Friday, March 24, 2017

Historical Fiction Hints

An American woman is captured by Barbary pirates and sold to the Visier of Morocco, escaped to Gibraltar and returned to Florida. She had a grandson, David Levy Yulee, who became Florida’s first Senator. This sounds like complete fiction, doesn’t it?

But it's not. The Shadow of the Rock by Author Eileen Haavik McIntire is based on a real women’s life. Speaking recently about historical research, she used examples of what she did for this historical fiction.

Eileen learned early that her main character was Jewish, which led to other areas of research.  She verified that her character was a real person and about the influence this woman’s family had on Florida history.

Research is a creative process that requires imagination and persistence. You can start with libraries and Google, check bibliographies and indexes, maps and books about your subject or area.

Local historians and cemeteries are helpful and interviews with people in the area of interest. Also seek out related subjects that might her you develop scenes and atmosphere such as costume design books, memoirs, etc.

Eileen found old books from around the time her character lived and discovered helpful information in them about the culture, dress, and what was happening in the world at this time.

Travel if possible, she recommended. Her research took her to Gibraltar, Morocco, St. Thomas, Florida and other areas. She rode a camel in the Sahara. She toured the frigate Constellation in the Baltimore Harbor. Places she visited often became scenes in her books.

She recorded a lot of detail and background information she was able to use in her story and in another book, In Rembrandt's Shadow.

Like Eileen you may amass a huge amount of information for a book. But remember not to use it all. You don’t want an information dump. Writing is a matter of choices. The most important thing is to write a good story that people will want to read.

Eileen also writes a mystery series, The 90s Club. A few years ago, I enjoyed reading The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase. Now I look forward to more of Nancy Dickerson and her friends in the 90s Club at Whisperwood Retirement Village.

Eileen McIntire currently is President of Maryland Writers’ Association. She also is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Independent Book Publishers Association.

If you want more information about Eileen and her books, check out ehmcintire.com. Also, if you are interested in writing or reading more books by area writers information can be found at www.marylandwriters.com

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Art in black and gold


You still have an opportunity to visit the Scott Center at Carroll Community College and study the Stay Gold, Portraiture by Tyler Farinholt.
Stay Gold explores themes of masculinity, anxiety, isolation and identity. This body of work focuses on the faces of young black males, Tyler said. Gold add a richness to the portraits and a feel of optimism for the future.
Tyler Farinholt
This was an appropriate exhibit for Black History Month. As we think of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., and the civil rights marches.
I also attended several events Tyler curated during the past several years. One especially impressed me. It was a Jeffrey Kent exhibit, held at the Frederick Douglass Isaac Myers Maritime Park Museum. You can read what I wrote about that exhibit in See or Hear, Write or Preach at josobservations.blogspot.com, posted on 3/7/2013. His exhibit focused more on the past, such as slavery, black culture and equal rights.
Both visual artists used their creative instincts to communicate - to share experiences, thoughts and dreams with others. Tyler and Jeffrey Kent both communicate some of the black experience through their art. Writers do the same with words. Both arts require creativity, looking at the world the way it was, is and could be. Both try to stir emotions and create discussion.
Tyler is an artist, educator and curator based in Baltimore. Educated at MICA, he teaches art to disadvantaged youth in East Baltimore as a member of MICA’s Office of Community Engagement.

He is a graduate of Westminster High School. Previously, he worked with the education department at the Walters Art Museum He has curated exhibitions with the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts and Area 405.
Betty Houck and Lona Queen viewed
Tyler's art at the opening reception.

Tyler also has been featured in exhibitions at Hillyer Art Space, the Columbia Art Center, CCBC and Artspace Herndon. He was a recipient of the 2016 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Visual Arts.

You can see more of his work at www.tylerfarinholt.com.  The Carroll County Times ran a front page story on  February 18, about Tyler’s exhibit in the Gallery in the Scott Center and that of Jinie Park’s mixed-media exhibit, “Observations in Paint” in the college’s Babylon Great Hall. Parks also studied at MICA, but prefers working with fabric and abstract creations.
Jessi Hardesty, curation of collections and exhibits at the college was thrilled at the number of people who attended the opening reception for the artists. She told me she had first seen Tyler’s business card in a coffee shop. She was excited about the power in his portraits.
When planning the exhibit, she thought of the difference in the approaches of the two MICA educated artists and decided their different styles would be a good match. I agree. The exhibits are different but both seem to ask you to study them, to think about what you see and to just enjoy the artistry.
The exhibits at Carroll Community College, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster, Maryland are free. The exhibits will run through March 24. You can check the college website, www.carrollcc.edu for gallery hours.




