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Monday, March 13, 2017

History Provides Ideas


Image result for orphan train        Image result for orphan train
       

           I instructed a workshop once and met a woman there who had only one goal. She had no desire to write books or newspaper articles or poems. She just wanted to tell her mother’s story.
            This woman’s mother’s maiden name was German. Her grandmother prepared German dishes for family get-togethers. Her grandfather read to them from a Bible brought with them when the family came to America. The grandchildren called their grandparents Oma and Opa. They were proudly German through and through.
            But oddly, St Patrick’s day was her mother’s favorite day of celebration. She reminded the kids to wear green to school. She tied green balloons on the porch railings. She served emerald-hued lemonade and baked a cake decorated with shamrocks. Once she came home from shopping, laughing, with a Teddy bear dressed like a leprechaun. She named him O’Malley and for years after that, he sat on her dresser.
            The mother was almost 90 when she went in the hospital. Toward the last, she called her daughter, the woman I met at the conference, to her bedside.
            “I have something to tell you,” she said, “so someone knows before it’s too late.”
            It seemed she had been adopted. She’d known since she was very young when she found the paperwork in an old trunk. Her birth mother was an Irish girl, unwed. I won’t tell you her name because this is someone else’s story but suffice it to say, it was a thoroughly Irish name, like Molly O’Malley. She’d never let on that she knew. Her adoptive mother and father had been wonderful parents and she loved them. She wouldn’t have wanted them to think she doubted that she considered them her real parents. So she kept their secret. For 364 days a year, she was German but on that one day, St Patrick’s Day, she honored the woman who had brought her into the world.
            By the time her parents died, it seemed not to matter so she remained silent. The documents had disappeared from the trunk. But now she was dying and it seemed important to pass on her history.
            I don’t know if my friend ever wrote her mother’s story. She planned to try to do research to track down her real grandmother but I never heard whether she did it or if she tried, whether she was successful. 
            I was thinking of this because I was reading through the “Cass County, Indiana – 2002 History” over the weekend. Wabash County has a similar book. I love these histories but they can be so frustrating. They always contain a section devoted to family biographies but usually they are a boring list of “begats” with relevant dates. Sometimes, though, embedded within them are tantalizing bits of information that make you long to know more.
            Many Cass County settlers emigrated from Germany and Ireland and Italy. What must it have been like to leave Italy in 1913 as Domenico Pancini did, leaving behind a wife and child, to start a new life in Logansport, Indiana (why Logansport?). And what was it like for Zelinda who followed him months later, spending 14 days on a ship, coming through Ellis Island and traveling to Buffalo to board a train to Logansport, only to watch her child succumb to illness there? What a bittersweet reunion that must have been for Domenico and Zelinda with little Josephine left in a lonely grave in New York.    
            The Frederick Charles Green listing relates that he was born in Ardwick, England on June 19, 1879 and came to America when he was approximately four years old. From there, Frederick “came west from New York in 1892 on the “orphan train”. The orphan train? What was that and how did Frederick get to be there?
            Dennis Franklin Hess was born in Ireland on September 15, 1864 and was adopted into the Hess family when he arrived in America. Was there a time when America was actively importing European orphans into our country to increase our population?
            According to the Crook-Helms Homestead account, Patrick and Nancy Crook purchased their farm on August 7, 1858. It goes on to say that the Crooks were “blessed” with nine children. I wonder if Nancy really considered herself blessed when she realized she was pregnant with her ninth child?  I’d love to read a diary written by the mother of nine in that era.
            Dr Kathryn McHale taught in the Logansport public schools for seven years after graduating from Logansport High School, then went to Columbia University where she received a B.S., an M.S. and a Ph.D, going on to countless achievements and awards. From a humble public school teacher to a multi-degreed professor/doctor/author? What came between?
            The history book only offers teasing clues about the stories that abound within our family histories. I can’t help being curious about how many fascinating tales have been lost because our family members never thought to tell us the details and we never thought to ask.
            If you still have the opportunity, ask.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Is E-Publishing For You?

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I received an acceptance from from a publisher for the first novel I ever wrote (Magic Creek). Oh, man, I was ecstatic! I wanted to be a published author more than anything in the world! There was only one condition: I had to change the ending. Two of the main characters were a wife and her abusive, controlling doctor husband. In the end of the book, she remained with him. The publisher said that was not acceptable. She simply had to leave.

