It is done…
…not really. 51,000 words and many more to go.
What NaNoWriMo did for me this year is get me started and kept me to writing the tedious scenes. Tedious because they were “not the story” but needed to explain the story, to develop the characters and establish the time period.
The exciting scenes come next. So does strategy for revision(s). Plural because there’s always more than one revision. What I have is bare bones. What I need is more research, feedback and fleshing out. Then onto flow and next to accuracy and correctness. Whew!
A book is never done in one draft. A book isn’t necessarily done in 30 days or 50,000 words. Whether you hit the target or not, pause to take good measure. Goals are not necessarily meant to be achieved, but to mark our progress. Celebrate. Commiserate. And tomorrow morning you get up and write.
Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
~Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956
One last peek at Rock Creek:
“She needed a lesson, and you too.”
Cob came back and sat next to her. Sarah looked at him. “Me?”
“Nancy Jane’s been putting fool thoughts in that gentle head of yours.”
“Nancy Jane is my friend! No one befriends me, Cob. No, one. I had hoped it would be different out here, but this place is so empty. Nancy Jane is my friend.”
“If she’s your friend then why is she trying to come between you and me?”
Sarah didn’t know how to answer him. It was true. Nancy Jane thought Sarah had ability to set up her own businesses in a bigger city. Maybe even Denver. “She’s only encouraging me to use my skills. Maybe I have dreams of my own.”
“Oh? And what are your plans for these dreams?”
Sarah took a deep breath. “You owe me money, too.”
Cob chuckled. “Oh, my what a stake you have in those two notes. I might be owed more than I have but by God I have that fine amount to pay you. How far you think it’ll get you on your path to dreams?”
“Denver! Whoa now, that’s a big place. What will you do in Denver?”
“Don’t be hurtful, Cob. I can account elsewhere.”
“Elsewhere. You need a dose of reality, Rosebud. You head out to Denver with your money in your purse, and I’ll even buy your coach fare, you’ll have maybe two years of squalid living if you don’t go buying up all the calicoes and doodads you see. And you can go about the place for two years knocking on doors for a job and there won’t be none hiring you.”
“You don’t know that. Accounting is a valuable skill.”
“It sure is, Rosebud. And it’s a man’s skill. No credible business will hire some woman they don’t even know. You father taught you because he had need. I keep you because I have need of you, too.” He hugged her shoulders.
“I could work for a company that knows me,” she said softly.
“Like Russel, Majors and Waddel.”
Sarah stiffened. Was he teasing her or willing to set her free? “Perhaps.”
Cob roared with laughter, slapping his knee with the arm that had been hugging her. This time Sarah stood up, but he grabbed her hand to keep her close. “First off, do you know why they are not making good on their note to me?”
Sarah shook her head.
“Mr. Russel was arrested Christmas Eve for embezzling bonds meant for the Indian tribes.”
“He’s in jail?”
“The government let him out of prison when the states began seceding in April. You might say that Mr. Russel is the one man the war of the states saved.”
“What of the other partners?”
“Mr. Waddel is struggling. I imagine Mr. Majors is praying. I need to get paid my gold. Paper is going to mean nothing soon.”
“Not even the employees are getting their pay, Cob.”
“Sonofa! For how long?”
“I heard that was why the rider Fry quit end of May and joined up with Union forces. Nancy Jane says they haven’t received June funds. Horace wasn’t even able to get supplies they need.”
“That’s it. Tomorrow I’m cleaning up Rock Creek station. They are gone!”
“Please Cob, where will Nancy Jane go? Horace might not take her if he loses his job. He might have to return to Ohio.”
“He’s not going to lose his job. I’m just going to evict them. They can ride back to Brownsville. I’ll install Gordon as agent for the station. They can run their stages, but I’ll confiscate their livestock until I get my gold.”
Sarah couldn’t hold back the tears. “It’s just hopeless!”
“What? What are these damned tears about?”
“You took everything from her, punishing her Pa like that. Nancy Jane is not like other women.”
“She’s like every other women and the punishment was hers so she’d know it!”
“She was free.”
“Free? What does that even mean, Rosebud?”
“Nancy Jane can ride horses as fearless as a man and she’s not had to settle for marrying and she has a sense of not being hindered by what others think.”
