Historical, Short Fiction

WEEK 354: The Fine Art of Failure and a Saturday Special

According to the people at Guinness World Records, the world’s least successful writer (during the paper manuscript era) was named William A. Gold (1922-2001). He wrote eight novels and a vast amount of articles and shorts, but sold just one piece for fifty cents. 

I consider Mr. Gold as one of Earth’s last great artistic failures. Nowadays his profound futility would be hard to match. In Gold’s day you had to type your work on paper then spend no small sum on postage just for the privilege of sending a part of your soul off to certain doom. And it usually took forever to hear back from the publisher. Long enough for you to build a tower of false hope from which you fell far and landed hard when the evil news finally arrived. 

But times change. It is now possible to be quickly rejected several times in one day and always at the speed of light. This doesn’t allow much time for the nurturing of false hope, but you don’t need to wait in line at the post office, either.

Still, whenever I think about Mr Gold, which I do surprisingly often, I imagine how he felt when the fifty cent check came in. I believe that whatever joy he got from his little victory was tempered by a fleeting sense of loss caused by the thought that by succeeding he may have tarnished his singular accomplishment. 

If rejection builds character, then I should be as morally upright as an Osmond. And if money measures success then I am a miserable failure. My lifetime “earnings” stand at $15.70. Adjusted for inflation, I am not far off the Gold standard of futility. And although there are plenty of others out there whose career arcs resemble mine, I do not believe that misery loves company. My misery drinks alone.

Many writers crack under the strain of it all yet keep going as though the cracking hadn’t happened.

It’s a mindless perseverance that reminds me of a 1975 Dodge Colt that belonged to a friend. The car had more miles on it than the Hubble space telescope but kept on keeping on. My friend’s concept of vehicle maintenance involved oil changes which were nothing more than dumping a few quarts of whatever weight was the cheapest in when the stuff no longer registered on the dipstick. There were at least eighty things wrong with that car. One time the brakes began to make a loud, serious sounding grinding noise. I suggested that he get them looked at. Now. He never did. Told me the fix would be higher than the worth of the vehicle. The grinding ceased by and by and all he had to do was downshift and lay on the brake a little harder. The damn thing kept running to the very day he finally drove it to a wrecking yard and sold it for scrap– which only happened because the State Patrol forbade him to drive it an inch farther on the highway.

As a writer I identify with that stubborn 1975 Dodge Colt: headlights wildly out of alignment; bent of frame;  burned out wiper motor; spider-webbed windshield; vents stuck permanently open; slow to stop, and endlessly capable of producing interesting noises seldom investigated. 

But the rearview mirror was intact, which is as good as anything to hang fuzzy dice and false hopes on.

I will not dare to compare any of this week’s assortment of authors to that 1975 Dodge Colt, other than for their own laudable, sentient sticktoitiveness, because I am certain that each has his and her own relationship with the perception of success. Actually, I see that I shouldn’t make that comparison to four of this week’s learned assortment, because for the fifth one the comparison holds true. 

We saw the site debut of three writers, a friend who made her third appearance and one person of dubious intent this week. Other than a standard of quality, the stories had little in common with each other. Topics included working a factory job in the 1980’s; rental cuddling in the Wild Wild West; poignant moving on; a most entertaining game of mental Scrabble; and a post dated form of payback.

Monday, greeted the LS debut of Adelino de Almeida. On the Radio Ronald Reagan is Wheezing captures a time and place from the perspective of persons who have never had much of a say in America. And yet in the drudgery of working just to survive there is a liveliness in this piece that shines through. 

Madame by newcomer Matthew Senn pulled up a stool in the saloon on Tuesday. In just a touch more than four-hundred words–which includes an opening and closing paragraph, similarly worded, but vastly different in message–he tells a complete and satisfying story. It’s congenial, earthy and has just a bit of caution to it.

Shira Musicant’s third site story, Boxes, ran Wednesday. Shira’s metaphorical little wonder is endowed with so many perfect details that it dazzles. She conveys joy and loss,  memory and release, regret and hope with effortless precision. And you don’t see the perfect ending coming, either, which is always a wonderful thing.

