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Big Things

Keva Wolfe Collection (1)“Big things are coming. I feel it in these old bones.”

Like a toothless old-timer, predicting the weather I’m sooth-saying from the comfort of my office. Rain beats down on my metal roof. It’s been a productive week, the first in months. And this is barely March. Truth is, I’ve felt overwhelmed since the beginning of the new year. I won’t bore you with client trials and internet snafus, but suffice to say that the “easy” component of this grand scheme to Make a Living As a Writer is troubled, not easy.

And the hard parts?

Well, magic still trembles in the promise of creativity. I feel closer to the creative vibe, finding the paths I’ve hacked through the underbrush to discover. Creation, drafting, flashing and even presenting gets me as jiggy as the male hooded mergansers in my pond. I want to bobble my head with glee and thrust wingtips skyward, making awkward sounds in the declaration that I am alive and I write!

Revision is like cleaning up a pudding accident in the kitchen when you know the landlord wants to inspect. Yet, flash fiction has helped me sort out scenes or find a way into gaps. It’s coming along and I can’t hasten the pace unless a benevolent stranger pulls off of HWY 95 one night and funds my creative writing. Maybe. It could happen. In the meantime I’ll  earn what I can.

Back to what I feel erupting in my bones. Maybe it’s spring. Maybe I’m insane. Maybe I love to create and connect with others on that level.

Wrangling Words is growing in Sandpoint. A mother of an 11-year old writer called to ask if her daughter could attend. Yes. It’s an inclusive springboard to get our writing community connected and energized. 11 or 101, if you feel the vibe, connect with others who do, too. Already I’ve met a fantasy writer, a paranormal author, a memoirist and several poets.

The poets have sucked me into Open Night Mic. I don’t mind. Few people know that I used to perform — dramatic interpretations. In my career I’ve presented many workshops and presentations. I was always complimented for being “a good speaker.” I never really studied speaking, but I was an avid performer. It’s been years and I’m discovering I love reading my work.

Again, it’s the connecting.

Go Idaho has had me busy finding and writing stories in North Idaho. It’s amazing, for lack of a less cliche word, to meet amazing people, transcribe their stories and find the beating-heart of each story to tell in a magazine. This week, Lost Horse Press published in Go Idaho. That’s an important connection. I’m learning so much about how book publishing works from the publisher. She also had one of her MFA poets stay with me for a week and that’s how I ended up at Open Mic Night.

I thrive when creative connections light up like constellations taking form in the night sky.

At the last Open Mic Night, I dared to read the shorts I’ve been creating over at Sacha’s Writespiration posts. Since then several people in town have stopped to talk to me about those stories. They loved hearing about local history in stories and wondered if I’d write more. Sure! That led me to an invitation to several local groups on FB where I’m connecting with local historians. The photo in this post is from one such group. It’s the aftermath of the 1910 fires, the setting and era for these stories.

Let me tell you, there’s inspiration all around you!

Look in your back yard, your community, online. Unbelievable, what is out there, and here you are — a writer! Sources never cease. Creativity doesn’t diminish because more people are writing or expressing it; creativity grows among creatives. We’re like mushrooms sharing spores of ideas. Look among our own Rough Writers, here. Each participates in other challenges. Some, like Sacha Black, offer their own. Ruchira Khanna has a Wednesday photo challenge; Irene Waters has socio-memoir challenge of Times Past; Roger Shipp has launched Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Writer.

And next weekend, this happens in Missoula: BinderCon LA.It never would have been possible if I didn’t go last year. If others didn’t believe in what I hold a vision for in my writer’s heart. We create and we support one another.

Dare to think big. Overcome your doubt with it; find a way to make your goals happen. Create. Write. Big things are coming.

 

Cemetery Day: Boulder City Cemetery

1023151545Half way up the narrow strip of road that winds in and out of carved gullies, I realize what determination miners have. Already we’ve forged access into a deep draw in the Cabinet Mountains of northern Idaho, following tens of thousands of years behind the wake of a massive glacier that gouged the bedrock and littered the canyon with boulders like giant gravel. The creek we cross is aptly named Boulder Creek. It’s difficult terrain and we have a 5-liter engine and 4WD. Yet miners came up here with horses, mules and oxen pulling wagons. What they lacked in trucks they made up for in guts.

The Hub shouts out loud, startled by the drop to his left. I cringe in response because he’s rarely rattled by a road.

