In November of last year, I bought a “marketing package” from a marketing professional in Santa Fe. He offered a package that would advertise Teddy’s War on social media, specifically Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, once a week over a four-week period. It started the week before Teddy’s War was released, which was December 1. I wrote in my blog about it at the time and promised that I would report back on what happened.
I’m reporting back that I wasted my money.
I wanted the marketing effort to lead to increased book sales. At the time I bought the package, I told the marketer that I wanted numbers—which site he advertised on, how often, an estimate of the number of people reached, how many instances of feedback he received, etc. I also told my publisher about the package and asked him to put together the sales numbers from the publishing house’s national distributor for the time period when the marketing effort was going to take place. It takes months of lag time for the sales numbers to tally up correctly across the venues through which the distributor sells its books (including Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other booksellers), so I wouldn’t know the result of the effort until this spring.
Through the software that supports my website (Weebly), I also watched the number of visits to my website on a week-by-week basis. It doesn’t have anything to do with sales, but since the advertisement put up by the marketer referenced my website, any increase in website visits should indicate increased interest in me or my books, and should correlate to increases in orders through Amazon. I also monitored Amazon directly, to see the number of books sold per individual paperback books, but their data does not appear very robust or trustworthy.
Without giving any of the details, the marketer did not do what I thought he was going to do; he did not report any numbers and would probably claim that he couldn’t, which might be true; there were no increases in website visits in the timeframe of the effort; and Amazon did not show any unusual increases in sales during the timeframe of the effort. I decided to not ask my publisher for the sales data (I’ll get them later), and am really annoyed that the sales data are not easily obtainable by authors.
My best estimate is that zero books were bought as a direct result of the marketing of Teddy’s War across the social media platforms. I’m not surprised.
My tenth Mogi Franklin Mystery book finished its last review and edit in January. The story is titled War Train and takes place in Las Vegas, New Mexico. It centers around the Castaneda Hotel while it’s being remodeled, and has a lot of flavor of Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls. It deals with a bank robbery in Las Vegas during the early years of World War II, the subsequent disappearance of the robbers and the money, the restoration and preservation of the hotel, the discovery of a hidden footlocker that’s been locked for 75 years, and an ugly quilt.
The cover is currently being worked on, as is the conversion of the Word document into a printable paperback format. The release date is September 1. The book already appears on Amazon (with no cover) and the story description is good. You can see it by typing in War Train with my name.
I’m working through the manuscript of a new story that is a follow-on to Smoke Dreams. It involves Sam, the kidnapped boy who turned into a great Comanche warrior, after he leaves the Goodnight Ranch in 1884 to search for his sister. A different story begins in 1904 that involves Lucy, Sam’s sister, who was sent to St. Louis after he was kidnapped, and is now married, has kids, and just celebrated her 40th birthday. The story also involves Harry, Lucy’s son, who is twenty, as he travels through New Mexico and Texas, searching for what happened to Sam. I bring Sam and Harry together, reveal what happened to Sam during the years between, and then end the book with an emotional and heartbreaking incident that ties everything together, preserving the principle in the first novel that Lucy never discovered that Sam survived until she died.
If you liked Smoke Dreams, you’ll love this one. You’ll like what the house does, too.
I’m, once again, incessantly rewriting. I am more honest now and recognize that only through iteration do I produce any good writing at all. My strengths are imaginative plotting, interesting characters, describing the scenery, and creating authenticity in characters’ actions; my weaknesses are writing good words, sentences and paragraphs. I put the second draft away for three months, and now find myself with different eyes. I can read it differently and can see inconsistencies, incongruencies, bad word choices, and superfluous passages. It’s exciting and enjoying to change the scenes and words to have more clarity and read better, no matter how bad I feel about having written poorly in the previous draft. Maybe that’s the true reason I rewrite so much—I love the challenge of making it better.
I expect to finish my draft by the end of May, and may give the manuscript to an editor in June. I’m going to self-publish the book through Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing), matching Smoke Dreams, which I self-published in 2013. I don’t yet know what the title will be.
My publisher is improving their marketing strategies. Whether due to COVID or riding the wave of remote meetings, Terra Nova Books started a monthly ZOOM session that features their authors. I was scheduled in December, but because no one registered to attend, I was postponed.
I’m now presenting on April 28th, at 5:00pm, MST. Instead of having an invited audience using my personal email list, my publisher arranged for me to talk at a ZOOM session sponsored by the Santa Fe Public Library. They hold presentations twice a month and have a roster of some hundreds, so it’s probable that I’ll have a good number of attendees whom I do not know. I’m looking forward to it. I will include photographs, so it should be more interesting than just me talking. I wouldn’t even attend if it was just me talking.
You can sign up to attend the ZOOM session at terranovabooks.com. They will be archiving the presentation on YouTube if you want to watch it later.
Larry McMurty died this week. He’s one of my favorite writers and Lonesome Dove is one of my favorite books. He wrote a number of books and screenplays, won a Pulitzer Prize, and was also well-known as a book collector and book seller. In addition to having accumulated a personal library of 30,000 books or so, he started and managed used bookstores around the country. His most impressive and longest-lasting bookstore is in Archer City, a small town in Texas where he lived. He filled five large buildings with a half-million used books.
I visited Archer City in 2005 and found exploring the total collection to be impossible. Each building was stuffed with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves (in rooms with tall ceilings), and each bookshelf was stuffed with books. It was quite a sight.
I was looking for books by Robert Ruark. At the time, nothing was computerized (it still may not be), but the ladies who worked in each building got me to the right building, the right floor, the right corner, and within a foot of where Ruark’s books were located. As it turned out, I only bought a classic set of Sherlock Holmes stories.
I hope to go back, if for nothing more than to pay homage to the man. I read that McMurtry was trying to slim the collection down (from five buildings to one), knowing that his family was going to be left with everything once he died, and not wanting them to be faced with an impossible legacy. I doubt that he started soon enough. If you ever get close (Archer City is about 30 miles southwest of Wichita Falls), it’s worth the visit.
Coronado’s army had a roll-call on February 22, 1540, at Coronado’s headquarters in Compostela, west of Mexico City and near the coast, exactly 192 years before the birth of George Washington. From eyeing a map, the distance from Compostela to the Mexico/Arizona border looks to be at least two or three times the length of the route from the border to the Zuni Pueblo. The army was probably already tired before they even began what I learned as Coronado’s Expedition.
About halfway along the Mexico portion, Coronado divided his following into two groups: a forward exploratory force of 75-80 horsemen, 25-30 footsoldiers, and some native allies, and the bulk of the “army”, still around 3,000 people and 13,000 animals. Coronado led the exploratory force, while the rest of the army followed behind at a slower pace. The whole company would not be together again until they met at the Zuni Pueblo on July 7, 1540.
