In this blast-from-the-past interview with Lucy Pireel in her Author Spotlight blog, I discuss several facets of authoring and how I handle them. Click. Read. Enjoy.
As many already know, From Turkey Creek – A Memoir is a long-term work in progress. It is my childhood memoir of growing up at the most remote, fun, and wacky place in the world: Turkey Creek, in Humphreys County, Tennessee. This is a short, transitional chapter I wrote, which describes the “general stores” that dotted the countryside near Turkey Creek back in the day.
ON COUNTRY STORES
Nearly every dirt road out in the country had a general store. Within an eight-mile radius of Turkey Creek, there was Nolan Sulley Grocery, Thomas Freeland Grocery, George Harris Grocery, Leonard Barnes Grocery, Clyde Rose Grocery, Harold Smith Grocery, Dudley Jones Grocery, and William Covington Grocery. Usually named for their retiree owners, these rural mom-and-pop institutions were the places where good country folk met, talked politics, and engaged in long, serious talks about the lack or overabundance of rain. Women bought what they needed and left; the men stayed and gossiped.
I hope everyone had a great Halloween and is enjoying this creepy fall weather.
I’ve been involved with several projects as of late, one of which is more ghost hunting and paranormal investigation. If you write books about ghosts and the paranormal, you need to live the part. Right? I’ve been to several places over the past year, most notably The Thomas House in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Why there? Why so many times? That’s because it’s one of those places where you will always be guaranteed action. I like action, lots of action. With its sordid past, the place stays active around the clock, every day. It’s also a short drive for me, the overnight room rates are cheap, the food is great, and the place makes an excellent getaway for reading, writing, or just relaxing and rebooting the old mind. It should come as no surprise that I am including The Thomas House in the sequel to Ghostly Cries From Dixie, which I am currently working on.
The sequel, still unnamed but using “MORE Ghostly Cries From Dixie” as its working title, will be released in the spring of 2015. As was the case with its predecessor, it will be a compilation of weird and ghostly tales from the South. Sound easy? Given the South’s reputation for haunted places and campfire tales, one would think it easy to find plenty stories for the book. Not so. Finding ghost stories for inclusion in a book is one the hardest projects I’ve ever worked on. The story needs to be rich enough in history to create a backdrop and backstory, yet creepy enough to be consistent with the book’s theme. Well-grounded ghost stories, especially those from the South, contain not only spooky elements, but also a strong sense of place.
During my search for bookworthy ghost stories from the South, I kept finding stories from the Natchez Trace, a footpath through the Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee wilderness back in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Apparently, some of the early travelers along the old path, who never made it home, are still wandering up and down the trail or lurking in the nearby woods after more than 200 years. There were a few Native American attacks, a couple disease scares, and a handful of natural deaths, but most of those who died on the Natchez Trace were murdered by outlaws and bandits. Money was not always the motive. Some “land pirates,” such as the Harp Brothers, killed people just for the sake of killing. They thought it was fun. The Natchez Trace is full of history, outlaw stories, and ghosts. So, guess what? In addition to the “Ghostly Cries From Dixie” sequel, I am also writing a book about the infamous ghosts and bandits of the Natchez Trace. Look for it in the summer of 2015.
Where possible, write in the active voice. The active voice occurs when the subject PERFORMS an action; for instance, “A tornado toppled Uncle Frank’s barn.” In contrast to the active voice, the passive voice occurs when the subject RECEIVES an action; for instance, “Uncle Frank’s barn was toppled by a tornado.”
The example written in the active voice is shorter (by two words), simpler, and more on point. It reads better, and it moves the scene at a faster pace.
Is it “wrong” to write in the passive voice? Not always. While it doesn’t read as well as the active voice, and it often necessitates more words to convey a thought, the passive voice still isn’t literary taboo–you just need to watch it carefully. Is the passive voice ever the “correct” approach to a piece? Yes. It’s good for achieving effect and emphasis; for example, to make sure that a particular word receives the greatest emphasis (by forcing it to the end of the sentence).
When it doubt, go with the active voice. It tightens your prose, gives it more punch, and moves your story along.
Writing tip #1: Avoid verb forms of “to be,” if possible. Am, is, are, was, and were –the most useless words in a writer’s toolbox. Why? Because 1) they usually aren’t necessary for conveying your message, and 2) removing them usually renders their accompanying qualifiers and modifiers unnecessary. When you find these potential problem-words, try removing them and rewording the sentence. You’ll often end up with a shorter, punchier sentence. Say twice as much, but with fewer words.
Writing Tip #2: To emphasize a word, place it at the beginning or end of a sentence. That’s where words stand out the most. Words or phrases of little importance should be placed mid-sentence, if possible. Also, place a paragraph’s most important sentence at the beginning or the end of the paragraph. When writing, don’t forget about emphasis.
Writing Tip #3: Go on a “which hunt.” Read this sentence: “The car, which had big wheels and a loud, roaring muffler, rolled past me.” Horrible. Now, let’s try this: “The big-wheeled car roared past me.” See there? By removing that nasty “which,” and thinking creatively, I cut more than half the sentence–eight words–without distorting its meaning. If you can remove “which” without distorting a sentence’s meaning, then remove it! If outright removal won’t work, consider using “that” instead of “which.” That uses fewer letters, and it rarely requires a preceding comma, unlike that nasty old which.