The Creek War(1813-1814), Part Two: Leaders, The Red Sticks

Let’s take a brief look at six major figures involved in the Creek War: Chief William Weatherford, Chief Menawa, Chief William McIntosh, Generals Ferdinand Claiborne and Andrew Jackson and Chief Pushmataha.

In this post, we’ll look at two Red Stick leaders. Red Sticks were those Creeks who opposed the settlers, so-called for their red warclubs, a deadly weapon. Red was the color of war in Creek society.

Red Sticks

William Weatherford

In 1780 Charles Weatherford, a Scotsman and Loyalist to Britain, rode into Alabama with his friend Samuel Mims to escape the violence and bloodshed of America’s revolution against Great Britain. Eventually, Sam Mims headed south, toward the Tensaw River and Spanish Mobile while Charles continued west to the Creek town of Coosada on the Alabama River, not far from present-day Wetumpka and Montgomery, Alabama. Here, in either 1780 or 1781, he married Sehoy, a wealthy Creek woman of the Wind clan. In 1781, Sehoy gave birth to a son who would become a legend—William Weatherford.

Nine clans (families) comprised Creek society, with the most powerful and privileged clan being Sehoy’s. Charles established a plantation, was a slave owner and slave trader, and also traded in cattle and deerskins. William Weatherford inherited this wealth.

As he grew to adulthood, Weatherford gained a reputation as a good leader as well as an excellent athlete. He was friendly to all who visited him, white men and Indian. In fact, though raised as a Creek, he dressed like a white man and adopted many of the white man’s ways.

Before the war, he advised his people to stay neutral because he knew the Creeks couldn’t win. Most of his relatives sided with the settlers, so why did he choose the Red Sticks’ side? His descendants say he joined to limit violence and save lives. Others say he was devoted to the cause. Two conflicting stories have tried to explain his decision.

Story Number One

Weatherford was returning home with his brother-in-law Sam Moniac after trading cattle when he found his wife and children being held by the Red Sticks. Their leaders, the prophet Josiah Francis and Chief Peter McQueen, told them they’d kill them in front of their families if they didn’t join their cause.

Moniac seized Francis’s warclub and whacked him on the head, stunning him long enough to gallop away. Weatherford, after warning them their fight was lost before it began, joined them because, as he was reputed to have said, “you are my people.”

Story Number Two

He returned from Pensacola and found that his family had been taken to a Red Stick village, so he went there with the intent of sneaking them out if an opportunity arose. That opportunity never came, the war’s first battle was fought and everyone assumed he’d become their leader. Thus, he joined them because he saw no other way out.

A Little-Known Fact

Gregory Waselkov, in his recent work A Conquering Spirit, writes that when Weatherford and Moniac drove their cattle to a Choctaw town, Weatherford held a “secret interview” with the town’s leader and tried to persuade him to fight in the coming war, but the Choctaw refused. Waselkov, then, is one historian who believes Weatherford was totally devoted to the Red Sticks’ cause.

Creek House, Fort Toulouse State Park, Wetumpka, Alabama Photo by Author

Whatever the truth, Weatherford would play a major role in the Creek War’s early battles and would lead one of the bloodiest massacres in American history, at a stockade built around Sam Mims’s house on the Tensaw.

Because of Fort Mims, Weatherford’s life was in constant danger from settlers who’d lost loved ones there. Till the day he died in 1824, he suffered from nightmares about the event but thanks to his family’s prominence, he was able to stay in Alabama and prosper as a plantation owner in Baldwin County, thus avoiding the infamous Trail of Tears.


Chief Menawa

Circa 1765, Menawa was born to a Creek woman and a Scottish father in the Creek town of Okfuskee. The name given him in his youth was Hothlepoya, “Crazy War Hunter,” for his raids and exploits in Tennessee where he stole American horses. These exploits made him famous.

In 1811, he became the second chief of Okfuskee. He acquired wealth through trade, cattle and hog raising, and trading horses. During the Creek War, he lost his wealth but his political prominence and influence within the tribe continued. He died in 1836 on the Trail of Tears.

Sources

Griffith, Benjamin W. Jr. McIntosh and Weatherford, Creek Indian Leaders, Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1988.

Halbert, Henry S. and Timothy H. Ball. The Creek War of 1813 and 1814. 1895. Reprint edited by Frank L. Owsley Jr. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Waselkov, Gregory A. A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-1814. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006.

Links

“Menawa,’ American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/menawa

Kathryn Braund,“Menawa,“ Encyclopedia of Alabama, updated May 16, 2019, http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3594

The Creek War(1813-1814), Part One: Background to Conflict

Today, I begin a series on the Creek War (1813-1814). Most of this war was fought in Alabama when it was still part of the Mississippi Territory, and it was part of the much larger War of 1812, as Britain and Spain were allies of the Red Stick Creeks. I’ll also share some videos along the way that will go into more detail on the subjects covered. I’ll continue sharing writing tips in other blogs, but this series ties into my novel coming out, hopefully, next year. Its working title is Circuit Riders: A Story of the Creek War.

The Geographical Setting and Settlements

Before we discuss the Creek War, it’s helpful to briefly establish some background to this conflict.

During and immediately after the American Revolution, many settlers who sided with the British (Tories) left their homes in the former colonies and migrated to Alabama, settling in the Tensaw-Tombigbee valleys just north of Mobile. Many married Indian women and became rich through trade and other means. Their offspring were called métis, French for mixed blood. Originally, France ruled Mobile, but the British took over after the French and Indian War.

In 1780 Spain, an American ally during the Revolution, captured Mobile. Some Spaniards then moved up the Tombigbee River and built a fort on a limestone bluff overlooking the river that would later become Fort St. Stephens.

Under the Treaty of Paris (1783) at the end of the Revolution, Spain was granted all of Louisiana as well as territory along the Gulf of Mexico, called East and West Florida. In 1798, Congress established the 31st parallel as the boundary between Spain and the United States and created the Mississippi Territory. It later expanded to the 32nd parallel (1802) when Georgia ceded lands to the federal government. The map below shows what the Territory, a vast region spreading from the Chattahoochee River to the Mississippi River, looked like in 1813, at the time of the Creek War.

In 1799, the federal government built Fort Stoddert on the Mobile River, and in April 1813 the American general, James Wilkinson, captured Mobile without a shot fired.

American pioneers who weren’t Tories, along with their slaves and cattle, began moving into Alabama and Mississippi country in the early 1800s.

The Tribes

Four tribes lived in the Mississippi Territory during this era: the Choctaws, the Chickasaws, the Cherokees, and the Creeks. With the exception of the Pueblos in present-day New Mexico, these tribes were more culturally advanced than all the other tribes north of Mexico.

The Creeks were a matrilineal society, which meant a child’s inheritance was passed through the mother. Women managed households and farmed. Men hunted and fought wars. Often, chiefs and headmen consulted their women when decisions had to be made on issues that concerned their towns. However, when it came to war, chiefs made the decisions.

Because their society was matrilineal, a white man who’d married a Creek woman was considered Creek. Two of the Creek War’s most prominent Creek leaders were cousins who fought on opposite sides, William Weatherford and William McIntosh, but we’ll get into that later.

The Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees were also matrilineal. Most of the members of these tribes supported the settlers. One Choctaw leader we’ll be discussing later is Pushmataha, a highly respected chief.

Next week we’ll look at two major leaders of the Red Sticks.


Sources


McMillan, Malcolm C. The Land Called Alabama, Austin, TX:: Steck-Vaughn Company 1968.

Waselkov, Gregory A. A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-1814, Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 2006

 


 

Use a Juxtaposition

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

In this famous opening line to Dickens’s classic, we find that he used a literary device called juxtaposition. For example: best of time/worst of times, wisdom/foolishness, belief/incredulity, etc.

Juxtaposition uses opposites, or near opposites, to create special effects and evoke emotions in readers. We find this technique not just in writing, but in other art forms as well.  In writing, this technique can be used in both fiction and nonfiction, and poets use it a lot too.

How to Use Juxtaposition in Literature

Use it in sentences, such as Dickens used in the above example.

Use it with characters. For example, let one character be a constant worrier during a time of crisis and juxtapose him with a character who’s calm during this same crisis. In Mark Twain’s classic, The Prince and the Pauper, two lifestyles are contrasted—poor Tom Canty’s and wealthy Prince Edward’s. When we make our characters unique, it makes it easier to juxtapose them in different settings and situations.

Use it in settings. For maximum effect, don’t make the setting predictable. If Tom is in love with Carol and plans to propose to her, put them in an unpredictable place where he does this. Perhaps they’re attending a professional boxing match, and he proposes to Carol there. Fighting contrasted with romance. The boxing could be a metaphor, or foreshadowing, of future conflict in their marriage.

Using juxtapositions must be intentional, so they require some thought, but if used well, they’ll enhance your writing.

Experimental Fiction

James Joyce (1882-1941)

Three Identifiers of Experimental Fiction

Experimental fiction breaks the rules of genre fiction. Often, it doesn’t have a beginning or an end, or it may go in circles and barely have a plot.  It can be long or it can be short. It goes however and wherever it wants to go, and ends wherever and whenever it wants to end.

Experimental fiction is hard to read. If you want a nice, quick read when you go to the park or the beach, I highly suggest you don’t take an experimental novel with you.

Experimental fiction experiments with language. Authors use various literary techniques, often in the same book. They may put a new definition on a word, make up a word and even use poetry.

Experimental Fiction Tips

  1. Know the rules of good writing: grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  2. Know the principles of good storytelling in the traditional sense, such as when to show and when to tell, dialogue and characterization, etc.
  3. Don’t break the rules just for the sake of breaking them. Be able to justify your decisions in experimenting.

A Few Famous Experimental Novels

James Joyce, Ulysses

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Henry James, The Other House

Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon

George Orwell, Animal Farm and 1984

If you want to write experimental fiction, know the rules before you break them and be able to explain why. Also, don’t forget to revise and produce the best work you can. Who buys literary fiction these days? Submitting your work to literary magazines is the best way to begin.

Publishers Who Prey, Part Three: How I Do It

The term, “self-publishing,” says how I do it. I am the publisher, which means I have total control of my work, which means I go through many of the same steps traditional publishers do.

My Nine Steps to Self-publishing

Step One       

I buy my International Standard Book Number (ISBN) from bowker.com. ISBNs are your book’s unique identifying number. They help buyers identify you as the author and enable places such as libraries to order your book. Bowker is the only legitimate company in the United States where these important numbers can be purchased.                        

Some self-publishers, such as Amazon KDP, will provide an ISBN for you for free. However, if Amazon provides the number, authors aren’t allowed to have their own imprint, but Amazon does give authors the option to use their own ISBN and imprint when they publish their books.   

Step Two

I write my book and revise and revise and revise till I’m happy with it. In other words, I strive to write the best book I can.

Step Three

I submit my work to beta readers, those readers who read objectively and offer sound advice. I’ve written a blog about beta readers that discusses how to find the right one. Visit it at: https://wordpress.com/post/theauthorscove.com/2050

Step Four

I hire a professional freelance editor to review my book and offer suggestions for improvement. Because each genre has its own rules, it’s important to find one who is knowledgeable about your genre and era. In historical fiction, for example, lots of narrative exposition is more acceptable than in other genres, such as thrillers.

Photo by Shamia Casiano on Pexels.com

Step Five

Taking the editor’s advice into consideration and using what’s helpful, I make more changes. Since we’re all human, it’s easy to overlook things such as punctuation and spelling errors, so I proofread again.

Step Six

I hire a good cover designer. Some of the companies I mentioned in my previous post do cover designs, but I hire my own because covers are hugely important. They’re the reader’s first impression of your book. A good cover encourages readers to look inside your book and perhaps even buy it.

I also hire a professional to format my book. A short while back, I did something I’ve never done before. I took a book I’d purchased back to the bookstore for a refund. I bought it because it dealt with a subject I had an interest in. I returned it because the formatting was bad, which led me to believe the author was an amateur. The writing wasn’t that great either.

For any who may be interested, my cover designer and the one who formats my books can be found at this website: www.teddiblack.com. I have used Teddi and Megan for many years.

Step Seven

Once step six is done, I proofread again, make suggestions for changes to my formatter and when  I’m happy with the result, I upload my book on Amazon  KDP.

Step Eight

After the book is published, I record it in my Bowker account beside the ISBN number I’d purchased.      

Step Nine

I send two copies of my book to the Copyright Office. Why? Because it’s the law. The Copyright Office gives authors three months to do this.

Although it’s not required, I register my book with the Copyright Office. According to copyright law, once a work is in fixed form it’s automatically copyrighted. Registration just gives the work a little more legal protection and more money if the author sues someone who plagiarized him.

Well, folks, this is how I do it. Till next week, y’all.

Publishers Who Prey, Part Two: How to Spot Predators

Although this list of red flags isn’t exhaustive, if you spot any of them during your search for a publisher, watch out!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Red Flags

  • Predators charge exorbitant fees. As indicated in last week’s post, authors should not have to pay fees to publishers or agents, except for necessary things such as postage. Authors who fall victim to these predators pay thousands of dollars for their book’s publication. On the other hand, legitimate publishers and agents earn their money by taking a cut of an author’s royalties. This is explained in their contracts.
  • Predators promise to edit and proofread an author’s manuscript. Well, their editing is often shoddy, as is the proofreading, and this can embarrass authors once their book is in print.
  • Predators promise high royalties (such as 70%) and say they’ll put your book in bookstores. They’ll put it on their website’s online bookstore and on other online bookstores, but no brick-and-mortar store will carry their books. Why? Because nine times out of ten, the writing is poor. These predators accept practically every manuscript that crosses their desks. It’s how they make money—from authors, not from the reading public. They can promise high royalties because few readers will buy their books.
  • Predators promise to make an author’s book a bestseller. How many wannabes have fallen for this line? I shudder to think of a number. The fact is, no one can make this promise, not even a traditional publisher. Lots of factors must fall into place for it to become a bestseller. If a publisher promises this— beware!
  • “Publisher looking for authors.” Wow, this sort of predatory advertising is a dead giveaway—predators hunting for victims. Actually, it’s authors who look for publishers, not the other way around.
  • Predators promise to get your work registered with the copyright office. This isn’t a false promise. I’m sure they do this. Hey! I’ve registered my work with the copyright office too. It’s super-easy to do, yet it sounds complicated to inexperienced writers.

Some Legit Self-Publishers

There are legitimate self-publishing companies out there. Below, I’ve listed a few, but once again, it’s not exhaustive. I’ve only listed those I’ve had experience with and/or those I know something about.

  • Book Baby:  Book Baby does charge authors, but its prices are not exorbitant. It has a very good reputation in the self-publishing industry.
  • Amazon KDP: Amazon doesn’t charge authors to publish its books. I’ve used it for all of my self-published works.
  • Barnes & Noble Press: This press is relatively new. An earlier version of this was Barnes & Noble Nook, which was similar to Amazon Kindle.
  • Kobo:  It publishes ebooks.
  • IngramSpark: Although this company is primarily a book distributor, authors also use it to publish books. A cost is involved but again, it’s not exorbitant. The owner of a  local independent bookstore in my hometown told me she orders all of her books from IngramSpark. It’s great to use if you want your book in a brick-and-mortar store.
  • Draft2digital: This company will format and update an author’s manuscript for free. It makes its money in a manner similar to traditional publishers, that is, when a book sells it takes 10 % of the book’s retail price.

Be sure to research a company before spending your hard-earned money.

A Tip for Finding a Literary Agent

Be sure the agent is a member of AALA (American Association of Literary Agents), which used to be called AAR (Agents and Authors Representatives). The AALA is like the Better Business Bureau of literary agents in that it requires them to abide by certain ethical standards. For more information, here’s a good link: https://nelsonagency.com/2021/03/one-easy-way-to-verify-if-an-agent-is-legit/

Next Week: Self-publishing: How I Do It

Publishers Who Prey, Part One: Don’t Be a Victim

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When I began writing for publication, in the mid-1980s, serious authors (myself included) frowned upon self-publishing. Ah, but times have changed! In today’s literary world, many traditional authors have also self (indie)-published. Writers’ magazines sponsor indie contests, awards are given for indie books, and so on. No longer is it frowned upon, at least not like it was in the old typewriter days.

I applaud indie publishing. It’s opened numerous doors for authors such as me, and it’s great for those who’ve learned how to write and produce quality books. These authors take the time and effort required to study and learn the craft, and they work hard to make their books the best they can be.

However, self-publishing has a downside. What is it? Scams. Thanks to modern technology, they inundate the internet. Nowadays, most anyone can write and publish a book. Scam artists touting themselves as publishers and/or agents prey on eager, inexperienced authors who’ve longed to see their books in print. In short, these authors become victims.

Many wannabe writers think all they have to do is put words and sentences together. They don’t revise, because they haven’t studied the craft to know what to look for. They don’t edit and proofread, because they don’t know how, nor do they hire those who know how to do it. They just want a book out there. The quality of their writing is of no concern. They pay these scam artist publishers lots of money—in the thousands of dollars—and often endure emotional pain in the aftermath of publication. We’ll go into more detail on this in next week’s post.