As Coronado was making his way up Mexico into present day Arizona, the Viceroy sent three fully loaded ships up the Gulf of California, expecting the ships to rendezvous with Coronado at some point and resupply his forces. The ships not only sailed up the Gulf, but sailed up the Colorado River a considerable distance. Failing to find Coronado, they left a message along the banks and returned home.
Coronado’s forces had fought with the Zuni natives when he arrived. Knowing they were no match for the horses, the blunderbusses, and the cannons, the Zunis evacuated to the top of a nearby mesa. While waiting for the rest of the army to catch up, Coronado sent out explorers to the west, hoping to rendezvous with the ships. Those explorers discovered the Hopi homelands, the Colorado River, and the Grand Canyon. They would also find the spot on the Colorado where the Spanish ships had left their message. The two forces had missed each other by the width of Arizona.
Coronado did not discover the Seven Cities of Gold, but the area did have Six Towns of Wealth. The Zuni excelled at farming, trade, diplomacy and craft technology and had, by aboriginal standards, become extraordinarily wealthy. In 1540, they enjoyed one of the highest standards of living of any people in North America, and were widely known among the native tribes from the Pacific Coast to the central Great Plains. From a poor native’s viewpoint, the Zuni towns were probably an approximation of golden cities.
After Coronado reaches Zuni, the historical narrative is better known. It takes until the end of August for the rest of the army to catch up, after which Coronado moves the full army directly east, passing by Acoma Pueblo and through the lava beds of El Malpais, and establishes their entrada along the Rio Grande River at present-day Bernalillo (north of Albuquerque), where they spend the winter of 1540-1541. In the spring, he takes the full army to the Pecos Pueblo. It is the largest pueblo (about 4000 natives) and may have been the center of the Puebloan Empire.
Coronado finds a guide who witnesses to the great wealth in the city of Quivira, about a thousand miles away in modern day Kansas. In the spring of 1541, Coronado leads the full army to somewhere in the Panhandle of Texas. He finds the land rich with everything except water, discusses his options with his officers, and then sends the full army back to Bernalillo, while he follows the guide with a detachment of thirty men. They make it to around the middle of Kansas and is again disappointed to find that Quivira is a little village of straw huts, full of “bestial people”.
The guide, with a little persuasion, confesses that the story was invented to lure the Spanish out into the Great Plains where they were expected to die. Coronado executes the guide by having him choked to death, wanders around for 25 days, desperately searching for any wealth at all, but eventually heads back to the Rio Grande, a thousand miles away.
Wintering again in Bernalillo, 1541-1542, Coronado and his officers decide to take the whole army to Kansas and explore farther east. Unfortunately, in the spring of 1542, Coronado falls off his horse during a horse race, is kicked in the head, and he’s in a coma for several days. When he recovers, he’s a changed man and becomes obsessed with a prophecy that convinces him that he is dying. Suffering a severe attack of homesickness, he decides not to venture any farther and leads his army back to Mexico.
By the time Coronado gets back to the Viceroy, most of his great company has died, fallen away, or has abandoned him; he makes it into Mexico City with less than a hundred men. Coronado is disgraced, tried and acquitted on account of his treatment of the Zunis and other tribes, and dies in obscurity in 1554 at the age of 44.
For an update on my sheep drive question, a reader sent me a copy of a California Agricultural Extension Service report, written in 1930, the states that “To supply the demand for fresh meat, there was a great influx of sheep from neighboring states and from 1852 to 1857, it is estimated that 551,000 sheep were driven into California from New Mexico.”
That’s more than a half million sheep! How many sheepherders did it take? How many of them walked from New Mexico to California and back, more than once?
I’m finding that my perception of history has a distinct lack of scale to it.
All I wanted to know was how someone trails sheep to California.
According to the Navajo-Churro Sheep Association (www.navajo-churrosheep.com), when gold was discovered in California in 1849, Navajo-Churro sheep in New Mexico and Arizona were trailed west to feed the huge number of people. I know about cattle drives; I don’t know anything about sheep drives.
Sheep were introduced in the New World by Spanish explorers and settlers, as far back as 1494 when Spain established colonies in the Caribbean and then in Mexico. The Navajo-Churro is a very hardy breed with strong maternal instincts, abundant milk production, high lamb survival, a wealth of wool per animal, and are able to survive on marginal feed sources. Their introduction into the Southwest proved to be a significant boon for the indigenous people as well as the Hispanic settlers. They’re easy to recognize because the rams have four horns—two going up and two going down.
The website also noted that Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition to search for the Seven Cities of Gold in 1540 included 5,000 Churro sheep. I didn’t know that they had any sheep at all, so I started reading about the Coronado Expedition, which sounded more interesting than sheep drives to California.
That led me to Douglas Preston’s book, Cities of Gold, A Journey Across the American Southwest. He chronicles a horsepacking trip in the spring and summer of 1992 when he and a friend tried to follow Coronado’s route from near Palominas, Arizona (it’s close to the Mexican border; Preston didn’t do the Mexico portion of the expedition) to Pecos, New Mexico. Pecos Pueblo is about the last confirmed location of Coronado before he crossed into the Great Plains, eventually going halfway across Kansas looking for Quivera).
I like Preston’s nonfiction books, as well as his fiction books (most famously, the ones written with Lee Child), so it took no urging to read Cities of Gold. He alternates chapters between describing his horse adventures retracing Coronado’s route, and giving historical information about Coronado, the expedition, and the sixteenth-century Southwest.
I learned about Coronado in school, maybe as early as elementary school. Most of the websites I’ve visited still use the same painting that shows a courageous Coronado leading a long line of soldiers, scouts, and priests across a flat landscape.
That painting didn’t quite give the right scale of the expedition.
Besides himself, the expedition included Fray Marcos, a Franciscan priest who had made an exploratory trip the year before and returned declaring that there were seven cities of great wealth (technically, he never said “gold”) in the far-off lands north of Mexico, and also included
- 250 horse soldiers
- 70 foot soldiers
- about 1900 indigenous people from Central and West Mexico (mostly Aztecs)
- about 400 servants and slaves, largely from North and West Africa
- maybe 200 women and children (the number is known for sure, but they were a “significant portion” of the expedition; they included wives of the soldiers)
- 500 pack animals
- 1000 horses
- 5000 sheep
- 7000 cattle, including oxen
I had no idea that Coronado was leading a small city into the Great Unknown; that’s a lot of drinking, eating, sleeping, and pooping so it was no small logistical problem. They would be gone for three years, so I can imagine that he thought he needed every person.
Coronado, by the way, had 23 horses of his own, 3 or 4 suits of horse armor, and a gilded suit of armor for himself, complete with a plumed helmet. Other soldiers brought coats of mail, front and back armor, buckskins, swords, crossbows, harquebuses, and several small cannon, not to mention all those shapely metal hats they wore. I can’t imagine being wrapped in metal in southern Arizona in the summer.
