Writing History


 

 

I guess I was always a writer to some degree.

I still have examples of childhood poems I wrote to my mother and father, none of which showed much promise, as far as I can tell.

I did write a skit in sixth grade with my friend Francis Cherry. Our performance had them laughing in the aisles.

My first serious attempt at writing came in my sophomore year in high school when Mrs. Matthews informed me of the short story contest sponsored by Literary Harvest, the school creative writing and art magazine. I wrote a story based on an experience I had running cross country and called it “A Loser’s Triumph.” I won first place. That inspired me.

My brother and others had told me what a fantastic teacher Wilson R. Thornley was. So when I became a senior, I signed up for his classes of Creative Writing and Advanced Placement English (the first year it was offered). He was everything everyone said and more. He was probably the best teacher I ever had at any school. In the Literary Harvest that year I had a short story and two poems accepted for publication. The short story, a satire on public education was entitled “Fun with Dickie and Janey and Uncle Quimby.”

It is still one of my favorite stories. I wrote a lot that year, most of which was eventually typed on an old Remington manual.

 

Ogden High School National Landmark

 

 

 

A Lot of Writing Done Here

 

 

 

 

My first attempt at writing something longer than a short story was directly due to my staying up late and watching Jack Paar. Jack Douglas was a humorist who often made guest appearances. He had written the book My Brother Was an Only Child. I had no access to that one, but I did get ahold of Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver. So in true copycat fashion I wrote my first “book” and titled it H.G. Sick’s Outline of Hysteria. Like Douglas, my “book’s” chapters were very short and absurdist. I shared it with friends, who without exception laughed long and hard at my insane humor. I still like the first sentence: “I was born, in most cases, in the normal manner: by word of mouth.”

Marriage and children and Army intervened, so I didn't do a lot of writing in the mid ‘60s.

However, at Weber State College in the fall of 1967 and again in the spring of 1968 I took writing courses from Professor Gordon Allred, an excellent teacher, and did a considerable amount of writing. I also became friends with another psychiatric attendant, David Yurth, who became the Editor-in-chief of the new magazine at Weber, Probe, and my story “No More Favors” was published therein.

From then on writing was in my blood. I made several goals, one of which was to write at least one poem for each day of my life. To do that I had to work forward and backward. So every day I write two poems. At this juncture I have written over 24,000 poems, most of which, granted, are hard to classify as poems. But a few are definitely of some import. For a while I tried to get my poems published anywhere I could. I spent quite a bit of postage sending them out three or four at a time to small publications.

 

My first paid poem was printed in The Kansas City Star August 19, 1971. Other publications with my poetry include Crosscurrents, The Poet, Cycloflame, The Lunatic Fringe, Best Poets of the 20th Century, and Lyrical Iowa. All of that was done in the 1970s. I also had many poems published in The Quad-City Times in a column called “Poet’s Podium.” But I gave up trying to publish poetry. It was too labor intensive.

Here are two examples of my poetry, one serious, one not so serious:

Fleeced
By Bruce Bothwell

Jason was fine
Until he spirited out the door
In search of a golden dream
As yet unvarnished by failure.
He lifted his feet
As if his age were less than forty-seven,
But everyone knew
How like a plumless, worm’s-home pit he was—
How unlike his ancient, mythical forbearer.
He would return, forever return,
With scratches on the palms of his bleeding hands;
And the wind, as once before, would murmur,
“Jason, Jason, down.”

 

Tragedy of a Lily Lover
By Bruce Bothwell

There once was a little lily lover,
Who lived in a gaudy glen named Glover.
Her name was Mary Milicent Miver,
And she bought her a fairly flouncy flivver.
One day Miss Miver drove her flivver,
With her dog whose name was Rover,
To a river next to Glover,
And the flouncy flivver bounced her liver well.
Next day she met with Dr. Roover,
Who had a reputation as a mover.
He looked at her liver
And said that he loved her,
And Glover couldn’t move her anymore.
The next day she was married,
On the following was buried,
For her liver wasn’t living very well.
The doctor who had wedded
But hadn’t had her bedded
Had the little coffin’s lidding leaded well.
Now Rover was a rover and a lover of Miss Miver,
And he sensed, incensed, Doc Roover’s little plot.
He bit him on the bottom with rabies he had got him
‘Cause Roover didn’t love her anymore.
The doctor and the doggy died inside a boggy
By a loggy that was logy from the wet.
The flivver sank beside ‘em in the river,
And the tide washed them
Quite away from Glover
In the river known as Clover,
And the little lily lover was no more.

 

 

 

 

 

Even Ogden Has a Waterfall

 

Another goal was to write a real novel. I realized how full of potential my first five years of teaching were. So in about 1980 I started working on what would become You Teach Good for an Injun. I wasn’t enamored with a character like me, so I invented an Apache-American who was a transplant from Arizona to Iowa, of all things. I based much of the book on my experiences, set it in 1970, my first year of teaching, and away we go. I tried to make it satirical, fun, yet poignant.

Everyone who read drafts liked it. I had almost no money, still paying for divorces and the like and trying to support children, so I convinced a colleague, Denny Duerling, to fork over $500 to send the thing to the Meredith Agency in New York, which advertised an evaluation service. As could be expected, in hindsight, they recommended that I not publish what they called “very funny but too long.” I might add that I still think this book is my best work to date. I have been working it over and reworking it and revising it. And it will be published in a year or so with a new title and new main character.

Look for A Teacher Is Hatched soon.

So I was not exactly on my way. Yes, I had sent manuscripts to New York publishers (and others) without even a nibble. I had read and used Writer’s Market. I had tried to get an agent. No luck.

So about 1990 I decided, to hell with them. I will publish my own books. I was now in the computer mode, which made things a bit easier. I had kept a folder called “Novel Notes” and a folder called “Short Writing Notes” for years. Therefore, I used what I thought was viable and started seriously into developing my own works.

Also in the early ‘90s my brother, who had been an entrepreneur for years became a significant cog in a start-up POD company called Author’s Self-Published Clearinghouse. Online it was unpublished.com. I became their guinea pig. I had been working on two novellas. One was called Simple Simon. It was about a man who had attempted suicide who was put into a psych ward then ran away with a candy striper. This relationship was complicated by them unofficially adopting an abused waif. The other novella was called Thanksgiving. It was the reunion of a set of divorced parents and their two adult children for four days at Thanksgiving. Unpublished.com took the manuscripts and developed them into POD books as a trial run to see how their operation would work. I got that process done for free. The end products were pretty disappointing.

So in 1996 I bought a spiral binding machine and all the peripherals and printed off the text in an 8X11 format, obtained ISPN numbers and UPC code strips, and tried to sell them myself. At the same time I wrote another little book called At the Beep, which I also illustrated with my computer in a very rudimentary way. I sold the end products to friends and colleagues and was able to display and sell them out of a Clinton, IA bookstore.

Honestly I believe the novellas are good reads, and I’ve still got a bunch of those spiral-bound puppies in my basement.

While I was working on those, I was also writing my third novella, 1,000 Words Are Worth a Picture. It was the twist on the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The premise was that the main characters’ photo library had been destroyed in a fire, and he was recreating them in words. I also spiral bound that one and sold it out of my house. As with the other two novellas, I think this one has merit. I’m thinking about reworking all three and putting them in one book and republishing them.

In the midst of all this I was working and reworking You Teach Good for an Injun. I spiral bound that one and sold it out of my basement, too. It was a much bigger book, so I didn’t make so many. I’ve redone that one a few times over the years. My son Brett has helped me revise it a few times.

Around 1998 I discovered real POD publishers, quite a few, actually. It was hard to know which ones to consider. I picked 1stbooks.com out of Indiana. So my first book-looking book was Private Lives, which has a 1998 copyright. (See more about this book under the Books tab.)

My next POD book was much more ambitious. Toynbee & Son had a complicated plot and was broken down into three books. (See more about this book under the Books tab.) This one was also published by 1stbooks.com in 2002.

I was fully engaged in my writing by this time, and at the same time as Toynbee & Son I was writing Labeled. (See more about this book under the Books tab.) 1stbooks.com continued with my library on this one in 2002.

I had really liked the character Ben Eglehart from You Teach Good for an Injun, so I decided to work him into a trilogy. I used the middle of my teaching career as the basis to write a lengthy novel called Apache Alternative and published it in both trade format and hardback at 1stbooks.com in 2003. (See more about this book under the Books tab.) It compressed the middle ten years of my career into three years. My first foray into non-fiction (or quasi non-fiction) was a book I titled A Man of Worth. (See more about this book under the Books tab.) 1stbooks.com had morphed into Authorhouse.com, which they are today. I stuck with them in publishing this one in 2004. A Man of Worth is largely autobiographical.

I was hoping to find some means of breaking into the mainstream. Of course, it helps if you have a mainstream publisher and a massive marketing plan and are friends with Oprah or Leno. Alas, I had none of the above, but I did have an active imagination, so I wrote something of a thriller in Life After Death. (See more about this book under the Books tab.) I stayed with Authorhouse and published the novel in 2005.

