Angels at Sunset by Tom Mach
Angels at Sunset by Tom Mach
This is a difficult question to answer because it’s a combination of a personal emotion for the author as well as something that will capture the reader’s imagingation. For a nonfiction book (especially a how-to) it’s easy enough to come up with something. If you want to teach others how to build your own house, titles such as “How to Build Your Dreamhouse” or “Housebuilding Made Simple” or “Building a House for Dummies” come to mind.
For novels, however, it’s a different situation entirely. If you’re already a highly visible novelist such as Stephen King, it doesn’t matter what you call it, although I don’t believe Mr. King would slap on any old title. It would have to be one with which he felt comfortable. I can tell you how I selected the three titles for each of my three books in a trilogy. With “Sissy!” I heard the name of a child calling out for her guardian angel. With “All Parts Together” I used a portion of a Walt Whiman line (“Sure as life holds all parts together, death holds all parts together). For my third book, I used “Angels at Sunset” originally because I felt it had a beautiful feel to it. I really didn’t think much about the reader at all. After all, Sissy is the name of a girl, All Parts Together would only be familiar to someone who was intimate with Whitman’s poems, and Angels at Sunset sounds like a story about angels. If you really need to let people know what your story is about, you can put a short subtitle under your mail title, such as “Dumbo”—“Sometimes an elephant can fly”
I guess if your only intention is to make shoppers stop to stare at your title, you can put something sexy like “Who is Wearing Jane’s Panties?” or “Jim Unzipped” or “I Was Shocked To Find My Was a Man.” But if your book doesn’t deliver on its promise, you’re sunk.
I think maybe the choice of title isn’t as important as the combination of the title and the graphics that go with it. I think it’s better to have a so-so title with great graphics and eye appeal than to have a fantastic title with extremely poor graphics. I do all of my own covers and the one I loved the best was the cover I did not “Angels at Sunset.” The title is quite visible ten feet away—and who can no like the natural beauty of a Kansas sunset? And I think there’s a connection between the word “Angels” and the woman standing in the field holding a “Votes for Women” sign.
If you want to get a copy of “Angels at Sunset” simply call toll-free at 1-800-BOOK-LOG The price is only $16.95. (I think that’s less that the price of three lattes at Starbucks.)
I have no magic formula on how to come up with the best title for your novel. In all of my fiction, I always had the title in mind before I wrote the book, but that’s how I did it. This might not work for you.
All I can say is that a title is in the eye of the beholder (or is it “beauty:?)
Please visit my OTHER blog. www.TomMach.com I am sure you will enjoy that one as well.
No, not those three babies in the above photo. I’m talking about sending you three $2 bills. (SIX BUCKS) This money will be mailed absolutely FREE to you if you answer the following question correctly: In ANGELS AT SUNSET by Tom Mach, what was the name of Jessica’s dog in 1895? Contest closes on 3/31/2012.
One way to win this contest is to borrow someone’s copy of “Angels at Sunset” Another way is to buy a copy. If you want to do the latter, simply whip out your credit card and call toll-free 1-800-BOOKLOG tp get your own copy.
First, let me give you the distinction between a “period” novel and a true “historical novel”. A period novel is one in which the plot occurs with a historical background but few, if any, accurate historical events occuring. Examples would be historical romances and books like “Gone With the Wind.” A historical novel, on the other hand, delves deeply into the history of the times, uses historical figures who sometimes interact with fictional characters, and which—because of the accuracy of the history involved in the novel—can actually be used as an additional tool in studying true history. Such has been my experience with Sissy, my first novel, since a KU professor invited me to her history class to discuss an element of the Civil War covered in my extremely well-researched novel.
Below is an example from my latest novel, Angels at Sunset, in which Jessica Chandler Radford (a fictional character) meets Victorial Woodhull (a historical figure) for the first time. Victoria, by the way, was the first woman to ever run for President and this occured in 1872. Here is that sample chapter—
Having settled in New York City two months earlier, Jessica visits Victoria Woodhull, who now lives in a brownstone boardinghouse on 23rd Street. Jessica wonders why this woman no longer lives at her mansion on 38th Street. Perhaps, Jessica concludes, Victoria needed to cut back on expenses in order to sustain circulation of her newspaper.
After knocking twice on the door, she is met by a man who identifies himself as Colonel James Blood, Victoria’s husband. The colonel is a tall man with unkempt brown hair, short beard, and neatly clipped side-whiskers. Jessica had read somewhere that Victoria insisted on keeping her surname “Woodhull” after their marriage.
“Oh,” he says matter-of-factly, “you are a bit early for your séance. Mrs. Woodward is not expecting you for another hour.”
Jessica frowns. “Séance? What—?”
“Please forgive me,” he says, blushing, “you must be Mrs. Chandler, her one o’clock appointment. My error.”
“But I am not here for any séance.”
“I understand, but if you will kindly wait for her in the parlor, she will be down shortly.”
He abruptly departs, and Jessica makes her way to the parlor, where the afternoon sun streams through a narrow window, illuminating a bookcase on one wall. Jessica strolls about the room, recalling how fortuitous it was for her to have visited with Susan B. Anthony recently. Miss Anthony told her that Victoria had been looking for an able assistant to do the typesetting for future issues of her popular newspaper—at the very time Jessica had been searching for employment.
