Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cowboys and Indians

The Appalachian mountains of Southern West Virginia served as the playground during my childhood. We were rugged outdoor kids who simply loved adventure. We didn't sit indoors like most kids today (jeez, I sound like my father), playing video games and surfing the Net . . . we were too busy out playing ball, swinging on grapevines, catching crawdads and minnows, hiking, swimming or fishing at the old pond, camping, or anything else that would get us out of the house. Had our parents only known a fraction of what we were doing, they would have surely maintained a fuller prayer life.

We'd play hide-and-seek, tag, and tackle-the-man-with-the-football, as well as make-believe games like (the now politically incorrect) cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers. In the world of make-believe, guns were created by sticking your thumb straight up and extending your index finger straight out while curling the other three around a make-believe pistol grip. If someone pointed his "gun" at you and shouted "Bang!" or "Pow!" you were considered dead and were obligated to fall to the ground immediately without moving.

One day in particular we were playing cowboys and Indians deep in the mountains. Envisioning myself as John Wayne, better known as the Duke, I had my "five-shooters" out and ready for action. I decided to climb a huge tree to get a better view of where the bad-guys were hiding. Climbing higher and higher, I saw no sign of anyone until I was six to eight feet off the ground. It was from there I noticed Gary Browning (my cousin) quietly sneaking along, ready to shoot the first thing that moved. I allowed him to move in a little closer before taking aim. However, I was distracted by a noise from the other side of the tree.

Turning to investigate, I found myself staring straight down the index finger of Curtis Gibson. "Pow!" he shouted from the ground. Panicked that I was so far up the tree, I began climbing down as fast as I could.

"The Duke has been shot in the foot!" I said. Remember, I was obligated to fall, but I was eight feet off the ground in a tree.

"Bang!" shouted Gary, who was now aware of my hiding place.

"The Duke has been shot in the shoulder!" I screamed as I kept climbing down.

"Pow, Pow!" A double shot came from Curtis.

"The Duke has been shot twice in the calf!" I said, nearly reaching the ground.

Then as I was dangling from the lowest limb, Curt and Gary emptied their imaginary ammo into me. “Pow!” “Bang-Bang!” “Pow, Pow-Pow!” “Bang!”

I finally dropped to the ground, announcing, "The Duke is dead!"

As writers we sometimes have characters acting similarly on the page, don’t we? You know what I mean, they’re doing silly things that really doesn’t move the story forward. Pointless behavior that has nothing to do with the plot or conflict around them.

Remember, anytime we have a character acting in a particular manner because it serves the character, rather than serving the story, we run the risk of losing the reader. After all, no one likes to be lied to.

I think the real Duke, John Wayne, said it best. “I don’t act . . . I react.”

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reopening submissions for West Virginia writers

Sorry to put this in the blog, but I wanted to get this out:

I received a ton of submissions for this but very few made the cut.
So, I am moving back the deadline and reopening for a second round of

(NOTE: If you made an earlier submission and have not heard back from me, it is still
under consideration so you do not need to submit)

Tentative title: Spooky Stories of West Virginia: 13 Tales from
Mountain State Writers

Editor: Michael Knost

Publisher: Woodland Press

Submission form: email attachment to michaelknost@yahoo.com

Length: 2500 words or less

Pay: Three-cents per word, plus one contributor copy

Deadline: April 1, 2009 (please do not check on status until this date)

Submissions are open only to current and/or former West Virginia
residents...or writers with significant ties to the state.

Stories set in West Virginia are preferred but not mandatory.

These must be fictional tales, whether you are building around a known
ghost or legend, or creating something original.

We are looking for speculative fiction, including ghosts, monsters,
UFO's, etc.

Any further questions should be directed to the editor (see above for

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Day Bobby Died

I was enjoying cookies and milk with my grandmother under her swing shed when my aunt, who lived next door, came running into the yard, screaming and bawling. I was eight years old and had never seen anyone cry so hard or so much.

“What’s wrong,” my grandmother asked, running to her.

“It’s B-B-Bobby,” my aunt said amid sobs.

My grandmother pulled her sister close. “What happened, Audrey?”

“He’s dead.” She dabbed her eyes with a wad of mascara-stained tissues. “Somebody shot him . . . I just can’t believe it!”

I watched the two women I loved more than anything bawling their eyes out and knew what I had to do. So I fought back the tears and headed home.

Mom was in the kitchen as I walked in. I knew the news would devastate her but I didn’t want her to hear it from anyone else. She had to know, and I had to tell her.

“What’s wrong, Honey?” she asked, moving closer.

I realized tears were welling in my eyes and tried to wipe them with my shirtsleeve. I wanted to speak calmly but fought back the torrent building inside me. My chin quivered just thinking how much this was going to hurt the most important person in my life.

“Bobby’s dead!” The words erupted from me with forceful sobs. “He was shot--” That’s all I could get out. I laid my head on her shoulder, crying harder than my grandmother and aunt put together.

“Who’s Bobby?”

“I don’t know.” I looked up at Mom, noticing she was not crying at all. “Mamaw and Aunt Audrey were talking about him.”

Mom picked up the telephone. I knew she was calling my grandmother. And I just knew when she heard Mamaw tell her the story she would break down. I was ready for it. I tried to prepare myself for it, waiting for her tears.

As I watched my mother talk, I saw her deliberately trying to hide a smile. How heartless could she be? Bobby was dead. Someone shot him! And she finds this amusing?

“Michael, I need to tell you something,” she said, hanging up the phone. “Bobby is a character from a soap opera your grandmother and aunt watch every day.”

My New Year resolution is to create characters the reader can relate with . . . characters the reader actually cares about . . . characters, well, like Bobby.

. . . oh, and to also make old women cry.

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