A video by the National Park Service said the full expedition could have required 80 to 100 thousand gallons of water a day. I’m not sure I believe that, but finding water certainly had to be major priority of every day. I did my military training at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and it’s close to where the expedition came out of Mexico, headed north. There’s not a lot of water anywhere that I remember.
While reading Preston’s book, I’ve also been looking at websites. There’s a surprising amount of interest still going on with regard to establishing Coronado’s exact routes—where he camped, where he found water, how he got to Kansas, when he had the full expedition together versus when he was scouting ahead with a much smaller force (100 soldiers or so), etc.
I read an article where cowboys, residents, and researchers have amassed substantial evidence of an expedition encampment outside of Floydada, Texas. That’s east of Lubbock for those of you without a map, and is way south of where most maps have the route. I found another article claiming that Douglas Preston should have turned after reaching Benson, Arizona, instead of going straight; research has changed a lot in 30 years.
I’m still reading and researching, and it’s pretty entertaining. I’ll get back to you when I have more to say.
An eighteen-year-old girl shook uncontrollably, followed by frightening and furious cries, then flailed her arms and legs, then howled. A twelve-year-old girl reported severe pains on her right side and suffered violent convulsions. In a worship service, an older woman fell to the floor, giving out howls and war chants, singing like owls, foxes, and pigs, contorting her arms and back, and made horrible expressions with her face.
Villagers were found with small effigies made from clay and sticks, into which thorns and needles were stuck. A few witnessed to hearing demons that spoke out loud and told them things that no one else could have known. Still others were suspected of being fully possessed by demons, and when the priest attempted to exorcise the spirits, it only increased their “great cackling and vulgarities”, and showed strengths that “would overcome four to six men.”
The Devil himself had come to dwell among the villagers.
But this wasn’t Salem in 1692, and it wasn’t the Puritans confronting the Devil. It was the Genizaro pueblo of Abiquiu, between 1756 and 1766, in the upper part of New Spain, later to be called New Mexico.
Father Juan Jose Toledo, the priest assigned to the Abiquiu pueblo in 1755, began writing reports to the Governor in Santa Fe stating that he had been bewitched. He had pains, would often choke and cough, felt a moveable ball growing in his belly, and had been beset with unimaginable pain that nearly killed him. He was sure that a man and his wife in the pueblo were trying to kill him using witchcraft.
Launching a pursuit of his tormentors did not slow his pain, but revealed many practices, rites, and ceremonies being performed by the residents of the pueblo, in addition to the common practices of the local curanderas [native folk healers who used local herbs to address illnesses] that often included the use of hallucinogens, prayers, and relics. In Father Toledo’s mind, everything was drenched in heresy and violations of God’s word. It was clearly the work of Satan.
Father Toledo’s situation soon deepened to include shapeshifting (someone taking on the form of an animal); the “shooting” of objects into other bodies (pebbles, pieces of cloth, rocks), which required someone sucking out the object to be cured; and several accusations that witches had caused others to die.
The lonely priest now saw himself as single-handedly leading a battle against the Devil, and continued to say so in long reports to the Governor, nearby priests, and other church representatives. The Governor, Tomas Velez Cachupin, imprisoned several prominent sorcerers, hoping that it would quiet the situation.
The next witchcraft episode involved not classic witchcraft, but demonic possession, causing Father Toledo to become a raging Soldier of the Cross, wielding the sword of exorcism without mercy. Unfortunately, the exorcisms seemed to inflame the outbreak instead of quenching it.
Governor Velez Cachupin had found the priest’s reports verbose, confusing, and self-indulgent. However, threatened with the seriousness of demon possession, he ordered a junta, a commission of priests and ecclesiastical scholars to examine the reports of Father Toledo and other witnesses, and to recommend how to deal with the situation. They met together in 1764, in Santa Fe and had long and heated discussions for two days. Afterwards, they had some minor recommendations, like continued destruction of profane sites and images, but the ultimate conclusion was that the matter should be submitted to the Office of the Inquisitor in Mexico City.
Fortunately for everyone concerned, Governor Tomas Velez Cachupin was an extraordinary manager and leader, and quite possibly one of the most competent men in 18th century New Mexico. A seasoned frontier Army commander and a man who desired peace, he had developed a mutual respect between himself and the Indian tribes of the Plains, as well as the local pueblo Indians, and had a great understanding of, and appreciation for, the conflicts that existed between the indigenous people, the Spanish government, and the Catholic Church in New Mexico.
He was particularly understanding of the Genizaros, the inhabitants of the Abiquiu pueblo, who were originally Plains Indians captured by other tribes and then sold to Spanish and Puebloan families. The lineage of subsequent families included Ute, Paiute, Kiowa, Pawnee, Apache, Comanche, and others, and, important to this moment, included the passing down of the various customs of each tribe. Unfortunately, the Genizaros were not considered fully Indian, nor fully Spanish, making them severely disadvantaged in a country with strong presences of both.
The Governor sent a report to the Viceroy in Mexico City that would then be given to the Inquisitor. It was read and summarized by an aide to the Viceroy, who agreed with the Governor’s assessment almost to the letter. In particular, the aide endorsed what Governor Velez Cachupin had identified as the primary source of all the witchcraft and sorcery at Abiquiu and the other pueblos: the failure of the missionaries to learn the language of the Indians.
The priests in New Mexico gave their sermons and religious instruction in Spanish and Latin, and relied on interpreters to explain their words. The interpreters could not give a word-for-word translation, as the indigenous languages rarely had the correct words needed. Instead, the interpreters couched the priests’ teachings in images, concepts, and beliefs that the indigenous audience would understand. Consequently, what was told might not be even close to what was said, especially with the Genizaros, who had an unusually complex mix of images, concepts, customs, rituals, and beliefs handed down from their ancestors.
When the priests emphasized sin and the need for conversion, for example, what was understood by the Genizaros was the requirement to give up their identities, which was, more or less, what Father Toledo was saying, but lacked the context of the overall picture of salvation. Surrendering their identity was, in the indigenous context, an argument for extinction, which didn’t sit well at all.
It was a conflict of worldviews.
Father Toledo’s worldview was built around separate, distinct, individual entities: God, Jesus, Man, Angels, Satan, Demons, as well as point-action realities, the big one being Sin, which separates Man from God, and was addressed by point-action responses, like confession and repentance. Augmented with a stress on the terribleness of Hell and Damnation, it was a system that revolved as much around threat as it did grace.
