Inspiration From The Past

In “Storytellin’: True And Fictional Short Stories Of Arkansas” I write about a young boy, a midnight train, and the value of friendship in the tale “He A Friend Of Yours?” The title of the story is actually a question posed to the young boy by a train station employee.

Several of my family provided inspiration for the story not the least of which were my grandfather, father, and an uncle who all worked for the Rock Island Railroad in various capacities including railroad bull, brakeman, and conductor. All of their work began and ended with the Rock Island Rail Road train depot in the small town of Booneville, Arkansas. Not coincidentally, the fictional story’s beginning is set in and around a train depot.

In its heyday, the Booneville depot was a busy, thriving place, bustling with activity. I remember trips to the depot to either welcome or say goodbye to family members as they left for work or arrived after a working absence. More than once, I too, rode the railroad to and from Little Rock to visit uncles and aunts.

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This picture of the Booneville train depot was taken in the early 1980s and reflects a mere ghost of itself in comparison to the days when it thrived. Built in 1910 originally as a railroad eating house, the building style is unique compared to the average Rock Island train depot in Arkansas.

The days of riding the rails from Booneville to Little Rock are gone forever now, as are my family members who worked on the line. Sadly, just a few years after this picture was taken the Booneville depot burned down and its stories mostly lost to history.

Shameless Plug: Seasonal Book Promo

It’s that time of year for special gift-giving around my neck of the woods (so to speak) and as it is in many other places. And what better gift than a book or two?

Here are two books for your perusal. I hope you’ll consider them for this holiday season or for any gift-giving occasion.

“Storytellin: True And Fictional Short Stories Of Arkansas”. A collection of mixed-genre stories set in Arkansas from the early 1900s to the 1950s. Each of the fictional stories is preceded by a Cotner family story or event that inspired the fictional tales. Set against the rugged backdrop of the Ouachita Mountains these stories bring ageless tales of hope, fear, laughter, retribution, and kindness.

“Mystery Of The Death Hearth”. A Celtic tale of murder, power, and intrigue. In a far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire, the Great Cross—made of Celtic gold and amber now claimed by the Roman church—goes missing along with a fortune in coins and precious gems. Murder soon follows, igniting tensions when church leaders maneuvering for political gain are implicated in the violent plot. When news reaches the Grand Prefect in Rome, Enforcers are sent to identify the thieves and recover the missing treasure. The trail leads to the Brendan Valley where it falls to deputy magistrate Weylyn de Gort to work with those whose ways are alien to his Elder Faith beliefs. Along the way, he must find an elusive young Celt girl and her missing grandfather, unravel the mystery of an Elder’s vision, and avoid death at the hands of an assassin as he faces the greatest challenge of his life.

Mystery Of The Death Hearth Prologue

June 21st in the Roman calendar

Summer Solstice

“This sacred site has been here longer than we can remember,” Elder Blaine the Slender told the small group of children clustered around him. They were surrounded by festival vendors in tents bearing colorful flags, all part of the crowd gathered there to celebrate the Solstice holiday. “Heed these stories well, so you may pass them to those who will come after you.”

He saw them nod, some smiling, many somber, all attentive.

“Learn your crafts well, listen to your elders, honor the gods, and respect the land. Enjoy the life you have been granted and help others do the same. No other goals should be attempted lest you fall into the evil snare of greed and dishonesty.”

A small voice whispered, “He means the Romans, right?”

“Not just Romans, young one. Celts, too, face dark temptations. The two worst enemies we all face are liars and thieves,” the Elder continued. “Take nothing that isn’t yours. Honor the code of doing what you will so long as you harm no one or their possessions. Have compassion for those less fortunate, help those in need. Follow the path of our Celtic Elder Faith, stay true to its teachings. You will be wise to–”

Blaine’s words were interrupted by heavy beating of drums and cheers from celebrants within the inner circle of the standing stones. Before Blaine could continue, a child spoke up.

“What about murderers, Elder? Aren’t they an enemy, too?”

Elder Blaine nodded. “Truly spoken young one. Murderers are the worst kind of thief. They steal your life.”

 

 

 

 

Do not speak ill of the dead

In a new work in progress (WIP), a character of some many years—feisty and notorious for speaking his mind—becomes disenchanted, disappointed, and bitter.

