Genetics

If there is one hobby that rivals my love for art and writing, it’s genealogy. I have spent years working on my family tree, tracking old family legends and searching through documents, following my ancestors through wars, immigration, scandals, and everything in between. I once had a fellow genealogist tell me that the only reason he did genealogy was so that he could find living relatives. After all, dead people are just dead people.

Tracking down estranged and distant family members is great, but I have found that researching my ancestors is just as rewarding and interesting. And, even though they are dead now, those people who passed on their looks, illnesses, and tendencies were all real, living, breathing people at one time. They had feelings; they had stories to tell. As a writer, I find that those stories are important to me. It was these people and the lives they led that played a part in making me who I am today.

It is a well-known fact that genetics plays a large role in a person’s life. You may have great-grandpa Peterson’s nose or your great-great-great-grandmother Taylor’s allergy to citrus fruit. But fewer people stop to think about how their talents can also be passed down through the generations.

It was this thought that struck home yesterday when I was going through a folder of my great-grandmother’s writings. I had heard, at one point or another, that she had written down a few family stories. What I didn’t know, however, was that she had a serious talent for poetry as well.

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Born into a farming family in 1912 and being the third oldest of ten children, my great-grandmother had plenty to talk about. Her stories range from one about a mountain lion invading a relative’s house to the more modern stories of how my grandma, her youngest child, liked to find pet kittens from amongst the feral feline population that lived on the brickyard where my great-grandfather worked.

My great-grandmother was devoutly religious and very hopeful. I often find that my own writing has a tendency to reflect her style, if not topic, on a regular basis. My memories of her are few and far between. I was still a very little girl when she died. But even then, in the memories I do have of her, she is always smiling.

Most of her writing has been lost to us. Between the dementia she had in the last years of her life, (she threw away a lot of stuff during that time), and the numerous robberies that took place once the old house was vacated, not much of her writing has been left behind. Of what is left, however, I now see a clearer picture of who my great-grandmother was as a person, and I understand more fully where I come from. My research has brought me closer to many family members, people I never got to meet, but one theme in almost all of my great-grandmother’s poetry, a hope that I dearly hold onto, is that some day, I will be able to meet them. Right now, however, I must be content to read and imagine what it would be like to see each one, loving who I am. Because, in the end, who I am is, for the most part, a piece of who they were, too.

—–

A poem by my great-grandmother, Edna Rabun. She dedicated it to her father.

Whip-poor-will’s Song

I sit here alone in the twilight,
While the world is hushed and still,
And I hear in the deepening shadows
The song of the Whip-poor-will.
Then in memory I’m carried backward
To a humble, sweet little home
Nestled close to the sheltering forest
‘Neath the lovely, star-sprinkled dome.

I think of those sweet days of childhood,
And the loved ones now far away.
How we’d sit on the doorstep together
And sing at the close of the day.
We’d search for the first star’s appearing,
A silvery dot in the blue;
Then count, as the darkening colors
Brought numberless glories to view.

Each night as we sat there together,
When the work of the day was o’er,
We heard nature’s evening chorus
Perform there before our door.
The old bullfrog by the brooklet
Sang the bass notes rich and deep,
And the katydid in the elm tree
Seemed singing her babies to sleep.

But the sound on those summer evenings
That I loved more than all the rest,
The sound that still brings back sweet memories
Of all that is dearest and best:
When I hear it, I feel a strange longing
Just to be a child there still,
And to hear from that same old doorstep
The song of the Whip-poor-will.

Oh! Many miles now separate us;
Oft we’re tired and careworn.
And a precious one is now sleeping,
To wake when Dear Jesus shall come.
All those children so happy and carefree
Are grown men and women now;
There are silver threads mid the blond and brown,
And furrows are masking each brow.

Tho the family circle is broken,
Oh may it be whole once more!
May we meet in the world recreated
On that sinless, glorious shore.
As we roam in the beauties of nature,
And hear birds carol praises still,
May we hear in that Beautiful Homeland
The song of the Whip-poor-will.

—–

For those who are interested, this is what a Whippoorwill sounds like.

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Writing and Self-Publishing

I have had many people stare at me in disbelief when I pull out a copy of one of my books, particularly the 619 page compilation of my trilogy (which, like the rest of my books, is currently on holiday for some much needed editing). This often sets off a string of questions: When did you write this? How long did it take? How did you get it published? Can I find it in a store? etc. etc.

While I will be the first to tell you that my books are merely self-published, something that anyone can do, I will admit that I take a certain pride in my work none-the-less. My books, though self-published, are the results of years of practice, hundreds (if not thousands) of pages of hand-written ideas, and hours upon hours of planning, drafting, typing, editing, and designing.

Call me old-fashioned, but to me there is nothing like the feeling of scrawling down words using pen and paper. I am a highly physical person (this doesn’t have anything to do with all those years that I refused to wear my glasses, does it?), and I like to feel the pen in my hand, feel the texture of the paper under my skin as I move along, and watch as the ink is applied to the paper. Evidence of this can be seen all over my room, with bookshelves and floor space chock-full of notebooks, some completely filled, others half empty. I am quite positive that my story notebooks alone contain at least a thousand, if not more, pages of mostly failed attempts. People often go on and on about my writing ability, yet they don’t realize that, for every story I finish (the list is quite small), there are at least a dozen stories that I have started and never finished.

Writing a novel is fun but certainly not easy. Rarely does a person naturally write 50,000+ words without much thought. (Unless, of course, you are one particular friend of mine, whose name will remain anonymous).

For me, each story, particularly my novel-length work, is the result of detailed planning. My inspiration comes from many sources. However, my most common areas of reference are my friends, old half-baked story ideas, dreams, and National Geographic.

I start out by envisioning a certain scene in my head. I am highly imaginative, so the scenes play like movies in my mind’s eye. I formulate appearances, choose character traits, and conduct character interactions during this time, imagining that I am there and witnessing everything. Sometimes I become so engrossed in the story that I take on the role of the main character, hearing, feeling, and occasionally even expressing what that character would. I take this time to become familiar with the world that I am creating, deciding rules and guidelines for how the world operates. Because I am a fantasy writer, this step is crucial.

Once I get a feel for the story, and if I think that there is enough plot to actually make it worth my time, I pull out a pen and a college-ruled, one-subject, spiral-bound notebook – yes, I am that particular about what I use – and begin jotting down notes.

I almost always start out with a list of characters and their information. I include their name, age, race, hair color, eye color, vocation, skills, weapons (if necessary), and a short bio indicating origin and any relatives that might be involved. Often, I will also make sure to note the gender, as some names are unisex.

After jotting down information about the main characters, I often create a list of side characters, whose appearances and backgrounds are not particularly important. This is followed by a plot overview and a tentative outline.

For the outline, I go chapter by chapter, giving phrase names to each in order to get a better idea for where I want to go with the story. Sometimes I leave it at that, allowing my imagination and the flow of the story to dictate its final outcome. Other times, I write out expanded explanations of what should happen in each chapter, allowing for deviation should the need arise.

The actual story, like the notes, is handwritten, typically in the same notebook. For my novels, my rule is usually approximately 14 handwritten pages per chapter. This allows me to estimate the length of the story, and is useful if I am aiming for novel-length material. Many think that I’m crazy for doing this, and perhaps I am. The Four Stars consists of about 145 pages of handwritten material, The Secret of Erris around 170, Rebirth ranging around 190, and Ancient Vengeance coming in at 287. Of course, the handwritten copies are all first drafts, and usually grow dramatically when I go to type them.

After writing the first draft of each story, I proceed to type everything up in a pre-designed format. This format, done in Microsoft Word, is something that I created myself by measuring and studying professionally published books. Using those as a reference, I create a copyright page, lay out headers and page numbers, and designate margins and tab points.

Typing takes time, but luckily for me I have had plenty of practice over the years. Averaging at about 65 words per minute, my typing skills allow me to type up large amounts of work at one time, especially when the work has already been written. However, for a person like myself, typing up the story isn’t the end of my work.

As a self-publishing individual, I am not only the author, but the agent, editor, designer, artist, and publisher as well. I go back through my work multiple times once I have finished and recruit friends to help me look for errors when possible. Unfortunately, things often get missed, as being the writer creates the chronic issue of mentally filling in the gaps without noticing the problem. I also do the layout for my book, as I mentioned above, around this time.

Even though words are the meat of any story, pictures never hurt, and for fantasy novels this is doubly true. For this reason, I am not only the writer but the artist. I draw maps and sketch out characters and places. I also do the cover art for my book. Lacking the digital programs of professional designers, my cover art is done almost entirely by hand using paint and brush.

It takes hours, days, weeks, even months to put together a single book even after it has been written. However, the end results make all that work worth it.

The final step is the actual self-publishing. Of all the questions I get about my writing, self-publishing ranks #1.

There are tons of different self-publishing companies out there on the internet, each sporting various features. The company I use is called Lulu.

I discovered Lulu.com via a self-publishing e-zine, an email newsletter dedicated to helping people master the ins and outs of self-publishing. Ranked as one of the top self-publishing companies, Lulu is reliable, helpful, and, more importantly, free. The only charges incurred are if you choose to buy a print copy of your own book.

The process itself is very simple, and Lulu’s publishing wizard makes putting the book together a walk in the park.

Creating an account is the first step. It’s simple, free, and helps you track any projects you have started or completed.

Once you have obtained an account, simply clicking on the “Publish” tab will lead you through a several-step process in which you will select book dimensions, gray scale vs. color, upload files, enter book information, select visibility settings, and put the book up for sale (or leave it private for individual printing later on).

Lulu comes with an “Author Spotlight”, an online bookstore displaying any work designated as public.

From there, it is all a matter of the author publicizing their work and getting it out there. For me, my favorite thing to do is to give copies of my books to my friends and family for birthdays, Christmas, graduations, etc. This comes in handy for getting my name out there, particularly when in the hands of an ardent admirer such as my little brother.

While the likelihood of becoming famous through self-publishing is rather slim, and the thought of getting rich on such an endeavor is rather far-fetched, self-publishing creates a sense of fulfillment for an author that simply writing a story could never do. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than to hold that hard-back, professional-looking book in my hand, to look down at the name, and say, “Lyn Gilleland…that’s me.”