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The Old College Try

The flowers are always either yellow or red, Maryland state flag colors. That's McKeldin Library in the background. Source:

Welcome back to school, Terps! Source:

Classes started yesterday at the University of Maryland, so I spent most of this past weekend tying up a few loose ends here and there, getting ready for the new semester. I look forward to seeing students on campus and in classrooms each Fall.

To me, the first day of school has always been my New Year’s Day, if that makes sense. I’ve always truly felt like my life was getting a fresh start, with new books, new ideas to consider, new friends to make. Besides, I don’t remember most of my New Year’s celebrations of the past — and I’d wake up with incredible hangovers.

Because I’ve been prepping for the first day/first week back to school, I haven’t accomplished much in the world of writing — drafting new material, that is. But I have been getting organized.

Every three months, I go back and transcribe my research notes, and that’s been the bulk of my writing every day for the past week. Basically, I keep a journal related to the writing of this book every single day. Sometimes, the entries are very sparse; i.e., a bulleted list with items such as:

  • Graded 15 papers
  • Faculty meeting three hours
  • Called Pensacola Historical Society for text reference

And then, I’ll have several handwritten pages with an imagined dialog between individuals in Emmett’s book, or several pages with a roughed-out description of what Evelyn Croom Maxwell’s law office looked like.

Going back over the notes and transcribing them helps me suss out different scenes in the book as they unfolded in Emmett’s life, or, toss scenes that turn out not to have much importance.

A favorite and entertaining book about history and hands-on research. Source:

A favorite and entertaining book about history and hands-on research. Source:

I suppose I could also say that I have the foundations of another book right here in my hands — how one actually constructs a book about an obscure political figure, and the adventures one has with research, sort of like what one of my favorite writers, Tony Horwitz, did with Confederates in the Attic.

One book at a time, though, people.

I’m almost done, but transcribing three months’ of handwritten notes on everything from field trips, to new research contacts, to character development ideas is time consuming, because my handwriting is scrawly and hurried. I prefer to write things out longhand when taking notes. The tactile interaction with pen and paper seems to me like I have more of a personal relationship with the subject this way.

Finally, I’ve been trying to finish up my book club’s selections before we get back together on Friday.

Ann Pancake's book, Strange as this Weather Has Been. Source:

Ann Pancake’s book, Strange as this Weather Has Been. Source:

Ann Pancake’s book, Strange as This Weather Has Been, was the selection for the August meeting of our neighborhood club.

People, I gave this one the old college try SEVERAL times. I did not like it for the simple reason that I could not get into it at all. I told one of my friends that I tried reading that thing three different times, and it was such a struggle for me to understand the stream-of-consciousness-type dialog, that I grew frustrated and put it down. It was too much work for me to undo the psychological knot presented by Pancake.

In comparison, I had just finished E.L. Doctorow’s Homer and Langley  about 10 days ago, and it held my attention — I read it through in one day. Doctorow is a very elegant, organized writer; he let one character — Homer — speak in his book. Pancake let all of her main characters do the talking, and frankly, some of the characters’ thinking was just too difficult and uneven to follow.

It made me think that she was channelling William Faulkner, but unsuccessfully. I also found Faulkner hard to read, but not impossible. Maybe it is because he and I are both Mississippians; we know how we ‘think.’ Haha.

Pancake’s book made me appreciative of how we cannot read other people’s minds, and thank God for that, because the jumbled, stream-of-consciousness cacophony would be too much for anyone to take.

Speaking of cacophony, I’m off to campus this morning to talk about my research with one of the graduate classes. I like sharing what I’m doing with students who also –must– obtain actual research experience in an archive for academic credit.

It is going to be a good morning! Hope you have a good day as well!

Categories: Book Research Status The Writing Life

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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