It’s History, Not Hzzzz…..

I finished Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy last night and absolutely loved it.

Partly, I loved it because it was sort of like visiting old friends—both main characters and secondary—and learning a lot more about them than I knew before. (The best example: Abbot writes about a soldier named Frank Thompson who was really a woman named Emma Edmondson, and this reminded me of a book that the mom of a friend of mine had been working on several years ago about another woman named Sarah Wakeman who posed as a male soldier, Lyons Wakeman. Imagine my delight when Lyons showed up in Abbot’s book as an object of flirtation for Belle Boyd!).

Partly, I loved it because she wove her threads neatly into the larger tapestry of the Civil War and rekindled my faith that there are more such books to be written—and published (including both the book I’m writing now, and my husband’s manuscript about the Willard Hotel that I fully intend to work over as a follow-up project.).

But mostly, I loved it for the writing. This is the second book I’ve read by Abbot (the other was Sin in the Second City, also riveting), and I was halfway through when it occurred to me that I really, really wished she were 20 years older than me instead of two years younger, because then there would have been a chance her books would have existed when I was in high school and I might have been persuaded sooner that history wasn’t the exclusive domain of two kinds of writers: those who were exceptional wordsmiths but always clocked in at more than 800 pages, or else dry, pedantic, names-and-dates textbook-esque listmakers. I spent a lot of my school years skimming history books and then turning to my parents for the Good Parts version.

Narrative history is a godsend for people like me. I mean, when you get down to it, history is just people running around doing stuff, right? And that’s all stories are, right? I realize you can tell a story well or badly, but I never understood why pre-college history classes were so successful in making stories SO BORING.

When I was in tenth grade, I had a truly awful teacher for World History. She tried, bless her heart, but she had zero control of her class, and I don’t think she had a terribly deep regard for the material she was teaching. About halfway through the school year, she got fed up with the class talking over/under/around/through her lecture and made us all write a paper on Why We Would Not Talk in Class. I was incensed by this, since I hadn’t been talking. (I’d been ignoring her, of course, but I’d been reading, not talking.) I assumed it was busy work and she wouldn’t actually bother to read any of them, so I made myself feel better by writing a terribly snotty and hostile essay about how talking in class is indicative of disrespect, and teachers, even bad ones who make ancient Egypt boring, probably deserve a modicum of respect.

Well. Imagine my surprise the next day when she hands this thing back to me. I open it up convinced that I’m facing suspension, expulsion, firing squad. No, instead it was an apology (which I found a little appalling and embarrassing) and a sincere invitation for me to suggest ways to make it more interesting (which I also found a little appalling). I stayed after class and told her I was sorry for being so snotty in my essay, and one thing led to another and next thing I knew I’d agreed to teach the next class period.

And you know what? I. Killed. It. I went in and talked about conscription, and how all the boys in class only would have had five more years of playtime if they’d lived in those times. I talked about the escape from Elba, the Hundred Days, and St. Helena, and I made it exciting – because it IS exciting! I got applause. I think the poor teacher was a little hangdog at that; I think she was hoping I’d see that it’s not that easy to keep a class of hooligans quiet and contained, but it didn’t quite work out that way. I will also tell you that the guy who sat behind me, who routinely filled in his name and nothing else on his tests, got a B on that test.

(For those of you who love justice, I did wind up being punished for my snotty attitude and essay, just not by the teacher. I went home and told the whole story to my parents, because—obviously!—I needed their help in making sure I had all my Napoleonic facts straight, and they were so outraged on my teacher’s behalf that I wound up grounded. Plus, they didn’t help me prepare, they pointed at the shelf full of books we had about Napoleon and told me to have at it.)

So, yeah. All that is to say I’m a big fan of authors who are good researchers and even better storytellers. I’m fascinated by authors who can latch on to historic footnotes and spin them out into whole books. (This may be why I’m hoping to finish my book before summer and hopefully get a contract and join their ranks before the year is up). And this is why I would love to be Karen Abbot when I grow up.

