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.”
‘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 has been an unusually mild, wet summer around my neck of the woods (as they say here in Arkansas). Few 90 degree + days and (thankfully) no 100 degree + days. In other words, when it wasn’t raining, we’ve had beautiful days to enjoy. No wonder I’m doing more bicycle riding than writing. But I do remember those blistering summer days when it was so hot all I could do is kick back and enjoy lounging in the pool.
What’s the matter, writer? That blank page in front of you got you down?
You say your bucket of creative motivation is empty? You fear the procrastination monster has come to stay? And the writer’s block is too big to overcome so you’re waiting for the magic writing fairy to land on your shoulder and deliver perfect pages of prose, sublime sonnets, or perhaps inspirational ideas?
Well, get over it. It isn’t going to happen.
Here’s a newsflash: Your dreamy muse is busy elsewhere with a happy rainbow unicorn in a field of delicious, colorful jelly beans under a marshmallow sky and not likely to return anytime soon.
In the meantime, here’s a word of advice, a solution to your problem: write.
“Bad writing precedes good writing. This is an infallible rule, so don’t waste time trying to avoid bad writing. (That just slows down the process.) Anything committed to paper can be changed. The idea is to start and go from there.” –Janet Hulstrand
“Self-doubt, exhaustion, and confusion are part of the process. Embrace them and don’t stop writing to examine what you have. The world is full of people trying to perfect chapter one.” –Kerry Greenwood
“If you are struggling with writing a character, write 20 things a reader will never know about your character. These will naturally bleed into your writing and provide a richness even though you don’t share the detail.” –Barbara Poelle
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.”
It is no secret one of my favorite authors is Ray Bradbury. He penned and published some wonderfully interesting work including ‘Illustrated Man’, ‘Dandelion Wine’, ‘The Martian Chronicles’, ‘Fahrenheit 451’, ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’, and so many more.
He also left us with some inspiring and often amusing sayings. Here’s one of my favorites:
“It wasn’t the first time he’d died, but it was the first time he’d been murdered.”
That was the winning opening line in the category of ‘Best First Sentence In A Book” at ThrillerFest this month (July 2016) in New York. It was written by Sheila English, a writer of supernatural suspense, science fiction, non-fiction, and young adult.