Monday, September 28, 2015

Writing about Death by Potato Soup and Other Curious Adventures

Have you ever read a story or heard a story and wanted to know more then you mentioned it to someone else and that person wanted to know more and before you knew it you were writing a script?

That's how I wrote a script about husband number six of the infamous St. Charles Potato Soup Black Widow for All Saints Parish's second "Voices of the Past" cemetery walk.

Let me back up a bit.

Two years ago our parish presented its first "Voices of the Past" cemetery walk. A few members of our parish writing group were asked to write scripts for historic characters who are buried in our parish cemetery. Actors, who also were parishioners, dressed in period costumes and portrayed the characters, using those scripts.

For our first cemetery walk I wrote about George Gaty, Revolutionary War hero and founder of St. Peters, Missouri. It was my first attempt at script writing, and although it was daunting, it turned out to be mind-stretching fun. Everyone who attended the October 2013 event said all the actors were remarkable. Unfortunately, I was out of town and unable to attend.

Earlier this year, during one of our writing group meetings, I mentioned an article I'd read about a farmer buried in our parish cemetery who had been murdered back in the late 1930s by the St. Charles Potato Soup Black Widow. Next thing I knew, I was doing research, interviewing a 90-plus-year-old parishioner who vividly remembered the event, and writing a script about Aloys Schneider for the cemetery walk.

Aloys Schneider was an unsuspecting farmer who had the misfortune of marrying a woman advertising her services as a housekeeper through a want ad in a St. Louis newspaper. The marriage to Aloys, husband number six, ended when he died shortly after their wedding. His family suspected his bride had poisoned him, but they lacked proof. It wasn't until a year later, after Tony Heppermann, husband number seven, died that the Potato Soup Black Widow was charged with double murder.

Aloys Schneider is one of many characters who will be portrayed during "Voices of the Past" cemetery walk on Oct 3 and 4 at 7 p.m. in the parish cemetery, 6 McMenamy Rd. St. Peters, MO. You can purchase tickets for $10 at the Parish Office, and more info can be found on the link above. Visitors are asked to arrive 15 minutes early and wear comfortable shoes.

I've already bought my ticket for the Oct 4 performance, and I can't wait to see all the actors play their roles.

If you are unable to make the event but are curious about Emma Sarana Heppermann, who laced her potato soup with arsenic and was suspected of murdering five of her seven husbands, one of her mothers-in-law, and even one of her own children, click on the link above.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Creating Mood in Fiction with Dr. Scott Dalrymple

Dr. Scott Dalrymple, President of Columbia College, spoke enthusiastically during his presentation at CCMWG's September meeting about creating mood in fiction.

Although presiding over a college is his profession, writing, especially short fantasy/science fiction pieces, is his passion.

His talk was casual, but his remarks were practical, thoughtful, and, at times -- deep.

Here are some notes/quotes I jotted down:
* The slush pile does get read, usually by an intern or an assistant. That's how his first short story got discovered.
* Having a good plot, especially in short stories, is not as important as having a good command of the language.
* If a story gets rejected, hold on to it for a while and revise and resubmit either that piece or a new piece to the same publication. (Editors move on -- or the same one might forget he/she read your story before.)
* He compared novelists and short story writers to carpenters.
  - Novelists are like framing carpenters with big elaborate structures (plots).
  - Short story writers are like finish carpenters (not to be confused with carpenters from Finland) who work on the smaller details (mood, language).
* He prefers to write shorter works -- but he enjoys reading novels.
* Editing is his favorite phase of the writing process.
* You've got to write something before you can edit.
* The "sound" of writing is crucial -- the cadence and rhythm (musicality, syllables, stresses).
* The rule of three is powerful (like the Holy Trinity). Dickens used it.
* Adjectives and adverbs are overused.
* The "reluctant hero" in modern fiction is annoying.
* Experiment writing in different persons; second person is tricky and some readers don't like it.
* Pick the one word that works; it can be an off-kilter word. (He prefers darker, bordering on horror).
* Think of  a stranger way to say it.
* "Not all good ideas turn out to be true."
* Great poets stun him (in a good way).
* In his opinion, Gene Wolfe is the greatest living writer and the "master of the casual revelation."
* Flash fiction pieces can convey a mood, and writing them is a good way to learn the craft.
* Huck Finn is the great American novel.
* "Endings are hard to write." (Dickens reportedly changed his for Great Expectations.)
* One of his advisors in college commented that "Real life doesn't have an ending -- it's unsatisfying."
* If others weren't there, what would we be?

How's that for heady stuff?

Although I typically don't read fantasy or science fiction, I'm going to check out Gene Wolfe, and I might even try writing something in second person.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Superstitions from Family and Friends

An unusual event happened at Bunco last month. It was strange because the Bunco group I belong to has been playing once a month for over forty years and this has never happened--at least not as long as I can remember.

The Bunco attendance prize was a cute and fancy watermelon knife, like the one on the left. (I had already bought an identical one at a local supermarket for me -- there was a super sale --- and another for my granddaughter to use in her new apartment.)

 Immediately after opening the Bunco gift bag with the knife inside, the prize winner hopped up from her chair, grabbed her wallet, and gave the hostess a penny.  When I asked the winner why she did that she told me it's bad luck to receive a knife as a gift. When you receive one, you're supposed to give whoever gave it to you some money. Curious about why it was bad luck, after I got home I did some research. Seems like there are several superstitions connected with knives.

The next time I saw my granddaughter I told her about the knife-gift superstition and reminded her that I had given her some money, along with the knife, so she was good. She looked at me like it was just another of my weird stories.

That reminded me of my mother's superstitions. Here are a few I remember:

If you spill salt, toss some over your left shoulder.
If your right hand itches, you're going to meet someone.
If your left hand itches, you're going to get some money.
Never put an umbrella on a table.
Never put a hat or shoes on a bed.
It's bad luck for a bird to fly into the house.
Don't let cats near newborns.
Don't cut a baby's hair before it's a year old.
Finding a coin heads-up is good luck.
Dreaming of muddy water mean bad luck. (My grandma would call everyone in the family when she had one of these dreams.)
Bad luck and good luck come in threes.
If it comes in three, let it be -- a warning to watch out for poison ivy and poison oak.

That's all I can think of right now.

How about you? Did your family have any superstitions?