And I was more than willing. I would have done anything short of selling my soul to the devil to get a book contract. Integrity to my muse? Forget that!

So, I tried and tried....and tried. But Tory would not go. I must have re-written the ending 20 times. Those edits always turned out clunky and graceless. There was no flow. You could almost feel Tory's rebellion and resistance coming out on the pages. At the last, the book knew better than I did what it wanted to happen and so I gave up and let it have its way.

I've written 14 more novels since then and I doubt if I could have sold any of them to a traditional publisher. They fit in no known genre and conform to no known guidelines. The plotting is quirky. The male protagonists are more anti-hero than hero. The scenes of sex and violence are graphic. The subject matter often deals with taboos, such as incest. In short, there are multiples reasons for a publisher to reject them.

Thank heavens, I discovered e-publishing. It is perfect for idiosyncratic authors such as myself. No one can tell you how your book should end. No one can tell you that your character needs to be softened up a bit to be more likeable.

E-publishing is easy and its quick. I hire my formatting done (I think the last book cost $50). I also pay for the cover. I'm no good at the graphic or technical end of publishing. Once those two things are done, you go to Smashwords (Smashwords sells to multiple venues such as Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and others) and/or Amazon, fill in the information about your book, download the manuscript and the cover and voila, you're done. The whole process takes about half-an-hour.

You have to do your own marketing but from what I've read, if you're an unknown, you have to do a lot of that yourself now anyway. Publishing houses don't spend a ton of money on book tours and advertising in the New York Times for new authors, unless a manuscript has really impressed them.

So, you'll need to have a Facebook author's page and a Google+ account. You'll need to join GoodReads and any other book sites you can find. You'll need to jump on to Twitter. You need to consider writing a regular blog. All so you can promote your books. If you can do it (it's something I'm terrible at), you need to ask your friends to write reviews and share your posts with their friends and "follow" you on your various sites.

None of that is hard but it can be time-consuming.

I won't lie, I'd still love to publish a hardcover novel but I don't think it will ever happen. I don't think my writing will ever lend itself to a mass market audience. In the meantime, my books are out there and people read them and like them (sometimes they hate them too). And I have the freedom to go wherever my characters take me without an editor second-guessing them or me. And I'm satisfied with that.

Vicki's links:

https://www.amazon.com/author/vwilliams - amazon author page
smashwords author page- Smashwords author page
http://www.godlovescirclesbest.com - Nascar blog


Saturday, February 04, 2017

Be Adventurous - Don't Get Stuck in a Rut!



