I just finished reading an older, but wildly popular, novel. This was an Oprah pick. It took the reading world by storm years ago. Sadly, the more I write the less I read for pleasure, so I am late to the game. When my husband surprised me with a birthday trip to Los Cabos this was the book I brought with me.
I was entranced — until I wasn’t. The first half was stunning, brilliant, a classic-in-the-making; the second half was annoying, disheartening, and predictable. The reasons for my assessment are many, but this is not a critique. This is the admission of a personal awakening. While I am a voracious – and I hope – adventurous reader, I am also realize I am a timid reviewer. For days I questioned my reaction to this book simply because my opinion was in the minority. I convinced myself that writing a review would be a waste of time. That I must be wrong about the book. In truth, I simply didn’t want to be the odd man out. What a coward!
I had written many thoughtful, honest reviews, and the only thing keeping me from posting this one was numbers and it’s very best seller status. I would be swimming upstream, going against the grain, raising my hand to reveal myself as the annoying, contrary kid in class. How could I be so arrogant as to not love this book fully? But then I looked at reviews on some of my own books and saw readers who had posted thoughtful, honest reviews both glorious and gloomy. As an author, I took all of them seriously. Sometimes the critical reviews hurt, but only if they didn’t offer reasons for the reader’s dissatisfaction. (My favorite was a one star that simply said, “I haven’t read the book yet.”)
After reading my reviews, reading the reviews on this beloved book, and thinking about my hesitancy a while longer, I came to a conclusion. While the beauty of art is in the eye of the beholder, a book’s beauty is in the brain and the heart of the reader. There are no brightly colored paints or chalks so show us the artist’s intent. There are only words and our interpretation of them. One author’s work may touch us, while another keeps us at bay. One author’s style may enthrall us, while another’s is tedious. It is our job as readers to clearly and fully explain why we react as we do to a book when we write a review. Specifics matter. Qualifying that it is our personal opinion puts the review in context. It is wonderful when we all agree, but it is interesting when we do not. A contrary review can make us stop and think as much as a glowing review can excite us. Our eyes, hearts, and minds are as individual as the author’s who write the books we read. It isn’t about the number or reviews or the plethora of stars. It is about a one-on-one experience: the reader and the author. Whether we share our opinion in writing or not, we have reviewed a book a minute we read the last word and that’s the only number that counts.
Denise M. Colby loves to write words that encourage, enrich, and engage whether it’s in her blog, social media, magazine articles, or devotions. With over 20+ years’ experience in marketing, she enjoys using her skills to help other authors. She treasures the written word and the messages that can be conveyed when certain words are strung together. An avid journal writer, she usually can be found with a pen and notepad whenever she’s reading God’s word. Denise is writing her first novel, a Christian Historical Romance and can be found at www.denisemcolby.com
She’s a member of RWA, OCC/RWA, Faith, Hope & Love Chapter of RWA, ACFW (where she is a semi-finalist in the Genesis contest Historical Romance Category), OC Chapter of ACFW, and SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference.
April always takes me back to my childhood in Acton, Massachusetts, right next door to Concord (pronounced more like “conquered” than like “concorde”). Growing up there imbues a child with both a sense of history and an appreciation of literature.
Concord is famously the home of many legendary authors including Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64), Henry David Thoreau (1817-62), William Ellery Channing (1818-1901), Louisa May Alcott (1832-88), and Harriet Lothrop, who wrote as Margaret Sidney, (1844-1924). Even today, well-known authors are drawn there, including Doris Kearns Goodwin, Alan Lightman, and Gregory Maguire. What a wonderful place to grow up. Writers can, as we know, make us see the world in new ways.
Equally ingrained in the culture of the area is its history. There, kids don’t get a “Spring Break” from school. Instead they get a February vacation (the week including Presidents Day) and April vacation (the week including Patriots’ Day.)
What is Patriots’ Day, you ask? It is the commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord—events with local celebrations that rival or exceed Independence Day. Over time, those battles have been the inspiration for many of the region’s poets, not least of whom was lyric poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82) who immortalized the “midnight ride of Paul Revere” in his poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
On the 18th of April, in Seventy-five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year. . .
