Nancy E. Hatfield Memories, Part 1 (1974)

Howard B. Lee, former Attorney General of West Virginia, provided this account of Nancy Hatfield (widow of Cap) in the early 1970s: HATFIELD WOMEN. …

Nancy E. Hatfield Memories, Part 1 (1974)

From the blog of Brandon Ray Kirk, who publishes bits and pieces of history from mostly West Virginia, and more specifically, mostly Logan County. The post linked to is an interesting glimpse into the Hatfield family, and in particular Devil Anse Hatfield, legendary patriarch of the feuding family.

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Writing Exercise – “Being Gorgeous” (An Alliterative Island Ghost Story)

This week’s writing exercise is another one from Ursula K. Le Guin’s marvelous book on writing, Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story (Amazon link HERE, in case you’re interested in checking it out).

Our writing group’s members take turns creating the prompts for our bi-weekly meetings. This one came from Jo, who took it from pp. 8-9 in Le Guin’s book. And, actually, the title of today’s blog post comes from the title Jo gave to her exercise: “Being Gorgeous.”

• Climax of a ghost story OR
• Invent an island and start walking across it

Part One: Write a paragraph or a page meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia (I had to look this up), alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect—any kind of sound effect you like, but not rhyme or meter.

Part Two: In a paragraph or so, describe an action or a person feeling strong emotion—joy, fear, grief. Try to make the rhythm of the language embody or represent the physical reality you’re writing about.

NOTE: LeGuin doesn’t say the 2 parts need to be connected so Part 2 could be separate or a continuation. She does say: Write for pleasure/play. Focus on the ‘sound’ of the writing.

I decided to mash up all the exercise criteria together to write a ghost story on an island, with a focus on words having an “s” sound. After a slow start, this exercise became a lot of fun. Every time I found myself pausing to think of the next word in a sentence, I deliberately sought anything even slightly related to the topic that started with an “s” or contained an “s” sound. Those “s” words led me in new directions, opening story possibilities I’d never have found otherwise. And the longer I wrote, the faster those “s” words flowed. It was like a long chain of torches being lit to illuminate my ever-accelerating passage. I realize this description makes my writing process sound way more exciting than it was, but my point is, it was fun to surrender to language and sound as my guide instead of relying on more logical thought patterns.

For subject matter I chose the fictional Appalachian Ohio River town of Adell Ferry, which is the setting for my mystery novel I’ve been writing forever and—who knows?😊—may actually someday publish. For now it’s a fun hobby, quite different from the writing I ordinarily do for work, or even for this blog. Fiction is super challenging for me because it doesn’t come naturally at all. Although I used to write short essays in response to our writing-group prompts, lately I’ve tried to push myself to write fiction. I’ve also given several writing-group exercises an Adell Ferry setting. My novel is contemporary, but my exercises so far have assumed vaguely historical eras (1930s, 1970s, etc.) which seems to help me develop a feeling for the place without being overly distracted by characters or plot. Not that it particularly matters for this exercise, but I picture Adell Ferry being somewhere on the Ohio River not terribly far upriver from Huntington, West Virginia. You know how Ohio comes to a point at the bottom?

I, Ruhrfisch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Well, Adell Ferry would be somewhere along the Ohio River on the righthand side between the southern tip and maybe halfway to the Pennsylvania border.

Because Adell Ferry is fictional, don’t bother looking at a map trying to find where there’s a decent-sized island near the southern tip of the state. I sort of based my island on Blennerhassett Island, which is near Marietta, Ohio, and Parkersburg, West Virginia, about halfway between the southern tip and the Pennsylvania border and thus at the farthest-upriver end of my Adell Ferry stretch of the river. Blennerhassett Island is famous (infamous) for its association with the “Burr Conspiracy,” Aaron Burr’s alleged, treasonous plan to take over part (or even all?) of the Louisiana Territory in 1805-06. Although the Ohio River doesn’t have many habitable islands, Blennerhassett Island demonstrates that there’s at least one island large enough to hold not only a house but also a treasonous military training facility 😊

Thus establishing the plausibility of my fictional island, which need not be anywhere near the size of Blennerhassett. Just large enough for brush and trees to hide a small campfire and also large enough that “walking across it,” as specified in the exercise (remember that? the exercise that was the whole point of this post before all my Adell Ferry meandering?), would take enough time for a scene to happen.

So here is my ghost story about walking across an invented island, written with alliterative “s” sounds. First, the disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

And now, my exercise.

