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Barry B. Longyear Newsletter

Upon Completing The Candle Man

Yesterday, April 17th 2024 the monster that I have been wrestling for a little over ten years finally agreed on a truce and my novel, The Candle Man, completed was published on Amazon in both trade paperback and Kindle formats. I have been stupid and stumbling around ever since finishing the story. I wake up at all hours, wander around, stumble back into bed, suck some more air through that damned CPAP mask, then pick up my iPad and play yet another game of solitaire.


When I began this work I used to fill in my idle moments with wood carving. Arthritis and strange little bone hooks and shit took care of that. So I do solitaire. In the solitaire game that came with my iPad, when I chose it over wood carving I was at Level 21. After many long sleepless nights, I am now at Level 533 with the title of "The Thinker." Rather ironic, that. The purpose of the game was to stop the thinking.


When a story grabs me and the characters organize and drag me from page to page, they do not care about sleep, headaches, old service injuries, and that I might just have a life outside of this one story. But it is not just one story among dozens; to this story it is the universe and I am who my characters picked to tell it. It has been teasing me for a long time.


It began when I was seventeen, a cadet at Staunton Military Academy in Staunton, Virginia "located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley," as the ad for the school went. In Military Science IV we were each required to pick a battle and write a paper on it detailing how the battle was won and lost, and how the battle affected the larger contest. I was from Pennsylvania, not far from Gettysburg, so I naturally chose that battle.


My thesis was that General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia (AVN) blew it. He had little control over the ill-disciplined commander of his cavalry reconnaissance division and stumbled into the battle blind. Another general, ordered not to engage Union forces, did so. So Lee let it slide. He ordered that a particular hill covering the right flank of the Union position be taken and artillery placed on it "if practicable."  The general who took over from the deceased Stonewall Jackson decided it was not "practicable" and did not take the hill. Lee had seventy thousand troops at Gettysburg, yet used only 15-18,000 in the much storied Pickett's Charge.  There was more, and I did it up in detail. And I got an "F."


The professor of Military Science was Colonel Richters, USA. He was the one who graded the paper. I went to find why I failed. He was not in his office. His assistant, an Army master sergeant, was. He wanted to know if he could help. I said I wanted to know why my paper failed. And he asked, "Were you a Gettysburg?"


I said that my paper was on that battle. Then I learned a truth that has served me ever since.


"The Gettysburgs always fail. The colonel is a big fan of Robert E. Lee, and if you want to do Gettysburg and pass there are only two approaches: Lee lost and it wasn't his fault, or Lee won a moral victory."


"But Lee lost and it was his fault," I protested.


"Welcome to the grownups, Cadet Longyear. Dismissed."


As with many other disappointments, injuries, and unfair happenings in my young life, I buried my feelings about this and got on with things. Many years later I heard the saying, "You never forget the things you refuse to remember."


It seems like such a stupid start to this work I have just completed. Nevertheless it was the beginnings of a lifelong interest in the American Civil War, but mainly from a tactical perspective. In 1960 the reach for civil rights was just getting some traction, my own Army career and its consequences were about to get going, It was in the Army, stuck on a missile site on a pimple of an island in the East China Sea repairing HAWK Missiles where I began trying to write. I didn't know what I was doing and it went nowhere.


Years later, after the publication of my novella, "Enemy Mine" in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, still reading on the Civil War, I came upon the item about how, just prior to the battle of Chancellorsville, General Jackson and his staff were in front of their own lines doing reconnaissance. It was dark and no one had told anyone on the line that Stonewall and company was out there. So, expecting a night attack from General Hooker's troops, the Confederate ranks were a bit jumpy. There was motion detectable through all the trees and brush in front of the Rebel lines, Major Decatur Barry ordered the men in his battalion of the 18th North Carolina Infantry to open fire. Stonewall Jackson was wounded, the Second Corps was temporarily taken over by J.E.B. Stuart, and Jackson lost his arm and later died of pneumonia.


