If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? --Albert Einstein

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Writer's High

Meeting authors, chatting with agents and editors, winning an award—all in Myrtle Beach! And the weather was exquisite. For writers, it was Nirvana. Last weekend I attended the 2012 South Carolina Writer’s Workshop Conference at the Hilton resort and I couldn’t have had a better time.

Friday night, my husband, Wendy, and I attended an outdoor reception where fellow Aiken critique group member, Steve Gordy, introduced me to published authors, agents, and best-selling writers of the future. Being naturally shy, this was a blessing. It is incredibly uplifting to speak with people who all share the same passion.
Soon we filed into the banquet where I was awarded first place in the Novel First Chapter category of the Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Award. I am humbled by and proud of this honor. This year, they included the winning pieces from all categories in the annual anthology, The Petigru Review. It was a thrill to see my writing in print.

I was also excited to meet one of the judges of the competition, Barbara Claypole-White, an enthusiastic writer who offered me a tremendous amount of encouragement. Her book, An Unfinished Garden, just came out in August and is wonderful. Watch this blog for my review.
Each time I go to a conference, I like to “stretch” myself and this time I chose to make a pitch for my book to an editor. The conference scheduled a slot for me for ten dollars, a bargain for such an opportunity.
To pitch, you’re expected to excite an industry professional with your book idea in a one- or two-sentence summary, hopefully delivered from memory. I was a nervous wreck. Wendy drilled me throughout the four-hour drive to Myrtle Beach and at random times after we arrived.

Finally my 2:15 appointment arrived. After a minimal amount of small talk (too nervous), I blurted my spiel, hopefully not too fast. Nothing actually came of it, but I DID IT. Later that night, Wendy and I celebrated with a bottle of Asti Spumanti.
I am greatly encouraged by two agents who invited me to send them my book for their consideration. It’s not quite ready, but I am pounding the keys. A door has opened and I’m determined to walk right through.

Shameless plug: Search for The Petigru Review Volume 6 or click here to order a copy for $9.99.

NOTE: If you're a writer from South Carolina, look into the SCWW. This organization has schooled me, guided me, and encouraged me. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Results Are In!

Pryor ancestors: my grand-
father, great grandmother,
and aunts
Well, my DNA results came back. They’re confusing. And somewhat unexpected.

When I sent my saliva off, I told my mother what I had done and what we might expect. “We may find out which African tribes we’re from.”
If you’ve read any of my previous posts on this topic, you know my great-great grandmother was born a mulatto slave and married my great-great grandfather who worked on her plantation in Mississippi.

“What if we’re Zulu?” Mom asked.
“Zulu?” Not the response I expected. “We’ll hold our heads up,” I said. “It means we have spirit, that we don’t take it from The Man.” I was getting wound up. “We won’t have our identity defined by some 1960s propaganda movie.”

“Mmm,” was all the response I got.
In this regard, I am disappointed. Not only did we NOT find out where in Africa we originated, there is no mention of Africa at all. In fact, the results are listed in generalities, not specific countries or regions.

So where was I from? Eighty-four percent of my genetic material is from the British Isles. No surprise. Growing up, I identified myself as three-fourths Irish and one-fourth English.
But I am also 12% Eastern European. That would include anywhere from Estonia to the Ukraine to Greece. I have discovered no indication of any such ancestry. France, yes. Belgium, maybe. But those areas were not represented at all. Instead, I may have Romanian blood. Who knew?

The final four percent is listed as Uncertain. Ugh! Very frustrating. My African ancestry must be included in that. According to, “Uncertain’ usually means that you have traces of a specific genetic population that were too low to pinpoint to an ethnicity.” So, I told my mom, no Zulu—that we know of.
My mercenary daughter said she was not mentioning her African roots anymore. “Two percent of uncertain won’t get me any scholarships.” Pitiful.

This process has created a lot more questions. But, notes that, as their data grows, they may have more answers. Onward—the journey continues.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Last Discoverer of America

Does Christopher Columbus matter? You bet. Historians use his accomplishment to delineate different epochs in world history, especially that of the Western Hemisphere. Days before 1492 are known as Pre-Columbian. The only other person I’m aware of who has influenced our view of history to that extent is Jesus Christ.

Also, Columbus Day is one of only two national holidays named for an individual. He is an American hero.
But what about that discovering America stuff? There is evidence, even very strong evidence, that other (non-Native American) people set foot on American shores before Columbus. “Hello-o-o,” I can hear them saying. “Where's our holiday?”

The spirits of Thorfinn and Gudrid Karlsefni, Norsemen who led a party of hopeful colonists to Vineland (now Canada) in 1005, may be shouting, “Hey, Columbus visited Iceland in 1477. Who do you think clued him in to the existence of another continent?” There’s no proof of that, but a man of Columbus’s curiosity surely would tune into the epic tales of these journeys that Scandinavians continued to recite.

Oh. You’ve heard about the Viking voyages. How about the Phoenicians and West Africans?
Olmec statues--you decide
There's lots of evidence, albeit controversial, that early Africans migrated to Mexico. Statues of Olmecs, “ranging up to 9 feet and 4 inches in height, with a circumference of 22 feet, and weighing 30 to 40 tons, … depict helmeted Black men with large eyes, broad fleshy noses and full lips. They appear to represent priest-kings who ruled vast territories in the ancient New World from provinces near the Gulf of Mexico,” according to Legrand H. Clegg II in his article, “Before Columbus: Black Explorers of the New World.” [] There are also claims of African skulls found in the area.
"Where did you say you got those points?"
Columbus himself wrote of meeting the Arawaks of Haiti during his second voyage. The Native Americans showed him spear points made of “guanine,” claiming black traders from the south and east brought them. They were made of the same alloy used in West Africa, where it was also called “guanine.”

There are claims by historians of pre-Columbian visits from Siberians, Indonesians, Japanese, Chinese, Irish, and Polynesian explorers as well.
The heroified version of Columbus

So why the heroification of Christopher Columbus? Many reasons, but one might be that his was the right voyage at the right time. Due to a number of reasons, Europe at that time was ready to embrace this new “discovery.”

Whether hero or villain, the man was an adventurer who greatly influenced world history. But, like all historic figures, he did not work in a vacuum. The real story—which deserves to be examined—is bigger and more magnificent than one guy. A combination of events, people, cultures, and trends created a “perfect storm” for Christopher Columbus to define an epoch and get his own holiday.
I can feel the rants of the other explorers from here.

Many of the ideas in this post came from Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen, an excellent starting point for re-examining our historical myths.
Photos came from the website of the Library of Congress.