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Friday, March 28, 2014

Visiting a Book Club Long Distance

Had a lovely adventure on Thursday morning, March 20, 2014 with the Daytime Book Group of the Faculty and Spouse Club of Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia.

Lee in Iowa and Becky in Georgia
And I didn't even have to leave home to do it.

My daughter, Becky Delecuona has been active in the group for many years and when my novel Too Much Left Unsaid  came out last summer she suggested that it would be fun to have me come down and meet with her book club. When the group scheduled my book for March (and especially this March when winter has just gone crazy all over the country) we considered whether a drive from Pella, Iowa, to August, Georgia would be a good idea. NOT.

So we began making alternative plans. Jacqui Allison was scheduled to host the group and she was a most gracious hostess. I missed the treats, but enjoyed the company via Skype.

  •  Jacqui set up a Skype connection and AppleTV so that pictures from her Mac computer could be shown on her TV screen. 
  •  Barb Ashton, my housemate and technology guru, got me set up on Skype in our dining room.
  • Jacqui and I checked out the connections a week in advance.
  • Tuesday morning, we had a lovely chat about writing, history, my book, and life in the mid-twentieth century.
Book Clubbers of the world. This is your opportunity to invite a not-quite-world-famous author (ME) to come to your meeting and chat about books. I even have a set of questions about my book that I would gladly send to you. You might even see me post a few questions on this blog. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Another History Lesson (Part 2)

                 A few days ago I blogged about "Bloody Sunday," when civil rights advocates began an aborted march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to petition for voting rights that were being denied to African American citizens.  On that day, April 7, 1965, police and state troopers attacked the marchers, and three days later three white ministers were beaten by mobs and one, James Reeb of Boston died of his injuries.
            I used the events in my novel Too Much Left Unsaid when I told of fictional minister Aaron Connors' decision to be part of the third attempt to make the march on March 21.
            Aaron told his congregation that he would go down to Alabama to take part in the march and invited anyone interested to accompany him. He went alone, but met there his nephew Eddie's best friend, Dar Jones, a black law student from Howard Law School.

        Below is another section from my book:

        "On Thursday, March 25, 25,000 people reached the State Capitol Building where Dr. King delivered an address. He spoke of "a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience...."He concluded by promising, "I know you are asking today, How long will it take? I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long."
        Twenty-five thousand people do not disperse in a hurry. Some marched back along the way they had come or away in various directions satisfied with the outcome. Others hitched rides or rode in cars provided by volunteers like Viola Liuzzo back to Selma. Dar and Aaron returned to the campus at the St. Jude Educational Institute, a private Roman Catholic high school on the outskirts of Montgomery where they had camped on the final evening of the march. Aaron found a pay phone to call Joan [his wife] reporting their elation, but also their bone-tired fatigue. He told her he would start back in the morning.   
        Later on, while Aaron sat listening to his portable radio, Dar called Parkersville to talk to his sister, Sophie. "You should've been there, Soph! People were screaming and laughing and dancing in the street. Dr. King speaks the hopes of our generation. Last night Eddie's Uncle Aaron and I camped at this Catholic church and school and Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis Jr. sang for us. Peter, Paul and Mary, and Frankie Laine, and Tony Bennett. Today we finished the march and listened to Dr. King speak. After the beatings and arrests and strain, this actually did feel like we shall overcome at last."
        Sophie was watching on television some of the footage of the day's events as she talked to her brother. "Dar! Wait! there's a news flash coming on now. Oh, my God! Listen! Here's what they are saying: Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit mother of five who was assisting with the march, was murdered by four members of the Ku Klux Klan. More news to come..."
        "Viola? Murdered? No-oo! That's awful! I met her, Soph! She was at the hospitality desk in Brown Chapel. We talked together. She was at the first aid station yesterday and today. She drove back and forth taking people where they needed to be. Eddie's Uncle Aaron knew her. Are you sure what you heard?"
        "More news to come is all they are saying now. Mama's frantic that you're down there. Do you think it was worth the struggle?"
        Dar left the question unanswered as he turned around and looked at Aaron. Aaron sat with his head in his hand, having just heard the same news from the radio.
        "Got to go, Soph. Tell Mama I'm safe. I'll get back to school as soon as I can. I'll call from DC."
        Aaron looked up when Dar tapped his shoulder. Tears streamed down his face. Dar scowled, too angry to be sad yet.
        "Is it worth it, Rev. Connors? No one seemed to care when only black people died. Now we have people's attention, what's next?"
        Aaron drew a deep breath. "I can't answer your question, Dar. I wish I could. What I would want is for the nation to be upset when anybody is killed. If God is carrying his purpose out, it seems too many lives are being wasted in the process."

