Soul Letters: Jourdon Anderson

Jourdon AndersonWriters are renown for their ability to construct moving, passionate letters. It’s a natural byproduct of the craft, usually garnered after decades of toil and trials. However, they are not alone when it comes to creating a unique style of missive, the soul letter, that faithfully holds its creator up to a mirror.

Soul letters speak to more than the recipient, touch upon more than the topic at hand. They provide us with a personal, faithful glimpse of the writer. These letters hold nothing back, regardless of the writer’s intent. They lay it all bare for us to ponder, each sentence in a white hot light. Although they will never be considered great literary endeavors, they are superb unto themselves. They are written from the heart and lay bare the soul. They are honest.

Jourdon Anderson was born in 1825, in Tennessee. By the age of 8, he was sold into slavery to General Paulding Anderson in the same State. Anderson’s son, Patrick, “inherited” Jourdon after the General’s death. Patrick and Jourdon had been playmates when they were children. Now, he was Patrick’s chattel.

During his servitude, Jourdon married and eventually became the father of 11 children. In 1864, at the height of the Civil War, Jourdon and his family were freed by Union soldiers who had camped on the Anderson plantation. Jourdon packed up his family and moved to Ohio where he found work and was able to support himself financially. He lived there until 1907, when he died at the age of 81.

A few months after the end of the War, Jourdon received a letter from his former “owner” pleading with him to come back to the plantation. In response, Jourdon wrote this amazing reply, filled with satire and poignancy at the same time. It is a revealing look at a man who never lost his dignity or sense of humor, regardless of the hardships he faced throughout his life.

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.


Big Daddy Conlang Fathers Famous Offspring

KlingonsConlangs begot Artlangs. Science fiction writers and readers know this relationship well, even if they’ve never heard the terms. Constructed languages (conlangs) gave birth to artistic languages (artlangs). In doing so, we all inherited a fresh, fascinating vision of science fiction, mythology and fantasy writing. Artlangs opened up a very different reading experience, one that has immense staying power.

Conlangs and artlangs are a science unto themselves, an intricate study of linguistics. But we needn’t go that far to find their value. For writers, they are creative forms of expression. They are a means to add dimension and authenticity to a story line that’s intended to carry us away to other worlds and other times. They are a powerful writing device.

The Big Daddy, conlangs, has been around for a very long time. Early examples can be found from very different parts of the world across many centuries. The Lingua Ignota, created by Hildegard of Bergen, is dated from the 12th century and meant to express the language of angels. Dante Alighieri chased the perfect Italian vernacular. Kabbalistic scholars tried to hunt down and record the original language of higher beings, much like Hildegard. The list is a long one. These were the original conlangs, never designed for the pure enjoyment of readers. They served other masters.

For our purposes, artlangs are of special interest. Artlangs are not intended to be a functional, useful language. They have no real-world practicality. Instead, they are expressions and reflections of the writer’s art, a way to weave a deeper, more sustainable tale. Artlangs give characters their own special language, a way of communicating that is unique to them. Obviously, this makes the characters even more fascinating, more real to readers. It doesn’t matter that the language is incomplete or that we have little idea about its meaning or complexities. A well-constructed artlang drives us deeper into the characters and makes them come alive on the page.

Edgar Rice Burroughs

The popularity of artlangs began to take hold in the early twentieth century, probably with the publication of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. He is considered to be the modern father of using an artlang to enhance his characters and story line. It was J. R. R. Tolkien who formalized the use of artlangs when he created an entire family of interconnected languages for his characters. He was so fond of artlangs that he lectured publicly on the topic. For artlangs, he became the great publicist and the writer to emulate for fantasy, myth and science fiction.

