Celebrate Your Creativity

Host J. Alexander Greenwood of the Mysterious Goings On Podcast interviewed me a couple of weeks ago and one of his questions and my response, inspired this post. If you haven’t listened to the podcast, go ahead. I’ll wait… Thanks for listening. Can you guess what inspired this post? It was my last comments about my belief that nearly everyone is creative. And that we, society in the USA, don’t value creativity very much. Even a lot of creative people don’t value their creativity as much as they might, myself included. If that’s true, then what are ways you can value creativity more? Celebrate your creativity.

Image shows a colorful fireworks exploding above a cityscape, we celebrate many things but rarely do we celebrate creativity.

We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, graduations (particularly this time of year), and the purchase of a new house or car. But we rarely celebrate smaller accomplishments. When was the last time you celebrated writing a page of words? Did you celebrate trying a new twist on an old recipe? Or how about the color you painted on the wall? You wrote a piece of coding that did more than the customer asked is a creative solution. Celebrate.

Why Celebrate the Small Creative Wins?

It’s easy to berate ourselves for mistakes or errors and not just call them failures, but label ourselves as failures. Our caveman DNA means we are on the lookout for problems 24/7. But in modern times, when the problem isn’t a saber-toothed tiger wanting to eat you, we sometimes see ourselves as the problem. And when we don’t celebrate the small wins “we end up diminishing our motivation, and motivation is what keeps us on the right path and gives us the strength to soldier on to the top of the mountain.” (lifehack.org)

You can’t acknowledge what you’ve done if you don’t track your progress. Track it in a journal or on the calendar or by scratching off items on a to-do list. Acknowledging what you’ve done helps you see progress, especially in long projects. Celebrating your accomplishments gives you a dopamine hit, which increases your desire to work on the next step to get another hit. Not only that, when you increase your dopamine, you increase your pleasure and your happiness throughout the day. Celebrating the small successes gets us “addicted to progress” because we want to repeat that dopamine hit. We want to feel that pleasure and happiness.

The progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”

Havard Business Review

We are wired to respond to rewards… it’s another way how our brain works. So those small-step celebrations boost our self-esteem and our self-confidence. When we feel better about ourselves and our projects, our productivity increases.  

The positive psychology research has shown that celebrating the small wins, the small accomplishments, and more frequently has a bigger impact than waiting for that one big thing to celebrate. It keeps you engaged. It helps you to remember that you’re on a path that’s working and you feel good when you get a chance to celebrate the small thing.”

Denise Stromme, University of Minnesota Extension.

How to Reward Yourself

Collage image including an image of one daisy, two star flowers, and a bouquet of pink and purple tulips demonstrating graduated rewards for your creativity.

The trick in rewarding yourself is to make it meaningful, but also to keep it tied to the progress you’re making. 

How do you do that? You create small-step goals. For example, use things you consider rewards, but it would work something like this: a coffee at the end of the week of successes, an hour of television at the end of the month, and a fancy dinner out at the end of the quarter. 

If you have a goal aversion, tie your rewards to your efforts. Three hours of focused work on the project earns a reward. Six hours win a bigger reward, etc. Up the “ante” of your rewards proportional to the amount of effort or work you’ve accomplished. 

Got it? So what do you use for rewards?

Reward Your Creativity

Photograph of a woman silhouetted jumping for joy against a sunrise demonstrating another way to celebrate your creativity.

Your rewards don’t have to cost money. They do have to be specific to you, feel like a reward to you. Still need examples? There are literally thousands of ways you can reward yourself.

  • Raise your arms in triumph and literally jump for joy.
  • Give yourself a gold star. X number of stars and you get a “bigger” reward.
  • Write yourself a note of praise.
  • A cup of your favorite beverage (like coffee or chai latte).
  • A window shopping trip.
  • TA trip to a museum or zoo or a movie.
  • An accessory—jewelry or scarf or fancy belt buckle or shoes.
  • An extra half hour of sleep.
  • A long bubble bath.
  • An extra hour of reading.
  • An hour of watching stupid pet tricks on YouTube. 
  • Watching an episode of your favorite reality show.
  • An extra play date with your kids or pets.
  • An occasional dinner out can be a reward
  • Tickets to the next game played by your favorite local sports team
  • Play a video game or a game of hopscotch.

