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Archive for the ‘American History’ Category

Writers are arrogant pretenders.

We freely usurp identities, characteristics, ideas, thoughts, voices of people we imagine as characters in our books and stories. These are all part of our craft—our toolbox—of storytelling.

We step over the boundary between reality and fiction when we decide we also have the right, indeed the obligation, to speak for others. Two recent articles in the RWA’s Romance Writers Review December issue are cases in point.

Both articles address a “social” issue and make it a “creative” issue by assuming the right to tell us—their colleagues—what we should be writing.

I personally experienced this “presumption of right” while writing an American historical romance set in post-Civil War New England. I was told by another writer, “You had better be on the right side of history.”

This response shocked me and was meant to silence any disperate interpretation of history that clashed with her “accepted” impressions.

I had thoroughly researched my historical setting and was aware of both sides of the Constitutional as well as the moral arguments. I chose the path that best represented my understanding of events 150 years before my time.

A writer must always be free to express ideas, regardless of the perceived “right side” of any matter. Any attempt to silence a writer’s voice is dangerous. Attempts to place filters and constraints on writers goes entirely against our hard-won freedoms, the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights and has the odor of censorship, which we all must resist.

These writers may have had the best of good intentions in mind, but unfortunately, they both chose to suggest (dictate is perhaps too strong a word but comes readily to mind in the case of one of these articles) that we, their colleagues, follow an essentially censored path to “diversity” and “inclusion.” What they both failed to realize was that they were leading the way along the path to restriction of freedom of expression in order to placate the thought-police of “social justice.”

They also did not/do not understand that their “suggestions” assume a superiority and usurption of freedom of expression over the very voices they are claiming to enfranchise.

My case in point is a novel which became a best-selling book and critically acclaimed film written by a New York writer in which the writer, through the female protagonist, assumed the voices of domestic servants, spoke for them, recreated their lives in the writer’s imagination and had them act according to the writer’s own expectations for them in their situation. In doing so, the New Yorker took their voices, capitalized upon them, without regard for their personal reality, all in the name of “giving the disenfranchised a voice”—the writer’s voice, the writer’s reality.

Writers do that. We speak for men, for women. We speak for children. We speak for ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies and our siblings.

Where we cross the line is when we take the truths of others, altering them to our own version of reality and claim the moral high ground. By doing so, we assume the gratitude of the “disenfranchised.” We assume only we are capable of speaking for them—a particularly arrogant point of view.

We do not need to make our writing “inclusive” or change our truths to the alternative reality of what anyone else thinks or believes. If we have any responsibility as we write, it is to be always and completely true to ourselves, to speak our reality, our truth, thoughts and ideas—never to bow to the dictates of “accepted” speech, “accepted” truths, “accepted” history and never to allow anyone to determine what is acceptable content.

Once we bow, we betray all the writers, artists, journalists, dramatists, philosophers, scientists and women & men who have fought and sacrificed more than we will ever be asked to sacrifice, in the name of these freedoms. Protecting our creative freedom is crucial, regardless of our subject or genre.

Only we can accomplish that—for ourselves.

We do, indeed, live in “the land of the free because of the brave.”

Freedom is not without cost or sacrifice. Giving even a fraction away for the sake of expediency or personal comfort, results in expedited erosion of the whole, as the tide erodes the shore.

 

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In the past eight months since my last post, I have relocated from the windy canyons of the financial district of San Francisco to the high plains of the northwest. The weather is dry, even in the late winter when the snow is over five feet deep. The sun shines for at least 200 hundred days out of the year and, on 1/5 of an acre, you can grow winter-hardy apples that fall from the fire-blighted tree by the bushel basketful.

With all the upheaval of moving, little writing gets done. Besides a monthly contribution to the group blog, Classic and Cozy Books, updating my website with a new look and added features, the most I’ve completed has been revisions for a 2nd edition of Pavane for Miss Marcher, including consideration for a new cover image (which I have subsequently rejected—I like the “decadent red lilies”).

But, for me, there is always gardening, my favorite displacement activity. Digging in the dirt—up here it is river bottom silt as nourishing as cotton wool and as malleable as cement—amounts to a good shovel and leverage—the key to all creative endeavor.

Perseverance, persistence, planning, or in this case, planting. However, what I know abouthorticultural will fit on the first red line of an index card if you remember what those look like in this world of digital notation. Gardening for me is the real, down deep, nitty gritty of what Ralph Waldo Emerson praised as “work”. Being a New Englander as well, I appreciate the concept.

And gardening is a great way to ensure that you meet your new neighbors. For the past month, my neighbors have watched me dig and toss, rake and rip at roots of Amur Honeysuckle. When they’re comfortable with my work ethic and horticultural efforts, they approach and say hello! Thank you, WikiHow!

I’ll be moving on to Dance by the Light of the Moon now. Colette Ilar is not a gardener but she does dance.

If you can name another of my novels in which the heroine is a dancer…you’ll win a copy of my next “Americans in Love” novel, which happens to be…Dance by the Light of the Moon!