Cob snorted. “Sure, she can sit a saddle as steady as a man, even hunt and take care of her gun. But what use is that to a woman? How is she free? Her Pa’s a drunk, her man can leave her without any sense of obligation and because she don’t care what others think others won’t help her.”
Tears flowed freely. “And thanks to you, she now knows that.”
“Good! There’s nothing she’s told you that’s been useful. She’s had you believing things that aren’t possible. I was there when she asked Mr. Waddel if he’d hire you as accountant.”
“You were? When?”
“Back in Brownsville. When the company was flush with federal funds.”
“What did he say.”
“Said his company doesn’t hire women.”
“I see.” Sarah slumped back onto the bed. She wiped her tears. No point in crying. She knew all along. She wasn’t going to head off to Denver. She wasn’t going to make her way in this world. It was a man’s world and that was Cob’s point of brutally punishing Joseph Holmes in front of Nancy Jane. Cob could do it, her father would suffer it and there was nothing Nancy Jane could do. Cob broke her. He took everything she had. Her sense of independence, her freedom, her security.
“Nancy Jane will learn her place. All women do, Rosebud.” He kissed her and pushed her back on the bed.
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.
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.”
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.
Is your spark already smoldering?
If you sign up for NaNoWriMo, then you know all about the Pep Talks from authors that are emailed to your dashboard. I’ve been waiting for this one from Brian Sanderson since I first found out that he was slated for a Pep Talk.
My eldest and her husband have read out loud to each other since they first met. Over the holidays and visits I’ve heard snippets of their books and got interested in reading Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, Wheel of Time.
Jordan has become my favorite author for his classic story-telling abilities and unfathomable number of characters. However, he died before completing his series. He did leave behind his notes and unfinished work with the intention of passing them on to another writer. His widow selected Brian Sanderson.
Can you imagine being selected to fill n for an author whose work you admire? Beyond that, Sanderson has created his own amazing series and characters with several Best Sellers. Yet in his Pep Talk he spoke about his darkest moment, having been unable to sell any of his first 12 novels and being rejected by 13 MFA programs.
During that dark time, one of his manuscripts was sitting unread on an editor’s desk. The following year, when the editor did read it, he called Sanderson with a breakthrough book deal. He encourages writers not to give up. That we love the process, tell our stories and find victory in the completion.
Thought for Day 19:
“You could be writing the book that changes your life. You could have already submitted it, or self-published it. The spark could be starting a fire for you as well. You don’t know, and you can’t know. That is the thrill of being an artist, of working for yourself, and of telling the stories you want to tell.” ~Brian Sanderson
Word Count: 1,567
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
“Truthfully, it grows fainter as it passes us by. Comet Donati,” said James.
“That’s a pretty name.” The cider was sweet and warm as Sarah drank.
“It’s named after the Italian astronomer who first sighted it last summer.”
“Is it an omen?”
James leaned against the oak tree and looked skyward. “Omens are for old ladies.”
“What do the old ladies say? It’s not as if any speak to me.”
“They say that such terrible lights burn for killed kings and slain heroes. They say a bloodbath is coming.”
Sarah shuddered. “And what do you say?”
James raised his upturned hand to the comet. “Thou speaks thy Maker’s praise.”
A clomping of hooves sounded from the snow-covered road. Cob was walking Captain and leading another horse.
“Evening, Da, Sarah. Are you ready, lass?” Cob swung down from Captain and stood eye-to-eye with his father.
“Might I dissuade you son?”
“You may not. What it done, is done and now I must flee. Leroy will follow with his family and mine in the spring.” He grabbed Sarah’s bundle and began to tie it to the saddle of the second horse. Sarah wondered if she would have to walk.
“I cannot imagine a more beautiful place than Watauga, this lovely vale. I brought my children here to make a home. And now my children leave. My grandchildren, too.”
“Da, come out with Leroy. Get out of here before the war.”
“Bah! These traitors who talk of succession are just blustering. A new President. We have a Constitutional Unionist on the ticket…”
“Enough of politics.The west is were we can prosper.”
“Yes, and I hear that Mormons can have many wives.” James looked pointedly at Sarah.
“Leave her be, Da. Mary knows I’m getting her out of this place so she can have a fresh start, too.”
“Do not be leading your family to a cruel fate, David Colbert.”