Posted in Nonfiction, Reading | Leave a comment

This Is How We Don’t Do It…

… And then I have weeks like this one, where work and family and life in general got in the way.

I got some research done. I read a little bit of a book I’ll talk about when I’ve finished it.  I emailed a friendly note to Michael Ross on GoodReads, and he wrote back, which was very nice.

Part of the time sink this week is that my kid is supposed to be writing a novel.  For his sixth-grade English  class.

It is not going well.

First he had an idea that was not developed enough to be novel material, and no matter how hard I tried, cajoled, prodded, explained, and modeled, he steadfastly refused to flesh it out to work. I finally told him that if he wasn’t going to put in the effort to make that work, he was going to have to find something that required less effort to flesh out.  He settled on a story from a past vacation that he would fictionalize and develop into a novel.

It is not going well.

He started out bravely enough. He banged through three or four pages — and that included the entire scope of the novel, told in the “I did this and then I did that and then we did some other thing” form. Fair enough for a start, but hardly a novel, and difficult to expand. We spent much of the weekend tussling over his lack of progress beyond this point.

I suspect part of my frustration with his lack of progress is that I see way, way too much of myself in this scenario. I know how he feels. I would much rather binge-watch House of Cards than write 500 words about Henry Wise and his days of youthful dueling. I’m watching Better Call Saul as I write this, in fact.  Clearly, the apple of my eye is parked  inches from the tree that I am.

So, I have watched as the boy has made a number of classic mistakes—mistakes I remember making when I started writing. Unfortunately, he refuses to learn from my bad experiences, and he has dug in against fixing these mistakes—mostly, I suspect, because Mom is picking on him to do so:

He didn’t make an outline.

He gets fixated on the forest and won’t focus on the trees.

He listens to suggestions and then uses them as actual material rather than using them as samples to emulate.

He writes it all in Telling, not Showing, and it is all in past tense first person; no dialogue, no sense of urgency or putting the reader in the moment.

It’s been a long time since I had to watch someone this wildly inexperienced AND this recalcitrant. We finally figured out a pattern: Write six sentences about this.  Write four sentences about that.  Write two sentences to transition from those six to these four.

We only came to this approach about an hour ago, so I’m not sure if it will work. But it’s been an interesting experience and observation — it’s all the frustrations associated with writing that I take for granted and try to just power through, but packaged in a rather small and potent firecracker that explodes repeatedly and with great force.

I’m hoping the new approach works.  I’m a little afraid we will all burn to cinders if it doesn’t.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This Is How We Do It…

I just finished Michael Ross’s The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, and I’m so glad I read it, for so many reasons.

First, it is just a really good book. The writing is not particularly beautiful language, it’s very journalistic in tone—which, for me, means it moves at a faster pace.  It is thoughtful, well-researched, honest, and is as good a narrative history as you could want. It lapses into some dry textbook-esque spells at times, but they don’t last long enough to be off-putting. It pulls together several universal historical themes into a microcosm of one largely forgotten court case and offers several cute little “Huh! I never knew!” nuggets of history—both about New Orleans and about Reconstruction—for the reader. All in all, an enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys this sort of nonfiction.

Second, it focuses largely on the court proceedings. Third, the whole event/trial in question occurred in 1870-71. Right in my wheelhouse, y’all. Just a few states south and a wee bit earlier.

So, aside from just being an enjoyable experience, this means the book also  provided me with several examples of possible ways to deal with issues I’m confronting in my own manuscript (historical context, missing information, flat-out conjecture of “WTF were these guys thinking when they did X??”).

Even better, the fact it was recently published also indicates there is a possible market for what I’m doing, assuming I ever manage to finish.

But the best part of the book, for me, was the afterword and acknowledgments. So much of what he wrote had me nodding, “Oh, my, yes, I know EXACTLY what you are talking about,” “Oh, wow, that is so cool the way that came together!”  etc., etc.  I don’t know if this means that misery loves company or what, and I realize I’m an anomaly in finding this such a nice addition to the book, but there you are.

