Success has a simple formula: Do your best and people may like it.”

— Sam Ewing

Well, Sam Ewing, that’s what I did. I hope a few people like it. And for anyone who is reading this now, I would enjoy connecting with you by email or Facebook. Even if you have nothing to say but Hi that’s just fine. Maybe let me know if you’re thinking about reading Cold Morning Shadow or if you have already started it, or anything else. Or just Hi.

Where did this novel come from? The first words rolled from my fingers in late January 2019. By early September I had dashed off the Epilogue. Unlike Fire, Wind & Yesterday, which trickled onto the pages over the course of 28 years, I had a first draft of Cold Morning Shadow down in something closer to 28 weeks.

Starting in September, as I was making the first of several passes through the manuscript to edit it, I began sending queries to literary agents on the remote chance that one might ask to see it. None did during the four months of editing, but that’s normal. I also found a couple of “beta” readers — God bless you, Heidi and Ruth! By January 2020, I was satisfied with the result.

In January, 2020, I began designing the book cover, formatting it as a printed book, and refining the promotional blurbs that you see on the publisher’s web site,, at, and on the back cover. It’s hard to say enough about the book in such a blurb that it promises what the book delivers but doesn’t give away too much.

Where did it come from?

So, what generated the idea for the book? I’ll let this portion from the Acknowledgments answer that:

My late first cousin, Janet Hume, a cheerful blonde with ears that could hear everything, moved from Lima, Ohio, to Spearfish, South Dakota, in the 1970s and married Mitch Quilt of the Brulé Lakota.  Cold Morning Shadow bears no resemblance to the story of their tempestuous affair, but their plight set me thinking: What if everything that seems doomed turns out for the better instead?  What if forbearance and the love of human kindness prevail?  What if disaster is not simply averted but vanquished?  I am grateful to Janet, who spurred me to ask those questions. I thank Steph Hoff, my second cousin and daughter of Janet and Mitch, as well, for giving me some perspective on her parents’ lives.  This novel is dedicated to the three of them.

=David A. Woodbury=


This book began as a story; here are four people, here is what happened to each of them and to the four of them as a group. As the author, I knew that much, but I didn’t know them well. I initially needed to become acquainted with them individually — (Who are these people?) — and then construct their story as I followed them around.

Most of the time I was almost out of breath keeping up with them. (They were young, I am much older.) And so I was well along in documenting their lives before some themes became plain.

Cars and Horses

For example, this book is not about cars. But, given that it begins in the 1960s and takes us not far into the 1970s, the vehicles you would see on America’s roadways were much more interesting then than they are now. Consequently, the cars that make their appearance are intriguing if not downright fascinating. Two, in particular, play supporting roles in many scenes.

I knew at the start that horses would play a major part, and they did. But, by the start of Book Two, I realized that they were fading from their earlier central part.

Family – Siblings, Parents

Sister-brother relations dominate the entire novel, followed closely by parent-child relations. The book is, perhaps, extended by a hundred pages beyond what it took to tell the story in order to emphasize these themes. For me, these themes far outrank the quotidian if equally important pairing of romance and sex. Braided with these two subjects is the theme of matrimonial relations, as expressed in the wedded bliss or blisslessness of two couples, Leroy and Wilma Straed, and Madeleine and Henry Clay Comosh.

Romance and Sex

They’re young. They fall in love. The story acknowledges it and moves on. It’s not a central theme but one that is unavoidable.

Shadows and Ancient Wisdom

Shadows fall in almost every chapter, beginning with a quoted passage early in Chapter One. Young people discover tidbits of great and ancient wisdom and, upon first encounter, can be deeply moved by it.

Images of American Indians

This one was rather fun. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I watched all the cowboy and Indian shows on television. Yes, Indians were depicted as vicious — in defending themselves and their lands from invaders. They were also depicted as honest, wise, accepting, and highly skilled.

I noticed, myself, as I was growing up, the reverence with which American society regarded the pre-Americans, as Lionel, in the story, refers to himself and his tribe. In Boy Scouts we were schooled in Indian lore. I was in awe of the authentic Indians that I met.

The novel makes much of the fact that images of Indians — often inaccurate in some ways but mainly out of enthusiasm — were and still are used as product trademarks, on coins and currency, and to promote other things.

And so, in Cold Morning Shadow, we meet an Indian motorcycle, (a brand still in production under that name), we are reminded of the automobiles named for Chief Pontiac, we hear a little about three different types of American coins of the 1800s and early 1900s depicting Indians. We are reminded of the art of Frederick Remington. And there is more besides these examples.

The open prejudice of some stupid people regarding American Indians is acknowledged but given no credence. And the response of some Indians to the presence of post-Europeans, as Lionel Comosh calls them, is acknowledged as well.

Lionel is the one who questions the sobriquet, native American, as applied only to people of aboriginal ancestry. He defines native American to include everyone who was born in North America or South America, and certainly to include all post-Europeans who were born here.

Indians I knew during the period in which this novel is set didn’t dispute the term, assuming there was any necessity in applying any collective term to one human being or another. Lionel in the novel, on behalf of all pre-Ams, is content to be known as an Indian.

Poetry and Music

I didn’t write scintillating poetry in my youth, and neither did these guys. But they wrote some. And one composed a heart-felt song. Other songs of the times pop up here and there throughout the story.

Languages and Linguistics

The story unfolds as Cyleine meets a new girl, Garnette in eleventh-grade English class. One is already immersed in the language, the other almost baffled by it. The book is centered on language, its use and misuse in English as well as other languages, and on related themes, such as the next two topics. Some Latin comes into the story, a good bit of Chinese, a smattering of German and Romanian, and some acknowledgment of Lakota.

Words and Word Games

Cyleine and Garnette become collectors of words. Their eleventh-grade lists comprise Chapter Twenty-seven. But for one of them, words constitute a means of serious miscommunication as well.

