In the 1930s there were only 4,000 places you could by books in the United States. Fewer than 500 were actually bookstores. In the 40s, bookstores began to be more popular. During World War II with other commodities in short supply and available cash, people bought more books than ever. The popular Book-of-the-Month Club shipped its 100 millionth book in 1949. Consumers were catching on to the hobby that once belonged to the elite class in cities, and more middle class towns opened bookstores. Customers perused the shelves, read, visited friends at the book store, and savvy shopkeepers started book discussion groups to keep them coming in. Then came urban sprawl. The hardware store, the bakery and all the other special places on Main Street USA moved to the outskirts of town to nondescript strip malls, where they could be seen as new and modern. It was the 50s; new and modern were in vogue. Book stores held on, dust lay on the shelves and mildew crept across the fabric covers of favorite books, cherished by two generations or more. By the 60s, the pillars of business on Main Street were crumbling; the retail revolution had begun. Retire, sell, close, or move. Those were the limited options for the small business owners on small town main streets. The bookstores were in the shadows. When the 70s blew through, many small towns weren’t looking too healthy. Outside the towns the newly incorporated Wal-mart Stores, Inc., were bringing out shoppers who were learning a new past time, shopping. Families who spent evenings together at home reading, now had a new place to hang out, open long hours to accommodate shift workers. Avid readers discovered they could buy discounted books at their wonderful new Wal-mart Store. The small book stores lost their customers. Many closed their doors in the 80s. In the 90s, large chain bookstores made appearances in malls around the country boasting bigger is better, forcing the closure of even more small bookstores. In 1996, when Oprah Winfrey began her popular book club on TV, there were 12,363 bookstores in America. Between 2000 and 2007, more than 1,000 bookstores closed. Today there are 10,800 independent bookstores in our country. Their largest competitors are no longer the large chains, many of whom have also closed. The largest competitors now are online sales. The surviving bookstores have gotten more aggressive, more out-front, more creative, and their health seems to have stabilized. Next Saturday is independent book store day called Indie Saturday, or Indie Book Day or Indie Go-Go Day. Whatever your local bookstore calls it, support it. They need the loyalty of every writer, reader and consumer. Find an Indie book store next Saturday and go buy a book. If you are near Elizabeth City, NC, come to Page After Page Bookstore. They have a special day planned with food, music and authors signing books and reading to children. I’ll be there. What Indie Bookstore will you visit, support and appreciate?
I participate in a lot of museum events with my books and have had the pleasure of working with museum personnel. As much fun as I have at the museums, I wonder if I shouldn’t have been a museum worker. But, as a child whose entire world was limited to a town of 7,000 people and who had never ever been in a museum, I never thought of it as an answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
The Museum of the Albemarle is a regional museum in North Carolina. Stunning in appearance, the building has an auditorium, a kitchen, classrooms and exhibit areas that are bright and airy. For the past five years the temporary exhibit has been their Civil War Sesquicentennial Exhibit, Under Two Flags. The education director is Lori Meads. She’s friendly, cheerful, energetic, and very knowledgeable. At the close of an event in 2012, where I spoke and spent the day chatting and signing, Lori asked if I’d come with her to meet some special people. We went to an after school program for girls. It was like a Girl Scout meeting every day, with crafts, friends, help with homework, whatever was needed. The girls asked about being a writer; we talked about books and writing. I left Avery & Gunner books for their library. It was obvious they knew Lori well, and she knew all their names. She was a regular volunteer and often hosted them at the museum. Lucky girls to have a mentor like Lori.
The Port O Plymouth Museum is a small museum that the entire town rallies around. Their events are well-attended and the museum director, Kim, has a cadre of loyal volunteers. Outgoing and always wearing a smile, I think she knows everyone in town; it’s obviously a pleasure for them to work with her. To grow a small museum in a papermill town takes good management, PR, and finance skills. Kim is a treasure.
