On Skipping a Post, Autumn Joys, and Essential Details…

Boy, is it tough to get back into a routine, even when I’ve only missed one post. So here we go, after a week in the Deep South. Well, deep for me, anyhow! Being with my friend Patti was a joy, not to mention her family…such CUTE grandchildren! My expectations of the weather were fulfilled, hot and muggy, and that proved true of my time in Columbia as well.

But I mo tell ya, honey, the weatherman lied about the temperature in Nashville. It was nippy down there at the Nashville Book Fair! But getting to meet my publisher at Wordcrafts Press and his wife (Mike and Paula Parker), plus several other authors with this company, was worth it. Making new contacts among those who braved the cold and rain to attend the fair–doesn’t get better than that.

So now, it’s back to Iowa,  where it SNOWED while I was gone…not typical for mid-October. Today, though, it’s in the sixties, and the glories of fall are visiting us once again.

A day like this calls for some rich vegetable soup simmering on the stove. OOPS that was before I added the zucchini…

Notice the color difference? This morning our writing group met at South Square here in St. Ansgar, and one discussion point fits here…the difference one small detail can make in our creativity. The addition of zucchini in this pot brightens the whole stew…gives more of texture to the overall dish. I could add some corn, which would also have its effect.

Now that I’m hunkering down with my World War II nurse’s story again, this principle applies. In the first drafts, I may not have taken time to add all of the “small” things…the seemingly insignificant quirks about locale, habits, or sounds and sights. But these elements become vital to the overall picture for a reader.

This type of editing equals fun for me…how can I make each scene stronger, each character more vivid, each challenge more of an obstacle? On Tuesday evening, I traveled to the Nora Springs Library for a book talk, and readers reminded me of some details I’d forgotten I included in the first book of Women of the Heartland. But they remember them…those details make a difference! (Click below for a peek at the series.)

Women of the Heartland

So many readers of In Times Like These agree on one point: Harold, Addie’s recalcitrant husband, should be shot! (His personality must shine through clearly!)

Creating believable characters–that’s what writing fiction is all about, and here I am, happy to be at it again.

Autumn Leaves

It’s been co-o-ol-d here, chilly enough to wear several layers, a scarf and gloves. The other day, while walking out of a brisk wind in the fellowship hall of a nearby church, this hand-crafted sign caught my attention: 

What a great play on words, eh? 

The sentiment also describes the mental state of the hero in the manuscript I’m working on right now. It’s the middle of World War II – November 1944, and things have been VERY bad. How could they get worse, with V-2 vengeance weapons killing thousands in London? 

Well…my hero is a thinker, and he can’t imagine worse any more. In fact, he’s become almost numb–so many mass-casualty events, he can scarcely keep up with them. In his policeman’s role, he lives way too close to them. 

Can you imagine how doubts must have crept into these people’s minds as the war slogged on? Always a hope of victory by Christmas, but one Christmas after another had passed, and still, soldiers were sacrificing their lives for the cause. When would this horror end? 

Maybe that’s why this little sign struck home with me. In all seasons of history, autumn leaves have fallen, and most likely, this will continue. Summer, autumn, winter, spring. And in every century new wars have sprung up, nation against nation. The human family never seems to learn. I don’t know how people survive without the constant of a worldview including an unchanging Creator. 

Outside our back door, a few tomatoes still cling to their vines, while most have been picked and frozen or made into sauces or soup. Our daughter’s kitchen smelled SO wonderful today, with two vats of applesauce and apple butter bubbling away…it’s that time of year. 

Whatever the weather in your area (and in your life,) I hope you find time to enjoy some beauty in each day. That’s what my hero is learning to do. 

Spinning…

Look closely at this photo of some fall veggies sitting on my counter to see a metaphor for the writing life:

On the top tomato, do you spy a whitish, fuzzy object? It’s hard to get a good shot of this. Let me have my husband try. 

 

Hmm… maybe a little clearer. Or not…

When I picked that top tomato from our vines sprawling wa-a-a-y out of control, this small caterpillar attracted my attention. Spinning away, in the business of transformation. 

That’s how my days pass–spinning stories, except when I surface to instruct a class, facilitate a writing workshop, or attend a grandchild’s ballgame. On September 10, 17, and 24 this year, I have the joy of interacting with an incredible group of writers at an Iowa State University OLLIE class. Such fun discussions–wish I lived closer! 

Spinning, spinning…that’s my task, weaving the threads of characters’ lives together. Or in the case of the WWII nurse I’m writing about now, discovering how the actual threads of her life carried her through the horrors of war.  Five long years she gave to the effort–the best of her twenties.

This past week, I had the privilege of hearing this incredible woman’s voice in a DVD as she spoke to a group in her later years. Oh my! What a memory she had…what a lovely, intriguing woman. I’m indebted to her daughter, who sent me that video presentation, along with photos and information.

In November, I get to meet this daughter, and possiblly her brother as well. I’ll be facilitating a writing workshop at the Joliet, IL library, and be able to walk the streets Dorothy walked during her post-war life, see her photo albums, touch the many campaign badges she earned…

And it will all center on spinning. 

Interesting that I’m a disaster at sewing, and after several knitting lessons, never did master that precise art.

But I am spinning, always. 

As July Fourth Nears…

Summer is a-bustin’ out all over.

A father cardinal stays mighty close to his fledglings in their nest just outside our back door.

Yes, and flowers display their fragile glory everywhere we look:

And here come the begonias near our front porch–wish you could all come and sip a cup of tea out there.

Now, take a look at our granddaughter’s team last week, the night they won their sixth grade softball championship. One of those magical moments filled with gratitude. I’ll cherish these smiles marking the GOOD KIND of pride for years to come! (Can you tell which one she is?)

Last but not least, I’m still basking in memories of our trip to England, often recalling Winston Churchill’s grit in an almost impossible position. I know, I know, you may be getting sick of me mentioning him…can’t help it, though. I’m SO SO very grateful for how he played his role in history.

 

A happy Fourth of July to you, and a little publishing news. I submitted a new manuscript to a publisher last week, something from World War II, of course, but a little different…it’s Glenora Carson’s story: she was one of the women who got their hands greasy during the war years doing a man’s job. More to come on this novella, with the title Kiss Me Once Again.

Also, I submitted my next novel to an agent. You just never know what might happen …never a dull moment, though.

 

Keep Calm and Carry On

That’s a mouthful at times. I have a friend who’s facing surgery with extensive recuperation, plus two dreadful diseases in her close family.

Keep calm, you say?

With another friend, we have an ongoing discussion about how people make it through suffering, sorrow, illness, and loss. Sometimes I think it’s a combination of this “carry on” attitude plus faith, of course, and a good dose of everyday concerns that keep us going.

 

On our recent trip, Lance ordered bangers and mash, also known as sausages and mash, a traditional British and Irish dish combining sausages and mashed potatoes. The flavored sausages may be pork, lamb, or beef (often specifically Cumberland sausage. The dish is sometimes served with onion gravy, fried onions, or peas.

This dish, even when cooked at home, may be thought of as an example of pub grub, quick and easy to make in large quantities. I’ve read accounts of wartime children being sent to pick up the family’s order of this dish at a local restaurant, since both of their parents were working.

During World War II, I wonder if, in addition to seeking divine comfort, the necessary constant task of providing food for their families helped everyone make it through. Here in the states, women survived dire Depression-era poverty and went on to endure the wait for their loved ones to return from the second world war.

Maybe it’s no wonder that generation taught us to eat everything on our plates and placed high value on a good, solid meal followed by a lush dessert.

Some World War II ladies we met at Bletchley Park

Talk about authentic…take a look at these women – oh, so stylish! The one with the white hat has a Veronica Lake “victory roll,” prevalent during World War II. This hair-do kept women’s hair out of the way in such a busy time, and helped them avoid accidents with machinery at their jobs, as well.

 

One of these ladies might work in a factory, like her American counterpart, Rosie the Riveter, or as a secretary to someone in Winston Churchill’s underground war rooms.

These are the types Addie and Kate would have encountered in Charles Tenney’s office, or on the streets of London.

 

Changed Plans and Reminders

A promise is a promise. I said I would send photos from England and a continuous report of what we are doing over here. However, the photo part has to wait because my husband is at a camera shop right now seeing if his camera damage from the trip over the Atlantic can be fixed or if he needs to buy a new camera.

In the meantime, he has been taking what we hope are wonderful shots of everything we have seen so far. So here goes from Portsmouth where the D-Day Museum completely captured our attention and where I put my pinky in the very cold waters of the English Channel.

The Salty breeze from the channel made me very thankful for the coat our daughter found for me last week. We stayed minutes from the channel in the Easley guest house where Steve and Clare provided great breakfasts and loads of information about Portsmouth now and during World War II.

One of the highlights for me was meeting a couple of women on vacation during breakfast the first day. One of them grew up in a big brick house across the street and told us that along the line of houses, where we now could see a more modern one, that meant the original one had been bombed out during the blitz.

As usual meeting these women was a highlight for me. We also explored a bombed-out local Garrison church built long before Jamestown was founded.

We went to the Mary Rose museum. The Mary Rose was Henry the VIII’s pride and joy, his best warship. But he watched her sink from Portsmouth Harbor. Centuries later, she was partially brought to the surface and is now reconstructed underneath a huge glass enclosure. So many artifacts retrieved from the Mary Rose and it’s amazing they were still recognizable.

Today I am taking a break from concrete and cement for my poor aching feet, but ice is helping. We wanted to be on a tour today, but as often happens in life, had to change our plans. The same thing happened with being able to check my emails so if any of you have written me and not received a reply now you know why.

