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

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Demystifying Book Writing, Part I

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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.

A Book for Today and Tomorrow: Reflecting

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The desire to memorialize one’s life, to put everything down in writing, tends to grow with age.  But many people do not feel up to the task of creating a book.  Reflecting is designed to enable these people to satisfy their very human impulse to remember, and to be remembered.
The inspiration for the project began with the misfortune of one woman. The woman had suffered a stroke; it seemed her ambition to put together a book that chronicled her life would never be realized.  But a way was found to see this ambition achieved.  Miscellaneous essays, poems and photos were collected. These were organized into an anthology, which was published.
The simple act of publishing cheered the author as no one and nothing had managed to do up to that point. The lesson learned was this: ministering to the body may be a doctor’s work but ministering to the heart may require attention of a different sort.
And so Reflecting was born. It grew out of the conviction that with guidance, just about anyone can write a book, and writing the book can be richly rewarding. The challenge was to design a template that would gently lead the novice author through different stages of recollection and recording. This template would have to be accessible, so that even individuals with limited function could follow its many small steps on  to crafting a cohesive document.
On its most basic level, the Reflecting template requires an individual to provide simple answers to simple questions.  In the aggregate these answers and questions will offer insight into the author’s life.  Photos, sprinkled throughout, will complement verbal responses.
At a more advance level, completion of Reflecting provides opportunity for explanation, exploration and illumination of an individual’s life.  And, at its most ambitious, Reflecting will be the foundation for a comprehensive, traditional memoir.
One of the most important goals of Reflecting is to encourage communication. Remembering a life need not be a solitary exercise. Family and friends can be drawn into stimulating conversations about events long forgotten. Moments that might have been spent in awkward silence can now be invested in completing the book. When it’s completed, the book will be a gift to all who participated in its creation, and to those who did not but are heir to the legacy described in its pages.