Tips for Visiting a Cemetery for Genealogists

Before you head out to visit a cemetery for some genealogy or family history seeking, be sure to read over Mom’s list. 

Here’s a little sample chapter of one of the two books that will be on shelves this month written by “Moi.” Since the summer days are long, the weekends are right for road trips, and maybe you have the kids captive and can load them up with a little family history education–I thought this would be a good preview to share. 

Kids love this stuff–right?

From the upcoming “The State of Boone,” companion to “Boone County” enjoy this little “How-To” for Visiting the Relatives…

 

My family tree has many branches, both living and dead… but all equally important. I cherish the memories that make its roots run deep.”  (Lynda I Fisher)

Any early marker, upset long ago by a native tree shows the symbol of "to Heaven"
Any early marker, upset long ago by a native tree shows the symbol of “to Heaven”

For me, visiting relatives usually means getting down and dirty. I think cemeteries are a tranquil, fascinating place. So many lives, so many stories untold–so much history we might otherwise miss! As a Family Historian, going relative hunting is one of my favorite adventures.

I’ve done this grave hunting thing all over the place. On vacations I’ve traipsed around above-ground crypts built inside below-sea-level cemeteries in the “Big Easy”– New Orleans. In old Louisville, I plopped down on the jutting-up exposed ends of vaults because it was the closest thing to a level spot around. Closer to home, I once spent a long snowy afternoon chatting with a gentle herd of cows while traversing acres of laid-over winter wheat. The cows were searching for leisurely snacks; I was seeking a lonely little plot.

There is little I love more than crisp autumn colors next to bleached-out marble. Except, maybe a majestic lawn of showy statuary at a big beautiful graveyard on a sunny day.

Nope, it doesn’t creep me out.

Yes, I guess that’s a little nutty.

The point is–I’ve done a lot of field-stalking for the graves of my forefathers, and I’ve learned some good tips and tricks. Sure there are lots more “do’s and don’ts” but this is my standard list of rules, go-to methods, and stuff to drag along.

Finding an old grave can be a challenge, but if you hang with it, you’re bound to make a discovery or two worth your while.

So here are my “rules” for visiting, and some handy-to-have stuff to take along. I hope you’ll take time to try some hunting yourself, and then let me know how it panned out for you and your kin!

RULES

  1. MANY cemeteries are on private property; especially the defunct ones. Some are even in people’s yards–very close to their house. Often, these properties are owned by seniors. No matter who lives there, be respectful.
  2. For visits on private property with no public right of way, drop a courtesy note in the mailbox of the occupant well in advance of your site visit. State your business, and ask for permission to come by at their convenience to take a look. Respect their wishes. Please describe your vehicle, ask before photographing, and give them all of your contact information.
  3. Do not stomp up next to someone’s home and start taking pictures of a little plot sectioned-off with some pretty iron fencing. Not cool.
  4. Take notes of your visits. Record the who, what, when, why, how and what I should do next time. Be sure to carry your notes at all times.

STUFF to TAKE — THINGS to DO

Here are my best tips for a successful trip to any cemetery for ancestor hunting. These can be especially important to heed if you’re setting off for a very old, defunct, or out-of-the-way location.

