Category Archives: Appalachia

Hatfield vs. McCoy Firepower, 1888

From The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Story, by Dean King (Little, Brown, 2013), Kindle pp. 209-210:

The two sides fired on each other for, by one estimate, more than two hours…. After the initial strikes, the outnumbered Hatfields took the worst of it. Already missing fingers, Mitchell was shot in the side. Indian was drilled in the thigh. A man named Lee White was hit three times.

Just who had the better arms in the battle is a matter of dispute as each side subsequently tried to downplay their weaponry. “The Hatfields fought with the best rifles that money could procure, heavy caliber Colts and Winchester rifles,” wrote journalist Charles Mutzenberg. “The Kentuckians were armed less perfectly, about half of them using rifles and shotguns of the old pattern.” According to him, only Bad Frank [McCoy] and two others had repeating rifles, which accounted for the Kentuckians’ “heavy losses in horses and wounded men.”

Cap’s son Coleman disagreed, saying: “Anse, Cap, and a few other of the Hatfields were armed with .45 caliber one-shot cartridge Spencer rifles. The remainder of the Hatfield side had only cap-lock squirrel rifles and such other muzzle-loading weapons as had been handed down from the Civil War.” He claimed that the McCoys used Winchester repeating rifles bought from the riverboats that plied the Levisa Fork to Pikeville.

In either case, the relative lack of sophisticated weaponry was indicative of just how slow “progress” was in coming to the region, despite its increased economic well-being. It was certainly a factor in the number of casualties suffered in the feud. Had they had better and more accurate guns, more people would have died.

Firearms had evolved rapidly since the war. The original Winchester—the Model 1866 lever-action repeating rifle (like others, named for its introductory year), which fired multiple shots without requiring reloading—had changed gunfighting forever. The highly portable 1873 carbine with its short, twenty-inch barrel was so widely disseminated (to the tune of 720,000) that it has been called the gun that won the West. Colt adapted its Peacemaker revolver to fire the same ammunition, allowing those armed with both to carry only one type of cartridge. And everyone from buffalo hunters, Texas Rangers, and Canadian Mounted Police to Geronimo carried the ’76 Winchester, which celebrated America’s centennial with more potent firepower.

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Making Appalachian Applejack

From The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Story, by Dean King (Little, Brown, 2013), Kindle pp. 64-66:

The still sat on a flat bald stretching about fifty feet across the side of the mountain. Devil Anse used a sixty-gallon boiler that he had bought from the owner of a steamer on the Big Sandy. The deal had taken place at dusk one evening near Louisa, Kentucky. They rolled the heavy boiler onto a flatboat, covered it with a tarp, and disguised it with barrels. Then Devil Anse and three men—possibly his sons, and possibly Big Jim, Randall’s son, who worked for Devil Anse making moonshine (though it is hard to know for sure since the business was clandestine)—had poled it up the river. Finally, it, like everything else, had been lugged the mile up the creek to the bald on a corn sled—a wooden crate on runners for hauling corn out of sloped, rocky fields. They cut a door in the bottom of the boiler and placed it on a big square slab of sandstone that was balanced with rocks underneath its corners.

Devil Anse and his sons built a dry stone wall around the still with a roof of split boards over it. They left a hole in the wall to allow them to reach in and build a fire beneath the sandstone slab. Fresh ice-cold water was funneled to the operation via wooden troughs from an uphill spring. The wood they needed for making buckets and barrels and for fires was plentiful around the bald. All they had to haul up was the main ingredient. When they were making apple brandy, or applejack, Devil Anse’s specialty, they needed three hundred bushels for a large batch, and lugging those apples up to the still on the corn sled was a major task. Up top, the men took turns mashing the apples a bushel at a time in a solid tub, using the butt of a small buckeye tree. They shoveled the apple pulp into 125-gallon vats and stirred in water to create what looked like a thin applesauce. They made about 1,300 gallons of apple mash at a time and then let it sit for ten days while it soured.