The two men grasped arms until James pulled Cob to him. “May angles guard over your journey. Your mother and I shall weep in our old age, not seeing the single smokestack of any of our offspring.”
“Come with Leroy, Da. At least go to Tennessee. It’s safer at Duggers Ferry and you’ll have two daughters to spoil you in old dotage.”
“Ach, I’m not leaving my native land. How could I stray from the Watauga River? Who would fish her silver ribbons the way I do?”
“Then mind yourself angling and take care of mother. Fare thee well, Da.”
To Sarah’s surprise, Cob reached for her and slung her up into the saddle as easily as he had tossed her bundle. He swung up behind her and seated her sideways on his lap. He nudged Captain and the horse responded with a spirited trot.
Sarah heard James call, “Farewell.” His voice sounded choked with tears, yet she couldn’t deny her joy at leaving this place. She would be a free woman.
It was hard not to fidget and the night grew even colder. Sarah watched the comet as they rode up the mountains, cresting the ridge and breaking through drifts of snow. Occasionally they would pass a cabin or farm, a coon dog barking in the distance, but no other signs of life.
“Where are we going, exactly,” asked Sarah. West seemed like a grand place, but she had no idea where west or how long it would take.
“We’ll catch the train at Johnson’s Tank.” His voice rumbled in the cold silence of the mountains.
Johnson’s Tank was a start. Sarah had never seen a train and now she would get to ride on one. Somehow she failed to summon the earlier excitement and she glanced at the comet, hoping it meant nothing at all. Yet, it had to mean something. It was no coincidence that it appeared in her darkest hour of despair or that it was still present the night she escaped the damnation of her family’s punishment. It had to be a sign for good. Her lucky star.
Sarah must have dozed off because she awoke, startled to see the light of dawn shining from behind them. They had ridden out of the the mountains and the land before them was rolling with woods and fields.
“Good. I have to stop.” Cob reined in Captain. “Slide down,” he told her.
Sarah did and hopped to the ground that was wet with dew and free of snow. Cob dismounted and handed her the reins. He stepped a few paces and with his back to her, she heard him urinating. Her face grew flush and she realized she needed to do the same, but how could she?
“Do you have to go?”
“No.” She stood uncomfortably aware that she had to go even more now that she had denied it.
“Just go.” He took the reins from her.
“Pick a clump of grass and sprinkle it with dew. How about that clump there?” Cob pointed to a small bent row of grass in front of Captain.
Sarah looked each direction and finally walked around to the other side of the horses. Lifting her skirts and spreading her knickers she squatted with her back to the horses feeling somewhat shielded. Her stream sounded like a roaring river in her ears. Rearranging her underclothes and skirts, she turned around to see Cob leaning against Captain staring at her with a big boyish grin. “I knew you had to go.”
“Do not watch me!” Sarah turned away, feeling the flush rise from her neck to her scalp.
“It’s natural.” He chuckled.
“For men, perhaps.” She turned back around and glared.
“Oh? And women politely pass on pissing? What happens when you have to…”
“Time to mount up, my damsel in distress.” Cob bowed as if he were a gallant.
Stories are powerful.
A great reminder today from Geoff Le Pard over at Tangental with his post on the chemistry of storytelling. Be sure to visit and watch the Ted Talk with SJ Murray.
It’s Tuesday, so Carrot Ranch also has stories to share from the Rough Writers & Friends. This week we interrupted our own stories with Flash Photo Bombs. Even a 99-word story can be powerful.
Marketers, companies and entrepreneurs understand that people want more than facts and data to persuade them. As you are writing keep in mind the persuasive qualities of your story. After all, the idea of it persuaded you to write!
Thought for Day 18:
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~Maya Angelou
And the only way to get it out is to write it out. It’s Day 18. Keep writing!
Word Count: 1,705
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
“You becoming a sharp clawed catamount is not helping this family any, Mary.” He kicked at his rucksack like a petulant toddler. Mary had a mind to give him a strapping.
“And you’re helping your family, how?” She folded her arms against the chill of the late January air, her breath puffing white with each word. She hoped he froze out there on the trail.
“I’ve explained this to you a dozen times.”
“You’ve explained a dozen different plans to me and all end with the same result. You’re leaving me.”
“Damn it, I’m not leaving you, I’m going west!”
“Going west with another woman who spat out your bastard and I’m supposed to believe that at some future point you will call for me to meet you in this undisclosed new home out west!”
