Gimme Some Agape, Baby!

candy hearts

Why yes, my Valentine’s Day post is about love!

After all, ’tis the season for love- at least according to all of the florists and chocolatiers.

‘Love’ seems to become very tangible on February 14th. It comes cloaked in gifts and meals, in little cards or wide-eyed stuffed animals.

During the rest of the year ‘love’ becomes more vague- harder to pin down. The word is amorphous enough to apply to the man I’m spending my life with, and also to my favorite purple sneakers.

I do love my native tongue, but I find it interesting how much more clearly ‘love’ is described in other languages.

No, I can’t claim to be multi-lingual. I wish I could. I made it through my two years of Latin and Spanish, but unfortunately I’ve lost so much that I might be able to carry on a conversation with a very quiet three-year-old, provided she wanted to talk about ‘queso’ and practice counting. However, I’m a pastor’s kid, and a smattering of Biblical Greek stuck, in particular some of the various words detailing (you guessed it!) types of love.

Ancient Greek had numerous specific words that all translate to ‘love’ in English. A couple of them are easy to recognize.

For instance, “eros” is the root for ‘erotic.’ Need I say more?

Philadelphia gets its name from the Greek word “philos”, and its nickname is based on the meaning: the City of Brotherly Love. (Just don’t look up the crime rates…or so I’ve heard.)

The third is trickier: “agape.” (Ah-gah-pay, rather than the ‘opened mouth’ pronunciation. I once saw a dentist office called “Agape Dental.” I wonder which pronunciation they were going for?)

Agape love is the love of self-sacrifice. It is love that gives, regardless of whether the object of the love is deserving. It’s love in action. (Going back to my first encounter with the word, it’s used consistently in the New Testament to describe the relationship between God and humankind.)

While the other types of love can be invaluable in stories, including some ‘agape’ can deepen and strengthen the relationships between characters. When they show unselfish love- love that gives rather than takes- it’s so outside the realm of the typical that, when written well, it’s unforgettable.

After all, to take a few examples from varied genres, Sam didn’t have to accompany Frodo into Mordor. Mr. Darcy didn’t stand to gain by secretly aiding the family of a girl who’d as good as spit in his face. Atticus Finch wasn’t forced to risk his reputation and family’s safety to defend an innocent man.

They chose to do it anyway, and those stories hold a place of honor as some of my favorites.

In real life, I think of the nights when my husband, weary from another overtime shift, rejoins the family to be pulled in three different directions by our children. I can tell that he’s longing for quiet, but he puts it aside. He talks to them, plays with them, listens to their exploits. I think of the nights when he sees the crazy in my eyes, and he sends me away for alone time in his place.

That’s love that doesn’t fit into a chocolate box.

 

Do you have any stories of love in action, in self-sacrifice, that you’d like to recommend? I always love new books to read!

Thanks for visiting!

BONUS: Fellas, if you’re celebrating today but can’t figure out what she really wants, Tim Hawkins has the answer. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Perks of Rejection Letters

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I have twenty more days.

Twenty days until the month ends. Twenty days until I send out my next round of queries in an attempt to induce an agent to represent my novel.

Twenty more days with no rejection letters in my in-box.

So far, I’ve amassed 13 rejections. Some agents simply didn’t respond to my queries. Others sent out polite form letters, or more personalized notes.

My favorite started out with, “Your writing has merit, but…” It felt like receiving that yellow ‘Participation’ ribbon at track-and-field day – nice of them to offer it, but not something that you’re going to hang on your bulletin board. 

In the grand scheme of querying, 13 isn’t a huge number of rejections. Stories abound of famous authors who had to struggle to get their work on shelves- authors like Dr. Seuss, Stephen King, Kate DiCamillo, and J.K. Rowling.

It’s easy to tell myself that this is all a normal part of the process, but diving back in still leaves me with a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

Rather than wallow in nerves, today I’m focusing on the positives! The following are five unexpected benefits I’ve gained from the process of querying and rejection. 

1. No more hiding!

Am I the only one who feels a little goofy admitting that I’m writing- seriously writing? (From the comments of other writers online, I’m guessing the answer is no.)

It took me months to admit to anyone that I was attempting to write a novel. It took even longer for me to allow anyone else to see it.

Creativity is personal. Sharing it leaves you vulnerable. I don’t like vulnerable.

It’s hard to admit that I’m going through this process, that I have the gall to call myself a writer. It’s even harder to admit that I might completely fall on my proverbial backside.

I might fail to sell my novel to an agent. And, as I’ve decided to record this online, I can’t even keep it a secret if I do!

Gulp.

However, now that I’ve been querying, now that I’ve had to refine and define my ideas for strangers to judge, I’ve found that I’m much more comfortable sharing with the people who actually care about me.

I suppose it’s better to break through that barrier now, rather than just showing up one day with my finished product.

2. Skin-Thickening

I’ve failed at many, many things. Most of my failures had to do with ‘character building’ through school sports. I’m about as coordinated as an inebriated gerbil. And the gerbil would still probably have a better throwing arm…

As an adult, I have the power to choose to play to my strengths. I can stay in my comfort zone. I can do things where I’m almost guaranteed sucess.

It’s been a little hard to throw my heart-felt words out to someone I don’t know. (Ha! ‘A little hard’- that’s my Minnesota background talking. Like, when it gets down to 0 degrees, it’s ‘a little chilly.’)

If I wanted to give professional publishing a go, I had to get over it. Deal with rejection. Prepare myself for bring raked over the coals of critique.

It’s time to toughen up- better now than at the first bad review.

3. Confidence in my work

Here’s my process.

-I send out a query.

-I check e-mail compulsively.

-When the rejection comes, either in written form or in echoing silence, I attack my manuscript.

I’ve gone over and over the thing until my eyes blur, and I’ve come to one conclusion.

I like my book.

In spite of rejections, I still want this book to become. Reviewing and editing it so many times has made my confidence grow.

Growing confidence pushes me to put in the time and effort to make it happen.

4. Professionalism

I haven’t had to go to a job interview since…college? I had my degree to prove that I was a professional teacher, and I knew the rules of that profession.

The rules of the publishing world- not so much.

The querying proecess forced me to read up on publishing, on agents, on writing, oh, on so many things. Many of the agents I’ve approached include tips on their sites, cluing in prospective clients on common writing and querying mistakes.

I’ve had to learn what it takes to be a professional in this industry, in hopes of convincing professionals that they want to work with me.

Whether traditional publishing works out for me or not, I’ve got a better grasp of what I’m in for when I finally get that novel in a (fabulous looking!) cover.

5. This blog happened.

“What’s your platform?” “Who will read your book?” “What’s your sphere of influence?” (Does that last one make anyone else think Cold War? No?)

I probably wouldn’t have started consitently blogging without having to answer questions like these on query forms.

No, I didn’t start this blog thinking, “I need to find people who will read my book!” It did seem like agents expected me to be doing something on social media, though, and of the options, blogging seemed the most interesting.

I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I have! Connecting with other writers and learning from them, reading about other people’s insights on history, enjoying stories and poems and fantastic cat pictures- all of these things have changed blogging from something “I guess I should do,” to a pleasure. (Thanks to all of you fellow bloggers and kind commenters!)

As I edit my query letter for the hundreth time (I’m not even sure that’s hyperbole anymore!) and recheck my lists of agents, I’ll try to keep it positive. If you’re in the same boat, I hope you can too!

Maybe this round will include an e-mail that isn’t a rejection. 

Whew, that would be a whole NEW level of scary…

 

 

What benefits have you recieved from rejections and delays?

Thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

War and Pieces…of Chocolate

D ration chocolate bar.jpg
Credit: US Army Historical Society

When my sweet tooth kicks in, there’s nothing quite like a piece of good, creamy chocolate. I try to convince myself that it’s not that unhealthy. After all, it has antioxidants! And it’s made from beans- it’s basically a salad!

If I’m honest, though, it’s all about the taste. Who would want a bad-tasting chocolate bar?

With war looming on the horizon in 1937, that’s exactly what Captain Paul Logan wanted the Hershey company to create.

Although the US wouldn’t officially enter the Second World War until 1941, the unrest in the world spurred the office of the US Army Quartermaster General into preparation. They wanted a small, light, high-energy, emergency ration.

What could be better than a chocolate bar?

A traditional Hershey bar wouldn’t do. Standard chocolate’s low melting point wouldn’t withstand a soldier’s pocket, and its taste might tempt him to eat the treat before it was strictly necessary.

Logan asked the chemists at Hershey to come up with a bar that weighted 4 oz, was rich in nutrients and energy, and tasted about as good as a boiled potato.

Chemist Sam Hinkle rose to the task. The D Ration bar included oat flour and vitamins, reduced sugar and increased cocoa. It weighed in at 600 calories and had a consistency that could shatter teeth.

Yummmmm.

Traditional chocolate processing wouldn’t work for this thick, viscous product. The original batches had to be pressed into molds by hand. As war became more imminent, the Hershey company had to come up with specialized automation processes.

Troop reviews on the chocolate bars were mixed. Some sources record troops calling the bars “Hitler’s Secret Weapon.” Others say it wasn’t too bad (if they were hungry enough.) Apart from the taste, it was best not to eat the bars too quickly- your digestive system would regret overindulgence.

