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13 Nov
2017

Thanksgiving, The American Holiday

Autumn Bouquet to Celebrate Thanksigving, Bev Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know that Thanksgiving did not become a permanent official national holiday until 1941 when Congress established the fourth Thursday of the month of November as Thanksgiving Day?

Today, Thanksgiving is a most American holiday tradition in which we gather with friends and family to share a sumptuous feast and express our gratitude.   Many of us assume Thanksgiving in North America began with the Pilgrims story of Thanksgiving.  The roots of our Thanksgiving can be traced back to the ancient traditions of celebrating the bounty of the harvest.  I also discovered there were earlier ceremonies by other British colonists and Spanish explorers in North America before the Plymouth celebration of 1621.  Although Thanksgiving in the colonies became a regular event by the middle of the 17th century, the first national Thanksgiving was proclaimed in 1777 by the Continental Congress.  The early Presidents continued to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving but it was not an official holiday.  In fact, by the middle of the 19th century Thanksgiving was limited to individual state observances and had evolved from the religious and civil day of commemoration and giving thanks to a family holiday of feasting.  President Lincoln was convinced to declare a national holiday in 1863 in an effort to unite the war-torn country.  Lincoln’s successors proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day each year until it became a permanent official holiday in 1941.

In researching my family history and writing the story of “Sarah’s Secret”, I often found myself thinking about life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries compared to my life today.  Since I did not inherit any family traditions of Thanksgiving, my curiosity led me to explore some of the history of one of this favorite of American holiday which combines the ancient traditions of harvest festivals and the religious observances of the Puritans grateful and giving thanks for their survival after a year of sickness and scarcity.

Without family stories or traditions, I used my imagination about how my grandparents might have celebrated Thanksgiving Day.  Since it was not a firm national holiday and observed differently by state, my grandparents might not have even celebrated Thanksgiving as struggling homesteaders.  Certainly, after my grandfather died leaving my grandmother in dire and impoverished circumstances, her ability to provide an extravagant feast would have been very limited.  Yet, the tradition of acknowledging God’s blessings, giving thanks and expressing gratitude would have been important to my grandmother, who had a strong Christian faith.  I imagine that when the President of the United States did declare a day of Thanksgiving, which may or may not have been in November, that she probably commemorated the day.  She may have cooked something special, maybe a wild game or fowl caught by my grandfather or her oldest son.  I am convinced that she would ensure that she and her family offered a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings in their lives.  Since her birthday was November 24th and often fell on Thanksgiving, I also imagine that she probably ignored or discounted any celebration of her November birthday as too frivolous and extravagant.

Greetings! And Happy Thanksgiving, from Bev Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful not only for my comfortable twenty-first century life, but I am also grateful for the opportunity to write about the strong courageous woman who was my grandmother.  Although her birthday this year falls on the day after Thanksgiving, I will honor her especially for her inspiration.  I have so much respect for this proud woman who was left a widow and raised her five children while she struggled with illness and poverty.

Do you have inherited family traditions on Thanksgiving?  What do you imagine your grandparents or great grandparents did to celebrate a day of family feasting or to express gratitude and give thanks in their faith on Thanksgiving Day?

(Previous versions of this article have been published in “The Writing Life” in 2015 and 2016.)

 

17 Oct
2017

Learning More About My White Privilege

Eyes and Perception of the Word

I have opposed discrimination and racism beginning when I was in high school at the time of the lunch counter boycotts in the South. I wanted to ask retail and service establishments if they would serve “Negroes” in our very white town in Montana with only three known African American families. I was conducting this survey because I was afraid it might create problems for those families.

Later in my thirties, living in Detroit, I was confronted daily by the impact of racism on the population in this majority black city. I volunteered with an organization that provided anti-racism education workshops to churches, community groups, non-profit organizations and businesses. Through interactive workshops, deep discussions and sometimes painful feedback from black colleagues, I learned about my white privilege, how much prejudice and racism I carried and the many ways our culture has institutionalized racism. I also learned how much I didn’t know about the African American experience in the United States.

I now live in California and find myself learning more and again. Not only is there so much I don’t know about the black experience, I am pretty ignorant about the experience of being brown (Mexican, Hispanic and Latino/a). Although I did have one personal experience…as a high school student when I was asked to leave a restaurant because the staff thought I was Mexican. (I tanned easily and my hair wasn’t gray as it is now.)

