Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Book: A Faraway Home, Overview for Dowagiac, Michigan

Dowagiac Blog Info.
Janie Lynn Panagopoulos

Research information I found interesting concerning Dowagiac while doing research on A Faraway Home: An Orphan Train Story.

Ndowagayuk - Dowagiac (A foraging ground) is an interesting name and I found great appreciation that the community held onto that old Pottawatomie word and realized that during the time of settlement, it still had great meaning. ( - name meaning)

The Native American’s of the area are recorded back to the 1600s, and were mostly Pottawatomie. ( It is recorded that when the first white setters in the area arrived they made count of over 42 Indian mounds, known today to have dated back to Michigan’s Hopewell culture, way before LaSalle made his epic trip by foot through the area. ( - Hopewell Indian Lesson Plan) (LaSalle in Cass Co.

William Renesten, who was the first white settler in 1830, was quite a visionary when he built his carding mill and by 1833 a grist mill. Renesten could see the potential of the area and knew he had something going when all “new” roads were “first” carved through the wilderness to lead to Renesten’s mills. (

In 1834, Dennis Wright was the next settler to set up residence when he built the first sawmill in the area. This was the same year surveyors from the state followed the Grand River Indian Trail from Kalamazoo to Niles and decided this was the best trail to build a Stagecoach road opening the wilderness to stage travel in the area by 1836. (

By 1842, Dowagiac consisted of 4 log cabins and one log school house built in 1840 and was the only school west of Detroit. Over the next few years, word of the Michigan Central Rail Road coming through Dowagiac was spread and by 1848 the town filed its first plat map and the first MCRR train made its way into the little settlement. On the Plat map, even today, you might notice a slightly irregular layout of the town, as it was platted to the diagonal direction of the railroad tracks. The original plan was to have Main Street, not Front Street as the central roadway. That is why, if you view the original Plat you might notice that Main Street was planned to be considerably wider then Front Street.
(Check your local library for Dowagiac Plat maps)

Over the next decade Dowagiac grew both in population and in physical size. By 1853 the settlement had grown to a population of 300 and by 1855 it doubled to 608.

In 1853, the town of Dowagiac could boast of five drygood stores, 4 grocery stores, 2 pharmacies, 2 taverns, 2 shoe repair shops and one shoe store, 1 sewing shop, 1 cainet shop, 2 blacksmith’s 2 carpentry shops and 1 Baptist Church.

With all the improvements of carving a settlement out of the wilderness,
Dowagiac attorney J. B. Clarke’s sister, Sara Jane Clarke (a.k.a. Grace Greenwood), a popular writer and poet of the time, came to visit her brother in Dowagiac in 1858. According to an article she wrote for the Philadelphia Evening Post she was not the least bit impressed with Dowagiac.
Greenwood wrote in the article her concern for her brother and the location he had chosen to call home. She couldn’t understand how anyone could live in such a primitive state with tree stumps still standing in the middle of road ways and where people don’t even plant a shade tree near their door or in their yard and the grassless ground makes the whitewashed houses look like Roc eggs on the desert sand.

Greenwood’s vile attack, of course, was written through the viewpoint of a city woman who had traveled the world, and she was also a women’s rights reformist and an active abolitionist, someone who was used to speaking her mind and hurling arrows in any direction she could find an audience for her opinions. Greenwood was soon fired from a writing job later that year for articles that expressed “too” many of her opinions and not enough understanding and fact.

The reformer Greenwood’s attitude’s and public opinions of Dowagiac, however, soon got back to the citizens of the little village of Dowagiac, where instead of taking insult and offense, they looked upon it as an opportunity to organize and move forward, developing ways to make the little village more “civilized” and settled. Record shows that during the spring of the following year 83 tree stumps were removed from the streets and grass, flowers and shade trees took root in the new and growing village. Speaking well of Dowagiac’s willingness to improve and the character of its residence.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Organization is Key to Writing Success

Organization is Key to Writing Success

Many students of writing ask me, “If you could tell me just one thing to guarantee my writing will be more successful, what would you say?”

What a loaded question. Just one thing? Wow! Well, honestly, it would be to make sure you are organized.

Honestly, to write an article, a story, a novel and be successful, you must be organized.

What I mean is that not only do you need to have an organized desk, office and notes, but an organized mind as well.

When you first tackle a writing project there are thing you MUST do before you begin to write. You have to decide what your topic will be, how you will approach the subject matter, what viewpoint, what information to back up your points, how to gather your research, where to gather your research, how to apply it, etc., etc., etc...

To keep all this in order you must have an organized mind and a plan. Figure out what is most important first, write it down, and get your priorities straight.

When making notes for your project you need to keep a notebook, on all the inquiry phone calls you make, when you made them and to whom. These organizational notes are important to both the quality of your work and for tax records.

Make notes on the interviews and be sure your quotes are correct. If you have any concerns about your interviews, call the person back and ask them if what you have written down or recorded is correct. Calling back to check a quote is always welcome.

If you drive any place for research (libraries, museums, archives, interviews) record the date, location, mileage and what you worked on while at that location in the SAME notebook. Have a different notebook for each writing project.

If you had lunch or coffee while doing your research, record it and keep the receipts in an envelope marked with the date and the project name on it. (Slip it into your notebook until you can organize your files in your office.) Keep all your receipts concerning the project as proof of your work, time and commitment for tax purposes. You might not be at that stage of writing-off your writing on a Schedule C, but when you are, you will be practiced at being organized.

