Imagination fills the gaps.
Sometimes I struggle because I want to be right. When writing history, it’s easy to slip up and include an object not yet invented or miss a social cue that today would be non-existent but back then ever so important.
The temptation is to research while writing. Yet that interrupts the flow of the underlying story. In the beginning I wrote a single flash fiction based on a historical event. It lead me to wonder…why? Then…what if?
Writing flash fiction and reading more about the event was complementary. It allowed me to find the story among the facts.
Once I felt the story had a hold of my imagination, I was ready to draft long prose. Yet, that temptation to be right, to be accurate, frequently grabs me. And when I go to look up a fact or better understand a place, I find that the story dwindles.
My discipline has been to use my imagination to write what I don’t know. My strategy is to go back and create a research list for revision. The importance is the story and getting it down. Once a writer has material, then revision is possible and research is refined.
This is why I like NaNoWriMo as a tool for drafting. My imagination gets a full 30 days of play. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s just pure writing. And that leads to discovery beyond any research.
Thought for the Day:
“The work is the work itself. If she writes a lot, that’s good. If she revises a lot, that’s even better. She should not only write about what she knows but about what she doesn’t know. It extends the imagination.” ~Toni Morrison
Word Count: 2,900
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
The voices in the hallway drew closer and two men emerged. One was as tall as Hickok but broad as a bull ox. His dark brown hair was thick and she recognized those intense brown eyes. It was Cob McCanles. He wore a linen scarf of black and white around his neck and his billowing white shirt was as bright as fresh snow. His dark brown leather vest was snug as were his close-fitting trousers that were the color of buckskin, but made of that material Sarah called linsey-woolsey. The other man was shorter and rounder like a barrel in a gray suit. His pudgy cheeks were hidden behind a mass of graying facial whiskers and the top of his head was bald and gleaning.
“Mr. Waddel, Mr. McCandles,” Horace greeted.
“Hello, Cob,” said Nancy Jane.
If Cob was surprised to see her, he didn’t reveal it. He merely nodded at her.
“Cob,” said the man Horace had called Mr. Waddel.
“Kin name for David Colbert,” said Cob.
“Ah. So, this miss is your kin?”
“No she is not. A neighbor.”
“I’m a friend of Horace.” Nancy Jane felt that the office was too small for her and these three men.
The round man turned to Horace who was starting to blush once again. “Oh, she’s your friend, Mr. Wellman.”
Horace sputtered. Nothing he said was coherent.
Nancy Jane wasn’t sure what to do, now. “I’m going to go over to the boarding house where Joe Baker is staying with his wife. I’m bunking with him.”
“You know Joe Baker, too? Another employee.”
“And Jim Hickok and Dock Brinks. Most of your freighters. The ones that head into Colorado, that is.”
“Just how do you know all these men? I’m not sure Mr. Majors would approve.” Mr. Waddel looked like that pastor that once told her Pa they were headed to hell.
“Nancy Jane Holmes was a cook at Rock Creek station before Mr. McCandles bought it. Her father has long settled in the Territory and he’s done carpentry jobs for us. Joseph Holmes.” At last Horace found his tongue.
“Holmes, yes, seems I recall hearing that name.”
Cob looked at Nancy Jane. “Carpentry? He didn’t build those hovels I tore down and rebuilt did he?”
Nancy Jane wouldn’t have called them hovels, but she did know that Cob’s work was stouter and more square. “No, fixing spokes mostly.”
“A wheelwright then.”
Nancy Jane shrugged. “He once had a carpentry shop in St. Jo. Used to make fine lady’s boxes.”
“In St. Jo, Missouri! Yes, Joseph Holmes. I remember now. My goodness, I think I bought one of those boxes you speak of. Heavens, I thought his family all died when the typhoid fever swept the place.” Mr. Waddel’s face softened.
“Me and my brother survived. Pa moved us west. Thought it would be healthier.”
“What’s your brother up to these days? I’m always looking for men who know the territory. Does he hunt, scout?”
“I do, Sir.” Maybe she could get a job, just like she kept telling Sarah. These men be damned.
They all laughed like she told a great joke. Even Horace, although halfheartedly. “I hunt near every day and know the lay of the land. I can outrace most your outriders including Dock Brink who they say is your best. I can load and shoot a Hawkins rifle with great accuracy and I ain’t’ afraid of the wide open spaces like most easterners.”
Cob stopped laughing. “Lass, you’d be called a mountain girl back home and expected to be self-sufficient. You aren’t any different from the women I know. And none of them work a man’s job.”
Nancy Jane stuck out her chin. “What of Sarah? She keeps books. That’s a man’s job.”
Cob folded his arms. “Yes, she does keep books. Once for her Da and now for me. Sarah’s kin. No man outside of kin would hire her to keep books.”
“Mr. Waddel, would you hire Sarah Shull to keep books?”
Mr. Waddel raised an eyebrow and shook his head. “I would not hire away the book keeper of a man whom I have business dealings.”
Nancy Jane wondered what business dealings he could have with the company. “What if she wanted a job?”
“The company does not hire women.”
Nancy Jane balled her fists at her sides. “Fools!”
“Nancy Jane, that is enough.” Horace looked appalled, Mr. Waddel shocked and Cob laughed with mirth.