It’s good to be back. And thank you for reading my work.

Warmest best wishes,

Leigh

August 27, 2018
In loving memory of Dafydd Elwyn and my mother, Virginia Verge Verrill.

 

 

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While watching a retrospective on the American film maker, Ken Burns, the commentator announced that Burns was soon to release a new documentary about the Vietnam War. After seeing a short heartbreaking clip, I thought about the 50,000+ American soldiers (many of them drafted) who lost their lives in a foreign war the U.S. inherited from the French who originally colonized this southeast Asian country.

Ken Burns’s, The Vietnam War, recently shown on PBS, brought back the images that were so much a part of my childhood, many of them indelible—the sort of images that you can never erase but you wish you had never seen.

I admit I don’t know much of the history and have not researched the politics surrounding the decision to send our troops into this small country. I have read only a few books about this war and seen even fewer films. The experience of the war for me, as a girl who had just lost her own father, is still raw and painful.

My Vietnamese and Cambodian friends are too young to have experienced the war itself. Of course, its aftermath affected their futures in many ways, most are now American citizens, arriving as children with their parents as refugees, establishing new lives and professions, raising families.

Today, my featured book is the book I most often recommend about this seemingly endless war written by John Podlaski—a drafted Vietnam War Veteran, a “cherry”—from his own experiences. Below is the full description of the book:

“When a soldier leaves for war, those left behind often wonder what their loved ones are experiencing. Letters home are always cheerful and vague – no sense in worrying the family. Then upon returning home, these young soldiers do not want to talk about their experiences. Family and friends allege they are now distant, changed, and not the same person they remember from several months earlier. What causes this?

“Although the backdrop for this novel is the Vietnam War, ‘Cherries’ exist in every war. They are the young ‘Newbie’ soldiers, who are trained for war. However, most are not ready to absorb the harsh physical, mental and emotional stress of war. Once they come under fire and witness death firsthand, a life-changing transition begins. This eye-opening account offers readers an in-depth look into the everyday struggles of these young infantry soldiers. You’ll feel their fear, awe, drama, and sorrow, witness the bravery and sometimes laugh at their humor.

“No two war experiences are the same, but after finishing Cherries – A Vietnam War Novel, readers will have a much better understanding as to why these changes occur and why our military heroes are different upon their return home. Veterans will relate!

“Parental Rating: This book contains content that may not be suitable for young readers 17 and under.

“Author’s statement: While Cherries is largely a work of fiction, many of the events and anecdotes described in the novel were based on the actual experiences of the author. The places and units mentioned were real and did exist. All characters portrayed are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events, and locales, are entirely coincidental.

“Award: Finalist in Sixth International Literary Awards at Washington State College, 1986 (titled The Ingenuous Soldier).”

Another of John Podlaski’s novels is When Can I Stop Running, reviewed on VVA Books. John is a Goodreads author.

When you see a Vietnam veteran, please say “Welcome Home, thank you for your service.” These “Cherries” deserved better than they received.

Welcome home, John! Thank you for your service and your willingness to write about your experience.

— Leigh Verrill-Rhys

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1871. The war has been over for six years but Rupe Smith still fights his demons. Ten years have passed since he left his Maine village. His Wyoming ranch is the one place he wants to be and the last place he can be. There is no escape from the guilt of his parents’ grief or his longing for the girl whose one letter kept him alive, without knowing she is beyond his reach, married and raising a family.

Cathryn Marcher is not the giddy, giggling girl with high ideals she was before the war. The woman who waited for Rupert Smith’s safe return has no doubt she isn’t the reason he has finally come home. The haunted expression on his handsome face reminds her of the outcome, the horror and suffering of war she saw close at hand, all those years ago, in the faces of soldiers she nursed in Boston.

Captain Smith and Miss Marcher share a love of music but Cathryn must hide her disappointment when Rupert chooses to sing in harmony with the widow, Mrs. Miller, whom the residents of Oslo Hill believe will be his bride.

Susan Miller’s disdain for her voice teacher, her rival for Rupert’s love, is matched by Colonel Jericho Colson’s loathing for his fellow Union Army officer, his rival for Cathryn’s heart.

Available in print on CreateSpace, as an ebook on Smashwords, Kobo, Amazon

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Freedom Square, NYC July 2015 – From the Ashes the Phoenix rises stronger than ever.

As a #ProudAmerican, I express my gratitude to the many hundreds of thousands of my fellow Americans for the service and sacrifices made by the men and women in our military services. The last Monday of the month of May has been a part of our heritage since the first Decoration Day was recognized after the American Civil War, to commemorate those who have died in the service of our country.

“Copying a practice that began in the Southern states,[19][20][21] on May 5, 1868, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans’ organization for Union Civil War veterans, General John A. Logan issued a proclamation calling for “Decoration Day” to be observed annually and nationwide.[7] It was observed for the first time that year on Saturday May 30; the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.[22] According to the White House, the May 30 date was chosen as the optimal date for flowers to be in bloom.[23]

”Specifically, on April 25, 1866, women in Columbus, Mississippi laid flowers on the graves of both the Union and Confederate dead in the city’s cemetery.”[38]Memorial Day

To all those families whose loved ones have died while in service to our country, I wish to express my gratitude and heartfelt sympathy for your loss.

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Those of you who’ve been following EverWriting for a while may remember my blogs about growing and nurturing a pomegranate plant which I related to the process of writing Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls.

I’m back at it.

I actually had not eaten a pomegranate for years and years! When I was a girl, my first taste of this wonderful fruit (some believe to be the original ‘forbidden fruit’ of the Garden of Eden variety) gave me hives! As the ruby fruit was the only oddity in our daily composition at the time, pomegranate got the blame. I stayed away until I was well into adulthood.

My next encounter was after I had three children with no untoward results at all. Since I had already had good luck with growing apple trees from seeds germinated from the Braeburn variety and oaks from acorns my children had gathered at school, I threw some pomegranate seeds in potting soil and behold, I was the proud horticulturalist of a plant usually only grown in mediterranean climes.

This year, I bought and ate my first pomegranate after another long long dry spell and, though Iimage of pomegranate seedling have only a balcony and a few potted plants, I attempted to repeat my previous effort. As far as I know my first pomegranate is still growing in my daughter-in-law’s care but having one of my own again felt right. I have a number of lemon bushes from seed and a pomegranate was a natural step.

Of the twenty or so seeds I planted, three sprouted and one survived and the secondary leaves have sprouted.

In many ways, at least in my quirky mind, there are similarities between storycraft and horticulture/gardening. If we think of an idea for a story, we often think of it as a seed. We nurture the idea/seed with effort in the way of research in the process of germinating the story, as the seedling has germinated from its pod and thrown out roots below and first leaves above. Those first leaves and roots provide the nourishment to grow in the same way our stories grow from experience (roots) and imagine (leaves).

My previous experience with pomegranates coincided with the writing and successful publishing my multicultural, interracial novel Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls.

This tiny plant coincides with my first American history novel, Pavane for Miss Marcher, which examines the aftereffects of the American Civil War on those who fought, those left behind and process of healing the divisive wounds.

 

 

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Last summer, I had the privilege of attending a workshop offered by Ursula Renée, who writes historical novels set in the 1930s in New York City. Renée had a long list of ways to discover information about the time period, the activity, the product or just about anything a writer needs to make their book—whether fiction or non-fiction—authentic.

The book I’m writing at the moment takes place in the 1870s, in Maine, beginning in the summer, in a small village about six to seven years after the American Civil War. There are aspects of this story that are familiar to me, such as village life in Maine—regardless of the era—and human behavior.

Less familiar to me but researchable are:

  • When is the best time to prune a tree—in the manuscript, I have written that the male protagonist starts chopping away at an 100 year old oak in the heroine’s front yard at the end of summer. NO! I would be excoriated by my good friend, Paul (arborist and my former singing teacher) if I allowed that error to survive into a published novel. Laughable but it is the sort of error that can stop a reader and destroy our credibility.
  • My hero travels from Wyoming to Maine, part of the journey is by train. So. What type of train engine was hauled carriages up the coast and into Franklin County from Boston? It might be excusable to leave the details of the train as vague and non-committal. But, isn’t it better to add some meat on the bone? My research presented the Achilles. Perfect! The flawed hero of Greek tragedy carrying my flawed hero toward his destiny.
  • Speaking of post-Civil War travel, is it good enough to say coach or carriage or would landau be more authentic?
  • A young woman of this period doesn’t just wear a dress…she wears a steel hoop crinoline ‘pouf’ and pantalets, a corset with detachable sleevelets, a flat derby with ostrich feathers and bloomer skirt.
  • The American Civil War is thoroughly documented from every angle and perspective—a surefire cesspit of quicksand to sink my book to the unforgivably forgettable regions of ‘false history’. With so many truly magnificent non-fiction and fiction books available to the thousands of enactors/enthusiasts/history readers, how do I write this book?
    • Read wide – not just what is ‘accepted history’ but alternative views
    • Reject the notion that there is only one true side of history
    • Know that history is written by the victor but there is always an opposing view
    • Avoid capitulating to those who threaten you with “You’d better be on the right side of history”—see point directly above
    • Write as honestly and as judiciously as possible
  • No matter how well-researched we think our book is…someone will find a fault. Or disagree. Or think our book is the ‘worst book ever written’. There’s no remedy for this. We must write our best, write what we believe is important to say and take the criticism on the chin.
  • Writers of genre fiction have a particularly prickly relationship with the ‘expected’ but, Agatha Christie aside, a little curve ball (mixed metaphor acknowledged) can make a formula a chemical explosion. To paraphrase  Steven Pressfield from his book, The War of Art, following the recipe may make a soufflé but it doesn’t make a meal.

Of all the pitfalls we face as writers, getting our facts wrong can lead us into a hinterland from which there is no escape. Always get a second opinion.

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