“As far as Mrs. Woodhull is concerned,” Miss Anthony had mentioned, “I think she can be valuable to the cause of suffrage, although I do not agree with other positions she holds.”
Jessica was about to ask her what she meant by this, but Miss Anthony had changed the direction of the conversation. “Jessica, you need not be concerned about the survival of Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. Unlike our suffragist publication, The Revolution, which ceased to exist due to lack of financial support, Mrs. Woodhull, because of her experience as a Wall Street stockbroker, as well as her popularity as a lecturer, will be able to meet its obligations.”
Jessica has always admired Mrs. Woodhull for her political influence. Last year, this woman gave an impressive presentation to the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives. She proclaimed to the committee that the 14th and 15th Amendments already gave women the right to vote because they clearly stated that the right to vote shall not be denied to any citizen—and women were citizens. It was perfectly logical.
“Mrs. Stanton and I wholeheartedly agree with that position,” Miss Anthony had said. “Rather than try to push through another amendment, I think women ought to vote—then let the courts try to prove that we are not citizens and thus, cannot vote.”
“We could also move to Wyoming,” Jessica countered in jest, realizing that only two years earlier that state had become the first to allow women the right to vote.
Jessica scours the books on the library shelves and is surprised to find volumes on spiritualism, astrology, and witchcraft, along with books on history, mathematics, and astronomy.
“Jessica?” a woman calls out to her from the doorway. “I am thrilled that you came.”
Jessica returns a book to the shelf and turns to see an attractive woman with light brown hair and narrow, intelligent eyes. She is simply dressed in a blue broadcloth dress and holds a file of papers with one hand. She extends her other hand in greeting. Her thin lips curve into a gracious smile. “Hello, I’m Victoria Woodhull.”
“Hello, it is wonderful to finally meet you. The New York Herald was very supportive of you in 1870 when you announced your candidacy for U.S. President. How wonderful!”
“Well, you have to realize my announcement came at the right time. I saw Mrs. Stanton’s National Women’s Suffrage Association was at odds with Henry Ward Beecher’s American Suffrage Association. All I did was to declare myself independent of either faction.”
Victoria invites Jessica to sit on the davenport with her. “Much has changed since that day. The press began to vilify me. But I am not surprised at their rudeness; in fact, I rather expected it. What probably frightens these editors is the fact that there is no law preventing a woman from running for the highest office in the land. Yet we are not permitted to vote.”
“The negative Bingham report must have been a blow for you,” Jessica says, recalling how Representative Bingham, the Judiciary Committee Chairman, refused to interpret the 14th and 15th Amendments as granting women’s suffrage.
“Yes, it was discouraging, but it also gave me the impetus to push on. My feelings about men are quite simple—women have more wit and can arrive at sound conclusions more readily than men. That makes us more suitable for employment as well as for political office.”
On a badly chipped walnut table, Victoria spreads out the newspapers she has been holding. “My sister Tennie and I started this enterprise two years ago. Since then, it has grown tremendously, and we have had a large number of contributors. Here are a couple of previous issues of Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly. Each edition consists of 16 pages of well-written and carefully edited copy. I presently have people in the business office sorting through newspaper clippings and reading article submissions from various writers.”
“I would be pleased to write for your paper as well.”
“Well, yes, but I have a greater need for someone with your printing experience. It is fortunate you were available on such short notice to take over for our typographer who will be leaving for another position. I have been hoping I could soon find a replacement for her.”
“Mrs. Woodhull, I feel fortunate to assist in the printing of your periodical for the cause of women’s suffrage.”
“Actually, I have been promoting more than just the women’s suffrage movement. For one thing, girls ought to be given the same education as boys so women will eventually become self-sufficient. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”
Jessica reviews several pages of the Weekly. “I see that you include installments of fiction as well as humor and poetry.”
“We try to make our paper appeal to a wide audience.”
As Jessica examines more pages, Victoria adds, “I have stirred much controversy with this paper. For instance, I consider marriage, as it exists, a form of slavery. Marriage is actually nothing more than a legal tie to be maintained and perpetuated by force if necessary. I suppose that is why I continue to advocate free love in its highest and purest form. It was, in fact, the sharp rebuke I received for my speech on free love last year that caused my husband and me to leave my palatial mansion on 38th Street.”
Jessica looks up while trying to conceal her puzzled expression. Free love? Who is this radical woman?
Victoria’s sharp eyes focus on her in a disarming, circumspect way. “Do you still want to be involved in printing issues of Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly? Or have I now shocked you into insensibility?”
“I suppose nothing should shock me any more,” Jessica says, thinking of the men she had seen horribly wounded and disfigured during the war between the North and the South less than a decade ago.
“That is good. Perhaps, once I am officially nominated, you might be of assistance to me in my presidential campaign. You do intend to be present at the National Women’s Suffrage Association convention next month, do you not?”
“Yes, of course. I sent Mrs. Stanton a telegram informing her I would be there.”
“Good, because I intend to compose one of the greatest acceptance speeches ever written.” Noting Jessica’s apparent indifference, she focuses her attention on practical matters of Jessica’s new position.
After signing all of the necessary paperwork, Jessica thanks her for the opportunity.
“Very well then,” Victoria says, escorting her to the front door. “Incidentally, my Greek guardian told me you would be the right person for this type of work.”
“Demosthenes, my Greek guardian. Sometimes he comes and sits on my couch. He may write on a scroll and then dictate something prophetic to me. In fact, he encouraged me to speak to the Judiciary Committee last year.”
Jessica cannot believe what she is hearing. This otherwise intelligent woman believes that some ancient Greek orator is directing her life. Jessica, preparing to leave, places her hand on the doorknob.
Victoria leans against the door to prevent her from leaving. “I am not surprised that you don’t believe in spiritualism. Most people don’t. Yet the Bible speaks about angels, and most people don’t seem to question the idea of seeing angels.”
“I do,” Jessica said instinctively. This woman is worse than Nellie.
“Again I am not dismayed. You have to be in the spirit in order to see a spirit.”
Jessica frowns as the silence that follows seems like an impenetrable wall between them. “Colonel Blood was correct then, Mrs. Woodhull. You are going to give a séance today.”
“Yes, this will be my first séance in a long while, but this client is a rather wealthy woman and I could not refuse her.”
“You have done this before?”
Victoria moves away from the door and clasps her hands together. “Why, of course! For years my sister Tennie and I have been spiritualists who have tried to help people by diagnosing their illnesses, showing them what their higher aspirations should be, and even pointing out obstacles to their future. However, these days I am too preoccupied with more pressing matters. So conducting this séance is a rarity for me.”
“Well,” Jessica says, shrugging, “I will stop at your business office and pick up the necessary materials for your newspaper. I should have the edition ready to print this Friday.”
“I just know you will.”
How do you know that? Jessica wonders as she leaves. Did Demosthenes tell you?
What do the following events have in common?
Answer: These events are covered in an extremely well-researched historical novel, Angels at Sunset about a woman who relives these episodes as she reads a biography about herself in 1920. Little does she know she is being followed by a revengeful man who is intent on killing her and her family. Who is he, why is he following her, and why does he want her dead? (The answers lie in this book, which you will find hard to put down.)
The novel begins in 1920 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Jessica Radford listens to the very first radio broadcast on KDKA, which broadcasts the presidential election returns. Because of the passage of the 19th Amendment, this is the first time she has ever voted. Many years earlier, she advocated against slavery and pushed for equal rights of the freed slaves. Later, she joined Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and other suffragists—not only for the right to vote but for other rights women ought to have, such as the right to speak in public, the right to have a profession, the right to have property and the right to her own children if she got divorced, as well as many, many other rights denied to them simply because they were women. It was a hard-fought struggle and Jessica relives it as she reads her a biography that her daughter had written about her. AND—all the while, unknown to her, a man is planning to kill her. How will it end?
Best-selling mystery author Nancy Pickard said that "Tom Mach brings the accuracy of a historian and the insight of a novelist to his dramatic and entertating story." The Midwest Book Review says that "Angels at Sunset is an excellent pick for community historical fiction collections."
To get an author-signed copy of ANGELS AT SUNSET send $16.95 plus $3.05 postage to: Hill Song Press, POB 486, Lawrence, KS 66044. For a non-signed copy you can either buy through Amazon.com or order it by calling 1-800-BOOKLOG.
(an excerpt from the blog: http://novelreflections.net/guest-post-tom-mach
Some people mistakenly believe that writing a good short story is easy because it is smaller than a novel in length. Not true. It’s not easy. That would be like saying that it’s easier to create a painting on an 8 by 12 inch canvas than on a 3 foot by 5 foot canvas. A writer has to apply his craft with the same measure of care with a short story than a novel—and in some cases he has to be even more cautious with the short story because each word in description and dialogue must be carefully chosen.
I like to think of a short story as one or two scenes in which something happens to the character or characters in these scenes. Maybe the character is faced with a decision—and will it be the right one? Or the character has trepidation that something terrible will happen. Perhaps the character learns an important lesson. Or, in the case of “The Hen Party,” a story from my collection called Stories to Enjoy, a murder case is finally solved. But the point is that there is a simple theme in short stories and finding that theme and working it throughout the story is the main thing for a short story writer to consider.
But where to start? Ideas for stories abound everywhere. Perhaps you have met someone over coffee who shared with you an interesting experience. Or maybe you read something intriguing in the newspaper or in a book. Ideas are more prevalent than raindrops. It helps if you can take notes and journal information so that later you can review this and come up with an idea for a short story.
A short story writer needs to start her story with some sort of action—be it a decision to be made, a surprising finding, the beginnings of a conflict, or any of a number of other possibilities. There is neither the time, space, nor patience (from the reader’s perspective) to begin a story with lengthy description of a scene or a character. The reader needs to be drawn immediately into the story itself.
A complex plot has no place in a short story. An author should be able to state his plot in a simple sentence. For instance, in “The Crossword Puzzle Murders” taken from Stories to Enjoy, a one-sentence description would be:
Detective Pulaski, baffled by a clue left at the body of each victim of a mass murderer—a current edition of the newspaper—doesn’t realize who the murderer is until it’s too late.
