It still surprises me every time I find myself responding to unseen forces and external stresses when it comes to putting words down in a useful order. I’ve been writing both for business communication (to deadline) and creatively (muse directed) for many years now, but those things which can deflect a perfectly good burst of creative juice can still switch it all off in a flash. More interesting to me is that I still don’t know them as I see them approach. Writing can be an almost mechanical occupation sometimes. A situation where the hardest thing to do is just to get your fingers to work the keyboard fast enough. This is not one of those times.
2015 had lots of promise; but Summer on, it fled to be replaced by all kinds of demons. Those who know me know what kinds of beasts they were. I always felt as if my writing at least provided me a shelter of sorts. A vacation away from my life’s naturally occurring dramas. But this year, it hasn’t been the case. When confronted by the kinds of fear and loss that most of us have faced or will face, my ability to line words up fled the county.
It seems to be the case that understanding something intellectually and thinking you have a real grip on it, emotionally, doesn’t really count for much at all. The old saw that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans… is no joke. God’s laughter rings in my ears every time I have attempted, since August, to work on my draft novel. What had been a wonderfully immersive research and storytelling experience has become a closed door. For now.
One bright spot, writing wise, came on the heels of my wife’s post-surgical happy prognosis and treatment. I received a request for a longish short story in a mythic-historical setting that I had some experience with. The draft emerged very quickly, but here I am, some two months later, still trying to coax the final version to reveal itself. Now that most of the normal holiday relaxation/distraction season is complete, and some of the unexpected family troubles after the loss of my wife’s mother are achieving the right perspective, I feel like I can exhale and resume a more productive focus. Oh, and spend lots of time turning my thoughts inward while stroking one of my cats. Oh, and respond to the emotional scars emerging in the absence of Holiday Preparations. Oh, and…
The point of this exercise isn’t to complain, trigger a sympathy fest or even to experience the self-medicating catharsis of putting it down in order. In the process of trying to pull the rewrites together on the short story, I was reminded of something important. At the center of my desire to make up stories, is a mystery. Any success I’ve had in my literary endeavors was not really as a result of my application of lessons, assembly of formulas, absorbing critical guidance or even luck. The source of writing success for me is hiding in plain sight deep inside.
I’m writing this to encourage all budding or even established writers wallowing in their own post-Holiday anti-climax, to simply embrace your mystery. Hang onto it and show it some love. Don’t try to figure it all out. Just be able to respond when it calls to you. Make sure your tools are sharp and ready, but don’t beat yourself up if you have a dry spell now and again. It will come on its own timetable, not yours. I’m learning to accept that fact. How about you?
This time of year has always been a time for reflection and rekindled memory. Once the leaves have fallen and the clean-up is over, we all settle in to enjoy our cozy fire, adopt the Season’s slower pace and let our memories return. When I became recently aware that Showtime was reviving David Lynch’s Twin Peaks in a new TV production, my thoughts slipped back to 1970-71.
I’d left college rudderless but found myself building a cabin in the Oregon woods near the town of Creswell. It was a communal enterprise involving a now-august group of uniquely talented individuals helping each other as we could. Some of us were younger. Young enough to be in awe of some of the older, more accomplished or more note-worthy members of the community.
We all got to know each other well, often through hard physical work clearing land and building structures from communal cook shacks and privies to homes for individual families. One such home was an architecturally ambitious multi-story undertaking that at the time I pitched in, was a looming assemblage of sticks and beams. Not just a little intimidating.
As initially intimidating as the structure he presided over, was the highly accomplished architect and oft-times actor I first saw clinging to a tall piling with his legs, while cutting a notch up towards the top for a roof beam with one hand. In that hand was a roaring chainsaw, while in the other was a pencil. The pencil hand and arm hung down along the pole, but did not hold on in any way. The laughing man clung to the pole while swinging the chainsaw as it spit out a stream of wood chips and sawdust. Held up only by his legs. When the saw bucked a bit, he roared right back at it. Over the several weeks as the home began to resemble a human habitation, I got to know this larger than life character. He was generous to a fault, sharing food, time and stories without end. We all pitched in, carrying lumber, logs, rocks, whatever worked towards the final vision he carried with him.
In one unlikely but highly memorable scenario, he taught us the Anglican anthem, Jerusalem, used later as the instrumental theme for the Chariots of Fire score. It was the first time I’d heard William Blake’s words sung. A knee-powered organ provided the accompaniment as our voices rang through the Douglas Firs. I like to think that our herd of goats enjoyed it.
The cultural life of the commune eventually centered around this home. Many of us were musicians, skilled at various levels, but we played together whenever we could and often found ourselves gathered under his roof to hear each others stories, poems and songs. A rough crew, to be sure, but still we shared in creating a new kind of living.
At one point, in 1972, I hitch-hiked to New York City from the commune for sightseeing, or to test myself, I suppose. I never returned to Creswell and left that life and those friends behind me as I tried to find a way to make it work in the Big Apple. Later, when David Lynch’s original Twin Peaks TV series grabbed my attention; who did I see gracing some of its darker moments, but my old friend, Al Strobel. The one handed, laughing man with the chainsaw.