The Indians of the Plains, as well as the Navajo and Hopi, had a worldview with few words for sin and evil, and no word to describe being separated from God. God dwelt in everything, and his children, who lived among everything, defined life in terms of balance and imbalance, not connection and disconnection. Separation from God meant desertion on His part and would never happen. Those of you who have read Tony Hillerman’s books recognize the concept behind the Navajo word, hozro, and its meaning of order versus disorder.
If life balance is the problem, then Father Toledo expounding on point-action sins didn’t translate into anything recognizable to the Genizaros, and having a God who required point-action punishments didn’t address balance in any respect. Confession and repentance weren’t too bad, but the idea of conversion didn’t make any sense. Combined with other concepts, the expected relationships between teacher and students degenerated into deeply-felt resentment, rebellion, and defiance against the priests and their teachings. Insecurity, anger, and distrust fed directly into circumventing the teachings of the Church and using, instead, tribal lore, rituals, ceremonies, superstitions, suspicion, drama, betrayal, and spiritual intrigues that morphed into practices that, to the priests, looked like witchcraft.
Even the retrospectives involving the Salem witch trials describe the events as being the result of “mass hysteria” based on jealousy, fear, and the need to be recognized.
Governor Velez Cachupin understood the conflicts and could see how societal and spiritual misunderstandings would ramp up into social hysteria. However, he was a practical man and was not drawn into trying to straighten out everybody’s worldviews. He wanted action.
By the time the Office of the Inquisitor had responded to his report, the witchcraft outbreak at Abiquiu was nearly over. The marriage in Spain of the Prince of Asturias with his cousin, the Princess of Parma [whose celebrations included the general granting of amnesty for prisoners] accorded the Governor the opportunity to declare amnesty for the villagers he had imprisoned (some had died, so only a few were left). He did have a few conditions, requiring the freed prisoners to regularly attend church services, confess and receive communion, and to pray the rosary every night. There were a few stiffer penalties, but all were comparatively mild.
Three female witches did receive harsher sentences. Two were given strict don’t-do-that-ever-again type warnings and conditions, while the last, the one called La Come Gallinas, being recognized as having the worst behavior, was publicly stripped to the waist, covered with honey and feathers, and suffered four hours of shaming. Afterwards, she was assigned to serve in the house of a Spaniard for the rest of her life.
That was it. Cachupin had walked a fine line between the opposing cultures and their violent reactions to each other, but the witchcraft decade ended in peace. I doubt that any theological precepts or worldview conflicts were settled, but people learned to get along with radically divergent beliefs, while the Catholic missionaries were put to work learning the language.
This will be my last post about the French Revolution. I’m surrendering to the reality that picking various aspects of the conflicts and talking about them does not do justice to what happened in France during the decade of 1789-1799. I’ve read a couple of dozen in-depth articles from the Encyclopedia Britannica and three books (the best of which is The French Revolution, A Quick Immersion, by Jay M. Smith), and I am overwhelmed by the difficulty of putting all the pieces together into a coherent picture. My review of the French Revolution has been fascinating and there are many parallels between it and the current US national environment, but I’m out of my league on this one.
I do want to return to why I was interested in the first place: the French Revolution’s test for an individual’s loyalty and patriotism.
It turned out, in my opinion, that the “test” had nothing to do with loyalty or patriotism, but had everything to do with the fear of punishment.
It begins with recognizing and valuing the inherent rights of individuals.
The principles of universal individual rights consumed several 18th century philosophers and theorists, including those centered around Paris, like Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau. For me, I recognize the usual key words, like Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness; freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, petition, and the right to keep and bear arms; the right to due process and to having counsel (remember Gideon’s Trumpet from high school?).
Rights can be expressed in different ways. FDR, for example, laid out four fundamental freedoms: the freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and the freedom from fear. Today, many other things are referred to as “rights” but I’m not sure they all qualify.
In the second half of the 1700s, France was a hotbed of discussions about individual rights, and it was an advantage for the Enlightened Leaders to have a populace familiar with the ideas. On August 29, 1789 (two months after the storming of the Bastille), the newly formed National Assembly voted for a document that became the guiding light for the Revolution: the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.
It included some familiar and some unfamiliar items: Men are born free and equal in respect to their rights, which included liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression; freedom to speak, write and publish; freedom to participate in setting taxes; the right of citizens that all agents [representatives of local and federal governments] should be held accountable; and the right to property.
But every time a “right” is cited, it’s followed by a specific or general caveat—that the rights of the society are superior to the rights of individuals. Specifically, the freedom of speech is absolute, unless it disturbs the public order established by law; the freedom of property is absolute, except in cases of “evident public necessity”, according to law; political liberty consists in the power of doing whatever does not injure another, with limits set by law; every man is presumed innocent until convicted, as provided by law.
In general, individual rights have limits or may be applied differently when individuals choose to live and function together, while laws are determined by the “will of the people”.
Remembering that the Declaration was produced by a nation only lately removed from hundreds of years of feudalism and absolute monarchies, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen was enthusiastically received, supported and included in the upcoming French constitutions: the National Assembly of 1789-91, the National Legislative Assembly of 1791-92, and the National Convention of 1792-95, which produced a Declaration of Rights in 1793 that included the right of insurrection as “the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties” whenever the government “violates the rights of the people”. There was also a version for The Directorate, which was the French governing body of 1795-99. Napolean produced his Civil Code in 1804, something he felt was his greatest accomplishment. They were all modeled after the document of 1789.
There is no question that the delineation and declaration of a code for Rights is a dramatic and enduring legacy of the French Revolution. Recall that the United States’ Bill of Rights was accepted in December of 1791, so there’s no doubt that each nation was influenced by what was happening across the Atlantic.
This emphasis and recognition of individual and national rights makes it very hard for me to understand the following:
- the National Assembly issued a decree on August 10, 1789, that called on all local militias and public officials to be vigilant, to keep lists of known “disreputable persons”, and to take all measures necessary to preserve the public peace.
- the National Assembly splintered into political parties devoted to undermining its own unity, which resulted in the passionate Revolutionaries siting on the left-most side of the gallery and their opponents (the more conservative delegates) seated on the right, which originated the common usage of the “left wing” and “right wing” in politics. These parties were ruthlessly hostile and antagonist towards each other.
- the National Assembly nationalized the considerable landholdings of the Roman Catholic Church in France, as well as its gold and silver. It also decreed the abolishment of monastic vows, requiring that supreme loyalty be directed toward the nation and not a religious institution.
- The Civil Constitution of the Clergy, in 1790, made the clergy of the Catholic Church civil servants of the government, requiring them to take an oath of loyalty to the nation and not to the Church (France was overwhelmingly a Roman Catholic nation, so this was not a popular move. The Pope didn’t like it, either. Nonetheless, it was enforced.).
- the exile of 30,000 priests and the killing of hundreds more. Many priests were forced to marry against their will, and to perform Mass after they had denied allegiance to the Church. Many more were imprisoned or deported to penal colonies.
- the renaming of cathedrals (Notre Dame was called “the Notre Dame Temple of Reason”), and the forbidding of the ringing of church bells, religious processions and displays of the Christian cross.
- on July 17, 1791, a protest against the National Assembly’s actions resulted in the Champ de Mars massacre, where National Guard troops killed dozens of bystanders and unarmed protesters, and resulted in the Assembly banning political clubs and collective protests.
- the establishment of “surveillance committees” across France to watch for, identify and incarcerate “suspects” who were against the revolution or its principles, and the establishment of a special Revolutionary Tribunal to judge and execute those “suspects”. They were accused of “political crimes”.
- on August 30, 1792, home-to-home searches were authorized for the “requisition” of guns and ammunition, and the rooting out of any remaining counter-revolutionaries, a term that had just been coined.
- the appropriation of buildings owned by people [mainly nobles] who had immigrated to other countries during the revolution, or that were owned by the Church. They were converted to foundries or barracks for soldiers. Horses and draught animals were “requisitioned’; women were conscripted to work in hospitals, or to make uniforms or tents.
- in Vendee, a section of France south of Brittany that had previously surrendered during a British attack, Revolutionary generals indiscriminately slaughtered men, women, and children as punishment. Whole villages disappeared in the carnage. Boats were loaded with shackled captives and sunk in the Loire river; thousands were drowned. In all, the revolutionary forces were estimated to have killed over 100,000 people.
- in December, 1793, local Jacobins (a popular Revolutionary society) were sanctioned to execute a thousand citizens of Toulon in punishment for their non-revolutionary views.
- in August of 1793, the Law of Suspects was passed. It demanded that any person be identified as a “suspect” if they were against the revolution or the National Convention, and to then be brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal for judging. Local “surveillance committees” again roamed the towns.
- the Committee of Public Safety, a committee of the National Convention, not only punished “traitors” but “even those who were indifferent” to revolutionary causes. The Committee developed an obsessive and violent desire to “purify” the political ground and to “cleanse” the Republic of France of those who had betrayed it before or those who might betray it in the future. Two former leaders of the revolutionary movement were guillotined for having been “moderates” in the Assembly.
- the passing of the Law of 22 Prairial on June 10, 1794, (Prairial was the name of a month in the new Revolutionary Calendar), that allowed the Revolutionary Tribunal to hear cases of people accused of “slandering patriotism”, “seeking to inspire discouragement”, “spreading false news”, and “depraving morals, corrupting the public conscience and impairing the purity and energy of the revolutionary government”. It required all citizens to identify, denounce, and bring to justice these “suspects”, making rumors sufficient for bringing someone to trial. It limited the trials by the Tribunal to three days; it was prevented from calling witnesses; it was not allowed to provide defense counsel for the accused; it established the principle of the accused being guilty unless proven innocent; and it required the Tribunal to come to only one of two possible verdicts in any case – acquittal or death.
How’s that for upholding the inherent and universal Rights of Man?
It is estimated that more than 16,000 people were sentenced to death by guillotine or hanging, while ten thousand more died in prisons waiting for trial. The total number of casualties is estimated to be from 250,000 to 500,000. Many were leaders of the Revolution one year, who had their heads cut off the next. Many had served faithfully in the Assembly, just to have their heads cut off by the Convention. Whole political societies were started, became dominant, and then were assassinated out of existence.
It was a time of great exuberance in new freedoms, but also a time of great, great fear. It resulted in absolute, pervasive, and savage intolerance. France became a nation set on destroying itself.
Besides individuals being punished solely for personal beliefs and convictions, I saw other warnings for our current political and social situations:
The last years of the 18th century was a terrible time to live in France. The country began as an absolute monarchy (a divinely recognized king) with a feudal system (landlords commanding non-landowning peasants), but, by the last decade, several factors had combined to make it a hotbed of violence and rebellion.
First, the feudal system was crumbling as a social structure and had already disappeared in parts of Europe, mainly due to the improvement of the standard of living and education among the lower classes of the population. The peasants didn’t look like the peasants of old and they wanted more rights; those citizens who were business owners, craftsmen, or merchants wanted more power and control.
Second, the population of Europe had doubled between 1715 and 1800. France, with 26 million inhabitants in 1789, was Europe’s most populated country. There were constant demands for more food and consumer goods, while inflated prices and hoarding did nothing but increase the brutal poverty and hunger of its citizens.
Third, there was a rise of intellectualism concerning the inherent “rights of man”, led by notable philosophers like Montesquieu and Voltaire. Everything had become questionable: political structures (like the long established “Divine Right of Kings”), social environments (the class structure), economics (the opulence of the aristocracy versus the rampant poverty); and religion (the dominance of the Catholic Church, its integration with the aristocracy, the burden of tithing). This Enlightenment was spread throughout the culture by popular clubs, lodges, “societies of thought”, agricultural societies, and reading rooms, leading to many people becoming “woke”.
Fourth, France had spent heavily fighting in or supporting wars, the most recent being the revolution in America, leaving it deeply in debt. That translated into more and higher taxes, forced conscription for the military, and widespread anger with the actions of the aristocracy.
By the last decade, all that was needed was some incident to bring an eruption to the discontent.
It occurred on July 14, 1789, at the fortress of Bastille.
The stage had already been prepped. In June, a National Assembly had been formed from groups of non-aristocrats, non-upper-clergy, and non-nobles, that resembled a representative form of government. It’s proclaimed purpose was to create a French constitution, which the Assembly expected the king to accept. King Louis XVI was not so inclined and suppressed the idea, but was eventually forced by the various powers surrounding him to acknowledge that the Assembly had a popular authority. The Assembly renamed itself the National Constituent Assembly on July 9th, 1789, and blatantly stated that its power was equivalent to the king’s.
There had already been skirmishes: a crowd had broken into a prison to release grenadiers of the French guards, reportedly imprisoned because they refused to fire on locals; large crowds had formed to protest the King’s dismissal of Jacques Necker, a finance minister sympathetic to the commoners, businessmen, and crafts people; attacks were launched on customs posts that were blamed for causing increased food and wine prices; and the plundering of a number of places in Paris where food, guns, and supplies were thought to be stored.
By July 13th, the Hotel des Invalides [“hotel” was a general description, not a Holiday Inn] had been invaded to procure around 30,000 muskets. Unfortunately, the commandant of the Invalides had previously moved 250 barrels of gunpowder and shot needed for the muskets to the Bastille for safer storage.
By the morning of July 14th, Paris was in a virtual uproar. A crowd of about a thousand people gathered outside the Bastille and demanded the gunpowder and shot. Representatives were sent inside to negotiate demands. The negotiations dragged on and, around 1:30, the crowd grew restless and surged into the undefended outer courtyard. A small party climbed onto the roof of a building next to the gate and released the drawbridge that allowed access to the large, wooden door of the fortress.