In 1943, the army’s Procurement Division asked Hershey to produce a new bar, heat resistant but with a better flavor.

ww2 hershey's

The Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate Bar was born. It must have had some success- it survived to go to the moon with the crew of Apollo 15 in 1971.

Loved or hated, the special ration-grade Hershey’s bar served its purpose. An estimated 3 billion units were produced and distributed to troops around the world from 1940 to 1945.

Now, if I could get my hands on some of those I could make a better claim for healthy chocolate, and the taste (and after-effects) might quell my cravings! Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately,) Hershey’s no longer produces them.

Guess I’ll have to stick with the tasty stuff. 🙂

Hershey's kisses
image courtesy of flickr.com : https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

Many thanks for visiting!

 

If you would like more information:

About the Hershey’s Ration D bar: http://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=26&Rurl=%2fresources%2fsearch-results.aspx%3fType%3dBrowseEssay

About the ‘Tropical Barhttp://www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=39

General info on both: http://blog.hersheyarchives.org/category/world-war-ii/

http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/d-day-rations-how-chocolate-helped-win-the-war

http://www.americainwwii.com/articles/chocolate-the-wars-secret-weapon/

 

Hitler vs. Stalin, 1941

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Adolf Hitler’s prospects looked rosy in the springtime of 1941 . The armies of Nazi Germany had swept across continental Europe. The island home of his surviving foe, Great Britain, was battered by bombs.  He had crushed resistance in the Balkans, and German tanks dominated North Africa.

What to do next?

Hitler had long looked eastward for Germany’s lebensraum (or ‘living space.’) He had even described his plans for the future in his 1925 book, Mein Kamf, in which he blamed the Jews and Bolsheveks for Germany’s loss of the last war and plotted their downfall.

One would think that Stalin would have been at least a bit suspicious when German troops started massing at his borders.

Stalin, though, had written proof that Hitler would not attack.  Germany and the USSR had signed a mutual non-aggression pact in 1939. Of course, Hitler had also proposed a 25 year pact of peace to the British, French, Belgians and Italians just before invading the Rhineland, (in breach of said pact,) and proclaimed in 1936, “Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, annex Austria, or to conclude an Anschluss.” * He invaded Austria in 1938.

If Hitler’s writings and tendency to break faith weren’t enough cause for caution, one of Stalin’s own spies, Richard Sorge, gained intelligence that an attack was coming, and when.  A German deserter crossed the borders and confirmed his report. Winston Churchill even wrote Stalin personally to warn him that it looked as if an invasion was imminent.

In spite of all of the signs, when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941 at 4:15 am, he achieved complete surprise.

See the source image

1,200 Soviet aircraft were destroyed before noon, many still on the ground. The German army, divided into North, Centre and South groups, drove deep and fast into the USSR.

In the words of Molotov, Stalin’s Foreign Minister, “This incredible attack on our country is an act of treachery unequalled in the history of civilized nations.” **

Treacherous, yes, but it was effective.

In spite of fierce resistance, in spite of Stalin’s ‘scorched earth’ policy, in spite of counter attacks and brief rebuffs, by mid-July the German army had advanced 400 miles.

However, mid July also marked the signing of a pact between Great Britain and the USSR.

Winston Churchill had no love for Communism or Stalin, but he saw an Allied opportunity and seized it. On the evening of Hitler’s first assault on the USSR, he had broadcast, “Any man or state who fights on against Nazidom will have our aid.”***   He did not relinquish his political views, but urged his people to focus instead on the common Russian families and how they suffered under Hitler’s betrayal. The Allies were duty-bound to aid them. (And, in doing so, they stood to gain another, very large, Ally.)

Still, it would be some time before the Alliance could do either side much good. Britain’s resources were strained, and while the United States (still officially neutral) had agreed to divert British aid to the Soviets, the goods would still need to be transported through the U-boat riddled Atlantic.

The fighting ground on through the summer. Hitler’s armies advanced.

By September 4th, Leningrad was under siege. Thousands of people, trapped in the city, felt the bite of hunger. By the 11th, bread rations had to be reduced. Citizens began to conceal the dead in order to use their ration coupons. Leaving was not an option- the Germans were ordered to shoot anyone fleeing toward their lines. (Hitler did not want to have to tend to refugees.) Tens of thousands starved before the end of the year.

On September 19th, the Germans occupied Kiev, the USSR’s third largest city, taking hundreds of thousands of prisoners.

On October 6th Hitler launched a two-pronged attack on Moscow. Some women and children were evacuated, but thousands of the people were mobilized and put to work building fortifications – Stalin intended to hold Moscow at all costs.