I still think of him often, and have tried to emulate his “full speed ahead” attitude when confronting obstacles or a reinvention to accommodate my need to earn a living. If the damn saw bucks, I try to roar back at it until it settles down. Thanks, Al.
Today through Monday, a very special bundle of my first two novels, The Red Gate and The Gatekeepers will be free for Kindle Readers.
The O’Deirg Legacy…
This is immersive, transporting reading with an authentic period voice for a perfect Irish destination. An Irish family struggles to keep their sheep farm, beginning with The Red Gate, set in Co. Mayo in 1911 and continuing with The Gatekeepers, ten years later, at the beginning of the Irish Civil War. When Finn brings up a hand full of mud after falling into a pasture sinkhole, their peaceful lives begin to unravel. Inside is a cannily worked antique bronze bead. It leads them to discover an ancient hall and its legacy hidden below their sheep. Inside are secrets their family has been charged with preserving and protecting for more than a thousand years. Their legacy holds them to the land and despite the odds, they endure and prosper, finding new strengths and unexpected alliances. Lucky for them, ancient Pre-Celtic Earth-Magic abounds throughout, but no wizards or dragons. Combines brand new editions into one volume at a very special price.
I had a conversation with a client today regarding their choices for the font chosen for the text of the body of the novel being produced. While I can certainly understand how a writer doesn’t want to extend the production questions and decisions beyond those most immediately important, I think it’s all too common for the decisions about the inside of a book to take a back seat to the cover. It’s certainly the less exciting part of the creative process of bringing a book to market. Since most writers work in Word or one of the various compatible software suites, the choice of text type can seem to be just an automatic kind of thing. Just a one more default fill-in. In my own experience, however; the choice of the font used for text can be critical to the success of the book. It’s an important consideration that I think, really deserves its own segment of the entire book marketing process. Here’s where my thinking begins: a book is a consumer product. In order to make it appealing on the shelf (online or in a bookstore) it needs an effective cover (product packaging) to attract and hold the potential buyer. However, the design of the book itself ventures into an area so constantly exploited in modern product marketing — the idea of user friendliness.
Product engineers and designers spend a great deal of time insuring that the typical target consumer’s experience using their product will be enjoyable. Hopefully, good enough to generate a word-of-mouth recommendation and/or a repurchase of future offerings. For a publisher, the user friendliness of their product can be enhanced through the selection of an easy to follow page layout, easy to locate Tables of Contents, glossaries and other reference material and a well-targeted text font. Choosing the right text font can make sure your reader will be grabbed by your words, not by their struggle to read them. Legibility is a critical component of a successful, well-designed book. Taking the time to effectively tailor the text font to your target reader goes a long way towards making the reading experience seamless and transparent, even fun, rather than the chore we all remember from High School Textbooks.
With the arrival years ago, of rapidly rising paper costs, many publishers found that text font selection influences the page count significantly. Since then, reducing their costs has become a very important consideration when producing a print book. Text is often set in small sizes and in slightly condensed (squeezed) fonts that can make it very hard for an older reader to enjoy. As Independents through, we have an opportunity to actually produce a better product in print than many publishers can afford to do. Since most of our books are produced Print-On-Demand, we have the luxury of making sure our text is as legible as possible. We can take extra steps on finessing the text font decision to produce a much easier-to-read product. Giving our readers that kind of user-friendly reading experience can bring them back for the latest book and help spread the word.
Like every designer I do have several favorites. These have been arrived at through years of trial and error and the nuance of typographic design, itself a subject of a great deal if information and detail. If you’d appreciate knowing a bit more about the subject, there are volumes written about it. I posted a mini-course on the subject a couple of years back, which may also help fill-in some of the blanks. But my choices for a specific book may not work for your book, your readers or your overall design, so rather than provide a checklist of fonts to try, I’d rather provide a way for a writer to learn to trust their eyes and find fonts that work perfectly for their readers. It takes a couple of extra steps, but they are not hard to accomplish and the payback will be worth it.
Step One, consider the genre and style of your book. Your text font selection should be narrowed down to those fonts that support and enhance the story. For example, setting a period story with a modern, san-serif typeface (no feet) might not be the best idea. Actually, most newer serif type fonts are especially nuanced and “hinted” for print legibility and often, in the right context look better on the printed page than an equally legible san-serif font. In the same way, there are brand new fonts specifically designed for onscreen viewing rather than the reflective viewing that occurs off a print page. They are designed for the screen and should be used for your eBook formats while different font choices can optimize your print pages. This leads into step two… trial by reader…
Step Two involves setting up and printing a couple of dummy pages from your manuscript in the actual book trim size. 5×8 is a good approximation of page size for an eBook. The page should not be a heading page, such as a chapter head or break, but be a page from within a chapter. Next set your margins up for the ones you have found to be easiest of the eyes from your own reading. If you are using a header, add that in as well as page numbering in the position you prefer. Now try out different type fonts for the selection of text. I recommend using fonts that are supplied native in your software, or if you wish to purchase a specific font you have seen in existing books you enjoy reading, do so, but realize that you may need to embed the font in the document you will be eventually uploading for production if the producer doesn’t own a copy of that font. In my own decision process, I print out several identical pages in different type fonts, trim them down, then offer them to my trusted Beta Readers for their opinions. This isn’t an editing issue. It’s a step to help decide the easiest reading presentation, so it can be a part of your testing after your manuscript is edited and ready for the marketplace.
