Morning Coffee: The Faces of WWI

feetI love history. It’s why I chose a history degree program when I went to college. It’s why I read historical, both fiction and nonfiction. It’s why I write historical novels. I just really enjoy researching. I own many nonfiction history books, there’s the internet, and then there’s fiction. That’s right; sometimes I use other people’s fiction to help with my research. Always fact-checking before using, of course.

More often than not, research using fiction means analyzing how they write their dialogue, how they show emotion, how they incorporate historical details that make the reader feel like they’re really there without leaving the story reading like a dry academic paper. Recently I’ve been reading a collection of short stories and was reminded of a WWI detail I’d read about in the past but had since forgotten.

“Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and The Great War” is a collection of short stories about love during the time of the signing of the Armistice. (The 100th anniversary is November 11th.) The story “All For The Love Of You” by Jennifer Robson is about a young American girl living in Paris at the time of the Armistice. She makes herself useful by volunteering at The American Red Cross Studio for Portrait Masks run by Mrs. Anna Coleman Ladd. There she meets an American soldier whose face was severely damaged in battle and he has sought out Mrs. Ladd to make him a mask to hide his injuries. They, of course, fall in love. Daisy Fields and Captain Mancuso are fictitious; however, Mrs. Ladd and the American Red Cross studio were real.

The large-caliber guns of artillery warfare had the power to destroy men’s bodies in a way never seen before. Bones were not merely broken, they were shattered upon impact. Trench warfare made this all the worse. Soldiers believed they could stick their heads up quick to survey the landscape without understanding the fast and immediate destruction of the machine gun. New methods of facial reconstruction were being advanced that are still in use today, but it was not enough. Men were left with open wounds that even the best surgeons could not repair. Something had to be done to allow these men to go home to their families, their communities, without fear.

Francis Derwent Wood founded the Masks for Facial Disfigurement Department in England in 1916. In 1917, Wood’s program came to the attention of Anna Coleman Ladd, a sculptor living in Boston. When her husband’s work took them to Paris, Mrs. Ladd consulted with Wood and opened the Studio for Portrait Masks under the administration of the American Red Cross. Her studio was credited with the best work, a single mask taking up to a month to complete. Creating first a plasticine likeness, a mask was fashioned from galvanized copper one thirty-second of an inch thick. The mask, when completed, would weigh between four and nine ounces, depending on whether it was made to cover the entire or just part of the face. (Most were partial masks.) The metallic surface was then painstakingly painted with hard enamel to match the skin tone of the man, match his eye color right down to the flecks of light reflected in the good eye. Eyebrows, lashes and hair were made from real hair. Wood’s studio used slivered tinfoil, reminiscent of ancient Greek statues. Eyeglasses were often used to better anchor the mask to the wearer. If he did not normally wear them, plain glass was used. While not perfect, the likenesses were remarkable and allowed the men to return to the public without fear or horror.

By the end of 1919, Mrs. Ladd’s studio had made 185 masks. Her studio closed in 1920. There is no record how many masks were made by Wood. His department disbanded in 1919.

These lightweight metal masks were more comfortable and durable than the old leather prosthetics, but they did not hold up for the lifetime of the wearer. After only a few years they would become too bent, chipped, to retain the wearer’s likeness. Very few, if any, masks survive today. There are, however, many before and after pictures of soldiers who wore the masks and the work is remarkable. If you Google WWI face masks you’ll be amazed by the difference they made in these men’s lives.

I’ve written many times about my first novel, “Mary Bishop”. While it’s currently making the rounds looking for an agent and/or publisher, I’m working on my second novel, “The Healing Heart”. This one takes place in 1918 and covers the end of WWI and the Spanish flu pandemic. One of my two leading men, Harry, returns from the Western Front with a severe facial injury. He loses an eye and has a jagged red scar down the right side of his face from artillery shrapnel. Will Harry get a mask? I don’t know yet, but it will at least be a topic of discussion.

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Morning Coffee: The History of Golf

SCF damAnyone who reads my blog regularly knows I enjoy a good game of golf. Anyone who has ever golfed with me knows I must also enjoy a bad game of golf because I keep going back. The other day I was golfing with my sister-in-law and the same old questions came up: Why do we keep putting ourselves through this? and Who ever thought of spending a perfectly good afternoon (or morning) hitting a little ball with a club, trying to get it into a little hole? I wasn’t able to find an answer to either of those two questions, but I did find a few facts about the evolution of the game.

15th Century: The game originated on the eastern coast of Scotland. Players hit a pebble over sand dunes and around tracks using a bent stick or club. The game was so popular when the country needed to once more prepare to defend itself against the “Auld Enemy”, King James II found many neglecting their military duties. The king’s parliament banned the sport in 1457. The people largely ignored the ban.

16th Century: The game was given the royal seal of approval in 1502 by King James IV, the world’s first golfing monarch. It quickly spread throughout Europe. King Charles I brought it to England. Mary Queen of Scots introduced it to France. The term “caddie” came from her French military aides, cadets.

17th Century: Leith, near Edinburgh and one of the premiere courses of the day, hosted the first international tournament in 1682. The Duke of York and George Patterson of Scotland beat two English gentlemen.

18th Century: Golf officially became a sport when the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith formed the first club in 1744. They hosted an annual competition and gave silverware for prizes. The rules drawn up for the competition sound very much like our rules today. The first reference to golf at St Andrews is in 1552, but it wasn’t until 1754 that the St Andrews Society of Golfers was formed to host its own annual competition following the Leith rules. The first 18-hole course was built at St Andrews in 1764. This established the now recognized standard for the game. The first club formed outside Scotland was Royal Blackheath, near London, in 1766.

19th Century: St Andrews was honored with the title “Royal & Ancient” by King William IV in 1834, thus establishing the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Andrews as the world’s premier golf club. The Industrial Revolution of the Victorian Era gave birth to the railroads, allowing ordinary people to explore outside their cities and towns. Golf clubs quickly spread throughout the countryside. This led to mass production of clubs and balls, making the game more affordable. Before this, clubs were hand-crafted from beech with shafts of ash or hazel, and balls were constructed from compressed feathers wrapped in a stitched horse hide. The game’s popularity exploded. The forerunner to the British Open was played at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860. The United States Golf Association (USGA) was established in 1894. The first club formed outside Britain was in Bangalore, India, in 1820. The Royal Curragh, Ireland, formed in 1856. The Adelaide in 1870, the Royal Montreal in 1873, Cape Town in 1885, St. Andrews of New York in 1888, and the Royal Hong Kong in 1889.

20th Century: By 1900 more than 1000 golf clubs existed in the United States. Funding through commercial sponsorship established the USA as the center of the professional game. US courses are beautifully sculpted and landscaped. British courses are typically rough links. But some of the most famous courses are still found in Scotland: Gleneagles, The Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Prestwick, just to name a few.

www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/The-History-of-Golf/

Morning Coffee: Conferences

SCF damNo matter what your career path, conferences are a wonderful way to meet others and recharge. It’s a chance to make new friends who understand your world, your way of thinking. It’s a great way to meet industry people who can take you to the next step in your career. And, for writers, who are introverts by nature, all this face-to-face time is even more important.

Writers spend a lot of time alone. They talk to each other on social media. They communicate with agents and editors by email. You might say that their characters are their closest friends. But give them the chance to go to a conference and the whole world opens wide.

By the time you read this I’ll be at RWA’s annual convention in Denver. I’ve attended one-day workshops and two-day conferences at the state level, but never before have I taken the opportunity to go to a national convention; four days with thousands of men and women from all over the country who share my passion. There will be agents, editors, and publishers there. I have appointments set to pitch “Mary Bishop” to several of them. Industry people offering editing and cover graphics services will be available for writers who self-publish. If I was looking for a personal assistant I would have a chance to talk to them, too. Winners will be announced, honored, for the two big annual competitions. Some names I will recognize, but I will only know a handful personally. Attendees will range from the highly successful to those just starting out.

