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Melville Davisson Post

Writing Tip — Favorite Author — Lessons from Melville Davisson Post

new-river-gorge-1286064What I learned from reading the Uncle Abner mysteries by Melville Davisson Post is how the setting establishes the mood of the story. Mr. Post’s description of the weather and Appalachian mountains in West Virginia pulls me into the story so completely that I experience the setting with the narrator Martin, Abner’s nephew.

From “The House of the Dead Man“: “It was a morning out of Paradise. crisp and bright. The spiderwebs glistened on the fence rails. The timber cracked. The ragweed was dusted with silver. The sun was moving upward from behind the world. I could have whistled out of sheer joy in being alive on this October morning and the horse under me danced.”

From “A Twilight Adventure”: “There is a long twilight in these hills. The sun departs, but the day remains. A sort of weird, dim, elfin day, that dawns at sunset and envelops and possesses the world.”

From “The Riddle“: “That deadly stillness of the day remained, but the snow was now beginning to appear. It fell like no other snow that I have ever seen — not a gust of speck or a shower of tiny flakes, but now and then, out of the dirty putty-colored sky, a flake as big as a man’s thumb-nail winged dow and lighted on the earth like some living creature.”

In each case, describing the weather sets the mood. Martin’s exaltation of the October morning reveals his mood, just as his description of the snow shows his unease. I really like the words chosen to describe the snow because in current times, when people see snow, they get excited or grumble, but they usually don’t dread it.

post_abner_des_cov_cmykTwilight is the perfect setting for “A Twilight Adventure” and not just because of the title. Abner and Martin come across a lynching party. The men responsible think they have the culprits, but just like the twilight can make objects appear different from what they look like in full daylight, Abner shows that the evidence the men believe is conclusive actually has several interpretations.

In my novel, when I wanted a peaceful scene, I chose a summer evening bathed in golden light. Mellow light for a mellow mood. For a tense scene, I can write about the stillness before a storm.

Or I can use the weather to contradict the action or the characters. In “The House of the Dead Man”, the glorious fall morning is the back drop for a confrontation in a cemetery. I can write about a storm, but instead of describing it in terms of fear, I write about kids playing in it.

Is weather important to your style of writing? How do you use it to set the mood of your story?

 

 

Writing Tip — Favorite Authors — Melville Davisson Post

post_abner_des_cov_cmykI only discovered the mysteries written by Melville Davisson Post in recent years. Mr. Post (1869 -1930) was born in Harrison County, West Virginia and was a trained lawyer practicing in Wheeling, West Virginia, the nearest city to my hometown. He eventually gave up the law and became a prolific writer.

The only stories I have read by Mr. Post are the twenty-two mystery short stories featuring his detective Uncle Abner. Set in the pre-Civil War days when West Virginia was still western Virginia, Uncle Abner is a landowner who raises cattle and has a thorough understanding of the law. We never learn his last name. He has a brother Rufus, whose son Martin, about ten-years-old, narrates the stories.

Uncle Abner is a fierce Christian, strong and righteous like the prophet Elijah. He uses this strength and righteousness and his ability to solve mysteries to help others, usually people who are the victims of loopholes in the law. Abner believes in abiding by the law but knows the law should serve justice, and if it doesn’t, he will.

I have no legal background, but I assume the loopholes and points of law, so pivotal to the plots, were once actual laws, and these add a layer of reality to the stories.

detective-1039883_1280Of the twenty-two stories, the first ones are the best because Mr. Post tends to repeat some of his plots in the later ones. My favorites are “The Angel of the Lord”, “The Wrong Hand”, “The Tenth Commandment”, and “The Mystery of Chance”. “The Doomdorf Mystery” is the most well-known story in the series and contains one of the most original solutions to a locked-room murder you will ever read. “A Twilight Adventure” has an interesting plot. ¬†Abner and Martin happen upon a lynching party. Abner demonstrates how the evidence the party has uncovered points to more than one person, and they may be set to kill the wrong man.

I would love to rewrite “Naboth’s Vineyard” in a contemporary setting. Abner is convinced the judge presiding over a murder trial is actually the murderer. When he demands the judge to step down, he calls on the law to back him. But the law is not words written on a page or the local authorities. Abner calls on the true law, the people who vote for it.

Next time, I will write about how Melville Davisson’s Post’s stories have inspired my writing.

Warning!

If you are interested in trying the Uncle Abner stories, they are hard to find in a hard copy. I don’t know about their availability in digital form. The book I have, Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries, was reprinted recently by West Virginia University press and is so riddled with typos I would not recommend a first-time reader of the stories using it. I like the stories so well that I put up with the errors.

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