Shine On

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Graduations abound. This is a time where weary final exam students can breathe a sigh of relief and smile about their accomplishments. I am blessed as two of my children graduated this week. One child graduated from high school and the other for eighth grade. During this pride-filled week, I had the privilege to hear some moving graduation speeches from both student and adults. Every speech had a similar in theme clearly applies to not just the graduate, but also every adult present.

The goal of commencement is to encourage the graduate to push on into the unknown and figure out how to get what you want out of life. It does not matter if you are pursuing a new job, college life or beginning high school the goal is all the same. You have to be willing to define yourself, your goals and move forward to achieve it. Like a star being born, life teaches you how to shine on.

Life is the polish, and it is up to you to learn how to make yourself happy and fulfilled.

These graduation tips are for everyone young and old.

Failure is certain. Eventually, you will fail at something. The key to overcoming failure is to learn from it. Glean the wisdom from the moment feel its sting because you are human and move on knowing you achieved wisdom and strength from this experience. The message here- It is OK to fail as long as you become stronger and wiser from the experience.

Everyone has the incredible ability to pave their future by each decision they make. Right or wrong, these decisions will carve out your future and make you an incredible unique person.  If you want to achieve a goal, you have to work hard. On the flip side, have fun. A twist to the “all work and no play” theme we have heard many times. This is remarkably insightful. How many times have we worked diligently to achieve a goal only to feel disappointed afterward? Life is supposed to have joy. Work and joy can intertwine to create a fulfilling life. Think about this the next time you feel no joy on the way to your next goal.

Never stop exploring. Other tidbits talked about getting involved outside your studies or work. Have an outlet to broaden your interests and explore your personality. Take time to learn a new hobby, try something that interests you. Enrich your life by learning a new skill and meeting new friends. Isn’t it time to explore something new? Which new hobby have you attempted lately?

Graduation is exciting, as a parent I am both proud and worried about my young adults. They have so much to learn, but I know I will be there to help them through. The speeches remind me we are never finish learning. As long as we have another day, it is one more opportunity to shine on!

No Names Please!

ego.thechicagoschool.edu

ego.thechicagoschool.edu

Listening to the radio news, it is appalling to hear how the press uses labels to divide people from each other. This divide and conquer tactic pits any group against another.  No one is immune; we are exposed to harmful names and labels every day. We hear names, races, political affiliation, religious affiliations and labels that are unnecessary. Labels and name-calling are the dividing line that separates humans from caring about each other.

Black white yellow blonde ginger democrat republican Muslim, Christian or Jew- each label brings forth good and bad images. Why do we separate ourselves in this manner? We are simply humans with different physical traits, cultures and life experiences. The differences should bring us together not separate us.

~Others opinions of you does not have to become your reality~ Les Brown

It begins with the grade school bully. The first experience when someone points out a physical difference we all possess. We are not meant to look alike, yet children feel the sting of humiliation by someone pointing out a physical attribute deemed different. Most children go on from this experience while others remember it for life. This would be considered a learning tool if it stopped on the school playground but it does not. How unfortunate it is to have your self-esteem ruined because someone chose to be mean-spirited. Everyone is beautiful to someone. If one cannot accept someone by his or her physical attributes, then move on without pointing it out. The accused know their own flaws far better than anyone.

~I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy as a cause for withdrawing from a friend~ Thomas Jefferson

What do wars, murder and bloodshed have in common? Each event was triggered by opinions tied to raw emotion. Opinions teach us about each other. We think differently shaped by experiences and own unique life journey. Instead of staying close-minded ranting and raving about your rights, stop, calm your emotion and listen. Have respect to hear another point of view. It is perfectly ok to disagree, but have respect and openness to listen. The world needs more listening and less violence.

