Is there serendipity in my geraniums?

GeraniumsMy gardens tend toward shade plants with one exception, a pot that sits on the one consistently sunny point of our deck. That pot is planted with geraniums.

Always geraniums. They like sun. They’re easy. They’re pretty. When the geraniums are planted, I feel as though the summer can really begin.

Over the years, I’ve tried various techniques for overwintering the plants without success.

Last fall, the pink flowers were so pretty, I decided to try again. I moved the geraniums into the basement and charged my husband with watering them every once in a while as he walks by on his way to his office.

Apparently giving the task to him was the way to keep the plants alive. Not only alive, but actively growing all winter. The leaves became so large he thought some strange volunteer plant had invaded. He was only convinced otherwise when the plant began to shoot out flower stalks and set blooms.

The fact that these plants prospered over the winter feels like a good omen to me.

1635 x 2453 image. Download and use as needed.

The cover of my new novel Go Away Home features geraniums on a window sill. When I shared the cover on Facebook, many commented that they liked the cover because of the geraniums: their grandmothers always had geraniums and they think about times past when they see that flower.

Now that it’s warming up, I’m about to move the geraniums back out to the deck. In July, my book will make its public appearance.

It seems like serendipity, doesn’t it, that my geranium plant made it through the winter and that geraniums are on my book cover?

A tale of two cemeteries

Wilmington National Cemetery

Wilmington National Cemetery

Every grave holds a story. That’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to cemeteries. So many lives. So many stories. Yet we know so little. Only tiny bits of information. Names that may suggest country of origin. Dates that attest to a life long-lived or to one cut short by a childhood disease or war. A line may suggest relationships: husband, father. We’re left to guess at all the rest.

In Wilmington, NC, we found two cemeteries that told larger stories of people as a whole. As we drove down Market Street, we spotted the pristine white stones and regimental layout of a national cemetery. Equally interesting was an historical marker pointing toward a Confederate cemetery.

At the Wilmington National Cemetery, we were fortunate to meet the cemetery superintendent, a former member of the marine corps. He shared that the cemetery was established to hold the remains of Union soldiers from the Civil War. Of the 2,039 Civil War soldiers interred, 698 are known and 1,341 are unknown.

The stones of black soldiers who fought in the war are marked “U.S.C.T” – United States Colored Troops. The officers who led these colored troops were white. Their stones also say U.S.T.C. You can tell they were white men because their stones also include an officer rank. Black men were never officers.

The cemetery also includes the remains of a group of Puerto Rican laborers who died in the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Stones tell the stories of men and women who served in subsequent wars: Korea, Vietnam, World War I and World War II.

The cemetery is full or almost so. Family members may still be interred in the same graves as their service men and women.

Oakdale Cemetery

Oakdale Cemetery

We moved on to the Oakdale Cemetery, thinking it was a comparable space for those who fought on the side of the Confederacy. It was that and so much more.

When we drove through the cemetery gates, we realized we’d come upon a much different land – a cemetery unlike any either of us had ever seen before.

Driveways curved through trees hung with Spanish moss. Cement stair steps bearing family names led up to raised grave areas. Canopies over freshly dug graves told us this cemetery is still active.

Unlike the military-straight lines of the National Cemetery, Oakdale graves have been laid out following the curve of the land. The tropical climate of the area encourages lush vegetation to over-grow the stones and black moss to make even newer stones appear ancient. The apparent haphazard layout of the graves and stones makes mowing by machine impossible.

Oakdale is designed in a Victorian mode. Sections were planned as a maze of curved avenues winding through the hilly terrain. Native and landscape vegetation interspersed by iron fences and garden furniture contribute to a garden look. In the mid-nineteenth century, people used cemeteries as parks where people strolled, picnicked and socialized.

As we drove through the cemetery, we did not think about this garden aspect. The gray skies and rain contributed to an over-riding sense of foreboding. We agreed the site would be the perfect place for a very scary movie.

