Civil Resistance through the Published Word

Twitter. Facebook. You Tube. We live in a now society. Nothing can happen without being captured on a smart phone. Instant access is available everywhere. Anyone can start a blog or website to express their opinion.

In the past, it wasn’t this way. People were often jailed for their opinions or worse. A few weeks ago, I wrote about John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrims Progress, and spent much time in prison for his opinion of the state-run church.

Writers in the past discovered the use of popular storytelling as a way to express beliefs or cry against injustice. These novels, so deeply wrought with the sentiments of their author, often became best-sellers and are 471px-Animal_Farm_artworkviewed today as classic literature. Three that I want to bring to your attention are Animal Farm by George Orwell, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.

Animal Farm was published in August 1945 after being repeatedly turned down by publishers. It is the most blatant work of protest of the three, exposing and strongly condemning what Orwell saw as the Stalinist corruption of the original socialist ideals. Many publishers were actually “encouraged” by government officials to steer clear of the work. It was published in 1945 to mixed reviews and four years later he wrote another novel decrying government entitled “1984.”
In the preface, Orwell also described the source of the idea of setting the book on a farm:
I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.

A Christmas Carol is a novella written by Charles Dickens and published in December of 1843. Its publication met with instant success. The tale has been viewed by critics as an indictment of 19th-century industrial capitalism. It has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and somberness. A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film, stage, opera, and other media multiple times. 388px-The_Last_of_the_Spirits-John_Leech,_1843

As a child, Dickens’ father was jailed and Charles was forced to quit school and work in a factory. The poor conditions and child labor deeply affected him. Dickens was keenly touched by the lot of poor children in the middle decades of the 19th century. He began to speak for the children and considered writing a pamphlet describing their plight.

In a fund-raising speech on 5 October 1843 at the Manchester Athenæum (a charitable institution serving the poor), Dickens urged workers and employers to join together to combat ignorance with educational reform, and realized in the days following that the most effective way to reach the broadest segment of the population with his social concerns about poverty and injustice was to write a deeply-felt Christmas narrative rather than polemical pamphlets and essays. It was during his three days in Manchester, he conceived the plot of A Christmas Carol.

He wrote to Dr. Southwood Smith saying, “You will certainly feel that a Sledge hammer has come down with twenty times the force – twenty thousand times the force – I could exert by following out my first idea.” [Speaking of switching the original pamphlet to a novel] And he was right. A Christmas Carol was but the first of many works protesting the conditions of the poor in England.

Our last classic of civil resistance is surprisingly about a horse,  Black Beauty. Written in December of 1877 by Anne Sewell, it became an immediate bestseller, and with 50 million copies sold, is one of the best-selling books of all times. While forthrightly teaching animal welfare, it also teaches how to treat people with kindness, sympathy, and respect.page1-363px-Black_Beauty_(1877)_djvu

Anne Sewell said that her purpose in writing the novel was “to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses.” Her sympathetic portrayal of the plight of working animals led to a vast outpouring of concern for animal welfare and is said to have been instrumental in abolishing the cruel practice of using the checkrein (or “bearing rein”, a strap used to keep horses’ heads high, fashionable in Victorian England but painful and damaging to a horse’s neck). Black Beauty also contains two pages about the use of blinkers on horses, concluding that this use is likely to cause accidents at night due to interference with “the full use of” a horse’s ability to “see much better in the dark than men can.”

A young woman, who lived in poor health, and died only five months after the publication of her only novel forever changed the way people treated horses. The “bearing rein” was abolished in England and other legislature introduced in England and the United States to stop cruelty to horses.

The list is long of classic novels that speak through civil resistance in book form including Uncle Tom’s Cabin. When you write, do you consider addressing relevant issues in society and religion? Many of the classic writers did and were persecuted for it. But their work still stands today.

Today’s writing prompt: Think of an issue that deeply affects you: abused animals, civil war in third-world countries, or maybe prejudice in the work place. Write a short story and pour your feelings about the issue into it.