I was reminded of that humiliating experience recently when I attended a one-woman show, performed by Irma Herrera, “Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name.”  She taught the audience the correct pronunciation as “Ear-ma.”  Proud of her Mexican and American heritage, Irma recounted experiences from her life requesting nuns, professors and strangers to accept the Spanish pronunciation of her name. Through poignant stories and humor, she told us how pronouncing her own name had often resulted in insults, pain and the denial of her identity. She recounts experiences of rejection and humiliation which brought back the memory of my lone experience of rejection based on an assumption and stereotype. I remember being so embarrassed and mortified in front of my friends. However, I refused to leave and my friends stood up for me. That experience so many years ago certainly increased my sensitivity to discrimination based on color and stereotypes.

I left Irma Herrera’s show with my own emotional tenderness. But most important, I had a clearer understanding of the historical context of the discrimination and racism experienced when growing up brown in this country. With the mirror she offered, I was forced to re-evaluate my thoughts, actions and biases once again.

Latino woman with catrina

Last weekend, I saw the film “Dolores,” a provocative documentary about the civil rights icon and labor leader, Dolores Huerta. The film provides a personal story of Dolores Huerta’s involvement in the founding of the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez in the context of the economic, social and physical violence experienced by the farm workers in California.

From these two recent experiences, I recognize again how my white privilege contributes to my ignorance of what it is like to be brown or black in the United States (or Native American or Asian American). I am grateful to have financial security, respect and a supportive community. I don’t have to worry about the police response to me because of my color. I grew up with a good education. I have been able to purchase homes without redlining. I have not experienced discrimination based on color in my career.

I continue to learn that my life privileges have protected me from the institutionalization of our country’s racial biases. My experience of gender bias, however, is more direct and personal. But that is a different blog.

12 Oct
2017
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Book Review: “The Underground River” by Martha Conway

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

The Underground River by Martha ConwayMae Bedloe is the seamstress and all-around support for her more famous cousin Comfort Vertue. In 1838 they are in search of new opportunities in the theatre for Comfort who has booked them on the steamboat Moselle headed to St. Louis. After six days on board the Moselle, it sinks on the Ohio River.

While Comfort is hired to give lectures for an abolitionist, Mae ultimately finds work with a struggling acting troupe that performs on a floating theatre. Mae makes a place for herself with the troupe helping with costumes, ticket sales and other support tasks. As she takes on more assignments, and finds acceptance from members of the troupe, her confidence grows. I enjoyed the character development as Mae moves from a quiet and reserved subordinated cousin to an independent competent young woman taking risks to ferry slave babies to freedom.

The story is engrossing and a “page turner.” What a surprise when Mae boldly steps on stage putting the acting troupe in danger in order to take morally correct but illegal action. I found myself cheering Mae for her boldness and moral commitment at the same time I worried about her survival. The author, Martha Conway provides a well-researched historical context of another divisive time in our history which foreshadows the bitterly fought Civil War a few decades later.

I highly recommend this book.

25 Sep
2017

A Book Tour Experience…Virtually

 Old BusBook Tour Virtual Blog "Sarah's Secret"

 

Marketing my Own Book

“Where are you going on your book tour?”

Friends and strangers often ask about where I am going on my book tour when they learn about my new historical novel. Those interested but not involved in the publishing business may not be aware that authors are increasingly expected to take responsibility for marketing their books, even those traditionally published. Independently published authors like me have to become our own marketing “firms.”

Book Tour or Virtual Book Tour?

Arranging a book tour to physical book stores is daunting and requires ingenuity, persistence and a lot of work. In the pre-Internet days, an author might work with a publicity agent who would then arrange for broadcast interviews, personal appearances at bookstores, and also pump the local press for feature articles or mentions. The book signing at a book store would be a central event with good marketing and sales opportunities. Travel to locations was part of the grind.

Vintage BaggageAs we know, the world has changed and brick and mortar retail is no longer king. Sales and distribution have largely shifted to e-commerce and online platforms. Thus, to be present to an audience increasingly means, being visible and find-able on the Internet. I am still a fan of the local bookstore as are many other readers and authors; yet marketing only in that space is unrealistic and limiting. Fortunately, there is an easier and simpler option on the Internet – Virtual Book Tours which can provide a platform to get your book in front of hundreds of readers without traveling.

 

How It Works; How I Did It

Of course, you can arrange your own virtual tour by contacting blogs who focus on your genre or topic. But I took the easier option and hired an expert, Amy Bruno who is a long-time member of the blogging community. She has established relationships with fellow bloggers and writers and knew which ones would be a good match with my book. Through her business Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, she could tailor the tour to my needs. She arranged book reviews, interviews, excerpts, articles and a give-away contest for my book, Sarah’s Secret with fifteen blog sites whose followers have an interest in historical fiction.