This lit up the crowd, but amid the ensuing noise and confusion, as the soldiers of the garrison inside shouted for the people to withdraw, the shouts were misinterpreted as encouragements to enter. Then somebody fired a shot and the whole place erupted; the crowd became a mob. The fighting increased in intensity and violence, and any calls for a cease-fire were ignored. There were 5,000 Royal Army troops nearby that could have put down the crowd, but were not ordered to do so.
Meanwhile, the commander of the garrison inside the Bastille knew that he had enough cannons to fire cannister shot into the crowd, killing all or most, or that he could have torched the gunpowder and blown the place up (he did make that threat). He finally made the decision that the carnage was not worth it. He announced his surrender, opened the gates and the crowd swept into the fortress at 5:30 pm.
Ninety-eight attackers and one defender died in the actual fighting. The commander of the fortress was taken and stabbed to death, as was a local magistrate. Their heads were chopped off, mounted on pikestaffs, and paraded through the streets. Three officers were savaged and killed by the crowd, and two militiamen were hanged.
In retrospect, the crowd had taken a 400-hundred-year-old, decrepit, outdated, massive stone prison that they hadn’t come for in the first place. Once inside, the crowd found only seven prisoners, and it was becoming evening; I can’t imagine what the bowels of the Bastille felt like by the light of a torch. People came back in the daylight and when they did, the search became one of looking for souvenirs (some thought they found the skeleton of The Man in the Iron Mask). I found no reference to any fires being set or of any wholesale destruction. I assume that they did get their barrels of powder and shot, but there was no great hoard of food or treasure; the garrison of soldiers had been small and ill-supplied.
King Louis XVI did not learn of the action until the morning after, but it was confirmed that his troops had been defeated and the fortress taken. He told his commanders stationed in other military positions around Paris to return to the garrisons on the frontier, and then announced that he would recall Jacques Necker as finance minister, probably hoping that the de-escalation would cause the whole thing to blow over.
It didn’t. The “storming of the Bastille” became the “inciting incident” that would soon be promoted for what the revolutionaries wanted it to be: a symbol of insurrection, unity, and the defeat of tyranny. It gave the majority of the country a readily-identifiable event that allowed them to disregard royal authority, to recognize popular sovereignty, and a reason to set up parallel structures of municipalities for civic governance and local militias for civic protection. In rural areas, many people burned title-deeds as well as a number of chateaux. A “Great Fear” spread across the countryside during the weeks of July 20 to August 5, with attacks on wealthy landlords, led by the belief that the aristocracy was trying to put down the revolution. Many of the nobles fled to other countries.
The Bastille, itself, was proposed as a monument to liberation, or as housing for a revolutionary Guard, but the municipality of Paris ordered it destroyed as planned. The demolition began immediately and was finished in five months. Bricks from the rubble were carved into replicas of the fortress and sold, along with medals supposedly made from the chains used on prisoners.
In 1790, the Marquis de Lafayette [the same Lafayette of the American Revolution] gave the wrought-iron, one-pound and three-ounce key to the Bastille’s front door to the President of the United States, George Washington. It is now on display at Mount Vernon.
The Bastille Saint-Antoine (“The Bastille”) is one of the most famous fortresses in European history. Its biggest moment was as the location of the inciting incident that anchored the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789.
The foundation work started in 1357, with the main construction occurring after 1370. The end result was a massive stone enclosure secured by eight circular stone towers several stories tall. Its initial purpose was to house the soldiers and cannons that protected the eastern end of the river that flows through the center of Paris. The fortress served in various defensive roles in different wars and battles for many years. From 1659 onwards, it functioned as a state penitentiary.
In the 1700s, Louis XIV (he’s the one who built the Palace of Versailles) used the Bastille as a prison for upper-class members of French society who had opposed or angered him, including a few French Protestants. Louis XV and Louis XVI also used it for political prisoners, but by July of 1789, it was mostly empty. It held only seven prisoners (four forgers, a “lunatic” imprisoned at the request of his family, an assassin who had attempted to kill Louis XV thirty years before, and the son of an aristocrat who had been imprisoned by his father). The decision had already been made to tear it down and replace it with an open public space, but demolition had not yet begun.
From the thousands who had passed through its gates, one prisoner became famous.
A letter written in July of 1669 was sent from one of Louis XIV’s ministers, to Benigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, governor of a prison in southeast France. In the letter, a prisoner named “Eustache Dauger” was due to arrive in the next month or so. A cell was to be prepared for him, but it should have multiple doors, one door closing upon the other, to prevent anyone from listening to anything spoken inside the cell. The prisoner was to be seen only once a day, and he should never speak about anything other than his immediate needs, under threat of death. The man would be wearing a veil (a mask or hood) over his face when he arrived and was required to wear it continually. No one was to see his face.
The prisoner would wear that veil for the next 34 years.
Saint-Mars did as he was told and when appointed governor of a different prison in 1681, took Dauger with him. In 1687, Saint-Mars was posted to a prison on an island half a mile offshore from Cannes, and, again, took the veiled man with him. A similar cell with multiple doors had been arranged.
It was during this time that rumors spread that the man was wearing not a cloth veil, but an iron mask.
Twelve years later, Saint-Mars became the governor of the Bastille prison in Paris. As Dauger was again moved, an officer of the Bastille witnessed that the prisoner wore “a mask of black velvet”. It was in the Bastille that the prisoner died in November of 1703, never having been seen without the mask.
What little is known about the historical Man in the Iron Mask is based mainly on correspondence between Saint-Mars and his superiors in Paris. Some 800 documents were discovered in 2015 that indicated that Saint-Mars was, indeed, the lifetime jailer of Dauger and had been diverting for his own use the money provided by the king for his care. This could be an explanation of why Saint-Mars always took the prisoner with him to his new assignments. The documents also provided a description of the cell used by the masked prisoner, which contained only a sleeping mat, but no luxuries, as was previously thought.
The Man in the Iron Mask became a well-known character through the French author Alexandre Dumas in the late 1840s; a section in one of his Muskateer novels featured The Man in the Iron Mask. In it, the man is forced to wear an iron mask, and is portrayed as Louis XIV’s identical twin.
The rumors had already been going on for years. Voltaire claimed that the prisoner was a son of Anne of Austria and Cardinal Mazarin, and was therefore an illegitimate half-brother of King Louis XIV. In a 1965 essay, another author claimed that the prisoner was, indeed, Louie’s twin, but was born second, and was kept hidden in order to avoid a dispute over who would ascend to the throne.
