Mahoney: A Guest Post from Andrew Joyce

In this compelling, richly researched novel, author Andrew Joyce tells a riveting story of adventure, endurance, and hope as the Mahoney clan fights to gain a foothold in America.

In the second year of an Gorta Mhór—the Great Famine—nineteen-year-old Devin Mahoney lies on the dirt floor of his small, dark cabin. He has not eaten in five days. His only hope of survival is to get to America, the land of milk and honey. After surviving disease and storms at sea that decimate crew and passengers alike, Devin’s ship limps into New York Harbor three days before Christmas, 1849. Thus starts an epic journey that will take him and his descendants through one hundred and fourteen years of American history, including the Civil War, the Wild West, and the Great Depression.

My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. Marian has been kind enough to allow me a little space on her blog to promote my new book, Mahoney. So, I thought I’d tell you how it came about. But to do that, I gotta tell you how my mind works.

A few years ago, I had just finished reading Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for the third time, and I started thinking about what ever happened to those boys, Tom and Huck. They must have grown up, but then what? So I sat down at my computer and banged out Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. I had them as adults in the Old West. Kind of like Wyatt Earp-type characters. It was a modest success and won an award for Best Western of 2013.

I think my favorite book of all time is The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I’ve read it a number of times over the years—the last time being two years ago. Now, for those of you who may not have read it, it’s about one family’s trek from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the 1930s to the “Land of Milk and Honey,” also known as California. Of course, California was not a land of milk and honey. If anything, the family was worse off in California than they were in Oklahoma. The subtext of the book is how those on the lower rungs of society’s ladder are oppressed and have very little voice to fight against that oppression.

Near the end of the book, Tom Joad, the protagonist, runs afoul of the law and must leave his family or else be arrested on a trumped up charge or be killed by the big landowners’ goons. His mother, quite naturally, will miss him and is worried for him. The words he spoke to her in that scene have become iconic.

“I’ll be aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be everywhere-wherever you look. Wherever there is a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there is a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folk eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there.” — Tom Joad, The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

So, here’s what I did. Just like with Huck and Tom, I started thinking about what ever happened to Tom Joad after he left his family. I wanted to write about injustices and the people who suffer those injustices. I thought I’d follow Tom around and write about what he encountered from about the mid-thirties to 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a Dream” speech.

However, there was just one problem with that: copyright laws. The character of Tom Joad belongs to the heirs of John Steinbeck. So, I had to come up with another angle. After some thought on the matter, I decided to expand my initial time frame of between 1933 and 1963 to between 1849 and 1963. I’d start the story in Ireland during the potato famine and work my way to America, and then I’d end up where I had originally intended.

The whole project took twenty months of full-time writing, researching, and editing to get it to where I wanted and to tell the story I wanted to tell. The research took almost as long as the writing did. Of course, I did my preliminary research before I started writing, but I could only do so much because I had just a three-sentence outline in my head of what the story would be. I did most of the research while I was writing. I’d be in mid-sentence and stop to check something out. A half hour later, I’d come back and finish the sentence. I had to get things right. That’s why the book took so long.

Well, that’s how Mahoney came about. For those of you who may read it, I hope you enjoy it.

A short excerpt from Mahoney:

The reflected firelight flickered across awestruck faces and mirrored in the eyes of those who listened as stories were told of yesterday’s indignities and tomorrow’s aspirations. The look in those yearning eyes spoke of hopes and dreams. The laughter heard around the fire conveyed a sense that somehow it would all work out. For a few short hours, on Saturday nights, in the deep woods of a place none of them had ever heard of before, the constant fear that lived within their hearts was banished from their lives.

In time, they would prevail. Their sons and daughters would one day stand straight and tall as proud Americans, as proud as their fathers had been to be Irish.

Andrew Joyce left home at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn’t return from his journey until years later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written seven books. His first novel, Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, was awarded the Editors’ Choice Award for Best Western of 2013. A subsequent novel, Yellow Hair, received the Book of the Year award from Just Reviews and Best Historical Fiction of 2016 from Colleen’s Book Reviews.

Andrew’s Website

Mahoney on Amazon

Local Support!

I was very pleased when our local arts council asked to interview me for their website.

Writers need support.  Yes, we work alone, in silence or not, depending on our individual preferences, and much of our thinking and plotting and creating is done in solitude, too.  But we need colleagues to talk to, and when we get to publication, we need a different sort of support: publicity.  So I was very pleased when our local arts council asked to interview me for their website.  Here’s the link:

https://guelpharts.ca/marian-thorpe-launches-the-empire-s-hostage

Thanks again to the Guelph Arts Council!