There is more to Dar and Aaron's story. I wrote in my novel. But the historical background includes these facts:

·         Viola Liuzzo was a real person, a mother from Detroit, who helped with the march and was murdered on that night.
·         Martin Luther King's words are quoted from the speech he gave on March 25 at Montgomery.
·         Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter, Paul and Mary, Frankie Laine, and Tony Bennett actually did perform at the campground of the St. Jude Catholic High School outside Montgomery on Wednesday night.

The events of that month in Alabama did catch the attention of people around the nation and a voting rights bill was passed by Congress in the summer of 1965.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Another history lesson: Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965 (Part 1)

On March 7, 1965, forty-nine years ago yesterday, events came together in Selma, Alabama, which passed into history as "Bloody Sunday." I wrote about this event and the weeks that followed in my novel Too Much Left Unsaid. Here is the beginning of my chapter, featuring the son of my protagonist, Mattie Connors.
            Aaron Connors, pastor of White Grove Presbyterian Church, believed in God and country, in equal rights for all citizens, regardless of skin color, to vote and live and work where they pleased. Aaron's congregation, on the other hand, didn't always appreciate his challenging words from the pulpit. From time to time the Board of Elders, ordained to oversee the spiritual life of the congregation, listened to complaints about Aaron's activities in promoting Negro rights.
                Aaron was aware of the unrest in his congregation, but he still felt it was his responsibility to preach and act as he believed God wanted. He paid special attention to what was happening in Selma, Alabama. On Sunday, March 7, 1965, John Lewis, chairman of SNCC, and Hosea Williams from the Southern Christian Leadership Council scheduled a peaceful march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery to petition for protection of blacks who were being attacked when they tried to register to vote. Governor George Wallace vowed to halt the marchers. He called out the state troopers to stop them.
                The evening of the march, Aaron and his wife Joan sat in their manse watching network television. What was shown on television shocked them. The marchers moved peacefully until Alabama state troopers assaulted them with flailing billy clubs, stampeding horses, tear gas, and bull whips. People fell and were dragged along, turning the peaceful protest bloody. By the end of the night sixteen marchers were hospitalized.
                 Immediately after "Bloody Sunday," as it became known, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., along with SNCC and the SCLC, issued a call to action. They asked clergy and laypeople from across the country to come to Selma for a second attempt to march to Montgomery on Tuesday, March 9. Many hundreds of people accepted the call.

 Aaron did not answer that call, though he participated in a supporting rally in Detroit. The 2,500 marchers who did assemble were prevented by a court order from marching out of town, but Dr. King and Rev. Lewis held a short prayer session and led the group as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge, They then turned the marchers back in obedience to the restraining order.

            Many of the younger marchers felt cheated at not being able to complete the march. White racists, disturbed seeing the northerners butting into their way of life, felt just as frustrated. Many fights broke out. Later that evening three white ministers were beaten, and one, James Reeb from Boston, died from his injuries two days later.
                When Aaron heard the news of a fellow minister's death he wept. "It's unacceptable for me to watch from this far away," he muttered. With repeated coverage of the violence on his television screen, Aaron paced the floor, alternately angry and sorrowful. "Next time," he vowed when the news reported Rev. Reeb's murder, "I will be there."

In a follow-up blog this month I will continue both the historical report and my imaginary take on how this particular civil rights struggle affected my fictional characters. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Love Letter from Dec. 6, 1942

With Valentines Day so close, I want to share a short bit from my novel Too Much Left Unsaid. 

Kathy Hummel had met sailor Josh Connors only ten days before but at the end of their first date Josh sat down to write her a letter. Their second date, Sunday, Dacember 7, 1941, was interrupted by news of a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into WWII.

This is the letter and Kathy's reaction to it when she received it the next day:

Monday, December 8, Kathy received Josh’s letter in the afternoon mail. She laughed at his review of every part of their Saturday date.
 Dear Kathy, my dear Katherina,
I love you. Marry me. Think about the fun we had today and multiply that by a lifetime of joy we can have together. I love you. Marry me.
You are my angel and when we settle down to our lives together it will be heaven. I know you think I have said “You’re my angel” to other girls before you but you really are sent from Heaven and I know it! I love you. Marry me.

