Monday, February 25, 2019

The Smallest Tadpole's War in the Land of Mysterious Waters: An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Florida became a state in 1845 and was quickly thrust into the Civil War. The Smallest Tadpole’s War in the Land of Mysterious Waters bridges the years from 1843  to 1900. The main character, Thomas Franklin Swearingen, was author Diane Swearingen’s husband’s great-great-grandfather. 

Thomas Swearingen, an uneducated farmer who settled northern Florida when it was home to untamed forests, black bear, Seminole ponies, and biting insects, went on to become a legislator, a drafter of the Florida constitution, and president pro-temp of the Florida senate. This is his story—and the story of Florida’s early years as a state. 

The Smallest Tadpole is told from the perspective of Henry, Thomas’s adopted son. Henry recounts that his favorite book as a child was Thomas’s diary.  Although Diane Swearingen fabricated Thomas’s diary and letters, she used county and military records as well as Thomas’s papers that now reside in the Florida State archives.  Historical accuracy permeates each diary entry and the entire book. 

Thomas left Georgia and settled in Wakulla County, Florida in the late 1840's. In 1855 when his best friend died, Thomas married his widow, Louise, and adopted Henry. In 1860, at the age of eleven, Henry became a man when Thomas left for the war. His boyhood days of fishing with Thomas in the Gulf of Mexico and camping out staring at the stars, were over. 

Henry remembers how Thomas, a prosperous businessman, had been invited to political rallies before the war. The local cotton farmers agreed that they shouldn't be taxed by the north. Although Thomas had been warned that slavery would remain in the South as long as it was a colony to the North, it was the unspoken issue at these rallies where secession was a huge topic. Although most of the farmers did not own slaves, (Florida's population was 140,000 in 1861; 63,000 were African Americans), wealthy cotton plantation owners held the purse strings and great political influence over the farmers. To speak against them was financial suicide. The political rallies became enlistment opportunities for the Confederate Army; the farmers were loyal to a way of life and to local economics rather than defenders of slavery.

Thomas was made a lieutenant in the Wakulla Guard because of his leadership and popularity in the county--not because of any prior military experience. (This verified the experience of Kate Dinsmore's great-grandfather. As the protagonist in Half Truths, I researched how her great-grandfather would have been made captain in Charlotte, NC under similar circumstances.)  With great pomp and ceremony, the Florida men left for war with families excited about the $100.00/month the soldiers would receive. 

But the reality of war set in quickly with women left alone to care for their farms and children, while news of injuries and deaths trickled in from the front. Thomas's letters reported the realities of war and Swearingen's portrayal does not hold back from describing the smell of death, ears that ran from cannon fire, and the screams of dying men. It put faces on the 16,000 Florida soldiers who never returned home. 

Henry's narrative of the war is sprinkled throughout with local stories of Wakulla County and his own enlistment prior to the war ending. There was not enough black cloth for all the widows to sew funeral attire. Carpetbaggers grabbed land because of taxes owed. The homeless and helpless were throughout the countryside. 

Although Thomas returned home injured, he was encouraged to run as the Florida representative of Wakulla County and from there held several political offices. Throughout his career Thomas was anti-slavery.

This audio version available through Audible, is expertly narrated by Jim Seybert.



Thanks to Jim Seybert's generosity, I will provide a code for the winner to download this book from Audible's website. To enter, please leave me a comment by February 28 along with your email address if you are new to my blog. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Celebrate Black History Month With These Books

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won Vijaya Bodach's new novel, BOUND. Thanks to all of you for your comments the last three weeks; both Vijaya and I appreciated hearing from you.


Many of you have been following my blog for years and some of you are new readers. My "old" followers are familiar with the books that have helped me write Half-Truths. To recognize Black History Month, I thought I'd provide links to these past reviews, particularly for my new readers. I hope you'll add some of them to your "to-be-read" list. 

The order in which the books are displayed reflects the order in which I read them; most recent book is on top.

Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy  Written by North Carolina professor, Elizabeth Gillespie McRae, this book opened my eyes to the role that white women in the South played in maintaining segregation.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop Alice Faye Duncan's debut picture book told from the perspective of a young girl who "meets" Martin Luther King.

Eyes on the Prize This excellent book on the Civil Rights decade is written by Juan Williams. If you're looking for an in-depth overview of the Civil Rights movement, then you've come to the right book.

Be Free or DieThe Amazing Story of Robert Smalls' Escape from Slavery to Union Hero. This is a great panoramic view of South Carolina before, during, and after the Civil War and an eye-opening biography of an amazing man.