Hogsfort Island is a shifting sandbar in the Ohio River, unnaturally large for the tenuous thing it is. Centuries of flooding slowly set down sediment atop the gravel and sand, allowing first grass and later trees to sprout.

Tonight scrub trees resembling willows and twisted elms bend low, their shapes casting sinister shadows on the smooth water flowing past and shielding the interior from view. The moon is a silvery crescent. Its piercing light slices the black sky. Our oars slip neatly into the water, nearly soundless, small rhythmic splashes. The island rises suddenly, looms over us like a gothic cathedral or a haunted castle. Awesome. Terrible.

Bobby Swain has been here before, knows how to slant the rowboat to swing with the current, and soon we slide into a sheltered cove. My shoes sink into soggy sand and clay as I follow Bobby into the brush, but the ground soon stabilizes. Branches scratch my arms, snag my sweater sleeves, snatch at my hair. Darkness surrounds us as we move deeper into the island. A silent scream swirls inside my chest, a secret I might be able to keep except for the sharp, thin threads escaping with every exhalation.

We saw a light on the island last week from our secret hideout on Orchard Hill. Bobby is certain these are the ghosts who’ve been stealing into town and spiriting away all the missing pets. Bobby has his stepfather’s shotgun, and I, following blindly behind as usual, have nothing, not even the sense God gave me.

A twig snaps—behind me? I try to make out Bobby’s shaggy hair in the darkness ahead. Is he there? Am I lost?

“Swain!” I hiss. And grunt my surprise as I run right into his solid body.

“Shut it,” he hisses back. He shifts the gun to his other hand, then puts an arm around my shoulders. At first I think he’s protecting me, but then I realize he’s scared, too.

“Let’s leave,” I whisper.

His arm tightens, and he slowly turns us as a single unit . . . but not back toward the boat. My throat squeezes shut as I see what he wants me to understand. Through the trees a small campfire flickers.

They are here.

And so are we.

Butler Janet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Writing Exercise – “Paradise Breached”

Another short writing exercise to share 🙂

My writing group does short exercises to share each time we meet, and last Saturday I decided it might be fun to start sharing them here on my blog. One person in our writing group takes responsibility to write up an exercise before each meeting that somehow complements what we’ve been reading.

The exercise I’m sharing this week is one that I selected for the group. It comes from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story (Amazon link HERE), page 32:

Write a paragraph of narrative (100-150 words long) in sentences of seven or fewer words.

Le Guin’s book has been fun! At first I didn’t think I would like it because most of what I’ve read so far has been very “style” focused. Too close to much of what I do at work: focusing on the nuts and bolts of helping college students improve their writing style. Just thinking about writing exercises where I had to focus on style gave me a headache. But once I began doing some of them, I found working with style constraints to be strangely exhilarating. I’ll put up some of my early ones over the next couple of weeks. Writing group meets every two weeks, but I thought I’d post one exercise a week for a while until I catch up, as it were.

So anyway, here is my paragraph of short (seven words or fewer) sentences. First, the disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

And now, my exercise.

Clear water swirled gently around rocks. Tall trees shaded the stream. Long grasses lined the banks. Butterflies flitted among wildflowers. Birds warbled in the meadow. Bright sun suffused all with warmth. Too late, she saw the danger. Her children waded in the brook, oblivious. Could hogs truly be so enormous? They were the size of bears. No one believed her afterward. The sheriff’s report proved her right, though. Later they pieced together what had happened. A mile away was a pig farm. A freeway intersected the space between. No road crossed the interstate for miles. But a large culvert ran beneath. The stream passed under. The hogs walked through. If only she had known about the farm. That’s what everyone said. If only she had known.

MassDOT, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Writing Exercise – “The Dress-Up Dress Down”

Or should that be “smackdown”? Read on and see 🙂

My writing group does short exercises to share each time we meet, and I’ve decided it might be fun to start sharing them here on my blog.

For this week, we read Chapter 4, “Conflict and How to Build It,” in Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain. This book was long out of print, but I remembered  a writer I admired mentioning how greatly it had influenced her, so when I saw it on Amazon, I recommended it to the group. So far it has not disappointed, despite the somewhat cheesy title.

One person in our writing group takes responsibility to write up an exercise before each meeting that somehow complements what we’ve been reading. For this week, Karen came up with this exercise:

Write a short scene where someone has something that someone else wants.

Chapter 4 talks about these parts of a scene:

I’m sure anything we do will be fun to explore and share.

So here is what I came up with. First, of course, the usual disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

And now, my exercise.

The sunny, late July afternoon found all the neighborhood kids in the Thompson garage digging through boxes of dress-ups. Lori Ann’s dad had taken us to see The Gnome-mobile over the weekend, and our newest game was replaying that movie, especially the big chase where all the lady gnomes chased the man gnome to catch him for a husband. All the girls wanted to be Violet, the one who won the boy gnome’s heart.

“I call Violet,” announced Janet Thompson.

“You were Violet yesterday,” said Brenda. Not that she was jealous. Brenda was playing Jasper, the boy gnome, again. But she had a sense of fairness, and Janet had been getting her own way a lot lately. “I think Mary should be Violet today.”

“It’s my house,” argued Janet. She was bossy and spoiled, but her dress-ups were way nicer than the cast-off grandma clothes the rest of us had in our basements, so here we were again.

“I’d like to be Violet today,” I said, following up on Brenda’s suggestion. It would be fun to win the race and catch the boy gnome for my husband. Well, Brenda. But in the game, she was the boy gnome.

Janet sulked at that. Everyone exchanged glances. I finally sighed and said, “All right, I’ll be Rose.”

Janet smiled her victory and commenced to pulling out purple and lavender items from the boxes to make her Violet costume. For a few minutes we all busied ourselves with putting together our outfits. As Rose, I needed pink. I selected a pale yellow gown, then found a long length of deep pink fabric. Magenta. I knew that from my 64-color box of crayons. Wrapping the fabric around my waist and draping the two ends in loops across my hips, I somewhat recreated the parted skirt that Cinderella wore.

I stepped in front of the mirror to admire the look. Yes, I could be Rose.

Then I noticed something else in the mirror: Janet staring at me from across the floor. “I want to be Rose,” she said.

“It’s too late.”

“No, it’s not. You be Violet.”

You be Violet.” I looked back at the pretty outfit I’d created. “I’m Rose now.”

Janet’s eyes widened. “I’m telling!” she exploded.

I ignored her exit from the garage, digging though the box to pull out a large pink chiffon scarf. Wrapped around my neck, it was too stylish for a fairy creature. But tucked loosely about my arms like a shawl, the filmy material became a gossamer cloak.

“What’s going on out here?” Janet’s mom, with her dark eyeliner and sleek black pantsuit and upswept black hair, filled the garage with irritated authority. “You know I don’t like fighting.”

We all stopped what we were doing to gape at her. Janet peered out from behind her mother, triumphant. She was as pale and blonde as her mother was dark, I noted. Like a wicked stepsister and an evil stepmother.

“Well?” said Janet’s mom.

“I want to be Rose,” Janet complained. “I was going to let Mary play Violet. She wanted to be Violet until she found a better costume for Rose. Now she won’t let me.”

Janet’s mother turned to me, her voice rising so that everyone would hear. “I expect you to get along with each other, Mary. Find a way to solve this problem, or you are done playing today.” With a final glare all around, she returned to the house.

Stunned silence. Shocked and embarrassed, I began to undress, dismantling the costume that had elicited such envy.

“Here,” said Janet, gracious now. She was handing me her lavender dress.

“I’m not playing anymore.” I felt like crying, but I was angry, not sad. She’d taken Violet from me then changed her mind after I turned Rose into a desirable character. That was the unforgivable part. She got what she wanted, but once I’d made lemonade from my lemons, she wanted that, too. Seething at the injustice, I thrust the pink sash and yellow dress into the box. “I’m leaving.”

And then the most astonishing thing happened.

As I walked out of the garage, I heard Brenda say, “I’m leaving, too.” Then Lori Ann put her costume back into the box, as did the other girls.

I’d never felt powerful before.

I didn’t know why the other girls had followed me out, but as I walked down the alley with them, leaving Janet alone in the garage with no one to admire her as Rose, I understood power for the first time.

And it felt good.

Better than catching the boy gnome.

Better than pretty clothes.

Posted in Creativity, Life, Uncategorized, WPLongform (posts of 1000 words or longer), Writing, blogging | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Was this GMC Sierra truck ad shot in Narnia?

Otherwise, that random streetlight makes little sense.

“This is the land of Narnia,” said the Faun, “where we are now; all that lies between the lamp-post and the great castle of Cair Paravel on the eastern sea.”

