Work with what you have.
Sometimes invention is not born out of necessity, but out of the
practical application of working with what you have at hand.
Imagine you are living approximately 5 thousand years ago, and
you wish to begin a written record of life around you. In a world
void of pen and paper, to what do you turn?
You turn to a reed from the marsh, cut on it's side, and you press
it into wet clay. The combination of reed marks then becomes your
"alphabet." This writing however, is not known as a traditional
alphabet, since each symbol connotes a syllable, rather than a letter.
If you wish to try and make a permanent record of your "words"
then you bake the clay in similar fashion to making pottery.
image holds part of an inscription from the time of Sargon I, King
of Akkad, who had his scribes write the following about himself:
"Whatsoever king shall be exalted after me,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
.Let him rule, let him govern the black-headed peoples;
Mighty mountains with axes of bronze let him destroy;.
Let him ascend the upper mountains,
Let him break through the lower mountains;
The country of the sea let him besiege three times;
Dilmun let him capture;
To great Dur-ilu let him go up."
Sargon's words have been difficult to substantiate, since his kingdom
city has never been found. It lies beneath the dust of what is now
known as Iraq.
The job of a historian is to try and substantiate the words written
by any "eye witness" by finding corroborating evidence,
either in the words of others, or in the case of ancient history,
with the trowel of the archaeologist.
We know of Sargon I from other lists of kings and a few scraps
of inscriptions detailing with the mundane issues of grain and commerce.
Sargon's writings leave us with an interesting historical milestone
because the mention of his daughter, Enheduanna, gives us the first
written mention of a woman (as in real person and not a female deity)
in all of recorded history.
Enheduanna is also credited by some as being "the
first named author in all of world literature." for her
efforts in writing and compiling what is know as the Sumerian Temple
And my part in all this history? My part was first to learn the
written language, then work on translating "source documents"
so that I could work on writing the history of this ancient time.
Hey, I'll bet you all know someone who can work on Sumerian translations.
I was learing to be a historian, and that's the kind of thing that
The point is that I was trained to recognize good source documents,
and then to find any and all evidence possible that can "back
up" those documents, so that we can know as much of the truth
of history as possible.
A little over a year and a half ago I found another one of those
source documents, only this time it was written by a woman during
the American Civil War. Some of the details of the diary are in
the entry Civil
It was the author's wish to remain anonymous, and some thirty years
after she wrote it during the war, she transcribed words that she
could barely read. Faded pencil gave way to ink, and the diary was
delivered to a writer, who "severely edited" the work
for publication in the over one hundred year old magazine that I
The diary details an amazing struggle that I thought was worthy
of a wider audience.
I thought mini-series - and dollars have danced back and forth
in front of my eyes...
Ok, only from time to time.
I also thought that I had been given a gift, the outline of a story,
the skeleton if you will, that needs fleshing out, into a living
I also learned, a long time ago, how do conduct research. Sargon,
meet Mrs. X - who wrote the following from one of her entries:
After twelve some worn-out-looking men sat down under the
What is the news? I inquired.
Ritreat, ritreat! they said, in broken English: they
were Louisiana Acadians.
Akkadian, meet Acadian - history meet history.
Sargon meet the Acadians, driven from their land in Canada to settle
in Louisiana and are the forebears of the Cajun culture.
It's to the Cajuns that I turn next, for as soon as I can book
the flights and work out the schedule I am off to the land of gumbo.
I have permission in hand, to go to the library archives and digitally
photograph and then transcribe the "original diary" whose
words have never seen the light of modern day.
Mrs X, you are not the first woman who's name is recorded in history,
but now I know your name. I know your husband's name and I am going
to attempt to tell the story of your life.
I am also reading everything I can get my mits on relative to writing
fiction, developing characters, writing dialogue and the like.
You see, the other day I stood in Barnes and Noble looking at the
newly published books, and I envisioned myself standing there, maybe
years from now, but standing there none the less, looking at the
cover of her story on my book.
Maybe I should say our book.
Dreams are free, but if you don't dream it, you can probably bet
that it won't happen.
Pen money... strange how it all works.
I got the offer from Boston and the permission from Louisiana on
the same day.
Which one do you think was more exciting?