Emmanuel

Monday, December 31, 2018

As I heard in a sermon on Christmas Eve, the book of Matthew begins and ends with the promise that God is with us. The promise comes first in Matthew 1:23:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
The promise is repeated in Jesus’ final words before his ascension, in the very last verse of the book (Matthew 28:20):
 “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I quoted these verses from the English Standard Version, which spells Emmanuel with an I rather than an E, but I prefer the spelling in the King James Version. That’s partly because of its association with another E word.
E also stands for ‘evergreen.” The evergreen trees that we use at Christmas remind us that Christians have everlasting life with Christ. Yes, He is with us.
My wish for you as we head into 2019 is that you may be aware of His presence throughout the coming year.


A Christmas Cross

Monday, December 24, 2018


Christmas is about Christ’s birth, but it is also about His death and resurrection, and we can’t separate those events. He came as a baby to share our humanity and die for our salvation. The cross in the picture hangs in my kitchen all year long to remind me of that.

As you can see, the cut-outs in the cross portray the nativity scene. The center of the crossbar shows Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, who is lying in the manger. A star shines above and angels herald the birth on each side. In my opinion, the scenes below the crossbar are backwards since the first visitors (the shepherds and sheep) are placed at the bottom while the later-arriving wise men are above them.

More importantly, this cross is incomplete. Neither Jesus’ birth nor His death would have meant anything without His resurrection. But the Christmas cross is still a good reminder about the all-important connection between Christmas and Holy Week.

The true meaning of Christmas is Easter, so remember that as you celebrate tomorrow.

A Season for Creches

Monday, December 17, 2018


Christmas is family and presents and parties and . . . Yes, those are big parts of the season for some of us, but all of them would be meaningless without Christ. The Christmas celebration is about Christ’s birth, which brought Him to earth to die for our salvation. So the best Christmas decorations are the manger scenes that remind us of the reason for the season.

Today’s blog post highlights some of my favorite creches from recent years, beginning with the one at the top of the page. This is the creche that has adorned the fellowship area in my church for decades. The photo is from 2008, but it could have been taken in 2018.

I also love this creche that I photographed in the sanctuary of the Church of Ste. Genevieve at Ste. Genevieve, Missouri in 2013.

Inside a church is a logical place to find creches, but they create a better witness when they are outside where they can be seen by people who might not walk through the doors. This next creche sits in front of Trinity Lutheran Church in Millstadt, Illinois (my daughter and son-in-law’s church).

Some outdoor displays are more elaborate than others. In 2010, Caroline and Pete took us to see the Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois. The grounds contain many Biblical pictures drawn in lights, and they are beautiful. The first one below is a traditional nativity scene, but I am even more impressed by the second, which shows the city of Bethlehem.


Then there are the more personal creches, by which I mean the ones Roland and I own or have owned. The first photo shows the nativity scene that sat outside our house before we moved to the condo. Caroline and Pete have it now, and it is still in use. The second shows one I crocheted many years ago and have put out every year since.


Everyone should have at least one creche in their house at Christmas time to remind them of the reason for the season.

I’d feel lost without mine.

More Than a Decoration

Monday, December 10, 2018


Several weeks ago, Marni Jacobson wrote a column chiding people who decorate their Christmas tree the same way every year. It reminded me of another column she wrote six years ago where she sang the praises of designer trees and essentially told her readers to abandon the traditional ones.                                                                              

Both times I thought, “I should send her a letter disagreeing with her positions,” and both times I didn’t do it. So I was happy when I read her column this week and saw all the letters she received from readers who feel as I do.

Even though I haven’t written any letters, I did respond to the first column with a blog post. I am reprinting it here with a few minor changes to bring it up-to-date.

More Than a Decoration

A Christmas tree isn’t just a decoration. It reflects family and memories and love.


Thursday’s “At Home” column by Marni Jameson [November 22, 2012, in our local paper] talked about her visit to a Christmas tree exhibit with artistic trees of all shapes, colors, and materials. They included one made of apple-green Tupperware bowls and one shaped like the Eiffel Tower. Then Marni gave readers tips on how to create their own designer trees.


