Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Mark Twain

Bonus Post ~ Author Quote


Mark Twain - Author “There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn’t because the book is not there and worth being written—it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself.”

~~~ Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens created the pen name, Mark Twain — here’s an excerpt from a short article about Clemens’ alias:

“In 1863, when Clemens was 27, he wrote a humorous travel story and decided to sign his name ‘Mark Twain’. This name comes from something shouted by crewmen on a boat. To test the depth of the water, a crewman shouts ‘mark twain’! The crewman is calling for two fathoms, or a depth of 12 feet, which is barely enough for a boat to navigate safely…”

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Author Interview ~ Haley Whitehall Debuts First Novel


I just love meeting writers when they’re still in that wonderful/crazy world of working on a book.

But, It’s much better to continue to get to know them until they’ve finished the book and hold its Debut :-)

It was March of 2011 when Haley Whitehall visited this blog for an author interview.

And now, we get to have another interview about the Historical Fiction Novel she’s just published.

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Haley, what is the premise of your debut novel “Living Half Free”?

When Zachariah, a naïve mulatto slave, is sold to a Kentucky slave trader, and separated from his ma and sister, he realizes the true meaning of not having rights. Singled out for abuse by his new master’s sadistic son, he dreams of only one thing: escape. He thinks he’s found it when he falls in love with a Cherokee woman from a powerful family, under whose direction he learns to pass as white. But it’s not long before he discovers that freedom that’s based on a lie will only get him so far. While struggling to find his place in the world, he also wrestles within his heart to realize his faith. This faith is tested when his slave past catches up with him, and threatens everyone he cares for. He must decide whether slavery is the price he’s willing to pay for his family’s freedom.

Very powerful premise, Haley! How did you get your idea for “Living Half Free”?

This is going to sound cliche, but the idea came to me in a dream. However, I had just finished reading Puddinhead Wilson by Mark Twain. (A secret goal of mine is to read all of Mark Twain’s books.) Puddinhead Wilson is Mark Twain’s only tragedy and follows the lives of two boys who were switched at birth–one white and one a slave who was “imitation white.” This was the first story I had read about a slave passing as white. In my dream a beautiful Native American woman stood next to Zachariah and that sparked my story in a new direction.

How much time did you spend researching before you wrote the book?

I’ve been reading about this time period since the 5th grade. There were three things that I needed to research: the transportation of a coffle of slaves to market, work on a Mississippi steamboat, and life on the Cherokee reservation after the Trail of Tears. Research took me about eight weeks. Some of that time was spent waiting for requested books from the library ;)

Haley, would you say you have anything in common with your protagonist, Zachariah?

Good question. I’m always wondering what part of myself I infuse into my characters. Until I get to know someone I am on the shy side. I think we have that in common. I also have a strong connection with my family and strong spirituality.

Why were you drawn to writing historical fiction?

I have a quote from James Baldwin on my homepage: “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.” I’m sure I was born with not only a pencil in my hand, but a love for history. I grew up on Little House on the Prairie books and John Wayne movies so that might have something to do with it. I do find facts comforting. Based on research, I can recreate the past instead of building a world from scratch.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

I can’t leave the characters in Living Half Free. They are still in my head and have more stories to tell. I am currently writing a collection of short stories that take place on the steamboat the Princess. I am also editing the first book in my Civil War trilogy. If you know me, you will know that I’ve been working on this series for five years. It is finally reaching completion. The first book will be available this summer.

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Now is the time to click the Comment link at the top of this post and ask Haley a question :-)

Well, maybe you could comment after you see her picture and read her Bio with all her linksWhoot!

Historical Fiction Author, Haley WhitehallHALEY WHITEHALL has a B.A in history and has been fascinated with the Civil War era for as long as she can remember. She likes to write out of the box stories that feature an underdog. LIVING HALF FREE is her debut novel. Released February 29, the ebook can be found at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. Find out more about Haley through her website or connect with her on Twitter @HaleyWhitehall or Facebook.
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Writing Challenge ~ Use The 1200 Most Common Words To Write A Story…


EDIT: [ This is the most-read post on this blog ~~~ be sure to check out the others
in “Top Posts & Pages” in the left side-bar ]

“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.”

It’s said Ernest Hemingway wrote that six word story. I checked my list of the 1200 most common English words and “sale” wasn’t there but “sell” was. “Worn” wasn’t there but “wear” was. All the other words were there except “shoes”. Not even “shoe” was there

Of course, that particular list may not be definitive but there is another list of 1000 most common words that has “shoes”.

Even though I’m not the kind of person who actually takes writing challenges, I’ve noticed that many of my blogging buddies do :-)

So, the challenge is on!

I got my first list of most common words quite awhile ago and saved it till I could figure out how to use it in a blog post.

This quote from Mark Twain gave me the idea for my challenge: “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

And, even though the first list I’m going to give you may not be definitive, from the description given about its sources, it certainly sounds useful: “This list is from Rebecca Sitton’s “Spelling Sourcebook”, pages 77-82. It is a ‘cross-referenced compilation’ of several massive word studies, including the American Heritage Word Frequency Study (Carroll, Davies, Richman), and several other studies, including the work of Gates, Horn, Rinsland, Greene and Loomer, Harris and Jacobsen.”

