The Making of a Historical Novel

Writers get their ideas from many sources and I am no exception. The idea for my upcoming novel “Shiloh Valley” came from an article in my hometown German newspaper around 1979/80. The article covered a local figure, Heinrich Didier, who was a member of the State Defense Council during the revolution of 1849, an event I had never heard of before. His role in the short-lived uprising was not very flattering since he botched a weapons transport that deprived the rebels of much needed weapons. All in all, the revolution often resembled one big party and was crushed by Prussian troops after six weeks.

Most interesting for me, though, was the fact that Didier’s youngest son, 19-year-old Martin, immigrated to Belleville, Illinois, in 1849. Why would the son of a wealthy man immigrate to America, I wondered. I concluded that he was perhaps involved in the revolution and therefore feared for his life when it failed. Belleville was significant to me because I had just visited this town on a trip to the U.S. with my folk dance group.

The idea for a novel was born but it would take decades to its publication. After a research trip to St. Clair County, I spent several years writing and typing the first draft in German. My attempts at finding a publisher failed miserably (I was very naïve back then). Life intervened and I did not write again for many years.

Several years after moving to the U.S. I decided to translate my novel into English and revise it. The Civil War section of the novel required extensive research. Thankfully, by then the Internet allowed me to research regimental histories and even letters from soldiers. Still, I could not interest any literary agents in my work. In the meantime, I had written another novel, “Oktober Heat,” which covered the early years of the Cold War in my home county. I published this cozy mystery in 2015 and turned my attention to picture books next.

But in the back of my head I could not let go of “Shiloh Valley.” I had fallen in love with the characters and wanted to share them with the world. I hired a content editor and spent the next year revising the story again. Now I am almost ready to present it to the world. Stay tuned!

Looking Back on 2019

It is time to reflect on the past year and to set my goals for next year. In my personal life one event stood out about all others: My husband and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with an unforgettable trip to Wyoming.

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We began our vacation in Grand Teton National Park after Labor Day. Wildlife was sparse during our visit, but the beautiful vistas and mountains made up for it. Then we headed to Yellowstone National Park for the second time, concentrating on the geyser basins in the western part of the park. We took our time exploring small basins, canyons and loop drives that were much less crowded than the main attractions. One time we were close to White Dome geyser when it erupted. What an amazing experience!

 

Author highlights:

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While I did not publish a new book this year, I won two awards for my book “Common Backyard Birds”: Second Place in Feathered Quill Awards for young readers and First Place for best photography in the Purple Dragonfly book awards. The awards brought new sales for me, primarily in public libraries across the country.

Next year I plan on publishing a new picture book, most likely about wetlands.

I have also been busy giving presentations at Rotary club meetings, libraries, and retirement communities.

Overall, I can look back at the past year with gratitude while seeking growth and new opportunities in the new year. Happy New Year to all!

 

The Summer We Watched “Poldark” Again

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Last year, we watched the 1975 BBC series “Poldark” (let’s call it “#1), which spurred me to read the 12 Winston Graham novels back to back (read my blog post here).

This summer, I checked out the new version of “Poldark” – #2 in short – from our library to compare the two interpretations. Here is my review:

The Good: Overall, casting was excellent. Our absolute favorite was Aunt Agatha, followed by George Warleggan (a more sinister portrayal than #1).

The Not-Quite-Great: Demelza did not have the spunky and joyful personality I so adored in #1.  Ross, on the other hand, had mostly one facial expression: brooding. He seldom smiled and I sorely missed the chemistry of Ross #1 and Demelza #1.

The Great: Just like in the books the landscape of Cornwall was the true star of the show. The cinematography was superb and made the locations very real.

Overall it was a delightful experience and I am looking forward to the fifth and final season.

 

Image: Herbythyme (https://commons.wikimedia.org)

Der Sommer 1976

Die gegenwärtige Hitzewelle in Europa erweckt in mir Erinnerungen an die erste extreme Hitzewelle meines Lebens – der Sommer 1976. Damals war ich Schülerin an einem Wirtschaftsgymnasium im Kreissitz. Nach kurzer Busfahrt zum Bahnhof und einer etwa halbstündigen Zugfahrt mussten meine Freundinnen und ich noch fast eine halbe Stunde zu Fuß zum Schulzentrum laufen, und das ohne jeglichen Schatten unterwegs. Es war selbst bei gutem Wetter eine anständige Strecke. Und dann begannen die Temperaturen anzusteigen…

Leider begannen die Schulferien in Rheinland-Pfalz in jenem Jahr spät. In meiner Schule bekamen wir Hitzefrei, wenn das Thermometer um 11 Uhr morgens 27° C anzeigte. Das bedeutete, dass wir wochenlang jeden Tag Hitzefrei hatten! Die Heimfahrt im überhitzten Zug war kein Zuckerschlecken, aber die Belohnung wartete daheim auf mich: das neue Waldschwimmbad meiner Gemeinde. Hier lernte ich nicht nur schwimmen, sondern traf mich auch mit meinen Freundinnen.

Meine Noten litten nicht unter dem wochenlangen Hitzefrei. Als dann die Ferien endlich begannen, war die Hitze vorbei und ich war froh, dass ich während einer der schlimmsten Hitzewellen des vorigen Jahrhunderts mein heißes Klassenzimmer gegen das kühle Naß unseres Schwimmbades eintauschen konnte.

 

The Summer of 1976

The current heat wave in Europe brings back memories of the first extreme heat wave I experienced in my lifetime – the summer of 1976. I was attending a high school at the county seat, which required a bus ride to the train station, a train ride of about 30 minutes and a half hour walk to the school with no shade along the way. It was an ordeal in good weather. And then temperatures climbed up and up.

 

School vacations in Germany are staggered by states and my state of Rheinland-Pfalz began vacations very late that year. Our school’s rule required early dismissal of students if the temperature reached 27° Celsius at 11 o’clock. For weeks on end, that’s when school ended. Traveling home by train was an ordeal in such hot weather, but a refreshing reward awaited me at home: the swimming pool my township had opened just a few years before the record heat wave. Not only did I learn to swim there, the pool was the center of my social life as a teenager.

 

My grades did not suffer from early dismissals. Temperatures finally dropped when school vacation began, making me even more grateful that I could trade a hot classroom for dips into a pool during one of the worst heat waves of the last century.

A Look Back at 2018

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The most exciting event of the past year was the release of my new book “Common Backyard Birds.” Thanks to the advance copies I sent to reviewers the book is now available in public libraries from coast to coast. As a public speaker I shared my images and experiences with audiences at libraries, book stores, garden clubs, Rotary clubs and even a high school ecology club.

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The weather has been exceptionally bad for this outdoor photographer. Just when we thought winter was over we experienced snow in April. Spring was short and the summer long, hot and extremely wet. If we did not smash the local record for most rainfall in a year we came in at a very close second. The frogs in our pond seemed to enjoy the weather more than we did.

Let’s hope that the new year will bring more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, good health and new experiences!