Category Archives: WIPs

Works-in-progress. All fiction, for now.

“Shackles: The Playlist” – Song No. 2 …

Shackles / Historical fiction / 82,487 words

A Roman family man, cheated by a lifelong enemy, descends into darkness and despair. A transformed persecutor of Christians avoids a vicious stoning and multiple murder plots. “Shackles” tells the story of two men, separated by hundreds of miles, destined for an earth-shaking encounter.

Let me know your suggestions for music to accompany “Shackles.” I’m especially partial to a capella arrangements, but anything with spot-on harmony will get front-of-the-line treatment. I’m a fan of Phillips, Craig and Dean, and “Crucified With Christ” was a regular anthem during the last few months of writing. The title comes directly from the mouth of Paul, the great persecutor turned preacher, from Galatians 2:19-20, and you’ll find it in “Shackles.”

Send me your own recommendations. I’m also looking for secular music that fits the story, and I already have two songs in mind: a love song from Perpetua to Faustus, and a love song from Faustus to Perpetua. (Think Faith Hill and Steven Tyler/Aerosmith).

Meanwhile, here’s “Crucified With Christ.”

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Filed under Inspiration, Living Write, National Novel Writing Month, Old Time Religion, Shackles, WIPs

Hey, I wrote a book!

Here’s the rest of the cast for the main characters in “Shackles.” Most of the characters from the jailer’s part of the story in Philippi are entirely fictional. Paul’s part of the story, based on the Book of Acts – in particular, Acts 16 – features real characters with whom I carefully took creative liberties.

If anyone has contact info for the director/production team of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, pass it along and let’s get this fantasy project turned into something for the silver screen. (As mentioned previously, I cast Mr. Hanks as Claudius for the Philippi story, but he’s welcome to switch with Christian Bale to play Barnabas if he’d like). Remember, this fantasy cast is based on a fantasy budget. I wanted to find spots for Johnny Depp and Will Smith, but even fantasy budgets have limits. I want to shell out the biggest fantasy bucks possible for the Howard-Hanks team.

And here’s another snippet from “Shackles,” which is now in the hands of 18 or so test readers. Tomorrow: we begin making “Shackles: The Playlist,” so start passing along your favorite Christian, sacred and secular songs that might fit this story.

SHACKLES - CAST 4 pmd

CHAPTER 24 – Telling the world …

Barnabas wondered if Paul had recognized the two men.

“I’ve noticed that many tend to follow us from town to town,” Barnabas said. “But these two. They seem different. Not just curious. It’s hard to explain.”

Paul had a more exact impression.

“I know the tactics,” he said. “I’ve used them.”

Barnabas was puzzled. “Tactics?”

“Plant seeds of division and doubt, find a spark of disagreement or anger, and fan it into flames of hatred.”

“You mean they want to do us harm?”

“Have they approached either of us with questions about our teaching? About Jesus?”

Barnabas agreed. “They’ve had ample opportunity to introduce themselves.”

“Well,” Paul said, patting Barnabas on the shoulder. “Our God is sovereign and in control. Just as He worked when I went throughout Judea, Samaria and Syria planting seeds of doubt and division, looking for sparks of disagreement or anger, then fanning the flames of persecution.”

“So you’re saying they want to do us harm?”

“They’re being very patient,” Paul said. “I’ll even go so far as to say they have support from the high priests in Jerusalem. Very similar method of stirring trouble and hatred. And the cleverest part is they get others to actually get their hands dirty.”

“Dirty?”

“Bloody. They won’t need to pick up stones. They’ll get others to do it.”

 

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Filed under Inspiration, Living Write, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, National Novel Writing Month, Shackles, WIPs

Shackles: First the cast, next the playlist

Shackles cast - #3

While a dozen and a half readers consume and ponder the first complete draft of “Shackles,” I’m presenting my personal fantasy cast for the movie version of the book. This creative meandering is entirely dependent on the book actually getting published, someone adapting it for film, and someone else having unlimited funds to afford this brilliant cast.

You’ll meet the rest of the cast of primary characters tomorrow – Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy and Luke. I’ve made my selections, but who would you pick to play those icons of the New Testament? After the cast is named, I’ll start announcing my playlist for the motion picture soundtrack. Go ahead and start giving me your suggestions. (Tip: secular music is okay).

Today’s excerpt of “Shackles.”

CHAPTER 8 / PERSECUTOR

“The tide has left our shores, Saul.” Gamaliel stepped to the side. “I’m hearing that many – dozens, perhaps hundreds – of those believers avoided capture and are scattered throughout Judea and even Samaria.”

Saul refused to debate his old teacher. Another member of the council also spoke out.

“That Jesus fellow chose a dozen disciples and then appointed 70 more,” the man said. “Do you know where they are?”

Saul quickly answered. “That 70 number was a myth. More like 10. Most of those derelicts gave up right away when they realized that Jesus wasn’t going to pay them wages, and they wised up after going out into the masses and trying to follow his radical teachings.”

“Are you so sure?” Gamaliel asked.

“What does my teacher know that can help us squelch this apostasy?” Saul replied.

“Have you found those original disciples? I believe they are all still in Jerusalem. All but one. Killed himself, I heard.” Gamaliel scanned the faces of other Pharisees. Many did not return his glance. “The others. In hiding, I’m sure, but still here. And I’ve heard that one of those extra 70, a man named Phillip, has already been to Ethiopia. Preaching about Jesus.”

The Sanhedrin collectively gasped. “That’s neither Judaea nor Samaria,” one man said. “The tide certainly has left our shores.”

“How many?” Saul shouted. “With the high priest’s permission, I will personally hunt them down and bring them back here for justice.”

“Your anger is fueling their cause,” Gamaliel said. “This persecution you have unleashed is actually fulfilling their twisted prophecies about the message of Christ spreading well beyond our borders. Without your persistence and persecution, they would have stayed right here in this city until they had either converted everyone or their little fad had run its course. Or until the Romans tired of the drama and dispatched them on crosses.”

Gamaliel walked away. “You should visit with some of your prisoners who have relatives in Syria.”

“A hundred miles from here?” Paul asked.

Gamaliel turned toward him. “Just a little further than that.” He pointed to the northwest. “Damascus.”

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“Shackles: The Movie” goes to Mayberry

Since I’m working with an unlimited budget to build my fantasy cast for “Shackles: The Movie,” I’m selecting Opie – I mean, Ron Howard – to produce and direct. (You’ll make a lot of money, Mr. Howard. It will be a pleasure working with you). I’m also bringing his buddy Tom Hanks on board and while I have Mr. Hanks playing a bit part portraying Emperor Claudius, he can choose to play Barnabas instead, if he’d like. My Barnabas actor will have to take Claudius if Mr. Hanks prefers Barnabas.

Hugh Jackman, the Wolverine, gets the role of the fictional Lucianus, the antagonist of Faustus, the central character in the story. Emma Stone is Lydia. Welcome aboard. We’ll start production as soon as Mr. Howard, the best director in America, gets back to me. No rush.

Tomorrow: You’ll begin meeting the cast for Paul’s story, featuring the apostle’s old Pharisee teacher. The actor portraying Gamaliel played my all-time favorite television character from a series that ran from 1972 to 1983. Hint: The series finale in February 1983 still ranks as the highest-rated single television broadcast in U.S. history wtih 105 million viewers. Care to guess the series and the character?

Shackles cast - #2

Here’s a short scene from my historical fiction novel “Shackles,” featuring Lydia and Faustus (Eddie Cibrian), just a few hours before Faustus’s world crashes.

From CHAPTER 18 – Stolen gods …

Faustus turned toward Lydia.

“You’ve come to see for yourself the unrest in Philippi?”

“No, I just happened to be coming by with my nieces and I stumbled up on an interesting question,” Lydia said. Faustus craned his neck and leaned back looking for her nieces.

“They’ll be along,” Lydia said. “But I heard someone ask how a god can be stolen or go missing.” She looked at Faustus.

“Is this a riddle?” he said.

“Not at all, just a curious inquiry from someone who acknowledges a God that cannot be stolen or go missing.”

“Your God,” Faustus said.

“Jehovah. My God.”

“I think you mentioned that God, but no others,” Faustus said. “With only one God to keep track of, it would be harder for him to go missing, I suppose. You have but one God to appease. We have hundreds.”

Lydia softened her voice and repeated that no one can steal Jehovah.

“One God,” Faustus said again. “It does make one wonder if your God is alone because He killed all the others in a fit of jealous rage?”

“Oh, my God is a jealous God.” Lydia lowered her head. “Graven images are an abomination to Jehovah.”

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Get to know “Shackles” – a fantasy motion picture cast

I’m a Fantasy Baseball nerd to the nth degree, although I cut back considerably in 2014. I only had 22 teams. With zero champions. Sigh.

I’m applying some of the same strategy to selecting my fantasy cast for “Shackles: The Movie.” (Production note: “Shackles,” an 84,000 word historical fiction novel, is now in the hands of about 18 test readers). My fantasy cast is based on two very fortunate – but also fantasy – facts: I have an unlimited budget (just wait until you see who’s directing and who makes a special guest appearance as Claudius) and no one else is picking a cast, so I have the world of actors and actresses at my disposal.

Shackles cast - #1

“Shackles” is two stories told simultaneously before the paths of Paul the apostle and Faustus the jailer meet. From the story of Faustus the jailer I present the main characters Faustus and his wife, Perpetua, and their best friends (doesn’t go over so well with the townsfolk in Philippi) Lutalo and Nadra, a couple about the same age and the manservant and maidservant (they don’t like the term “slaves”) of Faustus and Perpetua.

Now, a snippet from “Shackles.”

From Chapter 25, subtitled “Shattered Dreams” …

The true story of how they came to own the prized horses was known only to Faustus and Perpetua. His father, Veritas, was dead by the time the wedding came and the arrangement for the marriage had not been completed, nor had the dowry been negotiated. Faustus already had received his inheritance of the family home, household gods, and another property, a vast meadow area just west of Philippi on the River Gangites. He’d been deeded his father’s insulae, the street-front woodworking and chair-weaving workshop in the middle of Philippi.

“What I don’t have is the young goddess Perpetua who is going to share my life and bare my children,” he told Perpetua when the two stole away together to the riverside meadow. She insisted then that Faustus kiss her and complete the marriage contract before the gods, but he made it clear that he would wait until marriage to taste her lips and take her to his bed. Perpetua worried then that another suitor – perhaps even the horrible Lucianus – might make a play for her, and Lucianus’s family had so much property, art and livestock that her father needed provide only a meager dowry. Faustus no longer had standing to ask for a dowry because he was not yet technically the head of the household, which he would be upon the completion of a marriage contract.

Perpetua’s father, Hortensus, was a selfish, rough man who rarely kept his hands to himself and often belittled and demeaned her mother, Quintina. Faustus was the last in his line, with no surviving brother and only two sisters, both of whom were sickly and unmarried.

It was true that Faustus had no standing in the matter. While he could just ask Hortensus for his daughter’s hand, that simply wasn’t the custom. It also was not customary for a man to wed so young. Perpetua at 15 could become part of a large family that might not demand much in the way of a dowry yet would be in position to enrich the lives of her parents as well. Faustus was 17 and had known Perpetua from their earliest days. He was preparing to become a soldier, and soldiers were not supposed to marry, although many did before their 16-year military service was finished. He’d been working for several local farmers and was adept at breaking and training horses. He’d even received payment – little as it was – for services rendered to Hortensus.

Faustus knew that Hortensus despised the horses and did not appreciate their strength, agility and intelligence.

“Bland-brained” was the way Hortensus described the horses. Faustus went along with the description and told other workers that the slowest horses of the bunch – in foot speed and brain power – were Valens and Mirandus. Hortensus had given the horses other names that Faustus was not comfortable repeating in company or in mixed company. Faustus spoke one afternoon with Dimaldi after a day of tending the horses. They leaned against a stall door discussing their futures. Faustus knew that Hortensus was around the corner, listening.

“Have you given up on your girl, Perpetua?” Dimaldi asked.

“I suppose I have,” Faustus said. “And I believe I was the girl’s only hope for a husband, considering her deficits. There’s not a dowry large enough to convince anyone else to take the poor girl off her father’s hands.”

Faustus and Dimaldi continued the exchange without spelling the nature or specifics of the “deficits” that they talked about.

“She won’t bear a child, that’s for sure,” Faustus said. “And I need a wife to keep my line alive. But I’d probably still take the girl off her father’s hands for as little as the gift of those two sluggard horses.”

“That’s too bad,” Dimaldi said. “But the girl will be pretty at least for a while longer. You know, before that illness cripples her feet and clinches her hands.”

Faustus and Dimaldi left and went their separate ways. The next morning, Hortensus arrived at Faustus’s home with slaves walking the horses.

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A little Rowling here, a little Twain there

If you ask a question often enough, you’re bound to eventually get the answer you want.

Today one of the members of the Columbia Missouri Novelists Facebook page posted what could be either the most instructive, inspiring link or the most vanity-laden, time-wasting link.