Dora Emma Esze’s first story with us, Apologies, is an energetic wonder that anyone who has had to deal with people for a living can relate to. Without giving too much away, the amusing little word game that unfolds throughout is loaded with keen observations, and even a twinge of sadness. It is a human story that unfolds in an environment void of humanity.

Yours truly closed the week with It Lets the Air In. I cannot comment on the thing objectively, because I never read the things I write after I am done with them. I’m just glad that the Villagers haven’t massed outside my door on account of it.

Under usual circumstances, right about now I would leave you with a list of some sort–an inane curio cobbled in my mind when the hour was late, my resistance low and the wind high. But today we have something a bit more elevating to submit for the reader’s enjoyment, a Saturday Special by Jess N. McLean: Who are these people? Faces Frozen in time and space, ON MY WALL.

This is a fine piece that Mr. McLean has written, but we could not publish it as a work of short fiction because, well, it really isn’t. But it is a top notch piece that is best described as a featured article and we were loath to pass on. 

And it has pictures, which is always a fine thing. Please check it out. You will be glad that you did.

Leila

***

Who Are These People? Faces Frozen in Time and Space, ON MY WALL by Jess N. McLean

While finishing up the research for my Civil War book, “The Official History of the 13th Mississippi Regiment … as told by those, who were there,” I was looking through the old photographs of Civil War soldiers. I could hardly believe my luck when I discovered an 1861 photograph of Private of the 13th Mississippi Infantry Regiment. It was a pleasant and exciting discovery. Existing photographs of Civil War soldier are sparse enough but, for me,  a photograph of a Mississippi soldier of the 13th Mississippi Infantry regiment is extremely rare. In the early 1860s, the new technology of photography was most concentrated in the northeast cities. The photographic recording of the Civil War, by Brady, was the first major use. During this period, Mississippi, primarily an agrarian state, had very little photographic technology present.

My earlier research of the men of the 13th had already yielded up this soldier’s identity along with his valiant war record. The stark black and white image of this young man, staring out at the reader would bring the written words of his deeds to life. I knew it had to be included in my book.  Now all I had to do was track down the owner and get a release signed for publication. It would soon learn that the task is much easier said, than done.

The donor was named, and I called him. After I introduced myself and told him of the reason for my call it, he told me that he did not own the picture, but he was willing to provide me with the name of the owner under the single condition that I keep his name confidential. I asked him how he had come to have the picture. He said that he had photographed it a long time back along with other early pictures displayed on the walls of that home when he had once visited. I did not question about it any further. 

Next, I found the telephone number and called the owner in Mississippi. I introduced myself and told her the purpose of my call, which was to ask her permission, to use the picture of the young Civil War soldier she owned. When I asked for permission to use it, she quickly replied that she did not own a picture of a Civil War solder, I was stunned.

After recovering from my surprise, I described the picture of the soldier. He has dark hair, a neatly trimmed “Clark Gable style” mustache, shown wearing a tunic type jacket with a high collar… She interrupted me and said, “That picture is hanging on my living room, who is he?” 

Shocked again! I am now wondering why she had a picture of someone, she didn’t know, hanging on her living room. “I don’t understand.” I said, “Why would you have a picture hanging on your living room wall that you don’t even know?”

She told me that her great grandfather had built this house in the early 1800 and lived in it till he died. Then his wife and later her grandmother lived here until they both passed away. The place was left to the next generation along with all the belongings including those pictures on the walls. She said that they have been hanging on the living room wall since before I was born, and she never had any idea who they were. That solved that mystery for me.

I asked her if she would like to know more about the soldier. “Yes!” She would be very interested in the information.

I told her that “His name is Joseph Dewitt Stroud.”

“Yes, ‘Stroud’ name was my grandmother’s maiden name. He could have been my grandmother’s relative. What else do you know about him?” she asks.