~You never truly understand someone until you have walked in their shoes~

Cultural differences are the biggest obstacle. Who are we to judge how other cultures choose to live? Each culture has its own set of rules set back from the beginning of time. Just because we do not agree with other cultures rules, does not mean they have to change for us. Striving to change other cultures goes back since the beginning of time. After thousands of years, we have not learned anything. Culture is the foundation of whom we are as people. Before I get a thousand opinions about human atrocities in other countries, I am well aware of these facts. Any one’s interference is pushing foreign ideas onto someone else’s world. How is that respecting their culture?  No one will fully understand someone’s way of life without living inside the culture. Walk a mile in their shoes, as long as they do not infringe on another’s lifestyle, then let it be.

Regardless of our differences, we are all the same. Next time the urge to judge someone strikes, take a moment to look at him or her. Try to see they are like you shaped by different life experiences. Would you be any different if you walked in their shoes? Don’t you think it time to step outside your comfort zone and learn about each other?

Mother’s Day Thank You

wilmington.edu

wilmington.edu

Happy Mother’s Day to new moms; experienced mom’s and grand moms. Your journey is not an easy one, but the rewards are priceless. Today, we remember the women who have touched our lives and shaped us in many profound ways.

I do not know how women become mothers. Well yes, I know the basics, but where does the wisdom, patience and perseverance come from? I do not remember someone bestowing these qualities on me to get me through the ‘tough years’. Reflecting back on Mother’s day, I realize each child I raised gave me these qualities. They changed me as much as I shaped them.

Our children change us.  It is a long hard road, paved with tears and triumph. It begins with trial by fire and ends with deep satisfaction and pride. The first wail after birth is our call to action from the commanding officer as Parent Boot camp begins.

How does something so small have so many demands? They deprive us of sleep; make us wonder if we are “cut out” for this parent thing. Just as we get our bearings, they find their voice. These little tykes mirror our actions bossy and demanding. Before we know it, we release them to the world as they enter school with a tearful good luck. The next few years get easier, guiding them through their school age years boosting their confidence, helping them find their identity. The years seem to accelerate forward and before we know it, our grip loosens little by little each year as their independence grows. We watch their wings develop growing stronger by the year. The young adult years come with harder decisions and then they leave. The last link bonding us as parent and child is never broken. It only feels that way as they excitedly leave the nest to begin the adult years.

Children teach us about ourselves. They force us to grow stronger and more resilient. I would not trade those experiences for anything. Yes, it was hard, rewarding, crazy, and wonderful all at the same time. The pride I feel being their Mom is knowing I grew from these experiences. I did not have to be perfect to be a good parent. I just had to be there for them.  I have my children to thank for that.

Thank you my beautiful children. You made me a better version of myself. Know I am always here for you. I won’t save you from life, but I will help you through it.  I am honored to be your Mom and I thank you for choosing me. Happy Mother’s Day!

Lost Art of Letters and Diaries

The art of letter writing is becoming a talent of the past. Correspondences between family and friends is now replaced by emails and Skype and instant messaging. How will this impact future generations when they want to understand the world we live in today? Our world no longer values cursive writing or a man’s signature marking his word or contract. Our  younger generations do not know how to properly sign their names because they are not being taught cursive writing in school.  All of these skills are lost to the computer age.

Letters and diaries give researchers a first hand account about lives past. Personal ideas and reflections of life as one experiences it.  Thoughts and feelings scribbled onto now aged yellowed fragile paper.  As technology propels us forward, paper gives way to intangible clouds. Are we losing a valuable link to answer questions future generation will ask about us?

Letter writing and diary keeping is an art. It is a space where someone can record their thoughts and feelings about their lives, hopes and worries. Ideas written in personalized handwriting, printed or cursive.  The creative squiggles of cursive writing decorates the page with personality and wit. These personal accounts allow the reader to understand “life as usual” and intimate details about love and devotion. It is all about life as someone experiences it.

