A Blast From the Past

One of the details I researched for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, was the weapon used by American soldiers during World War II.  Per my brother, a World War II history buff, the M1 Garand was the gun I needed to look up.

There is so much information on the M1 Garand, simply and affectionately called Garand in honor of its inventor, I didn’t believe I could do it justice by writing my own article.  So, I choose two that I found to be the most interesting, and I’d like to share them with you.

The first, Garand Name Pronunciation: Who’s Right?, is actually somewhat humorous.  There seems to be a longstanding debate on this issue.  It’s probably not the first time a name has been mispronounced by an American, and it certainly won’t be the last.  We do that sometimes, but I’m in agreement with writer Mark Keefe when he says, “… I am not going to tell anyone, especially those that used the rifle in combat, that they were wrong.  Call it what you like, and thank you for your service.”

The second article, The Iconic M1 Garand, details the gun in all its glory.  I’ve had the opportunity to hold an M1 as well as see them employed in the re-enactment of the D-day landings.  It’s an impressive weapon, and I’m glad our soldiers had it to use against a formidable enemy.

The Music of Life

the-music-of-lifeSeveral years ago while shelving AV material at the library where I used to work, I came across a CD titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions. What caught my eye, besides the unusual title, was Yo-Yo Ma on the cover. I was familiar with Yo-Yo Ma as a classically trained musician, but here he was featured on a CD devoted to music of a completely different genre. Without hesitation, I checked out the CD and couldn’t wait to listen to it on the drive home. What I heard started a love affair with a type of music I’d previously tiptoed around.

Probably what kept me from exploring this genre earlier was the fact that much of it was labeled Bluegrass. My opinion of Bluegrass included all things twangy and hick-i-fied. Yes, that is a word. What I discovered that day was something called Classical Crossover. Classical Crossover is a genre that hovers between classical and popular music, and is usually targeted at fans of both types of music. In the most common type of crossover, classically trained performers sing or play popular songs, folk music, show tunes, or holiday songs.

Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer, and Stuart Duncan also contributed to the CD’s eleven tracks of music based on English and Irish fiddle music that gave birth to what we know as Appalachian fiddle music. The closest I’d ever come to anything like it was the little bits of fiddle I’d heard in songs by Clannad and The Chieftains.

After listening to The Goat Rodeo Sessions, I went in search of other CDs by the same artists or those featuring similar music. I discovered Appalachian Waltz, Short Trip Home, Appalachian Journey, and Heartland: An Appalachian Anthology all of which are now in a playlist that became the soundtrack of my mind as I wrote my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. One song in particular, “Sliding Down” featuring Béla Fleck, Edgar Meyer, and Mike Marshall, epitomized John Welles’s experience in the later years of his life.

By the time John lived in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, his life had taken so many downward turns that he believed he’d never dig himself out from under them. Yet through it all, he retained a shred of hope buried deep in his heart. “Sliding Down” is the musical representation of what John felt during those years:  melancholy with a touch of optimism on the horizon that he was too afraid to reach for.

Other tracks from the above-listed CDs also played perfectly to the scenarios I wrote whether it was John as a boy on the family farm, as a student at the University of Maryland, during his relationship with the beautiful, enigmatic Garland, or the months following the D-Day Invasion. I don’t doubt that the music shaped what I wrote as if the songs were indeed a custom-made soundtrack. However, I finished writing over a year ago, so I haven’t accessed my Appalachian playlist in some time.

Last week, I had the opportunity to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird. It had been over thirty years since I had done so as an Honors English student in high school, but thanks to one of my book clubs, we revisited the classic. During one scene, Scout mentioned that Atticus liked listening to fiddle music on the radio. Suddenly my forgotten playlist rushed back to my memory. A quick check on Google confirmed that the Appalachian Mountains extend as far south as northern Alabama. As I read, all my favorite pieces became the background music for Scout, Jem, Dill, and Atticus’s adventures, and I listened to my playlist for two days straight.

