Gone too Soon–Scott Ely–Professor and Friend

Going back to school is supposed to be one of those really nice perks of retirement. In the Fall of 2012, a couple of writing friends and I decided to take a short story writing class at Winthrop University.

I had no idea what to expect. Going to college at my age? What would the “youngsters” think of this gray-haired lady? If I didn’t do well, could I claim diminished capacity?

I did have an advantage over my companions: all of my undergraduate work was completed at Winthrop–while it was still Winthrop College. But in the forty years since graduation, my hair had turned from brown to gray, my steps had slowed, and I had lived through many life events. I had high hopes that those experiences had simmered long enough on the back burner of my mind and that the stories that I wrote would be enriched by drawing from that tasty stew.

Scott Ely was the the professor of the writing class. He had taught at Winthrop for several decades and had written a number of novels as well as short stories. Class was conducted in a small room with an oblong conference table. The ten college-age students selected seats on the opposite side of the table from my two friends and me. A common desire to write united us all. And, yes, my friends and I enrolled in the class for a second time in the Fall of 2013.

Earlier Scott had informed us that he had had cancer but was in remission. But when he became so ill in the Fall of 2013 that he had to resign, we were all surprised. His death at the end of October came as a complete shock. I felt the loss of not just a professor, but a friend and mentor. He was gone too soon. He still had many more stories to write.



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A Pep Rally for Writers

“Writing and Other Disasters” was what the one-day Writers Intensive, sponsored by the Rock Hill chapter of the South Carolina Writers Workshop, was called–but it was really a pep rally for writers.

I want to say a special thank you to the following individuals who helped with this marvelous event.

Kudos to Connie Driscoll Miller for organizing the Intensive and for emceeing the event.

Thank you Roxanne Hannah and her team of Sunscribe Publishers for the bright orange folders and the chocolate goodies.

Muchos gracias to the featured speakers: Ann Eisenstein, Craig Faris, Rosemary Gray, Ed Green, Barbara Lawing, and Ed Wilson. Each one was generous with their knowledge and their time and really went the second mile to answer all questions.

I’ve been a member of SCWW since about 2002, and I know that writing can be frustrating, challenging, and draining. I have often needed a booster shot of enthusiasm and encouragement. The one-day Intensive is just what the doctor ordered for this tired writer.

Thanks to all–old friends and new–for the inspiration!

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Challenges and Frustrations

August 15, 2013
Challenging and frustrating are two words that describe my experiences with genealogical research.
I’m grateful that much research has already been completed and is readily available on the internet at places like Rootsweb.com. The History Room at the local library also has wonderful resources that have added to my information gathering.
I can, in fact, trace my family’s history back for at least 12 generations. It’s thrilling to read of a branch that traveled from England to Bermuda in its earliest days of settlement before immigrating to the brand-new city of Philadelphia.
But it is frustrating to try to reconcile the recorded birth dates and dates of death for all the ancestors and their descendants. The birth and death dates of the founding father of this particular family vary by 54 years. That’s a lifetime. Is a generation missing?
Some expert genealogists do not include the Bermuda group in the lineage.
The families seemed to be so large. So many names were repeated in successive generations, and siblings often repeated the same names when naming their own children.
One thing that has been reaffirmed for me is that family has always been very important. When migrating to the south and then to the west, the family traveled together in groups and settled together. When a brother or sister died, the family head would bring the orphaned nieces and nephews into their own family. Sometimes cousins married cousins.
What frustrates me the most is that, although I can find my paternal grandparents’ names and the names of my aunts and uncles in the pedigree charts, I cannot find my father’s name: Henry Manuel Eugene Todd. Maybe that is because he was the youngest and is the one listed as Living Todd. Or because he was born May 16, 1930, possibly after the census was taken that year.
Then I realize I have something to add to this great body of research: I know the correct name and the correct birth date and, unfortunately, the death date of the last Living child of this family. And just maybe I can add an interesting family story or two about him!

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“Widow” Todd

July 3, 2013

Recently I’ve been searching Rootsweb and other websites for genealogical information for my ancestors.  My father, Henry Manuel Eugene Todd, was born in Buffalo, Dallas Co., MO, on May 16, 1930.

Several researchers have posted a ton of information for at least a dozen generations of Todds. I have marveled at the family’s tendency to travel: from England to Bermuda to Philadelphia to North Carolina to Tennessee to Missouri. I’ve also marveled at how large some of the families were and how the same names keep repeating in successive generations.

Some information seems to be conflicting, confusing, and possibly incorrect. It is difficult to determine which information is the most accurate, especially after staring at a computer terminal, scrolling down long lists, looking for that elusive name “TODD” to leap out, shining light on a missing link.

Yesterday I found an interesting entry on tax lists for Solebury Township, Bucks Co., PA. “Widow” TODD is listed from 1779 to 1784 as owning 10-18 acres of land, one dwelling with 3 inhabitants, one horse and one cow.

My writer’s imagination immediately began to wonder. Who was her husband? Did he fight in the American Revolutionary War? Was he killed in battle or by Indians? How would a widow survive on a farm with two or three small children? Were there neighboring families who assisted her?

Her farm seemed to increase in size from the first listing to the last, so someone was working to improve her land.

And I pondered how I could discover her given name.

Or should I simply let my writer’s imagination take flight–and write my own story about “Widow” TODD.

Any suggestions?



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A Writer’s Inspiration

What inspires a writer to write?

Recently I attended the Pee Dee Fiction and Poetry Festival  held  on the beautiful campus of Francis Marion University in Florence, SC with Kim Blum-Hyclak and Betty Wilson Beamguard. Amy Bloom, novelist; Patricia Smith, poet; Michael Chitwood, poet; and Daniel Woodrell, novelist fielded questions from faculty and students. One of the first questions was where did the inspiration for the story/poem/novel come from?

For Patricia Smith, author of the award winning poetry collection, Blood Dazzler, poems about Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the aftermath, news reports were essential. Her husband worked with Associated Press and read news reports and saw astonishing photos that did not appear on the evening news. The inspiration for one of the poems in the collection was her own experiences visiting an aunt who was in a nursing home.

Amy Bloom, author of several novels and a collection of short stories entitled Where the God of Love Hangs Out, said news articles also inspire her. She read about a prep school where a swatzika was carved into a locker. A 13-year-old girl was discovered to be the culprit. Amy’s daughter also attended the same school.

Michael Chitwood, award winning poet of The Weave Room, said his father worked in a textile mill. He talked about the how loud it was inside the mill. Listening to people’s colorful language also inspired his work. He heard someone say, “Boy, I’ll smack a fart out of you that’ll make you hum like a jar fly.”

Daniel Woodrell, author of several novels, including Winter’s Bone, which was made into a movie and won at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, told how he saw a teenager in the grocery store with two younger siblings. It was obvious the teenager was acting as a mother-figure to the children. This observation led Woodrell to create the main character Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone.

As the writers fielded the questions, I considered how I would answer. Here’s my personal list of things that inspire me:

1. Walking through an art gallery or museum, or viewing art work online. A picture entitled The Singing Butler sparked an idea for a short story.

2. Looking at photographs or family albums and listening to family stories can spark the imagination. My friend Kim Blum-Hyclak writes poems about people in photographs she finds in flea markets.

3. A road trip down country lanes exploring new territory or traveling old roads to forgotten places can spark the imagination as well. My friend Betty Wilson Beamguard wrote a novel entitled Weej and Johnnie Hit Florida about a fictional road trip.

Weej and Johnnie Hit Florida

4. Walking through a cemetery, just glancing at headstones, led the three of us to conjure up stories about the deceased. None of us have come up with a suitable story yet, but the ideas are percolating.

How about you? What inspires you to write?

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“A Sunday Night Service”

Several friends have asked where they can find my poetry to read. At the present time, I only have one poem on line. It’s posted on WordChimes.com. Click on Visitor at the bottom of the first page, and then click on Poet Chimers, and then look for my name, and click on it, you will find my poem, titled, “A Sunday Night Service at the All Nations Church”. Let me know what you think.  Or try this: http://www.wordchimes.com/poetry/Index.php?viewpoem=5401.

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Good Old Summertime Reading

Ah, the long, lazy days of summer! I picture shade trees, cool ocean breezes, a hammock, a tall glass of iced tea or maybe tart lemonade, but definitely with lots of ice, fluffy clouds in a bright blue sky, and a good book to read. Who could ask for anything more?

This summer I decided to participate in the Adult Summer Reading Program at our local library. How many books could I read in 8 weeks? I discovered my reading rate has seriously slowed down, but I did manage to read 9 books during the alloted time. I did start several other books that I didn’t finish. And I read sections of several books on the craft of writing that are not included in the count.   

When I reviewed the list of completed books, I realized several had a war theme. A Good Son by Michael Gruber is not a book I would normally pick up, but I read an excerpt at dearreader.com and became intrigued enough to check the book out of the library. An American soldier, a mother who is a psychoanalyist, and the war in Pakistan all were threads in this amazing novel. I highly recommend it!

Miss Dimple Disappears, by Mignon Ballard, is set in the time period of World War II. The reader is right there with the citizens trying to do their part as civilians to support the war effort and, of course, there is a mystery to solve. Every word is absolutely perfect. I highly recommend this book as well.

Brave Enemies, by Robert Morgan, is a novel about the American Revolutionary War and the Battle at Cowpens, in particular. I heard Professor Morgan speak a few weeks ago, and I just had to read the book. What a compelling read! I had to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen to Josie/Joseph and John.

A Duty to the Dead, by Charles Todd, is set during World War I. The main character, Bess Crawford, is a nurse to British soldiers. What a compellingly strong character she is! This book is also a wonderfully crafted mystery, the first in a new series by the Charles Todd writing team.

While Prayers for Sale, by Sandra Dallas, is not a book about war, it was definitely set in a different time period. Hennie Comfort tells stories to her young friend of the early days of mining for gold and silver in Colorado. The reader catches a glimpse of a hard way of life and learns about quilts as well.

Okay. How many books have you read this summer? Are there any you would recommend?

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