One caution: don’t reward yourself when you haven’t done the work. That doesn’t mean you can never have a dinner out or play a video game except as a reward. It means be aware of what your “fix” is. If you get addicted to the reward (a glass of wine, or a favorite food—chocolate anyone?), then your focus isn’t on the goal (finishing the painting or the sweater you’re knitting.) 

What happens when you celebrate your creativity? 

You may feel awkward or dismissive of the celebration the first time you celebrate your creative small step. Remind yourself that your creativity is of value to you and to others. You earned the reward because you did something creative. 

Besides feeling better about your creativity, you are giving your creativity positive feedback. And that positive feedback perks your creativity up and leads to another idea and another. So celebrate your creativity. Heck, spread the joy and help another creative celebrate their creativity. Let’s change our corner of the world and teach ourselves and others how to value creativity.

What’s one way you’ll celebrate your creativity today?

Shifting Reality into Fiction

From the behavior of certain politicians to the war in Ukraine to the leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the real world and the fictional world of The Fellowship Dystopia series are moving closer and closer together. When I started writing this series, it was fun shifting reality into fiction. Today, it appears we are shifting reality again. History became fiction and now fiction appears to be shifting into reality. You may see it too when you know the actual history that I shifted and sifted into a fictional world for my books, My Soul to Keep and If I Should Die.

Neutrality First

World War I, often called the Great War, began when a Bosnian Serb nationalist assassinated Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, and his wife, Sophie, on June 28, 1914. Back then, most Americans believed the nation shouldn’t get involved in foreign affairs. They watched the conflict uneasily but weren’t concerned because the war was an ocean away. Then On May 7, 1915, an Imperial German Navy U-boat sent a torpedo into the passenger ship, the RMS Lusitânia, sinking it and killing 1,198 passengers, including 128 Americans.

Image is a black and white illustration of the passenger ship Lusitania being struck and destroyed by the U-boat torpedo an act shifting reality for many Americans

This unprovoked attack on civilians raised the concern of some Americans. In addition, news reports of atrocities perpetrated by Germans against Belgian civilians reached American papers. Some reports were accurate, some were exaggerated. They stirred anti-German sentiment in the United States. A sentiment that concerned President Woodrow Wilson, who believed the nation shouldn’t get involved.

On August 4, President Wilson gave a speech about how he felt the nation should react to the growing conflict in Europe.

The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name during these days that are to try men’s souls. We must be impartial in thought as well as in action…”

President Woodrow Wilson

The nation’s policy may have been neutrality, but that didn’t stop commerce. Over the next three years, American businesses and banks made huge loans to the Allies fighting the Germans.

As the war dragged on, it was clear that America would lose a lot of money if Europe lost the war with Germany.

The End of Neutrality

In January 1917, the British intercepted and decoded a telegram from the German Foreign Secretary sent to the German diplomatic representative in Mexico. It proposed a secret alliance between Mexico and Germany should the US enter the war. “The British passed the document to Washington, and it appeared on the front page of American newspapers” on March first.

During February and March 1917, the Germans resumed their aggressions at sea. German submarines sunk several US cargo vessels without warning.

On April 2, 1917, President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. On the fourth, 82 of 88 U.S. Senators and 373 of 423 members of the House of Representatives voted to declare war.

The first US infantry troops landed in France on June 26, 1917. And so the U.S. entered the Great War.

The End of the Great War

Black and white photograph of Woodrow Wilson in tailed coat onboard a Navy ship on the way back from peace talks after the Great War ended shifting reality once again

World War I, the Great War, ended on November 11, 1918 (now called Armistice Day or Veteran’s Day in the U.S.)

Some experts estimate that military and civilian deaths on both sides combined reached 24 million people. Of those, about 117,000 were Americans. The numbers are arguable, but the fact is a massive number of people died and the property loss was tremendous.

Many veterans and survivors of the war suffered disabilities or were “shell shocked.

It should be no surprise that by the 1920s, many Americans swore their nation should never enter another foreign war.

In 1928, the United States signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as a part of national policy.

