Great-grandma Ruby

Getting closer.

Today was the original deadline day, but my editor is on vacation, so my new deadline is anytime before the morning of June 24.

This is good, because today I am slowly working my way through the battle of Chancellorsville and where one of the women I'm writing about would have been located and what she was doing. I found some new information on her just this weekend so I'm incorporating all that.

I can't talk to anybody but I end up turning the conversation to the Civil War. That's just the way it goes.
  • Current Music
    "Jine the Cavalry!"
Great-grandma Ruby

Getting close to deadline.

Less than one month until deadline! On that day the book must be delivered to the publisher -- photos, stories, source notes, bibliography, glossary, front and back matter, and intros. ALL of it.

It's getting done, slowly but surely. I keep printing out finished stories to add to my stack o' manuscript, which is slowly growing into a complete draft. I've been marking it up a little as I go, but will save the lion's share of the work for when I get the WHOLE THING written. Which will be cutting it pretty close to deadline, admittedly. But this is not the time to panic about that.

Just cultivating a sense of slow and steady purpose -- and a lot of hard work. I'm trying to maintain that sense of urgency and I hope I don't get to where I burn myself out. I keep thinking of how good it will feel to have the last story printed and added to that stack. I can do it. It is going to get done.

And I have to remember that it will not be perfect. There will be a lot of dumb spots in there. It can't be helped. I can't let that paralyze me.

Just breathe. One of the writing bosses I worked with at Hamline told me, "Persevere." I think that's damned good advice.
  • Current Music
    "Eastbound and Down" -- Jerry Reed
Great-grandma Ruby


"I stepped out of Mississippi when I was ten years old
With a suit cut sharp as a razor and a heart made of gold
I had a guitar hanging just about waist high
And I'm gonna play this thing until the day I die."

  • Current Music
    "Riding With the King" B.B. King and Eric Clapton
Great-grandma Ruby

A little bit about writing historical nonfiction.

I really should update this more than once a month or whatever.

Still moving along on the Civil War book. Pulling in quotes from all over to help with the writing of each story -- other eyewitness accounts of Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, life in the prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville and Florence, etc. Often the historical record for these women is scanty, so I have to add in details from other sources.

Picked up The Boys' War by Jim Murphy at the book sale -- he does good work in children's books. Never dry, always lively and historically accurate. I'm using that little volume as a writing model to help me along. Also I have McCullough's Truman in the back of my mind (always). David always used so many sources and neat little stories to keep us entertained and learning at the same time. He keeps stopping by the Truman Library and I keep missing him. Dang it!

The thing with writing about these women is that there are so many romanticized stories out there about them, and I have to really dig to find something that's historically accurate. On some of the women, I've found some scholarly articles that give solid facts about their lives, and this is a huge help. But on some of the women, all I have are the newspaper accounts which go on and on about how wonderful this gal is to follow her husband into war, how romantic this is -- and I'm going, yeah, yeah, can we have an actual account of where she was on the battlefield and what she was doing?

The writing is the tricky part -- and that's a reason I don't get on here much, because I know full well I'm procrastinating right now!
  • Current Music
    "Flushed from the Bathroom of My Heart" -- Johnny Cash
Great-grandma Ruby

A comment I overheard ....

"Okay, rule #1 as a horse-hauler: Don't flush your keys down the toilet at the truck stop! Fish them out! But don't flush."

Thanks, I'll remember that.
  • Current Music
    just the music of my amused thoughts
Great-grandma Ruby

I finally have a book deal!

Guys, I've been running a little bit lately, and that's because I will have a book out in Spring 2016!

Women Heroes of the Civil War, which will be published by Chicago Review Press, will be about the women soldiers, spies, and medics who braved intense fire in the bloodiest battles in America.

I especially like the women soldiers. Can you imagine living among a whole army of men and hiding from all of them that you were a woman? A number of them made it through the war (or died in action) and were never found out.

It's such a cool topic and I have been listening to Civil War audiobooks and digging through a pile of books and resources just to get all these hooks in my mind to hang all this new information upon. Right now I'm listening to Grant's Memoirs at work and Walt Whitman's journals in the car (he worked as a nurse in Washington D.C. during the war) and chasing down photographs and doing research.

My deadline is June 15 of next year. By that date I have to turn in a full MS with photos and permissions, maps (for the designers to work from), the stories about the 20 women I'm focusing on, as well as sources, a bibliography, and an introduction about the events leading up to the war and the part that women played in it.


I am trying to keep my perfectionistic tendancies at bay so I can get this thing accomplished. "Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction," to quote President Truman.

Wish me luck, guys, because you can bet I'm going to need all the moral support I can get. Immoral support is also acceptable.
  • Current Music
    "Eastbound and Down" -- Jerry Reed
Great-grandma Ruby

Good news is on the way!

I'm always in favor of good news, but I won't report on what exactly this news is until I get some stuff signed. But once that's done, you will certainly hear about it!  :)

In the meantime, I'm still writing stories and scanning in family pics and generally trying to keep up with kids and housework and weeds. (Actually I gave up on the weeds -- my garden tends to go all to hell in July and August. The chickens love it, though.)

I've also sent in some of Dad's slides to ScanCafe to be digitized. They did an amazing job and when this batch comes back, I'll send 'em more. The pics look great, and ScanCafe will email you the digitized files so you get those quickly, while you're waiting for the pics and DVDs to show up in your mailbox.

Here's one of Dad's fellow soldiers in the 588th Engineers in Vietnam in 1967-1968.  I hope I can get his name one of these days.


  • Current Music
    "Let the Day Begin" -- The Call
Great-grandma Ruby

The Civil War book may be a go. MAY be.

The editor wrote back yesterday: I have some minor revisions to do on the sample chapter, and then the full proposal is going to the editorial board on July 22. Yikes!!

That'll be the day after I get back from Hamline! (I'm leaving for the residency tomorrow.)

Whoo-ee, this is going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

I'm not going to get excited yet. Long experience says, "Let's just wait on that until we have an actual Yes."

I'm off to make my own luck. If you guys could send a couple of good thoughts my way I would sure appreciate it.
  • Current Music
    "I Still Believe in You" -- Vince Gill
Great-grandma Ruby

On the road again (or I will be soon).

I'm heading back to Hamline to be a grad assistant, so I'll be hitting the road here in a few days. Excited and nervous, both. I like to see my writing buds, but I do hate to leave my little family. The best damn family there ever was and I don't know how we could have come up with a better one without using supernatural powers. It's going to be rough without them, but I will have to persevere. I am going to Hamline to serve and help everybody out and by dog that's what I'm going to do. I'm crazy about those guys, too, and it will be very good to see everybody again.

I have some workshop pieces to go through for Hamline and I also need to get my 15-20 minute reading selection ready to go. I know what I want to read, but I haven't read through it all yet. Probably had better get on both!

Still waiting back on word for my Civil War chapter and a couple of magazine articles and also a few queries I sent out for Shy Gal. Boy, I hate sending stuff out in summer, I really do. As the song says, the waiting is the hardest part.

I hope everybody is staying cool out there!
Great-grandma Ruby

Snake rescue!

Well, this morning I was a little late getting around, so I hurried out to the chicken pen to feed the hens. So I get the scratch and the feed and pour some in one dish, then went to hunt for the other dish. But I found a big gardner snake lying across the chicken yard, perfectly still. Its head is somewhere in the mess of bird netting I left in a heap just outside the pen. Shoot, I need to pick that up. I already had one snake die in the netting, unable to get out.

I touched the snake – and its sides expanded, as if it had gasped. Okay, it’s still alive, I can work with that. So I cursed myself for being late, because now I was going to be even later, and hurried back through the wet grass to the house. I found two tiny scissors in the sewing box and hurried back out again, crouched down by the snake, and lifted a bag of leaves out of the way. Now I could see its head, lost in a snarl of netting, and the thin black strands of netting were tightly clamped around its body.

As soon as I exposed the snake, it started trying to crawl farther into the netting, though the many strands held it fast. Boy, how was I going to keep it from crawling in there and getting more tangled? I took hold of the snake’s body, but it squirmed more and tried to get away, and then it started wrapping its body around my hand, trying to constrict it to death, and I pulled my hand out of there. I started cutting the strands around her. (I can’t sex a snake so we’ll just say it’s a girl snake.) She pulled her tail up toward the netting as if she was going to send her other half into the netting, just to complicate matters, but as I kept snipping, she began to wind her body around my other hand. Well, fine, at least I’ll be able to keep her from running deeper into the netting that way. She wound and wound around my hand, squeezing all the while, until the tip of her tail lay on my wrist, and it shook a little like it was trying to help squeeze my hand to death. Actually it wasn’t very tight, just a nice squeeze, like a handshake.

Of course this now meant I could only snip and move netting aside with my right hand. “Okay, if that’s how you’re going to be,” I said, and kept snipping. At least now that she was curled around my hand, she was still, and it was easier for me to carefully work the tiny scissors between the snake’s scales and the black strands of netting that bound her. I was so afraid of hurting her because the netting was cutting into her body, it was so tight, but I’d work the blade of the scissors between and snip, and then snip again, and that would release a little bit of her, and then I’d snip through the snarl of netting all around her, trying to open up some more space to work. She hissed softly now and then, and occasionally she’d try to squirm her head and neck (this was all firmly trapped), and her unblinking yellow eye would watch me. Or she’d squeeze against her bonds, only cutting them deeper into her scales and skin, and I’d say hush hush little snake, it’s going to be all right, trying to calm her.

My hands and scissors were getting a little muddy – it had rained last night – and she hissed and wriggled when I snipped away the netting around her. She was scared. But more and more of the black cutting threads were being cut loose. Then I eased the scissors under a couple of threads and snipped, and all that was left were about two strands around her thin little neck.

She started to unwind from my hand, and she flipped over in the strands, trying to break herself free. “Hold on, honey, this really is not helping,” I said, trying to squeeze the scissors between the belly scales and the threads that still held her fast. But finally I managed to do that without nicking her and I cut the two threads free and pulled her out and got up with her in my hands.

And she opened her mouth and threatened to strike me!

Of course with her pale pink mouth so wide open like that, it was obvious that she had no teeth, and all she could do was gum me to death. But still I was a little offended. Hey, I just saved your snake butt, not that you actually have a butt!

But I was scared by her trying to strike, and she was scared because she was in the hands of a predator, so I understood. I leaned over the fence of the chicken yard and set her down in the grass on the other side. She immediately coiled and pulled her head back over her body, flattening her head into a triangle shape so she’d look like a rattler or something poisonous, staring at me.
“Now you stay away from the netting and wire, okay?” I said. “I don’t want to have to cut you out when I get home tonight.” But she went on looking ferocious, and I didn’t have more time to lecture her – because obviously lecturing a snake works – so I retrieved my muddy scissors and let myself out of the chicken pen.

She oriented her head to face me as I stepped out. I felt a little shaky from the encounter when headed back to the house. I washed my hands with a lot of soap (snakes are stinky) and got some food and raced off to work.