On the eleventh day, they began filling the still with the fermented apple mash. The cap was screwed onto the still, and the worm—a copper coil—onto the cap. They built an intense but low-smoke hickory-wood fire beneath the stone. By heating the stone instead of directly heating the boiler, they never burned the mash. Once the stone and still were hot, it took just a small fire to keep the batch at a low boil, just right for making moonshine. Alcohol vaporizes at 173 degrees F, and they kept it as close to that temperature as possible to avoid scalding it.

As steam rose from the simmering mash, it passed through the copper coil, which ran through a wooden barrel filled with cold spring water, and condensed. The resulting liquid trickled out into a wooden bucket. Each full bucket was emptied into a barrel. As long as the stream of liquid coming from the barrel tasted like brandy, they kept it coming, usually for about four hours. Once it got watery, they snuffed the fire, emptied the still through the door in the bottom, and started over again. This way they made six singlings—the amount of whiskey from a full still—in a twenty-four-hour period. Each singling amounted to about ten gallons. It was intense work, and when it was finished, they were only halfway there; a man could get very drunk and very sick off singlings, but this was not the product they were after.

Once enough singlings were collected to fill the still twice, the men gave the still a thorough cleaning, then filled it with the singlings and lit the fire; the steam ran through the worm and was condensed again, this time producing an even purer whiskey, the doublings. It was about 98 percent pure alcohol. Around ten gallons were produced before it began to weaken. Then the men put the fire out, topped off the remaining liquid with more singlings, and lit the fire again.

In this way, six gallons of mash produced a gallon of singlings, and a hundred and twenty gallons of singlings yielded forty gallons of top-quality Hatfield applejack.

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What Sparked the Feud, 1878

From The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Story, by Dean King (Little, Brown, 2013), Kindle pp. 49-50:

By July 1866, Congress had reduced the army to a peacetime level of just over 54,000 men. By 1876, the number had dropped by half again, to 27,000. That year, America’s centennial celebration took a blow when the news hit the week before the Fourth of July that General George Custer had suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of two thousand Lakota and Cheyenne, under Sitting Bull, in the Montana Territory. Custer had been dispatched to open the Black Hills to gold prospectors, which the Indians, whose land it now was, hotly opposed, and to make a statement that would hit newspaper front pages from coast to coast during the presidential political conventions. Instead, Custer’s Last Stand shocked the nation.

The disputed election of Ohio Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, a former Union general, to the presidency that fall resulted in a compromise with the Democrats that ended Reconstruction and the federal occupation of the South. Army forces were shifted to the West to fight Indians and police the frontier. As America rebuilt, laid rails, and expanded, the Indians would be pushed onto smaller and more marginal reservations in the West, and the blacks, now free but left to their own devices, would be oppressed and persecuted in the South. In southern Appalachia, the isolated hill people would be conned out of their land by wealthy northeastern industrial interests, which, as the railroads opened up the region to mass extraction, swooped in and snatched up coal and timber rights before the locals had any idea what they were worth. In little more than a decade, the industrialists would wrest almost complete economic and political control of the region from the people who lived there.

IT IS NOT SURPRISING THAT the Hatfield-McCoy feud found a new spark at this juncture in history, as the strictures and safeguards of the Reconstruction era suddenly vanished. What does come as a surprise is that amid the high-risk and often turbulent work of the timbering industry, with its unbridled inebriation and rowdiness of unleashed mountain men on payday, it was a rather prosaic dispute over livestock that ignited the tinderbox of the feud.

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Appalachian Timber Boom, 1870s

From The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys: The True Story, by Dean King (Little, Brown, 2013), Kindle pp. 43-45, 47:

With the South eagerly rebuilding after four years of bitter destruction, timber was in great demand, and the Tug River Valley had it in spades. Indeed, there was not only a seemingly inexhaustible expanse of timber, but also an easy way to transport it: logs could be floated down brooks, streams, and rivers—the Levisa and Tug forks of the Big Sandy and the Guyandotte River in West Virginia—to sawmills on the Ohio River, and from there the lumber could be shipped around the nation.

Giant tulip trees—native only to the East Coast and China and, at two hundred feet, North America’s tallest trees—blossomed in spring, catching sunlight in brilliant lanterns. The mountain men, who called them yellow poplars, put them to the ripsaw and ax. They also felled and floated other hardwoods—steely hickories, dense elms, and sprawling walnuts—on westward rafts. Sawmills on the Ohio hummed, turning these trees into the lumber that was building America. At the international Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, the state of West Virginia would proudly display at its much-visited exhibit samples of its wide array of commercial lumber: from cedar, spruce, and white walnut to chestnut, sugar maple, white ash, and black cherry.

To construct a raft of logs, the loggers floated or sledded their timber to a cofferdam in a river bend. There they interspersed floaters—logs of lighter wood, like poplar, chestnut, basswood, or sometimes pine—with those of the denser ash, oak, hemlock, hickory, maple, or walnut to keep them buoyant. Once the logs were in line, they fastened oak or hickory binders to the ends with hardwood pegs. Over time, metal chain dogs, wedge-shaped steel points joined together by short chains, replaced the wooden pegs. Then the men attached rigging made from ropes or grapevines.

A timber merchant could harvest land he owned, or he could buy trees for a dollar apiece, or two dollars for an especially good specimen (though the most prized wood, walnut, cost up to ten dollars per tree). The price of the labor to fell the trees, peel them—all logs were floated to the mills without their bark—haul them to a waterway, build the raft, and then float it to the mill was a dollar a day per man.

High-quality poplar brought sixteen cents a cube (twelve inches in length by eighteen in diameter). Oak and sycamore and many other species brought in ten to twelve cents. Top walnut went from twenty cents to a dollar a cube. Walnut was so valuable that men would go back and dig up the stumps to sell for veneer.

Those selling timber had their tricks, sometimes concealing rotten cores with solid pegs. Logs with bad knots or holes were locked into rafts with the blemishes facing down to avoid detection. Buyers had their own stratagems: some were known to squeeze their calipers together when measuring logs to trim an inch here and there, which, when compounded across a raft, added up.

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Addiction Treatment Culture

From Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance (Harper, 2016), pp. 114-117:

On designated weekdays and weekends, we visited our mother at the CAT [Center for Addiction Treatment] house. Between the hills of Kentucky, Mamaw and her guns, and Mom’s outbursts, I thought I had seen it all. but Mom’s newest problem exposed me to the underworld of American addiction. Wednesdays were always dedicated to a group activity—some type of training for the family. All of the addicts and their families sat in a large room with each family assigned to an individual table, engaged in some discussion meant to teach us about addiction and its triggers. In one session, Mom explained that she used drugs to escape the stress of paying bills and to dull the pain of Papaw’s death. In another, Lindsay and I learned that standard sibling conflict made it more difficult for Mom to resist temptation.

These sessions provoked little more than arguments and raw emotion, which I suppose was their purpose. On the nights when we sat in that giant hall with other families—all of whom were either black or Southern-accented whites like us—we heard screaming and fighting, children telling their parents that they hated them, sobbing parents begging forgiveness in one breath and then blaming their families in the next. It was there that I first heard Lindsay tell Mom how she resented having to play the caretaker in the wake of Papaw’s death instead of grieving for him, how she hated watching me grow attached to some boyfriend of Mom’s only to see him walk out on us. Perhaps it was the setting, or perhaps it was the fact that Lindsay was almost eighteen, but as my sister confronted my mother, I began to see my sister as the real adult. And our routine at home only enhanced her stature.

Mom’s rehab proceeded apace, and her condition apparently improved with time. Sundays were designated as unstructured family time. We couldn’t take Mom off-site, but we were able to eat and watch TV and talk as normal. Sundays were usually happy, though Mom did angrily chide us during one visit because our relationship with Mamaw had grown too close. “I’m your mother, not her,” she told us. I realized that Mom had begun to regret the seeds she’d sown with Lindsay and me.