While Oakdale does contain the Confederate Memorial Monument (which I realize as I write we didn’t see), the 100+ acres include much more. Within the cemetery are the graves of 400 who died to a yellow fever epidemic, a Hebrew section, Masonic and Odd Fellows sections, and the graves of political, business and social leaders. Notable among those buried at Oakdale are: a female Confederate spy, North Carolina’s first governor, and broadcaster David Brinkley.

Every grave told a story. These cemeteries did, too.

Bears, turkeys, deer & butterflies

Great Smoky Mountains make “amazing” an overused word

My friends told us to keep our eyes peeled for wildlife as we drove along the Cades Cove loop in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We could see deer and wild turkey. If we were really lucky, we might spot a bear. Cars stopped along the road would be a sign something was up.

Black bear and cubs

Black bear and cubs

We hadn’t been in the park a half hour before the first cluster of cars brought us to a stop. We searched in the direction all the cameras pointed and spotted a black bear foraging in the leaves, digging for something to eat. The bear was a good distance away and paid us no mind. How exciting to check bears off our wildlife list so early in the day. Amazing, we said, and drove on.

In quick succession, we spotted turkey in an open field and deer in the woods.

Cades Cove

Cades Cove

We drove on, stopping periodically to see the log cabins and churches of the people who settled in Cades Cove in the 1800s. The valleys traded beautiful views, abundant clear water, and plentiful wildlife in exchange for what must have been a hardscrabble living scratched from rocky fields.

The first settlers in Cades Cove

The first settlers in Cades Cove

The cemetery stones told us stories of the first settlers, wars fought, and the challenges of living past childbirth.

We hiked to a waterfall. Five miles roundtrip, over log bridges, up increasingly steep hills. Billed as a moderate hike, I realized the past few months of more limited activity due to my broken wrist have taken their toll. The waterfall was beautiful, though, and the diversity of wild flowers, tiny black rat snakes and startling blue-tailed lizards were a bonus.

Great Smoky Moutain, Cades Cove, church, cemeteryBack in the car we continued the loop only to be stopped by another cluster of cars. A woman gestured “five” and waved toward the woods. We scanned the trees and were rewarded with a mother bear followed by two cubs. They were coming toward us. I had my window down and camera clicking.

The mama bear kept coming. Without a look in our direction, she sauntered across the road and climbed the hill on the other side. She looked back for a moment to ensure the cubs followed, then they all disappeared into the woods. Amazing!

My friends could not stress how unusual it was to see these bears. In their many trips to the park over the last decade, they’d never seen so many bears, so close. We drove on and spotted two young deer with velvet antlers resting in deep grass twenty feet from the road. From time to time, we’d spot deer in the woods. One bounded across the road amidst the cars. Wild turkey were abundant.

Butterflies clustered on the ground

Butterflies clustered on the ground

As if we needed more to entertain us, clouds of butterflies were everywhere. As we headed out of Cades Cove at the end of the day, we were rewarded with one last bear sighting. He was quite a ways away, but the now familiar black against green was easy for us all to spot. The crowd of stopped cars helped.

Whether it was the pleasant temperatures or the time of year or serendipity, who can tell? But the day, the weather, the wildlife, were all amazing.

Song of Australia – Stephen Crabbe historical fiction author interview

Life on the Australian home front during World War One. 

Song of Australia--cover resized for webThe World War One centenary has many authors writing stories to illustrate that time. As I’ve been writing about life in the Midwest United States 100 years ago, it’s been a pleasure to discover other authors writing about the home front in their own countries.

One of those is Stephen Crabbe of Australia. His novel Song of Australia weaves three connected stories. German-Australians were the largest minority group in the nation as the country joined the British Empire to fight against Germany. As in the United States, people of German descent faced sudden hostility by their neighbours and the government. Meanwhile an adolescent boy who believes Christianity is a way of peace questions how he can worship with people who believe God wants him to fight – and perhaps die – in the war. Amidst the suffering caused by adults, gifted child-musicians find a way through music to help the world heal.

I invited Stephen to share the ‘story behind the story’ of Song of Australia.

