Thursday, September 21, 2023

Village Without Men

JANICE:  My historical novel, Village Without Men: Sophie’s Second Journal, is here! A sequel to Sophie's War, it continues her story of survival in Comfort, Texas, during the Civil War. The cover portrait was painted by my son Karl, using a teenage photo of me since I had to become Sophie to write her journal.

Why are there no men in the village? you may ask. Read on ...

The German immigrants in Comfort and the hill country were Unionists living in a state that had left the Union and joined the Confederacy. Thus they were in constant danger. They were called traitors and persecuted. Men were hanged and cabins burned. As the war goes on, all the able men in Comfort have been forced to leave and fight on one side or the other, including Sophie’s papa and her true love, Eduard. The only choices were to fight for slavery or escape to the North and fight for the Union. Thus the women were left to protect themselves from vigilantes and hostile Indians, as they wonder if their men will ever come home.

Books make connections that never would have been made without the book. Judy Ireson, artist and former master teacher, and I connected over Sophie's War in an extraordinary way, as if we were destined to meet and create a book together. I would probably not have written Village Without Men without her. 

This is how it happened ...

Judy once lived in Nashville and frequented Parnassus Books. On one occasion a bookseller recommended Sophie's War, but Judy did not want a war book. Still, she did not forget it.


Time moved on and so did Judy - to Austin. At a holiday bazaar, she again encountered Sophie's War as well as the author, and bought the book, telling me of the coincidence of finding it again, as if by fate. After reading it, she told me, "I love this book and it demands a sequel."










I had thought of writing a sequel, but did not know what would happen to the characters. And so we began meeting once a week, planning the plot, discussing my chapters one by one, which I read aloud to her. In turn she brought drawings for me to critique, drawings of places she had been and people she knew. They were so good, I asked her to draw two illustrations for the book, one of Sophie's papa, a self portrait. And here is the result.


I did much research for Sophie's War in libraries, online, and on site. I made many trips to Comfort where people welcomed me with open arms, including a descendant of one of the founders. I spent days during the different seasons absorbing the sights and sounds of Comfort and the countryside, watching the sun rise over Cypress Creek and sheep grazing in the meadow below Sophie's homestead. I listened to the wind sough in the liveoak branches and felt myself becoming Sophie.

For Village Without Men I also needed to research San Antonio and the Menger Hotel, which was built in 1859 and still stands, as elegant as ever.


William Menger also plays a role in the story. A stalwart citizen, hotel builder and owner, consummate business man, and Chief of the San Antonio Fire Department. What a guy! Here he is in his chief's uniform.


And so, after five years Judy and I have a book, Village Without Men, which is available from Amazon and from your favorite bookstore, either on the shelf or by ordering. We wish you good reading.

A promise: After reading this book you will never think of the Civil War in the same way again. 

                                                    Judy  and  Janice






Monday, October 25, 2021

Memorable Letters from Fourth Graders

 JANICE:  Recently I was going through a file of memorable letters from fourth grade children who read my Texas Trilogy. Once again they swept me away, and I want to share excerpts with you. Each paragraph is a separate unedited comment from a different child, different school.




 Dear Mrs. Shefelman,

"I know that it is hard for Mina to loose her mother at such a young age because my real father died when I was two. I think that your book should be expose to children because no matter what happen, they can still live their life as a normal kid and better days will come." - Karina

"Thank you for coming to Doss. I liked your hat and your smell. And I also liked "Paradise Called Texas" book." - Nan-Ku

'My favorite part of all three books is when Mina and Amaya first meet in Paradise Called Texas. I like it because it was two very different people meeting and able to understand each other." - Sabrina

"I like the way you put feeling and action into your writing. I can picture whats happening in a part of every one of your books." - Aaron

"I have been inspired deeply by your speeches and encouragement to find our gift. I am deeply interested in armory, art, maritime biology and the military. I have many dreams of being a swordsmith and creating the most beautiful swords, shields, lances and battle axes you can imagine." - Noel

"Have you ever had a moment of grief in your life? I have." - Marshal

"The sad part is that Mama died. I liked Mama so much but she just had to go. The rest of the story wouldn't be the same if she lived. So in a way, I really like Mama's death." - Jackson