When Mom came home a few months later, she brought a new vocabulary along with her. She regularly recited the Serenity Prayer, a staple of addiction circles in which the faithful ask God for the “serenity to accept the things [they] cannot change.” Drug addiction was a disease, and just as I wouldn’t judge a cancer patient for a tumor, so I shouldn’t judge a narcotics addict for her behavior. At thirteen, I found this patently absurd, and Mom and I often argued over whether her newfound wisdom was scientific truth or an excuse for people whose decisions destroyed a family. Oddly enough, it’s probably both. Research does reveal a genetic disposition to substance abuse, but those who believe their addiction is a disease show less of an inclination to resist it. Mom was telling herself the truth, but the truth was not setting her free.

I didn’t believe any of the slogans or sentiments, but I did believe she was trying. Addiction treatment seemed to give Mom a sense of purpose, and it gave us something to bond over. I read what I could on her “disease” and even made a habit of attending some of her Narcotics Anonymous meetings, which proceeded precisely as you’d expect: a depressing conference room, a dozen or so chairs, and a bunch of strangers sitting in a circle, introducing themselves as “Bob, and I’m an addict.” I thought that if I participated, she might actually get better.

At one meeting, a man walked in a few minutes late, smelling like a garbage can. His matted hair and dirty clothes evidenced a life on the streets, a truth he confirmed as soon as he opened his mouth. “My kids won’t speak to me, no one will,” he told us. “I scrounge together what money I can and spend it on smack. Tonight I couldn’t find any money or any smack, so I came in here because it looked warm.” The organizer asked if he’d be willing to try giving up the drugs for more than one night, and the man answered with admirable candor. “I could say yes, but honestly, probably not. I’ll probably be back at it tomorrow night.”

I never saw that man again. Before he left, someone did ask him where he was from. “Well, I’ve lived her in Hamilton for most of my life. But I was born down in eastern Kentucky, Owsley County.” At the time, I didn’t know enough about Kentucky geography to tell the man that he had been born no more than twenty miles from my grandparents’ childhood home.

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Discovering Hillbilly Identity

From Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance (Harper, 2016), pp. 78-80:

Mom was released from jail on bond and prosecuted for a domestic violence misdemeanor. The case rested entirely on me. Yet during the hearing, when asked if Mom had ever threatened me, I said no. The reason was simple: My grandparents were paying a lot of money for the town’s highest-powered lawyer. They were furious with my mother, but they didn’t want their daughter in jail, either. The lawyer never explicitly encouraged dishonesty, but he did make it clear that what I said would either increase or decrease the odds that Mom spent additional time in prison. “You don’t want your mom to go to jail, do you?” he asked. So I lied, with the express understanding that even though Mom would have her liberty, I could live with my grandparents whenever I wished. Mom would officially retain custody, but from that day forward I lived in her house only when I chose to—and Mamaw told me that if Mom had a problem with the arrangement, she could talk to the barrel of Mamaw’s gun. This was hillbilly justice, and it didn’t fail me.

I remember sitting in that busy courtroom, with half a dozen other families all around, and thinking they looked just like us. The moms and dads and grandparents didn’t wear suits like the lawyers and judge. They wore sweatpants and stretchy pants and T-shirts. Their hair was a bit frizzy. And it was the first time I noticed “TV accents”—the neutral accent that so many news anchors had. The social workers and the judge and the lawyer all had TV accents. None of us did. The people who ran the courtroom were different from us. The subjected to it were not.

Identity is an odd thing, and I didn’t understand at the time why I felt such a kinship with these strangers. A few months later, during my first trip to California, I began to understand. Uncle Jimmy flew Lindsay and me to his home in Napa, California. Knowing that I’d be visiting him, I told every person I could that I was headed to California in the summer and, what was more, flying for the first time. The main reaction was disbelief that may uncle had enough money to fly two people—neither of whom were his children—out to California. It is a testament to the class consciousness of my youth that my friends’ thoughts drifted first to the cost of the airplane flight.

For my part, I was overjoyed to travel west and visit Uncle Jimmy, a man I idolized on par with my great-uncles, the Blanton men. Despite the early departure, I didn’t sleep a wink on the six-hour flight from Cincinnati to San Francisco. Everything was just too exciting: the way the earth shrank during takeoff, the look of clouds from close up, the scope and size of the sky, and the way the mountains looked from the stratosphere. The flight attendant took notice, and by the time we hit Colorado, I was making regular visits to the cockpit (this was before 9/11), where the pilot gave me brief lessons in flying an airplane and updated me on our progress.

