National Nurses Week

In case we didn’t already know it, the past three years of COVID has left no doubt as to how awesome nurses are. For National Nurses Week I thought it would be nice to share some highlights which exemplify just how amazing the women and men who devote themselves to nursing truly are.

The problem is, there are just too many remarkable nurses to pare it down to just a few examples. In the U.S. alone more than 1700 health care workers died from COVID. World-wide, it’s estimated that over 115,000 have died.

I could begin in 1854 with Florence Nightingale, who, with her select team of 34 nurses, went to a British hospital in Constantinople during the Crimean War and developed a care regimen which reduced British losses due to illness by 67 percent and ushered in a new era in nursing.

I could mention Edith Cavell, a British matron of a Belgian training school for nurses who helped over 200 allied soldiers escape during WWI and was executed by a German firing squad in 1915.

In 2018, I interviewed Helene Cattani, an American nurse who served at the Battle of the Bulge. Women nurses of that era proved to a skeptical military that they could handle battlefield conditions, and their stalwart dedication to their patients did more for morale than anyone could have imagined. Helene was proud that after many months of debate after the war, women nurses serving during World War II were finally recognized as veterans.

I might mention one of the nurses who were taken prisoner when the Philippines fell to the Japanese during World War II. But which one would I select? Every single one of the 66 army nurses, the 11 navy nurses, 2 civilian nurses and 25 Filipino nurses had been subjected to months of bombings, malnutrition and severe shortages of medical supplies. They lived under the constant terror of inevitable surrender to an enemy notorious for their barbarism in Nanking China where they tortured and killed the men and repeatedly raped every female. These Angels of Bataan and Corregidor continued to perform their jobs through three years of captivity after the surrender of the Philippines, foregoing their own debilitations resulting from Malaria, Dengue Fever, Beriberi and dysentery, to care for the sick.

Andree “Dédée” de Jongh, a young Belgian, offered her two-year nurse’s assistant training to care for wounded soldiers when Germany invaded her homeland at the start of WWII. Inspired by Edith Cavell’s courage and determination in the last war, Dédée led an underground line to evacuate downed Allied airmen, and through her leadership and organizational skills, Comete became the only large underground line the Germans could never completely break. Eventually captured herself, she returned from the war extremely ill. After slowly regaining her health, Dédée completed her nurse’s training and worked many years in leper hospitals in Africa until she was no longer physically able to continue.

Clearly, it’s impossible discuss every exemplary action as all nurses perform remarkable feats over and over in the course of their careers.

It’s simply what they do.

Few among us have the nursing calling: the commitment to the long hours of medical study; the dedication to mastering the abilities needed to take care of the sick and injured; the fortitude to fight with everything they have for another person’s well-being; the mental toughness to set aside their own fears and exhaustion to take charge and use their skills and training to do what they know must be done; to give comfort to the patients and their loved ones, and to bear the crushing losses without losing sight of work they must continue to do to help others.

No, we cannot all be nurses. That’s an honor reserved for the most dedicated and special people among us.

But their example should inspire us to do what we can for others, whether it’s offering a comforting word to lift a person’s spirits, helping out in a food pantry, holding open a door for someone, lending an ear to a troubled friend, or just being kind and considerate to people.

So, with our most sincere thanks, we salute and honor nursing professionals during nurses’ week and every other week.

Because You Have To!

Write because you have a story that you need to share. Write because you are funny and want to brighten people’s day with your humor. Write because you have a talent for it and to waste that talent would be a crime. Write because you have to.

But don’t write because you think you’re going to get rich.

There are writers who do make millions of dollars from their work. And there are many who sell books because they are well known celebrities or politicians. But for the vast majority making a living from writing alone is just a dream. It’s something to strive for, but not something to assume you’ll achieve just by publishing a book or two.

One fellow joined an online writing group and ranted his experience to the rest of the group. He’d written his first book in a month and had self-published it in three months. He complained that he had waited a whole month and the TV networks hadn’t approached him yet to offer him a deal. Can you imagine? The poor fellow wasted four months and didn’t have so much as a Lincoln Continental to show for it!

Very few of the writers I have met over the years earn enough money to make writing a full-time job. It takes time to build a following.

One novelist who now sells a million books each year, couldn’t get a book deal; so she decided to self-publish. She’d earned next to nothing for her first couple of books, but she didn’t give up. Although her sales were modest in the beginning, she’d received enough positive feedback to know that some people enjoyed reading her books. That was enough to convince her to keep at it.

If you’re not a celebrity, your first step is to write a damn good book. And when you’re done with that, you need to write another one. Measure your success by the people you touch with your writing, not by the number of dollars or euros you put in the bank, and maybe someday you can quit your day job and write fulltime. Maybe you’ll even get that Lincoln.

Writing while holding down a job

A reader recently asked me how I managed to write two books while holding down a full time job. I guess the short answer is, if you saw how long it took between books you’d know that they didn’t come quickly.

But I’m persistent. And that’s pretty much it.

The best advice I have gotten from a fellow writer is to write for 15 minutes each day. I think that’s brilliant. It’s a lot easier to find 15 minutes to write than 3 or 4 hours, right? And that 15 minutes is such a small commitment, you know you can do it.

It’s a trick of course. You know that there will be days when the words begin to flow and you go way over your 15 minutes. And that’s the idea!

I write a little faster these days, but there’s still not enough time. I participate in projects in two local historical societies, but that’s just an excuse. The fact is I allow myself to get side-tracked. We all do. But, by getting into a routine like writing during breakfast or lunch, my own work remains active. And when I keep at it, the finish line eventually comes into view and I’m spurred on like I’ve rounded the bend and am heading down the home stretch.

Another way I try to budget my time is to skip over problem areas. Sometimes when I’m stuck it’s because I need to do more research. But when I get into the fascinating and fun world of interesting facts, I can get lost there for a very long time. While some research may be so crucial that the story cannot continue without it, much of it, like looking up dates and locations, can be deferred. So when I have a simple thing to look up or when I know what I want to put into a scene, but the words just aren’t coming, I write myself a note on my “GBA” my “Go back and add” sheet which I mentioned in my 7 Writing Routines post, so I can keep moving forward and make the corrections later or in the next draft.

It’s a lot like exercising. You have to commit to the work. If you wait until the mood hits, you’ll accomplish very little. 

Creeping Vines—They’re Coming for Us!

Call out the National Guard! Warn the military! Planet Earth must be alerted to this menace!

Where is Thor? Where is Wonder Woman? Where is Buzz Lightyear? We need a super hero who can save us from this peril!

—or at least a good tree guy.

The invasion begins innocently enough; one tiny plant hiding among the many trees and shrubs growing unnoticed in the hedgerow between yards.

Entwining itself on tree branches, it climbs to a height where its cascading flowers of soft purple dazzle and distract you as its vines stealthily creep along the ground. Snaking through the grass, crawling under dead leaves, it silently travels, sinking its sinewy roots into the soil and spawning thousands of infant plants. Up through the trees, its alien tentacles grow, weaving through the canopy forming a giant otherworldly nest.

I’ve been battling this menace in the woods between my home and an apartment complex for over 40 years.

Why this plant is sold at garden centers is beyond me. Are aliens exercising some form of mind control to get landscapers to peddle this invader to unsuspecting homeowners?

Between spring and fall, I cut out nearly a mile of vines and tentacles, but unless I totally cut down the entire woods, I’ll never be rid of Wisteria.

Today my yard—tomorrow the world!


I got carried away.

7 Practices in my Writing Routine

A reader asked me if I have a writing routine.

To answer that question, I would say that my methods keep evolving as I go, but here are seven things I do:

  1. Writers generally fit into two categories: plotters and pantsers. Plotters tend to fully outline their book before they even start writing. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants, having a general story idea, but creating the plot as they go. I’m a little of both.
  2. I use a one-subject spiral notebook for writing down thoughts which can range from a few sentences to full scenes or chapters (I filled 6 notebooks for Night and Fog). My first drafts used to be hand-written, but now I often work directly on a computer. My biggest challenge is organizing files on the computer (I’m getting better at it, but it could stand improvement).
  3. I create a data base of historical facts I might want to use in my book. I note the source of the information so I can find it when I need to.
  4. It’s easy to misspell names, places and things, especially unfamiliar foreign words. So I keep a file page with the correct spelling for when I do my editing.
  5. I maintain a file with character names and descriptions so that a brunette on page five doesn’t become a blond on page 250 (unless she dies her hair of course).
  6. To keep my momentum, I keep a page in my notebook I call Go Back and Add or GBA. If I’m stuck on something in a scene, I write a note in my GBA page to remind me to fix it later so I don’t let it stop me from continuing on. I also use it if I have to go back and change something. For instance, if a heroine’s car won’t start because of a dead battery as the zombies are closing in on her in chapter 32, I should show her battery needing a jump start in chapter 2. So as I’m writing the zombie scene, I make a note in my GBA to go back and add that detail in later (I write historical novels, so don’t look for zombie scenes in my books).
  7. When I finish a chapter, I note the word count, the page count and a short description of what each scene was about. For example:

Ch 8: 2680 words 9pp
S1: Gestapo visits de Jongh home
S2: Elsie and Peggy’s cold call

As I said, my methods are always evolving, so I would be interested in hearing about other writers’ routines.

By the way, if you read Night and Fog and enjoy it, I would be very grateful if you would post a review. I know not everybody likes to write reviews, but they help readers find books that might interest them and they let us authors know what readers like so we can continue improving our work.

Thank you.

Elvis Movie

I recently watched the movie ELVIS. It’s definitely worth seeing, but I came away with mixed feelings. Austin Butler, who played the lead did a terrific job portraying Elvis when he was young and just breaking into the business as well as when he was older and making a comeback. He had the moves, the voice, and the mannerisms down perfectly. Nobody could have played the part better.

I can’t comment on Tom Hank’s portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker because while we are all familiar with the name, Colonel Tom was always in the background, so we never got to really know him.

Too bad so many people watching this movie today weren’t around to see the young Elvis who electrified audiences. The movie attempted to show how Steve Allen, a devout hater of rock and roll, tried to humiliate Elvis by forbidding him from shaking any part of his body except for his finger and making him sing to a live hound dog. The movie showed a small group of teens outraged by this mockery, but it failed to convey how widespread the backlash actually was. Kids from coast to coast rebuffed this insult to their idol and attack on their music. The establishment simply had yet to comprehend the financial power 76 million baby boomers would have on the nation’s economy.

The movie quickly moved to Elvis being drafted in an attempt to show how the older generation tried to nip the rock and roll movement in the bud. This quick shift made it appear as though the establishment had won, that they had snuffed out the flame and that Elvis was finished until his comeback concert in 1968.

What really happened was that after Steve Allen’s mockery, Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan show three times, sending TV ratings through the roof. For four straight years prior to Elvis’ notorious army induction, he completely dominated the record charts. The Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, Buddy Holly and others might have been in the running for number two, but there was no question as to who was number one.

The movie did a great job showing his intimate connection with black artists and how Elvis felt the music from his head to his toes and turned his body loose in reaction to it. It was this sexual hip-swiveling that scared grownups the most.

But Elvis also sang deeply emotional ballads. Perhaps the best example of this is the song “Love Me.” Mike Stoller, who with his partner Jerry Lieber, wrote many of Elvis’ biggest hits, said they once wrote an amusing song about a poor sap who was so in love with this girl he’d do anything to be with her. Elvis didn’t treat it as a silly tune. He felt the pain of this poor guy and when he sang the words, “Treat me like a fool, treat me mean and cruel, but love me,” he ripped our hearts out.

The movie does a good job of showing why Elvis was loved by black audiences as well as white. Some revisionists say that all Elvis did was copy black music, but black artists at the time, like Little Richard and B. B. King, understood that Elvis kicked the door open so that black music could be heard on radio stations other than just the so-called “race” stations.

The movie was good, although it sometimes jumped around so much that even scenes that looked as though they were going to be really interesting became nothing more than a flash, while other scenes were dragged out unnecessarily. I couldn’t help feeling that the incredible performance of this young actor could have been put to better use.

Thank goodness this movie didn’t portray teens as goofy comic book characters as has often been done with movies set in the 1950s. I think baby boomers are waiting for a movie that shows the movement for what it truly was—a cultural revolution that swept the entire world and proved to be about much more than rock and roll.

Buried in Torben’s Fountain

Many old farms contain family burial plots. But what if more than just bodies were buried among the graves? What if one of the plots was a different kind of final resting place—a grave without a body—a place that holds secrets of a former life—a life that those who buried it didn’t want to interfere with their current life? This supposition became an essential element in my novel, Torben’s Fountain.

The adage, write what you know, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to keep your stories within your expertise. I’ve never hiked over the Pyrenees Mountains like the airmen escaping the Nazis in my novel Night and Fog, but I’ve force-marched miles in army boots with feet so blistered and lungs so burning that even the slightest inclines felt as though I was trudging up foothills in the Alps. So it wasn’t hard for me to imagine what endurance it must have taken escaping airmen who’d been idle for weeks or months to hike over the mountains from France into Spain in only one night.

As writers, we may not have been members of the underground helping downed airmen escape the Nazis, but we can draw on our experiences, the traumas, the patriotism, the compassions and the fears as we bring those episodes that have been dryly recorded in military records and historic narratives to life.

Perhaps instead of write what you know, it should be use what you already know to capture what your character is feeling and experiencing.

WWII Soldiers in Their Own Words

Back in 2018, I was one of about 7,200 citizen-archivists and citizen-historians who participated in an initiative to transcribe comments handwritten by military personnel about their service during World War Two. Soldiers on active duty filled out questionnaires on topics like: women and gender, race and ethnicity, recreation and welfare, ground combat, air combat and medical care.

Unlike memoirs which are written after some time has passed, these questionnaires were filled out while the soldiers were still involved in the war. So unlike writing from memory, their responses were reactionary, honest, fresh and unfiltered.

Because they were handwritten and old, some of the words were difficult to make out, so each passage was given to multiple transcribers then compared to achieve the most accurate transcription.

Subjects discussed in the questionnaires include things like military posts, assignments, food, housing, medical care, furloughs and recreation. The respondents didn’t hold back, speaking their minds on such touchy topics as attitudes toward women in uniform and attitudes toward black soldiers serving in a segregated military. The comments were not edited for spelling or grammar which lets the respondents’ education and upbringing shine through. They are compelling, authentic and eye-opening.

 Here are a few examples:

This excerpt is from one who has had his fill of fighting:

“If the Italian Front is important enough to continue why in the hell can’t there be a few more divisions sent here instead of replacements.”

From a battle weary soldier:

“I think battalions like mine that have been on the three invasions should get a chance for some relief. We have been in all the big battles. Most of us are getting very nerves [nervous].”

From a black soldier:

“In a Nazi dominated country perhaps I would be required to wear a badge to show that I was inferior, even though I know I am not, but in America my badge is the color of my skin.”

From a soldier annoyed by what he has read in the newspaper:

“About these strikes back home they ought to put them men in the army (I mean over here on the front) and then they wouldn’t call to strike and be satisfied with there [their] high wages.”

There are about 90 different surveys which have been preserved, with as many as several thousand responses to each. Most contain questions to which the survey taker chose the answer that most closely aligned with his/her beliefs. Only a few of the questionnaires offered an opportunity for the survey taker to write out a free response to questions.

The completed, searchable survey came out earlier this year. You can check it out on the site: The American Soldier in World War II.

While the surveys help to draw a general consensus of conditions and attitudes, for me, the free responses are of most interest. One drawback is that if you leave one questionnaire, you can’t easily pick up where you left off. When you come back to that survey, you have to click your way back down to where you left off. But all in all it’s worth checking out.


It was late winter. I was looking forward to warmer weather and itching to build cedar planting boxes to expand the raised bed garden I built last year. My plan was to construct the boxes in March, set them up and fill them with soil in April, and plant vegetables in early May.

Last Year’s Garden

In March, I headed off to the lumber warehouse stores only to find that they had few cedar boards in stock and their garden centers had virtually no concrete pavers or base material. It rained for half the month and when the stores finally restocked in April, the price of materials had gone up 120 percent.

I forged on anyway. While it rained outside, I worked inside the garage cutting, sanding and assembling. Although a month behind schedule, I still hoped to finish sometime in May.


But the outside vegetation, which had been peacefully dormant when I began my project, had awakened. My yard had transformed into a rain forest—foot-tall grass, boxwood hedges bulging like unshorn sheep, honeysuckle vines creeping through forsythia branches like body snatcher tentacles, wisteria smothering tree limbs like Devil’s Snare over the Chamber of Secrets … I finally managed to knock down the lawn, whack the weeds, take a few swipes at the snares and tentacles and get back to my project.

Finally Done

People ask if I’m working on my next novel and when it will come out. Like the garden boxes, I’m filled with ideas and intentions, but things rarely go according to plan and my next book is still a work in progress.

Bikinis and Thomas Jefferson

“All I need to know about Thomas Jefferson is that he owned slaves!” a fellow said.

The past is full of social practices that may be abhorrent to us today: killing animals for their fur, bloodletting to cure disease, burning women for suspicion of witchcraft, scalping enemies, buying and selling human slaves, forced child labor … When I hear a condemnation like the above, it makes me wonder whether people today can relate to how people viewed their world a century or more ago.

Is the eighteenth century trapper who sells furs a bad person because two centuries later we’ve condemned the practice? Should we boycott the Waldorf Astoria because it’s namesake dealt in the fur trade?

Undoubtedly, people who lived in the eighteenth century would find some of our practices today to be questionable, deplorable or even sacrilegious.

In the popular TV series Outlander, Claire, a twentieth century woman is transported back to eighteenth century Scotland. Knowing the future outcome of an upcoming battle, and pregnant with the child of her eighteenth century husband, Jamie, she escapes back to the twentieth century for the sake of their baby. Once the child has become an adult, Claire returns to the eighteenth century. Jamie is shocked by one of the photos she brought to show him his grown daughter. To his thinking, the girl is practically naked. Claire explains that wearing a bikini is quite normal in 1968.

While some may only need to know whether Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, others may want to know why the man who proposed ending slavery in his draft of the Declaration of Independence and continued to argue for a plan to end slavery when the Constitution was drafted, didn’t free his own slaves.

We’re all influenced by our present world, but I hope we can also relate to how the times and environment affected people’s actions in bygone days.