“Yes! No! Yes, I’m going to send for you. No, I’m not going with her. I’ll escort her away from this place until she can manage on her own. We are not together.”
Mary shook her head. “That is the most ridiculous story. Oh, we’re leaving together, but we’re not really together.”
“Has she bore another bastard?” Cob’s jaw was clenched and Mary recognized the dangerous pulsing in his brow. He had never hit her, though he punched men regularly. He kept his temper in check in front of wife and family. But they had not fought so much as they had since after Christmas celebration when she caught him discussing the move west with his brother Leroy. Even James warned her to just leave it be and let him figure out his circumstances.
“No,” admitted Mary. No, she had listened to hear rumors of such. Listened to hear any tell of him traveling the trail to her cabin up the hill behind the Shull mill and everyone, including the worse gossip mongers, all declared that Cob was drinking hooch and betting on cock fights and horse races. The opposite direction. “But there’s plenty of nights you don’t come home.”
“I apologize for my drinking and gaming. I know better than to come home smelling like a still. Going west will be good for us Mary. A man can take charge of his economic destiny out west.”
“Not if he drinks or bets it away.”
Cob let out a ragged and frosty breath. “This is true. I’m frustrated with the limitations of this place.”
“So gold seeking?”
“Just let them think that, Mary.”
“Them? Them, who?”
“Mary I’m in debt to Weath.”
“Oh, like I don’t know? My father has gloated over such, and…”
“He’s a scam artist.”
“He’s a scam artist who pays silver for souls. You’ve known this how long and…”
“I was trying to get ahead. For investments that never materialized. This place won’t ever progress. And I bet on some crappy roosters.”
Mary began to bubble a laugh. She tried to suppress it, but soon she was full out laughing. Cob came over and hugged her to him, chuckling, too. “I’ll make this up to you, I promise. I’ve made mistakes, Mary, but I’m not leaving you. I’m going to secure us a better future.”
“And she’s just along for the getting out?”
“I promise you, she just needs to get out of here desperately.”
Mary laid her head against the rough material of Cob’s coat. “This is an awful day to leave, you know. You do know that?” She looked up at him and saw the pain in his eyes. He knew.
“Didn’t mean for it to be tonight but that’s how it all fell out. Weath’s man caught up with me today, Mary and if I didn’t follow through he would have called in his note on the property.”
“What if he calls it in once you’re gone?”
“It’ll be too late. I sold it to Leroy who sold it to Horton who sold it to Coffey.”
“Exactly. By the time Weath chases down the trail of the property, I’m long gone with its value. Coffey owns it, although for the first it will seem like Jack Horton does. We collected on some other properties, too.”
“Did you steal, Cob?” Mary pushed away from him, but he held on to her.
“No, Wife. I did nothing criminal.”
“But you have silver?”
“The value of our property. And the owner will have the land in exchange. A fair exchange.”
“But not for the Frenchman.”
“No, Mary. All we did was scam a scammer.” He grinned as if it was a good thing, but Mary felt like she had a stone in her belly. What if the scammer didn’t like being scammed?
“What will they say about you leaving your post?”
“I’m not absconding as sheriff. I’ve past my post down to my deputy, to Jack Horton. He always wanted to be sheriff. Now he gets to finish my term.”
“What of the war that’s coming?”
“We’ll all be gone by then, wife. This is a rich man’s war. I just want the chance to make my way. And west is where I’ll do that. I’ll make my family proud. We’ll build something lasting Mary.”
“You want us to say you’ve gone after gold?”
“Let them think I have gold fever. This summer, you’ll leave with Leroy and Sally and bring my family to our new beginning.”
“I don’t know, Cob.”
“It’ll work, Mary.”
“Don’t you dare leave me.”
“I’m not leaving you.” Cob leaned down and kissed Mary full on the mouth and then hugged her close. “I love you Mary of the mountains. You are my red, red rose. You are my love.”
Cob opened the stall and led Captain out. “Hold?” He handed Mary the reins while he fetched the second horse, one she recognized from James’ barn. He tied down the rucksack on the horse. “Would you ask Monroe to come out. I want to give him something before I ride.”
