Spellbinding stories of mystic love and soulful hope . . .

Posts tagged ‘west virginia’

The mystery of kin . . . family in dark and light and in between

I stumbled on this in my archives while searching for something else. It was on the cusp of my 50th birthday, five-ish years ago. Now Daddy is gone. In photographs, the people are disappearing one at a time, and when you stare at the photographs, you do not know who will disappear next. It is a mystery, same as the heart can be. I don’t often re-post, but I’m still away from home – weather in NC and around-about has delayed my returning . . . .

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“I don’t belong here, and I’ve had to turn my not belonging into a triumph.” — Lynn Freed

All along the mountain and in the valley and in the corners and nooks and crannies and odd little places no one has ever seen except in passing barefoot while keeping the eye on a future and a past that lurks somewhere around the corner, and in those places were rocks hide small creatures, and in the shaded areas that hold critters great and small, and in those high high tops where hawk flies, and in the low places where the rodents run, in all those places, here and there on the mountain and in the hollers, there hides the secrets and mysteries that make up our families, ourselves.

Dear Readers, my dear ones, do you wonder about the mystery that is your kin? Or have you received the answers you are proud to know, or some that you’d rather not know? Do you remember what you thought and felt and longed for when you were a child? Do you think: Who was that child? What and who made me? Why do I long for the things I can’t have or can’t know?

This me who is Me holds mystery, and as I charge into the exact middle of one-hundred, I look into the corners where the dust lies, look where the cobwebs undulate with my passing, where the tiny cracks in the floor hold specks of dirt that have been tread down and down until the soil is a part of the wood. I look into the dark places, shining a light that can barely penetrate that which does not want to be found.

daddy

And it was while my daddy visited me, when we rocked together on the porch, staring out over the mountains as the creek sang to us, the wind pushed against the trees, the coffee steamed like tiny ghosts from our cups—it was then Daddy told me how my biological momma’s brother, my uncle, had years and years ago killed a man and was sentenced to death row.

I stopped rocking, turned and said, “I had an uncle on death row?”

Daddy nodded. “Your momma and I wrote letters of appeal and those letters got him released.”

I said, “I never knew him. I never knew that.”

He told me what he knew, which isn’t enough. Secrets are buried deep into the West Virginia mountainside.

I want another cup of coffee with Daddy, soon, soon. I want to rock and sip while he tells me stories of relatives from my momma’s side, and I want to cajole from him stories of his own kin, those Tennessee relatives I know very little about. Too many secrets on both sides. Perhaps some are too painful to speak aloud—I can guess from the black and white photographs holding the spirits of people who stare back with haunted eyes—as if uttering memories will make them come alive and wanting and real again, the spirit-words taking the awful shapes of those who would harm and become a full and dense being, a dark and ugly billow of smoky spirit shape.

I insert images of my momma running barefoot in the in the mountain forest, her feet turn black from the West Virginia soil, her skin is brown from the sun, bird-track freckles across her nose, her hair fans out behind her, her mouth stretched in a smile. She runs to catch a glimpse of the wild horses in the valley below, and she aims to capture one, jump astride him, and ride rider ridest!

And there’s Daddy! Young and strong in Tennessee, his hair stands on end, fingers greasy from peanut butter and fresh-churned butter sandwiches, his legs pocked with mosquito bites, one hand scratches the inflamed bumps while the other hand points and laughs at a friend dangling from a hickory tree. And he runs to the tree, a full-force boy run, and up up he climbs to find his own thick branch, and he suspends, feet hooked across the limb, the back of his legs bark tattooed, his head pointing to the ground, and the laughter falls from his mouth and down into the ground where it sinks into the earth and spreads until there is a tremor, an erupting, and up from the dirt pushes hope. Oh. I can see it. Can you?

My uncle killed a man, stabbed him until he was dead, went to death row, and was released. My momma and my daddy wrote letters of appeal, “It’s not his fault. You must understand that it’s not his fault. If you only knew his poor young life you would not do this thing.” And such was his young life that they released him. Such was his young life, that they released him. They released the young boy who became the man. I am at wonder with thinking of that.