Planning the Tour

We began the planning over two months before the tour was scheduled. Once the blog sites were identified and the type of posting requested, I provided complimentary copies of Sarah’s Secret for the bloggers and the give-away contest as well as the requested excerpts, articles or interviews. The actual tour took place over a three-week period with one or two postings each week day. In addition to the visibility which Amy gives each tour from her website and Facebook page, announcements went out from my own Facebook and LinkedIn pages as well.

Upsides and Downsides

Of course, the downside of touring virtually is that I didn’t have an opportunity for face-to-face interaction as is possible in a physical book reading but I was happy with the experience. My positive outcomes include some great reviews, an opportunity to submit my book for review in the UK and an increase in sales! And it was a lot easier than arranging it myself or physically traveling.

If you have done a virtual book tour, I’d love to hear about your experience.

23 Aug
2017

“Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” – Live in San Francisco

A live performance of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, the NPR’s News Quiz Show in San Francisco?Wait Wait Don't Tell Me logo

Rush for Tickets

My friends and I rushed, along with hundreds of others, to get tickets to one of our favorite NPR programs as soon as it was announced. Davies Symphony Hall was sold out for two nights. We roared with laughter as Peter Sagal and his side kick Bill Kurtis entertained us joking about items in the news. They were glad to be here, even though it brought them “two thousand miles closer to North Korea.” We applauded their support of the progressive attitudes in the Bay Area. Peter was glad to be able to come to the Bay Area before he “would need a passport” to get here.

We got tickets for the Friday night performance but we missed seeing Jerry Rice, one of the Forty-Niner’s greats, who appeared the night before in the program as the “Not My Job Guest.” Instead we saw Lars Ulrich, the lead drummer for the heavy metal band Metallica. Not being a heavy metal fan, I would have preferred seeing Jerry Rice.

“Each week on the radio you can test your knowledge against some of the best and brightest in the news and entertainment world while figuring out what’s real news and what’s made up.” The jokes are always a reflection of the current news and Friday was no exception. We have been hearing about the complete solar eclipse on August 21st which will be the last one in our life time. Or as Peter Sagal remarked, “if we all live until the 21st.” He reported that 92% of the counties in the path of the eclipse voted for Trump. He quipped, “That was the last thing they wanted, to make America dark again!”

Laughing It Off

Many of us have lamented the depressing state of our current political news which leaves us dismayed, disappointed and fearful. Given such disheartening responses, I think it is particularly important to find humor and laughter to lighten our hearts and our days. Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me offers all of us an hour with a little respite and some laughter despite the seriousness of the news.

Peter Sagal and Bill Kurtis

photo: Tony Nagelmann

Local news was also a target of the program. Sagal mentioned the Google engineer who wrote a memo explaining why there are so few women in tech. After he was fired, perhaps he went to work for Uber. Sagal reported that Uber also wanted to improve the male-female ratio and were searching for a female CEO. They had narrowed the candidates down to three…three men, “one has tried knitting and one listened once,” according to Sagal.

Sagal mentioned the news story on the $90,000 purchase of the exclusive street in San Francisco by a couple who don’t even live in the City. The private street which includes parking spaces and the sidewalk was sold at an auction for unpaid taxes. The couple seems unsure what they will do with this now controversial property. Peter suggested they consider making it into a trailer park.

Many of us are now terrified of the consequences of Trump’s threat of “fire and fury” raining over North Korea. Despite his reassurance, Guam is now in the cross-hairs between North Korea and Trump. Peter Sagal offered a lighter view by suggesting that Guam would experience an increase in tourism because people would go to Guam “to get a healthy glow.”

Try It, You’ll Like It

If you haven’t listened to and laughed with Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, find it on the schedule of your local NPR station or listen to the podcast.

I want to laugh some more.  Do you have any good jokes about our news???

17 Aug
2017
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Book Review: “No One Helped: Kitty Genovese, New York City and the Myth of Urban Apathy” By Marcia M. Gallo

 

Book Reviewed by Beverly Scott

"No One Helped" by Marcia Gallo, book reviewSome of us remember and many of us have heard the story of Kitty Genovese’s rape and murder in New York in 1964. I remember as a young woman hearing about her murder and being terrified to go to New York City. I also believed that New Yorkers were an uncaring bunch. Most of what we have heard is wrong.

Based on thorough and detailed research, Marcia Gallo examines the accounts of Kitty Genovese’s tragic death beginning with the early reports the New York Times and other papers. Gallo shines a light on how the details of her attack, her lesbian relationship and the actual response of her neighbors were either ignored or inaccurately reported. She demonstrates how the emphasis of the Times, and especially editor A.M. Rosenthal’s personal interpretation of inaccurate facts of the case, has created and perpetuated the myth of the moral apathy of her neighbors. His version of the events has lived on for decades.

