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Slant of Light by Steve Wiegenstein - cover

THIS OLD WORLD by Steve Wiegenstein

Thanks to BSP author and former MWG president Steve Wiegenstein for allowing us to reprint this blog post. Steve’s is the author of SLANT OF LIGHT (2012) and THIS OLD WORLD (Sept. 2014). 

I’ve just returned from the annual meeting/conference of the Missouri Writers’ Guild, an organization I have had the privilege to serve as president for the last two years. I came away with several reflections that I will be sharing over the next few posts.

First, and most important from the personal perspective, I was reminded that all writers–all writers, I repeat–need to continually sharpen their craft. At the conference, we had beginning writers and authors with multiple books. But I think every one of us came away with something to remember. It’s easy to get stuck in a stylistic rut, or to grow insensitive to one’s weaknesses. A conference, with its wide variety of sessions and viewpoints, is a great way to pause and reexamine old habits. I was in a session this weekend with an insecure beginning writer who in the space of two minutes told us the most amazing and moving story, reminding  me that inspired thoughts can come from the most unexpected sources and that everyone deserves to be listened to.

I was reminded as well that writers, for the most part, are generous people with their time and thoughts. Throughout the conference, people gathered in hallways and side chairs, conversing and sharing. That’s where the real conference is taking place, as much as in the formal sessions and workshops.

It’s an ongoing, evolving art form, this act of writing, and a gathering of writers both humbles and refreshes. How much there is yet to know. How much there is yet to write.

You can find the original post on Steve’s blog.

Here’s a few thoughts on writing, running, and reaching the finish line from Amira K. Makansi, a BSP associate, one of Kristy’s co-authors in the Seeds Trilogy, runner, and now solo author of THE PRELUDE: Soren Skaarsgard, a novella set in the world of the Seeds Trilogy and now available on Kindle.

Cover of The Prelude: Soren Skaarsgard by Amira K. MakansiWriting a book is like running a marathon. You start out feeling great. You’re flying. You’re not tired yet (not even a little bit!) and you fucking love what you’re doing. That’s the first few miles, the first few chapters, dominated by euphoria, the thrill of your story, the thrill of activity. Then you get into a rhythm. You’re breathing a little harder than you thought. Staying up late or waking up early to write before and after your day job is a happy sacrifice, but a sacrifice nonetheless. Eventually, you start to realize what you’ve committed to. You’re looking at the mile markers, watching your word count, and realizing how far you have to go. How many miles lie between you and victory, how many more minutes or hours of doing exactly what you’re doing now. The excitement wears off. All you’re thinking about now is the slog, while that finish line is little more than an ever-receding horizon.

Read more here.

After going through the long and challenging process of selecting manuscripts for publication, Blank Slate Press is proud to introduce two new faces to the Blank Slate Press author cohort. Please join us in welcoming Lynne Hugo and Deborah Lincoln to our group of talented authors!

Lynne Hugo

Lynne HugoLynne Hugo is an American author whose roots are in the northeast. She lives with her husband, the academic vice president of a liberal arts college, in the Midwest. They have two grown children, two grandchildren, and a chocolate Labrador retriever. A National Endowment For The Arts Fellowship recipient, she has also received repeat individual artists grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Ohio Arts Council. Her publications include five novels, one volume of creative non-fiction, two books of poetry and a children’s book.

The Sea Farmers, Lynne’s first novel with Blank Slate Press, is the story of Caroline Marcum, a woman who thought she’d left the past behind her.  But when she returns home to Wellfleet Harbor to care for her dying mother, she finds she must face everything she’d left behind. Ridley Neal put his past—and his prison term—behind him when he returned home to take over his father’s oyster and clam beds. Casual acquaintances from long ago, when a nor’easter hits the coast, Rid and Caroline’s lives intersect once again. When Rid and two other “sea farmers” are sued by the wealthy owners of vacation homes who want to shut them down, and Caroline accidentally meets the person she most wronged, they each must learn to trust—and love—again. Based on the events of an actual lawsuit, this quiet, moving novel takes place against a backdrop of a traditional way of life, powerful yet perishable, in the shallows of the beautiful Cape Cod bay. 