What inspired you to write this story?

I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one thing: a number of factors all seemed to coalesce. However, at the core was the memory of my childhood piano teacher. Her passion for music and the development of the talents of young people was extraordinary, but it was a few decades later that I realised this. By then, of course, it was too late to thank her. I mention this in the acknowledgements section of my book—and my hope that her spirit will live on through the stories I tell.

How did you approach the research to understand the attitudes toward German-Australians during World War One?

Apart from recalling stories I heard from older relatives in childhood, the research was almost exclusively online. There are certain very helpful websites devoted to German-Australian history. I found old newspapers the most stimulating. In them I read reports of parliamentary debates and law court sessions (published almost as verbatim transcriptions in those days), letters to the editor, and sometimes accounts of an incident the day before. All this gives a sense of being right there listening to conflicting voices in the community of 1914-18 South Australia. Isn’t it remarkable to see all these old newspapers now so readily accessible online!

It certainly is. Research and writing can turn up much we don’t expect when we start out. What did you learn in the process that surprised you?

I was taken unawares by the variety of characters leaping out of the bush to claim a part in the story. I had never been conscious of most of them before drafting, and they would try to lead my story on new journeys that one book just could not contain. I had to be so ruthless in throwing these characters into the cupboard! There they had to stay until I had another book to accommodate them. Some of them are now allowed out to play in my new work in progress.

You studied piano. How did your own music experience come into play in writing?

As I reflected on the memories of my childhood music education, I could use my adult experience as a music educator to find new perspectives. The psychological theory of multiple intelligences, for example, gave me the idea that one individual could know the world and communicate with it principally through music, while another would rely on language or mathematical logic or another cognitive modality.

One theme of Song of Australia is the power of music to heal. Please share your thoughts on that idea.

We humans can hear long before we can see: our first aural experiences are in the womb, and the complex brain-wiring that occurs as a result is established at birth. Research shows, for example, that the new-born baby can not only distinguish its mother’s voice from others, but also recognise specific tunes heard before birth. Music can thus invoke that sense of security we felt when snugly nursed in the womb. Music—and especially singing—binds people together in a way that vision does not. It can create bridges of understanding that have nothing to do with logic and language. Research is now indicating that our ancestors developed language only after they could sing, because the mechanisms and techniques of song are the building blocks for linguistic development. So music can connect us with our deep past and with each other, both as individuals and as a species. This is healing.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?

For one thing, that sense of renewal, as if they’ve had an excellent holiday trip to a very interesting exotic place. I will be gratified if the renewal comes from not just a few hours of mere escape from the daily grind, but from living the possibilities of a different way of perceiving life. I also hope that Australians in particular will consider our nation in at least a slightly new way.

What’s next for you?

My work in progress is a novel featuring the main characters in Song of Australia, still during World War One on the South Australian home-front. With a couple of new major characters, they continue to grapple with some of the same issues and confront some new problems as well. It’s only in the initial stages, but the structure of this narrative is already looking more complex than Song of Australia. And it will be a longer book.

Thanks for joining us, Stephen.


Stephen Crabbe

Stephen Crabbe

Stephen Crabbe was born in Adelaide, South Australia. His ancestors—Scottish, German and English—were among the earliest colonists from 1834 onwards.

Stephen studied classical pianoforte from the age of five until his late teens. He read widely in English and loved to explore all other languages. Eventually he became a school teacher and eventually specialised in music, a vocation he still follows part-time.

Stephen was always driven to write, but in later years he did this more seriously. His scripts were produced on screen and many of his articles were published. The main focus of his writing now is fiction. He lives in the rural south-west of Australia.

For more on Stephen and Song of Australia:

Song of Australia on the Australian Amazon site 

Song of Australia on the US Amazon site

Stephen’s Blog

On Facebook

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory – Clint Goodwin author interview

Veteran of modern wars channels his military experience through U.S. Civil War Horse and historical fiction

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, book, coverI met Clint Goodwin, Commander, US Navy-Reserve Retired, through LinkedIn. The concept for his new book: Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory – the Civil War as seen through the eyes of a horse – was intriguing. As I came to know more about his military service and writing, I knew I wanted him to share more of his story with us.