What a foolish man. Proposing marriage after our first date, Kathy thought.
I’ve never been so happy as I am at this moment. I loved the cold beach walk when we could see clear across Lake Michigan. I could see into our future life together—life in Parkersville. I love you. Marry me.
I'm on leave starting December 28 and plan a trip home. You must come with me and meet Ron and Mattie and the boys and my folks. We’ll tell them we are engaged and making plans for our wedding. I love you. Marry me.
The world is dark now. Hitler’s Germany is itching for a fight, but I don’t think we’ll be in it. I love you. Marry me. I’ll take you to see the world when that conflict is over. We will have a wonderful life together. I love you. Marry me.
Remember the "Our Town." Parkersville will be our town if you only say yes and come there with me. I love you. Marry me.
I know we are older. That just means we are wiser and we have to make up for the years we wasted not knowing each other. I love you. Marry me.

She began to cry as she read over and over, "I love you. Marry me." How could he even think such a wild impossible thing. I know what my life will be and it doesn't include marrying a sailor.
I'll be seeing you in church tomorrow, though you won't have this letter yet. We’ll go to church and then ride out to Oak Park. I’ve heard that the Frank Lloyd Wright houses are everywhere there. We can dream of our house—plan the family we will raise. I love you. Marry me.
How about two boys and two girls? We can start as soon as we tie the knot. I love you. Marry me.
And by the way, I love you. Marry me.
                                                All, all, all my love, Josh.
            P. S. I love you. Marry me.
            As she finished Josh's letter, her reserve faltered. Marrying Josh would never work for me; it is too crazy--yet, he was so considerate, and he so wunderbar is.
            Josh's words stirred the feelings she had long kept under tight control. Could he be a Prince Charming coming into her life--one she never expected to meet? To her great surprise, unexpectedly, amazingly, Josh's letter sealed her fate. There was no way to even respond to him until Mrs. Alcott called her to the phone. “It’s that sailor again,” she said. “Should I be worried?”       

            “Not at all,” Kathy told her. “I’m going to marry him.”

Romance is in the air in February. Hope your day is filled with love and joy

Too Much Left Unsaid can be purchased in eBook or paperback format from
 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or through independent bookstores.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Hi, College of Wooster Grads from 1956

Book launch party for Too Much Left Unsaid
Our class secretary Pat Young, from the  College of Wooster class of 1956, posted a nice comment about me and my new novel, Too Much Left Unsaid, in the Winter 2014 Wooster Magazine.
Thanks, Pat.
Pat directed those interested in learning more about the book to come to this page, so I thought I would greet you here.

My email is if you want to send me a note.

Some friends who have already read my book have told me they enjoyed it and asked how to spread the word. I have an author profile on Goodreads and on Amazon, so you would be welcome to post there any kind things (or even critical things) you have to say about this fiction set in mid-twentieth century.

You can download the eBook version on any of several platforms or you can order the paperback from Barnes and Noble or from Amazon. I'd even be glad to mail you a copy from Pella, Iowa, signed by me if you want to contact me. But don't stop there. Ask your library and your local bookstore to order a copy. Tell your friends that you "knew me when."

I've enjoyed writing this book and am working on the next one. Hope the years since graduation have been fulfilling for you.

Peace, Lee Joanne (Marcus) Collins.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mindfully Unraveling: Body Awareness as I Slip Away--a review

Rhonda Patzia

Sadly, Rhonda Patzia, author of Mindfully Unraveling: Body Awareness as I Slip Away, died the day her books became available. 

This fact makes the reading of the book more poignant, but does not take away from the brave, surreal, frank, open, sexual, aware narrative that she weaves as she tells her story. 

Born in February,1969, she speaks of growing up expecting equality with boys, ignoring the words, "Girls don't do that." She identified with the men in her family, knowing that somehow women were considered "the weaker sex." That understanding carried into her womanhood an alienation from her own body.

When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS)  in 1996 Rhonda became more aware of her own body that was failing her in an unpredictable manner.  A photographer, she was legally blind for two years.  When her sight partially recovered, she returned to her photography, earning a master's degree at Goddard College in Vermont. The central part of her book is photographs she took of over twenty women who were in her graduate cohort. The photographic exhibit was her master's thesis, and the frank and revealing pictures were also a major reason that she wrote this book.

Told in journal snippets, dream reports, free-writing and reflections, Rhonda's story is frank and open. I recommend that you buy and read this book.

Her book is available from The Write Place  and also from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Proceeds will go to a college fund for her son, Marco.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards

Yesterday I received an email from the Writer's Digest Self-Published e-book Award contest which I entered last summer. Too Much Left Unsaid was not chosen as a winner, but I was very encouraged by the commentary and ratings I received.  I am quoting the full report here and will comment on parts of it in future blogs and on Facebook. 
"Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”. “0” indicates not applicable. This scale is strictly to provide a point of reference, it is not a cumulative score and does not reflect ranking. 
Structure and Organization: 5
Grammar: 5
Production Quality and Cover Design: 5
Plot (if applicable): 5

Character Development (if applicable): 5
Judges Commentary*:
The cover is lovely. Great details, and the colors are soft and feminine, pretty shades. Nicely-designed.
Mattie opens with a warm and comforting voice, personable, good use of addressing the reader directly with kindly expressions. We like her instantly. Excellent characterization right from the start. Well done.
The author has a great talent with voices, from the young children’s dropping off of consonants to the gruff father. Perfect differentiations of characters’ voices that reveal their traits.
The contrast between the warm opening and the intensely cold scenes of Kathy’s younger years is jarring, but in a good way. We feel the iciness, the emptiness, the pain. In this section, though, we get a little too much telling, not showing which leaves out some sensory details that would have enlivened this part more. And the dialogue is not just harsh, but seems a bit too formal at times, a bit unnatural.
Would have liked more detail on Mattie’s simple wedding and Ruth’s more traditional wedding as a way to color up the novel’s wonderful experience, as sensory contrast and more insight into Ruth particularly.
Interesting to see that in the war era, love developed so intensely and so quickly between couples, which we know from stories of that era’s generations. The author does an excellent job of conveying this very real pace of connection that happened then, very authentic, very engaging. Well done. The letter proposal was done extremely well. That’s how the men of that era expressed themselves, with such unabashed romance. Loved that.
Kathy is so unlikeable, which creates a complex character we follow from initially disliking terribly to understanding later. When she doesn't bring the baby to see her husband, denying him the chance to see his child after so many years away, that’s just soul-crunching. A slight improvement here would have been for Josh to have far more disappointment at the baby not being there, not just glide into “oh, well, I get romance now.” At this point, reader has a hard time caring about her, and then:
When she co-creates the inappropriate relationship with Ron, we dislike her even more, almost the point of no going back. We dislike Ron almost as much, via his saying that his relationship with Kathy is innocent and not hurting Mattie. How he wants to comfort both women. His self-delusion is palpable. We also see him as very real, a testament to the author’s talent at showing us the dark side of human selfishness, and then guiding the reader to forgiveness and empathy for Ron. Well done.
Great scene with the boys accepting the football team’s forfeit when the other team won’t let Dar play, nor suit up. The author painted that scene extremely well, especially when the one boy says he feels a case of rage coming on. That was wonderful.
The characters’ goals are good, and we follow along eagerly in this sprawling family tale that weaves so many realistic characters together. Other novels could have gotten bogged down in the historic goings-on and politics, but the author does a great job of using the political tension in society as creating a world for the characters to inhabit. Well done.
Satisfying ending, and reader is left happy that Mattie finds her sister. At first, reader may want a scene with the sisters reconnecting, but the author wisely leaves that open. Excellent read. 

*When quoting the judges commentary, please quote as: “Judge, Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards”

Friday, January 3, 2014

Fall of Giants- a Review of Ken Follett's Novel

I have just finished reading the nearly thousand page novel Ken Follett wrote about the period one hundred years ago when the world fell into the conflict known as "The Great War."

In my debut novel, Too Much Left Unsaid, my characters begin in that same period of history. They are ordinary Midwesterners who are changed by events over which they have no control

But in Follett's book, Fall of Giants, his fictional characters, from England, Wales, Germany, Austria, Russia, and the United States, are written so believably that the reader sees them influencing the decisions and events that unfold as history. We see the forces of the rich and powerful pushing toward war and its glory. We see the slaughter on the battlefield where battalions of foot soldiers are mowed down by machine gun fire while being urged to advance. We see the unfolding of the Russian Revolution and the fear of the upper class that the sentiment might spread. We see the gradual, reluctant, extension of suffrage to women and laborers. We see lives of love, betrayal, strength.

Follett is an exceptional writer, able to bring the reader into the lives of coal miners, foundry workers, aristocrats and their servants, earls and princesses, unwed mothers and the charitable women who seek to help them, military leaders and common soldiers.

By the end of his book, I wanted to read more about these people. I am in luck for Fall of Giants is the first book of a trilogy that continues to tell the stories of these families in the twentieth century. I can hardly wait to read the next volume.