Category Archives: Writing The Past


Yep. Veterans Day. Just the right day to talk about the election. This is not an explanation. Nor an excuse. It is not an apology. It is my thought process. What’s done is done.

I was talking to my sister the day after the election. She called because after her phone conversation with her daughter she was at a loss. Her daughter, my lovely and talented niece, was crying, obviously in abject pain over the election of Donald Trump. My sister was trying to figure out how winning or losing an election would put a person out of commission for a day or more. I can’t say I disagree.

I went to bed Tuesday night after a personal total ban on any election coverage, both TV and internet, so no knowledge of the winner. In the morning when Tom turned on the TV I asked him if that was a joke, a Dewey versus Truman moment? Although, I should have phrased it better, Truman was the underdog in that race. And he said, “No. Trump won.”  All right, I foolishly thought. This election is done, in the bag, over. We can get back to other stuff, but no.

As soon as I went I facebook I knew that my niece was no outlier. With posts #notmypresident, and ‘I am ashamed of my country’, and ‘How could this happen.’ With lots of posts about the ‘ignoramuses’ who voted for Trump, and ‘who could vote for a misogynistic , racist, homophobic’, my Facebook news feed was a train wreck of people who were so devastated by the loss of Hillary Clinton that the emoting posts were painful to read. There are others who can explain the vote  far better than I and I may or may not agree with the explanation, because anytime you speak in generalities or about blocs  you lose the meaning of the thing. However, I am a white, college educated [BA, MBA], middle class woman who worked in private corporations in HR as my career, working hard enough, along with my white, college educated middle class husband to put our kids through college without pilling up debt for them or for us, not using any federal assistance. Did it impact our retirement, yes. Tom retired at age 70. We are both Roman Catholic. And yes, that meant something to us.

We voted both for and against in this election. After reading both the party platforms we decided that we could not vote for a party that wanted to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which is about taxpayer dollars paying for abortions. To us, within our faith, abortion is a sin, an existential evil. While we would not force anyone to accept our belief system, we feel strongly that to pay for abortion with federal dollars goes against our rights as a citizen. Additionally, in looking at the democratic platform we do not agree with the policies that, while they are called progressive, to us are socialistic; i.e., forcing wage equality, forgiving of student debt at taxpayer expense, decreasing military effectiveness and the list goes on.

The republican platform, for us, centered more on individual rights, a sovereign nation, free markets and smaller government. These are values we believe in. And while there are parts of the RNC platform and Mr. Trump’s campaign that we disagreed with [so who agrees with everything?] we voted our conscience.

As for the candidates, well, yes, Mr. Trump’s language was less than desirable, which is putting it mildly, but frankly I worked in manufacturing and I have heard much worse, which, admittedly is no excuse. His appeal to the darker nature of humankind versus humankind was distasteful, soul cringing. While one daughter called it sexual assault,  I did not. It was words. I know what sexual assault is.  And as a writer and a life-long voracious reader, I know the power of words. But still it was words.  While, with Mrs. Clinton there was this feeling of ‘one more time’, ‘one more scandal’. One more, one more, one more. It was hard to shake the image of political aristocracy, entitlement, and arrogance from her campaign. And then when the emails were leaked? I am not going to debate criminal versus non, James Comey, or any other aspect, but we were tired of the Clintons, just plain tired.

In talking with my sister, we discussed our mom. A college educated woman, who could stand off against a classroom of forty fifth graders as easily as against a man twice her size who thought to mistreat her or her girls, all five foot one of her. Mom would have been appalled at the breast bashing, the weeping, the railing. “Suck it up and deal,” would have been her response. “You are adults, act like it. Think!” My parents were each registered to their party of choice, lol and not the same one. But I have real and clear memories of my parents sitting at the kitchen table with the League of Women Voters pamphlet going through each item, discussing what had been in the papers [no internet or social media then] what had been on the radio, what they had discussed with friends, any information they had, and then decided. Did they always agree? I have no idea. I do know that my parents voted while informed. 

They voted, not from an emotional point , or, if it would be good to have a democrat or a republican in office, a catholic or a protestant, a woman or a man in the oval office,  but on what that person would bring to the office and continue the hopes and ideals of all those who immigrated to this country. Legally, I should add.

