistakes of the past. We need to stop using the Civil War as an excuse to hate. The Confederate flags and swastika-emblazoned arm bands belong in museums, not on our streets.

Putting away the symbols of division and hate will not solve the problem, though. Taking down Civil War monuments won’t solve the problem. Only honest conversation and empathy can solve this problem.

I am a Southerner. I was born in The South and have lived here all my life. All four of my great-grandfathers and one of my great-great-grandfathers fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Each of them must have felt like they were doing the right thing.

I cannot get into their heads to know or understand their thinking. They were products of their times, and they were prisoners of their times. They did not have the advantage of hindsight.

Defeat is a difficult thing to take and pride is a difficult thing to swallow, but I have to wonder if most of those Confederate veterans even came to believe that it was a good thing the Union won the Civil War.

Distrust and Fear: A national problem

There is a problem within America. A facet of it is racism, but it goes beyond racism. There is distrust between many people of different races, religions, and political views.

For reasons I don’t understand, a lot of people in the United States distrust and fear people who don’t look like them, worship like them, dress like them, vote like them, or talk like them.

Although the United States has been called a “melting pot,” that process has been fraught with strife and misunderstandings. As each new group of immigrants entered the country, they faced discrimination and ridicule; however, eventually, they found acceptance. The following words inscribed at the Statue of Liberty meant something.

“Give me your tired, your poor,                                                                                                   Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;                                                                     The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Statue of Liberty vertical photo
The Statue of Liberty, New York, New York

(Photo by Juan Mayobre on Unsplash)

For reasons I don’t understand, some people can’t get past the Civil War. Some people no longer accept the words of this poem as the embodiment of the American philosophy.

Let the conversation in America begin so the hatred, distrust, and fear can end.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading several books, none of which is compelling me to read to the point that I’m skipping meals or losing sleep. Rule #1:  You don’t have to finish reading a book. I’m still trying to embrace that rule.

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.

Have you had an honest conversation about race, hatred, or distrust with someone of a racial background, religious beliefs, or political stance different from yours?

Let the conversation in America begin so the hatred, distrust, and fear can end.

Janet

Reading and Writing in January 2018

January is over, so it’s time for me to “fess up” about how I spent the month. Perhaps a better way to say that is “what I accomplished.” In my January 8, 2018 blog post (2018 Reading, Writing, & Living Plans) I felt I needed to be accountable to my blog readers. In order to do that, I said I’d set monthly writing goals. For January, I set a modest goal of adding 2,000 to the scenic plot outline for my historical novel, The Spanish Coin.

My writing

For starters, I failed miserably on reaching my 2,000-word goal. What I did, though, was brainstorm about story location. I continue to wrestle with what direction to take in re-writing my historical novel manuscript. The working title remains The Spanish Coin.

Historical novel progress

In January I settled on a location for the story. At least, I hope I will not change from this latest locale. I did some 1700s research on the place and worked on the story’s timeline. Location plays an important role in historical fiction. The era for the novel is the 1760’s, which is a decade earlier than my original plan.

Spanish Coin location reveal

Curious about the story’s setting?  The Camden District of South Carolina. Choosing a location for the story has freed me to proceed with the outline.

Goal for February

I tend to write detailed outlines, so I’ll go out on a limb and set a goal of 6,000 words for February.

My reading

I got my concentration back and had fun reading in January. I read what I wanted to read instead of tying myself down to any particular reading challenge.

That said, I picked up the rules for the 2018 reading challenges for the public libraries in Harrisburg and Mint Hill (I couldn’t help myself!), but I don’t plan to let them dictate what I read. With 500+ books on my “want to read” list, though, I might meet those two challenges without really trying. Incidentally, even though I read seven books in January, my “want to read” list had a net gain of 39. I realize this is not sustainable. I would have to be a speed reader and live to be a centenarian to finish my ever-growing list.