Much as I enjoy Marni Jameson’s column, this time I disagree with her. I’m all for creativity, but I don’t want a designer tree. 


I want one that creates memories of Christmases past and hints at those to come.


The second picture shows the year I got my doll house. A wonderful Christmas with a scrawny tree covered in hand-made decorations. The paper chains are the most obvious here, and we had at least two kinds. Our tree topper was a cardboard star covered with aluminum foil, and the best ornaments were . . . well, I’ll tell you about them in a minute.


I remember only four store-bought things that ornamented our Christmas trees as I grew up. Strings of lights, shiny round balls (like the one in the top picture), long plastic ornaments that resembled the icicles hanging from the eves, and tinsel.

The best ornaments were the ones my father made from goose or turkey wishbones. He dried the wishbones and painted them silver. I’m not sure how many there were originally, but I have two that hang on my tree every year. You can see one of them in the first picture.

The third picture shows the type of tree we had when my children were growing up. By now, most of the ornaments were commercially made, but they still had memories attached. The mouse I bought at a dime store when I moved out on my own, the cloth Santa that always hung at the bottom of the tree because toddlers couldn’t destroy it, and the ornaments Roland’s parents gave us each year. We also used the ones Caroline and John made in school until they took most of those with them when they left home.

Even though the children are grown up now, the tradition continues. In 2018, our tree (shown in the last picture) still wears the Santa, the ornaments from Roland’s parents, and the two wishbones. Unfortunately the mouse broke last year [see my November 13, 2017 post]. Although we still have him, he is carefully stowed away and didn’t make it onto the tree this year. And part of the tradition has moved to other homes. The stocking I crocheted for Caroline hangs in her living room along with the one I made for Pete the year they got married. John has taken his stocking, too.

So don’t let anyone convince you that a Christmas tree is just art or décor.

It is family and memories and love.


Don't Sell Your Books for Free

Monday, December 3, 2018


I subscribe to a service called BookBub, which notifies me of daily e-book deals. The prices for a Kindle version range from $2.99 to free.

Although I’d had bad luck with free books in the past, I decided to try one or two of those “deals.” After all, what did I have to lose?

A lot, as I will explain two paragraphs down.

Free means badly written by an author who clearly has no understanding of the principles of fiction writing. I’m sure there are exceptions, but that is what it has meant every time I’ve gotten a Kindle book for that price. And that includes those books advertised as having “over 5000 five-star Goodreads ratings.” I’m convinced that these authors join a network of writers who agree to give five-star ratings to each other’s books without even reading them.

I’m a busy woman who already has a long reading list. Any time spent on a bad book is time I can’t spend on a good one. And although I’m much better than I used to be, something in me still balks at putting a book down before I have finished it. So I don’t buy free books.

The main reason to give away free books is to generate paid sales. If people will love your book, they will rave about it and tell all their friends (Facebook or otherwise), who will then rush out and buy it. Or if it is the first in a series, the people who receive the free one will pay for the subsequent ones. That’s the theory, anyway.

These authors of these substandard books probably believe they are good writers, but there are only two reasons why conventional (as opposed to experimental) books don’t sell. The author is either a poor marketer (which I understand very well) or a bad writer.

If you are a poor marketer, I doubt that giving away free books is enough to overcome it, and if you are a bad writer, the practice can actually be counterproductive.

Given an interesting concept, I might take a chance and spend a few dollars to buy a book. I have bought several of the $1.99 and $2.99 books highlighted on BookBub, and most have been worth it. If the book I paid for is bad, I won’t buy another from the same writer. But at least that person has made a portion of the money I already spent. If the book is free, the writer doesn’t even get that.

So before you sell your book for free, pay a professional to do a substantive edit, or find a group of beta readers who will be brutally honest with you.

You’ll regret it if you don’t.

Upgrading My Writing Space

Monday, November 26, 2018


I recently bought a sit-to-stand desk riser. It wasn’t easy to find something I liked since most are too large for my current desk. I also needed an attached keyboard tray to keep my hands comfortable and healthy while typing. I finally found what I wanted at Staples,1 but that was only the beginning of my purchases.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to buy a new desk. However, I had a long, narrow organizer on the rear of my desk that held a small stapler, thumb drives, paper clips, and a number of similar items I like to have within easy reach, and the organizer would no longer fit. It didn’t work anywhere else, either, so my next purchase was a square storage unit that fit where I had my lamp. The lamp is still there, too, sitting on top.

