Monthly Archives: May 2016

“And If I Perish: Frontline Army Nurses in World War II” Book Review

Happy Memorial Day, United States! Today is a day where we honor those who’ve served and fallen for our country. Today is a day where I think of all those within my family who’ve served in the Navy, the Marines, the Army, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard; those of my relatives who survived war, those who didn’t, and those who, though never saw battle, were prepared to fight.

11869279294_da403f85b4_kEach country has their own day of remembrance, and on this day, I believe sharing a book review from one of the largest wars in Earth’s history is appropriate. And If I Perish: Frontline Army Nurses in World War II is a novel that highlights a too often ignored part of United States history: the thousands of women who volunteered to stand by soldiers on the frontline during 6777257254_b89ec5cef9_bthe years’ long World War II, and to be captured and to die alongside those soldiers.

Though none of my relatives were nurses during WWII, my great-grandmother was a Rosie the Riveter. Reading And If I Perish, I was astounded to discover that such a vital piece of World War II history wasn’t taught in schools – wasn’t even acknowledged – and how after the war, military nurses weren’t treated as heroes or veterans; instead their military records were lost and these women were forgotten.

And If I Perish is one of those novels that make you realize how inadequate and subjective history is. The authors, Monahan and Neidel-Greenlee, highlight a significant part of history that has largely been, not forgotten, but completely ignored: the history of nurses serving in the army during World War II.

Without these thousands of brave women working on the front lines, many more lives would have been lost. These women were bombed, taken prisoner, and killed, just like the male soldiers. However, army nurses were only given “relative rank,” which means that they received no benefits, weren’t recognized as veterans, weren’t saluted like male officers of the same rank were, were discouraged to use the GI Bill to go to college and had very little access to military hospitals after the war…in fact, when the war ended, these brave and self-sacrificing women were told that it was time for them to be ladies again.

6807222761_80ee868dac_bThese women weren’t drafted. Every single one of them volunteered to march into some of the bloodiest battles in human history, to stand beside men on the front lines, to risk life and limb. The army and other military nurses deserve to be recognized for their phenomenal achievements. They deserve to be known.

Do you have any relatives who served as nurses during WWII?

(Photos courtesy of PhotosNormandiekitchener.lord, and Army Medicine.)

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Why You Write

 

I’ve always been interested in why people write. Words have the power to transport people away from the mundane. But that power takes work – a lot of work. Work that is hard, strenuous, and time-consuming. So, why do writers persist?

Ernest Hemingway said, “From things that had happened and from things as they exist and 8670899788_9760142056_zfrom all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of.”

Author of The House At The End Of The Road, Ralph Eubanks, stated, “There’s something both emotionally satisfying about it [writing], and something that is very physically satisfying when you finally see your work when it comes out in a finished book, or when you see the pages at the end of the day.”

Lord Byron said, “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”

14519245613_ff8909e294_zWilliam Faulkner stated, “The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed, so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling ‘Kilroy was here’ on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.”

Cynthia MacGregor, author of Everybody Loves Bacon, said “It’s who I am. It’s what I love. I even write for fun on top of writing for a living. I couldn’t NOT write. I need to write like I need to breathe, to eat, it’s vital to me.”

Georges Simenon stated, “I think that if a man has the urge to be an artist, it is because he needs to find himself. Every writer has to find himself through his characters, through all his writing.”15413112213_f50271ca5d_z

Author of Band Fags!, Frank Anthony Polito, said, “I write because there is nothing else I can do – well. For many years I was an actor.”

Joan Didion stated, “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want…but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is a tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

Didion also said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Anne Rice stated, “Writers write about what obsesses them. You draw those cards. I lost my mother when I was 14. My daughter died at the age of 6. I lost my faith as a Catholic. When I’m writing, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is.”453831774_06c67eb3aa_z

She also said, “I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.”

Gloria Steinem stated, “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”

Neil Gaiman said, “The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising…and it’s magic and wonder and strange.”

I write for so many reasons; it’s a mishmash of the quotes listed above. But in my own words, I write the stories in my head that won’t leave me alone. They’re ever-present, and will only quiet once they’re down on paper and satisfied with the way they’re written.

Why do you write?

(Photos courtesy of Thomas Hawk, Visit Mississippi, MaxGag, and Stephen.)

The Book Landfills

517900257_2515938cd4_bYou’ve probably heard someone say that reading is on the decline. Kids aren’t reading like they used to. Neither are adults. Because of this, the literary industry has suffered. Though their monetary losses can be large (and are usually made up for by their bestsellers, think Harry Potter series), the worse impact is on people.

Reading expands the mind. You imagine the world that a piece of literature presents. You extrapolate from that world. Your brain is active when you read. It’s passive when watching TV, which is one of the major reasons for the reduction in reading.

