Tips for being in two places at once

The magic of a modern-day book launch.

file0001820510540I’m not in the habit of defying the time/space continuum, but this month I’ll be giving it my best shot. July is the official launch of my World War One-era novel Go Away Home, and the month is packed.

My first event is a library book talk today. The week of July 8, I return to eastern Iowa where I grew up for three events. At the same time, I’ll be zipping through cyberspace making the first four stops on a virtual book tour. The rest of the month repeats the challenge with more blog stops and more in-person events each week. July’s last event (at least that I know about right now) is July 25.

Maybe the best I can hope for is not to meet myself coming and going. I’ve taken these steps to ensure a smooth launch:

  • Written four versions of a presentation that focuses on Writing History. It’s a challenge to anticipate what audiences will want to hear, but my journey from memoir to fiction with an emphasis on the historical commonality seems a good place to start. With four outlines in hand, I can adapt on the go as the presentation evolves based on audience questions.
  • Wrote a multitude of guest posts. Invitations by author/bloggers Shirley Showalter, Annamaria Bazzi, David Lawlor, P.C. Zick (July 9),and Christoph Fischer (Aug 4) to visit their blogs have helped me prepare for interviews, focus my thinking and get the word out. I’m grateful to them for hosting me.
  • Product in place. My eastern Iowa events are in towns without bookstores. Since I know from my memoir experience that people want a local place to buy the book, I’ve arranged with two pharmacies, the county historical society and a library to stock copies.
  • Media outreach. I’ve returned to my public relations roots to prepare media materials and made them available on my website. I’ve targeted pitches to key media for interviews. I’ve made sure local media in the geography surrounding my events have news releases and images well in advance.
  • E-mail marketing. On the theory that people who know me will be most interested in hearing about Go Away Home, I’ve sent a series of targeted e-mails to everyone on my list. The response has been encouraging and sends me forward on a wave of good feelings.

Modern technology is a wonderful thing. Without the Internet, wi-fi, and cell phones, this would not be possible. Time will tell how my body reacts to being in two places at the same time.

No doubt, I’ll arrive at the end of the July exhausted. During the month, I know I’ll have reconnected with old friends, met many new friends, and had a lot of fun.

I think I’m prepared. I hope so. But are there other things I should be doing? If you think of something, let me know. It’s not too late. After all, if I can be in two places, surely three can’t be that difficult ;)

How did transportation open up your world?

As a farm kid, getting my driver’s license was a huge step. Without it, the bus to and from school was my only option. With a license, I could participate in cheer leading, sports, choir, speech contests, and a multitude of other activities. A license was my ticket to the outside world.

Janet Givens

Janet Givens

Since she lived on the Kazakh Steppe, Janet Givens has been exploring cultural differences and how they are bridged. She’s invited me to her blog to talk about how transportation plays into bridging those gaps as they did for me growing up on the farm and for Liddie, the main character in my upcoming novel Go Away Home.

Transportation: The path between worlds: Carol Bodensteiner

Posted by Janet Givens on May 21, 2014, in Crossing Boundaries, Life, Travel

I’m pleased to have Carol Bodensteiner join us this month. But in the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that for nearly the first year I was active in social media, I got Carol confused with Shirley Showalter. They both wrote memoirs of growing up on a farm, both had blond profile pictures, and both were from somewhere west of me. But I’d read Carol’s memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl early on, so when Shirley announced the launch of her book, Blush, earlier this year, and I realized she’d grown up in Lancaster, PA, I figured it out. 
I came to see these two remarkable women for what they truly are: twins separated at birth … (Read more)

How has transportation figured into expanding your world? Or restricting it? We invite you to join the discussion – here and on Janet’s blog.

Transportation – The path between worlds: Carol Bodensteiner – See more at: http://janetgivens.com/transportation-the-path-between-worlds-carol-bodensteiner/#sthash.pVZLCbLP.dpuf

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.

Thelma & Louise hit the road again

Can't pass up a big chair

Can’t pass up a big chair

You know you’re in the south when …

  • The people at the next table are drinking Coca Cola for breakfast
  • Dairy Queen serves the best biscuits and gravy for breakfast
  • Corn pudding is a side dish option for lunch
Berea, Kentucky combines art and history.

Berea, Kentucky combines art and history.

My friend Sue and I have hit the road – just like and nothing like – Thelma & Louise. We plan to have some fun, enjoy the sights of the southeastern states, see some friends, and relax on the North Carolina beach. So far we’ve traversed six states: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

A great night for a boat ride.

A great night for a boat ride.

We’ve met interesting people – the woman at breakfast for instance – who told us more than we wanted to know about southern food and who used way more words than anyone should that early in the morning.

Captain Paul pilots us out of Honahlee

Captain Paul pilots us out of Honahlee

We’ve explored art and history in Kentucky.

We’ve reprised the big chair theme from a trip to California.

We’ve enjoyed an evening of boating with friends Nan and Paul and spectacular food at the Lakeside Tavern.

Today we’ll tour in the Smoky Mountain National Park.

Honky-tonks, hitchhikers, and hell-raising are not on our list.

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,

Fiction

  • 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!

Walking through Iowa; reading through Europe

Goals to keep mind and body fresh.

Shoes & BookI’ve set two goals for myself this winter: one walking and one reading. In just the first few weeks of the year, I’ve found some interesting links to these goals, beyond the fact that I do them at the same time.

  • My walking goal is to traverse the diagonal distance of Iowa, from the southwest corner to the northeast. A map taped to the wall offers a ready reference for logging my miles and noting the towns I figuratively pass through as I take to the treadmill.
  • My reading goal, as I shared in another post, is to read 10 works of historical fiction in 2014 as part of the historical fiction challenge. That’s in addition to all the other books I know will pass through my hands this year.

I began my trek in Hamburg, the southwestern most town in Iowa. According to the 2010 census, Hamburg’s population was 1,187. This little town was nearly wiped off the map in 2011 when the Missouri River breached the levee protecting the area. Despite great adversity, the people and their town survived.

It’s interesting (to me at least) that Hamburg is named for Hamburg, Germany, since the book I was reading at this point was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Set in Germany, The Book Thief tells the story of a nine-year-old girl who lives near Berlin during WWII. This child and her foster parents face great adversity as they risk their lives to befriend a Jew they hide in their basement. The book explores the ability of books to feed the soul.

Since leaving Hamburg (Iowa), I’ve traversed almost 50 miles, passing through towns I’ve never heard of – Essex – and some I have heard of but never visited – Shenandoah and Red Oak.

Coincidentally, I “walked” through Shenandoah at the time Phil Everly passed away. Phil and his brother, Don, grew up in Shenandoah from early childhood through early high school. They sang with their father on local radio station KMA before going on to achieve fame as The Everly Brothers.

Walking at 3.8 miles/hour, I can read comfortably and have completed several books, including:

  • Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. My choice for our book club to read this month, this novel took me to the coast of England to search for fossils with two nineteenth century women whose discoveries upset the scientific and religious worlds of the day. I found this book noteworthy because the author had a unique way to describe characters. One “leads with her eyes,” another “leads with her hands,” another “leads with her chin.”  As soon as I read this descriptor, I realized I know people like this. I admire authors who trigger that spark of recognition in readers in an unusual way.
  • The Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. This book about a lesser known part of American history, when some 250,000 children were taken by train from east coast cities to find homes in rural areas, drew me in because I have a thread on the Orphan Trains in my upcoming novel, Go Away Home. This is the one book I’ve read so far this year set in the United States.
  • Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse, by Jennifer Worth. The sequel to the book that is the basis for the the PBS series, this book caused me to consider the scope of creative non-fiction.  Worth was a nurse midwife in London after WWII.  Her life experience and writing are fully engaging. I do wonder, though, if it is appropriate to categorize much of this second book as memoir since several of the stories were not about things that happened to Worth or that she saw personally. Terrific stories, though, and a powerful look at a difficult time in English history.

As I continue to walk, I’ve crossed the Channel to France where I’m on a gastronomical journey with Julia Child in her memoir, My Life in France. She is making me very hungry. 

Sharing goals helps ensure I stick to them. So, I’ll share updates of my reading and walking musings from time to time. If you’d like to chime in on books you’re reading or places you’re traveling or goals you’ve set for the year, I’d love to hear from you.

The value of a fresh look at writing? Priceless

Bryce Canyon, Utah - Arch

Bryce Canyon, Utah

A fresh read of a manuscript points out all kinds of problems: flat characters, scenes that though beautifully written go nowhere, leaps in logic that were clear to me in the writing but not to a reader. A fresh location can also inspire a fresh look.

A few weeks ago, I met my writing partner Mary Gottschalk in Moab, Utah, for what has become an annual tradition – a week devoted to our writing. 

I’ve written about retreats before, but I was particularly excited about this one. Having given the full manuscript for my work in progress, All She Ever Wanted, to Mary for a complete, start-to-finish read, my goal for the week was to fill in the holes and trim the fat she saw on this read through. She didn’t disappoint. Her critique offered both big picture and fine-tuning feedback.

Reading with clear eyes, she found sections that could be eliminated entirely or reduced to a line or two of backstory. With her comments in hand, I set about hacking entire scenes. Once I embraced the idea of eliminating anything that didn’t move the plot forward in a meaningful way, I found other scenes that were surprisingly easy to send to the cutting room floor.

But it wasn’t all about cutting. In the course of the week, a character who started off as a minor player at a holiday party took on a major role. By the end of the week, Harley was challenging my heroine Liddie to grow up, speak up, and face the reality of how quickly gossip can travel. To accommodate this troublemaker, I wrote new scenes and changed the tone of others.

In addition, I fleshed out the historical setting, adding richness of detail to the story skeleton, based on research I’d been doing. The war in Europe (WWI) had a broader impact on the U.S. than I’d realized it did, years before the U.S. sent troops into battle in 1917. Every American was being taught economy. Women were called to eschew foreign labels in their clothes and buy American. Clothing designs took on military influences.

At the beginning of the week, I hoped to be able to respond to Mary’s comments on the first half of my manuscript. What an adrenaline rush to find that I could tackle the entire manuscript. By the time we were driving back home, I could visualize having my manuscript ready to put in the hands of beta readers by the end of April.

A fresh look and a week with focus let me take some very big steps in that direction.

A memoir told in geology

Bryce Canyon, Utah, Hoodoos

Bryce Canyon, Utah, Hoodoos

A drive through the southwest United States invariably inspires my interest in geology. The seismic power of uplifts reveals sheer walls of stone. The layers of red, white, green rock tell of eons of floods, the arrival of shell fish, the retreat of water. The progress of the earth’s development is stripped bare and we see both pain and beauty in this brilliant and honest memoir.

In the past few days, I’ve visited the canyons of southern Utah, where wind and water have created some of the most amazing land formations one is likely to see on earth. Even the pictures I’d seen hadn’t prepared me for the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.

Hoodoos are columns of weathered rock shaped by the wind and rain over thousands of years. Layers of softer and harder sedimentary rock cause the erosion to shape the spires into infinitely varied shapes limited only by your imagination. You might see Abraham Lincoln, Medieval castles, Cleopatra on her throne, or Casper the Friendly Ghost. An overlook called Inspiration Point provided a view of thousands of hoodoos in tight formation reminding me of the soldiers in the famous Terracotta Army in China.

The alluvial fan on the left is beginning to birth new hoodoos.

The alluvial fan on the left is beginning to birth new hoodoos.

A park ranger shared pictures of some of the hoodoos taken 60 years ago and pictures of those same hoodoos taken in the past year. Erosion has taken its toll. Eventually the spires will be too weak to support themselves and they’ll crumple to dust. The erosion is steady and significant. The rim of the canyon erodes at the rate of 1 to 4 feet each 100 years.

This made me a little sad, as reading memoirs sometimes does. What would be here for future generations, I wondered.  The ranger offered hope. As the erosion continues, new hoodoos emerge out of the alluvial fans.  If you look closely at the left side of the picture, you can see it happening. Today’s hoodoo soldiers will fade away to be replaced by the new recruits of the future.

Timing is everything

Saguaro cactus and a carpet of yellow, Mexican poppies.

Saguaro cactus and a carpet of yellow, Mexican poppies.

With so many things in life, timing matters. In my experience, that’s never more true than when it comes to seeing the wonders of nature. My travels this week have brought me to the desert southwest and Phoenix, Arizona.

I’ve enjoyed Arizona’s deserts many times over the years, visiting family and friends or on business. But in all these years, I’ve never seen the desert in bloom. That is both a matter of good timing and the right weather. This week my timing was spot on.

Desert blooms, Lake Pleasant, Arizona

The yellow overpowered the more subtle, yet equally beautiful, lilac and purple blooms.

Last week it snowed in Arizona, even in Phoenix. This week the desert took advantage of that moisture added to earlier rains to put out a spectacular display of color. Sweeps of yellow Mexican poppies; delicate spires of purple flowers that looked to be in the Lobelia family, tiny lilac colored stars.

Yesterday, my friend Carol and I hiked near Lake Pleasant, though hiking is somewhat of a misnomer for our walk, which was constantly interrupted by my exclamations about how spectacular the flowers were and the innumerable stops to take pictures.

Desert booms, saguaro cactus, Lake Pleasant, Arizona

A carpet of flowers covered the desert floor.

As an Iowa girl, I’m very fond of green, but the desert has its own beauty. And never more so than when the flowers bloom.

Have you seen the desert in bloom? Have you experienced a moment of very good timing? Please take a moment and share your story.