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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.”
And when you get the hiccups, you have to do something about it–hold your breath, drink water up-side-down, swear mildly or fiercely. You can also ignore the hiccups. No matter what, hiccups will come and go.
NaNoWriMo can have hiccups, too. Life gets in the way, the words won’t flow, you reach a murky spot and can’t see through it. That’s okay. It’s not about the hiccups; it’s about what you choose to do when they happen.
I’ve had my fair share of hiccups this month, but I’m plowing through. I’m determined not to get distracted, although sometimes it can’t be helped.
The Hub is not having an easy go at finding work. So, I helped him write a new resume, and yesterday we drove to Spokane, Washington to cruise the industrial areas. I waited in the car as he went into offices asking what their hiring process was and if they were in need of a technician.
I could argue that I was not needed to sit in the car, but I understood that the Hub needed encouragement. When I grow weary of the trail to publication he encourages me to go on, so it was my turn to encourage him. I took notes, gathered data and went along for the ride.
As it turns out, he has two very promising interviews on Monday. The bonus was when I got a call on my cell phone from my neighbor who knows we are struggling. She also knows that I’m a writer and she asked to barter wood for my services.
While I’ve neglected to post coffee, I have plowed through several difficult scenes. My word count for three days is 3,420 but I have two major hurdles figured out. The hiccups are calmed for the moment and forward movement is yielding results. Keep at it, WriMos!
Thought for Days 11, 12 & 13:
“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” ~Ray Bradbury
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
Mists in the trees at morning reminded Mary of ghosts. She stood out on the porch, unable to sleep. The cool morning would soon heat up with the rising sun. Chickens scratched for insects and she thought about collecting eggs, but the dull ache in her back wouldn’t go away. It was worse when she tried to recline in bed and the origin of her waking so early. The red rooster hopped on top of the split wood not yet stacked and crowed. Mary thought about sitting down, but then she wouldn’t want to get up. The rooster crowed again.
“You’re up early, Wife.” Cob came up behind her and set his large hands on her shoulders.
“My back is causing me some discomfort.”
Cobs fingers began rubbing her shoulders and neck. “You feel taught as an overstrung fiddle. Do you want me to fetch Julia?”
“Yes, I do.”
Cob stopped. “Mary, don’t frighten me like this. I’ve had a hard go this month.”
Mary wanted to smack him. He deserved a hard go after putting her through his betrayal with Sarah Shull, but she would never tell him what relief it brought her that Sarah’s baby died. God forgive her, but she hoped it would happen. She hadn’t expected Cob to take it so hard which only meant he did have feelings for the woman. All the more reason to cut that blood tie. “It’s your family you should be fretting about.”
“It is my family that concerns me. It’s you. It’s not like you to want Julia, saying your back hurts and damn it woman, it’s too early for the babe.”
“It’s nothing more than the babe’s position. Most likely it’s another stubborn McCanles male.”
But the babe did not wait, nor change position. Mary woke up howling in less than a week. The pressure was greater than it had ever been and the pain in her leg was burning. On top of that, contractions were coming fast and hard. Cob didn’t have to be summoned from the barn. He stomped up the steps, still pulling on his boots and nearly crashed through the door. Julia awoke to the simultaneous noises of Mary, Cob and a frightened Cling who was crying. Cob ignore her command to get out.
Mary gasped for breath as the contraction eased. She clutched Cob’s hand. “It isn’t time.”
“Julia, for God’s sake, do something.”
“For your sake Brother, and Mary’s, go fetch the midwife and rouse Mother. Tell her we’ll need all the women-folk.”
Cob left and Mary let out another howl as he thundered past the house riding Captain down the pitch black mountain trail to gather Eliza and his kin. She heard the hoof beats drift away as the pain eased up. Not caring about who saw her, Mary got on all fours and tried to ease the back pressure. She lost track of how many more contractions came before Eliza hustled into the room, barking orders. Mary wasn’t sure who was with her, but somehow it made her feel relieved to know that she hadn’t come alone.
