Some random, barely-heard-of writer (Stephen King someone or other) once said – “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” It’s a very true quote, because reading the countless amazing books out there has had a profound impact on my own writing. In its way, reading has taught me more about writing than any course, conference, or writers group (but all of those are also more than worth a writer’s time). So you could say a lot of my reading is for professional reasons.
But I’ll be honest. The truth is I’m an utter and total bookworm. Full-on need a twelve-step-program addict. And it started long before I picked up a pen to write my own. I’ve been devouring books since I was a kid. They give me an escape from this troubled world, they provide insight into other worlds, and they are vehicles to launch my yawning and stretching imagination to new heights. When I was in school, I would wonder into the library, just to have the librarian say, “ah, you again. I have some stuff here you might enjoy.” At the bookstore, I could never leave empty-handed. Sometimes I even tricked my parents into buying me books that probably should have waited a year or two.
Maybe they saw through my devious little ways and maybe they didn’t. But either way, books feed me like little else can. It’s a passion that has turned into a livelihood, with my debut novel coming out in the spring (click here for more on that).
And it’s a passion I’ve decided I’m long overdue to share. Most notably during the pandemic, I’ve seen a lot of great blog posts about what everyone’s reading. And trust me – I love talking books. Even at pre-pandemic parties when I was most likely to hide in a corner somewhere, books got me talking like you wouldn’t believe. Especially history books.
But in my line a work, it bodes well to read everything. Anything I can get my hands on. I rampage my way through dozens of books a year. While I can’t remember all of them (who could?), there are always a handful that leave a profound mark on me. Books that teach me a significant truth, that pull at my heart strings, that stick with me through thick and thin. And every year, I make a top ten list of reads that I post on my social media accounts (handle @mbhenry1985, come say hello!) The thought hit me the other day, while I was compiling this list, that perhaps you guys might want to see it too! And this being a blog instead of something pithy like Instagram, I have a lot more room to really share my thoughts.
So, without any further ado, here are my top ten for 2021, in no particular order. Books that kept me inspired during a year of big changes all around me.
It’s that time of year again! If you’ve followed this blog awhile, you’re probably familiar with my fascination with the other worldly, especially when it comes to ghosts. It’s a theme I’ve explored often with some of Gettysburg’s most famous haunts (view them by clicking here, here, and here). And while the Civil War is a great place to go looking for ghosts, this year, I’m taking you down a different road (highway puns).
Of all our stops on Route 66, the Lincoln home was one of our favorites. It is wonderfully preserved, furnished just like it was then, right down to perfect re-creations of bed spreads and wallpapers. The doorway to the Lincoln home is a true doorway through time, as well as an entrance into the personal lives of two of America’s most famous figures.
And while there’s no better candidate for ghost stories than tragic Abraham Lincoln, he isn’t the one who haunts this place. At least not according to some former employees of the charming historical residence in Springfield, Illinois. People who tell of phantom taps on the shoulders while cleaning certain rooms. A chair that creaks and rocks despite no one sitting in it. And misty apparitions, not of a forlorn President, but of a stern and troubled Mary Todd.
Have you ever met someone from history that grabbed you by the shoulders and completely stole your attention? With one look at a faded photograph, you just knew you were in for a treat? That’s what happened when I first came face to face with Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr. An Arizona wild thing who blazed through the skies of Europe during his whirlwind of a flying career in World War I. Known for his shock of platinum blond hair, his lumbering build, and a somewhat foul temper, one he often took out on enemy aerial observation balloons. Earning him the nickname – “the Balloon Buster.”
I met Luke while researching for a novel I was writing at the time. I sat on my bed one evening, flipping through a very old book about WWI pilots, when the battered old pages slipped through my fingers. They landed with a flop right on Luke’s picture. I actually jolted when confronted with that stern gaze. A steely fire in the eyes, still sizzling even after a hundred years. It took me a few seconds to compose myself and check the name at the bottom of the photo – “Frank Luke, the Balloon Buster.”
So… where were we with this poetry series?
Those of you who have followed me for awhile might recognize it. A few years back, I tapped into my rhyming writer origins and penned a big poem (consisting of a lot of smaller poems, really) about the various evil ways wars have ended innocent human lives. I enjoyed posting it in small installments, but then came 2020. Given all the challenges chucked at us, I didn’t have the heart to continue with it.
However, there are still a lot of segments left to share with you. Since I’m working on a new series all about WWI aviators, I couldn’t resist pulling this one out of my files and dusting it off. I do plan on sharing the rest of those poems at some later date too. I guess we’ll see how things go.
