Month: November 2015

SEQUELS AND PREQUELS

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This should come as no surprise to any with whom I share even the briefest acquaintance: My favorite non-fiction reading is history. My favorite novels tend to be historical fiction.

When I was researching my WWII book, In Enemy Hands, I devoured the works of John Toland and Stephen Ambrose and a host of others. I marveled at the true experiences of women spies in the conflict and loved the “first person” accounts written by military men on both sides. I’m still very enthusiastic about that period and just read an enjoyable novel by David John, Flight from Berlin, which deals with the 1936 Olympics and the Hindenberg. (I know they sound totally unrelated, but John makes the story work.) Oh! And if you’ve not read The Book Thief, hie thee to a library or bookstore immediately!

For historical eras prior to the 20th Century, I like the diaries kept by women who traveled the Oregon Trail and dozens of other accounts of pioneers, including some only slightly fictionalized, like Honore Morrow’s On to Oregon. And going back even farther in the human journey, I love the eleven-volume
Series on western civilization by Will and Ariel Durant. Unfortunately, it ends with The Age of Napoleon. Their work is so well researched and so well written that it is truly a shame they died before getting into the industrial revolution and beyond. Their work is sometimes disparaged as “popular history,” but not many want to muck around in old archives with original documents, and the Durants give us marvelous portraits of the people who made history. Would that someone could pick up where they left off and bring us up to date. . . .

Many writers have tried to give us sequels to famous novels such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In that instance, they have mostly failed to live up to the standards of the original (but I admit to being something of a purist where JA is concerned). Ditto with that sequel to Gone with the Wind that garnered so much attention several years ago. However, I would very much have liked to see what Austen and Mitchell themselves might have done with the characters they created. I would also like to see the books Dostoyevsky had planned to follow The Brothers Karamazov. Or a Hawthorne prequel to The Scarlet Letter. Don’t you think the love triangle between the sensual Hester, her cold, scientific husband, and her devoutly spiritual lover would be a great read?

I would be willing to bet that J.K. Rowling did not originally plan that many books for Harry Potter, but she just fell in love with the characters. I’ve heard many of a writer saying, “I thought I was finished with thus-and-such, but so-and-so just had to have his or her own book.”

Did I mention I am in the throes of writing a series???

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REFUGEES

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There is a lot of self-righteous “not-in-my-back-yard” thinking regarding refugees from the Middle East. Largely born of fear which breeds distrust and hatred, such thinking is anathema to understanding and tolerance among peoples. Is it possible for a terrorist to slip into a country under the guise of being a refugee?

Yes.

But not on the scale that fear mongers would have you believe. Such terrorists would be more like our home-grown lot—those who shoot up schools and theaters and military chow halls, not the sort that pulled off that organized disaster in Paris. Do we turn our backs on thousands out of fear of such aberrant types? Those are already with us, for heaven’s sake!

One must admit that groups seeking refuge tend to gather all sorts into their midst. Think about it! Beyond their immediate families and maybe a neighbor or two, they don’t know each other from Adam, usually. Most of those people have but one goal in mind—escape. As an American in my comfortable middle class environment, I cannot even imagine the horrors they have endured. (Though I did have one reader tell me “You got that refugee stuff right” about my book, In Enemy Hands.)

At the end of WWII, half of Germany’s people were homeless—literally homeless, for half the inhabitable structures had been bombed into rubble. (We needn’t get into why this was so.) Yet the Soviet Union, trying de-Germanize its satellites, sent 12,000,000 more people out of Eastern Europe and into Germany to wander from town to town seeking refuge. Twelve MILLION thrust into a population already in dire straits! Talk about ethnic cleansing! And, yes, some really awful Nazis managed to hide among the refugees and take up residence in some obscure town or village. (Recommended reading for those interested: Keith Lowe’s book, The Savage Continent.) It ended up taking a decade and more for the small, suffering, defeated nation of Germany to assimilate those refugees. But, for the most part, they did so.

Today, people want monumental changes—like finding places for thousands thrust from their homes–to happen instantly. Or they just want the problem to go away. Let Europe or the UN or refugee organizations handle it. Not my problem. I put five dollars in the plate last Sunday. Never mind that some of the problem—NO, not all, by any means—is of our American making. (Sometimes “the people” are left to remedy problems created by their leaders.) “Not-in-my-back-yard” is, often as not, the cry of people who have themselves never been OUT of their own back yards! Their compassion extends no farther than that fence they built around their hearts.

