Saturday, December 3, 2016

Fired-Up Friday


My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

            From as early as I can remember, I bought into the cowboy myth. Being a child of the 50s, it wasn’t hard to do. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry TV movies filled Saturday afternoons, and at night there was Marshall Dillon in Gunsmoke. My dad and I were avid watchers. Westerns were a staple of television fare at that time, and later Bonanza, the Virginian, Wagon Train, and High Chaparral became favorites, although my personal heroes were the guys on Laramie. One the good, stable, level-headed cowboy, the other a rough and tumble rebel. You had your choice. I had crushes on at least one cowboy in each series.

            Along with the cowboy heroes, I also fell in love with horses. I think it may have started when, on my first birthday, my dad gifted me with a wooden horse he had made. Rather than being a rocking horse, it sat on casters and so was mobile. All I could do was sit on it then, but later, according to my mom, I became a holy terror as I rode “Stormy” around the house, tearing up the linoleum and crashing into the corners of cupboards. I’m not sure how Stormy got his name, but he and I were attached at the wooden saddle, and I rode him hell bent for leather while wearing my cowboy hat, boots, and black jacket with white fringe.  At some point I outgrew Stormy so an extra board was placed under his body so he could grow with me. There was actually a pattern cut out for another larger “horse” that my dad intended to make, but he never got the opportunity. He passed away when I was five.
 
                            
                Stormy and me on my first birthday.







            Westerns fell out of favor in Hollywood, and cowboy heroes were few and far between for a while. Then came Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Redford as Sundance was an outlaw but damn, he sure fit the cowboy myth to a T. As a more modern day cowboy, Redford played the Electric Horseman, and though he was a little older, he was still a “be-still-my-heart” character. Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot were also great cowboys in the made for TV movies based on Louis L’Amour novels. Then along came romance novels, and they helped fill the bill, and still do, with plenty of cowboy heroes. Needless to say, they’re among my favorite romances to read.

            Cowboys and horses. There is a lot of myth and romance wrapped up in each. I’m really not sure what the appeal has been for me, but it’s no surprise that it often works its way into the stories I write. It certainly did when I created the hero Chance McCord. This is an excerpt from a current work in progress, the second in the McCord Family Saga, that I’m calling Tetons by Morning:

            A week later a storm hit and besides blanketing the Tetons and the Buffalo Valley in another layer of white drove a pack of wolves that normally stayed to the north in Yellowstone to start hunting closer to the ranches. Bison, too, moved into the cattle pastures, and Chance was forced to go out every day and chase them away. Today, accompanied by the giant herd dog Mariah, he rode along the perimeter of the winter pastures, checking for any signs the wolves stalked nearby. The wind blew like needles against his face, and he hunched his shoulders to ward off the rawness that sank into his bones. After a day spent in the saddle his body always reacted to the cold and refused to move the way he wished it still could. Blame it on old rodeo injuries. Blame it on just plain getting older. Whatever, he simply wasn’t the man he used to be, the one who rode the meanest broncs this side of the Divide and lived to tell about it. Chance McCord, Top Bronc Rider at the Cody Night Rodeo. Chance McCord, Best All Around Cowboy at the Cheyenne Days Rodeo three years in a row. He had the belt buckles to prove it, and the memories of more nights spent sleeping in the back of his truck than he cared to count. In a way, it kind of ate at his soul, because now Chance McCord rode along the edge of the Bridger-Teton forest and looked for tracks in the snow.
 


