Breaking Out of Your Shell

Stepping out of your comfort zone can be quite uncomfortable and down right scary at times. However, taking a chance can often leave one with a sense of achievement and accomplishment.

Writing short stories was something I was never comfortable with. I always seemed to have difficulty writing them.  My plots were too complicated. The word limitations I was given never seemed enough space to bring my characters to life. I envied those who could not only capture a reader’s interest right from the very first sentence but also write a great story in twelve hundred words or less.  It was something I thought I would never be able to do.

When I was asked to write a short story for the Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation’s Subsoil Newsletter I was nervous and leery at first. Not only was my story going to be published,  but many professionals from various educational backgrounds were going to be reading it. The thought paralyzed me.  It was a tremendous opportunity for an unpublished author–one I couldn’t refuse. So despite my apprehension and misgivings I agreed.

I took a few deep breaths and said to myself, “I can do this.” I then rolled up my sleeves and decided to get right to it—there was only one problem. What do I write about?  Do I center the story on local archaeology and the artifacts found, or a historical event that happened in the past? What time period do I choose?  Where would it take place?  The more questions I asked myself the more blocked I became. I didn’t know if I could do this.

I decided to start by scanning the Cataraqui Archaeological Research Foundation library. They have a treasure trove of books that cover topics that span from local history, archaeology, artifact identification etc… I flipped through book after book, but nothing seemed to jump out at me. Until finally the title “Death at Snake Hill” caught my eye.

It’s a book written by Paul Litt, Ronald F. Williamson & Joseph Whitethorne (Dundurn Press, 1993). The book documents the 1987 excavation of a United States military burial graveyard from the war of 1812 at Fort Erie.

The book fascinated me. The information that could be obtained from studying two hundred year old bones was truly extraordinary. Each discovery that was unearthed brought to light the individualism of each skeleton and the pain and suffering each had endured. The injuries that the soldiers had sustained were horrific—a true reminder of the ugliness of war.

The documentation of a skeleton buried in “burial number 5” intrigued me. It wasn’t just the description of the soldier’s violent and traumatic death that drew me, but the additional forearm and hand that was buried beside him. The arm was believed to have belonged to a very young teenager. I wondered; where did that arm come from?

I remembered from previous research that in the 18th and 19th centuries many young boys signed up to be drummer boys.…like magic a story formulated in my mind and, “The Drummer’s Consequence Part I of the ‘Snake Hill Chronicles’ ” suddenly came to life.

It was amazing how easily the story came to me. Even more extraordinary, I wrote it using only eleven hundred words. The extended version posted on CARF’s website is a little longer–it’s approximately fifteen hundred words. It was exhilarating.

What’s the moral to all of this….never under estimate what one can achieve. As long as you believe in yourself anything is possible. If you would like to read The Drummer’s Consequence by Catherine Raby (which I also write as) please go to to check it out.