How to deal with the results? It’s simple enough. If everyone you submit the reader samples to has a differing range of opinions, then you can feel safe that your choices are equal to your readers, but if you find agreement on specific samples either pro, or con, then you have information that should help you decide. After you’ve done this a few times, you’ll train your own eyes as to how your readers perceive fonts and eventually you’ll find your favorites. Your books will be significantly more user friendly than the books produced without this extra consideration. The time you spend with your first few books, experimenting with text fonts, will never be wasted, and will save you on production costs in the long run.
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As always, your questions and opinions matter to me, so if you have something to add, don’t hesitate to post it in a reply…
The recent shocking news from Umpqua Community College sent my heart spinning with streams of memory that flooded in. Memories of my childhood in Roseburg are some of the fondest I have, which made the evil committed there all the more painful. It broke my heart that the town that had welcomed my pitiful little family with open arms, could have been attacked so tragically.
Though it was home to me only for two years, in fifth and sixth grades, Roseburg Oregon had already felt almost like home before we moved there. My grandma and her husband Vern, the only grandfather I ever knew, had lived there for many years bringing us to visit on frequent car-trips. He and Grandma frequently entertained around the baby grand piano in their living room. Vern was a former concert pianist. He had the playing chops to go with his reputation and a flamboyant, outgoing personality that suited his local TV celebrity status. In the course of these musical evenings we’d be allowed in the very plush, off-limits living room, until it was bedtime and we would trudge upstairs to the sound of adult laughter and show tunes. To this day, I can remember long passages of Rachmaninoff because of the love for music that these sessions taught me.
The first sight of Roseburg I remember was at night. At the end of a very long day on the road, we drove up over the crest of the highway and below us the lights spread out across several small, interconnected valleys. Oddly, the reason for our moving there wasn’t a happy one. My parents had suddenly separated and Mom took us to live near her mother to find her feet again. It was scary for a kid, but the fact that I remembered the place helped a lot. It was also the home of The Indian Theatre, where a kid could enjoy an entire Saturday matinee for only thirty-five cents. Sometimes I could earn a whole dollar helping out at Grandma’s after school. From Grandma’s house with its big, spreading magnolia tree, it was an easy walk downhill into town.
We found a little rental down a side street. Mom got work in the local hospital and though money was tight, we made friends and enjoyed our new digs. The house had recently been a storefront, so the front yard was concrete and the front window was a big expanse of plate glass, but Mom made drapes and soon it was cozy and comfortable. We had plenty of room out back for a vegetable garden and there was a good climbing tree, too. Friendly neighbors and a nice postman made it work.
It had a share of excitement, too as the gaping ruins and crater in the center of town still marked the explosion of a parked Fertilizer truck a couple of years earlier. It felt to a kid like a small, rugged place where anything could happen. I liked it a lot, despite its lack of an ocean beach, a major zoo and the Palm trees which were steady companions back in San Diego. We all reinvented ourselves closer to the sensibilities of the Oregon Lumber Capital and began to feel at home.
We adopted two Guinea Pigs and named them Magoo and O’Malley, and they had full run of the place. It was our first home in Oregon, but we had lived near Seattle and in Idaho so the tall, brooding trees lined up along the tops of the hills, the huge logging trucks and the ubiquitous mills all felt inviting. Besides, the little town smelled of sawdust, pine pitch and wood smoke. For years I figured the Douglas Fir was named after the county considering how closely connected Roseburg was with the various forest industries that thrived in those days. One of my very favorite memories is of the cherry-red glow of the towering, conical sawdust burners’ tops as we drove past a lumber mill after dark.
I also grew to love the black cat logo of Copeland Lumber Co. and still own a cap from Roseburg Forest Products Plant 4, now long closed, where many of my school friends’ Dads worked. The forests, rivers and mountains nearby filled our lives with adventures. We got to know trees, animals and birds by name and spent many hours walking along woodland paths or narrow farm roads, transfixed by the beauty of our surroundings. We hiked it and fished it all, many times over.
My Dad re-joined us there the next year, living in a big red trailer on the banks of the Umpqua River while he and Mom worked out their issues. We moved from the little storefront house a few miles out of town along the Umpqua into a classic farmhouse and our lives as a complete family began again. The year I was to go into the seventh grade, we moved up to Springfield to follow Dad’s newest job change. A few years later, we moved north again and by the time I returned to Eugene for college, Grandma and Vern had split up. She’d moved down to Klamath Falls.