Mary stared at him, as if she could keep his image before her always. Then she nodded. January 26, 1859. It was Monroe’s tenth birthday. Inside the house Julius and Cling were sitting on the floor with Lizzie. Monroe was seated at a kitchen chair with his elbows on his knees and chin resting on his hands. “Monroe, your Da wants to see you.”
Monroe’s eyes widened and he hustled out the door before Mary could shout, “Your coat!”
Throughout dinner, Mary kept the desire to cry at bay. Monroe helped her clear the dishes and she said, “You needn’t help. I’ve got it.”
“Da says I’m to look after you and help you, even daily chores.”
“Well, it’s your birthday. You can rest tonight.”
Monroe reached into his trousers and pulled out a pocket knife. Mary recognized it as the one that Cob received when he became general of musters at academy. He used to whittle wood with it at the barn dances and crow about his service. “Da gave this to me for my tenth year. He says I’m to study hard and when we go out west I’ll continue with an education.”
Mary smiled. “That’s a fine gift. It’s special to your father and represents his own achievements in school.”
“Did you go to school, Ma?”
“I read to you at night, don’t I?”
“Yes. It’s just that you never talk about academy.”
“I didn’t go to an academy. There are ones for girls but parents had to pay more money than my father thought was sensible. Your Grandfather James was my teacher for a few years here in Watauga, before he became magistrate.”
“Monroe smiled. Maybe I can be a teacher or a magistrate.”
Julius walked into the kitchen. “I want to be a fiddler. Cling says he wants to raise chickens.”
“Chickens?” Monroe and Mary asked at the same time and Julius nodded vigorously. “He likes looking for eggs.”
“Da says the west is a place where we can have economic advantages.”
Julius scrunched his face and asked, “Does that mean I can fiddle?”
I’m a writer, not a mathematician.
If you’ll notice, I missed counting a day in my Coffee for WriMos. Somehow numbers go missing from my calendar, the clock, the checkbook. I’m the buckaroo scratching my head, re-counting the herd three times and getting three different tallies of tails. It leaves me shouting minor or major grunts of frustration depending upon the importance of the missed numbers.
That means I need to apply myself to numbers because numbers do matter eventually to writers. Number of words, number of books published, number of reviews and number of sales. I’d like to wrap myself in a magic cloak that says, “Back off numbers.” Can’t I just write?
Why yes, Writer, you can “just write;” it’s called NaNoWriMo. And many do just that–just write. There’s nothing wrong with the writing goal to communicate the stories you want to write.
But if you’ve made writing your career, carved out space to write publishable novels and set up goals, the plan needs to include more than task number one: write. Numbers matter.
Which is how I came to read Stop Focusing on Book Reviews today. I know that reviews factor into the equation. While the points are worthy of noting and filing away (for when I have books to market), it was the thought of the day that I found on the importance of professional editing.
Editing is not what we are to concern ourselves with in November, but if you have goals beyond a first draft you’ll need to consider it. I have a professional editor and I heard back from her last night on my first novel ready to publish. It’s not ready. I agonized my way into a fitful sleep.
As I’ve said to others, including my adult children when facing a rough time, morning comes and it’s a new dawn, a new day. Attitude in check, I recommitted to writing. Better that my editor pointed out flaws before I distributed the manuscript. The following struck home.
Thought for Day 17:
An editor doesn’t tell you what you want to hear. A good editor tells you what needs fixing as difficult as it is for you to hear. ~BookTour.Tips
Yeah, it was difficult to hear. I wanted to hear–perfect! smashing! it’s ready! Numbers that matter most are the long-term ones and these are based on quality products. I have choices–I can quit or I can improve.
So I will write on, mindful of the numbers but focused on the words.
Tune for Day 17:
Word Count: 2,059
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Cool autumn breeze tickled strands of loose hair at her neck. The earth smelled of hay and dirt. Dry grasses rattled seed pods and no two-year old boy responded with a giggle or, “Wat’s dat?” He was so curious, so healthy. How was it he took ill quickly, so violently?
The steady pounding of horse hooves indicated several riders in her direction.
“For your sake, old man, you had better not be a liar as much as you are a thief.” The rumbling voice was not one Nancy Jane recognized. She stayed low in case these were bandits.
“I left my daughter here to dig a hole, I swear to you, I’m not lying.” It was Pa.