That is exactly what we did. It was irrelevant if a glass ceiling was to be broken. It was irrelevant if  Trump was a cad or worse eleven years ago. What was relevant was we do not agree with rules and regulations in place today, the conduct of foreign policy, the use or misuse of branches of government and we do not agree with conflating rights established under the constitution with ideals listed under a social justice agenda.

Why is this under the category Writing in the Past? Because of history, this story. The voting is done. Our system worked. Our leaders on both sides have been gracious about the winning and the losing. It’s time we all, in honor of all those people who fought and died for the right for us to vote as our conscience dictates, are as gracious. We do this every four years. Don’t make 2016 the year the best of our American aspect and system fails us.


focusFocus. Wow, a tough word. A tough thing to do.

I am a student of history, always have been, always will be, and I am fortunate to have a good memory, about most things, especially those things which are important to me or which I feel are very, very cool. There is a lot that is important to me, and there is much more that I think is very very cool.

Writing this season I am distracted. For one, the election and I am very much a political junkie, a reader of all things political whether or not I believe in that ideology or system or line of thought. I do not understand not engaging others. I do not understand saying someone is wrong. I don’t understand the language used–yes, I do use it–and yes it can be very powerful–but don’t go all ballistic on a political candidate when you are throwing around swear words to denounce his swear words.  And, at this point I should probably apologize to my older sister who I told was wrong ALL the time. 🙂 But that is different, that is family and you can say things to family, can’t you?

Also I am distracted by the work I chose to do. It is volunteer work, but it seems more like I should be making money somewhere, and I am not. But that’s okay. I am living well, have a wonderful husband who loves me, children who talk to me regularly and baby grands. img_0209                  That is the prize at the end of the journey, if you make it that long…baby grands and mine are so very different and they are exactly like their mothers. God could not have waited longer to grant me this gift. But grant it He did and I will not waste it. If you feel unconditional love for you own children, it is amazing that it can be so multiplied for baby grands.

But I am distracted. The topic was focus. I think I was originally ADHD, or maybe just hyper active, an old fashioned term, or maybe I just had a great imagination and a huge desire to know everything. I think I still do. That I think is why writing this story nonfiction is difficult. I want to share it all. I have read so much. Probably should be reading more, but that is not always possible–I can’t read Swedish, for example–Sigh.

So here is my resolution for this week. A couple three hours a week on the volunteer- SCBWI stuff, more than a couple of hours on Thomas, sleep, of course, reading, of course, and a FOCUS on what it is that my story nonfiction must convey.

My theme is There is nothing so dear to the human spirit as freedom. In this world today, I think this is the most important thing to discuss-not FDR’s four freedoms: of speech, of worship, from want, from fear. The United Nations Freedoms  are not as succinct–after all they were written by committee. To me, the issues with both these listings is there is no distinction between that which is a Jeffersonian ‘inalienable right’ to a for, by and of the people government, and Dorothy Day social justice issues like education, health care and compensation. Aside from the ‘free will’ attribute, to me, we must enable and ensure the truth of the inalienable rights before we can tackle social justice. digress

Side bit: When I was working in Labor Relations, negotiating contracts, the one thing that you wanted to stay away from was a list. Four reasons you could be fired, six reasons you received a warning, twelve reasons you had to post to another job at at certain time.

More on lists: That may be the biggest problem with the bill of rights, or the amendments, because we look to them to be the final word. No, I take that back.  Some of us do. Some don’t, like when the Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that there is a constitutional right homogamy [same-sex marriage]  when there isn’t even a constitutional right to heterogamy [marriage of opposite sexes].  I guess we as society, or at least some of society admit that the list isn’t complete and we need to adjust.

The history I read in my journey to a story nonfiction is overlaid by life today, our values, our judgements, our understanding of the evils human have wrought and our perceptions of how we need to counter those.

I don’t think there should be any words after freedom. No ‘ofs’ or ‘froms’ I think freedom is pretty simple, to live in a society, to be cognizant of the needs of that society, to be able to make personal choices within that society as well as to remove part of yourself from that society. And, freedom is not being subjected to judgement over your choices and have your personal freedom impugned because of your choices. All the while admitting that there are limits based on morals–not unlike the ten commandments, which to me is the essence of limited government 🙂

Now that is focus!