Witch (Freya Snow Book 5) by L.C. Mawson: A Review

Witch is perhaps a more thoughtful book than earlier installments, with less physical action and more development of, and insight into, Freya’s character and personality.

Witch is the fifth book in the Freya Snow series, following the experiences of autistic, bi-witchsexual, non-human Freya as she learns to navigate both the human world and the world of magic, discovering the complexities of both.

In the human world, Freya has a job as a barista; in the non-human world, she is mostly concerned with finding a way to lift a curse that has placed a friend into a coma-like state. As she solves this problem – with noticeably more skill in negotiation and communication than in earlier books – she also learns more about herself, her non-human family and her place in the hierarchy of magic. Freya’s friends play a larger part in this book; her human family is barely seen, and this is appropriate given Freya is older and more independent.

Freya’s developing maturity is paralleled by author L.C. Mawson’s development as a writer. Witch is perhaps a more thoughtful book than earlier installments, with less physical action and more development of, and insight into, Freya’s character and personality. The ending of Witch is indicative of Freya’s ability to accept responsibility, moving her from adolescent to adult.

Four stars to a pivotal installment in the series. For an overview of all the Freya Snow books, I suggest the author’s site here.

Reblogged: Scene by Scene Revision of the Novel, by Robert Bruce Young

This article from my friend and fellow writer Robert B. Young is one of the most concise yet informative pieces I’ve come across…

There are dozens (hundreds?) of writer’s how-to guides out there, but for the processes of editing and revision, this article from my friend and fellow writer Robert Bruce Young is one of the most concise yet informative pieces I’ve come across, and one I’m going to keep in my favourites for easy reference.  Take a look!

Scene-by-Scene Revision of the Novel

  In the iterative process of drafting a novel — and especially during the final draft — I’ve found editing at the scene level to be most comfortable and efficient.

That is, I proceed scene by scene, going through the following eagle-eye checks. This article presents a step-by-step guide to the elements you need to address….read more

View at Medium.com

 

A Guest Post from Andrew Joyce

The history of European-First Nations conflict and cooperation is complex and has rarely been told from the First Nations’ viewpoint.

At the end of today’s guest post by author Andrew Joyce, I’ve added a few thoughts of my own.  Meanwhile, keep reading – this is a really interesting post!

My name is Andrew Joyce and I write books for a living. I would like to thank Marian for allowing me to be here today to promote my latest, Yellow Hair, which documents the injustices done to the Sioux Nation from their first treaty with the United States in 1805 through Wounded Knee in 1890. Every death, murder, battle, and outrage I write about actually took place. The historical figures that play a role in my fact-based tale of fiction were real people and I use their real names. Yellow Hair is an epic tale of adventure, family, love, and hate that spans most of the 19th century.

Now that the commercial is out of the way, I can get down to what I really came here to talk about: the Sioux people. The people we know as the Sioux were originally known as the Dakota, which means ally. The name Sioux came from the Chippewa and the French. The Chippewa called them Nadonessiou, which means adder, or enemy, and then the French shortened the name to Sioux.

Every culture has an origin myth. We in the West have Adam and Eve. The Ancient Greeks had Gaia. Odin and Ymir founded the earth according to the Norse people. If you will allow me, I’d like to tell you the creation story of the Dakota.

In the beginning, before the creation of the earth, the gods resided in the sky and humans lived in darkness. Chief among the gods was Ta՜kuwakaŋ, the Sun, who was married to Haŋyetuwi, the Moon. He had one daughter, Wohpe. And there was Old Man and Old Woman, whose daughter, Ite, was wife to Wind, to whom she gave four sons, the Four Winds.

Of the other spirits, the most important was Iŋktomi, the devious trickster. Iŋktomi conspired with Old Man and Old Woman to increase their daughter’s status by arranging an affair between the Sun and Ite. His wife’s discovery of the affair led Ta՜kuwakaŋ to give the Moon her own domain, and by separating her from himself, created time.

Old Man, Old Woman and Itewho was separated from Wind, her husband—were banished to Earth. Ite, along with her children, the Four Winds, and a fifth wind—the child of Ite but not of Wind—established space. The daughter of the Sun and the Moon, Wohpe, also fell to earth and later resided with the South Wind. The two adopted the fifth wind, who was called Wamŋiomŋi.