Welcome, Clint. What lead you to write this novel?
Post-war Iraq was a difficult adjustment for me as it was for tens of thousands who served. I chose to confront and not to ignore the haze. I needed a healthy outlet to better manage my feelings of anxiety, anger, and frustration attributed to my service in Iraq. This literary project provided me that outlet. Writing my book provided a means to permanently record my perspective and feelings about the Iraq War, post-war challenges, and modern war in general.

Why did you choose to write from the perspective of a horse?
If I chose to write a diary, only my eyes would see it. If chose to write a non-fiction, then my fear of not using the right words or proper context for which people would judge my reality – would consume me. Given the options of the world judging my personal feelings verses those of a fictitious horse – the horse won out.

What opportunities/challenges did the equine perspective create?
Choosing a horse character to act as my conduit was easy for me. I grew up around working horses in Texas. I know their behaviors because they were part of our family. Horses are loyal animals, yet have independent choices that are not always in their rider’s best interest. I have been kicked, bitten, and bucked off many times. However, at the end of the day, that horse was there for me. I clearly believe and most will agree, that horses were necessary participants in the creation of our great Nation.

What kind of research did you do for this book?
Before going to Iraq, I spent several years reading, researching, and visiting Civil War battlefields. I did so because of our country’s modern-day social and economic tensions causing so much unrest after 911. I wanted to know why. I thought the answer would lay in understanding the U.S. Civil War. The wise old saying comes to mind, “history repeats itself.” What struck me the most about the civil war was the sacrifice millions of men and women made in the name of a belief/way of life/economics/politics. Regardless of the side chosen; North or South, those soldiers were willing to die for a future. On Civil War battle anniversaries, I walked the fields of Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Brandy Station, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Petersburg to sense the smallest details such as the weather, foliage, and possible sounds. If we could humanize a horse for moment, then we can agree they paid the ultimate sacrifice as well running over those battlefields. There is a reason why civil war hero statues have the soldier on a horse.

How did your experience serving in the Iraq War influence the story?
My service in Iraq changed me forever as a human being. When we left Iraq, we were given the opportunity to seek insights before returning to the States. I and many others volunteered to listen to a preacher. I will always remember what he said that made sense, “Remember, gentlemen, you are the ones that changed, not your families.” That “change” for me was learning how to lead and live with men and women in an environment that creates unimaginable stress on a human being. In my book, that stress is adopted by my characters who react differently in a given battle scene. I use carefully scripted dialogues to draw out those feelings for the reader. I know every reader will react differently to those descriptors. For example, I lost a close friend in Iraq. We were supposed to have lunch together. I showed up and he was not there. I found out later he died that morning. I did not know. His memorial service was done with his wife and two sons looking on eight thousand miles away. Very sad. That sorrow translated into grieving words spoken by one of my characters. You have to feel it and see it, to know it.

Some might write their way through a difficult experience as a memoir. Why did you choose historical fiction?
Upon my return to the states, like thousands of other Vets, I was plagued with anxiety, anger, sleeplessness, and a constant nagging that I should be back taking care of unfinished business. That bowl of worms was not working for me. To avoid becoming dependent on a temporary solution, God turned a light on for me at three o’clock in the morning back in 2009. I started writing an imaginative story using the U.S. Civil War as a backdrop. I created characters that would help me tell my own story. What an amazing journey it has been for me as an author. I discovered a transference of unwanted feelings onto paper was the safest way for me to decompress. It is easier to erase a sentence you don’t mean than to take back a spoken, hurtful word. I left those unwanted feelings between the four corners of my book, Mine Eyes

What were the benefits/challenges of writing about war as historical fiction?
Writing historic-fiction enabled me to make a personal movie without having to ask mom, “Is it okay to do such and such.” My book provided a safe harbor for me to write using honest emotions. The biggest challenge I had was making sure the information I found about a person, place, or event in 1861 through 1865 could realistically be integrated into my story lines. For example. I used census data to determine if a character was alive before and after the war. The challenges of writing about a past war also considers the reasonable inclusion of accurate dates, notable personalities, realistic environmental information such as day or night, and of course the context surrounding a particular battle, political, economic, or cultural. What is not real are the conversations my characters have and not since Mr. Ed has a horse talked.