Any distinguishing feature of a character in a short story should be brought out as soon as possible. But don’t go into needless detail about appearance unless it is germane to the plot. In “The Lead Bird,” Robin McIntyre is described as follows:
Here she was, a 34-year-old single woman who loved birds so much she not only kept a pet canary but belonged to a bird-watching society.
A ploy that I use in most of my short stories is to come up with a bombshell ending. One of my favorite short story authors is O. Henry, who always manages to have a surprising twist to the story. He’s an author I want to emulate.
Above material is copyrighted © Tom Mach 2012
I’ve researched different writers about the process of writing a novel, and while they tend to give different perspectives, they also show two things in common: (1) the characters must appear to be flesh-and-blood real to the reader, and (2) there must be a reasonable structure to the novel. Since characterization requires a details discussion by and of itself, let me first talk about structure.
It may be obvious to you if I say that a good novel has a beginning, a middle, and an end. What is less obvious is what do we expect to happen in those three major sections? The beginning of the novel has to do some highly important tasks. It must create an interesting beginning where the character is faced with a significant problem. This character has a goal of some sort—perhaps avoiding getting caught, trying to solve a crime, wanting something someone else has, trying to prevent someone from taking what she has, etc. As that character strives to attain that goal, she begins to run into an obstacle. This beginning part of the novel has to do a good job in making the problem real and in making you either want the character to succeed or (if the character is a villain) to be deeply interested in learning how the character will eventually be caught.
The middle part of the novel now gets into the failed attempts of the main character to attain her goal or solve her problem. When she tries one thing, something worse happens. When she tries another, something even more challenging happens. She finally comes to what some authors refer to either a “dark moment” or “climax” when things look their darkest and something has to change. She needs to solve that problem or attain that goal somehow. But she might do this by deciding that she doesn’t want that goal or doesn’t want that problem solved. It’s not an instantaneous revelation where she wakes up and decides this. Circumstances evolve that convince her to make a change in direction.
All the while, the character is changing his perspective. The end of the novel shows how the character has changed and how a new course of action is now possible. I like to think of this as the “resolution” of the novel. While some loose things have to be tidied up, the character doesn’t necessarily have a picture-perfect happy ending. In fact, you, as a novelist, don’t want to give her a picture-perfect ending. But at least give her hope. I’ve done this in my novel All Parts Together where my main character, Jessica, is devastated because she’s lost the true love of her life, her book won’t be published, her hero (Abraham Lincoln) was assassinated, and there doesn’t seem to be much in life that will interest her. But there’s a knock on door. A lady wants to invited her to an important meeting. This will mark a new departure in Jessica’s life, and that departure will be fully revealed in my third novel in the series.
Character development, in my opinion, is as important as plot development. When we think of the great novels of the past that we’ve read, we think of the characters. For instance, anyone who has ever read Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is so familiar with Scarlet O’Hara she has become a real person. You experience her foolish pain in trying to capture Ashley Wilkes’ heart only to find her true love, Rhett Butler, who ultimately leaves her. Creating a character is not simply giving that character a name and adding a few physical descriptions. You need to get into that person’s heart and soul and look through the eyes of that person and experience the things they experience. You need to know this person’s background and ambitions so well that you could predict how they would react in particular situations. This happened with Susan Stratford, a character is my novel, An Innocent Murdered. Susan is a former nun but lately she’s been bothered by the fact she’s never had a sexual experience in her 46 years of existence and tells her friend Detective Matt Gunnison of her predicament:
"I hope God forgives me for saying this, but as I said, I never had a man before. I know the Catholic Church says it’s a grievous sin unless you’re married, but I don’t see how it could be in my circumstance.”
SometimesI have to myself as being an evil character, such as a President of the U.S. whose sympathies lie with the Russians and whose mission is to become the ruler of the world—as in my futuristic novel, Advent. Here, his Secretary of State, Ben Levin, gives him some disturbing news:
“Mr. President?” It was Levin. His voice was harsh, raspy.
“Ben, can you tell me what the hell is going on? Why didn’t you tell me about the change in plans?”
“Frankly, I learned about a new timetable for the arrival of the material. I thought it’d be too risky to contact you about it, but I did alert Broznov about it. I suspect he informed Volkonich who, in turn, should have alerted al-Fassad about the change in plans.”
Hell! If that was the case, why didn’t Volkonich bother to let him know? Why was he kept toally in the dark?”
“Did you pull off your little ruse?” He hoped Levin would interpret this to mean the cleverly planned deception with the gas canisters.
In that novel, I show the duplicity of the President being amiable to the outside world yet deceitful in his heart. To create him successfully, I had to BE that president as I wrote my novel to make him totally credible. This is a challenge, but it’s worth it, believe me!
Emotion is the glue that binds all good stories and poems together. The problem with emotions is that human beings have a wide range of them—anger, greed, love, sadness, joy, compassion, etc. You name an emotion and chances are you have that emotion somewhere, either waiting to be tapped or in full force most of the time.