The adventure had just begun. I had traveled out of state before: I had joined my grandparents on road trips to South Carolina and Texas, and I had visited Kentucky regularly. On those trips, I rarely spoke to anyone except family, and I never noticed anything all that different. Napa was like a different country. In California, every day included a new adventure with my teenage cousins and their friends. During one trip we went to the Castro District of San Francisco so that, in the words of my older cousin Rachael, I could learn that gay people weren’t out to molest me. Another day, we visited a winery. On yet a another day, we helped at my cousin Nate’s high school football practice. It was all very exciting. Everyone I met thought I sounded like I was from Kentucky. Of course, I kind of was from Kentucky. And I loved that people thought I had a funny accent. That said, it became clear to me that California really was something else. I’d visited Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, and Lexington. I’d spent a considerable amount of time in South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and even Arkansas. So why was California so different?

The answer, I’d learn, was the same hillbilly highway that brought Mamaw and Papaw from eastern Kentucky to southwest Ohio. Despite the topographical differences and the different regional economies of the South and the industrial Midwest, my travels had been confined largely to places where the people looked and acted like my family. We ate the same foods, watched the same sports, and practiced the same religion. That’s why I felt so much kinship with those people at the courthouse: They were hillbilly transplants in one way or another, just like me.

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Scott Meredith Manuscript Rejection Letter, 1952

My maternal grandmother received the following 4-page, single-spaced, detailed rejection letter in response to a novel-length manuscript she submitted between short stints of teaching in various rural schools in West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia during the 1950s after abandoning her husband, who was 27 years older than her. She got her teaching certificate in 1915, after attending Harrisonburg State Normal and Industrial School, then did further coursework at Radford College (1915-18). From 1919 to 1951, she married and raised 4 children, my mother being her youngest. She wanted to be a writer, but only really succeeded at publishing short devotional pieces for magazines like The Upper Room, which never paid a living wage. So she taught school. Perhaps I’ll post more about her teaching career later on, since my wife is a teacher, my daughter is now a teacher, and I’ve been offering this free, online extension course (no grades!) in Obscure History Studies since 2003.

SCOTT MEREDITH
Literary Agency

580 Fifth Avenue
New York 36, N. Y.
PLaza 7-8795-6
Cable Address: Scottmere

April 24, 1952

Mrs. Janie S. Clay [not her real surname—J.],
Jones Spring
West Virginia

Dear Mrs. Clay,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your novel, THE DOORMAT. Your previous writing experience has contributed to the formulation of a first rate style, end this is even more noticeable here than it was in your short story. It proves that you can keep your standards up to as high a mark in a long piece as in a short one–a sure proof of your basic writing ability. Your style has a clarity and straightforwardness that would be an asset to any writer, and you have a remarkable talent for colorful description. Narration, dialogue, and action are all handled with the ease and confidence of a born story-teller. Also, you have a grasp of character and situation that stands as a solid achievement in any appraisal of the whole work. However, all these qualities on the credit side of the ledger are not quite enough to make your novel marketable. In addition, it should have a strong, closely-knit plot, which moves along to a logical and satisfying conclusion. Since THE DOORMAT falls short in this respect. I am forced to return the manuscript to you as unsalable.

Plotting is definitely your weak point. and I will therefore devote the greater part of my report to an analysis of your story-structure. in the hope that it will help you when you begin work on your next story. You are already acquainted with the plot skeleton–lead character, central problem, complications, crisis, and solution–and I will again take it as a useful device for pointing out the structural flaws in your story, showing just why and how it fails to engage the reader’s interest.