Sallie Myers

Salome Meyers

Tillie Pierce

Tillie Pierce

The diaries of Tillie Pierce Alleman and Salome Meyers Stewart discuss life before during and after the Civil war at Gettysburg. Learning intimate details about these women’s lives brought Gettysburg and its people to life.  These accounts helped me create characters who would have seamlessly fit into Gettysburg during that time. Letters from the southern point of view, from Richard Henry Watkins to his wife Mary revealed his devotion to his family and home. Richard wrote about the farm and business dealings before talking about personal issues to Mary. Through these first hand accounts, I understood how they saw the war. Richard treated the war as an inconvenience, while Tillie and Salome expressed fear and worry about how their lives may change. Reading their words helped me understand the events through their eyes.

Hand written letters are becoming a lost art. How will future researchers understand history through our eyes? Will these records exist for future researchers to understand our lives as we see it or will it be gone forever?

 

The Ties of the Past: The Gettysburg Diaries of Salome Meyer Stewart, 1854-1922

At Gettysburg or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle: A True Narrative by Tillie Pierce Alleman

Send Me an Old Pair of Boots & Kiss my Little Girls – The Civil War Letters of Richard and Mary Watkins 1861-1865 Jeff Toalson, editor 

 

Richard and Mary Watkins 1890

Richard and Mary Watkins 1890

 

The Great Character Debate

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Characterization is a challenge writers’ face with every piece they write. What makes a compelling character? If characters are people, say friends or enemies; how complex does a writer need to create a character the reader will love or hate?

I recently sat down to chat with two groups of readers. They gave me insight about my characters from my novel, The Cause: Love & War. It was inspiring to listen to these women, age 14 to 65 years. These conversations taught me what works and what does not work with my characterization.

Every writer’s goal is to connect the reader to the pages he holds in his hands. Mantras echo in our heads- Don’t allow them to put that book down. Create a world a reader does not want to leave. When a reader shuts out the world around him, you the author have done your job. How do you know your characters touch your readers? Here are a few good indicators I heard from my readers.

Strong Emotional Response: As a writer, I love hearing strong emotional reactions from my readers. When they tell me they needed tissues to get through a few chapters, I sincerely say, “I am sorry I made you cry.” While doing a happy dance behind a “yes, I did it” smile. Their reaction strongly connects the reader to the character. The characters breathe within the pages. They are alive, living unpredictable lives. One critic disliked Emilie noting she was whinny and spoiled. Others describe her as very strong willed and outspoken for her time. Emilie’s character did have all of these qualities. The main ingredient is Emilie grew up. She was not the same girl in the beginning of the story as she was at the end. Either way, Emilie’s personality kept the readers reading. When readers identify with the characters, a bond connects them to the story.

Debate over a character’s action: The book club debated Emilie’s decision to marry after being touched by tragedy. The younger group felt drawn to discuss Emilie’s right to return to teaching after marriage. After a quick history lesson about women’s roles in the 1860’s the young ladies gushed about who was their favorite male character. I felt like they were chatting about the latest movie star. While the book club tried to analyze her logic and that of her parents. Historically, Emilie needed to marry; she was becoming too old to remain single. She understood love and was ready to marry. She would have felt pressure to move on with her life. This discussion shows everyone is thinking about history and Emilie’s well-being.

Leave them wanting more: My plan for The Cause: Love & War is to make it into a trilogy. I wanted to educate the readers about Civil War history in a non-lecture format. The recipe was not complicated; Add a good dose of historical facts, combined it with relatable characters, add a twist and unpredictable turn and tell the history in an enjoyable format. This recipe seems to work as most of the readers wanted to know when the second book was coming out.

The best compliment I received through the discussion group was from a reader who put off reading the story because it was not her genre. She happily said she enjoyed the story and learned more about Civil War history than she ever remembered learning from school.  Characters are the heart and soul of every memorable novel. Take time to listen to your readers and let them tell you what they think. It will make you a better writer.