Later that day, well after the sun came up and the smells of cooking from the outside summer kitchen wafted into her room, Mary felt her body weakening. Her limbs shook and she couldn’t maintain the various positions Eliza directed her to take. Julia and Mary Catherine helped, along with other women who were not full midwives, but keen and strong enough to help. Celia, Cob’s, mother, was joined by a bevy of friends to cook and keep Cob’s children out of the house. Mary thought she heard the thunder of Cob’s horse running, but soon the sky darkened and lightening crackled. More thunder roared and the storm let loose the rain.
Sarah didn’t make it back to her cabin before getting drenched. She had foraged far, seeking wild blueberries that grew best up high. The thunder reminded her of the times she used to watch Cob race swiftly on Captain’s back and she nearly dropped her basket of berries when she saw him racing up the trail, lit up momentarily by the lightening. How many times did she imagine him riding thus and to finally see him, she didn’t believe her own eyes. She arrived at the cabin just as he was tethering Captain beneath the lean-to. They were both drenched and he had the look of misery about him standing there with balled fists clenched to his sides. Oblivious to the rain he said, “I’ve killed her.”
Sarah grabbed his clenched fist that was the size of a large stone and led him into the cabin. Once inside she set down the blueberries, and he reached for her, bending down to kiss her fiercely as if whatever demons drove him to ride in this storm could be excised by a kiss. Trying to not give in as easily as she had before those nights, cloaked in darkness and secrecy, alone if the backroom of Phillip Shull’s store, Sarah tried to remain neutral. Mocking tones of “sinner” reminded her that even now after her daughter’s death she was not welcome to walk among her own family or community. After her daughter’s death, James rarely visited and food from the McCanles women ceased. Why had she believed it was for her? Of course they cared to take care of Martha Allice. With her dark brown eyes she was one of them. Sarah meant nothing. Cob said “he killed her?” Was he mourning their daughter as she was every quiet, lonely morning that she woke up to see an empty cradle in an empty cabin? She kissed him back, opening her mouth to his probing tongue. He tasted like corn liquor and his touch was as hot as direct sun on rocks. She absorbed it all.
Mary cried out in pain, her throat hoarse and dry. Julia pressed a wet cloth to her mouth but she tried to push it away. The baby had stalled and she was certain it would kill her now. Her waters had broke hours ago and the whisperings only served to warn her that the women weren’t expecting her to pull through either. Stubborn, Mary thought. Let’s see who is stubborn. She summoned every strength of her body and roared like a demented beast, pushing with all her effort. The baby, breeched and stalled, was born blue. Eliza shook her head and Mary glowered at the midwife as she laid the still baby on Mary’s bare chest. Mary stroked the wee thing and everyone was surprised to see a little foot kick.
“She’s a Greene and McCanles. What did you all expect?”
Julia laughed loudest as usual and women began to help clean up Mary and the little girl. Cob’s mother beamed with pride in the doorway of the bedroom.
“Celia Elizabeth McCanles.” Mary knew it was unwise to name a baby so quickly, but since this child was already thought to be dead, what did it matter. With the name she honored her mother-in-law, her midwife and her husband.
“Where is Cob,” she asked.
Experience what your characters are experiencing.
Unless you are killing off characters. Don’t do that. But like a method actor, crawl inside the experience you are writing. You can do this physically–today we drove up the Pack River one last time because the mountains are filling up with snow and soon we’ll need a snowmobile for the Pack. It was cold and I knew I was working on this chill that Sarah gets so I let myself get cold and thought about Sarah. I came home and wrote 2,500 chilly words.
You can also do this vicariously. Never have we had so many incredible resources so readily available to us as writers. I found photos of the Robbins Hotel from the time period when Sarah had returned to North Carolina. It wasn’t the hotel that struck me with ideas, but the fact that the hills had been strip-logged. Vicariously, I stepped into that photo and let Sarah’s character inform me what it was like to see her childhood home so greatly altered.
Music sets a tone for an era. I’ve been listening to Appalachian music, fiddles and ballads. Last night I found a 1930s radio show that told the story of the 1850s pioneers and had music in the background of the story. Isn’t it amazing what we get to experience as we have this glorious time to free write?