Cob said, “What do you do, Nancy Jane? I could hire you.”
Mr. Waddel shook his head. “Are you upon hard times Miss Holmes?”
“No Sir. I’m self-sufficient as a mountain girl.”
Horace said, “Mr. Waddel. Nancy Jane lost her husband to the border troubles, her brother too. And this past summer her young child died of sickness. Her father is immobilized with his grieving.”
Nancy Jane couldn’t believe Horace would spill out her troubles that were no one’s concerns but hers. She set him straight. “He weren’t my husband.”
Cob said, “And an honest lass.”
Mr. Waddel looked stern. “So you do sleep with men. Is that why my freighters stop by your place?”
“No Sir. They know I hunt and stop by my place for venison and to ask what I might have seen out in the open country. Might say I inform your scouts. Only Horace…”
“Nancy Jane!” Horace flushed his reddest.
Good. Let him suffer.
Mr. Waddel turned to Horace. “Is she you’re common-law wife?”
Horace hesitated. Nancy Jane didn’t know what he meant. “What’s that?”
“It’s a man who has taken a woman out on the frontier. He’s then responsible for protecting her. Watching out for her. Otherwise the woman would just be a common strumpet.”
“Yes, Mr. Waddel. Nancy Jane Holmes is my common-law wife.” He then looked down at his desk.
“Good, then. You’ll see to it that you take care of Mrs. Wellman. David, or perhaps, Cob, it’s a pleasure doing business with you. I look forward to the improvements you’ll be making to the station to prepare it as a stage stop.”
The two men left with Nancy Jane staring at Horace. “Mrs. Wellman? So your wife is here in town?”
“You. He was referring to you as Mrs. Wellman. My common-law wife. And no. My wife is back in Ohio with family. She hates the frontier, and I’m not all that fond of the pressures of Ohio. I feel freer out west.”
Later, when Nancy Jane went to visit Joe Baker to explain her turn of events, she found Joe looking woeful. His wife it seems was not happy to have a house on the prairie unless it was a fine house. She spoke endlessly of Denver and what the ladies were wearing. She yelled at her daughters to be quiet and soon took each girl by the arm and drug them off to bed.
“Maybe Cob could help you build a fine home.”
The two stepped out so Joe could smoke his pipe. Nancy Jane took a few puffs. Hickok saw them when he stepped out of the saloon for fresh air. “Why so long in the face friends?”
Nancy Jane explained that Joe’s wife wasn’t happy to be homesteading after all, and that she was somehow Horace’s common law wife.
Hickok chuckled. “You? A squaw wife?”
“I’m no Pawnee!”
“True. You could probably out ride one. Well, let’s toast to our futures.” Hickok pulled out a whiskey flask and they each took a pull.
The trouble with having one’s children spread out across the nation at Thanksgiving time is that they are all contacting me for recipes. Of course, the day before Thanksgiving is actually the one that requires the cooking muscle.
It started last night with brining the bird in Reisling, honey, Kosher salt and a mass of herbs, including juniper berries. Today I’ve baked two pumpkin pies, made a fresh batch of cranberry sauce with honey and apples from my tree, simmered giblets and garlic to make stock for tomorrow’s gravy, roasted butternut squash for the wild rice and deviled the eggs.
That leaves roasting the turkey tomorrow while we munch on veggies and eggs. While the turkey sets I’ll mash the Idaho potatoes, whip up the gravy, heat the side dishes and set out the cranberries. Pour the wine, eat and pause until pumpkin pie will fit in the belly.
I’ll miss not having my children around the table, but we welcome new friends tomorrow and will swap photos with the kids to share our meals across the distance. The Runner is roasting a game hen, the Radio Geek is fixing pork steaks with blueberry bbq sauce and the Rock Climber is tending bar for elk hunters. An interesting mix to share.
The obvious would be to post a prompt on food or holiday feasts. But sometimes the obvious doesn’t spark creativity. So I was giving some thought to what makes our minds leap and often times it is putting together two dissonant ideas. It’s more intriguing to see where something like holiday feasts and prison bars leads our thoughts.
November 26, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using two objects, people or ideas that don’t go together. Anything random like wine and gasoline; the Archangel Michael and Marilyn Monroe; granny and rehab; horses and church bells. Then write a story about your two dissonant picks. Use your two objects as the title.
Respond by December 2 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.
Guns and Apples by Charli Mills
The sweet smell of rotting apples wafted across the meadow on west slanting rays of sunshine. It was late afternoon and time to start dinner. Ramona shifted her prone position in tall grass to ease the pain of old arthritic knees. The VA had more paperwork for her to file before they’d pay out widow’s benefits. The last can of pinto beans was simmering on the stove back at the house. Something had to give, and soon.
A breaking twig snapped. Dry leaves crumpled. The buck had come to eat apples. She steadied her dead husband’s rifle for provision.
Trust your sense of taste.
Cooking a book is a lot like kitchen cooking. We have recipes from the masters like Chef of the Day and Author of the Year, but learn to trust your own taste.
It’s nearing my favorite feast of the year and I’m pecking away at the keyboard so I can go get sloshed with my bird. Over the years, I’ve followed recipes, experimented with techniques and have come upon a formula for the best Mills Family Thanksgiving Turkey. We affectionately call it the “drunken turkey.”
