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Thunderbirds, mothmen and other unknown flying things are some of the most puzzling of cryptids. They appear in the sky or a nearby meadow, amaze lucky witnesses, and then fly away without any hint as to their intent. Sometimes they seem to portend doom, as in the famous case of Point Pleasant, W. VA’s Mothman, which many think was a harbinger of the tragic Silver Bridge collapse.

 

In other cases, such as the northwestern Wisconsin daylight sighting by John Bolduan that begins my “American Monsters” book, witnesses are left feeling perplexed yet privileged to have witnessed such a spectacle. Bolduan watched in awe as the tall, silvery-feathered bird took to the air and displayed a 22-foot wingspan.

 

There’s another example of that flighty ambiguity in my next book due out this fall, titled “Monsters Among Us, an Exploration of Otherworldly Bigfoots, Wolfmen, Portals, Phantoms and Odd Phenomena.” In this incident, a central Wisconsin woman witnessed a gigantic, large bird standing on a bridge near Black River Falls. She was told by a Native American elder that she had seen a Thunderbird.

 

Why am I bringing these examples up now? I’ve often wished that I had some way to help  interpret these incidents, but had never found much contemporary material aside from well-known Thunderbird lore. I was thrilled recently, then, to stumble across a gleam of illumination in my summer reading pile, in a book about one man’s solo canoe adventure down the Mississippi River. The beautifully written work, Nick Lichter’s The Road of Souls, Reflections on the Mississippi, also describes many of the places long considered sacred or otherwise important by our indigenous people.

 

One of these places is Rock Island, Illinois (specifically, the area known as Rock Island Arsenal across the river from Bettendorf, Iowa). Lichter cites the translated autobiography Life of Black Hawk to explain that this island was once considered a hunting, fishing and horticultural paradise by Blackhawk’s people, the Sac or Sauk. I’ll quote just the last half of Chief Blackhawk’s own statement from  Lichter’s book:

 

“In my early life, I spent many happy days on this island. A good spirit had care of it, who lived in a cave in the rocks immediately under the place where the fort now stands, and has often been seen by our people. He was white, with large wings like a swan’s, but ten times larger. We were particular not to make much noise in that part of the island which he inhabited, for fear of disturbing him. But the noise of the fort has driven him away, and no doubt a bad spirit has taken his place!”

 

Lichter adds, “The swan’s cave was long ago dynamited out of existence.”

MississippiRiver

(Image shared from http://cdn26.us1.fansshare.com/photo/mississippiriver/shannon-mississippi-river-watershed-wikimedia-commons-delta-333095664.jpg)

Might the big birds seen up and down the Mississippi since Chief Blackhawk’s day be embodiments of that wandering spirit bird? Blackhawk doesn’t directly call the spirit bird a swan; he merely says it is white, has wings like a swan and is ten times its size. That’s very reminiscent of what Bolduan described. And Webb Lake, where it appeared, is only about five or six miles from the Mississippi in Burnett County, Wisconsin. Moreover, the other encounter I mentioned on the bridge in central Wisconsin was near Black River Falls, a tributary of the Mississippi.

 

This is just my own fanciful thought, but maybe that great, spirit bird is still winging over the Mississippi, setting down now and again as it searches for another place of peace– another earthly paradise to watch over. I believe it’s as good an explanation of these huge creatures as any.

My final thought is a question inspired by Blackhawk’s words when he suggested a “bad spirit” might have taken the great bird’s place… I can’t help but wonder what shape that bad spirit might have taken…

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I love communicating with other authors, aspiring or established. Along with artists and Lhasa apsos they are my favorite people. But I recently received an email from a would-be author, of the kind that makes me say, “Oh, fudge,” and then go eat about a pound of said substance. The email was from a distant relative’s acquaintance who heard I’d had a few books traditionally published and wanted me to tell him how he could get his book traditionally published, too. I wish I knew!

 Well, actually I do know. Do a mountain of work and research to make sure your book is well-written, compelling and has an audience, and then do a lot more hard work and research to find agents or publishers who are looking for that type of book, and then do even more hard work and research to learn how to properly sell it to them. And don’t expect it to happen by next Tuesday. If it happens at all. 

I learned all this the hard way, and it entails far more than I could cram into one e-mail. Besides, I’m not necessarily worthy! Just having books published doesn’t make me anyone’s career expert or a fairy godmother even if I do like magic wands and pixie dust. And I’m still learning, meself.

 But luckily for him, me and everyone else, in the past three or four years many first-rate agents, writers, and publishers on the blogosphere and social media sites have created a cyber-university wherein anyone can earn a virtual doctorate in Book Authorology by absorbing all the amazing FREE advice and insights a humanoid brain can hold, plus so much more it will slop right out onto your Live to Write t-shirt! I cannot post loudly enough about what a valuable development this is for every aspiring writer. I surely wish it had been there ten years ago when I was beginning my own adventures with books. Its vastness, however, can be daunting. 

To get started, I told the emailer, mine the gemmy topics listed in the sidebar of top blog dog Nathan Bransford. Go deep. Then there are the perennially fresh and useful insights of agent Rachelle Gardner. I also subscribe to blogs like those of Victoria Mixon, Guide to Literary Agents and the crazy-useful Querytracker which puts powerful search-and-record tools at your callused fingertips. The esteemed pros at literary agencies such as Dystel and Goderich, including my own incredible agent, Jim McCarthy, also often take turns sharing their wisdom. All of these sites include favorite industry links that you may combine exponentially to create your own How to Succeed in Publishing and Subsume the Universe Manual.

What makes all of this even more helpful is the opportunity to get personal. Most

True Jedi Enlightenment

 sites have comment sections and/or community forums filled with posts from other intelligent folks. Also, search for and follow members of the huge writing community on Twitter and then interact in real time for true Jedi enlightenment. So many people are already doing this that I can’t believe everyone doesn’t know about the depth of the Web-Lit explosion, but the emails I receive – and I’m not even an agent or editor — from unaware beginners tell me they either have no clue or have failed to take full advantage. (Another came in while I was writing this!)

 I knew that this wasn’t what the nice and understandably hopeful e-mailer wanted to hear. What he – perhaps unconsciously — wanted me to say was, “Sure, even though I don’t know chickpeas about you or your book, let me set you right up!” It makes me feel bad that I haven’t the power to get anyone else’s book published, and that in turns makes me eat more fudge. And sooner or later I’ll end up on a reality show for obese writers called Pride and Fudge-udice, or The Biggest Wordsmith.

 So that I may avoid such a fate, I encouraged this potentially best-selling author to delve into all the wonderful things mentioned above, and then come back with specific questions I still might not be able to answer. I haven’t heard back, so either he is unhappy OR he has become one with the online writing world and is even now empowering his own path to publication. I do hope he chose the latter.

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I just finished my 11th (to be) published non-fiction book, and the good news is that I didn’t have to make an index for it.

The bad news is that I didn’t have to make an index for it.

My Strange Wisconsin index

My Strange Wisconsin index

My dirty little secret: I like making indexes. The old way. With a pencil and index cards. I know there are software programs for this, but I agree with the Chicago Manual of Style when it states that a computer-made index “cannot in any way substitute for a real index prepared with the aid of human intelligence.” (Thankfully, degrees of human intelligence are evidently not an issue.)

The crux of it is that indexing requires a sifting process to decide exactly what is pertinent to the subject at hand, and that process is at least partly subjective . If a book is about strange creatures, “phantom pigs” is probably a pertinent entry, but its exact  location in the obscure Welsh hamlet of Pentrefoelas may not be considered index-worthy. At least I didn’t think so when I prepared the index for Hunting the American Werewolf. A software program set for  proper nouns might have beeped to differ.

Besides, I find the process relaxing. You get the galley in the mail and look at how the pages have shaken out and how the designer has arranged things. That’s always enlightening. Then starting at page one, you write the words you choose on the indexcards, alphabetizing each. And don’t forget the page numbers.  Several packs of cards will be required for most books targeted above kindergarten level. And that Chicago Manual of Style will be invaluable for the picky parts.

Along the way you pick out any lingering typos that can still be fixed without disrupting design flow. A favorite beverage and snack is mandatory. The only tedious part is the data entry after you reach The End, but you could also enter as you go.

I’ve done this for five books — the others provided professional indexers at their cost — and this last one is part of a series with detailed chapter entries up front. But an index is normally a lovely and necessary thing to any researcher (or purchasing librarian — I’ve been one), and in my opinion no NF book should suffer the indignity of an indexless rear end.

I will add that I would never sign a contract for a book that required ME to pony up for a professional indexer. It would be like paying someone else to pet my dog or do my crossword puzzles. Genre NF advances are meager enough as it is.

And in the end, literally, a non-fiction tome without an index is just, er, book-naked.

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I Draw Weredogs

Mungo, a character in one of my novels

Mungo, a character in one of my novels

I like to draw my characters as I write. This was a small were-dog as he appears in the beginning of one of my unpubbed novels. Drawing is so much easier than writing…

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black button eyes

black button eyes

So what do Brad Pitt and Newbery Award winner Neil Gaiman have in common? Buttons, of course! As in Pitt’s recent film role of  Benjamin Button, and in the spooky button eyes of Gaiman’s alternate universe people in Coraline.

I’ve always been a fan of  the button, as well as of those gents, and I own a collection of decorative sew-on fasteners vast enough to repair any given article of clothing. I even bought a book that shows you how to get that country look and enhance everything from bustiers to picture frames with a slathering of hot-glued buttons. I admit I have yet to try any of the projects. Decimate my collection for a faux-country-tarted-up bustier? I guess the book just doesn’t push my buttons .

Instead, I’ve collected these button factoids. They require no sewing or hot glue to enjoy, only your “scroll” button:

– Buttons are considered too fancy for Old Order Amish. They use straight pins, snaps and hook and eyes to keep their shirts on. The Puritans shunned buttons as crazy-evil vanity, too.

– Buttons form a major part of countless cliche expressions; cute as a, bright as a, button nose, button your lip…

– Buttons were invented 3,000 years ago but people didn’t figure out how to actually fasten clothing with them until around 1200 AD. Until then they just hung around looking cool.

– The word “button” comes from one of two French words but no one knows which; one means “bud” and one means “push.” It is NOT derived, as many mistakenly assume, from the word “butt.”

– A campaign button from President Obama’s 1996 Illinois Senate campaign sold for over $4,000. Of course, purists will argue that was technically a badge.

– The phrase “belly button” has only been in use since 1877, according to Medterms. I would have thought someone would have come up with it sooner; it just seems so basic.

– “Hnappurinn” or “Button” was the title of a children’s movie made in Iceland in 2008. I don’t know what it’s about but I’m pretty sure Brad Pitt wasn’t in it, and that the children in it aged the normal way, if at all.

I heart buttons

I heart buttons

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The Writer’s Prayer

I wrote this a few years ago with a collection of light verse that was mercifully never published. This little  item, though, I thought might deserve resurrection, along with a few others I’ll sprinkle in from time to time like those tiny M&M’s they make for cookies. If my wits ever do fail me, everyone will  know exactly why…

The Writer’s Prayer

Now I sit me down to write.

I pray the Lord my wit be bright.

If I should write aught that is fake,

I pray the Lord my wit to take.

Linda S. Godfrey

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