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Coffee for WriMos: Day 17

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.

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry you lost your child. Sickness?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

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Coffee for WriMos: Day Four

How to use dashes properly. Not.

This is not that sort of NaNoWriMo post, and not the sort you need to read right now. While style is important to clarity and dashes are something you use–or don’t use–it doesn’t need sorting out today. Save the dash-or-not-to-dash proclamations for next month. Before you can write clearly, first you must write.

And that is why we do the NaNoWriMo dash.

Thought for Day Four:

“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on.” ~Anne Lamott

Imagine your scene. Step into it as if a moment has frozen in time. What is your character holding in her hand? What is on the table and why? Pay attention to your principles not just to the the plot. Let them speak. They may have things to say to you. It may be your story talking to you. Be an active listener. Don’t just try to tell the story everything you know. Let it speak, too.

How important is your punctuation to you as you draft? I’ll confess that I go back and tidy up any obvious flaws like an omitted word or missed quotation mark.

Day Four: 1,738 words

Excerpt from Rock Creek

Just as everyone was slowing down, except for Cling who was dipping his fingers into the smears of gravy left on his plate, a loud rap came at the door. Cob stood so quickly, his chair scooted sharply. Mary dabbed the corners of her mouth with a napkin and sat straight as Cob answered the door. It was her father, Joseph, and two of her seven brothers.

“Evening Joe, Hiram, DJ. Come in, we’re just finishing supper.”

Mary stood up. “Hello Father, would you like some…” She looked at the table, realizing nothing remained. Three wee boys. What was she to do when they were older?

“Daughter, I don’t see a crumb left for a field mouse.” Joseph stood rigid and Mary resisted the urge to hug him.

“So I see. I do have more applesauce.”

“We’re fine. DJ’s Cathy made a meal.”

“My wife is going to have to teach you to cook larger quantities, Sister.”

Mary frowned at DJ. “She only has two more than me. I’m sure I’ll adjust.”

Cob was buttoning up his coat. “I’ll saddle up my horse and then we’ll ride out.” Mary knew the men were headed over to Sugar Cove to meet in regards to some French merchant who had come into the area selling folks job lots. It was nothing more than mass quantities of cheap items but he was refusing cash or barter, welcoming credit. Turns out he was having folks sign over property to gain this credit. Mary also suspected that the men would use this gathering to debate the state of the union and its territories.

DJ picked up the newspaper and mumbled something about the traitor governor. Before Mary could send him a warning glare to mark his words in front of young ears, Monroe asked, “What’s in the paper Uncle DJ?”

“Well, says here that coal can’t be used for steam locomotives.”

Mary nodded her approval.

“Like for the railroad? I’ve not yet seen a train.”

Joseph said, “They’re running a line to Johnson’s Tank over the mountain in Tennessee. You’ll be able to take a steam engine all the way to a steamboat.”

Hiram shook his head. “Give me fine Kentucky horseflesh any day.”

DJ scowled. “You mean fine Tennessee horseflesh, Brother.”

“Boys,” Mary warned. The Green men had grown even more incorrigible since their mother died in 1850. Her father was the worst, yet he seemed quiet tonight. It meant he had something to say.

Joseph cleared his throat. “Monroe. You take them young fellars to the back porch and wash up their faces and hands.

Monroe looked to his mother. Mary nodded. Once the boys went to the back of the house Mary asked, “What is it, Father?”

“Reckon you should know he’s taken up with that Shull slattern again.”

Mary felt the flush rise from her neck to her face.

“Want us to see that he has an accident, Sister?” Hiram looked eager to start.

“How dare you. I will hunt you down if my husband so much as scrapes his knee.”

“Now, Mary, Hiram is just telling you, the family supports you.”

“The family? Amos and Isaac are already talking about leaving for Tennessee because they can’t stand the divisions in this family.” Mary knew it was unfair to bring up her twin brothers’ plans but in truth, she feared that if the sensible Greens started leaving she’d be left with the rabid ones.

“Don’t you care he’s dragging our family through the hog muck?” DJ scowled at her as if Mary was the one he accused.

“Not that it is any of your business, but I know that my husband takes food and firewood to Sarah’s cabin. He sinned, he confessed and now he is repenting. Both his father and I agreed that he needs to care for the welfare of the woman and child shunned by their sin.”

Joseph scoffed, but before his words followed, Cob’s boots clunked up the front porch steps. He walked into the house and Mary knew he sensed the tension. “Best be going,” he said. He merely nodded to her as he followed her father and brothers out the door.

From behind the window curtain, Mary watched the men meld into the early evening shadows. She saw Cob pull a punch on each brother, DJ tumbling to the dirt. She sighed, relieved that they wouldn’t get the jump on Cob, yet frustrated that Cob wouldn’t punch the real instigator. Joseph worked his family into fighting every chance he got. Her mother would have never let him be that way, but then again, his misery was due to her being gone to the grave. She wished all her brothers would be more sensible like Amos and Isaac, but it wasn’t sense they fought for. It was money and power. In these parts, folks had too little of either.

***

It was hours past dark before Mary heard Cob ride in. She could tell he was alone. The kitchen was clean beyond normal tasks. She could tell Cob noticed when he walked into the house.

“Shall I polish my boots before I dare set them on this pristine floor?”

“No, I was just passing time after getting the boys to bed.”

“There’s a couple of gifts lingering nearby that would enjoy passing the time with my wife so fair of face and clean of dust.”

Mary understood that he meant the rocking chair he had made her for Christmas and the porcelain teapot from Julia. It was her mother’s teapot from the Alexander family. Selina Alexander McCanles herself had offered the gift to Julia to share with Mary. It was a symbol of unity from the McCanles women. Yet, Mary hadn’t dared to use it yet. “I suppose I could rock if my husband were to join me.”

Cob carried a kitchen chair to set it next to Mary in her rocker. Because the chair was made for her diminutive size and the kitchen chairs were big enough to hold McCanles men, she felt like a doll sitting next to Cob. She was glad she didn’t have tea. She had more important things to discuss.

“Cob, I have a Christmas gift for you.”

“It’s rather late with spring coming on.”

“After you swore your fidelity to me and agreed to take care of the sufferings of, well, of others…I let you back into my bed.”

Cob was grinning like a rogue. “Is this bedroom talk, fair Lady?”

Mary gave him her best Green scowl. “This is what happens after the bedroom. I’m with child.”

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