From Story to Theme to Arc

Is narrative different from story? A narrative is a spoken or written account of connected events. A story is an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment. A narrative sounds more like a list of events. A story is events told in a way as to entertain. All fiction is a combination of connected events told for entertainment, a combination of the narrative and the story.

In nonfiction is there a difference between just plain old nonfiction and narrative nonfiction? Carolyn Yoder, Senior Editor, History and World Cultures at Highlights for Children, says, “The difference between straight nonfiction and creative nonfiction has to do with structure. Straight nonfiction relies solely on the parts–the facts for the most part–and not on the whole. Creative nonfiction is all about the whole–how the parts make it up. Creative nonfiction, like fiction, is all about story or theme. Creative nonfiction tends to have strong characters, strong sense of place, rich details, obvious themes, conflicts, arcs–everything.”

I’m not a fan of creative nonfiction because of the word creative,  it sounds like you could be making the story up or part of it. And you can’t, nonfiction must be true, all of it. If it is not, it is not nonfiction. I personally prefer the term narrative nonfiction. But then…whoa, am I contradicting my first paragraph? Okay I like story nonfiction.

I’m not sure there was story nonfiction when I was a kid. What we had was famous person is born, does stuff and dies that is out today. Today it is about writing to illuminate that person’s life, making that more valued while still sticking totally to the facts.

One of the most popular for kids is the Who Was series from Penguin Random House. They also have a Where Was series and a Where Is series. These books cover the historical figures, landmarks, popular cultural figures, artists, writers,  celebrities of all kinds…you name it, if it is a famous something, there is probably a book in this series. And the kids eat them up!  Not surprising, kids like to know stuff. The books are about 7K words and include tidbit sidebars that add to not only the kid’s knowledge base, but also to some of the facts surrounding the story. So these series are really stories: accounts told for entertainment and a byproduct is that they inform, they educate, but in many ways they are straight nonfiction, the value,  to me, is in the voice and the tone of the writing.

For me, story nonfiction is nothing without a theme. Because it was theme that gave me my story arc.  Themes are pretty much the same in nonfiction as in fiction–love and hate, war and peace. If the story is about a figure in the civil war, whether fiction or nonfiction, it can be about racism and tolerance. If it is in medieval Europe it can be about equality of man.

Once I decided the them, the story arc meant that I could write less about the person as a straight biography, and more about the person as he portrayed the theme, how his own native values and innate characteristics informed his life. And for me this was a five year journey!








Thinking History

When I was in the fifth grade I told my parents I was going to be a historian. My favorite period was World War II, because when I was in grammar school the original first person POV recounts of war heroes or of being in occupied France or working in the resistance were coming out. I remember reading the harrowing story of Douglas Bader , how he lost his legs in a training accident but it allowed him to turn a one eighty faster and not black out because his blood

my 1972 Spitfire Mark IV was golden saffron

my 1972 Spitfire Mark IV was golden saffron–and threw a rod at just over the warranty mileage.

didn’t go clear to his feet.  He was the whole reason I bought a Triumph Spitfire in the late 70s. But no, I did not have the intellectual rigor or the ambition toward high grades, I simply wanted to know history–all of it. When I was in college those were the only programs I was interested in, the history ones and anything ancillary to history, like urban geography–now that was a blast. But, I digress.

One of the requirements of a BA in history at CalState Northridge was to participate in a seminar class and write a thesis. Because of reading so much history up to this point I was less interested in a particular period than I was in the idea of history, the theory of writing history, what it meant, not only to me, but to anyone else. How they used it. How it came to be identified. Was it truly the victor who wrote the history? I was stymied until my professor–who later hated my paper–recommended Jacob Christoph Burckhardt and I started doing some research. I remember my professor talking about the fact that Burckhardt was the one who named the period Renaissance. How cool!