Would admitting a few thousand Middle Easterners to the U.S. turn us into a Muslim country? Hardly. Not all of those refugees are even Muslim to start with! Oh, but they will force us God-fearing Americans to live under Sharia law. First of all, not all Muslims buy into the extremism of Sharia law, just as not all Jews follow the strictest tenets of Talmudic law. The Amish live by a different code in the heart of America. Is anyone truly afraid they will “take over”?

The poem by Emma Lazarus on the base of the Statue of Liberty famously proclaims,

Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me . . .

Have many taken advantage of us? Do we not have issues of our own that must also be resolved? Undoubtedly. But as a nation, we have, on the whole, done very well by that sentiment on the Statue of Liberty.

THE END—OR MAYBE NOT . . .

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One cannot reach the sixth or seventh decade (and beyond) of one’s life without having some acquaintance with the grim reaper along the way. I am often mindful of those I have personally lost to “Death’s dateless night”—as the Bard of Avon put it. In recent weeks the subject has been especially poignant as one of my dearest friends lost her husband of over 50 years, and another has been sitting at the bedside of her dying son. (In the natural order of things, it says down here in fine print, parents should not have to bury their children.)

In the meantime, we have such travesties as yet another school shooting—this one in Oregon, not far from where I grew up. One of the youngest victims was my brother’s granddaughter’s stepdaughter. It’s complicated, but it does fit the “six degrees of separation” test.

Most of us (especially those of a certain age) are all too familiar with the steps of the textbook grief process. Sometimes it is really, really hard to let go of the anger stage. I am still angry with my friend Wini who, in the mid-80s, went to sleep at the wheel and crashed her car into an overpass abutment on the freeway. Why on earth did she not just pull over and have a nap? I still miss her gentle wisdom, her unfailing interest in life in all its idiosyncrasies, her love of children, her ability to discuss almost anything from Cardinal Newman to the latest sporting events. (She actually read—completely—three newspapers, two dailies and one weekly, as well as several magazines—all while teaching high school or college English full time!)

With public events like these unspeakable school shootings, the anger is more public, the inevitable “WHY?” is shared more widely, and the futility of loss is more general. Unfortunately, as the public grief follows its course, feelings become diffused, and we lose sight of that healthy anger—anger that could, perhaps, be directed toward finally doing something!

We cannot control all such aberrant behavior as displayed by these pathetic shooters, but—really—shouldn’t we get beyond always equating control of weapons with banning them? They are not the same. Outside the military and licensed collectors and hobbyists, who the hell actually needs an AK-47 or the like? And when was the last time we saw a “well-regulated militia” in this country (other than the National Guard which is more properly an extension of the military itself)? Yeah, we have some militias, all right. Hardly of the “well-regulated” variety, though. Instead, these “militias” have a bunch of weirdos running through the woods in Alabama and Idaho, playing dress-up in camouflage, and getting their jollies in pretending to be “protecting” whatever it is they think needs protecting from God knows whom or what.

Isn’t it time to address this issue like reasonable adults?

THE WRITERS’ BLOCK IS OVER!! (REDIRECTED AT ANY RATE)

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I’m baaaaack . . .

As a writer, I mean.

As a “real” writer—of fiction. Imaginative fiction. (Not, mind you, that there’s another sort of fiction!)

I have suffered—fretted, subjected myself to all sorts of self-flagellation—with what is euphemistically labeled “writers’ block” for nearly a year. Well, sort of. I have, indeed, written—just nothing new. Obviously, I’ve written regular blogs, along with a few letters, some e-mails, and snippets on Facebook here and there. I also messed around rewriting several chapters of what I call my “wagon train book.” I’m maybe a third of the way through that one—and I’m stuck—again! Just cannot seem to get those folks very far into the Oregon journey.

But about six weeks ago I received some solid incentive. First of all, I got a large (for me) royalties check in the mail. Money is always a nice carrot to motivate the muse. The check, though, was followed by an offer of a contract for a series of three books! Regencies—but what the hey!—that is my period. At least one of them. So, back to the back burner with the wagon train thing. Will those folks ever make it to Oregon? I hope so. . . .

Ideas for Regencies have been fermenting ever since that check and the offer.

Yesterday, I sat at the computer all day and pounded out the first draft of the first chapter of the first book of my three-book series! The whole chapter! In one day!

You did note that I said “computer.” It remains to be seen whether I have really turned a corner, but—yes—I wrote the first draft of that first chapter directly on the computer! Heretofore, as some of you know, I have always written my first drafts by hand in cursive on standard composition paper with a no. 2 pencil. That was the way I started out a hundred years ago, and that is, by golly, the way I have carried on! Now, if this trend holds, I will surely have graduated.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Or drag an obstinate senior citizen into the 21st Century?