If you make photocopies, get a receipt and mark on the back the date and project name and amount, put it in the envelope and mark that with the project name. Don’t trust the ink from registers not to fade on you, because it does and you will not have the information you need when you need it.

If you make photocopies, make sure you photocopy the front cover of the magazine, book, manuscript, etc., along with the copyright information page.

With photocopies, arrange them immediately after you return home in labeled folders with the page numbers running in order and the front cover and copyright page starting the file. Mark on the file the date and location where you found the information. If it is from a library make sure the shelf, drawer, or microfilm number and location is listed.

At home make sure all your folders, envelopes, photocopies and notebooks concerning your project are all stored in one location in order. I use a milk crate or plastic crate as it is just the right size for folders and books.

If you are making notes from books, purchase your own copy from an online used bookstore. Create a 3 ring binder/notebook for your notes with side-flagged separators for each subject. Record each book and copyright information at the beginning of the notebook and number your books with stickers (they are removable and will not mess up the book).

After reading your books, highlight all the information you need and record the highlighted information in your notebook, listing information under the side-flagged separators by subject, next by book number, next by page number. Make your notes or make a personal note that will allow you to get directly back to this information when you need it when you begin to assemble your information.

Example: side-flag label “Historic Foods”
1/39 dried fish (book 1, page 39, information about dried fish)

Organize, organize, organize… It is a must to allow you the freedom to write a great article, story or novel. It might take some time to get used to being so anal about your work but it is what is
necessary to put a professional polish on all you do.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Curiosity Killed the Cat!

Curiosity Killed the Cat

By Janie Lynn Panagopoulos

Are you nosy? Oh, I suppose that isn’t the right word to use… Are you curious? Well, I apologize, but I am just plain nosy and most writers are.

Writers, generally, have this one thing in common. They want to learn about things that are beyond their own personal circle - their own personal comfort zone. Writers like to watch, observe, take in, and steal the “ideas” of the lives of others. They listen to private conversations they aren’t involved in, jot down notes in their mind or on a note pad, and smile about what a great idea, thought, conversation they have just harvested from the life around them.

Writers secretly put their nose into other people’s business and absorb what is going on around them like a connoisseur sniffs, rolls, and savors all the flavors in a fine Boudreaux. Life gives a delightful taste on imagination of a writer.

Why do we do this? There is no telling but someday in the near future those observations might end up on the printed page in the form of character traits, plot twists, or even a setting that will stage all the information that has been gleaned.

If you want to become a better writer – learn to be nosy. Learn to watch, listen, smell, touch, and taste all of life around you but isn’t necessarily yours. But remember, the one thing that will kill the writer cat in all of us is being judgmental. You must be open minded and neutral to invade and collect the lives of others, because if you are judgmental you close the door to your growth, learning, observations, and collecting.

Curiosity might have killed the cat but it is the toe in the door to good writers.

Be Curious:
1. Use an objective eye when making observations.
2. Write concise notes with specific detailed descriptions.
3. When you write from observed details write with passion and purpose
know and sense your audience needs.
4. Connect with life around you by using your sense.
5. When you observe something you do not understand, don’t hesitate to question your own personal knowledge of the situation. If the answer is still not clear make sure your research for clarification. This is the heart of curiosity. Seeing, wondering, learning…

Writers Quotes “A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.” William Faulkner

Try a virtual field trip to help with observations:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I Write Because...

By Janie Lynn Panagopoulos

Being a writer is an unusual profession. Often it is not financially lucrative but on the other hand the sense of enjoyment and satisfaction that one gets by sharing ones thoughts, feelings, and knowledge is beyond the balance in the bank account.

I have been writing professionally for over 30 years and I have learned, without a doubt, many hints, tips, ideas, dos and don’ts and hope some of those that I will share with you will be of help.

In my career as a writer I have worked in advertising writing newspaper, radio, and television copy. I have taught playwriting courses and have had several of my own plays produced on the small theater venue. I spent over fourteen years writing for the newspaper and magazine market and have had over 1,000 articles publish. I worked both for individual newspapers and as a freelance writer. The last 14 years I have spent writing books.

I write because it is part of who I am. I write to share knowledge and information. I write to connect to the world.

Writing Quote: To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the music the words make. - Truman Capote

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Taking the blog seriously!

Taking the Blog Seriously!

When I was first introduced to blogging, I thought it was something for young people to use to have fun communicating with on another. I had heard stories about the negative uses of blogs and how schools have blocked blogging sites, it really made me wonder if there was a need for me to connect to students in this format.

I took the challenge and posted a few pieces of information and found that there was really no service in it for me to have to keep up in the practice of blogging. Well, recently I was asked to participate in a few educational blogging sites that include podcasting and Q&A sessions. With that experience my attitude about blogging has changed.

I am now reading a few books on blogging and its practical purposes and I have a better understanding what the “possibilities” of blogging might be.

I am still far from fully comfortable with this type of “learning” tool but I am on my way and can see the purpose of its use.

In the next upcoming weeks, I do hope to be posting more informational pieces to this blog site so it might be used as a learning place for writers and readers of my books.

Blogging… a new wave for the future of education. Interesting concept!