Gallo presents a clear and accessible historical narrative which includes: the public reporting, the residents of the neighborhood of Kew Gardens in Queens where the murder took place, the emerging lesbian and gay community, the issues with reporting a crime during that time, Kitty Genovese’s family and lover, and the many other influences which have often been ignored. This is historical narrative that does not have the emotional drama of crime fiction. It is a well written and detailed analysis of a significant historical and cultural event. As described on the back cover, “No One Helped traces the Genovese story’s development and resilience while challenging the myth it created.”

Book at Amazon

More about Marcia Gallo (LinkedIn)

9 Aug
2017
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Book Review: “Rosette: A Novel of Pioneer Michigan” by Cindy Rinaman Marsch

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Book Review, Historical Fiction, Rosette by Cindy Rinaman MarschThe book opens in 1888 with Rosette’s reflection on her decision to leave her marriage two years earlier, abandon her children who are mostly grown and take the train from Michigan to Dakota Territory to live with her oldest son. This reflection written by the author, emerges from the fragment of a journal entry where Rosette has crossed out her description of her wedding day and inserts “Unholy and Unhappy bonds of marriage” and describes her feelings as “sincerely DETEST and ABHOR.”

Marsch then takes us back to an earlier life, introducing the journal of Rosette Cordelia Ramsdell in September 1856. Rosette is an amazingly literate woman, school teacher and accomplished seamstress living in rural Michigan. The story follows Rosette through the courtship, marriage and births of her children and introduces us to members of her family. Marsch uses the brief excerpts from Rosette’s journal to provide authenticity to the story.

Marsch presents a story consistent with the journal, which she found and translated, and continues much of the language from it, inventing facts in the story only when necessary. Confessing that she is “fascinated by books that reveal whole persons by unearthing and sometimes embellishing the primary source materials,” she has offered a gift to the memory of Rosette and her family. Other than the journal, she found only scraps of information. Rosette and her husband Otis have disappeared into history.

Although I wished for a little more mystery and drama as I read the story, I admire what Marsch has accomplished and followed the story to the end. Rosette gives us an authentic picture of rural life in Michigan in the last half of the 1800’s. That makes it fascinating for those of us interested in history. Book Website

 

26 Jul
2017
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Book Review: “A Crooked Smile” by Terri Tate

Book Review: "A Crooked Smile" by Terri Tate

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Terri Tate’s memoir is powerful, touching and intimate. She takes the reader through the excruciatingly painful journey of cancer discovered under her tongue. She shares her fears, her longing, her love and her gradual acceptance of who she has become.  Anne Lamont says in the foreword that she “has paid through the nose to stay alive.” She also paid with losing part of her jaw, her tongue and re-arranging her face. She takes us into the depths of her despair, her childish dependence on her husband and her search for faith and belief in a Greater Power as well as in herself.

Terri is an excellent writer. I felt as if I was right next to her as she struggled for her survival. She tells a story that is honest and revealing. Terri shows up as a whole, loving, spiritual human being by the end of her story. And, speaking of the end, I thought it ended a little too quickly. Suddenly she was healthy, single and a successful. Despite that minor issue, “A Crooked Smile” is a  beautiful, intimate story of survival and triumph.

11 Jul
2017

The Lone Ranger was Black*

Was the Lone Ranger modeled after Bass Reeves, the first black U.S. deputy marshal who worked thirty-two years in the Arkansas and Oklahoma territories in the late 1800’s?  He may have been.

Lone Ranger, Tonto

“The Lone Ranger” classic TV and radio shows embedded this image of the character (with Tonto) into American lore.

History Is Biased

“The Lone Ranger was Black: Reintegrating Minority Viewpoints into Historical Fiction.” This intriguing title of one of the sessions offered at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland drew me in.  The session addressed the issue of bias in our history and the impact of that bias on authors of historical fiction.  Today we no longer view history as “the truth” but rather a story told through the lens of the teller.  Did you love the Lone Ranger when you were growing up?  I did.  We assumed he was a courageous (and white) lawman.  That’s how the story was told.

Readers of historical fiction express their fondness for this genre because they like a particular historical period and enjoy learning from fiction set in an historical context.  Readers also say they want accurate history in the stories they read.  Historical fiction writers have a responsibility to the historical record.  But what record?