In all of this, it’s easy to see Stalin’s lack of foresight. However, let’s pause for just a moment to look at Hitler’s choices.

He expected the eastern campaign to be finished quickly. He did not equip his troops for winter fighting. And, perhaps most importantly, when his generals urged him to strike for Moscow at once, he overruled them.

As a result, when the German army finally advanced towards Moscow, the first snows of the Russian winter had already fallen.

Perhaps Winston Churchill sums up this period the best.

“The wicked are not always clever, nor are dictators always right.” ***

Advancing on Moscow, Nov 1941

 

Thanks for joining me for another little trip into WW2 history! Next time I dive into research, I intend to pick up with the story of Pearl Harbor, and the United States’ (official) entrance into the war.

Pearl Harbor naval base and U.S.S. Shaw ablaze after the Japanese attack

[Pearl Harbor naval base and U.S.S. Shaw ablaze after the Japanese attack]
Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress

SOURCES:

* Quote from Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm, pg 206.

** Quote from Hal Buell’s World War II Album: The Complete Chronicle, pg 111

***Quotes from Churchill’s The Grand Alliance, pg 372 and pg 368, respectively

In addition to these books, I found this site helpful in reminding me of Hitler’s policies: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/hitler_lebensraum_01.shtml

This site has a number of striking photos from Operation Barbarossa and the following months: https://gallimafry.blogspot.com/2011/12/6world-war-ii-operation-barbarossa.html

 

 

 

Don’t Get Too Attached

red shirts
Photo courtesy of : https://www.flickr.com/photos/tychay/2244290630

“Here’s to peace at last.” 

Stan grinned and accepted the cigar. “Thanks, Mac. So, how’s it feel to be two days from retirement?”

“Heh. Why d’ya think I sprang for the good cigars? Man, life couldn’t be better.” Mac leaned back and rested his heels on the edge of the consol. His boot blocked the glow of the perimeter warning light as it began to flash.

Stan drew in a lungful of smoke, savoring the flavor. “Gerda looking forward to having you home more?”

“Sure. After risking life and limb out here on the Edge for the past five years, I’m ready for some domesticity. Let me tell ya, Stan. There were days I didn’t think we’d make it…”

Ok, readers, you tell me. What’s going to happen next?

Mac’s retiring, celebrating because they’ve made it this far, confiding in a friend, and a warning light’s going off…

He’s not going to make it.

Like a red-shirted ensign on Captain Kirk’s away team, some characters are so obviously headed for disaster that it’s best not to get attached.

Here are a few common ‘expendables,’ just off the top of my head.

The Mentor. The soon-to be hero of the piece is young and inexperienced. He or she needs guidance. Enter the wise old mentor, who leads, guides, becomes a father figure…and then dies. The hero/heroine is galvanized to become who they were meant to be!!!

The Relationship. Whether it’s a spouse, a child, a best friend, or a pet, if your hard-boiled ex-super- tough-character has settled down for a peaceful life at the beginning of a story,  you know it’s not going to last, don’t you? Someone the character loves will be sacrificed on the altar of storyline so that he/she is galvanized to take up the fight once more.

The Innocent. How can you tell baddies are really bad? When they kill innocent bystanders who are no threat to them, naturally. (What do you mean it’s not very subtle?) Once that kitten ranch is gone, ooooh, we’re all gonna be rooting for the hero to take that kitten killer DOWN.

“I’m Retiring Next Week!” Enough said. He will not be collecting his pension. Sub categories of this include “Getting married tomorrow,” or “Just had a baby.”

Cannon Fodder. If you’ve watched Star Trek, you probably understand what I meant with my reference to “red-shirted ensigns.” The poor guys may as well have painted bull’s eyes on those polyester suits. In the realm of sci-fi, the only worse person to be is a storm trooper. (Sure, the armor looks good, but fuzzy mini-teddy bears can render it useless with sticks! Painful, and embarrassing.) In any story where a core team of main characters takes guards for protection, or travels in a caravan, or interacts with any group that’s not essential to the plot, look out.

This topic has been on my mind because I just caught myself using one of these types of characters.

OOPS. (Photo courtesy of Anna Ogiienko, from Unsplash.com)

I’ve had to stop and take a long look at my story arc.

Every story won’t be the most original and surprising piece of literature ever written- it’s just not possible. (How many books and shows have essentially repeated the same plot?) Still, if my story’s going to include a character’s death, I want it to count. I want it to increase the tension, raise the stakes, make readers care more.

In short, I caught myself in some lazy writing, and that just won’t do. My new goal for this draft is to make my paper people resemble flesh and blood more than cardboard cut-outs just waiting to be knocked down.

