Amanda Cockrell

Selected Works

Young Adult Novel
Saints and soldiers and the Untied Church of Dog
Novels
The Hollywood blacklist and a delayed funeral
Historical novel of a Roman legion in Britain
The Horse Catchers trilogy
Mythological novel of the coming of the horse to the American Southwest
Volume 2 in The Horse Catchers trilogy
Volume 3 in The Horse Catchers trilogy
The Deer Dancers trilogy
Mythological novel of the beginning of art
Volume 2 in The Deer Dancers trilogy
Volume 3 in The Deer Dancers trilogy
Children's books
By my mother, Marian Cockrell, the story of an enchanted castle on the edge of Fairyland

What We Keep

My ex-Uncle Dick

January 14, 2014

Tags: family stories

An email from a pal this week asks me if I want a book by Richard Wormser that she spotted at a second hand store. Oh yes, send it on.

I always thought of him as my ex-Uncle Dick, my auntís former husband who left the family before I was born, but remained in touch with my parents and a source of story and legend. I only met him once but he was a figure in my adolescent imagination. He was a writer of pulp fiction and short stories, like nearly everyone else in my fatherís family back then. During the Depression, he drove my aunt, the only one with an actual job, to the train station every day in a horse and buggy, and when a woman in a chauffeured car pulled up to ask, ďMy good man, who do you drive for?Ē he tipped his hat and told her, ďFor Richard Wormser, the noted author.Ē

He wrote short stories for pulp magazines, and a slew of the Nick Carter adventures. He was hired and fired twice by Columbia Pictures, and he wrote B movies at Republic and Universal. In World War II he was a forest ranger, and patrolled the Southern California coast on horseback, a job I would have considered pure heaven.

He claimed that his grandfather had Southern sympathies during the Civil War, and so hired a substitute to fight for him when drafted by the North, while he slipped away to battle for the Lost Cause. Of course (you knew it was coming) they subsequently met upon the field of battle, whereupon Dickís grandfather said sternly to the substitute pointing a bayonet at his midsection, ďSo much as touch me with that instrument, my good man, and I will cut your pay in half!Ē

I didnít believe that for a minute, even at thirteen, but he remained a man of mystery and story ó maybe not as interesting as I imagined him or maybe more so. Rooting in the paperbacks in our bookcase routinely turned up one of Dickís books, the cover splendid with a half-clothed dame or a steely-eyed sheriff.


When my mother and I were setting out to drive me to college in Virginia for my senior year, I insisted that we stop on the way in Santa Fe where Dick was living with his current wife, because I had never met him and was longing to. He seemed reasonably pleased with the idea when my mother called him, and so we arrived at his house, which was fronted by a sign that said WORMSERíS DRY GOODS. I remember a wonderful Southwestern dinner, and a lot of stories about other people I had only heard of. I fell asleep at midnight but he and my mother sat up all night reminiscing and in the morning Mama had an awful hangover.

You need people like that in the family, the storytellers, the subjects themselves of stories told and re-told, apocryphal or solid, even if you just get to meet them once. They people family myth, that expanding landscape of bright color and dim truthfulness where everyone is wild or mad or heroic or all three.

The Voices in Your Head

January 8, 2014

Tags: family stories, writing, the human voice

In the post-Christmas packing away, while looking for something else (which I still havenít found, of course) I came upon three cassette tapes in a chest in the living room. One contains folk songs and train wreck ballads sung by husband and sent to me as many years ago as a cassette tape implies, while we were courting from opposite sides of the country. He knows I am a sucker for hearing him sing (I have always, alas, been easily seduced by boys who sing, although not lately and not since him). The other side has a selection of love poems.

The second tape is poetry from me, to him. No songs, as I cannot carry a tune in a bucket, possibly why I am so susceptible to those who can.

The third is an interview with my mother, conducted by me before her death, sometime in the late nineties, about family history. It isnít just the history and family tales I value that tape for, although the description of how to kite a check, an emergency banking technique impossible now due to instant communication, was worth the time in itself. Itís the voices. There is a carnal, earthly sense to the human voice that you canít get from a sheet of paper. When it tells you a story or sings you a song, it is there, in your head, not outside you on the page.

My ex-husbandís widow kept his voice on their answering machine for years after he died. It may be there still and I know, oh I know, why she did it. They come back to us in those old recordings. If you close your eyes, they are here, next to you. The human voice says things that print cannot. We keep them, transferring them to each new technology lest they slip away. Each time they have something new to say to us. I have mined my motherís stories for endless fictional details but the stories are always better when she tells them.

Sit your relatives down while you have them, and find out the family secrets. The older they get and the older you get, the more likely they are to spill the beans. Give them a glass of wine and sit at their feet. Turn the microphone on.






























Chocolate novios for Day of the Dead


Noon Whistle at the Lizard Works

Back yard bottle tree



The last hurrah


Delia Sherman and Ruth Sanderson, summer Children's Lit faculty

Children's Lit faculty Brian Attebery and Ellen Kushner at the end-of-term party