Friday, November 18, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Maybe We All Need a Bus Ride


     It has been said that Thanksgiving is the most traveled holiday in the U.S. More people go home for Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year. While there is often a lot of joy associated with family gatherings this time of year, there can also be angst and uncertainty. Old hurts between siblings surface and for those who have been away a long time, a feeling of no longer belonging leads to estrangement.
     In my story “Bus Ride to Love,” from the e-book Autumn’s Gold, Ellen Curtis is facing just such a dilemma. Having left North Dakota far behind when she took a job in Chicago years ago, Ellen no longer feels a part of her family and has stayed away much too long. But this Thanksgiving, she is taking the long way home to try and reconnect. It turns out to be a bus ride of unexpected surprises.
     Ellen Curtis didn’t mind rock music. She’d grown up listening to some of the loudest rock bands around. It was just that after hours of being blasted by music played at its most obnoxious level, she was ready to scream. But screaming would hurt too much. Her poor head was already pounding as if 16 jackhammers were at work between her ears.  
     She had expected the Thanksgiving bus ride from Chicago to Red Butte, North Dakota, to be long, dull, and relaxing; a time to gather her wits before facing the Curtis clan. So far it had only been long, and it wasn’t even half over.
     Things change rapidly when a new driver boards the bus and issues an ultimatum.
      He stood in front of the bus, surveying them all with a gaze of pure steel. Burly wasn’t the word to describe him. More like massive. His chest was wide and the sleeves of his jacket strained over bulging biceps. Musclemen didn’t usually do much for Ellen, but she had the feeling this fellow came by his brawn quite honestly. He’d probably never seen the inside of a workout gym or health club in his life.
     With cool gray eyes he swept over the rows of passengers and settled at last on the three orange-haired rockers. Ellen saw his jaw clamp down hard.
     The rock band members are soon put in their place with Douglas Maddock’s warning that the noise will stop—now—and the ride becomes more tolerable, but when the bus becomes stranded at a tiny bus station on the prairie, because of a sudden blizzard, Ellen learns that Douglas is a former lumber man from Oregon, a single dad whose son lives with his parents while he’s driving the bus. She ends up telling him about the family she is going home to see, the sister who is marrying Ellen’s former boyfriend the day after Thanksgiving, and her parents who were less than happy when she moved away. Ellen wonders if “they’ll ever accept me for the way I am. At my age it shouldn’t matter anymore, but family disapproval is a hard thing to deal with, no matter how old you get.”
     When she calls her parents to tell them of the delay, her sister Tammy is worried she won’t make it home for the wedding.
     “But tomorrow’s Thanksgiving, and the wedding’s Friday at four. What if you don’t make it?’
     “Then marry Sonny without me,” Ellen said snidely and clicked off, feeling like the Wicked Witch of the East. Why did she feel so down on Tammy marrying Sonny? She certainly didn’t want him anymore.
     Ellen is upset when Maddock asks her if the censure she feels isn’t just “all in your head, Ellen Curtis?” But then, maybe it is. Her parents seem genuinely worried, and when Douglas Maddock gets the bus to Red Butte in time for the wedding, Ellen’s father is anxiously waiting to pick her up. It strikes Ellen how much older her father looks. The weekend passes, Tammy marries Sonny, and Ellen begins to see that, though not much has changed, There was an order and purpose to life that was comfortable and reassuring, and Ellen wondered that she had ever considered such a life boring and repetitious. There was nothing more repetitious than sitting at a computer all day.
     When her father takes her back to the bus station on Monday, he asks her to not stay away so long again, and this time she will keep her promise to come home more often. When she boards the bus Ellen is suddenly saddened to see the driver isn’t a burly man with cool gray eyes. But after they are on the road, someone sits down beside her and asks, “Things change much?” She admits no, but that’s okay. She notices his eyes are a warm blue color today. He asks if maybe she would come to visit Oregon? She could meet his son. Ellen says she would like that and settles back to watch the landscape slip by, glad it’s such a long way back to Chicago.
     How many people can relate to Ellen’s situation? Probably all of us in one way or another, even if we’ve never personally experienced the kind of estrangement she has, we still all have our differences. But perhaps that is why Thanksgiving is the most traveled holiday, because sooner or later we all need to set aside differences and celebrate what makes us more alike.
 