Through my research, I quickly identified a bias problem with other U.S. Civil War genre authors. Biases were also noted in actual battlefield reports stored in the Congressional Archives. I recognized that I had my own biases being from Texas – I wanted a Confederate character to win. However, as a professional researcher, I knew to periodically cross-check my own biases. Which is why I included in my Mine Eyes… a narrative that takes my characters to Andersonville. The North and South were not free of war atrocities. Some history books conveniently leave that information out.

How did writing this novel help you as a veteran come to grips with your own war experiences?
I was able to do self-reflection on what I wrote in my manuscript on day one three years ago and compare that prose to how I feel today. There was a significant change. I let go of much of the anger. I understand why war is bad. We should never go to war. My father was right. He was a WWII Navy veteran. When I made a comment about wanting to go to Vietnam back in the early ‘70s, he responded, “Son, you have no idea what you are talking about. Nobody wants war.”

What do you hope readers will take away from reading your novel?
I hope readers remember that our country evolved from normal people doing extraordinary things during times of great sacrifice. Horses were a key part of that history during the course of many wars and conflicts America fought. For example, in the U.S Civil War, there are unofficial estimates that over two million horses were killed during that war.

I would also say, that we as a country must never forget why we have such freedoms. I only chose a few Civil War battles to bring selected acts of courage and heroism to the reader’s attention. My fellow vets will appreciate this approach knowing they can do the same to redefine their lives through the word. For young readers, history should not be boring. I chose to write a historic-fiction that would entertain the reader while teaching them about certain U.S. Civil War battle dates, personalities, and outcomes.

What else would you like to share?
Most importantly, I want thank you Carol! I appreciate you inviting me to participate in this interview. You are very professional and considerate. Thank you. Perhaps one Vet out there, through your Blog, will read this and be inspired to write his/her story – to simply transfer ownership of their feelings to paper. It worked for me. I also want to recognize the superb efforts of my publisher Tate Publishing. My book’s project manager Ms. Lauren Perkins, Editor, Ms. Lillian Vistal, and Mr. James Branscum who tirelessly works getting my book out there for the world to read.

We’re honored to have you with us today, Clint. Thank you for the interview. Thank you for writing the book. Most of all, thank you for your service to our country.

Readers, if you know a veteran, I ask that you pass this blog along to him or her. Veternas would benefit from hearing how writing has worked for Clint. Thanks.

Clint Goodwin

Clint Goodwin

CDR Goodwin served over thirty years in the United States Navy in both active and reserve assignments. While on active duty, he served onboard the destroyers USS John Paul Jones, DDG-32, USS O’Brien, DD-975 and shore command Fleet Anti-submarine Warfare Training Center Pacific.  While on shore duty, CDR Goodwin completed his education requirements for his Bachelor of Science degree in September of 1986.  He graduated with honors (Magna Cum Laude) from National University San Diego in January of 1987.

In October 1986, CDR Goodwin affiliated with the Naval Reserve. From January 1990 to October 2008, CDR Goodwin held several leadership positions supporting different services and agencies in combat and non-combat roles as a Division Officer, Department Head, and Senior Officer-in-Charge. In 2004, he was assigned to the Joint Military Intelligence College, Post Graduate Intelligence Program as a faculty member.  In 2006, Mr. Goodwin was ordered to Iraq where he served as the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, Chief, Target Development Cell. He was honored to have served with many honorable men and women willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice to promote freedom and democracy.”

Find Clint Goodwin here:
o Facebook
o Twitter @resgoom
o Tate Publishing Bookstore

Historical fiction – Short stories & novels

Three books of historical fiction reached the top of my TBR stack this month.

Sewing Can Be Dangerous, book, coverSewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads by S. L. Mallery is an engaging collection of short stories spanning events from the 1400s to modern day. This collection indulges those who enjoy history in small bites and those who enjoy sewing and the related arts.

Mallery does an admirable job capturing events in eleven vastly different historical eras. I found it easy to see the locations, hear the voices, and relate to the characters in each story, whether the story was set in Medieval England, the New York garment district in 1911, Germany during World War II, or Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of love.

Sewing Can Be Dangerous will appeal to readers who sew and sewers who read, as well as fans of historical fiction and short stories.

The Light Between Oceans, book, coverThe Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman is set in Australia post-World War I and follows the story of a lighthouse keeper who carries the heavy burden of his military service during which he led men into battle and many died. When his wife suffers repeated miscarriages, it seems a miracle when a boat carrying a dead man and a live baby washes up on their shore.

The lighthouse that marks the transition between two oceans — the quiet Indian Ocean and the tumultuous Southern Ocean — presents a powerful metaphor for the dichotomy of choice. Beautifully written and heartbreakingly sad, The Light Between Oceans explores the challenge for humans who make decisions they want to believe are right and then have to live with the reality of how those decisions may harm others.

I’ve added this book to my very short shelf of all-time favorite reads.

The Almond Tree, Book, coverThe Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti follows a Palestinian boy, Ahmed Hamid, from his twelfth birthday in 1955 to 2009. As a child, Ahmed watches as his family loses their property, home, jobs, and freedom during the occupation. Though Ahmed’s father is unjustly imprisoned as a terrorist, he coaches his son to try to understand and reach out to the Jews. Gifted in science and math, Ahmed follows his father’s advice and eventually achieves academic and career success living and working with Jews. At the same time a brother and others in the family succumb to hatred for the Jews as their home is destroyed again and again, as the children die in bombings, as people are unable to hold jobs or feed their families.

The Almond Tree shows the complexity of the Palestinian/Israeli situation. Both sides are fighting for a life they know they deserve. An answer may be carried in something Ahmed says to his brother Abbas, “You cannot go back and make a new start, but you can start now and make a new ending.”

I’m always looking for good historical fiction reads. Have you found some you’ve enjoyed? Let me know.


Incredible Women in Historical Fiction

As Alex Myers wrote his book Revolutionary, the story of a woman who disguised herself as a man to fight for the Continental army during the Revolutionary war, he found himself wondering what women his character would have met. That led him to creating the list of 10 Absolutely Incredible Women in Historical Fiction he posted this week.

Since Liddie Treadway, a young woman struggling to decide her own future, is the main character in my upcoming historical novel Go Away Home, I thought I’d weigh in on this topic, too. I think Liddie is pretty great, but readers will decide if she rises to occupy a place on any Top 10 list.

In the meantime, I’m sharing Myers’ list, adding incredible women from my own reading, and asking you to share the Incredible Women you’ve found in your historical fiction reading.

10 Absolutely Incredible Women in Historical Fiction

By Alex Myers

Too often, even in the twenty-first century, history’s all about the men. That’s just one reason why I love to read and write historical fiction: It provides the opportunity to explore or create or re-energize the roles of women across the ages. As I wrote Revolutionary, I kept wondering which women from history Deborah Sampson would have known. In 1782 Massachusetts, she probably read chapbooks that told the stories of Joan of Arc, or Mary Rowlandson (who survived being captured by Native Americans) or Hannah Snell (who disguised herself as a man and served in the British Navy). I have no doubt that these stories inspired Deborah to set off on her own adventures, disguising herself as a man, enlisting in the army, and fighting for a year and a half in the Revolutionary War.

How fortunate are we, then, to live in an era so abundant with texts that champion the role of women throughout history. Here are my 10 favorite works of historical fiction that feature women in the main roles. These women come from all sorts of time periods and class backgrounds, but every one of them has to fight and has to believe in herself, no matter what society tells her. Whatever the era, whatever the setting, these are the universal challenges that brave women face.