Sunday, February 26, 2017

So Many Books, So Little Time


This is going to be another double treat blog. At least I think of it that way.

I was reading So Many Books, So Little Time, A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson and was making notes since I thought it was interesting enough to blog about. I even decided to use the title for this blog.

However, before finishing it, I found My Ideal Bookshelf at the library and peaked inside. I knew immediately that I had to write about this also. The subjects were so similar they could be combined into one blog.

My Ideal Bookshelf was edited by Thessaly La Force with art by Jane Mount. It was published in 2012 by Little, Brown and Company.

I haven’t finished it yet, but have read enough to recommend it to people who like to read. It is fun to see what other people read, why and what they have enjoyed the most; especially if you are nosy (excuse me – curious) like me.

This is not just a list of books. Each of the contributors comments briefly on why they chose these books for their ideal small book shelf.

Contributors included many writers, but also artists, chefs, fashion designers, entrepreneurs, humorists, producers, architects, dancers, illustrators, doctors, musicians, photographers, singers, app designers and many others. They are in alphabetical order, so it is easy to find people who interest you if you don’t want to read them all.

I skipped most chefs since I am not too interested in cooking at this time. As the book says, our tastes in what we read changes often depending on what is happening in our life.

LaForce stressed that this is just a snapshot of the person, a moment in time. What someone choose in the future could be very different than what they choose today.


In So Many Books, So Little Time, author Sara Nelson stressed that she wasn’t going to write 52 book reviews, but was trying to get on paper what she had been doing in her mind, matching up the reading experience with the personal one.

Her book reminded me of a blog I wrote in March of 2015 about Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, My Year of Magical Reading by Tina Sankovitch. For 365 days, she read, often until late at night as a way to overcome her grief. The project and published book were in memory of her sister Anne-Marie Sankovitch. It was published in 2011 by Harper Collins Publishers.

Both books are similar in that the authors share their love of reading and their personal feelings about the books they read, but both are very different.

My attention was captured by a sentence in the chapter Great Expectation, when Nelson said, “I’ve already decided to take one biggest book instead of the usual three or four I often pack as insurance against being caught – can you imagine? – with nothing to read.”

She chose a book to take on vacation to a lodge in Cavendish, Vermont. Not a normal lodge, this was the compound where Nobel Prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his family had lived. Once there, Nelson found the humorous book she was reading no longer seemed appropriate. There she found Solzhenitsyn – Soul in Exile, which became her first book for this project.

Discussing by Anne LaMotte she said, “Bird by Bird is without a doubt the single best self-help guide I’ve ever read,” calling it funny and wise.

Reading this book, she felt she was in the presence of somebody who knew what she was feeling every time she sat down to write.

Bird by Bird was a book about “what it’s like to be stuck and how to get unstuck.”

I read this book years ago and it is still one of my favorites and is on my bookshelf.

There are many other books and authors I enjoyed reading about in this book, but I will let those interested make their own discoveries.

So Many Books, So Little Time was published in 2003 by G. P. Putnam & Sons. Sara Nelson is an editor, reviewer, wife, mother and a self-admitted compulsive reader.

Nelson said her goal in 2002 was to chronicle a year’s worth of reading, “to explore how the world of books and words intermingled with children, marriage, friends, and the rest of the ‘real’ world.” I found the book and the books she mentioned thought-provoking.

Both books provide insight into why we like certain books we read and dislike others, plus give us ideas about other books we might want to read. I’ve added quite a few to my reading list, agreeing with Nelson that there are so many books and so little time to read them.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Rainbows Come and Go


Anderson Cooper’s book Dispatches From the Edge was so interesting I had to take notes. I wasn’t  doing much blogging at the time I read that book, so I just filed my notes.

I learned in November that Cooper had another book published in cooperation with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. The Rainbow Comes and Goes, A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss was published in 2016. I read it and decided it was good, so here is my
blog about both books.
I enjoyed it, but personally preferred his first book. I might be prejudiced, since I was a journalist although I was never in the same league. However, I could understand some of what he was talking about and his feelings. Both books are well worth the reading, but I will start with my favorite.


My notes stated that I found Dispatches From the Edge very moving. “The world has many edges and it’s very easy to fall off. Keep moving in order to live. Keep cool, stay alive.”

Cooper had been a journalist for 15 years when he wrote that. He had covered wars in many areas, including Sarajevo, Baghdad, Soweto, South Africa. He wrote: “Every war is different, every war the same,” and “I set up barriers in my head, my heart, but blood flows right through them…”

After covering wars and disasters throughout the world, he found Katrina harder because it was home, in the USA. This shouldn’t happen here.  He mentioned seeing bodies left on the streets, tied to lampposts. They were people, not just bodies or corpses, he wrote.

He questioned the lack of planning and lack of quick response, as well as the question of race. I was in New Orleans this past year and as we drove past the Astrodome, those questions came back to me. I hope they are being addressed. New Orleans is a beautiful and exciting city.

“In the midst of tragedy the memories of moments, forgotten feelings, began to feed off one another. I came to see how woven together these disparate fragments really are: past and present, personal and professional, they shift back and forth, again and again.” Writing about the Day of the Dead, he says “There is so much laughter, even in the midst of all the loss. It’s the way it should be – no distance between the living and the dead. Their stories are remembered, their spirits embraced.”?

Interspersed with his stories are questions about family and fears. Cooper was constantly moving, filling the hours, “feeling but not feeling.”

Glad he was a Cooper and not a Vanderbilt, he let few people know who his mother was during his early career. His father died when he was 10 and later he lost his brother.  How these early personal events affected him is revealed in this new book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes.


The lovely title comes from a poem by William Wordsworth. It was quoted by Gloria Vanderbilt when discussing how her life had so many ups and downs. Approaching 92 years old when this book was being written, she said that she looks for and appreciates the rainbow times.

 The mother and son, who had not shared much personal information in the past, started communicating more on her 91st birthday. This changed their relationship and bought them closer together.

The book cover says that this is a revealing glimpse into their lives. Yes, it was. Sometimes, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation. I was a little confused at the beginning of the book, as the conversation goes back and forth, without any he said or she said. But soon I was able to easily tell who was speaking.

Mother and son talked about her childhood and the famous custody case. She was referred to during that time as the “Poor Little Rich Girl.” They discussed their mistakes, successes and losses.

They talked about how they were alike and yet so different.

“We like to think we are our own people, but sometimes it seems we are just playing out a script that was imprinted in us long ago.”

 “The rainbow comes and goes. Enjoy it while it lasts. Don’t be surprised by its departure, and rejoice when it returns.” Vanderbilt wrote. Her son liked the image, but wanting more security prefers to prepare for when it goes, to be able to survive until better times come again.

Both Cooper and Vanderbilt are writers. He is anchor on Anderson Cooper 360’ and a correspondent for CBS’s 60 minutes. She is an artist and designer and has written eight books and many magazine articles.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

As I mentioned in my recent blog, I do read books I receive as gifts and try to read books that have been recommended to me. There are so many books out there and so little time.

In March 2013, I wrote a blog about Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. The author, Erin Sankovitch, mentions that she learns something from each book. I find that true also.  In my recent blog, I mentioned that I learned about forensic anthropology, websleuthing, and life and death on Mount Everest in Kathy Reichs books.

We may learn more from non-fiction books, than from fiction, but both can teach us things we don’t know.

I decided to write about another book, non-fiction this time, that I received as a gift recently. Yudhijit Brattacharjee’s The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell, about "a dyslexic traitor, an unbreakable code, and the FBI’s hunt for America’s stolen secrets."

My friend assured me I would enjoy the book and she was right.

It was rewarding to see the various intelligence agencies working together to catch this spy.

I was lost reading a lot of the information about secret codes, in which I have little interest. You might find that challenging.

I did find myself wanting to learn more about this spy who was dyslexic, but had a credible military career and then worked his way up in the intelligence community. He was able to view highly classified information, use secret codes that were difficult to break and hide classified documents that threatened America’s security.

This was the largest theft of government documents before Edward Snowden’s data breach.

The book has us follow the successes and frustrations of those who are trying to catch this mole, who they can tell has top secret clearance. But, besides catching him, they need enough evidence that will hold up in court. Even after the capture and conviction, the agencies still had to find the hidden documents.

The author also helps us understand what motivated this spy who couldn’t spell. He was a family man, active in the community, with a good military record. Bullied as a child, able to overcome handicaps because of his dyslexia, and underestimated, he…..


Oops, I don’t want to give away too much. If you are interested in espionage, government agencies or just learning new information, I think you will enjoy this book. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bones in books



Recently, I read two books by Kathy Reichs. I had heard that she was a good writer and sometimes watched the TV show Bones (trying to avoid the gorier scenes).  Normally I read more cozy mysteries, but gifts from friends and family often lead me to read books that normally would not be on my “to read” list. Seldom am I disappointed.

Reichs really is a forensic anthropologist, one of only 111 people certified by the Board of American Forensic Anthropology. She has worked in forensic facilities in North Carolina and Quebec.

She has identified remains of victims of the genocide in Rwanda, victims of the World Trade Center attack and other victims of disasters or in mass graves.

In the first book I read, Speaking in Bones, a websleuth asks Dr. Temperance Brennan for help, saying “Lost. Murdered. Dumped. Unclaimed. This country’s overflowing with the forgotten dead. And somewhere someone’s wondering about each and every one of those souls.”

The book provides various red herrings, false leads and plenty of suspense. I was sure I knew “who done it” early, but like Dr. Brennan, I would discover I was wrong.

Luckily, unlike Dr. Brennan, I wasn’t in danger as we looked for clues in a rural mountain area that was home to a secretive religious cult. Her investigation led to exorcism and even more murders.

The second book, Bones in Ice, also offered plenty of intrigue. Dr. Brennan is asked to verify that a woman who died several years ago on Mt Everest is actually the daughter of an influential family. It seems this should be easy. But, the condition of the bones, lack of teeth and other inconsistencies make this more difficult and leads Temperance into a dangerous situation.

She wanted this book to honor those lost on the mountain and to direct attention to organizations providing disaster relief, after the terrible earthquakes in 2015, as well as groups dedicated to improving long-term conditions of the Sherpas, the guides and porters on Everest.

In this book, she gives information about Mount Everest, with more than 200 bodies frozen in its death zone. This is the area above eight thousand meters, where bodies are not recoverable

In her Authors Notes, she wrote, “The body of the legendary mountaineer George Mallory has remained intact on the peak since 1924. Others have evolved into more recent climbing landmarks, such as “Green Boots Cave,” or “Rainbow Valley,” named for the multicolored down jackets and climbing gear of corpses dotting the hillside.”

Horrified and yet fascinated by what she had read about high altitude climbing, like most writers, she asked herself that “what if” question. She wondered, “What would happen if one of those bodies came down and revealed unexpected secrets.

Kathy Reichs’ books may not be for the squeamish, but they are well written and interesting.

Her first award-winning book, Deja Dead, was published in 1997. She is the author of at least 17 books since then as well as scripts for the television series Bones. However, don’t expect the same characters in these books as you watch on television.

For more detail and a list of her other books, check out kathyreichs.com.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Dark and Sweet books

Arthur Houghton III, who wrote the novel Dark Athena recently spoke at a meeting of library supporters, about writing, culture and the art world. Although the book is fiction, it was based on factual information and made more interesting by his questions of “what if?”

“The investigation of a statue’s provenance by museum director, Jason Connor takes him into the darkest corners of the art world to unravel a dangerous conspiracy involving stolen art, fakery and the tradecraft of intelligence , and raises profound questions about who should own mankind’s cultural heritage.” (from information provided at the event)


Supposedly, Alfred Hitchcock said, “a good story is just life with the dull parts taken out.” Dark Athena sounds like a good story. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but have added it to my “To Read List” and am looking forward to entering (temporarily) the darker side of the art world.

Houghton has published four books and more than 60 articles about art, ancient history and economics. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art from Harvard University, and a master’s in Near Eastern studies from the American University of Beirut.

He served in the US Foreign Service station in the Middle East from 1966 to 1979, was acting curator of antiquities at the J Paul Getty Museum from 1982 to 1986, and the foreign policy coordinator for the White House Office on National Drug Policy from 1988 to 1996.


Also, Marcia Leiter of New Windsor, MD, the author and illustrator of the Sweet Pea series of books for children, talked briefly about her books with a focus on gardening.
The first book by the artist, gardener, writer was Sweet Pea’s Tale of Too Many Tomatoes. Her second book Sweet Pea’s Christmas was published recently by Birdberry Press. She mentioned that she had other books written and being prepared for publication.

I always enjoy being with others interested in reading and recommend supporting your local library, whether through volunteering, donating or using its resources . You can find out more at https://supportccpl.carr.org.


As 2016 draws to a close, I wish a Happy New Year to everyone.  Read more, write more and enjoy life.