I checked my email before tackling revisions of my mystery novel in progress. I received a request from a genealogy group to be a speaker about identifying family photos from the mid-to-late 1800s. Before I chose an optional date, I checked to see if my PowerPoint file survived the transfer to my new computer last fall. I watched the full presentation. All there, but the majority of the photos were from a later period. Mysterious Mary, a name I had dubbed Mary Dragoo years before when I learned that she was buried in Alamo Cemetery, would be a perfect example of a working woman in the Antebellum and Victorian time periods. I scrolled through my family photos. “No results” proved to be a minor sidetrack—the first rabbit trail of the day.
I left my computer long enough to review my handwritten notes from my visit to find her unmarked gravesite in Alamo Cemetery. Gone missing. Mysterious Mary continues to be elusive. Back at my computer, I looked for the article I wrote when I first discovered that she lived in Contra Costa County in the nineteenth century. No file. Sidetrack #2.
I emailed my twin, our family history researcher, about the missing photo. I added more information. Sidetrack #3.
She sent me the picture jpg and my original Word article from 2007. I read it to refresh my memories of my original search for Mysterious Mary and her family. I stopped at the paragraph where I mentioned that Mary’s grandson and his spouse are buried in Roselawn Cemetery a couple of miles from me. I hadn’t visited either cemetery recently. Back online for a Find A Grave search. The Roselawn posting mentioned that the memorial manager, a direct descendant, has no information on the man’s wife. An easy challenge for me from memories of visiting her gravesite. I clicked the link to share that information with the manager. Sidetrack #4.
I received an error code. The memorial manager can’t be reached. I contacted Find A Grave with the details and requested webmaster intervention. Sidetrack #5.
Next step: Update my speaker bio to include previous presentations on U.S. Civil War and Victorian period costumes. My empty stomach growls—a signal for a timeout for lunch. Sidetrack #6.
From the table into the open living room, Green yarn of a hat I’m knitting beckons me to my easy chair for a break from research. Sidetrack #7.
Ah, seven, often referred to as the perfect number. The stately oak trees from my framed print of Oak Alley Plantation, first named Bon Séjour (pleasant sojourn), remind me that no journey is wasted. I hurry back to my computer to accept the invitation from the genealogy group. This time, I’ll stay away from rabbit trails.
Our family celebrated religious holidays like Easter and Christmas and Thanksgiving Day, the day of gratitude, with abundant meals—except for the year we picked cotton on Thanksgiving (see my blog post https://violetsvibes.wordpress.com/2017/11/23/thanksgiving-memories). Even with this strong dedication to faith and family, my mother harbored a few superstitions. She made us turn around if a black cat crossed our path while walking. A broken mirror brought seven years of bad luck. Visitors had to exit our house through the same door they entered to keep life on an even keel.
New Year’s Day, the first holiday of the year, began as usual. Mama woke us early even though there was no school. Then she made a hearty breakfast of fried eggs from the backyard chickens and homemade biscuits with butter and jelly. Thick slices cut from a slab of bacon filled a small platter in prosperous times. All routine until the breakfast dishes were washed, dried, and put away. Then superstition blew in like a gust of chilling wind on a winter morning.
“Be careful what you do today because you’ll do the same thing all year,” Mama said. That sounded great to me. My father guffawed and went about his daily chores like any nonworking day.
I wanted to read—my favorite pastime—but Mama insisted we do something productive—to “ward off laziness,” she said. Then she set about finding ways to bring a year of prosperity to us. She cooked black eye peas with ham hock or bits of bacon—a southern tradition for good luck. We’d been eating that main dish accompanied by cornbread and home-churned butter as far back as I could remember. It hadn’t brought us any luck that I could see.
She cooked greens because superstition emphasized a healthy year by eating that food on the first day. Nothing new there either. She’d served cooked mustard greens, collards, or poke salad for more years than I’d seen. I hated greens. I only ate the small amounts required by my father who insisted we “eat what was set before us.”