I think you shouldn't make your books into movies because it takes away how you imagine what is happening in the book." - Suliana

"My favorite part of A Paradise Called Texas is when Mina put the little wood seagull on Mama's coffin it was so upsetting. I have gone through the same thing as Mina. My dad died this past year in October." - Andrew


"My gift is to write and I always thought of it as a long-term contest, to find as many things in the world as you can. It's also like a sport with a mind such as mine running as fast as it can, collecting ideas upon the way." - Paul

"Thank you for coming. I realy injoyed you visit becaus it was intrasting, injoyful and most of all becaus I mist Math and Spelling." - Stephen

Friends, you can't make this up! Never underestimate children's wisdom, dreams, and honesty. I answered them all - the grievers, the dreamers, the wise and the funny ones.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

New Work-in-Progress

 JANICE:  Now that my latest book project, Village Without Men, is in the hands of the publisher, I have begun a historical novel set in ancient Athens during the time of Pericles - the golden age. The working title is Aspasia's Choice. Such an ambitious project means research, research, and more research, which I find fascinating, especially visual research. The images give me the power to make images in my head, which turn into words on paper. Here we have a reconstruction of the Acropolis.

And one of the theater of Dionysus at the base of the Acropolis. I once sat on these steep seats and listened to Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

 Not only do I need settings, I need to know about daily life, how the people dressed, what they ate, what their houses were like, etc. The basic garment of both women and men was a chiton. After much searching I found this simple drawing of how a chiton works.

And I need images of the characters. Here is the main character, based on a historical person.

Maps and plans are helpful, such as this one of Athens Agora.

And this plan of a Greek house helps me write scenes of my characters at home.
So, whenever I can't write, it is because I can't visualize the scene, which means more research to get in touch with that moment in time and place. As David McCullough, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning biography of John Adams, said, "I've been living in the 18th Century for seven years, and I'm not coming back." Well, I'm living in the 5th Century BC, but I will be back so I don't catch the plague that came to Athens in 430 BC.



Monday, November 23, 2020

Write Yourself into Existence

JANICE:   I wish those were my words but they belong to Dave Eggers. He also said, "You should write your story because you will someday die, and without your story on paper, most of it will be forgotten." Three times I have taken his advice - to save my legacy and write myself into existence. The first book is Becoming Alive, which takes me from birth to Tom, my true love.

I tell of my journey to become alive. I was not the smartest or prettiest girl around, but I yearned to do something extraordinary, which I later understood to mean finding where my life is. Fortunately my professor father read to me from an early age and exposed me to classical music. We had discussions about God and the universe, books and music. 



The second book is Honeymoon Hobos, which tells of the yearlong journey that Tom and I took after our marriage. We sold our possessions and set  out from Long Beach, California, on a sleek Japanese freighter bound for Yokohama. Our goal was to live inside other cultures, and that is exactly what we did. In Tokyo we lived in the homes of a Japanese war widow, then a Japanese architect, and in Kyoto a Zen Buddhist temple. It changed our lives forever.



Most recently I published a third memoir, Bringing Up Boys with Tom. When Tom asked me to marry him, I smiled and said, "Yes, if I don't have to cook or have children." I am still lukewarm about cooking but bringing up our boys was one of the greatest joys of my life. 

Tom and I created a home that sheltered daydreaming. There Tom taught Karl and Daniel to draw and make things with their hands. I opened up the world to them by reading books aloud and planning family trips. Together we strove to encourage creativity, an adventurous spirit, knowledge of our cultural heritage, and empathy for other cultures.


Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Antonio and Liam

JANICE: When I received this photo of little Liam absorbed in Tom's and my picture book biography, I, Vivaldi, I was shocked. I never imagined that our book and Vivaldi's music would be loved by such a young child.

 Here his grandmother is reading it to him as they listen to a CD of "The Four Seasons." Every day he requests Vivaldi, both the book and the music. I love his intent expression and his little fingers sticking out from under the book. This child could grow up to be a musician, a composer, the president, or anything else he wants to be! So much depends on what he is exposed to.

His grandmother said, "Liam truly loves I, Vivaldi and learns something new every time he hears the wonderful story and explores the bountiful illustrations. Now when he wakes up, he asks his Mom to turn on Vivaldi so he can listen to the music while she reads. He is transformed!"