The Sea Farmers is tentatively slated for release in early- to mid-summer of 2014.

Deborah Lincoln

Deborah Lincoln, of Neskowin, OR, a self-proclaimed “history fiend,” brings to life the true story of her great-great-grandparents, Agnes and Jabez Robinson, “both extraordinary people whose lives were the stuff of epic adventure stories,” she says. “They weren’t famous, but the information available about them is enough to bring their characters to life.”

Of her passion for historical fiction, she says: “I’m fascinated by the way events—wars and cataclysms and upheavals, of course, but the everyday changes that wash over everyday lives—bring a poignancy to a person’s efforts to survive and prosper. I hate the idea that brave and intelligent people have been forgotten, that the hardships they underwent have dropped below the surface like a stone in a lake, with not a ripple left behind to mark the spot.”

With Lick Creek, Deborah Lincoln brings to life the expansive, seemingly limitless world of a growing nation.

Agnes Cannon watches as a woman swings at the end of a rope, and she knows that the price to be paid for rebellion against a woman’s lot is high. But in 1852, life can pinch like last year’s corset, so when her father insists she marry the first available candidate, she rebels and heads for the Missouri frontier. Lick Creek is a vivid portrait of a woman’s struggle to free herself from the tyranny of society’s precepts, just as the South struggles to free itself from the tyranny of the North. Or that’s the way the coming cataclysm is viewed by Jabez Robinson, the man who will turn Agnes’s views of marriage as involuntary servitude upside-down. This eloquent work of historical fiction chronicles the building of a marriage against the background of a civilization growing – and dying – in the run-up to civil war. 

Lick Creek is tentatively slated for release in fall of 2014.

___

I hope you’ll join us in welcoming these two authors to the Blank Slate Press team. We’re excited that they’ve agreed to contribute their talent to our organization, and we can’t wait to reveal these works to the public. Check back for more updates such as cover reveals, release dates, and launch and speaking events. We also have some big news coming out soon about two of our current authors, so stay tuned for that as well!

As always, thanks for reading, and we’d love it if you’d share this post on your social media pages to help us spread the news.

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By Amira Makansi, originally published on The Z-Axis. 

I went to my first writer’s conference this weekend! It was really low-key and casual, but still informative, and I definitely met some great people. I’d like to hearken back briefly to my post about the life of a young writer because the gif I put in about being “At A Writing Conference” held remarkably true to form: I was hungry pretty much the whole time. But that aside, I had some really interesting and fulfilling experiences that made the conference on the whole a very positive experience for me. I’d like to share them with my writerly friends because, You can do it too! It was fun! I’m also going to share them in list form, because, well, lists are great.

Tales From The Missouri Writer’s Guild Conference, Told As Anecdotes With Morals About Why You, Too, Should Attend Conferences:

1) You can make new friends! I met people who were awesome, who were as invested in writing as a career as I am, who were devoted, thoughtful, and fun. I even exchanged phone numbers and email addresses with some of these people! (No, it wasn’t a dating conference.) I had a great time networking with people, despite my initial shyness (I always sort of have to be drawn out of my shell) and it was really fulfilling to meet other people with similar interests and passions. Conferences are primarily about networking, and it’s really important to constantly reach out to new people and build a rapport with people who you support and will support you in turn.

2) You can pitch to agents! It was my first time ever pitching or querying, and I was pretty nervous. I told this to the first agent, and she was super nice about it. “Great, welcome to the club,” she said. “Don’t be nervous.” I got through my whole pitch without reading off my sheet of paper, and she asked me some good questions. And then she requested a sample of my manuscript! Wow! I walked out on cloud nine. Of course, I know this is just the beginning, and she has to like the writing, and blah blah, blah blah, but … it was an awesome feeling. Pitching in person is a great opportunity. After all, the agent-author relationship is all about, well, relationships, and there’s no better way to sell your story than by looking someone in the eye, chin up, a ring in your voice, and telling them how deeply you believe in your manuscript. Go get it!

