The Shack

the shack masks blog 2018
I created this digital sketch for my book, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”. Although the skills displayed are crude, the picture helps to tell my story and conveys the mood of the day.

I’ve been working on and off on a memoir, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”.  It’s an odd book.  Because it is about my early childhood, many memories are vague, but impressions are not.  As a consequence, I created pictures, using “Paint” and “Gimp”, to help recreate the scenes I recall.  The narrative below explains what is happening in the picture.  My book, in yet again under revision. I hope to be publishing it…soon.

 

As I explained earlier in this book, my first years in school were not successful. Everyone believed I was slow. This assessment persisted into at least November of the third grade, when my teacher wrote a sympathetic note to my mother and lamented my poor performance. Between November and the end of the year something remarkable happened. I learned to read. By June, I had become one of the most advanced readers in the grade.

With this improvement in skills came an insatiable appetite for reading material. There was none at home, until we discovered the shack. This humble building, shown above, was concealed by thick overgrowth in the forest. When we investigated, we found that comic books covered the floor of the ramshackle shelter. We helped ourselves to these, though we did not know who might have proper rights to them.

The shack was my library.

Reading was one of the great gifts of my life. Socially I remained awkward, but peers and teachers showed new respect simply because I seemed to be talented. The conversion from being a dolt to being an excellent student taught me an important lesson. I was the same person before and after my transformation, but people around me changed. Previously, they had punished me for being dull, a circumstance over which I had no control. And then they rewarded me for being bright, a gift I’d done nothing to earn. The folly, the sheer cruelty, of their early behavior enlightened me. It taught me to place little value on the judgment of others. And it allowed me, for the rest of my life, to see worth in people whom others disregard.

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Prologue to Arrows Axes and Scythes

 

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Witness: an illustration from Arrow Axes and Scythes

Below is the Prologue to my upcoming illustrated memoir, Arrow Axes and Scythes.  While the book recalls a time long passed, the influence of those years lasted a lifetime.  The Prologue explains the author’s attempt to convey the emotional content of memory without distorting the essential truth of events.

We are all invisible witnesses. If not for this, how many crimes would be reported?

I think we imagine that children do not see and if they see they do not understand. We reassure ourselves, as we carry on in our imperfect ways, that even if they understand they surely will forget. But the mind is not so dependably careless with its impressions. Many remain for a lifetime.

The events recorded in this book occurred more than fifty years ago, when I was a child. Some memories are lost to me, yet many come back. Are these accurate? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Ideas are not preserved in amber. They are subject to the whims of experience and bias.

My childhood was a time of secrets. Much that is revealed here was never meant to be public. But what I could not say then, will now be told.

At the end of the book one of the personalities, my father, offers testimony for himself. A letter exists in which he describes motivation for his actions. Readers may weigh this evidence and decide for themselves whether or not the document supports my value as a witness.

 

 

 

An excerpt is offered in another blog on this site: A Burial

Demystifying Book Writing, Part I

accent picture creating

For most of my life writing a book seemed out of reach.  Sometimes I would begin to write, but then couldn’t hold onto the idea.  I felt as though I was grabbing a handful of sand.  My project had no cohesion and the objective quickly fell out of view.  The problem of constancy ended on the day I decided to write about something very specific; I kept that clear goal in mind through to the end of the project.

Writing my first book was a struggle.  Though the sense of holding sand was gone, I still lacked technique.  The endpoint at least gave me something to head toward but this vision was not a compass.  Many times I got lost and wasted time exploring tangents.

Producing my book was difficult, but instructive. The experience  taught me that book writing is like any skill;  it can be developed even if the spark of genius is absent.

For me, the first obstacle to writing was psychological.  I needed to overcome the belief that my book had to be a masterpiece.  I came to the understanding, as years passed, that a masterpiece probably wasn’t ever going to happen for me.  This realization wasn’t depressing; it was a license.  Even if my words would not be immortal, they could still be effective.  Being effective might just be enough.

Once I swallowed this bit of realism, I asked myself why I wanted to write.  Humility came to the rescue.  I enjoy it. And there’s always the possibility that my words might have influence.  These two reasons were sufficient to sustain my ambition.

Time has proven that I was correct to continue writing.  My first book was by no means brilliant, but it was serviceable and it received recognition from at least one national organization.  True, the organization wasn’t literary; it was a charitable foundation.  I’ll settle for that.

My writing has value.  If I didn’t write, that value would not exist.  Plus, I’m having a blast.  I’ve developed a skill, a knack for turning out books that are worthwhile and very readable.  The more I write, the better I get at it.

I know how to put a book together.  There are people I’m certain who are wishing, as I once did, that they could grab an idea, hold onto it and write their first book.  With this blog, and the one that will follow, I hope to give some of these aspiring writers a few clues about how to proceed.

It is not a lack of modesty that allows me to take the liberty of offering suggestions about writing.  I was once a teacher.  It is natural for me to share what I know.  As an experienced teacher I understand that some will want to listen and learn, and some will not.  But once again, humility comes to the rescue.  I’ll settle for helping just one or two people.  If my blog helps only that number, it will have been worth the effort.

Stay tuned for Part II.