1. Orleanna Price in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

2. Sethe in Beloved by Toni Morrison

3. Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

4. Anna Frith in Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

5. Orlando in Orlando by Virginia Woolf

6. Villanelle in The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

7. Mary Sutter in My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

8. Joan in Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

9. Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu in Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

10. Dinah in The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Myers shares his thoughts on why each of the women in these novels deserves to be on his Top 10 list. To read his entire post, click.

Several of the books Myers lists are also on my list – The Poisonwood Bible, Pope Joan, and The Red Tent. I also nominate the following women and books to a list of historical fiction’s great women.

One Thousand White WomenMary Dodd of One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus: Mary Dodd is one of a group of white women (and one black woman) who travel to the western United States to intermarry with the Cheyenne Indians as part of a controversial “Brides for Indians” program sponsored by the U.S. Government under President Ulysses S. Grant. The alternative for these women is incarceration in an insane asylum. Mary and the others show remarkable fortitude, resourcefulness, and adaptability through this fascinating story.

Snow Flower and the Secret FanSnow Flower and Lily in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: Snow Flower and Lily are two women in nineteenth century China. Rigid rules of conduct governed women in that era, beginning with the excruciating practice of foot binding. Yet the women have their own secret language and formed life-long friendships outside the view of men. Lily and Snow Flower are laotong, bound for life, but that relationship is challenged when Lily learns that her friend is of a lower social class.

I know as soon as I post this, other incredible women of historical fiction will come to mind. But I bet this list gets your minds churning. Who would you add?

Go Away Home – Book Cover & Release Date

World War One-era historical fiction on track for July launch.

It’s been a long journey writing my first novel – somewhere in the four to five-year range – but I’m excited to tell you the writing part of the journey is at an end. The manuscript for my first novel – Go Away Home – is complete. And now so is the cover.Go Away Home Revised Ebook Final Cover Large

The design is the work of Jenny Toney Quinlan of Historical Editorial who also worked with me as copy editor and proofreader. Every cover tells a story, and that is one of the many things I like about about this cover. To me, the curtains, geraniums, and view convey the rural setting of the novel, while the window draws us to look out, hinting at more. The overall golden tone suggests the past without being heavy handed.

I like the cover, but readers will be the real judge. So what do you think? Would this cover encourage you to pick it up?

With the cover and manuscript completed, I’ve chosen July 7, 2014 as the release date. That may seem like a long way off, but I know the days will pass quickly. I’m already knee deep in ramping up marketing for the launch, and I’ll share that journey as we go.
Now that I have teased you with the cover, I hope you’ll want more. You can read the first chapter of GO AWAY HOME here.

I’ve added Go Away Home pages here on my website and on Goodreads. If you participate in Goodreads, you can mark Go Away Home in the “want to read” category.

I’d love to hear from you. What story does this cover tell you?

The Art of War – The Art of Loving

Movies, reading & walking across Iowa uncover surprising connections.

Art and history, love and war intersect as I continue my virtual trek across Iowa.

There can’t be many who haven’t heard about the movie Monuments Men, George Clooney’s film about the men who set out to save art during WWII. Here in Iowa, we’re getting special insight because the real Monuments Man, the man on whom the movie is based – George Leslie Stout – was born and grew up in Winterset, Iowa, and later graduated from the University of Iowa.

I’ve looked ahead as I continue my walk across Iowa, looking for just the right point to cross Interstate 80. (As though that would be really hard in my virtual world.) Nonetheless, when I realized I could pass through Winterset before heading north to cross the Interstate barrier, I thought why not? 

Now that The Bridges of Madison County (a book and a movie) has been made into a Broadway musical, and received some critical acclaim, I better see the bridges again before the tourists take over!