As I wrote characters for my short stories and novels, I was amazed at the scope of the emotions many of them brought out. Take Jessica Radford, for instance. She is a 19-year-old woman who comes home to Kansas after spending a year at Carlotta College. She’s attractive but her head is filled with dreams that appear unrealistic in view of the fact that her parents are poor and that her uncle (who provided money for her education) was killed at Shiloh. Oh, did I tell you that this takes place in Lawrence, Kansas in 1862? And that she has an adopted 16-year-old black sister named Nellie who insists that she sees her guardian angel named Sissy? And that on the evening g she returns from college both of her parents are burned alive by border ruffians? With that alone, Jessica has had to experience the emotion of disappointment (she won’t be returning to college), the emotion of frustration in having a sister who believes in angels, and the emotion of rage when learning that her parents had been murdered.
Jessica is a rather complex character, which you will learning in clicking on my other blog at www.tommach.com It is important to separate her goals from her emotions. Jessica is a strong-willed woman who wants everyone to be on an equal playing level. She wants slaves not only to be free but to enjoy equal status with white people. And she doesn’t want men to treat her like a helpless creature but to treat her with the same respect they would treat other men. So her goal is total emancipation and as a result of this goal, she lets out a number of emotional outbursts—her swipe at men who want to treat her like a gentle flower, her frustration at not seeing black slaves treated fairly and with dignity, her anger at politicians who don’t want to give her the right to vote.
But, as I said, Jessica is a complex character. I would say her main emotional traits one of stubbornness, even in the face of opposition. But she also exhibits a tenderness which comes out when finds herself falling in love with a man named Matt Lightfoot and in sympathy with an ex-slave named Tinker. At one time, someone catches her crying but she insists she put a handkerchief to her face because she had something in her eye. She wants sex with a married man but is profoundly guilty when she catches herself having that desire. She laughs at jokes about herself and she professes her humility, such as in the following situation in All Parts Together where she walks with an ex-slave named Tinker through the heart of the destroyed town of Lawrence, Kansas, where Quantrill and his band of over 400 marauders killed 200 innocent men and boys….
“You were right to feel outrage, Tinker,” she says. “Why yesterday some of these rebels heard an infant cry, and they ran into a cornfield, shooting a man dead—with the man’s infant still in his arms. These pigs don’t deserve compassion.”
“Except, Miz Jessica, the Good Book say dat we should—”
“I don’t care what the Good Book says.” She stopped, spun around, and glared at him. “Tinker, this is foolish. Walk next to me. I don’t have any dreaded disease that you have to walk behind me the whole time.”
“I jest don’t feel comfortable walkin’ next to a nice, respectable white lady. But I’ll come up if yah say so, Miz Jessica.”
“I do say so, Tinker.”
There are two points I want to make about conveying emotion through a character. One, the major emotion of the character has to be consistent with who that character really is. You can’t create a serious character and halfway through the book make him or her either a jokester or a carefree individual. Two, your character needs to display some other emotion or emotions on occasion. People don’t walk through life ALWAYS being grumpy or ALWAYS being arrogant or ALWAYS being evil. Matter of fact, this last point bears stressing. Give you evil character some good points. If he is always evil a reader loses interest in this character. In my book Sissy, I had an evil man name Sam Toby who murdered people and despised slaves. But he absolutely loved dogs and would go out his way to assist a helpless puppy.
There are times when your novel dictates that you must have a sexy scene in it but you don’t want to sound like you’re writing porn. I found this to be extremely challenging for me. Many Christian writers use the “closed door” approach, That is, a man and woman are kissing each other passionately and then they retire to the bedroom, usually closing the door behind them, leaving what happens next entirely to your imagination. On the other hand, there are novelists who give you a detailed description of exactly what happens in the bedroom, including naming every vital part of the anatomy several times. To me, this latter kind of novel is a definite turn-off. I am not building a house where I need step-by-step details.The former way of writing such a scene wherein the bedroom door closes shuts off any romance that takes place while they are “doing it.” There surely must be a middle ground where the reader uses some of her imagination but also has enough description so she can get emotionally involved with the characters in that scene.
In all of my adult novels I do have scenes where some sort of physical intimacy is going on. However, being a devout Christian, I don’t want to write with such detailed description that I cause someone to sin, so this is a very difficult area for me personally. My only objective in creating a sexy scene is to make it realistic enough for the reader and to show the raw emotions which stem from such an experience.
I struggled, for instance, on how to describe a scene in my novel An Innocent Murdered, where a 46-year-old former nun named Susan has not only ever had intercourse but she’s never even seen a naked man. After all these years, she yearns for that experience and she asks Matt, a good friend, if he could help satisfy her curiosity.
After he turned to face her, she moved her hands to the front of his legs and gazed at his penis. “It’s quite small, isn’t it?”
He gave a nervous laugh. “Henry shrinks after I take a bath.”
“That’s what I call my pecker. Henry, please meet Susan. Susan, meet Henry.”
“Glad to meet you, Henry,” she said, still crouching as she used her thumb and forefinger to move his flaccid penis up and down like a handshake greeting. She examined the opening to his penis and giggled like a schoolgirl. “It looks like a small mouth.”