I recently met John Hughes, the Site Manager of the Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site in Fitzgerald, Georgia. Like every museum manager I know, John loves his job. John said the summer before his senior year in high school, he told his dad he’d decided not to go to college, but get a job and buy a car instead. The next day his dad drove the pickup truck home filled with boxes and cans of bleach, ladders and all kinds of stuff. He asked his dad what he was going to do with all that. He said, “I’m not doing anything. But you’re going to wash the house.” After a few weeks of John washing, the truck came home filled with paint cans and brushes. When it was about time for school to start, he’d finished painting the farm house. He asked his dad if he was going to be paid. “Absolutely,” he said. “I’ve been figuring up the hours at minimum wage.” He handed him $300. “That’s it?” John said. “Well, that and a big thank you,” his dad said. “Also, you’ve had your insurance, meals and room that you didn’t have to pay for. Thanks for a good job.” Before graduation came around John decided to continue his education. “Who knew it would turn out like this?” he said smiling at me.
I love the museums and being part of their events. They are all different, and all wonderful. I’m so glad kids have access to them and to the inspiring community leaders and volunteers working there.
A Time to Remember
The Hill of Crosses, Vilnius, Lithuania
This month the free world commemorates the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. During the time of the holocaust, there were over 700 known camps. We know the names of the more famous ones, but there are many more we don’t know about. I have visited Dachau, more than once, and the commemoration stirs memories of the things I saw there. Dachau is one of the more famous along with some others that have been maintained as museums and cemeteries for education and understanding, and at least one has a convent on the property where nuns pray around the clock for the souls of all the departed, for world peace and that this atrocity never happens again. Behind a haunting sculpture at Dachau the Jewish communities keep an eternal flame burning.
As many as 100,000 people were deported to Stutthof, one of the many camps in the Baltics. These were mainly non-Jewish Poles and Catholics from Baltic countries. Polish Jews from Warsaw and Bialystok, and from forced labor camps in the occupied Baltic States were among those imprisoned in many Baltic camps. Here, along the highway leading to the beautiful Gdansk resort area, more than 60,000 people died of typhus, gas and lethal injections. In 1944, as Soviet troops advanced, Germans evacuated these camps.
The stories of the courage and faith of those who died and those who survived are inspiration to us all. There is nothing as inspirational as the stories of the perseverance of captives; the courage of those who refuse to be victimized; those who die as martyrs; those who live and tell the stories. They are heroes. They just kept doing the best they could with what they had. This happens yet today in Baltic countries and around the world. The Ukrainian people are facing the same thing the Lithuanians endured as World War II advanced toward their country. And even today Baltics don’t give in. For love of their country and their families, with their faith strong and enduring, the ordinary become heroes.
The video I’m sharing with you, The Hill of Crosses, is the cover of Rock and a Hard Place, A Lithuanian Love Story. My book, a true story, is about two ordinary families caught between a Russian invasion and a German betrayal, and their love for their country. Russia still today tries to crush this Hill of Crosses, and yet it stands as a testament of the faith, love and endurance of the Lithuanian people of all faiths who continue to build the Hill. I hope you enjoy it, and as we commemorate the liberation of the camps, let us not forget people around the world who are still not free, while we celebrate with those who are.
Out On A Limb With God
A couple weeks ago, I blogged about the serendipitous meeting in a Pickens, SC, antique shop with a fellow author. I bought his book Promises Kept, by Mike Gould. It’s a lovely memoir of the realization and acceptance of God in his life. All the coincidences, all the unbelievable moments, the calmed fears that he writes about happen to everyone at some time. But how many of us recognize each and every one as a prayer answered? As God with us. When the answer comes when and how we want it, we recognize it as a “God thing;” a prayer answered. But what about the times the unforeseen, the unexpected, the unwelcome are manifest? Is this when we decide God doesn’t hear us? Is this when we begin to feel abandoned, or begin to question our faith? Hopefully not, but we so easily fall into that entrapment. Mike is an avid outdoorsman, photographer and explorer. He knows all the heavenly places to hike and climb in the beautiful foothills in South Carolina. Being caught on a ledge a thousand feet above a lake isn’t someplace many of us will find ourselves looking for God or begging His assistance. But we are all on a precipice without Him. Mike didn’t write this book as a meditation, but as a healing for himself. I recommend it for everyone who has ever made a mistake, ever needed forgiveness, ever needed to forgive himself or herself; for everyone who has ever feared being left on a ledge overlooking life without God; for everyone who has been on that ledge.
For those who are looking over the ledge refusing to see God, Mike has this to say: “Those people will stumble through life blindly, clinging to the edge of the treacherous world they’ve created for themselves as their weakening foundation eventually crumbles and falls away. While all along, waiting in plain view, is the bridge to a better life, a life overflowing with peach, contentment, and purpose, a quality of life that they will never know.”
While a healing for Mike, it can be a meditation for others. A reminder that God knows every rock, crevice, foothold and ledge of our lives, and He’s always there. The trick is to recognize Him.
Thanks, Mike. I loved your book. And by the way, I no longer think our meeting was serendipitous. I think it was planned.
The Confederate Soldier's Prayer
Since 2011, I’ve been traveling to Civil War reenactments selling my Civil War historical fiction for young readers, nearly every weekend. I’ve had a great time. Many of the events were sesquicentennial, i.e., commemoration of the event 150 years ago. I’ve met interesting people with amazing knowledge of history, and visited places not on the tourist circuit. Last weekend I attended the final sesquicentennial event, The Long Road Home, at Appomattox, Virginia, where the reuniting of the nation was commemorated. There were some lump-in-the-throat moments.
There will still be reenactments, I’ll still be going and selling my books. But I’ll always remember I was part of these special years.
I was given the following prayer, called “Confederate Soldier’s Prayer.” It was found on the body of a Confederate Soldier known only to God. I think it’s a fitting prayer for all soldiers –all of us –everywhere, especially in today’s world.
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but got everything I had hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am, among all people, most richly blessed.
“Remembering their valor, fidelity, and sacrifice.”
These words, inscribed in Latin, are on the floor of Estes Plaza beneath the Overlord Arch in the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. One year ago when I traveled through this area I stopped here and walked it in the rain. When Dave agreed to accompany me to Appomattox this year, I insisted he see this. He is so glad he took the tour there. This is even better than Washington D.C.’s memorials.
The Richard Reynolds Sr. Garden, a stylized English garden connects the memorial with England where the Normandy invasion was planned. Here are sculptures of Eisenhower and portrait busts of all his subordinates. The pattern of the garden is the design of the shoulder patch.
The Elmon T. Gray Plaza is on the next level. The plaza floor is divided into five segments: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword, the five landing beaches. Plaques with the names of 4,413 Allied service members killed this day.
The Beach Tableau depicts, with sculptures and water, the landing. In the water the struggle is evident even with the stillness of the sculpture. When shot hits the water the water sprays with startling realism. This area honors the 10,000 aircraft that flew support on this day and more than 5,000 ships.
A triumphal arch rises forty-four-and-a-half feet above Estes Plaza celebrating the success of the Normandy landing and the enormity of the international effort. It recognizes the human toll. The sculputures here are powerful. Flags of the twelve nations fly in an arc along the exterior of Estes Plaza and nearby the sculpture of Valor, Fidelity and Sacrifice honors the Allied Expeditionary Forces at D-Day.
The Stettinius Parade is a solemn walk of statues, memories, and hope. Not to be missed.
This amazing Memorial doesn’t receive any federal or state funds and relies on donations to operate. Pets aren’t permitted, except service animals, but they offer free kennel service.
Why is this D-Day Memorial set in a tiny rural Virginia community? Why Bedford? Bedford suffered the nation’s severest per capita D-Day loss. 44 sailors, soldiers, and airmen were killed in action. A book whose title is The Bedford Boys is available in their gift shop.
