Author experiences, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, History and culture, Nonfiction, Writing Tips

Digging into your past for relief … and stories!

When I was 16, my grandmother and I had a falling out. She died in 2010, still furious (or perhaps oblivious). I had written to her a year earlier in a final attempt at resolution. But she wasn’t interested and informed me that if I was after her money, she’d already told her lawyers not to give me a dime.

Fast forward to 2021… I see a post on Twitter about a new app that can bring old photographs back to life; I’m not a fan of “deep fake” technology, but I have to admit, I was curious. I tried it on an old photograph of my grandfather (my grandmother’s late husband who died before I was born). His younger self beamed back at me, his smile wide and infectious, eyes twinkling, and I was charmed!

My dad at about four years old.

Right away, I began digging to find out more about my grandfather and my late dad’s side of the family. It turned out my grandfather used to work in a mental health institution, and his dad was a blacksmith. His mother was a school teacher. In the 1950s, he and my grandmother lived in Malaysia, my dad traveling on a troop ship when he was only about seven or eight. The timeline began to shift around, blurred spots becoming clearer, pieces floating into place like a magical jiggle puzzle, and a gap that I hadn’t even realized existed began to fill inside of me.

It turns out, the past takes up a lot of space if it’s not resolved. The unknowns, misunderstandings, and falsehoods hit each other at odd angles, leaving empty pockets. Those “pockets” stick around until you open up the photo albums, read the old letters, study the registers of births, death, and marriages, and have the difficult conversations with family members who don’t really want you to hash it all up again. With dust motes and the bitter scent of dried glue on the backs of black-and-white photographs hovering in the air, that’s the time to talk, cry, think, sigh, take a deep breath, and let it all go.

Two doves from my mom’s garden. Tomorrow is a new day!

Right now, I don’t know where this path is going. But I already have a couple of good ideas for story characters –a mysterious secretary who lopes around a graveyard at night and a proud woman who secretly hates herself for being born a girl. It’s all fodder, after all.

If you have relatives in Great Britain you’d like to research, here are some of the sites I’ve found helpful:

FreeBMD Home Page – this is a great FREE resource to find listings of births, deaths, and marriages in England and Wales.

https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/ – where you can look up wills and probates of the deceased and purchase a digital copy if you want to.

ancestry.co.uk – you can get a free 14-day trial, and this site will help you build your family tree and keep it organized!

Home | Search the archive | British Newspaper Archive – you can search for free, but if you want to read the actual articles, you have to pay. Still, once you know the name of the newspaper and the date, you can always look the actual paper up through a library or other type of archives.

General Register Office (GRO) – Official information on births, marriages, civil partnerships and deaths – the “biggie,” where to order official certificates, etc…

Promoted Post

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

Author experiences, Embracing Creativity, podcasts, Writing Tips

A new podcast … by me!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might know that I love podcasts! Well, a friend, fellow writer Lisa Logan, got me started on Anchor. It’s a site that lets you create your own podcasts for free, and I was immediately hooked!

With Lisa’s encouragement, I’ve begun recording short (about 6 mins) podcasts about how to spark creativity. They’re especially geared for people who are convinced they are NOT creative, but anyone can enjoy the brief lessons on how to get your imagination going.

Lisa will join me on some episodes, as she’s one of the most creative people I know! So, if you’d like, please give a listen!

Author experiences, Book Reviews, Embracing Creativity, Fiction

How the Pandemic Inspired a Love Story — Women Writers, Women’s Books

This is a re-post from the excellent website, “Women Writers, Women’s Books.” They always have interesting articles by women authors. This one caught my attention because Ms. Holloway talks fondly about her grandfather, and my grandfather started writing stories later in his life, so we had that connection that I’ll always hang on to.