Slow Moon Rising winner

450px-Wizard_of_oz_5Congratulations! Cheri Swalwell won Eva Marie Everson’s new book, Slow Moon Rising.

You still have time to go to our blog and win a copy of H. L. Wegley’s new book, Hide and Seek. Leave a comment here,

Friday is the last day to comment on a Tuesday or Friday post and be entered to win an Amazon gift card! So many prizes…

The Writing Prompts Crew

Harry Wegley


Today we welcome Harry Wegley, author and meteorologist, to 3 Questions Wednesday.

(1) Do you watch reality television? Why or why not?

Harry: My wife and I don’t watch much TV—mostly news, a little sports, and an occasional, carefully selected movie. I’m not a real fan of reality TV, to a large degree because most “reality” TV isn’t. Maybe I’m over generalizing, but I don’t see much value in watching most programs in this genre. I sometimes watch home remodeling shows with my wife because we do learn some useful things. I don’t mean to be cynical, but most reality shows violate my values while teaching little of value unless, perhaps, one is an author looking for a villain for their next book.

(2) What are your thoughts on e-publishing?

Harry: I see e-publishing as a two-edged sword. On the good side, it’s very freeing for an author to be able to tell their story in their own voice without much that being edited away. Authors can also get books to market more quickly than with traditional publishing and their books don’t go out of print. But e-publishing comes with a heavy price to pay on the marketing side. Also, an author must either purchase a whole set of services, or develop some new skills that come with a steep learning curve—skills like graphic design. Another negative is that many people are flooding the market with poor quality books. Unless you are already well known, or can stand out from the crowd through your marketing efforts, your work might never gain the readership it could have. Despite the downside, I do expect to e-publish some of my stories, primarily because I can keep my publisher’s queue filled and still have time to write and publish a couple of books for every one that a traditional publisher puts out.

(3) Which do you prefer? Facebook or Twitter?

Harry: I prefer Facebook, but I’ve still got a lot to learn about maximizing the potential of both. So, my preference could change. But it is more satisfying to see people respond personally to FB posts than to tweet into what seems like a black hole, sucking in your information, information that disappears, never to be seen again.

hide and seekThank you, Harry, for joining us on 3 Questions Wednesday! Make sure to leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for an e-book of his latest novel, Hide and Seek.

H. L. Wegley served in the USAF as an Intelligence Analyst and a Weather Officer. He is a Meteorologist who worked as a Research Scientist in Atmospheric Physics. After earning an MS in Computer Science, he worked more than two decades as a Systems Programmer at Boeing before retiring in the Seattle area, where he and his wife of 46 years enjoy small-group ministry, their seven grandchildren, and where he pursues his love of writing.

He has a 3-book romantic-thriller series, Pure Genius Series, contracted with Harbourlight Books, Pelican Book Group and has been requested to write a 4th book in that series. Book 1, Hide and Seek, released in February 2013, Book 2, On the Pineapple Express should release later this year. He also published his childhood adventures in a humorous memoir, Colby and Me: Growing up in the 50’s

You can reach H. L. Wegley at his Facebook page or his author web site.

Write What You Know

Elisabeth Lillian Wehner was born December 15, 1896 to German-immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York. She grew up in one of the poorest districts, but managed to get into Girl’s High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a prestigious school attended by the likes of Lena Horne and Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.

Still don’t have a clue who Elisabeth Wehner was? She later married George H.E. Smith, moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he attended Law School at the University of Michigan. Smith gave birth to two daughters. Once they were in school, she entered classes and excelled in journalism, literature, writing, and drama, earning the prestigious Avery Hopwood Award.

In 1943, Harper & Brothers published her first book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn under the pen name, Betty Smith. She wrote what she knew – her life experiences, fictionalized. And she did a very good job of it. The book was an immediate success. The story was made into an award-winning movie and stage musical. She went on to write other books and stage plays.

