Tag Archives: Dr. Miracle’s Medicine Show

More of the WIP

A medicine show wagon, smaller than Dr. Miracle’s

Still editing like crazy. This section takes place after Slim has well and truly hooked up with Dr. Miracle’s Medicine Show. Here’s the previous version:

Their wagon moved so slowly that Thérèse walked beside it easily. Slim flanked the wagon on the other side. He felt well enough, and didn’t want to be seen as any more of a liability than he already was. Dr. Miracle drove. Mary had left the group within five minutes of their setting out, and no one made any comment. After the way Thérèse had ignored Slim’s questions yesterday, he decided not to ask why Mary had left. Instead he asked where they were headed.

Thérèse’s lips curved up to one side. “Didn’t you hear? West.”

“Is there a town, or even a state we have in mind?”

“We’ll stop at the first town that seems likely for our purposes,” Dr. Miracle said.

Dr. Miracle seemed by far the most loquacious of Slim’s new companions, but that didn’t really mean he was forthcoming. He seemed to like to talk a lot, but that was not the same thing.

Dr. Miracle seemed to reconsider. “I suppose there’s no call to be especially secretive, Mr. Holloway. If my map is accurate, the next place that we are likely to find need of our services is a little hamlet by the name of Green Willow.”

And here’s the revised version:

The medicine show wagon trundled down the dirt road behind two phlegmatic horses, Dr. Miracle at the reins. Thérèse and Slim accompanied it, one on either side. Mary had deserted the group within five minutes of their setting out. Two hours passed with no sign of her, and no one made any comment. After the way Thérèse had deflected Slim’s questions yesterday, he decided not to ask why Mary had left. Instead he asked where they were headed.

Thérèse shot him a sidelong glance. “Didn’t you hear? Away from Fish Creek.”

“Is there a town, a state, or even a territory we have in mind?”

Dr. Miracle said, “We’ll stop at the first town that seems likely for our purposes.”

“Do you know what I like about you, sir?”

“I imagine there are so many things it’s hard to choose among them.”

“I was thinking of one thing in particular. You are by far the most loquacious of my new companions. I appreciate a good conversation.”

“We have that in common, son.”

“There’s only one fly in the ointment.”

“Somehow I knew you would find one.” Doc’s mouth curved up as he regarded the horizon. Slim tried to see what the old man might be looking at, but saw only a rut-filled  road, low hills, tall grass and the occasional tree. Still no sign of Mary.

“Do you want to know what that fly is, Doctor?”

“If you want to tell me.”

“You are not what I’d call forthcoming. You may like to talk a lot, but that isn’t the same thing.”

Dr. Miracle chuckled. “I suppose there’s no call to be secretive, Mr. Holloway. If my map is accurate, the next place we are likely to find need of our services is a little hamlet by the name of Green Willow.”

The idea with the later version was that I wanted Slim to be more engaged with his companions, especially Dr. Miracle. I also wanted a clearer sense of the setting. And fewer adverbs.


Showing more work

wikimedia commons image, artist unknown

Second in a series of indeterminate length, showing revision work on a novel-in-progress, currently titled Dr. Miracle’s Medicine Show

Here’s another early section of the novel, which introduces new characters:

Mary poked the campfire for the hundredth time that evening, wishing there was some way she could help. A sound brought her head up. Thérèse’s black cat, Noir, leapt from the opening just before Thérèse eased down the canted steps. Thérèse looked fifty years old tonight, though Mary knew she was no more than twenty-five.

“How is he?” Mary asked.

Doc hadn’t wanted Mary in the wagon, and she hadn’t wanted to be there. His gray, drawn face had made her uneasy.

“He’ll be all right. For now.“ Thérèse came over and stirred the fire as if even on this warm night, she felt cold. She didn’t meet Mary’s eyes. “It’s just—he isn’t getting any younger.”

Mary didn’t know how old Doc was, not for sure. He seemed to have aged a lot just in the last few months, though. Therese wasn’t telling her everything. Despite her fear, this annoyed Mary. She might be just a kid, but she wasn’t a fool. When the silence stretched too long, Mary finally said, “What’s wrong with him?”