The riser arrived, and Roland helped me assemble it. Then I tried it out. When it was lowered to a sitting position, the keyboard tray on the riser blocked the keyboard tray on the desk so that I didn’t have enough room to maneuver my hands while typing. But the keyboard tray on the riser was too high to be comfortable while I was sitting. I solved that problem by raising the height of my chair. The old keyboard tray is now my desk calendar’s home.

Then I had to figure out the optimal height for the riser while standing. If I got the keyboard in the right position, the laptop screen was too low, and vice versa. That led to a trip to Staples and another purchase—this time a riser for my laptop. But I finally got everything set up to where I like it.

The entire process was a learning experience.

But I’m glad I did it.

_____

1 Staples brand, Product #44901.

The Next Book I Read Will be Authored by a Robot

Monday, November 19, 2018


It won’t be long before our electronic books will be authored by robots. That’s an exaggeration, of course, because machines can’t think and never will. Unlike the fictional HAL, machines can only follow the instructions their human creators have programed into them.

Still, sometimes it seems as if machines are taking over, and it isn’t always a pleasant experience.

When we left New York City last week, we decided to get lunch at Newark Airport. An entrée cost $30 at a sit-down restaurant, so we headed for the food court. The prices were better, but the service was highly automated, and not in a good way.

After we figured out what type of food we wanted, we ordered it from a pad. We’ve done that at other places, but this menu didn’t include any drinks and we couldn’t find any place to order them from.

Paying was an even bigger problem. The person behind the counter was there to make up the orders and nothing else. Another patron finally told us that we had to pay for our food at one of the self-checkout kiosks. It wasn’t until we had scanned the order ticket and charged our sandwiches that we discovered we had to get our own drinks and scan them in, as well. Even the “on tap” Coke that flowed directly from a machine was purchased by scanning the code on the correct size cup and paying for it before pouring the drink. But when I tried to use cash to pay for my drink, I was told I would have to use a different checkout station. So I gave up and charged that, too.

We weren’t the only ones who were frustrated or confused, and the food court paid somebody to stand by the self-checkout machines and explain how they worked. The concessionaire may have saved on one or two employees, but at what cost in customer satisfaction?

Robots will never write books without help from a human creator.

But when did technology replace customer service?

Research Can Change the Story

Monday, November 12, 2018


Last week I went to Ellis Island to research my next book, and what I learned changed the tale I intended to tell. It didn’t alter the theme, but it did modify the plot.

Some background. Many people were held in limbo on Ellis Island for days or weeks or even months. Although many middle-grade readers have heard about Ellis Island, few know that it became a temporary home to some immigrants, so that is the story I wanted to tell. And it’s the story I will tell. Just not the way I had originally considered doing it.

My original plot idea was to have my protagonist’s younger sister fail the medical test for entry into the U.S. because of red eyes. Trachoma was a guaranteed basis for deportation, but they couldn’t always confirm the diagnosis immediately and would hold people temporarily to see if their eye conditions cleared up. I was going to have my protagonist stay with her sister during this observation period since I assumed that would give the protagonist the ability to roam the island.

I paid for a hard-hat tour of the hospital area, and our tour guide was very helpful. But one of the first things I learned was that family members weren’t allowed to stay no matter how old the child was. So that idea was out. (Apparently young children could stay if parents were detained, but not the other way around.) But I also learned that measles was the most common contagious disease treated there. So now my protagonist will be the person who is denied entry until she recovers (or dies, which was another possibility at the time) from the measles. She will be isolated from her family, which creates its own tension.

Fortunately, I hadn’t fleshed out my plot or started writing the story, so the change is easy enough to make at this point. In fact, the ideas are flowing, and I think this plot will be better than my original one.

But it highlights the perils of devising a plot before doing the research.