I think about my blood, and what is rushing in my veins that comes from kin. I think about the black and white photos. I think about the unsaid things. I think about my blood—at times hot and boiling from the ancient line of my people.

I claim the title of Proud Mountain Woman. I claim the blood of my relatives that erupts wild with heat. I claim the blood of my Great Great Grandmother, that Proud Blackfoot Woman. (Do I claim the blood of the murdered man?) My kin, my blood. My proud Hillbilly blood is deep, buried far underneath my skin, down into the marrow of my bones, my strong gleaming bones.

My uncle kills a man, spills his blood upon the earth and it seeps far far into the West Virginia soil, seeps down deep, red turning to brown turning to black, and the man falls hard, his last thoughts no one but he knows. And my uncle stands with his legs apart and raises his eyes to heaven, a keening howl issues forth from his throat, and he lifts his hands to the sky with that man’s blood upon them, an offering. On death row he sits. Death row he waits until the boy is set free. And I see him well before his blood boils over to bursting, a young boy running from his demons (the ones my momma does not want to remember as she runs to catch a glimpse of the wild horses) my uncle’s skinny legs pump hard, the tears drying on his battered cheeks, fast, faster, fastest, his young red blood not quite blistering, only the simmer is there, rushing pumping beneath his skin as he runs to hide in the deep mountain woods, hides away from the terror that is his father.

When I was a little girl, I had no thoughts of lost relatives. No solid remembrances of my biological momma’s hand on my fevered brow—the hand I knew came from my adoptive mother, Daddy’s wife. I had little girl wishes and wants and magical thinking. I imagined myself astride a dark stallion, racing through the forest, his mane flying into my face, my long ponytail whipping behind me. His hooves thundered, matched the beat of my young girl’s heart. I rode to things (and I rode from things). I’d come to a clearing in the woods, dismount, and from my pack I’d withdraw a curry brush to wipe the sweat from my stallion. I’d drink a bit of water, and eat one of the apples, the other apple saved for Flame, or Midnight, or whatever horse name I was young girl in love with at the time.

When you are nine, ten, eleven, twelve, well, any future is possible than the one you really have! So I’d dream and imagine and wait. I’d ride my bike, pretend it was my stallion. I’d say, “ho boy, ho,” and make that gnick gnick sound to get him to trot, then canter, then gallop, then full speed we’d go, our hair flying.

Now, not young, not quite old, I still imagine myself astride my dark stallion, hooves thrumming through the forest, my head lowered, his mane flying into my face, my short hair sticking up crazily from the whipping wind. At the clearing, I call, “ho, boy, ho,” and dismount to brush out my beauty, drink my water, eat my apple and give the horse the other piece of fruit. And we look out over the Great Smoky Mountains. My Stallion lowers his head and munches grass, and I lower myself to the grass and lie on my back to watch cloud formations, listen to the crunch and snuffle of my imagined horse.

I lie still and think about my blood, and who I am, and my secrets and their secrets and our secrets. I think about family and strangers and friends. I think about my mother, the woman who opened her arms to raise my brothers and me as her own. I think about my biological momma running to catch the wild horse without knowledge of my one day coming to her so she could one day release me. I think about my daddy running to climb the tree high higher highest. I think about my uncle running from everything that hurt until he finally hurt back.

This is what I am thinking about today.

 

Wednesday Classroom: Do your research to gain trust with your reader, yawwwwl

Morning Y’allses! Guess where I am while you are reading this? In Oregon! Lawdy but I’m far away from my little log house. GMR and the dawgs and the ghost dawg have the house and cove all to themselves and I bet they miss my pea-headed s’ef.  So, for this post, I’m a’trying to post ahead of time. Just think, as I’m typing this I’m in the little log house, but as you read it, I’m in Oregon. Wheeee ain’t technology grand?

Folkses, as you all may be able to tell from reading my posts on writing, I can be strict about some thangs. I try to have things Right. I want to convince my audience, and you should, too!