Maybe LeRoy (that’s my nice guy/best friend/cannon fodder’s name. Poor, poor LeRoy) needs to live. My, that would throw my plot for a loop! Or maybe he’ll still fall, but in a different way, or in a different time.

Maybe I just need to spend more time on his character so that he is more than a puppet, waiting on stage for his dramatic exit.

 

Can you add any other character types I’ve missed above-  ones you always suspect aren’t going to make it to the story’s end?

Thanks for visiting!

Getting You’re Homophones Rite

The teacher in me came out to play.

Yes, the spelling is deliberate. 🙂 I apologize in advance to anyone else who is driven slightly crazy by misused words!

Blue and Black Ball Point Pens on Red Hand Book
Photo courtesy of SnockSnap.com

Riting in English can be ruff. Not only are their rules of grammar and use to fallow, but, just when ewe think you’ve got it awl figured out, a homophone derails you’re efforts.

 

Homophones, bye definition, are words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings.

Their extra tricky to catch because since both spellings are reel words, spell check programs may overlook them. Even a discerning human I might pass over a pore word choice.

However, its important to catch them- a missed homophone can pole your reader rite out of you’re story.

What can wee due? Programs like Grammarly can aide writers in catching common errors, but some still allude their algorithms.

I’ve found that won of the best ways to insure that I use the rite words is involving another set of I’s. I like to have someone else poor over the text before I premier it to the world, if possible. Reading my own work allowed also forces me to focus on my text and notice weather anything looks bazaar!

Finally, eye am a firm believer that reeding excellent riting helps anyone to better recognize the elusive homophones, and to realize that unless their inventing a new stile of fishing, they are likely not “waiting with baited breath” for their manuscript to return!

Happy writing!

Did you see all 35 errors?

Just in case- I’ve recopied it below with the mistakes underline 😉 Thanks for visiting!

Bonus: This post had a nice list of homophones that the spell check programs commonly miss.

 

ANSWER KEY

Riting in English can be ruff. Not only are their rules of grammar and use to fallow, but, just when ewe think you’ve got it awl figured out, a homophone derails you’re efforts.

Homophones, bye definition, are words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings.

Their tricky to catch. Since both spellings are reel words, spell check programs may overlook them. Even a discerning human I might pass over a pore word choice.

However, its important to catch them- a missed homophone can pole your reader rite out of you’re story.

What can wee due? Programs like Grammarly can aide writers in catching common errors, but some still allude their algorithms.

I’ve found that won of the best ways to insure that I use the rite words is involving another set of I’s. I like to have someone else poor over the text before I premier it to the world. Reading my own work allowed also forces me to focus on my text and notice weather anything looks bazaar!

Finally, eye am a firm believer that reeding excellent riting helps anyone to better recognize the elusive homophones, and to realize that unless their inventing a new stile of fishing, they are likely not “waiting with baited breath” for their manuscript to return!

 

Elephant Bill: Saving Lives in WW2 Burma

“Mommy, why do you like reading about war?”

I suppose the question shouldn’t have surprised me. My eldest is an observant, curious child, and she’d asked questions about my history books before. I’d shared little stories and anecdotes nothing too heavy or unsettling.

This…it wasn’t a question I was prepared for. I didn’t have a ready answer to hand – at least not one I could frame in a way that a seven-year-old would understand.

After some thought I told her, “I like to read stories about people who are brave, and people who are kind, even when things are hard.”

A simple answer, meant for a child, but true. I love reading history, but the stories that honor courage and kindness are the ones that resonate.

The story of  James Howard Williams, or ‘Elephant Bill,’ is a perfect example.

KristineJames Howard Williams was born November 15, 1897 in Cornwall. He was known as “Jim” to his family, “Billy” to his friends.

Williams finished his World War I service in the “Bloody Eleventh” Devonshire Regiment physically unharmed.  He found, however, that he couldn’t just resume his old life at home. He longed for a change.

He decided that an opportunity to move to Burma and work with elephants in the teak tree harvesting industry was perfect. Elephants! Williams had always loved animals- from dogs, to his boyhood pet donkey, to ‘Frying Pan,’ his wartime camel companion.

Williams took to the strenuous and dangerous life of the jungle. He befriended the elephants  he supervised and learned all he could about their personalities and care from limited texts available and from their uzis (the native elephant handlers.) He became adept at dealing with elephant illnesses, and at times would use his skills as an amateur MD for people in the isolated villages. He established an ‘elephant school’ to train working elephants, and championed humane training techniques and conditions for the infants born in captivity. He even met his wife in the jungle- Susan Rowland was keeping house for her uncle, who happened to be the chief conservator of forests.

The onset of WW2 seemed distant from the Burmese jungle- until suddenly, it wasn’t.