But until then, here’s a little piece of it, in the spirit of my upcoming articles:
LET ME TELL YOU HOW I DIED
PART II – SEGMENT 5
Flying high over the skies of France
The breeze makes the wires of my plane wings dance
Below me the world is indifferent and small
Makes me wonder why humans fight each other at all
The men in the mud are like tiny brown dots
The scratches of barbed wire look like harmless spots
But that isn’t so with the Archie blasts
They burst at my head, hope my plane lasts
Suddenly I hear the familiar sound
The sizzle of bullets – an enemy fighter inbound!
I rev up my engine and get into line
My wingman gives the signal, it’s our time to shine
The enemy planes barrel into our midst
It’s a game of kill or be killed, that’s the gist
I let out my bullets in a red-hot spray
The tracers glow, and add to the fray
Then a shot to my fuel tank, the smoke pours out
The flames erupt, burn hot, I give a shout
Burning alive is no way to die
So I grab my pistol, one shot, goodbye
To Be Continued…
Sky Photo by M.B. Henry – for more sky shots, click here.
Next up on the WWI Aviator series – American Ace and “Balloon Buster” Frank Luke!
M.B. Henry On Hiatus!
It’s been a very busy summer in our new home state of Indiana! Plus, things are picking up with my novel debut, now titled “All the Lights Above Us,” scheduled for release in May of 2022. Therefore, I need to take a short break from the website to get all my little writing duckies in a row. But I will be back after Labor Day to continue with the WWI Aviator Series, and to visit all of your lovely blogs. Until then – be safe out there! Keep in touch on Twitter and Instagram – Handle @mbhenry1985
April 21, 1918. It’s a cold, clammy day, enveloped in billowing gray clouds. A scarlet triplane, marked with bold black crosses, hurdles towards the trench-scarred, soupy mud of Europe. The engine coughs and sputters. Men on the ground – battle-tested members of the Australian Imperial Troops – watch in slack-jawed horror as the machine drifts closer and closer to their works. It impacts hard, with a crash of splitting wood and snapping wires. No pilot emerges from the wreckage.
It’s a scene that played out countless times during the first world war. In planes more akin to matchstick houses with wings, built with technology born barely a decade before, crashes killed more pilots than any dogfights or bullets. Engines broke down mid-flight. Fuel leaked. Guns jammed. And in one of WWI’s biggest head scratchers, pilots had no parachutes. Some suspect it was on purpose, to keep them from prematurely abandoning their planes in a crash. Because flying machines were a bit harder to come by back then, with tens of thousands of pilots and not even half that many machines to keep them airborne.
Still, a cry of shock rose up from the battlefields when this particular plane came down. Because the splintered red tripe belonged to the invincible Manfred Von Richtofen – or as history has come to know him, “the Red Baron.”
Is it me, or are bridges kind of fantastic? I don’t mean the concrete behemoth interstate overpasses, which are marvels of engineering, but not always the prettiest to look at. I mean the charming, rusty, old-fashioned bridges on the much quieter highways. Bridges over bubbling streams, shaded by lush, whispering trees. Covered bridges with leaning sheds and calendar-worthy photo ops. Bridges that have passed out of history but not our hearts.
It’s a sin that I lived in Iowa for years and never saw the Bridges of Madison County, either the movie or the real version. But I have seen some pretty amazing bridges in my day. Europe boasted a good many. I’ve passed over the famous Brooklyn Bridge and San Francisco’s Golden Gate. The legendary London bridges have also seen my shoes shuffling over their ancient structures.
But I have to say, some of the prettiest bridges I have ever seen were tucked away on old Route 66, barely noticed anymore by the fast-paced world around them. Absolutely charming works of art, with rusted beams, gorgeous trusses, and delicate overhangs. Many can’t support cars anymore, but they still stand as a testament to the travelers they have ushered from one shore to the next over time. And they still welcome foot traffic, gazes from the occasional tourists, and photographers.
As we prepare to move from the terrifying Covid crisis to a post-pandemic world, I thought a tour of the Route 66 bridges was just the ticket. A symbolic way for me, and hopefully you, to start the mental shift from staying home, masking up, and social distancing to timidly taking our first steps over the bridge to a new normal. One I hope will see us taking better care of one another and the world around us. So, without further ado, here are some bridge highlights from our drive across the Old Mother Road.
I stood at the bottom of an open trench, the trees looming above me. When I popped my head up, I saw a wide open field through the grove. If an army was coming at me, it would have been a clear shot. There were no hills, no trees, no ditches. Not even a dip in the earth for attackers to hide in. Yet I would have been virtually untouchable, fully protected by both the entrenchment and the tree trunks. It was one of the worst places I’ve ever seen for an infantry assault. Yet one happened here a very long time ago. And while the deep trench might bring to mind the Western Front of WWI, it was right in the middle of the United States – In Cold Harbor, Virginia.
During these Covid days of no travel, which I have great hopes will end very soon, I have taken great pleasure in the many memories my husband and I have of our travels around the globe. Of these memories, perhaps none stand out more than Fiji.
