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The Morrison Writing Factory

Last fall I gave a talk at my favorite library in the world: my hometown  Morristown and Morris Township Public Library in Morristown, New Jersey.

Morristown and Morris Township Public Library in Morristown, New Jersey

Morristown and Morris Township Public Library in Morristown, New Jersey

So many high school friends of mine came, and fans of my mom, Joan, author of Home Front Girl, arrived in droves–even in wheelchairs.  It was really amazing.

Tony Boyadjis and I reading "Frazier" and "Joan"

My high school pal and fellow thespian, Tony Boyadjis, and I reading “Frazier” and “Joan”

The reporter, Lorraine Ash, did a beautiful job summing up the event.  You can read her article here.  What really touched me was how she also wrote about my mom’s other books, as well as my dad’s “seminal textbook,” Organic Chemistry.  Since everyone in our family has published books, my mom called us “The Morrison Writing Factory.”

Hubbub after the talk

Hubbub after the talk

Those words still ring true. After the physical copies of Home Front Girl:  A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America, written by my mother Joan and edited by me, arrived in fall 2012, the kids eagerly each grabbed a book.  Chatter and delight.

“My name appears twice,” crows Sarah, who is not only mentioned in the Acknowledgements but also credited with the book jacket photo of my mom and me.  While Jim had taken the photo, Sarah touched it up and focused it in that magical way only experts on Photoshop can (more on her expertise in other posts).

The Authors of Home Front Girl outside of Joan's house and Susan's girlhood home in Morristown, New Jersey.

Meanwhile, John gloats about how I describe him in the Acknowledgements.  “She says I’m ‘tender-hearted!'” he triumphs in a distinctly untender-hearted manner.

John, Sarah, and Susie reading Home Front Girl around the dining room table.

Then we all settle in to read while Jim prepares dinner.  All are intent on the book.  Occasional banter bubbles up about some word or line of Grandma’s.

At one point, Sarah says, “I say ‘purdy good’ just like Grandma does here.”   She seems pleased to find this link between herself and her grandmother.  Little does she know how many more there will be that she will discover!  Beyond how everyone thinks she looks like Joan.

The quiet grace while reading Home Front Girl

At dinner Sarah tells about how, when she couldn’t fall asleep the night before, she created a television series in her head about a post-apocalyptic world.  John pipes up suggestions and soon–they’re off to the races. Creating, describing, fashioning dialogue.

A new generation of what my mother dubbed our family, all of whom write:  The Morrison Writing Factory.

A Visit to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans

The National World War II Museum is in New Orleans.  It’s a fantastic complex with exhibits, movies, and live shows.  Recently I was lucky enough to do a signing of Home Front Girl there.  It was a wonderful experience!

My family met my Swedish relatives in New Orleans for 4 fun-filled days.   Joan’s father, Werner Wehlen, left Sweden at the age of 16 in 1913. Werner was the eldest of all his siblings.  His youngest brother, Nils-Erik, was born after Werner left.  They never met.

Nils-Erik had several children we have met a number of times.  Lars is the “baby” brother!  Lars is Joan’s first cousin and Gerd is Lars’s wife.

National World War II Museum in New Orleans

This building has the exhibits, book shop, and gift shop.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  This addition is under construction. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I took this photo from the top of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the fabulous museum Gerd and I visited that is connected to the University of New Orleans.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Susie at the National World War II Museum
Susie at the National World War II Museum, in a photo taken by Gerd.

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After these photos were taken, I went to sign books for a couple of hours. It was so fun!  Everyone who is at the museum came because of their interest in World War II.  All photos taken in the museum were taken by Gerd, the wife of Joan’s cousin.  Thanks, Gerd!

In the National World War II Museum Gift Shop, preparing for the signing

In the National World War II Museum Book Shop, preparing for the signing

Preparing for the day.

Preparing for the day.

 

At the signing

Hard at work signing.

Hard at work signing.

Gerd sat with me for over two hours.  We chatted with museum goers about the book.  It was a lot of fun!

One sweet customer, Be'la

One sweet customer, Be’la

With a young customer and reader

With a young customer and reader

After the signing, Gerd, John and I saw a movie at the museum, narrated by Tom Hanks, called Beyond All Boundaries.  You can play the trailer here.  The movie is in 4-D!!!  Gerd, who is Swedish, thought it “very American.”  John said it was “Awesome!”  I think they are both right!  Do go!

With Jim, Sarah and John by a lovely corn stalk iron fence outside a hotel in the French Quarter

With Jim, Sarah and John by a lovely corn stalk iron fence outside a hotel in the French Quarter

With Gerd at Cafe du Monde

With Gerd at Cafe du Monde

John enjoying beignets at Cafe du Monde

John enjoying beignets at Cafe du Monde

 

 

 

 

Invictus: Uncovering my grandparents’ grave markers–in the snow!