Wikipedia Non-free contentA Tree Grows in Brooklyn was written in five parts, or “books”. These days, it would probably be a series of five books. How things have changed. The lead character, Francie Nolan and her younger brother, Cornelius “Neeley” Nolan, live with their parents, Johnny and Kate in a series of tenement apartments in the early 1900s. Book II actually jumps to the past and tells the story of Francie’s Austrian-immigrant mother and Irish-immigrant father’s meeting and subsequent marriage.

Francie’s mother is intent on making a better life for her children, which means education. The poor woman works several jobs, taking in wash and scrubbing floors. Her good-natured, but alcoholic husband is a waiter and aspiring musician. He dresses well, but can’t keep a job. Add into this mix, Kate’s sassy sister (Sissy), whose reputation threatens to drag them all down. Between Johnny’s lack of fortitude and Sissy’s lack of self-control, well, life is difficult. And the children end up paying for it.

They finally settle into another apartment in a very poor section of town. It is located next to a school, where the children attend. Francie constantly dreams of something better. Desperate to accomplish this, her father lies about their address, and gets her enrolled in one of the best schools. When her mother becomes pregnant with another child, he falls into a deep depression and dies on Christmas Day. A life insurance policy keeps them afloat until after the baby’s birth, when mother can take work again. Francie graduates from school and deals with the emotional pain of losing her father.

In the years following high school, Francie hopes to attend college, but must go to work instead. She earns enough to go, but chooses to send Neeley, since she knows he would never do it on his own. World War I brings many changes, including the loss of her job. She meets a young man who lies to her and breaks her heart. Her mother agrees to marry a former neighborhood policeman, Officer McShane, who has become a wealthy businessman and politician.

In the final section of the novel, Francie finally attends classes at university. After her heart was broken, she formed a deeper bound with a young man she’s known for sometime. Her mother marries McShane, so they’re moving to his home. Francie says goodbye to some of her favorite childhood haunts and notices the tree that has re-sprouted and grown tall, despite all efforts to destroy it. She realizes how, in refusing to give up, her life is like this tree.

Many of you will recognize this story because of the award-winning movie of the same name, released in 1945. Peggy Ann Garner won the Academy Juvenile Award for her excellent portrayal of Francie Nolan. James Dunn won an Academy Award for best supporting role, for his portrayal of Johnny Nolan, Francie’s alcoholic father. Dorothy McGuire played Katie Nolan and Joan Blondell played Katie’s sassy sister. Officer McShane was aptly played by Lloyd Nolan.

I loved this book the first time I read it, when I was fifteen years old and have since read it twice more. It’s a gritty tale of woe, like so many during this era in our nation’s history. Like Grapes of Wrath, it touches the heart and opens our eyes to searing pain. But it is not depressing. The bright moments of familial love keep you afloat. That and Francie’s ability to overcome every obstacle thrown at her. Life, done well. Hard work produces excellence.

Betty Smith helped develop this story for the musical stage as well. Though she published other works, none compared to this one. Her other books: Tomorrow Will Be Better (1947), Maggie-Now (1958), Joy in the Morning (1963). Joy in the Morning was so badly edited and cut to pieces by its publishers, even the readers noticed. How many can identify with that?

So, huge success with first book achieving classic status––something writers all dream of. And there is something to be said about longevity. If you’re a historical writer looking at this era, I would highly recommend reading this book. I believe its message is important in a day and time when education is paramount and expensive. Low income often means not only physical lack, but lack of education as well. A story like this one is important because it gives hope.

For more information on the life of Betty Smith:

In just three days, one of our readers can win a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Click here for details.

Today’s Prompt: When Pauline’s eyes locked on the first edition copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, her breath caught in her throat. Could she really be so close to the end of her journey? With trembling fingers, she lifted the novel and opened to page forty-seven. There it was, as promised…

Thanks for reading!

Twisting Fairy Tales – Classic Literature

Who didn’t grow up listening to fairy tales? Mother Hubbard, Puss in Boots, The Princess and The Pea, Snow White, Billy Goats Gruff, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Rapunzel are some of the ones I remember from childhood.