Nancy Jane stood up and the horses spooked, the men reigning for control of the animals. She had dirty hands and her face was wet from her tears. Wind-blown hair probably didn’t add to her appearance, but at the moment she was more concerned about the wheezing she heard in her father’s voice. That his wrists were tethered behind a big brute of a man mounted on a tall buckskin explained why he sounded out of breath. “What are you doing,” she yelled at the riders.
The three men on horseback trotted toward her. “Are you his daughter?” It was the brute who spoke. Nancy Jane recognized him now. He was that southerner who bought the road ranch at Rock Creek and built a toll bridge.
“I’m his daughter, Nancy Jane Holmes.” She stood with balled fists on her hips, wanting to go to her Pa, but decided it was best to sort out what was happening. A neighbor wouldn’t harm them. These were not bandits. In fact, one of the riders was Mr. Helvey from the next ranch over and she knew Irish John Hughes who sat smirking from the back of his fidgeting horse.
“Is that your child?” The large man pointed at the pine box next to her hollowed out hole in the ground.
“I’m sorry you lost your child. Sickness?”
“Helvey, Hughes give this woman a hand and finish digging the hole.”
Hughes looked at Nancy Jane, not moving from his saddle. “Let this slattern dig her her own hole for her bastard.”
Before Nancy Jane could spit out her words in response, the larger man backhanded Hughes out of his saddle and he tumbled backwards into the grass. Then, calm as cotton on a dandelion, he swung out of his saddle to untie her Pa’s wrists. Mr. Helvey dismounted without a word and picked up the shovel and resumed digging the hole.
“You’ll return that suit laundered and within two days, you hear?” The man spoke to her Pa who stood nearly a foot shorter. He hung his head and wisps of hair flagged when he nodded. Nancy Jane did not recognize the over-sized black suit that hung on her father’s frail frame with streaks of dirt that indicated her Pa did not stay on his feet while behind the buckskin horse.
Joseph walked over to her. He mumbled, booze reeking from his breath. “Sorry, Nancy Jane. I wanted to borrow a suit from Irish John Hughes, but he weren’t home so I borrowed it without asking.”
“He borrowed my whiskey, too.” Hughes shot Joseph a dark scowl and stood well away from the big man who was unbundling something from the back of his saddle.
It was a fiddle. He pointed the bow at Hughes. “He’ll return in two days time, clean. You needn’t take issue sharing a drink with a mourning man.”
Hughes frowned. So did Nancy Jane. What was this brute going to do, play a jig right here at her son’s burial? “You look ready to dance on the devil’s dance floor,” she said.
His brown eyes penetrated her own, but with surprise. “I was headed over to Hevley’s for a barn dance, but no I’m not going to play such here. I’ll play a tune for your child. I’m no preacher, but neither am I the devil.”
A soft, mournful strain rose from the fiddle. Nancy Jane had never heard the like in her life. The song continued and it bored into her aching heart like a prairie dog into a den. Once there it took hold and the man with huge hands continued to rake that bow over the strings until Nancy Jane fell to her knees sobbing. She sobbed for her brother William, for the mother she could not remember, for the baby brothers she didn’t know at all. She sobbed for her father who took solace in a bottle and for the woman who had to leave her china behind. She sobbed for the Russian who never knew he fathered a son. She sobbed hardest for her son. William. And still the song continued relentlessly.
When it ended, the box bearing her son was beneath the prairie and clods of dirt marked his grave. The three men got back on their horses and rode away toward Hevley’s ranch. The fiddle was bundled behind the big man but Nancy Jane could still hear the strains of the strings.
“That David McCanles, Mr. High and Mighty, thinks he’s the law and order around here. Near dragged me to death, he did.” Joseph spit on the ground.
Nancy Jane tugged at the sleeve of the borrowed suit. “What were you thinking, Pa?”
I’m a story-catcher.
This idea first came to me when I watched the movie, The Songcatcher, about a female music professor who goes into Appalachia to collect the mountain folk music of the region. I realized that not only do I tell stories, but I recognize and collect them.
A caught story has to be processed to be retold. Otherwise we are just repeating a story. How do we make a caught story our own? Invite it inside, let it distill and pour it into your words with your emotions and elucidation.
While I am a writer and not a musician, I look to songcatchers to understand the creative spirit of collection. Emmylou Harris is one of my favorite songcatchers. She’s described as a “discoverer and interpreter of other artists’ songs.” Yet she gives the songs back to us with a clarity of meaning.