“It’s not up here,” he tells me. Already we’ve found the town site of Boulder City. Ironic that in a region of nothing larger than a town the one place on the map that boldly states “city” is nothing more than rock-lined cellars and board rubble. What might have been a mine is now simply a large cement foundation that provides shelter for a rock campfire ring. If it was ever a city, it’s now a ghost town, and a faint apparition at best.

“It could be like Elkhorn. The cemetery was beyond the town and mines.” Elkhorn was my second stab at a historical novel and is also a silver mining ghost town. I worked on it as an independent project in college and wandered the buildings that still stand and the cemetery, wondering and imaging the life of a woman stranded in that town as a recent widow to an ill-fated miner. How would such a woman survive? I shelved the project after graduation when I went to work.

We continue to climb through a dark forest of cedar, larch and pine. It’s hard to discern boards of buildings from dead-fall of trees and amazing that anything can cling to these incredibly steep mountain slopes. Determination. Miners had to be to find silver in this place. The road opens up to a point on the ridge that overlooks the Kootenai River far below in the valley where Bonners Ferry is located.

To our left is a huge log from an old pine. The Hub perks up. We have our chainsaw and firewood permit and that 2-foot diameter log is fair game. I look around for some sign of a cemetery — fence, stones, crosses. Nothing but that log, a campfire ring and the road turning east toward Montana, paralleling the river from this mountaintop. I admit defeat and say he might be right. We could have missed the cemetery below, closer to the rubble and creek.

All the way down I look, hopeful. No headstones but a million boulders the size of giant pumpkins. At the creek we let the dogs run and swim in the crystalline water that reflects the blue of minerals, almost as if it were liquid silver. Maybe just my imagination. I poke around at a rock or two and Todd reads the forest service map where I saw the Boulder City Cemetery marked.

“You know, maybe it was by that log.”

I know the real reason he wants to go back up is to stick his Husquavarna in the wood of that huge pine. But looking at the map and where Boulder Creek meets the Kootenai, it is where the cemetery is marked. How likely is it to be 2,000 feet higher than this ore-bearing, glacial-scarred creek bottom?

Likely enough that I should have gotten out of the truck the first time. We find it — 4 marked graves, one anonymous and several indentations that hint at more. Only, the fence and markers are of the same gray wood of the fallen buildings and dead-fall of the forest. It blends in unlike cemeteries with wrought iron fences and granite markers.

Now I’m going to show you how a historical novelist makes the best use of a Cemetery Day.

  1. Take photos of markers to collect names and dates.
  2. Notice the age and gender.
  3. Look for any clues or anomalies.

What I notice is that the anonymous grave has several gifts from visitors — a couple of  weathered animal figurines of modern make, a tarnished penny and faded plastic flowers. I leave a blue shard of glass that I found, sharing my treasure of the day. The names of the four marked graves read Last, First which is unusual and the Hub points out that it’s “military.” Those buried are not, but is it possible that this tiny resting place was preserved by the Civilian Conservation Corps? After all, it is on national forest service land.

I also note that the four died between 1918 and 1922. Here’s where imagination and history collide. I start thinking about what was going on in the greater world at that time — WWI, flu epidemic, women gain the right to vote. So what was life like in this steep canyon with homes barely wide enough to straddle land along mining claims? One grave is that of a baby, another a young woman with an interesting name — Mathilda Fatland. None of those buried are related. The other two are men, one aged 70 and the other 36.

Now I research. Some might research first before the outing, but I prefer the element of surprise. I want to discover connections or curiosities I might miss if I think I already “know” about the place or people. For research, I use local history websites, census records, Find A Grave and vital records. I subscribe to Ancestry.com to research their vast database of archives. For example, I can go there and search “Boulder City, Idaho, 1920 Census.” I search 1920 because of the death dates. I know the “city” was active in that enumeration year.

I discover that between January 2-6, 1920 Harold Askevald took census in Boulder “precinct” as is is listed (not “city”). He is also the first person listed on the census record, thus he lived there and I read that he is 52 years old, divorced and a native of Norway. He is a carpenter for the railroad. Could he have built some of the town? I note that his script is good penmanship, but that his printing is precise and square. Interesting. Maybe as a carpenter, he likes to square up things? Look! I already have the beginnings of a character profile.

Next, I want to know the population of Boulder. The census record is only three pages long. Counting what Harold did, there were 127 residents of Boulder in 1920.