A century later, artlangs are everywhere. They have become a vital part of creating a good myth, strong characters, and lasting memories of fictional story lines. Here are a few other writers who have used artlangs to create enduring stories and engaging characters:

Anthony Burgess, Samuel R. Delany, Suzette Doctolero, Diane Duane, Suzette Haden ElginFrank Herbert, M.A.R. BarkerUrsula K. Le GuinBarry B. LongyearMorioka Hiroyuki, George Orwell, Karen Traviss, Christian Vander, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Jordan and Christopher Paolini.

There’s also a world of artlangs all around us in other forms of entertainment. Consider these: Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings (movies), Stargate SG-1, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Game of Thrones, Avatar, Dune and the Myst series of computer games. The list is enormous. Artlangs are expected, even demanded by readers, viewers and game players.

For any fiction writer, it’s important to remember that artlangs can go a long way to captivate readers. It’s not an easy task to construct an artlang and use it effectively. Artlangs demand consistency, an implication of clear meaning, coherency and a unique tonal quality that sticks with the reader. It’s something that cannot be overused or it will lead to utter confusion. Treat it like salt — a little goes a long way. When it’s done right, there are few techniques more potent than following a character through a story line in his or her own language.

To help with your artlang inspiration, here’s a famous proverb:

bortaS bIr jablu’DI’ reH QaQqu’ nay’

Get it? Its Klingonese, one of the most popular conlang/artlang constructions ever devised. It’s also one of the most complete and, like a living language, it’s still evolving.

Revenge is a dish best served cold,” uttered by Khan Nooien Singh in Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan.


Writers Workshop: The Spymaster

English: John le Carré at the "Zeit Forum...

David John Moore Cornwell is better known to us as John Le Carre. He worked for British intelligence (MI5 and MI6) during the height of the Cold War. It was during this period that he turned his attention to writing under his now famous pen name. In 1963, his novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became a best-seller and his place among famous writers was established. Several of his novels have been taken to the big screen and television with considerable success, although Le Carre has sometimes disagreed with that conclusion.

I’m an unabashed fan of Le Carre for his ability to take a complex story line, with complex characters, and carry the reader right through to the end of the plot. He moves carefully, but always moves forward. At times, the plot carries the characters. At others, the characters dominate and fascinate us. He manages to strike a near-perfect balance between story line and character development in such a way that we keep turning those pages.

So, what better way to help improve our writing than from a master writer working within his special genre. Here are a few of Le Carre’s quotes that give us a tiny peak into his mind and style. Some are from the author himself. Others are spoken through his characters. There is a good deal of wisdom and insight here.

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” (Le Carre)

The more identities a man has, the more they express the person they conceal.” (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)

Sometimes we have to do a thing in order to find out the reason for it. Sometimes our actions are questions, not answers.” (A perfect Spy)

Do you know what love is? I’ll tell you: it is whatever you can still betray.” (The Looking Glass War)

The monsters of our childhood do not fade away, neither are they ever wholly monstrous.” (Le Carre)

The cat sat on the mat is not a story. The cat sat on the other cat’s mat is a story.” (Le Carre)

The fact that you can only do a little is no excuse for doing nothing.” (A Most Wanted Man)

Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.” (Le Carre)

Unfortunately it is the weak who destroy the strong.” (Le Carre)

Ideologies have no heart of their own. They’re the whores and angels of our striving selves.” (Le Carre)

After all, if you make your enemy look like a fool, you lose the justification for engaging him.” (Le Carre)

Our power knows no limits, yet we cannot find food for a starving child, or a home for a refugee. Our knowledge is without measure and we build the weapons that will destroy us. We live on the edge of ourselves, terrified of the darkness within. We have harmed, corrupted and ruined, we have made mistakes and deceived.” (Le Carre)

Let’s die of it before we’re too old.” (The Honourable Schoolboy)

Everyone who is not happy must be shot.” (The Little Drummer Girl)

A committee is an animal with four back legs.” (Le Carre)

Poe Toaster, Ultimate Fan

Poe Toaster (Life Magazine)Writers love their fans, and for good reason. But no writer has ever been blessed with a devoted fan to equal that of Edgar Allan Poe’s. It was a bizarre yet pleasing relationship that embodied all the elements of mystery and intrigue worthy of Poe himself, and it lasted for more than six decades.

Poe was born on January 19, 1809. Note that date. Sometime in the 1930s, the ultimate Poe fan began a bizarre annual ritual that lasted until 2009. He became known as the Poe Toaster and his legacy continued uninterrupted until the bicentennial celebration of Poe’s birth. Toaster devotees believe that the tradition was actually carried out by two individuals, most likely a father and son. In truth, no one is sure.

Half-full bottle of Cognac left at Edgar Alan ...

Poe’s original grave site lies in Baltimore, Maryland, at the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground. Each January 19, always in the predawn hours, an individual would stealthily visit Poe’s grave. The ritual was always the same. The Toaster would raise a glass of cognac to honor the writer, carefully place three red roses on the marker, and leave the opened bottle of cognac at the foot of the small monument. He would then disappear into the night, not to be seen again until the following year.

The Toaster was regularly seen by onlookers but his ritual was never interrupted. He was only photographed once. The alleged photo first appeared in Life Magazine, in July 1990. Like everything else about this enigma, the photograph remains controversial. The best description of the Toaster had always been provided by the many onlookers who personally witnessed the ritual, and the published photograph seemed to validate what was already known. The Toaster would invariably be dressed in black with a brimmed hat and scarf to help disguise his features. He would carry a silver-tipped cane. The disguise worked perfectly for decades.

Westminster Burial Ground on Poe's Birthday

Burial Ground on Poe’s Birthday

Although never identified, the Toaster would leave cryptic notes from time to time. A few of these notes offered a hint at the meaning of the ritual, others were so inscrutable as to be useless. In 1993, the Toaster left a message that read, “The torch will be passed,” leading Toaster devotees to conclude that the original Poe visitor had died and passed the ritual on to his “son.” By 1998, Toaster observers concluded that this new visitor was a younger man than the original Toaster. It seemed that the ritual had become inter-generational.

The second Toaster apparently had more than a sense of mystery and humor. In 2001, he left a message that contained the phrase: “The New York Giants. Darkness and decay and the big blue hold dominion over all. The Baltimore Ravens. A thousand injuries they will suffer. Edgar Allan Poe evermore.” That year, in Super Bowl XXXV, the Baltimore Ravens, named after Poe’s most famous poem, were scheduled to meet the New York Giants. It was the first time the Toaster’s messages strayed beyond his fascination with Poe. It wouldn’t be the last.

In 2004, the Toaster wrote: “The sacred memory of Poe and his final resting place is no place for French cognac. With great reluctance but for respect for family tradition the cognac is placed. The memory of Poe shall live evermore!” Toaster interpreters took this as a condemnation of France for her fierce and public resistance against the Iraq war.

Toaster followers only tried to interfere with the ritual on one occasion, in 2006. It was unsuccessful. The other visits were never disrupted even though onlookers would regularly show up at the appointed hour. From time to time, an individual would either claim to be the Toaster or know his identity. They were all hoaxers.

In 2009, the Toaster made his final appearance. He left no message and did not return in subsequent years. Toaster followers see the symmetry in this gesture. The Toaster marked the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth and simply disappeared, forever. Should someone else appear in future years in the guise of the Toaster, he will certainly be declared a hoaxer. It seems that the long-standing ritual has run its course and, true to the life of Poe himself, will always remain a mystery.

Could there have ever been a more devoted fan?

Secrets of the Dew Drop Inn: Let’s Get Backwards

Dew Drop Inn Forks WAYou’ve noticed the roadside sign, but have you ever stayed for the night? It’s the Dew Drop Inn and it’s much more than a cheap stopover. It’s not one place, it’s many. This is the sanctuary where writers keep their most valued treasures. You can think of it as a secret society for the pen-and-paper crowd, a storehouse of moldy mind tricks. Here’s one from the vaults.

