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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » A pot diggers story

   
Author Topic: A pot diggers story
M.J. Larsen
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In 1939 the stage was set for the future of Southwestern archaeology. It seemed like an ordinary event at the time, the birth of Gary to parents, William and Pearl in their small log cabin. He was their second child, destined to be a pot-digger. This cabin was home to older generations and was passed from parent to child and grandchild. It is now a museum located on Main Street to be enjoyed by family and friends and travelers.
Gary remembers, “The old cabin has character”. It had been empty for about twenty years after its construction about 1880. It lost its doors and windows from the effects of time and weather. Wandering cows took refuge inside from the rains and snows common to the area. About 1946 – 1955, when Gary's family lived next door, it became known as Carnegie Hall providing a

[ January 02, 2017, 01:08 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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This feels more like the opening to an essay than the opening to a story. There's no clear viewpoint character (one hint that it might be Gary, who has no last name) and no real hook. All I know is that the story seems to be about a museum that used to be a log cabin, and that isn't quite enough to grab my interest on a personal level.

It might be good to think on what your story is truly about, and when things shift out of the ordinary. That's your catalyst, and potentially where a more gripping opening to your story will present itself.

[ January 02, 2017, 03:33 PM: Message edited by: Disgruntled Peony ]

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extrinsic
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An impersonal narrator summarizes and explains a cabin's backstory and a neighbor family that lived next door to the cabin.

The fragment reads more like a historical essay than prose, lays in an unstable limbo between academic lecture and reality imitation arts. Nothing here compels me to read further. The esoteric term "pot digger" holds some small promise of what might be the dramatic action of the whole. Grammar glitches, of the more basic types, leave me less inclined to read further, too.

If the fragment got immediately into an antagonal, causal, tensional dramatic complication introduction due to Gary being a pot digger, itinerant artifact robber or academic professional, or intern, whatever, at least suspense's contributions to antagonism, causation, and tension would give me something to go on. John Gardner, "All true suspense . . . is a dramatic representation of the anguish of moral choice." Suspense development is a first consideration for a prose start -- the so-labeled "hook" criteria that persuades readers to read on.

On the other hand, if the book is about a historic event and a persona who is most notable for the event in the Southwestern North America setting, that might not be prose's drama forte. Hatrack has no especial exclusion of non-performance genre, no general prohibitions against research and report, data collection and analysis, or argumentation essays, those metagenre are generally outside Hatrack's drama composition emphasis areas. They entail other content and organization craft.

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Grumpy old guy
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I'm not certain how to treat this fragment: is it a dramatic novel written in the style of a biography or is it, in fact, an attempt at a biography? Either way, I'll treat it at an attempted biography simply because if it is a dramatic effort in the style of a biography it should at least follow the form to some degree.

Where are we, South-western what: Zimbabwe, Canada, or South Australia? Now, next, Gary, William, and Pearl who? Next, yet again, a pot-digger? What the heck is that? Oh, the cabin that has character is now a museum on Main Street somewhere: Chicago perhaps, what about Upper Cumbuctah West, or Lower Niagara? Need I go on?

As a biography, this fragment reads as if the author is trying hard to hide who the thing is about, where it takes place, and what it's about. I know this isn't what you want to hear but I would not read on. [Frown]

Phil.

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M.J. Larsen
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Thank you for your responses. I am not surprised by any of them. In fact, I believe I could have written them myself. I had debated about the beginning of the book as well. You have helped me determine it might be better to use this personal biographical information of my co-writer as a preface instead of the first chapter. What do you think? His life as an amateur archaeologist in Arizona, USA is filled with intriguing events. I could begin chapter one with the turning point of his life when he moved from collecting arrowheads to searching for artifacts. Hence, pot digger.
Comments? Feedback?

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extrinsic
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What is the target audience? If history or biography, is the subject a notable person, or a notable event or setting, all three? If creative nonfiction, then, like fiction, a narrative is about the human condition and dramatic. The former has a different audience from the latter and different content and organization craft. Fiction and creative nonfiction have different audiences, too, and less, if any, craft difference between those.

I've known the term "pot digger" as both euphemism and dysphemism for decades, know it as an insider (esoteric) label for archeologists, and conversant in the field overall.

One craft distinction of note for scientific composition is one generally for all nonperformance-based expression, that of detail and emphasis placement syntax. Most important, interesting, and exciting information comes first. A serial list of three items, for example, the first item is the most profound one; the second item, less though of note still; and the third item, less and still of note. The same principle applies at overall, part, and piece levels. Performance genre places significant content in a see-saw oscillation organization movement in pieces, parts, and wholes.

The scientific model report craft is similar, start with a hypothesis; detail purpose and significance of the hypothesis, detail methods and sources to test the hypothesis, detail the process steps taken, document the results, successes and failures, anticipate and rebut objections, end with a conclusive finding about the hypothesis, even if the conclusion is that the hypothesis is unfounded.

That same content and organization model fits all nonperformance genre, research and report, data collection and analysis, and argumentation essays, only the section labels differ. A research and report essay, for example, if it would be more than an annotated bibliography or "high school" caliber book report of the five-paragraph essay style, starts with a thesis statement, expresses the significance of the thesis in context, supports the thesis, anticipates and rebuts objections, and draws a conclusive inference related to the thesis. Likewise, for analytical essays, a problem to be satisfied statement start, and argumentation essays, a claim assertion statement start. Those statements compare to performance genres' "hook" that excites readers to read on. Mindful, of course, that a petitio principii (circular reasoning, begging the question) statement and report is flawed at its bases.

Performance genre more or less follows a similar organization structure, only that, again, section labels are different and structure is oscillatory. Plus, instead of pure hypothesis proof being the intent, the intent of performance genre is to emotionally move personas and readers toward dramatic moral truth discovery -- the energeic type per Aristotle, Gardner, and Hills. Philosophical narratives more directly do so, in fact, assert a moral law, comparable to a hypothesis statement, thesis statement, or claim assertion statement. In any case, regardless of metagenre, all composition in some manner addresses a want-problem complication.

For a biography composition, any or all of the above content and organization principles apply. A distinction for drama is that complication is a prime movement engine; that is, a depiction of want-problem incitement and satisfaction efforts to a conclusive, unequivocal, irrevocable outcome end.

Ergo, the event, setting (time, place, and situation), and person to start a biography is at a provocative incitement event, moment, place, situation, and person realization of a want-problem.

For the colleague, what moment did the realization of the pot digger calling arise? Not when the first arrowhead was picked up, per se, when the calling was realized and became a high magnitude antagonized want-problem that sought satisfaction, which could be when an acquaintance picked up a potsherd and was acclaimed for it. The moral vice then one of envy and its attendant opposite virtue kindness, plus auxiliary vices and virtues.

Therein is the gist for a moral contest, the intangible contest of a personal journey-personal essay-biography narrative -- what lends public significance to a biography; that is, a subjective moral contest that shapes an otherwise common tableau into a unique drama. The tangible contest here is of becoming a renowned pot digger in a contentious field and the private and public consequences of a new knowledge discovery. The biographical backstory is best practice interleavened among the dramatic movement and relevant when it matters to the drama at hand of the immediate now moment instead of an introduction, preface, or prologue, maybe a prelude, each dramatic arts and sciences skills themselves.

For me, an archeologist who contends with two common scenarios of internal and external conflict would be most appealing; one, the contest between science, culture, and profit motives, artifact robber-sacred culture property pillager-scientist; and two, the trend for archeology to interpret sites as static and flat, when artifacts, in fact, instead represent a round and dynamic society record in situ or secondary or more deposit.

[ January 03, 2017, 06:26 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Just what is a biography? Yes, there are dry dictionary definitions, but at it's heart a biography is simply the story of one person's life with all the boring bits left out (Sound familiar?). extrinsic is, as usual, mostly correct in his summary of the technical elements you'll need to keep in mind. However, I look at it from a storytelling perspective.

A biography can be as much a story as To Kill a Mockingbird or Moby Dick. It need not follow the dictates of creative non-fiction, instead it can adopt and use the tools of characterisation and tension found within prose to create a work that still satisfies the requirements of intellectual and academic rigour needed in a scholarly work. It all rests on the skill of the writer in creating the right mood in the mind of the reader and using those tools I mentioned to draw the reader in, evoke and promote interest in the subject, and to bring to life the tension and conflict experienced by the subject as they strive to reach their goal (Sounds familiar again).

In the end, a biography is the recounting of a life, not the accounting of mere achievement.

Phil.

PS. I know that didn't make much sense but I've been enjoying 85F-95F and 95%humidity for the last ten days. I'm ragged.

PPS. And no air-conditioning.

[ January 04, 2017, 05:48 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I think it makes a lot of sense, Phil.
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extrinsic
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Creative nonfiction's sole difference from fiction is it is a true account of actual circumstances, not per se capital-F factual, more so a subjective, authentic now-moment sense impression of selected circumstances. CNF nonetheless also entails fiction's additional moral truth underlay. CNF instruction also more emphasizes past and present sense impressions, or present and future, or past, present, and future sense impressions. Narrator identity development and narrative authentication criteria are also more emphasized instructionally and as essential in fiction as in CNF.

Leaving out irrelevant details -- the boring bits -- is part of CNF's arts. Plus, the overall composition and grammar mechanics principle of focus supports that selective method. Use of the subjunctive grammar mood is also instructionally emphasized for CNF. CNF uses all of fiction's storytelling techniques save the one, that it is a true account, not fiction.

I read many biographies -- I read a lot -- that are little more than history reports. Ones I've been satisfied by are more CNF than rigid history reports.

Biography arts are CNF and fiction arts. The same three top tier essentials apply: complication (motivation), conflict (stakes), and tone (attitude); plus the other essential triplet, the reality imitation existents of fully realized, timely, and judicious event, setting, and character development. Not to mention antagonism, causation, and tension, and triplet causation segment sequences of preparation (cause), suspension (delay), and satisfaction (effect) essentials. Antagonism for that matter is also subtly a triplet, want and problem in contention as well as in coordination: want, problem, want-problem. Tension's a triplet too: empathy or sympathy and curiosity arousal: fear, pity, and hope from doubt about a complication outcome, plus suitable emotional distance.

Huh, threes all around. Threes apply, too, to rhetorical figures and schemes. For example, the basic rhetorical scheme behind picaresque: episodic adventures of a roguish protagonist in vice- and folly-ridden social settings: event, setting, and character criteria. Picaresque's selective account method seems to me ready made for a CNF novel about a pot digger's rogue episodes.

Plus, Jerome Stern's "Specimen shape" apropos of a co-written biographical account, the narrator the involved observer-reporter, the rogue pot digger the specimen observed, in which a narrative reveals as much, if not more, about the observer's true nature as the specimen's true nature and character.

And yes, Grumpy old guy, that story craft arts are essential for biographical CNF (memoir) makes a lot of sense to me, despite climate complications' causal problems.

[ January 04, 2017, 04:48 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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M.J. Larsen
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OK friends, share your thoughts.

As a co-author, I am writing this book about an amateur archaeologist (my co-author) who became interested in Native American artifacts as a kid collecting arrowheads. He later found many pots, etc. at N. A. ruins, some on private property and some provided by the People themselves.

Greedy people became involved. There were legal investigations by people who didn't want to be left out.

I did not share full names originally because I need to protect identity and the connection to other people at this point.

The book is being written using his journals and memories. It is as close to non-fiction as that allows.

WEATHER REPORT FOR GRUMPY: 47 degrees with snow in the forecast.

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extrinsic
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Identity protection is a dicey challenge. How to be suitably respectful and still authentic is a complication plague unique to CNF arts. On the other hand, scandal and controversy brew word-of-mouth buzz, Buzz, BUZZ for robust marketing.

How CNF writers navigate those perils and benefits is as near infinite as about any other composition practice. For me, private and public controversy is a large selling point for CNF. General ways to manage those challenges are to use subjective expression: the subjunctive mood and subjective sense impressions.

"Greedy people became involved. There were legal investigations by people who didn't want to be left out.

"I did not share full names originally because I need to protect identity and the connection to other people at this point."

Greed is a vice apropos of dramatic art's moral truth criteria, and its attendant virtue charity, plus congruent auxiliary moral values. Pride-humility, certainly, wrath-patience, probably, envy-kindness and sloth-diligence, likely, too. Mindful that vice is as well a possible and natural congruent to virtue. Without greed, for example, would anyone strive for higher living standards that congruently advance the overall moral human condition and common good's well-being? Thus greed vice as diligence virtue.

As to names and identity protection of the innocent and the morally depraved, several rhetorical tropes might offer respite, the allusive nickname phenomena: synecdoche and metonomy in particular. "Pot digger," for example, is a metonomy: an attribute of a circumstance, for example, a pot digger activity therein by which an individual is known, that represents the whole.

Synecdoche is a part of a sensory circumstance stands for the whole, usually an appearance quality, other sensory features too, for example, a thin person nicknamed Heavy -- ironic. Heavy is not heavyset, is known for deep thinking, metonomy too then. A digger could also be nicknamed Dusty -- less ironic synecdoche. A light complected person nicknamed Dusky, ironically, synechdoche and metonomy, for awaking usually at dusk and that allusion as well to the liminal nature of nighttime activities, often associated with nefarious doings and moral depravity.

Shorthand "Digger," too, is a relateable metonomy and a common nickname that, in artful context and texture, becomes unique, sublime, and profound. Might Digger have past and present sense nicknames for the personas who contested his activities for their own selfish ends? Or supported his acts for similar reasons though more charitably? Or invented for the CNF novel's present sense impressions? Lawyers, for example, not sharks or shylocks, I guess, they dig too, into arcane and esoteric lexes (laws) -- metonomy, a Lexus Lex, Lex for short?

Might then a nota bene, nb, be included on a copyright notice frontispiece page similar to fiction novels' boilerplate legalese disclaimer? "All persons in this work are fictional characters and do not represent any deceased, living, or persons yet to be born." //All persons' names in this work were changed to invented nicknames for privacy protection and reputation protection of the innocent, the depraved, and the middling.//

On the other hand, only the subjective past and present now sense impression of the substantive individuals matters. Most substantive, though, is what such a CNF novel expresses about the emotional-moral human condition. Irony's arts are, therefore, foremost. Portray all individuals as more and less morally, socially responsible than they truly are, for good or ill, such that they are well-intended "like us" and suffer unmerited misfortunes and rewards due to self-error and folly and, hopefully, emotionally-morally mature as consequences, or the opposite emotional maturation decline, or remain as they are.

This is poetic irony, part poetic justice's good rewarded and evil punished, part that no good deed goes unpunished and too many evil deeds are rewarded, and a third irony space; that is, a synthesis of both, not Kierkegaard's "infinite absolute negativity," a realization that free will exercise is a personal and global human right and privilege with attendant social responsibility and accountability. This is John Locke's theory of the pure state of Nature in contest with congruent natural law. The synthesis, that the human condition metes unmerited misfortune and reward due to free will exercise self-error and follies of people like us. This is satire.

Lay into them all, be blunt, be brutal, be frank, be authentic, be kind, charitable, patient, humble, temperant, chaste, diligent, be ironic, satiric, sarcastic, be fair -- be true, at the least to the self.

Weather hereabouts is unseasonably seasonal.

[ January 04, 2017, 06:07 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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M.J. Larsen
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Test beginnings of archeology book - what do you think?

The sun was sinking fast; Gary and his friend needed to get home before dark. Disappointment was expressed with each step as their shovel blades crunched in the rocky soil. Step, crunch, step.
They had searched for hours without finding anything more than a handful of arrowheads. Why couldn't they find a beautiful Pueblo pot like Gary's older brother found weeks ago?
Gary shrugged his shoulders as he said, “Next time!” Agreeing, his friend George sighed, “Yes, we will.”
They couldn't even imagine the fame, money.... and trouble... that success would bring.

*********************

It felt like Gary and George had walked miles and miles over the Four Mile Ruin, after walking the four miles to get there. Now, they would be walking the same four miles back home. They did not have a single pot to show for their efforts, just a handful of arrowheads like they had already collected in the fields close to home.
Gary, remembering the beautiful Pueblo pot his brother found here a week before, sighed and said with hope in his voice, “We're gonna find one, just you wait and see!”
George pumped the air with his left hand and agreed. “Lets come back tomorrow and look in a different spot.”
Gary replied, “ Let's bring shovels and dig in that mound we saw by the cave.”

**********************


It had been a very nice day for pot searching, no wind, no rain, just warm sunshine, but that didn't bring them any success.
Gary's older brother had found a beautiful Pueblo pot near a cave in the Four Mile Ruin. That had given Gary and George the encouragement to walk the extra distance from their homes to do their own searching.
It was now nearing the end of day and their parents would be expecting them home in time to do their evening chores before supper. They could no longer say, “Lets, just look in one more spot.”
Gary sighed and asked, “Can you come back tomorrow?” “Okay, maybe we can dig in that mound that we saw near the cave”

[ January 09, 2017, 06:00 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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M.J. Larsen
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Did I break the rules for my last post? Too many lines for replies?
Is Arial 12 pt. text acceptable? On the screen, my post looks the same as the others.
I'm still trying to understand all the requirements.

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extrinsic
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The first new version is ten lines; second, seventeen lines, third, eighteen lines.

As to several fragments posted at once, that they're posted for comparative contrast purposes, to me, is okay.

Arial is a proportional typeface. Courier New, or similar typewriter typefaces (monospaced) are Standard Manuscript Format typefaces and upon which Hatrack's thirteen lines principle is based.

For me, the three new versions read like "As you know, Bob" dialogue. As you know, George, we only found ordinary arrowheads and didn't find a special pot today. As you know, George, we have to get home on time to not get into trouble. As you know, George, as our parents say, be careful what you wish for. You might get it. And so on and so forth.

See the Turkey City Lexicon at SFWA (Edited by Lewis Shiner; Second Edition by Bruce Sterling) generally worth a look-see, and for "As you know, Bob" dialogue, its definitions as follows: "A pernicious form of info-dump through dialogue, in which characters tell each other things they already know, for the sake of getting the reader up-to-speed. This very common technique is also known as “Rod and Don dialogue” (attr. Damon Knight) or “maid and butler dialogue” (attr Algis Budrys)." Also applies to internal discourse's as you know thoughts "info-dumped."

I don't see substantive differences between the three versions. Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay, William W. Warner, 1976, marine biology textbook and creative nonfiction, nonfiction Pulitzer winner, perhaps is a model for this CNF archeology novel.

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M.J. Larsen
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Thanks for the source referral. I find it interesting.
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Grumpy old guy
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quote:
Originally posted by M.J. Larson:

Greedy people became involved. There were legal investigations by people who didn't want to be left out.

I did not share full names originally because I need to protect identity and the connection to other people at this point.

The book is being written using his journals and memories. It is as close to non-fiction as that allows.

Upon reading this the first word that leapt into my mind was Libel: Defamation by written or printed words, pictures, or in any form other than by spoken words or gestures.

There are some things people need to know about defamation: First, you cannot defame the dead, second, truth is an absolute defence against charges of defamation, third, anything that falls between one and two is subject to the whims of judges and/or juries. Not a good thing. Oh, and fourth, the burden of proof is based on the balance of probabilities and NOT on the requirement that it be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

One workaround to avoid accusations of libel is satire. An art form ripe for writing about any contentious interpretation of who did what to who, and why. A less than artful preface to such a work might say: “Certain names and events have been altered to defend the guilty and corrupt.”

As for your most recent submission alterations, they fall flat in my opinion. It's as if you are not certain where, or how to start. I always find that once I have decided on who the viewpoint character is (the person actually telling the story), finding the start for the story becomes easier.

When writing a biography, it is my opinion that the viewpoint character should either be a dispassionate narrator, in third person, or a close associate, quite possibly written in the first person. But these are personal choices if I were ever to actually write a biography. Which isn't likely, my real life is too unbelievable to be regarded as true. [Smile]

Hope this helps a little.

Phil.

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M.J. Larsen
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Yes, it does help. Thanks, Phil, for your comments.
I have received some good feedback from everyone which is food for thought. Thanks everyone.

I obviously have work to do.

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Metta
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I was really intrigued by the title and imagined an old man digging holes. My expectation was that the story would start with the old man unearthing something exciting like a treasure. I did wonder if it was the beginning of a memoir.
Metta

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