“I suppose it does. If I had a marking pen, I could entertain ex-nuns with it by drawing a nose and a couple of eyes and using it as a puppet.”
Her face turned crimson as she stroked his penis while touching his testicles. “I’m sorry, Matt. I’m probably embarrassing you by doing this.”
“No, not all.”
She looked up at him. “From what I’ve read, these testicles create the sperm while the penis ejaculates it into a woman’s vagina to create life. It’s wonderful the way God designed man for procreation. Isn’t it?”
“I can’t argue with that.”
She noticed his penis beginning to grow as she fondled it. “I mean, God produces human life from life. We’re all participants in the act of creation.”
“If feels as if I’m in a religion class right now.”
“Sorry. I can’t help but see God in everything. It’s a shame my parents never talked to me about sex.”
Susan can’t help but let her religion interfere with her desire for sexual intimacy. The scene closes with Susan having doubts as to whether or not she wants to go through with it. (I could have expanded this scene to show Matt entering her and how she moaned until she finally experiences her first orgasm, but I thought it would be better to make the reader guess what happened after she had her doubts.)
In another part of An Innocent Murdered, Matt has a romantic relationship with a woman who gives him a shocking revelation: she’s a lesbian who still likes men….
After they both undressed, she put on a CD that played something by Mozart. “You told me you enjoy classical music. This is his violin concerto.”
“I like it. When I first met Susan I tried to get more familiar with country and western.”
She climbed into bed. “Do you still see her?”
“Off and on,” he said, joining her. “She’s a pleasant woman.”
“When a man says a girl is pleasant it either means she’s not particularly attractive or he hasn’t yet scored with her.”
“I’d certainly like to score with you.”
“I hope you like the woman on top position. I enjoy taking the lead when it comes to sex.”
He grinned. “I like a woman with initiative.”
After fifteen delicious minutes flew by, they climaxed almost at the same time. Matt lay next to her in bed, stroking her hair and feeling her breast.
Heather turned toward him and giggled.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“I hope Cassandra’s not going to be upset when I tell her about we’ve just done.”
“Cassie? What’s she got to do with us?”
“I suppose I should have told you sooner. She and I have been sleeping together for the past five years.”
“What!” he exclaimed, jerking up to a sitting position.
“Relax. Remember my telling you that sometimes a lesbian will make love to a man? This is one of those times.”
Again, I leave it up to the reader to determine what might happen next.
I experience a different sort of challenge in a scene I wrote for my Civil War historical novel, Sissy! In this particular scene, Lazarus, a 15-year-old former black slave who is now a Yankee soldier visits a prostitute named Rose. Lazarus knows people in Nashville hate him because he’s a Yankee and a Negro, and he has second thoughts about being here. When Rose discovers he’s a virgin and is extremely nervous about the situation, she calms him down….
“This your first time?” she asked, stroking his neck.
“Yes, ma’am.” How did she know?
She moved to the edge of the bed and sighed. “There’s always a first time for everything.” Her eyes focused on him with an intensity that made him uneasy. “How old are you, Lazarus?”
He didn’t care to lie anymore. “Fifteen.”
“Fifteen? That’s about the age I was when I lost my virginity. C’mon, sit next to me and relax,” she said, patting the mattress.
He lowered himself next to her, feeling her soft thigh pressing against his. “Why did the other ladies walk away from me, ma’am?”
“Don’t you know?”
“Because I’m colored?”
“Of course, honey. They probably figure you got some kind of disease or you’re a runaway slave or something. They only like to fool around with white men.”
Lazarus’s blood boiled. When will people stop treatin’ him different?
“Know why I didn’t walk away?” she asked, drawing her face close to his.
He wondered about that himself. “Why?”
Just then, Emmett’s voice roared through the closed door. “Listen woman, no nigger Yankees here. Understand?” It sounded as if he were shouting at his wife.
Lazarus felt his pulse thumping inside his arms. Gots to leave. White man angry.
“Get outa here!” Lillian screamed. Then footsteps banging down the steps. An object hitting a downstairs wall.
“I’ll be back, woman!” Emmett shouted just before the outside door slammed like a thunderbolt.
Lazarus’s heart raced. He looked at Rose. She don’ look scared. Maybe it’ll be fine.
Rose, with a smile that seemed forced, ran her fingers over his body. “Good. He’s gone. That Emmett’s a little crazy at times.”
Lazarus took a deep breath. It be quiet now. “Ma’am, you were sayin’ about why you didn’t walk away—”
“Because I know what it’s like when people hate you,” Rose said. “People call me Miss Scarface because that’s the first thing they notice about me.”
Lazarus looked away for a moment. He didn’t want her to think he was staring at her. He knew what it was like for people to judge you by your skin.
“But,” she continued, “I’m still a human being, and I have feelings. It’s too bad people find me disgusting because they don’t like my face.”
Lazarus put his arm around her waist. “I don’t find yah disgustin’, ma’am.”
“Thank you for sayin’ that. Means a lot to me. Sometimes I think for a lady like me to look like I do is probably worse than being colored.”