I Write Like … You paste a sample of your work into a box, click “analyze,” and within seconds you find out your word choice and writing style compares favorably with — which famous author. I quickly yielded to temptation, certain that I could embrace or reject any conclusion.

I encourage you to give it a try.

First I submitted two samples from my current work, “Dixieland,” the 2012 National Novel Writing Month project. Both analyses determined the word choice and style compared favorably with H.P. Lovecraft. That was baffling, because I neither read nor write science fiction or “weird fiction,” the genre that Lovecraft basically birthed. So I copied and pasted another “Dixieland” sample that compared favorably with Stephenie Meyer.

The Twilight Saga? What? Flattering as that was, I have to confess that I also don’t read — and really have zero interest in — paranormal romance, vampires and werewolves, and death-pale young men and women.

So I sought additional analysis. Next to copy-and-paste was a dialogue-heavy scene from “Chasing The Devil,” my 2011 NaNoWriMo project. (Still unfinished, still unpublished). The analysis reported: J.K. Rowling. (Here’s the link if you think I’m fibbing). Again — sorry. I’ve read maybe six pages of the Harry Potter series. Wizards, sorcery, Harry himself — just not my cup ‘o tea.

Or is it? Meyer has made a gazillion bucks with her Twilight series; Rowling has made a trilabilagazillion bucks from Harry Potter. Hmmm?

Let’s try some more. Two selections from “Gone” (2010, NaNoWriMo). Different conclusions but familiar results: Meyer for one, Rowling for the other.

Still not satisfied, I reached into the archives of Jackson’s Journal to one of my favorite blog posts, Aug. 17, 2012, the conclusion of a three-part story of the time I almost drowned in the Gasconade River. Surely this would break the Lovecraft-Meyer-Rowling spell?

I pasted the copy, hit “analyze,” and this time the answer didn’t come right away. I laughed out loud at the conclusion.

“Mark Twain.” Ahhh! A kindred spirit, a fellow journalist.

So I had to check one more time, pasting the copy of a news story from April 2009. (It’s a horribly tragic story if you care to read it). The story was awarded second place for spot news reporting in that year’s Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors annual competition.

The analytic conclusion? “Mark Twain.”

twain and friends

It was a fun exercise in vanity, but more than that, as I perused my unfinished, novel-length works, it was a stark reminder that I have too many unfinished, novel-length works screaming to get out of their desktop folders, out of my noggin and into the hands of readers.

And that’s where any real or imagined similarities with famous authors end. They’ve actually finished a book or two.

Excuse me, then. I have some work to do.

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Filed under "Dixieland", "Gone", A reporter's life, Chasing The Devil, Living Write, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, National Novel Writing Month 2012, WIPs

Real character or mannequin?

What’s the secret?

You know what I mean. Not the secret to your success (although I am interested to hear that, too) or the secret to your grilling technique (again … I am interested). I’m asking, “What’s your secret?”

Answering that is one of the beauties of writing fiction. You need to create a character, name the character, maybe even toss in a clever nickname. You’ve got hair color, hair length, hair type (wavy, straight, maybe no hair), height, body type, blah blah blah. Sure, that’s all important, but I’ve just described a mannequin, an empty form with a name. Add a favorite color. A quirk that you wouldn’t expect. (I sometimes symmetrically arrange the food on my plate; don’t even notice most of the time). Tell me your character’s best time of day: night owl, early bird, mid-day masher? Give me some background: middle child, only child, lost a finger in shop class, maybe a sixth toe? (Super cool!) Adopted? (Adoption and foster kids are a common link in most of what I write).

Now give your character a secret. Something she’s done that no one else (or only your wife/BFF) knows about. Give every character a secret, and suddenly you’ve got depth. Not that you’ll tell-all in your story or novel, but that character will be more real to YOU. And until that happens, the character is nothing but a mannequin on paper.
And who wants to read about a mannequin?

Not every secret needs to be dark or terrible, but there can be plenty of those, too. I once worked with a woman who told me that when she was a kid, she’d climb over the neighbor’s fence and pick an apple or two. The neighbor finally told her parents and she was punished.

So she burned the neighbor’s house down.

Crazy? Made up? There’s never been a moment that I doubted it. Her demeanor, body language, almost nonchalant recounting of the event all testified of a cold heart that probably suffered a great wound as a child – but a cold, dark heart that had no hint of remorse in telling the story the same way someone might say, “I got in trouble because the neighbor told my parents, so I snuck over to his house one night and stomped his marigolds.” Seriously. I remember it like this: “So I burned the SOB’s house down. Are you going out for lunch or eating in the office?”