As for my own book, I finished the trial chapters this week. It only took one all-nighter and one afternoon of using banked hours from work—and some helpful information from some wonderful people. I can now officially say I have communicated with medical and legal experts on this effort. Once again, I must give a rousing round of applause to the Internet, because without it I would have had a much harder time getting both those pieces.

The funniest moment of the week: I called the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for the county hoping to get a law librarian or some assistant who happened to be in their office to answer a few questions for me.  Instead, I got the Commonwealth’s Attorney himself. I told him what I was working on, and he was all, “1972? Oh, EIGHTEEN-72? Well, I wasn’t here then, but go ahead…”  (He arrived in 1968. Maybe I should find a case from 1972 just so I can ask about one he remembers!) It was a lovely ten-minute chat and it really cleared up a number of questions I had about legal procedures and even a few mysteries about “Why didn’t the prosecutors ask This Person about That Thing? It seems so obvious!”

I worked it all out, and it looks like I’m about 7,000 words away from a finished first draft—2,000 of those words will be easy.  I’m sort of dreading the other 5,000.  But I’ve given myself until March, so it still seems entirely doable.



Posted in Nonfiction | Leave a comment

Advances on Several Fronts

I saw some baby-step advances on the book this week, though they came from unlikely places, and none of them really involved Actual Writing.

First, my beta reader contacted me saying she liked what she saw, but she is drawing up copious notes on where she wants more. This was absolutely fantastic news, because as it stands right now I feel that my projected total is coming up a few thousand words short, so it’s nice that I’ll not only have guidance on where to add more, but also have room to add it.

Second, I have some feelers out with subject matter experts on certain aspects of the book that will be really helpful if I can get them. I have more people to contact before I’m done, but as I said, they were baby steps.

Third, I read another really great book this week — Pioneer Girl, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, as edited by Pamela Smith Hill. I’m a little biased because I absolutely adored the Little House books as a kid. My Aunt Shirley gave me Little House in the Big Woods for my fifth birthday, and then gave me the next book in the series for every Christmas and birthday after that. I adored Aunt Shirley, so anything she gave me was going to be well-received. And dribbling out the books like that for me was a great exercise in patience and anticipation, so that when I got the next one I gobbled it down like crack, on top of re-reading the previous ones.

So I might be wrong about this, but I figure it’s safe to say that anyone who read the Little House books as a kid will find this interesting. And I’d go further to add that anyone who enjoys or has an interest in narrative history will like it too, for different reasons.

The Little House books were great because they took vast sweeping themes and the culture of a time and place and translated them into a paradigm that a kid from a relatively foreign perspective could understand and envision. I didn’t have the faintest idea what it was like to grow up in a house where snow would sift in through cracks in the log walls, but I could shiver and snuggle up in bed and shut my ears against the wind when Laura did.

Pioneer Girl is great for an entirely different set of reasons. It’s nice to read as a sort of “real story behind the books,” of course, but as an aspiring writer it’s really interesting to note the myriad differences.  This was written as a straight-up autobiography and told from the perspective of an adult looking back, with an adult’s understanding, recollections, hindsight, and perspectives on cultural issues. The literary voice is stripped down to a more journalistic, factual tone; the imagery and use of descriptive language is scaled back to a huge degree.

But the thing that made me especially happy in reading this book is the prodigious work that editor Hill put into the annotations. It looks like she cited everything she could get her paws on: census records, newspapers, letters, diaries, you name it, she looked at it, organized it, and cited it. I’m equal parts admiring and inspired by the depth of this work—and just a little jealous that she had SO MUCH MATERIAL to draw upon.  So many of my potential sources are gone — apparently nothing ever burned down in South Dakota, since there are still copies of newspapers and court records and other things that no longer exist for the book I’m trying to write. And she obviously had unfettered access to family papers. If there are still family papers for the families I’m working on, they’re well hidden.

But there are other books out there that I can cull for further detail and embellishment of my narrative.  Thus, my beta reader’s request for “more” dovetails nicely with my observations in this book of where “more” can come from.