There were other claims, including that the man was the natural father of Louis XIV; the illegitimate son or grandson of Henry IV; a French General who had angered Louis XIV; the son of Charles II of England; or an Italian diplomat kidnapped by the French; or just a common valet who had fallen from favor.
I remember the 1977 movie that featured Richard Chamberlain and Patrick McGoohan, but missed the more recent 1998 remake with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, and John Malkovich. There is a long list of other appearances in the media by The Man in the Iron Mask, including DuckTales, and an episode of The Simpsons.
I became interested in the French Revolution listening to a history lecture by the travel guru Rick Steves. He referred to the Reign of Terror as having a test for patriotism during the French Revolution. Wanting to know more, I was soon swamped by descriptions of the Revolutionary Enlightenment, the storming of the Bastille, the various governing bodies and constitutions, the horrors of recurring persecutions, the shifting values of the politicians, and some of the individuals involved, all occurring in the decade after 1789.
I’m going to write about that decade for the next few blogs because I find a lot of similarities between what was happening then and what is happening now in the political and social climate of America. We can, again, see history repeating itself.
I was in a ZOOM meeting yesterday that featured a question-and-answer session with David Morrell. He lives in Santa Fe and most of you probably don’t recognize his name, but every one of you know the name of his first book’s main character – John Rambo.
That’s how he’s usually introduced, and many of the questions in a typical Q&A with him will center around the Rambo movies and how “Rambo” got into the Oxford American Dictionary (I just looked it up). But David Morrell is so much more. First Blood (Rambo #1) was only the beginning of a forty-year career (so far; he’s currently working on his first Western) that has included more than twenty major novels, movie novelizations (including Rambo #2 and #3), a TV miniseries (The Brotherhood of the Rose), and countless other short stories, reviews, and nonfiction books.
His most recent work includes a three-book set of detective/mysteries involving Thomas DeQuincy (a real person who became famous for exposing his own opium addiction), all set in 1850s England. I’ve read the three and the stories are enthralling and mysterious, as well as being incredibly interesting. He writes well enough that I feel like I’m walking the dirty smelly fog-laden streets of Old London and need to clean my shoes.
For you writers, read his Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing, published by Writer’s Digest in 2002.
The Q&A felt like a conversation with a simple, straightforward, smart, comfortable, and genuine guy who loves to talk. He packed his interview with a wealth of experience, advice, and wisdom. I could have listened to him for another couple of hours.
I like to read about writers as much as I like to read their books, sometimes more. My list so far includes Ernest Hemingway, Louis L’Amour, Jack London, Harper Lee, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote, Larry McMurtry, John Steinbeck, Robert Ruark, Tony Hillerman, Willa Cather, Norah Ephron, Anne Lamont, and Stephen King.
It's fascinating to hear about their childhoods, the teen years, their education, jobs and families, what inspired them to become writers, and especially how hard they had to work at it. They are all people of grit and determination, and I’ve found none that didn’t have to sacrifice to reach their goals.
David Morrell’s father was killed in WWII; David never knew him. After the war, his mother couldn’t support the two of them, so he was placed in an orphanage and, later, with a Mennonite farm family. His mother eventually remarried and he was brought back into the home, but the husband didn’t like children. He was also abusive, so David recounts plumping up his pillow under his sheets to look like he was asleep and then hiding under his bed for protection. He told himself stories to bring on sleep. He was in a gang as a teenager and was declared worthless by his school principal. Everyone was astounded when he got interested in being a writer and went on to get a doctorate in English literature.
This is not to say that every well-known writer had a terrible childhood, nor that anyone who aspires to be a successful writer has to experience major traumas, nor that they have to be well-schooled in literature. Or that they have to be excessively quirky, unusual, or gifted with talent. Yes, there are writers who are a little strange, like the guy who rented a small office with no windows, put on a suit every day, left his house and family, went to the room, took off all his clothes, and wrote naked all day long. Promptly at five, he’d put his suit back on and go home.
Or, the writer who grew up with dysfunctional and mentally ill, alcoholic parents, traveled the world, became internationally recognized for his newspaper columns, repeatedly cheated on his wife, stayed more drunk than sober, and then died when he was fifty from a liver that had turned to mush.
Or the writer who became internationally famous for her first book and never wrote another.
David Morrell always asks two questions at the beginning of his writing classes: why people want to write, and why people want to be writers. The surface answers have to do with wealth, fame, creativity, freedom, and such, but Morrell would claim that great writers become writers because they have to—that there is something inside of them that has to get out, that demands to get out, some bare necessity of survival that overwhelms them to communicate, to explain, to teach, to demonstrate, to elucidate and articulate for other people what’s going on inside them.
It’s a complex question and typically has complex answers.
I’m not a great writer and certainly not one who knows the real me well enough to tell you all the reasons why I want to write novels. I do appreciate the honesty involved because it does, indeed, reveal what’s inside of me. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not, but it’s always interesting finding out.
Writing something meaningful involves a lot of work and a good, working knowledge of writing craft, and when it all comes together in the right place and right time, it feels almost like magic. I will sometimes write a paragraph that is spot on, says exactly what I wanted to say, says it in an interesting and enlightened way, with the right words, has rhythm, pace, and reads easily, and causes sympathetic feelings in the reader; at the end of the paragraph, they feel my emotions as if they were their emotions.
It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I feel more than just good—it is a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment, and delight, and that's one of the reasons I write.
From 1936 to 1940, John Steinbeck published Of Mice and Men, The Long Valley (a collection of short stories), Their Blood is Strong (a compilation of newspaper articles), and The Grapes of Wrath; he witnessed a long-running New York theater production of Of Mice and Men, as well as the Hollywood versions of that novel and The Grapes of Wrath; he traveled and did research for the nonfiction Sea of Cortez; and he scripted and helped produce a documentary film, The Forgotten Village (a story about a family in Mexico).
For those writers reading this, consider my efforts for my latest Mogi Franklin mystery.
I toured the Hotel Castaneda in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in December of 2014. The hotel was built by the AT&SF Railway in 1898 and was the first trackside Fred Harvey Hotel, managed by Fred Harvey, the famous restauranteur who established very successful hotels at 80 different locations in America, making them the first national hotel chain. The eateries at each hotel had excellent dishes, fresh coffee, and wonderful pies and cakes, all served by a bevy of young, single women known as Harvey Girls. There was a movie about them made in 1944, starring Judy Garland.
The hotel and restaurant in Las Vegas were very successful, but fell on hard times after the WWII, and have been closed for seventy years. It was purchased in 2014, remodeled beginning in 2018, and reopened in 2019. It is a fabulous commercial center that houses the restored Fred Harvey dining rooms, hotel rooms, a number of in-house condos for purchase, and commercial shops. It is a star attraction of New Mexico. Check out castanedahotel.org.