If you are ever anywhere in the Lynchburg-Appomattox, Virginia, vicinity, this is a must-see.
I love it when serendipity happens. Surprises me. Catches me off guard. Makes me smile. And it has often given me content for my miniblog, like now.
The car was packed, Buddy was at Mountain Dog Spa already, and Dave was working until three when we would leave for Appomattox. I had to make a quick run in the morning over to Greenville, South Carolina, to pick up more Avery books for the trip. On the way home, with time to spare, no Buddy and nothing to do, I stopped in Pickens, South Carolina, to visit an antique store I’d often drooled over, but never stopped before. Pickens is a sweet town with historical downtown with two traffic lights.
I am in search of a toy cannon. Not a miniature, a toy, such as a toddler might pull on a string. I explained this to the dealer who asked some questions and said he thought he might find one for me. Then I spied the doll. She would be perfect on the table display for my upcoming book Blue-Eyed Doll. Then the fancy cars, just like in Rebecca & Heart. I need to think about that. But, when I saw the mechanical bank I was speechless. I. Have. To. Have. This.
This cast iron mechanical bank is identical to the one I made up and wrote about in Blue-Eyed Doll. Really, I made it up, and here it is. It’s as if I wrote about that one.
By now the dealer is very curious. I’m obviously not a collector of any one thing, dolls, cars, banks. I liked everything, including the hat I tried on. So I explained. I’m not a collector of anything. I’m an author. I use articles from each book on the signing table to pique kids’ interest. Things they can handle and wonder about and we can talk about.
Well, what do you know? The antique dealer is also an author! Mike Gould is the author of Promises Kept, a Christian memoir. His publisher is Ambassador, who was at the conference I attended two weeks ago. Two good friends are also published with them. Small world. Now we’re facebook friends and he’s going to find me a child’s cannon for my Jim Limber’s book table. I bought his book and he signed it for me. Don’t you love it when things like that happen?
Relevance of Historical Fiction
My miniblog today isn’t mini. I’m speaking at the 150th anniversary of Appomattox next weekend. My topic is the relevancy of historical fiction for young readers. I’m excited to do this, but, I know many historical fiction writers & readers who are more capable. So here’s my presentation please critique. Help me out! I’ve 20 minutes.
Good afternoon. Thank you for that lovely introduction, I appreciate that. I’ve come to talk to you about the relevance of historical fiction. Is historical fiction relevant? Purists will say no, they have time only for “real” history.
Remember when we were young we were given crayons and told to create, sent outside to smell the flowers and walk through puddles? Then we grew up. They took away our crayons, sat us in a chair and handed us a boring history book. We learned names, dates, events. We need to know names, dates and events. But ladies and gentlemen, there is so much more to history.
I love history! I love research and I love to write. I especially like reading and writing historical fiction. Because I love the good, the bad, the beautiful, the shameful, the boastful, the obscure, and yes, the names, dates and events from the past; I love it all.
Well written, well researched historical fiction takes the reader into another layer, down to the skin beneath the outer coat of names, dates, and consequence. Good historical fiction gives you all that, but more. You get the human quotient: the emotion, the personality, the force that drove the event, the hurt, the joy, the frailty, the sacrifice. Good historical fiction takes you off the page and into the story, into that day; into that moment in history.
History is important because it’s who we are. Knowing where we came from helps us direct our future. We don’t have to celebrate our history, but we need to commemorate it so we don’t make the same mistakes. We’ll make our own new ones, and hope future generations will be merciful. Don’t we all believe as Ann Frank that people are basically good even when they aren’t? Most people do the best they can with what they have and know at the time. We can’t do any better than that.
When I write historical fiction, I don’t indict. I don’t look back and point fingers of blame. It is what it is; it’s history. What historical fiction does is put
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Deanna lives in the mountains of western North Carolina. She belongs to a local bookclub, SCBWI, Catholic Writers Guild, ACFW, NCWN and other writing groups.