140px-34th_'Red_Bull'_Infantry_Division_SSI.svgAs I head toward Winterset, I’m enjoying other military history as I walk along the Red Bull Highway. The 34th Infantry Division of the Army National Guard, made up of military primarily from Iowa and Minnesota, served in World War I, World War II, Iraq and Afghanistan. The insignia of the division is a Red Bull designed by Iowa artist Marvin Cone.

As I look back on the titles that have passed through my hands this month, the overriding question is, What does it mean to love? Appropriate, don’t you think, since this is February, the month of love?

Setting the stage is a non-fiction work, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. A psychologist, Fromm explores love and loving in 120 pages packed with explorations of love in all its forms – parents for children, brotherly love, erotic love, self-love and love of God.

Fromm proposes that true love holds four elements in common: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. The other books I read – both fiction and non-fiction – show how difficult it is to find true love,


  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – This seriously disturbing novel explores the idea that “Marriage can be a real killer.” In alternating chapters, we come to know the husband in real time and the wife through her diary entries. Did he kill her or was she kidnapped and murdered? The tension in this novel is palpable and all of us can only pray we do not encounter a love like theirs.
  • safe keeping sisselSafe Keeping by Barbara Taylor Sissel –  “My son is a murderer,” begins this family drama. Emily tries to say these words about the son who has given their family so much heartache. But she doesn’t believe it. Her mother love could never believe it. They just have to prove it. Sissel draws characters with depth and a plot with complexity. She is a master at dropping clues that inform and confound. Her cliff-hanger chapter endings compel you to keep reading. (I was fortunate to receive an advance review copy. The novel is due out in late March.)

Non Fiction

  • Twelves Years a Slave by Soloman Northrup – I have yet to see the movie and I grabbed  the e-book when it I saw it in a promotion. This first-person account of a free black man who is kidnapped and thrown into slavery causes one to despair of man’s inability to love his fellow man.

Late-breaking news (literally): I end this post abruptly because winter has taken its toll. I slipped on the ice and broke my wrist. As a result, I am reduced to typing with one finger, so my blog will be on hiatus for a few weeks. When I return, I trust spring will be here. In the meantime, happy reading and safe walking!

How real are your memories?

Research indicates our brains edit the past to accommodate present views.


When we build a new memory, we gather little bits of information and store them together, say researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Then, when we bring up an old memory, those bits of information are melded with new bits relevant to present life. The resulting “memory” may be far from the event that actually happened.

The research, shared in an article in USAToday this past weekend, makes me re-think the accuracy of memoirs.

When I wrote the stories of a happy childhood in my memoir GROWING UP COUNTRY, many of the memories were as clear in my mind as if the events had happened last week instead of fifty years ago.

Though I have no doubt my childhood was happy and I’m comfortable with that picture, another memoir I wrote but didn’t publish covers the years of my first marriage. My first marriage included plenty of happy times, but the memoir dealt with those times that were not.

When I began to write those stories, I couldn’t remember much at all. The process of pulling those memories out of the deep recesses of my mind was difficult and often painful.

I felt devastating conflict between what I remembered and the way I viewed myself. In the course of the writing and with the caring support of my writing partners, the memories – and perhaps more important – my interpretation of those memories, adapted.

According to the Northwestern researchers, the brain’s ability to edit to current circumstances may explain why we can be convinced something happened when it didn’t.

In writing about my first marriage, I came to realize that certain things that I was convinced had happened could not have. They were a logistical impossibility. Yet, I was as convinced that those stories were true as I am that my childhood was happy.

Our memories are “a record of our current view of the past,” says Donna Rose Addis of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Addis suggests the Northwestern University research has implications for understanding imagination.

I would say so! As a writer, I recognize there are many “truths.” I realize that each of us gets to tell our own story, yet I feel an obligation to be as close to factual accuracy as I can when I write memoir.

With research like this shining a light on how the brain works, I am left to wonder: are the memories I’ve had stored in the dusty corners of my mind accurate? Are the adapted memories that emerged as I wrote accurate? Or have I simply created a memory I can live with today.

What do you think my friends? How accurate can our memories be? How accurate do you believe writers need to be?