 

 
 
 
 



             
        




                 


Friday, November 11, 2016

Fired-Up Friday


Ten Ways to Beat the Blues

 It’s fair to say that many of us are feeling blue after this week. Maybe more than blue and more like sucker-punched, kicked to the curb, and left wondering—what’s next? With all the negativity, meanness and nasty verbiage that has filled the airwaves, we can’t help but have absorbed some of it, and it’s not a good feeling. Yet at some point you have to pick yourself up and find ways to deal with the stress and anxiety, get rid of the negativity, and take care of yourself. These are a few tried and true ways I’ve found that, no matter the source of the stress, always seem to help put it all in perspective and even offer comfort.

*First of all, feel the emotion. Give yourself time. It’s okay to be sad, mad, afraid, angry. Furious even. Accept you feel this way and own it. Once you do, it becomes easier to deal with.

*Listen to music. Doesn’t really matter what kind. Your choice. Sometimes the louder the better, and go ahead, sing along. It releases lots of pent up emotions and energy.

*Read a book. Find one you’ve been meaning to start for a long time and lose yourself in another world. Books are great for taking us away from it all. If you can read while relaxing in a lavender-scented bath, all the better.

*Snuggle with your pets. Your cat, your dog, your bird. Curl up with them and show them lots of love. Petting an animal has been shown to lower blood pressure, and even watching fish in an aquarium can help with relaxation. Your pets will love the extra attention and will lavish you with their unconditional love. If you don’t have a pet, visit a local shelter and donate some much needed pet supplies. They will be most thankful, and you’ll feel better for having helped them.

*If you’re a writer, get back to writing! If you write fiction, pour all those emotions you’re feeling into your characters. I happen to like lots of drama, so this works into some very heartfelt scenes in my stories. Let your hero and heroine suffer and deal with hardships and then bring them full circle to their happily ever after. Because in your story, you are in control and you can make this happen.

*Hang out or talk with like-minded friends to commiserate and share your distress. Misery does love company, and there is strength in numbers.

*Get physical. Take a walk, play with the dog, clean the house, rake leaves, tackle the chores you like to put off doing. Expend the energy. At least when you’re done you’ll be tired and ready to chill out.

*Get involved in a community project that will benefit others. This time of year there are many opportunities to reach out to someone in need. Collect grocery items for a local food bank, mittens for a mitten tree, coats for a coat drive. Go through your closet and donate items to the Salvation Army. As mentioned, animal shelters are always in need of pet food and cleaning supplies.

*Sign up with www.freekibble.com to play a daily trivia game that donates kibble to homeless pets. It’s free and it’s fun.

*When all else fails, watch a Hallmark movie. Right now you can binge-watch on Christmas movies all day long. They’re feel-good movies but if one makes you cry, then you’ll have let loose with some of that pent-up emotion.

As a final caveat, if none of these help and you truly feel the need, don’t hesitate to seek out professional help to work through it. Don’t let anyone tell you to “just get over it,” because if you’re struggling with very deep disappointment and you fear it will affect your everyday life,  you must take care of yourself first.

Here’s to sending positive thoughts, prayers, vibes, and energy out into the universe in the hope it will all come back to us.
Of course looking at kitty and puppy pictures never hurts either. ;)
 


 
 

 

 

 

 

 


Friday, November 4, 2016

Fired-Up Friday


It Could Happen

This has been a truly fabulous week. In spite of all the nastiness flying around us in these last days before the elections, it was a week that lifted me up to a place where I didn’t have to think about any of the vitriol filling the airwaves. On Wednesday we went to see one of our favorite bands-- no make that our very favorite band-- in concert. We first saw the Moody Blues in the early 1970s and have tried to make it every time they’ve been close ever since. Hard to believe the Moodys are now in their 70s, but they still sound great and hearing all those songs we’ve so loved over the years is always a real treat. Something that struck me this time, though, was how many of the things they sang about way back in the day are still all too relevant today. Not only finding love but searching for meaning and justice in an often cruel world. How so many people are “lost in a lost world.” Yet their music was and is always hopeful, and while you’re listening you just plain feel so much better! While at the concert, it didn’t matter how the fans were different; for the moment, they all just loved the Moody Blues.