  • Make a list of who you are looking for, and where they are buried ahead of time. You can use the spaces next to cemetery names in this book to jot down some notes, or make your own dedicated notebook. Most places (remember to check for additional names when more than one is noted) can be found with the mapping or GPS feature online at Find A Grave. This is a free site and a great resource when searching.
  • Whenever possible, take a companion. This is good advice anytime you start an adventure.
  • Also take along a bag with a large towel or heavy blanket, a flashlight, your notebook and pen, any emergency medications you might need (inhaler, nitro tablets, Epi-pen etc), a spray bottle filled with distilled water, a few old toothbrushes, some sturdy gloves, a small roll of aluminum foil, some kitchen shears heavy enough to cut through vines. Oh, and personally I do love a super sturdy trash bag to put between me and nature as I sit and kneel in the mud, bugs, and weedy grass.
  • Always make a note of where your car is parked in your records during each trip (what entry point did you use?). No, I don’t think you’ll get lost, but it will be of use to you later when you are mapping sites and recording the position of certain graves.
  • Never step out of your car without taking along a fully charged cellphone. In case of emergency–and lots of emergencies can happen–this simple tool can really save you!
  • Have your camera on hand and ready. Carry spare batteries or be sure it is fully charged. If you will be using your cell phone’s camera, be sure you have it set for high performance with the automatic flash turned off. If you don’t know how to set up your phone to do its best picture taking, stop by a retailer and have a sales tech do it for you. Digital photos are the best tool for reading old stones.
  • When possible, take a large stick with you. Though you may not have to fight back bears, you may stumble upon a snake or other critter. I’d rather shoo away a curious groundhog with a long stick than my camera bag any day! Also, uneven ground is a given–especially in the graveyards with the oldest interments. Count on them to be riddled with animal burrows, large roots, broken off stones and sunken spots. All of these can easily cause a fall or a broken bone. Use your stick as a “leading leg” to test the ground before you. Although it may seem awkward at first, one you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder how you ever hiked around without one.
  • Be sure to keep your eyes and ears keen to your surroundings.  Be on the look-out for feisty Hobos or thieves. Be sure to lock your car.  Also, hornets, or ground bees, seem to adore living in old cemeteries. If you hear their hum, just steer clear of them and you will all have a better day.
  • Wear a hat if you’d like, but be sure to remove it, or turn it backward before taking photos. The shade of the brim or bill can affect the automatic light level detection on today’s cameras and cause a lesser quality image.
  • Long pants, boots or sturdy shoes, bug spray and long-sleeved shirts are a great defense against ticks and biting insects and poison ivy rashes.
  • Once you’ve found who you’re looking for (especially in large graveyards) make yourself a little map. Remember how you noted where you left the car? Now is the time to use that. Photograph the grave marker so the name and shape are clear. Then, stand at the grave with your back to your parked vehicle (make a habit of beginning from this position). At eye level, take a photo. Make a quarter turn, and do the same. Keep going until you have an image of what you see in all four directions when you are standing graveside. Digital photography rocks! This 4-way-shot of the site will help lead you easily back to your ancestor next time.
  • Visually inspect the stone/marker for signs of dangerous deterioration. Inspect each one closely before touching it. Watch for chipping, cracks, breaks, previous repairs, crumbling, or any open grainy or sandy looking spots. Be warned that even the thinnest upright markers can be very heavy and cause some serious damage if they “snap” while you’re nicely wiping moss away. Safety first!
  • If you encounter old, very faded stones that are not quite legible, then a companion’s extra set of hands will come in really handy. Using the blanket or large towel to shade the tombstone, prop your flashlight onto the bottom edge of the grave-marker. Without a flash, take a close photo while under the shade of the cloth. Then try shining the flashlight downward on the faint markings (while still keeping it and the camera shaded from sunlight). The results may not be immediately apparent, but at home with some simple editing features found on most cameras and phones, you might be amazed.
  • Do check (and photograph) the sides, back and top edge of each stone as well as the front. Often you will find a little surprise like a fraternal emblem or an ornamental symbol carved in the stone. Compare any findings like these to the exhaustive list available on the AGS website (address below). These may lead you to a previously unsuspected clue about your relative’s “earthly” interests.
  • If the surface is obscured by weeds or dirt, cut away the vegetation with your kitchen shears. Mud and dirt deposits, along with any grass overgrowth on flat stones should be peeled off by hand (use the gloves if you’d like). Lichens and moss often plague markers in shady areas. Use a dry toothbrush to scrub them away. If you need a little something more, spray the area with water and allow it to soften the crud before wiping it away with a towel or toothbrush.
  • Spritzing the face of a stone with water is another trick for reading barely-there etching. Be sure to try photographing the tough to read ones both wet and dry.
  • Occasionally, you can get a good result by laying aluminum foil (shiny side down works best) over the epitaph and lightly rubbing it to conform with your hands. Once you’ve done your best, photo the stone again while the foil is still in place, and then carefully set the sheet aside to reexamine at home.
  • Think you have a great idea for how to clean/read/repair a gravestone? Check in with the AGS website first (the Association for Gravestone Studies). These folks know their stuff and are up-to-date on what does and does not cause harm to these precious relics. Find their fascinating, info-rich website at https://gravestonestudies.org/
  • And, Indiana-Boone-Jones, if you think you’ve found a previously undocumented grave site, be sure to contact the county health department to inform them of your discovery.

You’ll probably make the papers! 

How to Boost Blog Traffic (as a human)

wpid-2015-04-20-17.03.57.jpg.jpegAll sorts of services offer to “Boost Blog Traffic Now!” for a price. But really? What kind of “traffic” do you get? There’s already enough black-market Viagra in my spam box to make the entire male population of Canada pop like an overfed tick!

Recently, I was reading a blog post on a craft technique (I’ve always dreamed of trying it out but know I will never get around to actually doing it), when I stumbled on to a great blog. I liked it because it was very interactive between the readers and the gal who writes it. So I took my time and poked around (besides, the craft I was reading about would likely have resulted in me buying all the supplies and then throwing them atop the pile of other unopened craft store bags). Something else caught my eye, and then “poof” somehow I landed on Readers In Wonderland.

Aside from their fun to read reviews of YA books, here’s what I found that I consider one of the best parts of their blog!

Look at this cute little blog badge:

BUTTON

Created by the founding authors of Readers in Wonderland, Bec and Alise , it encourages the simple good manners of humans communicating and expressing acknowledgement of good works to other humans. Thus making time spent on our laptops, sweating out gerunds and uploading photos, feel like a worthwhile pursuit to writers–appreciated even!

What a “crafty” idea!    Why yes, I believe you could probably call it Novel!

It’s free, and there are no exploding Canadian guys involved at all! 

And due to my innate, bossy nature (see the deep rooted psychological explanation for that by clicking above on “All About Mom”) I am driven to “gild the Lily” a bit more. So, at the bottom of the little “pledge” I tacked on my own embellishment about using “like “buttons too.

You see, the Readers in Wonderland writers use Blogspot to write with~ they don’t have “like buttons” which makes Mom a little sad for them 😦

 Thanks to this new discovery, I’ll be proudly displaying this badge on my blog. I invite you to do the same. Together, we can spread a great idea all the way from Blogspot across the Sea of Happy to the Land of WordPress…where we are blessed with “like” buttons.

If you are on-board with this “Boost Blog Traffic by Being a Human” thing I’ve cooked up, I encourage you to display the badge, share the post if you’d like, and leave your blog link in the comments below

–after taking the “pledge” of course 🙂  Raise up your pencil holding hand–

The Pledge~

By displaying this badge on my blog, I promise to respond to the comment you make there, and to also use the “like” button on YOUR blog any time I visit–so you’ll know I stopped by, cared about what you said, and that I am dang glad that you took the time to share your story or thoughts with others in the world.

All of us, the new badge club members, would love to stop by and drop you a like and a comment in the spirit of our newly found “humanity in blog trafficking.” So be sure to let us know how to find you in the comments section below 🙂

wpid-20150420_161201-1.jpg

Oh, and starting Friday…it’s coming!

I’ll kick off a new series addressing the emails I’ve been getting for some time. The ones about, and generally categorized as:

“Okay Mom, I have all these cool stories written up, now how do I make them into a book?”

Stay tuned, you won’t want to miss out on this one…and comment…and like of course! Meanwhile, I’ll be working on thinking up a title for said series 🙂

Until then, behave, be kind, be Human and enjoy sharing this badge!

xoxo,

Mom

Heraldry and We the People, Return from Spring Break

I originally wrote this post several years ago while the “Mom blog” was in its infancy. But after watching a good friend pridefully chose “just the right spot” to display her new, official and authentic family crest– complete with expensive frame and mat–freshly purchased while visiting a Theme-Park-Mega-Land…I thought we could all use a refresher. We Americans just don’t “get” the whole Heraldry and Flying the Family Colors thing. But boy, we sure want to participate! Here’s the real scoop, along with a bit of my own shame showing 😉   1219121525aI’m not sure, but I believe it was PT Barnum who said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

What I am sure of is:  I am one of those suckers.

  The other day I was clearing out a drawer and ran across a family crest certificate that my husband and I had purchased many years ago.  Can you hear the Merry-go-Round music yet?  It came from a very “proper” looking shop.  I believe that it was even spelled “shoppe” ~ a spelling meant  to further endorse the authenticity of fake stuff.  But we were young and silly and newly married.  So we scraped together the $35.00 ( a pretty Royal sum for us 30+ years ago) and bought a “fully researched and authenticated, heirloom quality” piece of paper with our last name slightly misspelled on it.

Wow.  How cool is That ?

What I have learned since ( ironically for free via library books) is that we were totally duped.  A crest is only “good” for the original “owner.”  A father may have a certain design, but it does not pass down verbatim to his children.  When important families married, as was generally the plan, their crests were merged to create a new one for the identity of the newlyweds.

Maybe there was an Earl of Momenhousen who bore the crest in my drawer a bazillion years ago.  However we, the current-day Momenhousen family, have no claim to it.

  Heck at this point, I don’t even know what happened to the receipt !   I do have an excuse though…I am an American.  Almost all of us are about one inch away from obsession with “the Old Country.”  Additionally, we are also generally convinced  there is a Demi-Czar, a Baron or at least a Bergermeister in our family pedigree somewhere.

Therefore, it stands to reason that we (meaning the immediate “us”) must have claim to a heraldic shield, a family crest, or something that verifies we are from a stock above serfdom.  Thanks Mr Barnum, you have given a name to this madness~

Sucker.

The real truth is that Heraldic Design is pretty much about Art.  If you are Canadian, you may claim a crest for your lineage if you wish to go through a long and arduous process. For better or for worse,if you are looking for something cool to put up on the wall, its time to do some doodling.  Although I did some intensive research on the topic and found a few favorite books that I think are very good for being technically correct, I just recommend the use of an artsy relative.

Simply by Googling “Heraldry” or” Heraldic Design”, or” Colors in Heraldry” you can save yourself some time and money. If you are looking for good books on the subject (and you can persevere for a few months to get through one) I would recommend one of these three.  And please note, the third one is not an opening chapter, it is the title of the book:

1.  A Guide to Heraldry by Ottfried Neubecker

2.  Concise Encyclopedia  of Heraldry by Guy Cadogan Rothery

3.  The Manuel of Heraldry a Concise Description of the Several Terms Used and Containing a Dictionary of Every Designation in the Science with 350 Illustrations  by Sir Francis James Grant

If these all sound too scary, have a sit down with your clan and start brainstorming what it means to be a “Dipfenhoffper” or “Smith.”  Think up some words,symbols, and colors to use to represent You.  Maybe then craft a family logo~for your ” house”.  Remember, siblings should be allowed to represent the same ancestry with their own selection of colors, symbolism and mottoes.  Consider using a string of words that spell out your last name as a motto like the poems kids are so fond of writing out of their names .

Example (bad one, really bad one):

Bravery In The Hood Masked At Night (Bithman)

In my post titled Managing the Help(ers)” I talked a little bit about dividing this task up among different factions of the family.  It’s a great way to get everyone started with helping without driving you nuts.  And, as a bonus, if you can get everyone to create their own crest, then the cover design for their copy of the finished project will already be done.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Julie-Everhart-Fine-Art-and-Photography/161130630622523?__mref=message_bubble
Lord Levi, as rendered by my friend Julie Everhart, of Julie Everhart Fine Art and Photography

Wow, how cool is that?

It’s also as authentic as the “Heraldry” you buy in a glitzy little shop or from one of the online retailers. This is my fabulous furboy, posing as the Lord of a fictitious family who lives out their on-screen lives in a private home rented annually by their production crew.

I’d rather have this photo any day over one printed out with an ink-jet from a tourist trap! If you’d like your baby, or yourself, transformed into Napoleon or Marie Antoinette (before that whole unfortunate beheading thing) get in touch with Julie, you can have royalty “your way” as the great American (Burger) King says 😉

How to Tell A Story that Makes Sense in 10 Steps

How the heck did we get Here?
How the heck did we get Here?

There is storytelling, and then there is telling a story that makes sense (even years into the future and long after it’s written). Sometimes as Family Historians, we find that our tales get twisted up into mazes of confusion and backtracking.

It’s frustrating. I’ve been there, and I understand completely.

At times, even while we’re writing a piece we know that it will “never do.” Unfortunately, this is how so many of us give up before we’ve ever really started. So here’s my 10-step remedy for such situations…presented of course with one of Mom’s little soul-baring stories as a side dish…

10 Steps to Writing a Good Story (that makes sense)

The first time I attended a writing workshop I was full of fire! Inside my leather satchel (yes, it’s been that long ago) I had four typed and double spaced pages of pure storytelling genius. Our samples were collected at the door by a teaching assistant, and then whisked away to the copier room to reproduce one set for each attendee.

Back then, I would guess the photocopying and stapling expense comprised about half of the $25 fee for the series.

Over the next three Thursday evenings, we were immersed in technique discussions and submission sample reviews done in alphabetical order by each author’s last name. Until my “time at the table” I was feeling really good about my little story. Dang good. But when “R” time came in the lineup, my confidence faltered. I deflated, melted, and disintegrated into a thin grimy layer of humiliated dust atop my chair.

The teacher was quite nice about “it” –the killing of my pages that is. She could have been much worse I suppose. As she wrapped up the previous story’s glowing critique and announced my piece, she fanned out the four pages, raised them above her head and proclaimed them “a perfect example of a beginner’s error.”

Oh Murder!

Apparently, in the meager 1000 words I had slavishly typed during lunch breaks on the nice IBM Selectric at work, I had wasted no paper. She briskly lead us through my beloved pages emptying out red pens as she guided us in circling large chunks of my lovely prose.

As it turned out, I had managed to write about five different story fragments in one small essay.

“Yes,” she reiterated to my classmates, “This is a perfect example of the huge mistakes a beginner makes.”

So in an effort to spare you all from making the same classic “beginner’s errors” I offer you my 10 Steps to writing a clean, clearly focused, enduring and easily understood Family History story.

 

  1. Start writing. Don’t worry about any of the above. Just think about a person or branch of the family or an event you would like to tell a story about and begin.
  2. Keep writing. Write everything you know via family lore, genealogical and historical research.
  3. Gather together all the media (photos, ephemera, source books etc) and check to see if you’ve left anything out. If you find something, add it in to this piece.
  4. Write a bit more about how you came to discover/know/guess on the details of the subject: “Old Daniel always wore striped overalls, he saved the solid denim set for Sunday Church”–per photos and stories told to me by Aunts Aida and Lily Poindexter and Uncle Les.
  5. When you simply cannot write any more about this seemingly narrow subject, get out your red pen.
  6. Begin circling small or large blocks of text that could be made bigger. Who are the other people (neighbors, the mail carrier, a teacher, the Poindexter Aunts and Uncle Les) mentioned in the story? Do they matter? Is the setting of the tale of interest on its own? Did these events take place at a newly built home or on a farm passed through generations, on a steamship or clipper crossing the Atlantic in August? Is there back-story here that needs to be added in so that years from now–when “everyone” doesn’t possess what we currently think of as common knowledge people will “get it?” Would a future reader need to do research to understand or find explanations in order for this tale to hold their attention? Perhaps the small town your relatives “traded in” no longer exists. Can you map it– if no, why not? Was it wiped out in the TVA project? What was the TVA? Was the town on the main road, and suddenly the railroad came through about a mile to the east…killing all the businesses and leaving the area rather abandoned? Is that small town now swallowed up by a larger city and only referred to on maps as a neighborhood? Was your family’s first home on American soil razed to build Slugger Stadium in Louisville (mine was!)?
  7. Don’t be intimidated. This really is the fun part. This is when you discover that you have a much larger story to tell when you may have thought otherwise. The “trick” is to dissect it in this way so that it doesn’t all get convoluted and become a “perfect example of huge mistakes that beginners make.”
  8. Now take your time. Go back to each circle of red ink. Relax. Simply tell your reader the story of that solitary snippet. Make it into a stand alone piece. Give it all the care and attention that you’ve given it’s “parent” essay.Try out steps 1-7 on this new work. Worry about weaving together the bigger story later.
  9. As a luxurious bonus, if you have a kind friend who knows little to nothing about your subject matter, ask them if you may read a completed story to them. Have them stop you anytime they have a question or have no point of reference for what or whom you are storytelling about. This info is gold…it’s just like having a reader from the future sit with you over coffee and ask you questions about the story you are telling.
  10. Since this method will work equally well with pieces you’ve already written…put them through this exercise and see if anything cries out for the red pen treatment! You may find an additional batch of stories to write adding to the richness of the work you’re doing.

Above all, enjoy your writing and storytelling. Go ahead and tell as many stories as you’d like. But make the events clear, interesting and well thought-out so your readers will stay engaged and keep turning pages and wanting more.

Maybe even throw in a photo of yourself at work on the laptop you used to write it with…imagine what a hoot that’ll be to your great grandchildren seeing dinosaurs of all types!

dino-land with Uncle Harv
dino-land with Uncle Harv

Read This if You Want to Become a Novelist

 

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Many of you enjoyed and have sent little notes to me about the Francine Prose book Reading Like a Writer I reviewed. Well, in that spirit, here’s my other all-time favorite, On Becoming a Novelist, by John Gardner which I’ve also reviewed for my part-time reviewer gig at CatholicFiction.net and Tuscany Press. This is another nugget of gold for your bookshelf! Read on, then read the real book, and better writing is a sure bet!

***********************

Here it is. With the definitive line at last drawn in the sand, we can know the truth. The real talents, tricks and learned abilities that absolutely separate the hobbiest from the serious writer.  Admittedly, I hesitate to describe On Becoming a Novelist in this tone. It sounds either rather snarky, really mean or sarcastic. But in truth, the description is apt for the contents of this book. Gardner himself was a prolific author, educator, and curmudgeonous guardian of art expressed via perfectly selected words. He dissects the work of “noveling” like a scientist dismantling an important new insect. He wants us to know what makes a story written as marks onto paper into what he refers to as a “fictive dream.”

I love that description; a story as a fictive dream. Indeed, the best told tales are always enchanting and nearly magical to experience. Each time a written scene draws us into it, we become a part of the book and author’s own trance of imagery. We are transported, and when the writing is right, the spell wraps around each person who cracks open the fresh new book and settles in to be transported in place.

The first time I read John Gardner’s book, I was flying in criss-crosses around the country trying to get from Asheville, North Carolina to Indianapolis. With nothing even resembling a direct flight available, I had plenty of time onboard and during layovers to read the entire contents of On Becoming… I have to say that I was fascinated and found myself scribbling notes on the over leafs, in the margins and circling large blocks of text. After nearly twelve hours, four separate airports and too many chatty seatmates, I decided that I needed to set the book aside and reread it when the pleasant distraction from travel trauma wouldn’t cloud my opinion.

Round two proved to be just as fascinating and worthwhile. More notes were taken and by the end of my second reading, I found I was just as impressed as I was originally. I was glad on both readings that I had taken care to read the foreword written by Gardner’s student Raymond Carver and the author’s preface. Generally, I skip these long winded, boring Oscar Award-style thank you notes. But for some reason, I opened the book at Foreword page “i” and read the entire preamble (both foreword and preface). In a book that weighs in at a scant 150 pages, the more than one dozen pages written before the “book” starts are a surprisingly worthwhile portion.

Published posthumously in 1983 by the writer’s estate, one year after his passing, the Library of Congress indexes it perfectly.

1. Fiction–Authorship–Vocational guidance.

Gardner gathered his thoughts into four headings.  Parts 1 (The Writer’s Nature) and 4 (Faith) hold my attention like a vise grip every time I read them. The middle sections include, naturally, Part 2 (The Writer’s Training and Education) followed by Part 3’s description of “Publication and Survival.” Did I mention that this guy both knows his stuff, and is hilarious too? On page 46, the author talks about people who press and pry and how a writer can respond to such muse battering inquisitions:

The development of fully competent technique calls for further psychological armor. If a writer learns his craft slowly and carefully, laboriously strengthening his style, not publishing too fast, people may begin to look at the writer aslant and ask suspiciously, “And what do you do?” meaning: “How come you sit around all the time? How come your dog’s so thin?” Here the virtue of childishness is helpful–the writer’s tendency to cry, especially when drunk, a trick that makes persecutors quit.  If the pressure grows intense, the oral and anal fixations swing into action: one relieves pressure by chewing things, chattering mindlessly, or straightening and restraightening one’s clothes.

This is fully representative of the writer’s wry style. He proclaims the things that are often thought but not said aloud during polite conversation. Things I will paraphrase here like “education can ruin a perfectly good writer” or “one must be damaged, but not too horrifically, to be an effective author” and “gin is sometimes what it takes to understand the essence of a character.” He makes mention several times of his own struggles with organized religion and whether or not he is cool enough, or dull enough to either bail out completely or whole heartedly jump back in. Throughout his own novels he writes extensively on early classic story themes such as the days of King Arthur and his noble guardians of the grail. In these, he shows a deep understanding of the lyricism and poetry originally funded and commissioned often by the Church. He uses many of these as inspiration for his written chronicles into the “fictive dream.”

I recommend this book highly to all aspiring writers and those who already find themselves flailing neck deep in lyrical prose passages and story arc. Although tongue-in-cheek at times, there are abundant kernels of wisdom. My only disappointment is that I was never fortunate enough to try my hand at enrolling and surviving one of his classes.

 

What to Wear to a Writers’ Conference?

My Lucky Mary Poppins Boots
My Lucky Mary Poppins Boots

This one has been eating away at me, figuratively of course. In reality I am no smaller, seeming any slimmer, more willowy looking nor am I blissfully dropping sizes rapidly. In fact, whilst wringing my hands in worry, I have knocked back more than one box of each variety of Girl Scout Cookies–I HAD to buy them–Dollbaby was selling them.

Although there is no chance this quandary of “what to wear” will send me over the edge (let’s not digress), I just can’t believe that no one else frets about this! I have Google-searched my brains out and the things that pop immediately are things I consider no-brainers.

Q. What to wear to a Prom?  A. Formal

Q. What to wear to a friends’ wedding?  A. Don’t wear white or black and never look better than the bride

Q. What to wear to a funeral?  A. Black, black always works except for weddings

Q. What to wear to a murder?  A. Gloves and a Mustache–DUH!

Now of course, there are a few bloggers out there who have graciously tried to offer up helpful advice on the matter. Probably the biggest and most commonly proclaimed one is the selection and rather forcibly encouraged wearing of suitable footwear. Lots of walking and standing at these things they bark…except that doesn’t hold true at this one. Of course.

Besides, I am not walking in with my resume chock full of Catholic-related “works published” in sensible shoes. They’ll think I’m a Nun–until I open my mouth of course while having the misfortune of stubbing my toe as I fall into the classroom. 

Yes~ I can make a hell of an entrance!

This conference is a little different. It’s a one-day intensive for the Midwest Writer’s Workshop with only a handful of very specific, day-long offerings. These are held separately from the Mother-ship conference in late July so that anyone wanting to do the “intensives” can still participate in breakout sessions during the biggy later in the summer. Genius.

So why does it matter what I wear? Because I’ve signed up for the heart breaker…the Manuscript Review.

eek.

The workshop is indeed intense, and very limited (only 20 writers allowed in that one room to participate). We start at 9, end at 3 and eat our sack lunches at our desks. Shoes are not an issue. I’ve heard nothing of bathroom breaks.

All submissions (a full-page synopsis “Once Upon a Time” all the way through to “The End”) along with the polished and perfected double-spaced, Times New Roman 12pt first nine pages were due to the presenters weeks ago. They’ve had plenty of time to nit-pick, shred, gut and throw back their heads in a deep voiced jackal-laugh over each tiny misstep.

Nine measly pages. I can barely say hello to my dentist in 9 pages!

Here’s the kicker…I’m taking my baby…my NaNoWriMo project. You know, the one that consumed my life and brain for day upon day during last November! And the manuscript reviews are blind. Blind, in that, no one knows whose work is being shown and mauled and critiqued on the Smart-board. So no one has a spotlight shining over their head while they are beaten to a pulp alongside their masterpiece. Humane.

Except, my main character and me–well– we look an awful lot alike in the real world. It’s not a memoir, but parts of it are perhaps too true. And even though most of it is the stuff of complete and utter fiction, people who know me and have read excerpts swear that some of the most outlandish parts are the true parts!

So, should I be myself and sit comfortably with all my normal attire (and risk outing myself as the inspiration for the wildly unstable character up there on the class board)–or should I try to pick something neither my Protagonist nor I would ever choose? I have a feeling the latter would make me conspicuously squirmy and itchy!

I have a feeling it’s coming down to eeny-meeny-miny-mo in the morning…and my Mary Poppins boots 🙂 . So I’ll keep ya posted–if I survive that is

#MWW15Saturday

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