Lazarus was about to disagree with her when she asked him to lie on his back. “I think you’re ready, Lazarus.” She knelt over him, cupping her breasts with her hands. “These are swollen with milk and they’re tender. So before we start foolin’ around, I want you to promise to be gentle.”
The slave woman he had seen six years ago flashed into his mind.
“I don’ want yah to die, child,” she had said, opening the top of her dress.
No, Lazarus thought, I now fifteen, I be a man now. Need to make love to woman. I be a man.
“It be milk for mah own child, but mah child gone now, so you drink from me.”
Lazarus’s mind darted from thought to thought. Did he want to make love to a woman? Or did he want the love of a woman?
He wanted the love, he reckoned, like the love he got six years ago. If he could only relive that moment in the barn with that woman—a complete stranger, escaping from her master.
“I loves you and wants you to live. Drink, lil’ boy. I gives you love’n food.”
Lazarus closed his eyes, trying to recapture that memory. Forget bein’ a man fer now. Be a boy again. Remember how sick you was? She gave you life. All comin’ back now. The hunger. The cold. Her smile. Her breast. Her words. The warmth of her milk on his lips.
Lazarus looked at Rose. “Ma’am, would it be proper for me to—?”
She frowned. “To what?” A smile formed on her face, and she shook her head in disbelief. “Well, I’ll be! Is that what you want?”
He nodded, embarrassed. This was a stupid request. He shouldn’t have made it. After all, he wasn’t a little baby, and women only nursed babies, didn’t they?
“Well,” she said, the look of surprise still in her eyes, “I guess there’s no harm in it, even though it is a little peculiar.”
“I understand, ma’am. Sorry I asked.”
“Wait. You’d be doin’ me a favor—but promise me you’ll be gentle.”
“I promise, ma’am.”
Rose patted his head as he drew in the warm, white fluid. It was like being nine years old again. In a cold barn, hungry, and the slave woman offering him her breast so he could survive. Her words came back….
“Your momma done get taken back. I wish I could be your momma, honey child.”
Rose pressed him closer to her. “You’re too young to be shootin’ with the men, aren’t you, Lazarus?”
He looked up at her. “I just play the drums, ma’am. But I really wants to fight. If I’m gonna die, I’d like to do it fightin’ rather than drummin’.”
“Truth be told, honey, I’m a Yankee at heart,” she whispered. “I don’t want slaves, cause I’m one myself, in a way. But you’re lucky, Lazarus.”
He looked up at her. “What yah mean by that?”
“Lazarus, you already got some of the Yankees fightin’ for your freedom. I ain’t got nobody fightin’ for mine.”
The fact that Lazarus wants the prostitute to feed him with her breast milk should not be taken out of context. As a child, Lazarus was saved from starvation when a pregnant woman offered him her milk-filled breast so he could live. I had to bring out the details of this in the above scene so the reader could fully comprehend the tragedy of this situation.
I urge you to buy a copy of An Innocent Murdered,to discover ways I had to treat some delicate issues—like the molestation of a child or how the true murderer of the priest tried to seduce a detective by offering him her body.
Sex is one of the most powerful natural forces we know. It can be a beautiful thing, it can reveal our own struggles, and it can show how our emotions can overwhelm us when we participate in the act. It can also make us transform the real beauty of the naked form it into something dirty. As a writer, I don’t mind showing how some misuse the power of their sex to dominate others, but I really would love to show readers the true beauty of a nude human being and the sexual pleasures that God Himself meant for us to enjoy in conjunction with His plan.
Our greatest demise will be the fall of our ability to demonstrate compassion. Compassion is the foundation to love, the unyielding source to fulfill who we are as loving beings, simply the mirrored image of God. Without compassion, the human race will no longer exist, I do believe. As compassionate spirits, we display wholehearted kindness. Every act of kindness shifts the energy and creates awareness, empathy and understanding, rings positivity. How many times have people looked the other way because of fear or ignorance? History is indicative of those consequences. Thanks for sharing your post, nicely written piece, most needed.
Contributed by Caryl Loper
Caryl’s website is www.carylloper.com
Compassion is a difficult emotion to convey in fiction and poetry unless we give specific examples in fiction and the right metaphors in poetry. Dickens had a way of showing compassion by creating scenes that showed a LACK of compassion. We all remember Scrooge in his “Christmas Carol” where Ebeneezer tells the men seeking contributions for the poor and destitute that there are prisons and workhouses and that it’s okay if they die anyway because that will decrease the surplus population. By showing a total lack of concern for the less fortunate Dickens flags readers to the need for compassion far better than if he had talked about it in the abstract.
In my blog “The Little Boy Who Had No Shoes” (http://tommach.com) I show an example of compassion rather than pointing to a lack of it. I do this again in a short story I wrote entitled A Belt Buckle For Camilla (http://amzn.to/tQvOqe) in which a single mother with her little girl will not only be having a humble Christmas Eve meal but the mother won’t be able to buy the belt buckle for her daughter that daddy used to wear. But things change when a compassionate stranger invites the both of them for dinner that evening. (You’ll have to read the story to see how it turns out.) My novel An Innocent Murdered shows how a detective named Matt Gunnison demonstrates genuine sympathy for his friend, a 46-year-old former nun, when she admits she knows virtually nothing about sex, but feels shame in asking him to have intercourse with her, and guilt because of her curiosity blended in with her strong religious convictions. Also, Matt’s heart breaks when he uncovers a cold case involving the murder of an 8-year-old girl. [Scroll all the way down after you click on video to watch brief scenes of this novel on YouTube. This video will bring you to a high emotional level which you’ll never forget.]