Crossing Ebenezer Creek This middle grade novel, based on true events, deepened my understanding of what ex-slaves experienced after "freedom."

Midnight Without a Moon. This book takes place in Mississippi in the mid-50's. Linda Williams Jackson's debut novel uses Emmitt Till's murder as a background for Rose Lee Carter's decision not to flee the South. 

Loving vs. Virginia. This is a great curriculum resource written in free verse which shows Mildred and Richard Loving's struggles to legalize their marriage in Virginia. 

The Lions of Little Rock This classic civil rights book is set in Little Rock, AK in 1958. I now use it as a comp title in my pitch for Half-Truths!

Carver: A Life in Poems. Lillian, my most important secondary character, wants to be a scientist. Reading about George Washington Carver helped me think more deeply about Lillian.

Primary Lessons: A Memoir by Sarah Bracey White Sarah grew up in the Jim Crow south and here I share excerpts describing her experiences. 

Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond. This book was a fascinating look into Strom Thurmond's bi-racial daughter and the many challenges she and her mother faced. I blogged about it extensively. 

The Color of Love. This is an autobiographical account of a boy whose mother falls in love with a black man in the Jim Crow South. 

Mixed: My life in Black and White  A candid autobiography written by Angela Nissel. She describes what it was like to grow up in Philadelphia as a bi-racial child during the second half of the 20th century.

Fly Girl A beautifully written YA novel about a young black woman who becomes a pilot during WWII.

A Lesson Before Dying. A book review of a powerful book portraying racism in Louisiana in the 1940's.

Here are a few of the books that didn't make it into this list!

Have you read any books about African American history that you would recommend? Please share in the comments below. 

(This post was originally published on the Write2Ignite blog.)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Behind the Scenes of Bound: Author Interview Part II

On last week's blog, Vijaya Bodach shared her inspiration for her debut YA novel, BOUND. This week she provides insights into her publishing journey and she and I talk shop.


CAROL: Did you try to publish BOUND through “normal” publishers? If so, was there a pattern to your rejections?  

VIJAYA I tried the trade route for a couple of years, but got tired of even the good rejections. Many loved the writing and the characters but wanted a different outcome! That was non-negotiable. Early on, one agent sowed the seed for self-publishing. He said the industry was shifting and less open to publishing a book that was counter-cultural. When I was down to small presses, I remembered his words and decided to take all the risk to publish BOUND. It’s been so empowering, I feel a certain lightness. I would definitely recommend this as a path to publication.

CAROL: Can you share some of the ups and downs of self-publishing?

VIJAYA: I prayed about this decision for a year, but once I took the plunge (after another good rejection, lol) it was a whirlwind six weeks trying to learn everything necessary to publish BOUND myself. I still have much to learn, but what joy! I was able to use my contacts in the industry to hire a designer. I loved having the freedom to be true to my characters and have control over the entire process. And the best part is knowing that Rebecca and Joy are taking up residence in others’ hearts and minds as well.

But the most difficult part has been growing my readership. All my other books magically found their way into schools and libraries, but BOUND hasn’t been reviewed by any of the journals that librarians read, so they don’t even know of its existence.

I’m learning that to be successful in this business, one has to be good in three areas: writing, publishing, and marketing. I am good at writing, competent in publishing, but dismal at marketing. So this year, I plan to learn how to advertise more effectively. But at this stage, as a novice novelist, I believe my efforts are best concentrated on writing the stories that will make a difference and trusting that impassioned readers (like you!) recommend it to their circles, and so on and so forth to grow organically. I am grateful for each and every one of my readers. By the way, it will help if your readers request BOUND at their local library! 


Vijaya was willing to discuss the choices she made while writing BOUND. Here are two observations I made about the novel and her responses. 

CAROL: I thought that Rebecca’s “conversion” from being against abortion to being pro-life was too abrupt. One minute she was taking Joy to the abortion clinic, the next minute she’s totally changed her mind. I actually found their father’s transformation was more gradual and believable.

VIJAYA: I’m glad you brought this up. Rebecca’s transition mirrors mine and it was like scales falling off my eyes. And speaking of mirrors, Jim Bell, talks about the “mirror moment” at the midpoint of a story. This is where a character is at a transition. She can see who she is and who she’s becoming. She must make a choice. It’s a moment of clarity. And in that scene (which ironically has Rebecca looking in a mirror) once Rebecca understands what’s at stake—the life of a child—she’s able to recall the wisdom of her mother’s words. And she does what she has to do without counting the cost. So yes, it feels sudden, yet natural. 