As I recall, Burckhardt was a terrible historian, but what fascinated me was his writing on history. He was distinctly Swiss, distinctly European, at a time when conservative could mean

my 1968 used copy

my 1968 used copy

culturally and not politically conservative. As I look back through  FORCE AND FREEDOM , Reflections on History by Jacob Burckhardt, I see my notes and what it was that drew me into his writing.  Though Protestant, his view of Roman Catholicism was that ‘Rome at least [able to] set other goals than those of power and comfort, steadily opposed the increasingly totalitarian claims of national states and maintained the intelligently realistic view of human nature which Burckhardt considered essential to political responsibility.’ He felt that liberals wanted people to think all things were possible and most people think possible means the material. Liberalism meant no sense of responsibility, no respect, no inner acceptance of the readiness to renounce for the good of the whole. He felt that democratic programs would eventually fall to ruthless military authority–that democracy eventually offered an over-developed state machine that would seize and exploit the state and thus the people, this was despotism built brick by brick, a paradigm exemplified by the straight line from the French Revolution to the Napoleonic Empire. Ah, history. How you look to repeat and repeat and repeat. Again, I digress.

Burckhardt felt that ‘historical consciousness is what distinguishes the civilized man from he barbarian, and that the race has a sacred duty to preserve the memory of it’s greatest trials and triumphs.’

Until I returned to Burckhardt’s book lately, life had run by and through me for so long I forgot why my love of history. It reminded me of what  Linda Sue Park said during a non-fiction session at SCBWI LA; she was only interested in truth’, and that each of us writing narrative nonfiction need to ‘be honest with self’ and ‘passionate for the topic.’

As I document my journey to, hopefully, publication of the narrative nonfiction I have optimistically entitled SACRED TRUST, The Congo from Leopold II to Dag Hammarskjöld I hope the best of it is in the nature of Burckhardt’s  ‘sacred duty to preserve the memory of it’s greatest trials and triumphs.

The Rough Draft of History

As Charlotte North Carolina explodes in senseless  violence, not too different from Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Ferguson I am reminded of the way journalist Alan Barth wrote in 1943 , “News is only the first rough draft of history,”  a quote normally attributed to Washington Post Publisher Philip L. Graham. The attribution is irrelevant. What is important is the use of what I call ‘raw history’ in writing about the past.

I am writing a history of a twentieth century figure, a person known by his first name, who died in a senseless way.  I am reluctant to name him because right now his story is continually evolving in my head. No, I take that back, it is not his story.  I know that cold, better than cold, I have visited his birthplace, spoken with those who seek to maintain his legacy fifty plus years after his death, even viewed videos of his press conferences and speeches. Books on him splay across the back of my desk and academic journal articles are in labeled folders.

While there is plenty of news to find thanks to the ability to Google actual digitized articles, I am stuck by how correct Barth’s statement is. I would add that those books written in the first ten or so years of his death are also raw history. Why?  Because the writers are using the limited data  of the time–the newspapers, the eyewitness accounts, the minutes of meetings, the recordings of speeches to enliven and capture the essence of the man.

Those writing after fifty years work to bring a different thesis  to a new and maybe an uninformed audience, so they are important in how they construct their stories.  One writer wants to canonize him, something I am sure he himself would find abhorrent. Others want to redefine his accomplishments in light of new information released from government vaults, information not available in the twentieth century. And others relegate him to a lower status because they see those who grew in stature because of him–without seeing the trend line from the him, something I think he would smile and ignore.

So Charlotte North Carolina? An hour from my home but as terrifying to watch as any of the other cities with violent protests. We are involved in a fight I never thought would occur in the United States during my lifetime. It is not just a fight, it is almost a civil war.  While we have this amazing technology like  body cameras, CCTV, we have highly charged narratives competing for that ‘first rough draft of history’, the news. These narratives do not have the benefit of perspective, nor do they always have the benefit of clearly described and documented facts.  Where are these narratives taking us? What questions have we asked? What questions should we ask?

Let me ask some.  Why do these young black men have guns? Will gun control change this? Were people always this angry? What changed? Why is unemployment for minorities, especially blacks, the highest in the country? Why are we opening our borders instead of finding ways to give our own an opportunity to find dignity in work? Why are vouchers and/or charters not available to each and every child in the US so that parents can make the decision about education of the child?

It is really to early too see all of this in perspective, we are still writing the rough draft.