Suspend your usual habits and your swaggering disbelief. Let’s make some heresy. Let’s break some rules. For now, let’s start at the end and give nothing to the beginning. Don’t worry about the story line, don’t even think about it. Instead, create a character.

When your character begins to take life, the story line will follow. Most everything at the DDI is different, just a little crooked, so none of this should be surprising.

OK? Let’s go.

Choose the character. Animal, vegetable or mineral? Human or not? No detailed qualities for these first few moments. Just make the barest outline of a character.

We’ll go with a human female this time.

Fill in a few blanks, just a quick sketch. Alexis. Small, a bit undernourished. Sandy hair. Pleasing, in a quiet way. Smooth movements, delicate hands. Likes flowing clothes that don’t reveal too much but are clearly feminine. Prefers pale colors, easy on the eye and mind. An ex-expatriate from Lithuania. Multi-lingual. Might be some kind of artist but it’s hard to say. Not physical, more ethereal. Definitely not a spy or weightlifter. Could be a dancer, maybe. Moves like one.

Say some more. She’s living in Italy now. Don’t know why, yet. Small town, rustic, narrow streets. In the South of the country. She likes the weather here, and the anonymity. Is this a hideaway? She walks everywhere, likes to move around. Drawn to street-side shops and carts. Hair is long and a bit curly. Never seen with others. Lives alone. Is always alone.

Scene. Today, she’s sitting outside a cafe. Not the usual scene. This is a junky street, cluttered, but not with people. Nothing opulent here. No tourists. There are tables up and down the street, each with junk for sale. Mostly odd, small items. She’s been moving up and down the strada, fingering through the goodies, saying nothing, buying nothing, apparently thinking about nothing. She’s an odd fit for this scene. Speaks to no one.

Say some more. She is lazily scanning the street, watching people come and go. Everything looks a bit dark. It’s overcast today. It’s late in the afternoon. A little breeze, but comfortable. Her mood is quiet but not sour. She’s not smiling, not frowning, just absorbed in some other place, another time. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Still, it’s not boredom that makes her muse. What’s on her mind?

Action. She hears her name being called from behind. It’s a familiar voice, too familiar. Her back stiffens and she turns toward the voice.

Details, please.


Cut to the story line.

Great Literary Bleemersnarks: The Hitler Diaries

"Hitler's Diaries Discovered" (Stern)

The recipe is simple but the preparation may take some time. Start with your favorite slices of fraud, hoax, scam or forgery. Mix well with several cups of greed. Garnish it with the essence of a failed self-lobotomy. Simmer until done. Serve while hot. That’s a literary bleemersnark.

Today’s favorite recipe: The Hitler Diaries

When and Where: 1983, in West Germany. At the time, Germany was still a divided nation.

The Bleemersnarkee: Stern, a widely-read and once adored weekly news magazine. Founded in 1948, it reached a circulation of more than 8 million readers in Germany and across Europe. With Stern’s publication of the Hitler Diaries, it is generally agreed that an all-time low in German journalism was achieved. This moment became Stern’s undying literary legacy. Of course, Stern was not the only bleemersnarkee in this nifty twist. The victims were many and renowned, not to mention every one of Stern’s readers.

The Bleemersnarker: The mysterious “Dr. Fischer,” who claimed to have smuggled the Hitler Diaries out of East Germany and directly into the waiting hands of journalist Gerd Heidemann. There were more. Wait for The Reveal.

The Plot: Stern announced the too-good-to-be-true find in April 1983. The diaries were allegedly discovered among other important papers recovered from an airplane crash in Dresden, in April 1945. For well over a year preceding the announcement, negotiations with “Dr. Fisher” and others supposedly went on behind the scenes. After finally collecting the documents, three separate handwriting examinations were made of one page of the diary. Each expert claimed that the handwriting was, indeed, that of Adolph Hitler. At the time, no forensic tests were made. Two noted WWII historians were brought in to further verify the material. Both agreed that the diaries were genuine.