The story came alive as a defining moment in the childhood of Hannah Abigail Lincoln, the main protagonist in my unfinished work, “Chasing the Devil.”

HERE’S THE EXCERPT

The moment the neighbors drive away, Hannah hopped the fence, emptied a can of lighter fluid on the refinished chest and wardrobe on the patio, and struck a match. The flash caught one of her sleeves on fire. She quickly dropped the can and plunged her arm into a nearby birdbath.

Hannah raced to her bedroom, changed her shirt and soothed the burn with aloe salve, something she knew to do to treat burns. She had experience.

The sirens were faint at first and then louder.

“Hannah, we need to talk,” her mother shouted as she came upstairs. Elizabeth Lincoln stepped into her daughter’s room. Hannah dropped the burned shirt.

“Um, sweety? Did you know the Bentley’s house is on fire?”

Hannah had no response.

“I saw you climbing over that fence.” Her mother paused. “Hannah, did you pick another apple?”

The little girl heard her mother’s admonitions echoing in her mind: Bravery, Hannah. Courage, Hannah. Don’t slouch like a whore, Hannah. Hannah clenched her teeth and stepped toward her mother.

“The Bentleys are just weak,” Hannah said. “Rednecks.”

Elizabeth Lincoln reached out and drew her daughter close.

“Yes, baby doll,” her mother said, giving her a firm hug. “I love you.”

(Ed. note: It’s the only memory Hannah has of her mother’s hug).

PRAYING FOR THE PLANE TO CRASH

Maybe the secret is less sinister. A stand-up sort of guy who, for some reason, once stole his neighbor’s mail. (I’m brainstorming here). A school teacher who, despite cheating in college to earn her bachelor’s degree, has turned out to be quite a teacher and is about to be promoted to principal – or superintendent. A hilarious secret? A shy man eats an entire pie that is about to be presented to the retiring superintendent – or the Queen of England. (“Who ate Her Majesty’s custard pie?”) Maybe not something all that BAD or illegal, but not something you’d want to admit. No matter how many years go by, YOU still remember.

When I was a kid, I had an uncle who flew radio-control, model airplanes. Cool, huh? Not really. I resented that we drove 700 miles to visit my grandparents only to see the neighboring cousins called right away to join us, where they continued to be the center of attention. I visited maybe once a year; they lived right … over … there. (Extend your arm, point your finger … yeah, right over there). Once we were whisked across the pasture to the cousin’s house – a huge home with a lake – where we had a cook-out and obligatory viewing of my uncle flying his radio-control airplane. I actually bowed my head and prayed that the plane would crash.

And it did.

Whew. I feel better. Up to now, only four or five people have heard this confession. Now, if I count Twitter, Facebook, email subscribers and anyone else who stumbles across Jackson’s Journal, that’s another 1,100 people.

Maybe you don’t want to share YOUR secret. But give me some ideas for future and existing characters. C’mon …

What’s the secret?

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Diving into words: reading and writing list for 2013

Writers are insufferable creatures of melancholy and regret. We love to write, yet we’re sure we don’t do it often enough (we’re probably right about that), and even when we do, we generally regard our prose creations with disdain.

What? I wrote THAT?!

My novel-writing train is again chugging out of the station as of 1/1/13. In addition to finishing two of my Unfinished Epics in 2013 (see, that capitalization got MY attention), I also resolve to write one short story per month. (Defined by anything under 3,500 words).

My writing charge is firm and clear.

Even more than writing, though, we’re the world’s worst when it comes to reading, or thinking we should be reading, or berating ourselves because we think we’re not reading enough. (Let’s admit we can be a fairly miserable lot).

I’m certain that my life is littered with more unfinished reading lists than unfinished novels, so I’m not planning some grand announcement that THIS is the year I read a dozen classics and become enraptured by a dozen new authors. Maybe will, maybe won’t.

JUMPING OFF THE SHELF

But my writer’s library grew by two books on Christmas, thanks to my most supportive reader — the woman who has been listening to and reading my most imaginative embellishments for 30-plus years. My wife. She asked for a Christmas gift list and I produced a detailed accounting of my literary desires. She must have given Santa a good report, because I now possess Novelist’s Boot Camp (penned by former West Point assistant professor Todd A. Stone) and The Writer’s Workout (from veteran writing coach Christina Katz).

