So you can read my books

Monday, April 12, 2010


"We live as we dream - alone."
-Jospeh Conrad {Heart of Darkness}

We all live in the solitary confinement of our minds. We reach out through the bars with feeble things like words, gestures, actions. But all those are seen through the windows of others, obscurred with the bars of their own unique perspectives.

This thought was reinforced this morning as I read of Mississippi Governor, Haley Barbour, who defended a fellow governor who had proclaimed April "Confederate History Month." Last year, Govenor Barbour did a similar thing in Mississippi, not once mentioning the horror of slavery. He is quoted as saying, "All this noise doesn't amount to diddly. I don't really see what to say about slavery."

Oh, really? And these are the men we trust to legislate for us? I can sleep better at night now.

Hurricane Rita scattered my friends and I all over the southern United States. A good friend, Debbie {her last name I will leave a mystery to protect any potential fallout from this story,} was in a church-run Katrina/Rita shelter. As a teacher, it fell to her to teach an English class of displaced urban high schoolers. The one book that the church shelter had multiple copies of was THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKEBERRY FINN. Many of her students were outraged at the portrayal and seeming acceptance of racism in the novel.

In an emailed plea, Debbie asked that while I was driving rare blood all over Southern Louisiana, if I could write a short story that would help her paint the times of the novel in such a way that her students would better grasp the mindset of that period -- and that for such a time, Samuel Clemens was actually a liberal humanitarian. And if I could make it a horror story that would be great. And if I could make it a horror story that wouldn't outrage the church leaders that would be even better.

"Was that all?," I emailed back. "You're sure that you don't want me to establish world peace while I'm at it?" She assured me that she had faith in me. That made one of us.

But I gave it my best shot.

I tried for a rural horror story that would present the actual timbre of the 1840's in a way that was acceptable to urban highschoolers. Irony is a great way to hook a reader. So I tapped my epic undead Texas Ranger, Samuel McCord, for the Mission Impossible. His scholar's mind, philosopher's spirit, and poet's soul made him an uneasy fit for the Texas Rangers. A man whose belief in the worth of any human, no matter the skin color, made him perfect to espouse values readily accepted in today's culture but made him a pariah in his own. And for good measure, I threw in a 12 year old Samuel Clemens and a monster whose natural habitat was the dreamscape of humans. And to top off the irony, I focused on the painful problem of how did a lawman, who despised slavery, keep true to his vow to uphold the law when slavery was legal.

Debbie emailed me that my story held her students captive and led to a week-long discussion of what the times must have like, what Manifest Destiny was, and how difficult it must have been to live honorably in times when compassion to minorities was a crime. Debbie assured me it was my story that made her teaching HUCKLEBERRY FINN possible.

Here is a small excerpt from the short story, DARK WATERS. I now use it to show the good governor of Mississippi what there is to say of slavery. {McCord is in the bedroom of the dying Judge Clemens whom he had brought in from the forest where he had found him} :

Mrs. Clemens gave me a hard look, then nodded and called out, “Jennie!”

A black woman, her lined face a sad map of the harsh life she’d led, came hesitantly into the room. “Yes, Miss Jane.”

“Please show Captain McCord to the guest bedroom.”

She flicked uneasy eyes towards me, seeming to prefer being alone with a rattler than with me. “Will do, Missy.”

As we walked down the spacious hallway, she edged as far from me as the hallway would let her. Her whole body quivered as if she wanted nothing so much as to run as far away from me as possible. I didn’t blame her. Fact was I felt much the same way, but I was stuck with me. She stopped suddenly.

She swallowed hard once, then managed to get out her words, “Mister, there’s monstrous mean haunts in this world. And then there be some who are damn fool enough to try and do good, only they ends up making things terrible bad for everyone around them.”

She forced herself to look me in the eyes. “Which one is you?”

“The damn fool kind.”

She almost smiled. “Leastways you be a truth-telling haunt.”

“It’s a failing.”

“That kind of thinking is what makes you a haunt.”

She was wrong. But there was a lot of that going around. Why tilt her cart if I didn’t have to?

I noticed as we walked that the walls showed clean squares where ornate frames had once hung, depressions in the wood floor where heavy furniture had once long stood. I said nothing. But my straying eyes had betrayed me to the slave, whose life I wagered had often counted on her being able to read the expression of the whites around her.

“Miss Jane has gone through terrible, sad times. Mr. Marshal he done tried, but he ain’t got a lick of business sense. Me, I’m the last thing they own of any value. And if’n I hadn’t helped birth little Sammy and saved him from drowning that time in Bear Creek, I’d be gone like everythin’ else.”

I felt sick. Thing. She had called herself a thing. What kind of world was it when one race made another think of themselves that way?

I shook my head. “They don’t own you anymore.”

Her dusky face went as sick pale as it could get. “M-Mr. Marshall done sold me to dat devil Beebe!”

I reached inside my buckskin jacket and pulled out the hastily written bill of sale. “He was going to. But ... things didn't turn out like he planned. So he was forced to sell you to a stranger ... to me.”

I gave her the paper. She took it with trembling fingers. She stared at it hollow-eyed as if it were the parchment selling her soul to the devil.

“I - I can’t read, mister.”

“Get Sammy to teach you.”

She glared at me. “You is evil!”

“Turn it over, Jennie.”

“I done told you I can’t read!”

“But Sammy can. Show it to him. He’ll tell you that I’ve given ownership of you to --”

Jennie’s face became all eyes. “T-To little Sammy? Oh, bless --”

I shook my head. “No, Jennie.”