Since the diaries consisted of some 60 volumes, it was hard to believe that they were all forgeries. However, as soon as Stern made their infamous announcement, skeptics and doubters crawled out of the woodwork. On April 25, 1983, Stern held a news conference to reveal the publication schedule of the diaries. Suddenly, the whole cake began to fall. The two historians backed away from their previously enthusiastic support of the material. Author David Irving produced photocopies of another fake Hitler diary that he claimed was from the same collection as the Stern cache. This debacle forced a more thorough, legitimate forensic examination of the diaries.

You guessed it. They were forgeries, all of them. Forensic experts agreed that they were fakes, and not especially good ones at that. Woops.

The Fallout: The two Stern editors involved in this bleemersnark got the ax, allegedly self-imposed. So did an editor at the Sunday Times, scheduled to also run the Hitler Diary series. And, William Boyles from Newsweek, an American bleemersnarkee. Lesser heads rolled freely. The two noted historians lost their bite among all other historians, and the public. Oh, and let’s not forget the lovable Rupert Murdoch, who was up to his eyeballs in this bleemersnark.

The Reveal: The diaries had been carefully prepared by forger Konrad Kujau, well known in the Stuttgart environs for his previous artistic endeavors. And the money (9 million marks)? Well, no one knows for sure. However, journalist Heidemann began to live high on the hog rather suddenly. Kujau was fed well. Both men were sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison, which was just long enough for their money to collect a healthy dose of interest. When Kujau hit the streets again, he opened his own business specializing in “original Kujau forgeries.”

Dear Gregor, Am I Italian?

GregorGiovanni, thanks for writing to my Head Wrap Advice Column! You’ve posed a profound and probing question. I want to make sure that I get this one right!

I noticed from the postmark on your letter that you live in America. This means you must be at least somewhat Italian in your soul. Whether it be by diet, movies, art or hand gestures, if you’re American you have become a bit Italian somewhere down deep. But, that’s not an adequate answer to your powerful question.

Let’s move a bit further.

I’ve discovered a self-test that can help answer your question. It’s a simple test and takes only a moment to complete. Still, it’s powerful. The results will tell you whether or not you have an Italian soul, which is what really lies at the heart of your question. The test has two parts: hand gestures and required phrases.

IGestures ClassicHand Gestures. Take a look at the visual that I’ve kindly provided. This is a classic collection of important hand gestures from the wildly popular book, Canon Andrea de Jorio. It is the definitive guide to how the Italian hand is meant to express and enhance fundamental ideas.

Now, you must be totally honest with yourself, Giovanni. Study these images carefully. If you find yourself using one, just one, of these gestures, you have an Italian soul.

Pay particular attention to image #5, my personal favorite. Do you recognize this gesture? Have you ever, even once in your life, used this gesture? Be honest.

Required Phrases. Once again, Giovanni, honesty is completely necessary. Read the following phrases carefully. Study them. Since this is a family-friendly column, I’ve taken some editorial license to ensure that no reader is offended. However, the intent of the phrases should be clear.

The question to ask yourself is this: Have I ever, even once in my life, used even one of these phrases? If you answered “Yes!” you have an Italian soul.

Ready? Here goes.

Il mio asino è guasto (My donkey is dead.)

Dove disfaccio di questo corpse del bellboy? (Where do I dispose of this bellboy’s corpse?)

Aricchi du porcu (You are like the hair on a pig’s ear.)

Ho fatto una cazzata (I screwed up! Requires appropriate hand gesture.)

Io non mangio in questo merdaio (I refuse to eat in this house of doo-doo.)

Finally, there is one other important point to consider. Is pizza Italian? Have you ever eaten pizza, even a single slice? Pizza was invented in Naples, you know. Naples is in Italy, you know.

Well, have you ever eaten pizza?

Hope this advice has been of some help, Giovanni. As always, I love to hear from my readers.

Gregor, the Head Wrap Advice Columnist

Gregor lives here.