Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Foolish words

Words can cut in ways we don’t always intend. While stationed in the deep South in the ’60s, I decided to look up some relatives who lived on Kuhn Street in Biloxi, Mississippi. While my wife and I were trying to find our way, I thought to ask for directions. A young black woman walked down the sidewalk, so I pulled alongside and asked her where Kuhn Street was. She never slowed, never opened her mouth, never looked in my direction.  Had she looked at me, she’d have seen not a malicious person, just a foolish innocent. How many times had that woman been mocked?

We found Kuhn Street on our own, just a couple of blocks away. We had a pleasant evening playing cards with my relatives, who were cordial to us Yankees.  I sensed that the friendliness would last as long as we didn’t discuss race or politics.  When one of them made a passing reference to “darkies,” we ignored it in part because we were their guests and in part because we felt like foreigners. Also, I felt quietly embarrassed over my thoughtless request for directions.

Monday, November 08, 2010

A writin’ pen

Beth Morgan spoke at Mesilla Valley Writers about oral histories the other day and mentioned capturing colloquialisms. That brought to mind Montgomery, Alabama, in the late 1960s. My wife and I were newly married kids from Massachusetts, and Gunter Air Force Base outside of Montgomery was my first duty station. We lived off-base for a while, and one day I walked to a local mom and pop store looking for a loaf of bread. Not finding any, I asked a clerk, who couldn’t understand me. Then I explained somehow, maybe saying it was for sandwiches, and she said, “Oh, you want BRAYud!”

Another time I came home from that same store, and my landlady asked me what I bought.

“I just bought a pen,” I said.

“What kinda pen, Bob? A fryin’ pen?”

“No, something to write letters with.”

“Oh,” she said, “a writin’ pen!”

Sunday, November 07, 2010

What a difference a word makes

We have a good group of people in Mesilla Valley Writers, where I'm president until the end of this year. At age 67, I am one of the younger members. Most of us live in our own homes, but we gather once monthly at an assisted living facility where Pat, one of our members, lives just a few feet away from our meeting room. Before each meeting, a couple of us arrange comfortable chairs in a cozy oval so that the 16 or 17 who typically attend can see and interact with each other.

Yesterday, we had a guest speaker talk to us about researching and writing oral histories. She talked about interviewing primary sources, listening to and studying but not transcribing what people have to say, and looking for useful anecdotes while paying attention to regional speech patterns. She had members briefly interview each other, so I questioned 80-something-year-old Helen about her trip to America from England when she was a young teenager in 1940. Hitler was in the process of trying to demolish Britain, and the British wanted to protect their children by sending them to the countryside or out of the country altogether. Though British, Helen had been born in the U.S. and was allowed to sail back to the States, accompanied only by her teenage sister. She hadn't gotten much past talking about the threat of U-boats when our interviewing exercise had to end.

Then we noticed the tea in the back of the room. One of our few refreshments in the meeting is the iced tea we purchase from the assisted living facility and which a staff person rolls in on a cart.  This time it arrived after the meeting started, and hardly anyone noticed. After our speaker finished her program, Helen good-naturedly chastised me for not announcing earlier that the tea had arrived. So I then announced it to all, saying "Helen is mad at me because I didn't tell you about the tea earlier."  After a minute, an elderly gentleman sitting next to Helen pointed to the door and said to me, "You know, Pat's door is open. You can use her bathroom."

Helen and I looked at him. "I'm sorry," I said. "What are you talking about?"

"You said Helen is mad at you because you didn't pee earlier," he said.

Helen and I had a great laugh, but the poor man was simply trying to be helpful.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Cover art for One Must Die

Here's my novel's new cover, designed by the talented El Paso artist Maritza Neely. I asked her to combine three basic elements: death, Cambodia, and America to suggest the novel's tone and subject matter. The temple is Angkor Wat, which readers won't have to recognize to know that it's Asian.

The manuscript is complete and has been so for years. Once it had a willing small publisher who--alas!--decided to get out of the business. Now with low-cost publishing options like CreateSpace, I'm publishing it myself, with my greatest expense being a reasonably priced cover design. My goal is to publish on both CreateSpace and Kindle by the end of the year--easy enough if I shift around a couple of priorities.

I think people will like One Must Die, not that I'm objective. There is culture conflict, a likable protagonist, and a slant on a cop story that you probably haven't seen before.

If you'd like to work with Maritza yourself, you can contact her at http://www.maritzajauregui.com/studio.