I had no remaining family connection to the town, but have carried happy memories of Roseburg my whole life. I was very happy to have had one opportunity years later, to introduce my wife to Vern on a pass through on our way up to see my folks. Returning to New York, some months later I got word that Vern had died. My mother sent on his obituary where I learned further about his connection with the local schools’ music programs and how he had touched many lives. Grandma passed after him and then both my parents went on to their next adventures.
Today I pulled the old Plant 4 hat out of the closet and I swear it still smells like pine smoke and sawdust. There’s a little bit of Roseburg sawdust that will never come out from beneath my fingernails. I’m so proud that I knew Roseburg and its hardy, friendly people. I hope they can eventually find peace in the aftermath of the senseless killings and that life can soon return to its warm, even pace and rhythm which is truly unique in all the world.
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An interview with author Michael Llewellyn…
When I was a 4th-Grade Student in San Diego, California; my favorite part of the week’s lessons was always the California History segment Miss Wells taught. She told us the story of a tiny, frail priest, who walked from Vera Cruz, Mexico all the way up the coast, reaching eventually the location for his Mission Church which eventually became a line of churches set a day’s march apart along the Camino Real — the Spanish Royal Highway connecting their colony together in a network of commerce and soul-saving. My mental image of Father Junipero Serra as a kindly little padre in his brown Franciscan robes dispensing mercy and goodness to the California Native people, persisted until I began to learn the actual history of the Spanish Conquest of the Southwest including California as an adult.
Almost completely at odds with the carefully curated, vacation-brochure story of the peaceful Missions was the brutal truth. The chain of missions including churches and working ranches and farms were actually sites where monstrous cruelty, slavery, starvation, kidnapping and torture were doled out to the Native parishioners for generations. All carefully overseen or ignored by the Franciscan Friars and priests, including Father Serra. All men of their times, serving Cross and King.
Today, we’re discussing the controversial record of the Missions with author Michael Llewellyn. A gifted writer of meticulously researched historic fiction whose 2014 mystery novel, Communion of Sinners, uncovers this well-hidden past.
Good Morning, Michael. With sainthood almost a fait accompli for Father Serra, your book struck a strong chord with me. I was mostly acquainted with your Historic Novels set in New Orleans before reading this book. What brought you to uncover the truth about a priest so revered he’s called the Father of California?
A: Good morning, Richard, and thank you for asking me to talk about my book, Communion of Sinners. When I first visited the California missions, like most tourists I was seduced by their beauty and charmed by the history, at least how it was presented on-site. When I visited the Carmel Mission, I saw a woman in the courtyard reading a book I hadn’t seen in the gift shop. It was Life in a California Mission, the journal of Jean Francoise De La Peyrouse*, a French explorer who visited Monterey in 1786. The woman said such books were never sold at the missions because they told the truth, not what the Catholic Church wanted visitors to believe. Of course I was intrigued enough to read the book and was horrified by what I found, there and also in Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization: The Impact of the Mission System on California Indians by Robert H. Jackson. Both books were eye-openers, real revelations if you will. Instead of more mythologizing about the “child-like Indians and pious padres,” I found a world of oppression and outright cruelty. Rather than coming voluntarily to the missions, the Indians were more often herded there by Spanish soldiers, punished if they resisted forced labor and forbidden to leave. If they escaped, they were re-captured, returned and punished. Father Serra himself said, and I’m quoting here, “That spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows appears to be as old as the conquest of the Americas.” In 1783, three years after he made that remark, no less than the Governor of California, Pedro Fages, filed a complaint against Serra for excessive punishment of the Indians. Not just punishment, mind you. Excessive punishment! And this is the man the Vatican wants to canonize!
It certainly was a surprise when I heard there was a huge push to complete the process when the new Pope visits. When important decisions that affect millions of people are made without consideration of the direct past, it always seems less like omission and more like subterfuge. But then, I’ve always been an ardent student of history. I understand you grew up in Tennessee, a state with a long and honored past. Did your childhood experiences bring you to write historic subjects or were you drawn to it from another direction?
A: When you grow up in the South, history is omnipresent and, for me anyway, it seemed a natural thing to write about. I was taught from an early age to respect my history, heritage and traditions. I’m old enough to remember a South that has all but disappeared and, while it was deeply flawed by racial segregation, it nevertheless had a magical, indefinable something that burrowed under your skin and stayed there. Harper Lee and Truman Capote captured the Southerner’s childhood best. As far as the Native Americans are concerned, I knew from an early age about the Cherokees and the Trail of Tears ripping them from their homeland in east Tennessee and western North Carolina and sending them to Oklahoma. Their story has been told many times, which is not the case for the Mission Indians. What little voice they had needed to be turned way up and I tried to help with Communion of Sinners. One of my main characters, Javier Chamales, is a modern-day Chumash with links taking the reader from contemporary Santa Cruz to the past when the missions held sway.