You Can't Fool Mother Nature

Monday, November 5, 2018

I’ve spent the past week catching up after my writers’ conference with little time to write a blog post, so I’m celebrating the extra hour of sleep by using a poem I wrote in March 2013. Here it is.
Spring Forward, Fall Back
Spring forward
To save an hour of daylight.
Put it in the bank
Until the dark of winter.


Fall back
Into the evening gloom.
Open the vault
To lengthen the days.


Empty the treasure chest
Of sunlight and illusion.
Evening hours borrowed from morning,
And then returned.

No hour gained,
No hour lost,
Each day still with twenty-four
To run its course.

Minds are easily deceived,
But you can’t fool Mother Nature.
 

Ghosts, Witches, and . . . Authors?

Monday, October 29, 2018


I am Edgar Allan Poe. Or I was on Saturday for a writers’ conference.

Ghosts and witches are common sights at Halloween, but Saturday’s dress code ran more to literary figures and characters. If you are still looking for a costume, here are some ideas based on what I saw there.

Our keynote speaker came as Emily Dickinson and was accompanied by two of her poems. Unfortunately, he shed the costume before I got a photo. We also had a Laura Ingalls Wilder, a Louisa May Alcott, and a Joyce Carol Oates. I was the only male literary figure, although our grand prize winner was the Mad Hatter. Here is a photo of him with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott.

So if you don’t have a costume yet, try your favorite author.

Foul-Mouth Novels

Monday, October 22, 2018


I have a confession to make. I read the advice column “Annie’s Mailbox” in my local paper. It started as a search for story ideas and has now become a habit. Usually, I think “good advice,” “bad advice,” or “there are two sides to that story,” but sometimes I feel compelled to respond—then don’t. However, Wednesday’s column has prompted this blog post.*

A while ago, someone wrote in because she was upset by the frequency of the F-word in contemporary novels. Annie’s response was that “Usually, anything said with the F-word could be better said without it. More than anything, it’s lazy.” This week, she printed a response from a writer who took issue with that stance. Here is a quote from this week’s letter:**

As a person, I avoid profanity and completely agree that such words are a lazy means of expressing oneself, but as a writer, I try to represent my characters and who they are as people. And some people swear—so in dialogue, I must represent that character truthfully.

Yes, some people swear and we must represent our characters truthfully. And I’m not opposed to a limited (as in rare) use of swear words in dialogue to create a sense of authenticity in those genres where readers know what they are getting before they pick up the book. But even those books shouldn’t be using it in narrative or as an excuse to be lazy rather than creative.

Readers are smarter than we think, and they can pick up a person’s emotions, personality, and normal way of talking without being fed the character’s actual words. This is especially important to remember when writing middle-grade fiction, where swearing may be acceptable but swear words are not.

In the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling takes the direct approach. She simply says, “Harry swore.” She doesn’t give us the words, but we know how Harry feels at that moment.

Another option is to use the context and the characters’ actions. I just completed the manuscript for a middle-grade novel told after-the-fact by my twelve-year-old protagonist. In this scene, which takes place on a Mississippi riverboat in 1850, Ma is accompanying Lizzie and her younger sisters to the outhouse shared by all the deck passengers. I’ll pick it up right after Ma knocks on the door.

“Almost done, you _____.”

I won’t write what he called us, but Ma covered Sarah’s ears and Rose covered her own.

Some people use F*** or !@#$%^& to represent swearing, but even that lacks creativity in my opinion. Yes, I used a blank in my passage, but the real impact comes from the paragraph that follows it. Either take the route J.K. Rowling does or find another way to convey it.

Fiction is an art, not a courtroom trial, and good novels don’t include verbatim transcripts of what was said. If they did, every character's dialogue would be filled with ums and ahs and rambling speeches and ho-hum moments that put the reader to sleep—if he or she hasn’t already tossed the book aside. So find a better way to convey foul language.

Your readers will thank you.

__________

* The Times, October 17, 2018, pg. D6 (Lake County Edition).



** The letters printed in the column are often condensed and I sometimes wonder if they lose part of the context in the process, but this is the way it was printed in The Times.