A few word games are incorporated into the book, notably Botticelli and Latinos, the latter being an original game I invented for the novel.

Codes and Ciphers

The four friends who are the main characters in the story find themselves compelled to invent a cipher for their private communication once the elder two have graduated high school. They succeed in it and eventually employ it in what might be construed as an example of international intrigue.

There is a difference between a cipher and a code. A code, generally, is an open, undisguised representation of one word or idea with another plain word or idea. The 10-codes used by emergency responders and police agencies throughout the country provide an easy example.

A cipher is a system of disguising a message in some way that it’s not readily deciphered. It may not even be evident that a message is hidden in a piece of text.

In the novel, the model number of a radio, 831-CC, is a code. Lists of apparently ordinary words, on the other hand, are instead an inconspicuous cipher.

Military Affairs

Wilton steps forward and volunteers for military service during the Vietnam non-war. He takes his role seriously, no matter how silly, nonsensical, and hazardous the situation. Things reach a military climax, of sorts, after the first (former) soldier Wilton meets, Mister Turnbull, the English teacher, reaches out to General Westmoreland on Wilton’s behalf.

The Fabric of the Story

The military theme is interwoven with the theme of codes and ciphers. Codes and ciphers are interwoven with words and languages. Poetry and music are interwoven with romance. Cars and horses are interwoven with family.

Altogether, they are the fabric of the novel.

Other Themes

There may be other themes that a reader will perceive that I, as the author, have not remembered or even noticed. You are welcome to suggest them to me.

=David A. Woodbury=


The novel, Cold Morning Shadow, opens as Cyleine is contemplating fragments of ancient wisdom. The first, which the reader assumes is a line of ancient origin —

a shadow is a moving signature

— is in fact Cyleine’s own observation, which she may not realize is original to herself until she sorts her thoughts later. On her way out of the room she takes her moving signature with her.

Quoted Passages

Recalling her childhood friend who has recently died of a chronic illness, she then reflects on a longer passage —

Some have left behind them a name, so that others declare their praise.  But of the rest there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed.

This comes from Chapter 44 of Ecclesiasticus, a book in the Apocrypha of the protestant churches, including the Anglican and Episcopal churches, and among the deuterocanonical books of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. It is a book also called Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach (sometimes shortened to Sirach), or the Wisdom of Ben Sira. (Although the Apocrypha is not canonical in the Episcopal and Anglican churches, it is used as supplemental guiding scripture.)

It is logical that Cyleine might have heard or read this passage in church, for we later find out that she has a wavering relationship with the local Roman Catholic parish and that her mother attends mass regularly. Later that afternoon, another line floats past her:

But we shall be hereafter as though we had never been, and our names shall be forgotten in time, for our time is a very shadow that passes away.

This is found in Chapter 2 of the Book of Wisdom, another deuterocanonical text that Cyleine would have heard during the readings in church.

It is pertinent, here, to point out that Cold Morning Shadow does not explore Cyleine’s faith in God nor that of her friends. Her church is evidently her source for these passages, and they affect her apart from any consideration of her faith.

Then she hears in her head,

A shadow has no substance.

We don’t have a reference for these exact words anywhere in ancient scripture. It is a common enough observation throughout literature. In MacBeth, Shakespeare makes the case that “Life’s but a walking shadow… signifying nothing.” Psalm 23 famously dismisses the shadow of death, and in Psalm 102:11 we read, “My days are like a shadow that declines.” Apart from the Psalms, David also laments that “Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.” (1 Chronicles 29:15)

Perhaps the phrase that came to Cyleine’s mind that afternoon, that a shadow has no substance, was heard once in a sermon regarding any of these passages or in a lecture. The concept captured in the phrase is rooted deep in times past. But she’s not, at the moment, trying to seize upon a source for the idea. She is merely trying to retain the words before the idea escapes her.

Shadows As A Common Theme

Ordinary shadows come and go throughout the book, even, of course, the cold morning shadow on the west side of a building. Eye shadow, an evening shadow, the shadow of a pebble at sunset, so elongated that it could hide a snake — these all occur.

The story pauses to consider that an umbra is a kind of shadow. There are shadows of people walking in the moonlight. These and other shadows occur as regularly as in an ordinary day.

More Shadows as Metaphors

After the first day of school, when the opening lines about shadows teased at her, the thought isn’t mentioned again until weeks later, when her friend, Wilton, stuns her with this passage:

All those things are passed away like a shadow, and as a post that hasted by; and as a ship that passeth over the waves of the water, which when it is gone by, the trace thereof cannot be found, neither the pathway of the keel in the waves; or as when a bird hath flown through the air, there is no token of her way to be found, but the light air being beaten with the stroke of her wings and parted with the violent noise and motion of them, is passed through, and therein afterwards no sign where she went is to be found.

What stuns Cyleine is that Wilton is acquainted with it at all. It is found in Wisdom, Chapter 5. It’s a turning point for her in their fledgling relationship. (Twice, though, she and Wilton later misidentify it with Sirach; no matter; it’s an easy mistake of the sort we all make, especially when we are young. The long passage, as noted, is from the Wisdom of Solomon, not Sirach, never mind that scholars generally agree that Solomon is also not the actual author of the book. But wisdom is wisdom no matter who gets the credit, if anyone.)

Some time later, as a car filled with hooligans rushes out of sight with the police in pursuit, Wilton clumsily quotes, as he strains to hear the fading scream of sirens:

…vanished like a shadow, and like a rumor, …and when it has passed, no trace can be found.

No one else in the crowd notices his remark except Cyleine.

Some months later, in her vixen’s den — the version of her den that Wilton has inadvertently created to her specifications, Cyleine is soothed by the shadow on the side of his face opposite the side dimly illuminated by their only light source.

Another Way to Think of Shadows

Garnette, in a conversation with Cyleine one evening while they should be studying, observes that their side-by-side shadows on the ground, blended into one as they walk close together, make her think of their blended spirits. Cyleine then scrambles to find a poem, which the novel attributes to an Oglala chief of the 1800s, Kokipapi:

Our lives are as but a day.
Our shadows are as spirits,
Yours touching mine on the earth
Even when we stand apart.

At end of day our shadows become one with night.
We are still here, only the light is gone.
At end of life our spirits become one with all
We are not gone, only no longer seen.

Garnette then muses about the ephemeral nature of one’s name — about fading away in the world’s collective memory. Her speculation strikes Cyleine as a radical thought but brings her initial anxiety on the subject full circle: Maybe it’s not so terrible that we are forgotten.

Toward the end, finally, Wilton asks Cyleine whether “Cold” modifies “Morning” or modifies “Shadow” in the name, Cold Morning Shadow. Together, they settle it for themselves.

=David A. Woodbury=


The Author’s Perspective

When an old man in his leisure, possessed of a good memory and a way with words, takes advantage of a keyboard and access to a printing press, you may be disconcerted or dismayed by the results. You may not, however, be as surprised as he is.”

David A. Woodbury

“You had all this in your head?” someone asked about my novel, Fire, Wind & Yesterday, then revised it: “Or you pulled it all from your head?” Um… No, I didn’t do either.

If the question, phrased either way, had been asked about Cold Morning Shadow instead, I could answer the same way: No, I didn’t have it all in my head.

Writing Cold Morning Shadow was like an assignment to make a time-machine trip into the past. I stepped from the machine into a town I had never visited — in a region of the United States, in fact, that I have never yet visited. The date was exactly the start of my own junior year of high school, and yet I was not stripped of my five decades of subsequent experience and perspective. The atmosphere of the era was absolutely familiar, but I was invisible to the people before me.

As I drew my initial breath in a high school classroom on a hot South Dakota afternoon in 1967 I immediately recognized the first principal character whom I was, apparently, placed there to observe. I instantly realized who the second one would be as well, seated nearby in the same room.

I accepted the assignment because I had a two-dimensional image of each of the four main characters and I knew that they had a good story. I “knew” their story the way you know someone else’s story after they have just regaled you for fifteen minutes while standing in line for concert tickets.

Standing there, invisible, I began watching and noting what I saw and noting what my omniscience conveyed to me of their thinking. They moved quickly, though. My time scale matched theirs. I needed to write almost as quickly as things were happening, or else I would lose details. Sadly, I did lose many, many details. My fingers couldn’t record everything as quickly as my mind tried to convey it to my hands.

I knew approximately what was about to unfold before me before the time-machine journey. I knew that I was to meet four players and that I would be privy to every scene and every thought of each one’s life for as long as I lingered. That saddled me with a burden carried by every proverbial fly on the wall: I would know everything. And yet, above all, I must not be a voyeur.

Yes, these are fictional people, but they exist, to me, just as other people, whom I have never met, exist in the mind of the stranger who regaled me while waiting in the concert ticket line. I needed to recognize that it could be as agonizing for them to go through the motions and emotions of daily life as it is for a real person undergoing the same experience. Even fictional people shiver in a blizzard, endure stomach aches, worry about how they are perceived, are shocked by unexpected loss, and rejoice over small triumphs.

Even fictional people can be insulted or complimented. Even fictional people become angry, confused, embarrassed.

Indeed, in my role I was less substantial than a house fly, but also more substantial in another way: Like a spirit, I had influence. I knew what was to take place. I often didn’t know from page to page how each one would accomplish the next task, but I was apprised — sometimes only a little ahead of time — of coming events.

I began with a two-dimensional image of each of four characters.  I introduced them to each other.  I let them develop themselves.  And they did indeed develop themselves.  Within a few pages I became a reporter barely able to keep up with all that they were doing. But I was prescient, even God-like. As I was learning about them, they were making choices and, as the publicity blurb for the book says, they were laying the cornerstones for lasting friendships.”

See the Page Go Big or Go Home

I also had the duty to record only what was pertinent to the story. A writer with total access to every protagonist’s every moment can become mesmerized by a character’s charms or diverted by matters that are of no consequence. Being only one mind against their four, I never felt that I could watch all of my main players simultaneously, so I had to follow one at a time — two or more if they were in each other’s presence — and not dwell there too long, for other things were occurring simultaneously. I needed to absent myself as soon as the action or contemplation ended and pop up in another place.

I had the luxury of stretching time a little bit. It was imperative that I do so now and then when something was taking place on another side of the world, for instance, concurrent with an event I was monitoring and recording. Omniscience told me when to double back and capture the simultaneous action so that I could juxtapose the two scenes.

Since the characters did not realize I was there and were not performing as in a movie, where a scene can be re-recorded, they did not pause for me to keep up or repeat a sentence that I might have heard indistinctly.

My perspective was also colored by my age — that I had grown up in the Midwest at the same time their story was unfolding — and was aided by my own experience as a college student, as a member of the Army Security Agency during the Vietnam non-war, as a lover of classical music and classic automobiles (see This Book Is Not About Cars), and much more that I did not need to invent in order to understand.

Advice to Writers

I discovered that I knew virtually everything about the four protagonists, Wilton and his sister, “Rockie,” as well as Cyleine and her brother, Lionel. But I knew only as much of their parents as those four main characters themselves knew. And I knew only as much of most other people in the book as they disclosed in conversations or as much as I observed while they interacted with the protagonists. I could live within the mind of Lionel, Cyleine, Garnette, or Wilton — one at a time, as if I myself were one of them. I couldn’t step into the mind of Wilton’s father or Cyleine’s mother, any more than, in my own youth, I could occupy my own father’s mind. If I were writing about myself — about whom I know everything, I would be able to involve my mother or father in the story only according to what they themselves have revealed to me together with as much as I might have concluded from observation or discovered from my own snooping perhaps.

