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



Friday, October 7, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Events of Autumn

Last weekend I took part in a fall writing retreat that was a first for me. Held at Lily Hill Farm, in a pretty much wifi free zone in the middle of southwest Michigan wine country, ten writers convened to do what writers do best: write, talk about writing, talk about lots of other things, eat and then write some more. I have to say it was great not to be bothered with the phone ringing or have to fight the lure of new TV shows and Facebook. I worked on self-edits on the finished book for a while and then added about 4,000 new words to the work-in-progress. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, and it isn't, but for a very sloooowwwww writer like me, well, I was happy.

The book I'm working on is a sequel, so I'm having to get back into the minds and hearts of characters that I haven't written about for a long time (I wrote the synopsis for this story a while ago, but like I said, I'm slow.) I also have to remember what I wrote in the first book and may actually have to go back and read it, just to make sure I get some things right. But really, the characters have never left me. I know them like I know my own family, maybe better, because they live in my mind and talk to me about things they probably wouldn't say to anyone else. I know their secrets, their hopes, their dreams, and who they love. I know what makes them mad and what stirs them to great heights. The hero especially is a complicated character who sometimes surprises even me. This is from a scene I wrote last weekend:


            A week later a storm did 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, who made riding bucking broncs look like a tea party. Chance McCord, Best All Around Cowboy at the Cheyenne Days rodeo for three years in a row. Chance McCord, Top Bronc Rider at the Cody Night Rodeo. 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 and awakened him sometimes at night, because now Chance McCord rode along the edge of the Bridger-Teton forest and looked for tracks in the snow, and tried to ward off the wind that seemed determined to sweep away the hat he’d jammed down tight on his head. In other years, he would have been hunkered down somewhere warmer, maybe on a ranch in Texas or Arizona, while he waited out the winter. On this December day, he just wanted to return to the house and drink coffee and stand in front of the fire.

            He should have worn the scarf Casey had tried to tie around his hat to keep it from blowing off his head. Should have listened to the woman who loved him in spite of who he was or had been. She and the boy were the only people who really made his life worth anything right now and kept him from just going back on down the road. Dealing with his father and brother was still a work in progress, and he wondered if he ever would feel a part of their plan. Would ever fit in. He doubted it because in all his thirty-four years, he never had.
Yep, that's Chance, sometimes a pretty hard guy to figure out, but one who has been with me for a very long time. I only hope Casey and I can keep him on the straight and narrow in this book I'm calling Tetons by Morning.
On another topic altogether, and one that has nothing to do with the book or even writing (except the songs continue to inspire and the hero is another complicated man), I am looking forward to seeing my hero and most favorite singer Gordon Lightfoot in concert this weekend. In my own hometown! I don't even have to drive far. It's the second time he's performed at this venue, and I'm excited he's chosen to come back to little old Lake Michigan College in southwest Michigan. So that's where I'll be Sunday night, listening to the Legend as he continues to make his music on the Carefree Highway.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

It's All About the Roll

Just writing a quick post today. I'm going to a writing retreat this weekend along with nine other writer friends. Hoping to get pages done on the Tetons by Morning book and also some editing on the book recently finished. Without the distractions of my favorite TV shows fall premieres (which I've dutifully set to record) maybe it will happen. Have to get back in the writing mode and on a roll again. Sometimes it really is all about getting on a roll and building a writing momentum. That and getting so involved in your story you want to know what comes next, and hope when someone reads it they'll want the same thing. I don't think the weather is suppose to be so great, so I won't miss anything if I'm inside till Sunday, but the place we're going, Lily Hill Farm, looks really nice, so planning on getting in a little walk outside if I can. Perfect time of year for that. Happy October First tomorrow!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Up in the Hills

I would venture to say that most of what fiction writers write about is make-believe. We make things up in our heads and then put them into words and hope it makes a good story. Although I set stories in real places in real states and with real landmarks, I usually like to invent my own towns and streets, etc. It’s strange, though, how sometimes the made-up stuff suddenly becomes real and you find a place that you had only imagined really does exist.

This happened recently on our trip through the West. While in Wyoming near the Tetons, we ventured up into the hills to try a little metal detecting. Our son, who lives there, had discovered an old abandoned cabin and out buildings and had gone there previously to poke around. The ride up was a bit bumpy, and bumpy is to put it mildly, on a washboard road, and took us into some rather remote country. When we got there, this is what I saw.


I am nothing if not a picture-taking fool when we’re traveling around the West, so the first thing I did while the guys were busy looking for buried treasure was take pictures (all the while clinging to a metal canister, as I was also the designated keeper of the bear spray). It was a lonely spot, a good place to hide if you didn’t want to be bothered by the world, and it dawned on me that I had imagined this place before and put it into my book, Chance’s Return. It’s the place where Chance goes to hide and try to come to grips with a tragedy in his life, and the place where he goes to avoid making a commitment to Casey, the young widow he has fallen in love with. Looking around at the old cabin and decrepit corral and outbuildings, I felt amazed that even though I’d never been to this place in the hills before, I had imagined it perfectly. It really did exist!