Japan’s entrance into the war and aggressive push into Asia left Burma vulnerable. Williams and his growing family- he and Susan had a son and a baby on the way- were also vulnerable, facing an uncertain future.

During the course of the war, Williams would have to evacuate Burma three times.

The first time involved the wives and children of his company’s employees. Once he got them over the mountains to India, Williams returned to Burma, aiding other refugees and checking on the elephants and people he left behind. He hoped to take 200 elephants back to India with him, but the treacherous mountain roads were packed with refugees, and so he was forced to retreat to India again, on foot.

He offered himself to the Allied war effort, and became the leader of the No. 1 Elephant Company, operating under the SOE (the British ‘dirty tricks’ department) behind enemy lines. He and his compatriots rescued elephants from under the noses of Japanese troops and used them to build roads and bridges and to aid the Allies in every way possible, (while still doing all he could to protect the elephants themselves.)

As the Allies geared up for a huge offensive in March of 1944, Williams was told to be ready to withdraw his elephants- they were to be evacuated so that they weren’t caught and killed in the crossfire.

Williams, the refugee families of a number of Gurkha (Allied) soldiers, his elephants and his coworkers set off on his third evacuation, across unfamiliar territory with enemy troops closing in. The group totaled 64 women and children,  53 elephants, 40 Karen soldiers, 90 uzies and 4 officers.

After days of struggling through thick vegetation, plagued by Japanese patrols and suffering from illness and lack of food, the party reached and insurmountable obstical- a 270 foot sheer rock wall, blocking their path.

Moving forward was impossible; Williams decided to do it anyway.

 

Williams’ party labored for two days and created an ‘elephant staircase,’ cutting steps into the sandstone cliff, trimming back brush, expanding existing ledges, hoping the elephants would cooperate and climb it.

They did.

 

elephant
Photo by Yathin S Krishnappa, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A few notes about the book

Generally, I prefer to read primary sources whenever possible- I like to ‘hear’ the voice of the person who lived the events telling the story. However, Vicki Constantine Croke’s list of sources and her careful citing was enough to silence even my inner skeptic, who likes to say things like, “Sure, but how do YOU know he felt that way, hmmm?” That being said,  I’d still like to get my hands on James Howard Williams’ own books. (The library really needs to start asking me which books they ought to stock… :))

While the cover of the book highlights the WW2 part of the story, the reader has to wait until the third section of the book and past the 200 page mark to get to that era in Williams’ life. If you don’t mind the wait, the rest of his story is interesting, and I learned a great deal about elephants in those first 200 pages. (From her bio on the back, Vicki Constantine Croke writes many nature/animal oriented tales.)

Whatever source you use, the true tale of ‘Elephant Bill’ is well worth reading and remembering!

 

Many thanks for visiting, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

Something Beautiful

For the past seventeen nights, waiting for supper to end has been torturous for my children. They can’t sit still (ha, they can barely ‘sit’ at all) as they anticipate the moment when my husband and I will finally finish eating.

No matter how fidgety they’ve been during the meal, when the time comes they are all attention.

My husband lights the candles in the little Advent wreath my two smallest ‘helped’ me construct, hand dodging the sharp barbs of holly.

I scan the rows of miniature drawers in our Advent calendar, finding the one with the proper date. Inside is a treat for one member of the family, and a small slip of paper, bearing a portion of the Christmas story.

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Though my children are small, they know the story well. The two oldest helped to tell it in their school’s Children’s Service, and recite the parts they know as we read.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy, that will be for all people…”

It’s a familiar story to many, and has been retold many times, (as might be expected after around 2,000 years!) I love  discovering retellings in art, music, film or writing that give me a fresh perspective on the tale- something beautiful to add to our Christmas traditions.

Koine’s “A Son, Emmanuel” is just that.

The music alone is lovely, but combined with Jason Jasperson’s stop motion sand-art, it becomes something special- a reminder of just why the night my family will celebrate in one week is sacred to so many people around the world.

I hope that you enjoy it, too.

I wish you all a blessed and peace-filled Christmas.

I’ll be offline for a bit, enjoying some family time, but I look forward to reconnecting with you all in the New Year with fresh articles on writing, history and whatever else 2018 brings!

Publishing Paths: Interviewing Lydia Eberhardt

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“Are you sure this is a path?”

A dear friend asked me today about my book-publishing progress.

“Welll…..” I debated whether I should give her the long version, or the quick sum-up- “Nothing yet!”

It’s not that the process is taking longer than I expected.

I did not expect to have to choose between so many publishing paths: traditional publishing via agent, small-press publishing, self-publishing via Amazon, all the other routes for self or indie publishing…

Even after the work of writing and editing a book, it’s still an awful lot of work to decide how to bring it into the world.