After writing, I’ll pop a cork on a cheap bottle of Riesling and I’ll brine my 18 pound bird in wine, Kosher salt, honey, juniper berries, caraway seeds, mustard seeds and peppercorns. I’ve taste-tested many recipes and this one is the best.
I look forward to the day that I feel as confident with writing novels, that day when I can learn to trust my own sense of taste and break away from recipes and perfect my favorite. I want to achieve those same looks with readers as my family gives me at the dinner table. Ah, the ultimate goal.
Thought for Day 25:
“Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition.”
Word Count: 1,537
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
“Is your mama dead?” Cling snuggled closer to Mary.
“I don’t rightly know. She was sold when I was but a boy not much older than you.” Cato shrugged, bouncing Lizzie who cast a rare smile.
“Sold?” Monroe folded his arms across his chest.
“Slaves are sold like horses or mules,” said Celia, as if explaining how to plant corn seed with pole beans.
James added, “According to the Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court has declared that slaves are indeed property and subject to their owners regardless of the owner visiting a free or slave state.”
Monroe looked at his grandparents and then at the man holding his sister. He flung out his arm, pointing, “This is not a mule. He’s a man.”
“I belong to the O’Bannon family,” said Cato.
“But you aren’t a mule. Do you want to be owned?”
“I can’t talk about such things. It’s not how things is in Virginia.”
“Mama, this in not Virginia. Can’t we help Cato stay here?”
James walked over and laid a gentle hand on Monroe’s shoulder. “Monroe, North Carolina and Tennessee are both slave states, too.”
“But there’s no slaves in the mountains!”
“There’s a few plantations down in the valley at the edge of Watauga county. They have slaves. You’re right. We have no slaves here in the mountains.”
“We grow our own farms up here,” said Emily.
“Monroe, this is why our nation is squabbling, even our neighbors because the free states don’t want the slave states to expand their territories west. Some even want to abolish slavery all together.”
“Why don’t we?”
“Large plantations are created on an economy that requires slave labor. This is why those of us who believe in an intact union also believe in creating a fair economy. While slavery is something that needs to be addressed, so do the economic gains of all men in this nation. Not just the industrialists of the north.”
“What do the industrialists want,” asked Monroe.
“They want us to buy everything they make in their factories,” said Emily.
“Why? We make what we need.”
“Exactly. The common man needs to have a voice in economics,” said James.
Monroe looked at Cato. “Slaves need to have a voice, too.”
“I understand how you feel Monroe. It’s your Scots blood rising. The call of freedom. But freedom always comes at a cost. This is why a nation stands together for the good of its people. Otherwise its no better than serving a crown.”
“Let’s give him some gold coins so he can escape to a free state then.” Monroe looked at his grandfather, hopeful.
“Oh, no, young Master Monroe. I can’t run away.” Cato’s eyes grew wide.
Celia added, “If he was found with gold coins he’d have a difficult time explaining how he got them. And if he was captured, he could be severely punished.”
Mary realized that Monroe was developing Cob’s scowl. “Is Nebraska Territory a slave state,” he asked, practicing that scowl.
“No, it is not. Although that’s part of the dispute between states.”
Monroe kicked at a pebble in the yard. “Then I’m glad to be going to a free state.”
Later, James took the boys fishing and the women settled into making supper. Mary was denied even the most minimal of tasks in her pregnant condition so she sat in a rocker on the porch feeling useless. Cato had chopped some wood and returned to the porch where he was rocking Lizzie and telling her what a pretty girl she was.
“No one has said that of my Lizzie.”
Cato smiled wide. “Why she’s a pretty soul through and through.”
The longer Cato stayed with them the more Mary felt like Monroe. She had never thought much about slavery. It was a rich folks problem. If they could find a way to hide Cato and get him all the way out to Nebraska she would do it. Then she considered the obvious condition of Cato’s skin. He was so black he’d stand out. That thought made her even angrier. The slavers must have figured that one out long ago.
The skin color was so different that it made other folks superstitious. Silly prejudices that people developed out of fear so they wouldn’t involve themselves. Even Lizzie with her discernible differences made most people nervous. Being different scared folks. Look at what silly gooses they all acted like when Cato showed up. But what was even worse is how the black skin color stood out, making it difficult to hide.
This Nebraska Territory was sounding better all the time. She didn’t get into the politics of men, but now she had a better understanding of the economies men fought over. To Mary it seemed like the rich in the south were fighting with the rich in the north. They might go to war, but it would be people like her brothers and nephews who would fight it. Wasn’t this nation supposed to be different from that? Yes, she was beginning to better understand this desire to go west for a fresh start.
Celia stepped out on the porch and said, “Supper soon. Cato, would you fetch James and the boys?”
Mary watched Cato walk toward the creek, chatting away to Lizzie as if she were grown. “I hope the slaves are freed if it comes to war.”
Celia shook her head. “I wish it were that simple. They will be like a lot of lost children if set free. They’ll not know how to make their way in this world and they’ll be at the mercy of evil men for a long time I fear.”
Mary sighed. Nothing was easy and this coming war was only going to make things harder for good folks. She said a prayer for Cato at bedtime, for Cob and for her family. “Lord spare us from the evil in this world.”
