Saturday, November 30, 2013

NNWM Results

Here it is, the end of National Novel Writing Month for 2013, closer to my goal with 13,000 words added to my draft novel, yet short of my expectations to write at least a thousand words a day. Face it, Les, you lack discipline to dedicate yourself to writing, all of writing, and nothing but writing. You get caught up in too many other things. Drat it! Oh, well, I have to say I think the many small changes made in sentence structure and plot have added to a better draft. I am studying a course from The Great Courses catalog entitled "Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft" by Professor Brooks Landon, University of Iowa.  UI is renown for their Master of Fine Arts program in Writing. I am learning a great deal about cumulative sentences, modifiers, phrases and syntax. Guess I slept through these jewels of wisdom during college English.

Participating in NNWM was an educational experience. It is helping propel me toward my goal of finishing my draft novel in 2014. Here is another section of the draft:


Mother was mean. She had become meaner since Daddy left. She gave Virginia old purses to play with, and then sent her into the soda fountain and hamburger places to get napkins and sugar packets which she hid in the purse. They would take the napkins home and use them for toilet paper. The paper was tiny but not as rough as the catalogs Mother kept by the toilet to wipe with. They used the sugar on oat meal.

Mother made her cut off all the lights at night, insisting they not waste electricity. They ate the same thing every day– oatmeal or cream-of-wheat for breakfast, cornbread or home-made bread (not that good store bought bread), powdered milk and eggs which she couldn’t stand, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, vegetables from the garden…there was no meat except when Mother sent EJ to get soup bones and made vegetable soup. Then there would be slivers of fatty meat. Grandma said they would kill a hog when it got cold but that was forever away. 

She wished Daddy would come home. Things would be better then. Maybe she could get a real haircut instead of having Aunt Tillie cut her hair there in the kitchen. She was tired of looking like someone put a bowl over her head and cut her hair evenly around that bowl, even though that is what Aunt Tillie did. Maybe he would buy her peddle-pushers and shoes that fit – more than one pair - and more dresses. Maybe she would have a different dress for each day of the week! Last year she wore one pair of shoes all year and alternated her three good dresses. At least this year she had shoes from Kathy. Mother wadded up newspaper and stuffed them into the toes so she could wear them. They would last a couple of years according to what Mother said. Two years wearing the same shoes? Virginia couldn’t imagine it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Halfway

Half through NNWM and making some progress, although more limited than what I envisioned...too hard to resist working in garden when weather turns good, family gatherings, unpacking boxes and hanging pictures as we ready for holiday guests. Re-discovered that despite my best efforts to just write without pause I find myself editing, deleting entire pages to add new ones, and inserting brief sentences to clarify points made. Plus, sorta stuck with moving plot forward I know what I want to say, but plot flow is sometimes baffling. Still, am 6,000 more words than when I began so all is good.

LesC


Deputy Sheriff Harvey Watson was halfway through dinner when the dispatcher called. This was not the first time he’d received a domestic disturbance call regarding the Leevy’s, or the first run-in Euel had with the law.

He met Euel Leevy nine years ago when he was brought to the county jail for speeding and driving drunk. That was the summer of ’47. Harvey remembered because he had just joined the Williams County Sheriff’s Department as the Jailer. Whether by Fate or by Circumstance, Euel shared a cell that night with Otie Gandy, a town drunk arrested for being a public nuisance when his wife, Nellie, refused to pick him up and take him home.  The fact that the Leevy’s and the Gandy’s were to later become neighbors pushed any of the townsfolk toward the Fate side of the equation.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Plodding On

Progress continues, but not in the form of word count...research on the impact of alcohol on families and the time period (right now 1955 -59). Discovered that Public Welfare from the government was restricted to white women whose husbands had either abandoned the family, were absent, or dead. About a third of those who applied for welfare got it, as decided by the country public welfare administrator as best I can tell. Here's a sample of my draft:


“So, you’ve been married over 11 years,” Mrs. Gertis scowled as she reviewed one of the forms. “You’d think that you would have saved enough money by now to get you through this rough spot.”
            Alma said nothing.
            “Didn’t I read in the paper your husband was arrested for drinking awhile back? Is that where your money goes? Alcohol?”
            Alma’s face turned red and she clutched Sarah Rose who was sitting in her lap so hard that the baby squealed.
            “You know the paper doesn’t always get things right, Mrs. Gertis. When you run a business sometimes you get blamed for customer’s actions.
            “You know if you get approved for government aid that you can’t work. This program is for white women who stay at home with their children because their husbands can’t work or are absent.”
            “Yes, ma’am, I read that.”
            “You know I will be checking your home to see that it is a suitable place to raise your children?”
            Alma nodded and clutched Sarah Rose closer to her breast.
            “I’d better now find you are working on the side.”
            The Public Welfare Officer glanced at the Marriage Certificate and took up the stack of birth certificates.
            “These are your children?”
            “Yes, ma’am. There was another but she died.”
            “Five children?
            “Some women just don’t know when to stop, do they? I understand the Negroes and the Mexicans having so many children.” Her voice faded as she wrinkled her nose. “They don’t know better…but a white woman….”
            The small office became very quiet. The two youngest girls sensed something was amiss and stopped squirming.
            “Do your children all have the same father?”
           