In poetry, the use of metaphors for depicting compassion can be powerful. Take, for example, Walt Whitman in “O Captain, My Captain!” in writing about Lincoln after the assassination:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red
Fallen cold and dead.
Notice how Whitman effectively uses the metaphor of a ship sailing into port. (ie., the Civil War has come to an end) and the bells one hears (ie, celebration over the end of the war) and the bleeding drops of red (i.e, the assassination event) and the Captain (ie, Abraham Lincoln). This was the most popular poem Whitman had ever written.
I wrote a poem that indirectly alludes to compassion. It’s about a Civil War soldier who, although hardened by the war, still finds room for intense compassion:
Just Another War
by Tom Mach © 2011
The iron of my musket
is cold and cruel and eager
as I take aim at a gray uniform.
Was it just yesterday I fired a cannon
across that there creek, sending
a ball sailing through an officer’s tent?
The explosion was a lightning crack
reeling me backwards but I pushed up
and cheered when I heard the death screams.
Eighth Kansas reporting for duty, sir.
Well done, lieutenant, carry on.
Cottonwoods, battered by artillery,
weep for men strewn like straw on a field.
I thought by now the horror had numbed me.
I don’t want to cry, so I take a swig from my canteen
and wonder how momma is doing with the farm.
Said she’d have to sell it; can’t do the crops alone.
I feel bad about momma,
But then I think about them other mommas,
the ones whose sons got killed,
and for a moment, an eternal moment,
I’m there shielding a flickering candle
as their sobs cascade over stone monuments.
As soon as this soldier reflects on “momma” all of his other heartsick thoughts about all those dead men rise to the surface.
I’m running a series of blogs on compassion, which I think you will find interesting. I’d like to ask you to go to www.TomMach.com and then to click on the “subscribe” button to get future blogs free of charge. You’ll be glad you did—but be sure you have plenty of Kleenex tissues on hand.
Remember that catchy tune—“Trailers for Sale or Rent”? Well, this article is not about trailers where you pack your belongings in and drive a thousand miles to some mesa in Arizona. No, this is about “book trailers™” and I daresay, can be extended to “poetry trailers” provided the latter is promoting a collection of poems gathered about a central theme. Incidentally, the term “book trailers” has been trademarked by a company called Circle of Seven, so from here on out, I’ll use the term “book videos.”
But my interest is mainly in the area of using book videos for promoting novels. For those of you not familiar with the term, a “book video” is a video ad for promoting a book and it uses techniques which are similar to those videos which promote a movie. Book videos can be one of two types: (1) either a live author interview or book reading by the author or (2) a brief series of dramatic scenes accompanied by music which tells the viewer the raw basics of the book.
Why book videos? Our society has become so focused on video clips that for the reluctant reader, a book video helps garner enthusiasm from the viewer to read your book. It is possible to do your own book video, just as I guess it is possible for you to pedal a unicycle down a busy New York City thoroughfare. What I mean by that is one first needs to develop a set of skills to do this properly. It requires the technical skills of knowing what music to pick for what story and how to incorporate the photos you might select to accompany that music—and the coordination between the pauses in music or specific tempos in music that will mesh with the changes in mood and tone of the copy that accompanies it. It requires skills of showmanship, combined with clarity and brevity—all of which show the drama of your story in tiny bits—and all usually within two minutes.
I personally did not feel I had the patience to deal with the long learning curve required to do an excellent job in producing a book video. Therefore, I farmed this project out to an interesting promotional firm which goes by the name Goddess Fish This outfit has over 15 years of experience in publishing and promotion—as well as excellent references—so I felt they might be the best one for me. Let me be quick to add that there are other companies that may also be able to do this, so I didn’t want this to sound like an ad for Goddess Fish. Nonetheless, I asked Goddess Fish to develop videos for each of my two novels—An Innocent Murdered and Advent. There was considerable work for me to do on my part. I had to give them 10 or 11 extremely brief scene descriptions that would be dramatic and also tell viewers what my novel was about. I had photos to select from as well as royalty-free music from a suggested list they offered me. They gave me the option of selecting other royalty-free photos or music as well, but I would have to pay any additional fees accompanying the photos or music I chose—which is certainly fair. Here is where I had to ask myself such questions as “does this character represented in a given photo really represent the character in my novel in term of facial expression and physical description?”…”are my suggested verbal descriptions too long or unnecessary?”…”does the music I selected really fit the theme of my novel?” Of course, I was impressed with the advice Goddess Fish gave me. Sometimes they’d suggest a photo that better describes my character or suggest a change in my captions with that photo. The result for my video for my novel “An Angel Murdered” is shown here and can be viewed by clicking on by clicking HERE OR—you can simply click on the photo of that little girl in the video at the top of this blog. Please let me hear back from you. Just click on this button called CONTACT ME.