Wednesday was also the day for a historical event. THE CHICAGO CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES!! Sorry, just had to shout that one out. While I will admit I am not by any means a baseball fan (truly, most of the time it puts me to sleep) you can’t grow up this close to Chicago and not know the story and history of the Cubs. When I was a kid, we had extended family living together in the big farmhouse, and in those days there was only (horrors!) one TV. During baseball season, and much to my chagrin, when my Uncle Frank came home from work the TV was tuned to WGN and wherever the Cubs were playing that day. It was the voice of Jack Brickhouse you heard announcing back then. I remember my uncle grumbling every year about the losses and yet every year, there he was watching them play. I’m not sure you would find any fans more loyal than Cubs’ fans. They stuck with their team through the years, and in spite of what was called “the billy goat curse,” and comments like “Yeah, that’ll happen when the Cubs win the series,” they always said, “Just wait till next year.” On November 2, 2016, in the 7th game, in the 10th inning, next year finally became this year. What fun it was to watch the joy and celebrating on the field, and to see their signs with the “could” crossed off to say, “It did happen!” I had to think about all the people who waited a lifetime for this to happen, most of us having at least one if not more family members who waited. My Uncle Frank wasn’t big on showing emotion, as many men of that time were not, but I bet this would have at least got a smile out of him. Maybe even a laugh. There’s a big parade in Chicago today and the river is running Cubs blue. Celebrations will continue, and maybe the best thing is that it brings people together in a good way. It doesn’t matter how they differ in other ways, just being a Cubs’ fan is enough for now.  

In what seems almost anticlimactic, but in the midst of this celebratory week, I did manage to write some new pages on the book I’m hoping to finish by the end of this month. I’m still about 43,000 words away from writing The End, but to borrow the hopeful phrase from the Cubs fans' signs, “It Could Happen.”

 


Friday, October 28, 2016

Fired-Up Friday


Ghost Writers

 Maybe it’s the season, but I’ve been thinking about ghost writers lately. Not the kind Wikipedia describes as “a person who is hired to author books, manuscripts, screenplays, speeches, articles, blog posts, stories, reports, whitepapers, or other texts that are officially credited to another person.”  The ghost writers I’m thinking about are those writers who, although they have passed from this world, continue to write stories from the grave.

I’m certain you’ve seen them in book departments; newly released books by authors you know are no longer with us. Of course sometimes they are simply reissues of older titles, and a check of the copyright date will confirm this, but many times they truly are new stories supposedly written by long-gone authors. I know V.C. Andrews continued to write best-sellers long after her demise, as did western author Louis L’Amour. More recently, one of my all-time favorite authors Janet Dailey, who passed a few years ago, has had new releases on the shelf. At first I thought it might be these were stories written before the author died and just hadn’t been published yet, but as the years have gone by and new titles have continued to appear, I have to figure the publisher knew a good thing and wasn’t ready to let it go.

In the case of Mr. L’Amour, he not only published but did leave behind a vast body of work that was never published, or had been published in his early author days. From what I gleaned in reading articles about him, they were stories he did not feel were worthy of publication or reissue. Yet the money to be had from bringing them out after he was gone was apparently too much to resist.

I was a huge fan of Janet Dailey and back in the day read her Harlequin Presents Romances that were set in all 50 states, as well as many of her single titles and the Calder Family books. I recognize those books when they are re-released, but others do have new copyright dates. I’ve bought one or two titles, just to see how closely they adhere to Janet’s writing style, but something tells me they won’t be the same. Anymore than those old stories written by a young struggling author in the days of pulp fiction are the same as the sagas and classic westerns Louis L’Amour wrote in his heyday.

While fans are happy to see these new titles (how many people even realize the author is gone?), I have to wonder, how would the authors themselves feel about others writing under their names? Would Louis L’Amour be upset that the stories he never wanted to see the light of day are now published? How would Janet Dailey like it that someone else is writing about the characters she created and trying to emulate the stories she crafted?  Should we have respect for authors so that when they do pass their work is protected from imitators? Should we honor the wishes of authors who do not want their earlier efforts subjected to the public eye? I do remember that the great mystery author Agatha Christie killed off her main character, Hercule Poirot, when she no longer would write about him, to prevent another author or publisher from discovering his marketability.

Not that I will ever put myself in the same category as these writers, but I would like to think any stories I banished to the bottom drawer of the file cabinet would remain there after I’m gone (and perhaps even go to the shredder). Neither would I want my characters, the ones I labored to create, to become the property of another writer. In the end, it should be about respect and not how much profit can be made from putting books out there after an author has gone to that great bookstore in the sky.



Friday, October 21, 2016

Fired-Up Friday


Songs to Write By.

Nineteen years ago this month the world lost a man who through his music had sought to lift us to better places. On October 12, 1997, singer, songwriter, actor and activist John Denver died when his experimental aircraft crashed off the coast of California. He was 53. To say I was devastated that day is an understatement beyond measure. John’s music had filled my house and my car throughout much of the 1970’s. Once, I was lucky enough to see him in concert. It seemed he had a song for whatever ailed you, and whether or not you loved the American West as he did, you couldn’t help but sing along with Rocky Mountain High.
As it is with many creative and driven people, John was not without his problems. He struggled with sobriety, drug use, and his personal life included two divorces. But there was no sweeter song than the one he sang to his little boy at Christmas. It never failed to make me cry. While he struggled to find his place in the music world, he was a most beloved entertainer and in 1975 was named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association.

John was an activist for the environment, a conservationist for the mountains he so loved, and a humanitarian for the many causes he supported. He had an interest in finding solutions to solving world hunger and developing sustainability projects. One can only wonder, if he’d lived, how he might have made an even more important difference in the world today. Sadly, it was his very drive to always try something new that led to his untimely death.

I still have my many John Denver albums and looking back at the songs I listened to by the hour back then, some of my favorites were these:

If I needed uplifting, Welcome to My Morning, Calypso, and Take Me to Tomorrow.

If I was feeling bittersweet: Poems, Prayers, and Promises and Leaving on a Jet Plane.

Flat out sad: Darcy Farrow and I’m Sorry.

Thinking about home and family: Take Me Home, Country Roads and Back Home Again.

His most unabashedly romantic song was Annie’s Song, written for his first wife after they had argued.
Today I find myself listening to his Windsong album with its songs like Cowboy’s Delight and the even more appropriate (for the book I’m writing) Song of Wyoming. They’re sweet songs, they’re sad songs, and they take me back to sagebrush in the wind and the shadows of mountains in the distance. Take a listen and then maybe go search out the box of Puffs.




Thank you John Denver for giving us songs that continue to inspire and for giving me songs to write by.

 



 

 


Friday, October 14, 2016

Fired-Up Friday


First Frost

            We had our first frost warning last night. While the field behind my house was misty and very autumn-like this morning, I think those of us near Lake Michigan may have escaped Jack Frost’s icy touch. Hearing the forecast yesterday, I made my yearly trudge into the backyard to gather in the hanging flower baskets and potted plants that I watered and repotted and tended to all summer. I grouped them together on the patio, up close to the house, and gently covered them with old pillowcases and towels. Then I rescued the flower box from the front yard and gave it the same attention. I know, I know. I’m only putting off the inevitable. They’ll have to go eventually. There’s no way to keep them alive through the winter. But they’re still blooming, as if oblivious of what’s to come, and I’m not quite ready to let them go yet. Rather like letting go of our children, we’re never quite ready. Rather like the finished book that needs to go out into the world, I’m not quite ready to set it free. So in spite of knowing the time is coming soon for the flowers, today wasn’t the day.

            Bringing the flowers together last night made me think of a poem that’s always been a favorite. It’s one that’s a little bittersweet, a little melancholy, but it fits this time of year so well.

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day,

Nothing gold can stay.

            Nothing Gold Can Stay

 Robert Frost