Friday, November 29, 2013

How odd—wildlife attached to the underbelly of my car.

When I was parked along the street at my niece's house day before yesterday, someone asked me, "What are you dragging?" I didn't know what she was talking about until she pointed out what looked like a big piece of meat hanging from the back axle. And, as it turns out, that is what it was.

When I was driving through Wyoming in the wee hours Wednesday morning, I saw huge blood stains on the highway extending for about a quarter of a mile. What I didn't see until too late to swerve and miss it was the carcass of an elk. I'm pretty sure it was an elk judging from the color and size, though I couldn't see the head, just a brown heap. I turned enough that when I ran over it, it went under the right side of my minivan, just inside the tires. It whumped pretty loud as it hit the undercarriage but not enough to do any damage. I didn't even stop to look, as it was very dark and I didn't have a flashlight. The car drove just fine and I don't see any damage.

I drove my car to my sister's house, and using her garden hoe, lifted the substance from where it was draped over the back axle. When stretched out it was about a yard long and fanned out a foot or so wide—a piece of roughed up muscle and tendons and/or ligaments. My sister noticed splatters of blood on the hood of my car. "You sure you aren't the one who hit the elk first?" she teased. I wasn't, thank goodness. But it was a fresh kill, and probably by a big truck. If a car had hit it, the car would surely have been disabled and the occupants most likely injured, if not killed. Emergency vehicles would have been called, and the elk would have been removed from the middle of the lane.

That was the most interesting part of my mostly uneventful drive to Colorado, and one I'd pretty much forgotten until the evidence was found dragging under my car.

It reminded me, however, of a discovery the day before when I had my oil changed in Bozeman. The young man who did the work showed me what he'd found hanging near the oil pan. He thought at first that it was a rope or gasket of some kind. When he pulled on it, it broke off. He was amazed almost to the point of disbelief at what he saw, so he managed to get hold of the piece still hanging and fish out another length of it. "I tried to find the head, but couldn't," he told me.

It was a snake. A rattlesnake, I'm sure from the pattern on the skin. It was about as big around as my little finger and very dried out.

I cannot explain how it got there, or why it died there. I have found small rattlers near where I park my car a couple of times before. I usually just scoop them up with a shovel and carry them to a neighboring pasture a long way from the house and drop them into the soft grass so they can go about their lives.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Melancholy Day

"There is melancholy in the wind and sorrow in the grass" (Charles Kuralt). 

Do you ever have days like that? Maybe everyone does at times, usually because of living in a time other than the present. Not always of course, but regretting the past or worrying about the future causes unnecessary pain. 

For me, this evening, the problem seems to be a mixture of past, future, and present. I admit it, I'm a bit homesick. But there you go—that problem comes from not living fully in the here and now, and the anecdote is simple: be grateful for the present and make the most of it. Understanding that a large part of this afternoon's sorrow relates to some phone conversations in which the news wasn't grand, I also realize that I'm feeling "grandchild time" withdrawal pain. I agree with the man who said: I have often thought what a melancholy world this would be without children, and what an inhuman world without the aged.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Having thus identified the source, I feel better already, so I'll heed Paul McCartney's words: But with writers, there's nothing wrong with melancholy. It's an important color in writing, and I'll write some more of my book.

In the first chapter, Miranda has feelings she cannot describe—melancholy feelings that she can't pin down. Here it is in the first two paragraphs of my first draft of book 7 of the Miranda and Starlight series.

Miranda Stevens, age 14 going on 30, as her daddy liked to say, had everything her heart could possibly desire. So why wasn’t she the happiest girl on earth?
“I should be so excited about this weekend I’d be bouncing out of my boots,” she said to the freckle-faced, green-eyed girl in the mirror. “So what is this feeling of —I don’t know, dread? Fear? Like the world’s coming to an end and I’m the only one who knows it? Only I don’t know. It’s just this feeling like something’s wrong.” 

And then later on, even though she thought she'd found the cause of her gloom (news of her best friend's misfortune) the feeling returns. Here is the last paragraph of chapter one.

It wasn’t long before they were on the road, Chris driving the crew-cab truck, Higgins riding shotgun, and Miranda hunched forward in the back seat. She frowned as she stared at the road ahead. The feeling she’d had the morning before was back, full force—an overwhelming sense of doom. Now where the heck was that coming from? 

I'm going, now, to write more of Miranda's adventure, figure out what's wrong—and how bad things will get before they get better.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Middle Child

Who knew there was such a thing as Middle Child's Day. There is, and it's today (well, actually yesterday, August 12. I just heard about it today.) You can read about it here. I thought it funny because I'm a middle child. "The middlest," I like to say.) Only in my case, at least in retrospect, it doesn't seem like a bad thing. I wrote a poem to my siblings at Christmas time a year or so ago. I know it's not December, but I'm sharing this poem in honor of Middle Child's Day.