           

Monday, November 4, 2013

Novel Progress

My writing habits need re-evaluated. I bought a timer, set it for 45 minutes to write, then take a 15 minute break, repeat....made it through only 3 sessions and was too mentally tired to complete. But because I knew what I wanted to write I made good progress -- 1900 words one day; 1300 another. However, I am still researching and plotting, so not every day is as productive. Then there is editing the previous work which also takes time. And working out or mowing...or garden work....or unpacking boxes and hanging pictures...and the NAP...don't forget the afternoon nap (didn't take one today). Oh well, finished reading "Families of Alcoholics" by Anne Mari Nuechterlein and got some good ideas. So ends Day 4 and we press on....


The Army stripped him of his identification and gave him a new one. He learned to take orders, the familiar ritual of inspections, roll call, pay call, meals, rank, and ritual. He got his sex education from training films about venereal diseases and from buddies in his unit. He never said he was a virgin, but they knew and on their first night of leave after advanced training he was set up with an easy date who had to show him the basics about copulation. He was embarrassed, enthralled, and self-conscious, all at the same time.

Friday, November 1, 2013

National Novel Writing Month

November 1st each year heralds National Novel Writing Month. The goal: complete the draft of one's novel during November. This is my first year to join my fellow novelists in efforts to complete the draft of my next novel. In all fairness, I have about 29,683 words already in progress. Today I wrote 1900 or so words, most of those from ideas already in progress. If I can write 2,000 words a day in November I can finish the draft with 90,000 which is a little longer than most editors want for a modern novel. So, we're off....here's the first paragraph:



Until Euel Leevy joined the Army he never drank, smoked, cursed or experienced sex. He was Momma’s perfect little boy, much to the chagrin of his brothers. He learned all these things in the Army. And, he learned to gamble. And kill people. And bury his nightmares in a bottle of alcohol. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

At Work

A month ago we moved into our new abode near Fulshear, Texas. Since then it has been unpacking boxes, placing furniture, cleaning and a couple of road trips back to San Antonio to visit. I am back at work on the next novel....feels good to be making progress!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pushing Through

   We are almost there...the finish line is in sight...the pot is almost at a boil...one number away from the jackpot! Our new home is 99.8 percent complete...only a few hookups and inspections to go and we close. There is a tiredness at the end of the run, as if every step is a major effort, yet we continue to plod on, to push through, and results happen. We admire the tenacity of our builder as she works with sub-contractors and inspectors to finish the job, and find strength within ourselves to soldier on until finally, there is the house. We move in.






  This seven month building experience is like writing a novel. First is the foundation (the story itself), then the framing (the chapters of plot, character development), adding utilities, walls, paint, flooring...all similar to details, subplot and dialog. Every day the writer pushes through a new portion of the work at hand, whether drafting new pages, editing, inserting new thoughts, until finally, there is the book. We begin the agent, editing and publishing process.



   Builders begin with a series of blueprints that may be modified along the way. Some writers have a chapter by chapter outline, or blueprint, if you will. I have the idea with no firm set of details...these are discovered along the way. Sort of like life...a general blueprint of where you want to go, what you want to do, all modified along the way with discovery, love, money or lack thereof, adventure, family...to blueprint or not to blueprint; that is the question.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hawaii and Literary Awards


My wife and I recently returned for a long-planned family vacation to the island of Hawaii. We saw many of the natural sites for which the largest island in the Hawaiian chain is noted – volcanoes, beaches, clear blue waters and inland water falls, and most notably, a tropical botanical garden with multiple plant species too numerous to count.
 
  



 Imagine the excitement upon my return to receive an email from the Eleanor Brackenridge Literary Club of Edna notifying me that the club was recognized at the 116th Annual Spring Convention of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (Texas) for receiving two District Awards in different categories.  A portion of the nomination paperwork included a report of my visit on November 14, 2012, and was used to support the category award for Environment/Conservation and Education/Environment. It reads in part: 

          Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book.” That man in this case, Lester Coalson, has a goal of his writing to include information that promotes the saving of our environment. From choosing settings to describe whose very existence means man must become involved for them to survive, to including characters who, although involved in a mystery, strive greatly toward preserving our natural resources. Mr. Coalson’s writing gripped the imaginations of the twelve members attending both as a local boy turned writer and as a man with a worthy purpose.
          Additionally, his presentation featured a step-by-step guide through the rigors of obtaining a public forum for his work.  How writers become published is very challenging indeed as explained by Lester Coalson. His books are now available as “e-books” as well, and this innovative literary aspect of publishing was very educational for the Eleanor Brackenridge Literary Club.
          Mr. Coalson’s literary theme of saving the environment for the future brings to mind the words of the Federation Song: “Why stand we here today? Why but to make the way for hope’s glad feet. Bidding the world aspire to purer aims….”

The  Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs (which is a member of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs) was established in 1897 and has provided a way for women to get together and go about the business of women; bettering themselves, their families, their communities, and the world.
The Federation website has a compelling history of the Women’s Clubs movement, boasting that 85 percent of public libraries in Texas were founded by women’s clubs. The social, educational and cultural impact of women moving into full citizenship and assuming mantels of leadership throughout the 19th and 20th centuries is also discussed. Visit http://www.texfwc.org for additional information.

Congratulations to Eleanor Brackenridge Literary Club for receiving State recognition for their efforts. For over 110 years this organization has existed to support scholastic achievement, citizenship and literature in the lives of the citizens of Jackson County and Texas.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Silence and Inspiration

Two timely articles in the May/June 2013 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine succinctly captured my situation as a displaced writer – the need for silence, and the call of characters to action in my next novel.
As previously mentioned, my wife and I moved to a new city after ten years in the same neighborhood. Our move has not gone as planned – the dream house we planned and developed with the architect and builder is well under way; solid, beautiful and more that we hoped for, except….it isn’t completed. We are staying with relatives, shuffling from home to home, dragging two dachshunds and luggage between havens of rest, caught up in everyday living as we attend ball games, band recitals, birthdays, holidays, and other events while we monitor the progress of our new home, find new doctors, auto repair shops, stores, etc. I write on the dining room table at one house; in a four-walled study in another and am thankful for both. Yet, the silence I need for thinking, writing and inspiration is lacking. Characters and plot call to me in flashes of inspiration that I frantically scribble down before I forget. My situation was expertly captured by Ruth Ozeki in her article, A Crucial Collaboration, and by Daphne Kalotay’s remarks in The Calm Before the Calm.
Daphne wrote that “…silence is where we go to write…where you write what you are drawn to write, not what you are told to write. It is where the muscle-work of creation takes place.” She ends her thoughts with the remark that finding a space of silence is more elusive and precious than ever. I have that place waiting – a well-planned study with inspirational window views into the quiet and secluded neighborhood we and our builder selected to call home. The wall colors are blue-green to inspire and calm, and will be accented by aquamarine, my Piscean birthstone color. I eagerly await my new space of creativity.
Yet, the process of thinking and listening to the Muses speak to the writing mind does not cease. Messages come in an instant and must be captured. So I keep pen and paper by my bedside for late-night and early morning thoughts while scraps of paper litter my writing spaces as ideas come to me. Ruth wrote that “A character speaks—whispers, mutters, shouts—breaking the silence and, in so doing, calls the writer into being…..Character calls forth writer. Writer calls forth reader.” Character, writer, reader--collaborators in the story.
Thank you ladies for two fine articles that I can embrace in my own journey.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Coastal Prairie Refuge

Ever hanker to escape the sights and sounds of civilization for a few hours and experience the renewing balm of Mother Nature? I did just that a couple weeks ago when I attended the 19th Annual Attwater’s Prairie Chicken Festival held on a 10,500 acre refuge located half way between Columbus and Sealy, a few miles south of IH 10 on the western side of the San Bernard River. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and Refuge volunteers conducted tours of the booming grounds, of wildflower and bird life observation sites, and of back country areas where we saw refuge management techniques involving coastal prairie restoration and prairie chicken recovery efforts. I took the refuge management tour and was rewarded with sights of original coastal prairie untouched by man, as well as a male prairie chicken defending his territory. My guide was Terry Rossignol, veteran Refuge Manager who has nearly 30 years experience with the USF&W Service.

A good description of this endangered bird can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attwater's_Prairie_Chicken. It is estimated that over a million of these birds once thrived on over six million acres of coastal prairies, ranging from the Nueces River to Louisiana. Habitat disappeared as towns, farms and ranches took hold along the coast and wildfires were suppressed, giving invasive plant species inroads into the natural ecosystem. By 1919 the bird disappeared from Louisiana according to the USF&W Service. An estimated 8,700 individual were left in Texas by 1937. In 1967 only a thousand birds remained. It was in the ‘60’s that the World Wildlife Fund purchased 3,500 acres in an effort to give this unique creature a chance to remain on this planet. That acreage was transferred to the USF&W Service in 1972 and has since tripled in size.
Like the Whooping Crane, prairie chicken populations ebb and flow, influenced by drought, predators, weather, and reproduction success. Hens lay an average of 12 eggs each year, 30 per cent of which hatch and reach maturity. If the eggs are destroyed early in the nesting season the hen will not mate until the following year. Even if chickens reach maturity the average life expectancy is about two years according to refuge personnel. Not only are the historic aerial and mammal predators present, but a newcomer to the ecosystem is wrecking havoc with these birds and many other forms of wildlife – the imported fire ant. These ants will devour young chicks as they peck their way out of the egg shell. Fire ants are also attributed to declining numbers of quail and other ground nesting birds.
The population of Attwater Prairie Chickens was estimated this spring at 66 birds in the wild and another 171 birds in captivity. Once chicks bred in captivity are ready for release they are fitted with a radio transmitter and put in pens to acclimate to the prairie ecosystem. After release they are tracked by refuge staff. Nesting sites are enclosed with portable fencing and steps taken to repel fire ants. These measures and the use of prescribed burning to remove invasive plant species as well as planting of small food plots are all employed to give the prairie chicken a chance of survival.
The refuge is also home to many other animal species including bobcats, coyotes, snakes, alligators, feral hogs, butterflies, and countless birds such as hawks, ducks, geese, herons, eagles, cranes, doves, owls, woodpeckers, scissor-tail fly catchers, and others. Spring and fall flowering plants include bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and butterfly milk weed. The visitor center offers literature and a video of refuge resources and how to identify various species. A five-mile auto tour loop crosses both wetlands and open prairie. There are also rest rooms and picnic tables for visitor convenience.
There are no entrance fees to visit the refuge. Exit IH10 onto State Highway 36 (marker 720), go south one mile, then take a right on FM 3013 for 10 miles. The entrance is on your right.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Earth Day 2013

Earth Day was first celebrated April 22, 1970. The following quote is from Earth Day Network, http://www.earthday.org.

"The idea came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media; persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair; and recruited Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land.
As a result, on the 22nd of April, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

"Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. "It was a gamble," Gaylord recalled, "but it worked."

"As 1990 approached, a group of environmental leaders asked Denis Hayes to organize another big campaign. This time, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1995) -- the highest honor given to civilians in the United States -- for his role as Earth Day founder."

There are many opportunities to support Earth Day activities, not only on April 22nd, but throughout the year. I have attempted to capture many of the concerns expressed by Earth Day themes in my writing -- pollution, land use, mercury poisoning, and impacts of Special Interests to thwart environmental concerns. Check out my web page for prices and on-line retailers to obtain copies.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Epiphany

 
Years ago a professor I met at a national convention and I were talking about Frederick Law Olmstead, the great landscape architect who designed Central Park, the grounds of the Vanderbilt Mansion outside Asheville NC (Biltmore), and had the vision and responsibility for the grounds at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The professor recommend I read "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Lawson, a National Book Award Finalist for his intriguing work of non-fiction about the development of the World's Fair and a murderer loose in the city. Then earlier this year daughter Emily suggested the same book. What the heck, I asked myself, is the Universe trying to show me something about writing? It was and is. What a wonderful read!  Thank you, Erik Larson, for such a detailed work of non-fiction that reads like a novel.
 
 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Greatest Generation Speaks

This month I began reading The Greatest Generation Speaks by Tom Brokaw as well as doing some web research regarding the history of the 12th Armored Division during WWII....all as background for my next novel which is set in the 1950's. My parents were of this great generation and were influenced by what they experienced during those war years and the Great Depression. I suppose that many of you are like me in that you would like to have your parents here today so you could better talk about their experiences...my father passed almost 40 years ago and my mother almost 20. I hope my research and own observations can adequately reflect their struggles and triumphs in my current effort.

Monday, February 4, 2013

New Adventures

Last spring we made the decision to sell our home in Helotes and move to the Katy area to be nearer family. Packing, storing, showcasing, and repairing the house occupied most of our time. It all paid off and we closed on the property a few weeks ago and moved to the Sealy-Katy area while awaiting the completion of our new home. Writing took a back seat to all this work, but bits and pieces of plot and character development would come to me in that wakening stage in the early morning hours and I have gathered quiet a bit of info. Now we are somewhat settled and I can get back to the next book.