Seeing the hotel in its unimproved state, I thought of a story that had Jennifer Franklin as a high school summer intern with a college architectural assessment group, Mogi Franklin as a non-intern who shows up to help with databases, a bank robbery in 1943, troop trains, soldiers in WWII, a ghost that haunted the hotel, a locked trunk from 1943 in the attic, and a reunion of Harvey Girls. The story was centered around a Harvey Girl who had committed suicide.
I was working on other books, so I didn’t get around to writing a first draft until November of 2017. It was titled Death on the Tracks, and the manuscript was 60 pages and 23079 words long. It wasn’t very good and it was too short (the other Mogi books are about 90 pages and 40,000 words; when the books are converted to paperback size, they have about 180 pages).
The final draft was ready in May of 2018, was titled Death Train, and was 112 pages. I did not like it at all, could not see a way of revising it, so I shelved it in long term storage.
Given COVID 2020 last spring, I resurrected the story, changed a number of things, and produced a new draft in April of 2020. It was titled The Lady in Black, and had 112 pages. I thought I had improved it, but didn’t feel that it was comparable to the other Mogi books. I shelved it again.
In September, under the influence of Teddy’s War, which was published in June, I was inspired to rewrite the story. I added more WWII experiences and context, changed the characters, and changed the mystery, as well as the clues to solving it. I produced a revised draft in September that was titled The Lady in Black, and had 108 pages. It was definitely getting better, the WWII emphasis making the difference.
A couple of major iterations later, I produced a final draft and gave it to my editor on December 30th, 2020.
She made some great corrections and rewrites, had several suggestions, and then sent me her revisions last week. After doing what she told me, it is now titled War Train, and has 77 pages and 39916 words. I like it a lot and so does she. It will now be reviewed by the senior editor at my publishing house, Terra Nova Books, in Santa Fe. It will have a cover created, be converted to a book-appropriate format, be registered with the Library of Congress, and then be published in, maybe, three or four months. It is the tenth book in the Mogi Franklin Mystery Series, and my thirteenth novel.
Along this whole process, I put into the story and then took out: a murder; a torn piece of paper that had the ultimate clue to the mystery; a visit to the Harvey House Museum in Belen, New Mexico; an interview with a Harvey Girl; a ghost of a woman dressed in black; the surveillance of Mogi and Jennifer by a hidden internet camera planted by a bad guy from Ohio; a stolen bible; and a flashback to a soldier during WWII who was in Czechoslovakia.
I put into the story and kept: handwritten letters from two WWII soldiers while in Europe; the clues needed to solve the mystery (hidden in the letters); a story about the Combat Engineers during WWII; a Prisoner of War camp; a bad guy from Trenton, New Jersey; and secret tunnels under the hotel.
Having now sent in my final effort, it’s been about six or so years that I’ve had this book under some level of work.
I’m now taking time to read John Steinbeck’s notes that he kept while writing The Grapes of Wrath. It took him four months to write a book that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and led him to win a Nobel Prize in 1962. He wrote everything using a #2 pencil.
Maybe I should get a faster computer?
My becoming a writer had a lot to do with my growing up a reader.
I’ve read a great deal of reading novels, but there are a few fiction books that are my favorites. The Jack London stories The Call of the Wild, and White Fang; the Hardy Boy series; the Sherlock Holmes stories; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; The Green Hills of Africa, by Ernest Hemingway; A Separate Peace by John Knowles that I read in high school; The Lord of the Rings, by Tolkien that I read at least once a year in college; Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry; and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce, which I read for the first time three years ago and have read twice since.
But The Old Man and the Boy, by Robert Ruark may be my number one. I read it in Junior High and probably have re-read it a dozen times. I’ve given it as a gift to several people, and will likely do so for my grandchildren. It is a book steeped in good sense, good education, respectability, honor, courage, humor, boyhood adventures, and full of poignant moments associated with growing up.
Robert Ruark grew up on the coast of North Carolina. As a young boy, his parent’s difficult marriage had him living for much of the time with his maternal grandfather, Captain Ned Adkins. Captain Adkins was many things, including being a pilot for ships that sailed the channels and shoals of the Atlantic coast near Wilmington. Ruark was a loner, but a gifted one, and he spent every hour he could fishing and hunting in the coastal country, under the tutelage of the Old Man, Captain Adkins.
After graduating high school, he enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, at age 15. He did not earn a degree in journalism but decided on it as his career. In the 1930s, he spent time in the US Merchant Marine, worked for small newspapers, then moved to Washington, D.C. in 1936 and was a copy boy for the Washington Daily News; a few months later, he was the paper’s top sports reporter. During WWII, he was commissioned an ensign in the Navy, and served ten months as a gunnery officer on ships running the convoys across the Atlantic and Mediterranean. After the war, he wrote columns for The New York Times, plus had articles in the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire and other popular magazines.
Then he went on a safari in Africa. He spent three months with legendary hunters, guides, and trackers in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. When he came back, he was firmly in love with Africa and would go on to become one of its most famous visitors. He became famous by writing Horn of the Hunter, Uhuru, and Something of Value, in the early 1950s, all based on his being in Africa, describing its past and present, and caring about what happened to it.
He became well-known when he began writing a series of stories in 1953 for Field & Stream magazine, entitled The Old Man and the Boy. The stories were mostly autobiographical, though technically fiction, the grandfather of the book being a combination of Captain Adkins and his paternal grandfather, Hanson Kelly Ruark. A collection of those stories came out under the same name in 1957. He would follow it in 1961 with a companion book titled The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older, which has similar stories that follow Robert after the Old Man’s death. Robert Ruark died in 1965 from liver problems brought on by too much alcohol.
I didn’t grow up on the coast of North Carolina, but I had a vast open country in the north Panhandle of Texas, where we could shoot rats at the city dump, go after prairie dogs outside of town, hunt rabbits along the riverbed of the Canadian River, and practice archery at the local archery range. As Boy Scouts, we went to Jim’s Lake and other hidden spots for camping.
Fishing was a little more difficult, but if we caught anything, we’d have to clean it, so there was a tradeoff. We always had the latest issues of Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Herter’s catalogue, and copies of Hemingway’s Africa stories. Our rifles hung on the wall in our bedroom (one room with three single beds shored up with 2x4s) and I fletched my own arrows (put the feathers on) because we couldn’t afford the finished ones.
When I read Ruark’s stories of hunting and fishing, all under the wisdom of the Old Man, I thought it could be me, which made the stories a whole lot more interesting.
The important thing is that the stories drilled into me that true hunters obey the laws, help maintain the wildlife and each other, respect everyone no matter their color or social class, have high regard for honor, courage, and old men, and gave me the model of how granddads loved their grandchildren enough to help orchestrate the kind of world their grandchildren should live in.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.