Next week I’m hoping to get closer to my wheelhouse—I’m reading a book that is (1) nonfiction history, (2) in the same genre and time period as the book I’m working on, and (3) by an author who is still alive.

Posted in Nonfiction, Reading | Leave a comment

Factionless vs. Fyodor

There’s a song in My Fair Lady where Eliza sings, “Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!” All week I have had this line in my head, but replacing “words” with “work.” I had a fun but time-consuming design project compounded by a 200-page, very dry re-edit of a medical report that chewed through most of my nights. I put my foot down and didn’t let it chew through my weekend, however.

What that means is that I’ve been reading a lot in my “free” time, but it was nothing I’d ever read without being compensated, and nothing I’d wish on my worst enemy.

I did, however, finish the Divergent series. It was a fast read, it was nicely constructed and well planned from one book to the next. The only thing I remember wishing she’d elaborated on was the offhand mention that Edward wasn’t an entirely innocent victim in that whole stabbing thing. But beyond that, it was enjoyable.

The interesting thing for me is that I was reading this at home while I was listening to Crime and Punishment on my commutes to and from work. Unsurprisingly, this was a much denser undertaking, even though I was listening to rather than reading it off the page. There were a lot more layers to parse and I spent a lot more time thinking, “why did he write X instead of Y? Why did he create a nightmare about This instead of That?” and looking up the meanings of the names and so on. (I am continually fascinated by translations of literature. I harbor a mistrust that the translator has botched the job in terms of idiom or plays on words, or that I am missing some cultural reference that is hugely revealing or is a hilarious in-joke.)  Getting beyond all that, though, I found myself drawing lines between the dystopia of the past and the dystopia of the future.

I realize that these books are, for the most part, completely incomparable — different audiences, different genres, different intentions behind the writing, different everything. But bear with me.

All by itself, I find it an interesting commentary on human nature that futuristic dystopian fiction has had such a wave of popularity. Why do people gravitate toward books where Everything Is Awful, rather than Awesome? Is it because the world they live in shines by comparison? Is it because we like to read about people in hopeless situations? Is despair really more interesting than prosperity? It’s easier to create conflict, certainly, which does make more interesting reading.  So perhaps in an era when we are reasonably well off, we have to imagine dystopia to keep people reading. Dostoevsky’s horrific world, on the other hand, was smack-dab in front of him. His study on the psychology of people in a squalid and hopeless environment was utterly recognizable to his contemporaries; he didn’t need to devote time to explaining How Things Work in This World or What Led to This Horrible State of Things. (A good thing, as the book is plenty long without endless setup and world-building.)

The interesting comparison is that while Roth has to imagine the effect that her world would have on her characters, Dostoevsky could draw on actual observations that are archetypes now (and probably were when he wrote it) — the pious, the humble, the desperate, the drunkards, the lovers, the revolutionaries. You’ll find them all in Divergent, too, but built out in different ways.

All of which got me to thinking that recasting the world as it is today into despair is a market ripe for exploiting — dystopian 2010 Detroit, edge-of-dystopian Lake Mead-less Las Vegas, etc. I’m not sure I’m of the opinion that the majority of Americans actually LIVE in anything remotely resembling dystopia compared to 1860s Russia or Futureland Chicago, but I know there are malcontents out there happy to disagree–and, really, someone should capitalize on their dyspepsia, no?

Posted in Reading, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Year, New Goals

Lots of new goals this year, lots of resolutions to fall down on. Or not, depending on the optimism level. Three are relevant to this blog:

1: Finish writing the book. I’m quite fed up with myself on this one. It has been a back-burner project for far too long. So I have mapped out a plan to finish it and hopefully get it sold—set myself deadlines and everything. We’ll see how it goes.

2: Read more. This may be a tad misleading, as I don’t really think I could read more than I do now—but the plan is to read less stuff for my job and more stuff that I actually want to read. I have three piles of Books To Read by my bed: one stack is material relating to my first goal; one is a pile of YA books I want to read so I can discuss them with my kid when he reads them, and one is a pile of fiction that I keep meaning to dig into and just never get around to. I suspect the house will be filthier than ever this year, but those piles are going to get smaller, by golly.