The Isolationist Movement

Image of an orange flyer from an America First Rally scheduled for April 4, 1941

During the 1930s, the losses of the Great Depression (1929-1933) and the physical, mental, and emotional scars of the Great War visited most Americans. Many of them vehemently advocated non-involvement in European and Asian conflicts and international politics. Called Isolationists, they felt the US needed to focus on issues at home like rebuilding the nation’s economy. By 1941, they held America First Rally’s across the nation.

The Isolationists had historic precedence to bolster their position. America’s founding fathers saw the ocean separating them from Europe as an ideal situation to create a new nation. Even President George Washington had advocated for non-involvement in European wars and politics.

The Isolationists also had the support of many powerful Americans. Pilot Charles Lindbergh strongly and vocally supported isolationism. Former Presidents Herbert Hoover and James Monroe each voiced support for isolationism. As the Isolationist movement grew, another movement was sweeping through America.

The Third Great Awakening

The Third Great Awakening (1850-1920s) was a period of religious activism in America. Dwight Moody (1837-1899), Billy Sunday (1862-1935), and Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979) were some of the major players.

During his 1932 bid for the presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt welcomed Father Coughlin’s support and influence over urban Catholics. But Father Coughlin soured on FDR after the president did not give Coughlin a position on the president’s cabinet.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and Dachau, the first concentration camp, opened.

FDR worried about the rise of fascism and totalitarianism and wanted the US to be more involved in Europe and Japan. Most Americans were overwhelmingly against such action.

In 1935, Congress passed the first of a series of neutrality acts to protect the United States from world problems.

Father Coughlin began expressing anti-capitalist, anti-banker, anti-Wall Street, and anti-Semitic views. He blamed those ‘forces’ for America’s entry into World War I and worried those same forces would involve America in the turmoil in Europe.

Shifting Reality to Create a Fictional World

In the Fellowship Dystopia’s history, Giuseppe Zangara assassinates FDR before he can take office. This empowers the Isolationists and the Third Awakening. They join and become a religious-political machine, the Fellowship.

In tents and on the streets, a preacher’s sermons are full of the message that the Great Depression is punishment for America’s sins. People desperate for relief flock to his revival tents. The Fellowship seizes the idea and opportunity. They declare the preacher a prophet and “the way” to peace and prosperity. The Fellowship becomes a source of solace, a source of rules guaranteed to bring relief. With each passing year, more and more laws remove the people’s power and freedom.

America never enters World War II. Europe struggles valiantly, but the Federation of Germany assumes power. Japan rules Asia and the Pacific. And in America, the Fellowship and its Councilors grow more and more powerful.

Miranda, daughter of America’s premier preacher-politician, lives a charmed life as one of the Fellowship’s elite. Until she faces a life that will rob her of all rights.

The story of the Fellowship Dystopia is a story of a fight against tyranny in all its forms. The fight isn’t easy. It ranges from tiny and very personal to national to global. Miranda’s fight starts small and grows in My Soul to Keep. But it frightens her, so she chooses another path and in If I Should Die, events force her to choose different paths. And every path is a test that costs her dearly.

Pre-order If I Should Die now.

And The World Goes Round

At first, the changes in American sentiment over the past handful of years surprised me. I was shocked by how we seem to be on the way to creating a theocracy in reality. Reviewing my notes, reviewing our actual history… I am no longer surprised. I am saddened that we can’t seem to learn lessons bought with blood and tears.

The Pendulum Swings

To anyone who studies history, it is apparent that human behavior and belief systems, especially political ones, swing from one extreme to the other. It’s a pattern we follow to the detriment of us all.

Perhaps that’s where we are in today’s shifting reality. Perhaps we’re being tested. Will we pass these tests?

What choice will our nation make? What choice will you make?