Autumn in the Midwest

Monday, October 15, 2018



I have been busy preparing for a conference at the end of the month, so I am reprinting a blog post from November 4, 2013.
Autumn in the Midwest
Saturday I drove to Indianapolis for a writers’ luncheon. On the way down, the sun was still fighting the darkness and a fine mist veiled the scenery, so I barely noticed the trees. But on the return trip, the sun highlighted the gorgeous fall colors.
That and a few lines in a poem written by a friend inspired me to write this one.
A Feast for the Eyes
Driving along I-65,
The trees are a candy store assortment
Of cinnamon, tangerine drops, and butterscotch.
Walking through a duneland forest,
The path is a farmstand cornucopia
With cranberries, walnuts, and butternut squash.
Living autumn days,
The landscape is a Midwest banquet
That feasts the eyes while feeding the soul.

Rules for Writing Fiction

Monday, October 8, 2018


My online critique partner has been trying to follow all the “rules” for writing fiction but is having trouble when they conflict with each other or don’t further her story. That made me wonder how hard-and-fast they really are. Here is what I came up with.

In my opinion, there are only two inflexible rules for writing fiction to be read by others. (If you are writing merely to please yourself, you can ignore them, too.) These two higher-level rules are:

·       Respect your reader, and

·       Stay true to your story.

Most of the lower-level rules are really guidelines designed to help writers respect their readers. Obviously, not all readers are alike, so how the guidelines are used and the degree to which they apply depends on the intended audience. For example, thriller fans expect you to apply the “show, don’t tell” guideline more rigorously than readers of literary fiction do. Here are a few of the other many guidelines that help you respect your reader.

·       Write clearly. Readers deserve to understand what they are reading. I have started but not finished many books that used confusing sentence structures. Here are some examples:

o   “Tom and David entered the room smoking a pipe.” Since it says “a pipe” (singular), were they sharing it? If only one was smoking, then which one? Or should it say “smoking pipes?”

o   “Betty went camping with her sisters, Debbie and Carol.”  This could mean that there were at least five people on the camping trip: Betty, two or more sisters, Debbie, and Carol. Or it could mean that there were only three: Betty and her two sisters, who are named Debbie and Carol.

I thought about putting clarity among the immutable rules, but even it has exceptions. There are times when a writer is purposefully ambiguous and/or misleading, such as when he or she wants a character’s motive to be unclear until the end. But the lack of clarity should always be intentional.

·       Be consistent with point of view. There can be more than one POV character, but it is inconsiderate to head-hop within a scene. When that happens, the reader is the one who gets the headache. At least I do. It’s also important to understand how the various POVs work and use them properly, but that’s a subject for another day. In fact, it’s a subject for an entire month, and I covered it three years ago. For more detail, read my blog posts for July 6, 2015; July 13, 2015; July 20, 2015; and July 27, 2015

·       Don’t tell readers what they can figure out for themselves and don’t repeat information they already know. That tells me, as a reader, that the writer thinks I’m dense. Of course, sometimes repetition is useful for emphasis or as a rhetorical device. That’s why this is a guideline rather than a fixed rule.

·       Feed information to the reader when and where it is fresh. This includes backstory. “Fresh” doesn’t mean it has to be served right after it is made (i.e., when it occurs), but there is a difference between good cheese and moldy cheese or between crisp vegetables and rotten ones. In other words, don’t use the first chapter—or any other part of the book—to dump information on the reader the way trash is added to a garbage dump. Instead, merge backstory, details, and descriptions in where they fit naturally. If there is no place to merge them in, then they are probably unnecessary.

The other actual rule is to stay true to your story. This doesn’t mean it can’t change or develop in the writing process, but no writer should give up control. I always listen to and consider my critique partners’ suggestions, and they often improve the story. This goes for craft elements as well as plot. But I don’t make changes that don’t feel right. It is my story, and nobody else understands it the way I do.

So if you want to be a good writer, respect your readers and stay true to your story.

__________

The image at the head of this post was drawn by Frank T. Merrill for the original edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. First published in 1868, the illustration is in the public domain because of its age.

Giving Back

Monday, October 1, 2018


Some people think writing is a solitary pursuit, and the actual writing usually is. But writers are also members of a larger community that provides critique groups and conferences, among other activities.

We should also be giving back by encouraging young readers and mentoring other writers.

On Wednesday I spoke to a high school creative writing class. Or rather, I let them interview me. I love writing and want to pass that enthusiasm on, but I also want budding writers to understand that it’s a hard job. Talking to students about my experiences grounds them in the realities of the writing world.

I have also been helping set up the library at a small Lutheran school in the second year of its existence. It’s a time-consuming process with a long ways yet to go, but it’s worth every minute I put in. The photo shows the library at Ascension Lutheran School as it looked when I left on Friday.

What can you do to encourage young readers and writers?

Hurricane Fall-Out

Monday, September 24, 2018


September 14 is a bad date for hurricanes. On September 14, 2018, Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina. Ten years earlier, on September 14, 2008, the remnants of Hurricane Ike caused wide-spread flooding in Northwest Indiana and wrecked havoc on our own house.  

Last week I wrote about Hurricane Florence and how it was affecting my cousins. Since then I’ve learned that the ones in Wilmington are safe and should be close to normal soon. My Topsail Island cousin returned to a home still standing but significantly damaged. It will take her longer to get back to normal.

I know how that feels. Ten years ago, the remnants of Hurricane Ike took less than 24 hours to drop ten inches of rain on Northwest Indiana. The Little Calumet River overflowed its banks a few blocks from our house, and we fled north to stay on our sailboat at the Hammond Marina. It was a week before we could get to the house and two-and-a-half before we could move back home. Even then, we were reduced to living in half the house for several months while reconstructing the rest.

The water came up about five feet on the lower level of our tri-level home, practically destroying the laundry room, the second bathroom, and the family room. Our family room was lined with bookshelves, and Roland likes to joke that he filled a dumpster with the books he had to throw out. A heart-wrenching circumstance for booklovers. The water rose almost a foot in our office, the garage, and the rooms behind them that we had been using for storage. But the living room and kitchen were raised slightly and didn’t have any damage. Neither did the top floor with the bedrooms and the other bathroom. So we returned home as soon as the town cleared the house for habitation.

The first picture shows the rubbish piled along Jackson Avenue as people cleared out their homes. And that’s AFTER the dumpsters had been taken away. The next picture shows the stairs down to the lower level as we gutted the ruined parts of the house with help from church and other friends. I don’t know what we would have done without them.
We were very fortunate to have great friends and good flood insurance.

But I feel for everyone who has suffered from Hurricane Florence.

A Prayer

Monday, September 17, 2018


Less than two months ago I was on Topsail Island in North Carolina for a reunion with my paternal cousins. Roland and I stayed at a hotel, as did another cousin and her husband, but everyone else stayed with my cousin Gail. The photo shows her house as it looked on July 28.

Who knows what it looks like now.

Gail evacuated to her brother’s house in Richmond, Virginia, and officials aren’t letting residents back on the island yet, so we don’t have a damage report. On the positive side, the photos I’ve seen on Gail’s Facebook page seem to indicate that most of the houses on the island came through without major damage.

Then there are my two sets of Wilmington cousins. One couple was out of the country at the time, but the other was at home and didn’t evacuate. The last I heard they were safe but without power and low on cell phone battery.

So my blog post today is a simple prayer for all who have been affected by Hurricane Florence.

Dear Lord, thank you for your protection during Hurricane Florence and for your promise in Isaiah 43:2 to be with your children as we go through disasters of any kind. Comfort those who lost loved ones in the hurricane or its aftermath. Give the residents of the affected areas rest and strength to rebuild, and help us all to help our neighbors. In Jesus name.

Amen.

High School Memories

Monday, September 10, 2018


Fifty years? Really?

I attended my fifty-year high school reunion at Lake City, Michigan, on Saturday. It isn’t the high school that I would have preferred to graduate from, but I still had some good times there. If you want to know what I looked like then, I’m second from the left on the bottom row in the first photo.

We moved right after my sophomore year, so I didn’t grow up with these classmates. That happened at DeTour Village, Michigan. If I’d had my way, we would have stayed there until I left for college, but it wasn’t my choice. Many of my Lake City classmates did grow up together, and they are sharing those events and photos on the reunion Facebook page. I can’t related to those experiences, but here are some of the more memorable ones I did have in my last two years of high school.