I happen to have a few lovely ladies in my circle of friends who preceded me on this journey. While I am currently pursuing traditional publishing (or will restart pursuing it post-Christmas craziness) they have travelled some different routes.

I’ve been meaning to pester them- ahem, I mean ask them- about the details of their personal journeys, and they have been gracious enough to allow me to share their answers on my site.

Today, I would like to introduce Lydia Eberhardt.

Lydia

Lydia is the author of Esther A.D, a modern-day retelling of the Biblical book of Esther, Beast, a retelling of the classic fairy tale, and Global Warning, a Star-Trek flavored sci-fi tale with some interesting twists.

Welcome, Lydia! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am an educator.  I’ve been teaching for 13 years, and taught children from 6 months old all the way to eighth grade. My husband and I like to travel-both nationally and globally.

How did you develop your love of writing?

I have always loved to read.  I love good stories-whether it’s a book or movie or even a tv show.

I also have a good imagination.  As a child, I used to imagine myself into a book or movie when I was trying to fall asleep.  As I grew, I still did this, but the stories began to be more of my own creations rather than someone else’s.

Your three books are very different from each other. Where did you find the inspiration for them?

When I wrote Esther A.D., I had just finished reading one of my favorite versions of Esther.  I was thinking of how all the variations I’ve read were always set historically, and I began to wonder if it would work translated into current/future times. That idea came from my enjoyment of all the classic fairy tales being retold into modern times. It may sound odd, but it was like the story was poking me saying, “Write me. Write me.”

 Esther AD

Beast came from my love of fairy tales. Cinderella is my favorite fairy tale, but I think Beauty and the Beast is my next favorite. It’s fun to find all the different variations on the fairy tales. For example, I once read a version of Cinderella where the prince discovered her because he slipped a ring on her finger before she ran off on the third night of the ball.

 Beast

 Honestly, I’m not entirely sure where Global Warning came from.  I never planned on writing an environmental science fiction. But I do love science fiction, so I guess it came from that.

Global Warning

Once you decided to publish, what was your process? Did you consider traditional publishing or did you always plan to self-publish?

Unless you are willing to get an agent, finding a publisher can be challenging. Many publishing houses won’t take unsolicited manuscripts or manuscripts not from an agent. When I was writing Esther A.D, I did some searching on the internet and found a subsidy publisher that was interested in publishing my book. Basically I paid them to publish and promote my book. I was not overly impressed with them, but I was excited because someone thought what I wrote was good enough to publish!

One of my friends is also an author, and she published through Amazon.  I spoke with her about her experience, and she had many positive things to say.  So when I was ready to publish a second book, I decided to go that way.

How has Amazon been different from the subsidy publisher? Have you liked working with them?

I am using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) services.  Basically, your book gets published as an ebook. Amazon also allows you to have the option of releasing your book as a paperback.

It’s a pretty neat service! They even have a cover creator, so if you are not very artistic, you can still get a decent looking cover. They do NOT provide an editing service.

KDP is interesting because they allow you to publish and only charge you if ebooks or paperbacks are ordered–and the charge comes out of the sale. Plus they tell you what it costs to make them.  For example: the cost to them for publishing one of my books is about $2.15. So when you go to set your price, they tell you that in order to cover printing and Amazon’s portion of the pie, you need to sell your book for around $3.60 to cover costs. So there is no up front cost like there is with a subsidy publisher.

Dislikes-you are on your own for publicizing and promoting your book.  Which can be challenging for someone who is more introverted like me.

I also have used Teachers Pay Teachers to “publish” some of the children’s plays I have written.  When I was teaching preschool and kindergarten, the children would put on a play at the end of the school year.  It was challenging to find a children’s play that was written to be performed BY children as opposed to FOR children, so I began writing simple plays for the children to perform. TPT is not for publishing books as much as it is a place where teachers can share the resources they have created with other teachers and be compensated for their efforts. Plus it’s nice to know that you are supporting the education community by buying and selling directly with other teachers. Downside-once again, how do you promote and publicize?

Do you have any advice for authors looking into publication?

Research.  If you Google “The Writer’s Guide” you’ll get results for some books that may be helpful. Also if you decide to go with a subsidy publisher, see if they have Google reviews.  Check if they have a rating with the Better Business Bureau. See what other people have to say about them before committing.

Have your friends read your writings and be willing to listen to their feedback. If something doesn’t make sense to them, it’s not going to make sense to others either.

Consider getting an agent. I currently have not gone that route, but that’s partly because I consider myself an educator first and an author sixth or seventh. If you are seriously into writing, I would encourage you to at least speak with some agents and see what they could do for you.