This, of course, eliminated Jackson from participating in the Battle of Gettysburg two months later. Many historians hold that event, the accidental death by friendly fire of General Jackson, as the key to the South losing the Battle of Gettysburg, and eventually the war.


It occurred to me when I read that, what if the fellow whose shot took down Jackson knew for a fact that it was his shot that did it. It struck me what a burden of guilt this fellow would have had to carry. Major Barry, the man who gave the order to fire, in 1867 took his own life over his responsibility in Jackson's death. Barry was just 27 years old.


What about the shooter? Nameless, faceless, nothing but his regiment for information. Transformation—character change—is what keeps me at writing. Getting on with the aftermath of the war, dragging this guilt, and telling no one about it, the storytelling setup was ripe for exploration. What had to have occurred to the shooter—let's call him Glendon—as the years passed is that the South really didn't lose the war. Between the black laws and segregation, the stranglehold the Democratic Party had on southern politics, the former slaves and their descendants were without even the protection of their old masters. The lynchings, tortures, burnouts, and exclusionary tactics pretty much left the South where it wanted to be while the war weary North figured it had done its part and got on with other things.


The Civil War was initiated by the Democrats because this upstart brand new Republican Party that opposed slavery won the White House. And one thing the country was to learn was, don't mess with the way Democrats want to do things. It was a transformative moment for me. I remember muttering to myself, "The Civil War isn't over."


I was reading Reconstruction history and the struggles of former slaves, the burgeoning civil rights movement, and saturating myself in the continuous run of current wars, revolutions, assassinations, invasions, tribal mass murders, the world wars, and so many things seemed to be attached to America's Civil War, the death of Stonewall Jackson, and this guy in the 18th North Carolina Infantry who pulled the trigger the night of May 2nd, 1863.


For a quick ending in my head, something to aim for, I thought of him at last getting the message and helping one of the little girls past the angry crowds as Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to escort "The Little Rock Nine" into Central High School, racially integrating that institution.


That was in 1957. My character had to be at least twenty years old at the beginning of the war. He was born in 1840. So, when Central High was integrated against heavy southern Democratic opposition, he'd be 117 years old. I couldn't see any way around it. I took what I had written, stuck it in a folder, and condemned the lot to Might-have-been City.


Readercon is a science fiction convention often held in Boston and its environs, and for a good many years I attended essentially to see my fellow wizards, talk about writing with those who wished to learn, and rub elbows with the members of my science fiction family: the fans. At one such con, there was a meet the writer thing, my session playing against some really big draw, leaving me with only one fan, a fellow named William Sherman. It took almost no time for us to get onto the subject of the Civil War, and I told him about my interest in the shooter of Stonewall Jackson. I also mentioned what I had hoped to do with him, but that he would be too old to do much of anything in 1957.


"Not if he was a vampire," said William.


I felt like such an idiot. Even though I made my writing bones writing science fiction and fantasy, I had approached the shooter thing like a historian. Historians have at their disposal a very limited set of writing tools, mostly limited by the possible. With his statement about vampires, William Sherman reminded me that I am not limited to such poor writing tools. I have all the tools of science fiction, fantasy, religion, whatever I needed. For shaking me loose of only the possible, I dedicated The Candle Man to William Sherman. So, I had the dedication page, and all I needed was a title and a story.


I spent a year trying Glendon out as a vampire, but after a hundred thousand words or so, Glendon pointed out to me that he didn't want to be a vampire. So, not a vampire. This began a serial round robin of drafts, several almost to completion, and then the characters telling me they want to recast the entire thing and beginning all over again. During the last year of the COVID shutdown, I was once again almost finished. Getting this book off my back was getting very attractive. It had sent me all over the eastern battlefields, put me in the hospital twice, and pretty much required me to shut out everything else and focus on the book. And now I was one chapter short of the end.


