Thursday, May 03, 2007


This story is still tickling the edge of my conscience. I haven't given up on it, but neither have I pursued it. This may change.

In the meantime, here's a nice site on coal mining in Pennsylvania.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Stomping Above & Below Ground

Still around. This novel idea won't go away. So I'm reading some fantasy and thinking about the genre a little. This is a return for me to certain old stomping/reading grounds. "Stomping grounds." There's a phrase for you.

Anyway, there are two stories here, one of them I'll call "above ground," it being straightforward tale in this world of predictable natural laws etc. And then there's the "below ground" story, which is where, literally, the fantasy comes in.

I've been reading Alan Jacobs' fine book on C. S. Lewis, The Narnian. All that about a mythic past (time and place) that has faded, or been eclipsed--sometimes called faery.

Well, I'm thinking about that. The thing is, the "below ground" story is not very clear to me. I can get my people into it, but I'm not sure what happens then. Remember that it was the Indians who called this place, Towamensing, "the wild place." Tell anyone that, and they'll ask the obvious question: "Why?"

But the point is, there was something here even before the Indians. Something they recognized, were perhaps frightened by, and called "wild." Which is funny, because that's what the European's called the Indians. Wild.

These thoughts are just the strands I'm playing with.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Haven Springs

Growing up in Haven Springs had seemed to me, as a boy, to be the cruelest imaginable trick the fates could ever have played on a helpless mortal child. That town was, I believed, the original, the one and only, God-forsaken place. Oh, yes, I was chock-full of that voluble despair so peculiar to the young. Haven Springs, my home town, was an egregiously misnamed patch-town in the played-out minefields of mountainous northeastern Pennsylvania. A black culm bank loomed over the house I grew up in-something like a lunar landscape it seemed to me, or the land of Mordor in my own back yard. The black dust from that embankment tinged our daily sky. The coal of course was all gone before ever I came on the scene, and the town was a shadow of its former self. It was as if the breath of doomed had passed over Towamensing Valley–sometime previous to my arrival, and probably in preparation for my coming–draining all life and hope and color from the place. Even the Christmas ornaments strung across our winding Main Street each December seemed disheveled and colorless. Oh, I was full of romantic despair for my homeplace in those days. All my ambition, all my boyish dreams, had only to do with getting out.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Long away, but the story has been on my mind. I want to experiment a little, getting away from the careful and methodical plotting, at least for now. I want to get "inside" the story. So far I've been looking at it from the outside. For now at least I want to get into the head of the main character. Like this:
My beginnings, like everyone else's, were somewhat complicated. My mother gave birth to me in the upstairs front bedroom of this very house, nearly 87 years ago. Her husband, who was off in France at the time, fighting the Germans in the war to end all wars, happened not to be my father. Yes, that sort of thing happened even then. Not uncommonly, as a matter of fact. My father, so I've been told, had come to town to help organize the miners into a union. It wasn't long before a company dick knocked him on the head with a club and threw him in the Susquehanna River. This was down in Plymouth Township, by the way. A few moths later my mother died in the ordeal of childbirth, and my Aunt May and Uncle Charles took me in, wondering what they were going to tell my father (I mean my mother's husband). This all happened back in 1918, a year to remember, that's for sure.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Good Line (1)

Boxton was a tired town, a neglected place that looked as if was in danger of collapsing in on itself.
from Ruby Holler, by Sharon Creech

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Culm Banks

An excellent culm bank image from this page. We called them "culm banks" where I grew up, but I like boney piles or gob piles. William W. Lewis, in Black Rock, wrote this:
Now at the lower end of town we used to have culm banks anywhere from seventy to a hundred feet high. We, as young boys in this town, used to go to the colliery and get long pieces of sheet iron. We would curl up the end like a toboggan, put a wire on the back end of it, pull the sheet iron up to the top of the culm bank and then ride down on it.
Yup, only we used cardboard, which was more readily available in my day.

[quotation from Black Rock found on p. 139 of Angus K. Gillespie's Folklorist of the Coal Fields]

Progress Report

So in the last few days I've done some good work on the novel, really just working out the details, chapter by chapter. I'm through 4 chapters now, or so it seems to me, and really just kind of discovering the process. Right now I'm quite happy with how things are going. This is an intermediate stage, not actually writing the novel yet, but working out the wrinkles, as I see it. I can't help feeling I'm being tremendously naive, and the whole house of cards will sooner or later come crashing down on my head.

I also realize that if some stray reader were to stumble onto this blog, it would seem rather strange to have all this talk of a novel, but no sense of what that possibly mythical creature looks like. That's how it shall have to be for now. The blog is just a place to collect my thoughts concerning the process, or my notes concerning some of the preliminary research that the novel requires. Thus the coal mining posts, etc.