Views from the South

February 27, 2012

I grew up in northern Ohio/northern Indiana, raised by parents who had also grown up in the Great Lakes region of the Midwest.  My husband, however, grew up in South Carolina, a child of southern parents.  As we get ready to head south, this time to a town just north of Mobile, Alabama, to visit his extended family, I am again pondering the differences in how we were taught history as children.

Of course, we were taught about the Civil War just a little differently.  I got that part right away.  But two major wars that came before the Civil War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812, have some significant differences, too.  That I wasn’t prepared for, but I am enjoying it as I learn.  When we were in South Carolina this past Thanksgiving, for example, I talked my in-laws into a trip to visit to two nearby national military parks: Cowpens and King’s Mountain.  Battles of the American Revolution that I had never even heard of were fought here, and helped turn the tide of the whole war in America’s favor.  The battles to the north in New England and the Mid-Atlantic colonies had brought about a stalemate, and the capture of Charleston, South Carolina, in May 1780 had left the British with a false sense of security about that colony as well.  But the patriots had an advantage on top of Kings Mountain (as most armies on top of mountains have on those coming from below), and were able to defeat the British in October 1780.  A few months later, Daniel Morgan famously ordered the rag-tag patriot militia-men to fire three times, and then they could leave the army to return home.  The result was a victory at Cowpens, and continued victories for the Americans that eventually led to the final battle at Yorktown.

I’m sure I learned about those battles somewhere in my northern history classrooms, but they somehow got lost amid Lexington and Concord, Valley Forge, and Sarasota.  Walking the trails with my husband and his parents that are just a little over an hour from their homes made that “other” part of the Revolution come to life.  And, as a northerner, it was a treat to spend the day after Thanksgiving not battling snow and ice and shopping traffic, but enjoying the great outdoors and our balmy 70 degrees.

My mother-in-law can get a little fiesty with her walking stick. Cowpens, 2011.


Stumbling accidentally across a firsthand account…

February 22, 2012

Primary sources for a writer can be really exciting! I’m sure we all know the difference between primary source and secondary sources but humor me as my English Composition Instructor instincts take over for a moment and I explain the two.

Primary sources are those which include firsthand accounts of events such as diaries, interviews, court records, and letters.

Secondary sources are those which interpret, comment on, critique, explain or evaluate events of primary sources.

As a historical writer research is my best friend. I’ve spent (never wasted, no, not me!) endless hours researching. As an 1830s fanatic most of my sources have been secondary. Occasionally I find a diary entry or two, but in general primary sources are limited (at least until I discover a way to time travel!). I think every writer hopes to find an endless supply of primary sources in their research that would help them paint a picture that makes that time period come alive in a way that all the secondary sources could never do. That unfortunately will most likely never happen for most of us, so when we do stumble across a primary source it excites us.

Over Christmas, while visiting the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber (pronounced Roe-ten-burg), I stumbled across a firsthand account of the surrender of Rothenburg to American soldiers during World War 2.

Rothenburg is a well-preserved small medieval walled town in Germany. In German Rothenburg means “red fortress above the Tauber” and is named so because the town is located on a plateau overlooking the Tauber River. For the most part the town has been wonderfully preserved, though during World War 2 the town did suffer some damage. In March of 1945, Hitler had Germans stationed in Rothenburg with orders to fight to the end. On March 31, Americans dropped bombs over Rothenburg killing 39 people and destroying 306 houses, six public buildings, nine watch towers, and over 2,000 feet of the wall. The bombing was stopped by U.S. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy who knew about the historic importance of the town. He ordered US Army General Jacob L. Devers to not use artillery in taking the town. On April 17, 1945 American troops occupied Rothenburg.

The above description is what you will find on most sites and books that talk about the surrender of Rothenburg.

While in Rothenburg we stayed at the Hotel Spitzweg. The owner, who was the sweetest old man, has lived in Rothenburg his entire life. He was a young boy during World War 2 and he remembers the surrender of the town and tells a vastly different story from the above account. I’ve tried to recount it as accurately as possible here, without adding my own thoughts and opinions.