 I’ve written here about how, when I first came to this part of the country, I had the feeling of coming home to a place I’d never been before, and so I have to wonder is it true? Was I here in another time? Or is it just a coincidence? I’m not sure I believe in reincarnation, but seeing this old cabin in the hills that bears so much resemblance to the one I’d imagined in my story, I just have to wonder. I also wonder, who lived there? Was it a homestead? A hunting cabin? The place where someone went to hide from the rest of the world? The cabin was well-built and had been used recently by what I suspect were kids who wanted to find a place to drink and not get caught. It was also a little mysterious, with photos left behind by someone who maybe, like Chance, was trying to forget a heartache.


While we didn’t find any treasure, other than an old tin lid and some bullet casings, I still wonder what secrets that old cabin holds. What other stories it could tell. Maybe it will appear in the sequel to Chance's Return that I’m writing, which ironically starts out:

            This is it. This is the place. It really does exist.



P.S. While we didn't encounter any bears, a few days later a bow hunter was mauled by one while making elk calls not far away.   


Friday, September 16, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

A Book and a Drive through the Canyon

 When earlier this summer I made up my mind to finish my book Will O’ the Wisp before we went on vacation in September, I decided I needed a carrot to dangle in front of me as additional motivation. A great weakness of mine, and one that often keeps me from writing, is reading other people’s books. So as a prize for writing The End on my book, and not a minute before, I promised myself I could read a book I’d recently bought that was by a favorite author.

I became a fan of the TV show Longmire when it first aired four years ago. When I discovered the show was based on books by Wyoming author Craig Johnson, I started reading the series about the sheriff whose jurisdiction is the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. I started with the first book and have been reading them in order, but Mr. Johnson also writes stand-alone titles, and the book I’d bought this spring was one of them, called The Highwayman. It proved a good carrot to keep me writing and finishing my book. Then I decided to save The Highwayman as a vacation read, so I could enjoy it while I was actually in the setting.

That played out even better than I thought it would. The book takes place in and around the Wind River Canyon, and the highway running through the canyon is a scenic byway in the state. We’re always big on driving scenic routes, so this time we changed our plan to drive through Yellowstone (which turned out to be a lucky choice, since fire closed the south entrance and snow the northern pass) and took the road through the canyon, a way we’ve never gone before.

The Highwayman has a supernatural, Native American theme to it, as do many of the Longmire books, and the opportunity to read it before and after driving through the canyon certainly gave an extra edge to both the story and the drive. I can’t say I’ve ever read a book while I was in the real setting. The canyon is beautiful if a bit scary, because traffic, including semi-trucks, fly through it as though they’re on a six lane highway, and there isn’t much room to get out of the way. That ties into the Highwayman story, too, but I won’t give anything away. It’s a good book to read while the moon is high and full and the beginning of the autumn season is just a few days away. You might enjoy it, too, even if you can’t drive through the haunted Wind River Canyon.    


Friday, August 26, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

The NPS and My Bucket List

          Thursday, August 25, 2016, was the centennial celebration of our National Park Service. On that date in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the agency that has managed and protected the parks, lakeshores, seashores, and monuments that make up the system. They now number over 400, a new one having just been designated this week by President Barack Obama.

          What has this to do with a bucket list? A while ago, my husband and I were talking about where we would go if we could travel anywhere we wanted and not worry about the cost. Without even having to think about it, I replied, I would visit every national park I possibly could. Maybe a bit of a surprising answer, but it is without a doubt on my bucket list, to see as many national parks as I can in my lifetime.

          Then I got to thinking; we have already been to quite a few, some for a return engagement. From the misty and mysterious peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains to the amazing wonders of Yellowstone, the very first national park, we’ve had the privilege of visiting many of the “crown jewels” of our country. The Smokies were a favorite and led me to write a story set there. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, in our own state, is filled with steep dunes and Indian legends. The Badlands of South Dakota leave you in awe, as do Canyonlands and Arches parks in Utah. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado was the first park I ever visited, followed by Grand Tetons in Wyoming, which everyone knows is my home in another lifetime. Montana’s Glacier National Park and its Going to the Sun road has you thinking, as you view the road from below, “Is that really where we’re going?” Then when you’ve descended, “Is that really where we were?” Scotts Bluff in Nebraska is a remarkable place in a state that you otherwise drive through to get somewhere else. Walking in Craters of the Moon in Idaho is indeed like being on another planet. Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is full of history and legends plus stalagmites and stalactites! Devil’s Tower in Wyoming will have you wondering about close encounters of many kinds.

          This year we hope to revisit a few of our favorites, including one we haven't seen in a while, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, to maybe catch a glimpse of the wild horses that live within the park’s boundary.

Lest you think you must head to the wilds of the country to visit a national park, there are a number of urban parks close to large segments of the population. In fact, no matter where you live, there is probably a national park, monument, lakeshore or seashore within a few hours’drive.  

          Visiting national parks. I think it’s a pretty good bucket list to have, because they truly are “the best ideas” America has ever had.