Money depends on what path you are taking.  There are many companies out there that will publish your book for several hundred to even thousands of dollars, and provide a variety of services for that fee.  You have to decide what you are willing to invest into you book.

 Thanks so much for your time, Lydia!

Links to all of Lydia’s published works can be found at lydiaeberhardt.com or lydiaeberhardt.wordpress.com .

 

Are you seeking publication? Where have your writing journeys led you?

Thanks for visiting!

 

 

On Baking, Butter, and a Shameless Deception

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December is here, it’s officially Advent, and in my house that means baking season.

My cookbooks are filled with favorite cookie recipes from my mom, grandmas, in-laws, and friends. If I only make the essentials, I’ve got a half a dozen types to whip together in the next four weeks.

It gets a little crazy, and more than a little messy as the kids all pitch in to ‘help,’ but I love the memories wrapped up in the process: Grandma’s handwriting on a recipe card, the cookbook Mom assembled, the flavors of my childhood.

In a small way, dusting off the old recipes makes it feel as if the people who passed them on are part of the holidays.

The annual baking spree takes some preparation, of course. We stock up on all of the essentials. Flour, sugar, cocoa, and eggs are non-negotiable.

When we come to the dairy aisle, my internal debate begins.

Do I spring for the ridiculous amounts of butter my recipes require, or substitute a little bit of thrifty margarine? As a child of dairy country (who was also raised to spend as little as possible) it is a challenging decision.

When I visited my parents in November, we started talking about butter vs. margarine and they reminisced about when the decision was even more challenging – during the years when margarine was CONTRABAND.

Naturally, I had to do a little research.

The tale went back to the advent of margarine as a butter substitute in the late 1800s. It was cheap, and oh-so-spreadable. However, the dairy farmers of the U.S. were not pleased with the competition, and fought tooth and claw against it in the political arena.

They succeeded, to a degree.

The dairy proponents passed laws making colored margarine illegal,  hoping that the natural color of the spread would be unappealing.

The margarine companies countered by selling small packets of yellow dye with their product- just mix it in yourself at home!

Margarine was cheaper to purchase than butter, but tax laws against margarine helped to even the playing field.

Of course, you could avoid these if you could make it across the border into a different state- yes, I’ve run in to stories of margarine smuggling.

When butter became scarce during the Great Depression and the World Wars, margarine gained headway, but the butter proponents wouldn’t let little events like these discourage them.

Minnesota didn’t officially legalize colored margarine until 1963. Wisconsin was the longest holdout- they didn’t legalize it until 1967. (According to this article, it may still be illegal to serve margarine in Wisconsin restaurants without also offering butter.)

We have some of those same stubborn farmers in our ancestry, and dad shared the story of their reaction to the debate. Though the participants in our own little skirmish in the ‘margarine wars’ have been in heaven for many years, I’ll simply call them ‘The Farmer’ and ‘The Farmer’s Wife.’

The Farmer had made up his mind, and wasn’t the sort to change it easily.

Margarine- that imitation stuff- would never pass his lips.

The Farmer’s Wife disagreed. She was an excellent baker, but her passion for bread and cookies was matched by her gift for thrift.

How long the war of wills lasted, I don’t know. All that I know is that, on serving supper one night, the Farmer’s Wife made a quiet substitution.

Would he be able to tell the difference?

I wonder if she had any doubts- if she puttered around the kitchen, avoiding his eyes, or if she sat at the table to face him head on, determined to brazen it out.

Either way, The Farmer’s response says it all.

“That’s darn good butter!”

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Image courtesy of “Classic Film” on flickr.com. My husband didn’t find it quite as amusing as I did. 😉

My first batch of cookies is finished baking! Today’s feature: Mom’s Baked Chocolate Covered Cherries. (I’ll share the recipe below, in case anyone is interested.)

As to my dairy aisle choice: I know this recipe calls for margarine… but I found a good deal on butter, and I like the real stuff. (You can take a girl out of dairy country… 🙂 )

Many thanks for visiting!

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Baked Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

1/2 C margarine         1/2 tsp salt

1 C sugar                1/2 C baking cocoa

1 egg                        1/4 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp vanilla   1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 C flour           1/2 tsp salt

36-48 maraschino cherries, drained, juice reserved

Cream butter, sugar, egg and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, mix thoroughly. Shape into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Push one cherry halfway into each cookie. When all cookies are shaped and cherries added, make the frosting.

Frosting:

1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 C sweetened condensed milk

1-1 1/2 tsp cherry juice

1/4 tsp salt

Cook the chocolate chips and milk in a sauce pan over low heat until melted. Remove from heat and add salt and cherry juice. Immediately frost the cookies, using about 1/2 tsp frosting to spread over each cherry.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes until puffy and set.

Store tightly covered.