American history, Black history, buffalo soldiers

Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry or the 9th Cavalry, while stationed at Yosemite National Park. ca. 1899 (Shutterstock).

Finding Alternative Viewpoints

A key question for authors of historical fiction is how to tell stories and develop characters with lives extremely different from their own given the bias of historical sources.  How do we find alternative viewpoints?  How can we do justice to the painful experiences of non-dominant characters in our stories?

Most of us have heard the story of Custer’s Last Stand or the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  From the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne perspective, they believed they were betrayed because their treaty rights were ignored after gold was discovered on native lands.  White Americans saw the Indians as wild and bloodthirsty and stubbornly refusing to move to the reservation.  For many of us, we learned only the white American history version growing up.

Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger

When we watched and admired the Lone Ranger as children we accepted how he was portrayed.  Yet, he probably was based on the real-life story of Bass Reeves.  Reeves, a former slave, whose exploits were famous, was imposing at 6’2”.  The first black lawman west of the Mississippi, he cut a striking figure on his large gray (almost white) horse, while wearing his trademark black hat and twin .45 Colt Peacemakers cross-draw style. He was never touched by a bullet although he brought in 3000 criminals alive and 14 dead, killed in self-defense.  Reeves was called the “Indomitable Marshall.”  He left silver dollars as his calling card.  Other similarities to the Lone Ranger included his friendship and knowledge of Native American tribes and languages and his use of disguises to capture those he pursued.  The racism in our culture probably prevented the Lone Ranger hero from being portrayed as a black lawman.

Lone Ranger, Bass Reeves

“Who WAS that Masked Man?” Was it Bass Reeves?

The historical narrative is actually composed of multiple narratives.  We have often learned only one.  Most of the stories about homesteaders on the prairie who risked their lives and battled extreme heat and white-out blizzard conditions portray them as white.  In doing the research for my historical novel, “Sarah’s Secret,” I discovered a little-known town in Kansas called Nicodemus which drew freed slaves to homestead in the surrounding area after the Civil War.

Offering an Opposing Voice

As writers of historical fiction, we have an obligation to our readers to offer an accurate portrayal of both our characters and the historical context.  Our discussion in this conference session emphasized the importance of deep knowledge and experience of the culture in which our story is set as well as a recognition of the historical biases of the sources we are using.  This is especially important if the writer is writing in a cultural context other than her own.

Writing historical fiction provides us an opportunity to balance the bias of history by including an opposing voice of the non-dominant group in the story.  Since my protagonist, Sarah was traveling North by wagon through Kansas to return to Nebraska and her family, I thought it would add interest to the story to describe Sarah and her children unexpectedly encountering a black family in the middle of Kansas living near Nicodemus.

Sarah follows a narrow path with her seriously ill daughter to find help.  She discovers a welcoming family descended from former slaves who willingly share their modest home for several days while Sarah nurses her daughter back to health.  Her sons have fun with the son of the family. This was also an opportunity to include an opposing voice to traditional bias when Sarah tells her concerned son stories about her own and her father’s rejection of slavery, support for the Union in the Civil War and her family’s generosity toward “Negro” families when she was a child.

Have you been surprised when you learned a different narrative from the “official record?” Tell us about it.

*Thanks to J. James Cotter for leading the session “The Lone Ranger was Black: Reintegrating Minority Viewpoints into Historical Fiction” at the Historical Novel Society Conference, June 2017

6 Jul
2017
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Book Review: “Nicola’s Leg” by Natacha Pavlov

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

Book Review by Bev Scott AuthorThis book is the true life story of Nicola, told from the perspective of his leg. Nicola is taken when his parents flee the Russian Revolution to Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. Although his father, Nikita, is captured and presumed shot during their flight, his mother, Natacha continues and ultimately finds refuge at the Russian Orthodox Convent on the famous Mount of Olives. The story follows when Nicola as an adolescent he is encouraged by Natacha to go visit relatives in Eastern Europe; during his military service in Egypt in World War II; to his marriage to Maura and his role as a father to five children. He is imprisoned and tortured during Israel’s Six-Day War. His injuries result in the loss of his legs. It is this tragic loss that is the basis for the unusual title, “Nicola’s Leg.”

The author, Natacha Pavlov, writes a very engaging story about Nicola who is her grandfather. She uses the omnipotent voice to describe the travails and joys of Nicola’s life including his deep religious faith. The omnipotent voice is not as popular a style today as it was in the past and thus is unusual. It took me a few chapters to get used to it. However, Pavlov uses it well and draws the reader into Nicola’s story. I also enjoyed learning from a more personal level the impact of events in the first half of the twentieth century.

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