A story-catcher strives to achieve the same. To take the story and expose its deepest core, to reveal its hidden meaning. And so I am dreaming of such things as I write, listening to Emmylou.
Days 14 & 15 word count: 3,690
Thought for Days 14 & 15:
To live a creative life we must first lose the fear of being wrong. ~ Joseph Chilton Pearce
This is true of our writing. To find the creative heart of our story, we must write with a willingness to be wrong. Editing is about clarity and correctness; writing is about the creativity.
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Sally walked out on the porch with Lizzie in a full cry. “I’m sorry, I just can’t seem to calm her.”
No one could seem to calm Lizzie. Born blue, she was fussier than Mary’s previous babies. Yet she grew to be a strong and hefty baby. Although a girl, she took after the big bones of her father. Her hair was blond in that early McCanles way like summer-wheat that would one day turn as dark as molasses. Only Julius had Mary’s black hair and only Lizzie her bright blue eyes.
“Here, I’ll take her.” Lizzie laid her head on Mary’s shoulder. She was over a year old and strong, but she still did not walk and she didn’t vocalize in the same way Mary recalled her boys babbling by this time, testing vocal cords. It didn’t help that Cob avoided even looking at his own daughter. Not that he ever had much to do with the boys as babies. It might just be Lizzie’s constant fussing. God knows Mary grew tired of it at times and was grateful when Sally came over, although she dearly missed Julia. In a recent letter, Julia invited Mary to stay through the fall harvest. It was tempting.
“Who’s that riding up the way?” Sally looked with her hand shading the afternoon sun.
Mary recognized her father and her brother Adam. She sighed and stayed on the porch.Her brother waved as they approached, but neither man got off his horse.
“Hello, Father, Adam.”
The men nodded. Adam asked, “Cob around?”
“No. He rode off to tend to business.”
“Games, more like,” said Joseph.
“Point is, Father, he’s not here.” Mary continued to sway slightly and she hoped by the sound of Lizzie’s breathing, she had finally nodded off.
“The Whigs have no more power. Their short-lived ideas for economic expansion are short-lived and Cob is going to have to decide where he stands. With or without his neighbors.” Adam leaned forward on his horse, saddle leather creaking.
Before Mary could tell her brother to move along, Sally spoke up. “My husband Leroy backs the Constitutional Unionists and stresses the importance of this nation standing together in unity, just like neighbors.”
“That’s my point. We need to stand together and be a part of the secession that’s coming.”
“No. Secession is not unity.” Sally had her hands on her hips, but she had no idea of the ire she was going to raise out of her Greene kin. Already Joseph was raising a finger to drive home more points.
“Father, enough,” said Mary.
“I haven’t yet spoken a word, Daughter.”
“I know. And that’s enough. We aren’t going to discuss politics with you.”
“You better stand on the right side, Daughter or you might get mowed over. I didn’t raise any Tories.”
“I’m no Tory!” Sally looked ready to race down the stairs and take on both Greenes.
“Enough! Cob is not here and we’re not interested in barking with you over the politics of the day. Do you want to be civil and stay for supper?”
“No, we need to be on our way. But you better mind your sides, Sister.” The two men rode off and Mary let out her breath.
Sally stomped her booted foot on the porch. “Why can’t men listen to reason?”
“You’re hanging around the few educated men in this region, Sally. I understand that James and his sons believe in economic development for Watauga as much as for the tidewater places. But lots a folks around here see that as interference. They don’t trust it. Even Cob said, the Whig party is through.”
“Yes, but James believes…”
“With what James believes he had better scoot himself over the other side of the mountain because it’s not what everyone else believes. And I wouldn’t trust my brothers if it comes down to fighting like they are doing in Missouri.”
“Then why must we go out there?” Sally looked like a frightened deer.
“West doesn’t mean Missouri. West means beyond.”
“I miss Leroy. I hope he’s home soon.”
“I’m sorry, Sally, I don’t mean to get you worked up into a fret. Cob received a letter from Leroy. It seemed promising. Good land, good water. Cob wants to know more about economic prospects. Was his letter to you hopeful?”
“I suppose. It sounds lonely and vast out west.”
“Well, it beats being among people and feeling like you live with enemies.”