In a novel, the familiar pattern is there even as it is in short stories. Of course. the “bones” of the skeleton won’t be immediately visible if you only give the work a casual glance, because there is always a great deal of “flesh” on them, in the way of dialogue, description, etc.;–in short, all the many striking and beautiful things that a talented writer can do with words. The pattern is there, but much expanded so that it covers a wider territory. A novel has plenty of room for development of character, sketching in background, and making the story full and rounded in all its parts; also, there is space for many exciting actions, many persons, and many problems. Nevertheless, one central problem or theme must predominate over all the others; they must stand in some relation to it, and it must give them their place and relevance in the narrative. The novel thus presents the author with an opportunity to examine one idea or problem in all its ramifications, and with a consequent chance for great variety and richness of subject matter. But the variety must be ordered and regulated by some strong line of narrative; it cannot exist in its own right, but must contribute to some oentral problem, issue, or impression, the nature of which is both clear end urgent in the reader’s mind. The reader must have an active and vital interest in the outcome of the whole story rather than a casual interest in its diverse parts. But he cannot do this if the problem doesn’t grip him from the very start, and your novel fails to meet this demand. You felt this, of course, for you mention it in your letter. It hits the nail on the head to note that the story lacks problem and suspense. The skill with which you write is not enough to compensate, and the problem remains too weak to support the plot structure which depends upon it. As a lead charaoter gives the story a point of view, so does the problem give it a purpose. I suspect that your sense of purpose in writing the book has been too-general a one to serve as a gathering-point for a strong narrative. David finally attains kind of character suggested by the title, but this is not the drama that holds the center of the stage most of the time.

But first, before we come to grips with the problem–or problems–let’s have a look at your lead character, Lucy Turner. She is a young girl, seventeen years of age, returning home from college because of her mother’s illness. This is a bit young for a lead, because the reader is more likely to identify with an adult facing adult problems. But you overcome this handicap by presenting Lucy at precisely the point of assuming the duties of an adult, and your further development of her character is both just and consistent. She, and your other characters, do have a liveness and naturalness in all ways that makes them attractive: you need have no fear on that point. However, she is not an exciting character, and her problems–central and otherwise–do not grip the reader’s imagination. Interest in the love between David and Lucy is aroused early, and remains the predominant theme of the narrative. The heroine at first has much to worry her though, what with her mother’s illness and her father’s drinking. Both these are out of the way before long, end something else pops up, a small example of the color question. One thing I want to emphasize here is that all these small early problems are just that–small! Yet they serve to take away interest in the Lucy-David relation, which operates independently of them. In other words, you have not used the materials of the narrative to develop anything; the events remain separate entities, and do not add up to any total impression. The story does not seem to be going anywhere, and is rather accounting for the day to day existence of Lucy, her family, and her friends. The problem of getting the young people together is there, but is not a pressing one. The reader thus has nothing to sustain his interest, nothing to hang on to. Minor problems are raised and dropped, sometimes solved, sometimes forgotten, and the question of what is going to happen between David and Lucy is apparently one that can be postponed indefinitely. As Lucy herself realizes, she can do little but wait and hope for David’s love: she cannot chase him. The fact that she cannot take a more active part in solving her problem automatically deprives her problem of reader interest. The possibility of an active solution has to be there: she cannot merely wait until the time and the circumstances come and grab her. Thus the problem at the heart of the story fails in its essential function of arousing and sustaining reader interest. What about the other problems?

Of the smaller ones, perhaps the most interesting is the race-relations theme. The new Baptist preacher, old Mr. Allen, goes out to preach before a colored congregation–a thing unheard-of in this part of the country. But this only looks as if it is going to be a problem, and it never develops into anything. There is talk, people gossip, there are objections in private conversations, but the controversy never comes into the open, and the threats soon vanish as if nothing had ever happened. The theme returns again in the last chapter, but it is no more than a promise of better things and more help for the colored people. The issue never comes to a head, and the problem fails to become pressing and vital. Mind you, there are a great many fine and telling points made by the wayside: your characters are always dropping wise and witty comments here and there, as for instance Mr. Allen’s reason explaining why so many Negroes are Baptists; and another good one that I remember is when some one observes that the Primitive Baptists are so narrow they can sleep five in a bed! These are right in tone, and this kind of color goes a long way towards making your book a pleasure to read. But of course, no amount of this kind of thing can make up for the lack of problem and plot.