Here is the poem.

From the Middlest Child

Smack in the middle of a family of six
I’ve a vantage point like no other
Seven years younger that my big sis
And four than my older brother.

When I was just four, the twins came along
Two sweet baby girls in one day.
By seven my love for another was strong
For baby brother had just come to stay.

That was a family for our mom and dad
Six children in all was enough
Joan was fourteen and mature for her age
Duane was eleven and tough.

I, in the middle, was seven years old
Shirley and Sharon almost three
When Larry, blue-eyed with fine hair of gold
Came to fill out our family tree.

My revered sister Joan has been without end
Worshiped and loved with my all.
Duane was my playmate, leader, and friend
I answered to his beck and call.

Twin sisters, the babies we cuddled and fed
Became workmates and playmates for me.
Larry, so sweet in his little bed
I cherished, and he adored me.

Now that were grown and some would say, “old”
(and I guess that’s not far from the truth)
The love we’ve all shared and the trials untold
Bind us in memories of youth.

And so to my family in this Christmas season
I must tell you, with all of my heart
I love you so dearly and for each have a reason
That I wish I we could never more part.

Merry Christmas, Happy New year, as I end this rhyme,
To you, your children, and your grands.
And so may this season of life and of time,
Bring joy as in spirit we join hands.

Monday, May 20, 2013

THE HISTORY OF A BOOK by guest blogger, Joan Bochmann (Written in February 2012)

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. This is probably the best known first line of any novel ever written. I have pretty much forgotten the story Dickens was beginning with this line, but the words seem to describe some of the roller coaster rides I have been on since mid-December. January 2012 brought a virtual torrent of good news, bad news, euphoria and dread. I don’t think I’ve had such a tangle of emotions in many years. Unfortunately, the first part of February hasn’t relieved the chaos all that much. 
January, 2012 was the 6th anniversary of the publication of a book that was born in the late 70s. I completed my first novel in, I believe, 1975. After a few rejections, I was fortunate enough to hook up with an editor from Penguin and to work with her in polishing my precious novel for publication. (Best of times.) Unfortunately when my editor, who was by then a good friend, was hit by a car while crossing a Chicago street, Penguin returned the manuscript with the news of my friend’s death and their decision not to do any of her “projects.” (Worst of times.) I put the manuscript on a shelf and got on with life. I longed to write again, and found a few opportunities to do short stories and essays for small publications. In 2001, my sister formed a small publishing company and urged me to take another look at the book which would become Absaroka. I pulled the  typewritten (yes, I did say typewritten) manuscript from its resting place and began to read. I fell in love with the story again. I did a little more research and some editing, and my sister’s company (Raven Publishing) agreed to publish the book. (Best of times.) My efforts to sell the book were hampered by the diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer. (Worst of times.) God saw fit to heal my illness. (Best of times)
I have spent the last four years in praise and gratitude for God’s miraculous healing. In February of this year, (2012) a PET scan revealed the cancer has returned and metastasized to other parts of my body as well! Really? (Worst of Times.) While having it come back is disappointing, it doesn’t change the joy of those 4 years God gave me.  Contrary to my lifelong dream of a beach house on Malibu, a cabin in the mountains and fans clamoring for autographs, I did not get rich. Still, having a book published, going on a couple of book tours, giving book talks, getting some good reviews and winning two awards filled me with joy and gratitude (Best of Times).
Raven made the book available for digital download on Amazon Kindle and on Smashwords, but I yearned to have the story told well on a high quality audio book.
I wanted this very much so that the people who love stories, but don’t like reading books. can hear it in a very well-done audio version. I remember when I used to commute how much I loved listening to books on tape. When my Mom lost her sight, I thought of all the visually impaired people who would get so much pleasure out of listening to a good book. 
It is odd that the new cancer diagnosis came at a time when I was in the process of working with a producer/engineer and a talented reader to get Absaroka made into an audio book. I think God is with me on this. A dear friend I had not seen for several years called me out of the blue. He had just read Absaroka and wanted to know if I was interested in making it an audio book. We began thinking about all the people who could benefit from a book they could listen to and we became more and more excited. Brett had the ability, resources, and talent to engineer and promote an audio book. Sky Dance Mountain had, in fact, already done a couple of small audio books.     
I was right in the middle of trying to do a marketing plan, promotion and other such issues when my health really took a nosedive. Still we all moved on. I realized that the book needed a good, strong male voice to do the voice over. Another little nod of approval from God became evident when Scott Tanner agreed to do the recording. Scott is not only extremely talented, but had begun investigating the possibility of getting into this business as a second career. 
Several recording sessions ensued. We missed a self-imposed deadline because we realized this book had the potential of being really moving and entertaining piece. We decided quality was more important than punctuality in this case. Now it’s here—the official release date of February 18th (2012).  Ah, the joy. A book that was published six years ago has another life, another audience. I know the story inside out; Scott had read it when it came out, but just recently re-read it, and Brett had read it just a few weeks before. Despite this intimate knowledge of the story, while listening to it, all three of us were moved to tears at some touching scenes, and held our breath in suspense as it looked like the protagonist might not win.
{Joan Bochmann is still fighting the battle against cancer and the accompanying disorder, cachecia disease, otherwise known as wasting disease. She has outlived doctors' prediction, but the disease hasn't gone away. God willing, she hopes to live to finish one or both of  two other novels she has begun. She remains grateful for each day of life in which to enjoy her son, daughter, grandsons, and great grandchildren. She volunteers one day a week in the business office at her church, is planting flowers and taking care of her house and yard. She has good days (the best of times) and bad days when the pain and nausea immobilize her (the worst of times). Her life and her book have been and continue to be a blessing to many. Joan may be contacted and/or her books purchased via Raven Publishing—,}

Saturday, March 9, 2013

It's okay—no, it's imperative—to write poorly.

When writing anything, fiction, essay, memoir, or reports, if you have to write perfectly, making no mistakes, if your "boss" which is usually a voice inside your head, insists that your work be perfect, you'll likely give up before you start. That's why the Writing True Fiction workshop begins with "Freedom to Write Badly". 

Freedom to Write Badly

In order to write, we must first overcome the fear of writing poorly. As Julia Cameron says in The Right to Write, “Perfectionism is a primary writer’s block.” 

Have you ever told yourself, “I’m not a writer,” when your attempts fell short of your vision or failed to measure up to the prose of your favorite authors? That, according to Anne Lamott in her book, Bird by Bird, is because you never see the masters’ first drafts. She declares that all good writers rewrite; that their first drafts are far from what you finally see in print. William Zinnser, in On Writing Well, gives an example of a fourth of fifth draft of a page from his book. He shows his proofreading marks, which, as he says, make it look like a first draft. In his book On Writing, Stephen King gives an example of his raw writing, the kind he feels free to do with the “door shut. It’s the story undressed, standing up in nothing but its socks and under shorts.” After a lot of editing and rearranging, he has a revised copy that is, “the story putting on its clothes, combing its hair, maybe adding a small dash of cologne.” Then he’s “ready to open the door and face the world.”

In order for you to be free to write badly, free from worry about sentence structure, plotting, or mechanics, begin free-form writing exercises with no concern for rules. Free your muse by removing expectations for doing it “right.” It’s important that you first write from your heart and imagination without analyzing and correcting as you go. Do not judge; just write.

Many of the exercises in this workshop are based on “free-form” writing. That's where you write whatever enters your mind, with no thought of structure, grammar, spelling or coherence. This form of writing is meant to awaken your muse and connect you with memories and ideas that are deep within your psyche. It is not meant to be a grammatically correct, astute, or well ordered. Trust the process. It works. Even if you feel you don’t have anything to write, by keeping the pen moving, you will invite the muse as you quiet the critic.

 “Go ahead and make big scrawls and mistakes. Use up lots of paper. Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of ideals, while messes are the artist’s true friends. What people forgot to mention when we were children…was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here—and by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”  — Lamott

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Writing True Fiction.

As I gear up to present workshops again on how to write "true fiction" I thought it would be a good thing to define what I mean by that. What is true fiction, anyway? I can explain by sharing the Introduction to my "Writing True Fiction Workshop." So, here is what it means to me, including quotes from great authors who inspired me.

 “True Fiction,” is more than just a fun oxymoron. While it is completely made up from the imagination, thereby “fiction,” it tells the truth about life in a way that makes it believable. Call it what you want: realistic fiction, true-life fiction, literary fiction, or serious fiction, it has to be true enough that a reader can personally relate to it, be able to say, “I know how that feels, or what that looks like. I’ve been there.” It is character driven rather than plot oriented and written with a passionate commitment to a moral purpose. As Barbara Kinsolver said, "A novel can educate…, but first, a novel has to entertain.” If it doesn’t engage the reader, it fails.