Thought for Day Ten:
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ~Ray Bradbury
Word Count: 2,549
Excerpt From Rock Creek:
“Watch your step, Sarah. It’s crumbly, this rocky trail.”
“Oh, yes.” Sarah looked down at her battered leather boots. These weren’t her boots. That’s right; they belonged to a great grand-nephew or another. Her family begrudgingly provided for her as basically as they could.
Once down the hill, Sarah warmed up in Mrs. Williams’ kitchen. She liked Mrs. Williams, Jesse’s mother. Sarah tried tucking her boy-boots beneath her chair, desperately wishing that her dress were longer. Mrs. Williams looked neat and tidy, her dress ironed, her collar crisp. Sarah always kept herself neat and tidy, but she couldn’t seem to remember where she put her hair pins. ”I’m so sorry. My hair is undone.”
Mrs. Williams smiled and fetched a brush and a tin of hair pins. “Sarah, you have such beautiful thick hair. All snowy white.” She carefully brushed Sarah’s hair. “What color was it, dear?”
“Chestnut brown.” That’s what Cob called it. Like the color of a chestnut horse. But it was Mary’s black, inky locks, her pale skin carefully kept from the sun and her blue eyes that were darker than hers that Cob preferred. Sarah’s eyes were more periwinkle, and Mary’s indigo. She felt like she was washed out in Mary’s shadow. He danced with her that night. By the following February, Cob married 15-year old Mary Greene. He was just 19 and Sarah was only 13, nothing worthy of notice. By the time he was 21, Cob was elected the first sheriff of Watauga County, North Carolina. The Sheriff rode his blood bay Captain everywhere. Sarah still watched him and listened for the pounding hooves. It wasn’t until she was 22 that Sarah caught his attention.
Pinning her hair carefully, Mrs. Williams patted the bun and said, “Done. It’s so thick, even now. I’m sure it was beautiful, all chestnut brown.” She smiled down at Sarah.
Voices from the porch announced Jesse had returned with Luna. Sarah stiffened. Mrs. Williams told her to wait and left the kitchen.
“She wants to be in her cabin.” Sarah could tell by the tone that it was Luna speaking.
Mrs.Williams kept her voice low and even. “That’s not a cabin, it’s a dirty shack and not fit for habitation. Especially in this cold.
“I know your family means well, but you are butting into my family’s business. Aunt Sarah was offered a room in our home and she refused it.”
Sarah heard Jesse ask, “The pantry?”
Luna would not like that she told. She didn’t mean to. Jesse was a clever girl and asked so many questions that Sarah had difficulty keeping track of her answers. Some things she wasn’t to tell. Blood in her hair? She didn’t tell them about the blood in her hair, did she?
“It’s the largest room we have available and the cot fit in there just fine.”
“Well, we have a lovely guest room and we will even take on the expenses of caring for Sarah. When is the last time she’s seen a doctor?”
“Old woman’s healthy as a horse. And no need. She’s our kin and you’d be setting tongues to wagging if you took her in.”
“She has a birthday coming up. She and Jesse share a birthday, you know. She’s going to be 98. She should see a doctor and be kept warm and comfortable.”
“You’re after her money. Well, you can’t have it. She’ll remember where she buried it. By the cabin and that’s our property so don’t be nosing up the mountain with shovels.”
Sarah couldn’t remember the money. Luna kept asking her about it. Threatened to twist her arm even, if she didn’t tell. She had no money. If she had money she would have never returned to this place where the Shulls and the Greenes never forgot her sin.
The kitchen door flung open. It was Luna standing in the door frame, frowning. “Get up, Aunt Sarah. We have a room at the hotel for you.”
Sarah got up and followed Luna out the door. Why was Jesse crying and hugging her mother? She didn’t hear Luna say anything mean. But Luna did have a saber for a tongue. Sarah thanked Mrs. Williams. Did she eat dinner? She couldn’t remember. She followed Luna back to the Robbins Hotel. Instead of going inside, Luna led her to the shed. It was dark but Sarah could see a bed in the back. A chair and a table, too. And there were a few more of those military blankets. How did the soldiers keep warm with those?