After my grandfather had a heart attack four years ago, I moved in with my grandparents during his recovery. Late in the evenings, as my grandmother slept in her recliner beside him and my poodle sprawled across his feet, he and I would watch movies. His preference, inevitably and humorously, was Hallmark movies. I worked…

How the Pandemic Inspired a Love Story — Women Writers, Women’s Books
Embracing Creativity, History and culture, podcasts, politics

Mixing it up!

While my writing has been … a bit slow, I’ve been taking on other creative projects. My podcast, Train Your Brain to be Creative (I know, not a very creative name!), has been really fun to work on. And now, using ideas from my online graphic design classes, I’m creating designs in zazzle.com to put on tee shirts, tote bags, and postcards.

My latest “collection” (sounds fancier than it is!) is of powerful female leaders, inspired by Kamala Harris’s recent win! It’s really fun to take a photograph from the Creative Commons and edit it, adding colors and swirls and all sorts of thing. My goal is to improve my tech skills, have fun, and spread some positive images out there!

Whatever I sell in this collection, I’m going to donate the profits to the Malala Fund, which advocates for girls’ secondary education in Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey. Malala Yousafzai is a hero of mine, having survived being shot by the Taliban when she was only 11 years old. She didn’t let that stop her and went on to become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate!

You can check out my online zazzle store here: https://www.zazzle.com/collections/woman_power-119711412469975520

Author experiences, Book Reviews, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, History and culture, Writing Tips

A Strong Sense of Place — Women Writers, Women’s Books

This is a re-post from the excellent blog, Women Writers, Women’s Books. How do you handle setting in your fiction writing? I admit that setting is sometimes an afterthought for me, and I constantly have to challenge myself to place it up front!

Should I have chosen an exotic location in which to set my new novel?  Research can be done anywhere in the world (or at least, it could, pre-covid).  Armed with a suitcase, laptop and my writing head firmly switched on, I set forth on a magical adventure to research my new book.  But it was…

A Strong Sense of Place — Women Writers, Women’s Books
Book Reviews, Fiction

The Best Mystery Books of 2021 (Anticipated) — The Bibliofile

This is a re-post from the excellent blog, The Bibliofile! Start planning your reading list with the perfect set of mysteries for rainy, dreary winter weekends!

This is a list of The Best (Anticipated) Mystery Books of 2021. There will probably be more new releases announced in the coming months and through the years, but here’s the best of what’s been announced far to be published in 2021. Will you be reading any of these books when they come out? I’ll…

The Best Mystery Books of 2021 (Anticipated) — The Bibliofile
Author experiences, Embracing Creativity, podcasts, Writing Tips

Creativity and Kids!

Please check out the latest episode of Train Your Brain to be Creative! Lisa and I discuss a really interesting article about how motherhood affects creativity, and we also dive into how children, in general, can help spark creativity. You don’t have to be a parent — you can simply be around children!

Author experiences, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, Getting Published, History and culture, Nonfiction, podcasts

Improving Writing Productivity Amid a Pandemic — Women Writers, Women’s Books

This is a re-post from the excellent Women Writers, Women’s Books

Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and supports Delhi’s underprivileged women and children, volunteering with organisations who work for this cause. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. Her novel You Beneath Your Skin will be free between 7th and 11th August […]

Improving Writing Productivity Amid a Pandemic — Women Writers, Women’s Books
History and culture, politics

Vote by snail mail?

In the United States, our General Election is on November 3, 2020, and as you can imagine, there’s been lots of talk about whether or not it’s safe to go to the polls during the Coronavirus pandemic. The fewer times you have to be around lots of people, the better, right? So, voting by mail is a huge topic of conversation these days.

What is it?

Well, voting by mail is basically the same as absentee voting, which has been around since the Civil War.

” What we in the U.S. now call absentee voting first arose during the Civil War, when both Union and Confederate soldiers were given the opportunity to cast ballots from their battlefield units and have them be counted back home.” (MIT Election Data + Science Lab)

Traditionally, absentee voting was limited to people who were too sick to vote on election day, or who were overseas during the election. Beginning in the 1980s, many states began to allow absentee voting for any reason at all.