We went there for our honeymoon in 2015. We had toyed with many places to go for this special trip, even considering a train ride across Europe at one point. In the end, though, our eyes turned to the Fiji Islands. A place I had seen photos of often, that seemed like the perfect balance between nature and relaxation, mixed with exotic, tropical adventures. We did indeed receive both in ample measure at this gorgeous island nation.
One of the things I loved the most about Fiji was all the flowers. So many flowers, everywhere you look. As a big fan of flowers (you can view my flower photo album here), this was like a paradise for me. So, I thought you might enjoy a look at some of the beautiful flora of the Fiji islands, paired up with some rhyming verse. Enjoy!
Red – like my heart, beating hard inside my chest
Just like rubies and garnets, the bark in the redwood forest
The color of the poppies on so many graves from war
One of three on our banner that people gave their lives for
Orange – like the summer, like tigers, like sun
The color I see behind my eyes after an exhausting run
Like pumpkins, like fall, my favorite time of year
Orange is the color I think of when I need to feel some cheer
Yellow – like happiness, like smiles, like spring
Golden tulips, Dandelions, like the finches that sing
Memories from glorious playtime in the park as a child
Of daisies in the prairies, of so many walks in the wild
Green – the softness under my bare toes in the grass
When I lay under a shade tree in summer, waiting for time to pass
Green like a sparkling emerald, or the lime in my cocktail glass
Green like a lucky clover, or forests that grow in mass
Blue – it makes me feel calm, like night time, like sleep
Blue like the Pacific ocean, so beautiful, so deep
Blue reminds me of winter, of ice, of snow
Of the sky when the sun comes out, or tears when I’m feeling low
Pink – so sprightly, so cheerful, so sublime
The color of my cheeks when I kissed my husband for the first time
Or the candy hearts on Valentine’s Day, with their sayings so slick
Or the cotton candy I used to eat right off of a stick
Purple – So royal, so regal, so true
Especially the real deep kind that’s oh-so-close to blue
Purple like the violets, or grapes that make the wine
Seen on many dresses, on royal robes so fine
All the colors of the rainbow, the flowers of Fiji possess
They fill my heart with memories, they make me feel weightless
There’s nothing in the world like flowers to put a smile on my face
And there’s nothing like the Flowers of Fiji, that beautiful, magical place.
All photos by M.B. Henry – for more from Fiji, click here
And gather round, my dear friends, for I have BIG, BIG news. I have sold my first book! With the help of my fantastic agent Lindsay Guzzardo at Martin Literary, I have received a book deal with Crooked Lane/Alcove Press for my D-Day Novel, entitled “The Wartime Girls,” aiming for a 2022 release. I am so very pleased for the opportunity to share this book with the world. Stay tuned for updates as this situation develops!
About a month ago, my husband and I left the sunny shores of California and returned to the Midwest. While I adored my time on the West Coast (read about it here) there were some things I really missed there – especially thunderstorms. My fascination with stormy weather developed early, and I’ve spent a good portion of my life poking through meteorology and physics books. While we got the occasional lightning crackle and thunder grumble in Los Angeles, it wasn’t quite the same thing.
I was so excited to get re-acquainted with thunderstorms that one of the first things we installed in our new home was a top-shelf weather station. Not a bad thing to have around. Because as much as I love a good thunderstorm, I also have a high amount of respect for Mother Nature’s powers. Weather can turn our fortunes on a dime, destroy our homes and livelihoods, and severely maim and injure. Freak weather incidents have stopped armies in their tracks and even determined the outcomes of wars (lots more on that below – because you know I can’t let another post go by without mentioning military history).
In a nutshell, our fragile human lives are totally at the mercy of the weather, a fact driven home in this modern era of climate change. But the weather can also provide stunning entertainment for those willing to turn their eyes skyward. Not just with brilliant optical effects and unique, intricate cloud patterns, but also with bizarre phenomena, hilarious objects falling from the sky, and eerie electrical light shows. So, in honor of my reunion with one of my favorite hobbies, and just in time for those wacky Midwestern spring storms, please enjoy these historical anecdotes about our wild weather.
NOTE: The following post is a bit different than my typical pieces here. You won’t find any talk about war, which is just crazy! 🙂 However, my husband and I are packing up to leave California and start a new chapter in our lives. Our personal histories are important too, and I wanted to pay a bit of tribute to that big step and give California a proper farewell salute. I hope you all enjoy it!
On February 3 of 2009, the city of Los Angeles got a new resident. A twenty-four-year-old hopeful who was searching for something. A lot of things, actually. I’d say one of the biggest things was nicer weather. Those Iowa winters had done me in, and I longed for sunny, salty ocean breezes, warmer days, and palm trees. Lots and lots of palm trees. Palm trees that, no matter how many years I’ve lived here, I always smile at the sight of them.