I'm in bed, trying to clear out my head in preparation to sleep, when this minor character named Clay, an old slave who serves as groom and cook at the contract surgeon's home in Richmond to whom Glendon is sent after the Battle of Chancellorsville. This minor character, I could see him in the dark, in miniature, standing on the side of my bed, he said to me, "You know, this is my story to tell."


I made a rude comment.


I confess that slapping a "The End" on my current manuscript and releasing myself from the life of my shooter and his friends was a big temptation. Changing a three hundred thousand word manuscript from first person past tense to third person past tense told first person past tense by this other guy would be a chore—but it solved so many problems I was having with the story.


The next morning I began living the story I was telling. It all came together, a saga that stretches from the American Revolution to the invasion by Hamas into Israel. Half truths pulled themselves out of their dark corners revealing to me what was really going on throughout those centuries, revealing to me just what my shooter, Glendon Fayte, was supposed to be doing and why.


I wrote this story with a chainsaw. Every time I hesitated because I was risking being politically incorrect, I envisioned being trapped in a cave, the only route of escape choked by dozens of sacred cows, I'd call my characters to light up the grills as I started up my chainsaw 'cause there was going to be a heap of steaks at the end of each chapter.


I ran that chainsaw for eight months, depleted the sacred cow population, and wore myself down to frazzle. When I began The Candle Man, I was a black diamond skier. Right now I'm lucky I'm not using a walker. There are blood, sweat, and tears on almost every page of that book, and now it is done. And I do not know what to feel about it. In many respects I am numb. I don't have to go do battle every morning unless I begin another project, and that will have to wait until I catch up with the thousand things I've left undone because The Candle Man took up everything for so long. So did The War Whisperer, The Joe Torio Series, and . . .


I once wrote, "Write a man a story and you can entertain him for a few hours; Teach that man to write and you can send him to Hell for a lifetime."


I'm not in Hell. I am exhausted. I sat down at my desk to update my website, and began this in hopes of emptying my head of The Candle Man in order that I might be able to do other things, such as get on with the next project.


If you read this latest story of mine, and one of the sacred cows that got punched is your favorite, before you give me that half star and call me a bunch of names, read it again. I request this because if that is how you feel, you either did not fully understand what I wrote or you may be one of the villains of my story.


Has writing about it helped? I don't feel any different. I'm pooped, reluctant to commit myself to anything, dreading the possible remake of the motion picture Enemy Mine, and thinking about taking up aerobic visualization. Exercise is important.


I suppose one of the difficulties in letting go is that the story is still developing out there. In Glendon's home state of North Carolina it was reported today a high school teacher gave an assignment using the word "alien." A student asked for clarification. "Are you talking about aliens from outer space or illegal aliens without green cards?"

The student was suspended from that school for using the phrase "illegal aliens." By doing so, the instructor stated that the boy had disrespected all his Hispanic classmates.


—Which, may I point out, assumes that all of this boy's Hispanic classmates were illegal aliens and trying to hide it. It is racism parading around as being super inclusive and woke, an example of crippled virtue signaling that, I believe, will turn around and bite that instructor's ass. "Illegal aliens" is how illegal aliens are labeled in federal law and what they are designated as by the Border Patrol.


And as a character of mine in Rope Paper Scissors pointed out, "space alien" is incorrect. They must now be called "undocumented bug-eyed monsters."


Most stories, to be considered "good," need to have a neat tidy resolution that gives the reader a satisfying burp at the end. The anti-burp school eschews resolutions that are other than tragic. The Candle Man? It turns out that we, you and I, are characters in this tale, as are every man, woman, child, and other being on Planet Earth. That is probably why I cannot let go of this story; It won't let go of me. The story is still going on and how are we going to resolve this tale? More will be revealed.


Incidentally, Colonel Richters was right; Losing at Gettysburg wasn't General Lee's fault. It was mine!

The Write Stuff

Everything I know about writing worth passing on. In this work, step-by-step, I show what I did. From that it is intended that writers form their own paths toward producing their art.


Science-Fiction Writer's Workshop-I

For Beginners. This is the book I was looking for when I first began writing