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



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.