In Reading at Risk, results from a 17,000 individual Survey of Public Participation in the Arts were presented. As a meaningful activity, reading has decreased, especially among young people. Amidst television, Netflix, and all of social media, literature is increasingly taking a backseat.

I’m not a technophobe. I’m a Netflix binge-watching fiend, and I tend to check Facebook once a day. I realize these activities impede on my reading. I have multiple piles of books I’ve yet to read, and while I normally polish off a book a week, this last novel has taken me about a month. Trying to watch all of “Scrubs” before it was booted from Netflix played a part. (At least most of my time watching “Scrubs” was on my spin bike.)

However, as a typically avid reader and as a writer, I find it unsettling how much literature has faded. Without literature it’s much easier to remain ignorant, and with ignorance comes a repetition of mistakes, a lack of imagination and innovation, and less understanding of the world, including other cultures and organisms.

From the survey, there were ten key findings:

  1. “The Percentage of adult Americans reading literature has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years.”

Nowadays, less than half of American adults read.

  1. “The decline in literary reading parallels a decline in total book reading.”

For this point, literary writing is separated from more commercial books. Both literary books and commercial novels are being read less, however literary books rate of reading are decreasing more rapidly than commercial novels.

  1. “The rate of decline in literary reading is accelerating.”

More people are reading less at a faster rate than twenty years ago.

  1. “Women read more literature than men do, but literary reading by both groups is declining at significant rates.”

While many people would love to blame the education system on the declining literary reading rate, it’s more accurate to blame people themselves. Individuals used to read James Joyce, Henry David Thoreau, and William Faulkner for pleasure. In today’s world, the number of people who recognize those names is diminishing. Added to that, an increasing number of light and shallow commercial novels are being written. There’s a misconception, or perhaps it’s no longer a misconception, that peoples’ attention spans are too short for the deeper meaning novels, those books that give you a headache as you attempt to comprehend them. People want a fast read.

  1. “Literary reading is declining among whites, African Americans, and Hispanics.”

The decrease in literature does not discriminate.

  1. “Literary reading is declining among all education levels.”

Though those who are more educated read more than those who are less educated, the reading rate is diminishing across the board.

  1. “Literary reading is declining among all age groups.”

From ages eighteen to over seventy-five, again there’s no discrimination.

I have to wonder how adults reading less effect children. Parents have the responsibility to teach their kids how to read. If parents spend little or no time reading, how can they instill the necessity of reading in their children?

  1. “The steepest decline in literary reading is in the youngest age groups.”

Young adults went from reading the most literature to reading the least.

  1. “The decline in literary reading foreshadows an erosion in cultural and civic participation.”

People who read are more likely to be involved in charity, sports, politics, and art.

  1. “The decline in reading correlates with increased participation in a variety of electronic media, including the Internet, video games, and portable digital devices.”

Having so many alternatives, shifts peoples’ attentions away from reading. Just like with trying to get published, having so much noise out there makes it difficult for people to focus on any one thing.

Based on these findings, it’s easy to see a dismal future. If the rapid rate of reading decline continues, reading as a pastime may vanish. However, despite these findings, I have hope for the literary world. More people are receiving some sort of postsecondary education than in the past, and unlike the fades of social media, books tend to last. Maybe not the newest novel in a twenty-some book detective series, but the great books. Plus, anytime a bestseller rises among the flood of literature, people begin to read more.

Most importantly, the future is unpredictable. We can try to figure out what’s going to happen down the line, but ultimately, we don’t know until we get there. Who knows? Maybe reading will make a massive comeback.

What do you think about the decline in reading?

(Photo courtesy of Patrick Correia.)

Overthinking Your Writing

 

More than once I’ve heard writers complain about how some really crappy books become bestsellers, and how these writers can’t understand why such horribly written novels get published, while their books don’t.

Most times – I’d say about 99% of the time – who gets published and who doesn’t has more to do with timing and luck than anything else. Of the other 1%, over half of those who get published have connections in the writing world that helped them.

359612723_65e3f5cb93_zHowever, writers tend to have two modes:

  1. What I’ve written is fantastic. I can’t believe I wrote that!
  2. This is horrendous. My writing should be burned.

These modes can make completing a piece of work difficult. Often the negative thoughts, where writers think their work is complete garbage, creep up during the middle of a story. The first 30,000 words are written, and then, suddenly, all that effort seems like a waste. The temptation to go back and revise is almost too strong to ignore.

Ignore it!

No incomplete book will get published, no matter how perfect the part that’s written is.

In those moments of despair, when your writing may seem like the worst writing in the world, don’t give in to the part of you that wants to stop writing and go back, because it’s better to get through the entire story first, then never reach that final page.

