From the Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect project…
Tag Archives: Books
From The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect project… never-ending research is bliss to me.
Over the last year (more), I’ve studied my Civil War and related history books and performed countless hours of online research. All this has led me to some truly amazing places; discoveries about my family’s past that I could not have imagined in ten lifetimes of imaginings. It’s been great – to say the very least.
That said, there are just some things that can’t be found through Google. I need to “go to the source” in order to get at some details that professional historians haven’t yet ferreted out or seen fit to publish. I’ll provide a few examples of what I mean:
The original manuscript of William Ellis Jones’s Civil War Diary is in Ann Arbor Michigan. I need to sit down with the original, compare it against the transcription my grandfather copied into The Baby Book, and note any errors or corrections into my own transcription for my book. In addition, I’d like to photograph the document if the library will allow that.
– Cost of that trip is going to be around $1800.00
I need to spend at least a few days at The Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia, going through their archives and learning what I can about William Ellis Jones, his business, his associations, etc.
– That trip is going to cost around $500.00
I need to spend at least two days in Richmond researching property records and wills, to determine why William Ellis Jones, III was left essentially penniless, even though his grandfather was a successful man who owned a good deal of property. (I want to prove or disprove that his uncles stole his inheritance.)
– That trip is going to cost around $500.00
I need to take several weeks (broken up over the course of several months), visiting the Civil War Battlefields that are relevant to William Ellis Jones’s 1862 march. In addition, I need to see Gettysburg, which I believe is the last battle William fought in, before Spotsylvania. And of course, I need to visit Spotsylvania, where William was wounded in 1864, effectively ending his career as a Confederate soldier.
– These trips will cost around $300.00 each (some more, some less, totaling around $3000.00)
What I would LOVE to do (although I doubt I will get the opportunity) is go to Caernarvon, Wales and do some research on Thomas Norcliffe Jones, the father of William Ellis Jones, in order to add some flavor to the section of the book that deals with William’s upbringing, his father’s devoted Welsh Wesleyan roots, and the Welsh Jones clan dynasty of authors, poets, and book publishers.
– By my best estimate, that’s a $8000.00 trip abroad.
Last but not least, I need to join the North Carolina Writer’s Network so I can get the final draft of this thing in front of some critical readers, as well as possibly luck into an interested publisher at one of the workshops or conferences (not to mention benefit immensely from the company and insight gained from co-mingling with other writers.)
– Joining fee is $75.00
– Annual Conference is $350.00 – $500.00 (depending upon where it is.)
– Workshops $75.00
– Travel for all of the above events will set me back $400.00 – $500.00
That’s quite a Christmas list. Since I stopped believing in Santa a long time ago, and since $8.00 per hour, 12 hours a week, isn’t going to get me there either – I’m taking this thing to the streets.
I am going to put together a proposal for GoFundMe.com, and start soliciting money for this project – just the same way my ancestors solicited subscribers prior to publishing a book of poetry or sermons or political rantings about ironmongers in South Wales. If people can raise thousands of dollars for pee-wee football teams or cheer leading or bone marrow transplants or breast implants, I can raise at least a few bucks to get this book printed.
I’ll let my fair readers know once I get my prop up on GoFundMe.com.
I’m building a Facebook profile and Page for this project too. (Don’t start… I know…)
I look forward to your support.
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York
Edward Ball blows the doors off the spoken-of-only-in-inferences-and-whispers subject of the source of his family’s wealth, status, and generations long domination (economically and socially) of the South Carolina Low Country; i.e., their slaves.
The book is a thoroughly researched historical document specific to the Ball family, well-written, and candid. But more than all that, it is a look at All Our Histories, putting a mirror in front of us and forcing us to look at the aftermath (for both black and white) of slavery, and the “cover-up” created by white descendants to romanticize and gloss over the grim facts of the past.
Bell’s is one of the bravest books on this subject that I have so far encountered. Near the top of my “Must Read” list.
My head is a swimming blur of conflicting priorities. On one hand, I have William Ellis Jones, II, the Civil War Diarist and book publisher demanding that I “get back to original programming”. On the other hand I have his grandson, William Ellis Jones, III, and his dead daughter and his two living, but very tormented children, agitating for an expansion of the fiction “assignment” I produced for Mr. McNair.
I shipped McNair the deeply revised story (Is it a short story? Is it a novella? Is it a draft of a book I didn’t know wanted to be written?) yesterday – with tremendous trepidation.
I’ll tell you why I have trepidation. It isn’t about my weak verbs, or too many adjectives, or lulls in the prose, or even the fact that the damn thing is too long to be a short story and too short to be a novel. All those things can be resolved if the thing has any legs underneath it at all. My trepidation has to do with something that I have dealt with my whole life, and can’t do a damn thing about.
It’s about who I am, where and who I come from – and what that all means – in this case, to Mr. McNair as a person.
Yeah… yeah… yeah. I know I’m not making any sense.
I’ll spell it out for you.
McNair’s protagonist in Pickett (and I suspect Land O’ Goshen too, tho I have not read it yet), is an Alabama “cracker”; a man from the dirt-farmer class of southern folks who make fantastically tough, very colorful characters in modern literature. They’re just interesting to read and write about because they’re so damn uncivilized and irrational that they’re actually “novel”, in the original sense of the word.