He is asked to write a eulogy on the passing of a longtime friend. The friend was an active, loved church member, associate, and—unbeknownst to the small community where they retired to escape their less-than-virtuous lives—an arch criminal.

The result is a shocking, less-than-glowing list of evil deeds to be revealed at the funeral. He is urged to rewrite the scathing expose. He refuses, believing honesty more important than conventional good manners.

The following poem recorded in his personal diary captures his new belief.

 

Do not speak ill of the dead!

That having said, I shall

flap my lips, wag candid tongue,

hoist the verbiage black and read,

speak truth about the dead.

Outline all the right and wrong,

unblemished reputation splattered.

Far better now to say instead,

it’s only truth that matters, go ahead.

If it’s not lies, speak unpleasantness,

illuminated veracity,

impolite accuracy.

Thus having said, I shall

speak ill of the dead.

“Who’s He Talking To?”

I come from a long line of storytellers.

Long before the printing press, and long before literacy became commonplace,  generations used oral tales to preserve cultural folklore and pass along family stories. Now, we celebrate World Storytelling Day on the Spring Equinox  here in the northern hemisphere. In addition to exchanging stories in our own communities, the Internet helps us share stories across cultures. This year I’m sharing a true tale told by my father when I was young.

 “Who’s He Talking To?”

Church is a big deal for most folks in my hometown as it is in practically every part of Arkansas. True to form, there are many stories of my line of Cotners and their interaction with ministers, preachers of the gospel, and the corporate social body known as church.

My grandfather and grandmother were Methodists and attended the United Methodist church in Booneville.

The first ever story about church that sticks in my mind was told to me by my dad relating a story concerning the first time, as a very young boy, he attended Methodist services with his mother.

Seated there with the rest of his family on the pew among the faithful that Sunday for dutiful worship, dad—ever the fact-based skeptic—listened intently for some time to the sermon. The minister  was playing his part, delivering the message with vigor, waving hands and arms and often looking up to the ceiling imploring the Almighty for one thing or the other as if God were some cheap vending machine that—if  enough selfish prayers were plopped into it—would dispense a little treat out and down to the aluminum tray at the bottom for its users to enjoy.

Finally, curiosity got the best of my dad and, in a lull in the preaching he turned to my grandmother and loudly asked, “Who in the world is he talking to?”

With the kindness, compassion, understanding, and motherly love only my grandmother could have shown, she whirled around on the pew and slapped my dad hard on the head and said, “Shut up!”

As the story goes, about half the congregation laughed and the other half seemed angry at my dad’s questioning. No one ever redressed my grandmother and no one ever gave my dad an intelligent, rational, thoughtful, answer to his question.

So, needless to say the blow and the incident left quite the impression on my dad; and I’m not just talking about the big red welt that came up on the side of his head.

This story, along with the fictional tale inspired by my dad’s experience, is included in my short story collection Storytellin: True and Fictional Short Stories of Arkansas.

‘Tis The Season To Shop Local

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I will be signing copies of my books Mystery Of The Death Hearth and Storytellin’: True And Fictional Short Stories Of Arkansas Saturday, November 29, 2014 between the hours of 1:30 pm – 4 pm as part of Nightbird Books and the Local Author Day and Small Business Saturday.

“This is one of our best attended events each year so plan to make us part of your holiday shopping these days.” Nightbird Books, 205 W Dickson St, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Looks like it will be beautiful weather and a great day to shop local.

Hope to see you there!

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Eureka Springs Historical Museum

I am pleased to announce the gift shop in the  Eureka Springs Historical Museum in beautiful downtown Eureka Springs, Arkansas carries my book “Storytellin’: True And Fictional Short Stories Of Arkansas”.

Many thanks to Steven Sinclair, Director.

“The Eureka Springs Historical Museum is located in the heart of the Historic District at 95 S. Main in the 1889 Calif Building. Its mission is to collect, preserve, and exhibit the documents, photographs, and artifacts pertaining to the history of Eureka Springs (Carroll County) and the surrounding area.”

For more information visit their website at http://www.eurekaspringshistoricalmuseum.org/museum.html

 

 

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 Signing my books for sale in the Eureka Springs Historical Museum. Photos by Steven Sinclair, Museum Director.

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