For now, let’s learn the basic difference between vanity publishing and self-publishing.

Vanity Publishers

  1. Vanity publishers publish books in a manner similar to traditional publishers, yet unlike traditional publishers, they accept most every manuscript that crosses their desks regardless of its literary quality.
  2. Vanity publishers make money from the exorbitant fees they charge authors. Traditional publishers take a percentage of authors’ royalties, which they specify in their contracts. Traditional publishers do not charge fees.

Self-Publishers, aka Indie Publishers

  • From cover design, interior format and back copy to finished book, self-publishers have total control of their book, even in regards to pricing.
  • Self-publishers do spend money for their book’s production, but they hire qualified people to do this work. Traditional publishers have their own people they pay to do similar things: proofreading, cover design, formatting, etc. So, in a sense, a self-publisher is his/her own traditional publisher.

Are There Legitimate Self-Publishing Companies?

Yes. We’ll discuss these in another post. For now, be sure to research a potential publisher before signing a contract. Many a “wannabe author” has had his/her potential career ruined by these scam artists.

NEXT WEEK: Red Flags of a Scammer. What to look for.

Characters and Their Arcs

As you work on your story, does it have events that change your main character(s), for better or for worse? Most stories should. This change is called a character arc. There are three main kinds: positive, negative, and flat arcs.  

Why Use Character Arcs?

  • They make characters interesting and relatable.
  • They make characters three-dimensional. A perfect character with no need to change becomes boring.

Must All Characters Change?

No, but the main characters should. There is, however, an exception to this which we’ll look at later.

Three Types of Character Arcs

Positive Arc

Three main ingredients of a positive arc: (1) the character believes a lie, (2) circumstances, conflicts, and events bring the character to a realization of the truth, and (2) the character changes for the better.

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is an excellent example of this. At the beginning of the story, Scrooge is a greedy fellow who doesn’t believe in Christmas. He believes the lie about wealth’s importance and the need to constantly work and make money, even during holidays.

Then the three ghosts arrive and show him his life and its events – past, present, and future – which result in his change of heart. By the story’s end, Ebenezer Scrooge has become a pretty nice fellow!

Negative Arc

Trailer from movie Anna Karenina

In this arc, the character starts out good but by the story’s end, he’s changed for the worse. In other words, he doesn’t grow into a better person. Just as in the positive arc, the events and conflicts that change this character must be believable. Negative arcs do not end “happily ever after.”

Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina, provides us a good example. This novel has lots of themes, but I’ll focus on one of them: adultery. In the beginning, Anna is a popular socialite, the perfect model of a Russian lady in the 1870s. But she has a fatal flaw: her passions. These drive her to commit adultery with a character named Vronsky, and she abandons her children. As the story ends, she kills herself by jumping in front of an oncoming train.

Flat Arc

Sherlock’s First Appearance

Although I don’t recommend this arc, it can and has been used successfully. In this arc, the main character doesn’t change. Sherlock Holmes, who is actually too perfect and too smart to be believable in my opinion, is a good example. From one story and novel to the next, Detective Sherlock never changes. These arcs may work in a series that features characters such as Sherlock, but the character must interesting and the stories must have an interesting plot.

Do your characters change, for better or for worse? Or are they flat, like ole Detective Sherlock?

Epigraphs: What They Are and How To Use Them

Troy, with walls still far from old

Had been destroyed, that noble, royal town

And many a man full worthy of renown

Had last his life—that no man can gainsay—

And all for Helen, the wife of Menelay,

When a thing’s done, it may then be no other.

John Lydgate, Troy Book, circa 1412-1420

This quote begins Margaret George’s excellent novel, Helen of Troy. She doesn’t put it in the body of her writing. Instead, it’s on a page by itself, right before the Prologue. There’s a word for such quotes—epigraph.

An epigraph can come at the beginning of a book, like George’s, or at the beginning of each section of a book, or introduce a chapter. They can also be used in both fiction and nonfiction. In a book I’m working on about the Creek War (1813-1814) in Alabama, I use epigraphs to bring historical context to my story. In my epigraphs, I briefly quote historians and others to help these readers follow and understand my tale’s historical events and tie my various plotlines together.

Chief William McIntosh (c. 1775-1825), one of the leaders of the Creek War.

Epigraphs can be funny, serious, taken from the Bible, a philosopher or theologian, or even from one of the book’s characters. Also in my Creek War novel, I’m using quotes from a character’s fictional journal.

Using Epigraphs

  • Under copyright law, if the epigraph comes from a source published after 1923, writers must get permission to use it. Before 1923, a work is in the public domain—free for everyone to use without permission. Although copyright law has a Fair Use Doctrine giving authors a little freedom to quote from copyrighted sources without permission, it also has certain guidelines to follow. We won’t get into that here. But in my opinion, it’s always best to “play it safe” and request permission from a copyrighted source.
  • The epigraph must have a connection to the book’s, section’s, or chapter’s content. In other words, epigraphs cannot be used randomly. So if you use epigraphs, choose them carefully.

A Few Novels That Use Epigraphs

Helen of Troy, by Margaret George

The Fort, by Bernard Cornwell

Farenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway.

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Helen of Troy, by Margaret George

Hey, Let’s Get Verbal!

Authors enjoy debating writing and other literary issues. One issue up for debate is the verbs that end with -ing. Some authors don’t use these constructions, others do. Some editors don’t mind them, other editors do. So, what gives? Let’s look a little closer.

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A FEW DEFINITIONS

What is a verb that ends with ing?  Actually, they’re not verbs. In grammar, they’re called verbals. Examples: walk/walking, jump/jumping, sing/singing, etc.

What is a verbal? It’s a verb form used as another part of speech.

  1. Verbals used as adjectives are called participles.  Here’s an example: The cackling seagulls soared in the sky.

Cackling is the participle that modifies the noun seagulls.

2. Verbals used as nouns are called gerunds. Here’s an example: Jane enjoys sewing.

Jane is the subject of the sentence, and sewing is the direct object. Sewing, then, is a gerund (i.e. a noun).

Using verbals like those above is fine. Sometimes, we have to use them. However, the debate surrounds whether authors should use participial phrases. Now, let’s look at them.

The Participial Phrase

  1. What is a phrase? It’s a group of words that, when strung together, work together to carry a certain meaning. A phrase does not have a subject or a verb. Here’s an example: the duck on the water.
  2. What is the purpose of a phrase? It modifies other parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, and verbs. It can also modify a complete sentence.
  3. Types of phrases: prepositional, infinitive, gerund, participial

Since we’re discussing participles, we’ll limit our discussion to the participial phrase.

  1. What is a participial phrase? It’s a phrase that begins with a participle, contains an object, and is used as an adjective. Here’s an example: Running toward town, the dog chased a squirrel up a tree.
  • Participle: Running
  • Object: town
  • Modifies the sentence’s object: dog
  • Possible revisions:

Some Final Thoughts and Comments

Is it possible to have too many participial phrases in our story? In my opinion, yes. That said, I also believe it’s fine to use them sparingly. No more than two per page, as recommended by editors Renni Browne and Dave King in their excellent book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

Why?

  • Too many on a page are amateurish.
  • Too many on a page hinder the flow and smoothness of our prose.
  • They present problems in clarity and believability. For instance: Getting into her car, Mary accelerated it past the speed limit. It’s impossible for a person to get into a car and accelerate it at the same time, yet this is what that sentence implies.
  • Where is the best place in the sentence to use them? In the middle of it, or at the end, are the strongest places.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you use participial phrases or none at all?


Bibliography

Browne, Renni and Dave King. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print. Second Edition. New York: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2004.

Thoroughbred Racing in the “City by the Bay”

Oakdale Race Track in Mobile, Alabama. c. early 1900s.

When most folks think of Thoroughbred racing in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the Deep South, one city usually comes to mind—New Orleans. However, another city on the Gulf Coast shared equal popularity during this era—the “City by the Bay,” that is, Mobile, Alabama.

While New Orleans had its Metairie Race Track and the Fairgrounds (the nation’s third oldest track still in business), Mobile had the Bascombe, Arlington Fairgrounds, and Oakdale race courses.

Bascombe Race Course. In the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine, a popular magazine in the antebellum era, Bascombe’s 1838 racing schedule is listed, along with the names of the various horses competing, the days when different races will be held, the purse for the winner, and so on. These were the races the publication had omitted in an earlier issue. In 1860, the course was used as an encampment for volunteer troops called “Camp Montgomery.” Nowadays, Mobile uses it to train its Mounted Police Unit.

Arlington Fairgrounds. This track was located near the Bascombe Course, on a road that followed along the Mobile Bay southward for seven miles. Called the Bay Shell Road at the time, it was paved with oyster shells and to travel on it one had to pay a toll. Arlington’s track began around the 1870s, and its use for racing continued into the early twentieth century.

Oakdale. A track in this community was also in use at the turn of the twentieth century. Some local historians consider this one to have been Mobile’s best.  

In Turfmen and the Prodigal, due out this September, I use a fictional track in Spring Hill, Alabama, west of Mobile. During the antebellum era, Spring Hill was a late spring and summer refuge for many of Mobile’s wealthy citizens.

Bibliography

“Camp Montgomery,” Alabama Historical Quarterly 20, no. 2 (1958): 293

“Fairgrounds History Remembered in New Documentary,” Mid-City Messenger, November 18, 2014,https://midcitymessenger.com/2014/11/18/fair-grounds-history-remembered-in-new-documentary/.

“Horsing Around,” Mobile Bay Magazine 37, no. 4(2021):82.

McLaurin, Melton and Michael Thomason. Mobile: The Life and Times of a Great Southern City.  Woodland Hills, CA, 1981.

“Omissions in the Racing Calendar,” American and Turf Register and Sporting Magazine 10 (January and February, 1839): 94.

Preston, Ben C. “Mobile Alabama Nostalgia Back in the Day,” Facebook, December 23. 2016, https://www.facebook.com/groups/MobileNostalgia.

Scott, Mike. “From Horses to Corpses: How Metairie Race Course Became Metairie Cemetery,” The Times Picayune, April 12, 2017; Updated July 22, 2019https://www.nola.com/300/article_4d8f567b-5039-5e52-88b7-9e6a4331925a.html

Jimmy Winkfield, Hall of Fame Jockey

In the 1890s, an African-American jockey named Jimmy Winkfield was the last Black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. Throughout the nineteenth century, African-Americans dominated Thoroughbred racing. Most of them in the South, before the Civil War, were slaves. Winkfield gained fame in America as well as in Europe and Czarist Russia.

Today, in Queens, New York, a race is held every year in his honor–The Jimmy Winkfield Stakes. I’ve attached a short YouTube video that tells about his fascinating life.

Turfmen and the Prodigal: A Novel of Antebellum Mobile, due for release in September, features some fictional jockeys as they train and compete against each other.

Lottie Deno: The Real Miss Kitty Russell

When Amanda Blake was chosen to play Miss Kitty Russell in Gunsmoke, it wasn’t an accident she was a redhead. The historical “Miss Kitty,” Charlotte Tompkins, was a redhead too, and she inspired Amanda Blake’s character.

But Charlotte wasn’t any ordinary saloon girl. In fact, in Kentucky where she was from, she was born into the state’s upper class. She was a well-mannered and attractive Southern belle whose wealthy father taught her how to gamble and win at cards, bet on horses in races and gamble on riverboats … all to support her sister when the need arose. During the Civil War, her family lost its fortune. So, she turned to gambling, first on riverboats.

In 1863, she went to San Antonio where a part-Cherokee gentleman named Frank Thurmond hired her to be a dealer at his University Club. He gave her a percentage of the profits.

In keeping with her upper-class breeding, she always wore nice clothes, maintained the manners with which she was raised and kept the men at her card table honest. “You gents will not swear, smoke or drink liquor at my table,” she told them while she shuffled the cards. Most players were agreeable to this.

Today, she’s known to history as Lottie Deno. No one is certain how she got this name. According to one story, when she was living in Fort Griffin, Texas she’d had a run of luck playing poker at the Bee Hive Saloon. At the end of the evening, a cowboy said to her: “Honey, with winnings like that, you oughter call yourself ‘Lotta Dinero.’” She liked the name and began using it to protect her upstanding family’s reputation.

Eventually, Lottie married Frank and they both quit gambling. She became one of the founders of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Deming, New Mexico. She used $40,000 of poker winnings in a game Doc Holliday had participated in to finance its original construction. Frank eventually became president of a bank. They were well-respected, and wealthy, citizens in their community.

Frank died in 1908. Charlotte (Lottie) died in 1934.

Sources

Lottie Deno and Mary Poindexter – POINDEXTERHISTORY

What do we know about Lottie Deno? – True West Magazine

lottie deno – Search (bing.com)

TSHA | Thurmond, Charlotte Tompkins [Lottie Deno] (tshaonline.org)

Marjorie Holmes’s Perseverance

Marjorie Holmes (1910-2002)

Marjorie Holmes was a beloved Christian author. Early in my Christian walk, I became familiar with her when my sister brought home from college one of her books, now a classic, Two From Galilee. It’s a love story about Mary and Joseph and became a bestseller.

One thing about this book most may not realize is that she spent nine years working on it. For three years, she researched it. For six years, she marketed it, trying to find a publisher. Publishers told her Mary and Joseph acted too much like real people, so that’s why she had trouble finding a suitable place for it. Finally, Bantam agreed to publish it, and it’s never been out of print.

If we want to succeed as a writer, follow Marjorie Holmes’s example. Persevere!

In Defense of Fiction, Part Three: How Fiction Techniques Improve Nonfiction

In his excellent bestselling book, Sea Stories, Admiral William H. McRaven used fiction techniques to write this work of nonfiction. Such writing is called creative nonfiction, Readers love it! I highly recommend Admiral McRaven’s book.

Thirty-plus years ago, when I started writing seriously, I sought to learn everything I could about fiction and nonfiction techniques. And what did I discover? Fiction techniques used in nonfiction heighten reader interest. Let’s look at four ways nonfiction writers benefit from reading/studying fiction.

Nonfiction: Benefits of Fiction Techniques

Benefit Number One

Fiction: I’ve often had to cut out unnecessary scenes, change character POVs, add new scenes, etc. And, I’ve had to add new chapters and scenes to make my story fuller.

Nonfiction: I’ve also had to cut and add things, such as chapters, paragraphs, words, and illustrations.

Benefit: Fiction teaches us things to look for, what to add and what to cut, and the right balance between the two. This can carry over into nonfiction.

Benefit Number Two

Fiction:  In well-written fiction, writers use fiction techniques that bring their stories to life.

Nonfiction: Creative nonfiction is based on true events but uses fiction techniques.  A recent example is the bestselling book, Sea Stories, by Admiral William H. McRaven. Admiral McRaven shares stories from his life in the Navy SEALS. Although it’s nonfiction, he wrote it like fiction, filled with heart-stopping action, conflict, dialogue, and other techniques.  

Benefit: Reading and studying fiction teaches writers how to write creative nonfiction.

Benefit Number Three

Fiction: Details. Details bring a story to life and make it visual. Concrete (visual) nouns, strong action verbs, apt figures of speech.

Nonfiction: Details. Let’s do a Bible study based on Acts 16:22-40, using details to prompt reader interest while explaining the passage about Paul’s and Silas’s arrests in Philippi. To do this may require some research.

Details to Consider

  • Paul and Silas’ jail. What did it look like? Include a brief description in the Bible study.
  • Paul and Silas were beaten. How were they beaten? With rods or with a  whip? What did they look like after they were beaten? Research and try to find out, then share it with readers. It will add interest to the study.
  • Paul and Silas were released because Paul tells the magistrate he was a Roman citizen. Though Luke doesn’t mention it, Paul may have had to prove his citizenship. How? With a passport, just like foreign travelers do today. In Paul’s day, passports were wooden tablets with their owners’ names on them. We know this from archaeologists who’ve discovered lots of them in their excavations of ancient sites. Hey, I learned this from a nonfiction book mentioned in my bibliography,  and it might be of interest to readers. It interested me when I learned this.

Benefit: Fiction teaches nonfiction writers how to look for, and find, details that enhance their work.

Benefit Number Four

Fiction: It teaches writers how to establish mood and tone.

Nonfiction: Good nonfiction has certain moods and tones. Is it an angry tone, a comical tone, or a cheerful tone? Or, perhaps, a different tone. Readers gauge nonfiction authors’  attitudes by their writing’s tone and mood.

Benefit: Fiction teaches nonfiction writers how to establish the tone and mood they wish to convey in their work.

Benefit Number Five

Fiction: Fiction writers use action, conflict, and dialogue.

Nonfiction: We’ve already discussed creative nonfiction, but these techniques apply to anecdotes too. An anecdote is a brief story, usually true, that illustrates points shared in a work of nonfiction.  For some examples, check out Reader’s Digest’s  columns titled “Life in These United States” and “Humor in Uniform.”