You’ll have plenty of time to go back and revise later, and you might find that what you thought was awful is actually pretty good.

A term used to describe the first draft of a piece of writing is called madman. Madman is that emotional, charged phase where you write without stopping. The madman doesn’t care if the writing is perfect, because he wants to reach the end.

It’s the final stage of writing – the judge – that is the analytical, unemotional phase, where every little mistake must be corrected.

Getting published is often a long, arduous process, where many complete, well-written, and entertaining books go unnoticed. Don’t cripple yourself by not completing your work.

Are you an over thinker?

(Photo courtesy of Fabio Venni.)

What Makes a Book Good?

Ah, the ultimate question for writers. We spend so much of our time crafting our writing: plotting, character sketches, writing that first draft, editing and revising, rewriting, getting our work critiqued…the list goes on.5780584814_b5b11f73d8_z

Yet, say two people, Person A and Person B, have spent equal time working on their writing, why does one story come out better than the other?

Let’s rule out different genres and say that both Persons A and B are writing adult science fiction, and that both of their stories take place in space. Their story plots may even be very similar.

Let’s go with the premise of a young woman, stranded in space, who runs across an ascended being. This being winds up as part of an ancient race that has acted as various gods throughout human history, and who is now bored and feels like it’s time for the human race to end and another life form to rise to prominence.

Both stories sound interesting, however after reading the stories, Person A’s is the clear winner.

Why?

For both objective and subjective reasons.

Let’s go with some of the more objective ones:

  • 3086655956_201ab2b89e_zAttention to detail plays a huge role in how well a story turns out. It’s basically an umbrella phrase for the following reasons, because if you don’t pay attention to the small things, your readers won’t be able to picture what’s going on, and then they won’t be invested in the story.
  • World building is an aspect of writing that I’m seeing less and less of in fiction, especially young adult fiction. This is tragic, because the environment in which your story takes place is vital. It’s where everything happens. Some of my favorite books have such detailed environments that the place becomes a living, breathing character.
  • Internal Consistency is a key component as well. You can’t have a plot that jumps all over the place. I once read a book, where, on page 100, Character 9 was one of my favorite characters of the story, and then suddenly, on page 101, Character 9 was a complete jerk, who ended up being the villain of the piece. This switcheroo made no sense. I felt that the author realized readers liked Character 9 more than the main characters, and so the author had to make Character 9 evil. That novel lost all credibility.

Another example (and this one happens to be popular in young adult fiction): the main 4496975747_1e0b661a31_zcharacter is supposedly the chosen one/the one to save everyone, however the protagonist trips over her feet during every fight and must be saved by the handsome, yet jerk of a romantic interest. This is ridiculous because, unless you’re writing a comedy, how can someone be elite or the epitome of something, if she constantly needs saving?

  • Well-developed characters can make a story. As I stated earlier, world building is utterly important to the story. However, sometimes you can get away with poor world building, if you have phenomenal characters. There are multiple books I’ve read, where I knew the world building was awful, but it didn’t matter because I was invested in the characters. Granted, most of these novels were in first-person, so that the view I had of the overall story was narrowed to one character.

A problem with these type of stories, is that if you don’t like the main character, then nothing is holding you to the book, and you’ll most likely put it down and never look at it again.

  • No little misspellings or poor grammar. Readers will notice a lack of editing. They’ll pick up on all the bad punctuation, poor spelling, and grammatical mistakes. If there are too many linguistic errors, readers may get pulled out of the story. They may not return. (I once saw a novel with a misspelled title; I didn’t go past the title page.)
  • Originality. While it’s difficult to be completely original, you can take a well-used premise and make it your own. It’s too often that I see one book or book series get popular and suddenly there’s a flood of copy-cat novels, and each one seems to be worse than the predecessor.

Back to Persons A and B. Now, while most people preferred Person A’s story, a few liked Person B’s more. Though Person A’s work had better world building and more developed characters, not everyone liked Person A’s story for subjective reasons. Let’s say that one person didn’t like the story because the protagonist reminded him too much of an ex-girlfriend he had back in college. Another individual enjoyed Person B’s writing style over Person A’s.

There’s nothing Person A can do about these reasons. It’s like asking someone if contemporary art is really art. The answer will vary according to each individual.

I’ve read novels where, if I hadn’t been in the right mood, I would have greatly disliked them. I probably would have ranted to my friends about them, because, in reality, they were horribly written. But since I was in the mood for some light fluff that would make me laugh at the ridiculousness of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed those novels.

Ask me to read them today and the answer would be “no.”

What makes a good book to you?

(Photos courtesy of Stefano CorsoRob, and David Urbanke.)