And here’s the above section, revised:

Mary poked the campfire for the hundredth time that evening, watching sparks dance and settle and wishing she knew what to do. Doc hadn’t wanted her in the wagon, saying she was too young. Normally when he said that she would argue, but his gray, drawn face kept her quiet.

A sound brought her head up. Thérèse’s black cat, Noir, leapt from the wagon opening just before Thérèse eased down the canted steps. Though she was no more than twenty-five years old, Thérèse looked more like forty tonight.

“How is he?” Mary asked.

“Comfortable, more or less.“ Thérèse stirred the fire as if even on this warm night, she felt cold. She sat on a camp stool, not meeting Mary’s eyes. “It’s just—he isn’t getting any younger.”

Stupid thing to say. Mary had seen how fast Doc had aged in the last few months. She didn’t know exactly how old he was, not for sure. She didn’t even know exactly how old she was, though according to Doc’s best guess, she was ten or eleven. She challenged Therese. “You ever met anyone who gets younger?”

Therese stared into the fire. Noir jumped into her lap and she stroked him absently.
When the silence stretched too long, Mary said, “What’s wrong with him?”

Going for the “Most Improved” certificate

Editing Central

So, it’s editing month. I hope I’m making the novel better. That’s the goal, anyway. And now you get to see me show my work. I reworked the opening, starting with:

A tall, beefy blond man pushed open the swinging saloon doors and looked in. Like everyone else in the room, Slim Holloway took notice.

The big man turned his head back over his shoulder and spoke, but Slim couldn’t make out what he said. A shorter man, perhaps 35 years old and better dressed than anyone Slim had seen since leaving Wichita, entered the saloon.

“Afternoon, Mr. Routledge,” the bartender said.

And ending up with:

A creaking hinge distracted the mousy clerk Slim had trained his Gift on. The little, balding man was no longer entranced by the pair of sixes he held, his attention drawn by the sound. So much for Slim discovering what else might be in his opponent’s hand. No matter. Slim’s own hand wasn’t one he cared to bet on; he’d mostly focused on the clerk because the game itself had been boring and not likely to gain him the funds he needed.

He withdrew from the middle place, the part of his mind he used so he could see through other people’s eyes, and returned his focus to the material world. He was just in time to see a hulking, fair-haired man at the saloon entrance, his meaty hand on one batwing door. The others at the table—a couple of farmhands and a blacksmith—also had their eyes on the entryway.

The big man looked back over his shoulder and said something, but Slim couldn’t make out what. It must have been some sort of summons or all-clear, because when he stepped through and held the door open, a normal-sized man entered the saloon. A bit of gray hair at the man’s brown temples made newcomer look as if he might be in his late 30s or early 40s.

“Afternoon, Congressman Routledge,” the bartender said.

Yes, the new opening is longer than the old opening, but it solved one genre-specific issue. In the earlier draft, magic wasn’t introduced until around page 4. In the revision, magic is set up more quickly. I was also trying to set the scene more concretely by using more sensory detail.

What do you think? Is one version better than they other? Does one make you want to read further, while the other makes you want to put it back on the shelf? Opinions welcome.

Civil War Days – Medicine & Music


Part  1 of 2

I recently went to my first Civil War reenactment. Up until May 18, 2014, everything I ever knew about Civil War re-enactors, I learned from Sharyn McCrumb’s Highland Laddie Gone. The people in that book were wacky, so I approached the experience with some trepidation. However, I am now a fan. My attitude changed when Sis and I visited Naper Settlement’s Civil War Days.

I was more comfortable at Civil War Days than I expected to be. You can ask Sis. She was a great companion, but I was a terrible one. I neglected her for long stretches while I picked the brains of faux quartermasters, period musicians, and medicine show charlatans.

To be fair, Sis had some warning that I was attending for research purposes. My current novel (working title: Dr. Miracle’s Medicine Show) is set a few years after the Civil War. Visiting a living history museum seemed a great way to see how people dressed, ate, and otherwise managed their lives back then.

Sis always says that you should try to learn 3 new things every day. Since it was a special research trip, I tried to learn more than that, but here are a few of the new things I either learned, and/or got to see up close and personal:

Professor Farquar at his 40-miler, meeting a client

I met “Professor Farquar” (aka Sanford Lee) who told me a lot about medicine shows, and got to check out his 40-miler wagon. While a big medicine show—like the ones for Hamlin’s Wizard Oil or Kickapoo Indian Sagwa—might use Percheron horses to pull their wagons, the little shows were much more compact. These smaller shows didn’t range more than about 40 miles from their home base. They might use donkeys if that’s all they could get, but they often liked to use zebras or llamas. What a great way to generate buzz!

Professor Farquar and I compared research notes and found that we’d done some of the same research on medicine shows, but he had one source that blew me away. Al Lewis (the guy who played Grandpa Munster on the old Munsters TV show) used to work the medicine show circuit! He gave Professor Farquar useful tips back in the days when they used to perform in dinner theatre together.

Playing jawbone & banjo—gourd banjo (inset)

And then, I learned bunches from the John and Elaine Masciale of Tin Cremona.

First, about banjos: Banjos were like the electric guitars of the 19th century—far and away the most popular instrument of the time. They didn’t always sound like they do now. Their precursors were made by African-Americans from gourds and gut. Even once white Euro-Americans co-opted the instrument, it was still made with wood, using gut strings. The period instruments sounded softer and mellower than the metal string banjos I’m used to hearing. You can hear a sample here, courtesy of Old Fiddle Road Banjo Works.

Next, the old minstrel shows had four major performers, which accounts for honorifics you may have heard in other contexts, like Mr. Tambo (or Tambourine), Mr. Banjo, Mr. Fiddle, and Mr. Bones. Mr. Bones, literally, played the jawbone of an ass. In the days of gourd banjos, ass jawbones were easier to come by than they are nowadays, and if you were a slave on a plantation, no one cared much how musically gifted you were, so you had to make do. The minstrel shows—even the ones where people merely pretended to be black—started out with the traditional instruments. So one of the percussion instruments was usually a jawbone.

Finally, I was pleased to learn that not all of the old minstrel shows consisted of white men in burnt cork makeup. There was one group, the Georgia Minstrels, who were actually African American. How did I not know this? I’m already plotting a way to work it into a story somehow.

Letters from NaNoWriMo Land – A Sample of my Novel


Yup…still writing

Don’t have time to write a lot of new blog content right now, because I’m in the thick of novel-writing. I’m adding to my novel from last year, so far titled Dr. Miracle’s Medicine Show. It was missing entire scenes, though in some cases, I needed to completely rewrite scenes. It’s historical fantasy, set in the American West. Our hero is named Slim Holloway. Well, hero is definitely overstating it, but the plan is for the guy to become a better human being eventually.

So, for better or worse, here’s a chunk of first-draftiness from an early scene. Be kind, please!


A portentous cigar…

Slim wondered why the congressman seemed so interested in hiring him. The only thing he could think of was that moment, back at the poker table, when he had looked at the congressman’s cards, using his Gift. The change in Routledge’s eyes had been chilling.

If he was wrong, he might kick himself for it later. On the other hand, how would he ever know? He decided to go with his gut. “Gus, I hate to drink a man’s bourbon and then have to tell him no, but I just don’t see myself in politics.”

“Slim, I’m the one in politics. You wouldn’t have to do much as far as that goes. I have a lot of other business, too.”

That statement really didn’t ring true. Routledge might well have other interests, but why would he try so hard to hire Slim, who was clearly uninterested in a huge part of his work? He hadn’t even said anything along the lines of “how do you know until you try it?”

Slim went from considering to fully decided. “I thank you, sir, but no. Now, I’d better get to bed. As I said, I want to be rested in time for the stage tomorrow.”

Routledge’s hand tightened around his glass, and his smile once again didn’t reach his eyes. “Well, if you’re sure.”

“I am, sir.” 

“You’re staying at the rooming house by the stage depot?” Routledge asked.

It wasn’t as if there was much of anyplace else to stay in this benighted spot. “Yes, sir, I am.”

“I’m headed in that direction myself.” Routledge bolted the rest of his drink.

Slim stifled a sigh, and stood up. It would be too pointed altogether to refuse to walk with the man. He waited as Routledge put some cash on the bar. The bodyguard stood at the door. After looking at the street outside, he held the door open and nodded to Routledge.

“After you, Slim,” said Routledge.

Slim entered the street. The sun had set while they were inside. The night would come on in the slow way of early summer. For now, there was enough light to see their way to the rooming house. The townsfolk all appeared to be inside, most likely at their suppers. A few parlor lamps were lit. Fish Creek clearly closed down as early as most villages of its type.

Routledge joined Slim on the wooden sidewalk. “I do like the quiet of early evening, don’t you?”

“It’s peaceful,” said Slim, just to be agreeable. In truth, little places like this reminded him of the River Glen, the town he’d grown up in. Since he’d left that town as soon as he was old enough, it was unlikely he’d find any other place that resembled it to be at all enticing. Fish Creek didn’t even have the rosy memories of early youth to cast a pleasant glow in Slim’s mind.

“I don’t suppose there’s any way you’ll reconsider my offer?” said Routledge.

Slim had known this was coming, and was ready for it. “No, sir, but I thank you. Of course, if I were to change my mind, you’d be easy to find, being a public figure and all.”

“True enough,” Routledge chuckled.

He took a cigar case from his pocket, opened it, and offered a cigar to Slim. Slim shook his head. He’d tried cigars when he was younger, and had grown violently ill from his first experience. Other boys had tried again, and had come to like them, but once was enough for Slim. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he’d prefer not to take anything else from Routledge since he wasn’t accepting his offer of employment.

Routledge stopped and felt for something else in his pockets, finally producing a box of lucifer matches. He struck one on his boot sole, and lit his cigar. Slim heard something behind him—sudden footsteps. As he turned to look, he caught a glimpse of Routledge’s big bodyguard, Jensen. The man had something in his hand, which he raised towards Slim’s skull.

Slim sidestepped, and eluded most of the blow. Still, his ears rang and he had to fight to keep his footing. Jensen was caught off-balance as well. He went a step past Slim and spun around.

Slim backed up and was just able to see Routledge’s face. No longer jovial, the congressman had set his jaw. Slim had no idea why Routledge had ordered Jensen to attack, but it was obvious that he had. Slim reached for his pistol. He pointed it at Jensen, but when he spoke, he addressed both men. “I don’t know what you want from me, but that’s no way to go about it.”

“I’m sure Mr. Jensen was mistaken about something, Slim,” said Routledge. His customary smile was back. “Maybe he thought you were about to attack me.”

“I’m sure he didn’t,” Slim said. “I think your lighting the cigar was a signal. I wouldn’t move, Mr. Jensen.”

“You want me to shoot him?” Jensen already had his gun out. It was probably what he’d used to hit Slim.

“No, Mr. Jensen,” said Routledge. “Mr. Holloway won’t shoot either of us. He knows how stupid that would be.”

True enough. Even if he were able to get off two lucky shots, the noise would bring attention. And even if he were able to get away after that, enough people had seen him talking with Routledge. The bartender had seen Slim leaving the saloon with him. He’d have to hide the rest of his life, which likely wouldn’t be long.

“What is it you want?” he asked Routledge.

“I’ve told you, Slim. I’d like to employ you. There are young men who’d give their eye teeth for such an opportunity. If you don’t like it, you can always quit.”

“How long do you want me to try it out?”

“I think a month might be fair, don’t you?”

Slim thought he’d rather sleep with a bed full of rattlesnakes than work for Routledge even one day, but if agreement was what it took to get out of this pickle, he’d say whatever the congressman wanted to hear. Once Routledge trusted him, he would find it easier to slip away.

“Seems reasonable,” Slim said.

“Good. Why don’t you put the gun away, son?” said Routledge.

Jensen’s hand still held the pistol even as he put it in his holster. Slim looked at Jensen, and then at Routledge.

“Stand down, Jensen,” Routledge said.

Jensen took his hand away from his Colt.

Slim holstered his own pistol.

“That’s better.” Routledge put his cigar back in his mouth and puffed contentedly. “Look at it this way, Slim. You’ll get to travel, and you’ll save on stagecoach fare.”