   “It is fiction as truth that I am concerned with here, fiction that reflects
        experience rather than escaping it; stimulates rather than deadens.” 
                 —Wallace Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction

“True art seeks to improve life, rather than debase it.”
— John Gardner, On Moral Fiction

      “Pursuit of the truth, not facts, is the business of fiction.” — Oakley Hall

Guidelines for “True Fiction” as taught in my workshop are:

1) It is a lens on life. “If it deals in make-believe—as it must—it creates a make-believe world in order to comment on the real one.” — Stegner

2) It is author-centered. “You need to put yourself at the center; you and what you believe to be true and right.” — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

 3) It is moral as John Gardner defines moral fiction: “a force bringing people together, breaking down barriers of prejudice and ignorance, and holding up ideals worth pursuing.” Truth in fiction includes trustworthiness—a responsibility to be true to both the reader and yourself as an author.  

4) It is consistent.
It must stay true to the characters it creates. Readers feel betrayed when a character they have grown to understand and care about says or does something uncharacteristic without any explanation for the reversal. 

*   It must stay true to the premises it sets up. Even if you are writing science fiction or fantasy, you must stay within the laws of physics or nature that govern the venue or character you create. 

*   It must be technically accurate. Know the area and customs of the land and the people you are writing about. If a certain kind of machine or rigging enters your story, be sure you know exactly how it’s made and what it does. Readers are quick to catch a technical mistake.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The times, they are a changing.

On the one-hundredth anniversary of my dad’s birth, I thought of the time—the world—he lived in. It is so different from the one my grandchildren and their families are growing up in as to seem like an alien planet out of a science fiction novel.

When Dad was born in rural Nebraska in 1913, his parents had no car, but traveled by foot, horseback, or horse-drawn vehicles. They worked the land with horse-powered implements. Dad’s mother washed their clothes on a washboard in a tub, probably same tub her family all bathed in. She carried water from a pump outside and heated it on a wood- or coal-burning stove. No refrigerator, no television, no electric lights in their house. She ironed their clothing, tablecloths, handkerchiefs, and pillowcases with a flat iron, heated on the stove.

Dad, the eldest of five children was expected to help provide for the family. He did chores and fieldwork as soon as he could hold a rake or a shovel or the reins of a team of draft horses. He quit school after eight grades to work full time in the fields and sometimes hired out to other farmers, giving all his earnings to his parents. He loved to work with horses from the time he was very young. I was sad to learn that he had to leave behind his first horse, one he’d trained to do tricks and follow him like a puppy, when his family moved from Nebraska to Colorado. (But, I digress)

Dad’s first car was a Model T Ford, which he bought in Denver when he was in his early twenties and married. He and Mom were in their late twenties and early to mid thirties by the time they acquired an electric range to replace the coal-burning cook stove, a refrigerator to replace the old icebox, and a telephone. I well remember that first phone. I could pick it up, wait for the operator, say "61, please," and Grandma would pick up and say hello. I thought it amazing that I could hear her quite clearly even though she was all the way in town six or seven miles away.

My four-year-old great granddaughter, by contrast, thinks nothing of, not only talking to, but seeing her grandmother in Finland on Skype video calls. And yes, she knows how far away Finland is. She visited there with her mother last spring—a world traveler at age 3.

When my parents got their first television when they were middle-aged  (not that other people didn’t have them earlier) we were all duly impressed with the black and white moving pictures coming into our living room. Now my children and grandchildren fight to keep up with the next improvement in viewing—with ever wider, flatter, clearer, more colorful screens. How fast home movie viewing has gone from VHS to DVD to Blue Ray to—what is the latest improvement? I can’t keep up. Yet, the little ones in my family are completely comfortable with electronic tablets, computers, smart phones, and interactive electronic games, and motion sensing devices like the Wii and Kinect which they’ve operated with ease since toddlerhood, and which are being outdated as we speak.

Books, treasured because of their scarcity in my childhood, can now be acquired and read with the press of a button or two from a library of billions of titles on a device you can easily carry in your purse or pocket. 

Yes, it’s a different world with each generation. Which is best? And who’s to say? I’m glad for the chance to live in a generation with a view of both worlds and the ever-changing world around us. If I were able to choose between living in the one my father grew up in, with its hard work—and its closeness to a virtually unpolluted nature, or the one that lies ahead for my grandchildren’s families, with its smart cars that drive themselves, electronic technology I can’t even begin to imagine—and its deteriorating climate, polluted oceans, rivers, air, and land—I’d choose the one closer to nature—the one with a more intimate connection with the flora and fauna that we are fast destroying.

I mourn the loss of so much that is being destroyed by the carelessness and greed of my generation.   I’m very sorry, children.