The other major issue in the book is David’s attitude to the ministerial service, and this is the source of your title. But this, too, lacks vitality. The fact that he is not your lead character deprives it of a certain amount of interest for the reader. It does not come vigorously into the open until the fifteenth chapter (p. 148), then goes underground again, to be finally resolved only by the ministrations and good advice of Jim Peterson. I realize that it is not quite the same thing in its later form, but it is still the problem of how to serve adequately. The solution is brought about by a minor character, which is also a weak point, since reader’s like to see a character get out of his jam through his own exertions and by his own ingenuity.

As for the complications to the central problem, most of them are provided by David, who finds that he cannot play the part Lucy would have him play. They are separated by the circumstance of his having to go off to college while she stays at home and teaches school. But the reader will feel that the problem of getting David to marry Lucy is not really pressing enough to worry about. You give her other interests that will keep her from taking his loss too hard. This is already evident by Chapter Twelve in which Lucy is made unhappy by David’s distance at the service. What happens here is that the religious interest overshadows the personal angle, and she seems so happy in the primary joy of religion that the reader will feel this is bound to be ample compensation no matter what becomes of her relation to David. Her thoughts about him at the baptizing are merely passing notions when compared to her pleasure she takes in the proceedings. It is all too obvious that if worst comes to worst, the problem of David’s reluctance and distance will not sweep her completely off her feet. This is a paradox at the very heart of your story, because the reader understands from the start that this is precisely what Christianity is supposed to do: we almost presume it when we see it in a story. This is bound to take away suspense, no matter how you try to get around it. David is at college for three years, then goes off to the war. Soon after he returns, he marries enother girl, leaving Lucy heartbroken. The loss makes her doubt, turns her listless, and almost changes her character. However, she is brought back to herself by Elizabeth’s efforts, and by the end of Chapter Twenty-two has attained inner peace and happiness. But this, of course, she could not do by herself; again, the minor character makes all the difference in the world, and moves the story in the direction you want it to go.

At this point, there is a gap in time, and the next chapter takes up three and a half years later with a remarkable accident that sets the stage for the reunion between David and Lucy: the reader hears that David has killed his wife in a tragic hunting accident, and is almost crazed with grief. This, however, is not quite fair, even as the background of a solution. Coincidence should not play a part in the construction of a story, especially insofar as complication and solution are concerned. Stories can start from a coincidence, but it is not proper to make them end there. Chance and accident can solve any problem, and should therefore not be used. The reader doesn’t want to find that the lead character is being brought to his goal by means of luck. Of course, the problem was solved when the accident took place, and reopens the possibility of David and Lucy coming together again. The accident raises another problem–getting David back into the world of men–which is solved by his summer with Jim Peterson (mentioned earlier). Gradually, you bring the lovers together, until they finally decide to get married. It was the natural thing to do, seeing that his wife was dead. But the story moves exceptionally slowly in this part, because the obstacles to their marriage no longer exist, and it is only a matter of time. You have a tender love scene between them at the time of the proposal, but it cannot seem to bring the narrative to life. (There is a slip of names, by the way on p. 242, when Lucy becomes “Mary”; guess you got excited!) The story still carries on for two more chapters, showing something of Lucy’s and David’s life together after they are married, but this does not do more than settle a few minor difficulties raised in the past and give a promise of a useful future for the two main characters. Both have learned exactly how to serve, and they are able to help each other in the work. I’m afraid the everyday-ness of much of the rest of the story is even more apparent here, and that the reader’s interest cannot possibly be sustained.

I’m sure you can see by now why I am unable to recommend a revision of your novel. Its flaws are structural, and are too basic to be “patched up.” The weakness of central problem and solution are insurmountable obstacles inherent in the whole work. However, I think you do have the talent to write a salable novel–and one with a real message–if you put a bit more thought into your plotting. By all means keep up the good work! Best wishes.

Sincerely,

/s/Scott Meredith
SCOTT MEREDITH

SM:tr

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