Image Credits
  1. Illustration of a torpedo hitting the Lusitania: Winsor McCay, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Front page of newspaper, Houston Post, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  3. President Woodrow Wilson on Navy ship: Naval History & Heritage Command, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
  4. Flyer for 1941 America First Rally: America First Committee, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
  5. Father Coughlin on Time Magazine Image: Keystone, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Blessing and Curse of Research and Inspiration

The more you practice creativity, the more you realize the blessing and curse of research and inspiration. It happened again while I was planning and writing my Fellowship Dystopia series. When we left Miranda at the end of My Soul to Keep, she had sworn off shooting to kill and taken to the water to help rescue fugitives from the tyranny of the Fellowship. So I had an obvious place to start book two… on the water. But the inspiration for her yacht, the Lady Angelfish, came from writing a completely different book. 

Blessing and Curse

The blessing and a curse, research and inspiration come hand-in-hand for me. I can dive Marianas Trench deep down some of those research rabbit holes. When I do that, I lose time… days and days… All right, not days, but I definitely lose hours.  

Some of you may have read a sneak peek at another novel I’ve started, Paladina. I needed information about life in Greece told from both natives and non-natives. While researching that, I came across blogs and vlogs of expats living on boats as they explored life outside the U.S. Life abroad and aboard a boat fascinated me. Their blogs gave lots of details about the benefits and challenges of that life. Their vlogs added to those details.

The Great Loop

I ate up those blogs about life on boats, and that led to a revelation. I discovered that there are boaters who take a year-long epic boating adventure in the U.S. They call it the “Great Loop.” 

The Great Loop is the name of a continuous waterway that allows boaters to explore Eastern North America using the Atlantic and Gulf Inter Coastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, Canadian Heritage Canals, and the inland rivers of America’s heartland. Anyone who completes the journey becomes an official ‘Looper.’ Boaters can travel all or part of it.  

The blessing and curse of inspiration hit me when I saw this map of the Great Loop that show the primary and longest route in purple that travels from the great lakes down the Mississippi to the gulf, around florida and up the east coast to the hudson then the great lakes again and a shorter version in green that avoids the Hudson and half the Mississippi.

Research Stretched into Inspiration

You know, with a name like Looper, I was hooked (wordplay intended.) I didn’t know it then, but that the blessing and curse of research and inspiration had hit me for a book I hadn’t even outlined yet. That rabbit’s hole took me on vicarious journeys via blogs and vlogs. Some shook loose memories of short boating trips I took as a kid. And boy, some of those blogs and vlogs were super educational. 

A Little More Research

I learned about locks and I learned the rules of boating etiquette. Previous to my research, I hadn’t thought about who policed the waterways. I learned that, too. (Do you know which U.S. Agency patrols our inland waterways?) I used as much real detail as I could. 

I also researched what size and type of boats travel the Great Loop. Then, I had to factor in the alternate world of the Fellowship Dystopia and determine what Miranda’s boat looked like. Fortunately, there are a ton of online marinas that sell boats with lots and lots of pictures and details. At the time, sYs International Yacht Sales had exactly what I had hoped to find.

Here are a couple more of the photographs I used to help me plan Miranda’s yacht. Some of these details appear in If I Should Die. But for the story, Miranda’s boat has more interior space and a few special features. 

If I Should Die

Image of the cover of If I Should Die on the paperback cover and the ebook on a smart phone. In the background are the red and yellow flames of an explosion.

If I Should Die, is book two of the Fellowship Dystopia, now available for pre-order on AmazonKOBO, and Barnes & Noble. But the clock is ticking on the pre-order period. Order your copy now.

The protagonists from My Soul to Keep, Miranda and Beryl, return two years after their battles in book one. Although the rebels didn’t uproot the tyrannical Fellowship Council, Miranda kept her promise to herself and hadn’t picked up a gun to shoot another person. She’s piloting the Lady Angelfish through the inland waterways of the U.S. and rescuing fugitives from the Fellowship. She never expected to have to make a choice between sister and brother, peace and war.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll give you a taste of locations and characters from book two. You can read If I Should Die as a stand-alone novel, but you’ll enjoy it more if you’ve read My Soul to Keep.

Research and Inspiration

No matter how much research I did, I could not get my poor brain to remember nautical terms. In early drafts, I used port and starboard as if they were interchangeable. SIGH. Inspiration doesn’t mean you don’t have to work at it. To avoid confusion, I kept a cheat sheet beside me during revisions.

