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!

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abraham Maslow and Mutant Wombats

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My toolbox is woefully inadequate. I’ve got the basics- hammer, a Phillips head and…the other type of screwdriver. There may also be a pliers.

I’d pretend to regret this, but I know myself. Last time I tried to fix the plumbing…well, I don’t really try to fix the plumbing anymore. We’ll leave it at that.

I try to keep my writing ‘tool box’ better stocked. Knowledge of vocabulary, grammar rules, styles of writing, history, random cooking facts- it can look like a jumble, and I don’t use every tool for every job, but having a broad base of information to choose from makes writing easier.

We’ve had good neighbors, willing to share the tools we don’t have on hand.

In the same spirit, I’ve been considering what writing tools I might have on hand that you might find useful.

Today, I’m working on patching up gaps in characters’ motivations.

I’ll warn you up front: I’m no more a psychology expert than I am a plumber.

I took the one (required) Educational Psychology course in college. The theories my professor presented contained a fair amount of common sense, some interesting revelations, and a few things that I took with a grain of salt. (Sometimes several grains…)

Though I can still spout names like “Piaget” and “Vygotsky” and “Erikson” and give a passable summary of their ideas, the one I remember the best (and who has earned a spot in my ‘toolbox’) is Abraham Maslow.

Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” looks something like this:

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The basic idea: People have needs. Some needs are more essential than others. If these foundational needs are not met, people can’t move up to try to meet their ‘higher-level’ needs.

For instance, a student is not working up to his potential. He also doesn’t have a safe home environment and is coming to school with an empty stomach. His ‘physiological’ and ‘safety’ needs aren’t being met, so it’s not a surprise that school work (which would likely fit into ‘esteem’ and ‘self-actualization’) isn’t a high priority.

OR

Your heroine nurses a passionate desire to design fancy mosaic belt buckles. However, her society has strict limitations on hiring belt-buckle designers. Being blonde (rather than the preferred brunette) she faces serious hurdles in achieving ‘esteem’ in belt-buckle accomplishments, and ‘self-actualization’ in using her creative gifts.

What if her need for ‘safety’ is also threatened by an impending invasion of her city-state by an army of mutant wombats? If you follow Maslow’s theory, the conflict- being upset about her belt-buckle failures- becomes implausible. She has bigger needs to deal with first. Creativity takes a back seat to rampaging marsupials.

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GRRRRRRR! (Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tastysnaks/6915532423/)

Let’s go a step further.

What if your character is also currently living in a gutter taking care of her younger siblings, starving and most certainly belt-buckle-less? With her basic physical needs unmet, the idea that her main life-goal is centered on fashion design becomes even more unlikely.

Of course, every theory has its exceptions.

Perhaps your character had almost reached her goal before the imminent invasion. Perhaps she was one interview away from securing her longed-for position, when the belt buckle factory was transformed into an armament factory to prepare for the wombat hordes. Perhaps those belt buckles have come to symbolize everything your character has lost.

Or, to go another direction, perhaps her desire to be an artisan has more to do with meeting her basic needs- providing food for her family, and the security of holding a good job- is driving her more than higher level cravings.

In short, I’m not suggesting that we need to tie ourselves to a psychological theory in order to write.

I AM proposing that it is worth keeping ideas like Maslow’s Hierarchy in our writer’s toolbox, ready to hand.

After all, it might be the key to determining our characters’ driving needs, and bringing them to life.

 

Are there any writing tools you’ve found handy of late?

 

Roll the Dice and Hope for the Best

 

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Photo courtesy of “Alan” at https://www.flickr.com/photos/kaptainkobold/

 

Does anyone else feel a twinge of guilt when they read an article detailing someone else’s carefully crafted ‘writing routine?’

I feel that I must confess: I don’t currently have a set daily time to write.

I don’t have any more written on my second novel-in-progress than I had last week.

I don’t even have the notes lined up for the article on the WW2 ‘elephant company’ that I’ve been meaning to write for…how many months has it been now? (Though I DO have another overdue fee on the book…sigh.)

What I do have is the responsibility of raising three very small humans.

And let me tell you, while I wouldn’t trade that job for a dozen published novels, it has been a wild ride of late.

It feels a bit like one of the board games our family likes to play, except the ‘bank’ would have vouchers for free time rather than fake money, and the cards would look something like the following. (Note: I tried to make them look more like cards- then the youngest tried to use me for a jungle-gym and I gave up.)

You Shall Not Pass

The children have taken every toy they own and covered the floor. Give up one hour free time to supervise clean up. 

 

“Cat’s In the Cradle”

As you prepare to write, your child asks you to play with them. You are unable to resist. Give up one hour free time.

 

Vomit

Roll the dice. 

A 1 or 2 means that your child only vomited on himself. Give up 1 hour of free time. You may still have time to write while he naps.

A 3 or 4 means that it is projectile. Give up 3 hours of free time and get on that laundry.

A 5 or 6 means that it is a bug. Give up 24 hours of free time and hope you don’t catch it.

 

Nightmare

Your child awakes in the night, frightened. Roll the dice.

The number rolled indicates how many times they wake you up. If it is 3 or more, give up 24 hours of free time, as you will be too tired to be creative.

 

Doctor’s Visit

Give up 2 hours free time. 

Roll once for each additional child. A 1 or 2 means that they picked up an additional illness from the waiting room. Give up 2 more hours for each additional doctor’s visit.

 

School Event

Give up two hours free time to participate.

You may give up an additional hour to provide the baked goods that the teacher requested. 

 

Babysitter

Roll the dice

A 1,2 or 3 means the babysitter can make it! Gain 3 hours free time.

A 4,5 or 6 means she cancels. Too bad.

 

Shower

Your aroma is showing that you haven’t had much time for personal grooming. You may choose to give up 1 hour free time to shower, OR gain one extra hour free time and just ignore it.

AND, the grand finale…

Anniversary

Roll the dice.

A 1 or 2 means that you can’t get a sitter. Try to watch a movie after the kids are in bed. Fall asleep on the couch. No gain or loss of ‘free time.’

A 3 or 4 means you manage a date night. You are so relaxed and happy from time with your spouse that you are extra productive. Gain one hour ‘free time.’

A 5 or 6 means that you manage a night away. A month later, SURPRISE! Your family is growing. Give up all free time for the next 2 years. 

What cards would you add?

As for me, I’m going to go give my kids a hug and I’m going to enjoy the blessings of these crazy years while they last…

…and maybe, just maybe they’ll sleep tonight, and I can WRITE!

North Africa in 1941 Continued

Life being what it is just now, I will be going ‘off the grid’ for a bit, but I  couldn’t resist one more little history article, and a chance to wish you all a happy Veteran’s Day weekend. (Remembrance Day for some of you, I believe.)

Though, come to think of it, ‘Happy’ doesn’t seem quite the right sentiment for the day.

Maybe wishing you a ‘thankful’ day is better. It fits the way I look at it, anyway.

I’m thankful for the people who serve and have served with the goal of protecting others.

I’m thankful for the stories of people who hold on to bravery in the face of fear, and who can still manage to show kindness even when surrounded by cruelty.

I’m thankful for the sacrifices others have made, who have gone where I can’t.

And to those who are still serving in the present day, God bless and watch over you, and bring you safely home.

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Back to 1941.

Things were not going General Wavell’s way.

Greece and Yuglslavia had fallen to the Axis, and General Erwin Rommel of the German Afrikakorps hounded the Allied troops in North Africa, retaking the lands the Italians had lost.

True, there had been some successes- a revolt in Iraq and a struggle with the Vichy element in Syria both quelled with relatively small forces, and the Italians in East Africa were giving way before an Allied advance.

Also, the risky Operation Tiger had paid off-  slipping 300 tanks through the hazardous Mediterranian Sea to help bolster Wavell’s efforts.

Still, the positives were overshadowed by Crete and Rommel.

The Allies had expected Hitler’s armies to make a play for the island of Crete, and had prepared themselves as best they could.

Even their best preparations couldn’t ready them for the assault of Goering’s elite XI Air Corps, who attacked via parachute and glider on May 20th.

By May 30th the Allies were on their final effort to get as many men off the island as possible. 16,500 were brought back to Egypt. Between 13 and 16,000 were lost- dead, wounded or captive.

(Side note: In this conflict, Axis losses were much lower, but Goering’s only airborne division was entirely spent.)

 

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German glider crashing on Crete

Then, of course, there was the German army in North Africa to contend with.

 

Here it is again! Many thanks for a helpful reference map to Gordon Smith’s http://www.naval-history.net

 

General Wavell had tried to get the jump on Rommel, even before the new tanks, nicknamed the “Tiger Cubs” arrived. His forces had been able to take Sollum and Capuzzo- unfortunately the Germans took them right back again.

Still, the British were able to leave a garrison at Halfaya Pass and Sidi Suleima, and a sortie by the still-isolated Tobruk garrison had some sucess.

Churchill and others ‘back home’ had high hopes that the new infusion of tanks would tip the balance.

Of course, tanks are only good if they work.

The ‘Tiger Cubs’ were not ready for action. It took time to unload them, to refit them, and to prepare for service in desert conditions.

 

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British “Crusader Tank”

 

Rommel, naturally, used this time to his advantage, preparing his own 15th Panzer Division.

He suspected that an attack to relieve Tobruck was imminent. (This was, in fact, one of Wavell’s goals with the upcoming Operation Battleaxe.) He decided to attack first, taking Halfaya Pass on May 26th.

Loosing the pass would make ‘Battleaxe’ more difficult, but it moved forward.  People wanted a clear victory against Rommel.

General Wavell wasn’t certain he could give it to them. He admitted, even before ‘Battleaxe’ began that even with numerical superiority, there were weaknesses- his armored cars were too lightly armored and had no guns, unlike the German model. His infantry tanks were too slow, there was ongoing trouble with mechanical breakdowns…

…and then, of course, there was the fact that the estimates of just how many tanks the Germans could bring to bear were wrong. Rommel brought more than 200 to the show, Wavell, only 180. The Tiger Cubs’ teeth weren’t sharp enough to finish the job.

On June 15th, they took Capuzzo, but not Halfaya and they were stopped at Sollum.

On June 16th- no progress.

On June 17th,  in the Winston Churchill’s words, “everything went wrong.” In short, Rommel’s armor was too much. General Wavell flew to the battle site, to find that his commanders on site had called a retreat- he agreed. Rommel did not pursue.

Battleaxe’s edge was effectively blunted.

“The powers that be” decided that perhaps General Wavell was tired, and it was time for a fresh look at the problems in North Africa. On June 21st, he was informed that he would trading jobs with General Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief in India. The Bristish hoped that perhaps Auchinleck was the man to finally out-fox Rommel.

 

General Auchinleck
General Auchinleck-  Look out Afrika Korps, here I come…

The very next day the entire scope of the war changed, and events took place that would soon provide Britain with another, unexpected, ally.

 

On June 22nd, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa- the invasion of the Soviet Union.

 

Thanks, as always, for visiting!

 

For further information:

Here is a wonderful animated map of the North African Campaign on through 1943

Here are some recorded memories from the battle for Crete and here is a bit more on Operation Battleaxe.

*Most of my information came from The Grand Alliance by Winston Churchill, and World War II Album: The Complete Chronicle Edited by Hal Buell. I used various websites to double-check and verify dates and places.

 

Homesick

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I miss

the iron bones of Superior’s rocks

firm beneath my feet

holding me above the icy spray

 

The smell of tilled earth

below a sky stretching forever

fading to pastel dusk, the evening star

whispering possibilities

 

Far away

from fluorescents

disinfectant

weary bodies

resting  uneasily

to the perpetual shrill of beeping monitors

Phantom Otter

A flash of movement, a lithe, furry body rolling over in the shadows of the stream bank, a glimpse of a webbed foot- I stared, unbelieving. Then, I reacted like any dignified adult would.DSCN2494

“LOOK, KIDS! AN OTTER! A RIVER OTTER!”

Yes, yes, I know. It was exactly the wrong reaction when spying a wild animal at close quarters. (There may have also been some jumping up and down.)

My only excuse is surprise. We’d come to watch the salmon making their mass migration upstream. The huge fish were impressive enough- I wasn’t expecting bonus wildlife.

The reasons didn’t matter. The one glimpse was all I got.

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My attempt at a salmon photo. Completely otter-free. Sigh.

My ‘otter incident’ sums up my writing experience lately. Ideas surface, tantalizing ideas, good ideas.

I just can’t quite catch them.

Part of it has been timing. My site’s title is fast becoming a misnomer. ‘Naptime’ has nearly vanished from our house, and with it my one regular span of ‘alone time.’

Scores of ideas, sometimes even fully-developed articles and stories, swim through my mind while I’m driving the kids back and forth or fighting the never-ending battle to keep my kitchen counters visible.

By the time I sit down to write, they’ve swum right away again.

I’ve tried starting a little journal- when ideas come I can jot them down quickly. I have a respectable list of history and writing topics already.

The problem is, the ideas don’t seem quite as ‘shiny’ after they’ve sat a while.

Again, it’s like my otter encounter. Only a few hours later, I’m wondering if I actually saw him. After all, the salmon are close to the right size. They were rolling about through the waves, struggling to climb the fish ladder. Yes, the creature looked furry, but then some of the fish are looking a little rough around the edges by this point in their quest for a little fishy-style lovin’ before becoming food or fertilizer.

Maybe my amazing viewing…wasn’t. *

I find myself staring at the list in my little journal. Maybe my writing ideas aren’t either.

It’s easy to doubt. After all, my novel queries have only resulted in polite rejections- maybe I wasn’t as ready as I though I was. Family illness and friends’ struggles weigh heavily on top of my other obligations, and it’s hard to find words under that weight.

But…

Salmon do not have webbed feet. Otters do.

Some of my ideas aren’t going to go anywhere. Giving up means none of them will.

Life is heavy just now, but this is a season. Seasons change.

Writers, keep plugging away. Something wonderful might be swimming just below the surface, waiting for you to write it into being!

otter

What about you? Have you found any methods that help you keep creativity moving through the busy or difficult seasons?

Thanks, as always, for visiting!

 

*Amazing? Yeah, spotting new wildlife definitely fits into my definition of ‘amazing experience.’ I suppose it comes from the hours…and hours…and hours I spent in the car with my family driving around the old logging roads of northern Minnesota searching for moose or bear. (After a few hours, even the common white-tail deer were reasonably exciting!) We like our wildlife sightings 🙂

Musical Interlude: Johnny Horton’s SINK THE BISMARK

Who better to tell the story of a British ship chasing a German ship than an American Country Music singer?

Johnny Horton (1925-1960) is best remembered for writing some fairly epic historical songs. In Sink The Bismark, he tells the story of the British navy’s hunt for a powerful German foe during May of 1941.

As the last week or so can best be summed up by my discovery that my youngest had vomited during the night after she hugged me good morning, I’ll let Mr. Horton tell the tale, and wish you all a good (and healthy!) weekend.

North Africa and the Balkans, 1940 and 1941

Flowers and chocolates are lovely, but my husband knows the way to my heart.

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BOOKS!

His timing couldn’t have been better. Those of you who’ve been following my blog know that I’ve been writing a series on major events in the Second World War, the last being on The Blitz.

I’ve had some trouble continuing the series.

The difficulty of writing about WW2 history is the sheer SCOPE of the conflict. (It’s like it involved most of the world or something…) So many simultaneous events in so many locations make it difficult to know where to focus.

The new book helped. It goes through the war day by day, highlighting events in every theater of the conflict. It was enough to give me direction.*

So… it’s back to 1940 and ’41!

tanks 1941

As Britain braced for German invasion under the rain of thousands of pounds of bombs, and U-boats attacked and sank hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping, the Allies faced off with Italian and German forces in North Africa and in the Balkans.

Many thanks for a helpful reference map to Gordon Smith’s http://www.naval-history.net

 

Upon entering the war in July of 1940, Italy sought to extend her influence, especially in Africa. Thousands of troops began to mass along the road from Tripoli, facing the frontier of Egypt and the British and Allied forces there. They dug in, but didn’t attempt to overrun the Allied lines. Not yet.

Facing them were about 50,000 troops from the 4th Indian, New Zealand and 7th Armored Divisions, along with some British battalions under General Wavell.

The outnumbered Allies didn’t launch a major offensive action, but who likes to just sit around? As soon as Italy declared war, they kept occupied harassing and raiding the Italian lines, claiming the desert territory as their own. (Sources say that they began these actions even before some of the Italian troops got word that they were at war. Surprise!)

Image result for General wavell ww2
Gen. Archibald Wavell

Mussolini also had his eye on European real-estate. Italian forces invaded Greece on October 29th. Here, too, his forces were numerically superior- he may well have had high hopes.

He must have been disappointed.

The Greeks resisted, fighting valiantly to keep the Italian army at bay. They continued to push the Italians back through November and December.

On December 9th, the Allies began the first Western Desert Offensive. General Wavell’s troops broke through the Italian lines at Sidi Barrani. In 4 days of fighting they took 38,000 prisoners (including 4 generals.)

They continued to push the Italians back across the desert.  With the addition of Australian troops, they pierced the line at Bardia on January 5th. Following the victory, Mr. Eden, (Churchill’s Foreign Secretary,) wrote to congratulate him, saying, “If I may debase a golden phrase, “Never has so much been surrendered by so many to so few.”” (From Winston Churchill’s The Grand Alliance, pg. 14.)

The Allies continued on, taking the fortified port of Tobruk and setting up a garrison there. The British advanced across North Africa until they held all of Cyrenaica.

With longstanding ties to Greece, Britain planned to secure North Africa, then send aid. They also had hopes of creating a united Balkan front by enlisting Turkey and Yugoslavia to help block the expected German advances.

They gathered the men for the British Expeditionary Force to Greece, and left a somewhat small number of less experienced troops behind to hold their newly-won positions.

As they departed, a new German General arrived in North Africa- Erwin Rommel.

Rommel
Gen. Rommel, soon to earn the nickname “The Desert Fox”

The first contingents of his Afrikakorps landed in Tripoli in mid-February. The situation in North Africa quickly turned against the Allies.

The Balkan situation deteriorated as well. Back on the 27th of September, 1940, Germany, Italy and Japan had signed the Tripartite Pact, agreeing that they were entitled to establish their ‘new order,’ in Europe and in Asia. Now, Hitler pushed the Balkan nations to sign. Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria cooperated. Hitler gave Yugoslavia an ultimatum on the 19th of March.

Some of the Yugoslavian leadership gave in on the 25th and signed the Pact. Protests broke out in Belgrade, spreading over the country. On the 27th, the government was replaced in a bloodless coup.

Yugoslavia’s new leadership refused to work with Hitler. Enraged, Hitler vowed to crush the country.

On April 6th Germany attacked Yugoslavia and Greece.

Within 6 days, Belgrade fell to ‘Operation Punishment.’

The Greek army, under tremendous pressure, surrendered 70,000 men.

The North African situation was not much better. Rommel, who had been steadily advancing East and retaking lost Axis positions, took back Bardia and continued towards Egypt.

Tobruk was left an island, it’s garrison besieged. (Radio Berlin disparagingly named the stranded troops the “Rats of Tobruk,” a name which they embraced with pride.)

By April 19th the Greeks had surrendered. The rearguards of the British force in Greece struggled to hold positions at Thermopylae- struggled to safeguard the routes for evacuation.

Most of the force made it out, but more than 11,000 troops were left behind.

In the midst of the losses, one bold move paid off. The British Admiralty had gambled on sending a shipment of over 300 tanks through the Meditteranian rather than via the safer route around the Cape.  Dubbed ‘Operation Tiger,’ the risk was a success- the troops at Egypt received their much-needed vehicles.

Would they be enough to answer Rommel’s threat?

“Looking back upon the unceasing tumult of the war, I cannot recall any period when its stresses and the onset of so many problems all at once or in rapid succession bore more directly on me and my collegues than the first half of 1941. The scale of events grew larger every year; but the decisions required were not more difficult.” (Winston Churchill, The Grand Alliance, pg 3)

African campaign

Many thanks, as always, for visiting!

 

For more details on this period:

Here is a wonderful animated map of the North African Campaign on through 1943

Here are links to stories of the siege of Tobruk, from people who were there. One in particular caught my eye- the stories of a fellow baker.

*Most of my information came from The Grand Alliance by Winston Churchill, and my new book World War II Album: The Complete Chronicle Edited by Hal Buell. I used various websites to double-check and verify dates and places.

 

Books I Pretended to Read ‘For the Kids’

Summer vanished overnight.

My corner of the world has returned to its natural state – cold, gray drizzle.

It’s the perfect time to avoid the outside world, curl up with a mug of something warm, a plate of something fresh-baked, and a good book.

Last time, I wrote about the power historical fiction wields – the power to absorb even reluctant historians into an engaging story. In particular, I shared how I’d enjoyed reading Connie Willis’ historical sci-fi books Blackout and All Clear.

Excellent historical fiction is powerful for adults, but it might be even more powerful for young readers.

History cloaked in fiction provides something a list of facts can’t: a face. A character that kids/middle graders/young adults can relate to, empathize with, can guide them through places and times that they don’t have the background knowledge and experience to traverse alone.

I couldn’t choose just one book for this topic, oh no. One of the best things about the title ‘teacher’ is having a free pass to spend large amounts of time reading stories, because hey, it’s research!

The following are just a few of the stories I’ve come across and enjoyed.