She took a step backwards, her voice becoming a soft wail. “Not back to Mr. Marshall? He’ll just be selling me again.”

I reached out with my gloved right hand that must never touch bare, innocent flesh and softly squeezed her upper right arm. “No, I gave ownership of you to --- you.”

“I’m -- I’m free?”

“Well, the judge said you were priceless.”

“Oh, you is one of the good haunts!”

She rushed and hugged me, stiffening as she felt how cold my whole body was. She edged back a step. I met her suddenly hollow eyes.

I smiled sad. “But still a haunt.”

We were silent all the way to the guest bedroom. She opened the door then her mouth. No words came out. But she did give me back my sad smile. I watched her walk away staring at the bill of sales as if it were holy writ. It was something. More than a haunt like me had the right to expect. Maybe my pillow would be the softer for it.
Later on in the story, McCord has projected his astral body inside the nightmare of 12 year old Samuel Clemens :

I slipped up far behind the boy. I stayed in the shadows to get the lay of the land. With his slight, shuffling gait, Sammy was making his way to a row of tiny log cabins. I smelled sweat and weariness. But I heard muffled, happy singing inspite of it. My guts went cold. Slave quarters.

Sometimes I was glad I wasn’t human.

It was on the far side of an apple orchard. I drew in the smell of the fruit. It might have been winter in the waking world, but I had a hunch it was always spring about these parts for Sammy. I realized then that I was standing at the edge of a thicket of hickory and walnut trees. Their scent caught me up with my own memories of a lost childhood. I forced them back. Memory Lane was a dead end street. Leastways for such as me.

From the nearest cabin a figure appeared in the black, open doorway. Tall, muscular, his dark face strong and wise and kind. Only with the farthest stretch of language could you call the sorrowful accumulation of rags and patches which he wore clothes. I hung my head. How could I call myself a lawman and let this evil go on around me?

Elu kept on telling me that what the white man called legal wasn’t necessarily right just because of the name he slapped on it. I could see his dried apricot face in my mind as I heard him sighing. "There is a difference in the white man’s world between justice and his rules. And that difference is as wide as the Mississippi you head to, as sharp as day is from night, and as simple as greed."

Because I believed Elu was right and lived accordingly, I was an outcast among civilized folks, hell, even among the Rangers, for I made no allowance for the standing, class, or race of any man I dealt with. I felt my face go tighter. All I cared to know was that a man was a human being -- that was enough for me. He couldn’t get any worse than that. Except for me. I had become much, much worse.

And to show that while we are all alone in our minds, in our heartbreak and tragedy, we are all too much together, here is a music video that brings up echoes of my Urban Fantasy, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE :


  1. Everytime I read something you write I seem to think it can't get any better. But it does. You have a powerful way with words Roland. Someday, my friend, someday.

  2. Awesome post, Roland. You touch on so many vital points - in the post itself and in your short story. Plus, I think it's great that you so willingly solved world peace... wait, I mean, lent your talents to help your friend. :o)

  3. Wow. what an incredible task she asked of you, and I am so impressed that you fulfilled it. And good for you for helping out!

  4. Great post, Roland! I really enjoyed your excerpt. Wonderful job!

  5. Roland, I got nervous after your post today about adults being alone, that it was not smart of me to be so trusting in an earlier comment about a writing retreat, so have deleted that comment from the future public eye---however---though I think anyone who hates slavery and stops on an isolated road to help a turtle cross must be trustworthy---to be on the safe side, I'm compelled to inform you (and anyone who has already read the now-deleted comment) that I have notified neighbors and the police department to be watchful of the place where I will be retreating. I'm sorry that today's world requires such a seemingly rude precaution.

  6. The slave girl brought tears to my eyes. Wonderful story! And I'm so glad you were able to help students learn something about the harsh realities of history in the guise of a fantastical story they would enjoy.

  7. I meant adults are alone in an existential sense, Deb. There is a Great Divide in our souls versus our culture. Who we want to be versus what our situation seemingly would have us be. I would no more do you harm than I would harm a kitten.

    But both men and women are wise to mind their surroundings, to evaluate their words prior to talking or internet writing, and to always have an exit stragedy and people who know where we are. I am your friend, Deb. But a woman has to be careful in these heartless days. I understand. Stay aware.

    I will pray that The Father guards you now and always with His Spirit and Protective Hand. Your true friend, Roland

  8. Great story! it held my attention all the way to the end and was very clear in narration!

  9. Everyone's comments meant so much to me :

    Anne, your words about my writing bolster my waning spirits when the agents fail to contact me. Someday we'll both be published and chuckle over this angst.

    E., Yes, I willingly solved world peace. Then I woke up. Thanks for the kind words about my words. Love your blog.

    Tamara, I'm happy you think, like Debbie, that I fulfilled the request made of me. I tried. Have a great tomorrow.

    B. Miller, you're right there were enormous financial and political issues simmering that boiled over into the war between the states. That slavery was horrendous only made it the perfect cover for those with a financial and political ax to grind. But there were true outraged Northern voices that wept at the horror that was slavery. I am grieved that America could not find it within the powers that ruled to discover a peaceful way to end slavery as did England.

    Thanks for the kind words about my post.

    Lorel, I am truly touched that my story moved you emotionally. You made my day. Thanks.

    Debbie, thanks for liking my post on THE LAST EXIT TO EDEN and this one. If you take prudent precautions and devise a detailed exit stragedy, you should derive a world of good out of your writing retreat. Drop me a line telling me how much you enjoyed it, will you? Drive safe. Roland