From dunnies to stalls, writers were flush with ideas and piddled around with dogs, antics, bullying, broken bones, potty training, pregnancy, hiding, culture shock and even the continuing saga of two water molecules.
Without a second flush, let’s go the November 19, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the toilet.
The Outhouse and the Bullfrog by Susan Zutautas
Quick Tommy, come on over here and hide behind this tree with us. You got to see what’s going to happen when Miss Smith goes into the outhouse.
What did you do Joey?
You’ll see, just wait, she should come runnin outta there about now.
Just as he said now, the boys heard a scream, and sure enough out she came running with her bloomers wrapped around her ankles.
The boys all watched and giggled as Miss Smith made a mad dash into the schoolhouse.
Tommy saw the biggest bullfrog vacating the outhouse and knew what Joey had done.
Toilet Sanctuary by Norah Colvin
“Miss. Marnie’s locked herself in the toilet and won’t come out.”
“What now?” I thought, scanning the troubled face pleading for assistance as much as to be absolved of blame.
“Okay,” I reassured Jasmine. “Let’s go see what’s up.”
As we hurried to the toilet block Jasmine reiterated her innocence, she hadn’t done anything, she didn’t know what was wrong (it wasn’t her fault).
“I know,” I smiled. The toilet cubicles had frequently been Marnie’s sanctuary. But not for weeks. Jasmine’s kind-hearted friendship had seen to that.
“She’s got her unicorn again,” Jasmine whispered.
“Oh,” I said.
Waterlogged by Pete
Mason was lapping up the water from his favorite commode when they arrived. He came up for air, tilting his head as toilet water dripped from his jowls.
He slid to a stop just before he ran out of hardwood. Aunt Janice stood scowling so Mason ducked under the table, finding Alice, who was always ready to scratch an ear.Detecting some cracker remnants, he nosed closer, unable to help himself from dragging his tongue up her cheek to check.
“Mason, no!” Someone yelled, but Alice laughed.
“It’s okay, they say a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a humans.”
Potty Training by Ruchira Khanna
Paula was running around her 15-month-old son while keeping a keen eye on his actions. Then suddenly, while playing, her toddler, paused, scratched his head as if confused. Showed some discomfort, and bent his knees while popping out his buttocks, while giving out an annoyed sound.
That noise was enough to alert her.
She immediately picked him up and rushed towards the bathroom. Then pulled down his training pants and put him on the throne.
“Phew! Potty training is difficult and a laborious job” she murmured while singing him a lullaby to keep him stationed on the pot.
Preliminary Flush by Larry LaForge
Ozzie and Izzie give each other the nod. They know the drill.
These two water molecules have pledged to maintain their hydrogen bond through thick and thin. They’re in the toilet — literally — but have a plan to escape unscathed.
A sudden movement from above alerts them. Exactly as planned, Ozzie and Izzie immediately begin rocking back and forth in unison. The patron takes the bait, instinctively hitting the flush lever after seeing a disconcerting water ripple in the bowl.
Ozzie and Izzie high-five each other as they joyfully exit through the plumbing.
They made it out before the storm!
The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.
Toilet Break by Geoff Le Pard
Mary hesitated before opening the email. Dare she look? She’d had enough shocks already. She regretted rising to Rupert’s jibes. Her bloody half-brother.
‘Mandy Johns is your mum, right? Well she’s also my mum’s cousin.’
He told Mary. ‘She died of eclampsia hours after you were born.’
He showed her a photo; Angela and Mandy were almost identical.
‘There’s more,’ he’d said but she’d thought, ‘Sod you, I’ll not rely on you anymore.’
It had taken her weeks. She scanned the email.
….our records show in 1967 Amanda Johns gave birth to twin girls….
Mary ran for the toilet.
Toilet Flash by Irene Waters
“Don’t wait.” June said, already entering the toilet block. Overcome by the stench of ammonia she gagged as she engaged the latch. The opener broke in her hand. There was no way out. She waited. The reek of stale urine was nauseating so, balancing on the toilet, she propelled herself, legs straddling the stall’s dividing wall. She hesitated. The odour’s source was now visible. She slid down the wall, feet flailing trying to find the toilet. Her feet slipped on the wet seat, entering the bowl with a sickening crack. No escape, she waited for rescue and an ambulance.
Finding Relief by Charli Mills
Becky fidgeted. Twice, Mrs. Hart turned from the chalkboard, glaring her into stillness. At recess, Becky bound to the porch, grabbed her coat and pushed past Tommy. A foot of snow covered the ground with a packed trail leading behind the schoolhouse. Becky ran, her leather boots slipping.
“Becky!” It was Tessa calling from behind. Becky motioned her friend to follow. Both girls reached the outhouse, pulling the wooden door shut behind them, fumbling with skirts, petticoats and knickers to finally sit in relief.
Stepping outside the boys had spelled their names in the snow. It was not fair.
Cornered by Sarah Brentyn
She ran out of ink.
The damn ballpoint pen actually went dry before she could finish scratching out all the limericks with her name and the offers with her cell phone number. She hurled the Bic into the toilet, and picked up her backpack.
Her breath caught as she heard the girls’ room door open, laughter trickling in. It was the pack, cackling like hyenas. The same girls who wrote filth in the bathroom stalls.
“Did you see the look on her face? Priceless!”
“I know! What. A. Loser.”
“Be right back—gotta go pee.”
The door opened.
Culture Shock by Anne Goodwin
We’d travel through the sky to live with Appa. There’d be snow, not only on the mountain tops, and people’s wealth would make them smile. “Is it today, Amma?” I asked each morning as we squatted on the riverbank. “Is it today?”
There was no snow, no mountains even. The English – white-skinned as if dusted with talcum powder – scowled. And there was nowhere to go.
Appa showed me a porcelain throne in a tiny room. I dared not squat on that hollow seat lest I fall through. I followed the dog to the garden. The neighbours screamed, “Filthy Wog!”
Brian Gets a Surprise by Tally Pendragon
“I was just washing my hands. I looked in the mirror, and everything had gone black. Then there was this sequence of images. Lots of ladies … one after another. From different times … thousands of years ago, up to … I was holding onto the sink, the water was running. It started splashing me and there was the woman … from last night … your past life … Lily-Anna. She was on her boat that went to the wrong place. And the seawater was splashing me. I let go of the sink at that point and it all went back to normal again.”
Give a hoot where you poop and support UNICEF’s efforts to bring dignity and security to toilets around the world.
Your story is both unique and part of something greater.
It’s snowing tonight and I can’t help but compare stories to snowflakes. Each storm is new, fresh. No matter how many stories go out each one is a fresh new voice. Like snowflakes, each story is unique though collectively it forms snow.
So what does that make our collective of stories? Literature. You might think of literature as high prose or the work of professional authors but did you know that literature is defined as, “all writings in prose or verse, esp. those of an imaginative or critical character, without regard to their excellence: often distinguished from scientific writing, news reporting, etc.”
Stories become part of the literature of one’s time and place. Do not underestimate the unique potential that your story can express. Treat it as unique, your voice, your perspective, your influences, your experiences. Let those things come through. Add to it your research, you imagination, but make your story unique as a snowflake then let it fly in the storm of literature.
Thought for Day 24:
“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” ~Stephen McCranie
Word Count: 1,500
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Not long after the men had left, a soft knock came at the door during supper. With all the men gone, it was just Emily, Mary, Sally, Celia, James and the children. Emily had a large shepherd that usually announced loudly the arrival of any strangers. He was silent so they assumed it was Julia or Mary Catherine, or perhaps one of their older children.
Emily rose and stepped back from the door looking startled. In the open frame stood a a small black man with gray at the temples of his curly hair. His eyes were wide with worry, his clothes dirty and torn. “I’m lost,” he said.
“Where are you from,” asked James, rising from the table.
“I don’t know. My family is the O’Bannons”
Celia wiped her mouth with her linen napkin and set it on the table as she rose. “Emily, go fetch a bar of pitch soap and some clothes that might fit this man.”
Emily looked even more startled looking back to the man and to her mother who stood firm until Emily went to fetch the items. Celia prepared a tin plate of food.
When she returned, Celia took them and walked over to the door. “Eat some food. Then I want you to go bathe in the creek, put on some clean clothes and then return here when you are through.”
The man nodded and left. Celia returned to her dinner and everyone turned to stare at her. “Mother, what are you doing?”
She took a bite and chewed before finishing. “I know the family he speaks of. They’re from Virginia.”
“He’s probably an escaped slave,” said Mary.
“He’s frightened. If he had escaped he wouldn’t have come to the door. Let him settle down and we’ll find out what his story is and help him find his way back to Virginia.”
James had stopped eating. “Your shepherd, Emily. He never barked.”
“Oh, no! He might have killed the dog.” She rose and pushed away from the table.
Monroe and his cousin Ranze got up, too.
“Hold on, boys. I’ll go look for the dog.”
“I’m going with you, Father,” said Emily.
Everybody filed out of the house except Sally who refused to go and said she’d stay with Lizzie. They all followed James to the creek. They could hear the man talking to someone. James raised his hand to keep his family quiet and to stay put. He crept quietly through the bushes as any old fisherman could do, and disappeared. Soon they heard James laugh and when he returned, the shepherd was with him, bounding through the brush and lapping his greeting across the smaller faces.
“He was talking to the dog as if it were his new best friend.”
I mean this in the same tone as Michael Pollan wrote, “Eat food.” Like our modern food system burdened with factory farming, GMOs, organic labels, disappearing honey bees our trip to the market is fraught with complexities. So is the book publishing industry.
Which is why Pollan’s reminder to draw back to the simplest elements make sense. He backs up his words with an entire book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. And you could write a book about writing books!
No matter what is going on in the industry, you still need to visit the page regularly and not get swept up into the politics of publishing. We all have our reasons to be here, and mostly it’s about the writing. I recommend author, C. Hope Clark’s weekly newsletter Funds For Writers for her grounded advice, insights and funding and publishing links. She gives us out thought for the day.
Thought for Days 21, 22 & 23:
“Publishing is in a constant state of flux, always stirred up worse by strong personalities flexing, ranting, projecting the end of the world. And unless you choose to spend eight hours a day trying to understand all sides, you won’t ever grasp the details. So don’t try.” ~C. Hope Clark
Focus on writing the best book you can. Learn what you need to know about the industry without getting caught up in taking sides. But for now, keep writing. Write books. Craft words. Shape stories.
Word Count: 6,018
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Mary knew that both Cob and Leroy wanted their parents to go west. “Cob says, I am to convince you to go, but I know…”
Horse hooves pounded down the bridle path outside along with youthful whooping and a loud, Whoa!”
“Busy home, today, Celia.” James stood up to see who the new arrivals were.
Celia said, “I think it’s just the boys.” Ten years ago, a mountain family by the name of Hughes had succumbed to illness, all except for a daughter and a son who was the best friend of Cob’s young cousin Jamie Woods. Celia and James raised Billy and Emily Hughes. The girl was now married to one of Mary’s Greene cousins over in Sugar Cove. Billy was nearly 18 and he and Jamie had finished at the Episcopal Academy in Greensboro this past December and decided not to return in favor of going out west with Leroy.
Both lanky youths burst through the cabin door. “We got another wrangler!” Billy Hughes had black hair like Mary’s with greenish-gold eyes and thick black lashes that made him almost as pretty as a lass. Almost. His fresh attempt at a shadowy beard ruined the image.
Jamie walked in grinning and looking like a blond McCanles with gray eyes. His mother Louisa was Celia’s sister and Jamie’s father was a blond Watauga man who practiced law. At one time James McCanles had been local magistrate. It was said that he and Woods were cousins and went to Academy together where they met the Alexander sisters. Now they were all a part of this mountain community. A powder keg for the young men wanting adventure so bad that even war sounded like an exciting prospect. Better that these two go west.
Behind them walked in Jim Hartley who was slightly shorter though he stood straight without a slouch. He was dressed in a light wool coat of tobacco brown. His reddish beard matched the thinning hair on his head. Having just removed his hat, he smoothed back the wisps. His face was yet youthful and he kept his beard and mustache neatly trimmed. The Hartleys were from this side of the mountain, but Jim had a large farm over the ridge beneath the Cumberland mountains where he lived with Cob’s sister Emily and their two children.
“Well, Jim Hartley, this is the second surprise visit of the day.” James greeted his son-in-law.
“Hello, Father, Mother. I’ve met up with these hooligans on my way over the mountain. Hope you don’t mind but I’ve received a letter from Cob.”
Celia smiled and got up to set a kettle boiling for coffee. “Seems Cob was busy writing.”
“Hello, Mary,” greeted Jim.
She smiled and nodded to him, as did Leroy. Jim joined them around the table.
The boys followed Celia into the kitchen, asking for bread and plum jam. “In the pantry,” she said. Mary knew that Celia bought her bread and most of her food from others. She used to buy at Shull’s store until Cob’s unpleasantness with Sarah Shull. Now Celia sent the boys farther down the valley to Jack Horton’s store. Not only was James not a farmer, neither was Celia a farmer’s wife. Yet they always had a good store of food and Celia knew how to make recipes that came from Virginia. She also kept a fine herb garden by the house.
Jim cleared his throat and looked across the table at Leroy. “Sounds as if we are to bring out cattle.”
Leroy nodded. “We can take the train west out of Johnson’s Tank and gather a herd from Bradley County. Mother has already sent word to Grandfather Alexander and he’ll see us outfitted. We’ll drive them north and meet up with the women and children at St. Joseph, Missouri. Seems we’ll be headed to Nebraska Territory and not Colorado.”
Jim accepted a cup of coffee from Celia. “Thank you. About that. I’m not sure which one of you two to believe where the better prospect is. And before I go expecting Emily and the children to travel all that way, I want to take a look at the land myself.”
“I understand,” said Leroy.
“So I’m willing to help push the cattle out and deliver your family and Cob’s to Nebraska. But we won’t settle this year.”
Celia looked ready to weep, though she smiled. “So Emily is staying?”
“Yes, Mother and that leads me to an important question. Will you and Father come over and stay with Emily until I return? It’s possible that I won’t get back until after Christmas. My youngest brother will help with the farm and we’ll hire hands for harvest. But she needs you to wait with her.”
James sighed. “We could.”
“Yes, yes, of course we can.” Celia sniffed slightly and walked into the kitchen to bring back bread and jam and sliced yellow cheese.
“Jim, I’ve been cajoling the folks all morning to do just as you’ve asked.”
“Ah, Brother Leroy, perhaps one day you’ll learn to ask rather than cajole.” They all laughed.
Leroy shook his head and let go of the dark scowl he’d held all morning. “We need to plan a date to coordinate the cattle and the women.”
Mary felt like cattle. They were soon going to learn that she would not be so easily pressed. “I’m not ready to leave.”
They all gave her sympathetic expressions. Leroy said, “Neither is Sally, but we will have time to say goodbyes to family and sort what belongings to bring and what to leave.”
Mary glanced at the two boys still in the kitchen, jabbering about what the trail would be like and which one was the better rider, hunter or dancer. Celia caught her meaning. “Billy, Jamie could you take your exuberant talk outside and split some more wood?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Each walked faster to be first through the door. When they both reached it at the same time, they pushed through together and erupted into more laughter.
“It’s going to be mighty quiet around here,” said James.
“Not if you stay with Emily. Julia and Mary Catherine’s broods visit often and it sounds like a clucking hen-house most days.”
Mary sighed. That’s what she missed most—the press of women in the great room and cousins underfoot. “I’m not ready to leave until I have this baby.”
“Leroy! Not under this roof. Mind your words.”
Leroy stood up and turned his back to everyone. Once he was better composed, he turned back to Mary. “You do realize we have to leave before June first? The sooner the better.”
Mary folded her hands on her lap. “Since we are not going all the way out to Colorado, we can leave later.”
“No, we cannot.” Leroy clasped the back of his chair, his knuckles turning white with his grip.
“This babe won’t be arriving until the end of July at the soonest and I’m not birthing on the trail or the wild prairie among strangers.”
Jim leaned back. “Mary’s right. But we still have the cattle to round up and wagons to outfit. We can still time this out and give Mary the days she needs.”
Leroy shook his head. “Weath will be coming for Cob’s place, and mine, too on June first.”
“Why on earth would that craven Frenchman have debts with you and Cob?” James glared at his son.
“We were working on getting our stake put together. Da, we didn’t have the money to fund this trip unless we sold our properties, but Weath was holding a debt over each.”
“Son, what of these rumors I hear that Cob absconded with tax payer’s money?” The room grew silent.
Leroy pushed back from the chair. “No, Da. Cob did not steal. He delivered those collections to Jack Horton and they are accounted for. You ask Horton directly.”
“What happens on June first,” asked Mary.
“Weath thinks he’s calling in the debts on June first. If we don’t pay up, he’ll file against each property. Only, we sold our properties numerous times, so by the time Weath files and tracks down the final ownership he’ll discover that his claim is no longer valid.”
James was now the McCanles scowling. “No longer valid? You cheated the man out of debts. Debts I wasn’t even aware that you and your brother had. So tell me son, how did you come by these debts?”
“We were trying to raise a stake.” Leroy shuffled his feet, looking grim.
“How,” roared James.
“Investing in economics of the region.”
“You were investing in corn? Perhaps bootlegging? What regional investments specifically? Do recall that I once served this county as a judge and am quite familiar with what is legal as an investment and cheating the government out of the liquor tax is not what I expected of my sons.”
“Chickens? Is that where Cling has gotten this idea to raise chickens?” Mary knew that it was typical of the three boys to like anything that their father did. Something she hoped they’d outgrow or perhaps attach to their Grandfather McCanles who worked wood and used his education.
“Um, these aren’t exactly egg layers. We bought a lot of chickens from Weath, only he had dosed them with something and they didn’t live up to their potential and it impacted our investment. Weath’s the one who is crooked, but we signed papers on our properties expecting to make the money back on the chickens.”
“Not egg layers? What other kind of chickens are there,” asked Jim Hartly.
“Roosters,” mumbled Leroy.
“Roosters? What good are roosters?”
Mary wondered if Jim Hartley were really that daft or if he wanted his in-laws to believe he was innocent of betting on cock-fights.
James stood up. “Pardon me, Jim, Ladies. My son and I are going to step out for a bit of fresh air.”
Relax. Breathe. You’ve got this!
I don’t know about you, but I need a massage. I type one-handed so my right shoulder is starting to burn with marathon writing sprees. I’ve surpassed 33,000 words so I feel like I deserve something relaxing.
Without losing momentum I turned to something horsey since horses have a role in my novel. So I’m sharing a relaxing horse moment with you:
While you write, be sure to take breathing breaks. Stand up, swing your arms overhead, hands to the sky. Breath deep, pushing out your belly so your lungs can fill. Hold…1…2…3…4…5…exhale, swing arms down. Do this four more times and your brain will feel revived, your body oxygenated.
Thought for Day 20:
“You have to relax, write what you write. It sounds easy but it’s really, really hard. One of the things it took me longest to learn was to trust the writing process.” ~Diane Setterfield
Word Count: 1,766
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Allen stood as tall as Cob and had white streaks starting at his temples. He nodded. “More sensible plan than that of digging holes for elusive metals. Come on up to the house.” He spoke softly to the man with the pitchfork before motioning to Cob and Sarah to follow him.
Sarah stared at the great white columns that held up the front of the house. It reminded her of an illustration she had seen of Washington’s Great White House in the nation’s capitol. She suddenly felt grimy so close to such gleaming whiteness.
Inside Sarah saw polished and gilded furniture, colorful carpets, crystal hurricane lamps mounted on painted walls among portraits and grand scenes of hunting and horses. A negro dressed in finer clothes than Sarah had seen on a person greeted Allen who again, spoke softly. The man walked swiftly away. Sarah had never seen a negro before, though she once heard of bounty hunters passing through Watauga in search of an escapee.
“We’ll prepare you rooms for the night. Separate rooms.” Allen leveled a stare at Sarah that said he knew she wasn’t Mrs. McCanles. She flushed.
“Sarah’s my accountant. She’s going to help me get my business started.” How Cob managed to look as innocent as a newborn babe, she had no idea.
Allen raised one eyebrow and directed his gray-eyed stare at her. “Accountant? And what ledger system do you prefer, Miss Sarah?”
“Nothing complicated. A simple cost management system will do.”
Allen smiled. “Really? And where did you learn accounting?”
