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Archive for the ‘American History’ Category

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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Montgomery Street between Post & Sutter

Montgomery Street between Post & Sutter

All the wonders of traversing the financial district streets on a weekday in San Francisco.

This particular encampment is outside a popular Asian restaurant, an iconic often-filmed bank building, and a fashionable health gym.

It spans at least four feet of an eight foot wide sidewalk. On both ends, there are piles of rubbish, garbage, containers with leftover food.

Market Street between Montgomery & Kearney

Market Street between Montgomery & Kearney

Along Market Street between New Montgomery and Third Street, outside the Ritz Carlton Residences, the brick-laid pavement is littered with wet newspapers and plastic wrappers.

Lotta's Fountain - 1906 landmark a favorite tourist site and now a litter bin.

Lotta’s Fountain – 1906 landmark a favorite tourist site and now a litter bin.

At the junction of Third, Market & Kearney, Lotta’s Fountain is a landmark tourist attraction which is featured in many films set in San Francisco, including several by Alfred Hitchcock and, of course, the Michael Douglas and Karl Malden classic series, The Streets of San Francisco.

Every day of the year, visitors are taken to this island on the busy streets to hear guides describing the fountain’s origin and function during the 1906 earthquake.

At the entrance to the Metro Station, on the same corner as the world famous Palace Hotel, across the street from the sunny plaza of the McKesson Building, a man begs for change every day, scoots along the street in his wheelchair, using his feet to propel his vehicle, to the nearest coffee chainstore to spend his

Market Street at New Montgomery Metro Entrance - once a planter, now a garbage bin.

Market Street at New Montgomery Metro Entrance – once a planter, now a garbage bin.

panhandling gains. Behind him, is what remains of a planter that the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority has abandoned from its once beautifying effort to this:

Some San Franciscans claim that their city is doing very well, thank you. Those of us who battle the litter, the beggars, the needles, the homeless off their meds, the stench from the gutters and drains, the dog messes (at least we pretend it’s dog mess), the acres of garbage and the dangers of physical bodily harm from all of the above, have a different opinion.

Farewell to a city that is one of the most expensive for residents while offering “sanctuary” for criminals who are here illegally, giving $300 a month to each homeless person (estimated to be about 795 homeless people per 100,000 residents [approximately 7,200]) of taxpayers’ money, (about $2,146,500 every month), satisfying the agenda of supervisors who justify their tax-grab, appease their constituents, and defend their rising requirement for more money, while ignoring the rising property crime and the disappearance of the people whose work built this once naturally diverse, working class urban paradise.

The city of neighborhoods of my childhood has been transformed by so-called liberal policies into a decaying relic that pretends to be the flower of Utopian Urban Life.

 

 

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PennsylvaniaSeveral cultures include festivals in the Winter months, some to illuminate the darkness, some to celebrate the hope of a coming of new life. Many of us prepare a list of goals for the coming year, a list of resolutions for change and growth. For nearly 300 years, Americans have celebrated a family event called Thanksgiving.

The American version of Thanksgiving is unique because the celebration crosses all ethnic, religious and cultural groups as a family celebration. For many of us, it is a major family get-together, celebrating the creation of this country. Thanksgiving Day became a national holiday shortly after the greatest struggle America faced in the 1800s. Abraham Lincoln encouraged Americans to gather together to give thanks for the bounty of our freedoms.

In my family, my mother began her efforts days before the fourth Thursday of the month, making fudge, stuffing dates, decorating the house, ironing table cloths and napkins. We were (and still are) a large family. Until late in her life, my mother was the sole cook, hostess and bottle-washer. We young ones eventually stuffed the dates, mixed the fruit salad, prepared the stuffing (always made from scratch). But Mom was the only one of us who made the Parker House Rolls.

I have never been able to match her rolls, though I have mastered the stuffing and my basted turkeys are well-received. My husband is the king of the stuffed dates and one of my daughters-in-law has conquered the pumpkin pie.

Once again, this year, our celebrations will be much different because my husband and I are living far from our family. Chances are that we will share our Thanksgiving with friends but I wanted to share a Verrill/Rhys family traditional recipe that is always a big hit with adults and children alike.

Winter in WalesThis is also simple and great for children to participate in the preparations of this wonderful family event.

STUFFED DATES

1 package (or more) of dates (pitted is easier but not necessary: the pits separate from the fruit without much effort)

Cream Cheese, Peanut Butter, Hazelnut Chocolate Butter and/or other favorite creamy spread (Cookie Butter Cream, anyone?)

Open each date and drop a ½ teaspoon or so (personal taste is the final determinant!) of any of the above spreads into the center of the date.

Arrange decoratively on a pretty plate and try to get them to the family before they disappear.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all and best wishes for a joyful Christmas season too.

© 2014 Parts of this post were first published at ClassicandCozyBooks.blogspot.com

Photographs: © Leigh Verrill-Rhys

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