This is a picture of my dad (bottom row, center) and his B-26 Marauder crew and plane, The Deefeater, taken in England just prior to the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on June 6th, 1944. He and his crew were ten minutes out ahead of the invasion fleet bombing Nazi coastal positions and his plane-with the distinctive white invasion stripes-can be seen in war film footage of the invasion. Salute to them all! I wrote about them and this day in my book, “Storytellin’: True & Fictional Short Stories of Arkansas.”
Haven’t posted lately but that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle. As John Lennon and others have said, “Life is something that happens to us while we’re busy making other plans.” Beyond time-consuming personal and medical issues, I’ve continued work on the second book in my Runevision Murder Mystery series as well as writing more short-stories for my second book in that genre. I also have three books in queue to finish reading, at least one of which, I plan to review here.
‘Tis near the season for Halloween so why not post something a little chilling?
Working on the second book of short stories, I completed one about a young man, his high school sweetheart, and their less-than-desirable relationship. The story is actually humorous and ends well. However, in some dark corner of my mind, I wondered: what if it hadn’t ended well? What if the man couldn’t handle the fact his one true love was unfaithful? What might he do? That’s when this poem came to me.
“Goodbye My Love, Goodbye” by Jack R. Cotner Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Retreating inward from the pain,
I smell the sweetness of her hair
As we move along the path. I strain
Uphill, dragging muddied weight to where
Headstones squat like sacred peaks between
Mowed grass where walked mourning crones.
Stoic statues weathered, weeping, still serene,
Guarding lengthy rows of buried bones.
We halt. Crows pass, loud caws abating.
A portal beyond the pale awaits, silent.
The gaping hole lies open, waiting, waiting
For my dearest here quiet, broken, spent.
Farewell, sweet beauty, unfaithful miss.
I weep. Red lipstick on blue, icy lips
Beckons. Entranced, I take one final kiss
Before tossing splendor into the dark abyss.
Goodbye my love, goodbye
In “Storytellin’: True And Fictional Short Stories Of Arkansas” I write about a young boy, a midnight train, and the value of friendship in the tale “He A Friend Of Yours?” The title of the story is actually a question posed to the young boy by a train station employee.
Several of my family provided inspiration for the story not the least of which were my grandfather, father, and an uncle who all worked for the Rock Island Railroad in various capacities including railroad bull, brakeman, and conductor. All of their work began and ended with the Rock Island Rail Road train depot in the small town of Booneville, Arkansas. Not coincidentally, the fictional story’s beginning is set in and around a train depot.
In its heyday, the Booneville depot was a busy, thriving place, bustling with activity. I remember trips to the depot to either welcome or say goodbye to family members as they left for work or arrived after a working absence. More than once, I too, rode the railroad to and from Little Rock to visit uncles and aunts.
This picture of the Booneville train depot was taken in the early 1980s and reflects a mere ghost of itself in comparison to the days when it thrived. Built in 1910 originally as a railroad eating house, the building style is unique compared to the average Rock Island train depot in Arkansas.
The days of riding the rails from Booneville to Little Rock are gone forever now, as are my family members who worked on the line. Sadly, just a few years after this picture was taken the Booneville depot burned down and its stories mostly lost to history.
It’s that time of year for special gift-giving around my neck of the woods (so to speak) and as it is in many other places. And what better gift than a book or two?
Here are two books for your perusal. I hope you’ll consider them for this holiday season or for any gift-giving occasion.
“Storytellin: True And Fictional Short Stories Of Arkansas”. A collection of mixed-genre stories set in Arkansas from the early 1900s to the 1950s. Each of the fictional stories is preceded by a Cotner family story or event that inspired the fictional tales. Set against the rugged backdrop of the Ouachita Mountains these stories bring ageless tales of hope, fear, laughter, retribution, and kindness.
“Mystery Of The Death Hearth”. A Celtic tale of murder, power, and intrigue. In a far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire, the Great Cross—made of Celtic gold and amber now claimed by the Roman church—goes missing along with a fortune in coins and precious gems. Murder soon follows, igniting tensions when church leaders maneuvering for political gain are implicated in the violent plot. When news reaches the Grand Prefect in Rome, Enforcers are sent to identify the thieves and recover the missing treasure. The trail leads to the Brendan Valley where it falls to deputy magistrate Weylyn de Gort to work with those whose ways are alien to his Elder Faith beliefs. Along the way, he must find an elusive young Celt girl and her missing grandfather, unravel the mystery of an Elder’s vision, and avoid death at the hands of an assassin as he faces the greatest challenge of his life.
Mystery Of The Death Hearth Prologue
June 21st in the Roman calendar
“This sacred site has been here longer than we can remember,” Elder Blaine the Slender told the small group of children clustered around him. They were surrounded by festival vendors in tents bearing colorful flags, all part of the crowd gathered there to celebrate the Solstice holiday. “Heed these stories well, so you may pass them to those who will come after you.”
He saw them nod, some smiling, many somber, all attentive.
“Learn your crafts well, listen to your elders, honor the gods, and respect the land. Enjoy the life you have been granted and help others do the same. No other goals should be attempted lest you fall into the evil snare of greed and dishonesty.”
A small voice whispered, “He means the Romans, right?”
“Not just Romans, young one. Celts, too, face dark temptations. The two worst enemies we all face are liars and thieves,” the Elder continued. “Take nothing that isn’t yours. Honor the code of doing what you will so long as you harm no one or their possessions. Have compassion for those less fortunate, help those in need. Follow the path of our Celtic Elder Faith, stay true to its teachings. You will be wise to–”
Blaine’s words were interrupted by heavy beating of drums and cheers from celebrants within the inner circle of the standing stones. Before Blaine could continue, a child spoke up.