Alone on the newly formed Earth, some of the gods became bored. Ite prevailed upon Iŋktomi to find her people, the Buffalo Nation. In the form of a wolf, Iŋktomi went beneath the earth and discovered a village of humans. Iŋktomi told them about the wonders of the Earth and convinced one man, Tokahe, to accompany him through a cave to the surface. Tokahe did so and, upon reaching the surface, saw the green grass and blue sky for the first time. Iŋktomi and Ite introduced Tokahe to buffalo meat and showed him tipis, clothing, hunting clubs, and bows and arrows. Tokahe returned to the underworld village and appealed to six other men and their families to go with him to the Earth’s surface.

When they arrived, they discovered that Iŋktomi had deceived Tokahe. The buffalo were scarce; the weather had turned bad, and they found themselves starving. Unable to return to their home, but armed with a new knowledge about the world, they survived to become the founders of the Seven Council Fires.

The Seven Council Fires . . . or Oćeti Šakowiŋ . . . are the Mdewakanton, the Wahpeton, the Wahpekute, the Sisseton, the Yankton, the Yanktonai, and the Lakota.

After Tokahe led the six families to the surface of the earth, they wandered for many winters. Sons were born and sons died. Winters passed, more winters than could be counted. That was before Oćeti Šakowiŋ. But not until White Buffalo Calf Woman did the humans become Dakota.

Two scouts were hunting the buffalo when they came to the top of a small hill. A long way off, they observed the figure of a woman. As she approached, they saw that she was beautiful. She was young and carried a wakiŋ. One of the scouts had lustful thoughts and told the other. His friend told him that she was sacred and to banish such thoughts.

The woman came up to them and said to the one with the lustful thoughts, “If you would do what you are thinking, come forward.” The scout moved and stood before her and a white cloud covered them from sight.

When the woman stepped from the cloud, it blew away. There on the ground, at the beautiful woman’s feet, lay a pile of bones with worms crawling in and among them.

The woman told the other scout to go to his village and tell his people that she was coming, for them to build a medicine tipi large enough to hold all the chiefs of the nation. She said, “I bring a great gift to your people.”

When the people heard the scout’s story, they constructed the lodge, and put on their finest clothing, then stood about the lodge and waited.

As the woman entered the village, she sang:

With visible breath I am walking.

A voice I am sending as I walk.

In a sacred manner I am walking.

With visible tracks I am walking.

In a sacred manner I walk.’

She handed the wakiŋ to the head chief and he withdrew a pipe from the bundle. On one side of the pipe was carved a bison calf. “The bison represents the earth, which will house and feed you,” she said.

Thirteen eagle feathers hung from the wooden stem. White Buffalo Calf Woman told the chiefs, “The feathers represent the sky and the thirteen moons. With this pipe, you shall prosper. With this pipe, you shall speak with Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka (God). With this pipe, you shall become The People. With this pipe, you shall be bound with the Earth for She is your mother. She is sacred. With this pipe, you shall be bound to your relatives.”

Having given the pipe to the People, and having said what she had to say, she turned and walked four paces from the lodge and sat down.

When she arose, she was a red-and-brown buffalo calf. She walked on, lay down and came up as a black buffalo calf. Walking still farther, she turned into a white buffalo and stood upon a hill. She turned to bow in the four directions of the four winds and then she vanished.

Because of White Buffalo Calf Woman, the Dakota honor our mother the Earth; they honor their parents and their grandparents. They honor the birds of the sky; they honor the beasts of the earth. They know that Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka resides in all animals, in all trees and plants and rocks and stones. Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka is in all. They know that Wakaŋ Taŋ՜ka lives in each of us.

Because of White Buffalo Calf Woman, they have become Dakota.

Marian here….

The history of European-First Nations conflict and cooperation is complex and has rarely been told from the First Nations’ viewpoint.  Andrew Joyce has written – both here and in the book Yellow Hair – in a way that honors and recognizes the humanity of the Dakota, and by extension all First Nations.  Some years ago I stood on the plains at Wounded Knee, the wind blowing, as it always does, and thought about what had happened there.  It felt like the land itself held the memory of the massacre, a feeling I’ve only had once before, at Glencoe in Scotland, the site of another infamous massacre.  This poem was my response:

Wind and Silence: December 29, 1890 (July 30, 2001)

The wind is the first thing; that,

And the silence. Dry land, brown bent grasses,

Blue sky.

In the valley, where the tents were,

Where the children were,

There are dreamcatchers for sale.

On the hill, against the carven stone,

A buffalo skull and flowers lie

Beside rolled tobacco and a teddy bear.

What dreams are caught at Wounded Knee?

