A Frosty Christmas

We drove to Manchester airport to pick up Mom and Dad for Christmas. We drove northwest through the White Mountains in the thick snow and ice. 2 interstates were closed nearby but we continued slowly onward. Nonetheless, we took the road less traveled to Franconia and the snowy path led uphill to Robert Frost’s home.

Robert Frost is considered the quintessential American bard or poet. He lived from 1874 to 1963. Right before his passing in Boston, he delivered the inaugural poem for JFK.

Robert Frost won 4 Pulitizer Prizes and the Congressional Gold Medal. He was born in San Francisco but moved alot. He lived primarily in New Hampshire and England where he was influenced by Ezra Pound, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Graves. Frost went to Dartmouth and Harvard. He first published in 1915. He published 2 books called North of Boston and A Boy’s Will. His poetry quickly amassed a great following and by 1920, he was known all over America and beyond.

Bleeding Kansas: Making the Trip to Osawatomie

Prior to the American Civil War of the 1860s, my hometown state of Kansas was the site of a contentious battle regarding slavery. The first political election for the territory of Kansas was made in 1855.  The result of the election was a pro-slavery determination for the territory which sparked several years of border skirmishes.  These fights between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups near the Missouri border caused the territory to be known as “Bleeding Kansas.”

bleeding kansas
Google Images.

At this time in 1855, over 5,000 Missourians that were pro-slavery crossed over into Kansas territory to vote in the election which caused some politicians to refer to the election as fraud.  However, the vote was kept.  Several months afterwards, abolitionist groups established the Free State militia force.  One such abolitionist and preacher was John Brown who later led the infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry in Virginia in 1859 prior to the Civil War.

john brown1
Google Images.
john brown
Google Images.
harper's ferry
Google Images.
hanged
Google Images.

By May of 1856, a group of Missouri raiders led by Quantrill sacked and burned the Free State supporter town of Lawrence founded by Massachusetts abolitionists.

quantrill's raid1
Google Images.
quantrill's raid 2
Google Images.

Today, if you visit Osawatomie in east central Kansas, you can see several John Brown historical sites. We recently saw the site of the Battle of Osawatomie between Missouri forces and Free State Kansas territory forces. At this site, is the Adair Cabin, one of only a few Osawatomie original buildings that survived the ransacking.

If you travel further south along the Frontier Military Route, you will see the site of the Marais de Cygnes Massacre, another border skirmish that occurred near the Travel Post.

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Google Images.

Further south of that is the Civil War era Fort Scott military fort.

Incidentally, Osawatomie also happens to be the place where the conservative Kansas Republican Party was established in 1859 during the “Bleeding Kansas” years.  The Kansas Republican Party was created by Free State abolitionist sympathizers.

The Caldecott Medal was First Awarded in 1938

There are many great and fabulous awards for books. One that is very prestigious is The Caldecott Medal. It was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

If you want to see a list of every Caldecott Medal awarded book since 1938 (some of them you probably remember reading in childhood), go to this website:

http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/caldecottwinners/caldecottmedal

Celebrate Aesop’s Birthday on June 4th

According to legend, Aesop who created the famous Aesop’s Fables was born a slave in the 6th century BC. His birthplace is unknown for certain. He had two masters before he was granted freedom. His masters’ names were Xanthus and Iadmon. Aesop was extremely bright and it is said that is the reason he was involved in public affairs in later life. He also traveled a great deal. King Croesus of Lydia granted Aesop residency at his court.

The death of Aesop in 564 BC is quite a tale. He was on a mission to deliver gold to the people of Delphi in Greece. However, a trap was laid for Aesop at Delphi when a golden bowl from the Temple of Apollo was found smuggled into his bags. He pled innocence but he was found guilty and hurled off a cliff.

Aesop’s stories have influenced much of Western culture and civilization. One of his best known stories is The Boy Who Cried Wolf. He also wrote The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing as well as The Lion and the Mouse. Probably his best known story is The Hare and the Tortoise, a fantastic story about a light speed bunny racing a “slow and steady” turtle that eventually wins the race.

I like this lesser known one I found in my children’s own book of Aesop’s Fables:

The Crow and the Pitcher

A thirsty crow found a pitcher with a couple of inches of water in the bottom, but no matter how hard she tried, she could not reach it with her beak. It seemed as though she would die of thirst. At last she hit upon a plan. She began dropping pebbles into the pitcher. As each pebble was added, the water rose a little higher until it finally reached the brim of the pitcher. And so the clever bird was finally able to quench her thirst.

Moral of the story: Necessity is the mother of invention.

Mother’s Day Gift

Continual learning is important. My family bought me a writing class to learn more about how to develop stories. So far, I’m learning more about genres, market audiences, character development, arcs, and structure to potentially create a script. I’m really excited about this new venture.

For our first assignment, we must really examine one of our favorite movie stories. I picked The Pursuit of Happyness which came out in 2006 starring Will Smith. This is what I wrote for my assignment:

I have three favorite scenes from this movie.  The first scene I love is when Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith) gets into the cab with Jay Twistle.  Chris Gardner is a luckless entrepreneur who has invested most of his life’s dedication and family money in bone density scanners for doctors which are unfortunately mostly unsellable.  He dreams of working for Dean Witter Reynolds where Jay Twistle is the hiring manager for an unpaid and challenging internship program which apprentices only the best candidate to join their team.  Chris hops into the cab with Jay and makes several attempts to impress the distracted manager.  It is only when Chris shows Jay how to solve a Rubik’s Cube in the cab, that the manager sees Chris is very smart and has real potential with their company.

Throughout the movie, we see Chris trying to juggle so many responsibilities.  As a Dad and husband, he is as we learned in class, the character of a “loveable screw-up.”  As we see him try to get adequate daycare for his young son, try to sell the bone density scanners over and over again, get into a hilarious catch the thief escapade with some folks that have stolen his products, and also deal with financial burdens breaking his marriage apart and threatening his livelihood as well as home…we, the viewers, can sympathize with his plight and eagerly want him to overcome adversity. 

Chris faces many obstacles in his own pursuit of happiness which he sees at Dean Witter Reynolds.  He is a man with an extraordinary skill set of intelligence and quick thinking.  We also see a deep bond, a true love between father and young son.  This leads me to the second favorite part of the movie when Chris Gardner is watching his son play basketball.  He gets frustrated and tells Chris Jr. to give up on his dream of becoming a good basketball player.  Then we see him look out at the skyline of San Francisco and in particular, Dean Witter Reynolds, and he kneels down to talk to his son.  He tells his son not to let anyone tell him he can’t have aspirations or goals.  At that moment, we see his internal frustration but his love for his son drives him onward to be a good role model and pick up the torch again and try even harder to secure a position at Dean Witter Reynolds.  It becomes a pivotal moment in the film as he makes the choice to keep going. 

His external goal as a character is to provide for his family but also to take calculated risks that could lead to great potential for his future.  His internal goal as a character is to find happiness, or rather to prove his worth or value in a very busy society that keeps continually dismissing him. 

My third favorite part of the movie is the climax.  After jumping through many hoops in the unpaid internship program, he becomes one of the top sellers for the firm and attracts a major client by going above and beyond to make the sale.  His resourcefulness and persistence pay off even as he loses his home and, at one point, ends up on the streets locked in a public restroom with his son trying to get his son some needed rest.  This is a true love story as well between parent and child.  So, in the end, we see Chris Gardner called into the office with the bosses and offered the full-time position with Dean Witter Reynolds.  He fights back tears as he accepts the position.  In the closing comments we learn that this is based on a true story from the 1980s and that Chris Gardner works successfully for many years at the firm before venturing out to start his own firm. 

I love this movie and recommend it to my friends because it is very inspirational though it is difficult to watch all the trials and tribulations Chris Gardner has to face on his way to the top.  This is a great business and entrepreneurial movie with a happy ending that really pleases the audience.  I really like the choice of Will Smith for this film because he can convey all the physicality of literally running over and over again in the movie to pursue his goals.  Also, Will Smith is great at portraying a wide array of emotions and is very likeable as Chris Gardner.  You can see he really has a lot at stake but he is willing to take the big risks for a greater potential outcome. 

Joplin Writers’ Faire

The Joplin Writers’ Faire will be held at the public library in Joplin, Missouri at the end of October. There will be many writers in attendance from the 4 states area and lots of fun activities. I plan to be there at a booth for the book Searching for Fire. Please share this information with others who may be interested in attending this fun event! Thanks.

Chutzpah

In her blog article titled “Watch One, Do One, Teach One” by Carolyn Roy-Bornstein, the author writes that it is a very good to read lots of books, to write a book, and to teach others about writing. In doing this method, she writes that you will increase your abilities. She also remarks on the need for a writer to be self-assurant and self-motivated. She says a writer must have “chutzpah.” I admit I had to look up the definition of this word. It means “shameless audacity” or “supreme self-confidence.” This is a word I like very much like Demi Lovato singing the song “Confident.” It’s just got that pizzazz to it. Chutzpah.

I am reminded of the story my husband told me of Stephen King. Now this is a story and I am not sure word for word that it is factually correct but he told me that when Stephen King first started out writing, he wrote a small story and sent it to a publisher. The publisher rejected him. He threw the story in the trash. His wife came along, found the story, fished it out of the trash, and sent it to one more publisher where it was accepted. Thankfully, his wife had some chutzpah. And, that story is Carrie.

Another great story I learned about from Facebook of all places, is the story of Sylvester Stallone writing a screenplay. According to the story, Sylvester was down on his luck and almost destitute. He poured all his effort into writing this screenplay and then took it to pitch to the production companies. They liked the story but refused to make him the main actor in the movie. Sylvester would not budge. He apparently said that they could not have the screenplay unless they cast him in the leading role. Have you guessed the story yet, one of the most motivational and inspiring stories in contemporary times? That story was Rocky.

My Name is Janea. My pen name is J. Speer

I am celebrating today. Today is a great day for me. My family welcomed a new niece into the world this morning. My 14 year old daughter passed driving school. And today, I received a package from Amazon in the mail…….one I have been waiting on for a few days now. I opened the cardboard box to reveal the first copy of my first published book. It is called Searching for Fire. The book is a young adult fantasy fiction story with lots of action and adventure. It is a North American odyssey with some dastardly villains and interesting plot sequences. It is published with Archway.

This story started out a long time ago. Over ten years ago, I used to write a great deal of poetry and short stories. I wanted to be a writer someday. I wrote a giant file folder full of work and I submitted to several publishing companies and online contests. I waited and waited impatiently and finally received one acceptance letter from a Boston company. But here comes the hard part……….I lost confidence in myself. I never sent my work in.

Lack of confidence………I have a feeling many other people who write have felt this. I wonder how many have thought to themselves, “I’m just not good enough. This is not good enough.” I know I did. I put the file folder in the back of a cabinet and life went on as normal for over a decade……..

At this point, you are probably wondering what changed?

A friend helped me.

It was January 2019 shortly after Christmas and I was kinda in the dumps…..considering the winter weather and just general life malaise. She invited me on Facebook to her new entrepreneur meeting. At first, I thought, “No, not really interested.” But I went.

The meeting started with 20 minutes of motivational talk and then she said each of the 20 participants had to stand up one by one and say what their dream is or had been. She said, “If you don’t have the courage to say what you really want to a crowd of twenty people in a room, how do you ever expect to manifest it into your life?” One by one, each brave soul got up and said their secret dream. I, however, was too shy and remained quiet.

I went home that night and sat in my mini-van in the driveway and thought for twenty minutes. Then, I went inside the house and opened that old cabinet and searched for the old file folder. I pulled it out from the back and sat down at the kitchen table to read. I had just assumed over the years, that it was not worthwhile. But I was wrong. Some of the poetry and short stories were quite good. I picked one short story, my favorite in the bunch……….and eventually turned it into a novel. I worked six hours a day for six weeks, writing after daily 8 hour shifts at the factory. During the day at the factory, I would go through every detail of the upcoming pages in my mind and then jot down my ideas as soon as I got home.

And that is the story of how Searching for Fire came to be. It is my first book and admittedly perhaps more a lump of coal than a polished diamond. But I truly hope it does well on the market and most of all, I just want people to be entertained and happy reading it.

Thank you for reading about my adventures with writing and I would love to hear from you too on your creative works. Keep writing! Keep creating! Keep being more!

Bless you,

J. Speer