With fiction, bring in truths to ground the reader—and whatever those truths are will be  up to the writer to convey them. The amount of danged old research we do will have much to do with the place/time we create. My worlds have been and are in South Louisiana, West Virginia, and here in these western North Carolina mountains. My time has been from the 50′s to the present. My research will deal with that time and place.

If I’m writing about a real town, I need to be accurate about that town to honor its people and sense of Place–I wouldn’t have New Orleans as the capital of Louisiana–lawd!–because it is Baton Rouge; I wouldn’t have Maggie Valley with a McDonald’s because we do not have fast food joints in Maggie (except for one lonely Subway, and who knows how it managed to find its way here). If I’m writing about a fictional town based on a real town, I have a little more flexibility, but I still need to be mindful. Most of my books do not mention specific towns, but my readers can often guess where I am talking about, or place my characters in a specific area that they can relate to.

If you’ses have yourse’f a world that’s all made up, like “Madeupland,” you still must ground the reader in some reality, yawwwl, right? riigghhht! So there will be some research even if it’s minor. Mainly, if you have a “Madeupland” you best be consistent–I tell you what!

All you’ses wunnerfuls out there have seen me write this before: Convince your audience and you’ve done your job, no matter how, what, where, when, who you write. Throw all the danged ole rules out the window for all I care—just convince me, or you lose me as your reader.

Sometimes you may think you have something correct, but you do not! oopsies! It doesn’t hurt to double-check those things you “remember” or “think you know.” I had Tang in a Tender Graces scene–later, it began to bug me, when was Tang invented? I looked it up and Lawd!, it wasn’t released to the general public until sometime after my scene–the astronauts had it first.

Whenever I mentioned a movie or a television show or a football game, I made sure I had it Right. Folkses, you don’t EVEN want to go messing with South Louisiana and have their LSU Tigers game days, or anything else, wrong–lawd! I can’t have my South Louisiana town’s team playing  Old Miss in September when they didn’t play until later in the season, or have them playing in town when it was an out of town game. I can’t have the movie Rocky coming out in March of 1976 (in Secret Graces), because it didn’t release until December 1976. Look It Up and double check–our memories are wankity.

You can play around with research to enhance your books. Was there a significant weather event that would change something with my characters or their Place? Or make something fun/interesting? (Like the South Louisiana Hurricane mention in TG when Mee Maw comes to visit—category five Grandmother.) Or, if in the holler in West Virginia there was a bad snow storm, Katie Ivene wouldn’t be flying to town in her Rambler with the windows open yelling “wheeee!” I found sites that show historical weather. I love those little details even if only I know that on April 13, 1976, it really was 82 degrees and foggy in a town in South Louisiana (I use weather more as a mood or as Place or whatever, not that I go around quoting weather).

Little details help the reader to “Be There” with the character, to ground them in a place or time or mood, maybe even to have them say, “I know that place/event/area!” “Hey, I remember that!”

Don’t rely on only one source. I do the best I can to make sure I have everything as accurate as possible—because you are worth my time and care, you being the reader. Often, I double and triple check my sources.

Will someone find an error if they go through my books with a fine-toothed eye? I don’t know, but it won’t be for lack of me working hard and doing my job best I can. I don’t respect lazy writing and I know it when I read it.

When and how you do your research is up to you. Do what works.

Don’t cheat. Don’t be lazy. It’s worth it to build trust with your readers. Do you want your reader to stop and say, “Hey, wait a minute! This ain’t right . . .” and bump them from your world, your story? Naw! And more important to me: I want my reader to trust me and to forget about me and only focus on the narrator and the story.

Do you make sure you have things Right and build trust? Does your work require extensive research, or just a bit?

See all y’allses wunnerfuls later!

Don’t forget: I changed my blog posting schedule for my Classroom series & I am your Personal Trainer series, etc, to the first and third Wednesdays of the month, with Friday open to photos/art/video: no words. So there will only be posts twice a month, and on most Fridays, photos/video/art with no words.