So, even though I doubt any of my readers will take the challenge, I’ll still spell it out:

You can use any of the 1200 words in the list at that last link (which is a downloadable Word .doc) or go to the W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center website to use a slightly different list of only 1000 words ( and, it has “shoes” :-). That last list is on ten pages of 100 words each, and it’s beginning description is priceless:

“The first 25 [words] make up about one-third of all printed material in English. The first 100 make up about one-half of all written material, and the first 300 make up about sixty-five percent of all written material in English.”

You can write a story of any length but I hope you’ll make it fit into the comments section of this post (or, send it to me at amzolt (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll put it in a follow-up post). And, finally, you can use both lists and, if you don’t see the exact form of a word (like there’s no “worn” but “wear” is on the list), you can change tense or plurality

The Challenge Is Over :-(
But…
Find out who the winner was :-)

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Author Interview ~ Haley Whitehall


I’m so happy Haley said yes to an interview! Let’s get it rolling…

Haley, where in the world is your home?

I am from Wenatchee, Washington.

When did you begin writing and can you remember how it felt inside, back then?

I began telling stories when I was four. My parents would write them down for me. Sometimes I woke them in the middle of the night with a creative idea that couldn’t wait till morning.

I wrote my first story in the first grade. It was a tall tale about my historical hero Davy Crockett. I was very proud of myself. I loved the feeling of creating something. My teacher typed up the story and I shared it with the class. I felt “published” right then and there. I was a shy child and writing made me feel powerful and allowed me to create friends with the stroke of my pencil.

I love that you’d wake your parents :-) Speaks of your sense of “author-ity”.

Was there any certain date or time you remember when you began to either think of yourself as or call yourself a “writer”?

I started to think of myself as a writer in the first grade. My teacher told me that I was talented with words and was going to be a writer someday. Now that I have a growing portfolio of pieces I’ve written, some nearly ready to be submitted to agents, I also call myself a writer.

What are your hopes, or dreams, or goals for your writing?

I want to write novels and children’s books. I have so many ideas I hope I get the time to write them all down. I’d like to earn enough to support myself by doing what I love–writing. As a historical fiction writer, I want to share/teach history through my work.

Noble goal

How did you decide to write historical fiction?

When I was younger I experimented with other genres. Some writers are versatile and some find their niche. I spent much of my childhood on my grandparents’ ranch which made me day dream about pioneer times. I was also strongly influenced by John Wayne movies and other westerns which is popular entertainment in my family. I wrote my first novel, when I was 12, about a pioneer family. The research I did for that book led me to explore the Civil War and I instantly fell in love with that tumultuous time. Historical fiction inspires my creativity. It just fits me.

Have you had any “formal” training in the art of writing?

I’ve taken a few creative writing classes in college and have been to a few writing workshops but that is all.

What do you feel has taught you the most about “how to write”?

Reading books like crazy to find out what works and what doesn’t. I’ve also written daily for years. It took me a while but I discovered my genre, historical fiction, and my voice/style. Getting involved in my local writer’s organization, Write on the River, being involved in writers groups [including starting my own online group] where I acquire numerous critique partners, attending workshops and conferences, and networking with other writers.

So, who are your favorite writers and why are they favorites?

I have many favorite writers. Mark Twain and Ann Rinaldi are among my favorite historical fiction writers. My writing style/voice has been influenced by them. I also like the prolific writers Gary Paulson and Avi. Their books are well-written, creative, easy reads which help me escape the present when I need a break. However, my favorite book of all time is the Civil War YA novel, Rifles for Watie, by Harold Kieth, winner of the 1958 Newbery Medal.

Where and/or how do you get your ideas for your writing?

That is a question that is nearly impossible to answer but I will try anyway. My overactive imagination even surprises me sometimes. Sometimes ideas just pop into my head and I have no idea where they came from. Other ideas are inspired by something I’ve seen on TV, something I’ve read or a dream I’ve had. I believe that my Muse, Clio, is always busy getting me ideas.

I’ve also found out the name of my Muse

Are you published?

I have published a magazine article. However, I’ve realized that my true passion is novel writing. I will be submitting query letters for several of my W.I.P’s soon. If all goes well I hope to be published again in the not too distant future.

Tell us about your blog: its purpose, how you go about deciding what to post, and what you want to do with it in the future?

My blog is dedicated to writing. I share my thoughts, experiences and what I have learned as I soldier through the writing world and this is not going to change. I write to help/inspire other writers, get help from others, and to network with the global writing community. I am part of the post a day challenge. I seldom plan out what I am going to write. I wake up and wait for my muse to give me an idea. Often it is related to what I am currently working on in my W.I.P.

Haley, thank you for this interview! Let’s get your links up, ok?

Here’s my blog.
And, a recommended writers conference: Write On The River

O.K., dear readers, time to ask Haley a few questions :-)
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Be sure to check out Haley’s Second Interview—after she published her Debut Novel :-)
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Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
Follow the “co-author” of Notes from An Alien, Sena Quaren:
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