Thursday, June 6, 2013

Never To Return

By Keith McDowell

At precious few moments in what passes for our existence as sentient beings, we experience the joy of completing an arduous task that has encompassed our entire attention for countless hours and endless months. I’ve had that pleasure over the past few days as two of my mammoth ebook projects have been uploaded without error and accepted for self-publication by Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Normally, such an event might not be cause for excess celebration were it not for the additional burdens imposed by KDP and the serious flaws and inconsistencies in their [expletive “nav.toc” deleted] KindleGen rendering software and the accompanying documentation – burdens that cost me an additional two months of extra work. I suppose I should take solace and be amused at the fact that major publishing houses are having the same experience, but then … is this progress?

I never expected to write a novel. I’m certain that Al Kenion, my honors English professor at Wake Forest University for four semesters, didn’t expect it either based on his red-lining of my often wacky weekly themes. Of course, nothing has changed. Fifty years later, I’m just as wacky as ever when it comes to content, but minus his red-lining – not to mention my atrocious use of syntax and punctuation.

So why write a novel? In this day and time, content comes and goes at the speed of the Internet – they don’t call them “browsers” for nothing – leaving little room for growth into a classic, except maybe for the occasional cult following such as that surrounding Game of Thrones. And one certainly is not going to get rich in the era of micro-payments coupled to uncontrolled pirating, although the 70% Kindle self-publishing contract is very appealing in the hope of “winning the lottery” by going viral. And it’s a free service!

For me, writing the novel Never To Return was all about turning the churn of genealogical prospecting and my curiosity about the lives and behavior of my ancestors into an instantiation – that’s a geek word meaning specific realization – of what they were really like based on my own life experiences with people, my own peccadilloes, and my own interpretation of the historical record of my ancestor’s existence. It was a challenge that I could not pass up, especially given the boredom of being a retired person.

And so Never To Return tells the story of the Stoner and Morgan families of Rowan County, North Carolina, beginning with the marriage of Milas P. Morgan to Camilla Stoner prior to the Civil War and the birth of their son, Adam, in the spring of 1861. The trials and tribulations of their extended families in the community of Morgan Township, a community formed mostly by German immigrants at the time of the Revolutionary War, plays out through both the mundane and the extraordinary interplay of people dealing with the vicissitudes of life in a time of war. It is a story of death in its many forms, childbirth, marriage, fornication and adultery, graft and corruption, leadership, incompetence, fear, cowardice, heroism, utter despair, and all the other manifestations of the human condition.

Ultimately, Never To Return is a story about people, the most interesting of all subjects. I had fun writing the novel. I hope you get a chance to read it. You can get a free “quick look” at the Kindle online store by clicking on the cover image and scrolling through parts of the ebook.

And for those of you who get hooked on the real-world characters in my novel – isn’t it fun to see an actual picture of the lecherous First Sergeant Daniel Basinger bedecked in his Civil War uniform – and are not fully sated by the fictional story, there is the companion ebook and massive tome entitled The Stoner Family of Rowan County that comes complete with every court record and land deed that you ever wanted to digest.  You can also peruse it for free at the Kindle online store.

Oh, and for those of you who are classics purists, Never To Return is not a spoof of Gone with the Wind, even though I do like to be wacky at times. I revere both Margaret Mitchell’s book and the movie, but they portray and reveal only the plantation aristocracy of the old South. The movie in particular is a period piece with great acting, but whose male characters often come across as pusillanimous nerds. Gone with the Wind does not even remotely describe the life of a yeoman farmer in Morgan Township and what the Civil War was about for them and their families. If you want to know that story, read Never To Return. I spent a great deal of time perusing modern history books about the period as well as reading every extant issue, most of which exist, of the weekly Salisbury newspaper, the Carolina Watchman, from 1857 through 1868. It was a rewarding experience. And for the curious, I chose the title Never To Return to emphasize the death of so many men in the Civil War and their failure to return home to their families and loved ones, not to comment on or spoof the loss of the plantation aristocracy.

I’m one of the lucky ones. The modern technological and information age has given to me the most wondrous gift of providing a free medium to express myself and to bring to fruition major projects that keep me mentally young while having fun. It certainly beats sitting in a rocking chair on the porch at the local retirement home. Isn’t innovation wonderful!

And don’t forget to buy a few of my ebooks at!