One of the plays I performed in when I was young was “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Note the Cambridge comma usage there in that title. C. S. Lewis taught at Oxford 1925-1954, but he taught at Cambridge 1954-1963, a move he was no doubt pressured into after his missing-Oxford-comma publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 1950 🙂

Sadly, I played the witch’s dwarf sidekick, meaning I didn’t get to wear pretty costumes, nor did I have that many lines. And I’m pretty sure Aslan may have killed me near the end of the play. I can’t remember. No matter. My role gave me plenty of stage time, and I had lots of fun hanging out with everyone backstage when I wasn’t on.

I also remember being very intrigued by the idea of “Turkish Delight.” That was the candy that Edmund liked so much he was willing to sell out his siblings for. Haven’t thought about that in years. But now, thanks to Google, I learned just now that it’s sort of like gumdrops. YUCK!!! I don’t know what I thought it would be like, but certainly not that!

Does anyone even eat gumdrops anyway? Are gumdrops actually good for anything except decorating gingerbread houses at Christmas time?

Gingerbread houses that are strictly for show (and not for eating), that is 🙂

On a different note, whoever handles advertising for GMC Sierra does a fabulous job. This is the second television commercial of theirs that I’ve featured on my blog, and I think I’ve only put three non-archival ads on here in the past eight years.

Here’s my post on the other GMC Sierra ad that caught my attention last year.

And here’s that video, in case you’d like to watch it without clicking over to my post.

Posted in Creativity, Life, Popular culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Elevator Abstractions

I saw these fun images while waiting for the elevator in the Grohmann Museum today and thought I’d share. Moving from left to right, most abstract to least. The two images in the middle are basically the same image, with slight differences in composition. Not sure which one I like best of those two. Maybe the one on the left?

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River Diamonds

Today is a gray, sleet-drizzling day in Milwaukee. So it seems like a good time to post a short video from a field trip to the park with our dog a couple weeks ago. Just a few cheerful moments of sparkling sunlight dancing atop breezy ripples in the Menomonee River on a beautiful November afternoon.

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November Tracery

“Tracery” is a term referring to the spidery, lacy stonework in a Gothic stained-glass window.

I was outside in the last light of day this evening shaking hay out of our guinea pig’s “potty pads” (fleece bedding), and for some reason the branches and utility pole caught my eye as I finished and turned to walk back to the house.

Maybe it was the contrast between sturdy and delicate? Or straight and curved? Or maybe that “silhouette” contrast between light and dark?

I took several pictures, and when I looked through them in my camera roll, trying to decide which one was “it,” this was the shot I kept landing on again and again. It’s funny how the same subject can look like nothing at all unless some alchemy of light or composition or something takes over and makes it special.

So here’s the one I liked.

And here are the rejects. What do you think? Did I make the right call?

Oh wait.

Now that I uploaded the other pictures, I see that WordPress has automatically cropped the ones that had been in a wider, landscaped format. Not cool, WordPress: Your new Gutenberg editor takes a lot of liberties.

On the other hand, now I guess I’d better take another pass through the candidates and reconsider my options. Maybe one of these WordPress-cropped photos will stand out to me more than my own original 😂

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Autumn color: red leaves against a blue car

I took this picture about two weeks ago, as I was pushing my cart out of the grocery store. The red leaves against that blue car made such a striking color combination that I discreetly pulled out my phone and took a couple photos. Then I realized that the car’s owners were right behind me. Oops! But they were busy talking and didn’t say anything to me nor even pause their conversation. Just got into their vehicle, still talking, and drove away. Whew! I’m glad I didn’t have to explain why I was taking a picture of their car. Although, as you can see, I wasn’t really going for their actual car so much as I wanted that blue background for the red leaves. Luck strikes again. Because had I chosen a different checkout line in the store, I might have come outside a minute later, the car would have been gone already, and I’d have missed my chance to see this fabulous pairing of colors!

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Cricket phone store at night

I’d like to try taking more photos at night. Usually my nighttime photos turn out kind of green, like this one of a runner in night fog that I took several years ago. But last night when I was stopped at a traffic light on my way home from work, I decided to try capturing the pretty green glow from the phone store’s windows. I liked it. The building colors were pretty true, and the only green was the lighting around the windows, which is supposed to be there! So not bad for my first deliberate foray into “night photography.” Opportunistic though it was. That is, very seldom do I “deliberately” do anything with photography. Mostly it happens when I’m just going about my day and all of a sudden “see” a picture in front of me. Sadly I don’t have the equipment needed to capture truly decent nighttime images. But I can still try whenever I see something cool. And then someday when I have time I’ll work on getting better tools😄

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