CAROL: The only parts that I found “didactic” were Rebecca's college interviews. I thought that Rebecca was long-winded and those could have been either shortened.

VIJAYA: I wrote BOUND for the ICL Book Course and my wonderful instructor, Nancy Butts, warned me about this exact danger. But by the third revision I knew that Rebecca had to articulate her position even if it cost her a seat in medical school.  

ONE LAST WORD FROM VIJAYA: Thank you for writing such an in-depth review and your thoughtful questions. I hope your readers feel encouraged to never, ever give up on a story they believe in. God bless all the works of your hands!

Bio: Vijaya Bodach is a scientist-turned-children’s writer, an atheist-turned-Catholic, and most recently, a writer-turned-publisher (Bodach Books). She is the author of over 60 books for children, including TEN EASTER EGGS, and just as many magazine articles, stories, and poems. BOUND is her first novel. To learn more, please visit:


Leave me a comment if you want to enter to win an autographed copy of BOUND. It's fine if you already entered; I'll put your name in twice. If you are new to my blog, please leave your email address. The winner's name will be drawn on Thursday, February 14. A great book about love--just in time for Valentine's Day. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Behind the Scenes of Bound: Author Interview Part I

Last week I reviewed Vijaya Bocach's new YA book, BOUND. Vijaya graciously agreed to an author interview and since she had a lot of information for readers and writers, I've decided to run it for two weeks. We hope you enjoy it! 


CAROL: I’m very curious about the inspiration for BOUND. Are they individuals you knew or are Joy and Rebecca from your imagination? 

VIJAYA: I borrowed the circumstances of my two cousins, Sangeeta and Aradhana, to explore many questions Rebecca was asking. Sangeeta was born deaf and had congenital heart defects requiring surgery due to my aunt contracting Rubella (German Measles) during pregnancy. The doctor advised an abortion because these children can have a lifetime of difficulties but my aunt refused and braved every challenge of raising a child with special needs. Later they adopted Aradhana, who nearly died in a fire as a small child. Both miracle babies!!! They are now happily married and Sangeeta is also a mother to a teenage boy. From the beginning, Rebecca and Joy were their own persons with their own agendas. Joy was my favorite character to write. 
CAROL: You have a lot of detail about burns and medical treatment. How much research did you have to do?

VIJAYA: I began with my cousins, who corroborated my memories as well as discussions with my aunt. I also read memoirs and a lot of medical texts on severe burns and their treatment. I am fascinated by the human body and how it functions, so really enjoy this type of research. 

Vijaya's cousins, Aradhana and Sangeeta

CAROL: Why did you write BOUND?  

VIJAYA: About ten years ago, our family was going through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and Rebecca was talking in my head and asking hard questions about life, love, and responsibility. It was clear that a short story wouldn’t give me the space I needed to explore the central dramatic question: “Are you your brother’s keeper?” Rebecca and Joy were the perfect characters to help me examine this through my newly-developing Catholic conscience. 

CAROL: Obviously, your ethnic identity comes out clearly in the book. Was that part difficult or easy to write? 

VIJAYA: The ethnic part is easy—it’s in my very cells  I grew up in India and so am very familiar with Indian mentality—there’s great diversity so there’s no such thing as a typical Indian. I had great fun writing Meanie Auntie. She came fully formed in my imagination.

CAROL: I also loved how there are many ways that the girls are different and also the same. Was that all purposeful on your part? (ie, both are damaged in some way.)

VIJAYA: Yes. My working title for this story was DAMAGED and from the beginning, I knew Rebecca would be a highly intelligent burn survivor like my cousin, with Joy damaged in the opposite way. I also wanted to make her an unfit mother in the eyes of the world. I thought about all the worst-case scenarios where people say it’s best to have an abortion and make a case against it through my characters.  

CAROL: I like BOUND so much better! It is a layered title that hints at the story. By the way--I think the cover is fantastic for the same reason!

CAROL: What has been the response to BOUND? 

VIJAYA: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I love that I get a share in building His Kingdom. To God all the glory.  



Next week Vijaya will share her publishing journey and we have some "shop talk" about decisions she made while writing the book. Giveaway date has now shifted to February 14. Each time you leave a comment I'll enter your name again. Remember to leave me your email address if you are new to my blog.

Vijaya Bodach is a scientist-turned-children’s writer, an atheist-turned-Catholic, and most recently, a writer-turned-publisher (Bodach Books). She is the author of over 60 books for children, including TEN EASTER EGGS, and just as many magazine articles, stories, and poems. BOUND is her first novel. 


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