 

Yellow Hair is available from the following retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iTunes

Kobo

Smashwords

Andrew Joyce left high school at seventeen to hitchhike throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico. He wouldn’t return from his journey until decades later when he decided to become a writer. Joyce has written five books, including a two-volume collection of one hundred and fifty short stories comprised of his hitching adventures called BEDTIME STORIES FOR GROWN-UPS (as yet unpublished), and his latest novel, YELLOW HAIR. He now lives aboard a boat in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his dog, Danny, where he is busy working on his next book, tentatively entitled, MICK REILLY.

Community

Yesterday I saw a glimpse the other side of it, the heart and soul and sweat and generosity, of time and talent and spirit, that makes the festival.

Yesterday I read at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, in the tiny Ontario hamlet of Eden Mills. I was reading because the two pieces I had submitted to the Fringe contest, for not-yet-widely-published authors, had been chosen by the jury. Four poems in the first submission, and a short story in the second.

eden-mills-wall

I’ve been going to this festival on and off for the last twenty-five years. Eden Mills, a hamlet of many 19th century limestone and clapboard houses, spans the Eramosa River. Readings are done outdoors, mostly, in back yards running down to the river; in a sculpture garden, on the grounds of the old mill, in a re-purposed chapel. It’s been a way to spend a lovely September afternoon, listening to people read, eating ice cream, browsing the books in the publishers’ way.

Yesterday I saw a glimpse the other side of it, the heart and soul and sweat and generosity, of time and talent and spirit, that makes the festival. The Fringe readers were treated no differently from anyone else reading: we were invited to the authors’ lounge, (which had taken over the ground floor of a resident’s house) where there was coffee and breakfast pastries available when we got there, then lunch, and later wine and nibbles. Conversations were open and welcoming; I talked to Steven Burrows, another birder and author of birding mysteries (we talked about birding, not writing), and then I talked to the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, George Elliott Clarke, about the surreality of beginning a writing career in my fifties. (His take on it? It’s a good time; fewer distractions).

I read in a natural half-ampitheatre with the river behind me and people ranged in lawn chairs, on blankets, on the grass, on the hill in front of me. My readings both went well – I was sure I was going to stumble over the line “No survey stake or draughtsmen’s pen rules here” (try saying that!) in one of my poems, but I didn’t.

In between the readings, I mostly worked the table of Vocamus Press, the Guelph-based small press that also promotes and publicizes the work of other Guelph writers. This too is hard work, lots of chatting to people (many aspiring writers), selling a few books, handing out cards for the book promotion Vocamus is doing in October. I was a poor backup for Luke, the founder, whose natural salesmanship is far better than mine.

At the end of the day, in the middle of a conversation about literary theory and criticism with a young poet, after a glass of well-earned wine at the lounge, we took ourselves to the village hall for the dinner for all the authors and publishers. Salads, rolls, butter chicken and rice for the first course – and wine on the table, replenished when we’d emptied a bottle – but it was the desserts that were the crowning touch. Because residents of Eden Mills take it on to bake pies – goodness knows how many – for this annual event. How many pies do you need to feed more than fifty hungry writers, plus publishers, volunteers, and organizers? However many it is, they did it. And they were goooood.

There are two – or maybe three – intertwined communities here: the community of Eden Mills, which welcomes, organizes, hosts, bakes, provides food, opens homes, washes dishes (and puts up with writers taking over the village once a year): the supportive, involved people who don’t live, perhaps, in the village, but who are nonetheless integral parts of the Festival, whether it’s organizing the Fringe, arranging the buses, selling books on the Publishers’ Way, and doing a thousand other things I’m not aware of. And then there are the writers themselves, who were again most welcoming, generous, and open, with their time and their thoughts. I was proud to be, in a small way, part of these communities on Sunday.

Thank you, Eden Mills Writers’ Festival!

Reading about Writing

The key to any advice on writing is to pay attention to what lies underneath the overarching organizational structure …


I’ve just finished reading two diametrically opposed books on writing.  One is Robert McKee’s Story, which is really about screenwriting but almost all of it is applicable to any writing.  He’s an advocate of the ‘plan everything out in detail’ style of writing, with some very good insights on conflict and pacing. 

The other was Stephen King’s On Writing (King is up there in my favourite writer category, when he’s at his best), in which he says basically: think up a situation, and let the characters take the story wherever it goes. No planning.  Which is exactly how I wrote Empire’s Daughter, so I automatically favour his approach (confirmation bias, that’s called) – but I think McKee has some very good advice as well.