As an introvert, I’m a little nervous. Talking to people I don’t know is difficult for me. But, as a writer with a goal of publication, I’m excited about all the opportunities. And I look forward to the inevitable recharge. My “battery” has been flashing low power and could use a good boost. I expect to return ready to write, write, and write some more.

Morning Coffee: Banishing History

feetThere’s been a growing movement to cleanse our history by banishing everything that does not fit with our contemporary beliefs of inclusiveness and understanding. This is a very sad and dangerous thing. If we don’t teach our history, if we banish it to some hidden place where no one dares speak its name, how are we to learn? For it is only through knowledge of the sins of our past do we improve our future.

A couple weeks ago the ALSC (Association for Library Services to Children’s Board) changed the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literacy Legacy Award. Their reasoning was that Laura’s “stereotypical attitudes [are] inconsistent with ALSC’s core values”. In other words, Laura Ingalls Wilder was a racist. Laura’s writing does express prejudicial views of indigenous peoples and peoples of color, but it also teaches understanding of cultures that are different. For example, when Pa takes Laura to visit an Indian camp. Yes, Ma feared what some of the native people were capable of doing based on the experiences of others at the time. Some tribes were known to rape and murder white settlers. Some routinely kidnapped children to adopt as their own or act as slaves for their women. This would have been a very frightening prospect to a mother often left alone with her children while her husband was away hunting or gone into town for supplies (a trip that could take him away for days, if not weeks).

There’s a campaign going on right now to silence any recognition of our own Civil War. First you pull down statues of Confederate officers. Next thing you know everything about the Civil War is deemed offensive and removed from text books and history curriculums. If you do that, then you can’t teach about the good things that came from that time period. Things like the Underground Railroad and the eventual emancipation of the slaves. How do you teach about slavery and then the civil rights movement of the 1960s if you can’t teach about the Civil War and President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation?

And how long will it be before we start banning books again? If Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name is no longer acceptable on a children’s book award, when do we start pulling her books from library shelves, Amazon, Barnes and Noble? And after her, do we continue on to Mark Twain and Harper Lee? It’s called censorship, and the list is endless.

But these things offend us, you argue. They make us uncomfortable. Yes, they do! Sometimes history makes us uncomfortable, and it should. That’s how our children learn what’s right, by learning what’s wrong. There were definitely bad policies made because of hatred, fear, and ultimately, greed, during our quest for western expansion and the acceptance of slavery.

Why deprive our children knowledge of our rich history, all the good that’s come before, because we don’t like to hear the bad? It reminds me of the three monkeys: Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil. Except it’s not true; if we don’t hear or see evil, how can we help but speak evil. We won’t know any different.

I grew up with history. My father is a retired history teacher. I have a history degree. I read and write history. Please, don’t let anyone take this away from our children. Fight to preserve our past so that we might learn and grow in our future.

Morning Coffee: Being A Mother

SummerMother’s Day was weeks ago but the job of being a mother never ends. It’s not a one-day-a-year job. It’s a 24/7 job that starts the day she knows she’s pregnant until the day she passes away. Doesn’t matter how old her children are, they will always be her children and she will always worry about them.

I worried about our son when, after college, he took a job in south Florida. He had to drive his then new-to-him pick-up truck all the way there while pulling a trailer. He’d never pulled a load like that before. I worried about him when Hurricane Irma barreled down on them last year.

I worried about our daughter when she decided to make a much needed change and took a job in another state, in a city she’d never visited before. I worried about her when she did a couple contracts as a men’s maximum security prison nurse.

I worried about them when love relationships fell apart and they called because they thought their entire world was falling apart and only their mother could help. I worried about their jobs and what would happen if (you fill in the blank). I worried about them when they were sick or injured and too far away for me to do anything except listen and pray.