“You stay inside. Use the employee bathroom. You do remember where it is?”
Sarah nodded, and sat down on the bed.
“You can eat when we bring you food from the kitchen. Do not go looking for food. Do you understand?”
“You are not to speak to guests, nor wander the property. Remember, you are a blemish on our good family name. Do not embarrass us further.”
Sarah looked down at her hands on her lap. Those hands looked so old. Cob never lived long enough to have old hands. Neither did Hickok. They both had fast hands and died young. Sarah always did have slow hands.
“When you are ready to tell us where you buried the silver, you can have a a room in the hotel.” Luna smiled an ugly smile. “Because then you would have the money to pay for it.”
“You stupid old fool! The silver Cob stole from the good people here.” Luna turned and slammed the shed door.
So long ago, Cob sold Captain so they could leave. Sarah carefully pulled out her hair pins and set them on the floor by her bed. She laid down and began to shiver again.
WriMos, hang on to that swagger.
Write boldly. Connect to your characters, connect to your story. Be bold. Write with a swagger as if your tapping fingers have become Rock Hudson or Marilyn Monroe.
And don’t let anyone deflate your bold reams, your bold plans, your bold story.
Maybe it’s my own sensitivities right now, but I’ve noticed incoming darts aimed at emerging writers in the form of discouraging words. I get it–it’s a hard path to take. But don’t kick me because you feel better about your own writing career by showing me you have a superior boot. It’s too easy to discourage others.
Let’s learn from the Brits. They have sense of humor (you need to be getting your daily dose of NaNo Num-Nums over at TanGental). And they have writers who say that yes, it’s a hard road, but here’s how you walk it. Thank you Anne Goodwin for sharing this post on making a living from writing books. It has practical tactics that apply across the pond.
So back to swaggering. Be bold in writing this month. There’s a million things to dissuade you from doing this, a million posts that sneer at emerging authors. You have a purpose behind your writing. You have a reason why you set out on this path. Maybe you even have a plan. Stick to the path boldly, step by step.
Today’s cup of coffee is infused with cheer. You got this, WriMo! Write on no matter what anyone says about you doing it! Write on boldly!
Word Count: 1757
Thought for Day Nine:
“In order to achieve anything you must be brave enough to fail.”
~ Kirk Douglas
Excerpt From Rock Creek: (We’ve jumped back in time to 1857.)
Shivering, Sarah reached out for her mama. A soft snuffling sound brought her to her senses and she realized that she was the mama now and her baby needed her. “Hush, hush, little Martha Allice.” It was so cold in here. Outside the small foggy window, she could see it was snowing again. And the fire went out. Again.
“Mama’s going to get that fire.” Sarah sneezed and her entire head felt as swollen as a pig’s bladder. She wrapped an extra blanket around the babe like bunting and bent down at the hearth to stack kindling and wood. Snow fluttered down the rock chimney. Opening her firebox, she blew on the coals to set the kindling to a flame. She heard voices outside.
“Miss Shull? It’s James McCanles. May I come in?”
James? What was he doing here? She was still in yesterday’s dress, plain gray linen since her father forbade her to take anything colorful or fine when he banished her to this cabin at the top of a meander fed by a small spring.
Grabbing the thin gray quilt of linsey-woolsey, Sarah wrapped it around her head and body like a huge shawl. “I’m not prepared for visitors.” The baby coughed. It sounded worse than it did yesterday.
“Miss Shull, I have medicine and food, from the McCanles women.”
From the McCanles women? What would they send to her if not poisoned ash-cakes or killing bitters? The baby coughed again and the embers died out. “Oh, no. Why won’t that fire light?” Stepping to the door she cautiously opened it.
“May I come in?” James looked like an older, gaunter version of Cob with white hair and dark eyes.
“Um, yes, please, come in.”
“My God, it’s as cold as Washington’s marble tomb in here.” He looked at the fireplace and her failed attempt smoldering. The baby coughed, again.
Sarah walked over to the crate that served as a cradle and picked up Martha Alice, rocking her and patting her back. “There, there.”
Quietly, James coaxed a fire and soon the cabin with its thin walls were warm against the winter chills. He unpacked a dish of stewed apples, linen wrapped buttermilk biscuits, molasses and a root stew with chunks of ham. Sarah nearly drooled across the top of Martha’s head. James set the stew pot in the hearth coals. “You need a few item, I see.”
Sarah didn’t see much at all—a hearth, a crate and a straw pallet on the floor. She roasted critters on a spit across the heart and she had a sack of dried beans and a sack of turnips that she roasted in the fire. James left her with an herbal ointment he said to rub on the babe’s feet and chest. He gave her a tonic for her health and a big chunk of lye soap made with so much lavender that it looked purple and smelled like spicy summer.
James returned every day for a week to check on Sarah and her baby. Each time he came he brought more food from the McCanles women and wood and tools. The first item he built was a table, followed by chairs and a cupboard that he mounted near the hearth. She needed it for the items sent by the women—cooking spoons, a set of old flatware and several tin plates. They sent tins filled with dried sassafras tea, cooking herbs which smelled like dried spring ramps and a bottle of molasses. Soon she had linen towels and an oil lamp. At the end of two weeks James and his son Leroy packed in pieces of an item that James toiled all afternoon to build. Leroy bounced Martha on his knee. He looked more like his mother, Celia, but had the dark brown McCanles eyes. So did Martha. When James was finished, Martha had a beautiful hickory cradle that silently rocked.
Sarah recovered from her sickness quickly—James reminded her to continue to drink her tonic—but Martha Allice was slow to give up her cough. Sarah continued to rub ointment on her feet and chest. Now the babe had several linen gowns and warm quilts for her cradle. The last item James furnished was a stick bed for Sarah and fresh ticking for her mattress. He gave her folded linen sheets and the most beautiful blue diamond quilt of linsey-woolsey. It was a masterpiece and Sarah recognized it as something a Greene woman would make. Maybe one of Cob’s sisters who had married a Greene crafted this at a loom.
Despite the lingering winter chill, Sarah had a home that she had only dreamed possible. It wasn’t very big, but it didn’t need to be. It was filled with comfortable furnishing, warm quilts and food. Soon spring would come and Sarah could forage—ramps and mushrooms, blueberries and persimmons. Then she could give back to those who so kindly provided. She couldn’t wait to teach Martha about the hills and hollows, to show her where the lilies bloomed and the creeks to pooled invitingly in the summer sun. She might even go swimming Cherokee style, like that time with Cob.
No, she had to curb her thoughts about him. He had a wife and a wonderful family, at least his father was wonderful. It was good for Martha to have a grandfather. It pained her that her own parents stayed away. She knew her mother would want to visit, but Philip would never allow it. Only her brother Simon ever risked sneaking up the back trail to see her. If they knew that James visited frequently, no one said anything. Finally, Sarah felt she could survive this.
Look for anchors.
Yesterday’s break fed my diva and the keys are tapping out words beneath my fingers once again. While taking my break, I watched a movie last night, The Inside Man. I didn’t write yesterday, but I still thought about my story and I took a hint from the movie: anchors can tie together seemingly unrelated scenes.
The Inside Man is brilliant on many levels: it’s a Spike Lee movie; it stars Denzel Washington and Clive Owen; it has memorable characters and plot twists; and it has original music composed by A. R. Rahman. It also employs the use of chewing gum as an anchor.
Not what you would expect of a sophisticated and gritty movie about cops, robbers and the seedy underbelly of the Fortune 500. Here’s how it works–the timeline for the movie is not chronological although most of it occurs in real-time. However, you have to decide which real-time story is indeed the one unfolding.
Chewing gum connects the two timelines and is one of the twist revelations.
When you are drafting, you may be unconsciously thinking of anchors. Maybe your anchor means something symbolic, or maybe your anchor simply relates to a certain character. Let your anchors emerge out of your subconscious as you write and assess meaning or strategy to them later during the revision.
NaNoWriMo is for writing. Let your subconscious be your guide.
Word Count: 2,105
Thought for Day Seven:
“Writing is a lot like making soup. My subconscious cooks the idea, but I have to sit down at the computer to pour it out.” ~Robin Wells
Excerpt from Rock Creek:
Wilstach ordered for them, soup and ham sandwiches. He nattered on about people he knew in New York and about his times as a business manager and press agent. He collected similes, he said.
“Red as coal. Red as a cherry. Red as any rose.”
Memories swirled like blue mountain fog caught against a ridge. Memories of dreams long lost. Memories of Cob bending toward her alone in the semi-dark of her father’s store, his breath so close she could smell a whiff of whiskey along with the pinetar soap he used. His large hands firm on her waist. My love is like a red, red rose.
“Oh, yes. Robert Burns.” Wilstach smiled and took a hearty bite of sandwich that had arrived.
Sarah missed its arrival as well as her own and didn’t realize she had said the words out loud. It was dangerous dredging up old memories. She responded by eating just as heartily, though she failed to keep up.
“More coffee, Mrs. De Vald?” After the waitress cleared their plates, Wilstach opened up his notebook and uncapped his pen.
Sarah shook her head. She’d have to mind her answers and not blurt out anything unnecessary.
“Your maiden name is Sarah Shull?”
“I can understand the spelling of Shell was a mistake or phonetic. All right, Mrs. De Vald. These question will help me solve the McCanles mystery once and for all.”
Sarah gripped the tablecloth now that her napkin was gone. Remember, she told herself, Mrs. Swanson is dead. No one knows.
“Was money owed by Wellman the cause of the tragedy?”
Sarah could hear Cob raging in the back of her mind. His money. He needed his money. It was the Pike’s Peak Express that owed him money. Wolfe and Hagenstien did, too. Cob lost his means for making money on his toll bridge and his road ranches but the parties who bought them never paid up. Until later. Not when Cob needed it. Horace Wellman was the station manager. He didn’t actually owe any money. “No.”
Wilstach nodded, scribbling with his pen. Then he paused. “In your opinion, and from what you were told at the time, did Wild Bill kill McCanles in self-defense?”
Wild Bill. Had he really gone wild? Was it the war? She’d seen the horrors of war etched on the faces of old men and embittered in the eyes of old women, horrors passed down to children and grandchildren as if it were a family birthmark. She’d heard that Hickok signed up for the Union Army as a scout. He knew trails and was the quiet sort who could pass through unnoticed. She couldn’t picture him wild. Dangerous, yes, but always in control. Not wild in temper like Cob. Still, she couldn’t imagine anyone calling Cob wild, either. Self defense? Cob never killed anyone. But neither had Hickok. “Certainly. Yes.”
“What makes you think this is true?”
Wilstach stared so intently at her she wondered if he knew she was lying. So she followed it with the truth. “Because on the morning of the tragedy I heard McCanles say that he was going to clean up on the people at the Station.” He meant to evict them. He never would have killed anybody.
“You say McCanles stole horses?”
Did she? Wilstach asked her about horses in his letters, but she never replied. She had to pay attention. No slip ups. Mind each line of numbers in the ledger. Be accurate, if not truthful in accounting.
“Yes, he stole horses.” Cob would be speechless to hear her say such a thing. She felt guilty. Cob had stole her heart, stole Mary’s but never horses. He was a righteous rogue. She closed her eyes momentarily. Wilstach continued to write, oblivious to her guilt.
“Were those horses for the use of the Confederate cavalry?”
For the war? Sarah had no idea how Cob would get the horses all the way to the Confederate cavalry. The morning Pony Express rider had already passed through. There were maybe four, five horses in the corral. He must certainly know she was lying. “Yes.”
Wilstach smiled with satisfaction and bent his head to write some more. “And they sent you away on the stage the next day. Just not to the Black Hills.”
It wasn’t a question so Sarah didn’t answer. He continued to write.