This year, due to the pandemic, many states are making it easier to vote by mail. Check your state’s election office to make sure you know what the rules are and so you don’t miss any important deadlines!

How does it work?

Basically, you get an application from your state or county Board of Elections office, fill it out, and a few weeks later (depending on how close to the election it is) they mail you a ballot. You complete your ballot and mail/return it to the Board of Elections no later than 5 p.m. on election day.

In North Carolina, you must have one witness to observe you filling out the ballot (but not observing WHO you vote for). Other states may have different rules about this.

For information about absentee voting in NC, check out the state BOE website.

Is voting by mail reliable?

The short answer is yes. There are very few cases of voter fraud associated with mail-in ballots, and safeguards are in place to help prevent fraud. This article by Bipartisan Policy Center gives a great overview and talks to local and state election officials.

“…  jurisdictions with all-mail elections must constantly update voters’ addresses to ensure that the right voters receive the right ballots. As a result, when a person moves, they are unlikely to get the wrong ballot by mail, whereas an in-person voter with an outdated address could be going to the wrong polling place for years.”

What should you do?

It’s up to you how you will vote in 2020. I’m going to go ahead and fill out the absentee ballot application that a nonprofit sent to me in the mail. That way, it’s done, and no Coronavirus, car breaking down, or other unexpected disaster will stop me from getting to the polls!

Key West Storm GIF

Author experiences, Embracing Creativity, Fiction, History and culture, podcasts

What is authenticity in writing?

Hidden BrainI recently listened to an episode of the excellent podcast Hidden Brain by NPR,  hosted by Shankar Vedantam. This particular episode focused on the author Gail Shepherd (who sadly passed away in February this year) and her novel The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins.

Originally, Shepherd had written her main character as half-Vietnamese, based on the life of a very close friend who is half white and half Vietnamese. But after much research and talking with friends of different races, Shepherd decided to re-write her novel with a white protagonist. Despite already having her good friend’s “blessing” to write the story, Shepherd worried that critics would say she was appropriating another culture.

Listening to the podcast, I remembered that while in graduate school I had written two short stories with Chinese and half-Vietnamese main characters. I wrote the stories based on my own knowledge (my boyfriend and now-husband is Chinese-Vietnamese, and we’d traveled to Vietnam together). I also had Vietnamese friends, so I didn’t think too much about it.

Today, I’m more educated about and aware of white privilege. I understand Shepherd’s decision. She had to consider dynamics of the publishing world, her own feelings about cultural appropriation, and her readers’ feelings. I was pretty much oblivious to all that in graduate school!

But I also agree with a point that host Shankar Vedantam made — Shepherd’s original version of the novel included insights about race and growing up Asian in the American South. Possibly, some American-Asian girls could have benefited from reading this story. While Shepherd was not Asian, she knew her friend’s story very well. She was telling an authentic story. That version could have been very insightful.

Shepherd argued that while people of color are not fairly represented in the publishing world, she didn’t feel comfortable writing as a different race. But if her friend wasn’t a writer and couldn’t tell her story, wasn’t better that someone she loved and trusted did?

It’s the job of fiction writers to tell lies to describe truths about life. Of course, there are some stories we can’t write — I don’t know how to write from a Black character’s point of view. I feel okay about writing from a 3rd person perspective of an Asian American character — but maybe not as much as I used to. If we are creating from a place of honesty and empathy — NOT using cultural stereotypes — I think it can be useful to have these stories told, regardless of the writer’s race.

And as one of the guests on the podcast, philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, said a person’s identity is not wholly their race. They are also parents, grandparents, teachers, artists, philosophers, plumbers, athletes, and a multitude of other roles and identities.

But I am a white person and, so, can only see through the lens of a white person. What do you think? Story tellers use their imaginations, but are there some things we just can’t imagine well enough to write about?