When Sandy responded to my second-anniversary invitation with a suggestion to blog about Anne Frank, I felt a jolt. Why did Anne, whose diary was so important to me, rarely occur to me among authors who influenced me most? In my mind, authors were grown-up writers of stories for readers like me. My relationship to Anne was more intimate, as though we were one girl thrown into two very different circumstances.
It started with noticing that she and I shared the same June birthday. She wrote her diary, which I first read at thirteen, in a book she received in 1942 for her thirteenth birthday. Weeks later she and her family went into hiding from the Nazis. Others joined them, for a total of eight Jews in a confined space they could never leave. Though I knew she later died in a concentration camp, what captivated me at thirteen wasn’t the cruelty or injustice—what we know about Anne—but her diary itself.
She and I had so much in common: our birthday, our age, our love of writing, our occasional loneliness. Our differences were situational. I could go outdoors, make noise, choose my playmates, get away for an hour. What would it be like to live cooped up, nonstop for two years, with a handful of people I didn’t choose and didn’t always like? Would I still believe, like her, that people are really good at heart?
Anne introduced me to the possibility of a diary as more than a log of the day’s events. My earliest diary dates from age thirteen, probably after I read hers. It’s full of adolescent ramblings. Now I write morning pages for myself and this blog for you who read it, continuing a personal tradition that began with the diary of Anne Frank.
Lately I’ve been relishing mystery series where author, protagonist, and setting are African American. They offer a glimpse into communities I can’t know from the inside. Unlike much of my mystery reading, characters aren’t presumed white unless otherwise specified.
Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle in New Jersey is a private investigator and former cop, like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone or Robert Parker’s Spenser. Like them, she experiences puzzles and dangers that keep me turning pages and a life that propels me from book to book. Unlike them, she lives in a world where worry over traffic stops or fear for teenage sons takes forms I can only imagine. When Death Comes Stealing (1994) is first in a series of eight.
Eleanor Taylor Bland’s Marti McAlister is an African-American police detective in Lincoln Prairie, Illinois, modeled on Waukegan. Like Tamara, Marti has a personal life as engaging as the crimes she solves. The series of fourteen begins with Dead Time (1992). Coming up on my list: Frankie Y. Bailey’s Lizzie Stuart, Nora DeLoach’s Mama Candi Covington, Barbary Neely’s Blanche White, and Pamela Samuels Young’s Vernetta Henderson.
This blog began on March 12, 2016, with “Conversations with Laura.” “Out into the World” followed the next day, “Fire, Flood, and Famine” on March 21, and “Gothic Shadows” on March 28. Every Monday since, I’ve posted an entry broadly related to writing, reading, history, imagination, and the creative life. The intent is to start a conversation, compare notes, and trigger ideas. Thanks to all who read these posts and respond or think about them.
You’re invited to help me celebrate by suggesting a topic for a future post. I’ll try to post something, over time, on every suggestion (or at least one per person) consistent with the overall blog theme. No present-day politics or religion, please. Blog form comments, Facebook, LinkedIn, and email will all reach me. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Most New Year’s resolutions have been broken by now. The first snowdrop is in bloom in the garden; the robins have yet to return. This in-between season calls for hope and trust along with any lingering intentions. Writers not yet assured of an audience need ways to nurture hope in order to keep writing. I suspect that’s equally true in other endeavors, from selling your art on Etsy to working for social change. Purposeful persistence is essential but doesn’t guarantee results. How do you balance hope with realism?
My view of hope is shifting over time. This year’s thoughts: Optimism and expectations are about the future. So is hope for a narrowly defined outcome. But hope in the broader sense is about the present, an attitude in this moment. Right now I hope and trust that my work has value, even if it’s too soon to see exactly how.
Hope demands a willingness to live with uncertainty. Barring life crises or chemical imbalances in the brain, I suspect a major impetus to giving up is the discomfort of not knowing. Why should I keep writing if you can’t promise the desired result? It takes courage to accept that we don’t know what will happen and to keep going all the same. The alternative is to quit for the comfort of certainty, in the assurance that nothing will happen at all.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.