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I go through phases with books. Almost the whole time I was a kid, the books I read were about animals – any kind of animal, really, but mostly horses and dogs. I still have the tiny book with the little one-paragraph reviews we had to fill out to be part of the summer reading program at the Logansport library when I was about nine. I read way more books than I needed to get my certificate. Almost every one of them was about animals – black stallions and Irish Setters that were lost in the wild and little girls who wanted a pony more than anything (which described me, incidentally ).
Into adulthood, I never lost this tendency to toward obsession about certain types of books. For many years, I read everything on the New York Times best seller list. It was one of my claims to fame then (though no one found it exceptional but me) that I’d read every best seller for several years running. No discrimination there. I didn’t care what the book was about, I read them all. Making the list was my only criteria.
Then we moved to the country and I went through my non-fiction period. I was rather smug and self-righteous about my new-found turning to “just the facts, Ma’am” reading list. I looked down on those people who read simply for enjoyment when they could be Learning Something. Most of these books were in a similar vein to my Bible of the time – “Five Acres and Independence”.  They, along with our subscription to the then  new magazine, Mother Earth News, taught me how to milk goats and plant gardens (placing plants so that the dreaded anti-environmental herbicides  and fertilizers were never needed), making my own butter and creating a compost pile. It turned out that our commitment to self-sufficiency was never up to the standard Mother Earth demanded.   I discovered I was too attached to thermostats for heat and that by the end of the garden planting, I no longer gave a darn about matching plants. I just wanted them in the ground and to get done (which is why my cucumbers mated with my melons (or, anyway, why some species crossed ethnic lines because I’d placed them too close together and they fell in love). We did have chickens but we never dammed our creek so as to tie into the electric grid and free ourselves of REMC.
I went through a Louisiana spell with no clue why. I knew everything there was to know about that state. Although I’d never been there, I was convinced that I must have been a New Orleansian in a previous incarnation. For quite a while, it was the Civil War that captured my attention and then later, the Vietnam War.
Quite a few years ago, I settled into mysteries and that’s where I have mostly stayed. Not only did I get trapped in that genre but even certain authors within it. In short, I didn’t care to read anything that wasn’t by a writer I already knew I liked. Adventuresome, I was not. I’d go to the library and never even look at titles, just author’s names. If Ed McBain or Martha Grimes wrote a new book, I got it.
Oddly, my very favorite novel for about a decade was “Lonesome Dove”, which I’d got only out of desperation because my favored authors were letting me down by not writing books quickly enough to keep up with me.  My experience venturing out of my chosen area to find my favorite book taught me nothing. Once Lee Child and Ian Rankin and Robert B Parker came out with new offerings, I fled right back to mysteries again.
Until fairly recently. Once again, my favorites were selfishly producing too slowly. I could find nothing that sounded appealing so, reluctantly, I got a novel, “The Steep Approach to Garbadale” by a Scottish writer, Iain Banks. “The Steep Approach to Garbadale” overtook “Lonesome Dove” as my all-time favorite book. Iain Banks, I discovered, has been one of Britain’s most popular authors for years. His first novel, “The Wasp Factory” has been acclaimed one of Britain’s top five books of all time.  I got another of his books from the library, then ordered the others from Amazon and have loved every one.
In addition to his novels, Iain Banks is a hugely successful writer of science fiction, writing under the name Iain M Banks. I’d always thought I hated science fiction but I don’t know why.  As far as I knew, I’d never read a science fiction book or seen a science fiction movie.  But because I was so enthralled with Banks’ writing, I took a risk and let him lead me into new territory –science fiction – and learned that wonderful writers are wonderful writers no matter what the genre.
Even more recently, I took the advice of several friends and reluctantly began the Outlander series. I didn’t think romance/history/time travel was my cup of tea at all but lo and behold, I fell in love. Now, maybe Diana Gabaldon’s books are my favorites. Or maybe an even newer discovery – Chronicles of a Legend – The Pirate Captain, by Kerry Lynn.
There’s a moral here – about ruts and how you can cheat yourself out of some of the joyousness of life when you let yourself get stuck in them.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Shades of George Orwell

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Well, it seems that George Orwell's 1984 has hit Amazon's best seller list again, thanks to Kellyanne Conway's statement about alternate facts. Maybe we should all give it another read to remind ourselves what we're up against in the new era of Trump.

Of course, alternate fact is an oxymoron. There can be no alternate fact. Facts are facts and stand alone. At least, that's true in the world of reality though not necessarily in the world of narcissistic politicians.

Words will be our weapons in the coming years. Obviously, the administration plans to use them as weapons as well and they have some big guns. By choosing who can cover the White House. By labeling certain news organizations (CNN) as peddlers of "fake news". By limiting how agencies may or may not communicate with the public via all forms of expression - tweet, email, press releases, interviews, policy papers. We will not hear any scientific fact the administration disapproves of. All references to climate change have been scrubbed from the EPA website. Trump seems to have taken lessons in media management from Vladimir Putin.

I don't believe we have ever had a president before who could stand before us and swear to an outright lie even when there is verbal and visual proof that his lie is a lie. It is a scary future in which the very words we rely on for communication cannot be trusted. We are lost in an information vacuum when the leader of the free world feels no responsibility to share honestly with his people.

The rest of us with have to engage in a world duel with our leaders. Ours may not carry as much weight as a president's but we outnumber him by millions so we'll have to rely on overwhelming his deceit with our truth.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Now In Paperback - Marking Time

    

My book of columns has now been published as a paperback. It can be purchased from either Amazon or CreateSpace at a cost of $8.48. Here are the links:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1535538228

This book is completely different than any of my e-published novels. The people who read my e-books probably won't recognize that author of graphic and gritty fiction as the same one who writes about life in a rural Hoosier county with affection and humor. I hope this book brings smiles and the occasional tear to readers. I hope it reminds them that even in times of turmoil, this is still the heart of America. 

If you are looking for a unique gift, consider this book.  If you are from this area, you might even recognize yourself or someone else you know!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

My One Resolution

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This is me. I've always been a "wing it" kind of person - very definitely a grasshopper and not an ant. I'm almost 71 and this attitude has served me surprisingly well. I almost accidentally found myself working for local or state government and ended up with a pension and social security enough to live securely, if not luxuriously.

I write in this same style. I don't plan anything out but simply sit down at the computer and start in. I've never had writer's block. The writing part of my brain has never failed me....until now.

For some reason, I haven't finished a book since my son died. I can still write blogs and columns, tasks that take no longer than an hour or two. But the thought of a novel is overwhelming. Contemplating writing a book seems like climbing a mountain. My body feels heavy and my mind feels slow just imagining it. 

I have three books started - the tenth in the Rafe series is about half complete while I have several chapters in the others. I like all of them. I think the plots are interesting and the characters are engaging and the places are appealing. I often flesh out what is going to happen next in a novel when I lay down for a nap. I can mentally write a whole chapter before I fall asleep. 

I can still do this. I have the next several chapters of the Rafe book all written in my head. It's when I sit down at the computer that it all goes haywire. My brain feels foggy; my fingers feel awkward, the words sound clunky. There is no drama. The letters are dead things lying limp on the screen.

John died in 2015. I assumed this would pass with time but it hasn't. It is very disconcerting and irritating. 

Is it depression? I've never been depressed and I don't feel depressed now, at least, what I imagine depression feels like. It doesn't affect other areas of my life. I told my doctor about it and she prescribed a mild anti-depressant. I haven't noticed that they've made any difference.

So, my New Year's Resolution for 2017 is to somehow get myself over and beyond this hump. Maybe I've simply developed a mental block that is holding me back. I have in mind some strategies to try (set a time to write on the book every evening even if it goes slow at first - ignore the flow of it for now and just get the words down, etc.)

I never title my books until they are done but I've titled this next Rafe book - A Different Kind of Man - thinking it might come to life if it had an actual name.

Publishing this book in 2017 is my only resolution. 






Monday, December 12, 2016

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

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Being a writer is becoming more and more unsettling these days. Back in the day, we had two kinds of writing: fiction and non-fiction and they were clearly labelled as to what they were. There were two separate sections in the library to delineate them. We writers knew in which camp we belonged, sometimes moving from one to the other, but staying within the boundaries of one at a time.

We knew, of course, that some types of writing had to be fleshed out a little. Not every single word in a biography or even a memoir was precisely true. Dialogue naturally had to be made up. We didn't have recorders in the era of Abraham Lincoln. Nevertheless, authors did exhaustive research and tried to stay true to the story they were telling.

In addition to fiction and non-fiction, there is, of course, opinion which is some of each. An opinion isn't a fact but it isn't fiction either. As an opinion writer, you are only saying what you believe to be true. In a recent column, I wrote that I believe America just elected a man who may be our worst president ever. That isn't a fact (though it may turn out to be), it's simply my opinion which readers are free to agree or disagree with.

Again, newspapers make a clear distinction between faithful reporting and opinion, labeling different sections of the paper news or editorial.

Newspapers have had to adapt to the new reality though. In the beginning of the presidential campaign, they were hesitant to call a candidate a flat-out liar. They danced around that label by resorting to euphemisms. Finally, Donald Trump's lies became so egregious that they gave us and simply called a lie a lie.

In the last year or so, social media has been inundated with fake news. Some of the writers of these stories have been interviewed. They freely admit to writing sensational allegations which they present as truthful though they are meant simply as "click bait" (another new term in our vocabulary).

I believe, based on my experience, that conservatives are far more likely to accept fake news as gospel. It seems no web article is to fantastic to be believed. They never seem to say, "now, wait a minute, Hillary running a child porn ring out of the pizza shop? Seriously? That's too crazy even for me to swallow." Or they'll pass on the meme that Michelle Obama is a transvestite without question.

Meanwhile, I have been caught a few times posting phony stories. (Our world has become so crazed, it is hard to tell truth from fictions sometimes). Usually, within minutes, one of my liberal friends has called me on it and I have to go back and apologize. We try to correct conservative stories too but invariably, our right-wing friends continue to insist. (Yes, Hillary is a serial killer who sold arms to ISIS).

So here we are in a world where the the red of fiction mixes with the blue of non-fiction, resulting in a kind of purple shade that leaves neither pure . Of course, it is non-fiction which loses out in this transaction because non-fiction depends on purity while fiction doesn't care.