Monday, January 27, 2020

#129 Inside the Emotion of Fiction "RED AND WHITE" by Kenneth Weene

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****Kenneth Weene’s Red And White is #129 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us?  Red and White. To be honest the title was there from the very beginning, which has more often than not been the history of my books

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction?
I can’t give exact dates, but it has been a few years in part because I have worked on two other major projects during the same period, a memoir I co-wrote with a gentleman from South Sudan, and a play, Ashes, that I co-wrote with a friend from Nigeria. The play is supposed to be published this summer. The memoir, Jumping Over the Ram, is still looking for a publisher.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. And can you please include a photo? I do almost all my writing in my office seated at a computer. I did take one small break to work on one chapter in Prescott, AZ. I’m not sure why I needed that few days, but generally, I just hack away at my desk.  

          Two reasons I prefer working that way: I use a double screen for my computer array, which means that I can fact and spell check while the manuscript is open; and to be honest, my handwriting is so bad that I can’t do much writing with pen and paper. 

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? Okay, I’ve already said I wrote at the computer. I don’t smoke anything, haven’t for years. I seldom listen to music when writing except that while working on a couple of segments I did play some Native American music to help with the rhythms of the words. 
Now, what do I drink? Well, let’s just say that I consume a lot of coffee, specifically Arbuckle Coffee, the coffee that won the west; that really is their slogan and it is an old company that was popular on the range. Of course, the blends today are different.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? I thought I would use one of the parts I wrote on that trip to Prescott. Old Man Miller owns the local saloon. John McCabe works for and lives with Miller. There has been a fight in town, one that involved Whites and Indians. The intent of this chapter is to create a sense of what the relationship between Reds and Whites is.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

Excerpt from Chapter five – Confusions 

“Well that was some ruckus we had us this morning.” Old Man Miller spat; his spittle clanked into the bucket that served as a spittoon.  “You know how she started?”

John McCabe settled into a chair. “Sure do. It was ‘count of Mrs. Knox, you know Amos’s wife. She come into town with him. Wanted to buy some of that cloth Jedidiah had ‘em ship in from Omaha. Wanted to make herself a new dress, and…”

“Hrmph! Hrmph!” The older man snorted his impatience.

John continued, “she was walking cross the street when that Injun saw her, and him not thinking none because of the liquor, why he said, ‘Howdy.’ And she said, “Howdy,” back. And Wainright he took ‘ception count of him bein’ an Injun and shouldn’t be talkin’ to no White woman.”

The saloonkeeper stroked his whiskers and spat again. “Just, ‘Howdy?’”

“Yes, sir, ‘Howdy.’”

“That boy’s got mean in his brain. He’d have taken exception if that Injun has passed wind.” Old Man Miller hucked another wad of spit into the bucket.

“Yes, Sir. … We gonna stop sellin’ whiskey to them Injuns?”

The older man laughed—the sound of a goat bleating in surprise. “Hell no! You know what a good fight does?” He paused for emphasis. “Gets a man’s thirst roaring. That’s what it does. Sold more beer today than we do most weeks.” He cackled again.

The door to the saloon had been locked, at least a stout of wood had been wedged against it. The saloonkeeper and his young helper were heating their dinner — the usual, beans with a few chunks of pork thrown in for flavor. John was always thankful to see his employer happy. When business was good, the old man was more likely to share those bits of fatty meat. Most days, the younger man had to settle for just the beans. Tonight’s dinner was looking promising.

“You seen your share of fighting didn’t you, Mr. Miller?” McCabe asked. He had asked the question many times. It was one of Old Man Miller’s favorite topics — the years he had ridden with One-Armed Kearney, even helping the Captain off the field when his arm had been blown away at Churubusco.

Miller’s story always ended the same way. “That was enough fighting for me. Enough of horses, too. Only thing I wanted after Army life was a good drink. That’s why I went into this business. Good liquor and a good chaw: that’s enough for any man!”

When he would finish, the old man would always spit. Even if he didn’t have a plug in his cheek, he would spit. Sometimes, if he were cooking their beans, he’d spit into the pot. “What the hell,” McCabe would think, “it’ll add flavor.”

When he saw that Miller had actually given him a fistful of that pork, McCabe figured the saloonkeeper was in an especially good mood. “Mind if I ask ya a question?”

“Go ahead. Don’t know as I’ll answer, but go on and ask.”

“Your name?”

“What about it?”

“What is it?”

“Miller. Hell, you know that.”

“Nah. I mean your Christian name.”

“Folks call me “Old Man.”

“Well, I know that. I mean your real name — the one your folks gave you.”

“They didn’t.”

“On your certificate or when you was baptized.”

“None of that crap. My ma dropped me, and that was about all what she was ready to do.”

“What did your pappy call you?”

“Before he rode out?” The old man lit the kerosene lamp. He ran his finger around the edge of his plate and sucked the last of the beans from his rough digit.

“Hell, all he said was, ‘ain’t no kith of mine.’ Course I don’t recall it being just a baby, but that’s what my Ma told me. Nope, only name I got’s Miller. Course now folks call me Old Man, but I don’t know as it matters. Miller’s ‘nough of a name for a barkeep.” He took a plug and stuffed it into one cheek. The younger man could see the staining of Miller’s teeth — the ones that had not yet rotted out.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? I think at a personal level this excerpt connects with the alienation between my father and myself and the absence of meaningful communication, which may be why it took going away to work on it. However, in the larger context of the novel, it is so evocative of the tension between Whites, Blacks, and Indians that pervaded that time in history, of the effect the Civil War had on America and Americans, and finally how in the end money so often distorted what was—and what is—going on in our world.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt.  I’m sure there were individual words altered, but this piece when it was finally written was really just there as was most of this book. That’s one of the reasons that I mention channeling the story; it came from within me but so smoothly and complete.
           Kenneth Weene learned to read at an early age. “I asked my father where baby’s come from. When he said that he was too busy to talk, I figured that I’d have to find out a different way,” is the explanation Ken gives. “My uncle, who was a doctor then serving in the army during World War II, had left his books in our attic. I figured that if I learned to read them I would get my answer.”
The joke was on Ken; those books were in German. Still, he had found the joy of reading, a joy that has never failed him. In addition to loving books, that early experience gave Ken a fascination with human behavior and how people lie to one another in order to give meaning to their own lives. Lonely Cricket, the protagonist of Red and White, draws on and reflects Ken’s fascination with the search for human truth and the connection between that truth and stories.

With a Ph.D. in psychology and a never-ending love for language, writing, and his fellow humans, Ken has devoted the past twenty years of his life to creating stories, poems, essays, novels, and plays. With each published word, Ken tells himself, “I think that’s it.” Still new ideas come.

When asked how he can write about Native Americans, Black Americans, and characters from so many diverse backgrounds, Ken replies, “We’re all more nearly human than otherwise.” For Ken, writing is a celebration not of one group or one culture but of the human experience. “As long as I have the capacity to empathize, I will have a never-ending source of stories.”


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