I’ve needed the drill-sergeant approach advocated by Stone. If I can develop the discipline that he says writing demands, then I’ll be published by year’s end. Most of us have a writer’s how-to book that tells us, “These are the rules, but rules are made to be broken,” and I love hearing that, because then I don’t feel constricted by those stifling rules of writing. But Stone takes a much different approach, and I appreciate his honesty:

“Are you a best-selling or acclaimed author? No. You don’t even have a book yet. After you’ve written and published your third, fifth or tenth book, you can break all the rules you want. Until then, to get your idea on paper, to produce a complete book-length work of fiction, just to get the darn thing written and get it done and done well, do as you’re told.”

Yes, sir! The book has 101 drills, so reading two or three a week can’t hurt. (However, Stone does occasionally write, “Drop and give me 20 push-ups,” so, yes, I suppose it could hurt).

Whereas Boot Camp is broken into manageable, writer-friendly sections, The Writer’s Workout has 366 one-page “chapters” offering tips, tasks and techniques. It’s also arranged in four sections that match the seasons of nature or the seasons of life.

This is from Day 1: “Write until writing becomes as natural as breathing. Write until not writing makes you anxious.” Make it a habit and a natural function, in other words — not a duty or responsibility. (Tough to follow in some respects when it comes to my day job as a newspaper journalist, where on 1/1/13 I covered the county government swearing-in ceremony of new elected officials AND the customary “first baby of the year” story, which did lend itself to a more creative approach.)

ALSO ON THE SHELF

Those are the newest additions to my writer’s library. I pulled a few others off the shelf, but offer only brief, Twitter-like reviews.

Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer, James V. Smith Jr., is the single book that gets me unstuck and unblocked. Smith’s riddle to “Begin at the End” is the best single piece of noveling advice I’ve ever read.

The Glamour of Grammar, Roy Peter Clark, includes these chapter header gems: Consult a thesaurus to remind yourself of words you already know; Master the elliptical art of leaving things out; and, Play with sounds, natural and literary. (It’s a fun book that I happened to win on a fun Twitter contest a couple of years ago).

The Power of Point of View, Alicia Rasley. She presents the hard-fast rules about not ever changing POV in a scene, then promptly suggests that writers not always follow that rule. I’m guessing Todd Stone would make her run laps for writing that.

YOUR TURN

What are some of your go-to writer’s how-to books? What’s your reading plan for 2013? Bonus question: In the event that someone might want to discover a new author or two in 2013, what are your suggestions — and why?

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Filed under Living Write, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, National Novel Writing Month 2012, WIPs

A lifetime of New Year’s Eve deja vu

Half-way through December, when it came time for me to resume my NaNoWriMo novel, to catch up on roughly 873 unread emails and blogs that I follow, and to breathe new, consistent life into Jackson’s Journal, I had a high-level meeting with myself and decided to extend my “down” time another 16 days.

Enough. I’m breaking the huddle, getting back in the game, shaking the dust off any other cliches that refer to getting the rust out of my routine. I’m pumped. In fact, I’m going to blog every single day of 2013. Or not.

First, I’m taking stock of the greatest blessing of my life. My bride (Kelly) and I did some calculating tonight and determined that since 1974, we’ve been together every single New Year’s Eve except one. Folks, that’s 38 NY Eves.

kelly-jodie

I love the story of Dec. 31, 1974. Kelly and her family and 36 other people — 41 in all — were at the green duplex in Belle, Mo., at Eighth and Shockley, a place that I prefer to remember as “Little Fenway,” on account of the house was the left field fence for the greatest Wiffle ball field ever known.

But it wasn’t wintertime Wiffle ball that drew a crowd.

It was a fish fry.

Dad was the pastor of the fledgling Faith Baptist Church, and as best I can remember, the evening started with a fine Southern Baptist tradition, the New Year’s Eve Watch-Night Service. Or maybe the evening didn’t start at the church, which was located in the former but brown recluse spider-infested Dahms Hardware Store in Main Street/Alvarado Avenue/Highway 28 in downtown Belle.

My Little Black Book of Great Adventures — aka, my childhood diary — recounts the important details, including the reference to brown recluse spider-infestation, but also the party in the house at Little Fenway. At one point earlier in the evening, someone — either my dad, Robert Thompson or Clifford McDaniel — had a wild-hair idea about having a fish fry. Robert had a freezer full of gigged Gasconade River fish and Clifford possessed the world’s all-time greatest hush puppy recipe. (It might have been the other way around; the Little Black Book of Great Adventures doesn’t provide clarification).

Someone brought a massive iron kettle and a grand fire was sparked on the bare spot normally reserved for second base. There was fish, hush puppies, drinks (absolutely non-intoxicating beverages, of course), pie, slaw, and, for the younger set, an unofficial yet also traditional activity of Southern Baptist teens and pre-teens: spin-the-bottle. (Not sure if it was this event or a future gathering where the spin-the-bottle experience came to an abrupt end when the bottle pointed to me and my sister, Kathy).

At the height of the NY Eve Fish Fry of ’74, we had 55 people in our house. At one point I retreated to my room — a chemistry lab and railroad-killed mammal dissection facility — to jot down my thoughts. I refer now to the Little Black Book of Great Adventures:

“It is 10:40 PM, Dec. 31, 1974. New Year’s Eve. It was a good year to me and I especially wan to thank God for leading me to a good year in science. He led me to all my specimens and stuff.” (Ed. note: living less than 100 feet from the Rock Island rail line also provided me an ample supply of biological diversity).

More about the year, recapping my thanks to my parents for letting me collect so much “stuff” and thanking my friends for helping me collec the “stuff.” (Ed. note: we had most of an entire but unassembled adult deer skeleton hauled into my room/lab before my mom drew a line on the amount of “stuff” I could have in my room/lab).

Finally, this:

“I joined a taxidermy school and I have come to a greater scientific knowledge. I am going out now to join the rest of the party. There are still 41 people hear at our house.” (Ed. note: Correctly spelled “knowledge,” but misspelled “hear.”)

Now let me fast-forward three years to New Year’s Eve 1977, back in the green duplex at Eighth and Shockley after moving back from Jefferson City, where I spent THE loneliest, saddest year of my life the previous year. My year-end recap included, “In mid-October, my parents got a divorce” and my sister, Sharon, visiting from Japan where she and bro-in-law Navy man Michael were stationed, had lost her babies (twin boys). And then this: “I am very much in love with Kelly Drewel, who I’ve been going with for 13 months.”

Finally, follow me back to (or is it “forward to?”) NY Eve 2012, where I’m making the resolution to finish the novels “Dixieland” and “Chasing the Devil” in 2013, with at least one of them published by year’s end.

And then I laugh as I glance again at the Little Black Book of Great Adventures and find this:

“Lately, I’ve been writing quite a bit. In the past I’ve started a few books that I never have finished, and I’ve got several ideas for books, stories and songs. I have written about 25 stories, 15 songs and started about 5 books. It takes time to write, so I think I’ll put aside more time to write.”

And then I listed some belated resolutions for getting that done: limit television; get my homework done at school; stick with something.

The date: Feb. 8, 1978.

The more things change …

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Filed under Family, Inspiration, Kelly, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, National Novel Writing Month 2012, Nature & Animals, Old Time Religion, WIPs

NaNoWriMo Day #28: Inner editor’s ready to explode

My 2012 National Novel Writing Month project, “Dixieland,” passed the 50,000-word mark on Thanksgiving night. Tonight I uploaded the 52,000-plus words for verification that, for the third straight year, I am a “winner.” Just hold the applause. Fifty-thousand words does not a novel make; it’s just an exceptionally good start. Another 30,000 to 50,000 words should make it novel-length, and the editing/revising process, which will begin sometime in December, will add back story, complete fragmented or suggested scenes, and add the bulk that is needed to make this story truly complete.

My bound-and-gagged inner editor can only be held back so long, even with three rolls of Duck tape. I managed to get to this point without influence from inner editor’s mind-melding efforts. I will unleash his evil intentions in a few days. (I say “evil” because the very first thing he’s going to say — SCREAM — is, “Every single one of those 52,000-plus words SUCK!”)

For now, I give you a lengthy, two-part excerpt of a three-way dialogue featuring protagonist Edna Mae Ferguson, the accidental stenographer for Steven X. Kennedy, editor/publisher of the weekly Silverdale Sentinel in fictional Silverdale, Ky.; Mr. Kennedy, who is trying to sell his newspaper in order to move with his wife, Victoria, to Arizona, where the climate will be less cruel to her rheumatoid arthritis; and prospective buyer, Justin Richards, who aptly fits the title, “religious zealot.”

Unedited, not including attribution for all speakers (although it should be clear who’s speaking), and mostly just dialogue. I think it will be a quick read. If you see ALL CAPS, that’s where I’m expecting inner editor to go crazy. Let me know what you think, what more you want to know about Edna Mae, Steven Kennedy, or Justin Richards.

This was a fun rabbit trail to follow. I almost couldn’t keep up with their exchange. I’m expecting some lively comments.

===

“Jesus Christ the King of Kings is my boss.” Justin Richards, a round-faced chap about 40 years old, with a perpetual smile and pronounced southern accent, strolled into the Sentinel, greeting Steven and Edna Mae. “Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

Edna Mae looked up from her steno pad. She glanced at Kennedy, then back toward Justin Richards. “Me?” she asked.

“Both of you good folks,” he replied. “I sense that we’re all on the same page here, the same frequency on the spiritual dial.”

Kennedy answered. “I am a Christian.” Edna Mae nodded. “Me, too.”

“Oh, but have you been truly baptized of the Holy Ghost!” He was nearly shouting, and with the fervor of an evangelist. (SHOW, DON’T TELL, RE: FERVOR OF AN EVANGELIST).

He gently waved a hand in front of him. “Oh, where are my manners.” He held out his right hand. “I’m Justin Richards, servant of the Lord.”

Kennedy shook his hand; Edna Mae stepped back and nodded low. (WHAT? SHE CURTSIED?)

Richards just smiled. “Well, bless your hearts. Bless your hearts.”

Kennedy asked, “Now, where were we?”

Richards smiled. Edna Mae answered, “I think we stopped at “Holy Ghost.’”

Richards laughed. “The Spirit of God does have a way of stopping us in our tracks, yes and praise God.”

Kennedy cleared his throat. “No, I mean, where were we in terms of showing you the Silverdale Sentinel. What are your questions?”

Richards stepped toward Kennedy, placing a hand on the publisher’s shoulder. He gently shook Kennedy’s shoulder.

“I have no questions that the Lord has not already answered.” He turned to see Edna Mae scribbling furiously. “I’m going to buy your newspaper, friend, for the Lord God on High has already established it so.”

Edna Mae added, “It’s ordained.”

“Exactly,” Richards agreed, pointing to Edna Mae. “Exactly. And I’m changing the name of this secular instrument of the press to The Sword of the Lord, by which the frightening and powerful Spirit of God will reach the heathen hill folk.”

Edna Mae: “Appalachia?”

“Exactly,” he agreed again, drawing out the pronunciation. “You know the heathen hill folk of whom I speak?”

Kennedy cleared his throat again. “Well, that’s probably an issue, because we don’t send any subscriptions to the … well, that area …”

“Friend, I knew you might be reluctant if the Lord had not revealed this to your heart, but your spiritual maturity is not to blame, otherwise you would have already executed the Lord’s work.”

“Which is?”

“The Sword of the Lord” will be delivered by the servants of the Lord, to each and every heathen and godless man, woman and child in the hills. Oh, that they might cease having relations with their domestic stock …”

Edna Mae glanced at Kennedy, and he motioned for her to stop taking notes. But she continued to write.

“That could be an expensive proposition, producing, printing and delivering a newspaper to everyone in Appalachia. That’s a pretty steep price.”

“The Lord Jesus said, in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 17, verse 20, “Because of your unbelief,” and he pointed to Edna Mae and Steven, “for verily I saw unto you. If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,” and he pinched a thumb and forefinger, then squinted, repeated, “a grain of mustard seed,” … ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing,” he paused, and repeated, with great passion and added fervor, “nothing,” “and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

Edna Mae: “So, in a way, you want to take the Word of the Lord to the mountain.”

His eyes seemed to light up. “Exactly!” “And you will be by my side as we carry out the Lord’s work.” (DO I REALLY WANT THIS GUY TO BE CREEPY, TOO?) Edna Mae resumed her note-taking.

“That’s going to take a large influx of cash,” Kennedy reminded him. “That’s just a reality.”

“My dear friend, I’m sure you know that Jesus spoke those words to his disciples because they were unable to cast out the devil from the lad who felleth into the fire and into the water, because the demon within his young body simply vexed him – VEXED him!, I tell you.”

Kennedy shook his head. “Miss Edna Mae, you getting all this?”

“Yes, Mr. Kennedy.” She paused. “Exactly.”

Richards continued. “The disciples were unable to cast out that demon, and Jesus, oh, it broke his precious heart, and he saith unto his followers, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me.”

“And the child was cured,” Edna Mae said.

“Exactly!” “Cured. And the demon departed out of him and the child was cured – yes, you said it – cured from THAT VERY HOUR.”

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Filed under "Dixieland", Inspiration, National Novel Writing Month 2012, WIPs, World War II