The Catholic Church has recently made attempts through Papal decrees, to distance themselves from their own past. I remember an apology made to many indigenous Nations of South America and the Caribbean for excesses and cruelty committed in the process of bringing the Word of God to them. Did writing Communion of Sinners provide a pulpit for you to try and share the truth of the Missions? It has been a seriously controversial subject in California for many years, I understand.
A: I’m not sure I like the word “pulpit” because I don’t want to sound preachy. But, yes, it’s high time the truth about the missions is told. It’s the responsibility of historical fiction authors, at least those who take our work seriously, to educate and enlighten and not perpetuate myths and hearsay. Father Serra and his ilk presented a serious challenge because it’s so very difficult to wrap our 21st century mindsets around 18th century behavior. Here’s what I wrote in my Author’s Notes for Communion of Sinners. “I believe most Franciscan missionaries were sincere, devoted men and that Serra fought hard to protect his neophytes from the soldiers, but he and his fellow friars were ill-prepared to grasp the radically different world of the Indians or how the imposition of European standards would annihilate the very souls they sought to save. The results were attitudes ranging from avuncular affection to vicious disgust, and there’s no denying the missions were akin to Nazi forced labor camps.” Serra’s punishment hardly emulated the famously gentle and compassionate St. Francis, who founded the Franciscan order. If a California governor and other friars were appalled by his behavior, how could Serra himself be so unaware and unbending? For that matter, how can the Vatican not be aware in 2015? I’m not Catholic so I won’t judge the veracity of Serra’s supposedly miraculous cure for that nun with lupus centuries after his death, but I do find it bemusing that the church has dispensed with the second requisite miracle in order to fast-track Serra to sainthood. If the Vatican is really so desperate for saints, can’t they do better than this guy?
I sure hope so. Hypocrisy doesn’t go very well with faith. I grew up all over the Western States and always had a deep interest in American Indian culture. It seems the arts, traditions and stories of many of the indigenous cultures are taught and explored in literature really frequently, but that there is very little out there about the California Native cultures. I’ve learned that there was more diversity of culture and tradition in California than in any other Mainland region. Is there a reason or reasons why their stories and traditions have been so neglected?
A: That remains a mystery, Richard. I can only speculate that they were eclipsed by more famous tribes because they weren’t as glamorous or sexy. Most everyone knows about Pueblo pottery and Tlingit totem poles and Sioux beadwork, about Geronimo and Sitting Bull and Wounded Knee. What history and culture the Mission Indians had was pretty quickly erased by the Spanish and the padres, and California school children, as you say, were taught only what the State and the Catholics deemed appropriate. What monstrous conceit! I should mention here that the Indians were themselves almost erased by Mission rule. In that period, 1769-1832, the population plummeted from 130,000 to 73,000. Many deaths came from European diseases the Indians could not fight, but plenty died of starvation, neglect and brutality.
It’s incredible to think that in its day, that kind of destruction and death were just accepted as inevitable things that occurred with Colonialism and swept under the carpet. At the very least least today we can acknowledge the truth and its lingering effects all these years later and try to do the right thing for those victim’s descendants who still survive.
You’ve been a very prolific author, with some seventeen titles available. I’ve read a few of your other books and have seen one common thread is a fascination with the interplay of diverse cultures. You’ve lived in a few places where this is very evident, haven’t you? We even share a couple of them.
A: I’ve been fortunate to live in Greenwich Village, the French Quarter and Santa Fe, all of which boast overlapping cultures. My favorite is New Orleans with its exotic French/Spanish/African roots, later watered by English, Irish, Italian, German and, after Katrina, Mexican arrivals. This polyglot mix is reflected in the food and music which is, happily, ever-evolving and makes living there a real pleasure. In 1967, I was lucky enough to live in the house where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind, but believe me that’s another story.
Upper West Side of NYC for me, but I really understand the overlaps. They sure keep your mind working. Have you found that spending time in a place where a project is set helps the writing? I know my own experiences out on the road and as a newcomer in many places has influenced my own work a great deal.
A: Absolutely. New Orleans is again the best example. I set several books there because the history is almost palpable. Once during carnival season I was standing on my 1833 French Quarter gallery in a twilight fog so dense I could barely see across the street. While listening to the riverboats, carriage harnesses and hooves, and cathedral bells, I saw a group of revelers dressed in hooded capes, swirling through the fog down below. I realized everything I saw and heard belonged to another century, as did the buildings around me. That, of course was the perfect location and inspiration for my first time travel book, Still Time.
Your most recent novel Past Time, is the second in a Time-Travel historic series. It places your characters in the Winter Court of the Romanovs in Saint Petersburg just before the revolution. What specifically brought your interest to bear on a subject that has intrigued writers for so long?