In March 2013, my family and I visited Chicago.  This is where my mother, Joan Wehlen Morrison, grew up and where she met my father, Bob Morrison, when they both studied at the University of Chicago in the early 1940s.  As a girl, we children visited the Windy City about twice a year to visit my grandparents, Werner Wehlen and Neva [Levish] Wehlen.

Werner immigrated from Sweden at the age of 16 in 1913.  He never went back.  In fact, he never met his youngest brother who was born after he had left!  But that brother, Nils-Erik, had a number of children–all of whom we have met and continue to meet!  Such is the miracle of life.

My children, Sarah and John, had never visited Chicago before.  Nor had they seen their great-grandparents’ gravesites.  I insisted that we go pay our respects at Rosehill Cemetary, just north of the Swedish part of Chicago–Andersonville.  Very charming people at the cemetery helped us with two maps.

Plan of Rosehill Cemetary, Chicago, Illinois

Plan of Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois

My grandparents are buried in Section 9, Block Sub. 1, Lot 18, Graves 4 and 5.

My grandparents were somewhere in the yellowed in area!!!

My grandparents were somewhere in the yellowed in area!!!

Now was the hard part:  we got to Section 9 and even this little area marked in yellow above.  But my grandparents did not have gravestones that stood up vertically; they had grave markers that lie flat.  How would we ever find them in beautiful but snow-covered lawn!!!  And it is fitting that they are buried under snow.  Both stem from ancestors used to snow.  My mother, Joan, writes on January 30, 1939, about her best friend’s father, Mr. Love, who has just died and been buried on a frosty Chicago day,  “Mr. Love has a warm blanket now above him. I’m glad the snow is clean and fluffy.”

You’ll notice Werner’s grave marker has the word “Invictus” at the top.  It means “unconquered” and is the title of one of Werner’s favorite poems by William Earnest Henley.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

This poem epitomizes Werner’s philosophy of life.  And my pure coincidence (?), John studied the poem in Social Studies class after our Chicago trip.

After we paid our respects, we headed for Andersonville and the Swedish part of Chicago.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ann Sather is where we used to eat a delicious Swedish smorgasbord.

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We drank a toast to Neva and Werner at a bar he used to take us to:  Simon’s.  It’s no longer quite the dive it was, but everyone was so friendly and it’s a great place for a drink!

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Simon's Tavern is at 5210 N. Clark Street.  A great place for a drink and a toast!

Simon’s Tavern is at 5210 N. Clark Street. A great place for a drink and a toast!

Skol to everyone!

My dear daughter

I just want to be able to thank Sarah, website master extraordinaire.  I had put this website together basically alone–with some help from WordPress Support Pages.  I remember the thrill of conquering drop-down menus!  Woo-hoo.  It only took me 7 hours…..

But the header for my page was causing me problems.  How could I add a photo of the cover?  How could I have the fonts match the book jacket?  Such are the dreary woes of the website owner.

Then, along came my 16 year old genius, a.k.a. my daughter, Sarah.

Sarah, Photoshop whiz extraordinaire. Kudos and thanks!

She knows how to do Photoshop.  She knows how to get fonts that match.  She knows….well…just about everything!  In one hour (or less) she had managed to replicate the book cover’s fonts, change the color palette of the site to match the book, and do everything I asked for.

She made my dreams come true!

Author’s Books

One of the most exciting moments in a writer’s life is when the book you’ve been devoting your life to — not only physically, but emotionally and, in this case, even spiritually — arrives in the mail as an actual physical object.

The other night, my family gathered ’round: Jim (my husband), Sarah (age 16), and John (age 11).  Jim placed the box before me that had arrived in the mail from Chicago Review Press.  We all stared at it like it was some strange and ancient talisman.

I recall my parents’ reminiscence of their first grandchild.  My niece, Lizzie, was 6 months old and proudly displayed to the family.  My brother, Jim, and his wife, Ruth, placed Lizzie on a blanket before the fireplace on a bleak, midwinter day in New Jersey.  We all sat on sofas and recliners and just….gazed at the baby.  In wonderment.  Here was this lovely creature, otherworldly almost, now gracing our lives.

Well, it seemed like that to us other other night.  This strange and magnificent gift, a bounty from my mother after her death–the diaries squirreled away in the file cabinet not opened in decades–permitting us to get to know her in her teenage years.

Jim handed me the scissors and I tear at the tape holding the box together.  I lift the lid —

And the lovely face of my mom gazes out at me.  The red background pops.  The raised fonts tactically beckon.

And we all, in a hush, are grateful.

Home Front Girl Diary

Susie and Sarah with Home Front Girl, just arrived from the publishers.

Susie holding the physical copy of Home Front Girl by her mother Joan Wehlen Morrison and edited by Susie–here at last!
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