When McNair and I first met, and I told him I was writing a bio of my g-g-g-grandfather, who fought in the Civil War, he instantly recommended a book for me to read. He said it was the best piece of autobiographical / historical prose he’d ever read, and it demonstrated near perfectly how to draw out a character and bring him to life.
That book is ‘All Over But The Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg. And I agree that it is incredibly well-written. It’s a great book about a whole lot of tragically broken, complicated, very colorful misfits.
But here’s the thing… Bragg’s misfits, like McNair’s protagonist, are of a “class” of Southern stereotypes that, while interesting, are about as remote from my experience and understanding as it gets (I could come up with a lot of nifty comparisons here, but that would just be trying too hard.)
Bragg, in his memoir, writes “White people had it hard and black people had it harder than that, because what are the table scraps of nothing? This was not the genteel and parochial South, where monied whites felt they owed some generations-old debt to their black neighbors because their great-great-grandfather owned their great-great-grandfather. No one I knew ever had a mammy.”
Well guess what? My own Mother (born 1936) had a Mammy. And her Daddy had a black wet-nurse. And both sides of my mother’s parentage descended from the “Plantation Class”. And I grew up with an overwhelming sense that we “…owed some generations-old debt to their black neighbors because their great-great-grandfather owned their great-great-grandfather…”, because the fact was that we knew every advantage we had (and even by the 21st century, there are still many) came at the expense of someone who our ancestors “owned”. I grew up understanding that my intelligence and ability to converse and move with ease through any social or business setting was literally stolen from the descendants of the people my ancestors enslaved.
I find the struggles and torments of the fallen southern aristocracy to be dark, often quite tragic, but more than anything else – complicated. And I’ll never be able to shed my fascination with the concept or the characters – because they are the people I know. They are, in fact, me, as well.
All that said, I wonder if Mr. McNair– given the characters and culture he knows best and who he respects – will be able to stomach reading about a somewhat effete, fallen aristocrat, who is full of self-loathing and guilt on so many levels that he can’t think his way out of his wet paper bag of pathos.
Looking at me and my characters from his (or better perhaps, from Rick Bragg’s point of view), we’re not a very sympathetic lot. We’re the people who built the system that stole every opportunity from everyone “below” us on the social ladder, and now that the ladder has upturned we’re sitting in the dirt feeling sorry for ourselves, trying to figure out what happened and where we went wrong. Pathetic really.
The reality is that we’ll probably never escape the class issues that define and divide us at least as much as the race issue. It makes me sad. I wonder whether this issue is enough to sink any hopes I might have had that McNair might actually help me become a better writer, and then do something with it.
I’m just hoping that all the above is just my own pathetic insecurity – and not what Mr. McNair actually sees in me or my work.
Maybe I just think too much.
I got a job! And not just any bus-driving, burger-flipping, call-center crap-type, job. I got a job that I am actually proud of (minimum wage though it is.) I am going to work at one of the finest remaining independent bookshops in the area (start next week!) Okay… okay… it’s (initially) just for the Holidays, and maybe (very maybe) it’ll turn into something longer term, but just the same and despite all the maybe’s, it’s a job at one of the finest (remaining) Indy Booksellers in the entire country!
And it’s (I admit, small) cashflow in the positive column, as opposed to what I’ve been doing for the last several years. So… I am celebrating.
There are also perks w/ this job. All the new release books I can read (they have a friggin’ lending library for staff!) A 40% discount on books I choose to buy (tho I have to confess that even w/ the discount, I’ll probably just start a list and wait for them to be remaindered to ABE or the Half Price Outlet in Bloomington…. This is a minimum wage job, after all. Can’t manage too many luxuries.)
I was so excited when I found out I got the job that I really went all out. I went to Food Lion and bought some sliced luncheon meat and Land-o-Lakes Muenster cheese from the deli and made myself a proper supper! (I am not kidding!) I even sprang for wavy cut potato chips (gosh I have been craving those for a month) to side my sandwich with!
Okay, it’s a far cry from Sushi in Tokyo, when I was in the money back in the day. But my stress level is low, I am doing precisely what I want to do (writing, reading, researching, using my brain on things that inspire me), and honestly I am in the best mental/spiritual place I have ever been, in my entire life. So no complaints. A simple bologna sandwich dinner is okay with me, as long as I have good books to read, and I can learn something new along the way. I am pretty damn happy. This is an opportunity learn a new craft (being a bookseller IS a craft!)
Thanks Gerry S., thanks Mike L., thanks Erin W. for the good references. Means more than you can know.
The Book is nearly complete. I need to step away from it, so I can come back in a few months with fresh eyes and make a final edit. Spring is upon us. I have fifteen or so honeybee hives that need my undivided attention until mid-summer. I have had the benefit of these two months (give or take) with an always-on internet connection to be able to research, write the book, and create this website – but now I am headed back into the 19th century; to the cabin in the woods with no electricity; but plenty of solitude and time for contemplation and reflection (if not a regular warm shower.)
It’s been a very productive two months. I drafted and completed the book (or very nearly so.) I built this website to promote it. When I come back in June or July I will pick up where I left off, and I will begin the search for a publisher.
For now, I’m off-the-grid and out-of-touch. If you need to contact me, please leave an email at; jones (dot) c (dot) hall (at) gmail (dot) com. Use the word “stumbling” in the subject line. I will respond to you when I am back to civilization, in late June or early July, 2013.
Feel free to post comments on articles that you found useful or insightful. I would love to have your feedback.