Most evenings after supper, Mama swept the linoleum floors in the kitchen, then the pathway across the dining room to the back door. She propped the screen door open with one foot while she swept the wooden threshold and the steps. Not on New Year’s Day. After supper, she swept the kitchen floor and emptied the dustpan in the trash. She stopped there. I thought it was to minimize her workload. Only later did I realize that she might have been clinging to the superstition of not sweeping out good things with the bad on the first day of the year.
I don’t follow Mama’s New Year’s superstitions. Well, maybe one. I’ll leave the broom in the closet today so I don’t sweep out the good with the bad from 2017.
Filed under Holidays, Memoir
Well-known philosophers—mostly dead—push to the front, vying for mention in this last quote challenge.
“Either write things worthy reading, or do things worth the writing.”
I’m trying, Ben, but you forgot to publish the DIY how-to section.
“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”
Sorry, Ms. Christie, but California is in its fourth year of drought. Until El Niño arrives, I’m using paper plates. The trip out to the green waste receptacle is too short to do anything more than wonder if I’ve scheduled my next blog post.
“Don’t get it right – get it WRITTEN!”
Thanks, Lee. I probably know more about Jack Reacher than real-life people because you took your own advice and published twenty novels with him as the protagonist. Reacher even has short stories to keep me posted on his activities between hardcover books.
I’ve published a couple of nonfiction books and dozens of short stories, but my first mystery manuscript is old enough to go to kindergarten. Why haven’t I followed Lee Child’s advice and published it?
“I’d rather edit manuscripts written by others.”
―Violet Carr Moore
A recent discussion on Crime Fiction, a LinkedIn crime writers group, ended up in the bedroom.
OOPS! Take one giant step backward.
Let me explain. My novel characters in Next of Kin work in progress often have a stubborn streak and wander off on their own exploits, leaving me to revise scenes and chapters to fit those moods. The Crime Fiction thread was directed at how to avoid this. One post suggested that a good night’s sleep might cure the problem.
Drink one cup of chamomile tea and relax.
That doesn’t work for me. When my characters traipse off course, leaving the path my fingertips have painted with words, I follow them all day. I meander in and out of unplanned scenes and dialogue. After dinner, I review my manuscript. I fuss at the character and try to explain that I, the author, am in charge. When that doesn’t work, I hogtie that character and drag him to bed.
Wave get-out-of-jail-free card.
While I wait to be arrested by the evening shift sergeant, I replay that character’s dialogue and actions, demanding to know why s/he didn’t trust me to do the right thing. I toss and turn with thoughts of editorial revenge until I drift off to sleep. I snooze.
I awake, alone in the darkness, and realize the character is right.
For the first time since November 1, 2008, I’ve put National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) on the back burner to concentrate on editing one of my five draft novels created during this grueling challenge. Back burner not a familiar term to you? That cliché originated in the days of wood-burning cook stoves. Slow-cook foods were placed on the back burner because they didn’t require concentrated heat or constant attention like those closer to the cook. My current kitchen range is electric with all four burners of equal heat options. Still, if something requires slow cooking, I put it on the back burner—or in a crockpot—to keep it out of my way. Today, I’ve moved Next of Kin, my first NaNo novel, to the front burner and turned up the heat with 1,667-words a day in revisions to match the NaNoWri fervor.
Captain Luis Rojas of the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office, the antagonist, is pleased that I’ve moved Detective Taylor Madrid to the forefront of the homicide investigation of a new resident in this Arizona desert town. My critique group convinced me that I’ve been too harsh on cliché-speaking Sergeant Gavin (Sully) O’Sullivan, the bungling Irishman. He likes his new, more competent role, but he insists on keeping his dialogue clichés. He favors cool as a cucumber, drunk as a skunk, all bent out of shape, and on the back burner. Sergeant O’Sullivan needs more clichés to describe (1) the local mortuary business; (2) a pompous local town council leader; and (3) a Phoenix on-the-spot newscaster who sounds like a tabloid reporter.
Can you help Sergeant O’Sullivan? Send your favorites as comments.
Filed under Editing, Writing