52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You, by Brett Blumenthal

The book title says it all. I took note of the suggested change for each week. This week seems like a good week to start, since I didn’t begin in January. This week’s small change:  Drink enough water to stay hydrated. I’m told I should drink approximately 80 ounces of water every day. Since I normally drink less than half that amount, this constitutes more than a “small” change for me.

The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

This latest John Grisham novel took a little different tack from his earlier books in that The Rooster Bar is about a group of law school dropouts practicing law without licenses. I found it to be more humorous than other Grisham novels I’ve read, but it was still full of suspense.

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, by Ryan Holiday

I blogged about this book on January 22, 2018, so I direct you to that blog post if you missed it: (Works That Last.)

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, by Denise Kiernan

the-last-castle-9781476794044_lg
The Last Castle, by Denise Kiernan

I’ve been reading so many novels the last couple of years that I’d forgotten how long nonfiction book titles tend to be. Or maybe it’s just the three I read in January.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book about the Vanderbilt family and the Biltmore Estate. Living in North Carolina, I have toured the Biltmore House four times. The first time was on a sixth grade field trip. Motion sickness on the bus as it wound around the endless curves on old US-74 east of Asheville is my main memory from that day, but I digress.

My other visits to the Biltmore Estate have been very enjoyable. Reading this book made me want to plan another trip to Asheville and tour the mansion again. It is a delightful book.

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

9780425284681
Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

This novel was inspired by the shocking history of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society during the first half of the 20th century. It is a gripping story and is expertly written. It is not a happy read, but I highly recommend this book.

The King of Lies, by John Hart

This was the January book choice of the Rocky River Readers Book Club. The novel is set in Salisbury, North Carolina, so I was familiar with some of the streets and buildings referenced in the book. It’s fun sometimes to read a book set in a location you have visited.

I though Mr. Hart could have omitted some of the “woe is me” theme in the first third of the book. The narrator’s whining about the wealthy people in this small town got old after a while. If you’ll hang in there, though, you’ll probably get so involved in trying to identify the killer that you’ll get to the point you can’t put the book down. You’ll think several times that you’ve figured out the villain’s identity but, chances are, you haven’t.

Nightwoods, by Charles Frazier

This novel has been on my “to read” list for several years, so I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finally read it. It is set in the mountains in western North Carolina.

Nightwoods is a tale about a woman who unexpectedly “inherits” her deceased sister’s twin boy and girl. The children give their aunt/new mother a challenge every day – and then her late sister’s widowed husband/killer comes to try to get the large sum of money he thinks the children took with them. The children are wild and uncommunicative. Add to that the fact that the aunt has no idea why her ne’er do well ex-brother-in-law has suddenly shown an interest in his children and has come to hunt them down.

What about December?

I just remembered that I never did blog about the books I read in December. They were a mixed bag of novels:  The Quantum Spy, by David Ignatius; Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich; and The Secret, Book and Scone Society, by Ellery Adams.

David Ignatius’s political thrillers never disappoint me. The Quantum Spy was no exception.

The last two Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich disappointed me. I used to eagerly await her annual next installment of these funny novels, but “Twenty-Three” and “Twenty-Four” were too predictable.

The Ellery Adams novel is an entertaining read about four women who want to form a friendship, but each one is required to reveal a secret about herself before they can truly trust one another.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life, by my fellow-blogger David J. Rogers; The Salt House, by Lisa Duffy, which was recommended by my friend Karen; Beartown, by Frekrik Backman, which is the February pick for The Apostrophe S Coffee Chat online book community; and The Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn. That’s about one book too many for me to read at the same time, but they are different enough that I’m not getting the story lines confused.

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

If you subscribed to my mailing list last week, you renewed my faith in mankind. Thank you, Vicki, Colby, Katrina, and Glen!

In case you haven’t signed up for my mailing list, you have another opportunity to do so using the fill-in form below. I appreciate it!

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.

cameron-stow-91861

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.”

jairo-alzate-188815(1)

(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