Now I jump to Find A Grave. I want to see if they have recorded Boulder Cemetery (it’s a volunteer organization). I find Boulder Creek Cemetery listed! They claim that 12 people are interred on that point above the creek and Kootnai River. Of the 12, ten are men. That has me curious about the gender breakdown so I go back to the census record. Of 127 residents, 31 were women. What catches my eye is a 33-year-old widow who is making her way as a cook. This is similar to what I imagined of a character in Elkhorn. Her name is Margaret Buffmuen and she was born in Australia to a German father and an American mother. How did that happen, I wonder. She’s living in the household of Fred Schmidt who is a German immigrant and a lumber manufacturer. He must have the largest home in town because 12 men are boarding there. No wonder he needs Margaret to cook!

Yet, I see something interesting in the census record — the industry listed for occupations of the residents is predominantly “logging.” This was no mining town; it was a logging camp! Yet a mine is listed on the map. I’m fairly certain we saw the remains of Fred Schmidt’s boarding house and what I thought was a concrete mine feature, the Hub now thinks it was a foundation for a mill or even hooking logs down those steep slopes. As he points out, “You can use gravity to get those high mountain logs to the lumber mill in the valley below.”

So what about our cemetery and those who rest there? The first person buried is presumably John Gorman because he died in 1898. All I know of him is that he was “killed in an accident” in Leonia. What I’ve read locally about Boulder City is that it was founded in 1910 by J.M. Schnatterly, who owned Idaho Gold and Ruby Mine. He would bring investors to Bonners Ferry by train, up the Kootenai River by boat to Leonia, and up a private road by horse and buggy (buggy? on that road?). Yet someone from the river town below is buried on this mountaintop 12 years prior to its “founding” and 10 years after that, it’s a logging camp.

Back to the census records. Boulder existed in 1900 before it was “founded” by J.M. Schnatterly. It only had 52 residents and most worked for the railroad; three were miners; none were J.M. Schnatterly. Who is this guy, I wonder. I go to the 1910 census. He’s not there, nor are all the railroad workers. 60 residents and they are all “general farmers.” This is an evolving place! It reflects what we call the boom and bust cycle of the west — railroad provides good jobs and moves on; a mine opens up and closes; farms are bought and lost; logging camps cut until they move to another camp. And as to our founding father, I can’t locate him in the census record. I can follow up at the history center in Bonners Ferry and go over their collection of document archives.

Before I leave this town, I want to find out how long it survived. In 1930, the census shows a mix of farming, mining and logging with 160 residents. Maybe that’s maximum capacity for the canyon! In 1940 there’s 120 residents, mostly farming and logging. I’m not sure how anyone farmed that steep, rocky terrain. I see a few working for the CCC or forest service. Perhaps they are the ones who kept up the cemetery.

And of the four graves that remain marked and fenced?

Mathilda Fatland was born in 1898 in Washington state to Norwegian immigrants. In the 1920 census, the only Fatland living in Boulder is Annie Flatland and she’s 30 years old, single, living as a boarder and working as a laborer in the logging camp. Were they sisters, cousins? Mathilda’s parents lived for 30 years in Kitsap, Washington. How did these two Fatland women come to a place like Boulder? Why? How did Mathilda die at the age of 20?

Nothing else is revealed on those buried in the Boulder Creek Cemetery. This was just an initial look; a fun excursion to fill the well for ideas and local history. I’ll let it all stew and perhaps do some flash fiction and see what develops. Here’s a slide show of the day.

Yes, the Hub tackled that pine and we went home with 1/2 a cord. I counted tree rings on that pine and it was over 250 years old. That means, it was witness to the city of Boulder in all its manifestations and stood sentinel over the cemetery until it died and blew over in a big wind. Now it will be firewood. I’m sure those who are buried by this tree will understand. After all, they were most likely loggers or lovers of such men. Determination lives on in this basin.

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Coffee for WriMos: Last Call

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.

Final thought:

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.”

“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.

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Coffee for WriMos: Day 28

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 see.”

“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.”

Cob grinned.

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.”

“Maybe.”

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.

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Coffee for WriMos: Day 24

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.”
~Madeleine L’Engle

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.”

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Coffee for WriMos: Day 24

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.”

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Coffee for WriMos: Weekend Edition

Write books.

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.”

“Oh, sonofa!”

“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.”

“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.”