Friday 29 June 2018

#Aye, Ken it wis like this...with Jerri Schlenker

Dunkeld Catherdral
My Friday historical series restarts... (after my holiday) where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. 

Not all of us who are writing today started in youth. Many authors, like me, may have dabbled with the idea of writing novels at an earlier date, but only had the time and effort available to pursue actual publication after retiring from the day job. Today, Jerri Schlenker shares her journey to her fascinating historical writing. Welcome to the blog, Jerri and please tell us about your really interesting main character named Sally.... 

J Schlenker
I didn’t begin writing until I was contemplating retirement. My husband asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, “I don’t know.”

While cleaning out some bookshelves he pulled out a notebook of poems I had written in high school. He said, “Why don’t you write?”

My next question was what do I write about. While walking out in the woods, an idea came to me. I get a lot of my ideas while out in nature. Sally came to mind. I can’t even remember when I thought of Sally last. But the memory of the one time I met her came to me as clear as on the day I actually did meet her.

Later that same day, as synchronicities would happen, or some might call them coincidences, when two angles come together to form something, in this case, it was the beginning of the fruition of my idea of writing about Sally, I heard about Gather on NPR. I immediately checked it out on line and joined. Gather was a community of writers or wanna be writers like myself. My husband, while driving home, heard the same thing on NPR and said, “Jerri, I heard about this thing on public radio, a place where you can contribute stories.”

I told him, “Yep, heard it, too, and I’ve already joined.”

I can’t even remember the first thing I wrote, but I remembered how nervous I was to hit the submit button. But, back to Sally. Sally Ann Barnes (I didn’t even know her last name at the beginning) was born in 1858 into slavery. She lived to be 110, dying in 1969. I met her in 1961 when I was eight. She was 103 and mopping the floor.

Sadly, I didn’t start researching Sally’s life until about 2007, the same time I joined Gather, and by the way, Gather is now defunct. But, it provided a great start. I researched Sally’s life for three years. A lot of what I got were mysteries. On Gather I wrote what I called Sally Shorts. Things about her life came up that I would have never have dreamed of, one being the lost Jonathan Swift Silver Mine. Besides doing the regular online research, visiting courthouses, libraries, and historical museums, I made blind phone calls, visited cemeteries and knocked on doors. I talked to so many old people. Eleven years later, I find myself in that category. That is one of the things I miss, hearing their stories, and they had great ones to tell. Not everyone welcomed me with open arms, but most did.

As time went by, I began to partially unravel the mystery of Sally. I discovered a lot about where I live as well, Eastern Kentucky. I hiked over many of the same places Sally would have trekked. My husband was totally supportive, driving me places, hiking with me, and visiting cemeteries.

I discovered NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The first thing I attempted was to write Sally’s story. I don’t want to say I failed. It was practice. It just wouldn’t come together for me. I was trying to write non-fiction, even though I would never have all the facts. My husband kept telling me to write it as fiction. I had never written fiction before.

I skipped NaNoWriMo for a couple of years and then began again. This time I wrote something entirely different, Jessica Lost Her Wobble. It spanned the time period from 1900 to roughly 1980. I sent the unfinished manuscript to the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Contest and became a finalist in 2014. I self-published Jessica Lost Her Wobble in December 2015. I kept participating in NaNoWriMo. My second novel, The Color of Cold and Ice, was the result of National Novel Writing Month, as well. It won an IndieBrag award.

It was during the NaNoWriMo of 2016 I attempted Sally again. I still couldn’t get it right. But, as fate would have it, I was walking out in the woods and how to write Sally came to me. There was only three days left of NaNo. I wrote furiously around the clock, getting my fifty-thousand words in, the goal set forth by NaNoWriMo. But, I felt there was more to find out, and as synchronicity would have it, there were still some people left alive that could tell me things. It was almost as if Sally was sending them my way so I could complete her story. I self-published Sally in September of 2017.

Once again, November rolled around. I began to write about my own family during NaNoWriMo. The story would begin in the late 1800’s. I only got 17,000 words into it. Like Sally, it just wasn’t coming. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving, 2017. My husband and I were walking out in the woods, probably over the same ground that Sally may have walked. Suddenly, all of these animals started talking to me, a peacock in particular. After we got back to the house, I started writing A Peculiar School, a fantasy, something I never thought I would write, but then I had no idea I would ever write a novel to begin with.

A couple of months ago I was beginning my editing process of A Peculiar School. The main character is Miss Ethel Peacock. My cousin who I hadn’t seen for several years came by. He wanted to tell me he had read Sally. He also wanted to give me something that had belonged to Sally. I only ever knew of one other thing of Sally’s that was left, a tin cup she used, and it belonged to one of the ladies I interviewed about Sally. Sally had given it to her as a child. My cousin’s mother as a young child had sometimes stayed with Sally. She had given her a piece of Carnival Glass, and the handle was broken, but my aunt had kept it because it had belonged to Sally. My cousin thought if anyone should have it, it should be me. When I examined it, tears came to my eyes. The image on it was a peacock. I took it as a sign Sally was smiling upon my new story.

Nancy says: I agree that many things can happen which seem really coincidental and lead to a writer choosing a particular subject. My own historical focus of writing about Roman Scotland seems inevitable due to my having lived in at least 3 houses in the close proximity of ancient sites of Roman occupation- my current one really close! Serendipity? Coincidence? 

Jerri Adds: There are several articles concerning Sally on the website, including pictures concerning her life. There is also a picture of the Carnival Glass.

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story today, Jerri. Sally sounds like an amazing woman. Best wishes with sales for the novel and with all of your writing projects.


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