“My father. His grandfather was German and taught him a ledger method from that country which differs slightly from what British companies follow. I maintained the cost management of his store.”
“Ah, Father. We have guests from Appalachia passing through. Family. Celia’s boy, David.”
Moses Alexander was once tall, but now his shoulders and back stooped and he walked stiffly, the way Sarah felt some mornings when she woke up cold and aching from the thin ticking of her mattress. His hair was white as the pillars of the porch and his eyes were glazed yet still gray. “Celia,” he said, nodding but not sure he could recall.
“David’s daughter, Father.”
“David’s daughter. The one who married that school teacher from North Carolina?”
Allen cast a sideways glance at Cob. “The very one.”
“Ah, such a pity. Such pretty girls and they both ran off to the highlands.”
“Damned highlanders, stealing pretty girls. Louisa? Is Louisa well?”
Cob stood with the bundles at his boots and Sarah fancied he looked every bit of a Robbie Burns hero with his thick black hair and keen brown eyes beneath his broad-brimmed hat set askew and linen scarf wrapped about his neck. “Aunt Louisa is quite well. Her son James Wood will be joining my brother and me out west in our business venture.”
“Business, eh? And who is this mountain filly? Not your wife, I suppose.” He turned his glassy gray eyes on Sarah.
“Miss Sarah is David’s accountant.”
“Accountant! Is that what they’re called these days? Well, not bad for an accountant.” Sarah didn’t like the way Moses was summing her up.
The negro returned and Allen announced that they would be shown to their rooms and that dinner would be served in an hour. The door to Sarah’s room was across the hall from Cob’s. He winked at her before he went in and said, “Don’t worry. Alexander blood is thick. Endure what you must tonight, but tomorrow we’ll be leaving on fine Kentucky horse flesh or my mother will will whip up Grandfather Alexander into a furry that will rain down on Uncle Moses’s head like hail.”
Sarah smiled, but worried about what it was she might have to endure. When she walked into her room, she realized that it was as large as her entire cabin. The bed was so tall that it had steps and was draped in thick tapestry with mauve blossoms on burgundy, swirled with white vines and green leaves as dark as pine needles. The walls were striped with gold and cream with burgundy curtains at the windows that rose taller than her. Paintings of horses on green grass and one of a magnolia tree hung in gilded frames on the walls. Two rose-colored chairs sat facing a crackling fire in a marble fireplace. What heaven did she just walk into?
A woman’s voice chuckled from behind her. “Your bumpkin eyes don’t know where to set do they, girl?”
Sarah turned around to face a woman no taller than she with a massive bosom and a plain dress with a crisp white apron. Her black hair coiled in tight curls beneath a red headscarf and her skin was golden-brown. Her eyes were a light gray. “Hello. Are you one of the Alexanders? I’m Sarah.”
The woman had a booming laugh that could rival one of Cob’s rumblers. “I belong to the Alexanders, girl. I’m Bessie and I run this household. Let’s get you fixed up. We only have an hour and your dishevelment could frighten the Holy Spirit out of a reverend’s mother.”
In an hour, Bessie had transformed Sarah into a fairybook queen. While she bathed Sarah, coiffed her hair and dressed her in a cast-off from Allen’s youngest daughter who was away at boarding school in Virginia, Bessie informed Sarah of who the Alexanders were and where each one was. She spoke of the trouble with catching the chickens that morning, of the latest filly born and the news about the northern aggressors. Sarah didn’t know how the woman could be so swift with her fingers and so fast with her tongue. She could hardly digest all the information.
By the time Bessie introduced Sarah to the corset, she realized that she would endure much discomfort. How in the world did women where such horrid things? Her ribs ached and breathing felt shallow as if she had a boulder pressing down on her. Next came a hoop and a pile of petticoats, which felt strange as if her legs had a private room. But Sarah forgot all about her discomfort when she saw the dress.
Blue and ivory plaid with narrow pink striping, it was trimmed with edged bows. The neckline swooped from shoulder to shoulder and the sleeves were nothing more than caps like the bell of a lily. “This will show off those pretty blue eyes of your, Miss Sarah.” Bessie slipped the softest shoes onto Sarah’s feet that were ivory with leather soles. “You do look presentable, and just in time.”
Bessie led her downstairs to a formal dining room where the men were each holding crystal glasses with dark amber liquid. They all turned and stared at Sarah and she worried that maybe something was wrong with her dress. Why were they staring at her?
“Well, Miss Sarah, for an accountant of German origins you do clean up nicely.” Allen toasted her with his glass.
“Very nice, Lass, very nice. I see why my grand-nephew needs an accountant.”
Cob’s brown eyes the color of the liquid in his glass had deepened into a smoldering stare. “You look beautiful, Sarah.”
For the rest of her life, she’d never forget that dress. Bessie packed her two simple cotton dresses, one the color of dried tobacco with tiny orange flowers and the other a dark hunter plaid with blue and ivory stripes. And as Cob predicted, they left riding two long-legged bays followed by two pack mules, a mare and a filly. Cob was riding a stallion and as his Uncle Moses said, he was leaving Kentucky with the beginnings of the finest horse ranch Pikes Peak would ever see. Cob struck gold barely out of Tennessee.