Below is one of those "bountiful illustrations" of Venice, Vivaldi's home town.

Fellow children's authors and illustrators, this is why we give our best to what we do. Yes, we can change the world, child by child.

Sunday, May 5, 2019


JANICE:  Among writers and artists, the acronym WIP stands for Work in Progress. I'm adding a new one, WIS, Work in Stall. I don't mean writer's block, which I don't believe in, and therefore do not suffer from. I mean a time when I say to myself, "I can't do this." Sometimes the problem is with plotting, the most difficult part of the process for me. Even though I never start writing without an outline, occasionally the cause and effect cycle breaks down in the middle of the story. Sometimes the problem is about writing a sequel as if there is no prequel!

My current WIP, Village Without Men, is for the moment a WIS with both problems. Notice I said "for the moment." Every successful writer knows you don't stop working just because you can't do this. No, you persist until you overcome. Until "I can't do this" becomes "Oh yes I can," with a rush of confidence.
Village Without Men is a sequel to my previously published Sophie's War, a Civil War story set in Comfort, Texas. Sophie is the daughter of German immigrants who settled in the Hill Country in the 1850s. Her father and many others in the area are Unionists in a state that has joined the Confederacy. Thus they are persecuted, men are hanged, cabins burned. But her father is especially endangered because he is the editorial cartoonist for a San Antonio newspaper and makes clear to all that he favors saving the Union. Sophie's goal and "war" is to convince her father to stop drawing anti Confederacy cartoons. To no avail.

Since a sequel must stand alone, I have to find a way to bring all that information forward without dumping it in the beginning. I have to sprinkle it throughout so as not to overwhelm the reader.

At present it is I who feels overwhelmed but not defeated! Please be patient while I figure out where to sprinkle information and how to gradually escalate cause and effect  to the climax. It's not easy but it helps enormously to have a critique group with the likes of Cynthia Levinson and Shelley Jackson. And it's incredibly satisfying when done.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Rebirth of Young Wolf

JANICE: Yes, Tom's and my Young Wolf trilogy is soon to be born again. Originally published by Random House in their Step Into Reading series, the books will be republished by Eakin Press on August 1, 2018. Tom would be so happy. We both loved Young Wolf like a son.

When we wrote and illustrated the first one, A Mare for Young Wolf, we had no idea it would be a trilogy. Later it grew into a quadrilogy, and finally a pentalogy, thanks to Eakin Press. That's what happens when you fall in love with your characters, both humans and horses.

Here's something about all five Young Wolf books. They stand alone but are best read in this order:

Young Wolf chooses a mare, Red Wind, for his first horse. He thinks she is the smartest, most beautiful horse in his father's herd. But the village bully, Little Big Mouth, makes fun of him, because Comanches believed mares were for women and children - not for warriors.

More than anything Young Wolf wants to be a man. He thinks killing his first buffalo is the way. He begs his father to let him go on the buffalo hunt, but as they start out, Young Wolf grows fearful and wonders why he begged to come.

 One night a wild stallion steals Red Wind away. Young Wolf is determined to get her back even though his father says no man can take a mare from a stallion. Young Wolf sets out to find her and finds more than he is looking for!

Now for the fourth and fifth books, published earlier by Eakin Press:

Young Wolf wants to win the horse race at the tribal fair. So does Little Big Mouth. And that is how the trouble starts. Can Young Wolf's colt, Snow Wind, run as fast as his father, the legendary wild white stallion? Young Wolf thinks so. But Little Big Mouth knows a secret about Snow Wind that could keep him from winning the race. Neither boy can imagine what he will win and lose.
And finally Comanche Song, a story for older readers:

In 1840 Tsena (Wolf), son of a Comanche chief, goes with his father and other chiefs to a peace council with the Texans in San Antonio. The council turns violent, casting Tsena briefly into white man's world, but ultimately on a warpath of revenge that leads across Texas to the Great Water.

This  historical novel tells the story of the Council House Massacre and the Battle of Plum Creek from a Comanche point of view for the first time.
These five books are Tom's and my effort to give readers a look inside another culture with empathy so that we can have peace on earth.