Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tell, Don't Show

In the process of writing my novel, I have posted signs around my computer to remind me of some basic things that a writer must remember.  While my favorite is definitely a tip from Stephen King (The Road to Hell is Paved with Adverbs), the thing that writers learn to recite in their sleep is “Show, Don’t Tell.”

No-one wants to read “Mary was mad.”  It is so much more fun to read that Mary’s face was the color of a baboon’s ass; she screamed, slammed the door and threw her new iphone against the wall.  Show, don’t tell.  Every word, every sentence, every paragraph. 

One year and two hundred ninety pages later, I was asked for a synopsis of my novel.  One page, describing what happens from start to finish.  I have been working on it for two months, yes, TWO MONTHS.  One page: that one page that will make someone want to read the first ten pages, then the first thirty, then the other two hundred sixty. 

Why was it so hard?  I’ll tell you why.  Show, don’t tell, that’s why.  I have been so programmed to describe, that explaining, simply TELLing, was something foreign to me.  And in writing a one page synopsis of a two hundred ninety page book, telling is the only way to do it. 

This is a good thing.  It lets me know that I have learned something through practice and am now in the habit of “showing” without having to tape little notes around my desk.  But writing the book, as I am learning every day, is only one step in the process (and in my opinion, the easiest step).  And in some of the other “steps”, the same rules do not apply. 

Breaking the rules is difficult, but I have to admit, the rebel in me finally took hold and said “to hell with it!” and began telling about my book, start to finish, brief, just the basics, just the highlights.  After an excellent edit by one of my fellow MFA-er’s (thanks, Rebecca), I now have a one page synopsis of my novel, one that I am proud of.  Last night, I swaggered to the mailbox, kissed it goodbye and sent it to my mentor. 

For the synopsis---Tell, don’t show.

Now to write a pitchline…
Two hundred ninety pages in fifty words….

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Follow the link below to read my interview with WOW-Women on Writing.  You can also read my flash fiction piece, December, by clicking on the title within the interview. 


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Word about Oral Histories

Mrs. Z was an elderly woman whose family had lived in Boulder City, Nevada during the 1930’s.  Her father owned and operated a business that removed bat guano from one of the caves near the Hoover Dam building site.  A few years ago, I sat with her for several hours and recorded her oral history.  She told me that some of her stories were things that her family had never heard before.   

Mr. X was an older gentleman that I have seen almost everyday for the past year.  I never had any long conversations with him, just bits in passing, enough to know a little about his life.  He was retired military, extremely intelligent and had a large hula dancer tattooed on his arm.  He liked to sit outside in the sun.  He often told me what was wrong with my car, recognizing a problem from the sound as I drove by.   

Mrs. Z died two days after I completed her oral history.  Her stories are now a part of the Boulder City Historical Association’s extensive collection and will be available for historians to use for many years to come.  I gave her daughter a copy of the tapes and a printed manuscript, copies of the stories that her mother said her family had never heard before.

Mr. X passed away this past weekend in his sleep.  I did not, in the past year, sit with him and record his stories.  As is often the case, many of these are now lost forever.  I would have liked to have heard about his military experience. I would have liked to have known how he knew so much about cars and I would love to know the story behind the hula girl tattoo. 

Oral Histories are an important way for non-academics to participate in “making history”.  They are often eyewitness accounts of historical events or simply stories of everyday life specific to a time period, which serve as primary sources for researchers, those crazy people who write historical fiction and history books.  I encourage anyone who is interested in history to take a short class on Oral History Methods and put on their bucket list to record at least one.     

Kelly Stone Gamble received her graduate certificate in Oral History Methods from the University of California in 2006.  She has recorded/transcribed thirty+ oral histories related to the building of the Hoover Dam that are currently archived at the Boulder City Museum, Boulder City, NV.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Queho the Renegade Indian

Stories from the Hoover Dam

During his lifetime, Queho (pronounced KEY-ho) was credited with the deaths of 23 people, was declared Nevada’s "Public Enemy No. 1,” and the state’s first mass murderer.  He committed several brutal crimes, was the scapegoat for many others and was the resident “boogeyman” to the children living in Black Canyon during the building of the Hoover Dam.  He was a killer, no doubt, but also a misunderstood outcast of mixed blood living during a time dominated by white men.    

Although he has been credited with crimes dating as far back as the late 1800’s, newspaper accounts of his exploits began in 1910.  He was last reported seen on the streets in Las Vegas in 1930.  However, when his mummified body was found ten years later in a cave in Black Canyon, there were several items amongst his possession that had been stolen from the Six Companies worksite during the building of the dam.  It is unknown when he actually died, but his body showed evidence that he had succumbed to the venomous bite of one of the local residents, a rattlesnake.    

The story of his life, pieced together from fact and legend, is fascinating to say the least, and I encourage you to read more about Queho at the links below.  But the story does not end with the finding of his remains, and it is Queho’s story, after 1940, that I want to tell you.

Helldorado Days began in 1935 and was an annual cowboy themed celebration sponsored by the local Elks club in Las Vegas.  Complete with rodeo, parade and a carnival, it was, at one time, quite an affair, drawing visitors from all over the state.  When the remains of Queho found their way into the hands of the Las Vegas Elks Club, Queho found his way to Helldorado Days. 

The Elks built a model of Queho’s cave and enclosed it in glass.  Inside, Queho, surrounded by his last possessions, became a favorite attraction for the visitors to Helldorado Village.  This was not a one time event.  Queho was on display at the annual event for twenty years and at least once, rode in the back of a convertible during the Helldorado parade. 

Visitors began to lose interest by the early 1960’s and the Elks reported that his remains and possessions had been stolen.  In 1962, his mummified remains were found at the city dump. On an order from the county coroner, Queho's corpse was finally buried, twenty-two years after they were found, in an unmarked grave in the public portion of the local cemetery.

But that is not the last of Queho. 

In my upcoming novel, Ragtown, the Renegade Indian comes alive once again…

Read the story of Queho’s life at the following links: