"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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My Love-Hate Relationship with NaNoWriMo
Let's Take the Survey One Step Further
A Question about a New Book -- or Two
My Favorite March Column
Scammers and Trolls Are Alive and Well Today

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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Going to the Dogs

Anyone who knows me at all well understands that I am a cat person. But once a year I get this urge to immerse myself in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.  Actually, I think I'm as fascinated by the people as I am by the dogs. They are certainly a different breed.

Take this little guy's owner, for example. Who  sets a little dog's hair in paper twists before the show? Is he cute? Yes, of course. He's adorable,  although I can't help but see him as one of those people you see at Walmart with their hair in rollers. The NYT has a video up this morning that shows other primping goings-on. They include blow-dryers, barber shears, hair spray, and ear nets for those breeds with long ears that get in the way.  Sigh!

And the owners don't spend nearly as much time on their own appearance, I suspect. I couldn't help but notice that nearly every woman handler wore the same basic outfit--a business suit with a pencil skirt that hits above the knees and a buttoned up matching jacket, all complemented by ballet flats to make it easier to run around the ring. A few carried the look off, but most wore expressions that were as uncomfortable as their outfits appeared to be. There were only one or two handlers in slacks or pants suits, who appeared to be much more comfortable. Is there a rule about wearing a skirt even if you look terrible in it, I wonder?

I was also amused by the various attempts to "match" handler and dog--in colors, similar hair bows, and even hair styles. Those dogs with long silky coats often have handlers with long silky ironed tresses. This one was the best, however. The announcer described the dog as playful, loving to play pranks, and needing an owner who was willing to match the dog's silliness. Then the camera panned out to show his handler, dressed in the loudest plaid I have ever seen in a man's suit!  I'm waiting for tonight's competition, which will include some pretty strange doggy do's. Will the Puli be handled by a fellow also wearing dreadlocks? Wouldn't surprise me!

Over all, I am amused by the patience the dogs demonstrate while being put through their paces. Judges make a practice of pulling back their lips to check their teeth, ("Did you brush today?") lifting their tails, or feeling their stomachs. It doesn't seem to bother the dogs, although once in a while, you see a dog with an expression on his face that seems to scream, "You're feeling my what?"

Most of the dogs have been well-schooled in proper dog show etiquette. Last night, one young handler had the misfortune to trip and fall flat on her face when she started to run into the ring. She wasn't hurt -- not even a run in her tights -- but she did drop the leash. Her dog (bless him!)  stopped anyway, and waited patiently for her to pick herself up and finish the run.

Others are not quite so cooperative, however. Nobody lifted a leg on the judge's shoes last night,  but once in a while there's an itch that demands to be taken care of right now.

And then, there was my favorite of the night -- a tiny little terrier of some breed I didn't catch, who suddenly decided he wasn't going anywhere.  He lowered his head, squinted his eyes, and braced his front legs. "Not taking another step! No, sir!" Dog and handler had just reached a point in their walk when they had to turn, and this pup wasn't turning. Eventually, it was the handler who walked around the dog. And then they finished their journey. Wish I could find a picture of that little fellow's determination.

So that's why I watch the Westminster every year. It's some of the best entertainment on TV. I"m looking forward to another night -- and so is my cat, who sits on my lap to watch the show and quietly chuckles to herself.

(Pictures courtesy of the official show photographers.)

Will the Real Nellie Chase Please Stand Up?

Here's a puzzle for all of you who read "Beyond All Price." David Welch, my tireless researcher for all things having to do with the Roundhead Regiment, has turned up more pictures that might be Nellie M. Chase. We'd like to know what you think.

This is a confirmed picture of Nellie, taken in Spring, 1862, in Beaufort, SC. 

And this is a picture of an unidentified nurse who worked in the same Nashville  hospital as Nellie did in 1863. The picture was definitely taken in 1863. 

We know a couple of things about Nellie.  (1) Between 1862 and 1863, she suffered a serious illness, which undoubtedly caused some weight loss.  

(2) In 1863, she had a picture taken by a famous photographer named Gutekunst  in Philadelphia. 

Here are two unidentified pictures David has found on Ebay, both taken by Gutekunst, in the right time frame.




















Which one looks more like your idea of Nellie? Or are they all pictures of the same woman?
We'd really like  your feedback.

Help Spread the Love!






I never set out to write love stories, but I soon learned that when you write about people, their love stories are sure to follow. In my new book, Yankee Daughters, set in the years between 1885 and 1920, the pages are full of love stories, as Katerina Grenville tries to find suitable husbands for each of her eight daughters. I’d love for you to read about their adventures and Katerina’s successes and failures.  
 
So my Valentine’s Day gift to you is a Kindle copy of the book for less than a dollar. Yes, you can get it — for this weekend and through Valentine’s Day — for  $.99, which is as low as Amazon will let me set the price. This is my way of saying “I love you” to my readers. Click on the cat below to order. 


I’m hoping you say I love you back by supporting me and my books. Here’s how you can do that:

  • Visit my website and sign up for my newsletter, so you don’t miss the latest announcements about what I’m writing.
  • Buy the book – a copy for yourself or to pass along to someone you love.
  • Tell your friends what you loved about the book. Leave a comment on Facebook or Twitter, or comment on my blog.
  • Talk to your local librarian or bookstore owner about the book.
  • Write a short review and post it on Amazon and Goodreads, so that other readers can read about how much you loved it.
  • Send an email and tell me what you have done to help spread the word. I'dlove to hear from you

Someone at Goodreads Asked: "Who Is your favorite Fictional Couple?"