Anecdotes are useful in various nonfiction genres— essays, Bible studies, newspaper articles … the list can go on. They’re an excellent way to grab reader interest as an opening for articles or chapters in nonfiction books.

Benefit: Learning how to write fiction enables writers to write better anecdotes in their nonfiction.

Some Final Thoughts

Fiction sometimes gets a bad rap from those who consider reading and writing it a waste of time. Trust me—it’s not. The broader we read in every form and genre— fiction, nonfiction, poetry, plays, and even screenplays— the more our writing will improve.

God has given writers a wonderful literary gift He wants His children to use for His glory and kingdom. If writing creatively wasn’t important, He would not have given such a gift to us. After all, He is, Himself, a God of majestic creativity!

Till next week, friends.

Bibliography

Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993.

In Defense of Fiction, Part Two: Eight Reasons to Write Fiction

“I only read nonfiction.” Great! I, too, enjoy nonfiction. However, I also read (and write) fiction. So, why do I write stories? For many reasons. Read on, to find out what they are.

Eight Reasons for Writing Fiction

  • Thousands of people enjoy good stories. Thousands will read a novel before they’ll read nonfiction. This gives fiction writers a great opportunity to reach an audience in ways nonfiction writers can’t.
  • Fiction enables novelists to share their message without sounding preachy. About his Narnia series, C.S Lewis wrote: “At first there wasn’t anything Christian about them (Narnia’s characters); that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the “bubbling.” In other words, since Lewis was a Christian, he wrote Narnia from a Christian perspective. The Christian symbolism in these books “just happened.”

Like Lewis, our points of view slip into our work because what we write is part of who we are and how we view the world. Narnia, with all of its symbolism,  doesn’t preach, but Lewis’s faith is evident. So it will be with us. When we write, we share a part of ourselves and our message with the story-loving world.

  • To educate people in a fun way.  In Education of a Wandering Man (Bantam, 2008), Louis L’Amour wrote: “Historical novels are, without question, the best way of teaching history, for they offer the human stories behind the events and leave the reader with a desire to know more.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

As a writer of historical fiction, I absolutely agree. I credit Robert Louis Steveson and Alexandre Dumas as two of the sparks that got me interested in history when I was in my early teens. The third spark was a nonfiction book written by Pulitzer Prize winner, Bruce Catton, which I also read in my early teenage years.

  • Jesus told His disciples, in Matthew 5:13, that they are the “salt of the earth.” Salt is a preservative. Christian writers and artists can be salt in our current culture. Through fiction, we participate in producing literature that helps restrain the onslaught of society’s ungodliness.

The Return of the Prodigal by Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787)
  • Jesus believed in and taught by example the importance of a story. His stories, called parables, are loaded with truth.  His listeners could relate to the parables’ characters: the farmer who sowed the seed, the son who left his father and went into a far country, the good Samaritan, and so on
  • Not every work of fiction carries a message. Some novels simply entertain. And to that, I say: what’s wrong with some relaxing entertainment? Everyone needs a break from life’s busyness. People attend movies or watch television or go fishing or do other things to “get away from it all.”   Reading a good novel is no different.
  • God gave some people creative minds—gifts in music, gifts in painting landscapes and portraits and sculpture, and gifts in other artistic endeavors. One endeavor is writing, which He expects His literary children to use to further His kingdom, either through fiction, nonfiction, and/or other literary genres. If God didn’t think these gifts were important, He’d have never given them.
  • God is creative. Just look around you and marvel at all the beautiful things He created: birds, fish, mammals, the stars, and the solar system. He isn’t against any form of creativity, so long as that creativity honors Him.

Creativity and writing fiction are gifts, just as other callings and skills are gifts. To despise fiction because one sees it as useless is despising this gift God had given certain authors. Fiction isn’t useless. As I hope we’ve seen, it plays an important role in our society and culture.

Having said that, it’s perfectly fine to just read nonfiction. Everyone has their own preference in literature. I prefer reading and writing both. Though I don’t write poetry, I don’t see it as useless either. God uses every gift He’s given His children if they allow Him. Let’s respect all the gifts people use for His glory.

Next Week: How Fiction Techniques Improve Nonfiction


Bibliography

Ryken, Leland, editor. The Christian Imagination, “Creating Narnia,” by C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1996. Ryken, 2002

In Defense of Fiction, Part One: Novels That Changed Society

Perhaps these folks aren't aware of the numerous novels that have changed society ... and the world.

I’ve often heard well-meaning people say they don’t read fiction. They believe stories and novels serve no good purpose except to entertain, and that nothing can be learned from them. As one who writes both fiction and nonfiction, I disagree. Perhaps these folks aren’t aware of the numerous novels that have changed society … and the world.

A Few Novels That Changed Society and the World

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

In the early 1900s, Chicago’s unsanitary stockyards posed a serious health risk to meatpackers. Sinclair, after going undercover in its meatpacking plants for several weeks to research the situation, wrote his famous novel to draw attention to these workers’ plight. Because of The Jungle, President Theodore Roosevelt launched an investigation which led to the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act (1906).

Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell

Anna Sewell loved horses and wanted England’s upper classes to quit using “bearing reins.” These reins, designed to keep the horse’s head close to its chest, abused the animal. They made it hard for the horse to breathe. Such abuse led Sewell to write her novel from the horse’s, Black Beauty’s, point of view. When people read this book, many quit using these reins. This one work of fiction, Sewell’s only book, changed a feature of nineteenth-century British society, ending this abusive practice.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Christmas was never the same after Dickens wrote this novella. Prior to its publication, many Protestant Christians didn’t celebrate this holiday because it was too Catholic and rowdy. However, thanks to Tiny Tim and other characters in Dickens’s story, Christmas became more family-oriented. So, do you enjoy a wholesome Christmas with your family? Well, we can all thank Mr. Dickens for it.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

This novel gave lawyers a good name in its protagonist, Atticus Finch, who defended a Black man unjustly accused in twentieth-century rural Alabama. It inspired many thousands of young men and women to pursue a legal career and become as good and honest a lawyer as Atticus.

A Final Thought

Those listed above are but a few of many novels that have impacted society in one way or another. Many others, such as Beloved (Toni Morrison), Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe), The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) … Well, I’d best end here, because the list is long. Even in this technological society, fiction writers can influence their culture and, perhaps, change the world. Who knows, that next great, influential novelist may be you.

Sources

Ron Charles. “12 Novels That Change the Way We Live.” The Washington Post, May 7, 2020. 12 novels that changed the world – The Washington Post

Nicholas E. Barron. “How ‘Black Beauty’ Was Written and Changed History,” Bidwell Hollow(blog), July 13, 2021. How ‘Black Beauty’ Was Written and Changed History | by Nicholas E. Barron | Bidwell Hollow | Medium

Next week: In Defense of Fiction, Part Two

Dealing With Loneliness

When David, his men and their families fled King Saul, they escaped to the Philistine city of Gath for protection. Here, they joined forces with Gath’s King Achish.

After establishing a base at Ziklag, David raided the Amalekites, Geshurites, and Girzites. Then, to gain Achish’s confidence, he lied and told the king he’d raided Judah.

One day, during a march against King Saul, none of the Philistine commanders, except Achish, trusted him. Soon, they forced David to leave their army.

Three days later, David and his men arrived in Ziklag. Horror and anger shot through their veins. The Amalekites had burned it and kidnapped everyone in it, including two of David’s wives and the wives of his men.

Consequently, his men turned against him. To quote one of my favorite Old Testament passages: And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people were grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God (1 Samuel 30:6, KJV).

Not only did David feel alone, he also felt distressed. His men who’d been with him throughout his ordeals now wanted to kill him. Have you ever been in a place where all your friends suddenly turn on you, or where it feels that the whole world has turned against you? I know I have. Feeling lonely is not fun.

Unfortunately, in this “all about me” society we’re living in, encouragers are rare these days. That’s why I like this verse. David shows us what to do when no one gives us comfort or encouragement during difficult times when we need it most. He encouraged himself in the Lord.

Next time you feel isolated or alone, try it. Sing songs of praise, quote scripture and pray. Tell yourself God loves you and is for you, because He does love us and He is for us!

NOTE: This blog is based on 1 Samuel 27, 29, and 30.

QUICK TIP: Listen

If your computer has a voice recorder or if you have some other type of recorder, try reading your manuscript into it. Reading aloud helps writers spot mistakes they missed through silent reading. By playing back their words and listening closely, writers hear their prose’s rhythm and pace, spot poorly written dialogue, wordiness, and numerous other stylistic errors.

An Important Writing Lesson

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Many years ago, in the early 1980s, I began taking my writing seriously after having a small article published in The Upper Room, a United Methodist publication. One of the earliest lessons I learned then was this: many folks shrugged at my desire to become a writer. Others considered me lazy when I decided to launch out on my own and try my hand at it full time. Fortunately, some of my early writing teachers taught me to expect these reactions. Had it not been for their warnings, I might have quit. As most of us know, writing at a professional level is hard work and often lonely.

On the other hand, it became such a passion that I gave up certain activities so I could pursue it. The biggest thing I gave up was my Saturday golf outings with my friends. They didn’t understand. Not many people did. But that’s all right, because the Lord has enabled me through these thirty-plus years to “roll with the punches.”

I think one reason why the average person doesn’t understand writing (or writers) is because they don’t understand the hard work that goes into writing prose and other literary works. They don’t understand that the easier a piece is to read, the harder an author worked to make it look easy.

Don’t let naysayers discourage you from your calling. Our God is good, and He will bring your literary dreams to pass if you continue to follow and obey Him, and persist toward your goal of publication.

Dr. Luke’s Missing Man

Why did Paul’s partner-in-ministry, Dr. Luke, do this? And to a fellow Gentile believer, of all things. Why didn’t he include Titus in his book of Acts? Well, I have no idea. Titus was involved in Paul’s ministry almost from the start. After all, Paul might have led him to Christ (Titus 1:4).

In Galatians, Paul writes that he and Barnabas took Titus to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1). Perhaps Titus accompanied them when they brought relief for a famine that struck the city (Acts 11:28-30), or maybe he was present at Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) when Paul and Barnabas defended the Gentiles coming to faith in Christ.

During Paul’s third missionary tour, Titus was most active. Though Paul refers to him often in 2 Corinthians, he’s also mentioned in 2 Timothy and, of course, Galatians. Paul wrote a letter to him that bears his name, either in 64 or 66 A.D. Its date depends on whether Paul had one or two Roman imprisonments.

On his third missionary tour, Paul spent lots of time in Ephesus (Acts 20). Upon leaving that city, he sent some coworkers ahead and then traveled to Troas, on the coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) to meet Titus. Titus, however, never showed up (2 Corinthians 2:12-13).

So, Paul continued to Macedonia where he finally rejoined Titus, who’d been in Achaia (Greece) working on Paul’s behalf (2 Corinthians 7:5-7). The church at Corinth had a myriad of problems Titus was trying to deal with. We know this because he brought Paul a report about them (2 Corinthians 7:5-6, 13-15). This prompted Paul to write 2 Corinthians, which Titus probably carried back to that church.

If Paul had two Roman imprisonments, the second one not recorded in Acts, then Titus accompanied him to Crete. And Crete’s mission field was just as difficult as Corinth’s. What was Titus’s mission there? To establish and oversee its church (Titus 1:5). Paul described the Cretans as “liars, evil beasts, slow bellies “(Titus 1:12, KJV). Slow bellies is sometimes translated gluttons.

Church tradition says Titus became the first bishop of Crete. Like the Apostle John, he lived a long life. It is said he passed away peacefully at age 97, into the presence of Jesus.

Paragraphs: The Long and Short of Them

Among today’s reading pubic, most readers prefer lots of white space on the page. That is–short paragraphs.

Although I enjoy such literary classics as Ivanhoe and The Man in the Iron Mask, with their long paragraphs, I try not to write many lengthy paragraphs in my articles and stories.

Note that I said: not many. Why? Because an occasional long paragraph is acceptable. However, long paragraphs should be the exception, not the rule, because stories abounding with long paragraphs are hard to read. And face it, thanks to movies and television, today’s reading public have short attention spans.

What are the rules for an average paragraph length? There are none. Ideas are a paragraph’s central focus, not sentences. Here I share some of my thoughts on the subject.

A Few Thoughts

  • Avoid long descriptive paragraphs. Instead, work the description into the story’s action and give just enough to establish setting and/or a character.
  • Vary the length of paragraphs to establish rhythm. Just as music has rhythms and beats, so should our writing. Variety helps writers establish their “music on the page.” Want a relaxed rhythm for a while? Use long paragraphs. Want a fast rhythm? Use short paragraphs.
  • Use long paragraphs to give readers a break. If we use constant tension and short paragraphs, we exhaust readers. This may cause them to stop reading our book. Hey, everyone needs a break!
  • Use long paragraphs to give readers a “false sense of security.” That way, you can surprise them with something unexpected, such as an event or crisis.
  • Use frequent short paragraphing to create tension.
  • Use snippets of dialogue between the characters to strengthen conflict.

An Example

In Book Two of my Civil War naval series, Southern Sons-Dixie Daughters, one of my protagonists is Danny Yates, an escaped slave who’s found service aboard a Union warship in Admiral David Farragut’s West Gulf Squadron. In this brief scene, Danny gets in trouble with the ship’s steward, named Bridges, as well as his captain, Charles Vincent. The dialogue snippets are in bold type.

“Quit dragging your feet,” Bridges snapped.

“Don’t rush me,” Danny snapped back.

“Belay that back talk!”

“Belay yourself.”

“Yates.”

Danny halted at the wardroom hatch. Captain Charles Vincent called his name, his voice an iron fist in a velvet glove.

His scowl deepening, Danny looked at the captain.

“Did Bridges tell you not to talk back to him?” Vincent said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then why do you keep doing it?”

“Because I wanted to. I ain’t nobody’s slave no more. I ain’t in the mood.”

“You aren’t a slave on this ship.”

“I feel like one.”

Hopefully, you get the idea.

  • Use one-sentence paragraphs for emphasis. One warning is in order, though. Do not use this technique often because it will lose its effectiveness

An Example

This example comes from a work-in-progress, tentatively titled, Circuit Rider: A Novel of the Creek War. I wrote this one-sentence paragraph to emphasize Barnaby’s pending mischief because it was central to what happened in the scene.

Barnaby reached into his bulging coat pocket and gripped one.

At the same time, Reverend Phineas Able Steward strummed his violin and sang a hymn, pausing periodically with an enthusiastic gesture for his small audience to join in. Two raccoons trotted past him, and two coyotes from somewhere in the woods gave earsplitting howls.

Rigid as statues, the town’s citizens stared straight ahead at the lanky, hollow-cheeked preacher, the tension tauter than a banjo string.

I didn’t reveal what Barnaby had in his pocket here because I wanted to create some suspense and urge my readers to keep reading.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Browne, Renni, and Dave King. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. 2nd ed. New York: William Morrow, 2004.

Cheney, Theodore A. Rees. Getting the Words Right: How to Revise, Edit & Rewrite. 3rd printing. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1985.

Madden, David. Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers. New York and Scarborough, Ontario: New American Library, 1988.

A Word of Wisdom From Maya Angelou

“[My mother] said that I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors. She encouraged me to listen carefully to what country people called mother wit. That in those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations.” Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Historical Fiction Research: Newspapers

Scan_20170116 (2)These photos were taken by my father, Dr. John M. Cunningham

Many years ago, while four friends and I traveled to Tennessee during a Labor Day break from college, my car struck a huge concrete culvert head-on at sixty miles per hour. My engine erupted into flames, and we were nearly killed.

Upon my father’s arrival at the hospital where we were recovering, he handed me a local newspaper that “told what happened.” I put this in quotes because the reporter got most everything wrong. The major thing he got wrong? He said we were sideswiped by a truck. Though in pain, I chuckled. Ours was a single-car accident due to careless driving. A passing truck driver had rescued us. It was then that I learned not to believe everything I read in a newspaper. 

I carry this knowledge into my historical research. Like today’s newspapers, old newspapers’ facts are sometimes either outright wrong or twisted, and they’re also biased just like our modern newspapers. Though studying old newspapers can be helpful, my motto is this: “Researcher, beware.”

What value, then, do we find by using newspapers as a source? Since my specialty is the nineteenth century, let me share some useful things we can glean from them and incorporate into our historical fiction. I’ll be using as my source The Daily Ranchero, a newspaper once published in Brownsville, Texas. I’ll be using various issues of this paper, all from the year 1865, after the Civil War ended.

1. We can learn the prices of goods sold at the time. On one of The Daily Ranchero’s broadsheets, we find a list of items that would be sold at auction along with their prices. Here’s a sample: star candles ($18-$20), quinine ($1.50 per ounce), rip saws ($1.35), etc. The list is way too long to reproduce in its entirety.

2. Weather reports for a particular day are often found in these newspapers. This helps keep our scene’s weather accurate if we’re writing about a specific day in history.

3. Advertisements are great! Not only do they tell us which businesses were around in the era we’ve chosen, they often give street names and specific addresses. We can learn the names of restaurants, hotels, and stagecoach lines, such as Arnold & Wheeler’s, in The Daily Ranchero.

4. What kind of medicine did they use in 1865? A drug store advertisement gives us an idea. The Brownsville Drug Store advertised the arrival of a new stock: citrate of magnesia, seltzer aperient, etc. It added, “Prices very much reduced in accordance with times and market.”

5. What about standard news articles? We can and should also use them, of course. However, as I mentioned earlier, “Researcher, beware.” Study these articles with a critical eye, watching out for bias and errors of fact and similar things. Always double-check these articles with other sources before using the information in our work.

Well, I hope this has given my readers a few ideas on how to use newspapers in historical research. Till next week, friends, keep on writing!

Copy editing, Proofreading, and Style Sheets

A style sheet is an important tool for authors. Today, we’ll discuss it, as well as copy editing and proofreading.

Good copyediting is crucial to presenting an article, story, or book to the public. In traditional publishing, every piece of writing goes through the copyediting process before publication, and other edits and proofreading follow.

Good copy editing is crucial to presenting an article, story, or book to the public. In traditional publishing, every piece of writing goes through the copy editing process before publication.

However, as we shall see, copy editing and proofreading aren’t the same things. Copy editors have numerous duties when reviewing a manuscript. First, this editor looks at the book’s overall picture then he/she delves deep.

A Few Things Copy Editors Look For

  1. Readability and flow: In other words, is the writing smooth, or is it awkward and difficult to read?
  2. Omitted or misspelled words
  3. Inconsistencies: For example, consistency in characters’ descriptions throughout the book. If a character is described as having red hair in one scene and black hair in another scene, the copy editor would catch this and tell the author.
  4. Punctuation: For example, Oxford commas or serial commas. Keep all punctuation, such as this, consistent. Whichever way the author uses commas (and other punctuation), the use must be consistent throughout the manuscript.
  5. Style: Did the author follow the publisher’s style requirements? For example, a publisher may want chapter headings spelled out (Chapter One) instead of using an ordinal number (Chapter 2).
  6. Format: Did the author follow the publisher’s format? Does the publisher want all the lines double-spaced? What kind of font does the publisher want writers to use? These kinds of things can usually be found on a publisher’s website. In the pre-computer days, we writers would send publishers a self-addressed, stamped envelope(SASE) for writer’s guidelines.
  7. Fact-checks: Were the author’s facts accurate? Did the author misquote a source? And similar things.
  8. Plagiarism and Libel: Checks the author on these, and other literary legal matters, to be sure he/she didn’t break the law.

When writing our stories and books, I recommend using a style sheet. These come in handy for both nonfiction and fiction writers. I create my own style sheets, though templates are also available on the internet. By referring to them, we keep our writing consistent and make the copy editor’s job easier.

Fiction Style Sheets

Though this list is not comprehensive, here are a few things to consider when creating a style sheet for your novel or short story:

  1. Title and subtitle (if any)
  2. A brief summary of the book
  3. Style Used. Most traditional publishers use The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)
  4. Punctuation, such as Oxford commas
  5. Unusual words/terms to keep their spelling consistent
  6. Format
  7. Characters: Names & nicknames, description, dialogue & special words they use, personality, occupation, motivations
  8. Setting(s), buildings & streets, etc.
  9. Time/Distances between settings (if needed)
  10. Dates of Events

Every writer, whether fiction or nonfiction, can (and should) design a style sheet to meet his/her own literary needs.

Proofreading

After a manuscript is copy edited, the next step toward publication is proofreading.

Whereas copy editors make suggestions and help improve an author’s work, proofreaders don’t do this. Proofreaders review a manuscript’s proofs—a manuscript’s final copy before it goes to print.

Proofreaders look for such things as grammar, punctuation, syntax, and typos. In other words, the small thing before the work is published.  

When to Tell, When to Show

“No fiction can or should be all showing and no telling” Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers, by David Madden.

For those of us who’ve been writing professionally for a long time, we’ve heard this mantra repeated often: “show, don’t tell.” Although this is good advice, beginning writers often take this to an extreme and never “tell.” As novelist David Madden said in my quote, good fiction is a blend of showing and telling. If all we do is show, we wear down our readers. If all we do is tell, we bore our readers. So then, what’s the balance? Here are a few tips.

Tips on Telling

Use telling to do the following things:

  • To establish setting and background. This is especially good for historical fiction when events must be placed within a historical context. Historical fiction has more telling in it than other genres. Thus, readers who read this genre expect it. However, don’t use long paragraphs and numerous pages of description. All that’s necessary is the description of a few things to give readers a sense of time and place. Long paragraphs of exposition bog down our stories.
  • Summarize unimportant events. If characters are eating, just tell the readers. However, if what they’re eating and saying is important, then show it in some detail. If a character crosses the street, there’s no need to go into detail (unless it’s important), so just say Jane crossed the street.
  • To move quickly in time or from one setting to another in a story.
  • To avoid repeating the same events over and over, use a narrative summary. For example, if it’s a story about NASCAR racing, use narrative summary till you need to show the final, climatic NASCAR event.

When to Show

Always show a dramatic event. For example, don’t write: John fought off the robbers. Instead, write a scene where we see him fighting the robbers. Let readers see the fists flying, hear the screams, feel the knife blades sticking into flesh, etc.

Always show a character’s emotion. For example, don’t write: Jane got angry. This is telling the emotion. How does Jane show anger? Not everyone shows anger in the same way. I once had a roommate in college who chuckled when he got angry. So, be original when you show emotion. Use fresh metaphors and similes to help readers can visualize it.

Well, I hope you’ll find these tips helpful as you continue your writing journey. Till next week!

Source

Browne, Renni and Dave King. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print, Second Edition. New York, New York: William M orrow, 2004

Madden, David. Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers. New York and Scarborough, Ontario: New American Library, a Plume Book, 1988.

Spice Up Your Writing, Metaphors

Robert Frost (1874-1963), Author of “The Runaway”

Metaphors are the strongest of all the figures of speech, and as we’ll see in this post, there are several types. If well written, they’ll evoke emotion in our readers and draw them deeper into our stories.

Definition

A metaphor compares two different things, saying one thing (or person or place) is something else.

Example

John is a ticking time bomb.

John is not a literal time bomb, but the time bomb image tells us he has a fierce temper and may even need to take an anger management class.

Analysis of a Metaphor

A metaphor contains two parts: the tenor, and the vehicle.

John is a ticking time bomb.

Tenor: John, because he’s the subject of the metaphor.

Vehicle: Time bomb, because it’s the metaphor’s image.

Types of Metaphors

Absolute Metaphor

Definition

The tenor has no connection with the vehicle.

Example

John is a ticking time bomb.

No connection exists between John and the time bomb. In other words, he won’t literally explode. John’s metaphorical explosion, however, might build into a fit of rage. The connection exists between John’s rage and the bomb, not John and the bomb.

Extended Metaphor

Definition

These metaphors extend for longer periods in a sentence, paragraph, or page by using two or more parallels between two unlike things. They’re often used in poetry.

Example

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Runaway.”

The poem is copyrighted, so visit this link to read it: The Runaway by Robert Frost | Poetry Foundation

The Metaphor: a horse. Frost uses a horse fearful of his first snow to represent a child who’s run away from home with no one to comfort him.

Mixed Metaphor

NEVER USE A MIXED METAPHOR

Definition

A mixed metaphor combines two or more metaphors that have no logical connection to each other.

Example

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch and swim away.

Chickens hatch, but they don’t swim. Thus, I mixed two unconnected images—chickens and fish.

Next Week: Similes

Be Original: Find Your Literary Voice

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. – C. S. Lewis

A Definition

What is literary voice? The term isn’t easily defined. Some writers write fast-paced stories, whereas other writers’ stories move at a slower pace, with long sentences and paragraphs. A writer’s literary voice is unique—original— and sets writers apart from other writers.

Two Examples

Let’s look at two excellent examples of literary voice. Our first one comes from Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839). He writes in a dark, gloomy voice.

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible.

Our second example comes from William Faulkner’s famous short story, “The Bear” (1942). He writes in a stream of consciousness, using long sentences and other devices to imitate the natural thought processes we use.

He was ten. But it had already begun, long before that day when at last he wrote his age in two figures and he saw for the first time the camp and Major de Spain and old General Compson and the others spent two weeks each November and two weeks again each June. He had already inherited then, without having seen it, the tremendous bear with one trap-ruined foot which, in an area almost a hundred miles deep, had earned itself a name, a definite designation like a living man.

Developing Your Literary Voice

Each writer develops his/her own voice through lots of writing and practice. As we grow in our craft, we’ll discover our own unique voice that sets us apart from others. We must choose our words carefully (diction) and arrange them in grammatically correct ways(syntax) to express our thoughts in a voice unique to us.

Punctuation also plays a role. If we hear a pause in our prose, use either a period, semi-colon, or comma. Which mark we use depends on the pause’s length, something we’ll discuss later.

Things to Avoid

  • Monotonous writing. Monotonous writing has no personality. To give it personality, mix long sentences with short sentences, long paragraphs with short paragraphs, and vary different types of sentences within a paragraph. .
  • Wordiness. When writing sentences, whether they’re long or short, be sure every word used contributes to the sentence’s clarity. That is, be concise. This means getting rid of all unnecessary word(s): cut the clutter.

Have you found your literary voice? If not, keep on writing and eventually, you will.

What My Cat Taught Me

Photo by Georgie Devlin on Pexels.com


And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight (Numbers 13:33, KJV).

Behind my childhood home runs an alley. From this alley, stray cats often wandered onto our property where my mother always fed them. Alley cats they were, in the strictest sense, so it’s no wonder that I adopted a stray who wandered onto my lawn in Kenner, Louisiana.

A beautiful gray kitty with a gentle temperament, she was the perfect pet. I named her Koshka, Russian for a female cat, I’d learned in my college’s Russian class. One day, though, a neighbor looked down at her and said to me, “Your cat looks pregnant.”

Pregnant! The word gripped my throat. That was the last thing I needed. I could afford Koshka, but care for a litter of kittens? Oh, no! For several days, I studied Koshka’s swollen belly. Mews and meows of imaginary kittens wreaked havoc on my brain’s “movie screen.” What would happen after she gave birth? Happen? To her? To her kittens? What about me? My bank account? My money?

Every day, visions of dwindling finances dominated my concerns. Anxieties intensified. I wanted to scream: “Koshka, girl, why are you doing this to me?”

Finally, I took her to the veterinarian to verify her pregnancy.

After his examination, he announced the verdict. “She’s not pregnant. She’s been spayed. She’s just fat.”

Whew! All my nervous tension broke at his announcement. Peace swept over and through me like a gurgling stream.

But isn’t this what the enemy does to us if we let him? After Moses’ twelves spies returned from scouting out Canaan, panic seized ten of them. They couldn’t take the land. Giants were there, “and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” First Satan planted doubt in their minds, then faithlessness supplanted faith, and finally, an overactive imagination produced an overwhelming terror. Because they believed what they saw and listened to the enemy’s lie, they missed God’s blessing.

Not so, two other spies, Caleb and Joshua. God told them He’d given them the land, and they believed it. They listened to His word. When the day finally arrived, they marched into the Promised Land, the last survivors of Moses’ generation.

Because I listened to the authority regarding Koshka, I gained peace of mind. Likewise, when we listen to and heed God’s authority, His Word, the Lord will lead us to victory through every battle just as He did Caleb and Joshua.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I believe Your Word, Your holy Scriptures, the only authority for how I live my life. Thank You for it, and for the peace You give me when I listen to and obey You. May I continue heeding Your guidance. Help me to ignore the enemy’s lies. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Brief Reflection
When we listen to Satan’s negative thoughts, we allow him to steal our faith. Do we believe God’s promises and walk in faith like Caleb and Joshua?

Passages for Study
John 8:33-47
John 6:34-4

This excerpt is taken from Reflections of a Southern Boy: Devotions from the Deep South. Published by Ashland Park Books, it is available at amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle. To purchase a copy, visit the Bookstore page on this site.
All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2018 by John “Jack” M. Cunningham, Jr. 

Diction and Style

Every writer has his/her own style, and good editors know how to enhance that style. After all, that’s one of an editor’s main jobs.

What is style? It’s how a writer expresses himself/herself on the page. One factor contributing to style is diction—word choice.

The words a writer chooses contribute not only to his/her literary style but also its tone. Some writers use a straightforward, unadorned style using everyday words while others use flowery language, big words, and lots of imagery. To determine whether these styles are appropriate, consider two things: audience and purpose.

Audience

When writing for the general reader, avoid multi-syllable Latinate words – English words that originated from Latin. Use common English words instead. If writing for a scientific or scholarly publication, use Latinate words because readers of those publications expect it.

Purpose

Why are we writing our article, story, or book? Do we want to convey joy, anger, concern? Or something else. Choose words that convey our purpose and meaning. Let’s look at the first paragraph of an article I wrote for “HiCall,” an Assemblies of God publication.

Inheriting the Promises of God

The moon beamed her pale silver light over us as we slowly waded in shallow gulf waters. An occasional seagull flew overhead, laughing at our plight. Sometimes we felt the gentle bumps of needlefish as they followed my father’s floundering light. Crabs scurried along the sandy bottom as we approached them. We began to tire, and it seemed we had walked for hours….

Analysis

My Audience: Teenaged boys, so I chose a subject that would appeal to them—floundering with my father.

My Tone: A sense of pleasantness and relaxation while on a vacation. I hope you felt it.

Diction: Happy and pleasant details/words—the moon beaming, seagulls laughing, gentle bumps.

Inheriting the Promises of God

Frustrated Tone

The moon sneaked behind forbidding clouds as we waded aimlessly in shallow gulf waters. A seagull’s cackle mocked us. Needlefish rammed our legs—stupid fish! Crabs fled every direction along the sandy bottom. After all the pitiful hours my father and I trudged, we were exhausted. Where were the flounders?

Analysis

In this revision, I used negative words such as sneaked, forbidding, aimlessly, mocked, rammed. stupid, pitiful, trudged and exhausted. I also ended with a question, which highlighted my frustration. I hope you see the difference..

Photo Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research

Choose your words carefully when you write. Oh, by the way, my father and I ended up with lots of flounders before the night was over.



Quick Tip: Use the Right Word

When we ponder definitions of words, we most often think about their denotative meaning–how the dictionary defines them.

However, words also have connotative (implied) definitions. For example, blue is, by strict definition a color. But if we say “Julie is blue,” we don’t literally mean she’s that color. Rather, we’re implying that she’s sad, maybe even depressed. We’d understand its meaning by its context.

Choose words that fit the story’s context, both connotative and denotative. By using the right words in the right context, by being precise., we can help readers visualize what we’ve written.

Minimalist versus Maximalist Prose

In today’s literary landscape, two writing styles dominate—minimalist and maximalist. What are they?

Minimalism

Minimalist writing is simple and direct with a tight focus on the literary subject. For the most part, it’s devoid of imagery such as similes, metaphors, and personification. Also, minimalist writing doesn’t use backstories. The idea behind such writing is to give readers just enough information to let their imaginations run wild. Minimalists look to write their prose as tightly as possible.

One of the most famous minimalist stories is Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I read it in the sixth grade. It was easy to follow because of the language’s simplicity. No metaphors, no similes, just sparsely written prose.

Maximalist Writing

Maximalist writers use lots of fancy language that’s full of imagery, backstory, long descriptive passages, lengthy sections of dialogue, and long, complex sentences. They add detail after detail to enlarge their stories.

Interior designers use maximalism to tastefully decorate a home or room in excess. In literature, maximalist authors tastefully write prose in excess. For an example of maximalist prose, read William Faulkner’s book, Absalom, Absalom!

So, which style is right? Either one. It depends on which one an author’s most comfortable with.

How about you. Are you a minimalist or a maximalist?

Hare or Tortoise–Which One Are You?

close up photography of tortoise near leaves
Photo by Jonny Lew on Pexels.com

I have a confession: I’m a tortoise. No, not a literal tortoise, a writer tortoise.  My writing speed is…well…it’s slow.

When I see advertisements about helping writers “write fast,” I often pause. Me? Write fast? Well, I have nothing against writing at hare speed so long as the writing is well done. However, I prefer to write slowly. For me, writing is akin to eating a half-gallon of ice cream during a four-hour Oscar-winning movie. Both take time to enjoy.

I love playing around with words and phrases, taking things out and putting things in till I’m comfortable with how my writing sounds. Sometimes I do catch myself envying those who can write both fast and well, but if I write too fast, I feel that it’s sloppy. This is just me, though.

close up of rabbit on field
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve come to realize that every writer is different. Tolkien spent twelve years writing his trilogy, The Lord of the Rings (1937-1949). Other writers, such as Joyce Carol Oates, are super-prolific.

No, it’s not wrong to write hare-fast as a hare,  nor is it wrong to write tortoise-slow. Each writer must write at the pace that he or she is most comfortable with. And even though I’m a literary tortoise…Hey!  I’m enjoying the process!