Disney has made a pretty penny by making movies out of these classic fairy tales. But one can only remake Cinderella so many times, so they take them and add a new twist to them. Think of all the films you’ve seen and how they have a Cinderella twist to them, or Robin Hood twist.

But Disney wasn’t the first to come up with the twists. I had a neighbor who wrote a paper on the varying Cinderella stories. She came across five from various cultures, Japan and India are two that I know of.

If you’re a television watcher you know that Hollywood has jumped on this twisting fairy tale bandwagon. Just look at Once Upon A Time and Grimm. What about some of the movies that have come out in the last year or so; Snow White and the Huntsman, Red Riding Hood, and more recently are Hansel and Gretel and Jack the Giant-Killer? I have not seen the later two to know much about them, but I am curious to see the twists written in the script.

I have seen Snow White and the Huntsman. I was both pleased and disappointed in the changes. I loved that Snow White encountered trolls, but I disliked that the seven dwarfs didn’t make an appearance . 😉 As for Red Riding Hood, it was all right, if you like that sort of thing. It might be a bit scary for some, but then the original fairy tale was too.

As a writer it’s hard for me to just watch a movie without analyzing certain aspects of it, and since I love fairy tales and mythology I pay closer attention when watching those sort of films. I’m constantly looking for how they’ve taken a tried and true story and made them new, fresh.

One such film came out a few years ago. I was blown away by the twist in the story. A light bulb went of in my head, this is the sort of thing editors are looking for. A tried and true story with a fresh twist. Some of you may remember the fairy tale The Frog Prince. If you don’t, then I’m quite certain you’ve at least heard about how the princess kissed the frog and he turned into a prince.

The fairy tale is best known by the Grimms, but it was probably a fairy tale made up by an impish youth to get a girl to kiss a frog, or it was a mother’s tale to scare her daughters. I mean seriously, how many Prince Charmings actually start out like a prince charming? There’s bound to be some unpleasantness between a new couple until his frog-like character turns into a prince.
Aspiring romance writers are often told to write something different. Yet, at the same time, typically, only tried and true plots really make it through the sieve.
How do you take something old and make it new all the while keeping the plot tried and true? In the following link you’ll find different variations of The Frog Prince, including the one most of us know from Grimms.
Back in 2009, my daughter and I went to see The Princess and The Frog with my mom and my niece.
*Warning possible spoil ahead.
If you’ve seen the movie The Princess and The Frog you know that when the princess, who actually isn’t a princess but dressed for a masquerade ball, kisses the frog she turns into a frogette. Surprise, surprise. It’s also set in and around New Orleans during, what I believe would have been the roaring 20’s. Surprise, surprise. And instead of being cursed by a witchy hag, the prince is cursed by a vodoo shadow man and carried out by the prince’s aging, balding servant. Now, I have to admit the whole vodoo thing caught me off guard, but I also understand it’s a huge part of Cajun culture.
So what twists do we have?
1. It’s in New Orleans, not Europe
2. It’s in the 20th century not eh 15th, 16th, or 17th
3.. We don’t actually have a princess
4.The non-princess kisses the frog prince (this brings about conflict
5. We have a horn playing alligator.
6. Frog Prince learns to mince mushrooms.
7. The Prince decides to kiss and marry a real princess to save his frogette from a life of eating insects.
8. The real princess (again not yet a real princess only a wealthy Southerner) eventually kisses the frog to change him back for her friend’s sake-love has been confessed between the two. But of course it doesn’t work
9. The Prince Frog and his frogette go down to the Bayou and have themselves a wedding (overseen by a vodoo woman).
10. They kiss after they’re married and they are no longer Frog and Frogette. Oh, because he finally kissed a ‘real’ princess.
11. They open a gumbo restaurant in New Orleans and live Happily Ever After.
Twist after twist after twist, and it obviously worked.

Can you think of any authors who’ve put a twist on an old fairy tale and made a great book? What about a movie?