And so, in another way, I told the story somewhat as if I had sat down with the four principals and let them tell it to me as I wrote it down, as they discussed in the final chapter, Fireside.

Suffice to say, I knew them personally. They were ordinary people, really. The events that wove them into each other’s lives were mostly ordinary. The times they were living in are long past, but only a little longer ago than yesterday or last year. For me, now, Cyleine, Garnette, Lionel, and Wilton are like friends I knew long ago, whom I know I won’t see again, and whom I have written about so that the memory of them will not perish.

Cold Morning Shadow is dedicated to my cousin, Stephanie of the Brulé Lakota, her tragically-fated father, Mitch, and her late mother, Janet , whom I grew up with.

=David A. Woodbury=


Q: Is Henry Clay in the novel named for the 19th century speaker of the house and secretary of state, Henry Clay, Sr.? Wasn’t the historical Henry Clay associated with slurs about Indians? Why would an Indian be named after him?

A: Yes, he is named for the American statesman, Henry Clay. There were two major contenders in the 1832 presidential election, the incumbent Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay, the challenger. Jackson, the first modern politician who had carefully crafted an image for himself, was quite popular, an advantage that gave him unusual influence over Congress. His power led to a series of Indian removals in Georgia which he began to champion in his first term. Although the tribes which were removed, the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole, were considered the “five civilized tribes” because they owned and farmed their own land and even had some slaves, they were still savages in the eyes of Jackson.

Jackson’s treatment of indigenous people would become a rallying cry for Henry Clay in his bid for the presidency. Although in Clay’s earlier writings he betrayed the sentiment that American Indians — pre-Americans or pre-Ams, as Lionel Comosh refers to his own ancestors in Cold Morning Shadow — were a lower form of life who could never be assimilated with the American people, in the election campaign of 1832 he chose to defend their rights to land and sovereignty.

His National Democratic Party, which would evolve into the Whig party by the next election, emphasized moral issues such as abolition of slavery and temperance, which were mostly championed by women at the time, and made its opposition to Indian removal an issue as well.

Clay and his party used newspapers in their attempts to reach a wider audience during the campaign. An example of this stance can be seen in an article in the Geneva Courier, a pro-National Democratic newspaper, in its weekly segment, “American System. For President, Henry Clay.” This part of the weekly paper routinely praised Clay and denounce Jackson. In the issue of February 2, 1831, the paper criticized Jackson’s sacrifice of the “poor Indians” and warned that removal would bring great shame to the country. Despite the efforts of the paper and other anti-removal campaigns, the issue of Indian removal did not resonate with as many voters as Clay had hoped. In 1832 the Seminole Indians, the last of the tribes to remain in Georgia, were forced out, and the issue of Indian removal played little role in the election. Clay was crushed 219-49 in electoral votes. Still, these accounts indicated that some post-European Americans had sympathy for the Indians’ plight, and many Indians remembered Henry Clay with favor through much of the next half-century, which was the period during which Henry Clay Comosh’s parents were born.

=Adapted from the web site


A: Yes, it’s offensive!  Among the books in my old-fashioned library that are grouped as “westerns” are many by Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and Clarence Mulford.  Alongside these is a single novel by Steward Edward White, a 1932 edition of The Long Rifle.  This author wrote dozens of novels in the western genre and was popular in the first half of the 1900s.

The signature above the map inside the front cover is that of Clarence A. Lang, my wife’s grandfather.

The Long Rifle is the first book in the four-book saga of Andy Burnett about a farm boy from Pennsylvania who runs away from home and heads west carrying Daniel Boone’s original Kentucky long rifle.  There is plenty more about White and his works on the internet.

There is much in American literature that hangs on dubious assumptions about indigenous people.  I encountered much of this in my own childhood in books and television westerns of the 1950s and 1960s.  In what seemed a dichotomy, I learned that American Indians were wise, one with nature, and justifiably suspicious of settlers and devious traders.  Indians were wonderfully welcoming of strangers as individuals and yet, when provoked, brought savage and sometimes indiscriminate retribution on the invaders of their land.

I recall from my time in the Boy Scouts the way in which Indian “lore” was treated with reverence and taught as the essential foundation for a boy’s life.  And I recall from most depictions of Indians in literature and on television that it was the arrogant cowboy, the intrusive government agent, the unscrupulous  trader, the town drunk, and the cavalier Army officer who provoked the local Indians to retaliate.

And yes, there were many, in the settlement phase of this country’s history, who regarded an Indian with no more respect than they afforded a turkey or other game animal.  Stewart White, it may be said, was acknowledging that attitude in the opening passage of The Long Rifle, or it may be argued that the remark reflected his own attitude.  The truth remains to be seen by anyone who takes the time to read The Long Rifle.


In Cold Morning Shadow, Cyleine and Garnette become keepers of words, notably homophones but they made lists of other words with something in common as well.

During the nine months or so I spent writing the novel I made the lists that comprise Chapter 27. I jotted a pair as it came to mind, as I heard a word in conversation, or caught one anywhere else words are encountered. I avoided pulling them from the internet or from books of lists (if there are some; I don’t have any).

It was never my intention to compile a “complete” list of homophones or homographs, heteronyms or heterographs, palindromes or other linguistic phenomena. Be skeptical of anyone purporting to offer a complete list.

Since the book contains only what I was able to think of during that period, no sooner was it published than another pair of homophones would come to mind, or another type of list that I should have included.

Therefore, let this page serve as a place to append such words and auxiliary lists.

In the book, one character includes many approximations to the list of homophones — pairs that almost sound alike or which could be mistaken for one another if someone doesn’t hear a word clearly at first. For example (and these are not in the book):

  • concord conquered
  • diary diarrhea
  • inequity iniquity
  • isolating oscillating
  • pediatrician speedy attrition

Then of course, more legitimate homophones have come to mind since the book came out:

  • readout redoubt
  • reek wreak
  • tare tear
  • tighten titan

And I open this post to readers’ contributions as well. What pairs have you thought of that the books has left out? What other word lists would you suggest?

=David A. Woodbury=


Several songs are alluded to throughout Cold Morning Shadow, beginning with two hymns sung in Latin and continuing with American country, folk, and pop music as late as the 1960s. Some of these are only casually mentioned while others bear significantly on the story. A reader who did not grow up hearing them or who cannot now call one to mind could miss the influence, particularly the emotional impact, that a song holds for the story.

Therefore, I offer here a list of songs referred to in the book, each one linked to a YouTube video.

Adeste, Fideles – Enya (Chapter 4)

Ave Maria – Maria Soldano (Chapter 4)

Tumbling Tumbleweeds – Sons of the Pioneers (Chapter 4)

Town Without Pity – Gene Pitney (Chapter 5)

Theme from Perry Mason (Chapter 5) — I managed to play these two YouTube cuts in the same browser at the same time on two separate tabs. No, one doesn’t overlay the other like Gounod’s Ave Maria and Bach’s Prelude, but it seems that one inspired the other.

Great Balls of Fire – Jerry Lee Lewis (Chapter 12)

Wake Up, Little Susie – the Everly Brothers (Chapter 18)

Different Drum – the Stone Poneys (Chapters 22 & 30) — Yes, that’s how they spelled Poneys. The name could have flowed more smoothly if they had been the Stoney Poneys. Some think it is evident that they wanted to be the Stoned Poneys but that their record label or promoters had an issue with the name.

I’ll Never Find Another – the Seekers (Chapters 24 & 25)

Daisy a Day – Jud Strunk (Chapter 33)

Unchained Melody – the Righteous Brothers (Chapter 33)

Sweet Sixteen – Perry Como (Chapter 34)

Wedding Bell Blues – The 5th Dimension (Chapter 40)

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – B.J. Thomas (Chapter 48)

LOnesome 7-7203 – Hankshaw Hawkins (Chapter 48)

Wilton Straed’s own song for Cyleine Comosh is described on this page.

=David A. Woodbury=


With five books now published under my name and two more which I edited for other authors, it may interest some to know what rules I follow when I write.  In another article I’ve addressed what makes me an expert in my native language, American English.

Presented as a countdown, here are 25 rules on style, word selection, and grammar that comprise the core of my discipline while writing, whether it’s an email message, a social media post, or a novel.  These rules are in no particular sequence except that number one is truly my number one rule.

I don’t argue that you are wrong if you dismiss any of these strictures.  My objective in following them is to convey my message or my story directly and clearly.  It is not as easy to use all these rules in ordinary conversation because, when I write, I compose my sentences painstakingly, revise constantly, and finish the entire composition before letting anyone see it.  Talking as haltingly as I write would be awkward for everyone involved.

My Rules

25. Start with something to say, respect the reader’s time, organize it, and say it.  I once read about 100 pages of a John Updike novel, (Rabbit something-or-other), and then gave up on it.  I had no idea what was happening or to whom.  Maybe some readers enjoy being cheated of information, but I’m not one of them.

24. I believe in restoring to use words that have slipped from favor. I work such a word into my writing especially when the word that has become more common is less precise or is ambiguous. Recently someone asked whether I had any money “on me.” I replied that I have five dollars and some coins in my pocket. He remarked that most people would say they have five dollars and change. I understand what it means when people say change instead of coins; let them say it. I try to imagine how expressions like that are interpreted by people from other countries who are learning to speak our language.

23. Use the right word.  If I adhered to this in ordinary conversation I would only falter as I speak.  I try to use the best word when talking, though.  I search for words as I speak, of course, but I’ll forge ahead even when I can’t come up with the word that I want, as long as I’ve come close enough to be understood.  What’s more, in a conversation, I can tell whether I succeeded in conveying my message because listeners respond.  They answer, they nod, they acknowledge with facial expressions.  I can corral and lasso the right word and try again if I perceive that I’ve been misunderstood.  In writing a novel, I can’t just give it a try and let it slide.

22. Use the concise form of the right word. When you can say (write) use instead of utilize, do so. A doctor once insisted to me that there is a difference between dilatation and dilation, but he couldn’t explain it. I contended that dilation is a noun derived from the verb, dilate. So, I asked, is dilatation derived from the nonexistent verb dilatate? He never answered that, but we remain on good terms.

21. I avoid the vernacular of the present, especially when writing about the past.  I want someone who picks up my book fifty years from now to understand it.  Even the urban dictionaries of today will be hard to find a half century from now, and what’s more, I’m not urban.  Lest I need to say it, I don’t give a damn about political correctness, either.  

20. I avoid adding up, out, and other tags to verbs that don’t need it. “Did you send [out] the invitations?” “I did, and I used [up] all the stamps in the drawer.”

19. Apparently it has become permissible to trim although to though.  What’s the point of that?  To save two letters?  There is a difference.  It sounds wrong to me, so when I mean although I use although.  There are proper places to use though, though.  In the same way, many writers now trim the first syllable from until.  Usually they cut two letter from the beginning and then double the last letter, saving one character each time they write the word.  There is a different between till and until.  If I want to shorten until — in dialog for instance — I will write ’til.

18. When someone says or writes I thought to myself, I want to ask: To whom else would you think?  I don’t add to myself when I say I think.  I simply think.

17. Many people don’t know whether to use or not after whetherWhether can usually stand alone.

16. The phrase, as far as, (short for as far as I’m concerned), begs to be erased from our lingo.  The same applies to a thousand other phrases that have become mangled in similar manner.  I watch for these mutations and avoid them.

15. What you need to do is you need to stop starting a sentence with What unless you’re asking a question.  The thing you need to realize is (What you need to realize is) that there are variations on that construction and all are awkward.  What I’ve heard when some people start sentences that way in conversation is is is they will say is two or three times before they get to the rest of the sentence.

14. As I write I consider how a translator might need to deconstruct each sentence in order to render it in any other language.  For instance, how would the phrase, as far as I’m concerned, be expressed in other languages?

13. That is why I avoid idioms most of the time.  Where I wrote earlier that I don’t give a damn about something, I used an idiom that is difficult to replace effectively.  But I always question the literal meaning of an idiom, and if it makes no sense literally I usually look for some way to express the same thing in words that can’t be mis-translated. Once in a while I don’t give a damn and use the idiom as it stands, though.

12. I write in full sentences.  I’ve recently begun reading TransAtlantic: A Novel on my Kindle.  By Colum McCann.  I discovered him when I read an article he had written.  On the internet.  The article was so well-written that I wanted to get acquainted with his fiction.  So I bought one of his ebooks.  Apparently it’s his style.  To write in phrases.  In his novels, that is.  Not complete sentences.  Maybe the story is pretty good.  But my editor’s eye is continually repairing his prose.  To put his phrases together.  Into sentences.  It can be effective in a novel to let a short phrase or even a single word stand as a complete sentence, capitalized and finished with a period.  But it’s effective if done sparingly.  Dropping a period after every third word throughout a book creates speed bumps for this reader.  I don’t like it.

11. I avoid a sentence construction that leads to a he/she or his/her conflict in the predicate or in a later clause.  (“Any driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour will automatically lose his/her motor vehicle operator’s license.”)  I avoid a construction that some would argue can be resolved only by matching a plural pronoun with a singular subject.  (“Any driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour will automatically lose their motor vehicle operator’s license.”)  It is always possible and usually easy to unobtrusively rearrange a sentence.  (“Loss of the license to operate a motor vehicle is the automatic consequence of exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour,” or “Any driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour will automatically lose the license to operate a motor vehicle.”)

10.  A pronoun needs a clear antecedent.  As I write, I try to leave no doubt whom or what is referred to by every pronoun.

9.  Words indiscriminately capitalized are speed bumps for a reader.  And yet a word sometimes presents a challenge.  The equator circles the earth halfway between the poles.  My back yard has some good earth for planting an early garden.  The first four planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, are separated from the rest by the Asteroid Belt.  Consistency is the key when discretion in capitalization is allowed, as it is here.  The compass directions, north, south, east, and west, need not be capitalized, but what if someone comes from the east and wants to live in the West, meaning that region of the USA west of the Mississippi and famous for cowboys and cactus?  I was born in the South, meaning that region of the eastern USA that lies south of the Mason-Dixon line.  What do you do when you want to distinguish the Southwest from the Northeast?  In the song, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is the line: “From out of the east a stranger came, a law book in his hand…”  He merely came from somewhere east of the song’s setting — a compass direction.  I capitalize the commonly-used name of a region but not a compass direction. I’ve noticed, in fact, that, although the West is often deemed a proper region, the east is not. I capitalize the Earth, as above, when referring to one of the planets but not when the earth is a substitute for the world — when it refers to nothing outside itself. I apply the principles I’ve given in these examples to other words similarly in question.

8.  People do speak in sentence fragments.  Speech is normally immediate, spontaneous, and sloppy.  Some authors adopt a writing style that imitates speech.  I think that kind of writing belongs in dialog but not in prose.  That’s merely my opinion.

7.  There is a difference between in and into, between on and onto.  Sometimes in can replace into and on can replace onto with no loss of meaning but sometimes not.

6.  There is a trend, borne of convenience, I suppose, to unite two words which are commonly uttered or written together.  It has become acceptable to write someday and sometime as we do somewhere and somebody, to write anymore as we do anywhere.  I haven’t yielded to this trend.  I don’t give it any thought any moreSome day when I have some time to kill I may consider capitulating, but it will take some time for anyone to persuade me to do it.

5.  Whenever I read a modern novel (1900s to present) I am almost sure to encounter the words indefatigable, ineluctable, and inexorable or their adverbial forms.  Therefore I have excluded them from my lexicon.  There are a few other “literary” words such as those that I avoid just as carefully, although I usually don’t think of them until the moment comes to decide whether to use them. I also avoid a word when it is not only commonly overused but used without regard for its literal meaning. Two examples are amazing and incredible.

4.  I strive to render every sentence in the active voice.  Sometimes, though, the passive voice works better.

3. I ignore the advice, found in many guides for writers, to omit all adverbs. Yes, they are imprecise and therefore have no place in laws, policies, and regulations. Even though I strive to use the right word, there are some times when the right verb is enhanced by an adverb. Used well, adverbs enhance action as spices enhance food. They can intensify the tone of a verb, contribute an emotional element, or exaggerate something absurd.

2.  When writing dialog, if a word stands in for someone’s name I capitalize it.  “What do you think, Honey?”  “I’m listening, Son.”  “Say that again, will you, Young Man?”  This is merely my own rule for myself.

1.  In the five books I’ve written I’ve had no use for the seriously superfluous word got and its past participle, gotten.  You’ll never find it in my writing, except in this article.  There is always a better construction.
Who’s got the time? = Who has got the time? = Who has the time?
I’ve got a secret. = I have got a secret. = I have a secret.
It’s gotten so dark that I can’t see my shadow. = It’s so dark that I can’t see my shadow.
Got is the word that gives us expressions such as: “A lot of beer got drunk at the party.”
I’ll grant that avoiding got sometimes forces me to modify my intended sentence structure to avoid an awkward construction. So be it. It’s a rule I impose upon myself precisely to improve my writing. Another example:
I haven’t gotten an answer yet. = I don’t have an answer yet. = I haven’t received an answer yet. This is effectively a passive construction. An active construction would be: She hasn’t answered me yet.
If got is simply the past tense of get, you might ask, do I use the present tense of the word? Yes, I do. It’s mainly the common overuse of got that I am intent upon avoiding, so avoiding got altogether serves all purposes.

The Result

I’m sure that I adhere to other rules as well which I may not even be aware of. Following these rules may make my writing sound formal, even archaic. I don’t care, because I believe it results in a quick read that is clear, easy to follow, and leaves no doubt what I intended to say. Assuming that I have an entertaining, informative story to tell, I believe my rules help express it effectively.

Rules such as these partly define my “voice” as an author as well. Voice also includes the ways in which an author juxtaposes words, the degree of intimacy that each character exposes, the hidden elements that a reader doesn’t notice until a second or third read-through, the type of humor employed, the pacing, the sequence in which information is presented and its timing, and much more.

Challenge me on these rules. Did I miss any important ones? Tell me yours. Have you found any instances in my work where I’ve strayed from my discipline?

=David A.Woodbury=


Is English the Author’s Native Language?

Comment: Reading Cold Morning Shadow made me wonder whether the author’s first language is something other than English.  It doesn’t sound as though it was translated from something else, and it doesn’t sound British.  It just seems more formal than most American books I’ve read.  -K.B.

Answer: American English is my first language.

My Parents

My mother was born in Ohio in the 1920s and, other than hearing some Pennsylvania Dutch spoken in the family during her childhood, she grew up speaking the English of her Midwestern parents.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in education in the 1940s and was a schoolteacher by the time I was born.  She continued teaching school all through the time I was growing up (as the oldest of six children).

My father, raised in Maine, lost his eardrums and inner ear structures to childhood infections.  He was totally deaf by the time he reached puberty.  From my earliest memories of him — he was 23 when I was born — he was bald, had a full set of false teeth top and bottom, and wore a metal band across his head connected to a bone-conducting hearing aid.

Dad’s pronunciation was actually fine.  He had comical ways of repeating what he thought he heard when someone spoke to him.  What he assumed he heard was often wrong.  Mom and all of his children needed to correct him constantly.  I recall many times being on the sidelines of a conversation and, when he wasn’t sure what had been said — he would stare at me with a look that pleaded for a repeat or interpretation.

It took my dad eleven years, from the time I was five years old until I was 16, to earn a college degree while also adding all those kids to the family and working two jobs at a time.  In the end, he too became a school teacher.

Good Teachers

I was a “good” student throughout my 13 years of public school, kindergarten through twelfth grade.  I was strong in English, especially from about eighth grade onward.  By the time I finished high school I had sat through two years each of Spanish, Latin, and French.  I liked English assignments that called for telling a story, but when I later looked back on those compositions I cringed and destroyed the few pieces I had kept.  Teachers complimented several of my compositions, though, and my junior-year English teacher, Jean Rhodenizer, once told my mother that she didn’t feel qualified to evaluate my writing.

In my first year of college I added a year of Russian to my language inventory.  With no way to pay for a second year of college I enlisted for four years in the Army during the Vietnam non-war, further impelled by the Army’s offer of a year of intensive Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.  There, for almost twelve month, I was privileged to study under the close attention of several native-born Russians.

One character in Cold Morning Shadow gets a perfect score on the Army Language Aptitude Test, (the ALAT), upon initially enlisting in the Army (Chapter 30). It’s fiction in the book, but it’s just what happened to me. The multi-year study of three foreign languages in grade school, the immersion in Russian that followed, the experience of living in Germany for a year and a half, even though I didn’t take classes in German, and my frequent travel in Italy and France during that period, left me undaunted, if not conversant, in seven different languages and high-functioning if not nearly fluent in two beyond English.

I have waded ankle-deep into ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Mandarin since then — altogether ten languages using five different alphabets or writing systems.  On top of all this, I’ve taken a couple levels of training in American Sign Language, which has yet another structure for communicating.

(Ultimately, on the journey of a lifetime, I spent two weeks on a solo trip through Russia and Ukraine in the mid-1990s. I would arrive in a town, locate a hotel, and check in before touring the area. Desk clerks would ask: Where is your tour guide? Where is your group? Where is your bus? I’d answer that I’m traveling solo. The next thing each one invariably said was: You are!? in a tone that conveyed: Are you crazy? Then they would say: Be careful! But I emerged from behind the Iron Curtain unscathed.)

That trip, especially the swing through Ukraine, gave me some much-needed reassurance before publishing Fire, Wind & Yesterday.

Bell and ASL

My father didn’t use ASL, as anyone would understand who has learned of the darker side of Alexander Graham Bell.  While it’s true that Bell’s mother, Eliza, was deaf and that, when he was in his late 20s, he married a woman, Mabel Hubbard, who had lost her hearing to scarlet fever as a child, and while it’s true that his invention of the telephone was a product of his experiments with acoustics on behalf of his wife and his concomitant quest to improve the telegraph so that it could transmit sounds, and even though Bell founded the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in 1890, (now known as the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf), Bell opposed permitting deaf people to marry one another, fearing an unsustainable growth in the deaf population and the demand for a deaf state — a country-within-a-country.

He believed that deafness was a curse upon those afflicted and a burden to any deaf individual, and that deafness could be reduced in the population as a whole by interfering with deaf couples’ freedom to procreate.  He wanted to prevent the birth of deaf children.  To quote from, he wanted “to eliminate residential schools, prohibit sign language use in deaf education, and forbid deaf teachers from teaching deaf students.  Bell thought these measures would encourage deaf people to use their oral skills and become more integrated into the hearing society.  These measures could be ‘hidden’ and seen as education reforms.”

Since Alexander Graham Bell had a powerful influence on pedagogy in the United States, it took decades after his death in 1922 for education policy to catch up to today’s reality.  From “The trend toward dedicated, residential education for deaf children has been replaced by a trend to integrate deaf children into local public schools. This movement became predominant after the passage of the All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (today called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).”

Thus Bell has had his way, after a fashion: Deaf children are now taught more in an integrated school setting. But he has lost in another way: American Sign Language has become a universally-accepted and widely-taught visual supplement to oral communication.

In other words, my father, born in the 1920s, grew up during a period when A.G. Bell’s prejudice against sign language still heavily influenced the education of the deaf.  In a remarkable coincidence, he grew up in one of the three New England villages where sign languages in America originated in the early 1800s, in my dad’s home region around Farmington, Maine.  But that was a century before he was born and it had died out, largely due to the inventor of the telephone in 1876.

Dealing With It All

Dad’s family was also slow to acknowledge his disability, and he had already learned to speak normally before he lost his hearing.  In order to function among most other people, who did not use sign language, he was better off relying on speech and making the best of early hearing aids.

Deafness had its stigma when he was growing up, and that lingered well into his early adulthood.  American Sign Language was not widely encouraged among the deaf and their supporters and family members until well into my own adulthood.

My Expertise

None of this makes me an expert on any language but my own.  I paid attention in school, diagraming sentences and learning the parts of speech as I was simultaneously learning conjugation of verbs, declension of nouns, gender and person of pronouns, and the comparable structures in other languages.

Somewhere in my high school education I realized that I was being taught to write according to Strunk and White, the authors of The Elements of Style.  These were the rules that guided my teachers and which are better than mere rules; they also make sense.

I have consulted The Chicago Manual of Style and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and have drawn two conclusions, neither of which may be correct but are logically drawn: These guidebooks were initially written for people who composed newspaper reports which were not meant to be enduring examples of prose, and the authors of those manuals were trying to show reporters how to infuse urgency into reporting that was also marked by brevity and even uncertainty.  It was and still is, I suppose, fundamental that a piece of news, however incomplete, be published immediately and that readers be diverted from noticing and inquiring into any incompleteness of information.

I write stories, mostly, not news reports.  I want my words and, as vitally, my punctuation, to leave no doubt what I was trying to convey.  For more on the rules I have imposed upon myself see my article on Discipline in Writing.

=David A. Woodbury=


They pop up in various places throughout the novel — eight poems of varying length and tone. One is attributed to the character, Wilton: the song, “Always Loving You.” The next six are attributed to one or more of the other characters, and you’ll learn who that might be as you read the story.

Here they are according to the sequence in which they appear in the book.

Spider eyes stare down at me.
I stare back at eight with two.
What in my world do those eyes see?
And with six more, what would I view?

Know Me
I prefer fast or slow in a saddle
To the white-knuckle speed of a car.
I prefer sound and odor of cattle
To the olfactory insult of tar.

I am happier sleeping on hillsides
Than in hotels with valets and locks,
And I’m healthier eating wild berries
Than consuming what’s sold in a box.

I’ll take the still hour before sunrise
Over midnight’s interminable gong
And an evening in any small library
Over music and drinks in a throng.

You’ve not asked but I’ve told you what matters —
What I look for in both pace and place
And I’d spend all eternity with you
If, when there, I could see your kind face.

My bubble is sealed in a glaze,
Within it I breathe in a haze.
It neither expands nor contracts,
Nor admits new emotions or facts.

With my mind an unraveling bight
My sad soul's tear-stained spirit's a sight.
And yet, outward I may seem unfazed
In my vesicle fragile and crazed.

Words I Would Say
A voice, and a word crossing space —
A sound, a disturbance in air.
But a word on the air leaves no trace,
You may hear it, but then it’s not there.

If I utter it softly, you hear,
If I whisper, who’d know it was done?
But, if softly and you are not near,
Then both whispered and thought are as one.

I would offer my words to the wind
If I thought they would fall to the ground
And if I could choose who, in the end,
Were the soul by whom they would be found.

Do you wonder what words I would say?
Do you wish that you already knew?
The air may receive them some day
When I want you to hear: ‘I love you.’

[no title]
Cryptic space
No, I can’t stay
Wave me away

Shuffling feet
Slow, yet I flee
You’ve set me free

Pillow time
Near me you lie
In my mind’s eye

Spurning home
Why?  So I’ll know
Where I must go

Something true
Should I tell you
What we both know?

Yearning, we
Yes, and now I
Yield to our tie

See that heap of husks behind me?
Hollow casts of days now past,
Husks that haunt and since remind me,
Shells of hopes that died at last.

See those pots erect before me?
Vessels full with days to come,
Each one dull and bound to bore me,
Each a ringing, vacant drum.

See this gaunt half-soul in tatters?
Sentinel with one intent:
Find the other half that matters;
Mend the halves now flayed and rent.

See the sense in this confusion?
Product of men’s need to reign,
Fostered by the bold illusion:
Follow him!  He’ll quash your pain.

See the pain, not soon extinguished?
How so many who are bruised,
Keep the bed in which they’ve languished,
Unaware how they’ve been used!

The last example of verse in the book is attributed to Tasunka Kokipapi, an Oglala chief of the mid-1800s. Although this verse is entirely fabricated for the book, it is intended to represent his other sayings and advice.

Our lives are as but a day.
Our shadows are as spirits,
Yours touching mine on the earth
Even when we stand apart.

At end of day our shadows become one with night.
We are still here, only the light is gone.
At end of life our spirits become one with all
We are not gone, only no longer seen.

=David A. Woodbury=