Senior English with Mr. Leemgraven occurred in the same time slot as reruns of the television show “The Fugitive.” Somehow, we convinced him to let us watch the 2-episode finale in class.

I played an old maid in the senior play and enjoyed it immensely. (That’s me on the left in the second photo.) The entire experience was fun, but one particular evening practice—or actually before it—stands out. As a general matter, I either walked the ten blocks to school or drove over early with Mama, who taught in the elementary wing. So my classmates didn’t automatically connect me with our Volkswagen. But Brad Stanton had a similar one, and he drove it all the time. One night I drove ours to an evening practice and spun it around on the ice close to the school. Brad was also in the play, and he took a merciless ribbing. He must have been very confused, and he denied it vehemently. I probably told people the truth when I found out they thought it was Brad, but the memory has stuck with me.

The biggest advantage of Lake City over DeTour was that Lake City offered more extracurricular activities. I was in Senior Chorus my junior year, and it put on an annual operetta. I was just part of the chorus, but that was still fun. I would have loved to have been in it my senior year, too. Unfortunately, it conflicted with physics, and physics won out. I did do debate and forensics that year, however.

Then there was the one and only time I visited the guidance counselor. Mr. Ferguson was new, and he decided to start the school year by asking each of the seniors to come to his office and discuss their plans for after graduation. That was his job and he was trying to be helpful, and even then I knew I wasn’t being singled out, but at the time I was insulted that anybody thought I needed help from a guidance counselor. In what was probably the shortest session he ever had, I informed him that I had everything under control and had already been accepted at the college of my choice. I’m sure my words were respectful, but I don’t remember my tone . . . .

At the reunion, people made two main comments to me. The first was, “I remember your long hair.” The other was, “you and Cassie should have been valedictorian and salutatorian” (without specifying the order). Cassie said the same thing, although she accepted it more calmly than she did at the time. Dave (valedictorian) and Susan (salutatorian) had both been transferred to Lake City High School at the beginning of our senior year after their small country school closed, and their earlier grades transferred with them. That’s what I would have expected, but apparently there was some controversy about it. In any event, I felt at the time, and told people at the reunion, that I thought Dave was qualified to be valedictorian. We were in all the same classes senior year, engaged in friendly competition, and came out neck and neck grade-wise. So I never questioned that choice. I knew less about Susan since she was not on the college-prep track and we shared only one or two classes. But losing out on one of the top two slots didn’t affect either my college chances or my career progress, so it never really bothered me.

The final photo shows what fifty years does. (I’m in the back row in the blue-and-white stripped top.) We had just over sixty people in our graduating class. Although people who left before graduation were also invited and several came, this is still an impressive turnout.

I enjoyed the reunion, and I’m glad I went.

But it can’t have been fifty years.


Out for a Walk

Monday, September 3, 2018




We have several good bike trails around here. I walk them for exercise and listen to an hour’s worth of Great Courses lectures at the same time. That’s been my routine for years, and it still is. But I finally entered the 21st Century.

In the past, I listened to the lectures on an early generation I-Pod. I took identifying information and emergency numbers, but it was too much trouble to carry both the I-Pod and my cell phone, so I couldn’t make emergency calls or take pictures. Every time I came across a good photo opportunity, I regretted that I couldn’t take advantage of it.

For me, photography is a serious hobby. When I’m traveling or on a hike looking for pictures, I take my Canon DSL, which gives me more options and better quality than a cell phone. But the Canon is a little heavy to carry when I’m primarily walking for exercise. So I finally gave in and bought a special case for my cell phone and figured out how to stream the lectures.

But now I have another problem. Walking for exercise works best when I keep a steady pace, and stopping for all those photo ops defeats the purpose.