“What about murderers, Elder? Aren’t they an enemy, too?”
Elder Blaine nodded. “Truly spoken young one. Murderers are the worst kind of thief. They steal your life.”
Eureka Springs, Arkansas is one of my favorite places to visit. It is quirky, beautiful, full of unique artists, craftspeople, writers, entertainment venues, and natural scenery. It is a town built seemingly overnight in July 1879 following the discovery of what was then and is believed to be now curative powers in the waters of the many natural springs in the area.
In “A Fame Not Easily Forgotten”, researchers, historians, and authors June Westphal and Catharine Osterhage spent four years culling newspaper articles, historical records, written accounts, and rare photographs to compile a reasonable and accurate description of what many call the “City That Water Built.”
In mid-December 2015, just prior to my departure on a thirty-day winter holiday, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with June Westphal at her book signing at the Eureka Springs Historical Museum. I was impressed by her extensive knowledge of the town, its inhabitants, and the entire region.
Here’s an excerpt from the Preface of A Fame Not Easily Forgotten: An Autobiography of Eureka Springs:
Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a remarkable place—and utterly improbable. Why would anyone in the late 1800s, traveling on horseback or in wagons, traverse dirt paths through the steep Ozark Mountains to what must have seemed like the end of the earth? Why would they settle and build elaborate structures on sharp, rocky inclines?
The answer is, water. Pure, abundant spring water reported to have extraordinary curative properties—hope of healing was that powerful and that compelling. So, come they did. Build, they did. And while the water may not have reached expectations, the beauty and magic of the place captured the hearts of so many, they stayed, or kept returning. They still do…
The extensive research is well documented, includes many old pictures of the early days of expansion and growth of the town, and makes for interesting, informative, and entertaining reading. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the area and its history. You can order your own signed copy of this book from the Eureka Springs Historical Museum.
Wanted to take a moment to express my appreciation to all the great people who attended the book sales and signing at Nightbird Books yesterday. Had a wonderful turnout of authors and book lovers and enjoyed visiting with all of you.
Even the Mayor of Fayetteville, Mr. Lioneld Jordan, dropped by and purchased a signed copy of my short story book. We swapped stories of growing up in Arkansas and shooting marbles, a subject covered in one of the book’s short stories called ‘The Marble King.’ “Thank you, Mr. Mayor.”
A special note of acknowledgement and appreciation to Lisa at Nightbird Books for allowing local authors the opportunity to display their work. “Thank you, Lisa.”
I will be attending the latest Local Author Event Day this Saturday, December 5th, 2015 from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Nightbird Books store, 205 West Dickson Street, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Don’t miss this opportunity to meet local authors, purchase great signed edition books for gifts, and support our local small businesses.
From Nightbird Books:
We are inviting our local authors into the store on December 5th to give you a chance to meet writers in our community and pick up some great autographed holiday gifts. Because of smaller space, we will have two shifts. The first is from 10:30 to 1:00 and the second from 1:30 to 4:00. This is always a fun event so I hope you can join us.
Sybil Rosen, John Walsh, Tom McKinnon, Susan Holmes, Jack Cotner, Carolyn Guinzio, Vance Clement, and Edmund Harriss from 10:30 to 1:00
and Denele Campbell, Radine Trees Nehring, JB Hogan, Paul Williams, Alexander Margulis, and Martin Jardon from 1:30 to 4:00
I hope to see you there!
Forget Black Friday sales events. On this blog it’s Jack Friday.
Actually, it’s a sales event that goes beyond just this Friday featuring the Kindle editions of both my short story collection and my Celtic murder mystery novel. They’re on sale now through December 5th for just $0.99 each. From December 6th through December 23rd they will be half their usual listed price.
Grab a copy for yourself or purchase for family and friends.
The leaves cross over our graveyards
When the cold wind blows and raves
They whirl and scatter on the frozen ground
Then settle on the sunken graves
They put me to mind of the children of the earth
The mournful condition of us all
We are fresh and green in the spring of the year
And are blown in the grave in the fall.
–Florence Elizabeth Rutherford, 1873-1889
Rutherford Cemetery, Independence County, Arkansas
Abby Burnett’s Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950 is an interesting, intriguing read exploring the traditions surrounding death, local customs and rituals concerning bereavement, and the burial practices in the Arkansas Ozarks. It is excellent in its research, narrative, and visual presentation. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in such subject matter.
I had the pleasure to meet author Abby Burnett, a former freelance newspaper reporter, at the Books In Bloom event in Eureka Springs, Arkansas May 2015 and again this past week during her presentation at the Fayetteville, Arkansas Public Library. Her speaking and presentation abilities are every bit as impressive as her knowledge and expertise on Arkansas burial history and customs.
“This painstakingly researched and thoroughly engaging book is as much an anthropological and sociological study as it is a historical and folklorist account of death, dying, and burial in the Arkansas Ozarks…there is virtually no source of information that Burnett hasn’t explored—epitaphs, business ledgers, funeral home records, obituaries, WPA questionnaires, health department regulations, oral history interviews, ministers’ journals, censuses, mortality schedules, doctors’ notes, undertakers’ record books, historical photographs, museum collections, and newspaper accounts…”
–Allyn Lord, Director, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, Springdale, Arkansas
I hear a voice you cannot hear
Which says I must not stay,
I see a hand you cannot see
Which beckons me away.
–S. N. Lyle, 1875-1932
Lowes Creek Cemetery, Franklin County, Arkansas