By the way, the term goat rodeo refers to a chaotic event where many things must go right for the situation to work, a reference to the unusual and challenging aspects of blending classical and bluegrass music. Yo-Yo Ma described a goat rodeo saying, “If there were forks in the road and each time there was a fork the right decision was made then you get to a goat rodeo.” In the case of The Secrets of Dr. John Welles and To Kill a Mockingbird, the right choices weren’t always made, but somehow life worked out for the majority of those involved. This fact further reinforces my belief that the music of Appalachia is truly the music of real life.

Looking Through the Long Lens of History

Glimpses of understanding are all many of us will ever have for what the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy experienced on June 6, 1944. I have looked at it from several different sources, and still, my knowledge is mere shadow when compared to the memories of the men and women who served during World War II.

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As heart wrenching as Band of Brothers was to watch, I didn’t have a true understanding of the ordeals faced by the American and Allied soldiers and medical staff until I began researching my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Per my husband’s suggestion, I attended the Conneaut D-day Reenactment. I assumed I’d find some hobbyists with a useful amount of knowledge. I am not ashamed to admit that the whole event was incredibly humbling, and what I discovered far surpassed my expectations.

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My journey began when three nurse reenactors graciously granted me an interview and patiently answered all my questions. They directed me to And If I Perish and Heroes From the Attic as additional resources where I would find the specific details needed to create believable scenes in my novel. Both books provided the information I desired, but more importantly, they supplied a sense of approachable familiarity that my research had been lacking. Long before I finished reading, I felt as if I knew the people about whom the books had been written. They became friends with whom I experienced fear, anxiety, sympathy, joy, loss, relief, and a whole host of other emotions. I developed an even deeper respect for them, and I wish I’d had the pleasure of meeting and knowing them.

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Another valuable perspective of World War II was the autobiography of Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier’s Story. General Bradley’s account supplied information from the other end of the spectrum, bridging the gap between those in charge and those under orders. As inscribed in the front of the book, General Bradley hoped to help soldiers “understand why they were going where they did.” I believe his memoir answers anyone’s questions if only they are willing to look. While many would criticize those in charge without offering alternatives and/or solutions, I know that I would never want to shoulder the burden that Omar Bradley and others like him did during World War II. To simply say they did the best they could would be insulting. From the lowest private to the highest ranking general, and everyone in between, they all served bravely and selflessly.

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This post would be incomplete without attempting to describe the D-day battle portrayed at Conneaut. My emotions get the better of me every time I think about it. It all seems to happen at once.

Landing craft full of American and Allied soldiers about to crash onto the beaches.

The thrill of the B-17 Flying Fortress flying over so close I swear you could reach up and touch it.

The B-25 Mitchell banking in the brilliant blue sky.

P-51 Mustangs crisscrossing the air like darting swallows.

Excitement and tension mounting, trying to remember it’s a reenactment.

The ground vibrating with the boom of the German 88, the shock traveling up through your body.

Black clouds billowing upward from the flame thrower.

Soldiers storming the beach and falling, the dull ache in your chest every time that soldier is American or Allied.

Inch by grueling inch they gain ground.

The Germans relentless, the Americans resilient.

Again the planes, again the 88, the sound of bullets ripping the air.

And then, a small cheer is heard in the distance, rippling through the crowd, swelling.

Clapping and people jumping to their feet.

Tears in your eyes.

The American and Allied soldiers have gained their objective.

Breathing a sigh of relief.

It’s over. For us, right now, D-day is over.

Locking eyes with those around you as your remember that in 1944, it was just a beginning.

I cannot thank the reenactors enough for keeping alive the memory of what brave American and Allied men and women did. Their selfless sacrifice must never be forgotten or rewritten. The sad fact remains that much of this history is not being taught to upcoming generations. Worse, there are those who wish to revise it as something undesirable or reprehensible. As much as this grieves me, it is not enough for me to want this for future generations. They must desire the knowledge of history for themselves.

Until then, I will carry on remembering for every person who served long after the last one is gone.

~~~~~

Thank you to HBSmithPhotography for the wonderful pictures from the 2015 Conneaut D-day Reenactment

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 14

Writer's Soul 14I’ve been thinking quite a lot about my writing, and I don’t mean in quantity. Rather, I’ve been thinking a lot of different things about what my writing is or isn’t.

It started last year around November when my novel was technically finished. There were a few minor points that needed to be re-researched (is that even a word), and I had a wonderful research librarian who I met at the Conneaut D-day Reenactment assisting me. The whole process was starting to bog me down. I began to hate it, resent it, and wanted to dig a deep hole in my back yard in which I could bury my book without any witnesses.

The holidays were coming, and since much of the preparation for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas fell to me, I really didn’t have anything left to give my writing. I didn’t want my writing to suffer, but I felt so guilty about setting it aside. After all, what kind of writer would I be if I wasn’t writing every single day? Good question.

While wrestling with this dilemma and wanting to be able to focus on all the fun that comes with the holidays, I ran into our pastor’s wife at the local grocery store. After the usual pleasantries, she asked after my novel. I told her what I’ve already mentioned above and concluded that I wish someone would give me the permission to quit for a little while. If I could just take a break, I knew I would go back to writing in January once I was refreshed.

She looked at me and said, “Heather, I give you permission to quit.”

Even now I laugh at how easy it was for someone else to grant me the grace I needed to give myself but was unable to. And guess what? I did go back to the writing and research in January as I promised myself I would. In fact, I attacked it with renewed vigor and produced better writing than I would have had I pressed myself to go on through November and December. What’s more, I enjoyed it!

So what’s the point of this blog post you may ask? It still scares me somewhat that I took off two months of much needed rest time. There are so many writing books, and I imagine books devoted to other forms of art, that will tell you to create every day without fail. Are these people right in tasking others in this way?

Yes and no. If I said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. You have to find out what works for you. Thankfully, the day I returned to writing coincided with Chapter 11 of Heather Seller’s book, Page After Page. The writing exercises in this chapter were wonderful for getting me back on my rails. You’ll understand this better when you read the book which I highly recommend you do.

The funny thing was, while Chapter 11 worked for me, I recalled that before the holidays, Chapter 10 flipped me out. This is the beauty of the book. The next time I read it, Chapter 10 may be exactly what my writing needs. All this to say, don’t be afraid to embrace the bad (insert chosen art form here) because you may uncover a gem on the way to the good (insert chosen art form here).

In doing so, your creativity will flow and your art will come naturally. There are going to be different amounts of flow, and that’s to be expected. Don’t despair over these days even if they extend into weeks, months, or years. Begin again in small ways, flex your creative muscles, and build up to your peak performance like an athlete training for the Olympics. You will achieve gold.

Write Happy!

Heroes From the Attic by G. Jesse Flynn

Heroes From the AtticOne of my favorite books, and a feather in the cap of my private library, is Heroes From the Attic by G. Jesse Flynn. I first learned about the book while interviewing participants from the Conneaut D-Day Reenactment this past August. Lisa Merzke, who portrayed a nurse, suggested the book because it explained in detail about the creation of the first MASH unit, the 48th Surgical Hospital, which was later reworked into the 128th Evacuation Hospital.

I obtained an excellent copy of the book and was thrilled to discover the author’s signature in the front cover. Although the inscription isn’t addressed to me, I couldn’t have been more pleased that I owned a signed copy.

Mr. Flynn was prompted to write the history of the 48th/128th upon learning about his parent’s involvement with its formation. Through interviews, letters, diaries, and pictures, Mr. Flynn has constructed a thoroughly detailed accounting that answered my specific questions with such precision that at times I believed the book had been written for me.

As well written as the history is, what truly endeared me to this book were the personal accounts of the members of the 48th/128th. Through the letters of Nurse Lt. Margaret Hornback, the diary of Dr. Leonard Schwade, and individual testimonies of various other members, one gets a true sense of what these brave men and women experienced and how they felt about it.  In an event that, God willing, we never allow to be repeated, members of the 48th/128th often learned on the job but never missed a beat, and they set the high standard of quality by which other units were formed and trained.

I am forever grateful to the doctors, nurses, and enlisted men of the 48th/128thfor their selfless sacrifice. I also thank Mr. Flynn for collecting and recording their amazing history so that it will never be forgotten. Their stories and information helped me to accurately place my protagonist in the European Theater of World War II, and I hope they will graciously indulge my boldness in assigning Dr. John Welles to their most successful and exemplary unit.

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