I have included several photos that I took while walking last week. I recognize the Monarch butterfly, which is common around here at this time of year, but I need help identifying the flower and the other butterfly. Do any of my readers know what they are? (I think I can name the flower, but I’m not positive and I don’t want to influence anybody by telling you my guess.) The dark butterfly is also common around here, but none of my books have been any help with identification. Maybe that’s because the wings appear ragged and torn. It isn’t dead because I saw it flying before it landed on the leaf in the picture. I suppose the butterfly might be close to the end of its life, but I’m not sure about that, either, since it isn’t the first of its type that I have seen in that condition. So I would appreciate your help identifying the subjects of those two photos.

Too bad you can’t also tell me how to walk and take pictures at the same time.

A Tour of My Bulletin Board

Monday, August 27, 2018


I like to be organized, and having a dedicated office makes it easier. I use a bulletin board as one of my organizational tools, and where would I put it if I had to write in a coffee shop or even at my kitchen table? Yes, I also have notes and lists and research materials in binders, but I like having crucial information a glance away.

Maybe a bulletin board would work for you, too. It’s something to think about, anyway. And if you need ideas, here is a tour of mine.

The upper left-hand quadrant lists my monthly writing goals. I have three goals for August: to send my just completed manuscript out for editing, to work on the second draft of my current work-in-progress, and to send an earlier manuscript to the next round of agents. I’m currently right on track, but I might not be without the list in a prominent place to remind me.

The upper right-hand quadrant has two items. The top one is a copy of my Indiana Registered Retail Merchant Certificate, which is a sales tax registration that basically authorizes me to sell my books out of the back of my car. It reminds me that writing is a business as well as something I enjoy doing. The second item is an inspirational quote from Hebrews 12:2.

The bottom left-hand side has the outline for my current work-in-progress. I’m somewhere between a plotter and a pantster, meaning that I work from a skeletal outline and change it when circumstances warrant. My outlines are a one-line summary of each chapter and include the day of the week and the date for each one. If I get lost, I just glance up and find myself again.

The content on the bottom right-hand side changes with the manuscript. My current WIP takes place in the real town of Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1863, and I want to get the location details right. A significant portion of the story occurs in a cave built as a multi-family bomb shelter that also serves as their dwelling. Although the particular cave is fictional, the layout needs to remain the same throughout the book. So this month that lower right-hand quadrant contains a map of Vicksburg as it looked in 1863 and a diagram of the cave. When I was writing about the Great Chicago Fire, that part of the bulletin board was covered with a map of the fire’s spread. For a story that follows the seasons, I post a copy of the calendar for the relevant years. In every case, however, that portion of the bulletin board contains information that I consult frequently while writing.

Every writer has a different routine and a different way of organizing to write, so what works for me might not work for you.

But feel free to use my bulletin board ideas if they help.

The Changing Face of Political Correctness

Monday, August 20, 2018


Recently, a friend was reading Desert Jewels and asked me about the authenticity of a passage explaining that the protagonist’s Japanese American father and Caucasian mother got married in Indiana because it was illegal in Chicago. While the book is fiction, the scene is based on the real life experience of Nakaji and Eleanore Torii, who married in Crown Point, Indiana in 1930.1  To add to that story, apparently the FBI tried to pressure Eleanore to divorce Nakaji in 1943 but she refused because he was a good provider. Although this is pure speculation, I would like to think that the real reason she refused was because she loved her husband. However, saying he was a good provider was an answer more people would likely understand or accept.

In 1930, mixed marriages were not politically correct. And during World War II, it wasn’t even politically correct to have Japanese American friends. Entire families—including many American born children—were incarcerated simply because of their blood line.

Then there are my current works-in-progress, which take place in the South before and during the Civil War. In that time and place, it was politically correct to support slavery and politically incorrect to oppose it.

These days, very few people would argue that mixed marriages are wrong and that the Japanese American incarceration and slavery were right. And it isn’t that the rightness or wrongness changed with the times, although many people who held those now outdated political beliefs did think they were morally right. Political climates and beliefs change, but right and wrong never do.

So don’t expect me to be politically correct if I don’t believe it’s right.

__________

1 Images of America: Japanese Americans in Chicago, by Alice Murata. See pages 9, 15–18. 

The photo at the top of this post was taken by Dorothea Lange in San Francisco, California during April 1942, while she was working for the War Relocation Authority. It is in the public domain because it was taken as part of her official duties as an employee of the United States government.