The final book of the Ben Eglehart trilogy was published in trade and hardback at Authorhouse in 2005. (See more about this book under the Books tab.)

My mother died in 2004. As homage to her I wrote a small book about her life and self-published it and spiral bound it and sent it to my children and brother. I have yet to decide if I want to disseminate it more widely.

I retired from teaching in 2006. I had two projects that would take some time, so I spent a few years developing them. One was to take my dad’s journals of his hobo days in the 1920s and 1930s and make a book out them. The other was to novelize the letters and emails my brother and I have written to each other from the 1960s. That project was massive and is still in progress.


The first of a planned seven volumes was Brothers for Life, Volume I: the 1960s. I had a friend who had used Publish America as his POD publisher. The hook to the company is that they design the book free. They hooked me all right. I soon learned that I made a mistake when my trade-sized paperback was being sold at their website for $40. No one in his right mind would pay that much for a paperback. Duh. It appears that their marketing strategy is to sell everything to authors, for less, of course. So then the authors become the salespeople rather than the POD company. I won’t fall for that trick again. This one was published in 2010. (See more about this book under the Books tab.)

 

 

The Back of the Homestead

 

The Brothers Bothwell

 

The Elder Brother and Also an Author

 

 

In the meantime my brother Lin, who had been working on his first novel for 40 years, discovered an editor who was very helpful to direct him into what he hoped to be a successful launching. Lin told me about Nancy Barnes, who was in a business in her own right with her husband Biff at www.StoriesToTellBooks.com. I was looking for someone who could design a decent interior and exterior of my books but not a POD publisher who would sign me up to a 7-year contract then suck my bank vault dry.

Brother Lin is also a published author. His latest novel, A Lesson in Honor, encapsulates the experience of cadets from 1960-64 and shows how an honor code can have vast effects in the lives of young people. His website is www.linbothwell.com.

So Nancy designed On the Tramp, the biographical story of my dad's 10 years as a hobo in the '20s and '30s. (See more about this book under the Books tab.) She also hooked me up with Create Space as the POD publisher. It was a much better deal than the previous one. This one was also published in 2010. And Linda and I had the good fortune to attend last year's National Hobo Convention at Britt, Iowa, where I was able to sell some of my books.

Nancy also designed Brothers for Life, Volume II: the 1970s. (See more about this book under the Books tab.) I published this one in 2011. I am hoping that many get hooked on the Burrell brothers and feel compelled to get ALL their books.

Brothers for Life: Volume III: the 1980s was published in 2012 and continued the story of the Burrell brothers as told through their correspondence. The 1980s was a tough decade for the brothers in terms of change, but Bryce seems to have found the woman he's been looking for toward the end of the decade.

A Teacher is Hatched is a major revision of an earlier novel I wrote that was self-published called You Teach Good for an Injun. After some serious conversations with my editor, Nancy Barnes, I changed the main character, added a new family, added some more scenes of Ben's romantic encounters with his newfound girlfriend, and did some other major revision. I think this book has the opportunity to be a major satire commenting on every phase of the public school bureaucracy. And most of all, it shows how the human spirit can triumph over many odds.

Off the Tramp is the sequel to On the Tramp. This one tells the story of the last 22 years of my father's life. The narration is autobiographical, so I wrote as if it were he telling the story. It will have many anecdotes from the growing up years of Lin and me. And I have included a considerable number of photos from the 1940s and 1950s.

Brothers for Life, Vol. IV, 1990-94 is a continuation of the seven-volume series that begins in the 1960s and ends around 2010. As you should know, this is a series of epistolary novels based on my correspondence with my brother over the last 50+ years. Volume V is right around the corner.

I have finished a novel called Diary of the Damned. It is my first attempt at young-adult literature. However, it is mature in that it has severe language, sex, etc. I am working on getting an agent to attempt the transition to mainstream publication.

1,000 Words Are Worth a Picture/Thanksgiving are two novellas I wrote some time ago. I have updated and modified them and published them as 2 in one. They both explore relationships, values, the meaning of life and hope for the future.

Brothers for Life, Vol. 5 is a continuation of the series of epistolary novels that correspond to letters written between my brother and me over six decades.

The new Novel I'm in the Army Now, is based on my three years in the US Army from 1962-65 when I got married at the age of 17, learned Chinese Mandarin, and spied against the Chinese. It IS a Novel, so although it's based on my experiences, much of is fictionalized for effect, particularly the dialogue.

"The next novel will be one that my brother and I have written - very funny."

As my career continues, I will be sharing what is happening under this tab. Keep watching for new and exciting developments.

 

Bruce Bothwell