A: Some places in time simply speak to you. Venice in the 16th century, Tudor London and Paris in the twenties come to mind. I’d always had an interest in the Romanovs and will never forget seeing the Amber Room of the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg. It trumped any excess I’d ever seen and drove me to learn more about the Romanovs. When I read about Marie Pavlovna, the feisty and fiery Grand Duchess who dared tell the Russian parliament that she wanted the Tsarina Alexandra annihilated, I wanted my time traveling heroine, Madeleine, to meet her. Their encounter is what drives the plot of Past Time.
As one of your loyal readers, I’m always wondering where you’ll take us next. Any clues as to a project currently in the works?
A: Sure. The third book, Over Time, catapults Madeleine to Haiti in 1820 where she meets the black King Henry I and his Queen Marie-Louise. She also meets the Duke of Marmelade and, no, I did not make that up. There’s a reason for that old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.
That it is. I’ll be looking forward to news of its release. Thanks Michael, for your insights on the truth of the California Missions. I hope the truth is considered before the Pope makes his final decision and shows the California Mission Indians the respect they have so long deserved.
I’m glad to introduce my readers to Michael Llewellyn’s work. I’ve read many of them and always found myself absorbed and carried along on a great story line with real fleshed-out characters I care about. They’ve also made my brain work a bit and I always leave them with questions and ideas spinning out from that point. For more information about the writer and his work, be sure to visit his
Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelKLlewellyn
Amazon Author Page at http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Llewellyn/e/B000APJFP6
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*Jean Francoise De La Peyrouse biographical information is available on the French Language Wikipedia which you can translate by pasting the url into Google Translate. https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Fran%C3%A7ois_de_La_P%C3%A9rouse
September 23, 2015 Canonization Update from the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/09/23/pope-francis-will-make-junipero-serra-a-saint-during-a-historic-canonization-today/
September 11, 2001 changed the world. Even in tiny hamlets miles away, the moment was felt intensely. For some, who suffered personal loss, grief has become part of their everyday lives. For others, an abiding sense of duty remains. This is a story I wrote some months afterwards that concerns one small village on Long Island and how one long-tern resident was affected.
By Richard Sutton
©2015, All Rights Reserved by the Author
At least he had time to get a drink. The sun was sending shadows across the sidewalks by the time he’d crawled out of the sack, but it was still bright enough to make him blink a few times. Karl’s eyes weren’t any good anymore. He rubbed the small of his back, which still ached from too much time in bed as he shuffled across the road and started down towards Main Street.
The bar would still be quiet, this early. He smiled at a young mother and her little girl – too big for the stroller. “Good afternoon,” he said in his best public voice. She gave him a sideways glance and hurried past without a reply. He checked his fly. OK, this time.
He slowly passed several storefronts. A few of them still let him inside. Up ahead, one of the merchants he knew was sitting on the bench by the door to his shop. Karl steered himself in that direction. “Good afternoon, Mr. James.”
“Good afternoon, Karl,” replied the shopkeeper, his head buried in some papers on his lap. He glanced up.
“How’s your day going?”
“Well,” began Karl, “not too well, I’m afraid… I seem to have lost my wallet again.”
Mr. James drew his lips down a bit, looking up into Karl’s bleary eyes. “How much do you need?”
“Forty dollars should do it until I can contact my attorney. Of course, I’ll return the funds as soon as possible.” Karl began staring at the wooden porch floor as the shopkeeper rose. He left Karl standing there, blinking while he went inside the store. It took him only a few moments, but he returned, extending his hand.
“Here’s a twenty. It’s all I can afford, Karl,” adding, “It’s the last time. Don’t ask me again.”
Karl lightly slipped the protruding bill from between the shopkeeper’s fingers, repeating himself as he turned, “I’ll return the funds as soon as possible.”
The shop keeper sat down and watched Karl shuffle off down the street toward his regular afternoon destination, the dark little bar stuffed into the side room of one of the local restaurants. He shook his head, thinking about whether it had been a good idea to cut Karl off. He remembered when Karl had actually been a regular customer, but even then, the decline was easy to see. The money was still there, though, from what he’d heard. He shuffled the invoices in his lap, stood and went inside to figure out where the money was going to come from to pay them.
Karl almost bumped into the delivery man bringing a load of liquor into the restaurant on his hand truck. Karl apologized, saying, “I’m terribly sorry.” He got a sneer and a grunt from the guy. Karl then stood there, looking at the door for a few moments, nervously fingering the twenty. Karl knew that just a few doors further down, another merchant would probably give him another twenty, but… it was getting late. He didn’t want to be sitting in the bar when the dinner guests came through the door. They would stare at him, and eventually someone seated at a nearby table would say something and he’d be ushered out. He didn’t want that to happen, so he went inside, carefully looking around the dining room to make sure it was unoccupied before finding the furthest stool, against the far wall in the cubicle where the bar was.
“Hey there, Karl,” said the bartender, unloading shiny bottles from boxes on the floor. “I’ll be right with you.”
“What’ll it be today?” The bartender waited while Karl went through the regular charade.
