Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Books Week

This week, schools and libraries across the nation will take part in "Banned Books Read-out." Everyone is asked to participate by acknowledging your favorite banned books, what it means to observe and uphold the First Amendment, and how banned books have impacted our lives. As an author, I can appreciate the importance of this event.

Many famous books have been banned in the past. Some examples are "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "Black Beauty," and the Harry Potter books. The list is immense, and some books have been banned for obscure reasons.

Book censorship has been a problem since the beginning. The Bible and the Quran have also been banned at some point. Any book deemed too radical or politically incorrect is at risk of being banned. Although viewpoints have changed over the course of history, it is still unacceptable, in this author's opinion, to ban the written word simply because certain groups don't agree. Voice your opinion, and read a banned book this week!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Portion of Wilderness Battlefield Up For Sale

A few weeks ago, Wal-Mart won voters' support by securing a portion of the Wilderness Battlefield in Virginia to build a new super center. Much protest came from local politicians, historians, and celebrities. Now 93 acres are being offered to the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT) for purchase. This parcel of land is about one mile from the proposed Wal-Mart site.

According to CVBT President Erik F. Nelson, the contract is drawn up, the price is locked in (at $10,000 an acre, for a total of $930,000), and the closing date should take place within the year. The group plans to do fund-raising to help cover the cost of the down payment on the mortgage. State grants might also become available.

Talks have been in the works for several years, but the land owners finally decided to come to an agreement and make a deal after what happened with Wal-Mart. They are in favor of having the land saved, rather than being built upon. This is a huge victory for battlefield preservation, in that the land will now be unavailable for commercial and residential use.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Event Canceled

Last Saturday I was planning on attending the reenactment of the Battle of Farmington near the town of Corinth, Mississippi. However, because of heavy rainfall, the event was canceled. This is always a disappointment, because I look forward to seeing all the reenactors, as well as civilians dressed in Victorian attire. And because I'm a horse freak, I love to see the horses, too.

I'm still learning about Southern culture, and one thing I've found, at least in this area, is that when something like the weather happens, they like to cancel events. Not postpone them, not delay them, just flat out cancel them. This has happened on several occasions, but I think the worst scenario was a big reenactment scheduled here in Mississippi that was canceled for political reasons. It was the reenactment of the Battle of Corinth, but for some reason, this year they decided it wasn't politically correct to have "Confederates" do battle on farmland that apparently has been used for such an event before.

Stranger yet is the parade in Ohio that wouldn't allow "Confederates" to march in their Memorial Day parade. Um, excuse me, but I thought this was a free country we lived in! Once again, the confusion arises in that Confederate reenactors are confused with the KKK, or somehow associated with that hate-filled, supremacist organization. It's sad how certain aspects of history can be distorted over time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Doomed To Be A Lush

Before I was published, I decided it would be a good idea to meet some local authors. So one Saturday afternoon, I attended a book signing at Borders in Longmont, Colorado, where a bestselling author was signing his books. He warned me by saying that authors are heavy drinkers, but then went on to say that we also have the good life, as we set our own schedules, get to travel, and in his case, go skiing every weekend. I don't know about the rest, but I do get to set my own schedule, as erratic as that is.

In a recent edition of Writer's Digest, one of the contributing authors warned that, when attending a writers' conference, you should figure out how much whiskey you'll need and pack twice as much. How come all these authors relay on booze to get them through? The reason is simple: stress. Being a creative person is exceptionally stressful, because not only are we called upon to be forever creative, we have to deal with rejection as well.

One author who lives in Loveland warned me that I should psych myself up for rejection, because I will get plenty of rejection letters. He said he wallpapered his bathroom with his. I've gotten my share, and I have to admit, it's a big letdown when one comes. So much so that I find myself in tears. Most editors/agents don't even read your material, I'm told. If their slush pile is too high, they just reject everything. Getting "in" by attending seminars, conferences, etc. and meeting people in person helps, but it isn't always a guarantee, and disappointments are limitless. So to all you aspiring writers out there, just remember,we all go through our hard knocks. Now where did I leave that bottle of tequila?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Avoid Plodding Plots

It is interesting to see how different authors come up with story ideas and find ways to present them. Some plot out their stories and know the endings before they write a single word, while others chose to delve into the story and write with the flow of their creativity. I have found that both are true. I write out a detailed outline first. Once I begin writing, the outline is bound to change, as the story writes itself and the characters evolve.

The way you write depends on the type of story you are writing. In my case, historical fiction has to be accurate, and immaculately so, because if it isn't, I'm sure to hear about it! I have found several ways to keep the plot going. One is to get rid of excess words. If you can say the same thing in three words that you just said in five, delete a couple. Another way is to add dialogue. In my current novel, I am writing about Jefferson Davis' inaugural address. At the time, he was a great orator, but to read the speech now is, shall we say, a little tedious. So to spice it up, I have inserted character dialogue, as well as their thoughts (i.e.what they are feeling, how they are reacting to the speech, etc.).

Action is another effective way to break up a dragging plot. I recently had a peer read my novel, and he said that I had too many action scenes sidetracking from the story, and that I should just get to the point. Little did he know, those side scenes actually happened! Action motivates the plot, keeps it moving, and eventually brings the story around to the end. Without action, dialogue, and plot, the story merely becomes nonfiction.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What Goes Around Comes Around

During a recent trip to Mason City, Iowa, my husband and I attended a Civil War encampment and reenactment. While talking to some of the guys who sponsored the event, we discovered that Iowa still has in its possession a Confederate flag from the 17th Mississippi. The flag was captured at Gettysburg.

In 1905, Grover Cleveland signed into law a bill requiring the return of Confederate flags. However, many northern states failed to abide by the law, not just Iowa, whose reason for keeping the flag is because it draws tourists to the state's capital. The flag is in disrepair, and hasn't been on display for quite some time. It will cost approximately $5-10,000 to restore it. Thus, the flag has been stashed away and forgotten until now.

My husband, Dave, is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This came about after I wrote my book, and he became interested in his heritage. Upon further research, he discovered that his great-great grandfather was a Confederate interpreter for the Cherokees under Nathan Bedford Forrest. Dave's commanding officer was so excited about his finding the flag that he had him announce it at their monthly meeting. Now they are in the process of procuring the flag, which holds profound significance for them, as their ancestors fought under that flag. It's funny how all this has come about. I wrote the book = Dave found his ancestor = he joined the SCV and found out about the missing flag = we went to Mason City, Iowa, where my sister lives = we found the missing flag. Strange how one thing leads to another, and it all eventually comes full circle, even though, in this case, it has taken a hundred and forty-six years!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vicksburg: a Sight to See

Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to Vicksburg to see the battlefield. It is impressive to say the least. Interestingly, the paved roadway through the park is lined with majestic monuments and busts of long forgotten heroes. On the west side of the park is a spectacular view of the Yazoo River, and it’s easy to visualize the strategies used by Generals Grant and Pemberton. But the highlight of the battlefield, in my opinion, is the ironclad gunboat, the U.S.S. Cairo.

In 1862, the U.S.S. Cairo was hit by Confederate underwater torpedoes, now called mines, and sank in twelve minutes into the Yazoo. Everyone aboard jumped ship and survived. After discovery was made of its whereabouts in 1964, the gunboat was brought back to the surface, and many of the artifacts inside survived the test of time. This is due to the fact that silt on the river bottom preserved the ship’s contents, as well as the skeleton of the vessel itself. The restored ironclad is now on display at the park, alongside a museum housing its artifacts.

The park ranger informed us that in the 1930’s, the government came up with the not-so-brilliant idea of planting trees alongside the roadway. Now the trees have grown into a scrubby, overgrown mess, and the NPS is deciding whether it should mow the trees down, which obscure sight of the battlefield. The visitors center is informative, with an old movie from (my guess) the 60’s describing the event, as well as dioramas depicting soldiers during the siege, a cave inhabited by Vicksburg citizens, and freedmen fighting for the North. The scene is poignant, and left me with mixed emotions. Within the park, Union soldiers are buried in the National Cemetery, as was the way with battles won by the North. The Confederates are buried in the old Vicksburg cemetery, which is located, sadly enough, on Lover’s Lane.

The town of Vicksburg is marvelous, but in terrible disrepair. The historic downtown district, which brags an old-time apothecary, as well as the Coca Cola Museum (the soft drink started distribution here), is full of empty storefronts and loiterers. However, the old antebellum houses and churches are fascinating. Vicksburg is on its way, pulling itself up from the depths of terrible oppression that it suffered over 145 years ago. Unfortunately, it still has a long way to go.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Another Victory for Walmart (and a Defeat for Civil War Enthusiasts)

Last week, a final approval was passed to build a new Walmart near the entrance of the Wilderness Battlefield in Orange County, Virginia. In a 4-1 vote, officials decided to grant a special permit after a majority of more than 100 speakers rallied in favor of the Supercenter. Regardless of protest from historians, Civil War buffs, and preservationists, supervisors reasoned that they couldn't see a threat, because there is no visual impact to the battlefield. Construction is scheduled to start in a year.

The majority of the Civil War's largest and most significant battles took place in Virginia. At the Battle of the Wilderness 145 years ago, Generals Lee and Grant opposed each other for the first time. Approximately 145,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought, with over 29,000 casualties. Only one-fourth of the Wilderness Battlefield is currently protected. Walmart reasons that it is building in an area zoned for commercial use. Locals claim that a new store will provide jobs, tax revenue, and affordable shopping for the 32,000 residents living there.

Protesters included Ken Burns, Robert Duvall (who claims to be a descendant of General Lee), Virginia's governor, and two congressmen. Last year, the Commonwealth of Virginia appropriated $5.2 million for the preservation of its battlefields. Virginia is committed to protecting and safeguarding her Civil War battlefields. But unfortunately, local response outweighed the desire for historical preservation. Sadly, this may not be the last time such an atrocity occurs.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Rare Find

I love watching Antiques Roadshow to see what people show up with, especially the ones who have purchased their finds at yard sales for a fraction of what the item is worth. Case in point: in 2006, a man by the name of Bruce Steiner purchased a box of papers from a flea market for $27.95. Inside, he discovered an envelope with these words written on it: "Let this man enter with this note." It is dated April 14, 1865, and signed, "A. Lincoln." The note was signed the same day Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Skeptical at first, Steiner, who is an avid Civil War buff, decided to get the note analyzed, and discovered that the handwriting seemed to be genuine. However, he ran into obstacles when historical societies refused to acknowledge his discovery. He continued to pursue the note's authenticity, and sent it to a handwriting expert, who confirmed that the handwriting seems to be that of President Lincoln himself. The estimated value is $120,000.

It's amazing how things like this keep resurfacing. In 1954, an old photograph showing Lincoln at Gettysburg, taken by Mathew Brady, was discovered at the National Archives. This year, old photographs have constantly been discovered in long-forgotten places, as well as manuscripts, letters, and even a watch with an inscription inside. Because this is Lincoln's 200th birthday year, artifacts relating to him are of special interest. If only I could be so lucky as to make an amazing discovery like that! It would be like finding hidden treasure.