If you are a Looper, and you read If I Should Die, know that the book takes place on a very small portion of the Great Loop. I hope I did enough research I didn’t make any glaring errors, but whatever errors I made were mine and mine alone. 

A writer’s life isn’t a comic book. We don’t get cartoon bubbles of lightbulbs above our heads. But we have the blessing and curse of research and inspiration being linked. Linked and a possible “waste of time.” A waste of time that often brings inspiration. 

Had you heard about the Great Loop before? Are you a Looper? Even if you aren’t a Looper, I’d love to hear about your boating or inspiration experiences.

Inspiration is Fickle and Lazy

Are you a creative waiting for inspiration to arrive? Most likely you’re out of luck. Inspiration is fickle and lazy. It is far more reliable and rises to the occasion when you exercise it every day.

Image of a person sitting on the end of a wall, a shadow against the dusk or sunrise--waiting but inspiration is lazy and fickle

Why Waiting Doesn’t Work

Inspiration isn’t a spontaneous burst of an exciting original idea. Nor does inspiration mean you immediately get up and take action and create something. We can’t go out to the garden and pick the latest ripe fruits of inspiration. And there’s no department at the hardware store where you can pick up a batch of inspiration. 

Why do we think that inspiration comes through inactivity? It probably goes back in history. The Greeks had their muses to pray to and get inspiration from. Perhaps it goes back to cave men’s tall tales told around the campfire. I think it comes from the emotional response we often have when we see an original idea displayed as a completed project. We think, wow, I would never have thought of that. With that thought, we transform the work the maker put into that creation into something mythic. Inspiration like that becomes an unattainable goal only reached by some sort of magic. 

There are lots of writers who tell us inspiration is spontaneous, it comes without intention, and it’s transcendent. Well, yes, and no. Inspiration appears to be spontaneous when you don’t pay attention to how your creative brain works. In other words, you don’t know where that idea came from or why. Often, inspiration comes without intention, in that you hadn’t thought of that approach or idea before. And it can be transcendent.

Unfortunately, when you sit and wait for inspiration, it rarely happens. Inspiration is fickle and lazy unless you set up the right environment for it.

It isn’t Biological

Unlike hunger, inspiration isn’t a biological need. If you don’t eat, you get hungry. If you ignore that need, your hunger gets stronger and stronger and stronger until all you can think about is getting food. You go long enough without food and you’ll die. But when inspiration doesn’t happen spontaneously, there are no signals from your body that you are missing it. There’s no biological need to find it. Some say this is because inspiration isn’t natural. I say it’s because inspiration is lazy. It comes from our subconscious mind. And our subconscious mind only allocates the amount of energy needed to reach a goal (whether that’s a goal we’ve chosen or it’s a subconscious choice.)

Inspiration and Excitement aren’t Enough

We’ve all gotten an idea, gotten excited about it, maybe planned out all the steps to take it from idea to completed project. Then, the excitement passes and somehow we never get around to doing anything more about that idea. Why do we do that? 

Excitement isn’t motivation. According to Merriam-Webster, when something excites us it is “a call to activity” or it arouses “an emotional response,” it “energizes.” But excitement’s energy is limited. 

So, waiting around for inspiration—you aren’t putting any energy into it. It’s doubtful you’ll get energy or inspiration out. Waiting for inspiration your motivation, your drive is to maintain the wait. And wait.

Instead of waiting, rewire your brain and your habits to encourage and be ready for inspiration.

How Inspiration Works

According toThe scientific study of inspiration in the creative process: challenges and opportunities,” by Victoria C. Oleynick, et al., “Inspiration is a motivational state that compels individuals to bring ideas to fruition.” I disagree. Inspiration can happen without the motivation to complete the project. 

Motivation is a stimulus, or influence, or incentive, or drive. When you combine the proper motivation with your inspiration, that incentive or drive keeps you going to complete the project. If you have a deep desire to be creative, that’s at least part of your motivation and where I think the study got confused.

I think this short video gives a much better explanation of how inspiration works.

So if you feel uninspired, how do you wake up your fickle and lazy inspirational muscles? 

ReWire Your Brain

Stop thinking that inspiration is out of your control. There are ways you can cultivate inspiration and if you’re ready, you can pluck ideas like fruit off a tree.

Nurturing Environment

Instead of creating an environment that waits and hopes for inspiration, set up a nurturing environment where inspiration can grow. Make certain your work area is pleasant, well lit, and has bits of inspiration around you. Bits of inspiration? You know, that piece of art that wows you or the photo that reminds you of a time great inspiration. Music, or figurines or toys or books, can be inspirational. Give it some thought. Maybe you’re inspired by a crowded and cozy office with overstuffed furniture. Or you might find a minimalist office to be best for you. Some studies suggest that the color blue inspires creativity . Maybe you find a rainbow of colors to be more inspirational. 

Mindful Observation

Be mindful—everywhere and all the time. Observe people and creators and nature… By being mindful of what is happening, what sensory details exist, you’ll start noticing things you’ve never noticed before. You may have to practice. Go to a park, a museum, a coffee shop and take five minutes to be mindful. Don’t take notes during those five minutes, just be present. Take it all in. After the five minutes, record what you noticed. Writing it down or sketching it helps solidify the practice. It makes it easier to do the next time… and you’ll get better at noticing random details. Inspiration thrives on random details. 

Recharge Your Curiosity

Did I mention inspiration thrives on details? Give yourself permission to do a deep dive into something that sparks your curiosity. Did you ever wonder how they make boards bend for curves or what some foreign country was like? Indulge your curiosity. Build your sense of wonder. I wonder if… If you are like me and can get lost following detail after detail like Alice followed the White Rabbit, use a timer to limit your “lost” time. True, the bit you indulge learning about today may not be today’s inspirational moment, but it’ll be sitting in that subconscious mind of yours waiting for the right mash up that will spark the next idea.

Practice Pie-in-the-Sky Thinking

Set time aside to dream the impossible. Consider even the most outlandish ideas. Force your lazy inspirational muscles to stretch and come up with new ways of thinking. The fantastic will open you up to possibilities. At first, this might feel as if you are wasting time. Don’t give in to the logical brain. Let that creative, imaginative, subconscious feed you crazy ideas. This teaches your subconscious that it can mash together things your logical brain wouldn’t dare. Record your crazy ideas. You never know when that crazy idea crashes into another and becomes the best inspiration you’ve ever had.

Find the Practice that Works

Image of the outline of a profile person's head with the brain and spinal cord outlined inside...off to the right the index finger of a right hand sends a jolt of electricity to the brain because inspiration is lazy and fickle but you can make it work for you.

What you find inspirational won’t be exactly like what I find inspirational. I offered 13 ideas on how to be more imaginative in a previous post. Repeat after me. Inspiration is fickle and lazy, so I make it work for me.

What’s your best mind-hack to rediscover your inspiration?

Image Credits

Top image by Avi Chomotovski from Pixabay 

Last image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Rebel Soldier, Spy, or Swindler

Loreta Velázquez, aka Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, recorded her adventures in a 600-page book, The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velázquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army. Her book weaves a fantastic story of deception and danger. Is it fact or fiction? Was she a rebel soldier, a spy, or swindler?

black and white side by side images of Loreta Juneta Velazquez on the left  as Confederate soldier Harry T. Buford and on the right as herself.

Early Life

Born in Havana, Cuba on June 26, 1842, her father was a wealthy Cuban official and her mother was French American. Loreta was the youngest of their six children.

Her father resigned his position in Cuba when she was two and moved the family to Texas, which was part of the republic of Mexico. In 1846, the Mexican-American war began. Her father shipped the family to the West Indies, joined the Mexican military, and fought against the Americans. The United States won the war in 1848. The treaty between the two countries cede the Velázquez land to the U.S. 

Loreta’s father moved the family to Puerto de Palmas in Mexico. He made a fortune in the sugar, tobacco, and coffee trades there. 

Education

Tutored by an English governess, Loreta was sent to live with her aunt and study in New Orleans. There she learned all the skills expected of a young woman of her class. She wanted more. She loved stories of heroism and dreamed of being a grand hero like Joan of Arc. 