That’s 1775, when British General Thomas Gage, who commanded the British troops occupying Boston, ordered 700 Redcoats to scour the countryside for the radical leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock, rumored to be staying thirteen miles away in Lexington, and to discover the location of stores of munitions and supplies for local militias, rumored to be hidden in Concord, seven miles farther on.
Colonial spies learned of Gage’s orders and planned to warn Adams, Hancock, and the surrounding towns. That night, two lanterns were hung in the steeple of the Old North Church, signaling the route British troops would take out of Boston.
“One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.” . . .
And they were. In Middlesex County towns, Minutemen—so named because they were ready to rise to arms on a minute’s notice—were alerted not just by Paul Revere but by William Dawes, who took a different route out of Boston to avoid the risk of both of them being captured at once.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington. . . .
Revere and Dawes met at Lexington, arriving about a half hour apart, and warned Adams and Hancock who quickly departed. The two couriers then set out for Concord. Fortunately for history, they were joined by Dr. Samuel Prescott who was out late, returning home to Concord after a courting visit with a young lady in Lexington.
Just as the sky began to lighten on the morning of April 19, an advance party of British troops, led by Major John Pitcairn, arrived in Lexington. A militia of seventy-seven armed colonists stood on the town green. They faced each other down, both sides having been ordered not to fire. Pitcairn ordered the colonists to disperse, and they began to do so. Then a shot rang out. Its source is unknown, but its effect was that the British opened fire, killing seven Minutemen. One mortally wounded patriot crawled home from the green, only to die on his doorstep.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town. . . .
Despite Longfellow’s heroic telling, before Revere could reach Concord, he was arrested by the British and held for questioning before being released hours later. Dawes and Prescott eluded the British, but Dawes lost his horse and walked back to Lexington. It was Prescott who, knowing the terrain, was able to get through to alert the patriots in Concord. He then traveled on to Acton while his brother, Abel, alerted other towns.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.
Captain Isaac Davis, the captain of the Acton Minutemen, had been preparing his land for spring planting and left his plow in his field the evening before. After hearing the alarm, at least thirty of his force of forty Minutemen (including a young drummer and fifer) mustered there. Besides being a farmer, Davis was a metal worker who had fashioned bayonets for his militiamen. They were ready for close combat if need be. In the early morning hours of April 19, they marched with their arms along a nearly seven-mile trail (now followed each Patriots’ Day by local residents, scouts, and history buffs) to the home of Major John Buttrick of the Concord militia. The Buttrick farm served as the meeting place for the approximately 400 Minutemen from various towns who had responded to the call. Between the Buttrick home and the center of Concord a half mile away, flowed the narrow Concord River spanned by a wooden bridge.
By eight o’clock, the British arrived in Concord. Frustrated by not being able to find the stash of weapons and supplies, they went into houses, dragged out furniture, wooden bowls, and anything else flammable, and created a bonfire on the village green. The Minutemen saw smoke rising above the bare trees and feared the British would set the entire town afire.
The Minutemen advanced toward the bridge to cross with orders not to fire unless fired upon. Captain Davis volunteered his men for the front line because they had bayonets, saying, “I haven’t a man who is afraid to go.”
A small company of the British forces had crossed the bridge as the colonists approached. Seeing the combined militia making chase, the British retreated back across the bridge, prying up some of its planks to delay the Minutemen’s crossing. Once across the bridge, the British turned and fired on the undaunted Minutemen. Isaac Davis and another young Acton Minuteman, Abner Hosmer, fell—the first to die at the Battle of Concord.
But instead of turning and scattering as they had in Lexington, the assembled militias held their positions. Captain Buttrick shouted, “Fire, fellow soldiers, for God’s sake fire!” They fired on the British–the first time colonists had fired a shot for liberty. It was the British who turned and ran.
You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
Longfellow put it well. The British, never expecting armed resistance, reassembled and marched in formation back to Boston. The colonists pursued them, shooting from behind trees and stone walls. When the day was over, forty-nine colonists had died, but they had killed 73 soldiers of the finest army in the world.
More importantly, the Revolutionary War had begun.
Longfellow was not the only poet of his generation inspired by these events. Concord resident Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Concord Hymn,” a portion of which is inscribed on the base of a statue of a Minuteman which stands at the Old North Bridge.
By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
Both poets highlight the heroic acts of the colonists, heaping immortal praise on those who fought to free Americans from the yoke of the tyranny of King George III. But there is a portion of one more poem, by the lesser-known poet James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), that struck me the hardest the first time I visited the Old North Bridge as a young girl—so much so that I memorized it that day. It’s not on the tall Minuteman monument erected in 1875 that sits on the colonists’ side of the bridge, nor the obelisk erected in 1836 and placed on the other side of the river to commemorate the battle. Rather it is engraved on a slate slab attached to a stone wall on the town side of the bridge. Overlooked by most tourists, it is flanked by two small British flags. It marks the grave of two unnamed British soldiers who died at that bridge, far from their homes, on April 19, 1775.
They came three thousand miles, and died,
To keep the Past upon its throne:
Unheard, beyond the ocean tide,
Their English mother made her moan.
Standing there, a chill ran through me as I read it. I then realized that the Minutemen weren’t the only patriots in that battle. That there are two sides to every conflict, and it is good to remember that both deserve to be understood.
Writers can, after all, make us see the world in new ways.
*First published in the Spring 2020 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Literary Learnings. Reprinted with permission.
Carol L. Wright is a former book editor, domestic relations attorney, and adjunct law professor. Her debut mystery, Death in Glenville Falls, came out in September of 2017 and was named a finalist for both the 2018 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award and for the 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. In addition, Carol is the author of several short stories in various literary journals and award-winning anthologies. Many of her favorites appear in A Christmas on Nantucket and other stories. She is a founding member of the Bethlehem Writers Group, a life member of Sisters in Crime and the Jane Austen Society of North America, and a member of Pennwriters, the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, and SinC Guppies. She is married to her college sweetheart, and lives in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania with their rescue dog, Mr. Darcy, and a clowder of cats. You can learn more on Carol’s website, or by following her Facebook page.
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Have you ever done something out of turn? Just you – where you had to depend on yourself completely? Step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself?
Not necessarily with your writing, but with yourself.
Possibly going on a trip, or learning a new hobby.
Over the fourth of July, I got this opportunity.
I traveled for six hours by myself, driving to meet my sister to go camping. It’s been a long time since I have been in a car by myself for that much time.
What I found out about myself, was that at first it was uncomfortable. I wasn’t necessarily worried, but it didn’t feel natural. Since Covid hit, my husband and I have run errands or picked up food together. Most of the time, he drives. Rarely have I gone out by myself.
So it felt a little strange and exciting to be loading up and heading out all on my own.
There were moments on my drive where I felt unsure and maybe a little weak.
But as I kept driving, those unsure moments turned into empowering moments. I sang at the top of my lungs to music I love, and found my mind swelling with creative ideas and thoughts related to my writing and other things I haven’t thought of in a long time.
It was such the confidence boost I needed.
I found it interesting to have the freedom to allow my thoughts to grow and flourish. Because I wasn’t reacting to anyone else or anyone else reacting to me, I could do that. The time was my own the entire time.
Which I found very interesting.
When was the last time, I could finish a thought for myself and see where it led?
The rest of the weekend was much of the same. Camping, hiking, biking and enjoying nature. I allowed myself to experience as much as possible and when it was time to drive back another six hours, there was more confidence, more thoughts, and more positive emotions coming out of the experience.
So many great rewards reaped from the entire experience.
Much like I have gained from this writing experience I’ve embarked on all these years.
And a thought occured to me that much like the emotions I experienced on this trip, it was not dissimilar to my writing journey.
There are many times I feel scared or unsure of what I’m writing or doing with my writing. Where will it all lead? Am I cut out for this? Should I stay or should I go? But like embarking on a new experience, trying something new, builds confidence and empowers us to do more. I have definitely felt that with each blog post I’ve posted, contest I’ve entered, goal or milestone I’ve achieved.
This year I have mostly stopped writing on a regular basis. This is due to the full time day work I’ve been doing, juggling my family, and trying to find balance. Mentally, my creative side was spent. But in stopping, I’m not moving forward and the scary, unsure, and weak moments (i.e. doubts) have popped up again.
And a correlation appeared. Similar to each mile I drove onward during this trip, I need to keep moving forward with my writing so that I can once again be empowered and confident in what I am doing.
So I asked myself…
One of the things I liked about the journey was getting from one position to another. Moving forward. I also liked knowing the rules.
And last but not least:
I hope you can be encouraged to keep going on your writing journey. I know after this trip, I’m jumping back in and enjoying where I’m at and what I can still accomplish.
I’ve written time travel and loved it… Her Lost Love when my heroine takes a magic train from 1955 back to 1943 to Posey Creek, PA to save the man she loves from being killed in France… and present day back to the Battle of Antietam in 1862 where my heroine meets her ‘twin’ who’s a Confederate spy… and also historical fiction about the Titanic The Runaway Girl.
But writing a dual timeline is like walking barefoot on broken seashells on the sand.
Painful. Excruciating. And dangerous.
You can end up hobbling all the way home… or to the end of your manuscript. Yikes.
I’ve been there… and survived. I’ve written two dual timeline novels — The Resistance Girl and the novel I just finished (title coming) — both about Paris during World War 2 when the city was occupied by the Nazis. The era lends itself to intrigue, romance, spies… and danger. Who could resist? Not me.
However, I’ve fretted and moaned and had more chocolate binges than I care to admit writing these books, but they’re the most rewarding stories I’ve ever written. Stories about lost family found and connecting with your ‘roots’. I learned a lot along the way… so here are my 7 Tips for Writing Dual Timelines:
1 — keep two sets of timelines so you know where you and your heroines are in each era at all times.
Your heroine’s birthdate in the past is important and determines what “historical events’ she witnesses. In the present, your heroine’s journey may last a shorter time — a week, month; in the past, it could be years. In The Resistance Girl, we follow the heroine’s film career from the 1920s through 1950. The modern heroine’s journey last for several days.
2 — present day in your story doesn’t have to mean today. Make it work for you.
My latest novel takes place in 2003 and 1940-1945. Why? Because I wanted my historical heroine to be alive when she meets the present day heroine. She’s 80 years old and at the top of her game, but the war years still haunt her. Also, she loves flying on the Concorde and the last trip of the airship was in 2003.
3 — create a compelling opening in whichever timeline works best. No hard fast rule you have to begin in the past.
In my new Paris novel, I begin in 2003 because I wanted to set up the 80-year-old diva’s reluctance to talk about the war years because of her personal pain. My modern heroine/reporter convinces her to ‘let it go’ and we’re off and running…
4 — decide before you begin plotting (or if you’re a pantster — I do both) if your two heroines meet at some point; or, if we know the historical heroine meets her fate and we never see her in the present.
I did both — in The Resistance Girl, the modern heroine discovers she had a famous grandmother in France during the war — a film star — she never knew existed. But in my new novel, the two heroines meet in the first chapter in 2003.
5 — know your history and research your era like crazy; your heroine in the past is fictional, but make her life believable! Facts count but don’t tell us, show us how your heroine survives in that era in a way that’s unique to her.
For example, the historical heroine in my upcoming book ends up in concentration camps; I gave her an unusual backstory that determined how she survived in the camps because of her background and talents, but made sure it was also possible.
6 — location, location, location… make sure you know exactly what your locations look like in both eras if you’re going to visit them in both timelines.
In my upcoming book about Paris, we go to concentration camp sites in Germany and Poland in both 1944-45, 1975, and 2003. I was fortunate to find photos and films that showed what the camps looked like in 1944-45 and also circa 2003 and 1975. An amazing bit of luck which created some tear-jerking moments for my historical heroine.
7 — have fun! This is an adventure about finding your heroine’s roots — like that fabulous PBS show where the celebrity goes through the big scrapbook and meets their lost relatives with the jovial host.
Make your story heartfelt, emotional, fascinating, believable, and filled with surprises to keep your readers turning those pages like the celeb on TV!
Questions about dual timelines:
Drop me a comment!
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