3: Reach out more. All this reading and writing, while fulfilling in and of itself, should not be my own personal cul de sac. My third intention is to get myself out there more; keep up with goodreads, blog more here, post more about my explorations on social media and maybe make some useful and interesting connections as a result. Or maybe just keep a running tally for my own smug purposes. Whatever!

So for the few of you who read this and are not spammers, I hope you’ll give me positive reinforcement with comments and critiques, suggestions and strictures, dialogue and diatribes!

To kick off the new year, I read the first three books of Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions series. Not as good as Unfortunate Events, but as I’m older than the target audience they were a breeze to finish and they gave me and the kid something to talk about. Now, I’m plowing through the Divergent series. Finished the first book over the weekend and started the second. I’ll reserve opinion til I’ve finished the trilogy—I’ll offer a small spoiler by mentioning that the kid informed me yesterday that there’s also a spin-off ebook and I’m not sure I’m willing to go out of my way to get it.

What did y’all think of Divergent? And what are you reading now? Or should I just go troll your goodreads accounts??

Posted in Fiction, Reading, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Fifty CDs Later

It took a couple months, but I can now say I have conquered Atlas Shrugged.  It is a book I’ve thought about trying to read for years, but never felt I had enough time.  Then I found it on CD at our favorite used bookstore, and it was off to the races, as it filled my morning and evening commutes.

So, let’s start with the fact that lots of people hate Rand, for lots of reasons. It’s easy to understand some of that, and it’s fairly easy to see where other accusations have gone a bit astray, and it’s REALLY easy to see where knee-jerk reactions have just gone off the deep end and dumped the baby out with the bathwater.

Her writing is … not the best. I recognize that listening to a book read out loud is not the same experience as reading it off a page, and I’m not sure if the CDs made this aspect better or worse. Some of her stylistic choices are anvil-esque (that whole section about “blank out” in the radio address had me itching to hit the skip button), and some of her preaching does get in the way of her narrative (like, said radio address was three hours. I timed it, and she apparently did too, since it’s referred to as such in the book. Here on Planet Real World, the looters would have tuned out after about three minutes, and the Mr. Thompsons of the world would not have clustered around the radio listening; they would have been freaking the hell out and going on a rampage looking for how to spin it. Not to mention — at the end of the address, they are apparently all STILL STANDING UP staring at the radio. Seriously? I’d have plonked on the floor after the first hour or so.)  In other spots, her writing is comically clumsy — the whole action scene at the end rescuing John Galt was bad 30s film noir put on the page.

Her overall premise is appealing in some ways, though it runs into the same problems that all zealous -isms run into. It runs to absurd extremes, and she seems to labor under the impression that if given the option, everyone would operate the way she thinks they should. It’s unclear whether Rand thinks natural resources are there to be used up, or if she thinks that rational man will develop ways to use less of them so they last longer. All politicians are bad, and all capitalists are honorable men looking to create a better product. Well, no.  And her views on sex are a tad alarming, to say the least. There’s also little room for irrational emotional response. It’s also weird that the vast majority of her characters have horrible family lives — no parents, worthless siblings, unmarried, unhappily married, and no kids anywhere.  (Well, almost. There’s one family with two kids in the Colorado utopia.)  I can only speak from personal experience, but having a kid made a vast difference in my outlook on the world, and while I’m pretty sure I still fall squarely into the ranks of the workaholics, I also suspect there’s more to empathy and selflessness than Rand’s ideal world would include.

But here’s the real reason I won’t discount this book and so many others have. It’s a work of conservative fiction. There just isn’t much of that genre, and it gets smaller the farther you stray from the classics. Contemporary conservative fiction authors don’t tend to get throngs of admirers lining up around the block at book signings.  I’m not sure why this is. Do conservative readers prefer nonfiction? Do they keep a lower emotional profile that precludes fandom? Are they just older with bad knees and hate lines? Rand’s work does tend to be more treatise than treat, but there’s got to be something in there, given that she continues to appeal to new readers.

I suspect it’s the liberal-conservative issue that is at the root of the knee-jerk Rand haters.  She seems to be one of those writers who inspires extreme reactions — boundless enthusiasm or pure vitriol. (I find this interesting, because my own reaction was so very smack-dab in the middle, at the tippy top of the bell curve.) I suspect that liberal readers, confronted with a book that blasts the very core of their world view, respond as if faced with a base insult, rather than an alternative paradigm. I would posit that conservative readers of fiction are much more accustomed than liberal readers are to being confronted with the dichotomy of loving a book while despising the worldview that it (or its author) espouses, simply because there is so much more liberal fiction out there. And perhaps the problem with Rand is that her stories aren’t great enough to overcome that overwhelmingly hostile reaction to an alien viewpoint.

In any event, I’ll take Fifty CDs of Rand over Fifty Shades of Grey,  any day of the week.  How’s that for damning with faint praise?

Posted in Reading | 1 Comment

Things I’ve Read Instead of Writing:

I am poking along on my book endeavor.  Admittedly, I’ve done a fair bit of research in the time I haven’t been writing, but I’ve also done a fair bit of Other, as well.

I can’t remember if I’ve told this story before, and I’m not sure I’m crediting the right person with it, but I think it was Linda Ellerbee who was the first person I ever heard articulate this problem:  “You want a clean house? Tell me I have a work deadline. You want me to meet a work deadline? Tell me my mother is coming to visit.”

The hubs informed me the other night that I’m going to have to stop “McClellan-ing” this story and start using the army I have to fight the war I’m in. This is true. And when I went through my bibliography, I realized I’ve used a lot more sources than I originally thought I had. So that’s nice.

But in the meantime…

I’ve read Treasure Island and The Yearling with my kid. I listened while he read most of Robinson Crusoe aloud.  I have read countless reports for work.  I’ve read another slew of newspaper articles from 1871-1873, and chunks of books on the election of 1872, and about women, marriage, and society during Reconstruction.

I’m also part of the way through the Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies, which is delightfully grumpy.

Over the weekend, I read Auntie Mame aloud on the drive back from dropping our kid at camp.  I’d never read it before; only seen the movie. The movie does a fair bit of justice to the book, but the book is really worth picking up. It’s a nice blend of loving mockery of so many things, from clothing to attitudes to politics. I think it holds up rather nicely even if you don’t get a lot of the topical references.  (Thanks, Dad, for sending it to me!)

At the other end of the spectrum is an 1871 potboiler/cautionary tale called Mabel Lee.  It is hilariously overwrought, full of florid description and thickly veiled allusions to desecrated honor.  It also offers a rather pallid portrait of the Feminine Ideal — it appears the ideal is to be abducted by a man you don’t love, defend your virginal honor, and in doing so, go insane five minutes into the whole business–then upon being rescued some time later, spend a year in Paris regaining your senses. Miss Mabel starts out all frothy and childish and yapping about faerie queens and marriage, but imbued with a Deep Sorrrow around the eyes at her father having died around the time of her birth, with a pages-long fascination with assorted aesthetics — potential suitors paraded before her, women she knows, ribbons for bonnets, etc. She goes glassy eyed within one paragraph of realizing a man has done her wrong, and takes her sweet time getting over it.  (The Evil Abductor takes a bullet in the lungs when he struggles with his captors.)

And yet, I suspect I will be discussing this book at some length in mine, as so many details dovetail so nicely with my real-life story. So you-all can be looking for that — someday, I hope.

Posted in Reading | Leave a comment

What’s the Stuff Above the Subtext?*

* Spoken by one of my favorite actors, from one of my favorite movies.