Marriage

Her father held a deep resentment toward the United States after the Mexican-American war. This animosity grew to estrangement when fourteen-year-old Loreta avoided a “marriage of convenience” by eloping with John Williams, a United States Army soldier from Texas. Initially, she continued to live with her aunt in New Orleans. After she and her aunt quarreled, Loreta joined her husband as he moved from post to post. 

She and her husband had three children who died in infancy. Loreta’s desire for a life of glory and heroism grew. 

The Civil War

In her book, Loreta claims her husband resigned his U.S. Army commission and joined the Confederate Army. Loreta wanted to dress as a man and enlist. She tried to convince her husband to help her. He included her, disguised as a male, on a guys-night-out, certain their behavior would dissuade her. She didn’t change her mind. When he wouldn’t help her enlist, she waited for him to leave for the front.

After he left, Loreta got two uniforms, became Harry T. Buford and moved to Arkansas. In four days, she recruited more than 200 men, then presented them to her husband in Pensacola, Florida as her command. Her accomplishment impressed her husband enough he let her stay with him in disguise.

Soldier

Her husband died in an accident a short while later. Rather than stay in Pensacola, Loreta traveled with some of her husband’s friends to Virginia. The First Battle of Bull Run was her first combat experience. A few months later, she also fought at the Battle at Ball’s Bluff. Her Confederate friends inflicted so much violence on the retreating Union soldiers it horrified her. 

Spy

Later, she gave up her disguise and made her way to Washington, D.C. She knew no one would suspect a woman of being a Confederate spy and found her late husband’s former Army friend. Through him, she learned military secrets that she passed on to the Confederate Army.

Black and white image of a woman in a bustle dress, standing beside a cloth covered table, reading a document, while holding a broom is she a rebel soldier, spy, or swindler.

Later she fought at the siege of Fort Donelson in Tennessee until the surrender. She received a wound in the battle, but she kept her true identity hidden. 

She went to New Orleans, where the authorities arrested her as a suspected Union spy. After they released her, she enlisted to get away from the city. After the battle at Shiloh, she helped bury the dead and a stray shell hit her. An army doctor examined her and discovered she was a woman. 

Writer

After the war, Loreta reconnected with one of her brothers and toured Europe and South America with him and his family. 

Sometime later, she moved back to the United States. She married two more times and gave birth to a son. The Woman in Battle: A Narrative of the Exploits, Adventures, and travels of Madame Loreta Janeta Velázquez, Otherwise Known as Lieutenant Harry T. Buford, Confederate States Army was published in 1876. Loreta claimed she wrote her memoirs to support herself and her son. 

Book cover the The reprint of The Woman in Battle has the effect of two identical covers torn on an angle and revealing the top half to be cream and brown with a central red seal and the bottom half being a green and gold cover with a gold and green seal.

Truth or Fiction

Soon after its publication, “former Confederate General Jubal Early denounced the book as an obvious fiction.” (Note: I could not discover whether he was supposed to have been her commander.) To date, they have found no historical records to confirm Loreta’s story. One reference cites a newspaper report that mentions a Lieutenant Bensford arrested and discovered to be a woman who gave her name as Alice Williams, an alias attributed to Loreta. 

Even the death of Loreta Janeta Velázquez remains a mystery. Some claim she died in 1923. Historian Richard Hall states her death is unknown. William C. Davis claims Loreta was not Cuban or a Confederate soldier, but was a thief, a swindler, a con artist, and a prostitute. He says she died as Loretta J. Beard on January 26, 1923 at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the Insane, Washington, D.C. 

Rebel Soldier, Spy or Swindler

We know from various diaries and records that many women joined their husbands and brothers on the battlefield during the Civil War. Medical exams to enter the military were brief and incomplete. Many soldiers were young, with high-pitched voices and smooth cheeks. It’s possible there were many women on the battlefield who escaped detection. Was Loreta Janeta Velázquez one of them? Was she a rebel soldier, spy, or swindler, or all three? We may never know. 

Do you think former Confederate General Jubal Early could have denied Loreta’s story to save himself from the shame of never knowing a woman served under him? 

Sources:

NY History

Wikipedia

KCPT PBS Learning Media

Image Credits

Top image by Jeremiah Rea of Philadelphia, Engraver, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Second image Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Third image Loreta Janeta Velazquez, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons