Tuesday, August 31, 2010

WFMAD Challenge - Timing

I took Laurie Halse Anderson up on her challenge to Write 15 Minutes A Day in August. It turned out to be the worst time in the world to take on a writing challenge - but then again, maybe it was perfect timing.

I had been struggling with my characters in the last third of my multigenerational historical novel. I couldn't even picture them, and there are great big unknown years in their fact-based stories. On top of that, my shoulder had been aching, worse and worse. In mid-August I could hardly lift my arm, and got the diagnosis: torn rotator cuff, bursitis, and maybe a pinched nerve to top it all off. I am banging this post out with one hand. Since I have to do that at my dayjob as well, writing at home while trying to heal has really lowered in priority.

The good thing, though, is the "just 15 minutes" part. It's freed me up to put my novel aside and get my notebook out (easier with one hand). Some days I just journaled, about my struggles, my characters, whatever. Other days I tried out Laurie's prompts; she always had something to try on her blog. Plus, I've been reading and reading. To paraphrase Ann Lamont (I'm reading "Bird by Bird"), writer's block is simply when you're empty and need to fill up. So I'm taking a little novel sabbatical and trying to fill my creative gas tank.

I don't think I'll keep doing the 15 minutes for the next few weeks, since it's really been a struggle, but I do plan to keep reading and to have my journal ready for when I have some thoughts in my head. I plan to get back to my novel, which I've been working on all year up 'til now, by October. And then I'll take another break from it for November's nanowrimo - National Novel Writing Month! - to write a memoir.

By the way, I met the challenge! I think I wrote all but three days in August.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Old Books in my Backyard

I finally asked directions to a used book store that I'd been hearing about in Greensboro. It wasn't hard to get to, and even had a place to park although it's near UNC-G. I hadn't been feeling well the past couple of weeks, with an injured shoulder, and I knew something was still wrong with me because I didn't get excited when I first walked in and saw all those old books. Pages Past really is an old and rare book store - you won't find any sci-fi or bestsellers here.

But when I got to the second alcove and saw books about local history and genealogy - Ahhh, I was at least interested. I stayed in that alcove for I don't know how long, going through the books methodically to see what I could find. I started a "buy" pile with one that containied sketches of old area churches, including the Springfield Meetinghouse. I had to go sit in a chair to consider some of the other histories; it's hard to juggle books with one good arm. I chose a couple of paperback educational books with lots of photos from the N.C. Archives about colonial and early American life. I looked at all the ones I could reach and saw that it was closing time.

I decided to make a quick sweep through the rest of the store. I added a history of Dublin and an old, but cheap guide on U.K. and Irish genealogy.

I rounded a corner and stepped back in surprise, because I had thought I was the lone customer right then. I looked again, straight into the gaze of the bookshop cat. I held out a hand in introduction, which she politely sniffed. She let me pet her a little, then she jumped down and preceded me to the counter.

I laid my books on the counter and commented to the proprieter, "You've got a real book cat!"

"Yes, made of real books," he quipped. With her many-colored coat, that could almost be true. The cat jumped onto his shoulders and peered down to oversee the bill. "With real claws," he added.

You can see a picture of her on the Pages Past website (note that the sale on the website has last year's dates).

The one that got away (but I still have my eye on it): I found a book called the North Carolina Year Book, which was a business directory, by county, of every business owner, politician and postmaster in the state in the year 1902. It was very tempting, but the price was a bit steep. I came home and couldn't find any for sale online, but the book contents have been digitized. I wonder if this was put out every year, and if there are any others out there.

They also had a copy of the Randolph Book, which I already have, but it was signed to the author by various people and had the steep price of $100. 'Makes me appreciate my copy even more.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

WFMAD challenge

I took Laurie Halse Anderson up on her Write 15 Minutes A Day challenge for August. I almost missed Day 1; I was tired and it was late, but I remembered to write just as I was going to bed. I just wrote in my journal for the first time in ages.
Day 2, I felt like I should be writing in my novel, but I’m still researching scenes (fact-based historical novel) and don’t know what they look like yet. So I used Laurie's prompt and wrote about the things that were conspiring to keep me from writing today. Two days – did it!
Aug.3: I was still too overwhelmed to add scenes to my novel, so I spent more than 15 min. writing character descriptions, much needed.
Day 4 already? I wrote way after the timer went off, and started a fiction story about social networking and murder. Bwwah ha ha! The details were flowing.
Day 5, Thursday, I worked on the synopsis (outline) for my novel revision, writing where to add scenes.
Day 6, I had an awful headache, so I went to bed without WFMAD. I don't think I even wrote 15 minutes straight at my dayjob, except maybe at the end when I wrote a cutline for a cute photo (I write at work, but I'm not counting that).
I made up for that on day 7, Saturday. It took nearly 2 hours, but I wrote a whole scene to add to my novel-in-progress, from a 6-year-old’s pov. I read Laurie's prompt afterwards: makes me think of "close-ups" - details I need to add: his little hand holding his mom’s, her hand rubbing her big tummy.
One week down!

Aug. 8: writing prompt, listed 25 books I want to write. And I actually want to write at least nine of them.
Aug. 9: I wrote a tribute to a genealogy friend on my blog.
Aug. 10: Making lists works for me when I can't think of something creative. Wrote lists about a history experiment.
Aug. 11: Didn't make it on Wednesday, got home at 10 p.m.
Aug. 12, Thursday: Worked on my synopsis at morning writers' group.
Aug. 13: Blogged about a genealogical brick wall.
Day 14, Saturday: I tried to work on my novel, but I'm in that last third of this multigenerational saga, and I just don't know enough about these characters or what happens in their lives. Finally, after dilly-dallying about an hour, I journaled about my problems writing this portion.

Two weeks down, halfway point, Yeah!! (Today's writing is this blog post) I've written every day except two: one that involved a bad headache, and the other that I didn't get home 'til 10 p.m. (family time).

So, what has WFMAD done? I don't have (more of) a routine, because my work hours are different every day. I haven't worked more on my novel, because I'm stuck in this third section where I don't know what happens. But, WFMAD has forced me back into my journal, posting on my blog, and just generally given me an excuse to write other things to help get the words going.

Friday, August 13, 2010

My brick wall had concrete blocks behind it...

In previous posts, I mentioned that I'm the fourth generation looking for my great-great-grandfather Thomas S. MANESS, who disappeared about 1875, age 25-26. Over the past few years, we had begun to believe he might be Thomas Swain Maness of Moore County, N.C., a rather rough character who was reputed to have five wives in different places.

Their parents' names were different, but we thought that a man with that reputation might lie about who his parents were. I haven't found Thomas' reputed parents in any census (N.C. or Arkansas). Same county, same middle initial. Their ages were about a decade different, but that wasn't too serious as Swain's date of birth changed wildly on his various records; no one's pinned it down exactly.

My uncle sent off his DNA to compare with a relative of Swain's. We got the results this week. And the DNA verdict is ... (drum roll) ... we are NOT related! As a matter of fact, we don't seem to be related to any Maness on file; they started a new family group for us. Which leads me to wonder, if a man could lie about his parents, would he give his own real name?

My great-grandfather had seven (six adult) children, so we have a whole clan of Manesses in Randolph County. What if his father wasn't even a Maness at all?

Here I was, the official family genealogist, trying not to assume until proven, warning my relatives to stop passing down oral history about the other family. I didn't realize until I got the DNA results how much I had built up my own hopes about solving this mystery. I was floored.

Other folks, however, have been encouraging. My uncle wants to see another Maness genealogist we haven't talked to yet. We have an old photograph that we're trying to compare. A helpful genealogist in Moore County reminded me that the connection between Swain and the living relative (for DNA) was based on oral history, so we could still be kin to Swain and not the relative. And no, I haven't forgotten the possibility that Thomas could have been telling the truth, and I need to look harder for his alleged parents.

Last month I heard a story that Swain could chop wood like no other man. And then my cousin, not knowing about that, mentioned that our Thomas was a woodsman - a piece of oral history that I had never heard. We have more clues and resources than my family has ever had. I could be back to square one, or this trail could be warmer than ever.

Monday, August 09, 2010

A genealogical role model

Rest In Peace, Thurman MANESS, 27 July 1909 - 8 Aug. 2010. Kind, smart man and keeper of oral history and genealogy.

I got word Sunday that Mr. Thurman passed away, age 101. I am so glad that we went to visit him in Moore County a couple of weeks ago. Although bed-bound, he was alert and cheerful. As soon as he recognized me, the stories starting pouring forth! 

Blind for the past three decades, Mr. Thurman told his many stories to a genealogy friend and had them published in a book (now out of print). He had contributed to cemetery books and a huge MANESS family book that I've seen in the library in Carthage. He gave his research to that friend (they knew each other from the historical society) while he was still alive. He had his DNA tested, on record with a rich family tree that goes back to Scotland, and we are still awaiting results to find out if we are cousins.

As a genealogist, he did everything right. I'd like to leave a legacy like that.