A Review of Hoffman’s Army

I’ve been active in a group of civil war enthusiasts on FB. and recently offered a free copy of my history of the 31st Virginia Infantry CSA to someone in exchange for an honest review of the book. When one is a self-published author, it is achingly difficult to get reviews. I’m pleased that Chuck Pribbernow found my book worthwhile.

https://www.amazon.com/review/R275K86NALKWGW/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv

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Wooddell Through time-1971

Where we end up as writers does not always have any correlation to where we began. It is all too easy to imagine, when one is young, the career path. All too easy to believe that one’s work will inevitably be celebrated, awards will flow, and wealth will result from that million dollar sale.

Wooddell Through time-1978

But I would hazard a guess that most don’t imagine the years of sitting solitary, in front of a keyboard and computer screen, doing the writing itself. Or of sitting with a pad of paper, or a notebook and pen, or pencil, and cramping one’s hand while writing word after word, endlessly, then revising them, and then, at last, sitting down to put it all into a computer’s word processor. That part of the dream is boring, and will be glossed over by the unimaginative.

Wooddell Through time-1-2

 

But what if that dream of great success and riches doesn’t happen right away? Does that mean one’s writing has no validity? When I was at university, I knew a young man who was my own age. He was determined to write novels in such a way that his genius would be recognized by the time he was 21 years old. Because his hero had done so. And when that didn’t happen? He was shattered. He declared he would never write again. I lost touch with him soon afterward, and don’t know what happened to him. Maybe he learned that stuff runs downhill and became a plumber. He probably made more in his career than most wanna-be writers ever will. He might own a vacation home, and a boat, and maybe even can afford to send his kids to college. I don’t know.

Another friend from the same period was a serious pianist. He’d been groomed from age 3 to be a concert pianist. His mother poured money and hopes into private lessons, piano camps, tutors, and a first rate piano in their home. He was astonishingly good when he performed. He went off to college, studying piano, and he became much better. But his goal was to be world famous by the time he was 21, because his hero did that. And his mom said to do that. And when he didn’t succeed in reaching that level of fame?

Wooddell Through time-2004

I lost track of him for many years, but through the wonders of the internet some few years ago, was able to briefly connect. He’d gone on to get a master’s degree in conducting, and then a doctoral degree. He as teaching college symphony band, conducting, and playing piano, and was still pretty good. They always asked him to play at parties. He knew all the songs. He married, had children, bought a comfortable home, and made a very good life for himself. Was that not worth the doing, simply because he didn’t live up to the dream he’d had when he was young?

I seem to meet a lot of young writers these days, and I try to be reserved in giving advice. I’m not Gandalf: I don’t have magic dust up my sleeve. If I did, I’d be famous and rich, instead of relatively obscure and on the poorer side of middle class. The only solid advice I can give is to keep writing. Write more. Then write it again. And then again. Write more than one story. Write many stories. And then more stories.

Wooddell Through time-2014-2

How do you learn and know what you don’t know? Ask a lot of questions. Write down the answers, and find your stories in the answers from others. Ask: What do you do? How do you do it? Why do you do it? What do you think about when you garden? How did you meet your spouse? Why did you want children? In the answers from those people you meet, to whom you ask question about their lives, you will find answers for your writing. No one is born with answers within them. But good writers are born with lots of questions. Writing is answering the questions you ask. Ask good questions.

You might want to read this essay from a speech given by a writer, Andrew Solomon, in which he discuses Advice for Young Writers by Rilke. It is more brilliant than anything I could say.

I mostly did other things in my career than write. I worked with photographers, and artists, and eventually became a photographer. I learned to be a careful researcher, and writer of reports read mostly by senior editors. To get there, perhaps the most important part was learning about the world. In my youth, I worked construction, in a steel mill, in stores, in factories, in restaurants, in libraries, and occasionally for my grandfather, learning to take care of a historic 19th century farm on a mountain. All of that was grist for my word mill, for my word farm; learning to ask questions, and find answers.

  • David W. Wooddell

Time Travel?

Science fiction writers have speculated about time travel for more than a hundred years. H. G. Wells’s novel, The Time Machine has been an enduring classic in publishing, with too many editions to keep track of. Some of them have very fun covers, however.

It is a subject that continues to fascinate writers, including in my own work in a story that I’m working on now. But what does science say about time travel? Is it possible? Is it just a fantasy?

 

Recently, physicists have made discoveries about dark energy that may indicate that no time travel into the past would be possible because of the direction of the physical properties of particles.

But one thing is for sure – the imagination works in both directions, to the past as well as the future. We cast our minds into the past to learn about what we can do in the future, to see what went right, and what went wrong. Or maybe it is just for entertainment?

  • – David W. Wooddell

Drunk men with guns

Good luck to all in Cleveland this week at the Republican National Convention. I hope cooler heads will prevail, and peace is not destroyed by the extremists of any belief.
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As I saw this week in online posts, there are people claiming to travel to Cleveland for the convention with their guns, intent on stopping at breweries and distilleries along the way to stock up on alcohol, so they can “stand up” to Black Lives Matter, and anyone else who disagrees with them.
 
     That is exactly the kinds of sentiments and intentions that started the Civil War in 1861. Drunk men with guns who wanted to suppress blacks, perpetuate slavery, and tell the country how to govern itself was a losing proposition in that year, and it is a losing proposition in 2016.
     Drunk men with guns is a bad prescription for peaceful democratic process. Guns are not the right objects to bring to political conventions, unless one is supporting violence.
     Bring brains and logic, understanding and ethics, and yes morality that is based on helping others to your political convention. You want to make America great again? Bring back the middle class way of life. Bring back jobs for Americans. Bring back the dollars earned in the US that have been hidden oversees in banks to keep from having to pay taxes. Bring back the ethics and morality of freedom for all, and justice for all, not just for the wealthy, the whites, and the politically connected. That is what should be brought to this important American political gathering, and yet I understand it is probably not going to happen.
     The party of Lincoln that freed the slaves by winning the Civil War is today intent on building walls, violating freedom of religion, and suppressing dissent. It seems intent on disenfranchising as many non-Republicans as possible through gerrymandering, restricting and unconstitutional voting laws. And the reason?
     Drunk men with guns is my only explanation for this danger to the United States. Certainly, they could not hold those un-American values if they were sober.
– David W. Wooddell

Nom de Pen contest

B&O RR Museum 052715
B&O RR Museum 052715

I write serious history books as my main occupation, though it pays little, so I could probably say it is an avocation. And I publish them under my own name, David W. Wooddell.

But my dirty little secret – well, one of them I’m willing to admit to here – is that I write fiction, too.

That’s right. Factually incorrect narratives, with wildly imaginative “facts” that are improbable, but plausible if you squint, and drink enough caffeine, and are excited by space travel, aliens, and new interpretations of physics and biology. And occasional sex. Because sex sells, and it is hilarious to write. Especially when combined with the new interpretations of biology, in which… oh, never mind for now. Just take my word for it.

Evidently, to be a successful fiction author, I need a nom de pen (or should that be nom de word processor?) I’m currently writing a series of science fiction novels. And those will be followed with a series of speculative historical adventure novels with some traces of steam punk levity.

Any suggestion would be gratefully received. I won’t guarantee I’ll use the suggestion. But I do think it would be fun to see what people suggest, and there is always a chance I might like one enough to use it on my books.

If I end up using one of the suggestions, I will award the person an autographed copy of my first science fiction novel, The Invisibles, after it is published later this year.

Who’s in? Make a comment below, or send one to me, here or on FB at my writer page.

  • David W. Wooddell

How do you stop racism?

How do you help fix the problem of racism? I’ve been speaking up about it since I was a teenager. It maybe has pressed some of my family and friends to question their overt racism, but I don’t know that I’ve been able to change them. Over time, they have learned that if they speak racist stuff, I will challenge them, and I will ostracize them if they continue. I will not be in the same room with them. I will not take part in what they take part in. And I will let them know why.

And yet, some of them choose to continue in their racist beliefs. And they get butthurt because I call them on it.

I feel it is important to speak out about it in social media. I feel it is important to write to politicians, chiefs of police in my area, to attend occasional public meetings and speak out and be seen as a white person who is against the police profiling, and acting on their racist attitudes. The stories of what those police do are terrible.

When I adopted my son from Korea, the agency we worked with told us to introduce son to the police, and “let them see you with him often, so that they will know he is protected by a white person.” I did so, but I’ve always known that the rest of the blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in the US don’t have the advantage of a white person protecting them.

But I have to ask – why should that be necessary? Why, in the 21st century, are some people, including some police still acting as thought the Civil War was about to start? Why have we allowed racists to hold office, and to be in position of authority, such as serve in the police?

The police are not all law abiding. I know this from my own family’s experiences. We had a crooked cop in the family, and we all suffered from it in one way or another. We also had a lot of cops in the family who were not crooked, who acted in an ethical and legal manner all their careers. So I know the difference, and I know that not all cops are law abiding  because I read the news and see reports of policemen arrested for every kind of crime imaginable. And yes, those are the exceptions. But too often the reaction within police forces is to look the other way and allow it. Just as security guards often turn out to be the inside man in robberies and theft, some police create problems instead of stopping problems. They have joined for the power, and because they can get away with abuse of the power. That includes racism and the ability to persecute those they perceive as weak. They perceive blacks and hispanics as weak because their own leaders and fellow police let them get away with racial profiling, with violence against them, and with outright illegal behavior. It is the power and ability to exercise power against someone who can’t lash out at them in return.

If you want to help end this continuation of racism, and persecution of blacks by police, speak out. Stand up. Let it be known that you won’t support police who break the law. Let your local and national politicians know you will not stand for it, and you will campaign against them if they support that kind of behavior.

This is not blacks against the police. It is some police acting against blacks, and that puts us all in danger, it demeans all of us because it fractures our society, it breaks the law, and as with all criminals, it creates fear. It is time to stop the violence. It is time to stop racism.