Still, it’s a gorgeous day in Oxford England. Yesterday we saw punters rowing their flat-bottomed boats—which they call “punts”—on the river beside the colleges. We ate dinner where C.S. Lewis and his buddies met every week. It’s a pub called The Bear and it was flooded with Americans. I sure hope Lance’s photos have turned out OK. He can’t tell at this point, but hopefully will be able to send some soon. For now, a few from our phone will have to do.

 

In the meantime, I’m reading The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis out in a beautiful back yard of our hotel and being reminded that even when our plans go awry the beauty around us reminds us of what really matters. Signing off for now.

Light in Darkness

We went to see an incredibly well-written/directed/acted movie yesterday. The Darkest Hour offers humor, honesty, riveting tension, and a challenge. My own personal challenge was to avoid crying through the last hour, and I failed.

It’s difficult to imagine the stress Winston Churchill experienced as Britain’s new prime minister in the dire circumstances brought on by appeasement: Hitler’s forces surrounded the entire British army near Dunkirk, and many in the government urged this new leader to seek a peace agreement.

It’s even more difficult to imagine our world today if Winston Churchill had cowed to the pressure and ignored his intuition that declared England must NOT negotiate with Herr Hitler. Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing how many British citizens agreed with him.

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This morning, my tea bag boasted just the right sentiment for Prime Minister Churchill’s predicament.

Many in Parliament were still controlled by the former appeasement-focused government, and felt nothing could be worse than the present situation. They were also quite aware of Churchill’s imperfections. The movie clearly and honestly shows these…and that’s part of its power.

Who among us is perfect? What leader has no weaknesses? Yet, certain leaders arise at just the right time to alter history’s course for the better.

My tears were for this imperfect leader’s loneliness in what seemed an impossible task. Yet he found the strength to persevere, to act courageously in the face of bitter adversaries on every side. He ordered the Admiralty to summon ordinary citizens with seaworthy vessels to rescue the men at Dunkirk. Kind of like the fishes and loaves…nobody thought the idea could possibly work.

But behind the scenes, the nation prayed…and a truly miraculous outcome afforded Churchill with the support the next difficult five years would require. This production also provides a down-to-earth example for us when anyone’s opinion threatens to dim our light.

I don’t often promote a movie, but this one stands out as UNMISSABLE, especially if the World War II era intrigues you.

 

 

Country Folk of Another Era

Reading Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale has given me an even deeper appreciation of the way simple country folks suffered in the early years of World War II.

When we say country, we visualize rural American farm families. But in France in the early 1940’s, thousands of peasants tended their gardens and vineyards, cared for their children, and enjoyed a simple pastoral setting.

Then, suddenly their freedoms were swept away by the brutal Nazi occupation.

What’s interesting is how people came from all walks of life to help the French Resistance change the tide of the war. One of these, from my Women of the Heartland series, hailed from Iowa farm country. Used to the sight of corn and soybeans ripening for harvest, Kate Isaacs is thrust into the midst of unthinkable horrors.

Unthinkable but very real. Her land-centered background serves her well as she treks back woods trails to avoid the Gestapo, delivering vital messages for the Resistance. So does her heritage of valuing hard work and tenacity. You can’t take the country out of a country girl, right?

Admittedly, this “country,” replete with mountains and deep valleys, is different from Kate’s moorings. Along the way, she views incredible structures like the Abbey of St. Pierre at Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, built in the ninth century. She gasps at this architecture and takes heart at the eternal message of hope engraved in this incredible structure’s entrance.

If you need some more historical fiction to get you through the winter, may I suggest…

 

The Humble Milkweed

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Probably many of my readers recall picking milkweed as children–such an unique plant.

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Yesterday my twelve-year-old granddaughter and I reveled in the superb softness of milkweed down. She sent it flying far and near, and piped, “Grandma, it’s softer than my special silky blanket!”

For the sake of the Monarch butterfly,  people have started re-growing this “weed” that used to flourish in Iowa’s ditches. Back in the forties and fifties, milkweed fluff was everywhere.

Many of us ran our fingers over the satiny floss that floated like dandelion fluff on sunny fall days. But few realized how vital this wispy white stuff had been in the World War II effort to save sailors’ lives. The Japanese controlled kapok, the normal life vest filler, so milkweed floss became a workable substitute.

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I’ve been reading an incredible book called And If I Perish, about nurses and doctors who risked–and often gave–their lives to help wounded soldiers. My research also gave me the story of an Indiana sailor who suffered in the waters of the Pacific and would have died without his life belt. He brought it home as a keepsake, and when his mother looked it over, she realized the inspection number on the belt belonged to her.

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Yes, she worked in a factory that produced life belts and vests. Such an ironic twist to this sailor’s story of deliverance. The war era is full of these stories–I can’t get enough of them.

 

One thing is certain, I’ll never look at milkweed quite the same way again.

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