“Well, let me see… my throat is a bit dry… maybe I’ll have a glass of sherry… no, make it an Old-Fashioned. Just one.”
“Coming right up” replied the bartender, already dropping the cherry to the squat, brown drink. Karl, he knew from daily experience. From the six years he’d worked behind that bar he knew that there would be two more drinks, then the money would be gone. He didn’t expect a tip this time as Karl was looking particularly ratty today. Probably hadn’t showered in a few days. Karl used to tip him pretty well, around the first of each month when the Trust put funds into Karl’s bank account. By the third week, no more tips and only three drinks. But at least he could cut him some slack. He’d heard the old guy was some kind of war hero, back in the day.
Later, Karl rose from his stool slowly, his hands braced on the bar to steady himself, pushing back the stool with one foot. He turned towards the door, and shuffled out as the bartender gave him a quiet nod. A couple with children was being seated in the far corner and it was time to leave. He’d been sucking the ice for a while, anyway. He smiled vaguely in their direction before pushing the door open and heading back along Main Street.
“Smelled something awful, didn’t he?” The restaurant owner said to the bartender, adding, “You can always toss him out. Don’t worry about it. His family doesn’t have any clout left around here. He scares the customers away.”
“Sometimes,” replied the bartender, polishing a glass. “But, he wasn’t any trouble, and I never have any other customers that early.”
“Well, just so you know I’ve got no problem with you tossing him.”
Karl wore a slight smile all the way back along Main Street, it was getting dark by the time he made it back to his weed-blown driveway. The oyster shells crunched under his feet. He made it back to the barn, through what had once been a port cochere. Its last paint peeled and sloughed off many years before. Just inside the door, Karl felt for the long handle of a push-broom which he pulled out, trudging back down the driveway towards Main Street, the broom clutched tightly in his hand and tucked under an arm. His other arm extended slightly away from his body for balance.
Karl stopped at the side door sillcock, drinking from the ancient, cracked hose lying along the foundation. He set the broom against the bare clapboard siding and splashed water into his face from the hose, rubbing it across his balding head, so he could tuck the wild hair behind his ears and it would stay long enough to get him on the bus. He ran his finger across his teeth and gums, then took another drink, swirled it around then spat it out.
Karl’s personal hygiene for the day complete, he picked up the broom and headed towards the bus stop. He got there just as the street lights clicked on, and sat down on the aluminum bench slats.
Bill wiped his eyes. It had been a long shift, but it was almost over, just a few more runs. From the back of the bus he heard a conversation in muffled tones from the remaining two fares. Up ahead he thought he saw… yep, it was the old guy with the broom. He almost thought he’d pass him tonight, remembering how bad he stunk the last time he threw him off. He swung the big wheel over and the bus slid up to its stop. Bill hoped Karl had the fare. He wouldn’t mind letting him ride free in this direction, but there were other fares in the back.
Karl slowly climbed the steps. “Good evening.” He said to the driver. Bill just nodded and clicked the fare-box open as Karl rummaged through his pockets. A couple of coins clinked. Bill nodded as Karl dropped them into the slot. Three quarters and a dime. Short by almost half, but Bill didn’t mind as long as the sound of a fare falling could be heard in the back. Karl thanked him and took a seat a few rows back. Bill pulled away shaking his head over the smell Karl left in his wake.
When they got to the last stop, at the LIRR rail, Karl rose and turned to the couple in the back, saying “Good evening,” then repeated it to the driver as he passed him, the long broom banging against the cage as he slowly climbed down the steps to the pavement. The couple slid out, probably on their way to the city for a show, thought the driver. He closed the door and watched as the old guy shuffled off towards an empty spot in the parking lot. The driver had seen him take that broom to the same spot, almost every night, for as long as he could remember, whether there was a car parked there or not. He’s an odd old bird, thought Bill as he shifted into gear and left the curb.
From inside the station house, the night shift ticket clerk watched an old man sweep one parking space clean, then move on to a different space, not the next one, but one just out of sight. He knew he’d see him earlier, a few rows back. He sweep a few spots, then he’d go on to a few more. He sipped his coffee, wondering about what kind of crazy could make you do that, night after night. He’d even asked the security agent that patrolled the lot a couple of years before.
“That’s old Karl,” the rent-a-cop told him, “he comes from local money. He told me once that he felt someone had to take care of it, so I let him sweep. He’s harmless.”
“Why do they let him go around looking like that, the station clerk asked, “he looks like a derelict.”
“There’s no one left here, they all moved away. He used to dress better and such, but I guess he’s got no one to look after him now. I hear the money’s still there, though.”
Karl came back into view, under one of the security lights carefully sweeping around a parked car. The clerk thought about how careful he was not to touch any cars, but he would sweep all around them, then move on to the next space and sweep it, whether it was occupied or not. Money or not, the old guy was clearly nuts. Really nuts, he recalled, thinking of the last winter. The outer door swung open and another young couple came up to his window.
“Hey, what up with the old loon and the broom?” the young man asked the clerk after paying for two off-peak round trips. “He almost knocked that broom up against our new BMW.”
“He really stinks.” The young woman added, “Creepy.”
The clerk nodded, replying, “He’s been sweeping the same parking spaces since late September of 2001. He’s harmless, and I’ve never seen him touch a car. He’s no threat to anyone”
“Well, that’s a relief,” said the young man looking at his watch. “So he’s nuts or something?”
“I guess so,” replied the clerk, hoping they’d just go sit down to wait.
“Why the same spaces?”
The clerk almost rolled his eyes. He’d told this story a few times every single week for years, now. “Well, from what we can figure out, those are the parking spaces that remained occupied for a couple of weeks after the Trade Center attack on 9/11. After they towed the cars off, the old guy shows up and starts sweeping up where the cars had been. He’s been doing it ever since, too. Even in the snow.”
Really? All winter?” The young woman’s eyes grew round. “Did he know someone that died?”
“I don’t know,” said the clerk, “but you could ask him. He’ll be sweeping a spot right next to the platform in a few minutes, before the train gets here.”
The young woman just shivered and said, “I don’t think so.” Looking up at her boyfriend, for accord. He nodded, saying, “we’ll just stay inside.”
They took a seat near the platform door, and sure enough, in five minutes, Karl was outside, sweeping the last space before the bus returned to take him home. He swept it top to bottom, then side to side. When he was finished there wasn’t even a grain of sand lying on the pavement where a car had stood almost two weeks before it was towed. Karl walked to the station door and opened it, putting his head inside and saying toward the ticket window, “All finished. Good evening.” He returned to the outside bench where the bus would pull up in a few minutes.
He reached into both trousers pockets but came up empty. His jacket pockets were empty as well. He stretched out his hands and two fingers on the left hand still carried nice signet rings set with stones. One was turquoise and one was lapis lazuli, its deep blue surface reflecting the security lights in the parking lot. He pulled this one off the finger with some difficulty to offer it to the driver instead of a fare, if the driver would be so kind as to accept it.
The screech of the train wheels braking woke Karl as the headlight beams from the bus brushed across his form, slumped on the bench. He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and pulled himself to his feet, the ring held tightly in one hand. Bill wouldn’t take it, covering the far box slot with his hand, so Karl slid it back on. He got off at his regular stop and crossed the street looking after the bus. He’s a gentleman, that driver, Karl thought as he crossed the street, a real gentleman.
# # # #
Drawing: This is one of the images from a folio of drawings of the Twin Towers during their construction. It contained several artist views of the phases of construction of the towers from various vantage points nearby. The small, ornate church and cemetery in the foreground survived with no damage at all, despite its proximity.
There is so much philosophical discussion around the idea that we are different from animals. Religious doctrine is often supported with a creation story that shows a definite break-out when it came to our ancient forebears. Somehow, say the writs, the Creator of the Heavens and Earth had something special in mind when it came to humans.
At least in most “civilized”, Western European traditions, we are not supposed to relate to the rest of living things as respected relations, but rather as chattal. Of course, I admit that I don’t feel that way at all and I also don’t pretend to understand the intention of any Creator. But as close as we are to all life, physically and even mentally, to the higher organisms (who made that distinction, anyway?), we do have one aspect of our lives on this planet that is decidedly different than most other mammals. As far as I know, we are the only storytellers.
We are the storytelling species, the organism whose memory and consciousness can be assembled into narrative that will be understood by others over time. A good story, as we all know, outlasts almost all of the damage that time can inflict on living things. many stories that are still retold in all kinds of variable forms, have been around for thousands of years. Sometimes the actual historic individual that originated a story is remembered as part of the tale, but in most cases, the origin has been lost and the story absorbed into a common, human collective memory. Shared by all who walk on two legs, or at least most humans.
The trick, for a storyteller to weave such tales that their stories are considered special, or moving or important, is to get into the listener’s heart where the story can connect with the feelings and memories the story evokes. While a unique take or engaging delivery on an old tale can revitalize its acceptance, there is something about raw honesty that can connect a storyteller across all kinds of subjects and all kinds of listeners. Since as writers, we’re not always handy to tell our stories directly to our listeners, our words need to carry that kind of honesty if they are to make that kind of deep connection. It’s a skill that can only be grown carefully, from the seed. It has to be practiced over and over again. If it’s done properly, it will shine through no matter how we embellish or skew the structure, characters or their behavior. It will shine through no matter the world the stories take place in, real or created. The honesty of experience and feeling is the heart of a story that makes connection. Everything else is the vehicle.
From the time that we blew colored rock pigment upon our hands as they were pressed into the wall of a cave, like the one pictured above, in the Argentine Santa Cruz Mountains, we’ve felt a deep need to make a statement. Tell others that once, we were here. We share moments in our lives and lessons learned with others, who may themselves share those moments and share the lessons. We tell stories. It’s what we do.
“SantaCruz-CuevaManos-P2210651b” by Mariano – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons