Story Boarding

Storyboarding isn’t torture,

Story Boarding: It’s not torture.


I saw Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, at a conference just after her landmark book exploded into the reading world. As she spoke about her own writing process, she recounted the story of watching a movie where several narratives had been interwoven throughout the action and having an epiphany: she should story board her narrative nonfiction memoir as a screenplay writer might do.

Fellow writer, Janet Sunderland, who I contacted to help me think about my own plot, showed me how to combine Freytag’s Triangle (you remember that chart from your Intro. to Lit. Class!) and a storyboard visual aid to help me plot my story.

I’ve included a photo of the storyboard I have hanging in the hallway outside my home office. On three large pieces of paper, I drew Freytag. On Post-It Notes, I wrote all the plot points I wanted to include in my narrative. As always, I paid special attention to conflict and climax. Then I stuck them all to the wall. Now I can add scenes that haven’t been written yet, and I can reorganize scenes (and then put them back where they started) with a bit of stick-um.

Skloot also talked about transferring her original storyboard to color coded cards; each color represented one of the narrative threads. So even if you aren’t working on a book length manuscript, visual aids like outlines, story boards and the old fashioned 3×5 cards can help. Of course, there’s always Scrivner.

Ricky From the Dotte


“We don’t want to separate the families so we will send them all back together.” Ricky mimicked the new president.

“What about you?” I asked from my perch a few bar stools away. I first met Ricky when I bartended at Dotlander’s in the old neighborhood, at the corner of 17th street and Central Avenue.

Ricky, a second-generation Mexican immigrant, is an extrovert, the guy who never met a stranger. He’s popular, gregarious, knows everyone who comes in the bar by name, and they all share unique handshakes. People trust him.

After high school, his cousin introduced him to drug sales. “You could say it was a family run business,” he said. “People keep bugging me to take them to it, so I eventually started making my own moves. I’m providing.” Ricky talked about it using the vocabulary of the business world. He compared it to running a distillery.

A cousin first introduced him to drug sales. “You could say,” he says, “it was a family run business. People keep bugging me to take them to it, so I eventually started making my own moves. I’m providing.” Ricky talked about it using the vocabulary of the business world. He compared it to running a distillery.

“It was a conspiracy,” he said when I asked him about getting caught. There was no actual proof. Instead the federales depend on a web of snitching. In a conspiracy, it takes two people to commit a crime. “Hey, Anita, let’s go rob a bank,” he says by way of example. Now there are two of us. “In my case, I told younger people how to set up their own businesses. Boom.” He shrugged. He was arrested and thrown in jail.

According to Jamal Hagler for the Center for American Progress, “one in six Latino males” born in 2001 will be imprisoned. “By contrast, only 1 out of every 17 white males is expected to go to prison” (28 May 2015).

Six o’clock one morning, someone pounded on his front door. Fearing a robbery, he grabbed his Mossburg 9MM shot gun. Two more pounds and the door flew open and the DEA poured into his living room.

He wasn’t a user, so there wasn’t a lot of paraphernalia around. Still, he says, “you begin to feel powerful and untouchable.” He was surprised even though he expected it. From his warm bed, he went directly to the county prison. But it could have been worse. Had it been a robbery, both he and his wife could have been killed.

The Old Neighborhood

Ironically, the land would have been held in common as the tradition of the tribe prescribed, but the dissolution of the culture previewed the division of the land among the families. With haste, they began building houses on the bluffs above the river. The town grew to include a company store, a blacksmith shop and a school and a brew house.The Methodists built a log church that was considered so far from the settlement that it was referred to as “The Church in the Wilderness.”

The Wyandot also operated a ferry between the settlement and Westport. Tribe members crossed for free while their white and black neighbors paid cash money. In short, the Wyandots prospered.

It wasn’t long until the tribe was divided by the question of slavery. John and Lucy Armstrong, among the first to actually inhabit a home here, represented a large population of the anti-slavery faction. They soon found themselves barred from the Methodist Church South. Several years later the new Methodists Church North built a church on land at 38th and Parallel that Lucy had donated from her tribal parcel.

Today at 38th and Parallel, the empty Monastery of St. Augusting sits atop the hill. In the gully a small white house remains from what had been my Grandfather Hughes’ dairy farm that the girls refer to as “the little house.” The girls are my four maternal Aunts and my mother, Bitsy. Some four miles from where their house sat in a neighborhood at 18th and Richmond, my grandfather would drive his car to the farm and ride the horses back to be tethered to the back porch for the children to ride.

Wyandot–the Saga Continues

A tribe native to Quebec, the Wyandot had earned land on the Upper Sandusky in Ohio when they stayed out of the War of 1812 between the British and the French. Originally more than 40,000 souls, through smallpox and the constant and prolonged warring of their own cantankerous culture, only about 700 people were left to settle the new land. By the time they arrived in Indian Territory (Kansas), Christianity in the form of a free black preacher named John Stewart had succeeded in diluting the culture so that it was no longer so different than the lives of the whites whom they lived amongst. In fact, rather than the nomadic life of the Plains Indian whose life was regulated by the movement of the buffalo, most Wyandots were farmers and merchants who often intermarried with the white settlers.

The tribe resisted removal for a valiant twelve years. But worn out by the constantly encroaching Europeans, they finally signed a treaty for $23,000 as well as $18,000 per annum and 142,000 acres of land in Indian Territory along the Neosho River in southeast Kansas. However, considering this land too far from civilization, the Wyandots arranged to buy land from the Shawnees with whom they had once been allied.

Once the Wyandots arrived, however, the Shawnee refused to sell the land that had been promised. Though some richer members of the tribe rented houses near Westport, Missouri most of the people camped in the marshy river bottoms where hundreds became sick and at least sixty died. Desperate, the Wyandots appealed to their old friends, the Delawares. They owned the triangular patch of land between the rivers and agreed to sell thirty-six sections, including Kaw Point, and to award three more free sections to show respect for their brothers.

The people named the town, Quindaro, after a Wyandot Indian woman, Nancy Brown Guthrie, whose Indian name was Quindaro and who had helped secure the land. Translated, the word means “a bundle of sticks,” but interpreted in the poetic eye of the Indian language, it means “strength in unity.”img_0534

Photo from The Afro-American Community in Kansas City, Kansas: A History, Community Development Program, 1980.

Introduction to Wyandotte County

It’s spring and the ranchers are doing Mother Nature’s work, burning the prairie. A line of fire rolls over the Flint Hills, reducing the grasses to char. Half the slope is burnt black but the other half mixes the yellows and oranges and browns of the waving landscape. It undulates into the horizon like so many voluptuous women lying on their sides, the contours of their bodies repeating the texture as far as I can see.  The pinks and purples of the sunset soothe like the crackling of a warm fire. The hills tease my eye into thinking I can actually see the curve of the earth.

So many Americans see Kansas on a weather map and think flat. But on the eastern end it isn’t so. Between the Kansas and the Missouri Rivers, the land tumbles from high bluffs to rolling hills and finally to the flat and expansive Plains. Once Lewis and Clark arrived, white explorers and hunters and trappers moved through the area regularly. Less than thirty years later, in 1830, Indian Tribes still living east of the Mississippi began to displace the Plains Indians as they moved into the area courtesy of Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act.

Present day Wyandotte County, the land my grandfather’s house sits on, the house I was born in and the house I live in now, ended up in the hands of the Delawares.

The white folk stayed, including Moses Grinter who operated a ferry back and forth across the Kansas River on the military road between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Scott. The house he built for his Delaware wife, Anna and their children, still hails the river and the valley beyond. Four small rectangular windows frame a square balcony on the second floor and a covered porch on the first. He surely stood there of an evening watching the ferry churning back and forth, moving men and horses and their supplies The rooms in his home are spacious with fireplaces in all four quadrants, warming the bedrooms and the parlors. The bed and the armoire, though large and ornate, take up barely one end of the room. An ancient crib rocks close to the fire.

The Missouri winds to the north and to the west of Grinter Place. Look straight up and to the left to the old place where the Wyandots (French trappers called them Hurons) hoped to build a city they called Quindaro.

More Coming Soon..img_0533Photo from The Afro-American Community In Kansas City, Kansas: A History, Community Development Program, 1980.

Inspiration Two?

Sometimes a thesaurus works. Sometimes free writing helps. Sometimes reading someone else’s work helps a writer find inspiration. Glenn North, Kansas City Poet supplied that inspiration yesterday at a reading on the campus of a community college that must remain unnamed.

In a 30 minute reading, he spoke about political poetry, the haiku form and ekphrastic poetry. His poem, “Lynch Family Blues” hangs next to the painting, Lynched Family in The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Arts. Go by and check it out.

He also taught me the real meaning of the “spoken word.” When he began to recite “The Prodigal Poem,” his tone was so conversational, I didn’t recognize it as a poem at first. But it is–a powerful  poem.

Check out his book, City of Song.


My students–freshmen and sophomores at an urban community college–routinely tell me they have no inspiration; they have writer’s block. I tell them that there is no such thing as writer’s block–“inspire” means “to inhale” or to breathe. Writing is just work, I say.

But that isn’t completely true. I’m messing with them because the point of the class is “critical thinking” and I want them to apply that concept to the ideas I throw out in class too.

In fact, my copy of The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus (Yes–old school) tells me “inspiration” means “a divine or seemingly divine imparting of knowledge or power.” I would bet a great majority of my students believe in a Higher Power, but, frankly, we just ain’t got time to be infused with the Holy Spirit–the paper is due next week!

So how do we get to work? One way to grease the creative wheel is to open a thesaurus or a dictionary and browse.

Look: Synonyms of of “inspiration” include “afflation, afflatus and inflatus.” Those words sound like “flatulance” which reminds me of an entire comical series of events focused around bathroom humor (or scatology or “obscene humor that is concerned with excrement and excretion) that I need to work on. Voila: Inspiration.