Monday Classroom: See-Saw/Watch(ed)/Look(ed) – cleaning up our manuscripts, y’all (and no whining allowed!)

Morning all y’allses out there, wherever you are. I first want to say how much I appreciate you. Many of you come by here for every post, and there are those of you who leave comments regularly. Thank you.

I have not been able to return the favor as I used to, but I am subscribed to many of your blogs if you have that capability, and I do read your posts in my email. I know many of you are in the same ole boat–so much to do, so many blogs, so much social networking–Lawd!

I am behind on writing The Lightning Charmer because I whined too much instead of trusting my process.  “I caaaaaan’t write this boooooook. Cause it suuuuuuucccckkkks and I suuuucccck!” I have a deadline; I have already received my advance; I have people depending on me, readers waiting. There should be No Whining Allowed! But whine I did. I felt stuck.

After four published novels and a novella, you’d think I’d Have This. But we can always create some angst, can’t we? Lawdy be in a bucket – yes. Folks, sometimes just switching a scene around (making something happen earlier–as I did to TLC) or turning the manuscript on its head in some other way does the trick–Hey! Why, there it is! There’s the thang I was looking for hiding in plain ole sight–haw! And then the “flutter” of excitement begins in my/our belly and off I/we go! Give that sucker (your manuscript) a shake and see what falls out. Do whatever it takes to make it seem fresh  and alive. No Whining Allowed! (Okay, you can give yourself “whine time” as long as you do not give in to it for longer than two shakes of a hippo’s tail.)

Sometimes it is appropriate for a character to see-saw/watch(ed)/look(ed). But oft-times we write the character seeing looking watching when the direct action would work better. Right? Riiighhht!

For example, let’s say there’s a scene in Tender Graces where Virginia Kate and Micah are on the porch in the Looseeaner house after she’s left West Virginia.

Oh look! A rock. I am looking at the rock. You are looking at the rock. GMR is watching me look at the rock. I saw the rock. I see the rock and saw it and looked at it

Scene:

I looked over at Micah as we rocked on the porch. I saw him grin at me. I watched him run down the steps, pick up a pretty rock, and bring it back to me. He looked at me looking at the rock. I saw him look at me. We looked at each other and smiled. I watched him sit down. He looked at me as I rocked. I watched as he rocked. Then we looked at the sky because we were danged ole sick of looking at each other, sheesh.

Okay, folkses, I know that’s a little extreme, *teehee,* but you get the idea. Obviously sometimes we use looked/watched/saw, etc, because it fits the scene. Sometimes Virginia Kate uses the “I’m a looking fool” because that’s what she does–her thang; in those cases, I actually use it as a device, On Purpose, and I know it is On Purpose and the audience knows it is On Purpose–if they do not, then I ain’t done my job. This is what I mean about breaking rules or manipulating the language—if you are aware of what you are doing, if you are doing it On Purpose, it is fun to play with the language and it can be quite effective/affective.

If the sneakity sneaker thangs make their way into the work, then being aware of those sneakies will help tighten the manuscript.

Don’t stress yourself striving for perfection, especially in the first draft or two. I like to slam that story down first. However, the more you know instinctively, the less mess you have to clean up, right? RIIIIGHHHT!

Simplistically:
I saw the ball hit the wall. – The ball hit the wall.

I watched Marie jump rope. – Marie jumped rope.

I looked at Jennifer eating her pie. – Jennifer ate her pie. I want pie–this has nothing to do with this post, I just want pie now.

The audience will know the narrator is doing the watching/looking without us bomping them upside the head with it.

Playing with language and words is the most wonderful danged old thang in the world. If you tend to “over-do” or “over-use” certain words or phrases, etc, find ways to recast your sentences/phrases to create a tighter work. A swollen manuscript will become, well, not swolled up.

So, pull up your manuscript in your editing phases and do a search/find and see how many “look/see-saw/watch” you have hiding in there. You may be surprised.

Now–go Do This Day with Gratitude. And write.

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