Senior Scribbles Second Dose

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Senior Scribbles Second Dose

The Olde English graverobber makes his second appearance on a collection of short pieces by Chuck Thurston. This time his mixture has a bit more bite! “Take Two of These and Keep Your Mouth Shut!” Look him up at http://www.amazon.com/Senior-Scribbles-Second-Dose-Volume/dp/193810191X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398613895&sr=8-1&keywords=chuck+Thurston

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Spring Wind by Anne Vaughan

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The calendar says February

but the lion-ish wind

blowing fiercely from the west

says March.

 

Branches weakened by winter storms

come crashing down while

garbage cans scoot down the street

like sailboats loosed from their moorings.

 

The wind has scudded all

the clouds from the sky leaving

a clear spring blue with half a pale moon

blowing dangerously close.

 

A storm door not tightly latched

lies on our front lawn and

an errant sheet of white tissue paper

whips around on a pole like a dancer’s skirt.

 

Mother Nature is hell-bent

on spring cleaning.

 

 

The Coroner Takes A Ride – Prologue

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When I took the chief’s job at the West Hepzibah Police Department – 21 years ago – I spent some time looking at town and road maps of the area to get the lay of the land, so to speak. I reasoned if there was a West Hepzibah there must be an east equivalent – maybe even a north and south. In fact, where in hell was Hepzibah proper?

Everett Hartsell set me straight. He was 62 then – 20 years older than I at the time. He knew everything about everything – and everyone – it seemed to me. Amazingly, neither he, nor his wife Jane, was a gossip. He was the county coroner and had survived every election challenge for so long that he ran unopposed most of the time. Jane was a couple of years away from retirement as principle of the East Sykes middle school. Between them, I am sure they knew all of the town’s betrayals and selfless loyalties – all deeds scandalous and laudable – but they kept their own counsel.

I latched onto Everett as a mentor almost immediately, to help me understand all things West Hepzibah. Margot and I became friends with Everett and Jane. They loved to play cards, and we occasionally went to their big house on Upper Linwood Avenue – they had better hosting facilities than we did at that time – for a few games of pitch. We mixed and matched our playing partners, had great conversations and learned a lot about our new hometown.

Everett and I would frequently meet at Nelly’s downtown for coffee. I brought up the question of Hepzibah’s whereabouts during one of these breaks. Everett laughed, then said, “Come with me.”

He led me to his pickup truck outside, and we headed out of town. Up Main Street, left on Linwood Avenue, and then a couple of miles up the hill until Linwood turned into Foster Mountain Road – a two lane black top not particularly distinguishable for anything but a nice view of the Brushy Mountains to the east, and the ramp of the Blue Ridge to the north. In another two miles or so, the blacktop road narrowed. Maintenance was spotty. The shoulders were crumbled and potholes more frequent. We passed several mobile homes. They weren’t arranged in the rows and columns of a conventional trailer park. Many were in small clan-like groupings that suggested family compounds. At some point we passed a sign that marked the entrance to North Carolina Game Lands, and a couple of miles beyond that, we came to a crossroads. Everett turned left onto the gravel road intersection, and parked his truck. “Here we are,” he said.

The remains of an old gas station were on one side of the road. A Sinclair gasoline sign was hanging by one chain and swung in the light breeze. A pump island was still there, but the pumps were gone. Weeds grew up through cracked and broken paved sections around the station, and most of the windows were shattered or missing. The stone foundations of a half dozen other structures clustered around the crossroads. Over one of the larger ones, a lone chimney stood above the remains of whatever it warmed at one time. Cater-cornered from the gas station on the other side of the crossroads was an abandoned church – a framed derelict missing most of the windows and doors and much of the siding. A sign had been spared. It hung on the skeleton of the church next to the front steps. The primitive lettering ‘Hepzibah Baptist Church’ was faint, but still legible.

There were blackened spots dotting the landscape here and there. Some on bare ground; some on whatever paved sections still existed. They looked like the remains of old campfires, with dark ashes, and partially burnt sticks and pieces of scrap lumber. Bottles and cans were strewn everywhere and broken glass littered the area. I looked to Everett for an explanation. He told me the story:

Colonel Jonathan Foster got out of the Confederate Army toward the end of the Civil War. His own little piece of that army had dissolved around him somewhere in Virginia right before Appomattox. He and many of his men – yeoman farmers – were reluctant combatants. They knew well what North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance meant when he characterized the conflict as “a rich man’s war, and a poor man’s fight.” Foster headed back to claim the plot of land in the North Carolina mountains that his family had owned for generations. He married Hepzibah Bennett – the daughter of a Charlotte businessman – to help him run it. They raised two sons.

He found a promising seam of granite and used it for the foundation of the large house he built – then decided to make a go of the quarry, and hired workers. He timbered the land and planted tobacco. A settlement grew around him and he opened a small store. A church was built, but the region was sparsely populated, poor, and poorly defined – as were many North Carolina counties at that time. Foster named his little outpost Hepzibah and lobbied for its designation as the county seat of Foster County. The state legislature didn’t grant it.

His enclave gradually disbanded, even as his army of farmers had. The winters were harsh, the tobacco migrated to lower sections of the Piedmont and granite was found in Mount Airy.The road builders preferred the land below and to the west of him. A West Hepzibah began to grow and prosper. His wife, in what might have been a final indignity, moved away from her namesake town to a fine house in West Hepzibah and began efforts to improve the cultural climate there. Foster stubbornly clung to his mountain.

He set out one day to plead his case, yet again, to the legislature. His apparent intention was to ride to Morganton and find his way by rail to Raleigh. His horse returned the next day, but he did not. The remaining settlers, and the occasional reinforcement, clung to the site for a few more years as automobiles improved accessibility, but all eventually moved to more promising locations. The not-quite town became a collection of tumble-downs, furnishing fuel for the campfires of hunters and hikers. Locals scavenged the quarry for their own projects, until even that was too much trouble. Two boys drowned in the water that collected in the bottom of the quarry and a gate was put across the single road leading in. Hepzibah vanished from the maps.

 

Self editing your writing – Part 2

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Self-Editing Checklist: golf balls, beans, sand and water.

There is a frequently told story about a college physics instructor who sat a pickle jar filled with golf balls on top of his desk and asked his students if it was ‘full.” When they agreed that it was, he poured a sack of dried beans in it and shook the jar until they settled. “Now is it full?” he asked. They had to admit it was, until he took a scoop of sand from a bucket and poured it in. When he shook it once more, they all concluded that now, at last, the jar must be full. Then he reached for a pitcher of water…

This is the first in a series of short self-editing steps that I follow in my own creative writing. They work for me, and I pass them on for any useful information they might provide for you. In successive posts, I’ll write about the golf balls, beans, sand and water in my own editing approach.

Beans – The Style Edit : The story has to read well. This is your style and is unique to you. (don’t confuse with the character’s voices). Hemingway’s style is journalistic; Elmore Leonard’s is compact, terse; Umberto Eco’s is convoluted, complex. The key for your own writing is to be consistent. This includes elements like

Consistency of narrative voice

First Person: (I, me, mine, etc.): narrator has a limited perspective; narrator is a part of the story; actions and events are described from one perspective.
Examples: personal experiences – memoirs, novels, biographies.
Second Person: (you, your, etc.): narrator directly addresses the reader, usually to command, direct, or explain how to do something.
Examples: how-to essays, instructions, manuals, recipes, directions. Rare in fiction
Third Person: (she, he, it, they, etc.): narrator has complete knowledge of all the characters’ thoughts and actions (the omniscient author), or the narrator has limited knowledge of the characters’ thoughts and actions; narrator does not participate in the action or the story; narrator can appear non-biased. Is also used in formal documents, newspaper articles, etc.

Consistency of language style (active vs. passive, tense, mood, etc.)

Examples:
“Harry ate six shrimp at dinner.” (active)
”At dinner, six shrimp were eaten by Harry.” (passive) “Sue changed the flat tire.” (active)
”The flat tire was changed by Sue.” (passive). Active is the stronger, shorter approach, but passive has its place, e.g., you want to emphasize the person or thing acted on: “You ain’t gonna believe this Sherriff. That bank was robbed by a little ol’ gal in a calico dress and pigtails!”
Consistency in verb tenses – don’t fluctuate!
Example: Elizabeth Peabody was born in a school and thereafter felt destined to be a teacher. Her mother was a teacher and trains her daughters at her side. The academic life seems to suit Elizabeth, who thrived on the rigorous curriculum.

Consistency of Character

Make a card file of each of your main characters and well-rounded secondary characters. List their physical characteristics. Left handed, blue eyes, tattoos, nervous tic, lopsided smile to the right, etc., and list some personal observations: hates licorice, loves flannel sheets, wears a cross necklace, right ear is pierced, etc. Include a little personal history: born in December, adopted, broke arm playing HS football, won a tap dancing contest, etc. Make notes on voice and language. An accent? Hoarse? A slow drawl? A lisp or speech impediment?”

List their motivations and how they react in situations. A do gooder? Willful and stubborn? Shiftless and lazy? Energetic and passionate? Quick to pitch in and help, or wary and cautious?