DISCLAIMER: This list is not a recommendation to go out, buy these books, and have your child/grandchild/classroom read them, sight unseen.

My children won’t be seeing most of these for a long time yet.

After all, historical fiction deals with real people and real events. Some of these people are cruel. Some of these events are ugly. Stories can help provide teachable moments, valuable discussions, and relevant lessons, but I am a firm believer in saving books for when your child can handle them.

Books about World War 2 (Of Course 🙂 )

number the starsLois Lowry’s Newbery winning Number the Stars details the courage of Anna Marie Johansen and her family as they struggle to protect their Jewish friends in Nazi-occupied Denmark.

There’s a reason this one ends up in classrooms. It’s a moving story, building suspense without delving too deeply into the horrors of the era.

snow treasureChildren in Norway help smuggle their country’s treasure out of Nazi hands in Marie McSwigan’s Snow Treasure.

I read this one in grade-school. I still recall loving the adventure, of the story and loving that children were the heroes of the piece.

MilkweedJerry Spinelli tells the story of a nameless boy without a family  who finds and looses the people he loves in the Warsaw ghetto..

Milkweed is powerful and painful, and definitely one for older readers – honestly, I’d almost say that this is more an adult book (remembering the story to write this is making me tear up.) Still, it bears a mention on this list, as a remembrance of the terrible suffering during the days of the Holocaust.

American History

Johnny Tremain

An injury dashes Johnny Tremain’s dreams of becoming a silver-smith and launches him into the American Revolution.

Winner of the 1944 Newbery Medal, Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain is another story I remember from elementary school that I still enjoy as an adult. Johnny’s growth as a character – from being on top of his world, to loosing everything, to finding himself again in a cause that he believes in – makes this book stand out as a classic.

Chains_novel_cover

Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of Isabel, a slave who ought to have been freed, who searches for freedom for herself and her sister during the turmoil of the American Revolutionary War.

I bought Chains this summer just because I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket and it looked interesting. I’m so glad I did! Isabel’s story moved me to tears. (Ok, honestly? I was bawling like a baby halfway through.) Despite this, it’s not a story of despair. There’s sorrow and realism, but also hope.

Chains (and its sequels) looks at this period through the eyes of slaves. I appreciated the unique approach to the era, and the even-handedness of the author. I felt she told the story without vilifying any particular group, (which makes a refreshing change from so much of what’s going on these days!)

Out of the dustBillie Jo wrestles with terrible losses in her family during the Dust Bowl years.

It’s been a few years since I’ve picked up Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, the 1998 Newberry Winner, and I’m thinking I’ll have to reread it. It’s written as free-verse journal entries, and it’s a fast read, but full of depth. (If you haven’t explained childbirth to your kids yet, be prepared for questions. 😉 )

Dear America

Minnie’s family takes in an orphaned relative from the Texas dust bowl, and tries to ‘make do’ for a Christmas during the Depression.

The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift is part of the “Dear America” series. The series employed different authors for its books, and  I haven’t picked up others in the series, but if Katherine Lasky’s contribution is an indication of the quality, they may be worth looking into.

 

World History

The Bronze Bow

Daniel bar-Jamin hates the Romans and determines to help drive them out of Israel, until the teachings of the rabbi Jesus lead him to question whether his hatred will bring the healing he needs.

Set in Israel during the time of Christ, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Bronze Bow delves into the political and social struggles of the day (which fit in awfully well with all of the current world’s turmoil and hate) in an engaging and exciting way. Judging by the Amazon reviews, you don’t need to be a Christian to enjoy the story. As a Christian, I found the story a fascinating way to help me better visualize living in this era…and it’s a great read.

Magic Tree HouseIn The Magic Tree House books, Jack and Annie of Frog Creek Pennsylvania travel through time to complete quests, helped by the mythical figures of Camelot.

The Magic Tree House series includes a healthy dose of ‘fiction’ in its historical premise, as Morgan Le Fay and Merlin send Jack and Annie on quests for various magical do-dads. The series uses this fantastical premise to introduce all sorts of historical places, people and events in a very basic way. My seven and five-year-old love hearing these as read-alouds, and when Jack and Annie ended up in Normandy the day before D-Day, my daughter was excited that she was reading a World War 2 book, just like mommy.

Then, of course, there are the ones I’ve been meaning to read…

… and if you have others to suggest, I’d love to hear from you!

Happy reading, keep warm, and if you’re in a part of the world that is still enjoying sunshine, soak some up for me, won’t you?