Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Crow Word for Snake

Tastes just like Diet Coke.
It's been a very busy week, here in the Valley of Unfinished Manuscripts. 

I envy the writers of old, who enjoyed leisurely days of writing interrupted only by rare changes of tweed jacket, trips to town to purchase more pipe tobacco, and delivering the odd Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Which brings us to William Faulkner. Oxford is hosting the annual Faulkner Conference this week, which means the town is filled with Faulkner scholars eager to glean something new about the man and his writing.

There you go, Faulkner scholars. The secret ingredient to 'As I Lay Dying' revealed. Please leave a dollar in the tip jar on your way out.

Rowan Oak, Faulkner's legendary crib. See how I talk just like the young folks?
As a lifelong Oxonian, I've been to Faulker's Rowan Oak. It's a nice old house, and though it's close to Oxford's bustling Square it's so quiet and heavily wooded you'd think you stepped back in time.

Here's Faulkner's writing desk:

I took the pic. I still haven't figured out where he plugged his LED flatscreen monitor in, or what version of Word that old Underwood runs. I was glad to see Faulkner, like all burly he-men, eschewed use of the Mac.

Surprisingly, the elephants were life-sized.
I'm pretty sure that if Faulkner came back from the Great Beyond and saw my writing rig, he'd spit whiskey bottles and dangle participles in sheer unholy envy. The man typed everything, first draft to final, and he did all that before Liquid Paper was even invented. 

Not that ol' Bill couldn't think outside the box. You've probably heard that he was prone to write plot outlines on his walls -- well, he did, and here are the pictures I took of them:

That's the outline for 'A Fable.' The lore claims Faulkner's wife painted over the outline and Faulkner wrote the outline again over the fresh paint and then shellaced it to make sure new paint wouldn't stick.

I suspect the wall wasn't the only thing partaking of shellac during all this, but I wasn't there.

There is a story that Rowan Oak is haunted. The tale hits on most of the haunted house tropes -- star-crossed lovers, a stern father who refuses to grant his daughter's hand to a Yankee, broken hearts, suicide, anguish, all-around bad times. From that, it is said, a ghost arose, to walk the grounds at night.

It's hogwash, all of it. Faulkner himself made the story up just to watch it spread and grow. And, like his other stories, people have enjoyed it so much it persists to this day.

I myself have never written an outline on my walls. That's what Word is for, to preserve carefully-constructed outlines that you ignore in the end. 


I like crows. They're smart, they're brave, and they have a certain dramatic fashion sense. I watch them, and listen to them, and over the years I've been able to make out what I believe are a few words of basic Crow.

Seriously, their calls are different. You've got the bored, half-hearted caw they croak out every five minutes or so in the heat of the day. You've got the strident, brief Caw! that I think says 'I see you, other crow.'

And around here, they have a word for snake. 

Look, this is Mississippi in the summertime. Rural Mississippi. Snakes are like clouds -- everywhere, most of the time, and best left where they are and observed from a safe distance.

But crows hate snakes. Let a single crow spot one, and within moments all his crow pals are gathered about, mobbing the slithering fiend in a wheeling, noisy circle of black wings and sharp eyes.

I managed to record a mob of crows circling a rat snake this afternoon. It's a short audio file, less than a minute. Hear what the crows have to say!

As long as I'm posting audio files, here's another one. I took this one during the fireworks show on the 4th of July, so it has explosions and crowd noise. I know there are people out there who collect audio clips of such things, and if you are such a person, you can have this one, if you want it. Or, if you're at work, crank up the speakers and watch people jump...


Never gets booked for birthdays parties...

The image above? From the movie, of course. Just one image, without explanation. I will say that is one decidedly un-funny clown. 

It's the big shoes. They make one grumpy, and by grumpy I mean homicidal and deranged. 

As they say in the movie biz, that's a wrap. Got to get back to work, which won't be on a 1912 Underwood typewriter, and for that I am grateful.


  1. Can you imagine writing a book, start to finish, on a typewriter? With the way I edit, it would be an impossibility - love how he did edits on the walls - fascinating... and oh, LOVE the clown!

  2. Holy crap! Is that YOU with the clown face??? Sweet Jeebus say it ain't so!

  3. It is indeed me. My clown name is Jinglejump Funnyface.

    I'm available for children's birthday parties and singing telegrams...