I was sitting at my computer and quickly pulled up the information. Then I began to read and summarize the information as I scanned the notes.

I started; “In May of 1861, he enlisted, near your home, there in Meridian, Mississippi. He told them that he was a farmer, was single, and had been born in Mississippi in 1840. After he enlisted, he was given some basic training and later he and the other enlistees were sent to Union City, Tennessee, where they became a part of the ‘Barksdale Brigade.’

The records show that he was present for all training and events until about July 1861, when he, along with many others became sick with measles. He was placed in the army hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia and remained there until he had recovered enough by September to help around the hospital, so he was assigned there until he was able to re-join his Company.  The soldiers said that they always knew who the ‘measly ones’ were because they were frail and coughed constantly for weeks. A great many died from it.

Stroud soon was well enough and rejoined his company in September and in time for the action at the Balls Bluff, Va. By May 1, he was sick again and entered Chimborazo hospital near Richmond. In September 1862, he was assigned as a nurse at the Camp Winder hospital, so he could continue his recovery as he was still unable to perform the normal duties of field soldiering.

It was not until almost a year later, in March of 1863, he was healthy enough to rejoin his company, who were now camped out, just up the hill and in back of Fredericksburg, Virginia. He had returned, just in time, for the Second Battle of Fredericksburg. He was wounded, captured, and taken to the Old Capital Prison in Washington, District of Columbia. After about two weeks of captivity, he was ‘exchanged’ and returned to his Company K, ‘The Spartan Band” of the Barksdale Brigade.

A short time later, on June 3, 1863, the clerk of the regiment, William H. Hill, made entry into his diary.

‘Wednesday, cloudy and warm. The Brigade is now cooking 3 days rations, preparing for a march. The Brigade started at sunset and marched till 11 at night…”

Private Joseph Stroud was now a small part of the ‘long snake’ of humanity,’ as President Lincoln called the Army of Northern Virginia. It stretched for miles, as they slowly moved from Virginia, through Maryland and eventually into the lush green countryside of Pennsylvania.

There were weeks of the long, hot march on the road where the dirt was pulverized by thousands of feet, some without shoes. This pure, fine dust caked on the sweat of their faces and clothing. Breathing was difficult. They finally reached Greenwood, Pennsylvania, sixteen miles west of their star-crossed destination, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The men spent the next day resting, writing letters. Before battle, many would write instructions and put them in their pockets, in case of their death. They were also performing chores and preparing their weapons for the coming fight.

About 3 in the afternoon, they started to move out. After a sixteen final mile march to a place near Gettysburg, they halted about midnight. Early the next morning they marched a circuitous route for several more miles to hide their movements. They stopped at a position on far side of the southern end of Seminary Ridge. It was across from a place called the Wheatfield.

Gettysburg is found at the north end of an inverted “V.” The eastern leg was known as Cemetery Ridge, where the Union forces were located. The western leg of the “V,” called Seminary Ridge was to be occupied by the Confederate forces.

About four o’clock on July 2nd, the Barksdale Brigade started their attack across Emmitsburg road and on through the Wheatfield. Joseph Dewitt Stroud was living the last few minutes of his life.

The troops moved out in a fast trot, through the Wheatfield and into the blazing teeth of thirty cannon, each firing nails, pieces of horseshoes, rocks and anything the Yankees could stuff into those barrels which would do maximum damage to the charging men of the 13th. The 13th pushed on and forced the Union forces back, capturing several cannon and turning them on their owners. Union reinforcements were soon moved in forcing them to give back the gained ground.

The regimental commander, General Barksdale, was last seen, far out front, sword held high, leading the charge. He was shot, mortally wounded and he fell from his horse. Barksdale, Joseph Stroud, and many others fell, mortally wounded in that soft green valley near the trampled wheat in the wheat field. The 13th suffered 750 out of a total number of 1,300 men killed or wounded. The bleeding and still conscious Barksdale was captured and taken into enemy hands. The next morning, he died. His body was carefully embalmed and prepared for return to his family to Mississippi. After a few days on the battlefield, Joseph was buried near the place where he had died, along with his fallen comrades.

A few months passed before; his family was notified of his death. Later, his Father: George Stroud, applied for the pay and bounty that was due his son. He asked that it be mailed to him at Meridian, Lauderdale County, Mississippi.”

After I had finished summarizing the event from my notes, I said “That is what I know about your soldier. I hope that gives you a little better idea of who he was and how he bravely died.”

She remained quiet for a few moments, probably letting it all soak in. 

I broke the silence and asked her if I would send her a good, enlarged print of Joseph’s picture along with two copies of a nice memorial printout detailing what I knew about him, would she attach one copy of the information to the back of the original picture, so that others will know who he was and what happened to him?”  She said she would be proud to do that.

My second request was that; “I would like to send a ‘release’ for you to sign, so that I could use his picture in my book. And it would then become a part of Joseph’s record for all to see.”  She told me; “Send it to me and I will think about it.”

I filled out the release form and posted it the next day. After watching the mail each day for a few weeks, I called her again, to ask about the release. First, I asked her if she had received the picture, the release and the memorial biography of Joseph.  She told me that she had and thanked me. She also said that she had taped the information to the back of Joseph’s picture which hung on her wall.

I said, “I haven’t received the release, did you mail it?”

“No.” she said, “I have been thinking about it, but haven’t had a chance to send it.”

I asked; “What can I do to encourage you to send it? Do you have any questions concerning the lease? It is just a standard form that allows me the right to publish it, but you retain all rights and ownership.”

“Well,” she paused and then “I was wondering if you could tell me about those other pictures on my wall?” I couldn’t believe my ears! I had never been in or even near her home and she is asking me about pictures that have been on the wall of that home for over 100 years.

Now I was really taken aback. Not knowing what to say, I asked her to; “Let me think about that. And I will call you back.”  Now I understood why the donor had asked me not to divulge his name. Cannot say I blame him. I hung up the phone and at once called him again.

When I updated him on the events, he laughed, and reminded me of my promise to keep his name anonymous. After assurance that I would, I asked if he could help me with the identity of the other pictures on the wall. To my surprise and relief, he told me all about the other pictures and offered to send photgraphs along with the full information. I readily accepted the offer and thanked him for his help.

Within a short time, I received the pictures and information via email. After I looked it all over, I called the home owner, again. When she answered, I told her that I thought I could now name the people in the other pictures on her wall. She was very excited and wanted me to hurry and tell her about them.

I thought to myself, not so fast, I am going to get that release!

“Let me describe the pictures, and let’s see if anything is familiar to you.” I suggested.

She quickly said; “Okay.”

I started describing one of them: This one is of an older couple, the woman on the left, has her right hand on her lap and her left hand on the right shoulder of the man. Her hair is dark, parted just off center.  He has his right hand on his lap and his left elbow is sticking out with his hand on his left hip. She is wearing a plain looking long sleeved dress with a little white showing around her neck.”

“That seems to be one of the pictures I have, who is it?” She asks.

I stopped her and said, “Let me describe the other picture. It is a younger woman. She has, what appears to be white ruffled dickey with a black choker band around her neck. She is looking to her right in about a three-quarter view.”

“Yes”. She said, “That’s the other picture, who is she.”

“Well.” I said, politely, as I could; “I’ll tell you what. I will get those names together for you, and you mail me that release, and when I get it, I’ll send you all the full information on them. Is that okay?”

She quietly agreed: “Yes, that will be fine.”

In about 3 days, I received that release, dated and signed.  The following day I mailed out copies of the photographs along with all the information.

The couple was her great-grandparents; George Washington Stroud, born 1815 in Tennessee and Elvira Clinton Stroud, born 1813 in Tennessee. The other was their eldest daughter, Lucy, who was her grandmother and Joseph Dewitt Stroud, the soldier was her younger brother.

Those images, faces, frozen in time and space, for almost 150 years, watching over these rooms as sentries, while others would, pass through and stare back at them, with no knowledge of who they are.

Now, all who pass will know them.

Jess N. McLean

Gettysberg Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay 

12 thoughts on “WEEK 354: The Fine Art of Failure and a Saturday Special”

  1. Random stuff –
    In my seventh year of stringing words, I lost my purity – 2021 income $23.
    Quickest response – about five minutes. What? After acceptance, the publisher read the story.
    Longest response -1285 days before acceptance. It took a while to track the original submission. I think the staff disbanded went to Italy to form a lute guild, but after many years said the equivalent of “Let’s get the band back together”.
    After my excellent preparation for being a writer as a former actuary in 2014 I was amazed that I could be published. The late and lamented by me, Nugget Tales, even said something like “send more stuff”.
    I think that I restarted writing in a Golden Age. Easy to submit, high acceptance rates. Many of my favorite publishers are gone (see Nugget Tales) and acceptance rates have plunged with so many submitting (see me).

    Keep On Rocking In The Writing World

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, David.

      After Brit boxer Joe Burner lost a bout to Ali, someone asked him if he’d like to fight the champ again. Joe replied (to the effect) “Yes, but first I’d like to be kicked in the head by a horse.” Something in there explains the perseverance of writers
      .
      LA

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Leila,
    I hope that William A. Gold never lost his love for writing. I admire that he never gave up.
    Those triers who are slagged off continually as being delusional, I just think -Good on them for following their dreams even if those dreams take them in to the No Success / No Money abyss.
    It’s maybe a bit unfair using the word delusional. That can be the naïve idea of hard work and talent always bringing success – It seldom does as you also need timing and a shit-load of luck!!
    That is understandable but when you get the completely talentless thinking they are the best thing in the world, that is when it becomes laughable. If you can’t see that EVERYONE who does what you do is better than you, then you really need a wee pill to bring you back to reality.
    Excellent post as usual!!

    Jess – I really did enjoy reading this. Some folks think writing any form of factuality is easy but they’re wrong. It must be interesting, well researched or experienced and superbly written. The writers opinion must never be heard. In a way it is a brilliant tip for any fledgling writer to cut their teeth. If they write what they know, they don’t need to worry about plot or continuity.
    There are some lovely subtle little touches in this that take it from a list of facts to something with humanity. That is something that is difficult to learn, you are either able to do it or you can’t. If you need to think about subtlety / understating or even the unsaid, you will never be able to do it well. You my friend did this beautifully!!
    Hugh

    Like

  3. Thank you Hugh for your words as well as the opportunity to write Mr. McLean not Me. McLean.
    There’s a list somewhere of the richest bad writers that I must relocate. Whoever wrote The Valley of the Dolls heads it!

    Like

    1. Hi Leila,
      I meant to mention regarding rejection and it being one person’s opinion – I think that is why I harp on about comments. If there at least two positive comments then that may soften the blow of a writer getting a rejection due to a single point of view.
      I never read ‘Valley Of The Dolls’ but saw the film – I don’t like to say anything bad about Sharon Tate so I won’t comment on the film!
      Surely the richest bad authors will be all romance writers?? A few spring straight to mind!!
      …Maybe not for technical writing, more the dubious and ludicrous plot-lines.
      Hugh

      Like

  4. Never seen the film or read the book, but I remember the name Jacqueline Suzanne. No hard feelings toward anyone who makes money legitimately. Some romance writers make a good living using multiple aliases. Cool thing is there’s no law requiring me to read their work!

    Like

  5. That was an interesting tale about the civil war photos…. photographs like time machines, though after a time no-one can remember their “snapped at” time, so no memory to go back to, only the passed along stories. In the U. S. civil war thousands of photos were taken….. the first war to be captured by the time machine of photography. On writing earnings – Short stories are not the best venue to getting rich. I know a sci-fi romance writer who after 15 books is now able to give up her day job. She also writes advertisements, which are the bigger share of her income, and drives a thirty year old Dodge Colt (just kidding…she takes the bus.)

    Liked by 1 person

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