Writing through Their Words

 

wehearit.com

wehearit.com

 

 

While researching the historical background for The Cause: Love & War, my goal was to move away from the history books and uncover true tales of the time period as told by the ones who lived it. I found a wealth of information in diaries, letters and oral histories. These histories allowed me to see “life as usual” for a common person as pivotal historical events unfolded.

I use these histories to understand people’s personalities through their thoughts and written words. Reading these words set my creative mind to work. Using  these stories as a springboard for character development and story line I began to weave my own tale. Their words taught me dialects, phrasing and vocabulary. Mimicking these historical elements created a believable storyline.

While writing this historic specific story, I found it difficult to “stay in the period” while present day flowed around me. Historical novelists must keep vigilant watch to prevent modern phrases slipping into the storyline. It takes mindset and concentration.

Diaries and journals add realism to the storyline. My goal is to create a reality within the pages. I want the reader to think they live within the pages alongside my characters. I believe this transformation only happens by listening to the past. I dug deeper to uncovering a set of oral histories about slavery in the South. I excitedly found documentation about slave life different from the horrors we read about in textbooks. Slave owners who treated their slaves as people. Another oral history talked about a slave owner hosting a marriage of a black couple at their home. The afternoon said to be a joyous occasion. Not all white slave owners mistreated their slaves. This point often overshadowed by the blatant atrocities seen in movies and book.

The ladies of Gettysburg had an incredible talent for writing everything down. Sallie Meyers, Sarah Broadhead and Tillie Pierce bring the war to our doorstep as it arrived at theirs. I am sure some of these women never intended their words to be published. Their views about their lives help us to understand their experiences in a time we can only read about today.

Each aspect of The Cause: Love & War was touched by some letter diary or oral report, I read. Using various elements of these letters personalized the book and made it unique. The Prescott family’s views toward slavery came directly from the oral histories I read. The letters between Emilie and Thaddeus were written in the same spirit as many lovers, husband and wives. Emilie’s journal entries, helped her express herself, in a voice she was not allowed in Victorian times as many journals written by young women allowed them to express emotions they weren’t allowed to show to anyone else. These therapeutic memoirs open a new world of history for us today.

If the history bug bites, you may want to consider delving into books about collections of letters and diaries about people like you and me.

Transition into Spring

enwikipedia.com

enwikipedia.com

Spring is finally here! I am sitting in Texas as I write this blog excited to feel the warmth of 65 degrees, experience rain instead of snow, and see flowers and trees in bloom. Wisconsin is still in the tight grip of Old man winter. Since I last updated you, I am officially an author and truck driver. I needed my new occupation to support my writing habit :-)

Transitions are exciting, and this is a good time to refocus my blog.  Most bloggers experience the “post rut” or lack of fun things to say. When I finished the Blogger for Peace posts last December I discovered the blog lost its platform. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of Blogger for Peace and my distraction with the book release did not help.  Last summer’s schedule swept me up with book signings and lectures.  Fall into winter, the excitement of my wavered a bit. The blog lost its way, and I miss the challenge of posting. I miss your feedback.

Months of brainstorming led me to realize I still have a long way to go and a lot to say. The blog had two purposes, my writer’s journey and an educational format, that highlights history. I want to bring you the history not written in the textbooks. It reveals history as experienced by people like you and me.

The Cause: Love & War to highlight a Southern girl’s views of the Civil War as she sees it. My southern character is not wealthy; she does not have the privileges of the elite southern class. Her perspective is different because she is southern-born woman who lives in the North. A different culture and a different outlook, how does she does she understand the changing world around her? How would you consider this world if you were in her shoes?

How did you experience 9/11 or Boston Marathon Tragedy?  My passion for research and history help me understand people are people. Our world events shape the way we think and feel about things. Our history books only scratched the surface of what people experience.

This blog will share more about who I am and my ideas of how history shaped the world we live in today.  I am excited to share the research I did for the book and the new one coming soon.

Thank you for being patient while I was away. I hope you enjoy the journey to come.

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