Earlier this week over on Goodreads, I agreed to answer an interview question about my favorite fictional couple. And like most of the authors who were asked this question, I chose one of my own. The world of books is full of wonderful couples, but for my own writing purposes, my favorite couple has to be Jonathan and Susan Grenville.  My answer now appears somewhere on Goodreads.com, but even I haven't managed to find it more than once. So here's the answer iIgave them, reprinted for your enjoyment.

"The Grenvilles came to life for the first time in "Damned Yankee." I wanted to tell a story that would show both sides of the Civil War conflict, and the Grenvilles served that purpose nicely. Jonathan was a Yankee, raised in New England, educated at Harvard, a practicing historian and teacher whose greatest love was the story of the American Revolution and the creation of the new United States. Susan was the privileged daughter of a fine old Southern family, slave-owners all, so used to being surrounded by slaves on their cotton plantations that slavery seemed a part of the natural order of things.


"When I started writing about them, I had in mind a single story, in which the couple would manage to hold their marriage and family together by rising above partisan politics and avoiding the horrors of the war. They did so, but the root problems that caused the war itself long outlasted the final battles. And the Grenvilles had more to tell us than I had planned. The result was a second volume, "Yankee Reconstructed," in which they were forced to confront the unsettled issues  of the first civil rights struggle--an interracial marriage, the threat of the Ku Klux Klan, the horrors of lynchings,  the on-going fight for the right to vote.

"I hoped to tie up their story with a happy ending to Book Two, but the Grenvilles were not through with me yet. "Yankee Daughters" came into existence when i realized that the problems facing Jonathan and Susan were not just theirs alone, but would carry over into the following generations. Their grandchildren might move to a different state, but they  inherited a 20th-century world influenced, and tainted, by the same conflicts that had plagued Civil War South Carolina.

"I knew I had created a memorable fictional couple when an early reader of Book Three responded with an anguished cry of "No-o-o-o-o! You can't kill off Jonathan!"

CLICK ON THE BOOK COVERS TO ORDER

February Is the Ultimate "F" Word

As I announced yesterday over on my Blogger site, I'm shuttering that blog for a while to concentrate on a period of research  for my next book. But I also want to revive this site in order to have a place to think out loud and explore some new ideas. For a quick jumpstart, here's an old historian's salute to the dreary month of February. 

February Is the Ultimate "F" Word
 
I think it's time we did something about February!  It's already the shortest month, thanks to Julius Caesar, who revised the calendar for us.  His astronomers failed to reconcile a 365¼ -day solar cycle with a 29-and-a-1/2-day lunar one, so they ended up with one month shorter than the others.   I'm grateful they made it February rather than wasting two of the lovely days of May.  Personally, I would have been even happier if they had made it only 20 days long.

After all, what does February have going for it?  The days are getting a bit longer, but when the sky is gray and ugly all day long, it's hard to get excited about the sun rising a minute earlier than the day before.  The glitter and fun of the holidays is over.  All we have  left are the unpaid bills and the unexplainable extra five pounds on the scales. February seems to have its own "F" word – "fat." Magazines on every news counter are telling us to "Lose Ten Pounds by Tomorrow" and "Walk Off Your Belly Fat."  Makes you want to get  up in the morning, doesn't it? 

And the weather  -- We used to say that  if it's going to snow in Memphis, it'll snow in February. If we had those flakes back in November, we'd all have been singing "Over the river and through the woods."  If they came in December, we'd be crooning about "Frosty the Snowman" and "Sleighrides." But February snow?  "I'm Dreaming of a White Groundhog" just doesn't cut it. But then neither does the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had this year. We’ve already had several 70-degree days, and each one throws our weathermen into a panic about “the threat of severe weather.” I’m tempted to junk all my calendars and assume that we will enjoy all four seasons on a daily rotation.

And speaking of groundhogs, have you thought about the weirdness of February holidays?  We start the month by waiting for a glimpse of a bleary-eyed rodent, hoping he'll tell us that winter is over.  Actually February 2 used to be celebrated in pagan Europe as a cross-quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox.  Christians made it into Candlemas Day, 40 days after the birth of Jesus and a time for the blessing of the year's supply of candles. Punxsutawney Phil, of course, is a purely American invention: he made his first official weather predication on February 2, 1887.  Where did we get that idea?  I haven't a clue.

Then there's Valentine's Day – a time for sweethearts everywhere, right?  Well, maybe not.  The real St. Valentine may have been a Christian priest in 269 A.D., in the reign of Claudius II.  He was thrown into prison for his beliefs, and while he was there,  he made friends with his jailor's daughter.  When he was taken out to be executed, he left her a farewell note, signed, "Your Valentine."  The day just happened to be February 14, the Roman festival of Lupercalia, in which Roman girls drew names out of a box to see who their  lover would be in the coming year.  So the two ideas--lovers and friendly farewell notes—gradually grew into our current celebration of hearts and flowers.  The next time someone asks you to "Be My Valentine," however, you might want to remember what happened to the first Valentine.

Also in the middle of the month comes "President's Day." Uh-Uh! Not going to go there.

The last day of February this year is Mardi Gras, certainly an excuse for a party.  In the medieval world, Mardi Gras was the last day of Carnivale, a period of silliness that began back on January 6 and extended up to the first day of Lent.  It was a time when everyone ignored the ordinary rules of society and the prohibitions of religion for a short while.  But Mardi Gras also carried a stern warning that the season for repentance was at hand.  All meat, oil, and eggs had to be consumed before midnight, since Lent brought with it 40 days of fasting.  In French Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday," and there's that "F" word again.

Maybe we just ought to give in and celebrate anything that comes along in February, in the fervent hope that it will make the month go faster.