Account by Herr Hocher as related to Jennifer Hofmann on December 29, 2011:

Americans came to the gates to negotiate a surrender. However, there was only one person who knew English in town. The German officials sent for him to translate. It took him over an hour to arrive. He was bathing and getting “dressed” up so that he would be presentable to the Americans. In the meantime the tensions were rising between the two armies. When the interpreter was finally found and brought forward the town was surrendered and a catastrophe was avoided.

Herr Hocher, who was just a young boy, was running one of the empty shops. At this point at the end of the war the supplies were so few that all the shops were bare. When the American army started marching through town he went to stand outside his shop with all the other town’s people to welcome the Americans marching through town. (My interpretation on this, though he didn’t say so in so many words, but strongly implied it, was that the town’s people were happy about this surrender and thought that things would be better for them now because of it.) The shop owner next to Herr Hocher’s had forgotten to take down a large Nazi poster in his window that Hitler required every citizen to have. He realized it as the Army was marching by and quickly ran into his shop to tear it down.

This account is so different from what the history books tell. This just reminds me of how much information is left out of second hand accounts. You won’t find Herr Hocher’s telling of the surrender of Rothenburg in any book or article. And it makes me appreciate firsthand accounts so much more. Hopefully his story and the many others like his still out there will get recounted and live on for future generations to read and be enthralled by.

Odd Scraps for the Economical

February 16, 2012

America Frugal Housewife

Odd Scraps for the Economical

When a carpet is faded, I have been told that it may be restored, in a great measure, (provided there be no grease in it,) by being dipped into strong salt and water. I never tried this; but I know that silk pocket handkerchiefs, and deep blue factory cotton will not fade, if dipped in salt and water while new.

…presented to you from The American Frugal Housewife – Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy, by Mrs. Child…

Vintage Valentine’s Day Cards

February 13, 2012

Even though I’m a Valentine’s Day Scrooge, I decided to post photos of cards from the past. I had fun looking at old cards, many of which were geared toward children. (Does anyone else remember the embarrassment of passing out Valentine’s cards in your elementary school class?) There were also some cards that were so incredibly racist that I wouldn’t even think of posting them here. Times have definitely changed, thank goodness!

Anyway, hope your Valentine’s Day is everything you want it to be. 😀

Author Interview: Myra McEntire

February 9, 2012

Everyone please welcome Myra McEntire, author of Hourglass, a young adult novel about a seventeen-year old girl who sees people who shouldn’t be there. These apparitions have haunted her since her parents’ death, and all she wants is for them to go away so she can be normal. In a last ditch effort, her brother brings in a consultant, Michael Weaver, a man who might change not only her future, but possibly her past.

1. I love the entire world and the logic behind it that you created. I love the fact that your novel is a contemporary time travel. You don’t see that often. It was a really unique way to look at time travel. How did you initially get the idea for this novel?

Thank you! It started as a prompt for a writing group. I wrote up to the part where Em goes into her room and sees Jack, and asks herself how Jack knew her name. I was working on something else, but I couldn’t stop wondering WHY DID HE KNOW HER NAME? I came back to the story, and I knew I didn’t want him to be a ghost, so that’s how the rip happened. That led to the time travel.

2. How hard was it to play by the rules you’d created? Did they evolve as you wrote, or did you always know how the time travel would work and made your story to fit with those rules?

The rules were always pretty close to they are now. As I learned more about time travel and did research on time slips, I saw how I wanted the story to work. I have a ton of research, and looking back, it’s a little wacky how the trail of research fits together.

3. I really liked Emerson. She was a strong character but she still had her flaws as well as fears to overcome. As a reader I really got attached to her. How hard/easy was she to write? What was the biggest challenge you faced writing her?

Aw, thank you for saying that, and for seeing her the way I wanted people to! She was easy to write in a way because I explored her character as I drafted. I wasn’t on a deadline, wasn’t agented, and I was basically playing! So she evolved slowly, and I always knew what she ultimately wanted. (And we have the same sassy mouth.) The biggest challenge was keeping her from throwing herself at Michael. Oh, the deleted kissing scenes.

4. I know there’s a sequel coming. Can you tell us anything about it?

Timepiece is out June 12, and it’s from Kaleb’s point of view. I knew he would be next, because he had a lot to say as I was writing Emerson’s story. I love how many readers grew attached to him. Kaleb was never an option for Emerson, just a temptation that confirmed what she really wanted. Two people that broken as a couple would be a complete train wreck! He has a lot in store for him in Timepiece, and they’ll all deal with Em’s choice to break the rules at the end of Hourglass. The rips start changing …….. 😀

5. Do you have a favorite time travel novel? Did any time travel in particular inspire you to write your own?

I am a really big Doctor Who fan, and I read Diana Gabaldon’s books when I was younger. I really didn’t intend to write a time travel. It was kind of accidental!

6. And finally, because we’re always interested to hear what others are reading, what’s currently on your to read list?

I am reading A Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Everneath by Brodi Ashton, and I have Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock in the pipeline. I’m also reading a bio of Catherine the Great, and The War of Art, which is an amazing book on craft.

Thank you Myra! I look forward to Timepiece!

Book Review: Hourglass

February 7, 2012

Myra McEntire
Time Travel
Ages 14+
397 pages

Southern Belles from the 1950s, Civil War Soldiers, and 1920s jazz trios: what do they all have in common? They’re all poltergeist seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole has started to see since her parent’s death a few years ago. All she wants is for these apparitions to disappear so she can lead a normal life. Nothing she’s tried has worked though. She agrees to try one last “cure” when her well-meaning brother hires a consultant from a mysterious organization known as Hourglass.

In enters mysterious, sympathetic and cute Michael Weaver. Michael is an anomaly to Emerson. He believes every word she says, but despite his faith in her and his assurances that he’s there to help her, there’s something she doesn’t trust about him. It doesn’t help that strange things happen whenever they’re in the same room.

Hourglass is a novel of mystery and romance that merges with science fiction and tosses in a good dose of the paranormal. Ultimately though, it won me over because of its fascinating use of time travel. I can’t remember why I requested Hourglass. I couldn’t even remember what it was about when the library said it was waiting for me, so imagine my surprise when about a third of the way through I realized it was a time travel book! A few months back I wrote a post called “Time Travel: Beginnings” where I looked at the beginnings of time travel novels and how they typically were their weakest points. In general I claimed that the time travel needs to start very early on in the story. There are exceptions to every rule though (or in this case, claim). The time travel might not have started until a third of the way through, but it worked. I’m not going to explain how the time travel worked because I’d give away too much of the plot, but it was well plotted and very consistent. The concept behind it was fascinating. The pacing built and built until all hell broke loose (keeping me up well past my bed time). Ultimately the strength of this book really does lie in how well the time travel was used to advance the plot.

All the characters in this book are blessed with good looks. It has bothered some readers, but I didn’t mind it as it wasn’t unbelievable and it didn’t take away from the story…and well I like tall dark and handsome men! So, some “written” eye candy isn’t always bad. Back to Emerson though. She starts out in a vulnerable place when we meet her, always unsure of who’s “real” and who’s not, with no one to talk to about who these apparitions are and what they want from her. As the novel progresses she learns to trust her instincts more. She still has many of the doubts that initially haunted her but she starts to confront them rather than hide from them as she once did. One thing I like best about her is she makes decisions, her own decisions. Good, bad, or catastrophic they’re hers and she learns from them and accepts responsibility for her actions.

This book has received mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it. The combination of strong writing and a clever plot left me unable to put Hourglass down. Give the book a shot, especially if you’re a time travel fanatic like me. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.