The key to any advice on writing is to pay attention to what lies underneath the overarching organizational structure of the advice. I’m not going to plan out every scene before I write it, as McKee suggests, but his discussion of how scenes need to move the protagonist and the story from one place to another (physically, emotionally, spirituallly); that each scene must involve meaningful change, now that’s useful for me. But I need to let my subconscious guide that meaningful change, let my characters speak and do and think and react for themselves. I can’t force them to do something that isn’t right for them, and my understanding of my characters’ temperaments and beliefs and emotions resides somewhere that I can’t reduce to lines on an index card or in a notes file on my laptop. On the other hand, when I have a fair idea of the overall story arc and the major conflicts inside that arc, then that place that knows who my characters are and what they’ll do has more time to develop a deeper response from them.

Both books agreed on a couple of things, the biggest one being: don’t write what isn’t necessary. Every word should be there for a reason. That doesn’t mean we all have to write like Ernest Hemingway, nor does it preclude description, but there should be more to describing a setting or a person or a facial expression than just filling space: the invocation of character, of mood, time, familiarity or alien-ness, joy or desolation. If we’re showing the reader something important, good. If we’re over-describing instead of showing character through dialogue or reaction, bad.

Related to this is the need for dispassionate editing. You may have written the best scene of your writing life, but if it doesn’t play a part in the story, why is it there? “Kill your darlings,” King quotes. (I never got to see the movie Genius, about the relationship between Thomas Wolfe (not Tom), author of Look Homeward, Angel, and his editor Max Perkins, but I gather this was part of the conflicted relationship between them.) King says if the writer’s reaction to the advice to cut a scene is ‘Yeah, but…”, then the scene most likely needs cutting.

McKee and King both discuss the difference between writing and story-telling; the first is a matter of having the skill to put words together in a way that is literate and has style, a way that evokes emotion and captures setting and mood. But you can do all that, and still not have a story to tell. Some of the world’s best story-tellers have no or limited written literacy skills, but they know all about character and pacing and tension and crises and climaxes, and that a story – any story – must contain some universal features – the struggle for identity, the conflict between life and death, a facing of horror: a personal journey of some sort. But of course, a good story is not necessarily well written.

A writer can learn the elements of style, and a story-teller can learn to structure her stories for maximum impact. When the two are skillfully put together, in a story told in a way that is truthful, honest to the characters, and concise, then the result should be a book (or a movie or a play) that is remembered by its audience.

What have been your most useful books on writing?

More Good News!

I’ve just learned that my local library has ordered Empire’s Daughter for its collection. That’s quite rewarding, really; it’s really nice to see the library supporting local authors.  So now it’s in three libraries – two public (the other one is my university’s library, as part of its Campus Author program) and one private (the library of the rec centre in the over-55 community in which I live.)

And I’ve finally worked out a thorny problem in the sequel, so it’s coming on a-pace!

 

 

 

Another Dream Come True

I imagined reading my own work at this festival…but it was never going to happen. Except it is.

On the banks of the Eramosa River, in the tiny village of Eden Mills, Ontario, the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival is held every year, as it has been for over twenty-five years.  One of Canada’s premier writer’s festivals, it attracts huge crowds and very well known Canadian writers, reading their works in a variety of picturesque outdoor settings (if the weather cooperates, that is; indoors if it doesn’t. Usually it does.).

I’ve gone, on and off, for the last twenty years.  And, of course, I imagined reading my own work at this festival…but it was never going to happen.  Except it is. This year, I entered work in two categories – prose and poetry – in their Fringe contest, open to ‘not-yet-yet-widely-published’ authors.  I really didn’t think I had a chance…but on the weekend, I got the call, telling me I’d been selected in not one but both categories. I was (nearly) speechless. The official invitation – not only to read, but to attend the author’s party the night before, and the Festival dinner after the readings – is hanging on my bulletin board. I’ll probably frame it.

So I’ve got some reading practice to get in over the next month, to get the flow of the poems right, to figure out what part of the short story I can read in ten minutes, the time allowed.  Good problems to have.

Regular readers know I don’t do inspirational pieces, or moralize…but maybe I will just a bit this time.  As I said, I’ve been going to this festival for over twenty years, and wishing I could read there.  In my earlier entry I talked about how seeing my book on the shelves of my local independent book store was a dream come true, a dream held for over thirty-five years.  I’m fifty-eight, readers, and while I postponed my writing dreams for far too long, caught up in life and work and travel, I never forgot them completely.  Two years ago I got a blunt and visceral reminder that life is short…and to stop dreaming and start working, or I was never going to be able to call myself a writer. Now I can. My dreams may seem modest to some of you, but I’ve never been one for the limelight. This is enough for me.

Whatever it is you’re dreaming of, don’t give up, but you’ve got to do more than dream.