At the same time, I feel tremendous pride in their confidence, their sense of adventure. I could never have packed all my things and moved all by myself to somewhere I’d never been before. I was married when we moved half way across country. Our daughter is coming to visit next week and she’s making the very long drive alone. She’s done this before and all went well, but that doesn’t mean I won’t worry about her the entire day she’s traveling here, and then again the entire day she’s traveling back home.

Being a mother is not for the faint of heart. It’s not an easy job. It’s not a job to take lightly. But it is a job that pays in happiness much greater than the sorrows and I wouldn’t do it differently for anything in the world.

Morning Coffee: Writers Write

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Writers write, and that’s something I haven’t been doing a lot of lately. My calendar has been pretty full for the last couple months; plus, I admit, I fell into a bit of a discouraged phase where I found it difficult to force myself back into the habit. So I turned to my wonderful writer friends for example and encouragement.

My WisRWA friends are the best! They’re always right there when someone needs a suggestion or just a little pick-me-up.

Writing is a tough business. You can pen a brilliant novel and have trouble selling it. Publishers are, of course, all about making money and your great American novel might not be what’s selling at the moment. Or, maybe they just bought a similar work from a name they know will sell on recognition alone. Again, you may have offered them the best book they’ve read in the last decade but if no one knows your name they might have trouble selling enough copies to clear their bottom line. It’s all in the timing, who you know, and who knows you. That’s where conferences come into play. You get to schmooze with editors and agents, pitch your novel, get your name and face out there.

But before a writer can get to the point of even worrying about such things…a writer has to write. I’m in between these two stages of my career. I have one completed novel I think is really good and another where I’m struggling to write that elusive first draft. It can be hard to work on the latter when the attempts to sell the former leave you questioning why you’re doing this to yourself in the first place.

I’m also finding my creative juices drained by my weekly search for a blog topic. With that in mind, I’m going to change from posting every week to every other week. I hope no one is too disappointed, but I figure it’s a win/win situation. You get better, more interesting, blog content and I get a steady flow of new chapters for my work-in-progress.

Morning Coffee: The Wedding

SummerNot a wedding. The Wedding. You know which one I mean, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the handsome ginger-haired British prince and the divorced bi-racial American actress. The new Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Until now, a storyline you’d only find in a romance novel.

Millions of people from around the world watched in awe, many getting up very early or staying up all night, so as to not miss a moment of the magic. There were the celebrities alongside the royals. There was the bride’s African American mother wiping tears of joy from her face while the groom’s family sat stoically and stone-faced in their seats; no doubt happy for the prince but just not accustomed to showing their emotions. And then there was the black American Episcopalian Rev Michael Curry who gave a beautiful and rousing sermon on love; again, much to the surprise of the royal family.

A lot was said about what everyone was wearing: the style, the designer, the color, and, of course, the hats. Leading up to the big day much was heard from the bride’s half-sister and half-brother about why they thought she was evil and hateful. Speculations were made over whether or not her father would be there to give her away…and ultimately, why not. I think there was probably more jealousy and tabloid money greed than heartfelt warnings behind their tales of woe.

What struck me the most, other than the beautiful clothes and flowers and people, was the love. The prince said, “You look amazing!” when his beautiful bride was handed to him at the altar. He could be seen wiping tears from his eyes on more than one occasion. The bride looked at him with a smile that could have lit all of St George’s Chapel brighter than any candles, electric lights, and the sun combined. They held hands during the ceremony. The Reverend was right when he spoke of “the redemptive power of love.” Love is everything. Love is all that matters. Before the ceremony I was uncertain whether or not I believed this marriage would last because the bride comes from such a different world than the groom. But when they looked at each other and said their vows I knew it was real. This is a love that can overcome everything thrown in its path. Perhaps because Prince Harry will never be king that pressure is off. He’s currently sixth in line to the throne. Or perhaps it’s because of Love. Love with a capital L.

*  Next week I’ll be on vacation. I’m going fishing in Canada and will be off the grid for a full week. I’ll be back on June 9th, when I’ll hopefully have a fish picture to rival my big catch of two years ago.

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June 2016