One of the harder things for me to do in writing is to leave things out. It is unsurprising, with my journalism background, that I am very grounded in spelling things out, being as clear and direct as possible, with no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding.  I can do it up to a certain point — if I am writing about a sad person, I might manage to cross out “Sadie was despondent,” and replace it with, “Sadie slumped over the table, her chin in her hand, staring bleakly at the wall.”  But it doesn’t generally occur to me to make the point that a person is sad by writing about all the happy things going on around them, with one reference to “Helllooo, Sadie! Engage, why dontcha?” (And when it does occur to me, it isn’t until the third or fourth rewrite.)

I have a deep and abiding respect for writers who can do that.  The kid just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and probably half of what goes on in that book is implication and inference, and it is beautiful. It was funny to go through that book with him, though. I realized that being able to pick up on those cues stems from a situational awareness — something my kid appears to have in short supply.  He has a vague notion of time, a vaguer notion of geography — even his grasp of his own physicality seems in question at times, as he stumbles and bumps into people. He’s subtle as a semi truck.  And, of course, he’s 10, so his grasp of Depression-era Southern norms and mores is a tad weak.  Yet he was still able, at the very least, to pick up on the fact that he was Missing Something, and to ask about it.

He’s bumped into things like that before—he was three books into Lemony Snicket before he realized all the names were references to something else and started looking them up.  Even I’ve read a few books like that, where I knew there were in-jokes or cultural references I wasn’t getting. Sometimes I look them up, sometimes I ignore them.

I do wish I could figure out how to WRITE THEM.

In my first step toward that goal, I’ve committed to telling the kid vague stories, veiled to various degrees, at least once a day, and seeing if he can grasp what I’m NOT saying.  I watched my husband unwittingly pull off a great one last night. We were talking about buying the kid a bowling ball, and this story got shared:

“My brother Gary took me to buy a bowling ball at Woolco in Terre Haute.  We were in line behind a black couple, who had something very specific in mind that they wanted.  The cashier was being a jerk, kind of mouthy and obnoxious, acting like he knew what they wanted better than they did.  So they finally wrapped up their business, and we stepped up to the counter.  The cashier shook his head at us and said, ‘It’s always the blacks.’ My brother looked at him, looked at me, and said, ‘You wanna go somewhere else to buy a ball?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’  So MacMillan’s Sporting Goods got our business that day.”

I asked the kid the next day, “So, why did Uncle Gary ask your dad if he wanted to go to a different store?” And the kid goes, “Because we don’t reward racism.”

1: Love that story.
2: Validated in having married well.
3: Pleased that the kid has decent values.
4: Delighted that the kid actually read between the lines (admittedly, they are pretty wide lines, but still, he did it).

Or rather, “The boy in the back seat mulled the story over. In the blue glow of the dashboard light, the woman squeezed her husband’s hand and smiled.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If You Like Downton Abbey…

… You should read what I’m reading. Mr. Bicknell got me two Nancy Mitford novels for Christmas, and I ripped through them in a couple of days. Now I’m reading The Sisters, a biography of all the Mitford gals—Bright Young Things who ran around with Churchill and other British society types; one of whom ran off to Germany and became a big fan of Hitler (so if that winds up happening to Lady Edith, you heard it here first.)

So, I’ve had five days off, and I haven’t written a word—Well, that’s not true. I wrote a freelance piece on the Wizard of Oz.  But I haven’t written a word on my book. I should feel guilty about this, I suppose, but I don’t.  I prefer to think of it as resting while I Absorb Things.

Along with reading, I also watched several movies. Argo was better than I thought it would be. The Long, Hot Summer with Paul Newman was cheesier than I thought it would be.  Noises Off was hilarious and exhausting, and if you have film editor friends, you will have a great appreciation for the work done in it.  My kid is reading To Kill a Mockingbird, so we watched that movie again Friday. I’d forgotten how good both book and film are in their own right.

I sincerely hope that all this semi-historical material kicks me into a history-writing frame of mind. There’s always next weekend for settling in under the laptop!

In more exciting news, the Beatles magazine I freelanced for has been printed. I believe it will be in shops later this month.

In truly exciting news, Mr. Bicknell got a book cover! It’s quite lovely. We were very excited.

Posted in Doldrums, Inspiration | Leave a comment