The McKinney Women

Lewis Hunter, Negro client with his family on Lady’s Island off Beaufort, South Carolina, Carl Mydans, photographer, July 1936. Adapted to digital paint by Bill Jones, Jr.

I’ve begun editing my novela-turned-novel, The Stubborn Life of Jesse Ed McKinney III. Part of that effort is deciding where the chapter breaks go, since I originally wrote it as a single piece of “short” fiction (47,000 words long). Editing is both a daunting process and my favorite step, at least this, the substantive editing part wherein I try to turn sallow dust into gold leaf. I’ve more recently been active in proofreading and formatting, both of which are joyless, so this is a welcome change.

I’ve re-released one book (The Juice and Other Stories), published another (The Little Burgundy) and earlier, a novelette (Beyonder). But all of those efforts are finishing. This is creating, the reason I write. I’ve gotten into the editing mood by ingesting only lyrical works–which means searching for the right films, books, poems, and music. I guess it has worked since I’m now moody and lonely, but poeting my ass off.

Tonight, in what is now Chapter Four, I ran across this passage:

“The quartet of McKinney women sat in silence, listening to the last breath of autumn before winter’s chill would set in and freeze them all in place. Hester sat at her mother’s feet. Next to her, on the front door’s stoop, sat Mary in her elder sister’s arms, both with closed eyes and heads turned heavenward. Mary understood the clouds now and wondered why Ida had never shown them to her before. The women watched the moon rise and heard the day birds’ turn to silence and the night birds’ awakening. Save the exceptional exhortation of the occasional owl’s haunting declamation or a callow coyote’s mistimed cry, all was still and no one rose to leave. Finally, Hester broke the silence.”

It’s not much, really, just a tone-setter that shows the women’s quiet emotional reaction to a very emotional revelation just before, but even with this supposedly being my first real attempt at literary fiction, it’s far more lyrical than my first drafts usually are. Maybe I’m finally starting to get good at this, ten books in.

3 thoughts on “The McKinney Women

  1. Arkenaten says:

    I wasn’t sure it was a typo , Bill. I was just checking you didn’t mean one bird, that’s all!

    It happens to us all. You can proofread something goodness’ knows how many times and there will be something you miss.
    Drives me round the bend.

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