Morning Coffee: The Star Spangled Banner

fallI’ve been thinking long and hard about this week’s blog. Morning Coffee is not a political blog. It never has been and it never will be. My beliefs are mine, yours are yours, and that’s the way it should be. That’s the beauty of living in this country. But I feel compelled, with all that’s been done and reported over the last year, and most particularly as of late, to remind everyone of the history behind the Star Spangled Banner. Most of you will remember at least part of this from grade school.

In September of 1814, Francis Scott Key, a 35 year old lawyer, witnessed from a distance the Battle of Baltimore at Fort McHenry. Only weeks before the British had marched on Washington and burned the Capital, the Treasury, and the White House. They were now waging a sea battle against American soldiers on shore. For 25 hours Key watched from an American warship as British ships bombarded Fort McHenry with shells and rockets. From a distance of eight miles away, he was certain our men were outnumbered, outgunned, and would surely lose. But when the sun rose that final morning of September 15th he could see our flag still flying high over the fort and it so moved him that he penned the words we still sing today, putting them to the tune of a popular English song of the time.

The flag, which became known as the Star Spangled Banner, was 30×42 feet and had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. It was sewn by Mary Young Pickersgill, a 29 year old widow and professional flag maker, along with her daughter, three nieces, a 13 year old indentured servant, and possibly Mary’s mother. It took 300 yards of English wool bunting and each cotton star measured two feet in diameter. She was paid $405.90. She was paid an additional $168.54 to make a smaller identical “storm” flag of 17×25 feet which hung over the fort during the battle. Over the years, pieces of the original flag were clipped and awarded to various individuals. What remains of the flag is on display in the National Museum of American History in Washington DC.

While the song was used by the Navy in 1889 and President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, it did not become our official national anthem until March 3, 1931, under President Herbert Hoover.

But when did we begin regularly singing it before sporting events? That would be WWI and game one of the 1918 World Series. The two teams playing for the pennant that year were the Boston Red Sox (including Babe Ruth) and the Chicago Cubs, with game one hosted by Chicago on September 5th. Both teams had won six of the last fifteen championship titles. Despite this the mood was somber and attendance was lower than usual. In the year and half since the US had entered the Great War more than 100,000 soldiers had been lost, a bomb had exploded in Chicago the day before killing four people and injuring dozens more, and the Spanish Flu epidemic was beginning to sweep the nation.

But when the US Navy band struck up the Star Spangled Banner during the seventh inning something in the atmosphere changed. Red Sox infielder Fred Thomas, a Navy man granted furlough in order to play in the series, immediately turned to face the flag and give it a military salute. Other players turned with hands over their hearts as the already standing crowd began to sing. When the song ended, the previously quiet crowd broke into thunderous applause and the game continued. The song would be played at every Series game after. The Red Sox gave out free tickets to wounded veterans and honored them during the playing of the song at the sixth and final game. (The Red Sox won that year, four games to two.)

Red Sox owner Harry Frazee made it a regular part of all Boston home games. Other baseball parks began playing the anthem on holidays and at special events. By the end of WWII, NFL Commissioner Elmer Layden ordered it played at all football games and it soon spread to other sports, made easier and grander by the use of large sound systems and post-war patriotism.

Controversy over the practice is nothing new. In 1954, Baltimore Orioles general manager Arthur Ehlers briefly stopped playing the anthem altogether, complaining that too many fans were disrespecting the anthem by talking and laughing while it was played. He quickly gave in under pressure, though, and reinstated it a short month later.

While there will always be those protesting on either side of the issue, no matter what side with which you align yourself, never forget that it’s because we live in such a great country that we are even allowed to have contradicting views, and allowed to voice them, without fear. For that right we must always remember and honor those who fought, especially those who died, that we might have this freedom.

Morning Coffee: Lesson Learned

fallI was told to always carry my business cards with me because you just never know. Last December I switched purses to go to a Christmas party. The new bag was much smaller and as I held the card case in my hand I thought to myself, “No one’s going to ask for a card at a Christmas party. It’s not that kind of party.” So I left it in my every day purse and, wouldn’t you know it, someone asked for my card. She chastised me, and rightly so, for not having some cards with me.

Flash forward to two weeks ago. I was packing for our vacation out on the coast and, again, when I changed purses I stood looking at that card case in my hand and debated whether or not to bring them. Remembering that embarrassing moment at the Christmas party I not only put the card case in the new purse, but I also added some of my bookmarks. Our plane was not long in the air when I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation from the row behind me. (Let’s face it; I was practically sitting in their laps. It’s not like I had to listen very hard.) A gentleman was asking the woman sitting next to him what she did for a living. Her answer, “I’m a publisher!” He was, of course, a writer on the side (isn’t everyone?) so I was able to spend the rest of our 3 hour flight listening to her views on the publishing industry today, what writers need to do to get noticed, and what she is personally looking for. Needless to say, by the time we landed I had one of my cards in my hand and introduced myself while we waited to deplane. She’s interested in reading a partial manuscript once my revisions are complete. A week later, while visiting with friends of my sister, he asked for a card and she happily accepted a bookmark. She’s now an official follower of this blog. (Welcome, Leslie!)

If I hadn’t been reminded of my Christmas party error in judgment, and if I hadn’t learned from it, I would have missed out on two more opportunities to get my name out there. Sometimes we think we know everything and get irritated when someone else tries to tell us how to handle our business. As I’ve said before, you don’t have to accept every piece of advice offered, but it is wise to always listen. You never know what you might learn that will come in handy one day.

Morning Coffee: On Vacation

fallI am on vacation this week. A much needed get-away to celebrate my retirement with my sister on the west coast. So I will simply leave you with one of my poems. This was written years ago from a childhood memory. We lived on a hill and after a summer rain my two oldest brothers and I would rush outside to race our “ships” down the flooded gutter.

It originally appeared in The Villager magazine, October 1985, and then Priority Parenting, July 1992.

Until next week…

After The Rain

By Jane Yunker

Past dirty ankles the water rushed
tumbling the dam of leaves and sticks
built so carefully by muddy fingers
to stop the dreaded pirate ship
from plummeting down the sewer.

Morning Coffee: Self-Publishing

fallA couple weeks ago I wrote about my author friend Tina Susedik. This week I want to tell you about another, Beth James. Beth self-publishes and currently has three books available on Amazon. A fourth will be out soon…I hope.

Self-publishing isn’t for everyone, certainly isn’t for me, but I know a number of writers who do self-publish and I admire them for it. It’s hard work. You have to do everything. If you’re smart, after you write the book you hire a professional editor to go over it. Unless you have graphic artist talents you hire someone to do your cover art. Your techie side formats and downloads it to Amazon. You do all the marketing. You pay to have it printed and then you sell it, one copy at a time, at author events and festivals. It always amazes me how my self-publishing friends can find the time to write their next book when they have to spend so much time on the first. But somehow they do.

All that being said, I may one day find myself doing just that…self-publishing.

Product DetailsWe’ve all been disappointed after spending money on an Amazon deal for a self-published book that was not very good: confusing plot, horrendous grammar and punctuation, and all the typos. (Drives me crazy! I even marked up one with my red pen and then threw it away when I was finished. And it was a really good story.) As I said earlier, if smart, a self-published writer will pay a professional editor to catch what they’ve missed. Fortunately, not all self-published authors are that untalented or sloppy. Beth is one of the outstanding ones.

Product DetailsThen why not go the traditional route? There are many reasons. Even good novels can’t always find a publisher. The publishing business is tough. They get inundated with submissions, many not so good, but many are really good and they just can’t take them all. It comes down to cost vs income. They need to pay their bills, too. Some authors prefer to keep complete control over their work. They don’t want to have to make edits they don’t like. They don’t want to accept a cover design that doesn’t represent their view of the story. As for profits, publishers and agents do get a percentage of the sales and not all authors are willing to pay that when they believe they can do the job just as well themselves and keep all the profits. It’s all about control.

Product DetailsI recently finished reading Beth’s “The Promise of Return”, book 2 of her three book series “A Dream or Reality”, and I can’t wait for book 3 to find out what happens. After book 3 I may have to back track and buy her debut stand-alone novel, “Gitana – Life Plan”. I hear that’s another great read.

You won’t be disappointed with any of these reads.


Morning Coffee: The Next Chapter Begins

fallToday is the first day of my formal retirement. As I’ve said in the past, my decision was based on multiple reasons, including the chance to spend more time with my parents, visiting my children who live out of state and, of course, pursuing my dream of being a full-time writer. (Not to mention that bucket list that just keeps growing.)

At a conference back in May I pitched my first novel, “Mary Bishop”, an historical women’s fiction with romantic elements, to two different agents. Both voiced an interest in reading a partial manuscript. One asked for the first five chapters, along with a synopsis, but strongly recommended I add approximately 10,000 words. At the time it was 81,500 words in length. The second asked for the first three chapters, along with a synopsis. Since then I’ve been working on those revisions. I like to work with a red pen on paper and this week I completed that first step. Do these changes add 10,000 words? I don’t know. That’s part of the reason why I chose to do it this way. I didn’t want to get caught up in watching the word count go up and down at the corner of the screen. I wanted my changes to be right for the story, not right for the word count.

Next week I leave on a vacation to celebrate my retirement, so I will set aside these hand-written notes for now and come back to them when I return. Then I will type them, tweaking more as I go along, and hope that I add enough words to feel I did what was right for both my story and the agent’s needs. After all, this is her business. She knows what publishers want to sell this kind of novel. My plan is to have everything ready to go out by the end of October. Then it will be time to get back to my second novel, “The Healing Heart”, which was put on hold this summer. I will do this while trying to not obsess about my submission; although, I probably will anyway. Hopefully, at least one of the agents will want to read the full manuscript.

I will keep you informed about both my writing, and my bucket list.