3) You get to meet really influential people! The agents I met and talked to are people who are movers and shakers in the industry, people who are well-informed and who know what’s coming down the pipes. There were a few speakers as well who had lots to say about the future of publishing in the changing industry, and I felt like I learned a lot and made some good connections. And that’s just at the small-town MO conference. My mom was at a conference in Chicago this weekend and got to have dinner with the founder of Wattpad – a website that has garnered hundreds of millions of users, all people who are actively engaged in the reading community. Conferences are a great opportunity to meet people who are changing the world of reading and writing.

4) You can learn what NOT to do! One of the great things about the conference was hearing people talk about what they didn’t like. For example, it’s really important to not taking pitching too seriously. There were people who were clearly distraught and upset after their pitches, and that was a turn-off for the agents. It’s also important to make sure you’re pitching to the right type of agent. It’s also important to have your manuscript formatted properly. It’s also important to … etc. My point is, agents, editors, and industry professionals are at these events to teach you how to get published. They’re not there to bash your work, or hurt your feelings, or anything else – they’re there to educate and promote. But in order for them to do that, you have to meet them halfway, and those are big things that are easy to learn at writing conferences.

Have you ever been to a writing conference? Did you have any memorable experiences – positive or negative? Would you go again, or not?

1. The domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, desire, image, etc.

What was the last thing you were obsessed with? Something so gripping that you just couldn’t get it out of your mind, that your waking and dreaming moments were defined almost exclusively by that one thing? Maybe it was a book, or a business project you were working on. Picking out a new car? A home-improvement project? Maybe a TV show?

The paragraph above is from the beginning of a blog post written by one of my co-authors about how obsessed we are with our work in progress. It is so well written I decided to give it some “airtime” here. Please take a moment to visit her blog and read the rest of it. You’ll be glad you did.

 

We recently gave a BSP applicant the following advice that could apply to many other authors as well.
  1. Finish your current novel within a tight timeframe. Maybe give yourself 2 months to finish it, or start a new novel and give yourself 3 months. You need to prove to yourself that you can do this. If you can’t, that says something—perhaps you’d be more successful at focusing on short stories.
  2. Join a writers group. It’s possible you’ve already done this, but the key here is that you need to find writers who are not friends with you and work with them on a regular basis. It’s just as important that you get feedback from other writers as it is that you give them feedback too—the latter will improve your writing just as much as the former.
  3. Keep reading. A book a week would be ideal, but every two weeks would be fine too.
  4. Blog once a week. If you’re ever going to get published, you need to start building a fanbase now. Write about whatever you want—don’t overthink your target audience or anything like that. Just write about whatever you’re most excited about that week. Blogging will significantly help your writing—it teaches you to be succinct, entertaining (even though you’re writing about something that’s exciting to you, the challenge is presenting it in a way that is interesting to other people), and consistent. Plus, it’s nice to know that you can put something out there and people will actually read it right away.
 

I wrote most of my first novel my senior year of college, way back in the golden days of 2003. As many first novels are, it was semi-autobiographical, and at the time, it was brilliant. An instant bestseller, in my mind.

It stalled out, and a year later, I went back and read over it. It was the most self-centered thing I’ve ever written or read. To me it was still fascinating, like reading a journal entry from your middle school years, but no one else (except maybe family and close friends, another reason why you’re not going to get real feedback from family and close friends) would ever want to read it.

As for Kristy’s first novel, written in 1990, it wasn’t autobiographical (per se) but was, instead, a (pre) Dan Brown-type thriller complete with nefarious Vatican operatives trying to steal the rumored Quelle Codex from the grandchildren of the unsuspecting Palestinian farmer and his Jewish wife who found the document of Jesus’s sayings that formed the foundation of the Gospel of Thomas in a dry well on their property before the outbreak of World War I. While she believed the general concept was a good one, she actually thought, once she read it over years later, that the plot was far too ridiculous for anyone to want to read such a thing, and, worse yet, that she had so obviously infused  the whole thing with her personal religious/ political point of view as to be one long harangue. Today, she is thankful that the one printed copy was lost in a move and the electronic copy was lost in a hard drive crash so that she would never have to embarrass herself again by reading even the first chapter.

As for me, I started a new novel, this one a historical thriller based on some little-known facts about Frank Lloyd Wright. It was fascinating, another instant bestseller…in my mind. Kristy, too, started another novel. Hers was a poignant retelling of her great aunt’s life as a sort of rustic poet in the early 1900s. Fascinating stuff, right?

My second novel stalled out just as my first one did and a year later, I went back and read over it. It was the most self-centered thing I’ve ever written or read. (Are you seeing the pattern?) Again it was fascinating to ME, because I was the one to discover these little-known facts and because they were TRUE, but it was still so self-centered. It’s amazing that little known facts about a famous architect had so much to do with ME.

As for Kristy’s novel, she realized, before she was finished, that the whole thing was trite beyond belief and that she needed to stop and reevaluate her writing goals. So, she started her third novel (still in progress) and found along the way that the more she kept her own personality out of the story, the more true and lifelike her characters became. And then, she began her fourth novel–The Oracles of Delphi–in which she truly allowed her characters to come to life on their own and to determine their own fates. Of course, this required discipline and at one point, when she had finished her gazillionth draft she went back in and cut 20,000 words  (taking it from 114,000 to 92,000 words) to ensure that her own pontificating didn’t slow down the narrative of the murder mystery or again get in the way of the story.

Our personal experiences highlight a couple of lessons all new writers need to take to heart. One is that personal experience does not necessarily a fascinating tale make. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write about things that interest you or infuse yourself into the story. By all means, write what you’re excited about, and put your knowledge, hopes, and fears into your characters. Just keep in mind that the motivation is that when you write what you know, the point is that you can write about that topic well, not that people are going to inherently find it interesting.

For example, I know a lot about studying abroad in Japan because I did it three times. So if I wanted to include an ancillary character in a novel who was studying abroad in Japan, I could write quite accurately about that experience. However, I’d have to constantly remind myself that just because I know about studying abroad in Japan–this niche piece of knowledge I have–does not mean that people will inherently find it interesting. It will only be interesting to readers if I’m telling a good story. My eclectic knowledge is the tiniest supporting player when it comes to building a great story.

So your first few novels are, most likely, going to be way too self-centered–about you or about things YOU find fascinating–for anyone else to care about. Every sentence will be poetry, every chapter the best chapter ever written…because it’s about you! Or it’s about something you discovered. And the thing is, that’s okay. Get it out of your system.

Another lesson is that just because something is true doesn’t mean it is interesting. That little nugget you found in a tattered newspaper from 1892 may be something interesting to share at your next dinner party, but it is only useful in a novel if you have a great story to tell and if you let your characters tell it. And what about the fact that you were raised by wolves as a child? Sure, it’s true, and your dentist probably finds the story behind pronounced canine teeth fascinating, but unless you can weave a great story, don’t write a novel about it.

The point is that telling a great story is your number one objective when you put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard. If your focus is sharing the truth with the world or pontificating on your beliefs, write a blog.

If you want to be a novelist, go ahead and write those first few novels so you can stop thinking about your life and your research as the most fascinating topics on the planet–and then move on to the good stuff.

Now, if you just finished your first or second novel, you might think that you’re the exception to these rules. That’s okay. There’s nothing stopping you from trying to sell those novels. After all, writing a novel is a lot of work, and you don’t want it to just sit there in your desk gathering dust.

Who knows, you might be the exception to the general rule and be the one who writes a brilliant first novel that is bought up in a flash and hailed as a literary or market phenomenon. But, if not, and if your masterpiece still hasn’t sold in a year, go back and read it again. Chuckle at how self-centered you were in the past, how oddly fascinated you were with yourself, your oh-so-uniquely interesting family, your fascinating historical discovery, or your incisive political knowledge. Then put your ego aside and simply tell a great story. In the end, you’ll be thankful no one ever read those self-serving ego trips masquerading (in your own mind) as Pulitzer-worthy fiction, and so will the readers of your new book–your first real novel.

–Jamey

 

We’re getting tantalizingly close to having ARCs ready for review. Set on the cusp of the Civil War, DAYBREAK is the story of James Turner, his wife Charlotte, Adam Cabot, and the founding of a Utopian community in the Ozarks of Missouri. It is a story of ambition and conceit, love and betrayal, loss and hardship and, above all, idealism and survival. DAYBREAK unfolds against the backdrop of Civil War agitation, abolitionism, and the hardscrabble life on the edge of the frontier. If you would like to read or review an electronic ARC, please send me a note at kbmakansi @ blankslatepress.com. Scroll down for a preview of chapter 1 ….

 

Chapter One

August 1857

The keelboat moved so slowly against the current that Turner sometimes wondered if they were moving at all. Keeping a steady rhythm, Pettibone and his son worked the poles on the quarter-sized boat they had built to ply the smaller rivers that fed the Mississippi. Whenever the current picked up a little, Turner took the spare pole and tried to help, but although he was tall and muscular, with a wide body that didn’t narrow from shoulders to hips, poling a boat wasn’t as simple as it looked. He pushed too soon, too late, missed the bottom, stuck the pole in the mud, all to the amusement of Pettibone’s son, Charley.

“Limb,” Pettibone called. They all ducked.

Turner had unloaded his cargo at a steamboat landing in Arkansas and come the rest of the way on the keelboat, winding through the tangle of bayous where the rivers met, the countryside flat and swampy, the loops of the river indistinguishable. Pettibone claimed he knew the channel of the St. Francis, so there was nothing to do but trust him.

Turner wondered now about the steamboat captain’s advice to take a boat up the St. Francis instead of continuing to Cape Girardeau and traveling overland in whatever wagons he could rent or buy. Mosquitoes woke them before dawn and troubled them until the sun’s heat drove them to the shade, then troubled them again as soon as the sun declined. To give more purchase to their poles, they hugged the bank, but that meant fighting through overhanging brush all day. In the center of the boat was a stumpy mast, a four-inch pole draped with a canvas sail, fixed with a series of shaky-looking braces. Pettibone was constantly adjusting it, but most of the time it just hung slack in the hot, wet air. At night they tied up on the few solid-looking humps of land and slept on the boat for fear of snakes, netting draped over their bodies to slow down the mosquitoes. Even then Turner could not sleep well, dreaming of fat water moccasins slithering onto the deck.

On the eighth day a long low rise appeared before them. “That there’s Crowley’s Ridge,” said Pettibone. “Last piece of Arkansas you’ll see.”

“Thank God Almighty for that,” Turner replied.

The ridge sat to their left like a humped cloud bank on the horizon, but the countryside didn’t change. Arkansas on the left, Missouri on the right, it was all the same. Charley, a boy of thirteen, entertained himself by commenting aimlessly on everything he saw—turtles, herons, the stream of his pee into the river—until his father growled for silence.

The current strengthened as they rounded the ridge, and Turner had to wade ashore with a rope. At first he pulled directly on the boat, but Pettibone showed him how to snub the rope around a tree and keep it tight.

“Just take up the slack,” he said. “You don’t need to haul us upriver yourself.”

Turner filed away this information, as he planned to file away every piece of knowledge he gained for the next few years. He had to; this new chapter of his life depended on it. He was no farmer and had thirty years’ worth of experience to catch up on. But surely a man could pick up the tricks with attentiveness and study.

What in all creation am I doing here? he asked himself with every stroke of the pole. He didn’t know what he had been born to become, but by God it was not a farmer. He’d seen them every day back in Illinois, clumping into the newspaper office on their trips into town to hear the gossip, to sit around the desk and spit, leaving the editor’s boy—him—to clean up their misses. When he was small, he had disliked these men—their earthy smell, their beards, their ragged clothes. As he grew older, he saw that they were not dirty and ragged by choice, but by necessity, their lives swallowed up by their forty acres of ground, their debts, the prices handed to them by the local merchants and the railroad men. Of course they were ignorant of the larger world. Their world was no bigger than a quarter mile square, and that if they were lucky.

Even then, Turner knew he was not going to be a village editor like his father, listening with forced politeness to any son-of-a-bitch with a nickel, bowing to the county judges for the privilege of printing their legal notices. And now, if his father were alive, how he would laugh to see him on a keelboat, hauling a pile of tools and seeds into Missouri.

“Okay, jump on,” Pettibone said. “We’re crossing over.”

Ahead, the ridge finally came down to meet the river, ending in some low chalk bluffs. A ferryboat was tethered on the Missouri side where a wagon track ended in a ramp of packed dirt.

The ferryman, thin and toothless, walked out of his shed as they poled by. He was shirtless but wore a battered hat. “Well, Pettibone,” he called. “Come in and set. I got whiskey.”

Pettibone cast a sideways glance but did not stop poling. “My customer here is in a hurry. I’ll get you on the way back down.”

The ferryman touched the brim of his hat to Turner. “You’re welcome inside too, mister.”

“No thanks. Not even noon yet.”

“Where you headed?”

Pettibone interrupted. “Greenville, up by Greenville.” They were almost out of talking range. “Save me some of that old tanglefoot for when I come back.”

“I will, I will,” the ferryman called out, and turned back to his cabin.

They poled in silence until they rounded the next bend.

“I tell you what,” Pettibone said in a low voice. “That old bastard won’t cut your throat for your goods, but he knows people who will.”

By nightfall they had reached higher ground, and Pettibone’s mood improved. Ahead of them Turner could see the Ozarks rising up in the distant dusk, so low and hazy that they seemed like an illusion, no mountains, hardly even hills from this distance, but surely more than he had grown up with on the Illinois prairie. As they poled toward an angle of bank to tie up for the night, Pettibone, in the bow, suddenly dropped to the deck and motioned for Turner and the boy to be quiet. The boat drifted on, and as they floated to the bank, a deer came into view about fifty yards ahead, drinking.

Crouched behind the pile of supplies, Pettibone quietly removed a rifle from a box beside him. He tamped the powder and ball, wadded the barrel, and rested it across some sacks of flour. As soon as the deer raised its head, he fired. The gun made a deafening roar and sent a cloud of smoke across the boat, but when it cleared they could see the deer, dead, half in the river and half on the bank. It was a small doe, about eighty pounds.

Within half an hour they had the deer dressed and hanging from a tree limb. Pettibone set to butchering while Turner and the boy gathered firewood. Soon they had a foreleg over the fire.

“We’ll cook the rest tomorrow morning and take it with us,” the boatman said. “Get to Greenville, I’ll trade half of it for something. Full bellies tonight, boys.”

They were waiting for the venison to cook, Pettibone and Charley resting against a log and Turner sitting on an upturned nail keg, when a man on horseback appeared out of the darkness on the other side of the fire. He had arrived so quietly that he seemed to materialize out of the air. None of the three even had time to be surprised.

“I heard a shot,” said the man.

Pettibone and his son sat stiffly against the log. There was an awkward pause. So Turner jumped to his feet. A quick mind and a firm handshake had gotten him this far.

“Yes, indeed,” he said. “My friend here had some fine luck. Won’t you join us? We have plenty.”

The man glanced around the camp. He was tall and thin, with a narrow face and a long, bony nose. “Just you three?”

“Just us three.” Turner took a step toward him. He was a young man in his twenties, with black hair and an attempt at a beard. From his saddle horn hung a rifle in a homemade canvas scabbard. A rope trailed from his saddle, and in the darkness behind him, Turner could hear the snuffles and snorts of hogs.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said the man. He dismounted and Turner saw the glint of firelight on the barrel of a revolver stuck in his belt. He guessed by their frozen expressions that Pettibone and Charley had seen it too.

“James Turner,” he said, extending his hand.

The man shook it solemnly. “Sam Hildebrand.” He glanced behind himself. “I am taking some hogs to my cousin in Bloomfield. Hope you don’t mind a hog.”

“You are welcome,” Turner said. “Hog too.”

They settled by the fire and carved off pieces of venison with a long knife Hildebrand produced from a saddlebag. Turner introduced him to Pettibone and the boy; Pettibone muttered a greeting and shook his hand, while the boy stood mute.

“You’re a fine shot,” said Hildebrand, eyeing the carcass of the deer.

“I had a rest,” said Pettibone.

“You men afoot? I didn’t see no horse pickets.”

“We’re aboat,” Turner said. “Heading upriver.”

“The piggies will go after those guts over there, if you don’t mind,” Hildebrand said.

Sure enough, in a moment three big sows followed by a cascade of piglets came into the clearing and took to the heap of entrails, shoving and squealing over the choicest parts. The sows were tied together with intricate loops of rope that wound around their necks, behind their forelegs, over their backs, and then to the next hog.

“That’s quite an arrangement,” Turner said.

“Ain’t that so,” said Hildebrand. “A hog don’t like to be interfered with. That biggest one damn near cost me a finger, but I’ll get her back come winter. Fortunately, a hog cannot go backward with any strength, so even a small man can hold them with a rope. If they ever figure out this stratagem and start coming at us, we humans are in trouble.” His voice was soft, with an odd lilt, almost singing his wordsThe sows had finished off the deer guts and settled on the ground to rest, the little ones tugging at their teats. The smallest of the three got up occasionally and snuffed among the leaves for a missed tidbit.

“Enough of hogs,” Hildebrand said. He rubbed his hands on the grass to clean off the venison juices. “My curiosity is aroused. What brings you gents out here in the middle of creation on a boat?”

“I’m starting a settlement,” Turner said. “I’ve been granted some land upriver, in Madison County.”

“Granted? By the state?”

“No, a gentleman named George Webb.”

Hildebrand lowered his head and spat thoughtfully between his legs. The meal was finished, and he plunged his knife into the dirt to clean it. Pettibone and his son had inched their way to the end of the log, their eyes on Hildebrand’s revolver.

“I know who George Webb is. Good man. Never figured him for a town founder.”

“It’s not so much a town as a social experiment. I lecture on social reform, and Mr. Webb follows my ideas. All who come to join the community will own it together. All of our earnings will go to a common treasury, and we will decide democratically how to spend them.”

Another long pause. “Free country, I guess,” Hildebrand finally said. “Well, I better mount up. I can make another six, eight miles before bedding down.” Then he spoke more softly to Turner. “A word with you, sir.”

They walked to the riverbank, out of earshot. “You can read and write, then,” Hildebrand said.

“Yes.”

“Could I trouble you to write a letter for me?”

“Of course.” They stepped onto the boat, where Turner fetched a pencil and his notebook from his bag. He saw Hildebrand cast an appraising glance over the mountain of goods. Turner sat on a stack of flour sacks and turned his notebook toward the firelight. “Go ahead.”

Hildebrand paced back and forth in front of him, his voice low. “The address is Mrs. Rebecca Hildebrand, Desloge, Missouri.” He cleared his throat. “Dear Mother, I hope you are well. I will reach cousin’s by morning. The gentleman who is writing this for me will post it in Greenville.” He paused. “You can, can’t you?”

“My pleasure,” said Turner.

Hildebrand nodded. “My travels have proceeded successfully and with no incident, although I am developing a dislike for hogs, or I should say one hog in particular. I believe my business may take me into Arkansas, Greene County or perhaps even farther. It may be more than a month before I return. Please give my fondest greeting to Father and brothers and keep a spot warm on the hearth for me. Your loving son, Samuel.”

He stopped pacing and watched Turner finish the letter. “The art of the pen is something I never acquired,” he said. “I do regret that at times.”

Back at the fire, Hildebrand shook their hands again. “Best of luck to you on this venture,” he said to Turner, and to Pettibone, “Thanks for the meat.” He twitched the rope on his saddle to get the hogs to their feet.

“I bet you stole them hogs,” Charley blurted out.

Hildebrand did not appear to move quickly; his motion seemed to Turner casual and deliberate. But it must have been quick, for in one moment he was twitching the rope and in the next moment he had his pistol out of his belt, leveled at Charley’s chest, the hammer back. Turner stood in the sudden silence, his heart thumping.

Hildebrand held the pistol still. “You are a boy,” he said after a long time, all the lilt gone from his voice. “A boy is likely to forget his manners. And this gentleman has done me a favor, so I will indulge your lack of manners this once.”

Then as quietly as he had arrived, Hildebrand disappeared into the darkness. Turner, Pettibone, and the boy watched the spot where he had gone.

“I didn’t—” Charley started to say.

Pettibone slapped his son across the cheek, hard. The sound echoed across the river. “Load up this meat,” he said. “We are sleeping upstream and across. That fella may decide to come back, and I do not want to be here if he does.” He kicked the chunks into the fire and walked to the boat without saying another word.

“Yessir,” said Charley, rubbing his cheek.

They poled across the river by lantern light, feeling their way upstream in the darkness, until Pettibone found a campsite on a sandbar. “No fire tonight,” Pettibone said. “Sorry you can’t write your letter to your wife.”

Turner squinted at the moon rising through the trees. “There may be enough light.”

“Suit yourself,” Pettibone said. “We’ll hail Greenville by noon tomorrow and reach your place the next day.”

Turner braced himself against his rolled-up blanket and angled his body so the moonlight fell on the notebook page. He’d made a practice of writing Charlotte every night since his departure and wasn’t about to stop now.

My dear Charlotte—

But what to say? We were very nearly robbed and murdered today, and left on a riverbank for the crows? I have no idea what I am doing? Hardly. There was no purpose served by adding to her fears, and besides, his principle had always been that the idea preceded the action. If he pretended to know what he was doing, and pretended to be unafraid, then soon enough he would figure out what to do, and the fear would go away. He must act as if he had a clear purpose, and soon enough the purpose would emerge.

We had a most interesting encounter with one of the native folk today, a real woods ruffian, although his manner was gentlemanly. We are out of the swamps and into the hill country, and I believe I can detect a change in the air already—

He laid the notebook aside. He couldn’t bring himself to write what was in his heart. I am afraid. I feel a fool. I never meant for people to take my ideas so seriously. I wish I was with you, back in Kansas.

He would have to finish the letter in the morning. As he rolled out his blanket on the rocky riverbank, Turner thought of the words his father-in-law had spoken to him before he left, trying to talk him out of this scheme: Man is a wolf to man.

 

Blank Slate Press was pleased to join Fred Venturini last week as he spoke to a packed room at Kaskaskia College in Southern Illinois. Invited by Josh Woods, a writer himself, Fred was introduced by Dr. Labyak, the Vice President of the College. After reading a passage from THE SAMARITAN, Fred took questions from the students for about an hour and then signed books and chatted one on one with many of the attendees. Here’s some of the photos.

“It’s not over yet, by God!” –Michael McWilliams

“Now that was entertaining.” –Michael O’Brian

“Rollercoaster ride, cupcakes, poetry, beer-therapy.” –Natalie Worrell

“Beach girl has family needs sunshine!” –Pam Wilson

“I am third.” –Philip Abbenhaus

“St. Louisian, history lover, German/English teacher.” –Sandy Meyr